Artist proofs ("APs") are factory-produced Magic cards on the front side but are blank white (unprinted) on the back side rather than having the normal printed Magic card back. The first artist proofs were printed at the same time as Collectors Edition and have square corners just like Collectors Edition cards. They are known as "beta artist proofs" because the card set is identical to beta. Wizards of the Coast distributed around 50 copies of each beta artist proof to the artist who created each respective featured artwork. Artists sold, gave away, or threw away their artist proofs over the years. These are the only authentic beta artist proofs.
Other Types of White-Backed Beta Cards
There are two other principal sources of cards with beta card fronts and white backs. Often these are misrepresented by a seller (sometimes intentionally and sometimes unknowingly) as being beta artist proofs, or as being "NFC artist proofs". Despite the general resemblance, these are not artist proofs and should never be referred to as such.
- NFC (not factory cut) white-back cards, which were cut from full glossy white-back beta / Collectors Edition / artist proof sheets after they left the factory. A number of such sheets were given to early employees and investors in Wizards of the Coast and are sometimes referred to as "founder's sheets" or "VIP sheets".
- CE / ICE cards which have had the original MTG back removed. These cards are also referred to as matte-backed. The first known early versions of these cards came out of Singapore in 2006 and were sold on eBay. They are known in the industry as “Singapore Specials”. They started out with clearly distinguishable sand paper marks. As time went on, the producer improved their process to the point where the directional sand paper marks were indistinguishable. This may have been due to some other process for removal of the backs. Matte-backed white-backs sometimes were later coated or varnished to resemble the glossy coated stock of authentic beta APs. Prior to 2006, however, it is certain that matte-backs were already in circulation as early as 2005 based on a known specimen sketched by one of the Power 9 artists. Also, at least one other artist said they received a matte-back artist proof from Wizards of the Coast as part of the 50 they received. For these reasons, all matte-backs are referred to as “unknown origin”.
Identifying NFC White-Back Cards
There are several aspects of NFC white-back cards that may differ compared to an authentic beta artist proofs of the same card. Some NFCs may only differ clearly from an authentic proof by one or two of these features, so it is important to understand and inspect all of them.
- Edges. Edges of NFC cards are sometimes rough, flared or pinched. You can examine the card edges using a jeweler's loupe and compare them to those of a known genuine beta artist proof or a CE / ICE card.
- Curl. A blank beta AP should lie completely flat. Any curl or warp in the cardstock is a warning sign that the card could be a NFC from a white-back founder's sheet that has been stored rolled up. However, if the back of the AP is painted, it may warp even if it is genuine.
- Centering. Beta artist proofs were cut at the same time as the CE / ICE print run, so any specific card as a beta proof, CE card and ICE card would all exhibit similar centering. It is very difficult to recreate the exact same centering of this factory print run when cutting NFCs from an uncut sheet. When checking for NFCs, if the white-back card's centering is significantly different from that found on an authentic corresponding beta AP, CE or ICE card, it is an indication that the card is NFC.
Identifying CE/ICE White-Back Cards
Authentic beta APs have glossy backs, and the gloss on the back of the card matches the gloss on the front of the card in both shine and texture. White-back cards derived from CE or ICE cards often have a matte back that is noticeably less glossy when compared with the white-back of an authentic beta AP. Sometimes a glossy coat has been applied to the CE / ICE white card back to resemble the coating found on beta APs, but but there will be subtle differences in gloss or texture when compared side-by-side with an authentic beta AP.For a video example of a CE/ICE-derived white-back card, see this video starting at time 04:15. To evaluate the gloss of a card back it is best to see the card in person prior to purchasing it. If this is not possible try to get a video of the card being moved around in the light to at least ensure that the white back appears glossy.
Signatures and Authenticity
Most Beta APs were signed when sold by the artist, so a lack of signature could indicate that it is fake, However, many authentic beta AP were sold or given away by artists unsigned, so lack of a signature does not mean conclusively that the card is fake, as it does in the case of a white-back card failing one of the previous inspections. Rather, it suggest that extra care should be taken to confirm that the card is authentic. In addition to carefully examining an unsigned card's physical attributes described above. you could also try to trace its provenance back to the artist. If a white-back card is signed, you should compare the signature against known genuine examples. If it has an inauthentic artist signature, that is a big warning sign that the card is not an authentic beta AP.
There have also been instances in which an artist unknowingly signed a white-back NFC or CE card, so the fact that a white-back card is signed by the artist should not be taken as evidence that it is authentic if it fails any of the previous tests.
Trusted Sources of Beta Artist Proofs
If you are just starting out collecting beta APs or if you want an extra measure of safety that the beta AP you are acquiring is authentic, there are a number of sources of beta APs that can be trusted to provide only authentic copies.
- Original Artist. If you purchase a beta AP directly from the artist or from that artist's agent, you can be confident that it is authentic.
- Specialist Dealer. A few highly reputable dealers specialize in buying and selling beta APs. Before selling a card, they will have performed the authentication process described above applying their expertise from having seen hundreds of authentic beta APs.
- Specialist Collector. There are several highly reputable collectors of beta APs. Often these collectors have acquired some duplicates they are willing to sell. Purchasing from one of these collectors should be equally as safe as purchasing from a specialist dealer.