Building a collection of Magic the Gathering cards, or similar playing cards, takes time. More importantly, it takes a lot of investment, especially if you’re trying to collect the rare unicorns that every collector is hoping to get. However, simply building a collection is the first step.
To truly protect your investment, you first need to figure out how to protect your cards. Here are 4 simple hacks that will help you do exactly that. Some of these require no significant investment, while others might need a bit more effort and time on your part.
Why Do Playing Cards Require Protection?
Most playing cards started out as a fun hobby, or a fun game to play with your friends. After skyrocketing in popularity, some of the games and their cards have also skyrocketed in value. When playing cards were first created, no one really thought they would be used for anything other than playing, nor that anyone would try to preserve them in mint condition.
As a result, most cards are built to a spec that doesn’t lend itself well to long-term storage without the use of specialized products.
Playing cards, especially those that have seen some use, tend to suffer from the following:
- Dirt and Yellowing – Used playing cards are exposed to far more than just environmental factors. An active deck has to deal with the oils produced by your skin, as well as any contaminant that is found on the surface you’re playing on. Your local game store’s play mat isn’t the cleanest surface in the world. As a result, you’ll find that frequently used cards tend to become dirty, often showing yellowing on the edges.
- Liquid Damage – Liquids are a major risk to all products made of paper or cellulose. Spilling anything on your playing cards is enough to cause irreversible damage. No matter how careful people are, spilling soda, water or anything else on cards is a common occurrence in the community. There are tragic tales of Mox Jets and even Black Lotus cards being lost to a can of soda.
- Physical Damage – Physical damage is another common card killer. Bent ears, bent cards, crease marks, and other symptoms happen far more often than most people think. Just like liquid damage, physical damage is permanent. You can try different methods of restoring a card, but it will always be damaged, thus losing its value.
With all the risks involved, is it possible to have a tournament deck with all the good cards, use it on occasion, and still have its value preserved? Absolutely! There are several ways to do exactly this. If you were to walk into any large tournament, you’d see an incredible amount of extremely rare cards being dropped on play mats all over. Here’s how those players keep their investment safe!
- Card Sleeves
Given enough resources, you can protect a card in a way that will preserve its pristine conditions for millennia to come. However, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to play your favorite game with a card that is packing so much armor. The problem with protecting cards was never about ensuring that they retain a certain condition, but rather to have them retain value in a way that allows you to still use them in a playing deck.
One of the best solutions to date is card sleeves. A card sleeve is a composite sleeve that puts a rugged, physical barrier between your card and the surrounding environment. It’s a solid shield that keeps all the contaminants on the outside, while you’re still able to use the card during a tournament.
What Makes a Good Sleeve?
With all that said, not all card sleeves are created equal. For one, the sleeve has to be durable. Protection being the primary objective of card sleeves means that the sleeve needs to withstand a certain level of physical manipulation without giving way.
The material used to make the sleeve needs to be durable — rigid yet flexible enough to allow for the normal use of playing cards during a tournament. There are also custom card sleeves made by select companies, check them out to see what they offer. We’ll go further into customs sleeves a bit later in the guide. That being said, dimensions and fit are the next critical factor.
The way a sleeve fits into a card is important. In fact, it’s one of the most important factors to a sleeve’s quality. A loose-fitting sleeve won’t do anyone any good, especially in terms of proper storage. For one, a sleeve that is too big for a card will allow the said card to move around inside. Worse yet, it will allow other things to get inside the sleeve and damage the card even while it’s in storage.
Texture, Glare, and Other Questions
Sleeves come in many flavors. There are textured sleeves that offer superior grip during use, as well as sleeves that have no glare. Some sleeves have flush edges, while others have a small lip on the outer rim of the sleeve.
The truth is that most of these features and attributes are not a factor when it comes to the protective ability of sleeves. Instead, they are a matter of personal taste and preferences
Custom sleeves are an awesome way to make your collection stand out from the rest. Many use custom sleeves as a form of team swag where entire teams run the same kind of sleeve. That being said, a custom sleeve allows you to add an image of your choice to the back of the sleeve. You can also add text, and have your custom image edited to better fit the sleeve.
- Double Sleeving
There’s another reason why snug-fitting sleeves are a must — double sleeving. Double sleeving is a practice where you place the card in one sleeve, and then place the already sleeved card in another, larger sleeve.
The point of double sleeving is simple — you’re adding one more layer of protection, thus reducing the chances of your cards being damaged even further.
- Storage Binders
The next hack that can help you maintain your cards in pristine condition is to store them in a binder. If you can’t find a binder that is matching your needs, you can get yourself a photo album instead. Photo albums are perfect for storing cards as they are purpose-made to store media that is very similar to playing cards. Not to mention the fact that photo albums come with pockets already built into them.
A storage binder will keep your cards flat, fully protected from the elements, and ready to go as soon as you need them. Plus, it’s the perfect vehicle to move the cards around. Using a binder or a photo album in combination with card sleeves is the ultimate varsity move. That way, you’re getting double the protection
- Silica Gel Packets
Last but not least, we need to talk about silica gel packets. Moisture is the silent killer of playing cards. You can do everything right, starting with using card sleeves, placing your cards in a binder, being extra careful not to use cards around liquids, etc. Yet, you can suffer significant damage to your collection while the cards are in storage, all due to moisture.
The adverse effects of moisture and humidity are nothing new. Electronics and other sensitive products have been dealing with this issue for decades. One of the most common, and most popular solutions is the use of silica gel.
Silica gel is a form of silicon dioxide that has an awesome ability to absorb 40% of its weight in moisture. In other words, a single packet of silica gel can absorb quite a bit of moisture from its immediate surroundings.
However, that’s not all. Silica gel can also regulate moisture to an extent. In other words, if there’s too much moisture, the gel will absorb some of it. But, if there’s not enough moisture and the surrounding gel packet becomes extremely dry, the gel will then release some of the moisture back into the environment.
Needless to say, you don’t want your cards exposed to too much moisture, but you don’t want them staying in extremely dry conditions for too long either. Because of that, the use of silica gel is not only recommended but a must for any serious collectors.
Protect Your Investment
Protecting your collection of playing cards is the best way to ensure their value in the long run. Is it easy and cheap? Not necessarily. But it’s much cheaper to invest in a good set of card sleeves than it is to deal with badly damaged cards.
If you follow the tips listed above, you should end up with a collection that is both protected from the most common risks, and ready to be used in a tournament without any significant prep. As for your truly unique cards, there is always an option of grading them and having them sealed in hard cases. Of course, that means using them in a tournament could be tricky.