Sean and I prefer to buy single Pokémon cards over packs or various available box options. We collect cards that catch our eye more so than trying to complete a set. So we have cards from all over the English sets, Japanese, and other languages. Buying single cards, especially online, can be tricky. How do you know that you are paying a reasonable price for a card? Is the seller reliable? How can you protect yourself from a transaction going bad?

Pokémon Card Collecting 101

The Basics of Pokémon Card Sales

Cards are sold in different grades: mint (M); near mint (NM); lightly played (LP); moderately played (MP); heavily played (HP) to damaged. Everyone has a different idea of what a card should be graded, and some sellers will price cards at mint even if they should be lightly played or moderately played. It is more common than it should be that sellers try to get top dollar for cards that are in less than near mint condition.

near mint to damaged Pokémon cards
Red’s Pikachu, near mint. English Southern Islands Mew, light to moderate play due to holo scratching. Charizard and Legendary Collection Gyarados, both damaged.

Collector Shaming and How to Avoid it

Before buying your card, do some research into what that card has recently sold for in the condition you want. eBay sold listings is a great resource to see what people have paid for the card and what a fair price would be. TCG Player is an app many people use to put prices on cards. I have a love/hate relationship with that app as you can change card condition, which changes prices, and I have had people send me screenshots of cards they have marked as moderately played that are in near-mint condition.

Some unscrupulous people misuse the app to get a near mint card for cheaper. It, unfortunately, happens often. It works the other way as well, where a seller will use the near mint estimate for a card that isn’t in that kind of condition. If you are working with a seller that is using TCG Player, make sure you check it for yourself.

Where To Buy Pokémon Cards

There are a few ways to buy single cards online. eBay has the option of auctions, BIN (buy it now) and offering. Facebook is big in the card world, and sellers will do sales or games to sell cards. There are auctions, BIN’s, and offers. There are also claim sales. These are sales where a seller will announce they are having a sale at a specific date and time, and interested people leave a comment on the post, so they are notified when the sale begins. The first person to claim the card owns it. There are also raffles (a razz), where a seller will post a card or cards for raffle and the price of one spot. This is a razz recently done by my friend, Tomcat:

After all the spots are paid for, a moderator or a trusted member uses a site to do a random roll for the winner. It is recorded on video so the participants can see, and this protects the seller and makes it fair to everyone that bought in. Several rounds are rolled, and at the last round, the person in first place wins the razz.

Not All Sellers Are Created Equal

I have trusted sellers that we go to for quality and honesty. We have not only built up trust with them but friendship as well. This is the story of Tomcat and I. I hope one day everyone can have an experience with a seller like this. It’s important to know that there are trustworthy sellers out there. There are sellers in this world like Tomcat that go very above and beyond for their buyers. I am sharing this story with Tomcat’s permission.

I met Tomcat through a claim sale he was hosting on Facebook. Tomcat was selling some of the most beautiful Japanese cards that I had ever seen. Not only was his quality outstanding, but his pricing was also more than fair. His descriptions of his cards were spot on as well. I had never met Tomcat before this, but because of his descriptions and honesty, I had no issues participating in his claim sale.

When my cards arrived, the packaging was professional and included a hand-drawn picture. Not only were these cards exactly as Tomcat described, but he also took the time to make sure they were as safe as possible in shipping. Tomcat and I had been chatting as we were waiting for the mail, and when it arrived, he was as excited as I was. The entire process from start to finish not only gained me a friendship that I value highly, but Tomcat also has a customer for life with me.

From our conversations, Tomcat knew I was looking for a Japanese Fossil Set Holo Gengar. He had one for sale, but someone beat me to it. He immediately let me know that he would be getting another and promised to show me when it arrived. He kept his word, which I knew he would, and showed me a Fossil Set Holo Haunter as well. Both Gengar and Haunter had a holo swirl in them, and I was sold.

He shared with me a beautiful holo Snivy card one day on Facebook, and when Gengar & Haunter came, Snivy was in there as well. It is a card that I cherish more than most because it is from his heart. Tomcat is now a great friend who I share the love of these beautiful cards with, and I know that when I order from him, it will be just as he says it is.

The Best Pokémon Card Art

Tomcat doesn’t show me anything to make money off me; he shows me because he knows what I am looking for and that Sean and I display our cards. He also shows me cards that he has in his private collection, and we admire them together. He has become my go-to for not only Japanese cards but beautiful cards in general, a trusted friend and confidant, and an extremely, knowledgeable teacher.

As wonderful as Tomcat is, not all sellers have his honesty or quality. There are too many stories of people buying things from sellers and not getting their order, or when it arrives, it is not as described. Unfortunately, some sellers take photos of cards that are mint or near mint, but send cards that are nowhere near that quality. The worst-case scenario is you pay, and the cards never arrive at all.

If you are unsure of the seller, or if you haven’t worked with them before, it is okay to ask them for references. Sean and I also sell cards, and when someone asks for a reference, it makes me happy because the buyer is protecting themselves. You may encounter a new seller without references. I have met those sellers before. I gave them the benefit of the doubt because I was a first-time seller once too. I ordered from them, my cards arrived, and there was no problem at all.

The people I took a chance on were not listed anywhere with negative feedback as they were new. Always check for negative feedback, both on eBay and Facebook. There is a group on Facebook called, “Pokémon Trade Complaints International” where you can search a name and see if anything negative shows up. If it does, read through the post to see if it was solved or if it is still an open complaint. Make your decision based on that. There is also a positive feedback group called “Pokémon Trade Feedback,” which works the same way.

How to Know if You’re Talking to a Quality Seller

What do you look for when buying a card online? The most important thing you should look at are the photos the seller posts of the card. I tend to scroll past photos that are dark, blurry, or taken from too far away. If the rare exception happens that a card catches my eye with poor quality photos, I message the seller and ask to see better ones, front, and back. I use my phone for everything, and when I get better photos, I turn my screen brightness up and zoom in so I can see as much detail as possible. If you are still unsure, you can ask the seller to send you a short video in good lighting of the card.

I am also partial to how a seller treats a buyer. I have turned down cards for sale because the seller was too pushy (buy it now because they have so many other interested people); the seller didn’t provide the information I asked for (I don’t know; bad photos, etc.), or when a seller talks themselves up to high heaven (my stuff is better than everyone else’s, no one has cards that I do). A good seller will positively communicate with you.

When I have more than one person interested in a card, I go in the order that potential buyers messaged me and let the others know that there is someone interested, but if it is still available, I will message them.

I had a recent experience that perfectly illustrates what I’m talking about. A seller had a collection I was watching and had my eye on. It was up for sale for a long time, and I messaged the seller to ask about it. The information this seller was giving to me was different than the description he had posted previously. So I asked him what his ‘buy it all right now’ price would be. For the number of cards in the collection, his price was significantly higher than I had paid for similar collections. I let him know that — I wasn’t trying to low ball him, I wanted to negotiate a fair price.

Unfortunately, it went downhill from there. The seller’s entire demeanor changed. He snapped at me for even asking about a different price and told me he has the best cards on the market, better than anyone I’d ever seen and asked if I knew who he was. The transaction didn’t happen, and he still has that collection listed for sale.

That sort of conversation happens more often than I care to admit when you are buying Pokémon cards. That is a red flag to me, as I would worry that the product I received would match the demeanor of the seller. This goes both ways, as a friendly seller, willing to work with you, most likely will send you the exact card you see in the photos. This goes back to Tomcat: his friendly, bright personality matches the cards that show up in my mailbox.

It’s important to know what you want in a card purchase. I waited about a decade to finally own my holy grail Shining Magikarp card. They’re always for sale and not hard to find, but I wanted the perfect one for me. To me, this the end all be all Pokémon card, my favorite out of every card I have ever seen. Finally, I saw one the perfect one for sale. I had never worked with that seller before, but I bought the card anyway. The seller was friendly and honest about the card, and when it showed up in the mailbox, it was just as he described.

Determining Price when you Buy Single Pokémon Cards

Don’t be afraid to negotiate a price. A good seller will be honest with you if the price is firm or if they have some wiggle room on the card. As a seller myself, I want my buyers to not only be happy with their cards but with the price they paid. I have very few cards that I am firm on and will work with my buyers. I want us both to be happy with the transaction.

Always use PayPal for your transactions. There are two ways to pay: Friends and Family; and Goods and Services. Friends and Family is supposed to be used for transactions between people who know each other well and trust each other. There isn’t much protection to you, if any at all, should you use F&F and something goes wrong. Goods and Services is meant to be used as a business transaction to protect both the buyer and the seller. If something goes wrong, and you paid using G&S, PayPal will protect you and help you file a claim to get your money back. There is a fee to use G&S, and some sellers ask that you pay that as well. It is usually 3% of the total amount of your transaction.

When your order arrives, let the seller know you received it. They will want to know that your order arrived safely and that you are happy with what you bought. Remember that seller when you are looking for something else. You have already had a positive experience with them.

Don’t let a negative experience stop you from buying from other sellers. My negative experiences don’t affect me buying from Tomcat as he had nothing to do with those. My interactions with him have always been positive. If you do your research, trust your instinct, and know what you want, buying cards online will become a comfortable and enjoyable experience for you!

Gemr is the #1 free app and website for collectors. It’s the best place on the internet to meet fellow fans, show off your collection, talk all things geeky, and buy and sell cool stuff with people who love the same things you do. If you’re looking for the only place on your phone (or the internet) built just for collectors — this is it!

Written by Andrea Norton
Sean & Andrea Norton are obsessive Pokémon collectors, Gemr Bloggers and Gemr Ambassadors. They collect everything Pokémon, which fills their entire house. Their Pokémon Card Collection is at 25,000 and counting. They have three cats; Gemma, Scarlett and Ollie, and three other spirit cats at the Rainbow Bridge; Rhett, Diesel and Tinkerbell. Known as SANorton_Pokemon, they are exclusive to Gemr. They take Litten everywhere and she is the third member of the group! Sean is a US Army Combat Veteran and Andrea is a former Welfare Fraud Investigator. They live in the Fox Valley, Wisconsin, above Andrea's parents, Teri and Joey, who are a big part of their Pokémon Collecting and life. Andrea's favorite Pokémon is Buizel, and Sean's is Greninja. They truly Gotta Collect It All!