Garfield signatures

Two weeks since the last update. So much for posting here every 10 days I guess. I blame the wild news cycle of the last couple of weeks, and a solid dose of cabin fever.

Anyways, a couple of months ago I heard that a friend was selling his Chaos Orb. Now I technically already owned twelve or so copies of that particular card, but due to some Mari Kondo-esque Orb arrangements and strong pet peeve against moving cards between different decks, I had an irresistible urge to buy it anyway. Also, if I had it, I argued with myself, my friend could always borrow it if he found himself drawn to flipping cards some time in the future. Then it turned out another friend of his was also looking to unload his copy, and was willing to part with it for a very reasonable price, so I bought that one as well. I didn't super need it by any means, and it might have been "doom shopping", but I do love the card and getting it gave me a moment of solitary joy. So suddenly I had two more Unlimited Chaos Orbs. One of them might be a gift to someone down the line. And one of them looked like this:

While the Spellground Love playmat it lays on has a sweet story on its own, our focus here is the signature on the Orb. Those interested in signed cards may recognize the sign as one of Richard Garfield's. Though a handful of you might protest, and say that it doesn't look right. It might look too compact, or perhaps not compact enough. Compare it with this glorious Juzam Djinn, also signed by Garfield:

What going on here?

That doesn't really look the same as this one:

But both are legit. Turns out the good doctor evolved his signature quite a bit over the years, and we can broadly divide them into four or five different categories based on when he wrote them. But why would we care about that, I hear you ask? Well, I guess older editions are more cherished by some kinds of players in the community, and we do partake in a collectible card game. That Juzam sign is from the budding days of the mid 90s, and the Chaos Orb sign is probably from around late 90s to early 00s. As an old school player that don't care too much about signs in general, I wouldn't consider the Chaos Orb sign to move the price of the card one way or the other, but I would put some sort of premium on the Juzam sign. It tells as story of a simpler time, and the nostalgic in me likes the old frame.

But the real difference for me is if we're talking Garfield alters. I wrote about his text alters around five years ago, shortly after I'd come across an Unlimited Chaos Orb alter. If you don't feel like clicking the link, Garfield alters are cards that had their text changed and signed by Richard Garfield. They were a part of the schoolyard urban legends of the mid 90s, and it was rumored that you were allowed to play them as written if you somehow managed to get one.

Here's a Living Wall with flying. I mentioned this particular card as one of the rumored alters in the first article, and serendipitously the owner read it and sent me a picture. Thanks John!

Old Garfield alters with his mid-90s sign are a strange part of Magic lore. All Garfield alters are few and far between, but the originals do something special for me. The newer ones feel a little bit more like trolling or joking than creating a new or altered game piece somehow.

A proper new game piece. Occasionally alters become completely new cards, like this Brothers Hourglass (with hourglass art by Christopher Rush). Thanks for sharing this one Daniel!

So, let's take a look at how the Garfield signature has evolved over the years. My approach isn't water tight, but basically my way of time-stamping has been a) Find dated documents Garfield has signed; b) Find any card where he also wrote the date next to his sign; c) Find the newest card with a particular signature (if he signed a card from 1998 with a particular sign, he couldn't have stopped using that sign in 1997).

Though the first one I'm not really sure about. I want to recall I once saw it on an Unlimited card, but right now the latest versions I can find are Betas. I also only found less than ten examples of it as I'm writing this, and all of them are on the vertical side:

The 'A' or 'delta' in the middle doesn't have the bottom line making it a triangle, and the 'G' in Garfield looks a bit like a '6'. This appear to be a sign exclusive to 1993 or early 1994, but I wouldn't stake my honor on it and would love some more info or examples. There exists a similar one, though even more legible and without the 'delta' altogether, which I've also only seen on Beta cards.

The most common early/mid 90s sign is a full write-out of his first and last name, with a 'delta' in the middle. It is horizontally long - though vertically short - with only minor hoops and swirls. It can be a good thing to look at the 'G' to distinguish it from slightly later ones.

This is the newest card I've seen with that sign. And it's even a Garfield alter! Would pay cash money for this. Though we don't have the 'delta' as clear as on many 1994 cards, it is notable that the 'G' doesn't dip down in a circle as far as on cards signed later in 1995 or in 1996. This is a 94/95 sign, possibly used in 1993 as well. I stole this picture from the sweet Garfield Cube webpage btw, check it out if you haven't!

Then, sometime in late 1995 to early 1996 we start to get more of a circle on the 'G', and the sign gets a little more compact. Here's one from Worlds 1996:

This is very similar to the Orb which started the conversation, just a little longer and less compact, and the letters don't "dip down" as much.

As the years go by, the height:length ratio of the signature keeps increasing, and the swirls grow bigger. In the Brothers Hourglass alter above (dated 1998) the 'h' in "Richard" no longer stands out as a separate peak from the 'd'. And by 2004, we've reached this familiar state (printed on the foil version of Richard Garfield, Ph.D. in Unhinged):

Printed signature aside, this is an insanely powerful card.

And a few years later we've fully reached the state of his current signature, a veteran John Hancock with the name illegible to anyone who doesn't recognize the sign a priori:

Nala Jlvl? Again, picture stolen from the Garfield Cube webpage.

So that's the evolution of Garfield's signature. An apolitical post where I didn't mention the US election nor the corona-virus once. Good on me. And maybe you learned something mostly useless but mildly interesting as trivia and collectibles go.

But I actually had a hidden agenda here. I wanted to show off a set of three cards I completed earlier this year, about seven years after I started the trip, and with no idea whether or not it was even possible until around two years ago, when I first learnt of this card:

Yep, that's a supremely "experienced" Garfield alter Alpha Chaos Orb with the early signature. Having looked around a lot among hardcore collectors and the old school guard, I still only knew of a single Beta and a single Unl Garfield alter with the old sign (or with any sign for that matter; haven't seen any Garfield altered Orb except those three). Luck, friendship, and a massive trade later had me complete a global set of Garfield alter Chaos Orbs. It is highly possible that I am the single person who cares about this set, but I though it was sweet enough to share:

Alpha: 5 to cast, 2 to activate, flip it twice. Beta: Drop it from ten(!) feet, and it isn't allowed to turn over during the drop. Cards it lands on are destroyed, then target player gains control of the Orb. Unlimited: Both Chaos Orb and any cards hit are ripped up during resolution. Haven't flipped that one yet...


  1. Hi,
    Glad to be the first to comment here - thank you for referring to my blog in this lovely article!!!
    I kinda wish you had contacted me before writing this, I could probably have added some of my accumulated knowledge from over the years and weigh in on a couple things here and there.
    Overall, this is a very good article, and I'm always super excited to read anything Garfield-related in ths MTG world!
    If you wish, please contact me (through my blog) and maybe we can work together on another follow-up article on the subject, it would be my great pleasure to collaborate with you on this.
    Last but not least, your set of altered Chaos Orbs is beyond incredible, truly awesome, and out-of-this-world amazing. My dreams tonight will certainly be filled with a lava-spitting rock landing on a table from ten feet high :P

    1. Hi Ben! Wow, that's high praise coming from a true scholar on the subject like you :D Would love to pick your brain on a follow up article and clear more mist around his sign and add more info! I'll be sure to reach out to you via your blog in the not too distant future.

      And thanks for the very kind words on the Orb set <3

  2. Whoaa! Did you Have to assassinate Marty to pry the Orb from his cold dead hands? Super sweet set!

    1. He was as always a gentleman, and only minor violence and pillage was required in the end ;)

  3. I had no idea about Garfield alters...awesome post MG.

  4. how much does a card signed by him cost?

    1. Depends on which card and which signature. Most cards with the newer sign would be comparable in price to an un-signed card; while cool his signature is not particularly rare. Older signs can be a bit more expensive though, and old alters are pretty much the seller's market.

  5. i will share that I have a Garfield signed card from the 90's . How do I share the picture. Direct message ?

    1. Hi! Easiest way is probably to send an email to :)


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