A Casual (and Slightly OCD) Trader’s Guide to Shipping Magic: the Gathering Cards

I started trading Magic: the Gathering cards shortly after I returned to the game back in February 2012 (right after Dark Ascension was released). Over the past two years, I’ve used the trading websites Deckbox and PucaTrade with great success. I’ve found trading cards online to be nearly as much fun as playing and deck building, and I’ve learned a great deal, both in my own trades and hearing experiences from my fellow trading partners.

There are other guides on how to best send and ship Magic cards in the mail, but I wanted to put my own spin on “best practices” for doing so.

I will warn you in advance: this guide is detailed and may seem like overkill to some. Rest assured, my friends: you will make your trading partners very happy by taking the time to ship your cards with care and effort.

Single cards

For single cards worth less than $10 in value, I use one toploader, one playing sleeve or penny sleeve, and a check-size envelope. I slip the card into the sleeve, then insert it into the toploader upside-down, so the card doesn’t slip out during shipping. I then seal the open end of the toploader with a single piece of Scotch tape.

A single card, sleeved and inserted into a toploader.

A single card, sleeved and inserted into a toploader.

A close-up of the bottom of the sealed toploader.

A close-up of the bottom of the sealed toploader.

Once that’s done, I then slip the sealed toploader into the check-size envelope and seal that with more Scotch tape. I use tape on the envelope because 1) I really dislike the taste of adhesive glue, 2) I don’t trust the “peel-and-seal” strips on self-adhesive envelopes, and 3) it helps prevent tearing if the edges of the flap get caught in transit.

The sealed envelope with PucaTrade reference numbers on the back flap.

The sealed envelope with PucaTrade reference numbers on the back flap.

Multiple, less valuable cards

For multiple cards worth less than $10 overall in value, I do one of the following:

  • For up to three cards, I use the process above with a sleeve and a single toploader. Playing sleeves are a bit too thick for three cards, but the thinner penny sleeves work well. Just be careful not to crease or bend the cards as you’re inserting them.
  • For up to six cards, I may choose to put the three more valuable cards in the toploader as described above while putting the other three in a penny sleeve. I then tape the sleeve to the toploader using one strip on each side to prevent separation or sliding. I’ve found the stiffness of the toploader is enough to keep the entire package from bending.
  • For more than six cards, I use small bubble mailers, which can be picked up from your local Wal-Mart or Staples for around 70 cents apiece. I’ll use penny sleeves to protect the cards, then sandwich them in between toploaders or sturdy pieces of cardboard. Make sure to securely tape the sleeved cards together so they don’t slip or separate in transit.

Any number of valuable cards

There’s only one way I ship valuable cards like shock lands or planeswalkers: a bubble mailer. As with the previous steps above, use a sleeve and toploader along with a sturdy piece of cardboard to prevent bending. I very much appreciate it when extra care is taken with high-dollar cards, and I’m sure your trading partners will, too.

Addressing your packages

First, the common sense tip: always include your return address and make certain you have a complete address from your trading partner.

Second, I highly recommend putting “PLEASE DO NOT BEND” in bold lettering on any package you send (you can also use a stamp, if you so choose). I’ve seen folks write “Non-machinable” on theirs, which basically tells the postal service not to run the envelope through sorting machines, but I personally feel the “do not bend” serves as a helpful reminder to your local letter carrier, as well.

No one likes creased cards.

No one likes creased cards.

Third, if you’re using a service like PucaTrade, make sure to include the trading number so your partner knows who to confirm when the cards arrive. I’ve been using a small Post-It note with the number stuck to the toploader as well as writing the number on the back of the envelope (such as “PucaTrade #100500”).

A simple Post-It note helps your trading partner know which specific cards arrived, so they can mark them as sent in sites like Deckbox or PucaTrade.

A simple Post-It note helps your trading partner know which specific cards arrived, so they can mark them as sent in sites like Deckbox or PucaTrade.

Last, if you use your own shipping label (see below), I recommend taping it to your package with glossy packing tape so the label doesn’t get smeared or damaged by water or rain.

Shipping costs and delivery confirmation

Your check envelope packages can easily go anywhere in the United States for one stamp. For shipment to Canada, I would recommend international forever stamps. You can use U.S. stamps to send to the Great White North, but it will cost you more than the international stamps. I’ve shipped successfully to Ontario and Nova Scotia with two U.S. stamps, but that’s daring. If you can’t get the international ones, spring for three U.S. stamps to be safe.

For bubble mailers, you’ll need to visit your local post office or print your own shipping labels. By far, the easiest and most painless way is to use PayPal (paypal.com/shipnow). You’ll want to choose “Standard mail” and the “package/thick envelope” option. Unless you’re sending a deck’s worth of cards, you can choose three ounces as your shipping weight. Shipping via PayPal costs around $2 and gives you free USPS delivery confirmation. Tracking information is exceedingly useful for your own peace of mind and to make sure the cards arrive safely with your trading partner. It also becomes invaluable on the rare occasion you need to settle a trade dispute.

My recommended selections for sending a bubble mailer using PayPal's USPS shipping service.

My recommended selections for sending a bubble mailer using PayPal’s USPS shipping service.

Both Deckbox and PucaTrade recommend using delivery confirmation for all trades.

A few additional helpful pointers from fellow traders

  • NEVER ship without a toploader or other stiff piece of material secured to your cards. Sending a card by itself or with only a sleeve is asking for trouble.
  • Blue painter’s or masking tape are good alternatives to Scotch tape for sealing your toploaders, but it’s strongly advised against using stronger or thicker tapes such as clear packing tape. This can be a nightmare to remove from the toploader and can permanently damage the card if it sticks to the seal in transit.
  • Trader @astormbrewing showcased a unique method for sealing toploaders which involves a piece of looped tape at the top of the sleeve to serve as a pull tab versus taping the open end. Another illustrated example of this method, detailed by veteran trader Elliot Scott (@Hackworth), can be found in this tweet. If you want to get around the problems with sealing toploaders altogether, these are superior solutions.
  • If you’re keeping toploaders to send in future trades, remove any excess tape to provide a clean seal and avoid damaging the cards with any residue from older trades.
  • If you’re concerned about theft, you may wish to reconsider writing the reference numbers on the outside of the envelope and include a small note for the trader instead.
  • For high-value trades in excess of $50-100, some traders suggest going the extra mile and buying insurance for the value of the cards you’re trading.
  • A few traders I’ve dealt with love to add “throw-ins”: bonus cards you didn’t ask for, but get as a fun surprise in addition to your trade. These could be foil lands, foil commons, tokens, or even unique playing sleeves. I like to include any associated tokens or emblems with the cards I send, such as a Saproling token for Sporemound.

Resources and materials

Ship it!

I hope this detailed list of trading tips will prove useful to you in your future Magic: the Gathering trades. If you have any of your own suggestions, by all means, feel free to share with folks in the comments below or contact me anytime on Twitter at @brightmatrix.

Happy trading!

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

  • HikingStick

    I can attest that I’ve always received cards from you in the best condition, so thank you for being “slightly OCD” when it comes to preparing them for post.

  • http://www.3-sided-die.com jinx_the_bard

    @HikingStick:disqus Agreed!

    It not only shows the care you take with the cards themselves, but your integrity as a trader. I believe as a trader, you should package the cards as you would want to receive them and all traders should follow this mentality. Well written!

  • Alex Wolf

    Just wanted to offer some feedback on this, as I really don’t like your method of sealing the toploader. After being a very active Pucatrader for over a year, the number of toploaders I have and have had to deal with that are just caked in layers of tape or residue is.. well, a lot.

    Personally, I strongly prefer to seal the toploader with a piece of tape running the opposite direction, with each end folded over, like this: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-JHayTV_Nb90/UgfXsDI0BJI/AAAAAAAAAd8/zmUSZyinZU0/s320/step2.JPG

    Given that this guide is the one referred to by Puca as the go-to for all users, I personally think this change could save a lot of time and toploader grossness. Just my $0.02 though, of course.

    Otherwise, great guide and thanks for posting it.

    • brightmatrix

      Alex, thanks for the suggestion and the photo example. I’ve received similar notes from other traders about my method of sealing toploaders, and included links to some alternatives towards the end of the article.

  • brightmatrix

    Folks, this article is intended as a “living document,” so please do not hesitate to contact me here or on Twitter (@brightmatrix:disqus) with any suggestions, improvements, etc.