I found Josh Bishop patiently poised in line to meet Jung Park, the artist behind cards such as City of Brass, Inkmoth Nexus, and the Return to Ravnica version of Hallowed Fountain. Other players around him were holding cards, ready to get them signed or to buy prints of their favorite cards. Bishop, however, was thinking of his wife and a playmat.
The playmat, well, let’s start with that playmat:
Josh Bishop shows off the playmat he’s been getting signed since 2008.
Depending on how large your monitor is, you might be able to make out some of the signatures on the playmat Bishop is hoisting here. There’s the telltale LSV, one from Mark Rosewater, another from Hall of Fame player Rob Dougherty, there’s an Aaron Forsythe, and, the cream of the crop, Richard Garfield. Soon, Jung Park would add his name alongside it.
That playmat actually belongs to Bishop’s friend Matt Macioch, who couldn’t make the trip, but it had meaning for Bishop as well. You see, the playmat was from 2008 worlds held in Memphis, Tenn. Bishop and Macioch made the trip to the tournament together from their home in Southeast Missouri. Bishop’s girlfriend at the time, Corretta, made the trip as well.
“That was the trip that solidified it for me. After that trip, I asked her to marry me. She’s my wife now and we tell people that story every time.”
In line after line I found people just like Josh Bishop, seeking out their favorite artists to add meaning to an already meaningful event. And art, for many, is the gateway to their enjoyment of the game and the community at large.
Keith Newyear was also in line to have a playmat signed. I found him excitedly bouncing on his toes in Eric Deschamp’s line, toting his friend’s playmat that he was seeking to fill with artist signatures. He had just dropped from the main event, so he was only just getting started.
It was artist signatures now, Vintage later for Keith Newyear.
But Newyear wasn’t just doing his friend a solid. He’s a fan himself. A Vintage player anxious to play in the 5:30 p.m. event, Newyear was no stranger to pretty pieces of cardboard, calling his black-bordered Mox Ruby and his Black Lotus two of the jewels of his collection.
But his favorite piece of art?
It was fitting, standing in Deschamps’ line and talking about Evangel, one of his pieces. Newyear didn’t play much Standard anymore, but when he did he played Allies, many of which Deschamps illustrated. Kabira Evangel topped Newyear’s list.
Nicole Stoddard was also on a quest to get every artist in attendance to add their touch to something, in this case, her longbox. When I ran into her she had just secured a small piece from Christopher Rush, and she was hurrying off to get more.
Nicole Stoddard loves personalizing Magic. This box certainly qualifies.
“This is the best,” she said showing off what the artists had created for her. “I want Magic to be personalized.”
For Stoddard, that means art, though she does say she’s trying to be more competitive. Still, she said she counts herself as a “huge” fan of Magic’s more colorful side.
She excitedly listed off her favorite artists and pieces one-by-one. Steve Argyle “does females so well. They’re powerful and pretty and done so well.” She loves Greg Staples. She thinks Rakshasa Deathdealer is “soooooooo cool.” She loves the Titans (the originals, although the promos are ok, she said), and she loves how Olivia Voldaren is “really creepy and really owns the ballroom.”
“Art is the reason Magic is so successful. It’s gorgeous,” said Stoddard, who came to Las Vegas from San Diego.
Stoddard wasn’t even the most enthusiastic art lover I met. Jared Smith, a Mesa, Arizona player who has been with the game basically from the beginning, had binders and binders of artist proofs and signed cards. The one he was happiest with securing this weekend was a goblin drawn by Pete Venters, an artist who has been with the game as long as Smith has played.
Jared Smith shows off his Pete Venters-drawn goblin.
For Smith, part of the appeal of the art was the history. His binder was full of Thrulls and Saprolings and cards from Fallen Empires that time has forgotten.
“There’s so much history. For me, just about every card I have here I cracked out of a pack,” Smiths said. “I started when I was 13. I’m 34 now. I’ve literally played this game for more than half of my life.”
For fans of old-school Magic art, then, it should come as no surprise that Smith counts Anson Maddocks as his favorite artist. Maddocks creepy, iconic art defined much of Magic’s early artistry.
Smith’s favorite art, however, is Orchis Conscripts.
“Every person has their collector card,” Smith said. “Personally, Mine is Orcish Conscripts.”
As if to drive the point home, the next person in line piped up and said “Mine is Vesuvan Doppelganger.”
And that love of art has kept Smith attending event after event.
“You get to meet the people that make the art that you love. This is why I play the game. The art drew me in,” he said.
Joey Yamaj, a player who came all the way from Hawaii and was just finishing up with Karla Ortiz, agreed.
Joey Yamaj after visiting artist Karla Ortiz.
“The art is basically the second reason I play the game. The first is actually playing the game, but art is definitely second,” he said.
He didn’t love the goofy art of Orcish Conscripts, but he had a clear favorite in Sliver Queen by Ron Spencer, easily his favorite Magic card. Ant Queen, Slave of Bolas, and the “original” Stifle, and the Magic 2010 version of Ponder all made Yamaj happy as well.
Justine Merrill counts herself as another Ponder fan. She was on a bit of a quest of her own, seeking to get all of the artists to sign her Grand Prix playmat in gold. For her, the art is how she plays the game, since she’s relatively new and identifies strongly with some of the more naturalistic pieces.
Justine Merrill is on a quest to fill her playmat with gold artist signatures.
“I like the flowy stuff,” she said. “Vendilion Clique is amazing. Ponder was a really good print.”
Merrill’s drove 12 hours with her husband, Shane, to be in Las Vegas mostly to interact with the artists. Shane was in the main event and had also played in GP Las Vegas 2013, but this was Merrill’s first time with a Modern Masters set.
“Everyone has been amazing as artists,” she said, well over halfway through the list. “They’ve been so nice and helpful. I’m happy that I’m here.”