“In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.” — Charles Darwin
The year was 1998. Just down the street from where I lived was a friend, who was two years older than me (I was 12 at that time), that used to hang out with me a lot. We got into all kinds of mischief in those days playing with our chemistry kits, which were a common gift to younger students these days, creating bright magnesium flames and blowing up Kinder eggs.
Playing computer games was a great pastime as well, although at that time you needed a lot of imagination to get what the programmer meant by those oddly shaped pixels. All of that was fun but on one day, when I came over, he had a pile of cards arranged for each of us, and told me this was a cool new game we should try. It was called Magic: The Gathering. We played the whole day with those cards and I can recall that I was losing quite hard to his Volcanic Hammer. What a beating!
Flash forward a few months. My friends from school and I had all picked up the game and were constantly pestering our parents to drive us to the nearest toy store that sold booster packs. We had been playing for some months, were all really, really bad and playing pimped out pre-constructed Rath block decks.
Then in the Summer of ’98 Exodus rolled around and I couldn’t tell you why, but it was my favorite set from the start. I liked the gold and silver expansion symbols, I liked most of the cards, and I pulled a great card that I could build a deck around from one of my very first booster packs. It had this nice gold symbol, it was green (I was playing a green Spike deck already!), it was an Enchantment (those were hard to kill, I knew that already), it was a steal at only 1G casting cost(so cheap!) and it had beautiful artwork. It was… Oath of Druids.
Yes, it’s not a typo; I really had an Oath of Druids in my hand at that time. I tried to get somewhere with the card for weeks, but (surprisingly!) it did nothing apart from always giving creatures to my opponents or always flipping the wrong creatures when I really needed some. It was just not my type of card – I couldn’t make it work with the cards I had back then.
A few weeks later, I got my mum to drive me to that toy store again, bought some packs of Exodus, and there it was, the answer to all my prayers! A card that was exactly what I had been searching for: Survival of the Fittest. The name, the art, the color, the cost, all spot on to what I was looking for, but when I read the ability, I couldn’t even believe what I was reading.
I think I read it several times (back then I would often miss a limiting factor in a card’s text, and my opponent would have to indicate to me what I missed, usually rendering any insane play that I just made impossible) but there was no catch. I could just discard whatever creature I didn’t need and could dig up whatever creature I wanted! AMAZING! It took me just a few days of looking through cards and thinking about other stuff my friends were playing to figure out the absolute nuts: This + Living Death was just absurd!!! It would win me every game I ever played!
As you probably figured, this is not how it worked out in the end as I could never gather enough Living Deaths to make it work. Simply put, nobody was crazy enough to trade them to me and we were the only guys in our school playing Magic.
Times changed and soon Urza block was coming to an end. There were plenty of Echo creatures that played nicely together and produced nearly every effect I could ever wish for with Survival of the Fittest. Wanting to get my deck rolling, I convinced some friends to make a big order from the biggest German MTG retailer at the time. It was something like this:
- 4 Survival of the Fittest
- 4 Birds of Paradise (each a different version I traded for)
- 3 Skyshroud Elf
- 1 Anarchist
- 1 Bone Shredder
- 1 Radiant’s Dragoons
- 1 Avalanche Riders
- 1 Fallen Angel (from Legends!!)
- 1 Uktabi Orangutan
- 1 Ghitu Slinger
- 3 Living Death
- 1 Bayou
- 1 Taiga
- 1 Savannah
- 2-3 City of Brass
- Lots of Forests
I’m sorry I can’t remember much more. The three Living Death, three Dual lands and the Fallen Angel were purchased from that retailer. The Dual lands were a shocking 10 bucks a piece and the Fallen Angel was very expensive as I wanted one specifically from Legends because it was the most important creature in my plans!
The plan was brutal. Get down Survival, keep alive with all those comes-into-play creatures and let them die by not paying echo. Then, when the time was right (i.e. when I drew into a Living Death) fill the graveyard with as many guys as possible plus Fallen Angel and Anarchist. Play Living Death. BOOM!
I could kill creatures, artifacts, lands, gain life, deal damage, and get Living Death back into my hand! What’s better than casting Living Death? Living Death every turn!!
In the next upkeep, I sacrificed everything to my beautiful, evil Angel, hit my opponent for a lot, sacrificed the Angel to herself and then replay Living Death. You have no idea how proud 13-year-old me was back then to have put together such a deadly combo.
A few months later, Mercadian Masques rolled in and it had the most insane card a true Survival pilot could ever hope for: Squee, Goblin Nabob!
Wait, what? I can Survival every turn? And it doesn’t even cost me a card? Ridiculous!
I was feeling great, and getting a foil Squee was my quest for a few weeks after the release. Sadly, soon afterwards my interest in Magic got less and less. As my friends and I got into other games and other hobbies, Magic slowly disappeared from the radar and the cards were forgotten in shoeboxes for many, many years…
Flash forward to autumn 2006. I was entering University after finishing High School and 9 months of compulsory military service. As I was planning on studying Math and Computer Science to become a teacher, I spent some time in the math building and one day, while walking with a couple friend, found a room called the “Tearoom”.
When we walked in there were some people playing cards. The cards looked quite strange, but also very familiar. They told me the game was called “Magic” and I told them that I played something similar in the past. One guy pulled out a deck and said “Those are the old cards, they look a bit different.”
I was holding a Dark Ritual and a Hypnotic Specter in my hand, and suddenly I was veeeeery sure that it was the same game indeed. You couldn’t ever forget these two bad boys! The next day I came in again with my old deck that I had unburied and played against the guys in the “Tearoom”. It was just outrageous!
I won nearly every single game and they couldn’t understand how one could have printed such an insane card like Survival of the Fittest. It could just do EVERYTHING. They asked me about a lot of creatures which I had to be playing in the deck, but I didn’t recognize any of the names.
Here I went again. Imagine my laughter when I found out about Mystic Snake. Survival could protect itself now? And if it got destroyed, you could just get Eternal Witness in response to get it back?? FOR REAL???
Needless to say, I was hooked once again, with Magic in general and with Survival in particular.Weeks and months of endless gaming soon followed, and even though I did have to change to a different topic of my studies only a few months later (at a different university, no less), I never regretted my time spent in the “Tearoom”. How could I when it brought me back to Magic.
After a few months spent settling into the new coursework, I discovered Vintage and I started encountering signed cards which I had never seen before. I found myself more and more attracted to owning “special” cards. Generally speaking, I got into collecting.
Before, I had been a player that was struggling to get the cards he wanted to play with and now, there was this huge internet thing where you could get every card you ever wanted. Not only that, you could also get in touch with people that you could never reach out to before. That was when I first contacted Pete Venters.
I was so in love with the artwork for Survival of the Fittest that I had to find out if he had prints available so I could hang one on my wall. In addition, I hoped I could send him cards for him to sign. At the time, I didn’t even ask about a whole playset, as the signed Survival I wanted was not intended for play. I sent him a single Chinese copy of Survival, as well as some Phyrexian Dreadnoughts (which I was playing in my Vintage deck) and had it signed with my nickname “Twiedel”.
Side note: I met Richard Garfield in Rome in 2009 and got only my most valuable cards (for me personally) signed by him, which included my Black Lotus, my Force of Wills and of course my devoted copy of Survival. It was soon added to my German Highlander deck which put up the best records of any deck I ever played.
While conversing with Pete over email, I randomly asked him if he had done a painting for Survival. I can’t even recall how that came to my mind, I was just curious. He said that there was a painting and that is was still available. I think the price he quoted me was $1,000 back then, but I’m not 100% sure.
I wanted to snap it up but there was a problem: I was a student that just got into university, and was already struggling to shell out the $100 for my playsets of blue Duals that I needed to play Vintage back (man, things have gone SO high since I purchased my first ones!). There was just no reasonable way to get the $1,000 without selling parts of my body, so I thanked him for the information, ordered the prints, sent the cards, and got everything delivered to me a few weeks later.
Another flash forward, this time seven years to 2013. After winning 2012 Vintage Champs and hanging the Timetwister on the wall, I got the idea to ask Pete Venters about Survival again. After a few months, I finally reached out to him only to find out that it was sold many years ago. That was sufficient for the moment. I was a bit sad, but I was not in “I need to get this” (We call that a “Frenzy” here at OMA – Editor) mode yet.
Things changed in the end of 2013 when a friend of mine who is a great collector showed me some of his paintings, and that really lit the spark for me. After seeing how awe-inspiring an original artwork could be, I decided to hunt for Survival. If I found it in hands that would not let it go, I would at least know where it was.
I started my search with other Magic Art collectors that I knew already from The Mana Drain. One of the first people I asked was the founder of OMA himself, who pointed me to Facebook and other people there. Believe it or not: This was why I got a Facebook account. We are not stuck in the middle ages here in Germany, but I sure am sometimes, and I need to justify creating an account for some company that I don’t fully trust – but that is another story.
If it could lead me to Survival, I’d have made a pact with the devil (and in this case, the devil was named Facebook). I got some great info from some fellow collectors there, notably Mike Hajduk, who gave me some information about the last time it sold on ebay. He had been searching for Survival himself for a long time, but had stopped looking by the time I asked him. His information led me to Japan.
This was quite discouraging to be honest as I don’t speak Japanese and only know two people living there. The odds of me getting somewhere were just extremely slim. Undaunted, I contacted a German friend trading cards full time in Japan to make a living to see if he heard anything about Survival or maybe knew about some Japanese art collectors. It yielded nothing, but he promised to keep me posted if anything turned up.
Worried but not yet defeated, I used the last Joker left in my deck. I knew one other person in Japan, and he is, no exaggeration, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my whole life (Agreed -Editor). The 2009 Vintage Champion, Hiromichi Itou, who I met at GenCon in 2012 and who was one of the first ones to congratulate me on my win there. Since then, we had run across each other in Annecy for the Bazaar of Moxen event, as well as the 2013 Eternal weekend, where we played some friendly games and finally exchanged email addresses.
With a desperate hope I contacted Hiromichi telling him about my search for Survival, the clues I got that lead me to Japan, and everything else I could think of the aid in the search. It was a lengthy email for sure. Time delays between Germany and Japan being what they are, I had no idea if he would respond or how long I would have to wait to hear back from him.
The reply only took 52 minutes.
It consisted of a few words and a link to a site that was completely in Japanese. The website was incomprehensible as I couldn’t read a single character but most importantly was the picture of a framed Survival of the Fittest that appeared on the page. I sat there, dumbfounded with my mouth agape.
I immediately replied (it was insane that we were effectively chatting, because the huge time delay doesn’t allow for this luxury very often) and asked him how he found that, and he simply told me he searched for the card name, “Survival of the Fittest” in Japanese, and found this dealer that was offering it for quite some time, domestic shipping only.
It took a few more emails and a few questions to Pete Venters to confirm that it was indeed the real painting. This was like Christmas in January. I honestly couldn’t believe that it was this easy in the end. No collector that didn’t want to part with it, no weeks of discussions for a possible price. There it was, for sale and ready to be picked up.
Hiromichi graciously offers to visit the shop himself to check the authenticity of the painting. He bought it on the spot and took it back to his home, where he sent me this beautiful picture stating “Survival is in good company!”
The coincidence of Survival ending up with the green Mox was just so funny that it still makes me smile to this day whenever I think about it. The search complete, there was just one more hurdle to clear: Survival had to once again cross a continent and come to its new home in Germany.
Richard enters the battlefield!
One of my best friends that I have made by playing Magic, Richard Lessman, had already announced he would be attending Grand Prix Kobe, as he loves Steaks for life. Being able to eat the world’s most famous beef alongside a Magic GP was just too much to pass up for him. Lucky me!
With him going to Japan, Hiromichi didn’t need to go through any troubles of sending the painting and I didn’t have to fear it being lost or destroyed in shipping as it could be safely escorted to Germany by a fellow collector. As Richard is one of the absolute craziest persons I know when it comes to Magic, it was not surprising that he was ringing my doorbell less than 24 hours after touchdown back in Germany. He presented this and made 12-year-old Marc the happiest little kid on Earth.
So, that’s the story so far. I own two artworks now, and although I’m constantly thinking about what to aim for next, I can’t really figure out how to follow this up. Maybe it’ll take some time for me to figure out a new goal, but we’ll see that in the future. I feel great for being lucky and fortunate enough to own the two artworks that mean the most to me, out of any in existence. Of course, I’d do everything to get my hands on a Force of Will, but so would any of us, right?
Thanks to all who helped in the process, to all I’ve forgotten to mention, and especially to Richard, Hiromichi, Mike and Josh, who helped me find and get Survival, and to Marc (he has the same name as I do) for introducing me to Magic back in 1998. Without any of you, this likely wouldn’t have happened!
Best wishes to all of you collectors out there, may you find what you are looking for!
-“Twiedel” Marc Lanigra