Hello everyone! Wizards of the Coast has just launched legal action against multiple Magic counterfeiters. I've been working on this article on-and-off for a number of years and now seems like a great time to finally finish it up and get it out there to the public.
Counterfeiting is bad for Magic.
This is a simple statement and one that I believe most of you would agree with without any need for further explanation. Still it can't hurt to discuss why counterfeits are bad and what the Wizards legal action means to you.
Before I get into counterfeits I want to go over some things that are NOT going to get you in trouble with Wizards of the Coast:
1) Writing "Black Lotus" on the back of a basic land and using it as a proxy at your kitchen table
2) Using artist-altered cards at DCI-sanctioned events (though tournament legality is always at the discretion of the head judge of any given event!)
3) Running non-sanctioned Vintage tournaments where the proxies being used don't infringe on any Wizards copyrights (i.e. the old SCG Power 9 Proxy series proxy—use a basic land write the text of the card in black marker don't use Wizards artwork/photocopies)
All of these things? They're okay! You aren't trying to mass-produce counterfeits with the intent to defraud the public and profit off copyrighted and trademarked materials! The people that Wizards are going after are people who are trying to pass off counterfeit cards as "real" or "unofficial proxies" by having them get as close to the real thing as possible.
I've been buying cards from people for nearly a decade now and the absolute worst is when I come across a counterfeit card in someone's collection. Invariably it's a no-win situation for everyone involved. I have to tell the person that I believe their card is fake. This leaves me (or any other vendor) in a situation where we are leaving a customer with a negative experience that (unfairly) is associated with our company. The customer has often paid cash or traded cards to get this counterfeit so now they are out money.
So why is counterfeiting wrong? Again what I'm about to say is obvious but it needs to be said: Counterfeits are illegal in a strict sense of "legal or not legal." Virtually every Magic counterfeit I've ever seen is of lower quality than a real Magic card. They are almost always a different thickness than a real Magic card which is a huge edge for people who are looking to use counterfeits to cheat.
In a more macro-sense the existence of counterfeits lowers the value of Magic as a brand. Wikipedia has a great article about Counterfeit money and they highlight the following points:
Some of the ill-effects that counterfeit money has on society are:
1. Reduction in the value of real money
2. Increase in prices (inflation) due to more money getting circulated in the economy—an unauthorized artificial increase in the money supply
3. Decrease in the acceptability (satisfactoriness) of money—payees may demand electronic transfers of real money or payment in another currency (or even payment in a precious metal such as gold)
4. Companies are not reimbursed for counterfeits. This forces them to increase prices of commodities.
This is exactly the case with Magic. Let's go straight to the top and use Black Lotus as an example. There were 1100 Alpha 3200 Beta and 18500 Unlimited copies of Black Lotus produced for a total of 22800 Black Lotus printed by Wizards of the Coast (we're not going to include the 15000 Collectors' Edition copies which are not tournament legal). The value of Black Lotus is determined by a number of factors but one of the chief factors is true rarity of the card; there just isn't a huge supply of Black Lotus in existence.
Let's take one of these counterfeiters and say they produce 100 fake Beta Black Lotus. While 100 seems like a low number this is roughly 3% of the entire existing supply of Beta Black Lotus. Running it through the conditions above:
1) The value of real Beta Black Lotus will fall because people will be selling these counterfeits either on websites through eBay or in person and undercutting people who have genuine Beta Black Lotus.
2) As the value of the highest-tier card drops counterfeiters will move onto the next card (Moxen / other Power 9 cards) and they will continue to be devalued as will the cards being traded for them.
3) When mass-counterfeits hit the market people will be afraid to buy "real" Black Lotus both because of the fear of them being counterfeit or because they are afraid that a real Black Lotus will continue to have its value diminished because of counterfeits.
4) Wizards of the Coast and every Magic retailer will have to spend time and manpower (money) to weed through counterfeits because the risk to Wizards is to devalue their brand as a whole and the risk to a retailer is buying a counterfeit (valueless) card and losing all the money invested into the fake card.
Do I believe that at this time there is a huge issue with counterfeit Magic cards? No but I believe it's because of the vigilance that Wizards of the Coast shows in protecting their brand. Today's legal action is further proof that Wizards takes this very seriously and that they have the long-term interests of the viability of Magic as a Collectible Card Game at heart.
Mike Elliott wrote a great article back in 2004 about Counterfeiting and Magic for MagicTheGathering.com—I highly recommend checking it out here: http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/feature/209
Thank you all very much for your time and as always all commentary questions and observations are welcomed in the comments section below!
- Director of Sales StarCityGames.com