About altered cards legality

Lately when I show my altered cards I hear the same comment: “They are awesome. It’s a pity that you can’t play sanctioned tournaments with them”.

Altered cards make a deck more personal and give it some fresh air, but there is a natural controversy: are they legal in tournaments? Wizards was aware of this matter and ruled as follows:

Magic Tournament Rules (section 3.3)


Artistic modifications are acceptable in sanctioned tournaments, provided that the modifications do not make the card art unrecognizable, contain substantial strategic advice, or contain offensive images. Artistic modifications also may not obstruct or change the mana cost or name of the card.

The Head Judge is the final authority on acceptable cards for a tournament

This means that artistic alterations are legal in santioned tournaments if:

  • The card’s original art is recognizable.

Although the official language is English, Wizards has edited cards in many others. If you sit in front of a player with cards in a language you don’t know and you can’t identify the artwork, how would you know what card is playing your opponent? So an altered card would be legal if you can identify at least the original art as you cannot understand the text in it. Obviously alterations that “simulate” the art of a different card are totally forbidden.

  • The changes don’t contain any strategic advice.

The alteration can’t have anything that might help you painted, written (for example telling the other card you need for a combo). Even your card’s weight might be used as an advantage and may make an altered card illegal so you should be careful when altering your deck. For example, you may be able to identify them just touching the sleeve, if you alter only the lands with too much paint you might know if the next card is a land or a spell.

  • They do not show any offensive image.

Just keep in mind that this game is above 13 years old, so violence and explicit nudes will not be allowed.

  • The art does not obstruct/change the mana cost or name of the card.

Other details can be covered by the art in very well known cards. For example you might obstruct the text in those cards that Wizards has edited textless (such as lightning bolt, putrify, ponder, mana leak…).

And finally, the most important rule: The Head Judge is the final authority on acceptable cards for a tournament. Usually the more important the tournament is, the more strict the judges are. It’s not the same playing a Pro Tour than a FNM in the store around the corner (where usually the shop owner is the judge), and not all Head Judges have the same opinion about alterations (i.e. some of them think that borderless alterations don’t allow them to know if the card is a real MTG card, some others do not).

Anyway, let’s see some samples:

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker (in spanish):

The original art is recognizable, text and mana cost are not obstructed, not containing any advices nor offensive images. Definitely legal in most tournaments….




 Thoughtseize (in spanish):

If this card was in Japanese (in this case in spanish), would you identify it? This card would be acceptable for all the official rulings except for the original art, which is unrecognizable. We all know the effect of this card, but it would not be legal in sanctioned tournaments.



 Avacyn, Angel of Hope (in spanish)

The name and the cost are not obstructed, it is not offensive… The question here is: would the judge consider this card is known enough as to cover the text legally? In what kind of tournament would this card be acceptable? In my opinion this wouldn’t be legal in most events but… What if the girl was smaller? Where is the limit?



For more information, you can read here the Magic Judge Wiki, and the opinion of one of the judges about alterations.

Keep in mind that NOT all alterations are the same and that well done alters are acceptable in tournaments. If you like them, partial alters (such as completing a piece of the art over the border without covering any text or symbol) are always successful if they are well done.

And remember that any guide you can find on the internet is just that, a guide. The final decision is ALWAYS on the Head Judge, so try to go early to any tournament and check first if you alterations are legal or not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: