As with any card game, the overwhelming majority of players use sleeves, or deck protectors, to protect their little pieces of cardboard from the stress of shuffling, flipping, and just overall handling. While most do this to protect their investments in expensive cards, it can also prevent the card from becoming “marked” just through normal, every-day play. I usually try to keep about 6 or so decks for each side built at any one time, so I’ve gone through a lot (A LOT) of deck protectors.
Throughout my time, I’ve developed some favorites and some that I regret ever forking over cash for. So while ultimately what kind of sleeves you use is your call, I thought it might be helpful to any new or returning players who have dusted off their cards and want to hit the tournament scene and might be in the market for a new set of shields. However, this article should in no way be seen as a promotion or endorsement to buy or not buy any one type of sleeve over the other, it is just a collection of my experiences, which you are free to take for whatever they are worth.
Also note, where prices are mentioned, it is according to the MSRP directly from the manufacturer’s website as of the writing of this article. And, for reference, the standard card size is 63.5 x 88 mm.
In the beginning…
As many of you might recall, Decipher originally allowed the use of deck protectors to be entirely optional. And those who did use them, had to use clear ones. Many felt that if you used the deck protectors with the darker, solid-colored backs you could hold your cards in a certain way so that the front of the card you were holding would reflect off of the back of the deck protector from the card underneath it, essentially allowing you to see what card it was. Also, it was thought that opaque deck protectors were easier to nick or dent, so that players could mark the deck protector instead of the card. So back in the day, I was rocking a lot of those PKK clear sleeves which, unlike Ultra Pros, they were a bit thicker and taller.
The problem with these, as well as most sleeves at the time, was that the hologram identifying the product’s manufacturer was in the lower left corner, essentially covering the forfeit box of the character and starship cards. (Real life, fun fact: the very, very early Virtual Cards released by the Players Committee actually moved the deploy and forfeit values up on the card to avoid them being covered by the holograms.) Eventually some companies adapted to this and moved the hologram further to the right, while some companies released sleeves with no holograms.
With the dawn of the Players Committee, there has been a whole new set of deck protector guidelines. According to the tournament guideline, deck protectors are mandatory:
12. Sleeves: For tournament play, all decks must be sleeved. All deck sleeves
for cards in a given Reserve Deck must be of a uniform size, color and
design. In the event that a player’s sleeves become marked during tournament
play, that player must replace the sleeve(s) in question immediately. Decks
must be sleeved using opaque, non-reflective sleeves that do not have offensive
images (as determined by the tournament director.)
Now they are required for tournament play. In fact, the sleeves must be opaque. The rationale for this is fairly simple: without sleeves, cards with virtual slips would be extraordinarily identifiable if unsleeved (or even clear sleeved), not to mention the card backs of the early Decipher cards were very inconsistent in coloring, so it is easy to tell which cards in your deck are from Premiere (ie, stock your deck full of discolored A Few Maneuvers and never miss a saber swing!). The opaque sleeves also allow damaged cards to be playable again since generally players cannot see the creases, marks or wear of a card back through opaque sleeves.
What follows is an assessment of my experiences with the six various sleeves (3 Ultra Pro, 3 other brands) depicted below, from the vantage point of a player of our game – that is what sleeves are both legal and practical for Star Wars CCG players.
These are, by far, the industry standard of deck sleeves, if for no other reason than their volume in the market. They are everywhere and available in many different styles and colors. This article obviously cannot review them all, and keeping in mind I cannot paint them all with one broad brush, my general opinion of Ultra Pro is that they are… okay. They generally protect your cards, do not obstruct shuffling and are very economical, which makes them pretty popular. However, they are also prone to split during game play, but you will definitely get your use out of them before this happens.
I had sworn off Ultra Pro for the longest time simply because the very early release of the sleeves were not tall enough to cover the top of the card. I always found the tops of my cards were left completely unprotected and would get nicked. So I was never a fan of their deck protectors. However, at some point the design changed, along with their color schemes. Eventually the sleeves were made a little bit taller and, for their economical value, I loaded up on them and sleeved all of my Light Side decks in the stone-gray sleeves and all of my Dark Side decks in the red sleeves. I would say I got about 3 or so years’ worth of playing with them before the sleeve splitting got out of hand. Of course, these sleeves also suffered from the “hologram over the forfeit” syndrome, which is less than ideal for our game. (Note: in the photograph above, this style sleeve is labeled “Classic”).
However, unfortunately, when I went to re-stock them, Ultra Pro AGAIN re-designed their sleeves. This time, they were thinner (allegedly for a tighter fit to prevent the card from sliding around inside the sleeve), narrower (again, so the card had less room to wiggle side-to-side) and (why, oh why???) shorter. I bought a pack of them to try them, but as soon as I sleeved a card I realized that they would not work for me – I simply was not comfortable with the level of protection the sleeve gave to the top of my card. However, I still wanted to give it an honest review and did sleeve one deck with them (sorry, IG-88 (v)…). I will say this: outside of the sleeve height, these sleeves worked pretty well. The hologram does not obscure important parts of the card, the deck protectors are thin and keep the deck piles small, and they feel and shuffle very well. They retail for $5.99 for a package of 100 (or $2.99 for a package of 50) and are available in plenty of colors.
Ultra Pro also makes Pro-Matte sleeves. I bought some of these as well. To be frank, I did not find them to feel any more comfortable than the regular Ultra Pros and I found the sleeve front (which is almost like frosted glass, allegedly to prevent glare) to be disruptive and kind of took away from the cool pictures most of our cards have. So I was not a huge fan of these deck protectors. They retail for $3.49 for a package of 50.
+ : Good value
+ : Industry standard (important when figuring out which deck box will fit your sleeved deck)
+ : Shuffle fairly well
– : Shelf-life is not as long as some other brands
– : Newer style of sleeves reminds me of the old style of sleeves in that it does not protect the top of the card very well
– : Hologram can get in the way (even though it was moved to the right, it still can cover up some letters in the game text box – why is it even there?)
The Run Down:
Size: At 66 x 91 mm, the sleeves set the industry standard as far as comparisons or how other accessories may work (for example deck boxes or 9-pocket pages)
Packing: 50 sleeves per bag (or 100 sleeves per bag)
Cost: at about 6 cents per sleeve, it’s $3.60 to sleeve your deck ($4.19 for Pro-Mattes)
I am partial to these. They are essentially indestructible, they provide plenty of coverage for the card, provide a fairly “tight” fit (to not let much dirt or dust inside the sleeve and to keep the card snug inside so that it does not bounce around), and they do not have a hologram. At all. It seems like a simple feature, but not having anything on the front of the sleeve to obscure any part of the card is really the way to go, in my opinion.
They also come in a wide variety of colors, from clear (which work well for Objectives) to copper, to pink, any everything in between (including yes, black, blue and red). There was a time when all of my Light Side decks were in blue Dragon Shields and I never had one split. Never. Another huge bonus of these is that the box that the sleeves are sold in can serve as a nice deck box, housing your entire deck, including your 15 Defensive Shields. I honestly don’t think anyone who gets a set of Dragon Shields would be disappointed with how they play and how they protect your cards (probably the two most important features of deck protectors).
A few nit-picky draw backs: they are often inconsistent with their cut. While I have never had a Dragon Shield that was too short on a card, I have had a few that were way, way too long. This can get annoying when you want to sleeve your deck, only to find that a few cards stick out because they are noticeably longer than the rest. However, it is almost like the company knows this and they usually put more than the 100 in the box to even things out. Between the extra deck protectors that were included, I usually didn’t have a problem sleeving decks with them. Another draw-back is that they are on the more expensive end of deck protectors. While they cannot be purchased directly from the manufacturer, Amazon lists them at about $11.99 for a box of 100. Also, while they shuffle okay, they do have a tendency to catch or grab onto one another (assuming you do the “jam a pile into the side of another pile” style shuffle that I do), likely due to their thickness. So while it is not impossible to shuffle them, some of the other options provide a smoother shuffle. Finally (and this is the reason I abandoned my Dragon Shields), they get nicked and develop weird dirt smudges or gunk piles on them pretty easily. While all deck protectors will show signs of marks after play, the sheen-ness of the backs of Dragon Shield really seemed to show off flaws. And the front, while generally crystal clear, always had a habit of getting splotches of dirt or gunk that other sleeves either don’t pick up or don’t show; yet the Dragon Shields seemed to attract and hold on to it, like a magnet for whatever dirt or dust was on your playing surface, making globs of gunk on the front of pretty much all of your cards for you to constantly be picking off.
+ : The strongest deck protector I’ve used
+ : Protects the whole card very well, including the top
+ : No hologram
– : Pricier than Ultra Pros
– : Not the easiest to side shuffle (but certainly manageable)
– : Backs show the nicks and dents and splotches of gunk and dirt will appear on the front after some game play
The Run Down:
Size: At (an inconsistent and approximate) 66 x 92.5 mm, the sleeves more than cover the card
Packaging: 100 (usually a few more) per box, and the box can double as a deck box, holding a fully sleeved deck, including Defensive Shields
Cost: At about 8 cents per sleeve, it’s $5 to sleeve your deck
Fantasy Flight Games: Star Wars Art Sleeves
Umm, yes! These sleeves look great. They (obviously) have a very Star Wars-y feel to them, with numerous Star Wars designs available (from lightsaber battles, to Force Lightning, to the movie posters). While I prefer to have all of my decks for each side of the Force sleeved in the same type of sleeve, I can absolutely see someone going nuts with these and putting their Watch Your Step deck in Han Solo sleeves, their Jedi Training deck in the Yoda sleeves, and their Hunt Down Deck in the Darth Vader sleeves. Although, the trouble with this is that they are sold in packages of 50 for a game that requires decks of 60 (so one package is not enough and anything between two and five leaves you with a pile of left overs). And you are definitely paying for all of that premium art work and licensing – they retail for $4.99 for a package of 50.
As far as game play, they shuffle well and are very, very tall. In fact, too tall. I had kept my decks in empty Ultra Pro deck protector boxes, but decks sleeved in these simply won’t let the top of the box close. I found even putting them in the empty Dragon Shield sleeve boxes would cause the corners of some to bend down when I closed the lid. However, they have no holograms and feel good as you are playing with them, although perhaps a little plastic-y or slick. So long as your deck box has the height for them, these aren’t the worst deck protectors you can buy. However, to be candid, I only ever sleeved two decks with them and neither was played too extensively, so I cannot speak to their durability or how long before the sleeves would split.
+ : They are… STAR WARS!
+ : Cover the card well
+ : No hologram
– : Distribution is not conducive to our game (60 card decks with 50 sleeves)
– : Slightly too tall, can be problematic to fit into some deck boxes with lids.
– : a bit slippery (but nothing too troublesome)
The Run Down:
Size: At (approximately and unofficially) 65 x 94 mm, the sleeves are very tall
Packing: 50 sleeves per bag
Cost: At about 10 cents per sleeve, it’s $6.00 to sleeve your deck
I’ll put my cards on the table here (pun intended): these are my favorite sleeves and what I currently use on all of my decks. These are easily the best deck sleeves I have ever used. They are thick (although not as thick as Dragon Shields), have a “tacky” type feel on the back that prevents the cards from being too slippery, yet it does not get in the way of the cards from being side shuffled. It really does walk the line perfectly between having a solid, secure feel with ease of shuffling. These sleeves are great.
However… here’s the thing… They are designed for (and best used with) double-sleeving. Double-sleeving is basically what any regular, pompous, anal retentive, OCD, type-A card player does these days. It is basically putting the card upside-down inside a small, tight, clear sleeve, and then putting that inside the regular deck protector, right-side up. So basically the top of the card that would normally be exposed to the deck sleeve opening, is covered with the inner plastic sleeve. It is the best way to protect your cards. And, quite frankly, in light of the fact that they are not making any more of these cards, there is a finite supply that we should take steps to ensure are protected. Think about it: each time an Emperor Palpatine gets damaged beyond the point of playability, that’s one less Emperor in all of the card pool that will ever be. So, coming from a player who (as of this writing) owns 15 Emperor Palpatines, I feel like I should do all I can to make sure they can continue to fry Chewbacca with Force Lighting whenever that fuzzball steps foot inside the Cantina.
Of course, when you double-sleeve a deck, a few things happen. First, it adds to the expense. (As with the Dragon Shields, KMC sleeves are also not available directly from the manufacturer, so prices are again obtained from Amazon’s listed MSRP). While the KMC Hyper Mat sleeves are $10.00 for a package of 80, the KMC Perfect Fit sleeves (which serve as the inner sleeve) cost $6.16 for a package of 100. Second, it takes more time to sleeve the deck. Literally twice as long because you are sleeving each card twice.
However, perhaps the biggest draw-back is that it adds to the thickness of the deck considerably. To the point where two double sleeved decks (each with double sleeved defensive shields) do not fit in the classic OTSD deck box that most of us use to bring our decks to tournaments. Many probably find this unacceptable, and it’s almost made me re-think this whole double-sleeving business. However, there are a few remedies for this. First, you can double sleeve your main deck while only single sleeving your Defensive Shields – that arrangement will fit in the Decipher OTSD boxes. In fact, that’s what I do: I have my Light Side deck in black Hyper Mat shields double sleeved with the defensive shields in the Fantasy Flight Yoda sleeves; Dark Side in red Hyper Mat shields double-sleeved with the defensive shields in the Fantasy Flight Darth Vader sleeves. That does in fact fit, seemingly perfectly, inside the OTSD box. The other option is to double sleeve everything (Defensive Shields included) and buy a different type of deck box. For what it is worth, the Fantasy Flight Star Wars card game deck boxes (which are usually given out as prizes for their card game’s tournaments) have some cool Star Wars art on them and are available on eBay for a few bucks. They are only slightly larger than the Decipher OTSD boxes we are used to, but they will fit two entirely double sleeved decks.
Also, as far as the size goes, if you take your time in sleeving them and push the air out that gets trapped within the inner sleeve, it cuts down on the “puffiness” of your deck. And as the cards get played, the air will escape and the deck will thin out over time. 60 double sleeved cards will fit in a standard deck box (which are usually made for 75 card decks – I keep mine in empty Dragon Shield sleeve boxes), but you will need to find another place to store (or buy a bigger deck box for) your Defensive Shields. Also, while the size can be a drawback for finding a deck box or storage, think of the psychological advantage it gives you during the game – your Reserve Deck can get dwindled down to 10 but look like 15… imagine the surprise of being able to play We’re Doomed when your opponent thinks you still have 20 cards left, or how it must appear to him, thinking you came prepared to rock him out with 80 cards of awesomeness, while he only has 60. With these sleeves, it’s like bringing a gun to a knife fight…
Finally, a few other nice bonuses of double sleeving is that it is very difficult to notice the “curled” or warped foils that might otherwise be considered “marked.” With the thickness of double sleeving, much of the “warp-ness” is lost; also the tightness of the inner sleeve can, to some extent, help straighten out the curved foils. (See the Section 2.4 of the Tournament Guide about using warped foils for more information.) Another nice bonus is that so long as you use the proper inner sleeve, it should be tight enough that the virtual slips will not slide or move without having to use any adhesive to attach it to the card. So basically, between the clarity of the sleeves, the lack of a hologram, and the inner sleeve stabilizing the virtual slip, your cards and decks will look great.
+ : Offers the best protection for your cards (when double sleeved)
+ : Shuffle, handle, and feel great
+ : With no holograms and the double sleeving keeping the v-slips in place, cards look good
– : Pricey (especially when double sleeving)
– : Time consuming to sleeve your deck
– : Makes your decks bigger and can be problematic to fit in deck boxes
The Run Down:
Size: 66 x 91 mm (the same as Ultra Pro) (the inner sleeves are 64 x 89 mm)
Packaging: 80 sleeves per bag (100 “Perfect Size” inner sleeves per bag)
Cost: At 12.5 cents a sleeve and 6 cents for the inner sleeve, it’s about $11 to double-sleeve your deck.
In sum, you have to decide what sleeves are best for you. All have their pros and cons (and please do not rely on anything in this article to decide to buy or not buy a product; they are solely my opinions on what works for me). However, what’s important is that your cards are protected and everyone is ready to do battle across the galaxy (from their table top…).