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Letter on Altering - Fixed


Email Subject line: Altering Info I Promised

Dear Mike LafromDJ,

I promised you I’d e-mail you some information after our last FNM draft. Next time, there will be no take-backs in the final. Your Mindshrieker so should’ve been dead Game 1 with my Geistflame flashed back. Just saying.

Anyway, I have some information that you would find vital to break into the altering game.

I hope the examples I give to you will help you learn what is considered acceptable quality, see the path that will raise your own alters to exceptional, and give you a rough pricing guide for alterings.


There are many, many alterers. The variety of quality is immense.

To get a grasp on what’s going on in this world, you need to research . . . a lot.

1. At a base level, to understand the terminology, you need to read one of Jeremy Froggatt’s seminal articles on SCG. Since it has no deck list, it’s free content.

2. Look at videos of before/after to see the variations and the vision that artists have. There are tons of these on them Internets.

3. I enjoy the time-lapse alters on YouTube to see the priority each artist places on certain areas. This is important because it shows how to minimally impact a gesture without adding unnecessary weight and layers.



4. Here is an old article to use as a guide from MTG Salvation:

5. An older guide from the Mothership (DailyMTG) on altering legally and using those cards in tournaments.

6. Here’s an A-to-Z walkthrough prepping job for altering. You really only need to read this once.

7. This is what you’ll need for materials. Use the best products and if you’re curious, simply e-mail one of the GatheringMagic alterers. Eric Klug’s a friendly fellow and welcomes e-mails all the time: eaklug at gmail dot com.

8. You need to become very self-critical of your work. To gain that ability to know when a piece is complete, start clicking through the “rate my art” functionality in this link. You’ll learn very quickly what a 3, 5, 7, or 9 piece looks like.

9. You need to check in on the Big Three at all times.

Eric Klug—pronounced KLOOG, like Amulet of Kroog.

Terese Nielsen (I still want her Velis Vel and Legacy Weapon original art).


These are arguable, sure, but read their blogs and see their updates. To aid you personally, see how their styles have changed. Are their brushstrokes smaller? What’s cleaner? That’s a long-term research project for you once you’ve looked through all the tutorials.

10. Read my article on altering. Yeah, I’ll self-plug. What’s notable is are the Future Predictions. I might do a follow-up once a year. We’ll see how things will change.

Rules in Altering

Never have an original artist sign over your alter or sign a card that you will alter. It’s terribly disrespectful and makes it appear that he or she either did the alter or endorses you. It’s fraudulent.

Never use another altering artist’s work to pass for your own. Also fraud. This will likely never hurt the other artist, but it’s still for personal gain. That, and I’ll call you out on it in the shop.


1. Use the examples I gave you to study a finalized product.

You can hold onto the altered cards I gave you after the FNM draft for a while.


Some things I didn’t tell you before I left for a late-night fry run at McDonald’s with Emily:

Your signature is your brand. Work on it.

You mentioned you understand color profiles. That’s good. Look at the alters and how the artists smooth the colors to the edge. Keep in mind that it’s wise to keep a black border for tournaments, but you can do a full extension for Commander, Cube, and FNM.

2. Buy perfect-fit sleeves.

Yes, they’re more expensive than penny sleeves, but you can sleeve a card up and put it into your binder, and you can double-sleeve cards to prevent dirt.

They’re very, very worth it.

3. Start with tokens.

You play at FNM and should know what people enjoy playing. Find out what their tokens are and start altering a few Zombies, a few Wolves, and a few Angels. The cost is low, and you can knock out a playset or two using the ol’ Ford-assembly-line technique. Don’t try a dual land until you’re ready.

4. Make altered playsets of tournament-playable commons.

As there is risk involved in the few players who would be able to “commission” you, if they get Think Twice all altered, they’re likely to give you a stack of $3 to $4 cards or $20 total.

Other options that are cheap and usable:

5. Alter nine cards to place at the front page of your binder.

These should be singleton cards for Commander. These should be cheap cards that many decks use. I would advise coming to Commander night (Mondays at our LGS) to see what the majority of people play for colors. If it’s Blue, make four Blue “staple” cards. Cater to the audience.

These nine are easily had and vital in many decks:

Bant Charm
Eternal Witness
Expedition Map
Reliquary Tower
Strip Mine
Temple of the False God
Terramorphic Expanse
Trinket Mage
Yavimaya Elder

6. Look for beat-up cards to make beautiful.

As an example, I have a poor Reflecting Pool. A near-mint version at CoolStuffInc is about $11. My version I picked up for $2.50 in trade. You erase down the edges and could easily make a beautiful alter. One from Shadowmoor ended at $22 with shipping on eBay.

7. Price your alters competitively

Some of the best alterers can charge $50 to $500 per card. You won’t be there for a little while, but consider a soft target of $5 per alter. That way, the commons and token you alter at first are basically free, and $20 is a consistent price. Make your process as efficient as possible to maximize profit. You need to be able to make $10 an hour before you should start taking commissions.

Once you take on more expensive cards, think of an additional $15 to $25, depending on how intense the alteration is and how long it took you to make it. Try to keep altering prices to even numbers or in denominations that players will have at FNM. Our FNM costs $8, so if you charge $12, they can use the remainder of the $20 they got from an ATM. If it’s a draft on Fridays for $15, consider two for $25. This is very, very important.

I wish you luck as you begin a part-time job in altering. I’ll still be looking for graphic-design gigs for you, just as you’ll keep inviting me to First Avenue on Facebook for your DJ’ing events. I’ve seen those pictures; your crowd is crazy hot.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me whenever. See you Thursday or Friday for a draft.


— Mike

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