Over the past couple months there's been a lot of talk in the Magic community about fake cards, specifically some high quality Chinese counterfeit cards that have been popping up. Inevitably any talk of fake and counterfeit cards leads to arguments about card prices. Let's face it; if certain cards weren't expensive then there'd be little need to make cheap fake ones, but while the idea of owning a playset of Tarmogoyf on the cheap sounds appealing these are bad for Magic as a whole and I want to show you some tips to spot them.
The primary argument in favor of these fake cards usually hinges on the idea of someone who would never buy the full value card, but is otherwise interested in having a high quality proxy. Now I'm not going to say that I haven't ever proxy'ed a card before, though almost universally this is for testing purposes. Maybe the card has been spoiled but it's available yet, it's in the mail, or you're testing a new deck before putting it together. And ultimately if you decide to doodle on a slip of paper saying it's Tarmogoyf, and your playgroup is okay with it, there's little WotC or the community as a whole can do about it. So the logic follows that why should it matter if the doodle just happens to be something that looks more like the card itself.
Even putting the actual legal and copyright issues aside. The problem becomes that no one is being fooled by your stick figure Tarmogoyf sharpied onto a draft common. For every person that just wants a dual land for their Commander deck without shelling out hundreds of dollars, there's going to be someone, if not several more, willing to try and scam people with them. They can try to pass them off to stores for money or credit. My own local store has seen a few sneak in or caught them trying to be traded in, often to the surprise of the owner. Because rather than trying to sneak it past knowledgeable staff it's much easier to trade or sell them to fellow players. With that in mind it's important to arm yourself with some knowledge of how to avoid getting ripped off.
Perhaps most importantly, trust your instinct. If something doesn't seem right, it probably isn't. It's the same principle that banks use in order for their tellers to better spot counterfeit money. Just by handling Magic cards frequently and often you're going to develop a sixth sense for it. Even without knowing specifically why, you'll subconsciously pick up on those little details. If you're at a tournament ask a judge to take a look at the cards, if they are deemed to be fake the player will have the opportunity to replace them or change them out for a basic land. If you're trading, have a more experienced player or trader take a look. And when buying online, stick to reputable dealers or sites that otherwise protect you.
Please note, if you're going to be testing cards this way get the permission from the owner beforehand. The bend test is a pretty drastic looking testing method, but it demonstrates the resilience of an actual Magic card's card stock. The basic idea is to take a card and bend the top and bottom so that they meet. This might look like a bad way to ruin a perfectly good Magic card, but a real card will be fine, with some straightening out, while a fake card will crease. However, a real card, depending on wear/tear and its condition, will eventually fail a bend test.
This one is pretty popular since it's relatively easy and there's very little risk to the cards when preforming it. The basic principle is to simply hold up the cards near to a strong light source, it's helpful to have a real card to compare to. A real Magic card is neither so opaque as to not let light through nor is it so translucent that you can easily read the text underneath.
Many of the fakes will fail a closer inspection based on how they are being printed and inked. Instead of having a separate and crisp black in areas like the set symbol and the mana symbol, they are printed out as a single flat image. So you can see where the printing dots are bleeding over where they should not on a normal card.
Too Good To Be True
Even with the best precautions it's virtually impossible to keep a Magic card in a pristine condition. So it's often a dead giveaway when a fake looks too good. This is something to especially consider with older cards. You might keep all your expensive cards double sleeved and avoid riffle shuffling, but eventually over the years little nicks, dings, and scuffs will accumulate. There's a reason why the highest quality, outside of the super expensive cards which have more grading, is merely Near Mint. A fake will sometimes simply look too good for a card that's supposedly been around for years.
This is less of a test and more a final confirmation of a card being real or fake. Real cards have a blue layer of filament between the white front and backs. Nearly all fake cards will fail this test, though some will go through the trouble of trying to reproduce the blue or more commonly seen are rebacked cards. A rebacked card is where the front of one card and the back of another have been pulled apart and put back together. These tend to be pretty easy to spot however due to the edges and the feel of the card being glued back together.
As a final note, I do want to stress that none of these methods are 100% fool proof. There are plenty of other testing methods as well, but these should get you through most situations. WotC and the community are continually working to curtailing counterfeiting and your chances of encountering fake cards are going to vary, but a little diligence goes a long way to protecting yourself.