menu

An Introduction to Alterations

Are you a Quiet Speculation member?

If not, now is a perfect time to join up! Our powerful tools, breaking-news analysis, and exclusive Discord channel will make sure you stay up to date and ahead of the curve.

Editor's Note: Here is yet another free sampling of the kind of material we are covering in the Insider section of the magazine. Starting with the next article in this series, we are going to be running this as Insider exclusive, so if you have ever held an interest in how to create your own alters or the price values that can be associated with them, grab an Insider subscription! ~Conrad

Introduction to Painting

You probably all know that one guy at your local shop who can alter cards. The guy who painted the Eye of Sauron on the Sol Ring and has a Dark Tutor with Darth Vader on it. His EDH general is borderless and even though you act like you dont notice, you do. You may have thought about trying it yourself, but you are too afraid to ruin your cards. The more financial minded of you have probably thought about how the alteration would effect the price of the card. If you have about thought either of these things then please keep reading.

Before we get into things, I think a quick introduction is in order. My name is Mike, I've been playing Magic for upwards of 6 years now. I've not won any kind of major tournament, there are no PTQ top 8's to my name (though I did take down a GPT once), and as a player, I'm VERY average. My greatest accomplishment so far in Magic was when somebody saw a card that I altered, and liked it so much he paid me to make one for him. He then told his friends, and a couple of them also commissioned me for a couple of cards. I wish I could say that this snowballed into an in-home business, but it hasn't. It has however continued enough to allow me to play Magic for free. Sound like a plan? Let's get to the good stuff!

What are the Benefits?

Well, as I stated above, if you practice enough you could become the go to guy for commission work in your area. The other benefit being that you have yet another way to “pimp” your decks. Consider that almost every EDH deck runs a Sol Ring but up until recently there had never been a foil version. That left you with either trying to get one from Alpha or having a drab mud-colored white-bordered card sticking out from amongst your otherwise shiny deck.  For those of you who care, this is a big deal. For those who are just happy to have a Sol Ring, hang with me. As for the price, well I have seen an average of 40% percent increase in the cards value when I sell them.

But I'm not an Artist....

Whenever people see my cards the first thing that comes out of their mouths (after they ask “did you do that?') is that they “don't have the talent”. This is false. I have always maintained that if you can write with a pen, you can paint. It does take a bit of practice though, and in some cases a touch of direction, which is where I come in.  Let's jump in shall we?

Tools of the Trade

There are a number of things that can be helpful when painting, but this list will only show you the most basic necessities. I don't want to price you right out of the game before we start.

Paint – I use Liquitex brand acrylic paint. This can be found in a starter set at your local craft store for around $20. The set will include red, green, yellow, blue, black, and white.

Brushes -  This is subject to preference, but for the purposes of this list, I like to use a flat blending brush, Size number 4 or smaller. These can vary in price from $2-$12, I haven't noticed a difference in quality so feel free to go cheap. It helps to have two or three different sizes though.

Canvas – You'll notice that I mount my cards on a 4in x 6in canvas. These aren't necessary but you do want to find something to mount your cards on. Anything from cardboard to scrap wood will do. The goal is to be able to pick up your card without touching it.

Paint Thinner – A small bottle should be like $4. This is a necessity for keeping your brushes clean.

Tooth Picks – Your most dangerous tool. The hope is that you'll only use it to clean up edges. A hundred tooth picks might cost you a dollar.

2 Small Cups – One for tap water, and one for paint thinner. Dixie Cups will work.

Paper Towel – Always handy...

For Starters...

Choose a bulk common to practice on. Something with a simple design, perhaps with a small range of color. Basic lands work perfectly for this. Find yourself a clear surface to work on. Be sure to use newspaper on anything that is not going to be primarily a designated paint area. Make sure also to have good light to work with. Use your white paint to create a primer layer. While that's drying use the paint and your knowledge of the color wheel to try and match the colors on the card. Remember that it wont take very much paint to cover such a small area. The idea is to train your eye to see through the illusions created by the colors at work (such as the one pictured)  Don't be discouraged, this is the most difficult thing about altering any card but it can be mastered with some practice. Experimenting will lead to more learning than reading a guide will ever do. Speaking of guides, join me next week when we “Go for the Throat”.

The Painters Servant

Posted in FinanceTagged ,

Have you joined the Quiet Speculation Discord?

If you haven't, you're leaving value on the table! Join our community of experts, enthusiasts, entertainers, and educators and enjoy exclusive podcasts, questions asked and answered, trades, sales, and everything else Discord has to offer.

Want to create content with Quiet Speculation?

All you need to succeed is a passion for Magic: The Gathering, and the ability to write coherently. Share your knowledge of MTG and how you leverage it to win games, get value from your cards – or even turn a profit.

8 thoughts on “An Introduction to Alterations

  1. Fair enough, I made a mistake there. I believe the point still stands as the judge foil is rather expensive and hard to find in trade binders. The tips you learn in the future of this article will perhaps allow you to afford one though. Thank you for your comment and I will be more careful in the future.

  2. Great teaser article.

    I've never painted anything in my life before but I love altered cards. I really want to have some altered cards but the prices on Ebay are always just out of my comfort zone. I may actually try to follow along with you and alter some of my own.

  3. I thought this was a fun article to read and am interested where you go from here. I also love altered cards but am nervous to start altering them myself. I like the idea of starting with a bulk common to practice on so I don't have to worry about ruining a valuable card 🙂

  4. I use the big tubes of acrylic paint, six colors, bought at Michael's, $20. Only problem I have is that I frequently don't have enough colors 🙁

    One more thing – erasing. Having a vinyl eraser is a must when you're wiping off cards – erasing is a hard and tedious task, and you're going to burn through a lot of erasers very quickly.

    1. You can burn through erasers very quickly this way. This is something I don't do however, its far easier and less time consuming to just use a thin primer coat. You'll see next week. Thanks for the comments!

  5. The Judge Sol Ring came out in 2005. Magic came out in 1993, and Sol Ring was only produced in 1993 and 1994. That's 11 years from when the last Revised Sol Ring was printed and first Judge Foil Sol Ring was printed. In the grand scheme of things, that is "until recently."

Join the conversation

Want Prices?

Browse thousands of prices with the first and most comprehensive MTG Finance tool around.


Trader Tools lists both buylist and retail prices for every MTG card, going back a decade.