The Art of Art: Modifying Cards for 5-Color And Other Casual Formats

The thing that got me interested in 5C wasn’t the big decks; it was drawing all over cards and modifying them to the point of illegibility. It was taking some piece of art and tinkering around with it and then having opponents say, “Wow, that’s really cool!” I’ve learned many techniques on my own for gussying up cards to make them more aesthetically-pleasing, so read on as I share how to create blackout cards, smear art with acetone, and create foil versions of non-foil cards!

The thing that got me interested in 5C wasn’t the big decks. It wasn’t playing Contract From Below. It wasn’t Chaos Orb or Jeweled Bird or ante or Vindicate being playable. It was drawing all over cards and modifying them to the point of illegibility. It was taking some piece of art and tinkering around with it and then having opponents say, “Wow, that’s really cool!” It was the personal satisfaction in seeing the art on the card differently and changing it up and getting recognition for my creativity.

I learned mostly on my own, with a bit of help from the online community at www.5-color.com as well as some advice from friend and fellow 5C player, Kevin Cron. Kevin’s 5C deck puts mine to shame; almost every card is battered, signed, drawn on, and messed up. Keeping cards that I’d never be able to trade and wouldn’t use in a tournament in mint condition was a sin to me. I needed to art them up! With that in mind, I hit my art supplies and started playing around. I’ll detail the different techniques I picked up along the way so that when I play someone else in 5C, I can see their neat deck and have a fun time even when I’m losing to them.

Ready-Made Art: Sticker Shock!

One of the easiest ways to modify a card is to put a sticker on it. You’ve got stickers everywhere – at school, in your workplace, in the mailbox, at the dime store, etc. Finding a really neat one and then matching it up with a fun card is a fast way to modify something. You can see some cards that I modified here. From left to right, I used an auto club sticker from the mail, one that was on my ATM card, and a hazardous chemical sticker on the last (it’s a Flametongue Kavu, if you can’t tell).

These modifications require no skill at all, making them easy for the beginner. As you develop and think about modifying the cards differently, you’ll challenge yourself about what card in your deck best fits the sticker, and vice versa. My favorite stickers to look out for are: stickers from fresh fruit (they look really neat when a card is covered in them!), Mr. Yuck, chemical hazard stickers, warning labels, and My Little Pony stickers. Dime stores also sell whole sheets of smiley faces, letters, scratch and sniff strawberry ones, and all sorts of other cool stuff.

Remember how neat it was to get a sticker in the third grade? Yeah, it’s still badass.

The Fine Line Between Witty and Stupid

Now we’ll get into writing on the cards. I prefer to use Sharpie markers because they’re cheap, durable, and come in a variety of colors. I use the standard-sized ones; the fine tip ones have always failed on me, though other people report phenomenal success with them. Unless you have days to let something dry, steer clear of the gel pens that are popular with teenage girls. Nicking your sister’s pen will come back to bite you when the ink smears everywhere – and even if you don’t have a sister, they take forever to dry and are prone to flaking off.

What you write on them is up to you. I try to be funny (emphasis on “try”) with my card mods, and so often there are funny phrases on my cards. Some reference what it does, some are complete non-sequiturs, and some are just weird. If funny isn’t your style, draw other things. Sometimes cards reference music that I like or teams that I am on (like these here), and some just seemed funny when I drew them.

Another valuable tool in the artists’ arsenal is the whiteout pen. You can get one of these at any office supply store. A Sharpie is not opaque; if there’s something that you really want to show up, put down a bit of whiteout first. It dries fast and sticks! It’s also useful for making humorous text bubbles on the cards.

The Tom Sawyer Theory: Getting Other People To Do Your Work

If you’re an incredible online personality like myself, you can get other people to send you cards based on how cool you are. However, only the coolest people will send you cards, because only cool people want to spread the love that is card modification. Some people do really crazy things to cards, and it’s fun to name drop with your cards on the table. These particular cards were modified by Ray Robillard, Stephen Menendian, and Rich Shay, all fine gentlemen who took the time to do my work for me.

Next time you lose ante to an opponent when you’re playing for signatures, ask them to go a little beyond. Everyone has a little talent in them – and hell, the card is going to be ruined anyway, why not take that extra leap past DCI legality? If you have dumb friends (or no friends) you can always go to conventions and get your cards signed there, but it’s kind of pedestrian as far as modifications go. We want to break away from the mold here!

Foiling Does Not Involve A Microwave

Contract From Below is an awesome card. I just wish it were available in foil! There are plenty of older, out-of-print cards that won’t get played in any tournament and sit in your 5C deck looking lame… So go the distance and foil them! Here’s the process:

Find your card you want foiled. Pick out a foil card of the same color and put it in a bowl of water to soak overnight. When you wake up, gently peel off the foil front from the card.


Do not de-foil Cranial Extractions, Exalted Angels or anything else you want to keep. Do this to junk foils.

Now that you’ve got just the foil front, take a sharp Exacto blade and cut out the text box and art, and then run a glue stick over the back and carefully align it on your card. Let it dry under some heavy books. It should turn out something like this foily Contract from Below.

Yeah, it’s janky. The card title doesn’t match up with the actual card. No, I don’t have a way around this. Deal with it in all its ugly glory, because you hold in your hand a foil Contract!

If you’re feeling ambitious and you have time (perhaps you’re a college student getting a liberal arts degree), you can take the face off a foil card with an industrial solvent such as acetone. You can then go out and buy a pack of clear contact printer paper and print up all the foil Ancestral Recalls you can come up with. It’s not a cheap process and I haven’t done much with it, mainly due to laziness. I urge you to test it for me and let me know how it worked for you though!

Blackout: Beyond the Method Man Album

You can also take a card and black out all but some small parts of the art that are recognizable. This is done with a good marker. Sharpies do it for me, but you need to move slowly, or you’ll draw out too much ink and it’ll go on thin. There are better markers to do this with; check your local art store for high-quality opaque black markers with fine tips. Meanwhile, gaze at this example of a blackout Pyrite Spellbomb.

Dual Lands On The Cheap

Every 5C deck needs dual lands. Those run about a bazillion bucks now. I’d rather play with optimal cards that I don’t own than bumble around trying to make replacements. If you play with people who are way casual and want to play 5C without the hassle (these are usually the people playing for low-stakes antes/no antes) and are fine with proxies, the following technique is for you.

Back in the days when I was a chemistry major, I really dug solvents. Acetone is one of the sweetest of them all, being able to dissolve practically anything that water or alcohol cannot. I found out after marking up my desk accidentally with a Sharpie that acetone is great for taking it off of things. It dissolves it right away.

Fast forward to now, when I am using acetone to take the face off of cards. I’m proxying up dual lands and decide to take a cotton swab with acetone on it to my artwork. It smears, blends, dries, and looks fantastic. You get an impressionistic feel to the cards and it covers up bad skills. With dual lands, you can basically make up whatever you want as the picture. Since you’re only drawing landscapes, this technique is really successful.

Here are some examples of proxied dual lands I did this to. I first removed all the art, then I drew in it and used acetone to blend it together.

Random Junk

A few years ago, I had spilled some paint on some Urza’s Legacy commons and hadn’t bothered to clean it up. Years later I come back and find that one of them is Crop Rotation! The back of the card was fine, but the front was completely messed up. It had bits of another card stuck to it from the glue, and it was completely unplayable in any sanctioned format. Luckily, 5C is not a sanctioned format, so I can play with this gem of a card.

That wraps it up for now. Check out my website for even more pictures and modifications, and please share your own with me! I am always on the lookout for new techniques and supplies!

Doug “The Fourth Amendment” Linn

Hi-Val on The Intarweb