Card grading in Australia: is it worth it?

As collectible card games (TCGs) continue to grow in popularity, the secondary market for players and collectors to buy and sell their cards and cash in also continues to grow. While many sell and trade their used cards without it, card ranking is a very popular way to potentially increase the value of a given card. However, it is not always a simple or cost-effective task to get cards ranked in Australia.

Card grading and authentication is a process of verifying the authenticity of a given collectible card, as well as rating the condition of the card on a scale. Many companies offer grading services, but the most respected and widely used worldwide is PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator), which primarily deals with collectible sports cards and TCGs, followed closely by BGS (Beckett Grading Services).

The gold standard

Grady Chiu, COO for Good Games Australia, says “PSA is the granddaddy of scoring and wrote the book on it, so it is indeed one of the most recognized companies in the world.”

PSA rates cards on a 10 point scale, 10 being ‘Gem Mint’ – virtually undamaged, with minimal or no printing errors and near perfect centering. Cards in mint condition can fetch a high price in the secondary card sales market, which is why more than 4.9 million TCG cards have been processed by PSA to date.

Of the nearly five million TCG maps rated by PSA, some of which date back to 1988, more than 500,000 of them were maps released in 2020 alone, showing just how popular the service is among the TCG community in the world.

It should be noted however that lower value cards are quoted within a 150 day processing time once received by PSA. At $18 a pop for cards worth less than US$199, it’s not a service that many collectors and players would need to commit to at any point in their collecting journey. But for those with cards like the coveted Black Lotus – one of which sold on eBay in 2021 for over $511,000 after being signed and rated at 10 – or even cards with fewer zeros at the end of their price tags is something worth considering.

Is card ranking worth it?

Ryan Street, owner-manager of General Games, says local rankings are tough, calling the current climate a “minefield” to navigate. Like many others, Street thinks it’s worth waiting for delays with reputable US-based companies to clear to send high-value cards for appraisal.

For those wishing to evaluate their collection, they need to determine which TCG the cards are from and whether it is also worth the cost and time associated with the process.

Pokemon remains one of the most popular card games for collectors to buy and sell. Interestingly, PSA stats show that almost a quarter of the TCG cards rated by their company are from 1999 Pokemon Jungle, Fossil and Base sets, which contain some of the most valuable Pokemon maps available.

Street says that in its store, about 80% of customers buy Pokemon the cards do it to collect rather than to play.

This is in opposition to TCGs like Magic: The Gathering (MtG), which have a much more game-oriented community, which impacts the value of the cards. Ranking MtG cards can be an expensive exercise with minimal return, due to the fact that graded cards are returned in tamper proof cases and therefore must be held out of play in order to retain their rank, as well as the risk of reprinting rare cards in the new sets and dramatically lower the price.

Despite that, it might still be worth getting those old MtG Cards stored in your Garage are ranked if they appear on Wizards of the Coast’s Reserved List – cards that will never be reprinted to retain their secondary market value.

Pokemon cards generally increase in value due to rarity and year of printing, among other factors. However, MtG The cost of cards often fluctuates depending on what is currently being played, what combos professional league players are using, among other game-based factors.

What to do with card scoring in Australia

Image: CGC

With long wait times and the added risk of shipping a value card internationally, PSA and BGS might not be on the mind for those in Australia wanting to have their cards appraised. During the COVID pandemic, a long backlog has seen some customers wait up to a year for their cards to be returned to them, and service prices have risen dramatically.

There is a growing community on social media dedicated to Australian card collectors who mass-ship valuable cards around the world to cut costs, and these continue to grow as prices rise.

A number of small national filing companies have sprung up over the past couple of years. With many companies coming into the market to rate cards locally, it can be hard to tell which is the most reputable and will deliver the best results. One of the concerns of some, like Street, is that if these smaller companies go out of business, their rankings will be worthless and leave customers out of pocket with little to show.

Chiu suggests Premier Card Grading (PCG) is one of the more reputable options to turn to for those who don’t want to send their collections overseas, but says “Australia is in its infancy compared to in the world” regarding the TCG rating. Despite this, he thinks that in the long run, it’s worth it for those who want to increase resale value or for those who want to appraise their collection.

Map ranking remains a divisive topic in some corners of the TCG community, with many unconvinced of the need for the service when unranked cards can fetch a decent price or be traded as is. For those of us in Australia, the risk of sending something insurance-worthy overseas, coupled with the current delays, can make it feel like it’s not worth the effort or the prestige that may come with scale cards. Until Australia manages to catch up with its international counterparts in card grading, collectors may well continue to be forced to send their cards overseas or take a bet based on less recognized local grading services. Even so, for those with high-value, ultra-rare cards burning a hole in their card sleeves (or possibly their parents’ garage), the benefit of relying on overseas services can worth it in the end.

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