Uncoding the value of trading cards

by Andrew Lang, Seattle Goodwill
December 9, 2016

Growing up in the 1990s, nearly every birthday, Christmas or trip to a grocery store I pleaded with my parents for a pack of sports trading cards. Usually, they’d deliver, and sometimes I’d be lucky enough to score an entire box.

My parents always told me to hold on to them because they’d be worth money someday.

Looking back through those old cards brings a fun sense of nostalgia, and I’ve since come to terms that few sports cards made after 1980 are worth much money. That’s because today they’ve lost popularity, and so many were made post 1980 that anything made since isn’t very rare.

Financially, apparently I was collecting the wrong trading cards.

Of all the cards on the market, nothing is more popular than Magic: The Gathering. MTG, which was created in 1993 by Richard Garfield and published by Wizards of the Coast, has been popular since its inception and boasts 20 million players as of 2015.

Because of the large draw, there are plenty of buyers looking to collect the rarest MTG cards. Three years ago, arguably Magic’s most famous card—The Black Lotus—fetched $27,302 during an auction.

Obviously, Black Lotuses aren’t hanging out in every collector’s stack of cards, but if you want to begin playing MTG or want to bolster your existing collection with some rare cards, Seattle Goodwill has a treasure trove awaiting.

On shopgoodwill.com Magic card players or traders can find 17-pound boxes of cards for sale. That’s right, 17-POUND BOXES. Hand selected sets of 30-40 rare cards also are available and even some individual cards.

Pete Williams, who specializes in listing trading cards for Seattle Goodwill’s Online store, said he saw a dual lands Magic card sell for upward of $200 online.

Here are some things to look for when shopping trading cards at Goodwill:

Magic: The Gathering


  • Fifteen cards come in a traditional MTG booster pack. You’ll receive one basic land card, 10 common cards, three uncommon cards and one rare or mythic rare card.
  • The color of the expansion set symbol will indicate the rarity of a card. Black = common, silver = uncommon, gold = rare and orange/red/bronze = mythic.
  • Don’t forget about foil cards. They will also have a colored symbol and have a great chance of being valuable. Treat them as you would a rare card.



  • Look at the bottom-right corner of your card to determine its rarity. Circle = common, diamond = uncommon, star = rare, star H or three stars = special or extra rare.
  • Holographic cards have a shiny, foil layer and a rare holographic card indicates it is probably has some value.
  • Most Pokémon cards display the Pokémon’s level after the name on the top right. Some cards have additional symbols, and those cards tend to hold value. Symbols could include an ex, a star, LV.X, or SP.
  • Like most trading cards, Pokémon cards created early on often hold value. Any card that reads “Wizards of the Coast” at the bottom is from 1999-2000. Also, look for a first edition stamp.  

Visit Goodwill’s online or eBay store find all the MTG and Pokémon cards you’re looking for.


Andrew is a Content Specialist for Seattle Goodwill and has a wealth of writing, communication and digital media experience. He loves all things sports related and owns a treasure trove of memorabilia. He also enjoys storytelling, the outdoors and sugar is his kryptonite.

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