Foil Magic: the Gathering cards: How to cure curling (“bending”), and tournament tips
As a judge, one of the most common issues I tend to find during deck checks and that I have had reported to me by players during tournaments has been the problems caused by foil cards. While foil cards are sought after by many people who want to make their favourite cards look spectacular, as a symbol of pride and dedication to a format or deck, and they do look absolutely beautiful in some cases, there are a series of problems that can be caused by having foils in a deck.
Sadly, though, this often causes many people to simply stop buying foil cards altogether rather than finding ways around these problems. In this article I’m going to highlight some of the issues, talk about how to best avoid them and discuss what you can do to make sure that your foils don’t land you in hot water.
Why are foils problematic?
The main issue with foils in Magic is the way the cards are made. The foil sheet tends to curl (“bend”) as it accumulates moisture in the air, and sometimes this can happen even before it’s left the manufacturing plant, warping the card so it is easily distinguishable from a non-foil. Therefore, people have reported pulling foils in packs that are already extremely curled and which would flag up problems at tournaments. This lowers their value, obviously, but the key point is that if not kept in the correct places or treated properly, over time all foil cards will begin to curl in this way.
The curling itself doesn’t make the card unplayable, but the problem is when the foils are easily discernible among the other cards in a deck. If a judge can cut to your foils, you can as well, and this means that technically they are marked cards and will earn you penalties at tournaments. One of the most memorable instances of this that I have been involved in was at a GPT a few years ago, when my friend had built Living End as a last-minute deck and could only get hold of foil Living Ends, as the normal ones were out of stock. They were rather curled compared to the rest of the non foils in the deck, but he had to run with them because he didn’t have any other copies. Hilariously, due to the way the foils sat in the deck and made it easy to accidentally cut to them, this meant that nine times out of ten he was unconsciously cutting to Living End and drawing it, so he was actually adversely affecting his own game plan.
How do I prevent my cards getting curled?
The best way to stop foils from curling is to limit the amount of moisture that they are exposed to. Double-sleeving any deck with foils in is highly recommended, and keeping the decks in tight sealed boxes. If you have individual foil cards that don’t go in decks, double-sleeving and putting in a collector’s binder or a toploader will also help to keep them straightened out. The key is ensuring that they are exposed to the least amount of air as possible, and this should slow the process a lot.
An even better way is to store your foils with silica gel. These are little packets that you tend to get when you buy new shoes or anything with leather, as they are fantastic at absorbing the moisture in the air to protect these sorts of products. Thankfully, they also work to protect your Magic cards! Every time you get some of these packets, throw them into the drawer in which you keep your cards, or if there is room, in the bottom of a deckbox, as they will make a huge difference to the rate at which your foils curl.
What do I do if I’ve bought or opened foils and they’re already curled?
In this case, it’s unfortunate, especially when ordering online as some stores don’t keep their foils in the proper way and anything that has been in stock for a long time could be horrendously curled without you realising when buying it. The cards aren’t illegal on their own so it’s difficult to argue for a refund as well. However, if you find yourself in this situation, silica gel is still the best possible way to deal with it, as it can absorb the moisture out of the card and help to straighten it; though it is better used as a preventative, it still works fine as a cure.
I have heard of people putting the cards under heavy books in a double sleeve and toploader for a few days, which can also work, but which won’t totally solve the underlying issue – it’s best to only use this method if you need to straighten the cards out before a particular tournament. People have also mentioned using reptile lamps or egg incubators which, when set to the right temperature, can uncurl cards – I don’t own either of these so I can’t vouch for this method personally, but I have heard it’s very effective. Some people mention ironing cards through several layers – while this is undoubtedly effective, it’s probably best avoided as it can do a lot of accidental and avoidable damage to your cards.
Tips when foiling out tournament decks:
As foils can be problematic, some people tend to avoid them entirely. There are truths and untruths to what people will tell you about foiling decks, so from a judge’s perspective I would like to try to dispel some of the rumours that aren’t true.
One of the oft-repeated mantras is ‘all foil or no foils’ – ie, don’t have a mix of foils and non foils, because the foils will be distinguishable and this will earn you penalties. However, this isn’t always true. In general, if you don’t want to foil the whole deck, yes, it’s probably best to just stick to non foils if possible. If you want to foil your deck but can’t afford to do it right away, you can still do it in increments without worrying about having major problems; the key is how you go about it.
When you are foiling a deck, it seems easier to buy in batches. The issue with this is that if there is a pattern to the cards, you will potentially be in much more trouble with the judges than if the foils are almost completely random. If you are foiling Affinity and have three Mox Opals, two Signal Pests, a playset of Glimmervoids, an Etherium Sculptor and a Springleaf Drum in foil, it’s very difficult to argue that you are knowingly trying to cut to marked cards, because even if you could cut to a foil every time, how would you know which card it was, or whether it was even beneficial to you on that turn? On the other hand, if you’re running Storm and have all your Gifts Ungiven in foil but nothing else, it looks a lot worse, and will normally result in a higher penalty.
The best way to try to foil out your decks if you can’t afford the foils all at once is, obviously, to have foils that aren’t curled. Be sure you go through all the preventative measures mentioned above – the double sleeving, the tight deckbox, the silica gel and the books – before every tournament, and you might not even be able to notice them. If you can knowingly and intentionally cut to a particular card in the deck, it’s not usable, so make sure that this isn’t the case beforehand or you will be cheating.
It’s always best to buy random foils for the deck, one by one, so there is no pattern to what you could be cutting to, in order to add that extra level of protection when you are dealing with judges. Assuming you aren’t intentionally cheating, and you don’t realise you’re cutting to foils or can’t do it on purpose, it’s a much safer method than having all-lands or all-spells foil, which will very likely result in a much longer judge call, a harsher penalty and possibly a full investigation, even if you are not cutting to them deliberately.
Finally, when foiling a deck bit by bit, always keep the non foils with you. The remedy for Marked Cards is to ask the player to replace the cards which are problematic; if you don’t have backup copies on you, and can’t rely on the generosity of the store or other people for lends, you will have to replace them with basic lands if you wish to continue playing in the tournament. As long as there is no pattern to the cards, you will only receive a Warning.
Essentially, as long as you can prove you aren’t cutting to particular cards, and you have replacement copies in your binder while you are in the transitional period, you should have no problem in foiling a deck bit by bit, until you have the entire list in foil and it’s no longer an issue at all.
Here is a helpful video by Tolarian Community College on the subject.
How To Keep Your Foil Cards From Curling / Bending / Warping – Magic: The Gathering
And here are some very funny tips by our friends at Snapcardster.com on the subject:
I hope that this little guide has been helpful, and that you will now be well on your way to having perfectly straight foils, and many less Marked Cards warnings in your tournaments!
Community Question: Do you have your own way of uncurling foils which I haven’t mentioned here? If so, let us know!
Thanks for reading,