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Sports Card Checklists: How They Can Give You An Edge

mobile checklist
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

If you’re new to the hobby, the sheer amount of knowledge amongst seasoned collectors can be intimidating. Across sports, product sets, and players, there’s always new information to learn and understand to give yourself an edge when it comes to buying sports cards. 

One of the most helpful resources often overlooked by new collectors are set checklists

When a card production company (like Topps or Panini) releases a product, it's usually accompanied by a checklist which can be found in a few places. 

We’re going to get into some details about these checklists and why they should be your go-to tool that will help you better understand the sets and find some opportunities in the market. 

1. What is a set checklist?

checklist
Panini

Simply put, a set checklist is the documentation of the cards that are included in a set. For example, 2018 Panini Prizm basketball is a product “set”. 

A checklist of that set would include the players featured, inserts included, variations, parallels (typically with print runs), etc. Checklists often include information about which parallels are available in different products (i.e. a hobby box versus a retail box). 

Anybody interested in purchasing that box of cards would use a set checklist to figure out what they could potentially find in a product. 

Savvy collectors also understand that set checklists can be a powerful tool in understanding rarity, product scope, set evolutions and help them find hidden gems (more on that later). 

Let’s look at a sample Parallel section of 2018 Prizm Basketball: 

checklist1
Beckett.com

Many checklists include a breakdown of parallels like the one pictured above to help collectors understand the available parallels and the rarity that’s built in. A list like this gives you the blueprint to make more informed decisions when buying cards. 

With all the variety coming out and new sets, they’re a really useful tool for anyone involved in the hobby. 

2. How do I find set checklists?

checklist intro
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

Not all checklists are created equally, especially for older sets, but a quick Google search (“2018 Prizm Basketball Checklist”) will usually lead you to one of two places: Beckett.com or Cardboardconnection.com.

There are many other websites available, like Groupbreakchecklists.com to find what you’re looking for. 

Some checklists include product imagery, with breakdowns of nuanced variation between certain cards. Others are tables filled with written text to help you navigate which cards are available in a set. 

Below we’ll look at the 2018-19 Panini Prizm Basketball checklist on Beckett and Cardboard Connection: 

checklist3
Beckett.com (left) CardboardConnection.com (right)

While they’re displayed differently, you can typically find the same information across multiple websites.

It can take a bit of work for older sets, or to find checklists with product imagery to help you spot certain cards visually, but it’s well worth the work to do some Google searches and see what’s available on these two websites as well as others. 

Panini offers downloadable checklists that are helpful, but they are in a spreadsheet format and do not include product imagery: 

checklist4
PaniniAmerica.net

If you’re looking for more information about a set, you’re bound to find it online with plenty of resources at your fingertips. 

3. How do I use checklists to my advantage?

luka 1
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

Using set checklists to your advantage boils down to one thing: understanding scarcity. 

The more you understand what’s included in a product set and the print runs of various cards, the better informed you can be when you buy certain cards. 

Initially, your advantage is making less mistakes when chasing certain players or cards. For example, you might overpay for a 2018 Prizm Red Ice Trae Young PSA 10 because you know it’s a parallel, but you might not realize that there are other red parallels that have shorter print runs. 

And as you get more advanced, you’ll begin to learn that certain sets have multiple variations, some cards with significantly more rarity than others: 

checklist5
CardboardConnection.com

While AJ McCarron wouldn’t be exciting to collect today, Contenders Football (a flagship set with a long history) contains variations with shorter print runs. There are slight differences in the photos, but the shorter print cards command a higher price. 

Some of the nuance gets even more detailed, like in the Contenders Football 2011 set: 

checklist6
CardboardConnection.com

In this case, the imagery of Julio Jones without the “Riddell” across the top of his facemask is a shorter-print variation. 

The average hobbyist might miss a detail like that, but now that you’re armed with checklists, you might be able to spot shorter-print cards available for similar prices as their non-SP counterparts and get a deal. 

Another use for checklists is to look across sets and years of a particular player to answer questions like: 

  1. How many dual Kobe Bryant / Lebron James autos are there available? 
  2. How many on-card autographed cards are available for Tom Brady? 
  3. What is the first year of the Signature Gloves cards in Panini Flawless? 

Checklists allow you to go deep. 

It’s also important that you understand demand and desirability, as well. For example, there may only be 5 issued copies of the 2005 Upper Deck Exquisite Dual Jersey Autograph of Lebron James and Larry Hughes, but not many collectors are chasing a Lebron card featuring Larry Hughes. 

In some ways, the complexity of the hobby has given way to the Prizm Silver and National Treasures Rookie Patch Autographs numbered to 99 as “true rookies” because there’s just so much to choose from. 

Hobbyists who spend a lot of time with checklists can see why it’s easier to have widely-accepted key rookies as the core cards of a player to collect. The general market doesn’t understand the detail and nuance of sets, their variations, their limited runs, etc. 

However, this is where you can spot your opportunity. If you understand demand for particular players and sets, you can find rare cards that many others likely haven’t yet discovered. It’s always a risk that you’ve gone too deep, but it makes collecting that much more fun. 

And if you don’t have the time to go deep, now you know where to find the resources that can double-check before purchasing some wax or a card of a particular player to make sure you understand what you're buying and how scarce it truly is. 

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