Tedditor's Note:* Michael and I met Charles Lapointe at GP Toronto and were immediately struck by the quality of his work. We're always looking to help promote world-class talent, so Charles agreed to do a guest spot on Trading Posts. *
Having done alterations for 3 years now, I've come to realize that people often don't understand Wizard of the Coast's criteria for tournament legality. I think this is natural because there's not a lot of information out there about playing with alters in sanctioned events, and hope I can fix some of the misconceptions here. First I'll explain what an altered card is, and discuss the types of alters that are available. Next, I'll present the official rules about alters and share some of my personal experiences.
An alteration is a card modification, usually focused on the art, applied after the card was printed. Some add an element to the existing art, or extend it to be borderless, or even change the original artwork completely. Mostly, altered cards are played in eternal formats and the popularity of altered cards is increasing since more players play them in tournaments. These are the main types you can expect to see:
Text box effects: These update the text box on the cards to make them look distressed, damaged, or made from other materials.
Popups: Usually, this type of alter simply extend some parts of the original artwork through text box or borders.
Character replacement: A replacement of the original character with a funny one or something fitting with the colors, flavor text or name of the card.
Borderless: This alter extends the art of the original illustration on the borders of the top (name and mana cost) and bottom (type, effect) box of the card
Textless: These typically keep the borders of the cards, but extend the art through the bottom text box.
Full art: These replace or extend the original artwork over the whole card except for the top text box and/or power and toughness
Proxies, on the other hand, are made digitally instead of on cards officially printed by WotC. There are many fine talents that make proxies out there, but we don;t consider them to be alters.
From the official rules, the following elements are typically required to determine altered card tournament legal:
- An unobstructed name
- An unobstructed mana cost
- Art must not make the card unrecognizable
- Art must not contain offensive images
- Substantial strategic advice may not be present
- Card must not be recognizably distinct in library, hand, etc.
While the Head Judge of an event may decide to allow or disallow any given altered card, it is important to keep the above guidelines in mind. If the art is still recognizable, the name and mana cost are not obstructed, and the card is not distinguishable from any other card in the deck while in a hidden zone, then it should be allowed. The potential offensiveness of an alter is a more subjective area and you should likely have a more conservative approach.
To ensure consistency within any given tournament, the Head Judge is the sole arbiter of the legality of a card. It is good practice for players using altered cards to get approval from the Head Judge prior to the start of the tournament.
Based on my 3 years experience interacting with judges about alters, I'll add the following "rules":
Make sure your opponents know what your cards are when you play them. You don't have to show them your deck before play, of course, but the first time you lay down an alter on the battlefield, provide a courtesy check that your opponent knows the card.
Make sure your alter conserves its original thickness! If you can feel it's an alter through a sleeve, a judge will not let you play it. My alteration process is based on making certain the alters are not detectable. I take great pains to make sure that the card borders remain untouched, and that the alters a indistinguishable from unaltered cards.
At the beginning of each tournament, I recommend each player with altered cards in their deck to have them approved by a judge to avoid confusion. As judges generally say, the most common mistakes in tournaments are based on lack of communication.
With that, I leave you with my sincere sense of pride in what I've learned about alteration and the work I have produced. I believe alters allow us to personalize our favorite cards in fun and interesting ways, and a neat way to represent our other interests to opponents, whether it's Rick and Morty, mangas or the oldschool artwork!
-- Charles Lapointe