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EndersGame
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Where to Buy Playing Cards

Collecting playing cards can be an addictive hobby. If you're a pure collector, you will always be on the hunt for that new and interesting deck to add to your collection, and this can be an endless quest that never grows old. But even if you just enjoy having some classy decks for card games or for card magic, it's hard to resist some of the creative designs that are being produced today. Cardists will enjoy the variety of decks with different patterns and colours, and how this gives a whole new look to familiar flourishes. If you're actually using cards in one or more of these ways, they will eventually wear over time, and you need to replace them - which is a great excuse to pick up something new.

But now that you want to get some playing cards, where do you look? The good news is that with the help of the internet, it's easier to get hooked up with a good deck of playing cards than ever before! In today's technological era, we are spoiled for choice, not just in terms of the range of playing cards we can choose from, but also the options for buying them.

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BUYING OPTIONS

Let's start by considering some of the main purchasing options that are available:

1. Publisher sites: Many publishers and creators of custom playing cards will enable you to buy their playing cards directly from them. Ellusionist and Theory11 are two of the biggest brands that were successfully producing and selling high quality custom decks long before the crowd-funding era. As a result they are established and successful companies, and even today their websites are a great source for learning about their decks and buying them. Other companies and creators that are producing a decent amount of playing cards, such as Kings Wild Project, Art of Play, and Seasons Playing Cards, also give you options to purchase directly from them, although it's not often that there's a real advantage in doing so ahead of online retailers that offer a more complete range. Occasionally a publisher will offer exclusives, which means that they are the only source for a particular deck. This is usually just for the first while however, and over time even these decks will often make their way to other retailers and to the secondary market, especially if they are popular decks produced in a relatively high volume. But a publisher's site is often the best place to get information about a deck, and occasionally you will get the opportunity to take advantage of special offers or be the first to know about and get your hands on some new decks or some older decks at discounted prices.

2. Kickstarter: Crowdfunding has really taken off over the last ten years, and if you want to be at the cutting edge of the latest playing cards hitting the market, it's a great place to browse and shop. Every week there's a decent amount of new Kickstarter projects for playing cards coming out. This is certainly one way to stay in touch with the latest and greatest, and even to participate somewhat in the creative process. The down-side is the same as with any Kickstarter project: occasionally you'll get stung by a poor project creator who doesn't follow through with their promises, or whose project takes forever to get to your doorstep. So you'll have to be prepared to wait for delivery of your deck, and things won't always turn out as nice as they appear to be. As always, make sure that you do your research! Also be aware that most decks produced with the help of crowdfunding will usually make their way to online retailers as well, so this won't typically be the only way to get hold of a particular deck. Buying playing cards via Kickstarter requires careful discernment, and usually also a good dose of patience, and you should count on having the occasional "miss" amongst some "hits".

3. Online retailers: PlayingCardDecks is one of numerous online retailers that specialize in custom playing cards. The advantage of an online retailer is that you can quickly figure out if it's a reputable source that's been around for a while and that people trust. If it is reliable and proven, it also usually means that their range of products is going to consist of quality products, and not inferior copies (which sad to say, sometimes happens when buying elsewhere, like Amazon or eBay). Online retailers will typically curate their stock, and weed out low-quality items. Some retailers offer loyalty or rewards programs, or special monthly subscription clubs that give you the chance to be among the first to get new decks. Others will also offer newsletters, blogs, and articles to help keep you informed and learn more about your new hobby. Look out for sales, clearance items, and coupons, which often give you a chance to get decks at reduced prices. Most retailers will also give you free shipping for an order of a certain minimum size, so that's another thing to take into consideration.

4. eBay auctions: You can also head to eBay to look for playing cards. Some online retailers also post listings here, so there is typically a wide range of decks available on eBay at any given moment - although I find it's usually best to buy direct from an online retailer than from their eBay store due to the extra bonuses they offer (e.g. reward programs) when purchasing through their website. One risk with eBay is that you can't always be confident in a seller, and there have been reports of sellers who didn't follow through with sending the decks that they sold, or sold inferior knock-offs that were copies rather than originals. Shipping can be a bit hit-and-miss as well, and you can't always count on your deck being well-packaged ahead of shipment to ensure it arrives safely in the mail. It really pays to do some research about a seller, to ensure that you're dealing with someone reliable. Even so, eBay can often be one of the few ways to get hold of a rare deck that otherwise might not often pop up for sale. Sometimes you'll also get the chance to buy an auction that consists of a bundle of decks at a reduced price, so deals are certainly there to be found if you look hard enough.

5. Private sales: There is a thriving business of buying and selling among collectors themselves. Often you'll find collectors buying and selling decks online, and places like the Playing Cards Marketplace subreddit on Reddit and the Buy / Sell / Trade subforum on United Cardists are well worth keeping an eye on for good deals, or even to use these in order to sell your own decks. Once in a while a collector will be unloading a complete collection quickly, often at greatly reduced prices, and this can be a great way to get a large number of decks at once for excellent prices that you won't find elsewhere. If you're looking for a particularly elusive deck, forums like these can also be a good way to connect with other collectors, some of whom might have an extra or unused copy that they're willing to sell. I've had success with this in several instances.

6. Collectors clubs: There are clubs for collectors, like 52 Plus Joker, which is the American Playing Card Collectors Club, and which holds an annual convention every October. This can be another way to shop for decks, and has the advantage that you can actually browse through what other collectors are selling, see exactly what you're getting, and get it into your hands right there and then. Be aware that what you'll tend to find here won't typically focus on modern custom decks, but instead will lean towards a larger range of collectable items and older decks that are otherwise harder to come by. As a result, what is on offer here is more representative of the broader community of playing card collectors, rather than just those gravitating towards newer releases.

7. Brick-and-mortar stores: Occasionally you'll be lucky enough to come across some custom decks in a brick-and-mortar store, although this is quite rare. Typically even shops that sell boardgames will have at best a very limited range of quality playing cards, like generic Bicycle rider-backs, and perhaps a number of inferior decks that handle poorly. But occasionally you'll come across a store that does have a small collection of custom decks. In such cases, do expect to pay much higher prices for these playing cards in store than what you can find them for online, because people running a physical store have a lot more overhead expenses to cover. There's one notable exception: many big box stores in the US like Walgreens and Target sell a decent range of Theory11 playing cards at excellent prices. They are typically priced around $10, which is excellent value given the quality of these decks. This is a great place to kickstart your personal collection, especially if you catch one of their sales, when these can be marked down even further.

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BUYING CONSIDERATIONS

A lot of different factors come into play when making a decision about where to buy a deck of playing cards.

1. Price: Let's start with the obvious: how much a deck costs. Naturally it makes sense to get something as cheap as you can - at least, if you're comparing sources for the same product. Why spend more than you have to? You do have to be careful here though, because sometimes eBay sellers or private collectors won't follow through with what they promise. Or worse, you can end up with a knock-off copy. As the old saying goes, if something seems too good to be true, it probably isn't true. As a general rule, however, buying something online will typically be a cheaper option than getting something in person from a local shop.

2. Range: Dealing directly with a publisher that you like to support can create a sense of loyalty, and give the impression you're connected directly with them. In some cases, such as with the highly sought after Fontaines decks, purchasing directly from them when a new deck "drops" (and making your purchase in the first minute or two afterwards!) is one of the only ways to get these at a reasonable price - otherwise you'll be spending much more in order to track it down via a private sale. The disadvantage of buying directly from a publisher is that their range is usually going to be limited to their own products. And typically, you won't actually save money buy buying direct from a publisher, and you'll be paying the same price (and sometimes even more) for the same deck you can also get from an online retailer that offers a much larger range of decks. Online retailers have the advantage of buying in large quantities, and this gives them some flexibility to offer good prices; plus buyers get the benefits of reward programs, special discounts and sales that you won't typically get to the same degree if you're buying directly from the publisher.

3. Availability: If you're looking for an older deck, or a rare deck, your buying options will be much more limited. In such cases, you'll usually have to rely on the secondary market, or on private collectors who are selling the deck you're chasing and have listed it on auction sites or advertised it on playing card forums. Even if a deck was released a number of years ago - unless it's a mass market deck from a big brand like Theory11 - it will often become hard to get, and your options for sourcing it will be limited. This will especially be the case with decks produced in limited numbers and created by popular designers. There are also decks that are exclusive to certain shops, like some of the Theory11 decks released via Target. So availability of a particular deck can't always be guaranteed. But if a deck has only just hit the market in the last year or two, it will typically be readily available across a range of sites.

4. Reputation: Not all sellers are created equal; they certainly won't offer you the same service. It's important to do some research and find out information about who you are dealing with, so you can make a purchase with confidence. On the positive side, mega auction sites like eBay are usually backed by buyer protection services that tend to favour you as a buyer, and PayPal will often come to your rescue if things really go sour. But is it really worth all the hassle, if at the end of your day you only get your money back, and don't have the deck you were attempting to buy? Sometimes it's just not worth the agony or pain of a more risky transaction just because it's cheaper, and to instead spend a little more to have the peace of mind that you'll actually get what you're paying for, and that it will arrive safely. For most of us, it really will be worth the effort and time it takes to make sure we are dealing with a reputable seller or company.

5. Shipping time: In an ideal world, the deck that you want to buy will be available at the corner store just down the road, and at the cheapest price. In reality, however, this virtually never happens. Some of us may be fortunate to have a local game shop nearby that sells a limited range of quality decks, or perhaps a big box store that carries some custom decks. But typically these will be a small range at best, and at prices considerably higher than what you'd find online - the exception being some of the Theory11 decks you'll find at stores like Target. In general, if you want to get a deck the same day, you'll have be spending more bucks to get it, and you'll have to cruise to the other side of your city or perhaps even to the next city just to find it. When you are buying online, take into consideration how long it will actually take for you to get your purchase. It's exciting to anticipate getting a package in the mail, but not if the seller drags their feet, or if your package moves at a sloth-like pace through the postal system. With Kickstarters this can be even worse, because there is often a massive gap between the time that your money disappears from your bank account, and the deck arrives in the mail. So take the time to think about how important shipping time is for you, and to ensure good communication with the seller about this.

6. Packaging: How well will your seller package your deck? I've heard horror stories about people buying from Amazon or private sellers only to have decks rattling around loosely in a larger box, and subsequently arriving damaged. Especially if it's a rare or coveted deck, you'll want to be doubly sure it's well-wrapped and protected during its journey through the post. If you're buying from a true fellow collector who loves playing cards themselves, they'll typically understand this, and do everything they can to make sure your precious deck arrives safely on your end. Some retailers even ship each individual deck in a plastic sleeve for extra protection. But some sellers will be very careless - typically from folks less experienced with playing cards and selling them via eBay or Amazon - and even some online retailers will do a better job of this than others. You'll find that many buyers of playing cards are repeat customers, and this is a big reason why. They will find a seller or retailer that they can trust, and then they'll stick with them, because they know what to expect, and can be confident that their decks will arrive safely.

7. Bonuses: Like many other collectors, I'm a sucker for any seller that throws in extra freebies. Some private sellers will throw in an extra deck from time to time as a surprise sweetener for their regular customers. The reward programs from some online retailers also fall into this category. PlayingCardDecks will usually include some free sample cards from a range of decks in every order, and will also occasionally add in a completely free bonus deck in an order. Their reward program also gives opportunity for using reward points towards large discounts or free decks. If you are like me and enjoy free stuff and extras, then these bonus features make online retailers like PCD an attractive place for sourcing your playing cards.

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BUYING ADVICE

There's no simple answer to the question about where to buy your playing cards, at least not one that will suit every buyer and collector. It really depends a lot on the kinds of playing cards you are after, and what kinds of things are important to you. If you're looking for hard-to-find decks, you'll likely have to head to eBay, peruse forums on playing cards, or try getting contacts with collectors clubs, and your options will be more limited. But if you're looking for a more recently produced custom deck, you'll probably have a much wider choice of purchasing options. Here's some general parting advice for buyers and collectors of playing cards:

1. Only buy decks you like: Don't get taken in too quickly by the latest hype, especially if a lot of other collectors in a forum are raving about a particular deck. The rest of the world might all love that deck, but if you don't like it, just don't buy it. And if the rest of the world all hates a deck but you love it, it's perfectly okay for you to buy it! Remember, this is about your collection, not theirs! It's a mistake to buy something just because other people like it - make sure it's something you actually will be happy with yourself!

2. Be selective: Don't buy everything. You can't possibly buy all the decks you like, because there will simply be too many. It's often a good idea to focus on buying specific kinds of decks, such as ones by a particular creator, publisher, theme, or style. Don't make the mistake of rushing into buying a new deck every time you see something you like, because you'll quickly find yourself running out of space ... or money. Most of us don't have a bottomless pit of cash, so it makes sense to figure out what you can afford, work within those parameters, and be selective about your purchases.

3. Research the product: It can be a real disappointment if a deck ends up being something quite different than what you expected, simply because you got too excited by the promotional pictures, or didn't read things carefully. I remember buying a custom rainbow deck that I thought had a different coloured metallic foil back for each card. It turned out that the ad copy was simply describing at length the different colours of the metallic inks and foil used on the tuck box! Each card back was indeed in a different colour, but there was no metallic ink or foil to be seen anywhere on the cards themselves. That was a big disappointment, but it was my own fault because I hadn't read things carefully. Often checking out some reviews of a deck you're interested in can be a good idea, and while it may spoil some of the excitement of opening the box when you get the deck, it will help avoid any unpleasant suprises over purchases that you regret.

4. Research the seller: To ensure you have a good buying experience, and that the deck you're buing actually arrives at your doorstep in good condition, it also pays to do some research about who you're buying from. If you are dealing with private sellers, my advice is that you should be careful with someone that you know little or nothing about. In the case of a retailer that you haven't dealt with before, make sure you check any reviews or feedback on their business or previous transactions, and investigate their shipping times and return policy. This is also important in the case of Kickstarters, and it is always a good idea to check the comments on a creator's previous projects, to see if they actually deliver on what they promise, in a reasonable frame of time. If you've found a good and reliable seller, you can do future transactions with them with confidence. Don't rush your purchases, and do look around at what your options are. Sometimes it even pays to wait a week or two, to take advantage of a sale or special offer that is coming up.

5. Communicate well: In some cases it can even be appropriate to put in a special request about having your decks well packaged, such as: "Please make sure decks are in perfect mint condition and packed well to avoid damage in transit. Decks not arriving in perfect condition will be returned." If you communicate promptly and positively with a seller, you're increasing your chances of things turning out well, and they'll be more likely to put in an effort to make things right if anything does go wrong. Communicating with other collectors can be a big help too. Look on some of the forums that are frequented by other collectors, and don't be afraid to ask for advice about appropriate pricing, feedback on retailers and sellers, where to find a particular deck.

6. Give feedback: If there's a way for you to give positive feedback after a good transaction, make the extra effort to do that. Perhaps it's a simple matter of leaving feedback for a transaction on eBay, making a comment in a forum thread where a purchased was organized, or posting a review on Google for your favourite online retailer. Leaving positive feedback can be a matter of courtesy, and can really make a difference for the seller. And not only are you helping them, but you're also helping future buyers, by making them aware of who they can trust and who they can't.

7. Enjoy the journey: Like most hobbies, part of the fun of collecting is the thrill of the chase. It's not just about getting a deck into your hands, but it's also rewarding to do your research and figure out what your tastes are like, to see what is available on the market, and to chase down the decks that you really want to buy. See the work that this requires as part of the fun. The time you invest in this will pay off because you're much less likely to have bad experiences, or end up with buyer's regret over a purchase you shouldn't have made in the first place.

Of course, the whole point of a journey is ultimately to arrive at the destination. And in this case that means getting a deck of playing cards into your hands! But not every journey is created equal, and not every deck will arrive as quickly, in the same condition, or cost the same price. So it's worth taking the time to consider all your options, and taking into account the factors that are important to you. Happy hunting!

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Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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