At most Magic: The Gathering occasions, you will note visitor artists with binders of playing cards — the costs of that are very completely different than you’d anticipate. These are seemingly artist proofs, also referred to as “whitebacks,” or “APs.” So, what are artist proofs and why do you have to care?
To start out with, you don’t should care. Whitebacks are a very non-compulsory factor in Magic, similar to Secret Lair drops to an extent. However they symbolize a degree of curiosity within the interest that is only one step past the standard. For illustrators like myself who work with Wizards of the Coast, it has all the time been typical to obtain complimentary copies of merchandise bearing our artwork so we now have printed examples for our portfolios, as an illustration copies of Dungeons & Dragons books we’ve illustrated. It’s customary throughout industries. After I’ve labored on different shoppers’ books or magazines, I often obtain complimentary copies, too.
However Magic is randomly packaged, with completely different playing cards given completely different ranges of rarity. Simply giving every artist a field of booster packs wouldn’t assure that we get examples of our personal artwork on completed playing cards. But, in the event that they gave us precise playing cards, their values would fluctuate tremendously on the secondary market. I’d have a number of free copies of Tempest’s Earthcraft as a taking part in card after it was banned, as an illustration!
That’s why early on within the historical past of Magic, Wizards got here up with the concept for artist proofs. The corporate determined to print precise playing cards in fastened portions, however with the cardboard again left clean — therefore the title “whitebacks”. These then get distributed to artists, fixing each troublesome points: Artists had been assured copies of their artwork as printed, and problems with rarity and card worth had been taken off the desk, since these weren’t “actual” playing cards. Early on in my profession, they proved tremendously helpful. I even recall sending some away contained in the bodily portfolios I mailed to potential shoppers.
The Revised Version, launched in 1994, could have been the primary set of usually issued artist proofs. Beta proofs additionally exist, printed retroactively a number of months after that launch. There have been no Alpha or Arabian Nights proofs in any respect.
Quickly after they had been made, nevertheless, gamers started to get curious. In any case, they’re formally printed Wizards objects, and as such, they’re extraordinarily uncommon. How uncommon? Sometimes, they’re printed at solely 50 copies per card. Actually, this was even said in contracts with the artists going manner again. So, if you happen to see a Magic whiteback within the wild, it’s considered one of solely 50 or so in the entire world.
There are exceptions, after all. Early on, Wizards tried to print artist proofs in international language localizations. I began illustrating on Ice Age; that was the final set the place this was tried, and I acquired a lot of Ice Age proofs. All of the English ones are lengthy gone, however I nonetheless have some variations in different languages. Fourth Version international proofs additionally exist, apparently. Beginning in about 2015, artists additionally began receiving foil proofs. These are often issued in a number of 30.
Finally, some artist had the sensible thought of numbering their proofs. (Far as I can inform, which will have been Mark Poole, who began numbering some early proofs however discovered the follow onerous and deserted doing so for quite a lot of years.) Numbering highlighted the true restricted version standing of those playing cards, and most artists have adopted go well with. I started numbering mine beginning with 2013’s Gatecrash enlargement.
On uncommon events, artists have gotten greater than 50 proofs — additionally, generally much less. I as soon as acquired a stack of proofs for one more artist, after which needed to ahead them alongside. For Shadow Over Innistrad, I’ve Lifeless Weight numbered to 100, plus 30 foils. For Ravnica Allegiance, I acquired and numbered my proofs, then a while later one other 50 copies of Vindictive Vampire confirmed up! I’d already signed mine, so I dumped the extras. Not an oops, although. Restricted means restricted!
So, these uncommon collectibles have been round practically from the beginning. However why personal these? They’re not even match authorized. Some gamers sleeve them and use them casually, others do attempt to sneak them into tournaments. I’ve met at the very least one particular person trying to construct a complete dice of artist proofs as effectively!
Past that, they’re extraordinarily uncommon as Magic playing cards go. That’s additionally why their costs are sometimes greater than their counterparts.
Many artists will create artwork on the white backsides of their artist proofs. These are pure canvases, and drawing on the backs of them has been frequent from the start. With some prep, these playing cards may obtain acrylic and oil paint very effectively. You could discover some playing cards out there with customized artwork already on them, and ceaselessly you may fee the artist to create one thing only for you. There’s additionally an energetic secondary market the place collectors purchase, promote, and commerce their artist proofs with customized paintings. Sadly, as paper inventory adjustments consistently, so it does for artist proofs, and a few shares are horrible for drawing on. (Amonkhet, I’m you!)
Above all, artist proofs are nice keepsakes out of your favourite artists. It might not matter a lot at the moment, however as a number of of us have handed away already, these will be fairly particular keepsakes in a while. Extra so than even a signed card, these are objects straight from the artist’s studio and, exterior of the secondary market, they’d have come straight from the palms of that artist. Actually, shopping for them straight from the artist is a cool option to assist their work.
As a bonus, after all, these are bodily objects, so gamers in Magic: The Gathering Area don’t have any digital counterpart. One can think about a future the place NFT signatures are launched that by some means overlay your in-game playing cards, however I wouldn’t maintain my breath ready.