intelligentwatchreview Magic The Gathering - 8 Tips For Spotting Fake Cards

Wizards of the Coast (WotC) released Magic The Gathering (MTG) in 1993, a turbulent time for tabletop gamers, with fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons in decline. Despite this, Richard Garfield’s creation took the world by storm, acquiring a legion of fans. Few could predict the success and its influence on the burgeoning industry to come.

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MTG fans fall into one of two camps, players and collectors, with some sprawling across the two. The secondary card market serves both camps, selling individual cards found in boosters. Prices for rare cards can hit hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. So it is no wonder that counterfeiters prey on the unwary as they make a quick buck. Here's what to look for so you can avoid fake cards.


Keep in mind that, sometimes, errors in the official printing process do occur that can cause a card to be incorrectly cut, aligned on the card stock, or even accidentally crimped in the printing process. These cards are sometimes even more valuable to collectors than a perfectly-printed copy, so make sure you use other methods to determine if the card is genuine and poorly printed, or a fake.

What Makes A Card Fake, And Why Are Fakes Problematic?

Let’s keep it simple. A fake card is one not of genuine origin but that imitates an official card. In other words, a copy of a card that wasn’t made by Wizards of the Coast, or a genuine card that is altered to appear like a different card, usually an older and higher value variant.

Fake Cards affect both players and collectors. Card values fluctuate as it is, but when counterfeit cards enter the market, they negatively affect the price and bring into question the authenticity of genuine cards. Competitive players frown upon counterfeit cards, with a ban by WotC in place that can cause a player to be excluded from the competition, or worse still, all future official competitive play.

It's worth touching on the difference between counterfeits and proxies. Both are made by third parties, but proxies do not attempt to resemble a genuine card. There is no intent to pass them off as original - for example, writing the name of another card on a basic land counts as a proxy, as nobody would be fooled into thinking it is genuinely the card the player is using it as. Others may use completely original art, and proxies are a popular form of Magic The Gathering fanart.

There are a variety of reasons why proxy cards exist, some collectors prefer to use a proxy card over an original as this protects their investment. Any wear and tear received during play is dealt to the proxy, not something irreplaceable. Proxy cards are not allowed in official tournaments and some causal players frown upon them as well. Always check with the event organizer or player if you are unsure.

How To Spot A Fake Card

WotC and the community are aware of the issue and have documented the problem, and there are several ways to identify fake cards. A word of caution before we begin. No single test can provide 100 percent proof. Perform multiple tests. Even genuine cards have their issues, but the more tests a card fails, the higher the probability that it is fake.

Magic The Gathering Spotting Fakes Light Test

Years back, it wasn’t uncommon to see players carrying small flashlights attached to their keychains. By shining a light through a card, you can test its authenticity, this is known as the light test. If a lot of the light bleeds through revealing some design elements, you likely have a genuine card. Counterfeit cards often block some or all of the light. Nowadays, most of us have a powerful flashlight on our phones, thanks to the camera flash.

Another light test we can perform is with UV light. Thanks to the cardstock used, genuine cards will ‘glow’ under UV light.

Magic The Gathering Spotting Fakes WeightTest

Another item in our utility belts is an accurate, sensitive scale. Magic The Gathering cards have a consistent weight of about 1.7 - 1.8 grams (0.06 ounces). Foil cards will weigh more than their non-foil variants and, when weighing, make sure you are comparing like for like. As a minimum, try to find a card from the same set. Magic The Gathering - 8 Tips For Spotting Fake Cards

The weight test is useful for detecting re-backs. A re-back is a card that is altered by taking the back face from a genuine reprinted card and attaching it to a genuine face from an original set. This is from a newer set that has reprinted some older cards of value and the counterfeiter attempted to make the cards appear from the older set. This will cause a heavier card.

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Close up of the Green Dot on the reverse of a Magic The Gathering playing card.

Buying cards is safe most of the time, but there are some avenues that have more risk associated with them than others. That's why we recommend you get up close and personal with a card before buying. Ask for high-resolution photographs when buying online and pay close attention to problem areas. Invest in a jewelers' loupe or magnifier as this will allow close inspection. A magnification of 30X will give great results.

WotC prints its cards using commercial printing presses that use engraved metal plates, one for each color. Similar to our printers at home, four colors are used, but unlike an ink-jet that prints everything in one go, it presses each plate onto paper one at a time. This leaves some telltale signs you can use to determine whether a card is genuine.

You may have heard the term rosette thrown about. This is a pattern of dots unique to the print run. Think of it as a ‘fingerprint’. We can use this to check against known patterns for a set. When comparing the pattern, compare it to a known rosette, or a known card from the set. This can be a good indicator of a card’s authenticity.

With that said, one area of consistency across the years is the back face of a card. The design has not changed since the game launched. There is a pattern of four magenta dots forming an upside-down ‘L’ in the green orb. This is difficult to replicate and is a reliable sign of a fake.

Magic The Gathering Spotting Fakes Black Ink

The last plate used during printing is the black plate. This lays down a layer of black ink over the previous layers. This results in solid black areas and text that have clear, crisp edges. We don’t see this in counterfeit cards, as the majority use a different printing process. Using a jewelers' loupe gives us a better view of what we are looking out for.

The black ink on a genuine card covers other design elements including the rosette mentioned above. Lines will be straight and free from noise. On counterfeit cards, blacks are not always black, they can have colored artifacts intermingled amongst the solid areas. You will spot this as dots of color in amongst black.

This noise enters the equation during the scanning of genuine cards. Scanners take a 'photo' of the card in one pass and interpret what they see to give a 'best effort' of matching the original. If you see fuzziness around the edge of text, straight lines, and borders, you may have a fake card.

From time to time, printing errors do creep in. We've seen cards cut incorrectly, capturing the top and bottom from two cards, tears from factory machinery, and prints with misaligned plates. Unfortunately, these are also signs of a fake card. That is why using multiple tests is essential.

Magic The Gathering Spotting Fakes Coloured In Border

From time to time, WotC brings back an older card, giving players a chance to get their hands on some hard-to-find classics. In the early days, a black border was used to differentiate between limited run sets and the white border core set.

Counterfeiters take these white border cards and color them in using black ink to pass them off as an earlier version. How anyone thought this was a good idea, I don’t know. Poor penmanship and an updated copyright notice betray their efforts. Always compare the lower-left corner of a card with the original.

Magic The Gathering Spotting Fakes Example Layer Shift Simulated

We are not talking about the card type “Artifact”. Rather, we’re looking for anything on the card that doesn’t feel right. A few things to look out for:

Magic The Gathering Spotting Fakes Touch And Feel

Another excellent test is how a card feels. Cards from a set should feel the same. Check for excessive wear along the edge of a card and rubbing or fading within the print. Authentic cards should be robust and handle playing well. The print should not rub off or fade through normal use. See how a card shuffles. Is it too slippy or does it drag or stick to other cards? Does the card have a glossy sheen or waxy feel? Does it feel like other cards you already own?

It takes time to fully appreciate how different genuine cards feel different from set to set. Each set has the potential for wildly different materials. Ink batches differ and will give different tonal changes depending upon the manufacturer. A common feature of early edition MTG is the backs of cards having slight color shifts from edition to edition. Another factor is the card stock used. Paper from different mills can have the same spec but will differ by the paper mill. Grain plays a role as well, this is the direction that the paper fibers are laid during manufacture. This will affect how smooth a card feels in a given direction.

Card thickness can vary between products, as well. Cards in Standard and Set boosters are generally the same, while Collector's boosters may feel slightly thicker. Theme boosters, on the other hand, may appear darker than normal

Trust Your Gut

Don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal. Trust your gut. If something looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and feels like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Using your knowledge of cards, as well as the tips here, you should have a good idea of whether a card is genuine or not. Always be polite and if you have concerns, share them with an event coordinator or vendor. Remember, the person opposite you may not be dishonest. They could have bought the card in good faith and not been aware.

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