Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Being Johnny Carson and the Tyrannax Painting

Last night, the SCG crew took me out to dinner. At the conclusion of eating portion of the evening, Sam Straus clinked him glass, stood up, and made a speech about farewells and art.

You see, I love original Magic art. I now own over 20 paintings ranging from historically significant (Breeding Pool) to I-love-the-card (Grand Architect) to Raaaarrrggh (Carnage Wurm). As a collector, I love giving Magic art to people as gifts, especially if the card carries some amount of significance for the person. The story of Chris Pikula being re-united with the art for Meddling Mage is one of my favorites. I personally helped my friend John Suarez get the original for Delraich by Todd Lockwood, one of his two favorite pieces of all time (the other is Nether Spirit and I am also on the hunt for it).

When Nicholas Sabin left the SCG office last month, I helped secure the original painting for Gorilla Titan by Heather Hudson. It wasn't a high priority want like Suarez's Delraich, but it was something that I felt was... well, Nicholas Sabin. If he were to have a totem animal, I imagine it would be a giant gorilla looking for a banana. So it wasn't a big surprise to me when Sam presented me with a wrapped painting and print.

In fact, it was so not a surprise that I handed Jared Sylva a card sleeve that I had personally sealed in front of his eyes one month prior. As he unsealed the sleeve, people started to whisper. "What's going on?" "Did he really?" Tasha just shrugged as if to say "What did you guys expect? He's Riki Hayashi."

Jared opened the sleeve and pulled out the card inside. He read it aloud, "Carl Critchlow, Fifth Dawn, Tyrannax." Someone to my left gasped, "How is he so good at this?" because when I revealed the print, it was indeed Tyrannax signed by everyone at SCG and the judges from the Baltimore Open I had just HJed.

How did I know? Well, in true Monk fashion... here's what happened:

Some time ago, I went to Margo's desk (Sam's wife) to talk about some travel things I was training her to do after I left. To the side of her desk, I saw a flat cardboard package that looked suspiciously like something I would transport an unframed painting in. I looked at it perhaps a little too long because Margo caught my stare and put it aside. Of course, that was when I knew it was for me. You could say that I've learned a thing or two about human behavior and investigations during my time as a judge. Most importantly, I've learned never to let the other person know what you know, or what you care about. So when she put it aside, I turned back to the work we were discussing and didn't press the issue.

Later that day, I talked to Tasha about what I had seen, and I got the "I am hiding something" vibe from her. I cut the conversation short because I realized that they had enlisted her aid in figuring out the best painting to get me. Obviously we talk a lot about want lists and what to prioritize for our purchases. I had also recently shared a Google doc with her that tracked various paintings (that I own, that I want, that other people own, that other people want).

I started to poke around and look at the current status of some of my wants and very quickly hit on the fact that Carl's Tyrannax had sold recently. Now Carl Critchlow hasn't really been in the Magic art limelight recently, and Tyrannax is not a high demand card or piece of art, so I found it suspicious that it was now unavailable. That's when I asked Jared to be a witness for the sealing of my guess.

At the Baltimore Open, the suspicious flat cardboard turned up yet again under Sam's chair. As it turns out, he had brought the print for all the judges to sign, but again I did not press the issue, look inside the container, or otherwise acknowledge its existence. Never let them know that you know.

Despite having an accurate guess about what the painting was, it was still an amazingly heartwarming gift, and only reinforces my love for these guys, despite their less-than-sneaky ways (Sam, please turn in your Dimir pin now). It also makes me want to work even harder to get more pieces of original art into the right hands. If you've got a piece that you love, let your friends know. You never know what might happen.

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