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Learning Sports Card Terms

If you’re new to trading cards, or getting back into it after some time away, it can be intimidating trying to understand all the different lingo that’s used. Inserts, parallels, pulls, and blasters. Just what the heck is everybody talking about?!

At Zephyr Epic, we want everyone to feel welcome to join in this fun and exciting hobby. Whether you’re trying to find out what’s new or wondering where to even start, our trading card experts are always happy to be at your service. And today, we’re going to go over some common terms used when talking about sports trading cards.

Sports Card Terms: Cards

Autograph Card: Cards that have player autographs on them. The autograph may be directly on the card itself or on a sticker applied to the card. Autograph cards are popular inserts and can be found in most sets, including Panini’s Court Kings basketball cards.

Autograph card from Panini’s 2018-19 Court Kings set. Image via Beckett. 


Base Card: The basic cards that make up a set. These are the most common cards in a set and will make up the majority of the cards you’ll find in a pack.

Base cards from Upper Deck’s 2018-19 NHL Series 1 set. Images via eBay.

Bounty Program: A special program created by Upper Deck. Find and collect a complete subset of special cards and redeem them online to earn extremely rare reward cards! Currently found in the Artifacts, Synergy, and SP Authentic sets.

Autograph Bounty Reward card from Upper Deck’s 2019-20 Artifacts set. Image via Beckett.

Memorabilia Card: Trading cards containing pieces of sports memorabilia. Most frequently, these cards will feature an embedded piece of a game-used jersey, but it can be other things, like a piece of a baseball or a baseball bat. Memorabilia cards can be found in several sets, but Panini’s Leather & Lumber baseball cards in particular feature a variety of cool memorabilia cards.

Memorabilia card from Topps’ 2019 Leather & Lumber set. Image via Beckett.

Hit: Also called a “pull,” a hit is a card perceived to have higher value than the other cards in a series. Often the hit is an insert or a rare parallel. There are hits in every set, but some sets (like Topps’ Chrome baseball cards) have more than others! 

Insert card: A non-base and non-parallel card in a set. Usually part of a subset, like Young Guns (found in Upper Deck’s Series 1 hockey cards) and Cast for Greatness (found in Upper Deck’s Synergy hockey cards).

Young Guns card from Upper Deck’s 2019-20 NHL Series 1 set. Image via Upper Deck.

Numbering: The number found on the back of a card indicating its place in a set. Some parallels and inserts also have the exact print run stamped on the card, usually as a number such as 34/100, which would make the card the thirty-fourth printed in a run of one hundred. This is called serial numbering and signals to the collector that the card is a short-print.

Numbered card from Topps’ MLB Series 1 set. Note the “01/67” at the top right of the card! Image via eBay.

One-of-One: A card that has only been printed once. One of one (or 1-of-1) cards are extremely valuable because they have no duplicates!

Parallel Card: A short print variation of a card. While it mostly resembles the original card, the parallel card may feature a differently coloured border, a different logo, or even a different texture. Parallels are harder to find than their counterparts, which makes them more valuable. You can find a lot of colourful parallels in O-Pee-Chee hockey cards!

Insert card and its short print parallel from Upper Deck’s 2019-20 O-Pee-Chee set. Images via Beckett.

Short-Print (SP): A card that has a lower print run than the base cards in a set. Inserts and parallels tend to be short-print cards, which is why they’re harder to find than base cards!

Sports Card Terms: Format

Blaster Box: A sealed box of a predetermined number of packs of cards. These can usually be found for sale in retail stores. Sometimes a brand like Topps will use a flashier name that better matches the style of the set, like Relic box for their Series 1 baseball cards or Value box for their Archives cards. Some are designed to hang in retail store display cabinets, like the Hanger boxes for Heritage cards.

Blaster Box for Upper Deck’s 2019-20 MVP set.

Box Break: The act of opening a sealed box of trading cards. A “group break” is when a group of collectors chip in to buy a box and divide whatever hit cards they find. This can be very fun to be part of, and you can find lots of videos of group breaks on YouTube and Twitch. 

Case: A full, sealed container filled with boxes of cards (usually hobby boxes). To encourage collectors to buy their cards by the case, some companies guarantee a specific type of higher value card can be found in every case. This is called a “case hit.”

Hobby Box: A sealed box of cards. While more expensive than retail boxes, they contain a much higher chance at finding a high value card. Hobby boxes are often sold sealed and it is rare to find the packs sold separately. Some sets, such as Chronology and Team Canada Juniors, are only released in hobby boxes.

Hobby Box for Upper Deck’s 2019 Team Canada Juniors set.

Insert Odds: The odds of finding an insert card in a pack. Often shown as a ratio, such as 1:4, which means an average of one insert card per four packs. 

Pack: A small, wrapped package of cards. The amount of cards you get in each pack depends on the set.

Retail Box: A sealed box of trading cards. Retail boxes are often cheaper than hobby boxes, but there are lower chances of finding parallel and insert cards in a retail box. Retail boxes are often opened by sellers and the packs inside are sold separately. They are often found at retail stores like London Drugs and Toys”R”Us, and are a good option for those looking to start their collection without spending too much money upfront. Keep in mind that while hobby boxes usually have better odds at most higher value cards, there are still some special parallels and inserts to be found in some retail boxes, like the Young Guns rookie cards in Series 1 retail boxes!

Retail Box for Upper Deck’s 2019-20 NHL Series 1 set.

Starter Kit: A trading card portfolio produced by Upper Deck for their Series 1 hockey cards. It comes with an exclusive Sophomore Sensations insert card, five packs of Series 1, and a few other fun goodies!

Starter kit for Upper Deck’s 2018-19 NHL Series 1 set. 

In Conclusion

If you’ve been trying to get into trading cards and are feeling a little lost, you’re not alone! The world of trading cards is vast and diverse, and it can take a little while to wrap your head around it. Hopefully our little glossary helps clarify what you’re looking at. If you still have questions or if you think we missed something, we’re always happy to hear from you, so please leave a comment below!


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