What MTG Alterists Actually Do – Imperial Painter by Stuart Waddicor

What MTG Alterists Actually Do – Imperial Painter by Stuart Waddicor

What MTG Alterists Actually Do – Imperial Painter by Stuart Waddicor

Hello and welcome to my new series on altered Magic: The Gathering cards, “Painter’s Servant,” where hopefully over the coming weeks/months or (however long I get?) years we can discuss the ins and outs of painting on people’s cardboard treasures.

Firstly, if I may introduce myself – I’m Stuart and I’m a UK Alterist going under the name MrShy. I’ve been involved with paint and things to paint on since I was a child and recently (about a year ago) turned my hand to painting Magic cards. I am far far FAR from the best Alterist in the world, but I am enthusiastic and I am keen to crack open the world of altering and explore this unique facet of our hobby.

For this article I’d like to just go over a few of the different kinds of altering and a few of the ways we achieve our results. I will use just my own work this time, but I promise this is not free advertising and I have every intention of tapping up my painty mates for photos of their work, in the future!

The Range of Alters




These are some images of one of the first alters I ever produced for a paying (most of my clients give me cards in exchange for their work, not cash) clients. When I first started, this was the basic process I followed: Draw lines on (terrible photo conveniently makes lines easier to see), block in basic colours, add details.

As time has gone by I’ve refined my process somewhat and I now treat the cards, clean them and I line them with a soft pen which doesn’t leave marks… Sometimes we learn the hard way!

These basic principles are what I follow when I work on all alters, regardless of type. I’m constantly refining my technique to try to produce a better result; smoother colour blocks, better gradients, sharper lines etc, but always within this basic process. I would refer to the alters you see above as an art adjustment alter – where the basis is the original card art, but something is changing or being added. I would like to show you some of the other alter types that I am asked to carry out.



This style of alter is what I would call a basic re-art. The original artwork is completely covered with a new image, but the finished piece is still a recognisable Magic card and the text box is either in tact or mostly in tact.

These are what I tend to find are the best balance between being fun for me to do and not having to spend too long working on that they become price-prohibitive to the commissioner (props to Katie, my partner for her help on the Finn & Jake one – she did Jake).

Moving Up a Gear

From here we tend to go in two different directions in terms of complexity:





This is what I call a full re-art. What we’re aiming to do here is apply paint to almost the entire card, in some form or another. These cards are usually borderless and pretty much always end up not tournament legal but they are a blast to paint!

Owing to the size and complexity of the art, I’ve often found these can take a long time to complete but generally they become treasures to the customers who buy them. As you can see from just the four images above, this is probably the most diverse type of alter, where we can be altering borders, replacing art, extending art and everything in between (the Mana Vault is both a borderless alter and an art replacement!) to the end of producing a completely unique card.

On the other end of the scale:




While two of these may be extreme cases (Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite‘s whites being very hard to match and the Overgrown Tomb being a foil (more on that later)), essentially these are very simple alters.

All of the original artwork is still in place, the text boxes, though effected by the art are largely unchanged and the top and middle bars are not removed. These types of alters are more “tweaks,” extensions or adjustments and are the cheapest and quickest to produce usually (cheap and quick meaning basically the same thing when you employ an artist).

Paying particular attention to the Overgrown Tomb for a second, I will touch on foil alters. I produced that piece last week and it was the first foil alter I’d ever attempted outside of a practice scenario.

A Nod To Mr Magpie

It turns out that all of the techniques and skills that you build up over time mean virtually nothing on a foil card! Altering them is HARD. It requires bravery, constant shifting in the light and colour correction as a result and it also requires a coat of varnish on the card to finish (or at least it does when I do it) and blend the paint colours into the card colours properly.

If you’re considering having foil alters done, please bare in mind it will probably take your artist MUCH more time and effort than a regular alter, so don’t be surprised if they expect a heftier fee than usual!

So I Want To Get an Alter


As we’ve discovered from looking at the examples above, there is quite a lot you can do to a card to change it’s appearance and there are a few important things to consider (WARNING: INFORMATIVE BIT):

  • Do you want to play the card in a tournament?

If the answer is “Yes” then you will need to make sure your alter doesn’t cover the name or converted mana cost of the card and the artwork will still need to be recognisable as the original card. You’ll need to pass this information to your artist so they can provide you with the alter you want.

  • Do you have a lot of time/money to spend?

If you’re planning to ask for foil alters, complete re-arts of your cards, or large volumes of alters, you will have to be prepared to spend a lot of money and possibly wait a long time.

A good friend of mine commissioned me a few months back to do 50 cards for his EDH deck – I’m still working on it now and he’s spent probably around $500 with me in trade value.

He and I agreed this price is exceptionally cheap and is only applicable because of our rapport and the fact he gave me Carte Blanche on the cards. Most alterers have day-jobs (I’m a chef, so I have a day, night and any other time job) and their work will be queued into their free time.

  • Do you have a VERY clear idea of your finished image?

If you do, you will need to communicate this in exquisite detail to your Alterist. We are creatures of precision and any details you leave out, we will reserve our right to fill in to our own design, this is how we produce our “style” or unique mark.

If you do not require a piece with any artist flavour, it’s very important to make it clear that a carbon copy is your desire.

Okay… Informative bit over!

The Bright Side

That was a lot of information. I’m glad to be out of that section and able to have fun with you again, instead of filling your heads with facts… but I’m out of words now!

I’d like to close by showing you a couple more pictures before I go away and paint some more.




These are my three favourite alters.

The token is a treat I did for myself as a break from being a slave to the aforementioned 50-card-ordering friend.

The Voice of Resurgence is the first alter I ever did for my best friend and Magic Mentor.

The Phelddagrif is the first piece I was ever commissioned for.

Just as the cards are treasures to the customer, every one is a treasure to me. I hope you’ll come back so we can talk some more about altering.

Thanks so much for reading.


What MTG Alterists Actually Do - Imperial Painter by Stuart Waddicor
Hello and welcome to my new series on altered Magic: The Gathering cards, "Painter's Servant," where hopefully over the coming weeks/months or (however long I get?) years we can discuss the ins and outs of painting on people's cardboard treasures.

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