Last updated on January 20, 2023
Roilmage’s Trick | Illustration by Johann Bodin
Cards are kind of important in Magic, believe it or not. It is a trading card game after all. And the cards that you play with in paper Magic, the ones you buy at your local game store, are printed by WotC. I mean, they’re outsourced to a printing press, but you get my point. Official cards are made and distributed by our Wizard overlords.
But what about cards that are printed by a third party?
I’m obviously talking about proxies. It’s in the title, I’m sure you’re not surprised. Proxies are a lot of things. They can be fun, but they’re controversial. In some cases, they’re even a little bit necessary. I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t afford a large majority of cards from Magic’s past that go for hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The reserved list ensures that a lot of them will probably never go for much less, but that’s neither here nor there.
But what is a proxy? Where can you get them? What’s the different between a proxy and a counterfeit card? I’m here to answer all of your questions on the topic. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
So, What Is a Proxy?
Easy Prey | Illustration by Ekaterina Burmak
I’m so glad you asked!
Proxies are basically just homemade copies or stand-ins for MTG cards. There’s a pretty wide range for how to make a “proxy.”
Some people just write the name and abilities on a piece of paper covering a reversed card in a sleeve, some write the name of a card on the back of a bulk card like basic lands, and many people just print out the card in question. The latter is the type of proxy I wanna talk about today.
Printed proxies might have different art, different abilities, or just be a straight up custom card that doesn’t exist in Magic. They also might just be a homemade version of a card that’s not feasible to get. Think the infamous Black Lotus. Some players also use them for more “authentic” playtesting of decks before they spend crazy amounts of money on them.
Obviously, you can’t use proxies in just any scenario. They’re perfect for kitchen table Magic, but anywhere outside of your own playgroup is either a straight up “no” or a “probably not.” It’s always best to check and make sure first in any case, but anything competitive or even vaguely non-casual is a heavy “almost definitely not.”
Proxies aren’t legal in MTG, and depending on how they’re made, they sometimes skirt the line of legal in general. Counterfeit cards and proxy cards aren’t technically the same. There is a distinction, but it can be a bit of a grey area.
If you’re looking for professionally printed proxies, our quick recommendation is PrintingProxies.com — they have every art version, fast shipping, and great looking proxies:
Proxies from PrintingProxies.com
The Fun Stuff: Ethics and Legality
True Conviction | Illustration by Ekaterina Burmak
Here’s the thing with proxies. There is technically a difference between proxy and counterfeit cards, but some people kind of use them interchangeably. Or they think a counterfeit card is actually a proxy card, or vice versa. It can get really messy sometimes, so let me clear the air before we get any further.
Proxy cards shouldn’t be indistinguishable from their official counterparts. That’s basically the main thing that separates proxies from counterfeits. If your proxy is very official-looking and it’s hard to tell that it’s a proxy, you’re getting into dangerous territory. I’ve talked about this before, so I’m basically just gonna say the same thing here as I did there.
You can’t just make MTG cards to sell or distribute. WotC owns the rights to the card’s artwork, either through first printing rights (most likely) or full purchased rights (less likely). Look-a-like Magic cards just for personal use are already toeing the line. Any printing service that knows what it’s doing will refuse to print Magic cards for you because they know that it’s copyrighted material and can’t print it without permission.
That being said, do I think Wizards is going to bust down your door because you printed a realistic-looking playset of the Power 9 to use at your kitchen table games? Probably not. Almost definitely not, actually. They might step in if you try to use them at your LGS or a DCI-sanctioned event, but personal use just isn’t worth their time or money.
That’s all the legal jargon, but what about ethics?
Greater Good | Illustration by Mathias Kollros
Using proxies in casual, everyday Magic is fine. What happens at your kitchen table games with your friends is between you and them. There is something to be said about the snowball effect of proxies. If it becomes a normal thing to proxy insanely expensive and powerful cards, you’re all probably going to end up doing it. Does it eventually lead to you proxying all Magic cards, even those that are easy to get your hands on and relatively cheap like current Standard sets? That’s going to end up in actual losses not just for WotC (boohoo), but likely for your LGS as well.
Realistically, I think proxies are ethically fine when it comes to anything on the reserved list, as a start. Basically any card that is just about impossible to find or wildly expensive if you ever do manage to find it. When it comes to any singles that you could potentially find at an LGS? I’m no longer on board, and you shouldn’t be either. LGS’ have enough problems competing with Wizards and their online discounts, alternatives, incentives, etc. They don’t need to be competing with proxies, too.
If you feel the need to hide your use of proxies, you’ve already got your answer as to whether or not you should be using them. I just don’t think you’re gonna like it.
Tournaments are a whole other bag. Any non-official cards are, I’m sure you guessed, not allowed in competitive play. DCI-sanctioned events will sometimes have judges print proxies if a card is accidentally damaged. Spill some water on the table? Proxy. Cards fall off the table and get squished? Proxy. Got tilted and shuffled your poor cards into a bent mess? Maybe try taking a few deep breaths before you ruin all your other decks.
“Accidentally” is also important there. Don’t go splashing water everywhere or throwing your cards around just cause you want a proxy. I’m not sure why you’d ever do that anyway, but I had to say it.
Getting Your Hands on Proxies
Now that I’ve gotten all the downers out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff. How do you make proxies, where can you get them, how to print them, etc.
Make Them Yourself
Whirlermaker | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez
The first and potentially easiest way to get proxies is to make them yourself. There are sites out there that will do the formatting for you. All you need is a printer, paper, ink, and some scissors! If you wanna get fancy there are some other supplies that will make your proxies prettier or nicer to hold, but those are the basics.
Before we get to the sites, the printer is kind of important. Any old printer will get the job done but it might not be what you’re expecting. Some printers are better than others in general, of course, but what’s the best printer for proxies? Inkjet printers are generally hailed as good options. If you want to really step up your game, though, laser color printers will be your best friend.
There’s a big tradeoff in quality depending on how much you invest, so if you only need a few, you may be better off just ordering them.
When it comes to proxy sites, I actually had some trouble finding a good one. My recommendation is going to go to Printing Proxies.
Their site is easy to use, has a mass card list upload, and they’ve got a bunch of options you can mess with for your proxies. You can print a whole deck at once, which is great. They’ve also got an easy dropdown menu where you can choose which version of each card you want to print.
Selecting editions at Printing Proxies
If you’re looking to make completely custom cards or want to use your own art, there are other options. The site also has every single card in Magic available and prints for you on demand.
Proxy Photoshop and PDF Templates
Valki, God of Lies | Illustration by Yongjae Choi
You could just use Photoshop if you’re already familiar with it. PDF templates give you something to work with, and you can find plenty of them online. They’re not even that difficult to make yourself if you’ve got a bit of time.
Then there’s Magic Set Editor, which looks pretty cool. You can use it to design your own cards to print or share online. It’s also got a stats window, which will give you some info about the cards you’ve designed like average mana cost, how many rares there are, and more. It lets you export to an HTML file, Apprentice, or CCG Lackey if you wanna play with them online. You can’t export high quality images, so this might not be the best option for you depending on what you want to do with them.
Where to Buy Proxies
If you don’t have a printer, don’t want a printer, or just don’t want to print proxies yourself, you can buy them. This is a very convenient way to get a Black Lotus or some dual land lookalikes for your cube at an affordable price.
However, you might get into some slippery slopes in terms of proxies versus counterfeits and the ethics of the whole thing, but I went over that already so we’ll just move on to some options for you.
You could also try your hand at eBay, Etsy, or even Reddit. Plenty of people have the means to print really nice looking and feeling proxies. eBay might get a little weird and counterfeit-y, though, so be careful over there. Etsy is a good spot, but you’ll probably have to provide the seller with the file you want printed. Reddit has some general proxy subs, and there are some for MTG proxies specifically, too.
How to Make Special Proxies
Did anybody here ever watch that show How It’s Made? I used to watch that all the time when I was a kid. Something about watching factory machines do the same thing over and over again and listening to the narrator’s soothing voice was super captivating.
As a result, I’m kind of way too into finding out how various things are made. It might be a bit of an obsession but it’s fine.
There are a few different ways you can make foil proxies at home. The best way is actually using existing foil cards. This guide tells you all you need to know, but I’ll go over a TL;DR version here.
You’re basically going to remove the ink from the card and then glue a transparent sheet onto the now-blank card. It’s pretty easy, and your result is going to look pretty awesome. You will need some patience to get this done, even if it’s relatively simple.
Before you start, make sure you’ve got a foil Magic card, double-sided tape, acetone, spray adhesive, transparent printer sheets, and a soft rag. You’ll obviously also need a color printer, somewhere to work, and a PDF of the card you’ll be printing.
Eldrazi Spawn token | Illustration by Veronique Meignaud
This is arguable the least controversial and ethically-questionable type of proxy. Tokens are a great way to customize your deck and making your own means you can use whatever art you want! This is probably the only thing that would ever get me into proxies or making them myself. I don’t really have a whole lot to say on the topic, so I’ll focus on what I’m interested in when in comes to token proxies.
MTGcardsmith is the most popular site that allows you to make your own MTG cards, and it’s honestly pretty awesome. You can check out what other people have made along with making your own. Pair that with a card editing software for any last-minute tweaks and you’re good to go!
If you’re into Cube at all, proxies might have come up before. Maybe you want to create a higher-powered cube for you and your friends or just something fun and crazy with custom cards. Everything I’ve already mentioned gives you a base for how to make your own proxies or where to get them, but making a cube means you’re going to need proxies in bulk.
This reddit thread has plenty of helpful options for you on how to make hundreds of proxies easily and for relatively cheap. If you’ve got a printer you could just print out the cards you want on regular paper and then sleeve them with reversed MTG cards. Some proxy printing sites were also offered as an option, or printing PDFs at an office store or the post office.
Powering Down Proxies
Angel of Finality | Illustration by Howard Lyon
Well, that was a lot. But we’re done now, and I’ve only got a few more things to say before we can both move on with our days.
WotC hasn’t said too much on the subject of proxies over the years, but they have said some things. They’ve got a whole post from back in 2016 after some LGS debacle on the subject of proxies and counterfeits. They mostly talk about DCI-sanctioned events, but they also mention counterfeits and playtest cards. Basically, you can’t use proxies/playtest cards at DCI-sanctioned events, Wizards is very against counterfeit cards (surprise surprise), and they don’t care about proxy/playtest cards made for personal use.
Their definition of proxy/playtest cards is super basic, only including when a card has the info for another card written over it. They specifically mention that playtest/proxy cards don’t have official art, though, which isn’t surprising. Even if they’re not going to go after people for printing MTG cards with official art for personal use, they still have to uphold their legal right to do that. If Wizards went around being honest about the fact that doing it for personal use probably won’t get their attention, they’d lose a lot of legal ground.
I’m not surprised by their stance on all of this, and I’m not surprised on their vagueness when it comes to what they actually consider a proxy/playtest card. It’s also probably very intentional that they used the word “playtest” and not “proxy,” but that’s a whole other conversation.
I’m about out of juice for the day, so I’m gonna wrap it up now. What are your thoughts on proxies? Ethical, not ethical, do you care at all? Does the format they’re used in change your stance at all? Let me know in the comments down there, or hop over to our Discord for a longer chat!
I should probably plug something else before I go, right? I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned our Facebook page, so here you go. Bet you didn’t even know we had one of those. Well, we do, and there it is.
Thanks for your time, and I’m about out of words now. Have a good one!
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I am very happy with MTG Print service (https://mtgprint.cardtrader.com). Copy and paste a deck, click the print button, and you get the PDF with all the cards nicely lined out!
Really excellent write-up! thanks for covering the topic so thoroughly for someone looking for an intro to proxies. I just want to try building a CEDH deck without the entry price.
You’re very welcome! Glad you found it useful.