Most TCG players know that cards lose some value as soon as they're removed from a pack — similar to how a brand new car starts to depreciate in value the minute it's driven off the lot. Or so I'm told. I don't have a brand new car, but I DO have TCG cards — lots of 'em — and I've learned over the years that shuffling, gameplay, and even simply handling brand-new cards can add up to a lot of damage.
Fortunately, TCG card assessment can be more or less reduced down to two simple criteria: volume of markings and severity of markings. Whether you're a buyer, a seller, or a player appraising your own collection, check out the field guide below to identify what condition your cards are in, and how it can affect their trade or resale value.
Near Mint is as close to untouched as a pack-sourced card can get. Since this category is called Near Mint and not simply Mint, it's clear that it does allow for a few superficial imperfections post-unpackaging — for example, a tiny scratch or a small nicked edge. They'd better be virtually imperceptible, though, or you'll find your card's condition classification — and resale value — dropped down to the next level.
Players striving to preserve this condition tend to immediately double-sleeve their cards for protection, or stash them in a binder, in a dry, dark place, for safekeeping. Savvy collectors often use a combination of 'penny sleeves' — the clear, flimsy kind — and a sturdier, solid-backed brand, nested in opposite sleeving directions, to protect cards along both the top and bottom edges.
The Lightly Played category is slightly more forgiving to cards that haven't lived out their outside-the-pack days in somebody's curated collection. These cards are generally described as being in 'good shape', and many players are happy to purchase at this comparatively cost-effective level.
Here you'll find small but readily apparent blemishes, such as slightly bent corners, along with the typical wear from repeated shuffling and gameplay use. That said, don't forget that for a card to achieve Lightly Played ranking, both severity and volume of markings need to be very low.
Moderately Played cards have spent some time outside of their packs, and probably survived a few different decks or set rotations before being pulled by their players. Cards within this category typically feature visible whitening or wear along their outside edges or corners, along with creases, scratches, scuffs — or any combination of the aforementioned flaws.
Keep in mind that creasing must be minimal at worst — it can't affect the structural integrity of the card. In the same vein, any surface damage must not cover a large area of the card. Though it might be tempting, don't turn to Sharpie or paint to disguise whitening along the edges, as that will land your card solidly among the Damaged.
These cards are the battle-scarred old-timers of their TCG, nearing the end of their lifespan but still claiming basic utility. In addition to the issues we touched on before, Heavily Played cards allow for a singular instance of missing ink — an issue that crops up when cards become tightly stuck together and then peeled apart.
If you're looking at a card with moisture damage and trying to identify the difference between Heavily Played and Damaged, use the 30% rule: if less than 30% of the card's total area is affected, it may be acceptable into the Heavily Played category; more than that and it's unfortunately Damaged.
We've all seen the cards that end up in this category — repurposed as bookmarks, proxies for other cards, or in one particularly desperate instance, kindling during a camping trip gone awry.
Someday my friends will forgive me.
It's a sad journey from Near Mint to Damaged, but without proper card care and storage, it can be inevitable. The creases, bends, and tears characteristic of this category will, unfortunately, rule these cards out of legal tournament play — even in sleeves. Multiple areas of missing ink or a complete fold through a card will land it solidly in Damaged. Likewise, if your card gets sticky with soda or soaks up a coffee spill, it's time to thank it for its service and say goodbye.
On the bright side, the pressure is now officially off to protect these guys. And they make great teaching — and even giveaway — cards for your little brother or the kid next door!