How do you a make the jump from playing a card game to spending thousands of dollars on the art behind it? How do you decide that you like something so much that you have to have it – that you’re willing to spend days, weeks, months, or even years hunting for something?
The Hunt for Karn
It all started with my friend Jeff Anand, a collector of unique (and very cool) Magic related things. Uncut foil sheets, rare misprints, beautiful original art, he’s got it all. In 2011 he asked me to help him out. He had just made a pretty significant purchase; he bought the original art for Tinker, Smokestack and the 10thedition Hurkyl’s Recall. I was going to a Vintage tournament in Pennsylvania and the seller had agreed to meet me there. Jeff asked if I could pick up his purchases and drive them back to New York.
After the tournament I drove back up to New York and one day later, I handed off the paintings to Jeff.
If you’re reading this then the chances are good that you think Magic original art is pretty cool. The art that I picked up that day planted the first seed in my mind that this might be something that I’d like to do. The original art for Tinker was particularly beautiful and since I’m known in the Vintage community as an aficionado of Mishra’s Workshop based decks, Smokestack spoke to me. I have been playing that card for nearly ten years.
After dropping the pieces off with Jeff, I spent the following weeks and months thinking about original Magic art. I kept thinking about my youth. I had played Magic for a long time, about seventeen years, by the time 2011 rolled around. While I remember playing as far back as 94, the time that I loved best was Urza’s block.
In 1998, two years after my family moved back from Holland, I had developed a growing circle of friends made through playing Magic. I loved playing and I loved the storyline. I bought more packs of Ice Age and Mirage than anyone should have. Still, it was Urza’s Saga, Legacy and Destiny that spoke to me. I loved thinking of one man fighting against impossible odds, trying to create an alliance to fight off a desperate and terrible enemy.
I remember playing at a friend’s house one night, just going through cards from packs that he had opened. I had been collecting legends from the storyline and I had just found Karn, Silver Golem in a stack of cards. I had to have it. I traded for it immediately. We didn’t have huge collections back then, nobody bought cards online (eBay didn’t exist yet, and neither did Starcitygames.com, or any other of the major online vendors), we hadn’t really ever played Magic outside of our little group. We were the epitome of casual players. We played against each other. We only went to pre-releases, just for the new cards.
Years passed and things changed. Of that original group of friends that I had from high school there is only one person with whom I still speak. We remain good friends.
Flash forward to 2003. Things have changed quite a bit in the preceding five years, as I made the jump from casual player to competitive player. I played the best decks in the format, did a little tweaking and did well in my local scene. I still enjoyed playing all formats, but I loved playing Magic’s oldest format, Vintage. I had been playing for three years and was known as a dedicated blue pilot, running Keeper, O.S.E. (Old School Expulsion), B.B.S. (Blue Bullshit), Landstill, and more.
One day I sat down to play against a friend, Chris Mascioli, and we played a 10 game set. Chris was on a deck that was new to Vintage, a Workshop deck and he had proxied his power and Shops. It was actually the only time he played the format.
Over the first seven games I went 0-7. The deck was brutally powerful and efficient. I had an exceptionally difficult time establishing a mana base and resolving a threat, let alone trying to fight for a win. Spheres, Smokestacks, Wires, Meditates, Goblin Welders and, finally, Karn, Silver Golem all denied me a victory.
Chris decided to up the stakes a bit. “OK, how about this. Go through your deck, sculpt the perfect seven and I’ll play normally. Let’s see what happens.”
We played three more games that way. I went 0-3.
0-10 was about the biggest wake-up call that I could get. I had won a fair amount of power in local tournaments, so it wasn’t as though it was a dearth of skill, mis-building my deck, or extreme variance (as it was a 10 game set). I had just been shown a powerful new strategy and I wanted to play it. I picked up all the cards for it and I was particularly happy that I got to play Karn.
My love affair with Mishra’s Workshop started in 2003 and has continued for years. In the last ten years I’ve played in a fair number of tournaments, playing Workshop decks in all but a handful of them. I love Shops and I love Karn. He’s almost always there, in those decks. In these last few years I’ve run many different builds. Even if he was just a singleton (in my N.Y.S.E. 5CStax deck), or a three of (in my Espresso Stax deck), he was there. He was a link to my past. He was what united the neophyte to the veteran who was looking to lock you out.
In short, Jeff’s purchase had sparked my interest. I knew that if there was one piece that I absolutely had to own, it was Karn, Silver Golem.
After being exposed to the idea of original art, I had a conversation with another good friend, Damien Fortune, back in May of 2011. We were talking about Magic original art and I lamented that the one piece that I’d really want was probably gone. Karn couldn’t have lasted thirteen years with the artist. Damien promptly blew my mind: “Actually, I was at IlluxCon last year and Zug still had Karn, along with some other pieces.”
I sat down. When you’re aiming for a one of one, all it takes is one other person who values the piece as much as you do (who is a little faster, a little better off, or a little more determined) for it to be gone and unavailable forever. How was it possible that a beautiful piece like Karn was still out there, waiting to be bought, framed, and proudly displayed?
I couldn’t believe my luck. There he was.
I couldn’t move on it right away. I had some expenses that had to be taken care of, bills that needed to be paid. I was also putting money away for my first trip to GenCon (to play in Vintage Champs). Regardless, I started putting money away whenever I could for the one purchase that I wanted to make.
It took a while, but by the time that November 2011 rolled around I had put away a significant sum. With everything set on my end, I got Mark Zug’s email address and fired off a quick introduction and request. Needless to say, I was excited.
A few days later, I got this response:
Boy, when it rains it pours! No interest in Karn for years and now within a month two serious offers to buy. I’m afraid that the other buyer has gotten to him first, though – putting a down payment on the art and thus reserving it.
And thank you for your admiration of my work – it’s true, over time everyday things from our past get compressed into diamond somehow. It so happens that I also did a painting of Karn for a magazine cover: An Urza’s Saga setting, where the great golem is rescuing young student mages from the ruins of a blasted training academy. I’ve never posted this image — indeed, it was your e-mail that prompted me to assemble the scans into a single image.
Otherwise, simply thanks for the sweet words.
The piece that he’s speaking of is this one:
Thirteen years had gone by and I had missed out by a week…
I was left wondering what to do. I couldn’t get the piece that I wanted; as it turned out, it seemed like the new owner wouldn’t be willing to part with it, ever. A friend who knew him said that he wouldn’t part with it unless it was from ‘his cold, dead, hands.’
Those aren’t words that inspire confidence.
So I settled and paid the money I had saved for ‘Karn’s Rescue’. As a bonus I got Mark Zug to frame the piece and ship it for free. This made the pill a bit easier to swallow as a good framing job will typically run you between $150-$200 (or more) with a framer. Once it arrived, I had a painting of Karn, standing in the ruins of the Tolarian Academy, holding one of the Academy’s students.
I should have been happy. I wasn’t. It wasn’t a bad purchase. It’s a unique piece that appeals to me on many levels. But it wasn’t Karn.
I posted the Magic Original Art thread on www.themanadrain.com, lamenting my loss of Karn and how I lost it by such a short window.
And then it happened.
I had no idea you had just recently inquired to Mark Zug regarding Karn. Brian never even told me you were interested. His description of how badly I wouldn’t let it go might be a bit exaggerated, lol. There were some pieces I purchased, that I said that about, but maybe he inferred that statement to include everything I bought that day. I also had no idea that you (Prospero) were Nick Detwiler. I’ve heard about your Shop skills from Mark Trogdon and your name mentioned at Gen Con’s but don’t frequent the Drain enough to know who is who. I actually casually mentioned to Jerry on the drive to the tournament that this guy named Prospero had helped me out etc. (now knowing who you are I probably meta-gamed myself, lol) and later on realized I forgot to tell some buddies about my new purchases. The one guy. Gilberto, actually gave me a hard time for getting Karn, saying I never play Shops, etc. Little did he know… I just told them how I was just shocked he still had it and couldn’t pass it up. Jerry then mentioned that Nick Detwiler would be really interested in it (maybe he saw your post, Jerry can be very subtle, lol) and that Nick was the person I was talking to. Small world!
So in short, yeah I’m interested in selling it, especially to someone who will truly appreciate it. I’m not really sure where to start $-wise on it. Also it is unframed. Would you want it framed? I feel like I’m pretty good at framing MTG art. I’ve had 4 others done. I’m willing to sell it either way, whatever you’d prefer. I could even show you pictures of the paintings I have framed.
I regularly help people with Shop related questions (decks, theory, card choices, etc.) via PM on TMD. I got that PM about a week after I had purchased Karn’s Rescue from someone I had been helping.
Exactly what I wanted was available after all, and I’d been speaking with the owner of Karn for weeks, helping him with his Shop list without ever knowing that he had exactly what I hoped for.
I put the money together by selling off some of my excess Moxen and I bought Karn. Once it arrived, I immediately sent it to the framer and hung it on my wall.
Here he is:
With Karn on my wall everything else is gravy. Sure, there are other pieces that I’d like to own, but I own Karn. Everything else falls below that.
Still, I made a host of mistakes along the way. Hopefully those seeking out their own must have pieces, can learn from them:
1 I didn’t reach out to Mark Zug immediately after hearing that Karn was available. Time matters. If I had reached out to him then none of the nonsense that had happened since would have happened. Speed (or the lack thereof) kills.
2 I didn’t know my priorities. I had two sets of black bordered Moxen and a set of Unlimited Moxen. The two black bordered sets were in decks, but the Unlimited set was sitting in a binder. That third set of Moxen didn’t really matter to me, but I didn’t think in those terms. If I had been asked “Would you trade your Unlimited Moxen for the original art for Karn, along with some cash?” I would have immediately said yes. I didn’t think it through. I didn’t place my desire for Karn over my desire to keep some cards that I didn’t need. I should have thought about it, established what I was willing to do and acted immediately. I didn’t.
3 I never reached out to the buyer of Karn directly. I didn’t even get his name. I had friends who knew him, but I was so disconsolate after losing out on it that I lost hope. If I had reached out to him directly, after hearing from Mark Zug that Karn was sold, I would have potentially ended this earlier and done it with a bit more money in my pocket. I probably wouldn’t have made the Karn’s Rescue impulse buy.
4 I could have been forced to settle for other pieces as my Lotus was unavailable. If Paul Blakely wasn’t the great guy that he is, I could have been forced to accept something less than what I had wanted. It was a very real possibility that I should have thought about, but didn’t. I should have thought about what I wanted to do after that. Did I even want to collect any original art? Was there something else that I could target? Should I have had a dream list of pieces to own? I should have planned this out, mapped it out, and thought about what I wanted to do. All of these things warranted thought and I gave them none.
I know myself well enough to know what I want when it comes to Magic art. With this experience under my belt I can move forward a little wiser, a little faster and a little more sure in my step. I can take the lessons from the last year and apply them in my continuing hunt for awesome art. Search for what you’re passionate about and don’t give up, even when the road seems difficult. It’s out there for you, waiting. If you never ask, you’ll never know.
Prospero on www.themanadrain.com
Check out Nick’s Original Art Gallery