Altering Commander – Mana Vault, an Advanced Alter by James Griffin

Altering Commander: The Sissay Project by James Griffin

Mana Vault is really cool.

I once read it called the poor man’s Black Lotus, and it’s absolutely amazing in this Captain Sisay EDH deck.  Just to fill you in on what I’m doing here – I have from the beginning of the year until the release of Commander to complete the deck.  By complete, I mean trade for and alter every last card to make the most pimped Commander deck imaginable, and get good at altering in the process.  You can see my progress so far in previous articles on  Last time I talked you through how to fix the altering mistakes that we all make from time to time and now it’s time to have a go at a more complex alter.

Having worked on some cheaper cards, and put some things together which I’m happy with as extensions, I decided to tackle my newly acquired mint revised Mana Vault, with a little more piece de resistance than simply making the artwork bigger.

What’s cool about mana ramp?  Well lots of things actually, and there is some iconic artwork out there in that vein.  Sticking just to the things that produce three mana like Mana Vault, I reckon Dark Ritual and Black Lotus are pretty iconic as these things go, so I’m going to pay homage to these most mental of cards in the alter.

I begin my wiping down the card to make sure it is clean, devoid of whatever it is that mysteriously makes old cards sticky and then mask off the well part:

This then gets a layer of black painted over the top to remove all the other detail in preparation for altering shenanigans.

How do you deal with the text?  You could do what most do and scratch off the paint from around the letters, leaving ugly outlines and frankly I think it looks scrappy.  As such, every layer, I clear the text carefully along with the mana cost.  It’s time consuming to work with a cocktail stick in this way, but the result is a clear black canvas and sharp text that doesn’t have big ragged edges to the paint around it.

Then the bits that the masking tape covered that it shouldn’t have got a couple of coats of black paint to pull it together.  I don’t like the stark difference between the bottom and the top of the card, but that’s part of the process, it’s about having a bit of faith that it’ll all work out in the end.

Incedently I also covered up some of the chain and cube to get it out of my sight line, because it was bugging me:

Now it’s time to pay homage to dark ritual.  You know the one – the card that wins the legacy ANT deck the game on the first turn?  The one that has been reprinted about a million times? The one that has he cool magician artwork on it sidelit from the side? Yeah, that one:

I like him.  Let’s have him watching over the well.  I begin by sketching on the rough proportions of the face looking from the side, and then layered red, orange, yellow and white in many thin layers until he started to look like an actual person.

The rest of the black background needs some breaking up, so I paint some thin washes of grey across it.  It looks incongruous right now but should make the overall image better.

We still need a focus for the artwork, but that’s gotta come later, just as soon as the well has been sorted out, so that’s what I’m doing now.  I paint a dark red over the edges of the well, and down the sides, leaving a more black bit around the top of the rim.

The centre of the well is too bright for me right now, so that gets toned down with yellow, after I’ve gone through  the orange layers on the top and side of the well.  The airbrush takes care of the border around the bottom of the card, and I use a brush to differentiate the well stones across the top to give the stone some perspective.

The next step is to give the focus of the image.  I think most will agree the black lotus is the most iconic image in the game:

Helpfully, it also generates a whole load of mana, so it would be cool to have it hovering over the well suspended in a bubble of mana, shimmering in the heat from the well.  That’s a lot of interactions, so lets start simply, with the stem.  I paint the mid green on first, and then add a layer of lighter green across one side to give the stem some depth, and black mixed with green across the bottom of it.  I’ll add the reflection of the well onto it later, but that’ll do for now.  The only other thing to say is the stem was painted on overly bendy so that it looks a little more in line with the heat wobbled globe I’m planning.

Onto the petals and centre of the flower. I just used the artwork from black lotus to copy it, again laying down a mid blue, and then a lighter blue highlight along one edge, and a darker blue along the opposing side.  The middle bit got three tones of green, and three coats of red with white highlights.  Phew! That bit was much fun indeed.  I gotta paint me some more black lotuses on other cards.

Now it’s time for the last part of the image, I paint a wobbly circle around the lotus, with grey, and then adjust the subtle grey stripes in the background within the circle to bend around like a beach ball.  This will give the illusion of a globular structure.  I then painted the edges in white, and reflections in it, highlighting the bottom with orange and the top with white.  I added some thin layers of grey around the edges, and then called it complete.  Hoorah!

After a final clean up and some orange highlights  on the lotus, the mana vault is ready to win me some games.

I hope you like it, either way, it looks different from the original, so that’s one card down on my mammoth mission to Commander release day.  Next time I’m going to pull apart the implications of the Mirrodin Besieged release for you, and give a bunch of shiny new pictures of my progress on the project so far.  Until then, keep playing Commander, it’s totally the best format.


Please let us know what you think below...

Visit our Manaleak online store for the latest Magic: the Gathering singles, spoilers, exclusive reader offers, sales, freebies and more!

Magic The Gatherig Freebies Giveaways