Paint to Power ‘Genesis’, by James Griffin

Altering Commander: The Sissay Project by James Griffin

Paint to Power ‘Genesis’, by James Griffin

What’s this?  No Magic: The Gathering ‘Altering Commander’ column article this week?  Nope, I wanted to introduce an irregular series instead, a series which will document my attempt to perform a feat of magic geekery unlike anything I’ve even thought about before.


I’m going to paint my way to power nine.

I could proxy them, but that’s not really the point.  I could paint those proxies, and yes, with effort they might even look good, but that wouldn’t be the point either.  They would still not be the nine most iconic cards in magic history.  I could get cheaper non tournament legal ones, but that’s not a challenge.  This is a challenge!

I’m going to paint my way to the power nine.  I’m going to do this by altering people’s cards, and trading money or magic cards for them.  I’m going to do it in a number of ways, both by soliciting commissions, and by randomly altering stuff and then trading with or selling it, putting the profit towards the project.  A few rules – I can use random trade fodder from my folder, but I’ll only put the profit on the trade/sale towards the project, and I won’t put my own money towards it.

Then, when I can, I’m going to trade for or buy the power nine with the proceeds.






That’s a lot of card altering, and by new year too!  Yikes!  Oh yeah, there is a time limit.  Manaleak has agreed to hold a vintage tournament so that I can play with them if I can do this by the new year.  That’s 237 days, 2 hours, 31 minutes, 49 seconds at the time of writing.  That’s actually not very long – I do work full time in the real world after all.

The Power Nine

Before I get started, let’s meet the powerhouses I shall be working so hard to get hold of.  In case you don’t know, they are the nine most iconic cards in Magic.  Back when the first sets were released, there were nine cards that stood head and shoulders above the rest of the card pool.  They have (almost) all proven themselves to be the best cards in Vintage magic, and in order to play the format, you really need them to properly compete.  Let’s meet them.


Seems good? Well it is.  Lets say you vomit your hand onto the table with some degenerate combo, and your opponents still have a full grip of cards.  Well now you can draw back up to the same number of cards, and they have to shuffle away their carefully sculpted hand for seven random cards from their deck.  Oh yeah.  Also, it’s the only card that is legal for play in Commander/EDH, my favourite format, and as such I’ll be wanting to get a hold of this card asap so I can get right on playing it in the Arcum Dagsson deck I’m building.  All of these cards are expensive, make no mistake, but this weighs in as the cheapest.  I’ll trade for each of these where I can, but if I’m reduced to buying them straight up, then this is the sort of price I can expect them to command:

Retailer 1: $109; Retailer 2: $219; Retailer 3:  $251; Thatauctionsite buy it now: £137.28

Time Walk

Two mana, to take an extra turn.  Ok!  It’s difficult to explain how good this is – try playing magic sometimes and roll a dice at the beginning of each turn.  On the roll of a  five or six, that player takes an extra turn after their current one.  Knowing nothing else about the game other than that I’d put money on that player winning the game.  It’s that good.

Retailer 1: $349; Retailer 2: $429; Retailer 3:  $519; Thatauctionsite buy it now: £247

Ancestral Recall

This is my favourite of the power nine.  At the beginning of magic, wizards printed a one mana spell in each colour, and one of those it turned out to be absolutely insane – the one in the best colour in magic, Blue.  Ok, so three damage for one mana was very good, and Lightning Bolt still is, but drawing three bolts for one mana at instant speed is insane.  I simply cannot wait to resolve my first ancestral recall – it’s a large part of my motivation to get this project underway.

Retailer 1: $399; Retailer 2: $449; Retailer 3 $583; Thatauctionsite buy it now: £300

The Moxen

The moxen is a collective term for Mox Perl, Mox Sapphire, Mox Ruby, Mox Jet and Mox Emerald.  Each card is a zero mana artifact that taps for a colour of mana (for instance the Pearl taps for white, and the Emerald for green).  It turns out that having lots of extra coloured mana on turn one is really really good.  They vary in price depending on how good the colours are to play in vintage, so White is absolutely terrible, and as such the pearl costs less.  The fact that you can still safely play each mox regardless of the deck colour is a testament to their raw unbridled power.

Retailer 1: Mox Pearl $349; Mox Emerald $349; Mox Jet $349; Mox Ruby $399; Mox Sapphire $399

Retailer 2: Mox Pearl: $384; Mox Emerald: $449; Mox Jet: $449; Mox Ruby: $424; Mox Sapphire:  $499

Retailer 3: Mox Pearl:  $499; Mox Emerald: $399; Mox Jet: $479; Mox Ruby: $399; Mox Sapphire: $519

Thatauctionsite buy it now: Mox Pearl: £238; Mox Emerald: £315; Mox Jet: £233; Mox Ruby: £225; Mox Sapphire:  £314

Black Lotus

Aaaand the big one.  Black lotus is the single most iconic card in the history of Magic: The Gathering, no question at all.  It taps for three (THREE) mana for the bargain price of zero mana input.  Four mana on turn 1? Yes please.  I’ll go land, black lotus, Lodestone Golem.  Now my opponent can go Land, and then … well… nothing else.  Because everything now costs them two.  Powerful?  Err yep.  Even seeing one of these gives me goosebumps, and to be honest, if I can get this fella, then I will feel like I’ve succeeded at this insanely big task! Let’s take a look at the crazy prices this card can fetch:

Retailer 1:  $899; Retailer 2:  $799; Retailer 3:  $1100; Thatauctionsite Buy it Now:  £589


The Bottom Line

Now for the scary bit – lets total it:

Retailer 1:  $3601; Retailer 2:  $4101; Retailer 3:  $4748; Thatauctionsite Buy it Now:  £2598

Not far to go then! (aargh!)


Getting Started

So… many many alters are going to need to be done, and buyers are going to need to be found and …. Well, lets get started!

Alter 1:  Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas becomes… 007!  When I was asked for this it made me laugh, I love the idea.  I’d have to hum the theme tune every time I resolved him, I really love the concept, and I hope to do him justice.  I understand my client is giving him as a gift, and as such it’s even more pressure to get it right.

I want to do the gun barrel shot, with bond down the end in the spot light, and blood running down the frame – I’m so excited about this alter!  I also have a time limit of the next eight days, so I’d better get a move on.  On the plus side, I’m wanting to get this journey kicked off with a Timetwister in the bag, so lets begin.

I kick off by masking off a rectangle with low tack artist’s marking tape and spraying the whole card a mix of white and grey:

I then get a tooth pick and clean up the weird borders of the plainswalker frame.

Next comes finding a spray can with the right circumference and mapping out the barrel of the gun with a black fine liner.

I paint the border I’ve marked out wider and add in the fluting lines of the barrel of the gun which will serve as a frame for mr. 007 to hang out in.

I fill out the bits of the barrel in grey, and add highlights to it.

Then I trace the outline of Mr. Bond, from an image made just the right size courteosy of my iphone – I’ll go into this more in my next article.

I begin to paint over the pencil, filling in the black as a first priority.  I also block in the shoes, although they don’t look right, I’ll have to change that later, and the head, although that doesn’t look right either.  Aah well, these things will be fixed in good time.  In the mean time, I concentrate on the hand and the gun, which come out great I think.

Next I work on the shirt, making that stand out, and dulling down the highlights with differing shades of grey.  I also fix the leg, making it the right length (lol) and adding highlights to the shoes.

Next I begin making the weirdly shaped head into an actual head that is in proportion with the rest of the body.

Finally, the background needs working on.  I begin by ‘drybrushing’ the ground, having masked off the wall behind.  I then paint on the boards and outline the join between the wall and the ground, and then drybrush the shadow and paint the tiles on the wall.  You can see the drybrushing on the wall clearest below, it involves taking an old squat brush, getting paint on it, and then rubbing almost all of it off, before brushing for a good while over the area to create a very slow build up of the pigment.

One last little touch – the blood – this goes on in thin layers of a mid red paint.  With that, and a little cleaning up of the tiles, he’s good to go and weasel his way into the new standard.

So then, I’m off to the prerelease for the new phyrexia –I’m hoping to generate enough business to get a hold of the timetwister, and that’s going to be a challenge…

…and I’m back, let’s see what happened.  Well, I stuck a bunch of alters that I’ve done, and subsequently taken out of decks, and put them in the front of a trade folder.  During the day I traded a Platinum Emporium:

For a Lord of Atlantis, Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Steelshaper’s Gift, and 3 old foil lands, one 7th ed, one portal, and one another edition I don’t recognise, as well as some trade credit at  That’ll get me started.

Also, on a roll, I picked up a commission for a swords to plowshares, to be painted (pics next week when it is done), and got a Grim monolith and Tormod’s Crypt in return.  All of these go straight into the trade folder with the alters, and later I managed to trade the monolith and crypt for a Hypergenesis, revised Lightning Bolt, Unlimited Bezerk, and a Revised Nevinyrral’s Disk.

Now we’re talking!  Combined with the payment from the Tezzeret/Bond, I’ve got about two thirds of what I need to buy a Timetwister.  Aah well, it’s worth a punt.  I jump on to the auction website that we all know, and put in a bid for £85 on a timetwister.  It’s got a couple of days to go on it, so it’s time to be patient.  It has all the hallmarks of going really cheap – it’s from outside the UK and US, the auction is going to finish at the same time as a bunch of others for timetwisters, and the info isn’t particularly easy to navigate on the listing.  I’ll continue writing this in a couple of days.


I WON IT!  Hooray! £85 for a NM Timetwister is a totally unexpected bargain, and I’m thrilled!

One down

Eight to go.

Pics of me holding it when it arrives through the post to demonstrate.  Hooray!


I’ll leave it there for this week, next week I’ll be taking you step by step through the process of creating a cartoon alter, in this case Thor on Koth of the Hammer, as the second part of the Tezzeret commission.  Join me then, and in the mean time, If you have commission work for me, please get in touch, it seems like I need it if this project is going to get off the ground!

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your thoughts,


Paint to Power 'Genesis', by James Griffin
What's this? No Magic: The Gathering ‘Altering Commander' column article this week? Nope, I wanted to introduce an irregular series instead, a series which will document my attempt to perform a feat of magic geekery unlike anything I've even thought about before.

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