If you've ever sat down to play a game of Commander and wondered how in the world your opponent got hooked up with that unbelievably sweet Force of Will she just used to counter your Squirrel Nest you've experienced a first glimpse into the world of altered cards.
"Less angry but no less awesome at stopping your combo."
Card alterists are members of a small but constantly growing Magic subculture that take pride in taking what are already some of the most beautiful pieces of cardboard in the industry and turning them into works of art you would be proud to hang next to your diploma and certificate of participation at your grade school's "Summer Olympics".
His "upbringing and education have made" him "a natural art lover" which he turns into a variety of styles when he works on the cards. He graduated from the Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington DC almost four years ago which is around the time he got into altering.
It started as a hobby but then he said "I showed a few at my local shop in Maryland and traded/commissioned some to friends. It's funny; my then girlfriend now wife asked me if altering was something I could do full-time."
The idea was humorous something along the lines of the Dali-style dreamscapes he paints for commissions now.
"I laughed. I think I said something like how it would be too hard to sustain and I wanted to keep painting fun."
But as with anything you have to start somewhere and when Eric "returned from South Korea after a year of teaching English" he found himself looking for a job. He was "painting cards and selling a few. I suppose I just got tired of looking after a couple of months and thought I'd give full-time altering my best. I think I got lucky in terms of how a lot of different factors came together."
"The Magic community on Facebook and Twitter really started to boom last year. Not a lot of people were producing super labor intensive alters. I had a little marketing experience from working alongside a marketing director at a previous job. I also decided to attend a few StarCityGames.com Open Series early on and brought along some painting supplies (shameless showing off)."
"The definition of shamelessly showing off."
Eric was no stranger to the gaming scene as he's been involved in Magic longer than most players have been able to drive.
"I started playing around the release of Urza's Destiny and going to FNM regularly around Odyssey so roughly thirteen years."
"Getting involved with the community was a combination of elements the first being going to a lot of events in Ohio where I grew up. Then I moved to DC for school and got to know a lot of Maryland/DC regulars. I played on the Pro Tour in 2009 and Worlds in 2010. Between all of that I can count on recognizing a ton of faces at any given Magic event. Throw in social networking and notoriety from altering and being involved in the Magic community is essentially hanging out and talking to friends."
Which if you have to do something for a job is probably the absolute best situation to find yourself in. Curious about Eric's involvement on the Pro Tour I asked about his favorite Magic related story.
"My biggest Magic-playing claim to fame is I was alternate for the 2010 Korean National Team. While I living in Seoul I got the opportunity to play in the Korean Nationals tournament and ended up in fourth."
Since that in and of itself is a fairly impressive accomplishment you might be surprised to know he went into further detail.
"I did terribly at Worlds in Chiba but something awesome happened in the 11th round. I was paired up against Nicolai Herzog the only notable pro I played all tournament long."
It is important to mention that round 11 was the second draft of Day 2 and Nicolai is well known for his outstanding run in Limited including two consecutive victories at the Pro Tour level in 2004.
"I sit down and say hello. He takes one look at me then the match slip then me again and says 'Wait Korea?' It pretty much made the trip."
"He's used to the occasional odd look."
Coming back and becoming so active in the community has meant a great deal to Eric and he sees the growth of the game and his particular discipline as being one of the most positive effects of the expanding social presence.
"I think altering shows off so much of the creativity that's been hiding within the community for a long time. Up until a few years ago you either played or you wrote about playing. Those were the two big roles you could take. Those are both fine roles but nowadays you have Magic players painting 3-Ding streaming writing about trading doing video coverage writing comedy composing music. The list goes on. I think we're all just a small piece of the puzzle but each piece helps build the game more and more."
As the number of alterists increased there was a growing sentiment that Wizards might step in and create some sort of guideline for using altered cards during sanctioned play. While it is still ultimately at the discretion of the Head Judge by and large the use of altered cards in tournaments has dropped considerably since the new rules were introduced.
Fortunately for Eric he says that "most of my clients commission work for Commander Cube or just personal keepsakes so the rules haven't affected business in any noticeable way. I do try and make sure everyone is aware of the rules so no one has a bad experience trying to play an altered card at a tournament."
"Is this awesome? Yes. Can you play it at FNM? Don't forget to ask the judge."
Forget playing altered cards at a tournament—one of the most imposing tasks that alterists are asked to perform is taking a thousand dollar plus rare and making it even better by painting over it. For Eric though even the Black Lotuses (Loti?) that he has altered are just another card. Although in the beginning he said "I was pretty excited to work on my first Lotus but these days I really just push to do my very best on every card that's commissioned."
As he explained "It'd be a real shame if I dismissed an alter because the card wasn't worth much. I'm always telling myself in the back of my head if I wouldn't be proud to show this off I haven't done my job."
He admitted that as an artist he's "aware that just about any mistake can be mended. I think a lot of people forget that paint is very forgiving if you're patient."
Always aiming for his best no matter the card is the "sort of mentality that keeps me striving to produce quality work."
So is there anything that he hasn't done yet that he would like to in the future?
"This question was a lot easier to answer up until a [little while] ago when I completed my first Ancestral Recall and Time Walk. Having done several pieces of power I wanted to have completed a set. Now I already have another Walk and Recall on my plate along with my forth Lotus. I also have another fine art inspired Mox Jet planned that should hopefully be pretty stunning. There really aren't any particular cards I'm chasing anymore. I'm mostly looking for ideas and concepts that will engage those viewing my work and get them excited. New styles constantly present new challenges so I'm always open to anything art history related."
"Delicate Japanese style with a side of awesome."
Going forward he said "I'm the sort of person that flies by the seat of their pants. It's difficult to plan out more than three or four months ahead." But he would like to keep doing what he is doing. "I trust where altering takes me will be good and leave it at that. I love having fun at what I do for a living and being more involved with the game I grew up with. I'm in no hurry to change any of that just yet."
I asked what someone should do if they wanted to become an independent artist within the Magic community or if there was any advice he wished someone had shared earlier on in his career. With his focus on high performance with every piece his own recommendations are not surprising.
"Never put financial gain ahead of quality. Strive to be proud of what you produce. I cringe when I see people cutting corners to make a faster dollar. It's not smart long-term and it's not how to earn respect within the community."
The growth of the altering scene and as he alluded to before the expansion of the community are both positive steps that will always require a bit of investment from the most well-known members. But he doesn't want to leave them with the impression that people shouldn't try. His advice "may sound a little high and mighty but even in art school I was a real stickler for good craft."
And sometimes it takes a while to become proficient even when it comes to doing something you love. He admitted "There's a lot of little technical knowledge I wish someone had told me about but I also think it was beneficial that I learned that stuff on my own."
"Still not afraid to show off.
Now of course you can follow the altering community on several websites and read tutorials as well as watching videos that can show you how to make anything from a gorgeous Mox Ruby mural to a black and white Type 4 stack that's as jaw-droppingly beautiful as anything you'll find hanging in a gallery.
When it comes to altering "who knows what tomorrow's going to bring?"
After more than a decade in the game Eric Klug has found something he loves to do and for now he doesn't worry where he's going.
"Then again if the Wizards art department wants to offer me a job tomorrow I might take that call."