In every pack of trading cards, collectors have the chance to pull out something worth a fortune.
With the chance of a payoff — and an increased interest in collecting that has grown through the COVID-19 pandemic — horror stories have flooded the internet, as thieves from around the world have been targeting trading cards.
During Jan. of this year, a man in Florida was arrested for stealing hundreds of Pokémon cards from Walmart – a haul that only amounted to $600. But that figure is only the retail value of the product.
Most cards might not be worth too much, but specific cards can be worth a fortune.
“You can buy a $100 box of cards and pull a $5,000 card out of it,” says Mike Davis, the owner of Eastridge Sports Cards and Games.
And $5,000 isn’t near the payday some can earn. That value can skyrocket for cards graded by the Professional Sports Authenticator. A Pikachu Illustrator card with a PSA grade of 10, adds a few more zeroes to that number.
Popular YouTube star Logan Paul was able to shell out $5 million for the rare card, said to be the only one in existence with a perfect grade.
As Pokémon, Magic the Gathering and various sports cards grow in demand, so do their worth. Last year, a sports card of Luka Dončić, allegedly signed by the Dallas Mavericks star who has only been in the NBA since 2018, sold for $4.6 million.
Collectors seeking rare cards with low print rates — the fewer made and distributed, the more valuable — are treating packs of Pokémon and professional athlete cards like Picassos, says Davis.
“Trading cards has almost become an alternative investment. People are just adding it to their portfolio like art,” says Davis.
Unlike other collectibles though, cards can provide a rush to those who buy them — something Davis believes is part of the big allure.
“With card collecting you have the option of a little bit more of a gambling aspect to it, because you can buy a box of cards and you don’t know what you’re going to get inside,” he says.
Cosca Benekos, the owner of Olympic Sports Cards and Games, says collectors enjoy the task of rounding out their collection, with some trying to complete a set and others searching for that one diamond in the rough.
“Some people look for that one good card that’s worth lots of money,” says Benekos.
When it comes to sports cards, athlete performance typically increases their value.
Alexander Ovechkin’s current chase for the record of most goals in NHL history is having an impact on the card’s availability.
“He’s breaking the records. So everybody is looking for an Ovechkin card right now. The more the demand, the higher the price,” says Benekos.
Dylan Kingsbury, a collector of NBA and NFL cards, believes understanding the sports and knowing who the top prospects are can help collectors determine which cards will be worth something in the future.
Kingsbury paid close attention to the 2020 NFL draft, recognizing two of the athletes had the potential to become superstars.
“I got 20 to 25 [boxes of cards]. That was the Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow draft class, so I was hunting for those.”
The first three or four boxes got him nowhere. But then Kingsbury’s hunch paid off. Joe Burrow went on to lead his team to an appearance in the Super Bowl earlier this year, making his card value skyrocket.
“I ended up getting two Herberts and a Burrow and those alone made me my money back.”
Although athlete performance and the print rate of a card can affect the price, ultimately, the consumers are the ones who decide what a given card is worth, with rarity and scarcity driving up value.
“Everything that’s collectible is worth what someone is willing to pay for it,” says Davis.
The thrill of the game
Few cards have an astronomical price tag attached, and can be used casually or competitively in various games. Brands such as Pokémon, Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh! each have their own individual games for using their cards.
The owner of Metal Galaxy Social Games and Bistro, Pascal Espinosa, says these brands offer the dual option of both collecting and playing.
“Collectible card games have the collecting aspect, but that feeds into the gaming [aspect] as well,” says Espinosa. “I think it connects people to a world that they are already familiar with. Whether it’s anime or fantasy, it’s a pretty easy jump into collecting cards.”
Collectors and players alike can join together socially, which is one of the main reasons some individuals get into the hobby in the first place.
“A lot of people enjoy the games themselves, but most people will play the games because they enjoy the club they’re playing with,” says Espinosa.
Ultimately, the card games can be used as a vehicle to meet new people with similar interests, says Espinosa.
“The game kind of breaks the ice when it comes to the social connection.”