There are few things that connect Magic players better than a bad-beats story. It’s a poker term meaning a story that tell of a time you had success in your hands and then had it torn out by a silver bullet—by your opponent having the perfect combination of cards—to steal a win. An article series I would love to see reimagined somewhere is a crazy-old article by Paul Sottosanti, former Wizards designer, discussing some bad beats. Maybe that could be a thing on Tumblr, as tweets are too short. Perhaps a video crew could make an ending scene with one story for each posting they make—or a podcast.
I generally like hearing bad-beats stories when I’m playing the Limited format because it’s the difference between being prepared for Triton Tactics and losing out on a Top 8 because you fell asleep to 1 blue mana being available to your opponent. In Constructed play, I'm less interested; it’s akin to retelling a dream. It’s longwinded and terribly uninteresting, and people feign interest at best. There isn’t much to gain from the story, and you are waiting for the line, “And then I found ten dollars.”
So why the hell are we here today, and why am I writing about them?
Some stories are more important than a single game loss. Some show insight into “Playing the Magics” that a Vorthos would dig, seeing insight into storyline, the art, and the flavor. That is my jam, and—as I’m being the Painter’s Servant—it’s my job to keep these stories, these tidbits, alive and not lost on page eighty-four in a forum you’ll never visit.
I picked three categories of Art Bad Beats, those that are just cringe-worthy of having awesome in your hands, only to see it thrown on the ground in front of you.
Serra Angel – She’s Not There
Notice, Doug’s last name was spelled correctly when Revised came out.
Thus far, the story goes that Richard Shuler made three versions of this artwork. One resides with a Japanese collector, one is still missing, and one was lost in one of Wizards of the Coast’s office moves, of which there have been a few. Worth Wollpert stated that it must’ve been at least in the late 1990s, as he had not heard of this happening during his tenure. That was three years ago, so I asked again, and we hope to hear back soonish:
I’ve fallen out of communication with most of the people I knew at Wizards. The ones I’ve tried to keep in touch with . . . Well, as many Wizards relationships go, folks assume you’ll be pumping them for job referrals or insider information. So even scholarly projects like the Alpha Art catalogue raissone project, trying to document all known whereabouts of Alpha art, is met with silence.
This art’s disappearance fits into those categories.
If Wizards did indeed lose it, no one is to blame, nor should they be. Art grows legs—a lot. I worked in a museum in Minneapolis, and as I worked in the registrar’s office (they’re like the art keepers who wear the white gloves), they mentioned how art had disappeared in the past. Art “growing legs” means an internal theft or an internal source helps an outside source acquire the art.
I need to be clear: Gaming employees aren’t thieves, and Wizards employees have been, and are, some of the most talented creators of incredible entertainment products. But as I studied a lot of economics in my Master’s program, it just takes one person, in a moment of weakness, to be incentivized to do the wrong thing. Did someone walk out with it? It’s within the realm of possibility, just as it has happened with Disney on countless occasions, but it’s more likely it was bought through some sort of middleman, and Douglas Shuler was never compensated.
I’m working on this Alpha Catalogue Raissone project to find provenance on all Alpha art. It’s to establish where art is located, who owned it before, and where it is, and that helps curators for art exhibitions, but it also prevents unsavory business in the future, as a paper trail will exist.
Serra Angel will probably never be in an “Art of Magic” exhibition in its original form, but reproductions can work if none are found. They have done that with the Ishtar Gate—and even dinosaurs after all.
There are two things that scare me when taking part in Magic: losing a match wholly because of a missed play by me and receiving Magic things in the mail.
I try to ask a player after each match, if he or she has time, to walk through the last couple turns to learn about how I could’ve perfected play. With the Journey into Nyx prerelease, for every game I lost, there was utterly nothing I could’ve done. There is some reassurance in that. It’s frustrating, but it allows for closure.
I cannot fix that problem easily with the postal service. Delivery confirmation poses temporary storage problems, insurance claims are shaky at best, and cripes, no one knows how to ship things safely. PucaTrade now has a pretty good system of using toploaders, but nothing exists for Magic art. You can’t just drop an enchantment and call it a day.
I’ve seen a lot of people ask me about some obscure common from 1998 and if I know the artist. I generally haven’t had a Jucy Lucy with most artists, but I will reach out to them, ask the artists, and often, the art still exists. From there, an utter win of a $200–$400 artwork can go into a Bad Beat when someone simply uses an oversized bubble mailer and wings it.
I’ve had two shipments in the past year be compromised. One was fixed through some apologies, me learning my lesson, and me palm-slapping my forehead repeatedly. The other was an awkward situation, but it was smoothed over by an artist proof being sent later. That balanced it out, and that felt okay to me. Having a column has its perks from time to time. In both cases, I trusted the sender would have adequate measures in place. I learned that being overly protective is a necessity.
From that experience I had, a friend—one of the Minneapolis collectors—also had a pretty bad-beats story that she has shared with me:
Some things to keep in mind when sending works: If you’re sending to frigid and cold places like Minnesota or stupidly humid places like Miami, make sure you think of that in shipment. Artists are generally good about making amends about shipments, but if a work is ruined, it will forever carry that scar, and you will remember it forever that ya messed up. Paint will meld to tissue paper, wax paper, cardboard, or tracing paper if you give it the option! Symbiosis was saved with a fix, but artists won’t live forever. Take the necessary preparation by being safer than sorry.
I’ll have to make a short video for works on paper in the next couple weeks to show you an ideal way to ship them. The same could go for altered cards, which is an utter tragedy when the paint wipes off due to humidity and the like!
I have two stories of art that was with us. I’m still not sure which is more tragic, as both technically still “exist,” though it will take a serious force of will to find either—if it ever happens. I fear one is gone forever.
Dandan went missing a little over a year ago. I wrote about it in my Vorthos’s Worst Day Ever article. After picking up the purchased piece in person, the collector and his art broker decided to get some food, with the art being left in the car. It’s a smaller piece—one shouldn’t have to worry about it being stolen or sun-damaged being in a car for an hour. But yet:
I still feel terrible about this. The other piece he bought wasn’t stolen, but this fish, generally unknown to many, especially so without its frame, probably is in a landfill, ditched by thieves looking for quick cash.
Selling stolen art is incredibly difficult, as every pawnshop will ask for provenance. Without provenance, or paperwork to prove what it is, you need an expert in the field of that art to receive top money from the pawnshop, if any money at all. Stores will assume it isn’t authentic before they believe it’s stolen if you don’t have paperwork.
Since that fateful day, he had this update:
I routinely scour artist websites looking for information on art, but also to ask questions regarding pieces. I’m curious by nature, and every few weeks, I find an interesting thing on a Magic website. Often, it’s a new artist reshowing past Magic fan art to receive an art director’s attention. I do love seeing fan art and artists’ interpretations or additive sketches and doodles of art they worked on that was just released. I’m very happy to see more and more on Instagram and Tumblr by Magic artists.
This past month, I asked living legend Donato Giancola why this piece was listed as destroyed:
Let me simply show you how three words gives us one helluva bad beat:
I didn’t expect a response at all. He didn’t owe it to me, and if it was destroyed, what if it was from a fan or a collector and he’s therefore angry about it?! I had no idea, but I had to ask or I’d never know.
Despite my fear of angering him, he gave me one.
I think the best part of Donato is how pleasant it is to interact with him, whether at a convention or via e-mail. You can just see a smiling, bearded man, being ever-honest about his work and his process.
Having paintings covered up by other paintings is incredibly common. To those of you who want a tournament staple from the 1990s: Many of them were painted over for another client. Sorry to break it to you. When 1996 came, many artists changed over and have done so every few years with a Rebecca Guay, Phil Foglio, or Terese Nielsen enduring through stylistic and world-building changes.
One day, we’ll use an X-ray to find this piece, not unlike Italian painters of the 1500s, revealing paintings underneath. (Read an example about Tintoretto’s Nativity’s hidden X-ray secrets here.) Can I add more hyperbole that connects to Donato to Renaissance painting techniques? Probably in a future column destined to be written every 14 months and posted to i09 or reddit as link bait. I’ll work on that.
Szadek is not technically “missing,” and it’s a hell of a bad-beat story if Szadek is your commander, but fear not: Donato makes amazing numbered giclees that he sells at conventions. They’re under $100, and if you ask real nicely, he might just bring one with him to a show near you soon. He will be at Spectrum Live this weekend. If you see him, be sure to go through his sketch portfolios—they’re amazing.
You’ll notice the biggest story was left out . . . What happened to Alpha’s artworks?
What happened? Well . . . that will be discussed in the future, when we’re all ready for it. It’s an unhappy tale with no one winning and one that has needed years to write. Bad beat? By that notion, someone wins. Here, I’m not sure anyone does. It will come when it’s ready, and peace talks have fully played out to their rightful conclusion—really.
See everyone this weekend at Grand Prix Minneapolis!
Read my guide to Minneapolis; it’ll be useful.