Wednesday, 12 February 2020 12:29

How to spot counterfeit ‘Magic: The Gathering’ cards (and what to do about it)

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How do you know if that 'Magic' card you want isn't a counterfeit? How do you know if that 'Magic' card you want isn't a counterfeit? MAGIC UNTAPPED

From knock-off Gucci handbags to fake Oakley sunglasses, counterfeit products find their way into homes and collections one way or another.  Magic: The Gathering cards are no different with fake cards knowingly or not winding up in collections and trade binders.

That’s not to say that publisher Wizards of the Coast isn’t doing anything to fight the problem.  Indeed, the company has been actively working to make Magic cards more and more difficult to counterfeit by adding detailed holographic security stamps on the bottom of certain rarities of cards, using specific card stock, and even going as far as collaborating with law enforcement to conduct sweeps of known counterfeit-selling websites and unauthorized printing facilities.

One of many retailers found online that peddle in
One of many retailers found online that peddle "proxy" (fake) MTG cards.

Still, the possibility of finding fake Magic cards in the wild is a sad reality and online marketplaces such as eBay where you can’t physically inspect the cards you purchase and the Chinese e-tailer AliExpress where you can allegedly purchase illegally-produced Magic cards (often marketed as realistic “proxies” seemingly on demand.

Luckily, there are some ways you can protect yourself from falling victim.

The Light Test

The light test (courtesy Pucatrade).
The light test is an easy way to check for fakes.

While not necessarily fool proof, the light test is one of the easiest and more effective ways of checking to see if that Library of Alexandria you’re about to purchase or trade for is legitimate.  And, thankfully, it’s a pretty easy test to perform.  All you really need is an LED flashlight (yes, the one on your smartphone will work just fine).

Here’s how it works:

You put the flashlight against the phone, allowing the light to illuminate through the card.  Because of how they’re made, Magic cards allow a fairly liberal amount of light through.  Because WotC uses cardstock that has a blue core, the light will look white to blueish-white.  If the light seems a bit off such as if the light is either tinted a different color or simply doesn’t shine through very well, it’s a possible fake.

The Bend Test

'Magic' cards should bend without creasing.
'Magic' cards should bend without creasing.

Magic cards are made in a way that they are very difficult to crease.  Genuine cards should be able to bend from top to bottom without folding or creasing, meaning that you should be able to more-or-less return it to its original flat position without any real evidence that it’s been bent.  With most fake cards, it’s very hard to pull this off as they’ll often retain some bit of the bend or even show a fold line where the counterfeit’s cardstock was compromised as a result of the bend.

Invest in a Jewler’s Loupe

Jeweler's loupes can be bought for as little as $10. (Courtesy Amazon)
Jeweler's loupes like this one can be bought for as little as $10. 

Jewler’s loupes are essentially magnifying glasses that are hyper zoomed.  They’re designed for the up close and intimate inspection of jewelry and fine stones so that jewelers can see any and all imperfections no matter how small.  A loupe can also be an excellent tool that Magic players can have on their person to inspect suspect Magic cards.  And while such a tool sounds expensive, a good loupe will actually only run you about $10 or so.

So, now that you have your loupe, what do you do with it?  Well, it’s actually fairly simple if you know what you’re looking for.

First off, you’ll want to check the card’s rosettes.  In color printing, rosettes are very small circles of halftone dots that are formed when three or more process color screens are printed that creates the illusion of continuous tones.  A jeweler’s loupe will allow you to easily see a card’s individual rosettes.  While seeing the rosette pattern on a suspected counterfeit card won’t do you much good, comparing it to a known legitimate card (preferably from the same set) will.  If the patterns are off from one another, that’s a red flag.

Secondly, you should perform what’s called a “black ink test” and, no, we don’t mean writing on the cards with a Sharpie.  Again using a loupe, take a close look at the black ink used on the card’s text and set symbol.  WotC uses a true black printing process, meaning that even under heavy magnification black is completely black and the edges of said elements are crisp and solid.  Fakes often will have blacks that are “full color,” meaning they’re comprised of tiny colored dots, and edges will often fade into the colors beside them.

The Tear Test

A 'MTG' card torn in hald.
'Magic' cards are typically made with blue core cardstock.

Not that we would recommend actually recommend this method for the simple fact that you literally have to destroy the card to do it, but the tear test is the one final way to check if the card you’re inspecting is genuine.

All you need to do is literally tear the card in half.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Tear it in half.

If you see a blue or black line along the tear, then odds are you have a real Magic card.  A destroyed Magic card, sure, but at least it’s real.  If there’s no line or the line is of a different color, it’s bound to be fake.

Trade with Those you Trust

A person browses a trade binder.
It's always best to know the person with whom you're trading.

Try to buy, sell, and trade with those you trust.  Friends and reputable businesses are always better than the random person who is selling cards out of his backpack at a bench outside of an LGS or other Magic event.

If you’re approached by a random or suspicious-seeming seller, verify who they are before going forward.  Have a little chat with the person.  The more information you have and the more comfortable you feel, the better.  Go with your gut and use the above steps to know what authenticity looks and feels like because the trafficking and trading of counterfeit cards is a concern that WotC shares with Magic players.

“We want to remind players to be diligent in protecting themselves and their collections,” says former Wizards of the Coast brand director (now vice president of esports) Elaine Chase.  “Trade with people you trust, closely examine highly sought-after cards, and remember the time-tested rule that if a deal is too good to be true, it probably isn't legitimate.”

Finally, if you find any activity you find may be suspicious – whether that be a shady person hawking “genuine” power nine cards at a fraction of their value, a possible online seller of fake cards, or you yourself find you’ve been duped into obtaining counterfeit Magic cards – WotC recommends you first contact your local law enforcement.  Believe it or not, local police really do act on Magic-related crimes.

The company also recommends you report possible purveyors of fake cards directly to the company via their This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. email address.

And if you find you have counterfeit Magic: The Gathering cards in your possession, you can send them to WotC for analysis at:

Wizards of the Coast
Attn: Production Analysis
P.O. Box 707
Renton, WA 98057-0707

The company states, however, that they are unable to return or replace any cards mailed to them.

“While we do not compensate individuals who fall prey to counterfeiters and scam artists, as a company we are concerned about these issues and will certainly assist local and foreign governments in their efforts to track down and prosecute the individuals involved in these crimes,” notes Magic designer Mike Elliot.