Alterations – Altering At SCG Open: Pittsburgh

Jeremy Froggatt made the trip out to Pittsburgh to alter cards at his own booth for Star City. Find out about his trip and check out the lovely commissions he completed for players at the event site.

I’m a proud Canadian and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the world. We’re a democratic nation with a fairly steady economy during a worldwide economic downturn. We’re known for being a helpful, friendly sort throughout the globe and are welcomed at almost any doorstep. Looking at the big picture, it’s hard not to feel blessed to be a part of this country. There’s just one thing that we’re missing up here in the Great White North: SCG Opens.

As you may already be aware, SCG Open Pittsburgh stole my on-site altering virginity. Yes, we have the odd PTQ, and for the first time ever (if I recall correctly) we have two Grand Prix in our country this year, but I’ve only ever attended these as a playing participant. I’ve bandied about the idea of attending Canadian events on an altering basis, but it’s just never panned out. I was either working, doing something with the kids, or honestly…just too intimidated to go after it.

Seeing all these alterists in the event coverage of the SCG Opens recently made me feel like I was missing out. All these artists, some familiar, some unknown, were getting face time with the organization and people I write for, and I’m stuck up here painting and writing at my desk in the living room. The allure of meeting the awesome people I converse with on Twitter, through email, and through forum feedback finally proved too great, so I picked the closest event to me this year and decided I would take the plunge.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Though, I didn’t feel that way at the beginning…

Deciding to go was easy, but as the weeks ticked by leading up to the event, my stress levels rose to new heights. I still have my day job, three kids to come home to, and of course my loving, nagging wife. The pressure certainly piled on during the weeks before Pittsburgh.

I’ve made it quite public that I have troubles getting things done* in a timely manner, so it’s no surprise that I’m behind on alter commissions by a fair chunk. I’d also like to be able to get articles out with more regularity in the future. These are things that are constantly on my mind and doubly so when I’m about to drive down to an event to meet folks awaiting alters and web content.

I was also incredibly nervous about altering with spectators gathered around my table. What if I make painting errors while people are watching? Will anyone actually buy anything or set up commissions with me? I don’t feel like I have enough sample pieces for display or sale. Are the other alterists on site going to just blow me away? All these things and more were swirling through my head right up until event day. I was a basket case. Luckily, I had my long time bro, Sean Peconi, to keep me in check.

Pre-trip shenanigans

Before I get right into the tomfoolery, I need to introduce you to Sean.

We’ve been friends for some time now and definitely more so since Magic entered the equation on both sides. Hopefully the friendship will continue to hold after I write this. Sean is a great friend; very caring, generally supportive, and he pushes me along when I need it. He’s also a wicked good chef, so always the first one to make the cut to a party guest list.

Those that interact with him on Twitter (@seanpeconi) will also know that he is one of the most cynical bastards around. I guess it’s been described as a Magic player thing (blanketing us as a whole with this stereotype), but Sean is very difficult to please. He tends to find some sort of fault in most things and seems to enjoy taking a scalpel to any idea brought forth. I think I can count on one hand the amount of articles or forum posts I’ve written that he’s been happy with.

This critical obsession was passed down the family tree, so I can’t put it all on him. His bed has to be made a certain way and done immediately once he’s up in the morning, and this sort of obsessive cleanliness applies to practically every aspect of his apartment, from the floor being clean, to dishes, the table…you name it. Even his own wife refers to him as “Martha” regularly, as he could easily be the male Martha Stewart counterpart, minus the Christmas crafts.

So when Sean began asking me about the trip details a couple weeks in advance, I couldn’t resist the opportunity this presented to mess with him. I decided that I wouldn’t talk to him until he got to the point where I would be receiving the texts saying that he wasn’t coming. This worked splendidly. For about a week he continually asked me what was up, what the plans are, what we’re bringing, what hotel I booked, if I had booked one, what route we were taking, did I have business cards done, on and on and on. This got to the point that his wife started texting me, begging me to talk to him, as he was getting really annoying. He was absolutely stressing about the trip (as I’m notoriously a last-minute guy) figuring that nothing was planned and I was going to simply wing it.

Little did he know that I put together an amazingly detailed package of documents that covered the entire gamut of our adventure. The contents included:

  • Full color, detailed driving route; maps and text
  • The hotel details, confirmation numbers, and check in/out times
  • Full details on the event site
  • The entire three-page SCG event schedule
  • A detailed description of my vehicles’ features and benefits
  • A Google map of all the restaurants nearby, clearly labeled
  • Restaurant listing to accompany the map with address and phone numbers
  • Two deck registration sheets for the event
  • Detailed itinerary of when we’d leave, get there, leave, get back, etc.
  • Detailed checklist of items to pack (2x socks, 2x shirts etc.)

All of this was neatly tucked in a folder that had the word ‘Classified’ in red marker across the front of it, just like in the movies.

So when he finally went full tilt on me about not going, I left work with the folder and drove to his apartment. Luckily, I was driving my sister-in-law’s car that day, so he wouldn’t be able to recognize it in his parking lot. I snuck into the entry area, which is roughly an eight-foot square room with the mail slots on one wall, the buzzers on the other, and a locked door. I slipped the folder under the recycling bin sitting on the floor in the corner of the room and stealthed back to the car and got into position.

I started by asking if he was at home, and he said that he was, but that I didn’t need to come over, as we could just talk on the phone to get stuff sorted out. I replied with “Go downstairs.” After a couple minutes of him asking wtf was going on, he finally went downstairs to the entry area, which I could see clearly in the rearview mirror as I slouched in the seat.

“There’s a package for you, under the recycling bin.”
He reaches down and finds the folder.
“Don’t open it until you’re safely back in your apartment.”
I then take off in the car, before he can start looking around for me.
The next ten minutes of texting was essentially him calling me an idiot and whining about how important the trip was for me to be goofing around like this. He was one angry little man that day, angry and relieved. It was a beautifully crafted package of organization if I do say so myself.

That was simply the beginning of our epic adventure; I’ll leave the rest to future blog posts so I can get to the stuff involving alters.

SCG Pittsburgh: Day one

It was certainly intimidating walking into the massive hall at about 8:30 am. The place was a beehive of activity, mostly around the dealer table, as roughly three hundred or so gamers were there making their last-minute purchases for the Standard Open.

I managed to locate my table at the far back corner of the room and met two of my alteration colleagues, Brandon Brown and Lindsay Burley.

Brandon, of Modfly Alters was a pleasant lad with a few binder pages full of some cool alters. His <1hr turnaround time was insane, and despite painting quickly, they turned out pretty nicely. What I found most impressive though was that he had his own debit/credit card reader that plugged into his phone! I had no idea these things existed, so it's something I'll definitely be looking into for future events.

Lindsay and her boyfriend Anthony were situated between Brandon and myself, so I spent a lot of time talking with them, which was fantastic. Having been to many of these events in a working capacity, they were great sources of information about the whole process. Lindsay’s 3D alters were pretty neat as well, having been my first time seeing this style in person. What blew me away was that it only takes her an average of 15-20 minutes to complete a basic 3D alter! Now, to be fair to the other 3Ders out there, she’s generally using only one or two copies of a given card, where I’ve seen others (like Drew Sitte) use seven or more copies to achieve some incredible depth.

With formalities aside, I started placing my gear neatly around the table and got settled in to my comfy chair. Sean went in search of some water for cleaning brushes so I could relax and attune.

There really wasn’t much relaxation time, as it turned out. Gamers started milling around and came visiting the altering booths in numbers. Over the course of the first day, I probably had fifty or so people come and introduce themselves, and a significant number of those picked my brain about altering, writing, and the SCG life.

One of the first people I spent a few minutes talking to on Saturday morning ended up being my first commission of the event. Andrew Dilley had an entirely foiled out Legacy deck that contained only a handful of cards that weren’t available as foils, so he asked me to do a Diminishing Returns for him. I spent roughly three hours on it, with many breaks to chat with others visiting my table of course.

I was really happy with the finished product on this one, with the ‘sorcery’ lettering being a particular highlight. I painted right over the lettering this time, but cleaned it up very carefully between coats, so that the paint went right in to the edge of the text, and it looked seamless. None of this millimeter buffer around the text stuff. There is no way I would have achieved this using a toothpick, I must note. I had to use an exacto knife for paint removal that was that fine.

The colors lined up nicely, and the broken glass effect was a nice touch, so I expanded it a little farther in most areas. Andrew seemed to be pretty happy with the outcome, as he proceeded to apply the peer pressure on one of his friends to get something altered as well.

Among the handful of other commissions I’d received throughout the morning, there was one particular individual that casually sauntered by the table between rounds, so it was apparent that he was anxious to see his commission finished. As soon as the Diminishing Returns was completed, I started work on David Blyston’s Birthing Pod.

David was one of the only people during the first day that had any real input into the alter, as most are more than happy letting me just do my thing. There wasn’t a lot of direction, but he did want to see something coming out of the frame from the scary looking Phyrexian guy. I enjoyed talking with him about altering, as I learned he’d also tried his hand at it, which he showed me before we parted ways.

The Birthing Pod seemed pretty straightforward, but it turned out that some of the beige colors were difficult to match, so I ended up replacing a lot in the original art with my own colors. The lower tentacle/stick thing coming at us definitely looks odd to me as I look at the picture again, but I was using the original art as a guideline and it seemed to be gradually getting bigger as it came across to the right, and it also stayed straight, whereas the other elements all have a curving structure. I am happy with how the lighting turned out though, as I spent some time raising the highlights all over the piece for added effect.

After handing over the card to David, Sean and I started whining about how hungry we were. Apparently time flies when you’re surrounded by Magic awesomeness, and it was 8:00 pm. We started packing everything up and bid everyone a good evening as we headed out to find a juicy steak.

Success! Thanks Outback!

I had originally planned on finding some Twitter folk or SCG personalities to game with at night, but by the time we got to the hotel, I was absolutely drained. I crashed pretty quickly, which was a blessing as the following day would be even more tiring!

SCG Pittsburgh: Day two

We got up nice and early Sunday morning, had our wake-me-up showers, and headed downstairs for some breakfast of the continental variety. We arrived at the lobby and found quite the variety of folks originating from every continent, besides North America, eating breakfast. Now, between the long lines at every food station and the lone television tuned to an Indian network, we felt as if we were females at a Magic tournament…awkward. Without words, we decided mutually that we’d find sustenance elsewhere this morning.

Due to Sean’s incessant need to be completely and utterly organized, he asked our half-baked clerk, Carlos, for some breakfast suggestions and directions. After five or six turns were described and relayed back for verification, Carlos summed it up by saying, “You’re making it more complicated than it is; it’s just there, up the hill.” So away we went, confident that we’d be enjoying a lovely Denny’s breakfast in five minutes.

Half an hour later, we were sitting down to some well-earned Sausage McMuffins at McDonald’s on the side of a mountain somewhere. Despite this turn of events, I was quite positive. After all, I’d made day two of the SCG Open! So, we finished eating and used the maps app on my iPhone to rappel down the mountain and get to the tournament site for about 8:30.

After setting up my table for the second time, I encountered an absolute flurry of activity spanning most of the morning. There were a ton of people that came by to chat, and I picked up a fair number of commissions in rapid succession, one of which was a card that I had always wanted to try altering, Crucible of Worlds.

Not only did James Risner want his Crucible to be full art, he also wanted to play it in the evening Legacy event if at all possible. I vowed that I’d do my best, and we picked out the most beat up Crucible he owned (no point covering up a mint one when a poor one will do) to undergo the transformation. I loaned him a Crucible of mine to play with until I finished his and got started right away on what would turn out to be a really enjoyable alter.

I wish I had taken actual process pictures of this one, as the transformations between stages were quite extreme. Sean did take some photos around the event for me and snapped this one of me while I was hard at work.

I spent roughly six hours (again, with many breaks to chat with passers-by) working on James’ Crucible, and although there are things I’d change if I had a bit more time to work on it, I loved the outcome. I’m definitely planning to do something similar to mine one day, as this thing looks bonkers in real life.

I used the bottom of a Tylenol bottle to trace the circle for my additional planet, which somehow managed to get distorted during the process and ended up looking not quite as round as I would have liked. Definitely something I would have fixed had I not been under time constraints. I had a really rough time coming up with an idea for the extra-large planet so it ended up being a swirling void after I pushed the paint around it for twenty minutes. I did mention to Charlotte Sable (level 2 judge from Canada and all-around awesome magical woman) that purple was the only thing I was decided on when she questioned what I was going to do with the big empty ball, and I stuck to it for sure. Purple just seemed right for this piece, as every other basic color was represented among the many visible planets.

By far the most difficult portion of the job was matching Ron Spencer’s crazy Phyrexian style found in the uppermost large planet. The sheer number of tiny things going on in that planet is staggering, so I worked slowly at it, one small section at a time until I could happily move on to another portion.

The Milky Way like streaks filled with stars and small planets were fun to work on, and using the splatter technique (putting watered down paint on your brush and flicking it onto the canvas) for the tiny stars throughout went swimmingly.

Luckily, the spray coat finished drying about five minutes before James was to start the tournament, so he seemed pretty happy about the alter and timing.

After finishing the Crucible, we went around and said our goodbyes to everyone we could and began packing up at roughly 4:00 pm, as it took us ten hours to get down there, and we were determined to get back home without spending money on a hotel room for another night. The ride home was fairly uneventful, and we arrived home safely at approximately 2:00 am.

The weekend went by so fast and we had such a good time that I could definitely see myself doing events like this at every opportunity in the future. Of course, that would entail bucking the retail job to free up weekends, so we’ll see what happens in that department. I’ll definitely be trying to get to another SCG event before the year is out.

Before I head out to finally finish the July review, I have a host of shout-outs I’d like to run through.

Sean Peconi – Thanks for taking the time away from the wife and spending the money to come with me to Pittsburgh last month; it was much appreciated.

To the people who entrusted me with their cardboard: Andrew Dilley, David Blyston, Dan Eissenstat, Lukasz Hall, Mark Detisch, David Neganiwina, Mike Potente, James Risner, Kevin Brooke, and Phillip Steriopoulos. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me and commissioning an alter. I’ll do my best to get them completed and shipped, so hang tight!

A big shout-out to Mike Cox, one of my pre-Pittsburgh patrons and Twitter friends who spent a good deal of time with us at the booth. Nice to actually meet you in person!

Well, that wraps up my SCG Pittsburgh experience. Thanks for following along, and I’ll hopefully be back with the long overdue July review soon.


*If you have issues with productivity, staying focused and on track etc., check out “Getting things done” by David Allen. This book has been a very worthwhile investment for me. Special thanks to Kar Yung Tom (aka KYT from everygoodpodcast and manadeprived.com) for turning me onto OmniFocus, which in turn, led me to GTD.