8 Great Ways to Spot Fake & Counterfeit Magic: The Gathering Cards, by Sam Martin
Image: Some of the fakes that have come into the store.
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 impossible to find card, or finally cave in and order online the last piece for your deck. The card arrives, you rip open the package, only find something is out of place.
It feels odd, it looks odd, or you have heard rumours and are just unsure. The problem of counterfeit Magic: The Gathering cards has existed since the game's advent and with the recent influx of Chinese counterfeits, more and more people are rightly concerned about the question of authenticity.
Unfortunately, my younger self has experienced being caught out by what were sadly very expensive fakes, so I know the horror first-hand!
As a trader and an admin of the ‘UK & Ireland MTG Cards for Trade & Sale’ group, I have noticed increasing uncertainty about authenticity. 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 when the fake is of high quality. Therefore, what I wish to convey are some basic principles in spotting fakes - a topic which is becoming increasingly important for the Magic: The Gathering community.
Hopefully this guide actively encourages you 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 Magic Fests. Players who are more vigilant and confidant in tackling issues of authenticity 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. We take for granted a lot of these characteristics; most players can intuitively detect a flawed Magic card, but it is worth sitting down and comparing some Magic cards to get used to the feel of them.
Cashiers use their experience to first spot potential counterfeit money and it is no different with Magic cards. Familiarity is the best thing we Magic players can have on our side to notice irregularities which might prompt us to scrutinise cards more closely. More importantly, having an understanding of how cards feel, look and endure gives us the confidence to know when a card is real, or raise the alarm bells that it might be a fake.
Although most of us develop these skills subconsciously, it is worthy of conscious thought. No one wants to worry about every single card, but sometimes things seem - quite rightly - out and place, so below is the wide array of tools we can utilise to confirm or dismiss our fears.
Image: Cutting inconsistencies can be a sign of a poorly executed fake, like the wobble edge of this Verdent Catacombs. It came into store with a bunch of other fetch lands, all featuring the same inconsistency.
Two things are worth noting here before we proceed:
Firstly, counterfeiters were traditionally more likely to counterfeit expensive (especially reserved list) Magic cards. However, in recent years counterfeiters have continued to heavily target cheaper staples on account of the booming prices and the difficulties in counterfeiting old cards.
Secondly, played fakes are much easier to spot than pristine fakes as the card stock degrades in a manner inconsistent with normal Magic cards. However, with the inconsistent quality in the print runs for recent sets this also makes fakes of newer cards more difficult to spot.
Image: Suspiciously good condition cards from old sets can be a first trigger to raise the alarm bells, especially if texture, feel or printing seems off.
An important point to note here is that Wizards of the Coast use different facilities to print cards across the world. This can result in variations in the ink, cardstock used etc. which can result in two real copies of the same cards appearing completely different. There are also particular cards that are well known to have variations like this, for example Gaea’s Cradle.
Most counterfeits will be in incredibly good condition, especially the more convincing ones!
How to Spot a Fake Magic: The Gathering Card: Top 8 Techniques
8. The Weight Test
The weight test is a great way of assessing the authenticity of a Magic card. Most Magic cards should weigh between 1.7 and 1.8 grams. Although there can be slight inconsistencies (water damage, exposure to moisture etc. can result in variations) you would not expect the weight to be far out.
A card that is under, say 1.5g, may indicate improper stock from the printing of a counterfeit card. A card that weights 2g may indicate that it is rebacked, as weight has been added from the glue (see Section 3 on rebacked cards for more detail).
Please note, foil cards weigh more due to the additional layers on the card stock, but as this can be anywhere between 1.8g and 2.1g, a weight test is unlikely to be useful in helping to determine the authenticity of foil cards unless there are very significant discrepencies.
7. The Bend Test
Whenever one gets into a conversation about counterfeits for the first time you will inevitably 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 durable, can normally bend without straining the structure of the card, while a lot of fakes will crease under the pressure, especially in the centre.
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 damage to the card.
Image: MTG cards have inbuilt flexibility that allows a smooth bend without rippling. Use with caution, however, as older cards can loost integrity and even newer cards will suffer with enough rough use.
After enough bend tests, all Magic: The Gathering cards will fail. This is especially relevant when dealing in older staples, such as Power 9. After 28 years, I am falling apart - 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’ cards, 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 with marginal risk of damage 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.
Image 1: Under a bright enough light, real Magic: The Gathering cards appear translucent, although not fully readable.
Alternatively if no light is passing through the card then you can almost certainly be assured there is something wrong with the card.
Image 2: Fake cards usually appear opaque, even in front of a bright light.
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 in genereal it is always worth applying multiple tests.
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 - 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 they are worth bearing in mind.
5. The Water Test
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.
Image: Real cards have a level of resilience to water droplets - there should be no wrinkling and ink shouldn't bleed.
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 and ask before performing the test on another player’s cards!
Image: Good fakes can stand up to the water test, so make sure to run multiple tests if in doubt.
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 requires access to black light (or ultraviolet light), but if you are unsure about large batches of cards this is a great option for checking cards quickly and efficiently. Cashiers in a shop or bank will often use ultraviolet light to quickly check high value notes for authenticity.
Image originally from apathyhouse.com, including more information on fakes and altered cards for anyone interested in a little further reading.
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. Recent batches of fakes may hold up better during this test, but I would be surprised if they share the same stock as Wizards of the Coast produced cards, so should still stand out by comparison.
Black lights can be found online relatively cheaply, so if dealing with regular trades or 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 a marked card, most commonly Collector’s Edition cards.
The two different cards are cut down to match and then normally glued together. This process was most commonly used with older sets, such as Alpha and Beta. These counterfeits have been around for a long time and so spotting one is fairly easy.
First, 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 should raise the alarm bells.
Secondly, rebacks will feel quite tough relative to real Magic cards and so may struggle to pass the bend test.
Thirdly, 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 in Section 4: The Light Test, 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!
A 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.
Image: Microscope loupes can be bought relatively cheaply online.
You can use a loupe to check print patterns. Although they may not have a high enough resolution for very detailed examination, they are great for checking the edges of Magic: The Gathering cards, which from experience should look similar to other cards you have checked. The blue filament mentioned previously should also be visible when magnifying the edges of Magic cards.
If you magnify your loupe over the green dot on the back of any Magic card they should have present a yellow section. Within this section there should be 4 red dots aligned in a L shape. If you check a card and it has no dots, or more commonly, is covered in lots of dots this would be a clear indicator that the card is counterfeit.
Also bear in mind that the process of printing cards involves pressing different layers of ink onto the cardstock. One of the benefits of this is that all of the details (text, mana symbols etc.) are printed onto the rosette pattern as a separate layer. If you review these under a loupe and find that they are dotted like the rosettes then this would indicate that the card is counterfeit. The text should be a distinct solid black layer on top of the underlying pattern.
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 discussed 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 resolution 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.
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.
Image: When torn open, real MTG cards will show a blue filament between the layers.
This test is obviously not useful for a number of reasons, but the tear 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!
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 ‘Raise the Alarm’, but with the correct knowledge we should be able to foresee these inconsistencies for example as seen with ‘smudging’ in Return to Ravnica block.
So practise on some commons, read the forums that discuss 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,