The definitive guide to Card Grading

Grading is the key to be a CardTrader

Grading is essential when pricing a card, never underestimate this part as it’s a key element to be a great CardTrader.

Here is some of the most important info you need to know before start selling and buying, based on the experience of our team.

A photo is worth thousand words

Taking a good photo of your cards is easy, appreciated by buyers, and – more importantly – can avoid many issues.

Mint cards are rare

Pulling a card from a pack does not mean it can be graded as “Mint”. Printing imperfections, packaging issues, or jus improper handling can occur.

Beware the ink!

You should be aware that any stamp, inking or signature on a card is considered an alteration and not everyone loves it.

Cards are two-sided items

Always remember to grade the back of the card with the same attention you use for the front. Especially for high-end cards.

CardTrader grading system

Grading is about the quality and quantity of imperfections of an item.

Here at CardTrader we chose to use a wide grading system in order to avoid misleading situations! We are aware of how many grading systems leave room for errors. We will work with you to ensure ours is the most accurate.















Common terms

Altered cards

Any alteration on the card surface should be reported.

Additional information is important, so be sure to point out whether it’s a full alteration, and who did it. If it has a “signature” it may be worth more than the original cards but only to a limited audience, try to understand if you are selling what a buyer is willing to have.


Set card condition to HEAVILY PLAYED or less.

Bent cards are considered damaged, which may occur from excessive shuffling or usage.

Blackened Borders

Set card condition to PLAYED.

This was a common habit in the early days of Magic, a black pen or a marker on borders to hide shuffling and usage issues. The use of this severely impacts the value of the card.

Always point out ink usage in the description of the card.

Also we do not allow the (rare) use of blackening white boarders to sell a card for an higher price (ie. Unlimited version to be sold as Beta): that’s a fraud, forbidden on CardTrader. If you have any doubt contact us.


Set card grading to SLIGHTLY PLAYED or less.

Clouding is not a major issue, the card looks a bit dull in specific spots. This is due to microscopical damages to the card surface, that might add up over time.


Grading a foil card is the same as grading a regular one, except for the fact that foil cards are usually more condition sensitive: take extra care when grading foil cards.

Also keep in mind that foil cards tend to suffer from clouding and curving issues more than regular versions.

Gem Mint

We referred to “Mint” condition as being not automatic for a booster-fresh card, so “GEM mint” is even more rare.
This kind of description is used by PSA, BGS and other grading companies and we believe things should remain this way.


Set card condition to PLAYED.

This was a common habit in the first years of Magic. Pens, markers, etc. were used to make the cards look better, when cards were played outside of sleeves.

Being a good CardTrader also requires you to point out ink issues in the card description.

Partial Grades

We do not support partial grading (ie. “NM-“, “SP+” and similar).
A 7-level grading system should be enough to provide enough information and, if not, you can add photos and a description to any items.


Cards can be curved due to usage. This may be considered a minor flaw for regular cards but should always be pointed out.

If the issue is strong and lasting that may make the card not tournament legal, set the card condition to POOR.


Set card condition to MODERATELY PLAYED or less.

Scratches are most important for Foil cards as the surface is much more sensitive.


But when grading a card, only signature related to the card are meaningful, such as:

  • Artist signature
  • Richard Garfield signature
  • Pro player signature (ie. Jon Finkel signature on a Shadowmage Infiltrator, whose art has been designed after him)

If the signature is related to the card:
Set the card condition ACCORDINGLY to the card grading AND mark it as “signed”.

If the signature is not related to the card (ie. unknown people..):
Set card condition to POOR.

Stamped cards

Set card condition to PLAYED or less.

During limited events of Grand Prix or Pro Tour, cards obtained where marked with a stamp to avoid cheating. Aside from memories of the players who attended the event, this is an alteration that reduces the card value.

Whitened Borders

Set card condition to POOR.

A card whose border has been artificially changed to white. Similar to “blackening”, but more rare since only a small amount of buyers are interested in white-bordered cards.

Tournament legality

You have to be aware that card condition could impact a card being tournament-legal or not.

You’ll hear statements like “A Poor-graded card is not legal in a tournament” or “This full alter is totally fine, just buy it and put it into a sleeve”. Unfortunately there’s no “Poor equals not playable” or “Played equals being playable” thing.

Thus here are the main facts you need to know:

The card is legal if not damaged or modified in a way that might make it recognizable.

Significantly creased cards can be distinguished from other cards in a deck, even sleeved. Also, altered cards may be thicker than the other cards in the deck, depending on the method used to alter them. If any cards can be distinguished from the other cards in the deck without viewing its front face, then those cards are marked and not legal for tournament play.

If you are not sure about whether a card is going to cause a problem in a tournament, you should take the deck to the Head Judge to inspect it. If you have any doubt about a card you are about to buy, you can contact us or the community: we are here to help!

Here’s the official link if you are interested in all details related to tournament legality.


Artistic modifications are acceptable in sanctioned tournaments, provided that the modifications do not make the card art unrecognizable, contain substantial strategic advices, or contain offensive images. Artistic modifications also may not obstruct or change the mana cost or name of the card.

While the Head Judge of an event may decide to allow or disallow any given altered card, it is important to keep the above guidelines in mind. If the art is still recognizable, the name and mana cost are not obstructed, and the card is not distinguishable from any other card in the deck while in a hidden zone, then it should be allowed. The potential offensiveness of an alter is a more subjective area and should likely have a more conservative approach.