Collecting Alpha MTG Art: An Interview

More than thirty years after the Limited Edition Alpha set of Magic: The Gathering was released, the original artworks of the game are not all owned by Wizards of the Coast, the parent company of the game.

Oddly, all of the nearly 300 card artworks in this original set are in private hands. The digital creations of even that first set we will cover a different day.

Recently, I was able to sit down with Mike Lukianoff, the brother of the late Andy Lukianoff whom owned three original paintings from Alpha, and told the story about them.

Andy - your brother, let us start there. Who was Andy?

Andy was a great person, a great brother, and a great Magic player and community member. He would make any events easy for anyone from skilled to novice to join in and have fun. He went and played at many local tournaments as well and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he won a lot of them or at least placed very high. 

Image via Mike Lukianoff

I may have stopped playing around Homelands, but he kept playing and collecting since we started in Revised. It was a big part of his life that he enjoyed sharing with others. Even in his final days in the hospital, I was there with him and brought out a projector and a bedsheet I hung up in the room so that I could set up for him to be able to play from his profile on my phone. It was pretty special to find a way to allow him to still play a few rounds.

Let us talk Alpha. You want to talk about Alpha, the original Alpha artworks?! We rarely can see these pop up from hidden vaults and collections, and nearly always they pass to a new owner unseen. This is a special circumstance for the whole community.  How did you come to get the two lands, and how did you come to get the firebreathing?

My brother, Andy, had bought all three from shows. I think he may have bought Firebreathing from Dan Frazier and the lands he bought from the previous owner.  He would go to Magic: The Gathering shows (Grand Prix, but now called MagicFest) annually (throughout the year) and I remember him tell me about getting these on the phone when he did get them. He was pretty excited at the time. This was back in 2011 for the lands.

That’s incredible. Do you recall seeing them on the walls?

Originally these were displayed in his living room on the walls. Based on when there were MTG events at his place, these were moved to his basement. He had his basement set for some console gaming in one area, LEGOs in another area and would use the overall space to host MTG parties with each release. Over time, he re-did his basement and created a tabletop gaming room where these were on his walls for many years.

Image via Mike Lukianoff

When did you become aware of just how rare and valuable these were?

I’m not sure when he may have known that these were worth significantly more than how much they were in 2011, but I know in Andy’s later years, he was aware of how rare they were, but I think he may have underestimated how much they may be valued at today.

Did he have any connections to the artists?

Unfortunately I don’t know how many conversations Andy may or may not have had with Dan/Jesper [Myfors] at various conventions. There was a time when Andy had developed his own card game called Battle Hearts and was working towards getting it published, but still needed art for his cards. He contacted various artists that included the likes of Dan Frazier and Rebecca Guay.

As have become so exceptionally valuable, often when someone sells them, there’s really not an easy way to get another one. So I have to ask the question-none of the kids or family members wanted this part of the estate? Or what is the story about not wanting to keep them?

Andy’s wish was to have these sold off to generate funds that would be part of his estate. He considered his estate to be his legacy. I honestly had talked with my brother about the idea of keeping one for myself as I also played MTG back when we started during Revised and it would be a great memory of him for me to display. Although Andy knew that I also had a connection to MTG and this art, he wanted it to be passed on to a new owner that would also have an appreciation for the game and the art and have the sale provide more to the estate. I was respectful of his wishes and that’s why we are selling them all today. 

Is this the only Magic artworks collected, or is this just one of many?

These were the only Alpha Magic artwork that Andy had collected. He did have a few other prints (Master of the Hunt and Tracker). There was also a mini art collage from Jesper works including Atog, Demonic Horde, Will-o’-the-Wisp, and Island Fish Jasconius.  Also in the same game room, he had custom art of two character drawings that were done in his likeness that were used in The Shadowrun: Hong Kong game. I do know that at the time he did purchase the Alpha art, he did tell me he was also trying to get one of the Alpha Forests, but was unable to at that time. He also had a complete Revised French set. Highlights from the set were framed and mounted on the wall. He even helped finish this collection by buying some of these cards while in France.

What do you like about these works?

Growing up, Andy’s mana of choice was white, so the Plains were a perfect fit for him. I was usually the one with more red cards (I did maintain a pretty beefy goblin deck back then), so I’m not entirely sure why he gravitated towards Firebreathing other than it just looks great.

In addition, the choice of the plains allowed him to display them freely in his living room where the art would look classy to anyone who didn’t know what it was from, but would be immediately recognizable to anyone who knew what MTG was.

Ah yes, passing the sofa test, we art collectors know that well. Why is right now the time to sell the works waiting a few years or selling earlier?

I am pretty sure Andy would have gladly displayed these on his wall for his whole life. He hosted multiple MTG launch parties with themed games for attendees, food / drink and even custom ordered hand drawn cookies with art from the cards (they were beautiful… and delicious) (I did get one for Christmas one year). Due to the sudden nature of Andy’s cancer, there wasn’t really time for him to take care of selling his collection. I documented his entire MTG collection myself and was able to find a buyer for that. The last thing has been getting around to selling the Alpha art pieces.

Those are incredible. I would struggle to even eat them. They are works of art in and of themselves! An important question, do you know who framed these Alpha artworks?

I believe he had them framed locally at Framing Gallery in Clinton Township, MI. The tag is still on the back of the two Plains along with a copy of the Alpha card itself. I can’t guarantee where the Firebreathing was framed, since it doesn’t have any information on the frame. It’s also possible it was already framed when he bought it. 

Firebreathing sure fits the frame of the original Wizards Gallery in Washington. That is a giant rabbit hole we can dive into one day, but I was told to keep it under Jay Annelli length. If he had to do this all over again, what do you think he would do?

He probably would have bought more earlier when it would have been easier to obtain. But honestly, he bought these because he loved MTG. He didn’t buy them as an investment, he bought them because he wanted to display the art in his place where he would hold gatherings.

Image via Mike Lukianoff

And we always come back to the axiom.

It isn’t about the Magic, it’s about the gathering.

Rest well Andy.

Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.