How do I know the card I'm buying is real?
The sustained popularity of Magic The Gathering over the past 25 years, combined with the limited print runs of the early product, and the commitment to not reprint some of the most iconic and powerful cards created, has led to an ongoing issue of counterfeit Magic Cards.
Cards are printed in an effort to mimic some of the rare and valuable cards which can sell for 1,000's of dollars on the secondary market.
Luckily most of the counterfeits are imperfect reproductions of the original product, and there are 4 primary tests which can be done to determine if a card you have purchased is the genuine article or an illegal reproduction.
There are a variety of tests which have been popular over the years, including a number of tests which are no longer effective or recommended (bend test, water test, rip test).
Below the 4 tests which are widely recommended are outlined in detail, with supporting diagrams or photos provided when relevant. These tests are:
- The "Green Dot" Test
- The Rosette Test
- The Over-Print Test
- The Light Test
The first three tests can be done easily with a 30x or 60x loupe, however most new camera phones can zoom in enough to use for the rosette test, and the over-print test (but not the green dot test).
If your card passes all four of these tests you can be confident that you are in possession of the genuine article. Failure of one of these tests does not necessarily mean that you have a counterfeit, as there is a considerable amount of variance in printings as well as the way in which many of these cards have aged over time. However it should make you wary of the card in question, and may require a verification by someone more knowledgeable and experienced with vintage cards.
The Green Dot Test
On the back of every magic card you can find a green dot or circle, which is used to represent green in the 5 color pentagram.
If you look at this Green circle under 30x or 60x magnification, there should be 4 red dots located in the yellow part of this green circle, which form an L constellation.
The Rosette Test
Magic cards are printed by a process which creates circular "Rosettes", which are visible under magnification.
These rosettes vary between the different sets, and even between different printings of the same set.
The key with this test is that your card has visible rosettes when looked at under 30x or 60x magnification. An added bonus is if you have another card as reference, either a copy of the same card which you know to be authentic, or if that is not possible then a card from the same set, rarity, and color, to compare rosettes to
For reference below are close up images of three common rosette variations from Unlimited.
All three of these rosette patterns are from legitimate Magic Cards, what is important is that the color is created by a repeating dot pattern formed by printing different colors in layers, instead of a counterfeit which may have solid colors, streaks, or non circular dots.
The Over Print Test
As was briefly touched upon in the Rosette Pattern section, magic cards are printed in a process which layers different colors of ink in a pattern. A part of this process is the printing of the black ink used on borders, and in text boxes, to create a sharp black line. If you look at the magic card in question under 30x or 60x magnification, you should see clean black lines, which have been printed on top of its background.
This difference is most clearly seen in text boxes with an example below of text from a real card under magnification, and text from a fake card under magnification.
The Light Test
Magic cards are printed on specialty card stock which is unavailable to all but the most sophisticated counterfeiters. This card stock is semi transparent, so using a flashlight (or the light of you camera phone) to illuminate it from behind, should allow some light to shine through the card when it is held at a distance of a few centimeters away.
Below is an example of light shining though a legitimate magic card, and light shining though a fake magic card.
This guide was intended as a brief introduction to counterfeit detection.
There are additional tests which can be conducted which are also very valuable in some circumstances such as looking at expansion symbols under magnification, checking foil and holo stamps found in modern printings, and checking the weight of a card if it is a potential target for rebacking.
That being said, if you are purchasing vintage cards, and the card passes all 4 of the tests described above you can be confident that you are looking at an authentic card.