Special Thanks: A lot of the images in this article were found spread out over the internet. Much of the basic information and images come from Apathy House (http://www.apathyhouse.com/fake/), which has done a tremendous job on this subject already. Additional resources came from Wizards of the Coast and the MOTL Trading Forum.
Today's article will focus on fake and counterfeit Magic cards. Many people know about fake Power 9 cards, for a long time the only cards known to be faked (mainly due to the high value and rarity). In fact, I wouldn't consider picking up power or any older cards worth more than $200 without a thorough knowledge on what to look for. But what do we look for?
There are many types of fake cards. Here is a breakdown.
These cards are printed by other printing companies/printers. There are many possible characteristics to look for when trying to spot counterfeits. The easiest are obvious miscolorations. For example:
The card on the left is the fake, whereas the card on the right is real.
Another print/ink issue to look for is the "dot pattern" on real Magic cards. Real cards have patterns like the ones below (excuse the ? mark next to dot pattern B, the pictures were gathered from a forum and that was in the picture):
Dot patterns on fake cards are usually much less intricate. This is one of the easiest things to look for when checking older cards (though to see the dot patterns properly you'll probably need to pick up a jeweler's loop). It is important to keep in mind that dot patterns will vary from set to set. It is a good idea to have a common that you know is legitimate from the same set when doing side by side comparisons.
Another printer discrepancy that may indicate a fake is a minor difference or variation in the card or artwork itself. Many fakes will display differences in the artwork or text such as in the picture below (the card name text is clearly off).
A more destructive test can be done if you tear a card in half.
Real cards will show that blue line inside the card.
When it comes to Beta cards one of the easiest things to look for are the white "dots" in the corners of the card (seen below).
You can see the little white dots in the corners (especially the bottom corners). Almost all Beta cards will show these dots, the known exceptions are Volcanic Island, COP: Black, and Red Elemental Blast.
A special section of older counterfeits have been dubbed, "Dark Beta" which was done by a former Carta Mundi employee after normal work hours. The cards are very hard to distinguish from actual cards as that employee was using actual Carta Mundi card stock the bend/water/etc test would all pass muster. Apparently they had a bit of an issue with the proper ink and the cards came out slightly off.
"Dark Beta" Moat Real Moat
The light test is another non-destructive way to determine if a card is fake. Magic cards are semi-transparent under a very bright light. The level of transparency is difficult for other printers to match so compare the card(s) in question with a known card (a common from the same set will work fine).
The bend test is a non-destructive test (assuming the card is real) that can be used on cards of all sets. Real Magic cards will recover from being bent (even as harshly as in the picture below). Fakes will not recover and will either stay bent or leave a big crease line. However, even a real card will leave a crease line if you push from the sides (so only bend from the top and bottom edges as seen in the picture). Real cards will fail this test eventually, however most fakes fail it in the first go. If you have a card that doesn't appear to be beat up, then doing the bend test once or twice shouldn't leave any noticeable damage.
The water test is another form of non-destructive test (for real cards). Simply put some water onto a q-tip or paper towel and drip some on the card. Real cards won't be damaged from small amounts of water pooled onto the surface (obviously if you soak them they will start to fall apart...as my friend Kyle can attest to).
The blacklight test is an easy non-destructive way to determine the validity of a Magic card. Real ones will glow under black light as seen below, whereas many fakes will not glow at all.
These are cards with real backs and fronts from different Magic cards pasted on. They're usually made using Collector's Edition power, by splitting each card and posting the Collector's Edition front onto a real Magic card back, thus giving the appearance of "real" power. This process tends to thicken the card, as it's quite difficult to split a card exactly in half.
Some rebacked cards are made when the back of the card was considered marked or unplayable, and someone put the front on a new back to allow the card to be "playable" again.
I've only ever heard of this approach being done with power, but as we'll discuss later, the astronomic rise in card prices provides more incentive to fake cards.
For rebacked cards you can usually use the bend test (which will usually cause the two pieces to separate a bit near the crease). Or you can look at the edges (preferably with some sort of optical magnification).
Here we can see a fake edge with a clear "split" in between the two card pieces.
Here is the edge of a real card. As you can see it is one piece. The color of the line may be either black or blue.
Recently a new, much more pressing concern has arisen. Apparently there are printing shops in China which have no qualm illegally printing Magic cards (http://www.alibaba.com/product-gs/1532783589/wholesale_Gatherer_Magic_The_Gathering_for.html?s=p is the one that was found by fellow facebookers with relative ease).
It is expected that these cards will fail many of the tests above, however, the fact that this has popped up so recently means that fakes are branching out from just power and other high-end cards to encompass just about anything.
This picture was posted on the MTG Misprints/Oddities Facebook Page. The Tarmogoyf on the top is the fake. The letters are spaced out more and the paintbrush next to the artist's name is obviously a bit different. This Tarmogoyf was purchased online.
This is a huge problem for all of us who buy and sell cards online.
First, smart buyers will ignore cards without crisp, clear photos. Thus if you don't have a high-end camera (many of us use our phones), you'll risk reaching a smaller population who wants to buy from you.
Even more concerning is when you trade for cards in person you'll have to look much more carefully at the cards, especially the highly desirable, more valuable ones.
This is the type of issue that can potentially kill card values. Were some unscrupulous people to purchase a large quantity of fake cards and then trade or sell them for profits, it could absolutely devastate the secondary market. If people are afraid to buy and trade cards lest they receive a fake, card values (both real and fake) will plummet.
The sellers in China have been offering a 55-card pack of the following cards, with presumably one of each in a pack. Nobody knows if these complete packs made it over, but Jaces, Domri Rade and Tarmogoyf have all been spotted. Be very careful when trading for the following cards on this list:
Elspeth Sun's Champion
Cavern of Souls
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Thassa, God of the sea,
Jace, Architect of Thought
Swords to Plowshares
Chalice of the Void
it that betrays
sword of war and peace
sword of fire and ice
purphoros god of the forge
sensei's divining top
sword of feast and famine
inquistion of kozilek
kokusho the evening star
bonfire of the damned
lona shield of emeria
path to exile
figure of destiny
Forcc of Will
Leyline of Sanctity
Apparently there is another fake printer group out there. This one is focused on foils. They are printing high dollar fake foils for the "pimp" groups (EDH/Legacy/etc). From what I've been hearing it was originally started as a kickstarter business printing foil playmats (which I must admit would be pretty cool). Sadly they didn't reach their kickstarter goal (or anywhere near it). Someone bought some foil dark rituals off ebay and took some higher res pictures of them when they noticed something was off (the picture below shows the fake on the left and a real one on the right). The fakes don't "pop" out as much and look slightly grainer. They are also missing some of the "bubbles" in the frame.
Unfortunately, the fakes do have a dot pattern that looks close to correct, so just using a jewelers loop won't protect you.
Luckily, it appears that all of the foils look a bit off so far so keeping a watchful eye and being weary of ebay prices that seem to good to be true are the first line of defense. The second will come when trading, when something looks a bit off you should immediately start to focus more and look for other issues.
The current list of known fakes includes;
- Foil Onslaught Fetches
- Foil Dark Ritual
- Foil Wrath of God (7th ed)
- Foil Glorious Anthem(7th ed)
- Foil Lord of Atlantis (7th ed)
The Good News
The good news is that the human brain is very good at spotting patterns, and (just as importantly) changes in a pattern. If you actually pay attention to the cards you're trading for, your brain will often subconsciously find things "off" on many fakes. I've run across a few during trades and they tended to stand out because I was aware that fakes existed.