Altering Commander – Ever feel Drained? By James Griffin (now with an extra transformative alter)

Altering Commander: The Sissay Project by James Griffin


Hey all,

So Easter has come and gone, and I’m back to writing and altering for your reading pleasure. One of the things that happened for me across the Easter break was attending the London GP. What a fantastic experience! I would sincerely recommend attending one of these if you ever had the chance – hundreds of magic players looking to play and trade, it’s simply great.

Incidentally, I bombed out 0 and 3 from the GP with a horrible sealed pool, but then decided that Legacy makes me ridiculously happy and did quite well in that tourney day 2 with my homebrew Show and Tell/Eureka combo deck I’m calling Hogwarts Gotta love turn one Emrakul. You didn’t care about that though, and why would you? What you might be interested in though is that I traded for a few cards that I have really wanted for a while, Underground Sea, Candelabra of Tawnos and Mana Drain. Also Grim Tutor, so now I just need to find someone who wants it and has a Mishra’s Workshop or Tropical Island for trade. Heh, that’s a pretty specific person I’m going to need to bump into!

Anyway, my interest this week lies with the Mana Drain. This powerhouse of vintage is also the third best counter spell in EDH (after Force of Will and Hinder in my opinion in case you were wondering), and I’m psyched to own one. However it’s… how do I put this… well played? Ok, it looks like it’s been run over by a tank, and chewed on by a three year old, but I’ll be doing something about that today.

It’s worth mentioning about how I came about the trade because if you’re anything like me, where the card comes from is a big part of it’s charm. We were leaving on Sunday evening and I happened to overhear a couple of guys chatting in German. One of the great things about the GP was the range of people from all over the world, and I’m always up for German language cards, as I’m trying to learn, so we got talking. Turns out he was a vintage player (maaan, his deck was amazing – gotta love alpha Underground Sea!), and he and his friend had come over to meet Mark Tedin, the artist who did among other things Mana Drain. Over dinner we discussed altering in some depth, as well as making the trade. He was good enough to trade for standard staples, because he knew it would be altered and looked after, and at a fair price given it’s remarkably bad shape. He jokingly said that I could tell it’s a good one, it has clearly countered a lot of spells.’ Well that’s certainly true at least.
Firstly, here are a couple of scans of it in all it’s shamefully bad quality glory:

Yeah, I’ve got my work cut out – I cleaned the scans up as best as I could, but it still doesn’t hide the state of the card.  I’m going to repaint the border first to give the card it’s shape back. Hopefully the card isn’t too worn away at the corners to still look good when I’m done. This one doesn’t have whitening at the borders, it’s long past that, the whitened bits are going yellow. Man.  Anyway, I’ll be laying this one out in an interesting fashion once I’ve done that, and I look forward to your thoughts on the result.

Rescuing the ‘Drain, and doing (good) black borders.

You’ve all seen white bordered cards that some hopeful has gotten a marker pen out on and thinks the result is cool? Yeah, doesn’t it just make your heart sink?  Well, the process for black bordering an old card well is more involved that some think, and the mana drain in it’s current state is going to make it really hard to see that, so let’s take a look at the process on a Tundra. This land is in pretty good shape, so it should be clear to see. Here it is before we begin:

It’s worth mentioning that although this isn’t one of the most visually impressive alters, it is one of the hardest to get right. As such I’ll detail each stage of the process, although where the photography can’t show the difference between stages, I’ll save you lots of shots of seemingly the same thing – trust me, in real life there is a difference.  Of course this means that if you don’t care about the fiddly bits, you can just skip to the completed picture.  I start by cleaning up the Tundra (and the ‘Drain) by very (very) carefully wiping slightly watered down acetone on a cotton bud (cue tip) across the white border to enable the paint to ‘key’ to the card. It clears the grime, and makes the surface nice and flat.   Too hard and it damages the cardboard or seeps into the edge of the card.  Too light and the grime stays, leaving marks in the final paint job.  Below you can see where it has been cleaned towards the bottom edge of the card compared with the top.

Then it’s time to mix the paint. I want to lay down the minimum amount of paint onto the card, and as smoothly as possible, so I’m at pains to mix it just right before it goes in the airbrush. I begin with a grey colour and then add black in small increments until I am happy that the slightly grey off black colour is a suitable match to the card’s slightly faded ink. I’m doing this for eight cards today, a playset of Tundra and a playset of Bayou, so each card needs its own slightly subtly different shade.  Yes, it’s time consuming!  The trick is to be quick, you have to use the paint when it is very freshly mixed, adding thin layers only, even when the temptation is to add one solid layer that covers the card well. This patience will be rewarded by a smooth result.

Too much curing (drying) in the brush while you paint, and the pigment will be added irregularly, leading to differences around the border in the tone of the black colour. Worse than that, it could add lumps, which will look terrible when the job is done. If that happens to you (it’s easy to do), then the best plan is to strip the lot and begin again. You can only really do this once before you start to damage the card, but it’s an out when you need it, like ripping that last lightning bolt (or a mountain if you’re a dirty Valakut player, boo hiss!) when you need to deal the final three.

If you look at the card now it still looks wrong. The trick at this point is not to panic!   You have a grey/black border that looks totally different to the card, even though you went to lengths to get the pigment of the paint exactly right.  The trick here to creating a natural looking finish isn’t just in the colour of the paint, it’s also in the value of it. The paint mustn’t be too matt or too gloss, it should match the card. It won’t ever be 100% spot on, however much you put into it, and it will play fine in a sleeve at this point in the process if I just stop here, but I’m a stickler for detail, and I won’t ever skimp on a commission, so its time to crack out the gloss and matt medium.

These ‘mediums’ are a fluids that change the value (in this case reflectiveness) of the surface when added over the top. For this card I need the gloss one, and I mix it up with alcohol to make it nice and thin (it very quickly adds texture to the finished article, so apply it in thinner coats than you think is necessary or you’ll quickly be sorry). The mixture is pretty volatile, and if you rub too hard it’ll take the paint off the card, causing much weeping and gnashing of teeth, but if it is added in thin layers gently with a clean brush (i.e. one that hasn’t been used for anything else ever), then over time, and with a little feathering onto the card past the border, the two begin to become one. I’m going for looks over durability here (although the medium adds resilience, and the result will last).  Of course it also helps that the client is going to be playing the duals in sleeves, because they aren’t a Muppet. Last thing to do then is to use a surgical scalpel to gently take the paint from the edge of the cardboard, leaving a more natural looking finish. Et voila.

At the weekend I’ll get the card, along with the rest of the playset back to the client and see what they think. Until then there is the Mana Drain to be thinking of. I go through a similar process blackening the borders. There is a strong need to get them black before I do anything else aside from clean some of the grime off, that will allow me to paint the water scene on fluidly with thinner paint over all. Let’s get this seventeen year old card a new lease of life!   When I begin I’ll be honest, I’m pretty nervous to see how it will pan out – I can’t afford a hundred bucks to replace this card if it turns out badly.

I begin with a layer of the mid tone background colour and then move to a grey brown across where the ‘ground’ is. I love how alien and under water this card feels, Mark Tedin really did a great job with this one all those years ago.

Then, many layers of grey, green and black, along with a green wash (very thin layer of paint ‘washed across the whole area with a wet paint brush) give the ground it’s texture.

Following this there is the bottom of the leg to add, and I take the opportunity to brighten up where the tenticles attach to the surface.

Next I painted the border to match the marine background to the artwork which was nice and easy – the corners of the card are worn away, and there’s nothing I can do about that, so hey, that’s life.  At least that won’t be what people comment on when I play it!

You can see that I’ve refilled the bottom border black, which continues the shape of the card frame in what I hope is a unique way.  There is also the outline of another sucker fishy thing which will give the card some depth.  The trick here is to add the same sort of texture that the original card art has, and so I begin by stippling layers over one another to make it feel varied.  This texture was then shaded, highlighted and washed, along with the reflections being painted.  The colour looks different from the main fishy thing in the original artwork, and it isn’t quite spot on, however it is closer than the picture would seem to imply!  I hope you enjoy the final result, do let me know what you think, as it’s a different way of laying out the card from normal.

The colour looks different from the main fishy thing in the original artwork, and it isn’t quite spot on, however it is closer than the picture would seem to imply!  I hope you enjoy the final result, do let me know what you think, as it’s a different way of laying out the card from normal.  I may have gotten all into the painting and the audiobook I was listening to, and forgotten to photograph it in stages.  Sorry about that!  Never-the-less, below you can see the finished article, I like you like it. One day I’ll stick it in front of Mr. Tedin and ask him to sign it. Meanwhile, I then add the red around the leg of the weird sea monster thingy, and the Mana Drain is ready to win me some games. Pictures of the finished article are below. Enjoy!

Until next time, keep altering, and enjoy the release events, this is the richest EDH/Commander set we’ve had in a while, and I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to get my hands on a bunch of the cards, my paintbrush is twitching in my hand already!


*extra, extra*

oh yes, and i finished a commission for Optimus Prime on Darksteel Colossus, so I figured I’d show you that too.  Enjoy!

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