Playmat Finance: Grand Prix Playmats

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By: Guo Heng

I never cared about the value of playmats until Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur last year. No, it wasn’t the event’s playmat that spurred my interest in the value of playmats. Of all the Chris Rahn art available to choose from, they had to pick Ashen Rider.

What sparked my interest in the financial potential of playmats was a binder grinder from a neighbouring country at the event. He was going around the floor offering players RM80 ($21) for their Grand Prix playmat, which covered a good portion of the RM120 ($32) entry fee, and the whole entry fee if they were willing to throw in the promo Batterskull. Apparently there is a demand for those back at his LGS. That was when it occurred to me that playmats are worth more than I initially assumed (a.k.a. nothing). I know, that is probably common knowledge among Grand Prix veterans by now.

I’ve accrued a couple of playmats from the few Grand Prixes I’ve attended and won a few in tournaments, but they pretty much served the purpose of being the layer that stands between my Snapcaster Mage and utter condition oblivion from being tapped and dragged across the harsh surface of whatever tables I play on. Double-sleeving only protects your beloved Modern staples so much.

After Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur, I began to pay attention to the financial value of playmats. I also started taking better care of mine. No more chucking them in my bag like a rag. Heck, if spindown dices could be worth up to $30 and life counters up to $90, it should be no surprise that certain playmats are going to be worth something. It seems that everything that has to do with Magic could potentially end up as a collectible. Even an empty Alpha deck box could sell for $35.

These days, acquiring collectible playmats has become a side-quest of mine in Magic. I didn’t bother attending the Magic 2015 and Khans of Tarkir Game Days because the champion playmats were mediocre at best, but I grinded the whole weekend during Fate Reforged‘s Game Day to obtain the coveted Ugin playmat. Getting my hands on the Vendilion Clique playmat and the special playmats at Grand Prix Chiba was one of my main goals at the Grand Prix. I came back from Chiba with more playmats than the number of Magic games I’ve played over that weekend.

As of writing, there do not seem to be much information available about the mtgfinance of playmats. This article stems from my research into playmats in order to help me decide if a playmat is worth getting or not (or in the case of Grand Prix Chiba, worth lining up for an hour at 7 a.m.). It’s a rudimentary framework which I use to gauge how much a playmat could potentially be worth, in a manner more objective than ascribing value to a playmat based on whether I find the art delightful or not.

As the majority of playmats are given out at Grand Prixes, let’s use Grand Prix playmats as case studies. Plus, it is easier to compare prices for playmats with similar supply level, rather than compare playmats given out at different sort of events like Pro Tour playmats or Game Day playmats.

Beauty is Subjective

It’s hard to judge how much of a role a playmat’s aesthetics plays in determining its price. While I personally thought it was disappointing that I got an Ashen Rider playmat at Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur, there are some players out there who really like the playmat:

Ashen Rider Playmat

$29 for that playmat? I wouldn’t even pay $5 for it. These days my Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur playmat serves as the playmat that I put under my Ugin Game Day playmat on rare occasions when I take it out. However, there are a subset of players/collectors who obviously thought that the playmat is worth a bit more than I did, which emphasises the importance of having a less subjective method to evaluate a playmat’s worth.

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The Artist Factor?

Seeing that playmats do not exert an impact on your game, it is not hard to assume that a playmat’s price could be driven by the name of its artist. After all, in the art world, artist name seems to be the primary factor that drives the price of art pieces to ridiculous heights.

Could it be that the winning bidder of the $29 Ashen Rider playmat above is a big fan of Chris Rahn? Let’s take a look at another playmat featuring a Chris Rahn art, this time an artwork of a card that is an EDH staple.

Vegas Playmat

The Sword of Fire and Ice playmat was given out at the first Modern Masters Grand Prix at Las Vegas in 2013. Only 1,000 were given out at the event. The Sword of Fire and Ice playmat is more valuable than the Ashen Rider one,  but how much of that added value stemmed from the card’s playability rather than the artist name?

Or the Card’s Popularity?

Let’s take a look at another example:

Brainstorm Playmat

The Legacy Grand Prix at New Jersey last November featured the definitive Legacy card on its playmat and even after half-a-year, the playmat is in demand and is worth quite a bit (it’s going for $75 on Star City Games).

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An interesting point about the Brainstorm playmat is that while the card is the quintessential  Legacy card, the artist (Tony) DiTerlizzi has not been drawing for Magic since Planeshift in 2001. Yet the Brainstorm playmat was going for around the same price as Chris Rahn’s Sword of Fire and Ice playmat and Chris Rahn is one of the most popular contemporary Magic artist.

By the looks of it, the primary factor in determining a playmat’s value is likely to be the popularity of the card which art is featured on the playmat, rather than the popularity of the artist. Take the Grand Prix Richmond Eternal Witness playmat for example.

Eternal Witness Playmat

Terese Nielsen is probably one of the most beloved artist in Magic. Eternal Witness was witnessed in Birthing Pod decks before Pod got banned and is only found in Collected Company decks today. Played in Modern, but not exactly an iconic card in the format.

Swords Kyoto Playmat

Note: The best offer price which those playmats were sold for were $70, $62 and $75 from top to bottom. The best offer price was viewed by running the original listing’s URL through watchcount.com’s search feature.

Swords of Plowshares is one of the most-played card in Legacy so it’s no surprise that the playmat is worth more than the Eternal Witness playmat from the same artist. I’m tempted to say that the Swords to Plowshares playmat was selling for more than the Brainstorm playmat on the merit of being a Terese Nielsen piece, but the fact that it was from a Japanese Grand Prix may also be a factor.

Conclusion

Grand Prix playmats are exclusive to each Grand Prix and they are unlikely to be ‘reprinted’ outside of their respective events, making them a bit like reserved list cards. Bear that in mind the next time you attend a Grand Prix that gives out a sweet playmat, like the Mox Opal playmat that is going to be handed out at Grand Prix Singapore this weekend:

Mox Opal Playmat
From the official site for Grand Prix Singapore 2015: cleventsgp.com

If you’re attending Grand Prix Singapore this weekend, my wild guesstimate of the playmat’s eBay sales price would be at the very least $30, with an average selling price of $40. I doubt it would hit the heights of Swords to Plowshares, but it should be able to fetch a price tag higher than the Eternal Witness one, based on Mox Opal’s popularity in Modern as a four-of in the definitive aggro deck of the format.

I hope this article has shed some light on evaluating a playmat’s value. Do share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below, or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.


 

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22 thoughts on “Playmat Finance: Grand Prix Playmats”

  1. What is the best method of storing and transporting your playmats? Is keeping them rolled up in a tube good for the long term condition of the mat? Should they be stored flat? Would love to hear more about ‘the care’ of these mats as well.

    1. From my research, the best method seems to be rolled up, with the art side facing outwards, stored in a tube. That seems to keep the rubber beneath in the best condition possible.

      I’m glad to hear you are interested to read about playmat care. I wanted to include a segment about that topic initially, but I thought it may not suit a mtgfinance article.

      I’ll add a segment about playmat care in the next playmat article if you’re interested. I still have to write about the non-GP playmats that are worth something.

      1. please write that article on playmat care! There are too many sweet playmats being ruined because of poor storage conditions. You’ll do the entire community a favor.

      2. Is there any cheap way to get playmat tubes? I dont mind buying a few but I have well over 50 playmats laying around the house from collections/gps/random events.

        1. I haven’t stumbled upon any methods to buy playmat tubes on the bulk unfortunately. I got my first from my LGS using store credit and the rest from vendors at Grand Prix Chiba to store the mats I’ve acquired at the event.

          Perhaps you could place a bulk order with your LGS and see if they are willing to help you get them at a discount. That is the only solution I can think of at the moment. Sorry!

      3. If you do, could you add in a section on how to clean damaged/marked/stained playmats? Something that likely comes up a lot in regards to playmat care.

        1. Yup, will do! I have a little experience with cleaning up spillage on playmat myself. Spilled a cup of cinnamon latte on my GP London 2012 playmat a few years back.

    2. I’ve found the best/cheapest way to transport multiple playmats is to use 1000 count cardboard card boxes. If you stack multiple mats together and roll tightly, you can transport 3-4 playmats quite neatly.

  2. Playmat care would absolutely be part of an mtgfinance article. Like double sleeving your cards it protects the investment you made, whether you decide to sell your playmat or like it so much you use it for the next 10 years. Besides I’m a longform kinda guy so you could add another 4,000 words on playmats and their care, or dice or cards or what have you and if it’s interesting I’d be happy.

    Anyway, thanks for this article. Do you hold onto empty booster boxes too? I don’t for block sets but the MM sets and Conspiracy, or older than RTR, I’ve started storing them.

    1. Haha thanks! I certainly will whip up that segment on playmat care in the next playmat article seeing that there are so many requests for it. I thought I was an outlier in trying to ensure that my playmats (well, the ones that are of value to me) remain as mint as possible and I’m certainly glad to see so many others interested in the topic.

      I do hold on to empty booster boxes. I use them to store commons and uncommons, usually from sets that have rotated out. I never liked spending on cardboard boxes and I reserve those I have for Standard cards. I also kept the old deck boxes from when I was playing as a kid, but those are for their sentimental value.

  3. Sweet piece on our beloved playmats !
    Did you notice Terese Nielsen selling at the moment a very limited and signed FOW playmat from GP Charlotte at TNielsen.com ?
    Just order mine for 75 $ with international shipping.
    Worth every penny !

    1. Thanks, glad you like the piece!

      I just saw the mat. Wow, a FoW mat! That certainly ranks on the upper echelons of iconic playmats. Plus Terese Nielsen has one of the most gorgeous artist signature ever.

  4. Guo did you keep judge playmats out for a seperate article? Usually they demand a higher premium than GP mats.

    Playmat care is important as some things that seem like a no brainer are actually complicated. There is a lot that could be written about it, I recently found a scenario at Toronto GP when I bought a tube for it.

    The thickness of the playmats vary depending on which company they come from and when they were made (GP usually ultrapro sourced through them and artists usually locally sourced printer). Newer Ultrapro playmats fit very very sung into older ultrapro round tubes due to the thicker mats currenntly. Monster tubes are a rounded triangular shape allowing more space when sliding the mat in.

    Older playmats were thinner so dont be surprised if you buy a tube at your GP and struggle to get the mat in and out during play.

    1. Yup, I’ll be writing about the other valuable playmats in the next piece. There are too many for one article!

      Good point about the different playmat thickness. My older mats certainly feel thinner than the newer ones, and I thought it was wear and tear.

      I love the Monster playmat tube! Yeah, the rounded triangular share makes sliding my playmat in a lot easier. I usually have to roll up my playmats multiple times in order to fit them into the normal round tubes.

  5. I’ve got 5 GP Chicago playmats crumpled up underneath my bulk boxes, but those have non-magic artwork. Should I be preserving these or just leave them?

    1. Which ones are they? It’s hard to say for custom art works, some only command a little value but sometimes you get custom playmats like the John Avon Mt.Fuji mat for GP Shizuoka 2014 that is current selling at SCG for $99.

      1. No they are the standard GP ones, with the dragons tearing apart the city.

        I realized I didn’t mention this above – great article! I really enjoyed it as a topic I never expected.

  6. I feel like playmats used to be a rare item that commanded a slight price premium, especially as they were a less common way to show off your favorite card/artist/whatnot and they were not always printed to accommodate everyone that attended an event.

    However in the last two years or so, playmats have been printed at greater quantities and by more companies (SCG is creating its own line, Inked does custom playmats and others will copy any mat design you would like) so prices for “rare” mats have dropped significantly.

    Case in point for your GP Las Vegas mat example for SoFaI: That was a $80+ mat for the year or so after the original MMA GP, but now that players know that every GP will have a mat, it’s less of a priority to get one that someone covets as there will always be the next “hot mat.”

    And in terms of paying a premium for a nice mat, these mats are essentially oversized computer mouse pads and pretty much anyone with an industrial printer can make one as long as they have a white playmat. The reason I bring this up is because if playmats really do become a desirable collectible, it’d be very easy for someone to print copies as there is no way to discern if you have an “authentic” GP XYZ mat or not.

    I would be interested in seeing an exotic playmats article though, as I do know the Spellgrounds mats and some rarer mats from Chinese GPs have used other materials than the more common mousing surface playmats. These may be higher priced simply because they are either old or hard to come by in the US.

    1. I’m not sure if the decline in the price of the Sword of Fire and Ice playmat was due to the increasing supply of playmats. It could be the hype surrounding the playmat that died down as time passes, and the playmat’s price followed. The Ugin Game Day playmat was selling for $80 on eBay in the week following the Game Day weekend, but the most recent completed sales was just $35. While every Grand Prix gives out playmats, so far we haven’t seen a repeat printing of a particular art, which means that there is a very low chance of seeing another Sword of Fire and Ice (Chris Rahn) playmat.

      Yup, someone did brought up the issue of counterfeiting playmats on Twitter and I am in the midst of researching the topic to include it in the playmat article that follows. It is certainly an important issue that could impact the price of Grand Prix playmats. Currently, it seems that the only playmats susceptible to high fidelity ‘counterfeits’ are those which art is available in high resolution online, like Jung Park’s City of Brass playmat given out to judges at Grand Prix Vegas 2013. Then there is also the issue of getting printers to print copyrighted art. The popular custom playmat printers seem to have strict policies against printing copyrighted images.

      Yup, I’ll be touching on the finance of more exotic pieces in the next one! Thanks for pointing out the Spellgrounds mats. I’ll have a look at those!

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