When I re-started collecting art in 2012, one of the collections that I spurred me on to search for more and more great art was that of Jeff Anand aka Samite Healer on various message boards.   Through the various message boards like TMD, he gave us glimpses at his collection when he would show off and he never failed to amaze.

Jeff has an extensive collections of rarities and art and started collecting art before many, including myself, had even considered it.  Over the years he has been able to amass an impressive set of the game’s iconic images.  To learn more about his collecting history and his feelings about the current state of Magic, I reached out to Jeff with a few questions.

Sphinx of the Steel WindJeff, can you give us a bit of your history?  When did you start collecting and what stages have you gone through as a collector?

Let me preface this by saying that my soon to be fiancé says the existence of this interview means I have a collecting problem ;-).  I’d also like to take a moment to thank Brian Keil for being especially helpful in obtaining some incredible art over the past few years, and Nick Detwiler for some great conversation and assistance with a few Kev Walker pieces that have come my way.  Thanks guys.

I’ve been collecting and playing Magic for nearly 17 years now, and I think I have gone through almost every phase that exists in terms of playing and collecting.  I started in the summer of 1995, when Ice Age, Fourth Edition, and Chronicles were at their peak, and missed the glory days of cheap Moxen and overpriced legendary creatures.  I originally started playing Type II in free local tournaments and my first objective was to amass a collection that would enable me to play any deck in the field.

Eventually I was able to complete four of every relevant card in Type II and turned my interest toward Type I.  During Tempest block we took a family trip to Vegas, and I stopped by a local card shop where I luckily traded away all of my extra standard cards for some staple Weissman-style control cards that were collecting dust there, namely Mirror Universe, The Abyss, Moat, and a few Mana Drains.  From that point I was hooked and became an avid collector/trader of cards.

During college I began vending at private Magic tournaments (Waterbury anyone?), pre-releases, and branched out to a few Grand Prix with some group effort.  Since I had everything I needed for tournament play and this was purely my hobby, I used these events to continue collecting misprints and rarities because I was attracted to their uniqueness and how niche the market was.  It was around 2002 or 2003 that I purchased my first pieces of original art and uncut sheets, which I still have to this day.

Since I tend to be long-winded, I figured I’d make you a handy timeline of collecting objectives/phases:

(1995) Playset of Type II > Single Type I Deck > Power Nine > All Type I Cards > All Black Bordered Vintage Deck > Misprints & Rarities > FBB Korean Phase > Japanese Foils > Original Art/Uncut Sheets/Graded Cards > Sealed Product > Complete Sets (Current)

Naturally, many of these phases overlap and still continue to do so.  However, I primarily focus on original artwork and uncut sheets these days, having sold nearly all of my summer cards and misprints (barring a few exceptions).

Thieving Magpie

Having collected Magic cards, rarities and art for over 10 years, you must have a few “one that got away” stories.  Care to share a few of your best ones?

Surprisingly, I actually don’t have that many stories that come to mind about particular missed opportunities, but more general regrets about not acting quickly enough during certain eras.  For example, years back at GenCon there was a gallery with many pieces of awesome original art for sale, including Mark Tedin’s City of Brass, Necropotence, and more than a dozen other high profile pieces by Mark Poole and other artists.  I probably could have afforded one piece, but I decided not to buy anything and instead bought a bunch of cards.  While I’m sure I did well in terms of value on the cards, the pieces are irreplaceable and I will likely never obtain any of those.

The first painting that truly devastated me when I noticed it sold was Donato Giancola’s Jayemdae Tome from 7th Edition.  I always loved that piece but it was way out of my league at the time.  I hesitated buying King Suleiman a few years back, which would have been my first Arabian piece, only to find out it sold five minutes prior to me inquiring about it again the next year.  At the time I had a Dealer’s badge so I was in before the general population but I still missed out.  Whoops!

A friend of mine missed out on Rob Alexander’s Exalted Angel by one minute.  Another well known collector’s message was time stamped one minute before Rob received my friend’s e-mail, so he lost out.  I wish I had purchased Covetous Dragon from eBay, Scroll Rack from Heather Hudson, and asked Ron Walotsky about his City of Brass when I had the pleasure of meeting him.  Speaking of eBay, I missed out on the 8th Edition Merchant Scroll because I fell asleep waiting for the auction.

There is one piece that is my one that got away!  It was Pernicious Deed.  I believe it sold the first time on eBay around 2009 or 2010 and I had missed the auction.  I go through waves where I usually check for original art and uncut sheets daily, but somehow I lost my rhythm around that time and didn’t check.  Months later, I was scrolling through completed auctions and saw that the Pernicious Deed had sold again, this time for a BIN of $600 (if memory serves correct).  I was pretty upset that I didn’t even have a chance to bid and whoever listed it for that BIN certainly lost money.  At that time, I was checking daily for art on eBay and it must have sold virtually immediately after it was listed.

Ball LightningWhile misses are going to happen in collecting, you’ve definitely made some great acquisitions in the past.  What would you consider to be the crown jewel (or jewels) of your collection (card, painting, etc.)?

It’s hard to say exactly what is the best out of my collection because every piece has different meaning for me.  I think the most valuable and impressive pieces I have are some of my uncut sheets, but it probably makes sense to choose the best from each category.  So, here’s how I tend to break it down:

Favorite Artwork:        Ball Lightning (Quinton Hoover), Godless Shrine, Overgrown Tomb (Rob Alexander)

Best Sealed Products:        Alpha Starter Deck, Beta Starter Deck

Best Misprints:                Shifted Foil Masques Brainstorm, Counterspell, & Dark Ritual (signed by Rebecca Guay)

Best Graded Card:        BGS 9.5 Beta Mana Vault w/ two 10 subgrades, PSA 8 Chub Toad

Best Uncut Sheet:        Complete set of Beta Artist Proofs

You’ve been an advocate of collecting Magic art for some time now, even going so far as to start your own website a few years ago.  What is it about the art and the game that makes you so passionate?

Well, I actually bought the domain mtgartwork.com several years ago in anticipation of launching a site, but never really did.  On the advice of a friend I threw together something temporary using Weebly, but had always hoped of partnering with another professional to put some money behind the site and develop it properly.  Since I decided to attend law school and in light of the exceptional job you’ve done on OMA, I have since abandoned the idea for the foreseeable future.

I am extremely passionate about Magic because there are so many aspects to the hobby that make it appealing to a wide audience.  Between casual players, pro players, die-hard collectors, and art fanatics – there is something for everyone.  I personally know people who have played on the pro circuit for years and don’t own any physical cards; on the other hand, I know collectors who have paid off mortgages without ever learning how to play the game.  Even within those broad archetypes there are subcategories – do I play Standard, Vintage, Legacy, Modern, Commander, or all of the above?  The resiliency of the secondary market has also allowed many people to start their own businesses, and the flexibility of the game and rules allow players to invent new and interesting formats.  Danger Room anyone?  (Thank you Mr. Demars!)

Night's Whisper

Outside of art and cards, I’ve heard that you also have some interesting Magic memorabilia.  What would you consider to be the most interesting piece of Magic history that you own?

Wow, that’s a tough one.  Supposedly the uncut sheet of Beta proofs I acquired recently were the ones hanging in the original WotC headquarters in the early days, and if it’s true then that’s probably the best.  Other than that, I’d say the original booklet and laminate badge from the first Magic prerelease in NYC would be second.  I also have the Questing Phelddagrif  and another giant banner from Nationals years ago.   It’s really hard to say what’s the best because I have a bunch of totally different things.

Reflecting PoolWhen you start collecting, your aspirations for growing your collection change as goals are achieved.  What are you currently searching for to expand your collection?  How have your priorities in the search for Magic related items changed over time?

I am currently searching for any and all uncut sheets that I don’t already have, which means there are quite a few I am after.  A friend of mine recently purchased an uncut foil sheet of Return to Ravnica rares/mythics and a sheet of From the Vault: Realms, which I would love to get my hands on.  I know there were also between five and ten From the Vault: Exiled sheets that were given out years ago, one of which would be nice to have.  With regard to art, I know another collector on rarities has City of Brass from 7th Edition by Ron Walotsky which is in my top five, and I’m sure I won’t get, and I’m always on the lookout for awesome pieces of vintage staples like Fact or Fiction and Force of Will (who isn’t?).  I would love to add a single piece of Alpha art to my wall one day.  That is my goal for 2014.

My priorities have certainly changed over time as my collection has grown larger and earning power improved.  When I was fifteen, I worked at a supermarket and took home about $70 per week.  Needless to say I was confined to purchasing art prints for $10 and $20 at my local convention.  However, clever trading and investing over a seventeen year period goes a long way and over that time I switched from regular cards to anything but.  I think the timeline from the first question explains how my priorities have changed.  It went from joining the players club to becoming a market-maker.

Having operated on both sides of the spectrum you must have run into and utilized many different approaches when making a deal.  What approach did you find to be most successful, both for you and the collectors and players you traded with?

The most successful approach to working a deal involves thinking from the other person’s perspective and making sure that both parties walk away happy.  Price gouging and making insulting offers is disrespectful and can often close many doors on you, regardless of whether you were just “starting low” and willing to agree on a reasonable price.  I have found approaching large deals as a collaborative problem-solving issue to be the most effective because the other party recognizes that you want to make a mutually beneficial deal – not just get what you want out of it and move on.  Fortunately, I have been able to develop and sustain many good relationships over the years and really just deal with those people almost exclusively.  The “burn and churn” experience that goes on the trading room floor at a Grand Prix now has, unfortunately, become commonplace and leaves many people jaded.  A long-term approach and incremental value trades work well for everyone and make it a positive experience.

Genju of the Falls

After being involved in pretty much every aspect of the collectible side of the game, do you have any words of advice for new collectors or those thinking about expanding their collections beyond traditional cards?

Sure! (Take all advice with a grain of salt – lots of people have great advice)

  1. Educate yourself.  Before diving into any new hobby or areas of collecting, make sure you understand what you are getting into and the risk you are taking versus the reward.  For example, if you have limited resources and you enjoy playing Standard every Friday night, and PTQs on the weekends, make sure that you realize the extent to which entering this new realm could potentially impact what you’re doing now.  I’ve seen people sell cards and invest significant money into things with the expectation that they can get their money out of them at any time, and it often ends in disappointment.
  1. Maintain focus.  With the prices of Magic cards and related memorabilia skyrocketing beyond belief, it is now incredibly difficult to collect multiple things at the same time.  If you truly want to collect something try to stay within a particular band, otherwise you’ll never make a dent.
  1. Don’t hesitate.  If you know what you want and it’s rare or unique, go buy it (assuming you can afford it!)  If something you want ends up in the hands of another collector you’ll likely have to pay a significant premium for it, if you can even get it at all.
  1. Develop relationships with others who share an interest in what you are collecting.  Although misprints and artwork are unique, different people collect different types of misprints or styles of paintings and can often point you in the right direction.

Specifically when it comes to Magic art, I’d advise people to make a purchase only if they still would still be happy if they could never resell the piece.  I wouldn’t stray too much into the “art as an investment” realm, even though the pieces have value.  You never want to be in the position where you are expecting your art to increase in value or have to resell them in a pinch.

Karplusan Forest“The sky is falling” has been an ever present lament of some that play and collect Magic.  What are your thoughts on the current state of the game and the health of the overall Magic “economy”? 

I think the game is incredibly healthy right now, and probably has more people participating in Magic “culture” than at any time in its history.  However, I feel that Magic as a “hobby” is more fragmented than ever in the sense that there are separate and distinct categories that people fall into.  For example, at my local game stores there are players that play purely competitively and do nothing but grind out PTQs and Grand Prix events, trying to get on the gravy train and ride it to winning a major event.  For them, it is all about the thrill of victory, making a little money here and there from qualifier type events and trying to socialize with the pros.  I’d almost call this the “Magic as a job” type of mentality, that is not shared by the majority of players on a global scale.  These players have their own groups, which are different than those that play Vintage, and those that play casually at game nights at friends’ houses.  While there might be some overlap, I can certainly look through my cell phone and identify plenty of people that fall squarely into each category.

WotC has done a tremendous job by switching the focus of pre-releases as large-scale events in the hands of regional tournament organizers to casual events at local stores.  Accordingly, they have developed highly successful product lines that are designed to reward business owners for maintaining brick and mortar shops – Commander’s Arsenal, Duel Decks, and Planechase come to mind.  The core theory behind this, and I largely agree with it, is that Magic is a social game and new players either learn to play at their local game store, or are taught behind the scenes by friends and accompany them to their local store to test their mettle.  Unfortunately, the biggest impediment to this strategy has been the same for years, which is the overall lack of business experience  exhibited by the local game store owner.  Let’s face it – most comic shop owners opened their store because they love comics – not because they knew anything about how to run a business.  By and large though, I think this shift in strategy has been fairly successful over the past four years.

The Pro Tour is incredibly important to the overall health of the game but difficult to quantify.  From the little that I follow that aspect of the game, I’ve heard that many of the pro players and hall of famers have expressed how financially nonviable the current situation is.  It is extremely important that Wizards maintain the professional integrity of the game if it wants it to keep growing, because even though the tour is small, thousands of players worldwide aspire to reach that level.  Grand Prix attendance has become enormous, often with well over 2,000 people present, and that is a huge indicator of current success.

Without droning on about idle speculation, I’ll wrap up with this:  Simply put, Magic has more people now than ever investing a significant portion of their lives to the game, and an unparalleled amount of individuals using Magic as their sole or primary source of income, who won’t let it fail anytime soon.  Let me put it in a different perspective – a Grand Prix in the United States averages about twenty vendors, each paying in excess of $4,000 per table.  The total value of all Revised Underground Seas on the secondary market is estimated at about $18,000,000.  Magic is big business these days, and too many people have their hands in the pot – especially at Hasbro – to let anything this big go down without a fight.

That being said, if Magic were to start tanking, I believe there would certainly be a pecking order in terms of what retains value starting with Alpha cards and related sealed product.  Essentially, I’d expect the original art for Serra Angel to remain thousands of dollars, while the painting of a random Zendikar common will quickly deflate barring it holding the name of a highly recognized artist.

Uktabi Orangutan

What do you see as the roadblocks that are keeping Magic from breaking into the broader culture, or will that simply happen over time?

Honestly, I think the biggest challenges to Magic’s mainstream acceptance are the players themselves.  I can’t remember who, but someone wrote an interesting article on Star City a year or two ago about how Magic players, generally speaking, were pretty rude to women.  I’m not sure if it’s Magic’s addictive traits or the addictive personalities of its players, but the members of our favorite hobby often exhibit social patterns of behavior that preclude interaction with large majorities of the population.  I understand that this is a broad generalization, but how many gamers do you know that cram into a small game store or someone’s basement for 4-10+ hours at a time and lock themselves away from the rest of the world?

Another major roadblock is the cost of the game.  Other gamers can collectively spend a few hundred dollars on the world’s best games from boardgamegeek.com and occupy themselves for the next three years.  With four new Magic sets a year, most players will have to shell out significant amounts of money to maintain competitive.  That is a serious hindrance to anyone who wants to join our club, and as we all know, playing with a pile of junk against a competitive tournament deck isn’t much fun.  (Enter the highlander format!)  The additional challenges to Modern and Legacy along these lines are pretty obvious.

Finally, the time commitment may be an issue for newer players.  It takes awhile to develop skill in Magic, and part of that is learning the existing card pool as well as the four new sets a year.  Furthermore, participating in a tournament usually takes a minimum of four hours, if not an entire day.  Grand Prix event provide a unique and exciting experience, especially for newer players, but that could take a whole weekend.  Newer players have a tough time with the costs, and as players get older they have access to more money but less time.

This is all pure speculation, and I’m really unsure what the exact roadblocks are and where Magic will be in the next X years.

Mana SeveranceIn the past, you’ve supported the idea of owning original art while at the same time stating possible concerns about the rising level of interest in this niche market.  Do you feel that the current increase in interest was inevitable or a result of other factors?  How sustainable do you feel the market for Magic art will become over time?

While I’m inclined to say it would be inevitable, I hesitate because I think interest in Original Magic Art is directly linked to the popularity of Magic as a whole.  My concern for the rising level of interest in the market has partly been a selfish one, but mostly a shared concern for the potential collector who doesn’t own any pieces but wants to buy in.  As a small, but growing community, we’ve artificially created a race to pick up pieces before others do because we see fewer than a dozen people posting about their purchases on a daily basis.  We are collectors, which means by our very nature we are generally compulsive and probably check the forums twenty times a day, thus compounding the problem.  I mean, how often do you check the forums on TMD or the galleries on OMA?  With over 60,000 page views it seems pretty obvious.

Prior to this public display of shared affinity for Magic art, people were able to save up money over time and have a substantial shot at purchasing a piece of Magic’s history.   For over a decade I pieced together a collection of art one or two paintings at a time, even picking up rare or interesting pieces that I thought would have been long gone.  Within six months of the art thread appearing on TMD, dozens of pieces started moving, being bought and sold at an almost routine pace (comparatively) with claims that the days of inexpensive Magic art are over.  Magic has been gaining popularity over that decade, so I think this is a good indication that we are, in part, the direct cause of this trend in original art.  There is the selfish concern above; I still don’t own an Alpha piece and it’s just getting exponentially harder =)

Simply put, I don’t think it was necessarily inevitable because there are hundreds of games with unique pieces of original art that died and nobody remembers.  Thousands of artists can draw a dragon – it’s the magic in Magic that makes the Shivan Dragon special.

I think the market for original Magic art is growing and the supply is shrinking, especially in the digital age.  There will always be several hundred original pieces becoming available as long as WotC continues producing four new sets per year, which is good for those who want to enter this market.  I’d expect the old pieces that are pre-1995 will rise steadily in price and remain a high price even if the game itself falls flat.

Kitchen Finks

The increased use of digital media in Magic art production can be a very polarizing subject among collectors, especially collectors of original art.  Where do you fall on the issue? 

My favorite pieces have bright, vibrant colors with incredible detail and I happen to love a lot of the digital art that comes out in the newer sets.  As a collector it is a double-edged sword because you can never truly own the original art, but you also don’t have to spend the resources to track down and purchase it either.  While I would love to own one of the Planeswalkers or Pact of Negation, as a collector I’m happy to not have an infinite amount of targets to go after.  It is always sad though, from a collector perspective, to hear an artist going completely digital.  For example, over time I’m sure it will be increasingly difficult to get a John Avon original.

Well, Jeff, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and we look forward to seeing what other rarities you have in your collection.

Make sure to check out Jeff’s gallery of original Magic art and reach out to him at mtgartwork@gmail.com with any questions.

As always, if you enjoyed this interview make sure to leave a comment below, follow me on twitter @OriginalMtGArt and stay tuned for additional content coming out this week.