Before the search for Shadowmage Infiltrator began, there was the hunt for Meddling Mage.
In the spring of 2012, the blue/white wizard himself, Chris Pikula, put the word out among the art collecting community that he was looking for the painting that he had passed up so many years ago. To get the full story on what motivated Chris to start the search, I tracked him down and asked him a few questions.
Chris, after more than 10 years separating the creation of the card and finding the art, how does it feel to finally have your namesake wizard home?
The overwhelming emotion I had upon finally getting it was relief. I just felt really stupid for not having acquired it as soon as it was done, and I was afraid I’d never get it. I was really excited the night Nick brought it over, and tweeting a pic of me with it to announce it to the Magic community felt great. However, I don’t think it was as exciting as the first time I opened a pack that actually had a Meddling Mage in it.
Can you give us a brief history of how you got into the game of Magic and what motivated you to try for the first Pro Tour?
I got into the game through a high school friend of mine the summer after my freshman year of college. When I got back to school, I discovered Cornell had a thriving Magic community. I was immediately drawn to tourney play rather than casual play, so when we heard about the first Pro Tour we called up and registered. I made top 32 there and basically was on the train for a long time after that. Our college Magic crew was primarily myself, Pro Tour Champion David Price, Tony Tsai, and David Bartholow.
What was your favorite art from Alpha? Did you ever add in cards to your decks because you really liked the art?
There were a few that my friends and I were really drawn to- the two that stand out are Icy Manipulator and Juzam Djinn. We loved those things. We once found a beta Icy Manipulator under my couch and could not figure out where it came from, and we were giddy like kids on Christmas morning. I was also always a huge fan of Richard Kane Ferguson too. We weren’t the kind of people who changed our decks based on art, though.
Fast forwarding a bit to your Invitational win in 2000, can you give us the behind the scenes story on the process of making Meddling Mage? What did you think of the changes made from your submitted idea to the printed card?
I really hated combo decks back then, and I really wanted a creature that control decks could play against combo. I was looking for something that today we would say goes into a fish deck. I believe that I originally submitted a Spiketail creature without knowing that Spiketails were already coming in yet-to-be-released sets, so they pushed me in another direction. I told them what I was looking for and submitted a card that was actually pretty weak power level (I think it was similar to Voidmage Prodigy actually, but really underpowered, higher casting cost and more narrow, I think). I trusted them to adjust it to the proper power level, and they surpassed my expectations. Creatures got a lot more efficient in Invasion block- I never would have submitted a 2/2 for UW because I would have assumed they would reject it. The card is really strong, and has been a 4-of in multiple Pro Tour winnings decks.
(You can read the story of Meddling Mage came to be according to Wizards here.)
Did you have to pose for the artist Christopher Moeller? Did you ever get to see any preliminary work of the art before publication?
No and no! I really wasn’t part of the art process at all.
When the card was released, did you ever consider picking up the art? When did you start thinking about picking up the art and how did the initial search start?
Acquiring the art just never really occurred to me back then. For one, I don’t think I really understood how the art process worked. I’m not sure I knew that the piece would actually be a paining that you could proudly hang on your wall. I don’t know what I thought. I guess I was already older by Magic player standards being 25, but still basically young and stupid. I just didn’t anticipate the art being important to me. Starting two or three years ago, every few months I would send out some feelers asking the community if anybody had any leads.
Inside sources reveal that the piece was purchased by your Magic nemesis. Who is this villain and how did this enmity arise?
Mike Long and I have an enmity that goes back to the early days of the Pro Tour. It really just boils down to me believing Mike to be a dishonest person who also cheated at Magic. He didn’t like people being public about these opinions. Apparently he and a partner bought a bunch of Magic art as an investment, and Meddling Mage was one of the pieces they purchased. I was not directly involved in the purchase of the piece so I’m lacking some details.
With the blue and white wizard now hanging on the wall, we have heard that you may be interested in adding to your collection of Magic originals. Do you currently have any pieces in mind?
It actually isn’t on the wall yet! My wife and I have a lot of art, and when we get new stuff it becomes a challenge figuring out where to hang stuff. The other Magic art that really interests me is all stuff that any Magic player would kill for- Shivan Dragon, Lighting Bolt, Juzam Djinn, etc… I’m not sure I’m into it enough to pay the kinds of prices those pieces are going to have. I don’t have any other gaming related art. I do have a lot of silkscreen posters (mostly gig posters for metal bands).
So where do you go from here? Any plans for your future with the game or the art of the game?
I’m never quite sure what I’m doing with Magic. Sometimes I want to play constantly, other times I want to take a long break. Right now I still play a few GPs or other big tourneys every year and I’m pretty satisfied. I could certainly see myself buying another art piece, but it would have to fall into my lap. I don’t see myself going on any more big searches.
Thank you Chris for your time. We are so glad that you now get to enjoy the art for the card you helped create every day.
While Chris was able to get the art eventually, it might never have happened without the efforts of one Nick Detwiler, a Vintage tournament organizer, art collector and moderator of TMD. To learn more about how the art was eventually located and secured, we reached out to Nick to get his side of this story.
Nick, can you give us a brief rundown of what got you into the game and how you know Chris?
I knew of Chris well before I knew Chris. Going to high school in the late 90’s, I’d find myself reading Inquest magazine, trying out awful homebrews and playing Magic with friends. I remember reading about Team Deadguy, Deadguy Red, and the exploits of guys like Chris, Dave Price, Jon Finkel, Kai Budde, Randy Buehler, Mike Long, and myriad other early Pro Tour greats. I loved it. It was part of what made Magic as special as it was for me.
I’d heard of friends playing him once in a blue moon at Neutral Ground, and I always heard good things. Still, I first met Chris in September of 2010 at an N.Y.S.E. event that I was running out at Brothers Grim. He came out to play and I found that he was looking to get into Vintage. Chris was living in Brooklyn at the time, so Long Island tournaments were a realistic option for him. It was great to see him playing, even if he proved to be a savage Red Sox fan.
Did Chris come to you looking for the art for Meddling Mage or did you make the offer to look for it?
Chris knew that I had gotten into collecting Magic original art at the end of December 2011, after I had picked up Karn, Silver Golem from Paul Blakely. He mentioned that he had done some initial cursory investigating as far as where Meddling Mage had ended up, but that he had come up with no leads. Chris Moeller no longer had the piece, but on top of that, he had no records as to whom the piece had been sold to.
I put up a post on TMD, in the Art, Rarities and Collectibles forum back around March of 2012 asking the community at large if they had any information regarding where it had ended up. I reached out to all my contacts, checking if any of them had any information on the whereabouts of the piece. I heard whispers of its location, but never anything firm. I had a couple of people tell me that it was with a store in North Carolina, but nobody knew the location of the store. I asked a friend from North Carolina if he wouldn’t mind reaching out to some of the store owners that he knew down there, but no more information was forthcoming. I reached out to Evan Erwin to ask him if he would be willing to advertise Chris’s hunt on Twitter, but that didn’t yield anything either.
While I had been hunting for Meddling Mage for Chris, I was also hunting for some pieces for myself. I was hunting for the members of the Weatherlight crew, and Brian Keil eventually shipped me an incredible lead; he remembered that Mike Long owned some original pieces, and had them for sale at an Origins convention eight years prior. I had just been let down by Kev Walker himself, as he told me he didn’t have the Tahngarth, Talruum Hero and Skyship Weatherlight for sale. I was very excited to have a lead, and Mike Hajduk, a great friend of mine, found and passed along the contact information for Mike Long. I reached out to Mike, who passed me to his business partner, Jason. Jason and I emailed back and forth a few times, but eventually got to speaking over the phone. I called and we set up details on payment for Skyship Weatherlight, Tahngarth, Talruum Hero and Ertai the Corrupted. (If you know of the location to an original piece of art for one of the crew members of the Weatherlight, please let me know!) I always asked if collectors that I spoke to had any other paintings, and this throwaway question at the end led to the end of a six month hunt. Jason mentioned a few pieces that he had, including Hammer of Bogardan, and then he said “oh, and I have Meddling Mage”. It was quite the moment.
I called Chris, stunned. We started discussing the details involved in buying the piece.
Can you tell us the story of how you were able to pick up the piece?
The timing on everything worked out pretty well. I had taken off from work for the week of GenCon and I had just gotten all the information regarding the location of the piece the week prior. I had nothing planned the weekend before GenCon, other than a trip to Top Deck Games for the Summer Open. Jason had all the paintings in North Carolina, which was a hell of a drive from New York, but I was up for playing the role of road warrior. I put a beg up on Facebook and TMD for a place to stay in the D.C. area on Friday night, and Ryan Seeley kindly volunteered his couch for the night. I left work at 5pm on Friday and made it to D.C. by 10:30 that night. I left at 8 the next morning, made it to North Carolina at 4:45 or so, and dealt with Jason for about 30 minutes. I was sure to take pictures of Meddling Mage adorned in Yankee gear and send it to Chris. I drove from 5:15 till just shy of 4 a.m., Sunday morning. Chris put me up for the night, and then it was off to play Vintage on Sunday. By the end of the weekend I had done more than 30 hours of driving. It was impressive and I was happy.
The one thing I would have liked to have done was take a picture of Chris and I with Meddling Mage, but in my state at that point, and on just a few hours of sleep when I woke up, I didn’t think of it.
What would you say has been the key for you in your search for Original Magic Art, both in this case and others?
My hunt for Magic original art has been about recapturing some of what I felt when I was younger. My family had just moved back from Europe in 1996, I didn’t really know anyone when I started 9th grade, and the game definitely filled a hole for me. I feel like the images from Mirage, Visions, Weatherlight, Tempest, Stronghold, Exodus and all of Urza’s block have been permanently seared into my memory. My collection of original art reflects that. My hunt for the Weatherlight crew stems from that sentiment. I remember reading the flavor text on cards like Diabolic Edict, Smite and Temper, following the characters and where they were progressing. The thought that I could actually own the paintings, and have them all together, hanging on my wall, was something that I didn’t really consider until 2011. My hunt for the characters has gone well so far, but I have a long ways to go, and I have no leads on most of them. I’m going to need some big breaks in order to make this happen.
I hear that you are going to be hosting a big Vintage tournament in June, with artist Jeff A. Menges in attendance. Are there any other surprises that might be in store for attendees?
I am! I wanted the event to be a reflection of all that I love about Magic, and to a great degree, it is. For starters, it’s a Vintage tournament that has the best prize support that I’ve seen in the U.S. for years. Eight pieces of power will be given away, with scaling prize structure that could result in thousands of dollars in additional prizes being given away. I’m going to be giving away several hundred dollars in cards, product, sleeves, shirts, etc. to lucky winners, chosen randomly. I’ve managed to incorporate an incredible altered card that Poxy14 created for me into the prize pool. Greg Fenton, a great friend of mine, will be there selling custom altered playmats, Nick Coss, another great friend, will be there dealing, and you, Josh Krause, will be there as well, selling some awesome original art. I’ve gotten Jeff Menges, one of the original 25 artists of Magic to attend the event, and he’ll be there signing cards, selling prints, doing alters, and trading war stories of what Magic was like at its inception. Finally, I’ve picked up the best second place trophy imaginable, and I can’t wait until the community sees what I have…
That I could schedule an event like this, have so many things there that I love about Magic, and follow that up with having some of my absolute favorite people in my life all in the same room together is a tremendous success for me, regardless of how the event goes. I haven’t played a game in a while now, but I still love the game, and the community.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Nick. I know how much Chris appreciates the art and I wish you the best of luck with your upcoming tournament.
Make sure to check out the details of this tournament on TMD. There is still time and space available to pre-register for this event. The more registrations Nick gets in advance, the better the prize support will be. It’s already insane, but I think it hasn’t hit 11 just yet.
As always, if you enjoyed this interview, make sure to leave a comment below, follow us on twitter @OriginalMtGArt and stay tuned for additional content coming out this week.