Altering Commander – Moving In for the Close Up – By James Griffin

Altering Commander: The Sissay Project by James Griffin


If there was one card from new Phyrexia which really made a splash for my Captain Sisay deck it was Elesh Norn.  Never mind birthing podding into her to seal a game of standard, try tutoring for her with kamahl out to make a one sided Armageddon, make all your lands 3/3 and overrun at the same time.  failing that, try making sure that they’ll never be able to play another land successfully with living plane.  Yep, she’s awesome, and I love to play with her.  If there was one card on which to do a particularly extensive repaint on, this is it.  There is a concept I’ve been wanting to try for a while, and it’s not something I have seen done before (although I’m sure it has) – I will be giving Ms. Norn a close up mug shot.


As always I begin with a clean up of the art and text using acetone.  The next stage is to map out what I’m aiming for, and I do that using a thin gauge mechanical pencil.  At this point I decide that it’s pro ably for the best to have her head bone thing extrude over the border – it will make the art a little clearer.  Also I am deciding that there is a need for her arm to be down so that the close up is a little clearer.   It will be the next stages that will be the most tricky, as by zooming into the art this much, I have to add details myself in order to do the piece justice that werent needed on the original.


The red is clearly the focus for the piece (I hate painting red, I may have mentioned this before!), and so I begin with thin light layers of a crimson colour (as seen on the throat middle) and add more and more layers to darken the areas which will be low lighted.  The chin and other parts get painted black in the deepest shadows.

The order of the day is to get strong contrast within the red bits.  As such, orange and White is added to the red colour in a slightly thicker consistency for highlighting.

I then go back to the original red mix, and add some black, which enables me to up the detail on the torso beyond the original art, and helps define the shape of the jaw.

Next I go to the background.  I don’t want it to be distracting from the main focus, and as such it gets a background similar to the original, but with less defined detail.  I also add some blue to the colour to give it a bit of contrast from the red and White of the body.  This also gives me the chance to redefine and tidy up some of the White bits of the boney armour stuff she wears (wears? I guess so, very Darth Vader):

At this point the thin watery layers are beginning to take their toll:

I can flatten the card out later, so the focus is now on the detail on the White bone bits.  There are grey and brown thin layers added to give the areas shape, and then brown/black cracks are painted on as similarly as the original artwork where I can.  I love small details like these, and it’s the most fun part to paint them on.

I then repeat thie process for the entire arm:

The chest and head get some brown lowlights, and I define the shape of one side of the head plate.  Repainting in the corner of the border enables the head piece to be defined.

The other side then gets the same treatment, and it is at this point that I need to stop being lazy and really get to grips with what shape her head actually is.  There is only one wat to get this without ending up with a really skewed perspective (I’m looking at you Captain Sisay), and that is to stick the card to a piece of paper and sketch the rest of her onto the page around the card.  Then she comes off the card and with some fresh perspective I am able to redefine the shape.

Then it is just a matter of painting the border black and the inner bit a bone colour like the bottom of the card, blanking out her White head bone bit afresh, and adding shading and cracking.  To finish off, I re do the border, the cream colour around the bottom border, the power toughness box and do some touching up here and there, as well as using some cracking on the chest piece to bring it into context with the rest of the piece.

I hope you like the finished result.

Until next time,

James Griffin

Ps. This wonderfully fun project is nearly at a close, and I’m looking for a buyer for the deck as a whole (well over 100 cards).  If you might be interested, then drop me a line and we’ll see if we can work something out.

Did you enjoy this article? I will get a free Booster Pack for every 20 Facebook Likes this article receives. If you enjoyed what you’ve read then please remember to hit the “Like” button at below. Thank you kindly in advance.

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