The creation of the first NFT in 2014 ushered in a new era in digital technology that has altered the way the public interacts with digital assets. Since that time, the nature of non-fungible tokens has also changed, shifting from an item meant to display digital art to a new medium where fans, artists, and celebrities can interact virtually.

One of the core drivers of the trend toward increased connectivity is NFT trading cards, which emerged in their earliest form in 2016 and have since grown to encapsulate hundreds of different collections. Today NFT trading cards make up a large percentage of overall NFT trading volume, which reached $11.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Amazingly, in 2021 the trading volume of all NFTs was $24.9 billion, up from $95 million in 2020.

What are NFT Trading Cards?

NFT trading cards are just what they sound like – digital cards that exist on the blockchain that represents proof of ownership for various images in the digital world. These digital collectibles often come in a series, with different cards representing various characters or players in the respective universe, which can be fictional or based on real people.

Digital NFT cards take the place of physical trading cards, which are subject to wear and tear and can be lost or stolen. In contrast, digital NFT trading cards exist on a network known as a blockchain, which records every transaction on a digital ledger – meaning ownership of an NFT trading card can never be misplaced or revoked.

Rare Pepes

One of the first NFT trading card collections was released in 2016 under the name “Rare Pepes.” Although the main character of the collection, Pepe the Frog, was created as far back as 2005, the series saw Pepe’s rebirth in several different comedic situations that featured satirical takes on politics, culture, and finance.

In addition to the fact that the project gave rise to some of the first digital trading cards, the collection was significant because it was the first to demonstrate that blockchain technology could be used by a community of enthusiasts to create, own, and trade art simply as ‘art,’ and not for any gaming assets or any broader utility.

There are over 1700 unique Rare Pepes cards today, divided into 36 different series. The rarity of each card varies greatly from 1/1s to those which have a supply of 10,000. However, most cards have an average supply of between 100 and 300, with some cards have been subject to significant burn reductions.

Some of the most valuable cards include the Nakamoto Rare Pepe (300 issued, Series 1, Card 1), the LordKek (10 issued, Series 1, Card 34), and DJPepe (the first audio-visual tokenized asset).

The Rediscovery of Rare Pepes

The Rare Pepes trading cards were discontinued in February 2018, and since that time no cards have been minted. The series fell out of the limelight for a short period but saw trading volume increase in 2021 thanks to the creation of – a site that has categorized every Rare Pepe card in existence and allows users to filter by floor price, series, supply number, and last sale. What previously took potential buyers days to research now takes only a few clicks thanks to the launch of the website, which will only gain higher levels of traffic as the public learns the historical significance of the Rare Pepe collection.

Curio Cards

Another historical NFT trading series, Curio Cards began as an online art show and permanent gallery that launched in early 2017. According to the creators, the project’s goal was to use the Ethereum network to create “a new model for digital artwork ownership that allows for the sale and collection of unique digital art without taking a cut of the artist’s revenue.”

The collection’s founders certainly accomplished their goal. Today, these cards are the oldest known example of crypto art on the Ethereum blockchain and the series features 30 unique digital trading cards from seven different artists.

The Future of Curio Cards

Because Curio Cards were created on the ERC-20 chain, which predates many modern NFT exchanges that utilize the ERC-1155 contract, the series was not compatible with OpenSea and was not able to be listed on top marketplaces for much of the last few years.

However, in 2021, a process was developed that allows users to “wrap” their ERC-20 Curio Cards inside a modern ERC-1155 token contract, which makes it possible for the cards to be listed on current exchanges.

Today, users can buy these cards on OpenSea under the Emblem Vault collection, which features other various historical cards that have been wrapped with modern contracts. And for potential buyers, a list of every Curio Card and its supply exists here, making it easier to research just what card you want before you purchase.

NBA Top Shot

NBA Top Shot is the National Basketball Association’s foray into the digital realm. Due to the easy-to-use interface and the ease with which the early user can start trading, Top Shot is the first NFT series to be adopted by the wider public.

Created by Canadian developer Dapper Labs, the collection is made up of NFT trading cards that each represent a special moment from basketball history. You can think of each NBA Top Shot moment as a physical card that has data stored on the blockchain. This allows them to be kept in digital wallets or sent to friends and family.

Dapper Labs

Part of the success of Dapper Labs’ creation involves the wide-ranging appeal that Top Shot offers to all types of fans. Whether you’re a sports enthusiast or just a longtime NFT collector interested in basketball, Top Shot trading cards contain digital content that appeals to different types of collectors. For example, some highlights can be purchased for as little as a few dollars, while one fan spent a whopping $208,000 for a rare LeBron James dunk moment.

The future looks bright for both Dapper Labs and the Top Shot franchise. The traditional sports card and memorabilia market alone was estimated to be worth over $5.4 billion in 2020, and Dapper Labs is now valued at $2.6 billion, having grossed around $230 million in sales as of the end of February.

The digital trading card series has also seen increased engagement from actual celebrities, with well-known players such as Michael Jordan, Alex Caruso, and Kevin Durant participating in the company’s $250 million funding round at the end of 2021.

Expanding Partnerships

With the success of the company’s basketball trading cards, Dapper Labs is now expanding its reach into other sports. At the tail-end of 2021, the company launched a partnership with La Liga to create a new NFT marketplace for Spain’s top-flight soccer league.

Similar to Top Shot, Dapper’s La Liga NFTs will consist of video highlights representing in-game moments from players and clubs. The new marketplace will be built over Dapper’s Flow blockchain and will include highlights from the last ten La Liga seasons.

The La Liga trading cards, which will feature world-famous players such as Messi and Ronaldo, will go a long way toward helping Spanish soccer expand its global footprint.

The MLB is also getting in on the act. While their NFT collection will be created by developer Candy Digital, it will certainly offer competition to Dapper Laps in the sports NFT space.

Criticism of NFT Trading Cards

Despite the success of digital NFT trading cards, there are still plenty of fans who are hesitant to adopt this emerging technology. Recently, Liverpool FC left-back Andrew Robertson, who plays in the top flight of English soccer, received backlash on his Twitter page after he posted an advert for his upcoming NFT trading card series.

Much of the criticism stemmed from the idea that his collection was a scheme to solicit money from the public, who would in time be left holding a worthless digital item with no value.

Another common protest comes from trading card traditionalists, who value physical cards for their tangible value. These collectors believe that digital cards remove the experience of holding a physical object and all the qualities associated with it.

It’s important to keep in mind that the physical trading card industry has been around for decades, and any disruption to the current market model will not be accepted by many longtime collectors.

Rising Fan Engagement

While many critics reject the emergence of NFT trading cards, the tide seems to be turning in favor of digital technology. Many users have pointed out that they have brought a whole new generation of people into card collecting, which benefits everyone in the trading card community as interest and demand increase.

Connecting Physical and Digital Realms

One recent partnership that seeks to take advantage of the growing fan engagement numbers is that between Cartamundi Group and Warner Bros. The two companies announced on March 10th that they are launching DC Hybrid Trading Cards that will be developed by Hro, a third-party developer.

Using the Hro app, Warner Bros stated that fans will be able to “unlock the DC Multiverse and collect, trade, and buy the first-ever DC-based hybrid NFT trading cards featuring their favorite DC Super Heroes and Super-Villains.”

The new project is unique in that it seeks to bridge the gap between the physical and the digital world. Each card will be equipped with a unique QR code that connects the physical card to its digital “twin” on the Hro app. Once connected, the Hro app gives buyers access to a global marketplace where they will be able to trade the cards 24/7.

The app also provides a 360° fan engagement platform and community where users can also build a collection of rare DC art and movie memorabilia, explore DC content, compete on leaderboards and in challenges, and unlock rewards. 

Fractional Buying

One obstacle to increased fan engagement for many NFT collections is the high floor prices, which provide a barrier to entry for many crypto enthusiasts. One solution to the problem has been offered by Collectable, a platform that allows users to buy equity shares of trading cards and other high-profile NFTs.

Through Collectable, many users can effectively own “shares” of a card, and it remains an excellent option for fans who want to enter a high-cost project and don’t have the financial means to do so.

Overall, digital cards and fractional shares make card collecting more accessible, and allow users from any geographical area or socio-economic background to take part in one of the most exciting technological trends of the past century.

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