Last updated on June 4, 2020
If you’ve ever ventured into the world of paper Magic, you’ve probably bought some card sleeves before. And if you’ve bought a couple different brands or types of sleeves, then you’ve definitely noticed that there can be a pretty big difference in quality. If you’ve never bought card sleeves before or have only ever bought the same ones, well, now you know.
Regardless of your relationship with card sleeves for paper Magic, it’s important to know that there are so many options available for you to choose from. A handful of brands are well-known among paper Magic-ers, whether for good or for ill.
If you’re trying to figure out what sleeve is best for you—or you’re now questioning every card sleeve purchase you’ve ever made—then I’ve got your back. Whether you’re looking to display your collection, protect your cards while you play, need a gift for a fellow Magic player, or just want some good, high-quality aesthetic sleeves, I’ll cover everything you need to know and give you the scoop on what to get and what to avoid. So, let’s get this started, shall we?
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner | Illustration by Greg Opalinski
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what brand and sleeve you should buy, let’s go over the “dos and don’ts” of buying card sleeves for MTG. Or, at the very least, the stuff you should keep in mind when you’re trying to figure out what sleeve to get.
First, I’ll say that if you’re looking to truly protect your cards while playing, you should also look into getting a playmat. While sleeves are certainly meant to protect your cards, using a playmat to keep them from picking up a bunch of gunk from your play surface never hurts. They’ve also got some pretty awesome art if aesthetic is important to you.
Glint-Sleeve Artisan | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast
No matter what you’re looking to do with your card sleeves, you’re going to want to look at their characteristics to figure out if what you’re looking at is worth the price tag. Here’s a quick breakdown of some examples and what you need to look out for with each:
At least it does for MTG card sleeves. Even if you’re not looking to maintain the value of your cards per se, I doubt you’re eager to have a bunch of warped, curled, or bent cards. Does the sleeve fit a bit too tight and warp your cards in any way? Is the sleeve a bit too loose and so the cards constantly fall out at the slightest provocation (and maybe get bent somehow on the way)? Or is the sleeve a perfect fit, no wiggle room without squeezing too much?
I talked about this in my MTG card size article, but here’s a quick recap if you just want the quick-and-dirty:
- If you’re looking for a basic sleeve to protect your cards while playing, you need a “standard size” sleeve (usually around 66x91mm)
- If you’re looking for sleeves to store cards in a binder, you’re looking at “perfect fit” sleeves (usually sized as 64x89mm)
- If you’re looking to double-sleeve your cards for extra protection, you’ll need perfect fit and standard fit sleeves, one in the other
- Pokémon cards are the same size as MTG cards, so you can get Pokémon sleeves for your Magic collection if you want
- Yu-Gi-Oh! cards are smaller than MTG cards and use “mini” or “small” sleeves and can’t be swapped out (unless you want to warp your cards)
How Hard Is It
Next up is the sleeve’s durability. How much punishment can it take before it starts to crack or peal? Obviously, you don’t want a sleeve that’s going to look like you’ve had it in the attic for the past 10 years after just a couple of months or, god forbid, a couple of weeks.
Reviews can usually give you this info, as sleeves with awful durability will probably get absolutely blasted. Nobody wants to spend money on a product that’s supposed to protect your cards when it can’t even protect itself.
This goes for both sides of the sleeve. How opaque is it?
If we’re talking about the back, it should be completely opaque. No light, sound, or smell should get through the back! This is mostly to avoid the look of impropriety, as being able to see the back of the card means there’s the possibility of marking (i.e., putting “marks” on certain cards so you can tell when they pop up in your deck without drawing/scrying them). You typically can’t even participate in tournaments if your sleeves are see-through, even if there’s no other evidence of marking in your deck. Wear and tear can be considered marking as well.
On the flip side, you want the front to be completely see-through. Everything but dust and time should get through the front. Can you imagine trying to play Magic when you have to squint just to read your cards? Sounds like a bad time to me.
Peer Through Depths | Illustration by Anthony S. Waters
The Sleeve’s Coat
Last but not least—if you play in tournaments, at least—is the finish on the sleeves. Even if you don’t do tournaments and just play casually or in events/FNM at your LGS, this bit still kinda applies.
Matte, hyper matte, glossy, there are a few options. Depending on the quality of the sleeve and what finish they’ve got, you’ll have an easier or harder time shuffling. Some get sticky after a while, and there’s also the potential for bending corners if the shuffling is a bit stuck. This can lead to accidentally marking your sleeves, warping your cards, and just generally making your cards and deck frustrating to handle.
Matte and hyper matte do better in this regard, as glossy sleeves tend to stick together when shuffling much more. Even if they’re great out of the pack, glossy usually get sticky much faster. There are some brands that have mattes/hyper mattes that don’t stand up to the test, but you should probably stay away from those brands in general.
Shinechaser | Illustration by Evan Shipard
Things that Should Make You Run
Whether you’re buying sleeves in-person at a store or online, there are some telltale signs to look out for to avoid getting cheaply-made sleeves. Bad reviews are obviously what you wanna look out for when shopping online. Sleeves with lots of complaints about splitting or bending are a bad sign.
Also keep a lookout if the fit seems to be off. Some perfect fit sleeves actually tend to run a bit small so they’ll hug your cards a little too closely and warp them over time. If you’re looking at standard fit, they might run small and ruin your double-sleeving intention by being closer to a perfect fit and now you’ve gone and wasted your money. Not as bad an outcome, but still not good.
Skewer the Critics | Illustration by Heonhwa Choe
The Results Are In
Now we get to the part where I tell you what to buy. And there’s no math this time! Hallelujah.
Before we dive in, though, full disclosure: I have not personally used all of these sleeves. I’ve ordered quite a few of them, but with everything that’s going on at the moment a lot of them have gotten delayed, if they’ve even shipped yet. I’ll keep an eye on them and update if I get a chance to try any of them out that I haven’t yet.
Competitive Play Sleeves
Even though Dragon Shield mattes are my overall recommendation, they may not be the best option for competitive play as they can be a little bit see-through. If you’re gun-ho on this brand, though, some of their perfect fit smoke sleeves can do wonders in preventing any see-through cheating scandals.
It’s up to you if you wanna double-sleeve but be wary if you do; the Dragon Shield mattes can be a bit difficult to double-sleeve with. I’d suggest either sticking to the perfect fit or double-sleeving with another brand.
On a Budget?
If you can’t afford to spend exorbitant amounts of money on card sleeves but still want to properly protect your cards while playing or just showing them off, then the BCW matte sleeves are your answer. They’re about half the price of most other sleeves and aren’t the worst you could get. They might not be the best for competitive events but they hold their own for kitchen-table Magic and the like.
Double Up (Inner Sleeves)
When it comes to double-sleeving, the inner sleeve’s best bet is KMC’s Perfect
Fit Size. Not only are they pretty cheap, but they’re also of pretty good quality and are good at the thing that matters most: protecting your cards with a perfectly-snug hug.
We’re going back to Dragon Shield mattes on this one. Part of why they’re my overall recommendation is because they’re pretty versatile in terms of what they’re good for, one of those being Commander decks.
When it comes to Commander, you’re obviously going to be dealing with a bigger deck since the minimum is 100 cards instead of 60 as it is with Standard. So, you want a good sleeve that has all the other perks while also being as thin as possible. It might not seem like a fraction of a millimetre makes any difference, but it can really stack up.
In a Rush? Get This
Dragon Shield sleeves are the most highly recommended and seemingly the most widely-used (don’t quote me on that, the internet may lie), and the matte finish is the clear winner.
Overall, the reviews for Dragon Shield matte sleeves say that they don’t cloud or tear, work OK for double-sleeving (but aren’t the best in that department), shuffle really well, and generally have a good feel to them. They are a bit more expensive, though, so may not be the best option if you’re on a tight budget.
Of course, not everyone agrees on all of these points, but you can say that for any product. These are the most widely-shared sentiment and experience with the Dragon Shields, so I’d say they’re probably a good bet. Make sure to get the matte sleeves, though. I already mentioned why glossy is usually a no-go, but in case you forgot: they get sticky.
Cut for Cube
When we’re talking a really large amount of cards like in Cube, the best sleeves to go for are KMC’s hyper matte sleeves. They’re pretty cheap in bulk much like their Perfect Size counterparts, and don’t suffer in quality because of it. They’re pretty durable and fit very well especially if you’re double-sleeving.
If you’re looking for pretty sleeves to fit your aesthetic, I’ve actually got a few suggestions for you depending on what you’re looking for.
Looking for official MTG art on your sleeves? Get you some Ultra Pro art sleeves. They’re not too expensive, are pretty good quality, and there are a bunch of official art options for you to choose from. They don’t have unlimited options and you might not be able to find what you’re looking for if it’s a specific card image, but there’s lots of different art to choose from.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for aesthetically-pleasing sleeves that use non-MTG art, Legion art sleeves will be your friend. They’ve got a ton of really cute, funny, or just plain pretty art to choose from and won’t break your wallet either.
Finally, if your goal is to collect sleeves themselves, then you’re looking at getting limited edition sleeves. These can sometimes get pretty pricey and there isn’t necessarily one brand or place to look. Most brands will occasionally put out limited edition art sleeves, and what you decide to get should depend both on what art you want to add to your collection and which brands you’re OK with paying for.
Our final stop, custom sleeves, can get a bit tricky. Printing sleeves isn’t easy or cheap, and so there aren’t many places that do it. The few that do are usually pretty expensive and the quality may not be up-to-par in order to keep their production costs down.
That being said, I’m not just going to leave you high-and-dry like that. While they’re definitely expensive, YourPlaymat offers custom sleeves and they’ve got some pretty good reviews. There are also tons of pictures that look pretty epic.
If you do end up getting a custom sleeve, though, you may want to double-sleeve them. The problem that you’ll usually run into with custom sleeves is that the art is printed on top of the back of the card and can peel off. YourPlaymat does mention in the custom sleeve’s description that the art on their custom sleeves is non-peeling, so they may be creating higher quality sleeves than you can usually expect from custom ones.
Slip That Sleeve Off
And that’s all I’ve got for ya! Hopefully this guide ends up being useful to you in picking out the best fit for your MTG cards and collection. What’s your experience with some of the recommended sleeves I mentioned? Does my summary make sense, or did you have a different experience? Let me know if the comments down there!
As usual, I’m gonna take a sec to thank you for your support. I know I probably sound like broken record, but it’s only because it’s true. Your support, no matter what form it takes—be it reading, commenting, or sharing our blog posts, using our draft simulator, Arena Tutor, or supporting us through Patreon—is always super appreciated.
See what I did there *nudgenudgewinkwink*
With everything going on in the world at the moment, I hope you’re all safe and that it stays that way. Take care of yourselves and your communities, and I wish you well!
Pledge of Unity | Illustration by Chris Rallis
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