With the printing of Garth One-Eye and Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar in Modern Horizons 2, there has been a surge of interest in the early Magic licensed novels and stories. The character Garth made his appearance back in 1994 in William R. Forstchen's Arena, the first licensed novel for Magic: the Gathering. Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar, or Asmor for short, appeared originally in flavor text for the Alpha card Granite Gargoyle, and later in the Magic story "Chef's Surprise," by Sonia Orin Lyris, as part of the anthology Distant Planes. Further appearances in the flavor text of cards over the years have made her a popular figure in Magic lore, and along with Garth, their appearance in card form has driven interest in the source materials of their origins. With many of these source materials out of print for decades, collecting early Magic novels and stories like these on a budget is an interesting but not insurmountable challenge.
The Early Magic Novels
Both Arena and the Distant Planes anthology were part of the first batch of licensed Magic books, published by Harper Prism, an imprint of Harper Collins. The first book, Arena, hit shelves in the Fall of 1994, launching readers into the multiverse. A trilogy written by Clayton Emery followed, introducing readers to the wizard Greensleeves who appears in the flavor of the MH2 card Blessed Respite, and her brother Gull.
The early Magic novels bore little direct connection to the stories and characters depicted in the flavor text of the cards themselves, partly because the earliest novels were commissioned before the game itself had even released. Though the books did reference certain cards, tying in the books and the flavor text of the cards directly for regular Magic sets would not happen for a few years. But Wizards had a plan to bridge the gap, and drive book sales.
Book Promo Cards
To drive interest in purchasing the early books, Wizards collaborated with Harper Prism on a series of mail-in promotional cards. Book purchasers could mail in a coupon from the back of the book, and receive free promo cards in return. Wizards created a small run of functionally unique cards, with art, names, and flavor tied to the books. While most of these cards today aren't worth more than about $10, one of them, Mana Crypt goes for several hundred dollars, despite multiple reprints over the years.
The promos succeeded in driving early sales, and HarperPrism ultimately released 12 books between 1994-1996 when Wizards ended their license and began publishing books in-house.
Revising Magic Canon
The last Harper Prism Magic novel, Dark Legacy appeared in December 1996. For nearly two years no new books appeared until Wizards began publishing their own fiction, with direct tie-ins to the stories depicted in cards beginning with the Tempest block, and the story anthology Rath and Storm in July 1998. This caused a continuity split in the Magic canon, with Wizards declaring that the previous HarperPrism released works were only canon so long as they didn't contradict with new material moving forward. With Modern Horizons 2 bringing some of these characters into the cards for the first time, we can see Wizards making an effort to tie these older novels back into Magic canon.
Where To Start Collecting
Let's assume at this point that we're collecting Magic novels with an interest in reading them, not purely from a collecting standpoint. Let's also assume that we want to start with the origin of everyone's favorite five-color mage, Garth One-Eye, in Arena. We can begin by using eBay completed listings to see the going prices for copies of the book. Prior to Garth's preview on the Wizards site, we can see prices for Arena ranging from about $8-$25 depending on condition, with most in the $20 range. The first sale on eBay after the preview was of a new copy on June 5th for $49.99. The listing shows having two left, and 48 previously sold. A used copy of the book sold on June 14th for $21.08 with shipping, putting it towards the top end of previous prices. Amazon pricing is wilder, with a check on June 13th showing used copies starting at $39.86, and one new copy listed at $381.66.
eBay sold listings for the Distant Planes anthology featuring Asmor's story show similar trends, with a new copy selling on June 11th for $53.99, and an active listing asking $89.99 or best offer. eBay and Amazon don't appear to be sources for deals, so where to turn?
Check Out Your Friendly Local Used Book Store
Much the same way your Friendly Local Game Store is a great place to get deals and personalized service while shopping, your Friendly Local Used Bookstore is a great spot to find hidden gems at a great value, especially for mass-market paperback fiction for which we're looking. My go-to used bookstore is Book Barn in Niantic, CT, which sells most of their mass-market-sized paperbacks for only $1 each, and has a massive series of rooms for fantasy and science fiction. A quick Google search for "used bookstore near me" should turn up some good options if you don't have one in mind already. I actually discovered two new ones in the process of researching this article which I'll be exploring soon.
Collecting Magic Novels For Value
If you're collecting Magic: the Gathering novels strictly for value or flipping, a word of caution: While asking prices on Amazon and eBay might sound high enough to cause dollar signs to flash before your eyes, with only a few exceptions most of the prices appear artificially inflated and not entirely tied to demand. That said, if you are collecting with the goal of flipping, here are a couple of targets to have your sights set on when hunting shelves and online listings beyond the two we've already discussed:
The Artifacts Cycle
The Brothers' War between Urza and Mishra is one of the most well-known and followed story arcs in the Magic universe. The four books in the Artifacts Cycle (The Brothers' War by Jeff Grubb, Planeswalker by Lynn Abbey, Time Streams by J. Robert King, and Bloodlines by Loren L. Coleman,) and their pseudo-prequel The Thran, also by J. Robert King, are among the most sought-after of the Magic novels, and the easiest to flip, especially if you can find the complete series in first edition, or the two omnibus editions.
Beyond the Artifacts Cycle, most of the books by Jeff Grubb and J. Robert King appear to be more in-demand than ones by other authors, regardless of what characters or story arc they depict. When collecting for value, bear in mind that most of the novels and story collections published by Wizards appear to be readily available on Kindle and Nook, and they could also be reprinted at any time, making long-term gains uncertain. If you are going to pick up any of the novels purely on spec, The Harper Prism novels haven't been reprinted since the '90s, and likely won't ever be again, making them better options than Wizards-published material, especially if they surprise us with new character cards in Modern Horizons 3 or a similar product.
The Last Page
As with collecting the cards themselves, collecting Magic novels is largely a matter of individual interest and taste. Has Modern Horizons 2 gotten you interested in collecting Magic novels, or dusting off your favorite from your bookshelf? What character from the Magic storyline would you most love to see in card form? Let me know in the comments.