Throughout your time in the trading card hobby, I’m sure you’ve been privy to photos of some remarkable ‘team master-set’ collections, showcasing every card printed in the collectors team's colours. Starting out like anyone as a novice collector, that final product can feel like an eternity away. That’s because successfully becoming a ‘team master-set’ collector is no mean feat. It can take years to backdate your collection to the point of acquiring every card for your cardboard masterpiece. We've been asked by many collectors "if you were to start this journey TODAY, what would be the best way to go about it?" Here at Card Authority, we are attempting to give collectors a ‘crash course’ in becoming a ‘team master-set’ collector, guided by the advice of the AJ’s who BOTH fall into this illustrious category. So let’s get started!
1. Familiarise Yourself With The Task At Hand
This may sound elementary, but getting an idea of the sheer volume of cards required for this undertaking is definitely the first step. Luckily for you, there are databases out there which allow you to track individual cards that will make up your ‘master-set’. Aussie Rules Collectables is a fantastic resource which allows you to filter for cards by player, set and more importantly team. If you are looking to only ‘master set’ Select printed cards, the website allows you to filter for years minted (e.g. 1993-2023), which also spits out a total number of cards required to complete the set. Just to understand the magnitude of cards, the number of St Kilda cards printed between 1993-2023 lands at a total of 4,741 different cards. It’s also important to set yourself parameters as to how far you’re willing to take your future collection. Will you be collecting releases like ‘Future Force’ which includes players who play/ed for your chosen team, but not necessarily donning your teams colours and insignia? All questions that need to be answered before you start collecting.
2. Setting Yourself A Budget
As mentioned above, successfully undertaking the challenge of becoming a ‘team master-set’ collector could mean you’re acquiring 4,000+ cards over an extended period of time. Because of the sheer volume of cards needed, this exercise can become quite costly and therefore you should set yourself a monetary budget to ensure your spending doesn’t exceed your means. It’s very easy to get caught up in the allure of trading cards, so making sure you have a dollar amount in mind allocated to completing your set is crucial.
3. Start Collecting The Basics
While the task of becoming a 'team master-set' collector can be daunting, without context, it must be remembered that a majority of those cards are base cards or unnumbered inserts. A majority of the time, you will be able to find the common base sets from previous releases online for relatively cheap, and with more recent releases, you could probably find someone willing to part ways with base cards for just the cost of postage. A vast majority of older Series 1 releases were all unnumbered cards, however with those cards now being out of circulation for a number of years, the ability to successfully locate them generally outweighs their commonality.
4. Connect With The Trading Card Community
One of, if not the best part about collecting, is the sense of community amongst collectors who share the same passion for cardboard collectables. There are plenty of Facebook groups now available at the disposal of collectors, with the group we MOST recommend being the ‘Really Good Vibes Trading Card Community’. Inside these groups lie sub-groups of collectors who focus on collecting their favourite teams trading cards. This allows for like-minded people such as yourself to gain the knowledge and expertise of other collectors who too also started from scratch. The other massive bonus of Facebook groups is being able to purchase cards you're chasing for potentially cheaper than expected. When collectors list cards on selling platforms like eBay, they set their prices in accordance to the money they would receive AFTER fee’s. Therefore when you take away the middle man (eBay), collectors are more than likely to set their prices cheaper on groups, as there’s no costs to incur when selling privately. A lot of collectors prefer selling their cards on groups for this reason, so not only are you decreasing your total outlay by buying from Facebook groups, but you're also increasing your total pool of cards available to buy. If you decide to purchase cards privately, collectors should always be wary of scammers across less trustworthy Facebook groups which don't have active moderation.
5. Monitor Upcoming Card Releases
A part of the journey to becoming a ‘team master-set’ collector is that the road has no set ending. New card releases roll around multiple times a year, with differing levels of collectability. Therefore staying up to date with the latest products and checklists is a crucial part of your undertaking. Select’s releases have evolved over time, but for many years the schedule consisted of a Series 1 and Series 2 release, being a mass-marketed and hobby based product respectively. But since 2019, collectors have been introduced to more premium products such as Supremacy, Brilliance, Supremacy Rookie and now ‘AFL GEM Football’. The cards found in these releases command premium prices, which in recent years has made some ‘team master-set’ collectors re-evaluate their collecting styles. But with that being said, a vast majority of collectors still fall under the umbrella of some variation of ‘team collector’ to varying degrees.
6. Patience, Patience, & more Patience
As has been the undertone of this article, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither should your trading card collection. If it were, you would most likely be forking out a pretty penny to compile all the cards required in a short period of time. Which is beyond the means of a majority of collectors. However, if this undertaking was easy to achieve then wouldn’t everyone do it? When starting your collection, as “rare cards” begin to pop up, there’s always that part of you that believes ‘if I don’t buy this card I’ll never see it again’. Let me put your mind at ease, there’s not many cards out there which won’t reveal themselves more than once, and while cards numbered to /25 and /40 are difficult to find, they still aren’t impossible to locate. However as time elapses, those shorter printed cards become increasingly harder to source. So collectors have to weigh up the opportunity cost of potentially spending $30 more than originally anticipated, versus potentially missing out on an opportunity that won’t present itself for further months or even years. Once cards enter peoples ‘PC’s’, there's a chance they’ll never leave the individual's collection, which is always something to keep in mind when trying to acquire rarer cards. However luckily for collectors, for a large portion of your chase, having prices in mind and sticking to those prices should keep you in good stead as you progress along your journey.
7. Utilising Trades With Other Collectors
As the term ‘trading card’ suggests, trading is a key element to the collecting ecosystem, and can be of benefit to you when attempting to complete your ‘team master-set’, especially when it comes to the more modern releases. Depending on your chosen team, there are varying differences in ‘card currency’ which certain teams possess. The differences are mainly based around team collector base size, and moderated by levels of on-field performance/success. But let’s say you’re wanting to start a Fremantle ‘team master set’, a team which has historically had a smaller collector base than other Victorian clubs . If you decide to open your boxes and happen to pull per say a desirable Richmond card, who historically have a large collector base, you could potentially have some nice trade leverage to acquire the ‘Freo’ cards you need for your collection. Obviously there are some Fremantle cards that have greater currency than some Richmond cards given scarcity, series, player etc., but you should get the general gist. Trading is also a good way to start building networks with other collectors, who through your dealings may keep you in mind for future cards should they land in their possession.
8. Keeping Track Of Your Collection
Part of maintaining your collection is knowing which cards you currently possess and which cards you’re still in need of chasing. This is why physically documenting your collection can be a useful tool in successfully completing your ‘team master-set’. When dealing with potentially thousands of individual cards, it’s sometimes hard to remember which cards you’ve already bought, especially over a span of multiple years. Not only is it nice to see the progress you’ve made over time, but when it comes to also potentially filing insurance for your collection should it reach a certain level, you’ll have all the documentation you need to ensure your valuables are protected.
9. Displaying Your Masterpiece
What’s the point of going through all the trouble of acquiring some stunning pieces for your collection, if you’re unable to show them off? There are plenty of different ways to display your collection, but it’s hard to go past a multi-levelled display case showing off all the big ticket items in your collection.
10. Enjoying The Journey
The last point we’ll make, and probably the most important point, is to enjoy the collecting experience. Sometimes as collectors we are guilty of forgetting the bigger picture, being that card collecting is a hobby which should positively add to our lives, not detract from it. No one likes being a slave to their collection, so taking your time and enjoying the wins and the near misses will ensure that you don’t experience ‘cardboard burn-out’ which I'm sure most of us have felt at one point or another.
Becoming a ‘team master-set’ or 'master-set' collector in the AFL trading card hobby is an ambitious undertaking, but with passion, persistence, engagement, and determination, it is an attainable and highly satisfying endeavor. But never forget to enjoy the process and excitement entailed with collecting new cards, as you work your way towards your very own trading card masterpiece!