Is this MTG Card Etched Foil or just Foil?

{"id":"64aee591-b89b-4db8-bc1b-3cee7f5177ba","slug":"daniel-clarke","name":"Daniel Clarke","email":"daniel@ambrgrading.com","bio":"<p>Product Guardian @ Ambr Grading<\/p>","avatar":"https:\/\/ambrgrading-com-general.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com\/public\/wink\/images\/iTHyw8PfX7gRoxhSjt9kHb4C3J5FBU5Z3WwCOwjc.jpg","created_at":"2021-10-07T20:14:46.000000Z","updated_at":"2021-12-31T05:16:29.000000Z","meta":{"meta_description":null,"opengraph_title":null,"opengraph_description":null,"opengraph_image":null,"opengraph_image_width":null,"opengraph_image_height":null,"twitter_title":null,"twitter_description":null,"twitter_image":null,"theme":"dark"}} <p>Product Guardian @ Ambr Grading</p>

Daniel Clarke

3 minute read

Navigating MTG's most frustrating variation- Etched Foil

Print variations add depth to the card collecting hobby and expand our choices of which cards to collect and which to ignore. While most printing variations in the game of Magic: the Gathering have been pretty easy to identify, some have become the agony of novice collectors and resellers- see Etched Foils. This guide is to help you navigate the nuances of Etched Foils but be careful- The features that make a card Etched Foil from one set will most likely not identify one from another set.

Etched Foil is a term that Wizards of the Coast first used to annotate a unique run of legendary creatures from the Commander Legends set with new borders and a special surface texture.

Commander Legends Etched Foil

Commander Legends Etched Foil

Without holding the card to light or touching it, even a novice collector can tell that it is not like regular Magic: the Gathering cards, mostly from format changes.

Fast forward to Strixhaven: Mystical Archives, and we again see the term “Etched Foil” used but in a completely new way:

Mystical Archive: Etched Foil on the left; Foil on the right

Mystical Archive: Etched Foil on the left; Foil on the right

Unlike Commander Legend’s Etched Foils, the card has a similar texture to its foil and non-foil counterparts. All etched cards in Mystical Archives are considered “Etched Foil,” even though only a tiny amount of the card is metallic (not classically foiled)—a subtle and challenging detail to detect if you don’t know what to look for. Many resellers and collectors mistook the foil for Etched Foil and vice versa from this set. If you didn’t get a good look at your card, you might even mistake an Etched Foil for a non-etched non-foil version. So how do you know what you have?

Mystical Archives

Etched foils- look for gold leafing in the rings around the topmost text box and in the bars that wrap the outer text box. The Illustrator and copyright text at the bottom will not be reflective like it is on a foil.

Foils- If the whole card is foil, you have a foil (not a foil etched card). Look for foiling on the bottom row of text to be sure.


Non-foil- if it does not have a gold leaf, and is not foil anywhere on the card it is a non-foil card - pretty straightforward.

It would have been nice if Wizards left the subtle differences there but with the arrival of Modern Horizons 2 (MH2), we received a new headache: Etched Foils and Retro Etched Foils.

Modern Horizons Two

Modern Horizons 2: Retro Foil on the left, Retro Etched Foil on the right

Modern Horizons 2: Retro Foil on the left, Retro Etched Foil on the right

Very similar to the original Etched Foil in Commander Legends, some MH2 cards were given the etched foil treatment but with a twist- the surface texture was the only way to tell them apart. In photos, it would be nearly impossible to distinguish them. A side-by-side comparison makes it easier though most online photos won’t have a comparison and if they did, it could still be confusing for unsuspecting buyers.

If you are uncertain which you have or you are looking to buy online, you will want to reference the following photos:

Etched foil on the left- look for the orange peel effect and some glints of (what looks like) silver

Etched foil on the left- look for the orange peel effect and some glints of (what looks like) silver

When holding the card under a light, look for an orange peel texture. It will not be subtle or sparse; it will cover the entire front surface of the card. You should see something akin to a silver fleck in the etched foil, but this is most likely the valleys in the texture reflecting an uncolored surface.

Additionally, an Etched Foil’s texture can be seen on the back of a card with the aid of a light.

The etched texture can be seen under a light on the back

The etched texture can be seen under a light on the back

A typical card will have a smooth back where the Etched Foil will have the same, albeit slight, orange peel texture as seen in the right-hand card in the photo (Foil Etched).

Retro Foil on the left and Etched Retro Foil on the right

Retro Foil on the left and Etched Retro Foil on the right

Retro-Foil Etched Lands can be some of the most difficult to identify, especially in photos. Sometimes they appear darker and sometimes they are lighter. It’s best to ask for more photos if you’re procuring online and look for the orange peel texture while at an angle under the light.

But wait! There’s more!

When wizards were printing their Retro-Foils, a slight variation (most likely between collectors and set boosters) affected the foiling of the text boxes. Some are highly foiled, and others are still foiled but much less.

Two Retro Foil cards (not etched) with variations in foiling

Two Retro Foil cards (not etched) with variations in foiling

This variation is hardly noticeable and most collectors won’t even realize there is a difference. In terms of the rarity and desirability of the different printings, only time will tell. Most likely, the printing that matches the original Onslaught foil fetches will earn a premium- it’s still too early to know.

I hope this guide helps as you navigate through the jungles of collecting! When you are looking to have some TCG cards graded and authenticated, look no further than Ambr Grading- The only company purely dedicated to service the TCG community with expert care.