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I bought a pair of Star Realms decks to allow play with up to 4 people. To make it easier to separate the decks for 2-player play, I was thinking I'd mark one of the decks on the front, with a small mark.

However, does this somehow convey any information that wouldn't be available with unmarked cards? Or is knowing which deck the card came from irrelevant in gameplay?

  • Just sleeve each deck with a different colour, red deck, blue deck. – Valamas Jan 13 '15 at 21:01
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    @Valamas wouldn't that give you massive hints in the early-game about if (e.g.) the next card you draw would be a purchased ship or from your starter deck? – Nick T Jan 13 '15 at 21:33
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    true enough. I have been thinking about your situation previously. I have 3 decks sleeved the same colour. So using different sleeve colours would mean in the early game that you would most probably know a card is a purchased card. I am now considering placing a small sticker dot on the inside of the sleeve or colouring the corner of the front sleeve. With any option not being visible when the card is face down and without marking or damaging the original card. – Valamas Jan 13 '15 at 22:38
  • I'd suggest sleeving the cards, and then marking one set of sleeves with Sharpie. – aslum Jan 19 '17 at 19:51
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No relevant information is conveyed by marking the front of a card. All cards with the same name are totally interchangeable, regardless of whether they are marked.

Logical example

You have two Vipers in your deck. One is marked, and one is not. There are four possible situations.

  1. You draw both Vipers.
    • You know that both Vipers are in your hand.
  2. You draw the marked Viper.
    • You know that one Viper is in your hand and one is in your deck.
    • You know that the Viper in your hand is marked. This provides no benefit to you.
    • You know that the Viper in your deck is unmarked. This provides no benefit to you.
  3. You draw the unmarked Viper.
    • You know that one Viper is in your hand and one is in your deck.
    • You know that the Viper in your hand is unmarked. This provides no benefit to you.
    • You know that the Viper in your deck is marked. This provides no benefit to you.
  4. You draw no Viper.
    • You know that both Vipers are in your deck.

Notice that the relevant information available to you is identical in situations 2 and 3. Only the irrelevant information is different.

Less logical example

Consider Magic: the Gathering along with every other card game that has foil, promo, alternate art, artistically modified (with restrictions), or otherwise "premium" cards. These are all tournament legal. If premium cards compromised the integrity of the game, I think someone would have spoken up by now.

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    Regarding your "Less logical example": There can be a disadvantage for you if you use the same card multiple times but with a different artwork (or any other way to make the copies distinguishable). E.g. you may give your opponent the information that you have multiple copies of a card in your hand (which he/she may have not get to know if those card had the same artwork). It's a quite rare scenario in MtG but in e.g. Android: Netrunner, giving your opponent that information could be fatal. – sloth Jan 20 '15 at 10:09
  • Yeah, MtG is not actually a good example: pro players do make sure that copies of cards are indistinguishable. For a link about that as well as proof that even in Star Realms it can make a (very small) difference, see my answer. – Benjamin Cosman Jan 17 '17 at 21:30
  • @BenjaminCosman We interpreted the question differently. I interpreted the question to mean "Does marking the front of a card give away information?", not "Does marking the front of a card allow information to be given away?". Your answer addresses the latter better than mine does. – Rainbolt Jan 17 '17 at 22:28
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Whether or not the information matters most of the time, you could mark the cards with invisible ink and then it wouldn't show up while playing. Keep a small black light with the game and you can use it to sort out the cards.

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    Providing an alternative solution is a legitimate way to answer a question. If the cards are marked with invisible ink, then they appear unmarked during gameplay, and thus cannot convey extra information. – Rainbolt Dec 1 '15 at 14:40
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Tl;dr: Go ahead and mark the cards - the difference in gameplay is real but negligible.

Here is one of the rare scenarios where it makes a difference, and even then it's a tiny one: Your opponent knows you are holding card X but does not know your whole hand - in particular, they don't know that you're holding a second copy of X.¹ Then they force a discard (e.g. with Imperial Frigate) and you discard an X. Now if the two copies of X are indistinguishable, your opponent can't tell you're holding another one - for all they know you discarded the one they knew about. But if one is marked then you have to be careful: if you discarded the X they didn't know about, they can tell that you're still holding the other one and can make the remaining decisions of their turn with that information in mind.

In Star Realms this issue is small enough that you should ignore it, but e.g. in pro Magic, similar considerations make it commonplace for players to avoid using multiple versions of the same card.

¹This can happen if they return a base to your hand (e.g. with Mega Mech), or if they can remember all your cards so that when you draw the last couple, shuffle, and draw a few more, they know the pre-shuffle draws by process of elimination.

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