[MTGS Classics]Vintage: Pimpin' Ain't Easy

[Editor's note: with another good Vintage article in the books this week, and the Vintage Championships run at GenCon recently, this seemed like a good time to bring this one back. Enjoy, even if you're not a card pimp!]

One of the more well known Vintage Magic players, JP Meyer, once said, "Everybody knows T1 players are the biggest card pimps in the world." Many people out there may not fully realize what this entails. Most of you take card pimping to a level where you try to foil each card in your T2 deck to make it look nice and shiny and there is nothing wrong with that. Vintage players are known for doing much much more. In the world of T1 Magic we are already home of the most expensive cards Magic has to offer. However within this immense card pool are extra special gems that are highly sought after by T1 players around the world. The best of the pimps take decks that may already be worth thousands of dollars and make them priceless.

In this article I hope to give you a guide to what constitutes a card pimp and pimped out cards. While I speak most specifically about Vintage card pimps, each format has players that do their best to have the absolute best pimp cards. I’m going to begin at the heart of the term "card pimp," though; the cards themselves.

Among the most easily found pimp cards are foil versions of newer cards. Still finding the best versions of the different foils is something that not many people take into account when pimping a deck out. The true card pimp is only going to search out the most difficult to find foils. This means that not only are they looking for a foil Goblin Welder which already fetches upwards of $90.00, but they want the Japanese Foil version of the card. Not merely content with the already hard to find foil, the true T1 pimps set out to discover the absolute best versions of each card.

While oftentimes the non-US versions of Magic cards are more desirable for the T1 card pimp, one has to keep in mind that when dealing with older sets, foreign versions are actually less pimp than the regular English versions.
Probably the most well known occurrence of this is with English vs. Italian Legends cards. English Mana Drains fetch up to $160.00US while you can still find Italian drains for as little as $70.00. Other examples can include cards such as Italian Arabian Nights City of Brass which go for as little as $12.00 when the US equivalent goes for upwards of $50.00 in clean condition. Version and set really do matter when you are in the pimping industry. In relation to this is the topic of white border cards vs black border cards. While black border cards generally fetch considerably more, there are several instances where the white-bordered card is the more rare version. One of the best examples of this is the Spanish white-bordered Mana Crypt, which can go for at least another $10.00 beyond the normal black-bordered English version. This however can upset a black-bordered theme within a deck, so be careful not to throw off the balance too much.

One of my personal favorite types of pimped out cards are signed and even altered cards. Even simple signed cards in black sharpie or at times ballpoint pen have a special place in my heart, but it is the sometimes spectacular that really catch peoples eye. Cards signed in silver or gold can really set some cards off. However you need to be careful; some cards definitely look better in one color as opposed to another, this can mean that regular old black sharpie is the best version of a signature. I find older cards such as white bordered Power 9 cards and Unlimited Sol Rings and such really look best in Gold, while a Beta Sol Ring can look best in black (although Silver can be nice as well).

But moving from something like an Italian Yawgmoth's Will signed largely in Silver to a Japanese Sundering Titan altered to look like the art of the famed Hokusai, a Japanese painter famous for his different views of Mt. Fuji, by Douglas Linn (http://www.users.muohio.edu/linndg/index.html), we can look at the truly spectacular. These signed and altered cards can really be eye catching. Even something as simple as an artist "doodle" on cards can be really neat, such as the Looney Tunes and Disney characters that Christopher Rush draws in sharpie on Ice Age Brainstorms, can be truly spectacular, although Mr. Rush has painted on Brainstorm renditions of superheroes like Spiderman and Darth Vader. Along with such altered cards, the true T1 card pimp plays on only the finest drawn playmats available. For example, my playmat consists of original art by Christopher Rush of a Rathi Dragon holding a Black Lotus, which I won in a T1 tournament here in California at Who’s on 1st Games (www.whoson1st.org) which also is a distributor of Mr. Rush's art. While you are there, check out their sweet life counters; truly stunning, especially in person.
Grrrrrr!...Dragon Pimpin' for the win.

This is one of the best ways for a non-Vintage player to pimp their respective T2 or Extended deck as well. For example, a friend of mine recently acquired a set of Sakura Tribe Elders each made up to be a different Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. The "oohs" and "ahhhs" received when slapping these types of cards down on the table are music to the ears of a card pimp. Of course the best part of altered cards is their touch of individuality, each piece is an original one of a kind work of art.

This all of course leads into the best of the best. Beta and some Alpha cards are and will always remain the cream of the crop for pimping out a deck. While there are some versions that have been made into promotional foil cards, such as Balance and now Sol Ring, most T1 card pimps still agree that the Beta versions of these are superior. Of course topping the list are Beta "power nine" cards. Generally Beta power fetches at least twice as much as Unlimited white bordered versions of the same card, however in nice condition the Beta cards can be much much more valuable. Alpha cards have generally been easier to find for several reasons, mainly Beta is more pimp due to the fact that they are generally darker in color than most Alpha cards. Another problem is that they are harder to keep tournament legal over time due to how they wear on the corners, of course if you are really pimp then your cards are in NM/M condition and this isn’t a problem. A personal favorite of mine from Alpha, versus the Beta version, is the Red Elemental Blast. This card was originally intended to be an Interrupt, however the Alpha versions are printed as Instants, which was later corrected in Beta.
While the Beta version can actually fetch more money, the Alpha version is close to my heart since it is actually more accurate than other Blasts since it was printed as an Instant, and as most of you know the rules ended up getting changed to eliminate Interrupts anyways. Of course not everybody can find, let alone afford, quality Beta and Alpha series cards. For many an acceptable alternative is the previously mentioned foreign black-bordered versions of these cards, otherwise noted as "FBB" on trading forums and eBay. Dual lands in particular look extremely nice with a black border, however at over $200.00, a Beta Underground Sea is out of reach for most players. As an alternative, lovely Italian (among other languages) black-bordered versions can be found under $75.00 and sometimes, if lucky, much less. For the regular run of the mill card pimp these alternatives will do just fine, but remember, in the eyes of the true pimp they are still far inferior. Beta and Alpha cards, along with their FBB brethren, can also help a T2 or Extended player on their way to true pimpness.

While early foreign cards were of lesser value than Beta and Alpha cards, nowadays many foreign cards are the cream of the crop. Korean, Japanese, Chinese (of which there are two different types: Simplified and Traditional) and even European languages like German are all highly sought after here in the US. Korean is probably the nicest looking of all the cards, however this language is not available in as many sets as Japanese, which becomes the language of choice for many players. Of special note will be the black bordered Russian 9th edition cards, I expect foil versions of these to be extremely difficult to find and these will be the cards of choice for anything out of 9th Edition. For example a foil Russian 9th "pain land" will probably be valued higher than any other version of foil pain lands.

As a quick side note, beyond those cards that are deemed as truly pimp, there are a number of really neat misprint oddities around that while not always as cool looking or flashy, can really be neat cards. Of these my favorite is the Spanish Mana Vault that does absolutely nothing. It does still have all the drawbacks of a regular vault, however it lacks the ability to produce one-shot mana. Uh oh. Always be on the look out for true gems like these when searching through trade binders; many people do not even realize they have them.

For those ready for the next step the following should always apply.

#1 Pimpin' Ain’t Easy: You wont be able to just go to your local shop, or even eBay, and immediatly find all of these cards. It takes time and dedication to get true pimp status. For an example the quote I have at the bottom of the article sums this up nicely.

#2 Individuality is Key: Don’t just try to be like another pimp you may know. Flat out copying somebody else makes you a poser...not a pimp. For example, if your teammate already has a set of foil MR Triskelions, then maybe you want a set of AQ Triskelions, I ended up going with all Japanese AQ Triskelions personally since my friends already had both AQ and foil MR ones...

#3 Style Counts: There is a reason that pimps generally wear pink gators....they realize that style matters. The true card pimp not only wants to win games, he wants to be a bad mother (shut your mouth) doing it. Play with class; use only the best to be the best.

#4 Card Knowledge: You cant just say youse a pimp. You gotta understand the “put it in my pocket” mentality. Just acting the part is fantasy; you must be a true pimp at heart. Learn your stuff and be a pimp on the inside as well as the outside

#5 Don’t be Stupid: Don’t trade away your life just to get a certain card. Pimping is always about improving your own situation, so don’t trade away the house to get a special foil card. Other better opportunities will always come up. Don’t settle for second best.

However, some have been known to actually go too far. While we want our cards to look their best, you must know your limits. A lot of times, altered cards can be made illegal for tournament use. Always remember that anything that changes the thickness or weight of the card can be too much. Paint is especially difficult to make work, and if you even want to begin altering your own cards, or the cards of others, you should probably start with good quality water colors, or the good ol' fashioned colored Sharpie markers, as these generally will not change the thickness of a card too much. Oil based paints and things like White Out are generally a bad idea. Beyond this, beginning card pimps can sometimes inadvertently make their decks marked by only running a few foil cards, or all foils and only a few non-foils. For more information on this check out this recent judges' article.

Along these lines, for those of you who really want to get creative, but cannot readily afford expensive pieces of Beta power, pimping out proxy cards has recently been catching on around the nation. This is a trend started in many places, but really taken to the extreme by Robert Vroman from Ogre’s Cards in St. Louis. For their T1 Proxy events you need to use a proxy made by the shop. These representations of famous power cards are amazing and can really set off a deck that is otherwise flat. These are things you can do on your own as well, and many competitors appreciate when you go beyond just writing the card text on a basic Plains.

Of course one of the biggest questions I get is, "where do I actually find these cards?" This is generally the most difficult part of pimping, finding the proper locations. My suggestion to you would be to begin of course at both www.ebay.com and www.magictraders.com. Both of these sites feature auctions and trading for many of the hardest to find cards, however with something like MOTL (Magic Traders) there is always some risk involved. Personally I find the best places to find these cards are large events. Pro Tours, Worlds, Star City Power events, and GenCon type events offer a plethora of traders and many of these also feature various artists to sign and alter your cards. For example, at the upcoming Pro Tour LA three different artists (Baxa, Venters, Neilson) will all be signing and altering cards. The best deals in the world can also be found at these events, from basic level trading to several thousand dollar deals, almost anything you need or want is to be had. This sort of event also features numerous side events as well, so going to a large event like this is something I would recommend to everybody at all levels of the game.

Always keep in mind that Magic is collectable. Which means that you may look at much of this as an investment, for as long as people are playing the game most of these prices are going to remain pretty stable, especially on the older cards, and for the most part will only continue to rise in value. Feel safe knowing you are not throwing your money away. For example, I like to use Mana Crypt as an example. In February of 2004 you could still find this card as low as $10.00. In the last year and a half the price on this card has continued to rise in value up to nearly $50.00 in many places. Other cards such as the famed Power 9 have steadily gone up in price over the past 3 years, and others like Mishra's Workshop have continued to rise. Of course the real winners have been foil cards. A few years ago you could find a foil Brainstorm from Masques for maybe double the price of a regular brainstorm, now these little babies fetch upwards of $40.00 due largely to Vintage card pimps.

Then for those of you who really want to take pimping to the extreme, you can begin to pimp out everything. Take a look around the next Star City event and look for "Crazy" Carl Winter for an example, this man screams "I’m a pimp!" not only in his attitude, but in his look and style. You can even begin to pimp everything around you, generally tagging everything with your pimped out essence. In this same light making sure the extra equipment you are using is pimped out is important as well. Deck boxes and sleeves should also be pimpin'. Personally I find the Ultra Pro Satin Deck Boxes to be the best in the business, not only are they super strong, but they look great too, especially with all the satin garbage peeled off to give it a nice shiny look, pimps like shiny. To go along with this pimpin' deck box, only the gaudiest sleeves should go on a truly pimped out deck. While gold is probably the gaudiest color you can find, especially mettalic gold (be careful not to have illegal sleeves), I personlly find pink sleeves to be the most classic pimp you can find. I reccomend the Dragon Shield pink sleeves as being the nicest looking pink sleeve on the market today.

"Sideboards need love too, Craig!"

All in all Vintage players are the true Pimps of Magic. Not only are we going for the amazing, we are going for the best of the best. It has almost become a competition among the more well known Vintage crowd. While JDizzle of Meandeck is probably the most well known card Pimp on the east coast, the members of Bitches and Hoes West Coast, like JACO, are just as pimp if not more so and others from New England like Jeff Anand have purely amazing cards. Watching their cards is almost as fun as watching them actually play a game of Magic.

So thats pimpin' 101, but I love ending on a quote so my ending for you will be from a member's signature on ManaDrain.

"Your collection may be good, you might even think it’s great, but you are not even close, and then just when you think you are getting close, you’re still not even nearly there."

Any questions feel free to post here or send me a PM here or on TMD or SCG.
Scott Lemenager aka Lunar wanna be card pimp.

Put it in my pocket!

For more information on pimped out cards, check out this SCG Daily article that Kowal wrote up, it has a little additional info on foil and foreign cards beyond what I added here...

To see how pimp you are check out this pimpin' game... www.outpimp.com


Qwerty for some editing (also thanks for adding links in the Vintage forums to these articles...)

Binary & Goblinboy for editing

Numerous readers for the article idea and support

and an extra big hand for....

IloveAtogs for Banner and Pictures and a lot of time and me sending him annoying messages, heh...thanks man!


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