Navigating Through Your Choices: Comparing Sports Cards to Gasoline

Have you ever been to a Target Store to buy some packs or blaster boxes of cards only to find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of choices that are available to you? You may get that same feeling inside a card shop or card show but at least in these type of venues you’ll have a person there to assist you on how to make heads or tails of what seems to be endless choices of card manufacturers and their various brands.

I quit collecting in 2004 primarily because there was over 50 different brands, I was really discouraged on the amount of product released and it seemed like the hobby was squeezing the little guy out and catering to millionaires. I remember asking myself, “how do they expect collectors/card dealers to keep up with all those different brands?” And there was my error! I was pre-conditioned to think I had to collect everything.

The reason I thought this way is because I started collecting in 1981 and there was three manufacturers at that time – Topps, Donruss, and Fleer. Each produced one set a year split up in two series. Many of us built sets and the goal was to complete all three sets, this is how I grew  up. But slowly, surely and subtly in the coming years more manufacturers emerged: Upper Deck, Score, Pinnacle, Pacific, etc.


Target Store – Card Selection – May 2018

The result of all these manufacturers and their various brands to choose from has led to this; in 2016 there was 76 different card brands to choose from and that’s only baseball! So how can you navigate through all the different choices available to you today? Well I propose to you that sports cards are very similar to gasoline.

Regular Unleaded

This type of gasoline is what the majority of American cars use. It contains no lead and has an octane rating of 87 which measures a fuels ability to prevent engine knocking.

Likewise, with cards, the “regular unleaded brands” is what the majority of collectors purchase. Some of them are geared and priced for children, ie. Topps Opening Day, Topps Bunt and yet others are geared towards the average collector, ie. Topps, Bowman, Donruss to name a few. Similar to Regular unleaded gasoline they are typically the most affordable with packs costing anywhere between .99 to $2.49 a pack. Typically, there is little to no “hits” in these types of brands meaning it is unlikely that you will pull an autograph, relic, serial number, etc. Although, it seems as of 2018 this trend is changing a bit as manufacturers are including what appears to be more of these hits in packs.

Mid-Grade (Plus)

This type of gasoline has slightly more additives and has an octane rating of 89. It has a slightly leaner burn than Regular unleaded so it burns slower and may provide a little more power during the power stroke of an engine. Another benefit is that you may (or may not) see slightly better fuel economy. In other words, a little more bang for your buck.

Likewise, with cards, the “Mid-Grade brands” offer a little more bang for your buck. For starters they typically have better card stock quality, better photography, smaller set size, and a much greater chance at pulling multiple autographs, relic, or serial numbered cards. Packs at this grade typically sell in the $2.99 to $7.99 price range. Few of these brands make it to retail stores. Some exceptions are Bowman Chrome, Topps Chrome, Heritage, or Contenders which do make it to retail outlets. However, most of the Mid-Grade card brands can be found at your local card shop (LCS) or online supplier.


This type of gasoline has much more additives in it then the Regular unleaded gasoline. Higher octanes of 91 or 93 accompany higher prices per gallon. Some luxury automobiles such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz have high-compression engines and require the use of premium gas to prevent engine knocking or damage.


Topps Triple Threads – Premium Product – $130.00 Per Pack!

Likewise, with cards, the “Premium brands” have much more additives in their packs then the Regular and Mid-Grade counterparts do. Typically, cards are beautifully designed with the finest quality of card stock and materials, much like luxury cars. With Premium packs you’ll have a much higher chance at pulling autograph/relic cards of elite ball players and/or Hall of Famers. The serial numbered cards can be extremely low in quantity too, ie. 1 of 25, 1 of 10 or even a 1 of 1. The photo above is a high quality autograph – bat card, serial numbered to 18 of Hank Aaron! This is the type of stuff you may (or may not) pull from packs of Premium product. Like luxury cars Premium product sports cards are pricey, ranging between $9.99 to $100.00+ for a single pack!

Questions to Ask Before Making a Choice

For automobiles it is best to open up the owner’s manual and follow the recommended fuel type for your vehicle. For sports cards I recommend doing some reading also. Doing your homework on what a product offers is the one thing that would be very helpful to you. Then you should ask yourself a few important questions:

  1. What brands do I like? Know your options and see what appeals to you. Multiple publications give you this information. I personally appreciate the website which gives a wealth of information on product releases.
  2. Why do I like it? I like them all but I have to narrow down my choices. Knowing why I like a certain product helps me make better choices.
  3. What is my budget? This is an important question to answer and also helps us make the right decision when trying to navigate through all the variety.

My frustration doesn’t exist any more because I know what I like and why I like it. I’ve done my homework and at times I float between all three card types. But I’m strategic, intentional and I’ve realized that manufacturers are not trying to squeeze the little guy out but instead their trying to give collectors variety. They make a brand for every type of collector, we just need to know what type of collector we are.

Happy Collecting, Collectors!

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.

Moor, Tom. What Is the Difference Between Regular and Premium Gas? Angie’s List. (accessed May 20, 2018).



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