Art is a fundamental element of Magic: the Gathering. The images on the cards create the fantasy backdrop that lives in our imaginations. Before I ever pondered card advantage or recognized tempo, I was mesmerized by illustrations like Shivan Dragon and Time Walk.
Altered cards offer a unique way to both play and collect. I'm pleased to feature the work of two amazing artists today: Sandreline Moussé and Earl Grant De Leon (POXY14). Both were kind enough to answer questions and share some truly beautiful images. I was impressed not only by the quality of their work (which speaks for itself) but also with how kind and personable both were. They are two truly talented and wonderful people.
Both artists have been doing alters since 2009 and have reputations for producing high quality alterations.
CFB has an article coming soon about how to ensure alters are tournament legal. Since that's already being covered, I'm going to focus primarily on images.
Lands are important. In terms of the time we spend looking at cards during a match, they are at the top—they sit in play the entire game. It makes sense to alter something you are going to spend a lot of time looking at on the battlefield.
I love the Underground Sea with the ghostly ship in the foreground.
Oh, that Tundra. Wow.
"I was known as a kind of 'night artwork specialist.' Ha. ha. So I painted sooo many duals by night." -Sanderline Mousse
Alters allow players to expand their fantasy world into territory that isn't traditionally allowed in MTG. Did you always want to be a science fiction mage? Well, I could certainly imagine these environments tapping for the correct types of mana.
These are dual lands that have been altered in the Guru basic land style. I love getting to see the same setting under day and night conditions.
"I started to change just the backgrounds of the cards, keeping a part of the original artwork. I've always been fascinated by the sky and its awesome colors."
I've never really bothered to pay much attention to the artwork on Karakas before. Karakas is a pretty vanilla looking card, but not these Karakases. The transition from morning to night takes us through a whole range of colors and moods. I can't even decide which one I like the most!
"Most times people contacted me to paint landscapes and all the shades of the sky because that's what I liked. I started to work on a more "photo realistic" way—this Flooded Strand is a good example of my work."
"I paint a lot of styles. My goal is to reproduce pictures that inspire me."
Characters and Objects
Sometimes you want an unbelievable character on the front of your card. Jace is a good character—let's start with Jace...
"I think the card that made me famous was this one: Jace, the Mind Sculptor. After this, people asked me to paint some space artwork on their cards."
I can see why people would have taken notice of this particular alter. It looks like how Jace is supposed to look. It's Jace's world—we're just living in it.
These are so beyond awesome. I could never personally play with these because I would spend the entire match focused on saying things like, "you don't know the POWER of the dark side" and, "when I met you I was but the learner. Now I am the master."
"But I didn't want to work on just one style. I was afraid I would get tired of this, so, always in this realistic work, I tried portraits."
Sandreline has an amazing ability to utilize many different artistic styles to great effect. I love these stained glass window Moxes.
"About 95% of an alter artist's commission concept comes from the clients' own ideas, because before they start commissioning an alter artist, they already have something in mind. Cards that match a card name, flavor text, anything. So these requests are limitless." -Earl Grant De Leon.
The "Death in the Family" Hero's Downfall. The feels.
"Attention to detail. These canvases are so small, sized at just 2.5x3.5 inches, and most of the time the work space for the picture box is less than that size! Small portraits and backgrounds really are tough to do when you are required to use tiny tools, too. Showing every detail and capturing the likeness of the given tasks or references perhaps is one of my strengths when it comes to doing commissions." -Earl Grant De Leon
Alters are Forever
One of the coolest elements of altered cards is that they allow players to customize their gaming experience. If you can imagine it, chances are a highly skilled artist like Sandreline or Poxy14 has the skills to make it a reality.
I was talking to Kevin Cron (Vintage ringer and alter enthusiast) and he made the point that he wanted his Vintage decks to be identifiable based on the altered cards. He wanted to be able to take a picture of his deck laid out on a table and have people know based on his unique alters that it's his.
There are plenty of good reasons to have alters done. But the idea of customizing your cards to reflect your tastes seems like a really compelling one. Alters can also commemorate a special event. Poxy14 famously does alters for the winner of the NYSE Vintage tournament that features Karn and New York related imagery. One of my good friends, Paul Mastriano, was able to win one of these and he told me it is a prized possession that he would never consider selling.
It is kind of cool to think that once an alter is done to a card, that piece of art will live on for as long as the card does. You can always remember when you had the alter done and what compelled you to have that image created all those years ago.
Sandreline also suggested that alters are wonderful because in many cases they provide a way to "save" damaged cards.
In these cases, Sandreline took cards that were in ugly, destroyed condition and completely covered up the damaged parts with alters. What a terrific way to essentially restore cards that are in rough condition!
I'd like to once again thank Earl Grant De Leon and Sandreline Moussé for taking the time to answer questions and share images with me. The two of you have no idea how much I enjoyed looking through all of the alters!
You can see more of Earl Grant De Leon's work at:
He's also an admin of two of the largest MtG alters groups:
You can see more of Sanderline Mousse's work at: