How Good Are Modern Trading Card Counterfeits?

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Daniel Clarke

4 minute read

How Good Are Modern TCG Counterfeits?

Staying safe in the age of prolific counterfeits.

If you’ve spent some time building a collection of collectible trading cards, chances are you have encountered inauthentic cards- Though you may not have realized it. 

Modern counterfeits, sometimes called “proxies” have become so convincing that some require advanced techniques to help separate them from real cards. It’s worth spending time learning about the ways to differentiate the real from the fake. While this is not a sophisticated guide for detecting counterfeits, the basics will help you in most cases.  

As an L2 Magic: The Gathering Judge with nearly a decade of event experience, I have seen it all. Prior to becoming a Judge, I had twenty years of collecting and gaming experience with TCGs, including Pokemon and Magic and several others. Unfortunately, I didn’t always take the time to check every card, and have been sold inauthentic cards that I failed to check properly. If it can happen to someone who has been handling Magic and Pokemon since their inception, it can happen to anyone. So what should you look for when acquiring new cards?

Take every card out of its sleeve for inspection, no matter how inexpensive it is or where/who you are buying it from. When you take the card out of its sleeve, you will be able to gauge if the texture is correct (higher or lower gloss), if the thickness is correct, and if the text is of the correct font. Gloss and texture are not always consistent but if a card is extremely glossy or its stock is very thin/thick, walk away. Feeling the card is one of the easiest and low-tech ways for someone (with experience) to catch something unusual.

Don’t assume that if a card's market price is low, it won’t be counterfeited. The cards that got passed to me many years ago were fifty cents each- and that is what the card was worth at the time. It costs a counterfeiter pennies to make a copy of any card so selling cheap cards is less likely to be detected thus allowing them to continue their operation. 

Look the card over for obvious errors. Some counterfeiters will forget to add an important part of a card, like a text line. You may have suspected the Magic: the Gathering cards pictured above were inauthentic, but did you notice they were missing their casting cost? There may be errors in spelling, ability costs, and year printed, especially on modern counterfeit Pokemon cards. 

Looking closer, you may have also noticed that the cards in the photo above have a security stamp on them. Do not assume that because the card is foil, has a stamp, or is difficult to counterfeit, it is not a counterfeit. When assessing a stamped MTG card, look to see if the stamp imprint is visible on the back of the card or if the stamp is raised above the rest of the surface. The stamp should be flat and level with the rest of the card and visible on the front only.

Even foil cards can be counterfeit- especially Pokemon cards. Most modern foil Pokemon cards have a texture that is extremely difficult to reproduce. Additionally, foil cards often have selective foiling that a fake card is unlikely to imitate. If you are looking at a newer foil Pokemon card and it doesn't have the correct texture or selective foiling, you can walk away.

Use a card you know to be real to perform a comparison. Alternatively, a card from the same set with a similar color or, a picture of the card from an official source to do a side-by-side comparison. Check the font, alignment, color, and feel of the cards (if possible). Always use a card from the same set, the same language in the same color, and ideally from the same type of pack- there is variance in printings, even within sets. 

If you are not sure, ask for help. There are several resources out there- your LGS, Reddit, and officials like MTG Judges, that can be helpful in determining the authenticity of a card. If all else fails don't buy a card that you are not certain is real. 

Carry a jeweler's loupe when looking to pick up new cards. I won't go into the details of how to use a loupe but there are several resources out there worth reading and what to look for when looking at a TCG card under magnification.

If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. I see postings online for high-end cards that someone is selling for way under their value. If they are able to use the internet to sell you something, they are also able to look up the value of what they are selling. Don't get duped because you are excited, take your time and look over every card before you exchange any money.

Lastly- NEVER use destructive testing to determine if a card is real or not. You NEVER have to tear, bend, or expose a card to water to determine if it is authentic.

Fortunately, while there is an abundance of counterfeits, there are none that pass when scrutinized under high-resolution imaging or loupe tests when combined with other forms of professional screening. If your cards need authentication and grading, use Ambr Grading- the only grading company founded specifically for trading card games.