Spotting fakes, part II

Here's a quick quiz. Look at the picture below for ten seconds. Which card looks highly suspicious?

Did you see it? Newer players might miss it, but most old school players and collectors knows that the beta Volcanic Island don't have the small white dot in the lower corner. Almost all beta cards have this dot, but a few cards that changed (or were added) since the Alpha printing lack the dot. Volcanic Island is one of them.

The last few weeks there have been something of a mass hysteria in the magic community, as sophisticated new fakes recently hit the market. Chas Andres posted an article at StarCityGames about the new fakes, as did Quiet Speculation and a few other notable sources. I wont go into much details about the new batch of fakes, as you can read the info you need from Chas's article. The issue is that they are very well done and manufactured in a larger scale than previous fakes. The known batch contain 55 different cards, mostly standard and modern staples, but also a few revised duals and fetches thrown in. Nothing really new under the sun here, but I think it's time for a little more advanced follow up on my old post on how to spot fakes to avoid getting caught up in paranoia.

The first fake card I encountered was a beta Lotus back in 1998. I was hanging out at an old laser-tag place in Gothenburg when I saw it in a binder. The player who owned it assured me it was a fake one, but I hadn't seen anything like it before. I traded a Chronicles Concordant Crossroads for it, to have it as a show-off or proxie in the future. It was darker and thicker than a real card, but not very noticeable at a glance.

The second time I encountered fakes was about half a year later. It was a Time Walk and a Time Twister that had been printed out on hight quality paper and glued on to a real card. These were very easy to spot with touch alone, but looked good in a binder. I got them as throw-ins in a trade (this was around the time that the first proxie tournaments started). As a side-note, I would not trade for a fake card today, other than to possibly have it as a reference. Very little good could ever come from a demand for fake cards.

Real Lotus, weighing 1.74 grams.
Fakes have since become better and better, but it's still fairly easy to find some hints that a card is not what it should be, and that you should be cautious trading for it. Even if a faker have a great scanner and printer, the exact printing pattern is not something they can easily reproduce. Even if they have paper that feels right, and even may hold the bend test, the weight may be slightly off, and a proper light-test should tell the difference. The new Chinese fakes are at this point pretty easy to spot with sight alone, but I assume that the kerning problems and offset copyright lines will be fixed if they make a new batch. I'm sure that they read the same articles about how to spot them as everyone else, and that they will attempt to fix the easily-to-spot problems with their counterfeits in the next batch (if they're not shut down before that). The in-depth tests I'll show today won't be that easy to fake however.

First, once again, it's really hard to fake play tear in a convincing way. Be extra mindful of mint cards. Second, it's really hard to fake alpha cards or foils. Foils are hard because of the additional foil layer, an alpha cards because of partly the round corners, and partly because anyone who buys a high end alpha rare for a thousand dollars will test it. It's much easier to fake modern mythics, as they are usually in better conditions and wont be scrutinized in the same way.

So, the tests! Let's start with the weight test. A non-foiled magic card weighs about 1.74 grams (that's 42.6 millionths of a firkin-weight for all you non-metric readers). A scale that can measure this can be bought a high-end kitchen store for about $150, or a well sorted record player store for about $15. If a card weighs significantly less or more than your other cards, that's a warning sign. A heavier card may indicate re-backing, and a lighter card may indicate a professionally printed fake. There are beta cards that are real and weighs a few decimals below 1.70 grams, but it's unusual.

This is a warning flag
The scales can be hard to find cheap though, so lets go for the loupe (or magnifying glass). A loupe will set you back around $10, but it's probably the best tool in your arsenal for spotting fakes. It takes some practice to recognize printing patters, but the loupe is also great for spotting re-backs.

Inspecting Moxen.
Lets talk shortly about the printing patterns. Magic cards are not printed with dots or lines, but with figures that resembles circles. Also, any black color in a magic card (e.g. rules text) will be solid black without patterns, as black is one of the four main color that make up all the other colors on the card. Below is a comparison between a (real) Bayou and a fake Badlands. The fake Badlands is by far the best fake I've seen (at least as I managed to recognize as fake). The lighting on the cards are a little different due to my bad camera and some cut and paste. If you zoom in on the picture it is however visible that the patterns aren't as distinct on the Badlands as on the Bayou, and that the black color is a little "smudged" on that card.

Fake to the right.
If we use a proper camera and zoom in on the Bayou, we can see the correct pattern more clearly:

Notice the lack of pattern in the black mana symbols.
The one thing that made me sure that the Badlands was fake was however the light test and the edges. After stroking them over, it was somewhat visible that it was two cards glued together. Apparently the front was removed from a common (real) card with a razor, and then a very high quality printout was pasted on the real back. What was a little scary was that the card in question weighted within the margin of error (1.75 grams) and passed the black-light test. Here is a very close zoom of the edges (Badlands is the lower card) compared to a real card (above):

Notice the line that goes through the edge on the lower card.
Next up is the practical light test. Get a strong flash-light, and check that the same amount of light goes through the card as another card you know is real with similar art.

Freespace light-testing the 1.67 gram Mind Twist compared with a 1.74 gram Mind Twist.
Light-testing the Badlands compared to a real Tundra. The Badlands lets through significantly less light.
Finally, we have the black-light test. All real cards (save alternative 4th Edition) will illuminate under a Black Light. It doesn't necessarily mean that they are real, but it is an easy and quick way to spot a fake.

Real alpha and beta Lotus both illuminating nicely. The flower petals almost look foiled.
So, if you want to take some extra precaution, get a loupe and bring with you when you trade for high-end cards. If you want to go one step beyond, get a strong flash-light, a black-light and a scale. However, don't panic. There are fake cards out there, but they are still fairly rare, and they can be spotted if you know where to look. There's no reason to sell all your cards in a sudden hysteria because some new fakes have hit the market recently; this is not a new phenomena. Also, don't buy fakes. Everyone saying that they want them because they want to be able to play with them at their kitchen table can make a proxie with a pen. Fakes hurt every aspect of the game, not just competitors and collectors. If no one knowingly buys them, there wont be a proper market.

We'll end today with a picture of Warp Artifacts on Copper Tablets to lighten up the mood:
"Who's the beatdown now, newb?"


  1. Great post - thanks!


  2. :D Really good post! Top Quality!
    Best regards // GajoL <3 warp artifact

  3. Great Post. And, first of all, congratulations to a great format!

    I stopped playing magic many years ago. For reasons of nostalgia, I now decided to start collecting cards. Not any cards, but exclusively the cards of 1993 and 1994 (i.e. the sets allowed in your format plus Revised and Fallen Empires).

    After reading your article and especially the mentioned article at Star City Games, I really wonder if that is such a good idea right now.

    Especially, I have concerns about losing a lot of money, collecting expensive cards now and then seeing the secondary market collaps due to high quality fakes in big quantities.

    I know that the current fakes don't contain many 93/94 cards. But I think no one can guarantee that this will not change in the future.

    What would you suggest in the current situation?
    Not start to collect at all?
    Maybe collecting only the cheaper cards since they probably will not be faked.

    Apart from that, I would suppose that cards from Alpha and cards with some playwear may be the most counterfeit-proof cards to collect. Am I right here?

    Thanks in advance for some advice from you experts.


  4. I honestly don't believe that there is a great risk with collecting old school magic cards (or old comic books, baseball cards, stamps, or video games). I think that it is important that information on how to spot fakes are known by players so we more easy can recognize them when we see them, but the idea of a "perfect fake" is very far from reality. The starcitygames article was, as admitted by the writer, somewhat blown out of proportion. Two weeks after the article was posted, he wrote this in his weekly column:

    I was finally able to get a look at the Chinese fakes with my own eyes for the very first time. Granted, it was through a webcam, but with the help of Josh, one of my readers, I was able to see what we are up against. The truth is that while the fakes look fine in a sleeve at a glance, you can tell them apart when compared with their legitimate Magic card counterparts. The color is washed out on both the front and the back of the fakes, and I was able to spot the fake right away when confronted with both. The fakes also do not pass the bend test or UV test. Josh also assured me that outside a sleeve they do not feel right and have a much glossier finish. Unless someone produces a better caliber of counterfeit—hopefully something that will never happen—I'm not worried about these fake cards crashing the Magic market. Stay smart and vigilant and you'll be ok.

    Much of the reason for not faking old school cards in the $1000 calibre is that anyone who buys them will inspect them, and that the market is very small compared with modern cards (there are a lot more players willing to buy mutavaults than beta moxes). It would be very hard to get a business going. It is also insanely hard and expensive to fake something like this well. If you still feel uneasy; foils and alpha cards with playwear are about as counterfeitproof as they come.

  5. Thanks for your thorough reply. Now I feel more comfortable again.

  6. Hey,

    recently I finally bought a complete set Revised for 750€ (each card in the set is mint or at least near mint). The high resolution scans of the duals that I saw in advance looked okay.

    Now I received the set and applied some of the tests described in your article to some of the duals (light test, magnifying glass). I didn't recognize anything suspicious, which doesn't have to mean anything, as I am a newbie when it comes to spotting fakes.

    I now encountered something suspicious, though: The back of many cards in the set (including many commons and uncommons) feels different than the backside other magic cards. They feel kind of rough, while the backside of magic cards that I know so far feel more smoothly. I then applied the bend test to two commons with those rough backs. One of them passed the test, the other one creased!

    Needless to say, the dual lands also have those rough backs... Do you think I ran into Counterfeits here? I can imagine that dual lands are being faked, but why in the world should someone fake Shatter and Mon's Goblin Raiders??

    Best regards,

    1. It is very hard to say for sure without seeing the cards, but I wouldn't worry to much. The paper may be slightly different from printing to printing on old cards. I would give them a blacklight test, and if they pass that one I'd say they are real.


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