Card condition

The grading of Magic cards sometimes leads to conflict among buyers and sellers, mainly because grading is not an exact science. One person might consider a card to be still Near Mint while the next one thinks it is in Excellent condition. To some extent these conflicts are inevitable, but to help minimize the chance for misunderstandings, we have put together a guide to help you grade your cards correctly.

Historically, the grading system that Magic uses today comes from the grading of baseball cards. The Inquest Gamer magazine adopted the Baseball cards grading system for Magic cards as early as 1995. Early on the accepted grades were Mint, Near Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor. Over time, Magic's grading system has evolved to reflect the needs of Magic players. Eventually, the large range of grades at the lower end were replaced with a smaller number of grades. In the most extreme case, the six grades from Excellent to Fair were condensed into only two grades--- Slightly Played and Played.

Generally the use of Played, Slightly Played, and Heavily Played is uncommon in Europe, but has become the standard way of describing cards in the USA. In Europe the grading system is still largely reminiscent of the PSA grading system for baseball cards, but the names have changed a bit. Fair and Very Good are grades that are used rarely these days. The MKM grading system attempts to represent the way cards are normally graded in Europe, and uses Mint, Near Mint, Excellent, Good, Light Played, Played, and Poor.

As "a picture is worth a thousand words", we decided to provide some sample pictures that can help you identify the right condition for your card.

Mint (M)

A mint card is in perfect condition; no excuses. This means, that the front is in perfect condition, there are no scratches on the surface, and the surface is perfectly clean. For the back it means that the card is indistinguishable from cards in a newly openend booster. If a card has a signature or a Grand Prix stamp it can never be graded Mint, even if the card stock is otherwise in Mint condition.

In most cases it doesn't make sense to grade a card as Mint. For in print cards, the value of a Mint card is just about the same as that of a Near Mint card, but the grading standards are way higher. On the other hand, really old cards (1993-94) may command a high premium if they are in actual Mint condition. Thus, 'Mint' is mainly a grading for cards where there is a high collectors' interest. For cards that are sold mostly for playing purpose, a Near Mint grading will usually be fine.

Near Mint (NM)

A Near Mint card looks like it has never been played without sleeves. Small allowances can be made, but the card generally shows no wear.

The border of NM card can have small white spots, but they must be very few and very small. When the card is inspected under bright daylight, the surface must generally appear clean. It can have a few minor spots, but scratches can never be allowed for NM cards.

Generally a Near Mint card is in a condition that would make it considered unmarked if played in an unsleeved deck. (Not recommended!)

As the Mint grade is not generally used for cards of newer expansions, Near Mint usually means Near Mint or better (equivalent to the Amercian NM/M grade).

Excellent (EX)

An Excellent card looks like it was used for a few games without sleeves. For Excellent cards, it is usually clearly visible upon first inspection that the card is not in perfect condition. That being said, the damage must be minor, despite being clearly visible.

Excellent cards usually have a couple of white spots at the corners or around the border. The surface may have minor scratches that are visible upon closer inspection. However, a card cannot be graded Excellent if the creases are so deep that they are visible upon first sight.

An Excellent card is usually in a condition where it is not quite clear if the card would be considered marked or unmarked if played in a tournament without sleeves.

The Amercian equivalent is usually Slightly Played or Lightly Played (not to be confused with the European Light Played).

Good (GD)

A Good card looks like it might have been used for a long tournament without sleeves.

Cards in Good condition usually show strong wear all around the card. The edges and corners have many white spots, the surface usually has scratches and the card usually has accumulated some dirt on its surface. However, the card still only has damage that stems from regular play. The card has no water damage or bends whatsoever.

A Good card (and all cards in worse condition) are clearly in a condition that would make them ineligible for play without sleeves as they would be considered marked.

The American equivalent to this is usually 'Moderately Played' or 'Very Good'. Note that 'Good' is a bit of a misnomer. A Good card doesn't really look good. In fact it looks pretty beat up, making the American Very Good even more of a misnomer.

Light Played (LP)

A Light Played card looks as if it has been used without sleeves for an extended period of time.

A Light Played card is clearly legal for play in a sleeved deck. It has also not been tampered with (inked border, random scribblings on the card etc.). If both of these criteria apply the card may look very bad, but it can be graded Light Played.

The Amercian equivalent usually is 'Played' or 'Good'.

Played (PL)

A Played card looks as bad as you can get a card through regular use without sleeves.

A Played card looks extremely bad, and it is doubtful if the card is tournament legal even in a sleeved deck. However, the card has not been tampered with otherwise (inked border, random scribblings on the card etc.).

The Amercian equivalent usually is Heavily Played or Good.

Poor

A Poor card has damage that cannot normally have stemmed from regular use of the card.

A card in Poor condition is literally destroyed. It is either obviously illegal for tournament play or has been tampered with in ways that destroy its worth almost completely (inked border, random scribblings on the card etc.).

Americans usually use Poor in the same way.

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