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Magic the Gathering Altered Art Cards

Updated on December 17, 2014
MTG Angel of Salvation Painted Card
MTG Angel of Salvation Painted Card

An Introduction to Altered MTG Cards

What are altered art cards for Magic The Gathering, and where do they come from? First let me say these should never be counterfeit printed copies! They should always be legitimate copies of a given card, that has been painted over the art to change the picture. Many are changed to extend the artwork, removing those boring black or white borders. Others can end up wildly differing from the original image. Artists have added all sorts of things to their cards, such as flames, cartoon characters peeking out from the corners, or other wacky additions. Basically when it comes to card altering, your imagination is the only limit! Keep reading to see some truly awesome examples!

(Angel of Salvation image (c) )

MTG Vampiric Tutor Card Alter
MTG Vampiric Tutor Card Alter

Add Flare to Your Deck!

A well made, acrylic painted card is just like a mini work of art! Nobody on Earth is going to have the same exact one painted the exact same way. You might be thinking, what's the big deal, who needs their Magic cards to be painted? Well maybe you're looking to spice up your favorite old decks or your collection with something new and unique. Or perhaps you want to impress your gaming friends by playing with cards that stand out even more than foils do. Then you may consider adding a few alters to your deck. They can also make a neat gift idea for that special magic geek in your life...I know I'd love to get some altered cards as a present myself.

("Vampiric Tutor" image (c) Poxy14 )

Altered MTG Card Online Shop
Altered MTG Card Online Shop

What Shops Carry Altered Cards? - Look online for the best prices and availabiliy

Sadly, you probably won't see these pieces of art for sale at your local MTG retailing hobby shops. If you want to buy some you'll most likely need to turn to the internet. You can find them being sold every day on eBay, as well as sites like Etsy who now have custom MTG art sellers. Some sellers have their own websites, and have even created small businesses by painting and selling their creations for profit. These artists usually also take on commissions for collectors with special card or art style requests. If that isn't enough, it's also becoming more common to see people painting away at the larger MTG tournaments and comic conventions, where you may be able to find someone selling their wares to the hungry competitive players. So as you can see, there are quite a few places to find painted cards - just not in the normal spots most people buy Magic cards.

(Altered "duel lands" (c) Marta Molina)

altered art mtg angel card
altered art mtg angel card

Do Painted Cards Violate Copyright Law?

If you are worried about getting sued for painting all over your Magic cards, fear not! Of course these cards are perfectly legal. Painted Magic cards are 100% legal to create, own or play with as long as they are actually painted on top of original legit card copies. As you may have already seen examples of, some people get very creative, adding a lot to the original work. The paint changes the look and feel, which in copyright terms is considered a "derivative work" meaning it becomes a new copyright work owned by the painter. The only way in which a card is illegal to create or own is the case of "digital alters" or prints. These are pretty much blatant illegal copies, usually prints of valuable cards glued on top of some cheap commons and then sold for a lot of money. My advice is to avoid digital printed cards at all costs, no matter how pretty they might be!

Restoration Angel card hand painted by "Slatts Alters"

DCI rulings on altered magic the gathering cards
DCI rulings on altered magic the gathering cards

Are Painted MTG Cards Tournament Legal?

As more players are starting to bring these cards in to sanctioned tournaments, the DCI judges have taken notice. There are now some basic guidelines to follow if you intend to play these in tournaments. One thing is for sure, you must request from the head judge a ruling for permission before entering each tournament - or else you risk being disqualified!

The one major thing to qualify for DCI tournament play is the issue of gameplay text. The text must still clearly be visible, showing the name, mana casting cost, expansion set symbol, and rules text cannot be obscured. Which means sadly most "full art" alters probably won't be allowed in tournaments, unless you have a very lenient judge. From Wizards point of view, obscuring the card text or bits of gameplay items on the cards is more or less a form of cheating...since the other players might not have memorized exactly what that card says or how it functions, your added paint can get in the way of their ability to make good (and fair) game play decisions.

Fear not, as most judges do allow these in to tournaments. While there are a handful who frown upon it, they seem to be in the minority. I've never had an issue where I wasn't allowed to play my alters following these rules and guidelines. As long as the gameplay bits remain intact, and you check in with the judge(s), you should have nothing to worry about when playing in tournaments.

What About Additional Card Weight?

Some people have made the argument that these painted cards might make it easier to cheat or be cheated against, since surely the paint must be adding weight to the card. In reality the gain in weight is so small it's negligible, and so far there has not been a case where someone was found cheating with "weighted" MTG cards.

That said, factors that contribute to any added weight are basically just how much paint was used on that card, and what type of gloss it was coated with afterwards (professional card artists will spray a gloss finish on each card to preserve the paint job...) When put into sleeves and shuffled into a deck it's impossible to tell the difference. Nobody can cheat by adding these to the deck, so don't get any funny ideas!

(Force of Will by "LSE")

Altered Art Magic Cards 2013 - Painted Cards Video Slideshow

MTG Altered art feedback quiz

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Best Paints for MTG Alters

Liquitex BASICS Acrylic Paint Tube 48-Piece Set
Liquitex BASICS Acrylic Paint Tube 48-Piece Set

Looking to paint MTG cards yourself? Then you'll need some good acrylic paints! For this purpose, you really don't need to spend a ton of money on the best acrylic paints. Check out these Liquitex acrylic paints that are actually decent quality for the prices. These paints should last you quite a few alters before needing any more art supplies. Many people who alter cards professionally are using these paints every day.


A sped up clip of someone painting a MTG card

Talk to me!

Have you seen any cool altered cards? Do you have a favorite artist? Or a favorite art or style of card? Talk about them below!

© 2014 GoblinLackey

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