Christchurch card traders benefit from lucrative online global market

Christchurch trading card businesses have seen an upsurge as a popular Kiwi-developed fantasy card game continues to attract thousands of new players around the world. John Cosgrove talked to card trader Sam Smith about the lucrative online card trading market.

In his right hand Sam Smith holds a Flesh and Blood ‘Heart of Fyendal’ card worth approximately $300, in his left is another worth more than $30,000.

The difference is when the cards were made, what they’re made of or printed on, and how rare or desirable they are among a growing number of enthusiastic gamers and professional trading card collectors.

“It’s always a lottery when you buy a packet of cards from the shop,” Smith said from his recently opened FAB Armory shop in Sydenham.

"Last Friday, a dad brought in his two young boys to buy a packet each so that they could learn the game, and in one of the packs was an unlimited run, rainbow foiled ‘Heart of Fyendal’.

"I immediately offered to swap him 30 packets of cards for it, so he was real pleased his son now has heaps of cards to play with."

On the other hand, if you want a cold foiled, alpha print, first edition ‘Heart of Fyendal’, like one of the two Smith recently sold for $35,000 each, then he said he will talk terms.

Trading cards have been around for generations, with US baseball cards being the first, packaged with cigarettes and sweets to stiffen the packaging in the 1860s.

As colour printing technologies developed, the popularity of the cards grew and so too did the value of trading, reaching million-dollar status, courtesy of keen-eyed investors and card sleuths scouring garage sales for an elusive-but-pristine ‘52 Mickey Mantle or LeBron James rookie year card – currently worth over $8.3 million each.

In the 1990s, the advent of the trading card game Magic – a game involving a combination of luck and skill, with two or more players battling it out as powerful wizards, using collections of cards (spells) in their decks – started to make a toe-hold in the gaming industry.

Then along came Pokémon cards, KeyForge, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Game of Thrones, Sorcerer and the latest world hit – Flesh and Blood, a Kiwi-developed card game popular with all ages.

Fast forward to the pandemic and thousands of bored people sitting around home and its popularity only increased, with many playing online or looking to capitalise on their collections by trading their cards.

“The game and the trading of cards is booming,” said Smith.

“Last weekend there were 1100 professional players gathered in New York, competing for USD$100,000 in prize money, with over 15,000 others watching online.

“The game’s lead developer, Chris Gehring from Legend Story Studios in Auckland, travelled to the tournament and it was great to see him speaking there.”

Smith said the fundamental thing about the game is it’s very social, and it just helps people gain confidence and learn skills.

“Everyone can be as confident as they want behind a computer screen, but you develop a lot more confidence interacting with people on a physical and social level.

“Basically, people are using the card games to teach their kids maths and stuff like that because of the different attack and block values.”

He believes it’s the modern generation’s variation of society card games like Poker, Euchre, Bridge, Go Fish and others.

“You’ve got to make decisions on the fly or just work out if you’re basically going to have the right resources to keep yourself alive.”

Smith has been playing games since he was young and after learning the trading business in Auckland, he returned to Christchurch to train as a plumber while still trading cards online from his bedroom in Wigram.

But a broken hand meant he looked to his rapidly expanding online sales for income and soon FAB Armory grew into the retail store it is today.

“There are often 10-20 players coming here twice a week to play in the shop in Sydenham and we are still working hard online to cater to the huge demand for single cards.”

He said people of all ages, lifestyles and incomes want specific cards to make up a set or collection – and are prepared to pay for them.

“I sold a F&B Fyendal’s ‘Spring Tunic’ to a famous client recently for $35,000.

“It’s all about looking at the market, understanding the attraction of first editions cards, finding them and gauging the market to get the best price for them,” he said.

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