The trading card market has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many cards have seen gigantic increases in sales and value. One local NFL player has been collecting since he was a young boy, and he has now taken his passion and turned it into a thriving business. Chicago Bears linebacker Cassius Marsh talked to "LA Times Today" about Cash Cards Unlimited, his card store in Westlake Village.

What You Need To Know

  • Cassius Marsh, linebacker for the Chicago Bears, has been collecting cards his whole life

  • Marsh plays Magic the Gathering, a digital and tabletop fantasy trading card game

  • In 2021, Marsh co-founded and opened his own trading card shop, Cash Cards Unlimited, in Westlake Village

  • He says the joy that his customers feel when they buy their own trading cards is unmatched and reminds him why he loves his hobby

Marsh has been playing football for years. He loves the sport but says it's not his favorite game to play.

"I found Magic the Gathering, and I give it credit as the best game I've ever played," he said. "The gameplay for Magic the Gathering is what is really kept me captivated. It's super strategic. There's game theory, game strategy. There's so much to the game. It's kind of like chess on steroids."

Marsh's love for card games started with Pokémon as a child.

"My mom bought me one of the VHS tapes and I loved watching it going to bed. Obviously, the trading cards came along, and I started to collect them. When I was around 11 years old, I went into a trading card shop, called Hidden Fortress in Simi Valley. I walked in there looking for Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!"

The store didn't have what he was looking for, but they did sell Magic the Gathering.

"Long story short, I checked out two guys playing and I was hooked," he said. "If I wasn't at Friday Night Football, I was at Friday Night Magic."

Marsh started seriously collecting after he was drafted to the NFL and had more money to invest in the game. He's seen the game become more mainstream as people embrace their "nerdy" side.

"When I was younger and growing up...a lot of people hid the fact that they played Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh! or Magic. But now the artistry, and being kind of nerdy, and anime, and all of these things have become more mainstream, more popular. People are seeing how great the community is and really how good the games are. I think the sky's the limit for for the trading card industry and especially the trading card games," Marsh said.

Cash Cards Unlimited has built a community of customers and players who love interacting with an NFL player who speaks their language.

"Cassius has been in a lot of the YouTube channels that I watch," said Nicholas Leitner, a customer at Marsh's store. "It was cool to see an NFL player or sports player doing something nerdy. I know that sounds weird, but you know, there's a bit of a stigma to it. It was so cool to see him. And then as soon as I saw his opening a store, and as soon as I saw it was like two miles away from where I landed, I was overjoyed."

Cash Cards Unlimited opened in February 2021. Since they opened, the store has built up an impressive inventory. Some of the sports and Magic the Gathering cards are valued in the millions. But for Marsh, the real value lies in how his customers feel when they shop for new cards.

"The best thing about having the shop is seeing kids get so much joy from opening packs and opening a great card," he said. "Their reactions are just so pure, and so dope. I get into it as well, and I'm hyped. I feel like I'm serving our community. You know what I mean? The trading card community."

Marsh talked about the various ways to play Magic the Gathering. Some shops play the game in different ways.

"Most shops do draft, which is a certain way to play the game. Some people come in, and they play casually. We like to play a format called Commander here at Cash Cards Unlimited."

They also have a program called Break Box, where a box of cards is put up for auction and opened on a live stream. For Marsh, it's another way to connect to the community, even when they don't interact in person.

"I've gotten so much support throughout my life from Magic players, people who don't even care about football," he said. "They don't even know me for the game of football, but they become fans of mine on the football field because they see that I play Magic."

Some of the more valuable cards in Marsh's collection are a Steph Curry rookie card, a Joe Burrow redemption card and packs of cards that are valued at more than $10,000. For Marsh, there is one trading card that holds a special value: his own.

"I think I've only got one one card that I've ever had printed. It was a Bowman Chrome. My cards are actually kind of rare, since there was only one card printed of me, ever. It's kind of cool. From an investment standpoint, I don't know how, how valuable it is. Obviously with me getting into the trading card space, maybe it'll gain some value later on. Priceless, in my opinion."

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