It's the holiday season, and with that comes a dramatic increase in sales for every industry, including Trading Card Games.
But where there are customers, there are always predators hoping to capitalize on the vulnerable; people looking to cheat you out of your hard-earned cash. Today we're going to be discussing counterfeiters: people who make fake Yu-Gi-Oh cards to try and take advantage of one of the world's largest TCG markets, and the innocent friends, partners, and parents who just want to give that special person in their life the perfect gift.
I got a phone call today from my local EB Games. They know me down there as the Yu-Gi-Oh guy. I buy most of their sealed product, and they're well aware that I operate the biggest fansite in the world dedicated to the game. So when customers come in with questions, it's not uncommon that those questions get relayed to me.
A kind woman was trying to find the card Thousand Knives, for her 8 year-old son. It was the first and only time in my 20 years of playing Yu-Gi-Oh that somebody wanted that card, and she wasn't even sure what it was, what it cost, and so on. I fetched one from my Speed Duel binder, drove it down there and just gave it to her. But not everyone has a Dan on speed dial they can contact when it's time to try and tell the good from the bad.
So what can you as a friend or family member from outside the hobby, do to educate yourself? Shopping for Yu-Gi-Oh isn't hard, but there are some pitfalls and complexities of Yu-Gi-Oh's secondary market you'll want to avoid.
For starters, the rules of shopping in any industry definitely apply here: you get what you pay for. If a deal seems too good to be true it probably is, and websites like Wish are the first places you'll want to avoid. I know of no scenario in which a legitimate Yu-Gi-Oh card has ever been sold or bought on Wish.
Shopping in appropriate settings, like dedicated tournament stores certified by Konami, is guaranteed to send you home with something legitimate that's priced fairly. You can find an Official Tournament Store near you with Konami's locator tool here.
If you're willing to do a bit more homework, you can also shop sites like eBay or facebook marketplace. That can save you money, but it means you'll have to identify any potential fakes for yourself. That's what we're here for today.
If you're trying to assess the risk of a purchase, start by remembering that scammers need to make sure the effort they put in, is going to make them a return as often as possible. Logically, you're not going to find a fake copy of the card Disenchanter, simply because nobody would want to buy it.
The more expensive, and more importantly the more famous a card is, the more careful you'll need to be. If you see ten eBay listings for a card and nine of them are priced at $500, but one of them is $200, odds are good that there's something wrong with the low-priced listing.
If your purple card says "Amalgamation" instead of "Fusion," something's wrong
Once you're actually looking at a card you're thinking of purchasing, there are some classic things to look for that counterfeiters often get wrong.
For starters, legitimate Yu-Gi-Oh cards have a square foil stamp in the bottom right corner of Yu-Gi-Oh's 'Eye of Anubis' symbol. That foil square is gold on a 1st Edition card, and silver on an Unlimited Edition card. (You can tell if a card is 1st Edition by looking for text on the card that reads "1st Edition", which looks like this.)
Monster cards also have stars above the artwork, and an attribute symbol in the top right. You can use websites like yugipedia.com to find up-to-date, accurate images of the card you want in high-resolution, and compare them against whatever cards you're looking at. If the card you're considering buying looks different than the reference copy, that's a big concern.
The hardest thing to fake on Yu-Gi-Oh cards is often the font, so be sure to compare that. Rarity details like foil technology, and the actual text on the card are so much effort to replicate that no fake card is ever truly going to bother. Most counterfeiters simply take an image of the card off of google - often a screenshot from the TV show no less - and slap it on the card frame. That often results in ridiculously incorrect card names, and text riddled with typos and bad grammar. It can border on hilarious: Nin-Ken Dog is not called "Dog Sufferer", nor is Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon called "QJ. Dragon of Cyan Eye."
Check out these two printings of [Obelisk the Tormentor](Obelisk the Tormentor (Ultra Rare). The legitimate version is on the left, while the counterfeit on the right has glaring issues like the font on "[DIVINE-BEAST]" and the rest of the card text, as well as the "4000" for the ATK and DEF in the lower right. Or just read the flavor text for typos like "burning wibds" and "with the coning of this horror."
Sometimes you've just gotta burn the wibds and cone the horror
Every card has what's called a set ID, and it's the true metric of identification: many cards, like Blue-Eyes White Dragon, have over 100 different printings with different artwork and different rarities; the only way to know which one you're looking at is to look up the set ID.
At the bottom right of the card artwork, in the mid-section of the card, will be a sequence of letters and numbers. This text string, such as the example here of MAGO-EN001, is simply three or four letters identifying the set. In this case that set is Maximum Gold, abbreviated to "MAGO". There are also two letters showing the language EN, English; and then a number that denotes the specific card, in this case 001. Taken all together, the set code is unique, so you can use it to look up a card and make comparisons.
MAGO-EN001 is Maximum Gold's printing of Blue-Eyes White Dragon, as seen above. No other card will have that specific set code.
If you take the set ID and pop it into Yugipedia's search bar, you'll find the card you're looking for and a high-res scan of the card to match with what you've found. You can also pop that same set ID into eBay, or search for the card here on TCGplayer, and look at completed listings or TCGplayer's Market Price to get a recent appraisal of what you should realistically expect to pay for it.
That Blue-Eyes is currently $26 in the TCGplayer Marketplace, so if you see one for $5 on eBay there's probably something wrong with it.
The last thing to mention is a term you may see while you're shopping for Yu-Gi-Oh online: "orica." It's a shortened term that stands for "original card," fan-made imitation cards created by aspiring artists. They usually just want to make their own vision of a Yu-Gi-Oh card they designed, or add new illustrations and finishes to old favorites.
If you ever see the word "orica" in a card listing, you can know immediately that the seller is somebody deliberately creating a fake card and trying to be above board about it; they aren't trying to take advantage of buyers or be malicious. They're just a hobbyist, and they're in no way representing their creation s an official product; rather something they've created for a different purpose. These cards are illegal in tournaments and not what your family member, spouse, or friend is looking for.
I hope this helps in your hunt for that perfect gift! The best thing you can do to protect yourself and support the game is simply to seek sealed product from Official Tournament Stores. You can never go wrong with the latest releases, and humble store managers will be all too happy to assist you in navigating the sea of Yu-Gi-Oh products at your fingertips. The hottest item this holiday is definitely Maximum Gold, with the Speed Duel Battle City Box being the best value for young children and new beginners.
Have a wonderful holiday!