TCG Guide: Sleeves and Folders

While the vast majority of cards in Trading Card Games are near worthless trash printed to fill set quotas, some aren’t. Some are really sort after due to either their scarcity, what character they depict, their use in-game or some combination of these factors and these cards can be be worth a hefty chunk of change. Depending on the factors at play, it’s not uncommon for cards to reach upwards of $15USD. As a somewhat recent example of all three main factors at once, “Liliana, the Last Hope” from Magic the Gathering’s Shadows over Innistrad block is a popular character, of the highest rarity and a good card across multiple formats. At release it was just short of $24USD, during it’s lifetime in Standard it nearly hit $50USD and since then has hit as high as nearly $60USD, only recently calming down to about $40USD.

Magic is also infamous for it’s ‘mana bases’ being quite expensive. Mana bases being made up of Land Cards, cards that generate resources to play other cards. The rare cards that generate multiple types with minimal drawbacks being a fairly high rarity and sort after, causing a substantial cost to them. This is even more true of legacy formats such as Modern and Commander, where cards are out of print. It’s also true of most all TCGs period. So with all this money invested in your game of choice, you’re going to want to protect these cards, both at home and in use.

Card Protection

Home Folder

Card protection typically comes in two forms, Folders and Sleeves. Folders, also known as Binders, Albums or Portfolios, are used to catalog, protect and display your collection. Traditionally a Folder is a 3 ring off the shelf office supply folder using 9 pocket pages made by Ultra Pro, one of the oldest manufacturers of card supplies. Ultra Pro also has made and continues to make folders double the size of the normal folder. This is a commonly used setup to this day, but isn’t without it’s issues.

Pages have had a tendency to yellow, a problem that effects clear, white and blue plastics. Folders, even the larger ones made by Ultra Pro, aren’t made to contain the weight of the cards or amount people try to put in them, so the folders and pages themselves can wear out. They aren’t particularly practical for transportation, which people do use them for the purpose of displaying cards in an effort to trade them. They don’t give adequate protection as dust can get into the page slots rather easily, sticking to the cards and finally, cards can easily slide out if the folder is handled in an incorrect manner.

  • Advances in Technology for Card Protection

Lucky for us, advancements have been made since the old days and there are much better solutions today to suit your needs. There has been a move to premade folders, ones with a set amount of pages that cannot be removed or added to, but are easily available. They are typically adorned with Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh! characters and made by Ultra Pro, but more high quality versions exist.

First, we must discuss one of the most meaningful advancements in card protection technology, side loading. Normally cards are loaded into sleeves or page pockets from the top, meaning they have aforementioned problems. With side loading, the cards are loaded into the page pockets and a special type of sleeve from the side, meaning that nothing to get to them. This is more so to do with the construction of the pages, the columns closest to the binding of the folder are loaded from the outside edge, while the outside edge column is loaded from the inside. These types of folders typically incur a much higher cost. They also have a textured surface behind the card to prevent slippage, arguably necessitating a cheap sleeve to prevent chipping, something suggested by Ultra Pro for theirs, but they don’t fall out either.

Folders

That said, lets get onto the folders themselves. For trades, 4 pocket small folders are a good choice. Small, easily transported and fairly durable. If you want something a bit smaller due to a low amount of trades, there are Pokemon branded 1 pocket folders that come with a booster pack. If you want something more durable and are worried about it being knocked around, there are 4 Pocket Pro-Binders and FlexXfolios by Ultra-Pro and Ultimate Guard respectively for maximum protection.

For home use, you can now buy 18 pocket side loading pages, 9 on each side, for a traditional folder from both Ultra-Pro and Ultimate Guard. In addition to this, Ultra-Pro sells quick and easy Pokemon Folders that have 14 pages and can hold up to 252 cards. You can also go for the 9 pocket Ultra-Pro Pro-Binder or 18 pocket Ultimate Guard FlexXfolio, both of which are side loading and have 20 pages that hold 9 cards a side for a total of 360 cards, but are fairly expensive. This really depends on your needs and wants. For games with larger sets, you may need multiple of the premade folders and are probably better off buying pages. For most games, you can reasonably get 2 or 3 sets into one premade folder.

Sleeves

Things are a bit different when we get to actually using our cards. Many brands sell sleeves, past and present. Ultra Pro is the most common, but you also have Ultimate Guard, Dragon Shield, KMC, Player’s Choice and now GameStop. Sleeves are very much necessary for in-game use as without them, your cards will become scuffed, chipped, possibly warped or worse, especially foils.

With significant amounts of money put into their cards, some players will opt for double sleeving their deck, using what is called an inner sleeve or ‘perfect fit’ to sleeve their card before sleeving their card, for added protection. I recommended you purchase Ultimate Guard’s Precise Fit side loading sleeves if you go for this option. Ultra Pro’s Perfect Fit sleeves are known to be too tight and damage your cards, while side loading inner sleeves will give your cards protection on all sides and are manufactured correctly. If you cannot find side loading sleeves, use Ultimate Guard’s Precise Fits upside down to create the same effect. There is also over sleeving, but this is more to protect art sleeves than it is protecting the cards.

  • High Quality Sleeves

Dragon Shields

Regarding regular sleeves, it’s partially you and partially a case of you get what you pay for. It’s become common knowledge that Dragon Shields, Ultra Pro’s Eclipse and Ultimate Guard’s Katana sleeves are of very high quality and have a long life to them. They all incur a higher price tag however. Ultra Pro’s standard Deck Protectors sold everywhere at a low cost on the other hand are seen to be of low quality, known for splitting at the seams. Speaking from years of experience however, this is more to do with the handling of the sleeves. They cannot tolerate rough handling.

If you are rough with your cards, you should spend more for higher quality sleeves. If you’re delicate, you will probably get by with Deck Protectors. Deck Protectors can also inconsistent in terms of sizing. Some packs can be too short, giving the card inside too much of a chance to make contact with the elements and become damaged. You might want to go for a different brand, more expensive sleeves or inner sleeves to avoid the risk of sleeves unfit for use.

Final Thoughts

Sleeves and Folders are really important parts of the Trading Card Game hobby. It’s become so normal that seeing decks that aren’t sleeved is cringe inducing for a great many players. It’s a very different situation today to the late 90s and even the early 2000s where choices were limited and supplies of low quality. Now you can pick and choose to your needs and wants, something exists to suit anyone and everyone. As time passes, it’s likely even better options will arise. But for now, I hope this article will help you make an informed decision suiting to your needs.

Check out my channel at YouTube,  Some Gamer Dude for more videos about trading card games.

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