Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sign your cards?

Should you get your cards signed by the artist?

I feel like there's a couple of points to consider, things I've dealt with.

Point #1: Value/Worth

This is undoubtedly the big question when it comes to cards being signed.  In most cases, you are lowering the value of a card.  Stores and sites will take your card but lower its value, usually from Near Mint to Slightly Played.  I've had this happen, and I've even had stores refuse to buy a signed card, because some people won't buy them.

Some people won't trade for them, either.  I've offered to throw in a signed version of a card, and the guy reacted like I'd offered him a colonoscopy.

However...there's also a lot of people who go crazy for signed cards.  It's a unique thing to do to a card--there's thousands of a card out there, but only perhaps a few hundred that are signed.  (In some cases, there might be more signed--we'll get to that.)

I am one of those people.  I feel like it's a connection I make, especially with cards I play or use a lot.  For instance, I've pretty much always had a Zombie deck.  60-card casual goodness, and when Soulless One was printed, I felt complete.  One of the first artists who I had sign things was Thomas Baxa, and now I have a foil signed playset of my happy little Zombies.

By the same token, I don't feel right about trading for signed cards, most of the time.  I really do value that connection, and secondhand, it doesn't feel quite the same to me. 

But that's the difference between value and worth. You are decreasing its value most of the time, but to some people, including yourself, you're vastly increasing its worth.

Point #2: Rarity

Some artists sign lots and lots of cards at lots and lots of events.  Some artists attend one or two events a year.  I haven't yet had the chance to find out why each does what, but I can tell you that two of the more prolific attendees and signers are rk post and Daarken.  I've seen those two at several events, and they never really had too long of a line.  Why?  Because they were at a different major event not too long ago.

This is not to denigrate or belittle those artists who make a lot of appearances.  I've bought prints and proofs, had sketches made on cards, and taken the time when I could for a chitchat.  These people make money off these appearances, and I would surely show up anytime someone wanted to tell me how awesome I was.

But by the same token, I've seen Terese Nielsen in person once, and her line was never less than an hour long.  She has the double whammy of having created some of the best art in the game, and her schedule doesn't allow for lots of trips.  (Full disclosure: I stood in line three times at GP: Anaheim for signings, and don't regret it at all.)

I'd say that one of the more frequent signatures I've seen is of Rob Alexander.  He painted a lot of original lands and Ravnica shocklands, and I've seen cards with his signature several times for sale or trade.

Keep in mind that some artists will have a limit as to how many they will sign at once.  This is usually to keep the line going, and may result in you having to stand in line several times.  Don't be that guy with a stack of 80 cards for one artist to sign, unless you're the only one in line and you're willing to tip--and all artists take tips.

Point #3: Appearance

This is something that I didn't know about when I started getting things signed.  Some artists have fantastic signatures, miniature works of art.  Others have scribbles.

I would advise you to do a little research before you go to an event, stack of cards in hand.  Google image search is a fantastic resource in this regard.  I've gotten cards signed, then looked down at them, and said to myself, "Oh man, that was a mistake."

I'm not going to single out anyone for a messy signature here.  I leave you to make your own decisions, but I'm always pleased to look at rk post's sig and Terese Nielsen's.

On the topic of appearances, let me add this nugget of information: Some artists at an event will have time/energy to draw on a card for you.  Frequently, this will be done to your specifications.  (For instance, I have a couple of Fatespinners who are holding small "STOP" signs courtesy of rk post.  He also wrote "First foil signed!" on a pal's foil Tajuru Preserver, since rk post was at the store at the Rise of the Eldrazi prerelease.)

Ask the artist if they have time, and what they would charge.  This isn't inappropriate.  If an artist is sitting around doing nothing, they aren't making money.  Pay them to do something awesome.  (hate to keep bringing him up, but rk post tweets some of his alters, and be careful, some are NSFW.)

I have seen people ask for very specific things and get them.  I have a friend who got a playset of Everflowing Chalice altered by Steve Argyle for $10 apiece, and got things like the face vases, an alien ship, gumball machines, etc.

There is a huge difference between the alters an artist will do on the spot or perhaps overnight with a Sharpie set and what they can do on commission.  Terese Nielsen has a gallery of her Force of Will alters, and these might be among the priciest of alters you can have done.  Not everyone plays Vintage and uses a Mox, but a lot more people use FoW (as a 4-of) in Legacy and it's suprisingly common in EDH.

Again, ask the artist (or better yet, research them and email ahead of time) if they have time to do the work you want done.  If they don't, ask for contact info and be prepared for the waiting game of shipping and receiving. 

Point #4: Prints

To me, this is one of the best part of being at an event with an artist.  Some artists bring their original artwork to sites, hoping to sell the piece without having to set up an online store or deal with eBay's percentages.  If you can afford to collect original Magic art, I'd say go for it.  Get it framed up, don't skimp on that, perhaps add a copy of the card.  You'll be the envy of others.

For the rest of us, there's prints.  These come in a range of sizes, and you're free to choose what appeals to you.  I really like that I can look at a wall in my home and see the Magic-related timeline.  I have prints from artists that were at stores, from the last World Championship, from Grands Prix...and it's fantastic.  I would suggest that you buy the print and then return that art to your car/hotel room, because carrying it around all day can get pretty annoying.

Prints are going to come in a range of sizes, and framing them is what you want to do, so be prepared for that expense.  We've found that the best solution is getting our own mat cutter, and buying frames secondhand.  There's usually a spot in garage sales that has a stack of frames, good wood ones, and buying glass at the right size is surprisingly cheap at big home improvement stores.

Another suggestion that has worked for me is to get the artist to sign the print (For a second time, as their signature is on the art itself) and put the place/time on it too.  It makes for a nice extra touch.

This turned into a much longer piece than I anticipated, but I love to talk about this topic.  I've gotten to the point where I have a special binder for signed cards, and it's one of the things that can make me happy just by flipping through it.

Final note: My fiancee and I hopefully going to be at the SCG Invitational event in Los Angeles on the 15th of December.  (Four artists there, including Terese Nielsen and rk post!) My goal is to draft, draft, and draft again, and have some EDH games in the meantime.  If you are there, and want to get me into a game, tweet me @WordOfCommander and I'll be happy to play.

See you soon!


  1. RK Post is the man. I got a few cards signed at GP Auckland. He was really friendly and an all around good guy. If only I had been able to find my Sakashima :(

    1. I'm planning on getting my foil Kaervek alters a little. Needs some penises.

  2. So, I have 4 rotlung reanimators signed by the Thomas Baxa I am currently selling all of my cards...how much should I post them for?

    If anyone has a guess of the value or is interested in buying them please shoot me an email: themysticalgrove@gmail.com