Tag Archives: Playmat Finance

Playmat Finance IV: Playmat TLC

By: Guo Heng

Welcome back to another installment of Playmat Finance, where we discuss the MTG-finance implications of that rubbery fabric that stands between our precious cards and and the harsh surfaces where we sometimes play. The first part of the series took a shot at crafting a rudimentary framework to pin a value on Grand Prix playmats, which are part and parcel of modern-day Magic Grands Prix. Part two took a look at Game Day playmats and Grand Prix special or side event playmats. Part three discussed the issue of counterfeit mats and their impact on the value of authentic, sought-after mats.

Today’s article will go over the best practices for preserving the value of your playmat, but not in the manipulate-the-market-by-buying-out-every-other-copy-of-your-rare-playmat sense. A number of readers mentioned in the comments on the first Playmat Finance article that they would be interested to learn about playmat care. I’ve always thought that my assiduous TLC for my playmats was a bit of an outlier, seeing that most players I know just chuck their playmats in their bags after they are done with them. I know a few who fold theirs. What a sacrilege.

The amount of interest in playmat care is a small testimony to the playmat’s growing status as a valuable and collectible piece of Magic paraphernalia.  Magic has long transcended its status as merely a card game, establishing its own terminology and culture, or as some would even describe it, a lifestyle.

Accordingly, items related to Magic have collector’s value (check out the price of these old life counters) and playmats are among the latest additions in the previous years. The first Grand Prix where playmats were given to participants was Grand Prix Milwaukee 2002. The playmat perk was an initiative started by the organizer, Pastimes. Here’s an excerpt from their FAQ a little while back which explains the inception of Grand Prix playmats:

“The history behind playmats at Grand Prix started with Grand Prix Milwaukee in 2002. That event was hosted by… Pastimes. The concept was, as it still is, to use this great marketing collectible to commemorate the weekend – and to help drive people to come play in events on Friday. The only way to get a mat was to be in the first 250 people registered. The mat was awful compared to the amazing mats today, but nobody was doing mats at the time and it was a pretty cool promotion. The Last Chance Grand Prix Trial (pretty different back then) was the largest ever held, and the GP that followed the next day was a record setting GP. Fast forward a few years – playmats have become expected…”

It took a while for playmats to breach into the mainstream. The first Game Day playmat didn’t exist until Dark Ascension Game Day in 2012, but it has been a mainstay of Game Day prizes since then, with some of them garnering a good amount of value.

Fate Reforged Game Day Playmat

Giving Your Playmat the TLC it Deserves

After 21 years of the game’s existence, TLC for Magic cards is about as fundamental as the stack. Sleeves are essential for competitive play (the last time someone played without sleeves at a Grand Prix was Valentin Mackl at Grand Prix Vienna 2013, and that was done on purpose). Double-sleeving your Standard decks is no longer considered odd. Heck, I even triple-sleeve these days (I’m experimenting with ways to keep the cards I play with in Marcel mint condition). If you want to go all the way, you can even do this, which is technically legal if you can shuffle them without assistance.

Resources on playmat TLC are surprisingly sparse on the internet. Googling “playmat care” returns results like this gem. “Treat your playmat like you would any rug or carpet.” I don’t think I’m going to do that.

So far, the best resource for playmat care (and an introduction to playmats for the uninitiated and unconvinced) I’ve stumbled upon is a short video by no other than The Professor from Tolarian Community College.

Whatever knowledge I have regarding playmat TLC were picked up over the years.  While most of my points do overlap with The Professor’s—there are only so many ways to treat your playmat right—there are a few pointers from my own experience I would like to add, which we will get to in a bit.

They See Me Rollin’

I got my first playmat, the Dark Ascension Game Day playmat—which I won because my opponent in the top eight scooped in game three after an hour of a Blue-Black Control mirror as he had a dinner appointment to catch.

I did not treat that little piece of history (first Game Day mat ever!) right. While I did not fold it, I just rolled it up and stuffed it into what little free space my Magic bag could afford. Folding your playmat is the surest way to ruin your mat, as The Professor explains in this segment of the video.

Rolling your mat is the correct way to keep it. I am not sure if rolling it with the rubber bottom facing outwards or with the fabric layer facing outwards is the right way to roll it. I used to roll it with the rubber bottom facing out to protect the fabric layer from damage, but I was advised by a friend that rolling it with the fabric layer outwards better preserves the rubber bottom. Annoyingly, I could not verify the legitimacy of that advice. Anyway I now roll it with the fabric layer facing outwards as I keep my playmats in tubes these days.

Playmat Tubes

Back when I got my first few playmats, I did not consider them to be collectibles and I did not bothered with playmat tubes (I’m not even sure if these existed back in 2012. Perhaps they did and I did not realize it). After a few years of being rolled up naked and shoved in a bag, here’s what my Dark Ascension Game Day playmat looks like:

Dark Ascension

Surprisingly, the borders have yet to show wear and tear. But it is quite obvious that the playmat is a little creasy on the edges. I suspect it is probably because the mat frequently shared the same space in my Magic bag with my deckboxes and the occasional tumbler I carry along, which inadvertently crushed the mat as I toted around the bag.

My Grand Prix London 2013 playmat suffered the same fate:

GP London 2013

Both mats shown above are still fully functioning playmats even though they’ve been rolled and stored without any protection (rolling is the key here). Creased corners aside, they still do what they are meant to do perfectly: provide a clean and smooth surface for my cards. (While The Professor places emphasis on the former, mine is on the latter, as I’ve found that playing without a playmat drastically increases surface clouding of cards even though they are sleeved.)

Even though you can still play with them, dealing with worn-out corners is not ideal for collectible playmats, playmats with a moderate to high value, or playmats with sentimental value.

To combat this, I would highly recommend getting a playmat tube, regardless of whether your playmat is a collectible or it just serves as a velvety surface for your precious cards. It only costs a few bucks, and besides keeping your playmat in good condition, it makes transporting your playmat so much tidier.

There are a good variety of playmat tubes out there, but the two popular ones seem to be the Ultra Pro tube and Monster tube. Like The Professor, I too prefer the Monster tube, but not just because it does not roll off the table.

Left: Ultra Pro; Right: Monster
Left: Ultra Pro; Right: Monster

Monster tubes have a larger opening, partly facilitated by its prism design. I’ve found it a lot easier to fit a mat in a Monster tube compared with an Ultra Pro tube, which I sometimes need to re-roll a mat multiple times to get it to fit and it could get frustrating after a few attempts. They are both around the same price.


A playmat serves to protect your card from dirty surfaces, but is itself susceptible to dirt. A dirty playmat increases the chance of dirt getting trapped on your sleeves. I’ve always thought that playmats and water do not go well together, so my preferred method of cleaning is wiping my playmat with a damp cloth, on both the top and bottom of the mat. It’s imperative to clean the bottom of your playmat, as it can get quite dirty, and the dirt will rub onto the fabric surface when you roll your playmat.

A wipe or two with a damp cloth usually removes the residual dirt that accrues from using the playmat. I usually leave it hanging for a few hours to make sure that both sides are completely dry.

When I watched The Professor’s video above, I was surprised to find out that some playmats can go in the washing machine. The thought of having my playmats go through the rough and tumble of a washing machine cycle sends shivers down my spine, but it seems that Ultra Pro and Inked playmats are made to be machine washable. Inked Playmats‘s FAQ recommends using the delicate/handwash setting if you’re washing them in a washing machine. Don’t use the dryer—leave your playmats out to air dry.

I have yet to give this practice a try, as my mats seem to be doing quite well with damp cloth cleaning. The worst ordeal I’ve had with my playmats was spilling a cup of pumpkin spice latte on my Grand Prix London 2013 playmat (the perils of playtesting at Starbucks). I rinsed the affected part with tap water, left it to dry, and there wasn’t any trace or scent of that beverage on it after that.

I guess it’s nice to know that you could chuck your Ultra Pro or Inked playmat in a washing machine if you couldn’t be bothered to wipe them. If your playmat is not from those manufacturers, it would be prudent to check with your playmat manufacturer if the playmat is machine washable prior to doing so. I may try it one day with one of my worn out mats, but I certainly won’t be tossing my Ugin Game Day one into a washing machine.


It’s tempting to get an artist to sign your playmat along with your cards when you meet them at a Grand Prix. I’ve had a few playmats signed myself. If you’re planning to get your playmat signed, bear in mind that the signature will not last, especially if you’re using the playmat consistently. I got Winona Nelson, who has one of the most gorgeous signatures, to sign my Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur playmat last year, and here’s how the signature looks like today, a year and a half later:


I even avoided the signature area when I cleaned the mat. I doubt I’ll be getting any mats I plan to use signed in the future. Even brighter playmat backgrounds do not make signatures look any better or last any longer.


The last playmat I got signed was a Grand Prix special by Peter Mohrbacher, but that playmat is intended for my collection rather than use, so I’m hoping the signature will last.

I hope I have covered enough about playmat care to give you insight on keeping your playmat in tip-top condition for as long as possible. Do share any other tips or experiences you have regarding playmat TLC in the comments segment below, or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.


Playmat Finance: Game Day Playmats and GP Specials

By: Guo Heng

Welcome back! A while ago, I wrote about evaluating the value of Grand Prix playmats. In the second part of the Playmat Finance series, we are going to check out two other categories of collectible Magic playmats out there.

First off, let’s start with one of my favorite playmats of all time, and the category in which the mat falls under.

Game Day Playmats

Dark Ascension Game Day was the first time we saw a Game Day event that awarded an exclusive playmat to each tournament’s winner. It added a bit of prestige to Game Days and made the event a little bit more competitive.

The artwork featured on the first-ever Game Day playmat was the rather unassuming Thraben Heretic (does anybody even remember what the card does?). Nevertheless, the playmat is still selling for a decent price three years later.

Dark Ascension Game Day Promo

Perhaps it’s the novelty of being the first-ever Game Day playmat that has imbued it with a value of $20 to $30 on eBay three years after the event. Heck, those numbers look like a great deal when you compare it to what retailers who have the mat in stock are asking.

The Avacyn Restored Game Day that followed provided a playmat with much cooler art. It featured a character that would end up being one of the most iconic white EDH cards: Avacyn, Angel of Hope.

Avacyn Playmat

There were only two recent sales that are viewable as of this writing, but those give a good ballpark to help us estimate the price this playmat commands. As the first part of this series highlighted, the popularity of the card from which the playmat’s art originated from is the most significant influence on the playmat’s long-term value, so it unsurprising that the Avacyn Restored Game Day playmat is worth as much as Karn Liberated.

Not all Game Day playmats were able to retain the same long-term value. Most of them go for anywhere between $10 and $30. Still, there are a few other notable Game Day playmats, including the Magic 2014 one, which featured an exclusive Chandra art:

Chandra Playmat

While the Magic 2014 Game Day playmat art was not from a card, I believe that this treatment of Chandra Nalaar was the first time she was depicted with strands of hair rather than her usual flaming head, which may be the reason why this playmat commands an above-average price tag and is still in demand today.

An interesting point to note about the playmat above is its price trajectory. I’ve been tracking the prices of sought after playmats for a while, mainly out of personal interest (hint: I own one of them). It seems that they usually start out at an exorbitantly high price before settling down at a more reasonable level. Based on MTGSalvation.com threads regarding the Chandra playmat above, it looks like the playmat was selling for an insane price when it was new. The coveted alternate art Ugin, the Spirit Dragon Game Day playmat was selling for up to $80 on eBay for weeks following Fate Reforged Game Day, but is now going for a lot less:

Ugin Playmat August
Two takeaways for Game Day playmats:

  • If you would like to reap maximum value out of the Game Day playmat you’ve won, the best time to sell it is during the Game Day weekend itself or within the immediately following weeks.
  • I’ve never bought a Game Day playmat myself, as I can’t imagine how I would field an answer to inquisitive opponents asking how my Game Day went. But if you plan to buy one for yourself, you would get a better price a few months down the road. The longer you’re willing to wait, the better it is, as it takes a while for a playmat’s price to hit a stable price that better reflects its long-term value.

Limited Edition Grand Prix Specials

From: http://coverage.mtg-jp.com/gpchi15/article/015092/

Some Grands Prix offer one or more exclusive playmats drawn by the attending artists to commemorate the Grand Prix. While these limited-edition playmats are done by Magic artists, they usually feature artwork depicting an iconic element of the Grand Prix’s venue rather than card art (as the official playmat already features card art). I’m not sure if the artists were commissioned by the Grand Prix organizers or if these playmats were done of their own accord, but some of them do sell for a good amount.

For example, only 600 of the Grand Prix Chiba Sakura Angel playmat by Johannes Voss above were sold by the organizers at that Grand Prix (300 per day for Friday and Saturday) and players who  missed the insane early morning queue on both days could purchase a copy without the Grand Prix Chiba stamp at Johannes’s booth for a measly sum of 15,000 yen. Or on eBay for just $129.

Sakura Angel eBay August

Some Grands Prix offer these event-exclusive playmats as a side event participation gift or put them up as a prize wall offering:

GP Copenhagen Side Events Playmat

Evaluating these playmats is akin to venturing into the Wild West of playmat finance. While the Sakura Angel one above was fetching triple-digit sales, the Copenhagen special playmat wasn’t really selling on eBay as of this writing, and the sales for the recent Grand Prix Paris side event playmat were downright lethargic:

Grand Prix Paris Side Event Playmat

On the other hand, the side event/VIP playmat from Grand Prix Toronto in May this year was quite valuable:

GP Toronto Side Event Playmat

Perhaps Magic players just love their goblins more than their gargoyles. Or maybe it was the goblins playing hockey, which I hear is pretty popular in Canada. Then again, I have not personally set foot in Canada, and all I know about the country is from listening to The Eh Team podcast.

I tried to find a metric to help me guesstimate the price of these special Grand Prix playmats: a simple non-subjective framework similar to the one I wrote about for official Grand Prix playmats in the first part of this series. We use the metric of supply and demand to pin a value on cards, and while we can easily estimate the supply of a particular Grand Prix side event playmat, the playmat’s demand is a lot harder to gauge.

A card’s demand can be approximated by it’s ubiquity in competitive formats or EDH, or even perceived casual appeal (like that one time Wizards decided to make a colorless dragon planeswalker). The value of official Grand Prix playmats is mainly influenced by the popularity of the card from which the playmat’s art derived. But attempting to pin a price on a special playmat with no card analog is a lot more complicated. Using a playmat’s aesthetics to determine the value of the playmat is a pitfall, as aesthetics are subjective. I was surprised that the Grand Prix Toronto side event playmat above was able to fetch that sort of price. I don’t even find the art appealing, nor do I have much love for goblins, but I am sure there are plenty of buyers out there who think otherwise.

Trying to price a playmat based on the artist’s popularity is equally contentious most of the time. I am a big fan of the likes of Raymond Swanland, Johannes Voss, and Magali Villeneuve, but I can’t say these are consensus opinions. Exceptions could be made when a special playmat is drawn by an undisputedly iconic Magic artist like, say, John Avon or Rob Alexander. Check out the price of the Mount Fuji playmat John Avon did for Grand Prix Shizuoka two years back:

John Avon Mount Fuji

Or the Rob Alexander special from Grand Prix Kyoto recently:

Rob Alexander Kyoto Mat

The takeaway from this segment is:

  • Special/side event Grand Prix playmats are hard to price objectively—unless it’s a rare piece from an iconic Magic artist, but how do we determine who is iconic and who isn’t?
  • These mats tend to be harder to sell. In the eBay screenshots above, most of the special playmats were sold as buy-it-nows rather than auctions, or only had a single bid. This indicates that the market for these mats are a lot more niche than, say, Grand Prix playmats or Game Day playmats, which feature actual Magic art.

Unless you are acquainted with playmat collectors, it may be troublesome to move these mats. Official Grand Prix playmats with Magic images are easier to move, especially when they feature art from an iconic card. Take the recent Grand Prix Singapore playmat, for example. The official Grand Prix Mox Opal playmat has been selling quite well:

GP Singapore Mox Opal

The VIP-special Rob Alexander playmat, on the other hand…

GP Singapore Rob Alexander Special

This reinforces the point that Grand Prix specials are hard to price. Rob Alexander is an undeniably popular and established Magic artist,  yet his recent Grand Prix Singapore mat only went for a third of his Grand Prix Kyoto special.

Closing Thoughts

Going back to official Grand Prix playmats, a very special playmat will be given out to participants of Grand Prix San Diego this weekend:

GP San Diego
From: http://www.gpsandiego.com

If I’ve ever wanted to go to a Grand Prix just for its playmat, it would be this one. While there are double-sided artless leather playmats you can buy out there, this will be the first time we see a double-sided rubber-and-fabric playmat featuring Magic art, utilizing a new printing technique engineered by Ultra Pro, according to the Grand Prix San Diego website.

While Magali Villeneuve is not as established as the likes of Terese Nielsen and John Avon, some of the art she has done is just plain gorgeous and I would not be surprised to see her gaining traction in the realm of Magic art. More importantly, Narset, Enlightened Master has solidified herself as one of the most popular EDH generals to emerge from a recent set (she currently ranks second in MTGSalvation’s monthly count of popular generals). That, together with the novelty of being the first ever double-sided Magic playmat, is probably going to make this Grand Prix San Diego perk one of the most sought-after playmats in recent years.

Join me next week for the third and final part of the Playmat Finance series, where we will discuss the issue of counterfeit playmats, as well as how to take care of your playmat, a topic which a surprising number of readers were interested in. In the meantime, do share your thoughts in the comments segment below or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.