Welcome back, everyone. Because I’m relentless in wanting every eligible person to sign up for this year’s Gamers Helping Gamers scholarship, I’m going to leave the link to the application right here. How do I find out more information about this scholarship, you may ask? Well, I’ll leave the link to last week’s article right here so you can find out for yourself.
On the off chance that you’re here to read more about Magic: The Gathering finance and not Magic: The Gathering scholarships, you’re also in luck. However, instead of telling you which cards to buy, sell, or trade, I’m going to try and go over the best methods to protect the cards you already own.
Back in 1995, Magic players used to shuffle up unsleeved [card]Time Walk[/card]s and scrape [card]Black Lotus[/card]s against the pavement. While we’ve come a long way since then by developing protective card sleeves, not all sleeves are created equal. Some are of poor quality, and need to be replaced after only a few short uses. Certain trade binders have the unfortunate side effect of damaging the cards that they’re trying to protect. When things like this happen, it costs you money.
Ever since sleeving our decks has become normal, the type of sleeve that we use has been just as important. Some buy for durability, some buy in bulk for Cube, and some buy for style points to try and “bling” out their deck even more. The recent [card]Brainstorm[/card] sleeves from Grand Prix New Jersey were going on eBay that weekend for as high as $30, and a month after the event they can still be found on eBay for $15. I’m going to tell you right now that there isn’t a correct answer to what sleeves are right for you. It ultimately comes down to personal preference. What I can do, is make your life easier by listing the positive and negative attributes of each of the most popular types of sleeves.
First, we have the basic Ultra Pro sleeves. These come in multiple types: the two most common are a 50-count pack of a single color or an 80-pack with some type of illustration. At most LGSs, the 50-count Ultra Pros will cost about $5, and the packs of 80 go for $8. As far as durability goes, I don’t trust these to last more than a week before at least one sleeve starts to peel or split. While they do give you a few extras, it doesn’t take too many events to make the sleeves appear as though you’ve been using them for years. In addition, Ultra Pro tends to change the color of their sleeves slightly as the years go by. It’s hard to notice while in the packaging, but you might end up buying a pack to match one you got a while ago, only to find out that they’re not exactly the same color.
Unless you’re a huge fan of the artwork or just need a set of 50 for tonight’s draft deck, you’ll be looking to replace them on a regular basis. On the other hand, they’re cheaper and more available than a lot of the other brands. Ultra Pro also got the thumbs up from Wizards to use their images on the sleeves, so that’s why the [card]Brainstorm[/card] ones exist.
These are the sleeves that I personally use for all of my Commander decks. I used to only use black, but the dirt on those ones is much more visible than Silver, so I’m gradually making the switch when I come across good deals. After around 3 years of only using Dragonshields, I can say from experience that I’ve only had one sleeve ever split and need to be replaced. They’re by far the most durable sleeve I’ve used, and you can find them pretty much anywhere at a safe $10 for 100.
As for downsides, they tend to pick up dirt much easier than other brands. They can take a beating, but they certainly don’t look brand new even after a few uses. It gets annoying, but I personally don’t mind that much considering how rarely I play Magic nowadays.
Also, I’ve heard of more than one instance of someone being called out for cheating for using Dragonshields. Apparently they’re glossy enough that if you peel the top card up, you can technically see the reflection of that card in the back of the sleeve beneath it. While I’ve tried to test the validity of this claim, I can’t get it to work. Maybe it’s because mine are too dirty and old. Overall, I’d recommend using these for Commander decks. They come in packs of 100, and are extremely durable. The colors are also tasteful and not too flashy.
While I have a ton of experience with Dragonshields, I have less experience with the 80-count packs of KMCs. I’ve heard great things, though, including that they rarely break and stay clean throughout play. The KMC Super series and the Matte sleeves will each cost about $8 for 80, the same as the Ultra Pros.
However, I don’t think these are what you want to buy for Commander. 80 is a pretty awkward number, meaning the best bang for your buck would technically involve buying ten sets of 80 for $100, but most people don’t have ten Commander decks. Buying three sets of 80 gives you enough for two Commander decks, and than 40 leftover for a Draft deck. I think these are better suited towards 75-card Constructed decks, but it’s ultimately up to trial and error, as well as personal preference.
For those who don’t know, Perfect Fit sleeves exist to allow you to “double sleeve” your deck. You first suit up the cards in these clear cases (the top of the card goes in first), and than you sleeve over it with your outside sleeve, whether it be KMC, Dragonshield, or UltraPro. This provides an additional layer of defense against spills and other hazards, while also making your sleeves stick together less (maybe this is just me, but I find shuffling a double-sleeved deck much easier then a single-sleeved one).
However, adding an additional layer to your cards does make it harder to fit into a traditional deckbox, and double sleeving can be a tedious process if you’re the kind of person who switches decks every FNM with only one pair of sleeves. The Perfect Fits are usually about $5 for a pack of 100, but that’s if you can find them at your LGS. Only a couple of stores that I’ve visited have had these in stock, so you might end up having to hunt them down online for $6 a pack. Alternatively, If you want to split a bunch with your friends, you can buy them in bulk online for around $3 a pack.
Let’s start this off by saying this: Stop using anything that looks like the following:
Do you see how the binder closes and the circular ring will press down onto the contents of the binder? That’s how cards get damaged. For the love of all that is holy, stop using these type of three-ring binders to store your collection in. It only serves to destroy you. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at a couple of other variants.
Although it looks relatively similar, notice how the side of the ring lies flat on the pages of the binder when closed, so it doesn’t imprint a dent into your cards. While you’ll have to buy the nine-pocket pages separately, this is by far the cheapest way you can go while still keeping your cards relatively safe and organized. You can find binders like this at the dollar store, or given away at yard sales. Regardless of what kind of binder you get, make sure to find 9 pocket pages that are free of any acid or other damaging material. Ultra Pro makes these pages as well for pretty cheap, although they do get dirty and cloudy very easily.
These are the binders that I personally use. They’re a bit expensive (anywhere from $30 to $40 a piece), but almost all of mine have been acquired as throw-ins from buying all of the cards in the binder from someone selling their collection. They’re pretty sturdy, and are extremely hard to steal from due to the side-loading nature and small pocket size.
As a downside, some people I’ve interacted with have stated that they believe the binder has the potential to damage cards over time, due to the fact that the surface the cards rest on is ridged and bumpy. I was told that cards had the ridges imprinted into their backs because someone left a binder under a stack of textbooks for too long. I’ve never experienced this problem myself, but I believe any worry can be removed by simply sleeving your cards in your binder. Your biggest obstacle here is price, but you can sometimes find great deals that make them worth it.
And, we’re back to Ultra Pro again. If you’re looking for a cheap, specifically Magic-related binder that will just get the job done, then this is probably for you. They’re around $20, they’re side-loaded, and they have that cool strap thing to prevent the binder from falling open randomly. And since it’s Ultra Pro, you can get the one with Gideon and Aurelia on it, because that seems to be the most popular binder in the world for some reason. One personal problem I do have with these is that the pockets seem to be really large compared to the Monster binders, and the cards have room to move around a bit while the binder is in transit. It’s probably not gamebreaking, as long as you sleeve the cards in the binder, but I feel like it’s a bit easier to steal from.
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to go over every single type of sleeve/binder, but I think I hit the important ones. Even if you just want the cheapest available option, it’s good to know what exactly you’re buying and approximately how long you should expect it to last. Cards are valuable, but only if they’re protected well enough. Until next week!