Foils are slightly thicker than regular cards, more stiff, and are usually a bit curved. Even with sleeves it's possible to tell if a face down card is foil by looking at it or feeling/bending it a bit. (Is there a legitimate situation where you could be given the chance to feel/bend a card that's not revealed?)

Another thing is whether the card (sleeved or not) is pointing up or down while in the library. I always sleeve my cards and make sure they are all facing the same direction, but as far as I know it's not required. It would be easy to turn one card upside down so I know when it's on the top of my library.

It seems like these two things could be used to cheat. Are there any rules about this? Is it even an issue?

  • 1
    I think the main rule to keep in mind is "cheating is against the rules".
    – Cascabel
    Aug 31, 2013 at 20:50
  • Clarification: I'm not trying to figure out how to cheat, I want to know if these things are against the rules or not. For example, what action (if any) can/should be taken if I notice cards aren't all pointing the right way (even if the player isn't doing it on purpose). Aug 31, 2013 at 22:13
  • 1
    My point was: the thing that is wrong here is cheating and you can handle it in the same way you would any other potential cheating (e.g. a nicked sleeve). Nits about specific details of the cheating are beyond the scope of the rules.
    – Cascabel
    Aug 31, 2013 at 22:15
  • This actually happened today to me in a casual game while I was riffle shuffling. I had one (mint) playset that was foil, and had a pretty good idea where at least one of those copies were in the deck... I did not confirm it, but I definitely felt which cards were harder to bend. Sep 7, 2013 at 1:31
  • With regard to unsleeved cards facing the wrong way, keep in mind that you are also allowed (at all levels, explicitly) to shuffle your opponent's deck before each game; whenever I notice that some cards are facing different directions in my opponent's deck I just do a couple of iterations of a bridge-shuffle, turning half the cards the opposite way before melding the two piles together. While this has the disadvantage of letting 'real' cheaters get away with it in future, it also handles the issue in an efficient and non-confrontational way. Sep 17, 2013 at 20:37

2 Answers 2


The rules simply say that you cannot have marked cards, without enumerating all the specific ways they might be marked. From section 3.11 of the tournament rules:

A card or sleeve is considered marked if it bears something that makes it possible to identify the card without seeing its face, including scratches, discoloration, and bends.

So if someone is actually able to identify cards by messing with their orientation, or determining whether they're a foil, or anything else, they're breaking the rules. (Note that bends are explicitly mentioned, so that part of "is it a foil" is right out.)

Exactly how someone might get caught doing this and what the consequences are of course depends on the situation and the level of play. If someone accidentally has a card turned the wrong way at FNM, I doubt they'll be thrown out of the building. But if you're at a serious tournament and you notice your opponent carefully feeling the thickness of the top card of their library, things probably aren't going to go well for them.

In any case, the takeaway here for everyone is sleeve your cards and don't cheat. Cheating is bad, and if you think you see it, call a judge. But at an FNM or a kitchen table, it's possible to be friendly about little things. If there's a card out of place, just talk to your opponent, and fix things. They're probably a person who just like you is trying to play Magic and not cheat, and all it takes is a few words to turn the card around and get back to the game. I don't think any of this is a real problem - it's a kind of dumb way to try to cheat, one that won't ever get you much information - but if you do suspect it's happening, just pretend you're dealing with nicked sleeves and handle it however you'd handle that.

  • I'm not asking because I want to cheat, I want to prevent others from cheating. So should I call a judge at FNM if someone has an upside down card in their deck? What about high level events? Or make sure they all point the same way while shuffling my opponent's deck? Even if a foil isn't bent, it is always thicker. Are there legit situations where a player might have the chance to "feel" a card he's not supposed to see? I mean, you're allowed to play with foils of course, right? Aug 31, 2013 at 22:10
  • @WesleyMurch Handle it how you would handle noticing a slightly damaged sleeve. At an FNM, I assume you'd just say "hey, you should replace that sleeve", so you can also say "hey, you should turn that card back the right way", without needing to involve a judge. If later you notice that all their sleeves have teeny nicks in different places, or that there are a few cards turned the wrong way every game, then call a judge. Of course you can always ask a judge if you're not sure!
    – Cascabel
    Aug 31, 2013 at 22:16
  • Any way I can prevent it, within the scope of the rules? When my opponent presents their deck to me before a game, am I allowed to arrange the cards so they all point the right way before I shuffle it? Aug 31, 2013 at 22:19
  • @WesleyMurch If they are bona fide cheating, call a judge and show them the strategically turned cards, don't just turn them back and make your opponent unable to cheat. If it's a one time careless mistake, like I said, your opponent is a person too and you can talk to them and sort it out. If you told me one of my cards was backwards I'd say "oops", turn it, reshuffle to make extra sure, and we'd move on, no need for a big rules discussion.
    – Cascabel
    Aug 31, 2013 at 22:21
  • And if there's doubt in your mind about which situation you're in, just call a judge. This stuff isn't explicitly in the tournament rules, so if there's an actual dispute that you can't resolve with your opponent, they're the one you need to talk to.
    – Cascabel
    Aug 31, 2013 at 22:22

As others have said, this all depends on the judge. As an example of what can happen, I'll tell you about a recent case with me.

After initial shuffle in game one, two judges came and asked to do a deck check on both me and my opponent. They took our decks away, while we sat there awkwardly talking. Much later, they came back and said that both of our decks were officially "marked" because our sleeves were worn in a way where we could theoretically tell which card was which.

It took them a long time to do the deck check because a group of four judges were all trying to figure out if we had done so on purpose. To do that, they carefully looked at which cards were worn and if there is a pattern. Turns out, both me and my opponent were just playing with old sleeves. Some of the worn cards were basic lands, some where win conditions, some were just random non-special cards. We were allowed to play out our match, and had to resleeve our decks between matches. No big deal.

That example gets to the heart of what the rules really are: the judge has absolute power in determining what is and is not "marked." They have to because if the rules gave a list of the things that were considered cheating, a crafty cheater would just find a new way. But also notice that neither me nor my opponent got in any real trouble. The rules care about intent. If all of your win conditions are upside down, it's unlikely that happened by accident -- you are probably cheating. If one random land is upside down you probably just dropped a card and put it back into your deck wrong. If about 50% are upside down you probably flipped half when shuffling. Only one of those cases is grounds for getting in real trouble.

Since you asked specifically about foils, there have been cases where someone was playing with all-foil lands, and no-foil spells. I don't remember if they got a warning or a game loss, but they were told to swap out the lands with non-foil versions.

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