Hello and welcome to the Judge Academy Elective module on Card Authenticity.
Imagine you finally find some rare, old card you’ve been pining for. You manage to get an overly-excellent trade from the owner; but rather than be suspicious, you chalk it up to your amazing negotiating skills. You eventually get a chance to play it at a tournament, where it’s now round 6, you’re 5-1, and feeling good about the world until you notice your opponent furrow their brow, examine your favorite new card, and then call a Judge.
Or imagine that you’re a collector who’s had a Mox for a while and finally decide to get it graded. But when you hear back from the grading house your heart sinks.
Wizards has gone to great lengths to make counterfeiting increasingly difficult. And even though counterfeiters are becoming more and more sophisticated, between Wizards’ countermeasures, the skills presented here, and our diligence as a community, we can diminish occurrences of situations like these.
Proxies vs counterfeits
Before we get into the methodology, we need to differentiate between two types of fake cards – proxies and counterfeits. The focus of this module is discriminating between authentic cards and counterfeits. These, of course, are cards trying to be passed off as real cards.
Proxies, though, are cards being put in place of real cards, but are not being passed off as real. In most cases, neither of these are legal for tournament play.
Within the rules, the head judge of a tournament is allowed to issue proxies in specific situations, for example if the card was damaged by someone other than the owner during the tournament; the card is available only in foil; and some other situations.
Ok, let’s dive into the methodology.
When we authenticate cards, like other objects of worth, we work from the outside in. Touch and feel can give you hints that what you are holding isn’t real. It could feel waxy, glossy, or just flimsy; but closely looking at the card will give the best indicators, as these qualities perceived by touch differ between card stock, printer, and printing method across the years.
For our purposes, we will be looking at cards from different print runs; mainly in English, but a few in Japanese as well.
Note the visual indicators on newer cards. The Hologram in the bottom center is an excellent means to tell the authenticity of a card. As of the Magic 2015 core set, Rare, Mythic and premium cards have a foil hologram mark beneath the text box of the card.
Take these three cards printed within three years of each other. The Teysa, Orzhov Scion is from the Orzhov Guild kit printed in 2019. The Divine Visitation is from Guilds of Ravnica (2018). And the Japanese Rune-Scarred Demon is from Iconic Masters in 2017. You’ll notice their holograms are slightly different; the Planeswalker logo framed more evidently in the Rune-Scarred Demon in the middle than the others. That’s because the hologram sheet is made of segmented bubbles with Planeswalker logos and are not always centered in the oval area allotted for them.
Next we will look at two sets of cards – Teysa, Orzhov Scion and Darkest Hour. We will compare the two copies of Teysa printed thirteen years apart with the two copies of Darkest Hour, one being English and the other being Japanese, both from Urza’s Saga.
We will look at their font, their color, the Rosette pattern that can be seen beneath their text, and reactions to the bend and light tests. These are our control cards and will be used as we examine a couple of other cards we’re a little suspicious about, that we’ll introduce in a bit.
Magic: The Gathering uses the “Beleren” font, named after one of the original Planeswalkers – Jace Beleren. This font is used in all text on a card face and in varying sizes.
Take these two copies of Teysa, Orzhov Scion. Side by side we notice that the text of the card name is larger on the older copy on the left. However, on the newer copy, it is the mana cost in the upper right which is bigger slightly. Note that the font stays constant.
Moving down to the type line, all the text on the Guildpact Teysa is smaller than that of the Guild kit copy. The power and toughness, on the other hand, stay constant between these two copies.
As for the Darkest Hour, here we get to see the difference between an English copy and one not using a Latin alphabet. The artist credit remains the same across both copies and is the best way to judge the font.
Next we will examine our two suspects – a Karakas from Legends and a Blinkmoth Nexus from Darksteel. While at first glance they may look correct by way of the font, there are a couple of things that stand out. First the “T” in the tap symbol of the Karakas appears a little too thick, and the color of the gray circle for the Nexus is too dark. These visual cues give us a hunch that these may not be authentic. And it is just a hunch, because otherwise, looking at font, they look correct.
We next look at the color of the cards, and the vibrancy of those colors. The coloring on cards should always look crisp and solid. There are known cases where the colors bleed into each other, but generally, the colors need to show the image clearly.
Looking closer at the two Teysas though, the Guild Kit Teysa is slightly darker than that of the print from Guildpact. This could be due to the foiling process which adds additional layers to the printing of the card.
But even on cards like Darkest Hour that come from the same set, there are slight color variations. Take the art of the card itself. If you look at the center of the card, up the path you’ll see that the Japanese version has a slightly bluer hue than the English copy. The text box on the English card is also slightly darker than that of the Japanese card. But as we go down the line and run the gamut of tests, we will see that they compare very similarly.
Now back to our suspects. The color on the Nexus looks crisp and correct. The Karakas, on the other hand, has its brown border a little more faded than normal cards from Legends as well as a paler text box. Furthermore, artists credits on older cards have a kind of shadow on them, and that’s barely seen here.
Now we’re going to take a look at the Rosette patterns across these four cards. These are actually created by the printer layering the different colors on to the card before the text layer is printed on, which is actually the last layer. As you can tell, we’re going from the top down.
So in this check we look for the flower-shaped pattern evident beneath the text. Normally you would need a jeweller’s loupe or a strong magnifying glass to view these. In many counterfeits it is this lack of a rosette or delineation between the rosette color printed layer and the text layer that seals their fate. And it is in this microscopic detail that people can get fooled.
On authentic cards, the edges of the text layer are pronounced and overlay the rosettes, causing partial patterns around those areas. Whereas, most counterfeits print the text and color layer at the same time, so if they do have that flower pattern, it is also evident on the text.
We see that in the cases of the two pairs of cards, we have the same pattern across the printing of different sets and printings from different locations which gives us a credible baseline as a means to judge card authenticity.
In the case of our suspects, on the Karakas we see the pattern bleeding into the letters. And on the Nexus, the pattern, though beneath the text, has a noticeable square shape of black and white. These are clear failures of the Rosette test in two places. The Karakas was clearly printed in one layer and did not go through the multi-layer printing process of authentic cards. Whereas, the Blinkmoth Nexus did go through that process but the printing did not create a Rosette. Which is a clear strike two for each of these cards.
For the next pair of tests we will look at how cards from different eras of Magic react to non-visual checks. Non-visual because we are no longer concerned with what is on the printed surface but with the structural integrity of the cards. We are done with the face, let’s look inside.
We will include in these tests, a copy of Divine Visitation and Japanese copies of Phyrexian Altar and Rune-Scarred Demon in order to create a sort of timeline, if you will, across printing periods where Darkest Hour, being the oldest card, will be our baseline.
By adding pressure to the edges and bending it in half we expect to see this slight curve. This is the Japanese copy that was printed in 1998. It does not have a visible crease. This is due to the several layers of paper which constitute the card stock. The English copy was subjected to the same treatment but had less resistance and thus returned to its shape with less of a curve but still without the crease. These will be the standard by which we will judge the other five cards.
The two Japanese cards, printed in the years 2000 and 2017 respectively, had similar issues of not returning completely flat and had a noticeable curve. But since they both did not crease, they pass our bend test.
Meanwhile, the English cards, despite none of them having creases, had varying levels of curve. Teysa, Orzhov Scion from Guildpact (2006) had a curve similar to that of the Darkest Hour where it had gone almost completely back to original shape. The Divine Visitation on the other hand had the most prominent curve, and when bending had the most give compared to the other cards in our control set. This may be attributed to the change in card stock of sets from latter years. Meanwhile, the foil Teysa from the GuildKit had the least give and returned to being near straight. This may be from having more layers than the other cards as it is a foil, and that the card stock of the Guild kits from 2019 were printed on different card stock than the standard sets.
All in all, none of the tested cards were creased after undergoing this test. As for our suspects however, the Karakas clearly shows a crease, seen well on the black border. At the same time, it does not have the same flex as the other cards, and instead of a curve, it is showing a wide “v”. The same is true of the Blinkmoth Nexus. Strike three This failure brings us to our next test.
This next test is less invasive and best for those who want to keep their cards in near mint or mint condition – the light test. Its premise is that you shine a light-source through the card and that it will pass through unimpeded.
It is important to note that, when doing this, you test with a control you are sure is authentic. As different sources of light produce different results, and a quick online search reveals that the light could have a blue tinge from the blue paper in the middle, diffuse throughout the entire card, or even be a bright circle opposed to a dim circle.
For our control, we will again use Darkest Hour. And we see that the light is seen with a slight purple halo on the edges but otherwise comes out as whole.
The results are replicated in the other two Japanese cards that we have been testing with, as well as in the non-foil Teysa and Divine Visitation. However, the Foil Teysa hardly lets any light pass through. Does that mean that it fails the test and therefore a fake?
Yes, it fails this test but it is not fake. Foils will let less light pass through as a result of the foiling process. That is why you do not use the light test on foil cards.
And here we see that the Karakas and Nexus both fail the light test. Taking stock, these samples have failed color, rosette, bend, and the light test. Since they were printed before 2015, they could not be subjected to the hologram test.
Now, we have come to the most controversial test of all – the rip test. The rip test checks the quality of the blue sheet that is in the core of Magic cards. The blur core should be smooth and thin. A lot of counterfeits have tried to mimic this by adding a blue layer of their own; but these often come out as either too thick or too rough compared with the blue sheet of authentic cards.
For this test we will look at the blue core of the Darkest Hour that we have been studying. We see from the front that it is faint at the point where we ripped it in half. While on the back where we peeled it, we can see the blue core quite clearly.
The Karakas, without even having to peel it back, clearly has a black core. The same is true for the Blinkmoth Nexus. And if we weren’t already certain by this point, this seals the coffin on these two cards as certainly counterfeits.
So what’s the take away? Again, this is all about protecting the experience of players and the community. By making sure we catch counterfeits before they proliferate, we ensure a fair field for everyone – all players using official Magic cards. But consider the alternative; if we let counterfeiting flourish, what is stopping someone with a nice printer from printing up the best cards in any format and playing them in a tournament? That’s hardly fair to the rest of the players who all have legitimate versions of those cards. We’re all part of this community because of this game that we love and it’s our responsibility to do what we can to not lessen or tarnish it.
And one final note before we go. The scope of this lesson is strictly on the mechanics of how to find counterfeits, not what to do if you find a player using them in your event. Those are lessons for another module. Suffice to say, use your best judgment – be mindful, be thorough, and be gentle.
Thank you so much for joining us in this elective module on Card Authentication, and a big thank you for being part of our Judging community. Adios!
Important Postscript –
Card authentication is increasingly difficult as some of the card counterfeiters are becoming more sophisticated. Players frequently take a Judge’s opinion as the final authority on authentication when most Judges are not experts. It is important to deliver the the ruling as a ruling and not a statement of card authentication for the purposes of the collectable market. We recommend that you say “My ruling is that this card is not a legal Magic card for tournament play” and not “This card is fake”.