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Altering: Then and Now

I must apologize to those expecting the monthly review, as this would typically be the week you would find it. Publishing a monthly review article missing the last five days of the month just doesn’t seem right—who knows what we’d miss out on!? Don’t fret; you’ll get your eye candy in a couple of weeks.

I received quite a bit of e-mail since last submission (Alterist Directory) from people I had missed, or in a few cases, was just not familiar with. I’ll be adding most of you to the directory in the next little while and contacting others for further information, so hang tight!



Ancestral Recall
When I began writing about alterations two years ago, things were very different. There were really only a handful of people who were producing incredible works on a weekly basis. Others would drift in and out of the hobby and the forums that supported it like the tide (this included me). Newcomers were scarce and were welcomed with open arms. It was a tight little community.

Currently, there are easily over twenty artists whom I would consider top level, and I discover more all the time. The people who drift in and out do so relatively unnoticed, as there is so much altering being done these days. Newcomers are in abundance—so much so that the distaste in our once beloved forums is palpable.

How did we get here?

We’ll get to answering that in a moment, but first, I want to share an interesting interaction I had in the last few weeks that led to a fair amount of pondering and memories.

I’ve been really into Magic lately. As I’ve mentioned in several pieces, I have a difficult time staying focused on something. Well, it’s not really that I can’t stay focused; it’s that something else comes along, and the focus shifts. So many times, I’ll pick up a new game or hobby, and then it consumes me for months until I drop it like a rock for the next thing. Magic included.

True, Magic has been part a part of my life for over fifteen years, but that includes a five-year hiatus and several times when I’d be MIA for a set . . . or a whole block. We always come back, though, right?

Back from the Brink
As I was saying, I’ve been really digging the game lately. I currently have more opportunities to play than I used to. I’ve met people in different shops all around me whom I look forward to seeing when I stop by, and my broheim Sean is balls-deep in the game. The whole e-fame thing has been a huge motivator to keep me involved, too. By that, I don’t mean that I do this for fame, as I could walk into any new local game store, and the staff and players there wouldn’t know me from Adam. What I mean is that I have expectations placed on me . . . sort of.

I regularly have people reach out to me with alters they’ve produced, looking for tips or critiques on their work. I have friends and family asking me how the altering and writing is going. I have my own expectations as well—for example, how I would be letting the community down if I didn’t produce a monthly review. All these things combined make it nigh impossible to stop doing what I’m doing, and I’m embracing it fully at the moment. So, thank you.

While driving between stores all over South-Eastern Ontario, I have a ton of time to think about Magic. One such day, I was going over the cards in the Modern deck I’m currently trying to flesh out, and I went about finding a store to try to pick up a few singles. This led me to Goodsell's Collectibles in Belleville, Ontario.

They were still in the process of setting up from their move down the street, as I found out. The store was nice and open, very clean-looking. The singles were in abundance, and the superhero-pajama-pant-wearing owner was nice enough.

There was another employee with a fine brush in hand standing on a ladder working on some Magic-related art on the wall behind the counter, which was pretty cool. These guys take their Magic seriously! So, I asked the guy on the ladder if he ever altered cards, and I received a puzzled look. The pajama-pant dude explained to him that it’s when you paint on a card. The ladder employee looked shocked and said something along the lines of, “I’d never do that to a Magic card.”

Hmm . . . interesting. Then, PJs began explaining to me how painting on cards devalues them. He informed me that even if a Magic artist paints on his or her own card, it’s worth less than it used to be. Using the example of Stan Lee and comic books, he described how it can be worth more to some people, but it’s generally worth less to everyone else. Now it was my turn to look shocked.

I had a difficult time holding in a hearty laugh. Were these guys for real? We have a guy who is clearly an artist and Magic player who doesn’t know what an alter is and a guy in PJs lecturing me on how alters devalue cards? These guys must not have the Internet, right?

I high-tailed it out of there and walked to my car chuckling softly to myself the whole way. To passers-by, I probably looked like one of those perpetually happy people whom the rest of us loathe so much. I’m guessing that’s why the businessman approached me for directions instead of his other, less-happy looking choices who were clearly from the area.

This experience was what made me think about the past and how far our little community has come. It’s also brought to light how much further we can go.



You’ve managed to make it through a thousand words right now, and you’ve earned an intermission. Congrats.

Remember that Captain Sisay I did a while back? Well, as I mentioned in the article, I wasn’t happy about it. I made some major changes after the article and some feedback from other artists.

The top-right portion looks a little odd because I tried to remove the angel I had penciled and painted without doing too much damage to the background colors around it.

The planking on the ship were a definite improvement, and I’m particularly happy with the grain I managed to achieve on each plank.

Although Sisay is my commander of choice, I’m not a fan of painting her. I do have one more to finish for a client, though (Hi, Lukasz and Betsy!), so I have to suck it up and get it done soon.



When I started altering, there were very few people aware of the hobby outside of the people who actually participated in it and their friends. These days, it’s quite widespread. It’s to the point that it seems everyone knows someone who alters cards.

I won’t be naive and say that my articles are what have changed things in the community, though I’m sure the publicity helped. It was bound to happen, really; with all of the alterists out there, someone had to pick up the pen and write about it. Several others have—before and since I began banging the keys—but I think the monthly reviews have gone a long way toward showcasing what we have to offer the Magic-playing community.

Self-promotion has gone a long way toward the popularity of alters as well. There are an increasing number of artists who are taking to Facebook and Twitter to interact with the Magic community and showcase their talents. From donating alters as prizes to posting eBay auctions, there’s always something being talked about involving the hobby right now, and it’s fantastic.

As much as we all get down on them for being “the man,” StarCityGames has also done a great job supporting the hobby by inviting alterists to their events to paint and sell alters on site (for a fee, of course).

Having three or more alter tables at almost all SCG events goes a long way toward introducing the hobby to new people. When I set up a table last year, I was blown away by the number of people interested in learning how to get started. I’d wager that there’re even more now.

The MTGSalvation forum I used to frequent has been on the decline for some time, and I hope it can make a comeback. With all these new people trying their hands at altering for the first time, it’s never been more important to be a positive force in the community. The problem is that most people starting out don’t bother searching around for tips and how-tos prior to posting in the main viewing thread with their questions and monstrous, blurred, unformatted images.

For those starting out, there are so many places to spend a few minutes reading in order to save time for themselves and others.

I have a few beginner articles; for instance:

Alterations: Your Toolbox

Alterations: A Style Guide

Alterations: Ten Tips for the Budding Alterist

There is also a thread at MTGS for beginners:

Get started altering

Be sure to share those links with any friends of yours interested in taking up the hobby. If we could weed out the same beginner questions posted daily, the regulars would be much more apt to help out in the future. As always, you can contact me directly for any further information as well @jerfroggatt or jfroggatt at persona dot ca.

While we’re on the topic of rookie altering: One night a few months ago, Tiffany (my wife) was bored and looking for something to occupy the few hours until she went to sleep. She’s always been a crafty person—not necessarily into art per say, but definitely crafty. I actually remember tweeting a picture of her painting a garden gnome at the kitchen table when I got home from UFC at about 1:00 A.M. This is the kind of thing she does: always crafty and weird. She even made a kilt and vest for one of our daughters this past week!

Anyway, I jokingly suggested she paint a card to lighten my commission stack. I was shocked when she agreed to try one. Obviously, I couldn’t give her a client’s card to do for the first time, so I narrowed down some inexpensive cards from my Commander deck, and she picked Nature’s Lore (the Portal: Second Age version).

Due to her fiery independence, she wouldn’t let me give her any pointers, and told me to stay downstairs and leave her alone to do it. No problem! About an hour later, she came down and handed me this:

This is better than most first unguided attempts I see, so I was quite pleased. The image made her think of faeries for some reason, and it’s been well documented that faeries gather to make faerie rings, generally around a mushroom. If you read the Lorwyn book series, this should sound familiar, but these myths were around for far longer than Magic has been. Regardless, I was proud of her, and I slotted the Nature's Lore back into my Commander deck.

I stand by what I’ve said for years now: Anyone can alter Magic cards. My first pieces weren’t fantastic; it just takes time and practice, as with anything in life.

These days, I find most of my alters are better than the old ones, yet I’m less satisfied with them, as I’m becoming more critical of my own work.

I recently finished this Abyssal Persecutor for a friend who’s wanted an alter from me for over a year now, Alex Redden. Hey, buddy. You smell like tuna, and I like that in a man.

Anyway, the image isn’t that great, as viewing it in real life has the colors matching much nicer.

Given the timing, I should have tied in Diablo 3 somehow . . . hindsight, and so on, and so on.

I’m hoping there are a plethora of Diablo 3 alters making it into the May review, so that should make up for it.

There you have it: story time, a look at the past, my alters, my wife’s first attempt, newbie links and a shout out. What more could you want from a Magic article?

Until next time, keep your tip moist,

Jeremy Froggatt


jfroggatt at persona dot ca