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.
Currently, there are many mass-produced “proxies” circulating the market. Most can be bought cheaply and while they do seem visually very close to the real thing, once removed from the sleeve, one can easily tell the difference. Most of them have a very glossy feel. The colours at the front are very close to the real cards, however the backs usually are way off compared to original cards.
That said, people wanting to pass them as real, have found ways of rubbing off the glossy, “waxy” top layer and also “weather” the cards to look more authentic and “used”. In that case, a closer inspection using all the above-mentioned tests is required.
Recently foils started to appear as well. Some look good, some not so good, but foils are much more difficult to reproduce as one needs to have the original transparencies and there will always be differences to those that know how the real thing looks. However, to the untrained eye, they can be seen very convincing.
A word about alters
The need for personalisation among collectors is real and understandable. Alters have a market of their own and many people appreciate them. There are artists and studios dedicated to high quality alters, and people have become famous for doing so. Alters, however, make our job more difficult. Testing for card authenticity may have its methods, but a card that has been altered with markers and acrylics and sometimes, on top of that, signed by the original artist and/or other persons of note, requires additional scrutiny. Tests already require the luxury of time (it takes at least 2-3 minutes during a deck check to test a single card – much more for multiple cards). Alters require more experience to authenticate and significantly more time. Nonetheless, many expensive and sought after cards become altered as the general consensus in the playing community is that they are allowed for tournament play as long as specific parts of the card remain unaltered (such as the name and the majority of the art).
There is, however a special kind of alter out there. Altered “proxies” (Cards that are authentic and real, that have been modified to look like other cards through various ways). Cube enthusiasts, Commander players and generally casual audience loves them. Most players will never try to pass them as the “real” thing (technically, they are authentic cards, however there is no way of telling what those cards originally were manufactured to be, as they have become altered beyond recognition), nor will they try to use them at tournaments, but as the market becomes more saturated with such cards, the situation won’t be the same, so it should be advised we pay attention to such activities, especially considering that the casual crowd that likes them most, usually is the least suspicious of them being not the real deal.
In general, we as judges, are the final authority on what is allowed and what not in the tournaments we judge. For all intents and purposes, players are expected to play with authentic cards that can be clearly identified as such, so any obscure alteration that prevents us from doing so is up to our judgment if it should be allowed to be used.
One note of caution about re-backs: “authentic” cards have been altered for the purpose of faking their edition.
Beta cards can be cut to look like Alpha (Alpha cards have more rounded corners) as well as “Beta re-backs”: a CE/IE card that has been stripped of the back layer, stitched on a Beta card that had been stripped of the bottom layer. This procedure produces a fused card that has the Beta back and the CE/IE front.
While the first case is not a problem for the purposes of maintaining the tournament integrity (a Beta card cut to look like Alpha, in a sleeve remains being an authentic Magic card in “poor” condition and we can identify which card it is), the second case is a deliberate attempt not only to mask a card make in order to break the tournament legality rules, but due to the alteration we cannot even claim that this object is a card according to the tournament rules!
Two halves of different authentic cards do not make a whole authentic card!
Most re-backs can be easily identified by their weight, which is over 2g compared to the 1.7-1.8 that original cards are. On top of that, the light test should also fail.
Lastly, there are specific details, too numerous to showcase here, for each expansion and even specific cards. This is why I stressed out the first test: personal experience. If you have seen 10 Tarmogoyfs in your life, chances are the 11th one that is fake will instantly be recognisable. If this is the first time you are seeing this card, there is a great chance that even a fake will pass half of the tests mentioned above so you will never be 100% certain. As such, it is advised you take time and inspect as many cards as you can for the sake of simply understanding and cataloging how they appear.
Here are some great sources of information for further reading on the topic:
There is also a facebook group dedicated to understanding fake cards that should have a lot of references for research and you can submit pictures for people to give you guidance if needed:
Magic: the Gathering Counterfeit Detection
Conclusion and closing thoughts
There will be numerous counterfeit cards that pass some of the above tests… However, I have yet to encounter one that passes all of them. That does not mean that there won’t be any out there. But as far as we can reasonably check, if a card passes all of the above tests, we can consider it to be real. If one really wants to be 100% sure, lab tests are needed for further authentication of the ink age of the cards, the cardstock itself, etc. But those are things that are beyond the scope of our capability as judges.
One final word of caution:
It is important to note that we are not the police or any authority that maintains the law. Our job is to maintain the integrity of tournaments, not facilitate deals, appraisals and trades. We only judge if certain cards are deemed fit for play in official tournaments that we act as judges. The rest is up to the local authorities to investigate and act upon. As a reminder, the official guideline we are expected to follow is present in the tournament rules documents. We should never deviate from those rules and take upon ourselves actions we are not authorized to do so on behalf of anyone, even if we 100% suspect foul play. At most, we can notify Wizards of the Coast and leave it to them to investigate, as Magic is their intellectual property, not ours.