Sleeves, Sleeves, Sleeves
I’ve Come to Game: An Introduction to Card Gaming Accessories. An overview of materials needed to protect your cards best.
Part 1: Sleeves
Welcome, young Padawan, to your very own card gaming adventure. What awaits you is a world of epic rivalries, grueling competition, and life-long friendships. As most wizened card gamers will tell you, one of the primary joys of the trading card game world is the people you meet. They will stay with you long after you’re finished casting spells and summoning creatures.
But in card games, like so much else, first impressions can be everything. Think of this article as an introduction to ensure you project the image you’re going for. Card game communities by and large are accepting groups, but finding your own gang can make or break you, competitively and socially. Let’s make sure you attract the right crowd from your first weekend at the card shop to the world championships. Below, you’ll find a list of do’s and don’ts to give you a leg up, and an introductory primer to the tools of the trade.
Bare card shufflers. We’ve all seen them, crinkling their cards, whitening the corners, bending the rarest and most powerful additions to their collection. Take pity, for these youngin’s don’t know any better. Playing competitively, even if it’s on the local level, is a different beast than the sidewalk card slinging most kids start with. Whereas playing without sleeves might be the only way to play when it’s you and your friends on the kitchen table, at lunch, or outside, that won’t fly at your Saturday tournament. You’re going to want to sleeve up your cards for a number of very good reasons.
For one, sleeves protect your cards. I’ve got Yu-Gi-Oh! cards from the very first set, released all the way back in 2001, that have stayed with me across all these years in pristine condition. How? I made sure to sleeve them up (in Dragon Shield, no less). Whether you’re protecting your collection in a binder, or playing regularly, wear and tear is inevitable. Trading cards are made of flimsy material, after all: cardboard and ink. Keep your cards in mint condition through vigorous play by sleeving up.
Sleeves are generally plastic containers designed to fit trading cards to take the brunt of any surface you might play on. Sticky table? You can replace a sleeve a lot easier than a $50 card. Sleeves come in “standard” size, typical for Magic: the Gathering, Pokemon, and most other cards, and “Japanese” size, perfect for Yu-Gi-Oh!
New brands of sleeves hit the market every year, from Ultra Pro to Ultimate Guard, Dragon Shield and Max Protection. How do you know which is best? Practice. Trial and error. The perfect sleeve comes down to your budget and your experience. Try them all and see what feels best in your hands. What makes you want to play again? That’s the right one for you. In my case, Dragon Shield has always been the go-to. I remember saving up to buy my first pack of Dragon Shields back in my days as a card shop squatter (where they eventually put me to work, seeing as how I was there all the time anyway). Picking out the color was an all-week decision. I eventually went with black.
I’ve tried other sleeves over the years, but always end up coming back to Dragon Shield. I still have that deck sleeved up and ready to go, almost fifteen years later. In my experience, Dragon Shield quality can’t be beat. It’s still my number one choice, and I get downright giddy when a new color hits the market.
Sleeves can come with matte backs and glossy, smooth backs. The fronts are almost always clear.
Matte sleeves have a slightly duller color without a sheen or shine, but give a more robust shuffling feel. They don’t slip or slide as easily, and are scratch resistant.
Glossy sleeves are bright and reflective, but take a few games to stop sliding. Long-term use can result in scratching, but many prefer these to mattes.
Perfect Fit sleeves provide even more protection. Regular sleeves have space between your card and the edge of the sleeve, which still allows for the possibility of damage. While you can never totally remove this possibility, Perfect Fit sleeves provide an extra layer of protection by going over your cards and into a regular sleeve. Some call this double sleeving. Perfect Fit come in clear, smoke, top loading and side loading. Smoke sleeves, new from Dragon Shield, obscure the card backs for honest gaming.
That brings us to the second good reason to sleeve up: cheating. I’m sure you aren’t a cheater, young Padawan, but cheating is indeed an issue in competitive play. Sleeving your cards in an opaque color so that you can’t see the card back is usually the recommendation at higher levels of competitive play, but this is at the discretion of the Head Judge. Some players mark their cards with knicks, patterns, or designs to gain extra knowledge of where to cut the deck, or what’s coming up in their draw next turn. Don’t be surprised: sleeve up your cards fresh for each major event (for local events, judges usually aren’t anywhere near as strict).
The third reason to sleeve up is a bit more superficial, but equally as important: personality. Finding the right sleeve color, pattern, design, and material is part of the fun of card gaming. Each Dragon Shield dragon has a name, a backstory, and special abilities that fit into an overall narrative. It’s fun to read the back of the boxes to catch up on the lore and choose based on which characters are coolest. Nothing quite beats sleeving up a new deck with a fresh pack of sleeves. In-person card gaming, as opposed to digital card gaming, offers a tactile pleasure. You feel it in your hands. Picking out a new color, finding the right brand… it’s all part of what makes card gaming one of the greatest hobbies in the known universe.
How do you choose which sleeves to use? Do you look at color? Texture? Story? Let us know in the comments below!
Check back for part two to read up on deck box options!
The author recommends
Ian Spiegel-Blum has worked in the game industry for ten years, first as the manager of a local game and comic shop, then as an independent online retailer, Director of Operations for The Spoils Trading Card Game, and most recently a consultant to start-up game companies. He has seen the game industry from the inside and out and is excited to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of card slingers.