Counterfeits On TCGplayer: My Experience

I have some good news and some bad news.

The bad news first: some of the Chinese counterfeit cards have found their way onto TCGplayer.com. In fact, I received three counterfeit Return to Ravnica [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card]s in a purchase from a TCGplayer.com vendor last week.

The good news is that they were very easy to identify and that TCGplayer.com’s response was awesome.

I’m writing this article for two main reasons:

  1. To give detailed information about the counterfeits for anyone who comes across suspect cards

  2. To talk about TCGplayer’s response so you know what to expect if it happens to you and so you can adjust your buying behavior if you feel it is necessary

I’ll walk through the whole experience from beginning to end for those interested. I am a Brainstorm Brewery writer after all, so nobody is getting out of here without sifting through at least 1,500 words (much more in this case). If you are only interested in how to identify the counterfeits, that’s fineskip straight to the “Identification” section toward the bottom.

Background

First, let me say that although I’ve played Magic for quite a long time, I had zero first-hand experience with counterfeits (that I know of) prior to last week. Many community members have dealt with previous counterfeiting attempts but I was coming in with a clean slate.

I was, however, well aware that the Chinese counterfeits existed and I had read a lot about them. To some extent, I knew what to look for. In the “Conclusions” section at the end of this article, I discuss whether the counterfeits would raise a red flag for someone who was totally in the dark. Spoiler alert: not necessarily.

Purchase

I purchased the [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card]s in a large cube update/spec buy that used several TCGplayer vendors. The Fountains were the only three cards I purchased from this particular vendor, and I’m not going to reveal that name because TCGPlayer is trying to determine intent. The Hallowed Fountains were the cheapest listed by a fair amount. They were $5.39 and the next cheapest was around $7.00. Take that for what it iscircumstantial evidence.

I checked the vendor’s store and he had only a few other things for sale, including a couple of [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card]s (also priced below market). I’ve had good luck with vendors like this beforenew sellers offering good deals until they build up their rating. I added the Fountains and the Tombs to my cart but the Tombs were gone by the time I checked out. I have to think the [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card]s were probably counterfeit as well. TCGplayer is looking into this, though I don’t expect that I will ever know the outcome.

The vendor shipped same day and with tracking. I ordered these Friday after lunch and had them in my hands Monday evening, which I thought was awesome (at the time). They were shipped in a padded mailer and each Hallowed Fountain was in its own semi-rigid plastic holder. They looked perfectly mint in the sleeve so I dropped them on my desk to wait for all the other cards I ordered without examining them further.

Nothing about the transaction itself raised a red flag. Actually, other than the fact that the cards would turn out to be counterfeit (granted, kind of a big deal), it was the best transaction of the several orders I placed that day.

By Wednesday, I had received enough of my other orders that I sat down to update my cube and file the specs away. Literally the moment I pulled the first Fountain out of the plastic, I knew it was not real. I’m talking, I still only had one hand on it from pulling it out of the sleeve and I already knew. If you handle Magic cards regularly, it’s that apparent.

The finish was the giveaway for me. It felt almost like a playing card. Everything I had read about the counterfeits said something like this: “They may look like good fakes in pictures, but you would never confuse them if they were in your hand.” That is exactly right. I’ve handled plenty of Magic cards in my lifeold ones, new ones, specialty products, you name itand these felt much different than any of them.

All three Fountains were the same. I tried the light test on all three (as well as a variety of real cards for comparison) and they failed. I looked at some other tests but I don’t own a jeweler’s loupe, wasn’t willing to rip the cards to check for the blue line or try the bend test until I talked to TCGplayer, and didn’t even bother to try the water test because the cards were so glossy there was no way water wouldn’t bead up on them.

I immediately emailed TCGplayer.com and then, without thinking too much, I tweeted about it.twitter1.jpg

Probably for the same reason I still get blown out by combat tricks in Limited, I totally underestimated how big a deal this was to so many people. It was slightly irresponsible to throw something like that out without solid backup. Within a few minutes, a number of people requested pictures but I decided a video was better. The texture was a big indicator and there was no way to show that in a picture

I posted this video on YouTube.

This was my attempt to explain my thinking 15 minutes after I discovered the cards. There was some good information that was left out because I rushed it. If I had done a little research and figured out what else to look for before I tweeted, I could have included more in the video. In my defense, I was on my third IPA.

Support

The community was awesome. You guys know this already, but it never fails.

I got a lot of advice from people who had dealt with counterfeits before, including this specific round. @TheCardNexus was especially helpful and told me about other potential differences I should check. He was spot on

Magic players are looking out for one another on this. If you ever have a question about card authenticity, Twitter is a great place to go. There is an incredible knowledge base out there and a lot of well connected people (Jason Alt, for example) who can get those questions in front of the people who can answer them best. Take advantage of it.

What wasn’t helpful was a number of people on YouTube definitively declaring the cards authentic Event Deck cards, this despite never having seen them in person and apparently ignoring part of the video (the light test). All this does is increase confusion for the other people reading and watching. The cards weren’t from an Event Deck. How did I know that? Because I’ve purchased Event Decks in the past, held the cards, and they didn’t feel anything like these. And guess what, Event Deck cards do pass the light test.

It was Wednesday evening when this happened and TCGplayer emailed back Thursday morning. In the very first email, they fully refunded my purchase and asked me (not told me) if I would send the cards to them for further evaluation if they paid shipping. They asked for all three cards and offered to call if I had questions.

I am in a customer-facing business so I appreciated this for several reasons. First, TCGplayer didn’t ask any questions, require any justification, or make me jump through any hoops before giving me a refund. If you sell anything to anybody, you are going to have to deal with some ridiculous claims. At this point, they had no idea if I knew what I was talking about or if I was just another idiot causing a stir. It is pretty tempting to say, “There is a 95% chance this guy is dead-ass wrong, let’s act accordingly,” but they didn’t.

They paid for the cards to be shipped overnight and even had the cards delivered to a home address since they would be arriving Saturday morning. On the following Monday (which was this past Monday), they let me know they had confirmed the [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card]s were not authentic and that they were shutting down the seller while they investigated intent. As I mentioned above, they are also reviewing other recent transactions from the seller.

The people I dealt with from TCGplayer were courteous and appreciative of my cooperation. Their response was quick and thorough, in my opinion. Thumbs up to TCGplayer.com all the way.

Identification

First, watch the video if you haven’t. Below are the things I saw when handling the counterfeits, including a couple that aren’t in the video.

As I said, I did not have a jeweler’s loupe and I did not perform any destructive tests because I anticipated sending the cards to TCGplayer. So this is certainly not a comprehensive list.

1. Gloss – This is the first thing I show in the video. Call it the “squeak test” or whatever, but the counterfeits are substantially glossier.

I did look at Event Deck, Duel Deck, and Commander cards that I had. Yes, some of them do feel slightly glossier but not close to the counterfeits. And the cards from supplemental products do, in fact, squeak if you rub them, although maybe not quite as much as cards from normal expansions.

2. Light Test – This is the second thing I did in the video. The iPhone flashlight works great here, and the difference is drastic. The light shines right through regular cards, including Event Deck cards and other supplemental products, but not the counterfeits. After trying a variety of cards (new, old, etc.), I found no exceptions with real cards. I could see the light clearly through all of them.

If I had only had one test to identify a counterfeit, this is what I would use. It is certainly the most practical and, as far as I know, it is very reliable as well.

3. Corners – The corners of the counterfeits were miscut, they were round almost like Alpha corners.fountain 1.jpg

Legit copy of RTR Hallowed Fountain on the left, counterfeit on the right. Note the corners.

fountain 2.jpg

The corners again, comparing to a legit white bordered card, to the extent a 5th Edition Giant Strength can be considered legitimate.

4. Borders – In the first picture above, you may notice that the borders are thicker on the counterfeit. It’s not that the card itself is bigger, just that the middle of the card is a little smaller so the borders take up more of the face.

5. Size – The width of the counterfeits is very slightly smaller than authentic cards. Like, less than 1mm smaller. I believe the height is the same.fountain 4.jpg

The width of the counterfeit (front card) is slightly smaller than the authentic card behind it.

6. Coloring – This is pretty hard to see in pictures (maybe if I had a better camera) but it was apparent when I had the cards in hand. The coloring of the counterfeits, especially the browns, was slightly washed out compared to the legit cards.

fountain 3.jpg

Legit copy on the left, counterfeit on the right. Note the coloring. The backs of the counterfeits were similarly washed out although I failed to get a good picture.

On the coloring, I really don’t think I would have noticed this if I wasn’t looking or if there was no other reason to question the authenticity.

Also, after looking back at other cards in my inventory, I definitely noticed plenty of color differences in authentic cards. I found a couple of [card]Birthing Pod[/card]s, for example, that have much more noticeable coloring differences than these two [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card]s, but both Pods passed all other tests. So I would say that coloring alone is not a good indication of authenticity and it should be used in conjunction with the other things I’ve mentioned.

7. Clarity – Again, I didn’t have a jeweler’s loupe but you could see that the print was slightly fuzzy in places on the counterfeits just by looking closely. The artists name in the picture above was one of those places, but there were others. Not sure if it comes across in the picture, but the authentic card was sharper.

Conclusions

The end result of all this for me is that I don’t feel the need to change my buying practices on TCGplayer.com very much. I’ll even continue to buy from new sellers if I see a good deal, although I never do that with expensive cards. Best case, I get some cheap cards while the seller builds feedback. Worst case, the cards are counterfeits but they get identified and taken out of the system at no cost to me instead of ending up in the hands of somebody who doesn’t know the difference. I feel adequately protected here.

Now, there will be people who don’t want to deal with this at all. While there was no financial cost to me, the whole thing did take up a bit of my time (although I got an article out of it) and I still don’t have any [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card]s. I didn’t look at it as a hassle, but some might. Buying only from reputable sellers on TCGplayer.com remains the first and best line of defense if you want to avoid this totally.

I am slightly more worried about buying from non-TCGplayer sources now. I know ebay/Paypal have good buyer protection, but those companies are not going to know anything about counterfeit Magic cards. Would it have taken longer to come to a resolution if this was eBay? I’m not sure. If you are dealing outside of those markets (or similar markets), buyer beware. You may have no protection whatsoever.

Another thing I am more worried about now is counterfeits finding their way to new players. The [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card]s looked very good in the sleeves to me and I didn’t notice anything different about them until I took them out. I can definitely imagine a newer player acquiring these cards unknowingly and jamming them right into sleeves and into a deck. If they didn’t notice the gloss initially, I doubt they will notice the rounded corners once in a sleeve. It’s going to be a feel-bad moment for everyone when these cards get discovered by a more experienced player. Whoever pawned them off on the new guy is obviously long gone at that point and there is probably no recourse.

Bottom line, I think these counterfeits are good enough to trick some newer players. That is a concern.

TCGplayer did respond well, but they still have a big challenge in front of them. Ultimately, taking counterfeits out of the system one at a time after they have been sold is going to be a long and expensive undertaking. Finding a way to prevent this from happening in the first place is the goal, but that won’t be easy. They mentioned that they are working on some videos. That is a good first step.

Lastly, I would stress to everyone that you are entitled to question the authenticity of your cards if you have doubts. Assuming you are legitimately concerned (not just being difficult) and assuming that you are asking in a civil way, don’t stop until you are satisfied. “I’m concerned about the counterfeits in the system, do you mind if I try the light test on these before we finish the trade?” is perfectly reasonable. Don’t forget that there is a list of the cards that were in this counterfeit print run.

Certainly, don’t be embarrassed if you question something and the cards turn out fine. You don’t have to make an accusation in order to get confirmation that the cards are authentic. If at any point the seller or other trader refuses your request or tries to embarrass you for asking the question, I would just walk away. No need to take that kind of risk.

That’s all I have. Thanks for reading and as always, hit me with any questions you have here or on Twitter (@acmtg).

About the Author
@acmtg   -    Articles Anthony is your typical started-during-Revised-then-quit-then-came-back-years-later Magic player. He enjoys the financial aspect of the game the most, mainly because it lets him use his analytical side but also because it makes up for the money he hemorrhages drafting on MTGO.

32 comments on Counterfeits On TCGplayer: My Experience

  1. Michael says:

    as a lot of people have stated before (reddit had a topic about these hallowed fountains) , there is very very big possibility that these hallowed fountains are just from the Theros event deck. Because these are printed at a different printer they have some more gloss and lighter colours

    1. Jason Alt says:

      These cards failed the light test, though, have different corners and are a different width. If people will buy that these fountains are from the event deck, I am going to buy 1,000 counterfeit Stoneforge Mystics. “Event deck, bro” I’ll say when anyone asks.

      OK, I won’t do that.

      1. Michael says:

        The ones from the event deck also failed the light test. Width and corners could have something to do with the fact that the printing process for many non-booster pack items seems different from the process for the massively printed booster pack items.

        Found the topic btw in which people discussed it http://www.reddit.com/r/magicTCG/comments/22p8uo/

        I am not saying that they are not fake, but i am sure not willing to bet my life on it.

        And yes the stoneforge mystic from the vent deck looks and feels different from the normal one (i had 2 from the event deck and 2 from boosterpacks)

        1. Jason Alt says:

          Did you read the whole thread? JVLin, a Channel Fireball writer showed a picture of a suspected fake next to a Fountain from the event deck. They’re different.

          1. Michael says:

            Yes, i read the whole thread and JVLin is indeed very vocal about them being fake, supported by some very bad quality pictures of hallowed fountains, But there also a lot of other people who do not share his opinion. Best way to judge if they are fake or not would be the rip test not? ;)

            But selling fakes of money rares from event deck could be a smart thing (but also very evil) thing to do.

            1. Philippe says:

              I just read this article and I just open a event decks to try the hallowed fountain and it “feels” perfectly real, the corners are the same that others magic cards, it’s just a little more glossy and the easy test to try is to check for the white dot on the back, in the video i dont see the dot but the event deck do have it. And that’s it!

    2. Anonymous says:

      Not a chance. While the theros event deck cards are slightly glossier they don’t look or feel anything like what he is describing,

  2. Anonymous says:

    When I initially saw the youtube video, I immediately tested my Hallowed fountains. I have one from RTR and two from event decks (sealed product all purchased and opened myself). While the event deck Fountains are subtly different, the light test outcome was exactly the same.

    1. Anthony Capece says:

      Thanks for posting this. No idea why people are so hung up on the Event Deck thing!

  3. heyj says:

    Where can I buy some of these ‘fakes’ to use for myself? They would need to be in the $1 range and I would like a set of Power 9, all the fetches etc. I would use them for Powered Cube.

    1. Anonymous says:

      The more we support “passable fakes” (even for non-nefarious reasons), the more they end up in the general card pool.

      If you want to buy or make “obvious” proxies, that’s fine. But we absolutely shouldn’t support people that are making fakes that are clearly meant to deceive.

      It literally hurts us all.

      1. Frank says:

        Yes, because clearly Wizards is so appropriately keeping up with demand.

        Those of us who work for our money don’t have enough to shell out for disgrace that is the reserve list.

        1. Anonymous says:

          My point isn’t “don’t make proxies” for your non-sanctioned play. My point is to not give money to people that are trying to produce and sell authentic-looking counterfeits.

          While some people may legitimately have zero ill-intent to run them in casual-only decks, they do get into the wild and people do try to sell them as legitimate cards.

          Again: that hurts everyone!

          Your argument of “because things are expensive and I may not have a lot of money it’s OK for me and others to break the law in order to have those things” is so fundamentally absurd that I don’t even know where to begin to address it.

          The reserved list exists. Deal with it. Complaining won’t change anything. It’s like complaining that the sky is blue.

          1. Frank says:

            “The reserved list exists. Deal with it. Complaining won’t change anything”

            Yes, because asking for change never works. Keep up the good work.

            1. Anonymous says:

              I think asking for change is great. We’ve done that. For YEARS.

              Then WotC finally responded and said that, despite their acknowledgment of it being a HUGE mistake that they wish they never made, they are NOT going to change their mind on the Reserved List.

              We don’t need to continue to ask for change for something that WotC themselves said they wish they could change. They know it’s an issue. This isn’t some problem that you just discovered that needs to have people rallied to its cause.

              If some internal shift happens where WotC (more likely some high-up Hasbro exec) decrees that it’s OK to reverse the Reserved List, then that’s not something that they will have to be reminded that players don’t like. They could stand to make A LOT of money by reprinting power and other old cards.

              Your (seemingly simplistic) view of this topic doesn’t account for the myriad factors at play.

        2. Jason Alt says:

          “Those of us who work for our money?”

          Do you even listen to yourself?

        3. ray area says:

          its ok frank. just proxies the legacy/vintage cards and you can play all the expensive cards.

          whats not ok is being an advocate for counterfeiters. the above comment is right in that counterfeit cards are corrosive to every aspect of the game….this includes Magic articles, websites, tournaments, and Wizards of the Coast itself.

          1. Frank says:

            The cards are too expensive. Wizards does not profit off the secondary markets. Therefore, supporting counterfeiters does nothing to hurt Wizards.

            1. Anonymous says:

              It must be fun to be so naive.

  4. J says:

    Anybody have experience with counterfeit foils? Seems like we all only talk about non-foil, but i am pretty sure there are counterfeit foils out there. I bought some foil primordials and apparently some of those look different, so i am not sure if some of those are counterfeit or not.

    1. Kyle says:

      Counterfeit foils happen, but much less. Most of the time (due to the expense of making foils from scratch compared to regular ones and the additional issues that arise from it) they are other foils that people have blanked then refaced. The process is easy and very easily identified. Typically it doesn’t happen on a large scale but more people doing it at home meaning laser/ink jet printers not the normal WotC printers.

  5. Progdor says:

    For number 7, clarity, you can scan both cards at an extremely high DPI and compare both cards that way. Provided you have a scanner that is. Really it’s a good way to compare both in terms of any visual impairments that may lead one to believe a card is counterfeit.

    Good article though. I recall a forum thread on MTGSalvation about someone receiving a deckbuilder’s toolkit where everything except the booster pack cards was of obviously cheaper quality than the usual cards. There were concerns with counterfeiting, but the original poster of that thread I think just ended up sending the box set with all the cards in it to wizards and they just sent him a new one. They weren’t given any other details from wizards other than confirmation that those particular set of cards for whatever reason didn’t meet the quality standards.

  6. Vale-Tech Industries says:

    I have noticed many RTR cards that seem different, a bit off, but that are real nonetheless. Nothing as drastic as the physical characteristics of these fountains, but they often make me do a double take. I’m a TCGPlayer seller and I had a customer who wanted to return some cards that he did not feel right about, but was not 100% they were fake. I physically touch all the cards I send out so I was reasonably confident they were not fake, but I provided a refund nonetheless as soon as the cards were returned. I believe good customer service is one of the most valuable things any seller can provide to their customers. I am also glad to know that TCGPlayer is quick to react and handle situations like this.

    Thanks for the very informative article!

    1. Anthony Capece says:

      I think you did the right thing. Customer confidence can erode quickly in those situations if you aren’t careful. I am glad TCGPlayer responded so well for the same reason.

      Thanks for reading and posting!

  7. PhillyB says:

    Thank you for this article, I was worried as I just bought 2 Voice of Resurgence on TCG that I ran through the light test (passed) but really was unaware at all how to look for counterfeits before this article.

  8. itsme9003 says:

    GUYS (and Anthony). There is a very critical flaw in these recent Chinese counterfeits, one that makes them a dead giveaway. In every single legitimate magic card (event deck included), there is a small white dot on the top left corner on the back of the card. It’s right next to the black border, left of the red dot on the top left corner, and almost looks like a small nick. I’ve come across several of these counterfeit cards – THEY ALL LACK THIS WHITE DOT. OP, I’m sure if you were to reexamine your counterfeits that they would also not have this ubiquitous landmark. In the OP’s video, I tried to get the best possible shot of when he turns the card over, and even with the slight blurriness you can definitely tell there is no dot.

    Skip all the other tests with these Chinese counterfeits – if they don’t have the white dot they’re not legit.

    Pictures illustrating what I’m talking about: http://imgur.com/gallery/GJJfL/new

    1. Jason Alt says:

      Thanks for that. I hope enough people see this that it helps someone. I didn’t know they had such an obvious flaw- makes it very quick to distinguish them, until they fix it.

  9. No name says:

    Anthony, thanks for this article. Could you or someone else provide more information on the “Event Deck” Hallowed Fountains? I think it’s really important to know more about those and how much more glossy they are, and if there are any other differences.

    I very recently acquired some Hallowed Fountains that I believe may be counterfeit, and scarily, if they are counterfeit, they are better fakes than the ones you described. The differences are: the corners seem slightly more square than on a regular Magic card, the cards are very glossy, and the coloration seems a little off, especially on the black borders on the front and back of the cards (seems darker in normal lighting, and then a little more washed out than normal cards when I shine a bright flashlight on them). They seem to pass the other tests, like having the white dot on the back of the card, and light shines through it okay. I don’t want to post any pictures of them yet, because I want to get some second opinions on them first though. But if anyone has information on the Event Deck Hallowed Fountains, that would help me out.

  10. DaveSpace says:

    Well, at the end fakes cards are here!
    I’m writing from Europe, Spain, here the biggest market is MCM and i’m pretty sure that there are a lot of fake cards on the market but i think is almost impossible to verify all vendors and all the cards they sells.
    The solution for us is to buy only european cards because all the fakes are english and if we buy italian, spanish.. cards are pretty sure that there aren’t fakes.

    My question is: why Wizards not start a massive reprint campaign for all the Modern staples? 60€ for a Misty is insane and i can understand that there’s person that try to sell fake with this price, but if a Misty cost only 10-15€ there aren’t any real margin of profit no?

  11. SoldShort says:

    I recently bought a counterfeit card on eBay. The item listing was removed a day or two after I paid for the item. Although I am 99.9999% sure that it was removed for counterfeiting alerts, eBay would not do a thing for me and also would not tell me why the original listing was removed. The item arrived after the 30-day period and the tracking number inputted was bogus so eBay basically told me that I was SOL. I would warn eBay buyers not to file a dispute through eBay, but rather through PayPal/Credit Card. This experience has left a bad taste in my mouth and now I proactively file disputes to ensure that I do not miss any of eBay’s fickle time windows.

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