7 Great Ways to Spot Fake & Counterfeit Magic: The Gathering Cards
As a trader and a player one of my biggest fears arises with the question of authenticity.
We have all been there. You trade for that card you were finding impossible to get your hands on, or finally cave in and order online the last piece for your deck. The cards arrives, you rip open the package to find something is out of place.
It feels odd, it looks odd or you have heard rumours and you are just unsure. The problem of counterfeit Magic: The Gathering cards has existed since its advent and recently with the influx of Chinese counterfeits more and more people are rightfully concerned about the question of authenticity.
As a trader and an admin of the ‘UK & Ireland MTG Cards for Trade & Sale’ group I have noticed increasing uncertainty about authenticity. Unfortunately my younger self has experienced first-hand the horror of being caught out by what were sadly very expensive fakes.
One of the major challenges facing administrators when trying to spot fakes online is that it is near impossible to do so without having the card to hand, especially if the fake is of high quality. Therefore, what I wish to convey are some basic principles in spotting fakes in an attempt to part some knowledge on a topic which is becoming increasingly important for the Magic: The Gathering community.
Hopefully this guide actively encourages people to build up confidence in judging the authenticity of cards for themselves; a skill set especially relevant if trading at bigger events like Magic: The Gathering GP’s. I hope this will make people more vigilant and confidant in tackling the issue of authenticity and thus contribute to a thriving Magic community; knowledge is power after all.
Raising the Alarm Bells
Magic: The Gathering cards like any other cards have a number of card-stock characteristics which we associate with them. They are generally of a high quality print, they feel a certain way and they respond to pressures such as shuffling in a manner which are consistently high quality.
Magic cards are remarkably durable, so when one of these general characteristics are not present then it’s time to raise the alarm bell. It is worth noting that we do take for granted a lot of these characteristics, and most players can detect intuitively a flawed Magic card, but it is worth sitting down and comparing some Magic cards to get use to the feel of them.
Cashiers use this experience to spot counterfeit money and it is no different with Magic cards. Experience is the best thing we as Magic players can have on our side to notice irregularities which might prompt us to scrutinise cards more closely. More importantly having experience with how cards feel, look and endure gives us the confidence to know when a card is real.
No one wants to be worrying about every single card and although most of us have developed these skills sub consciously it is something worthy of conscious thought. Sometimes things quite rightly seem out and place and the following is the wide array of tools we can utilise to confirm or dismiss our fears.
Two things are worth noting here before we proceed:
- Firstly counterfeiters are more likely to counterfeit expensive Magic cards, although in light of recent events and the booming price of Modern staples this needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
- Secondly, played fakes are much easier to spot that pristine fakes as the card stock degrades in a manner inconsistent with normal Magic cards.
Most counterfeits will be in incredibly good condition, at least the more convincing ones!
7. The Bend Test
Whenever one gets into a conversation about counterfeits for the first time inevitably you will hear about the infamous ‘bend test’. Some swear by it and some dismiss it as outdated. There is truth to both sides.
The bend test compromises of holding both ends of the Magic card together. Real Magic cards being as durable can normally bend without straining the structure of the card, while a lot of fakes will crease, especially in the centre, under the pressure.
Generally I rarely do full bend tests on cards and if you plan to, especially on other people’s cards always ask for permission and be well practised in doing so. If I choose to employ a bend test I normally go with a semi-bend test designed more to get a sense of how the card feels and how ‘strong’ it is without risking damaging the card.
All Magic: The Gathering cards after enough bend tests will fail. This is especially relevant when dealing in older staples, such as P9. I can tell you after 21 years I am falling apart and Magic cards are no different!
Therefore, I advise caution when using the bend test. There are fakes which have been known to pass and real cards that have failed, thus this should be used as preliminary to get a feel for the card and not an exclusive test to judge authenticity.
You are liable for other peoples card, so I would recommend the semi bend test or avoidance altogether. Situations where you bend test a real card which ‘naturally fails’ can be very awkward indeed.
6. The Light Test
More recently traders have been moving towards the light test over the bend test. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Firstly, anyone with access to a light bulb can perform the light test.
- Secondly, it comes at marginal risk to the card being scrutinised.
So, how to perform the light test?
First take a light source, ideally a strong lamp, and hold it up to the front of the card, so you are looking at the back of the card. If you use a bright enough light the Magic card should appear to be translucent.
This is a good thing!
Under light, Magic: The Gathering cards will allow a certain amount of light through, but not so much that the text on the other side of the cards becomes easily readable. If the text is clear to read then it is not a good sign.
Alternatively if no light is passing through the card then you can almost certainly be assured there is something wrong with the card. It is worth noting that older cards that have endured hardship, especially water damage, can have their ‘natural’ characteristics altered in such a way that they will fail such tests, despite being real cards. In such cases it is best to contact your local trader if you are unsure.
Finally, Magic cards have a certain texture and feel about them which the light test can expose. For example if the print/texture on the counterfeit is too smooth compared to other cards and obviously if the counterfeit is very bad with just two pieces of card stuck together the light test can expose this too!
However a note of caution is in order. With some recent fakes rumours have circulated that they can pass the light test, partially because they have counterfeited the ‘blue filament’ which is in MTG cards and which conditions a lot of the characteristics of the card. Therefore, here and generally it is always worth applying multiple tests.
5. The Water test
Now we move onto some less common tests. These I stress require patience and good practise although hopefully this has been hammered throughout enough already.
Some of these tests require specialist equipment and these are tests which most local traders should be able to employ if you have serious concerns, or are dealing with very valuable cards.
The downside of these tests is that they are not easily employable at events, but if trading online these worth bearing in mind. We have all heard of that unfortunate soul who had their deck destroyed by a spilt bottle of water at the local FNM, but surprisingly Magic cards actually withstand exposure to moisture quite well.
Obviously I wouldn’t recommend chucking your cards in the swimming pool to check, but when exposed to moisture or a spilt drop of water Magic cards can absorb water quite well without deforming or wrinkling from the damp.
If you take a damp Q-Tip, like a cotton bud, and gently wipe the border or edges of the card in question nothing should happen. Real cards do not bleed ink at all when exposed to water; while some fakes, especially poorer ones, will bleed ink as a sign of the low quality print of fakes. Again practise makes perfect!
4. The Black light Test
The black light test is one of the best tests in my opinion for testing the authenticity of Magic cards. The only problem is that it does require access to black light, but if you are unsure about large batches of cards this is a great option for checking cards quickly and efficiently.
When exposed under a black light, Magic cards turn luminescent as part of the property of the card-stock they are printed on. Most fakes will stand out when compared to real Magic cards as they will not fluoresce.
I must admit I am not up to date on how recent batches of fakes hold up during this test, but I would be surprised if they share the same stock in this regard as Wizards of the coast produced cards. Black lights can be found online for relatively cheap, and so If dealing in large collections it is certainly a purchase worth considering.
3. Rebacked Cards
The process of rebacking a card entails taking the legitimate back of an unmarked card and attaching to the front of this card the front of a marked card, most commonly Collector’s Edition cards.
The two different cards are cut down so they match and then normally glued together and this process was most commonly used with older sets, such as Alpha and Beta. Thankfully these counterfeits have been around for a long time and so spotting these is fairly easy.
- Firstly, if the card is not consistently worn take caution. If the front of the card is near mint, but the back is heavily played or vice versa it is worth sounding the alarm.
- Secondly, rebacks will feel quite tough relative to real Magic cards and so may struggle to pass the bend test. More so, rebacks can be easily spotted by inconsistencies on their edges. If you have a microscope or loupe to hand and bend a reback the glue holding together then edges should part slightly and the different layers should become apparent.
Finally, as mentioned the blue filament going through magic cards should be visible if the edges are inspected closely enough.
2. Card Alignment – Microscopes, Loupes and Fonts: the problems with pictures!
All real Magic: The Gathering cards are characterised by specific dot patterns, which vary from set to set. One of the best tools we have when spotting counterfeits is comparison.
Using a high quality microscope is a great way of examining the print patterns on Magic cards, especially when compared to similar cards you are confident are real. Most counterfeit cards are inconsistent with the print patterns employed by Wizards of the Coast as they are incredibly difficult to replicate. If the card aligns perfectly and has a perfect print pattern it is probably real!
The loupe is a small magnification device which can be purchased online for a few pounds, brought to events easily enough and utilised in the same fashion as microscopes.
You can use a loupe to check print patterns, although they may not have a high enough resolution, but they are great for checking the edges of Magic: The Gathering cards which from experience should look similar to other cards you have checked and the blue filament mentioned previously should be visible when magnifying the edges of Magic cards.
Again with these tests the most important thing is experience and knowledge. For example in relation to the recent batch of Chinese counterfeit Magic cards it was generally well spread that you should look out for inconsistencies in the spacing and font between the artists name and card numbers at the bottom of the card.
Different sets have different patterns and so having cards from the same set to compare is important, but knowing what you are looking for is vital; if you are at this phase you probably know what you are looking for, or what is missing.
This feeds into a small note on pictures. The problem with pictures is that you need incredibly high res scans to be able to analyse the dot patterns of a Magic card accurately, this is especially relevant online.
If the fake is of very high quality and you wish to employ this test or get others to help you over the internet you need high resolution scan otherwise it will be impossible for players, traders and admins to give accurate feedback. If you post a poor quality picture and ask for help, don’t expect much constructive feedback as we can’t tell! Again practise is your best friend.
You can find suitable loupes on Amazon here.
1. The Tear Test
Finally, the ‘ultimate test’ is the somewhat infamous tear test. This test does exactly what it says on the tin. If you rip a Magic: The Gathering card in half, which should be quite difficult due to their strength (they should be like cardboard, not paper), the blue filament should be visible in between two white layers of card.
This test is obviously not useful for a number of reasons, but this test is useful in reaffirming that a card is counterfeit and should be utilised to destroy counterfeit cards as tested above.
Removing counterfeits from circulation is half the battle. However do not use this if you have doubts, or do not own the card… the other party might be somewhat unimpressed!
Counterfeit Magic Card Detection Video
An Ending Note
Although long winded I hope to have conveyed some of the tests out there for handling Magic cards. The guiding thread of this article is that the best way to spot fakes is experience. Knowing what a real card feels like, what to look for and how to spot a fake is a good set of skills to develop if investing in Magic and helps us look out for each other as members of the Magic community.
At the end of the day spotting fakes is to some extent a subjective process and so having confidence in handling cards is vital if you wish to spot fakes by yourself. This is important if dealing online, because as conveyed it can be very difficult to answer the authenticity question without the card to hand.
For example there are a large variety of variations in print quality and colouring in different magic sets which might ‘[card]Raise the Alarm[/card]’, but with the correct knowledge we should be able to foresee these inconsistencies as seen with ‘smudging’ in the recent Return to Ravnica block.
So practise on some commons read the forums discussing these issues and spread the word!
A final note; most of the above tests do NOT work on foils. You can bend test a foil card and if you do make sure you bend the foil side of the card outwards, but foils generally can withstand significantly less bend tests, thus I would not recommend bend testing foils.
Tests like the water test and light test will damage the cards, but don’t panic. Foils are hard to test, but near impossible to counterfeit. The best method here is comparison with real cards. When compared counterfeit foils are noticeable. Most scammers don’t even bother, but this is worth bearing in mind.
Community Question: Did I miss anything important out? Do you have a sure-fire method for identifying fake and counterfeit Magic: The Gathering cards? Please let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing,
Images from Apathyhouse.com