Hello everyone! I am back today to bring you a rarely discussed topic in MTG finance, card artwork. Part of this is because art is very subjective. As you know many Magic cards have various printings. Some have different borders, rarities, and artwork. All of these components tend to have varying effects on the prices among different printings of the same card. So today I will be discussing how otherwise similar cards having different artwork can affect price in a big way.
Many of the best artwork on cards are on the original version. While this is my opinion, I’m here to show you the price often reflects that. While that isn’t always the case, I find that more often than not, the older artwork is superior. We know that the original printing of cards tend to fetch a slightly higher price than any reprints do. However, we can also see cards with the same artwork that are reprinted have prices very close to each other. Many cards boast the same or less than 5% price difference when the versions share the same art. This even applies to cases where one has a much smaller print run or wasn’t opened as much.
Some examples of cards that have been reprinted years after the original but containing the same artwork are:
Notice anything about these prices? The prices of the reprints are right in the same ballpark as the originals. Basically, the demand to have one version of these cards over the other is so small, that there isn’t a profound price difference even where the original has far fewer copies in circulation.
Additionally, many cards that have been reprinted with different artwork have similar prices. I have found that when the quality of artwork is relatively similar, two different versions of the same card tend to only have small price differences. In other words, if the player base is relatively split when it comes to artwork preference, the prices synchronize.
Some examples of this would be Goblin Guide, Engineered Explosives, and Vendilion Clique. The prices for these between their different sets and artworks is relatively consistent. In my opinion, this can be attributed to a lack of one artwork being vastly superior to its counterpart.
Today, I will be discussing cards whose prices do differ significantly. The most likely reason for these price differences in my opinion is the artwork. In some cases, the old frame versus new frame may cause a bit of the price difference, but for me, the true appeal of these cards is the artwork.
- Chord of Calling
I absolutely love the original Ravnica Chord of Calling. The way Heather Hudson uses the colors for the lighting and the focus on the giant bird are more pleasing to the eye than the M15 version. The M15 Chord comes off somewhat jumbled and confusing and I do not get the whole “I am summoning a sweet creature” vibe from it.
While both cards have a post-8th Edition frame, the Ravnica version commands roughly a 33% higher price tag. The price of the foil Ravnica version is three times higher than the M15 as well. This goes to show that when players are choosing how they want to search out their toolbox creatures in Modern and EDH they are willing to shell out a few extra dollars for the beautiful colors of the original printing.
- Venser, Shaper Savant
Venser is one of my favorite blue cards of all time. When he isn’t putting work in cube, he can be found smashing face in competitive and casual EDH alike. Just missing the bar of playabilty in Modern, it’s these casual formats that caused this amazing tempo creature to soar in price before being reprinted twice in recent years.
While I do like the blue colors in the newer Venser, the original Future Sight artwork is just so iconic. Future Sight commands the highest booster box price tag of all Modern-legal sets and Venser is right there on the box artwork as the focus. You can buy an entire playset of Modern Masters 2017 Vensers for the price of ONE Future Sight original version. And when it comes to foils, the newer version could buy you exactly one Chipotle burrito. A Future Sight Venser however, could buy you one burrito per day for a whole week. Because both Vensers have the post-8th Edition frame and rarity, it can only be surmised that the artwork plays a huge role here. I absolutely agree, you can’t beat Aleksi Briclot’s amazing artwork here and we will see another of his iconic works later.
- Cabal Therapy
Cabal Therapy may be the only uncommon on my list, but it has certainly earned its spot. The original Judgment printing is worth double it’s recent Eternal Masters counterpart. You could also buy two playsets of pack foil Cabal Therapy from Eternal Masters for the price of ONE Judgement foil. Now, some of this can be attributed to some preferring the old border compared to the new, but that’s not the end of the story.
The original artwork for Cabal Therapy was created by the talented Ron Spencer well over a decade ago and the artwork really speaks to me. I was actually shocked to see the original artwork of this piece change hands a couple years back for under $2,000. Nothing against the newer artwork, but the two are light and day to me. I could never part with my playset of Judgment Cabal Therapy and combined with the old border, there’s no other way to go.
- Mana Crypt
Just because you flip a coin for Mana Crypt doesn’t mean you should leave your artwork selection up to chance. The original Mark Tedin artwork for this powerful Vintage, Cube, and EDH staple evokes what I feel to be subtle ominousness. It looks so quaint, but complicated. Unwelcoming, yet fascinating. I always wanted to see what lies beyond that corner. Sometimes, I imagine that there are two wizards waiting there right around the bend, where the light source is coming from. One has a gift of mana for you, the user, waiting eagerly to provide aid when you reach for your Mana Crypt. The other wizard has a spear ready to offer you, stabbing you in your side when you reach to the crypt.
Anyways, my crazy fantasies aside, the price difference between the media promo version (which happens to be the original) and the new Eternal Masters Mana Crypt isn’t a figment of your imagination. The original crypt will set you back about 40% more than the newer one, so for those of you with many Commander decks, you could buy three new ones for the price of two old ones. I do believe the very handsome old border plays some part of this massive price difference, however you can’t discount the artwork when comparing the two. Since you are expecting the crypt to stick around on the board as long as you are, I would absolutely choose the original.
- Sneak Attack
Surprise, you’re dead! That’s what happens when you allow a Sneak Attack to resolve these days in EDH or Legacy. With the power creep of creatures over the past decade, Sneak Attack’s stock has risen quite sharply and it even finds itself the focus of a few Legacy decks. While it was recently reprinted in Eternal Masters with different artwork, the original from Urza’s Saga commands a 33% premium over the newer version. This is even despite an upshift from rare to mythic rare.
Now there is quite some allure to the older border when it comes to Sneak Attack. I absolutely love the old red border magnitudes above the post 8th Edition border. But by far, the biggest selling factor for Sneak Attack is its artwork. Illustrated traditionally by Jerry Tiritilli, the artist for Rishadan Port, the colors and movement of the piece are absolutely stunning. Goblins teaming up and attacking a dragon beat some kavu attacking a random soldier any day for me. The Urza’s Saga version sticks out on the field quite vibrantly, despite me always grumbling when it is played against me. The masterful artwork combined with the amazing flavor text on the original means we certainly have a winner, and the price reflects that.
- Grim Lavamancer
Red players eat your heart out! If you have respect for the color red you will use the original Torment version of this amazing 1-drop. There are very few red artworks in all of Magic that beat out Grim Lavamancer to me. Jim Nelson hit it out of the park with the original art from 15 years ago. The blue of the lavamancer’s cloak contrasts the reds and oranges flowing from his hands. The facial expression on the lavamancer himself and the Obstinate Familiar on his shoulder really set the callous red player’s mood.
When it comes to pricing, it seems that most players agree with me. Non-foil Grim Lavamancers from Torment are priced around 40% more than their M12 counterpart. For the price of a single foil copy from Torment you could buy ten foils from M12. I cannot speak poorly of Michael Sutfin’s amazing artwork either, as he is also the illustrator of Sensei’s Divining Top, Vendilion Clique, and Exalted Angel. However, when it comes to this lavamancer, any choice other than the original would be grim.
“Ach! Hans, run! It’s a very price inflated version of the lhurgoyf!”
Surely everyone reading this has heard of Tarmogoyf. At one point it was the most expensive creature in all of Magic, even beating out Imperial Recruiter and Juzam Djinn. Thanks to recent reprintings, the mighty Tarmogoyf has shrunk in price to an affordable… $300 per playset. Well that could buy you the cheapest playset out there. If you want to play your goyfs in style, you will have to shell out closer to $500 for a playset of the Future Sight version. A this point, Tarmogoyf has been printed four times and I suspect that number to rise to five by 2019. Foil Future Sight Tarmogoyf is one of the most expensive foils in all of Magic. Commanding more than some Beta dual lands should be an indicator of how coveted the premium version of this powerful creature is. It would be cheaper to acquire a playset of foils from any other set than shell out for a single copy of this extremely rare foil. There are two reasons for the huge price difference between versions.
The most obvious reason that sticks out, is the border. I would wager that on my list, the card that has the most contribution to its price from its border is Tarmogoyf. The amazing and unique Future Sight border that appeared on “future shifted” cards hasn’t been replicated since, and players do jump at the chance to throw them in their deck. We see this with other cards like Street Wraith, Narcomoeba, and Bridge from Below. I absolutely love this frame as well and can certainly see it contributing to the price difference.
However, let’s not forget that Tarmogoyf was upshifted to mythic rarity when it was reprinted in all three Modern Masters sets. Because the original version is simply a rare, we must attribute another factor to its price premium. The artwork for Tarmogoyf certainly plays a factor here. I will admit, the original artwork for Tarmogoyf is peculiar. It was produced by an artist who was given one other card and never illustrated for MTG again. Calling Tarmogoyf’s artwork a masterpiece would certainly be pushing it. “Iconic” is more aligned with how I feel when I see a Future Sight Tarmogoyf. The artwork actually looks amazing when combined with the border, something few other cards can boast. Immediately recognizable and always sizeable, it leaves me and many others hungry for the original.
- Polluted Delta
I was tempted to put all five original Onslaught fetchlands here on the list but decided that I would just do my favorite, Polluted Delta. You can’t beat a traditional Rob Alexander landscape painting and it isn’t remotely close when compared to the Khans of Tarkir version. Polluted Delta is one of my favorite artworks of all time and it is absolutely one of the top 10 most powerful lands ever printed to boot. The colors Rob uses to illustrate a very calm but tainted scenery are perfect and this artwork will always command respect from me. Also the Khans version has flavor text. Ew.
The Onslaught version is about 40% more expensive than the Khans version and for good reason. Did I also mention the 700% difference in price between the two pack foils? That insanity partly comes from the amazing old border but you gotta hand it to the artwork as well. It is a display of good taste to use original Rob Alexander fetchlands from Onslaught, but those aren’t the only of his works you should pay a little more for…
- Hallowed Fountain
Number 2 on this list shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone but I chose the Ravnica shockland cycle. Just like the fetchlands, I decided to focus on my favorite one of the bunch rather than dive into the set of 10, but for artwork the original 10 are vastly superior on each count.
Hallowed Fountain is one of the best pieces of artwork for the game, hands down. The amount of detail and intricacy in the artwork isn’t seen in the rest of the game, old or new. The size and scale of the piece is remarkable and the use of shadows and details makes it quite stunning. Mr. Alexander strikes again and it is always nice to be able to use a fetch by Rob to grab a shockland by Rob.
As for the price, you are going to pay roughly double for the original Dissension version over the Return to Ravnica edition. The foil version of the original is worth roughly 550% more as well. That means you couldn’t even buy a single copy of a Dissension foil for the price of a playset from Return to Ravnica. Both versions have the exact same border and the exact same set rarity, so the artwork seals the deal here.
The moment you have all been waiting for, the number 1 spot. Thoughtseize was the main card that inspired me to write this article in the first place. I found the difference in artwork quality so vast and the playability of the card so frequent that I had to bring up the discussion.
Thoughtseize from Lorwyn is illustrated by the talented Aleksi Briclot and captivated everyone from the moment it was printed. Don’t let the beauty and elegance of the colors fool you, getting Thoughtseize’d is no fun at all. One of the most powerful plays in Modern, Legacy, and sometimes Vintage, it would behoove a player to have the best artwork of the card. After all, it often sits there, glaring your opponent in the face taunting them, as you write down the contents of their hand. Might as well give them something nice to look at.
The original Thoughtseize from Lorwyn is worth about double the Theros version. When it comes to foils, things get crazy. Lorwyn Thoughtseize foil versions have really been shaken up lately on the market and the prices have been fluctuating between expensive and very expensive. Currently, an original foil Thoughtseize will set you back close to $600, while a Theros foil goes for around $45. Considering both cards have the same set rarity and border, it is another clear indicator of artwork superiority.
And that concludes my list of cards that demand premiums based on their superior artwork. There were many cards that I felt missed the list not on their merits but because rarity shifts had too important a role in their price. For instance, Snapcaster Mage from Innistrad is worth roughly the same as the Snapcaster Mage from Modern Masters 2017. I believe the original artwork far outshines the reprint, but the price hasn’t reflected that yet due to the upshift in rarity. The same goes for Vampiric Tutor from Visions and Eternal Masters.
I hope you enjoyed reading about these amazing pieces of Magic history as much as I enjoyed gathering them. I hope we see a new direction of artwork, calling back to days long gone in the future. What are your favorite versions of popular cards? Do you prefer the newer art style or the old? Feel free to let me know in the comments!
Rachel Agnes is a VSL Competitor, Phyrexian Princess, Collector of all things shiny and a Cube, Vintage, Legacy, and EDH enthusiast.
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