As surprising as it can be, collecting and trading cards have interested millions of people for quite a long time. At one point, Magic The Gathering made its appearance and people started using collectible cards to play a new game where players compete against each other using a strategically curated deck . Collectively, these games are called Trading Card Games (TGCs) and they are all based on sets of cards with variable rarity that you usually need to hunt in order to create a strong deck and beat your opponents. Disregarding if you want to be The Very Best or the King of Games, these games typically involve a lot of creativity, strategy and, of course, a lot of cards.
The thrill of opening a pack of cards searching for the one card you love is one of best sides of Trading Card Games and I will always remember opening my first Pokémon Booster pack dreaming of getting Ninetales, one of my favourite characters at the time. I know a lot of people out there can relate and we all know that you can never have enough cards in your collection.
Of course, the TGC cards are not just collectible items as they are designed to be played with. In fact, Trading Cards Games are very challenging games which require a clear vision and a strategic approach in order to win.
TGCs are also an amazing way to meet like-minded people and to socialize with others locally, thing that can also help you getting started. When asked, any fan of TGCs will surely be able to tell you the best starter deck or product to learn the ropes of their favourite game. However, if you are new to this world you may have more practical questions about Trading Cards Games: How do I store my Cards? What items do I need in order to play? What is the Meta?
When I started getting into Trading Card Games I honestly had tons of questions and I found somehow not easy to get some good guidance on the more general aspects of the hobby. With this in mind, I though of putting together a guide to help anyone who is interested in getting into TGCs. I am not an expert by any means and the guide is not designed to be comprehensive but I hope it can provide some help to anyone who wants to just collects cards or to those that want to get into casual or competitive playing. Of course, if you are looking for some suggestions on which game to play, once you have finished reading you may also want to look here.
Tip1: Not All The Cards Are The Same
All TGCs games are based around a single product unit called “Booster pack” that contains a fixed amount of cards. A certain number of booster packs are then sold together as a “Booster Box” and a number of Booster Box can be sold as a “Case”.
In each Booster pack and Box, you will always find not only the same amount of cards but also the same rarity distribution. For example, each Pokémon booster pack contains 10 game cards of which 4 are commons, 3 are uncommons, and 3 are foils with at least one that is a rare or higher rarity card.
TGCs have multiple levels of rarity for their cards and this level may significantly differ from game to game, For example Digimon cards can be Rare, Super Rare and Secret Rare together with Alternate arts, Gold and Silver foil variants of the last two categories. Promo cards are also distributed as part of some card sets or as prizes for events and tournaments. Each Booster Box may also come with some additional bonus cards (Box toppers).
Understanding the pull rates of packs, boxes and cases will help you plan your purchases accordingly. You will always have a slight chance to pull the rarest card of a set just by opening a
single booster pack but you also need to be prepared to find tons and tons of common cards.
Tip2: Cards Sleeves Are Your Best Friend
Once your first booster pack opened, you may find yourself with a card you love or with an awesome rare card among a lot of other cards. Unfortunately, disregarding how nice they are, Trading Card Games cards are essentially printed cardboard and as such they can be subjected to wear and tear.
The most simple way to protect your cards is to sleeve them. Card sleeves are a sheath of plastic into which a card is inserted and they are available in different formats and sizes. The rigid top loader sleeves, for example, offer a high level of protection but they require more storage space and they are not suitable for playing with the trading cards. On the opposite end, soft sleeves are perfect for playing Trading Card Games although the protection they offer depends on the thickness of the material. The cheapest 20 µm sleeves (“penny sleeve”) can be used to protect all the cards in your collection while the thicker ones (>60 µm) are suitable to protect your cards while playing.
To complicate your life even further, sleeves can be used to protect already sleeved cards to create up to three layers of protection. The most common situation is to use a thin “inner” or “perfect fit” sleeve of almost the same size of the card before adding a standard-size sleeve over it. In other cases, you can add an “over” or “3rd skin” sleeve to your standard sleeve. This is usually the case when your standard sleeve is a decorated one and you want to protect it from being damaged during playing.
In both cases, the aim is to protect your cards as best as you can by making sure that the opening of the first sleeve faces the bottom of the other sleeve, thus effectively sealing the card from dust and humidity. Nothing prevents you from using all three layers of sleeves although this is usually not needed.
I will avoid to get into the discussion about how many colours and nice graphics your sleeves may have but believe me, there are a lot to choose from.....
Tip3: You Now Have Too Many Cards: What About A Storage Solution?
Disregarding you “only” wanted to collect some cards or “only” to build some good decks to play, it is very likely you would soon face the need to find an efficient way to store all your cards. Luckily, there is a wide range of products for this scope that can easily fit any need and any budget. Most important, you do not need to commit to an expensive and complex solution from the beginning and you can adapt your storage options to fit your progresses in your chosen Trading Card Games (or Game).
The most common place to start is to take care of the deck you use to play. As mentioned previously, all your cards should be sleeved to protect them from damage and they can be bought around using a Deck box. Gamegenic provides some good and cost effective solutions together with some more advanced options. The first one comes with a nice card spacer and it is quite good if you have multiple decks and you want to always keep them separated and ready to be used. The second one allows you to also store dices, counters but you should aim to have just a few and use them to just carry the chosen deck around.
Obviously also the cards you are not using to play should also be protected as much as possible. Light, dust, humidity and accidental damage are the main factors you should consider when thinking how and where to store your cards. You should also consider the current and potential future value of the cards before deciding how to store them. All cards over a certain rarity and value can for example go into a binder to protect and show them while the cards with lower value can be stored in a box. Any used elite trainer box or booster box or tins can be good options to store all your low value cards and they may also offer the opportunity to keep each set of cards separated. Alternatively, you can look into buying those nice boxes designed specifically to store hundreds of
cards but I strongly recommend to aim for the cheapest solution for your bulk cards...
Some people (including me) also like to have “bulk” binders with the maximum number of copies of each common and uncommon cards that are allowed in the TGC they would like to play. The idea is to use these binders to quickly find the cards you need to prepare or improve your playing decks.
There are plenty of different approaches to how to store your card collection and you will likely evolve yours as your collection growth. My personal recommendation would be to start by setting the lowest rarity of the cards you would like to save in the binder. To give some perspective, the only cards with some value in Digimon are the Super and Secret Rares and their Alternative arts while in Yu-gi-oh! everything lower than a Ultra Rare should go in the bulk storage. Your bulk should also really be limited to 8-12 copies of each card as most of the TGCs only allow 4 copies of the same card in each deck. If you have too many copies of each one card, my suggestion would be to gift them to young players or to leave them at your local group or shop to be used to train new players. A few shops also have a “take one-leave one” table that is always a great idea for young players.
Tip4: I Have A Deck, What Else Do I Need To Play?
Now that you have a deck and a collection of cards, what else do you need in order to play? As a minimum, every TGC game will require you to have a Playmat and a dice in order to play. The first one is very important as it protects your cards from dirty tables and it helps picking them up without damaging their borders. Some playmats are designed to have specific “zones” of the field to help you with the game mechanics but you can opt for a neutral playmat to avoid the need to buy one for every TGC you would like to play. Some mats also comes in a nice bag to keep them from getting dirty and to make easier to bring them along.
A lot of groups and shops also have a few spare playmats to use while you are playing locally thus I recommend you check with them first before investing money in buying your own.
A dice (any dice) is also needed to determine which player will go first or as a token to be used during the game. Some games also require a dice to determine the effect of some cards. Dice are very versatile can be used as tokens or as counters in any Trading Card Games. For example, d6 or d10 dice can be used as damage counters in Pokemon or to trace the increase in power in Vanguard - Card fight. There are of course more sophisticated alternatives to be purchased but for your first games very common (and cheap) dice will be more than enough.
In addition, I would recommend to check if the game you would like to play requires some additional tokens or counters so that you can plan your purchases properly. In Pokemon, for example, any Elite trainer boxes can be a very good investment as you can get the coin needed for some effects, the damage counters and the acrylic condition markers you need for your games together with some cards and some nice sleeves (and a storage box as mentioned above). In Digimon, the memory gauge you need for your games can only be found in starter decks or (better) by buying a playing mat with one printed on it. Buying a starter set for Battle Spirit Saga is also a good idea as it will provides the “cores” you need to play. Yu-Gi-Oh! and Cardfight!! Vanguard, on the other hand, require you to trace the attack power bonuses and the life points but they don't really provide any mean to it. After playing those game for a while, I found older Cardfight!! Vanguard sets provide some nice wooden token fit for the purpose while an app is the best way to trace your life points in Yu-Gi-Oh! or in Magic The Gathering.
Tip5: I Heard Someone Talking About Grading?
As you dive further into TGC games, you will likely start considering which cards you would like to keep, trade or sell depending on your interests and your plans. In some case you can also consider to have some cards graded.
Grading is a process where a specialized company assesses the overall quality of a card basing on a 10-point scale. At the end, the card is enclosed in a plastic slab and labelled with the assessed grade to ensure the card characteristic are not altered. The process has a cost that can vary a lot depending on which company you choose and if they have or not a representative in UK but the value of a graded card increases substantially. The main reason for this is that the number of graded copies of each card is always quite low and that the grade ensure the quality of the card itself. On the other hand, if your card does not receive a 9.0 or 10 grade, the increase of value may not be worth the cost of the process thus is important to chose which card to grade depending on their initial market value.
When getting into Trading Card Games, grading a card would not probably be your first interest but keeping your cards protected as mentioned before would be of great help if any of your cards will gain a lot of value and in case you ever decide to have them graded.
Final Tip: Enjoy!
I hope all the above tips and info would be helpful to anyone interested in getting into Trading Card Games or that just started. The last word of advise I would like to give is to always remember that Trading Card Games are first a nice way to challenge your skills and to enjoy time with friends and like minded people.
I always found that the communities playing TGCs are very welcoming and there are a lot of people that are happy to help and gift cards they do not use to help get you started. TGCs are quite an expensive hobby thus helping each other, trading cards and growing your experience together is a great way to make the best out of it. And have fun while duelling each other.