Altering Commander – Getting There by James Griffin

Altering Commander: The Sissay Project by James Griffin


Hey all,

I haven’t been posting many of my recently completed additions to my Captain Sisay Commander deck as of late, but that isn’t to say I haven’t been busy completing them anyway, and today I’m going to present the most recent additions.

For those who haven’t followed the column, the challenge set me was this:  To alter the art on every single card in an edh deck by the release of commander in the summer.  Oh yes, and I’ve also had to trade for the contents of the deck to boot!  A challenge indeed, and one that I’m getting close to completing.  I have wanted to really explore card altering through this project, working on cards that I never normally would have altered, and it’s done just that.  You can see my last progress update here.

Sisay is the first one I want to show you – her artwork is frankly screwed up – sorry but it is.  There is wierd perspective, strange colouring and downright bizarre hand rails which I’ve never seen anyone able to incorporate into an alter.  hrumph!  Anyway, I’m pleased with the colour matching, and this pop out with painted border style is rapidly becoming my favourite way of working on older cards.  Anyway, Sisay is one of my ‘big four’, i.e. the most important cards in the deck along with Savannah, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary (Rofls), and Gaea’s Cradle.  Oh look, I’ve completed Gaea’s Cradle too:

This one took me the better part of 8 hours, the detail on it is really intense, and the original artist had taken some liberties around the top of the frame with some disembodied leaves and branches.

As a game ender, Reya is pretty hot, and this is still work in process, so the background will be rather smoother before I’m done.  Still, I’ve had a lot of good feedback about this one in the last few weeks, so I thought I’d show you anyway.

I’m very happy to own a foil enlightened tutor, and I didnt want to alter the foily bit, so I just stuck to the border, spending a good amount of time getting as smooth a blend as possible between black and blue.

Nice artwork and a pleasure to paint.  I did this one a while ago, but it is only now that it has been commissioned from my Valakut standard deck.

Some pretty bad eyebrows and some generally cheesy early nineties fantasy artwork, so I settled for a pop out and realtering their faces to not look quite so ridiculous.

The colouring in the trees was really wierd here, but I eventually managed to match it as well as possible.  Not loving this one, but it’s done, and with so many to do that’s pretty good news.

Cultivate #2, and as it turns out really tedious to alter, but there we go, you can see the finished product.

Some acceleration in green and white, the early white mana shouldn’t be a problem mostly, but is something to watch, given the strange numbers of plains and forests I’m running due to Rofellos related shenanigans.

The verge is one way I’m going to get mid to late game white mana without reducing the number of forests on the battlefield.  This could form some pretty good ramp, and I’m happy with the result, even though painting it was pretty uninteresting.

Sweet sweet tech!  This card owns against creature based aggro decks, and I love the artwork.  It took about 15-20 minutes to add the border here, the real challenge was matching the colour change around the top in the purple.

One of the most boring artworks in the deck, I at least added a little interest with some storm clouds on the horizon.  It’s pretty vital to run this card even though it fetches white and blue rather than white and green, as it gets Savannah and Temple Garden to balance the mana, as well as gives a shuffle effect for Sensei’s Divining Top and pump up Knight of the Reliquary.  All in all a good card.

Aww, haste for Sisay, particularly in a multiplayer game, and with the amount of sweepers that my play group runs, can assure that I will get one activation from my general before she gets dealt with.  The life loss is negligable.  In altering terms this card is also one of my all time favourite pieces, as the colours have just matched well, and it frames the card well.

The best fetch land which gets either a forest or a plains.  In other news, I painted out the wierd leg thing that was in the pictue before, because I simply couldnt tell what it was, and no one seemed able to tell me either.

What cool art! The photo makes the paint look like it was badly matched, but it isn’t quite so off in ‘real life’.

I had the original one, but I like this artwor better, so I found a copy of the FNM promo, and painted him. Painting foils still sucks, but I’m getting better at it the more I do.

Trying something else with the card frame here, keeping the black borders except for the trees.  This watercolour and ink work by the original artist was a real challenge to replicate in acrylics, but I’m very happy with the result.

Because finding a creature card is generally good in this deck, and makes for a really really strong turn 1 play, when you find Rofellos,  as well as a threatening late game draw.   The artwork was a challenge on this one, but overall I’m relatively happy with the result.  I decided to leave the expansion symbol visible on this one, not sure why, I don’t normally, but it seemed sort of nature themed, so I decided to.

This card was a real test of skill as a painter.  Matching the colours as well as the really subtle fine detail has been really hard, and I’m thrilled with the results.  Mindslavouring someone in EDH/Commander is one of the most degenerate things you can do to lock a game out, and I look forward to playing this on someone when they’ve been playing lock out or some such lunacy to give me a window back in.

When it comes to matching colours, it doesn’t get more challenging than this card – part of the joy of altering is that there are so many styles of artwork out there that matching each one is a challenge in itself.  This one was very hard indeed but overall I’m happy with the result.  Also I added my initials to the graffiti on the side of the brickwork, which made me smile.

A seminal card, the  best piece of spot removal ever printed in my humble opinion, and it was fun to match the rough brush strokes that make this piece iconic.

The combo-tastic equipment that makes Rofellos Rofl (go on, think about that combo for a minute.  Yeeeah!)  A straightforward alter that was quick and easy.

An… erm… less straight forward alter – I wanted to do something that was rustic and earthy for this piece, and rather than simply extend the artwork I’ve kept the alter within the original art box.  If you can spot the style I was trying to emulate here then kudos to you!

These cards with wierd text boxes to paint around are a singular challenge, and as such it was fun to paint some really big leaves.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on the bottom of this card. I like the way that the branches fade down into the original card frame, but I worry people will think it is partly done if I don’t blacken the bottom and sides of the text box.  Any thoughts?

A nice pop out that was fun – I’ve been looking forward to this one.  Its always a challenge when it comes to occluding the text in the text box to do so in such a way that the text is still readable, and at this point I believe it still is.

I was nervous about editing Life from the Loam, because of the subtle airbrushing in the original artwork, but I am happy with the result, all completed by hand except for the initial black undercoat around the artwork, and it will take its place as a really strong card with much synergy with the rest of the deck.

Speaking of synergy, Genesis likes to be dredged, and his pale artwork was fun to match as well.

Another way to give Sisay haste, the elixir gives me the option to get two activations out of the plucky little sailor per turn, which can be devastating when I go for a two card combo like Crovax (soon to be Elash Norn), and Kamahl.

Some more graveyard recursion, this little girl gets the biggest scariest thing from your graveyard onto the battlefield when cast, and that is nothing to be sniffed at in a deck of utility creatuees that really love to be on the battlefield such as Gaddock Teeg.

A bit of a pop out here, the question is, what to name?  THere are several good options in the deck, although human is my personal choice.

Aah fair ol’ KotR.  Isn’t she wonderful?  This girl owns the game, quickly getting rather big, due to the land based shenanigans that this deck loves to perform (and perpetrating some of them herself to boot), and can be played early in the game for added value.  Marvellous.  A card I often love to see in my opening hand.

Yep, I’ll happily ponder for 1 green per turn.  Thanks.  A fun alter by the way, which I’m most happy with the results of.

‘Ten minute Crovax’ is what  I’ll be calling this guy from now on, painting him was so easy, a great card to start with if you are just starting out with altering.

Oh i’m sorry, are  you running sol ring?  Yeah me too, but I’ve got more land out than you, so this hurts me less.  This effect, particularly when combined with Hokori, is devastating and is often something that is tutored for as part of a lock down.


Oh I’m sorry, you weren’t running Memnarch, Arcum Dagsson or Karn were you?  lol!  ok!

The other part of the Crovax combo, Kamahl’s border work paint job isnt as green as it looks in the photo!  I’m happy with the way he’s popped out of the card, and even with the occlusion, you don’t need to be sherlock holmes to figure out what the card is.

No suprise Mr. Prime Time fits well in this deck – he’s an absolute beast and his flavour text is hilarious too.  I painted his black border back in to make sure he’s still standard tournament legal so he can jump back into my standard deck when he needs to.

A rather orange picture of my Strip mine here – the best land destruction in the deck, and along with crucible of worlds, aaaagh! nice!

This was a fun one to paint, although it isnt a match with my personal style. the lightning around the title was a lot of fun to do.

A functional reprint of Three Visits (a card I still haven’t managed to find a copy of), this card is essential for getting Sisay out a turn quicker, particularly in 1v1 play.

Finally, Brushland, which I’ve altered to be depicted at night rather than during the day.  This piece was a real challenge, and took a g ood long time to complete, however i’m rather proud of the result, and look forward to playing with it for years to come.


I hope you enjoyed this rather long look through all the new alters I’ve done towards the Sisay project, I’ll write again soon, so stay tuned as it were.  Until then, happy painting, and feel free to let me know what you think on email, facebook or the comments below.

Thanks for reading,



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