Edward is a L1 from Athens, Greece. One of the longest standing community member and an avid legacy player, Edward has largely helped shape Athens’ player base and has been invaluable in kickstarting the Greek judge conferences, back in 2015.
Edward has been tracking and reporting on counterfeit cards for years and in the Europe East community he is considered the expert on the topic. His presentation on fakes during the Europe East conference, 2018 received the highest rankings across all (!) categories rated.
Magic is a collectible game. This is one of the reasons it stood the test of time. Cards have value and people investing in large collections over time, feel that the money they pour into the game is not “lost”. In order to ensure the collectible value of the cards, Wizards of the Coast tries not to “flood” the market with many reprints. At some point in history, they even created the “Reserved List“, a list of cards promised never to be reprinted again for the purpose of maintaining the collectible value of said cards.
There are numerous arguments for and against a more “collectible” approach, and most definitely the “dreaded” Reserved List is an issue of discussion in almost every Magic community. This article will not take any sides on this matter. There are other places for this discussion. The reason all this is mentioned is because “value” has a cascading effect in people’s behavior.
Naturally, wherever there are objects of value, there are people wanting to exploit and gain from them. Throughout the history of mankind, that was always the case for anything of value ; Magic cards are no exception. There are numerous reasons as to why someone would buy fake cards. Nevertheless, since we are tasked with identifying them and are the ultimate authority in any organized event where we are staffed as Judges, it is to our benefit to be able to recognize them as much as possible.
Magic cards are made with industry-standard materials, outsourced to printing houses and have no “uniqueness” – they are not hand-made, nor are they regulated by an institution similar to how money is printed and circulated. They don’t have a serial number, or differentiating numbering of any kind, and there aren’t any unique seals or identifiers of particular printing houses. Cards differ from factory to factory; they may have different varnishes, hue and saturation, they may even differ from batch to batch within the production of the same factory. This makes our job more difficult.
For all intents and purposes, if anyone is able to acquire similar printing presses and card stock of approximately the same quality and is determined to reproduce exactly the same thing, at least with newer cards (after the Modern frame change), the only really different thing in those fakes (compared to real cards) would be who “commissioned” them.
We can’t, realistically, do anything about said high-end quality counterfeits given the tools with have in our hands. In fact, there are high chances those fakes have circulated in the market for years by now, passing as real and without anybody noticing. Thus, since we are not there to facilitate sales authenticity and card appraisal, but are generally asked to maintain an acceptable level of tournament integrity, we can collectively agree that they are “real” and move on.
That said, the vast majority of fakes circulating in the market are somewhat easily identified by someone trained to do so, as the process to replicate cards is expensive (especially for the old ones, that usually also have higher values), time consuming, and may not be worth the time and effort compared to “cheap proxies” that people usually sell and other people agree to buy. Simply put, if a seller advertises “proxies” for a fraction of the price of the original and thousands of people buy them, knowing that they buy a proxy, it adds up to more income compared to selling an expensive card once and being busted for doing so. And counterfeiters know that. As such, most of the fake cards, while they may look like the real thing, can be easily spotted if one knows where to look.
Edward Zinger has submitted this excellent article to us months ago. Due to an intense workload we’ve been extremely slow with editing this piece. Edward, we’re really sorry!
Tools of the trade
To the trained eye, no tools are really required; however, it is generally advised for better accuracy to get a jeweler’s loupe (magnifying glass). There are loupes that have a LED torch light and some even have a UV light. Such multi-purpose tools are usually cheap and can be found easily online. However, even a simple loupe is sufficient for most tests.
The complete list of tools one would need to run all possible tests is:
• Jeweler’s loupe (at least 20X)
• LED flashlight (cellphone camera light is enough)
• UV light
• Jeweler’s scale (0.01g)
All the equipment above can be acquired cheaply and easily online. There is no point in getting the more expensive equipment equivalents, the cheap mass produced ones will do, as the precision we are aiming to get is not that high to require high precision tools.