TF2 Unusuals: Explained

You just spent $2.50 on a key to open your Mann Co. crate, and to your utmost surprise, you found something actually valuable inside.

Congrats – you’re now part of an exclusive club of thousands of people who own unusual hats. Here’s what you’ve gotta know before you should even start thinking about trading it off.

What’s an unusual hat?

Alright, this shit’s super simple: an unusual hat is simply, well, a hat. However, two things about this “unusual” hat are different: one, it has purple text, instead of the normal yellow or orange you’d see, and two, most importantly, it has a snazzy particle effect attached to it. See below.


Burning Flames Modest Pile of Hat. $950.

Why are unusuals special?

By most players, they’re seen as a status symbol, simply because they’re so rare. Each crate has a 1% chance of dropping an unusual – and some unusuals are worth much more than others. I’ll go into that later. Anyway – unusual hats are special because they look awesome (usually) and generally cost a lot to unbox. This isn’t the rule, of course, since many players have found unusuals with their first, second, or third unbox, but new effects can command astounding prices.

So, unusuals cost a lot of money – do people trade them? Which ones are the best?

I’ll tackle this one part at a time.

Firstly, unusuals can be worth anywhere between a few dollars and a few thousand dollars. To give an example of the lower range, let’s take a look at this hat:


Smoking Detective Noir. $36.

This is a Smoking Détective Noir, a hat for the Spy. It commands a price of around 28 keys, which is roughly equivalent to $36 USD at time of publication. It’s certainly not the worst hat, but it’s definitely not at the level of the best hats available. It’s valued lower because the effect is “lower tier” and Spy hats generally cost less (because he spends most of his time disguised).

Now, let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum. The hat in the image below is worth roughly $1,500 USD. Why? Three main reasons:

  1. It’s a hat which three of the most popular classes can wear (Soldier, Heavy, and Medic).
  2. The hat itself looks pretty damn nice.
  3. Sunbeams is a highly-desired effect on any hat.

These attributes combine into the Sunbeams Team Captain, which is worth approximately 50 buds:


Sunbeams Team Captain. $1500.

This provides a great opportunity to segue into my next point, which is to explain the reasoning behind hat values.

I’m going to say it upfront: it’s arbitrary. The entire TF2 economy is arbitrary, and it’s a fascinating microcosm in which its denizens have created a barter system which is both intricate and idiotic (to some).

Anyway. Unusual hats, as I said before, are composed of two components: the hat itself and the effect attached to it. Both of these have different levels of desirability, which can be bewildering to new traders. Not to worry, though: I’m here to explain!

Hat Tiers

I’m not going to go through every hat and assign it a value – that’d be an exercise in futility, as I’m sure the great folks at Valve are working their robotic hineys off, modeling and texturing new hats for TF2 players to buy. I’m just going to point out some stereotypically “top-tier” hats and some bottom-tier ones, also known as “cancer”. I know that “cancer” sounds like I’m some sort of /b/tard, but that’s actually what traders call it.

Some top-tier unusual hats include:

  • The Team Captain
  • The Surgeon’s Stahlhelm
  • The Killer Exclusive
  • Samur-Eye
  • El Jefe
  • Villain’s Veil
  • Triboniphorus Tyrannus
  • Troublemaker’s Tossle Cap

On the other hand, you’ve got some seriously ugly hats classed as cancer, including:

  • The Nanobalaclava (which I, personally, have a soft spot for)
  • Coupe D’isaster
  • Madame Dixie
  • Dread Knot
  • Geisha Boy
  • Janissary Ketche
  • Doctor’s Sack

Sunbeams Nanobalaclava, currently owned by yours truly. $160.

Effect Tiers

Fortunately, there aren’t nearly as many unusual effects as there are hats, so I’m happy to list them out here – though I might miss a few! Please note that this is all subjective, and I’m sure that some people will disagree with me.

  • Top Tier

Includes effects like Burning Flames, Scorching Flames, and Sunbeams. Also includes some exclusive Halloween effects like Cloudy Moon and It’s A Secret To Everybody. These are the best and most expensive effects that you can get, and they look absolutely fabulous – and, as you’d expect, they command a premium price. Hats with these effects can cost anywhere from 4 buds (cancer hats) to 100 buds (the Burning Flames Team Captain is an example of this).

  • Mid-Tier

These effects fall just a little short of being the best available – this tier includes Green Energy, Purple Energy, Circling Heart, Haunted Ghosts, and Cauldron Bubbles.

  • Low-Tier

Now we’re at the effects which not everyone loves, or which are valued lower than the rest. In this tier, we’ve got effects like Vivid Plasma, Searing Plasma, Stormy Storm, Blizzardy Storm, Smoking, Steaming, Orbiting Fire, Eerie Orbiting Fire, and Orbiting Planets. These effects aren’t the worst by far, but they’re not the most desired either.

  • Cancer-Tier

Now we’re in the realm of “oh my gosh, this hat is going to be hard to sell unless it’s a high-tier hat”. The effects on these hats are either ugly as heck or aren’t visible enough for people to notice in the heat of battle – this includes stinkers like Orbiting TF Logo, Orbiting Peace Sign, Massed Flies, Bubbling, Green Confetti, Nuts n’ Bolts, and Purple Confetti. The absolute worst hats with these effects will sell for as little as eleven or twelve keys.


Purple Confetti Furious Fukaamigasa. $24.

Hold on – you keep talking about keys and buds. What the heck are they?

Aha. This bit is important. Mann Co. Crate Keys (also just known as “keys”) and Earbuds (shortened to “buds” usually) are the de facto currency of the Team Fortress unusual trading economy. Keys are worth about $1.25 each, and, at the time of publication, buds are worth approximately $32 each. Other, more expensive items exist as lesser-used currencies (such as Max’s Severed Head and the appropriately-named Hat of Undeniable Wealth and Respect), but they’re really only used in really big trades – so, usually, you’ll see traders asking for x amount of keys for their cancer hat, or y amount of buds for their Nuts n’ Bolts Surgeon’s Stalhlhelm.

If you want to do any sort of trading for unusuals, it’s imperative that you have either one of these currencies – nobody will sell to you otherwise.

I unboxed an unusual. What’s it worth? Is the deal I got offered worth it?

Firstly, pricing unusuals is tricky – there are lots of different sources for pricing of unusuals, and some are more reliable than others. Lots of people use TF2Pricecheck’s Unusual Bible, but I’ve found that it’s often susceptible to outdated prices and bias by the few people who bother to “set” prices. On the other hand,’s unusual price list is democratically determined by people who actually have to provide proof of the hat’s value (trades where it’s sold at a certain price, etc.), which is why I wholeheartedly recommend it. However, again, it’s important to note that not all prices on the site are accurate. When in doubt, submit a price check request to /r/tf2trade and you’ll (hopefully) get a range of opinions.

Of course, it’s up to you what you sell for, but is generally a good guide for a ballpark price to set on your precious hat.


Stormy Storm Triboniphorus Tyrannus. $130.

This ties into my next point too: also has a pricelist for non-unusual items, which helps when someone is offering a mixture of items for your hat. Another source of pricing information is the TF2 Community Items & Hats Pricing Guide, though it’s had some controversy surrounding it recently, with accusations being thrown at the (anonymous) administrator of price fixing for profit. It’s important to remember to always double-check the attributes of items that people are offering: if they’re dirty (i.e. with a gift tag or if they’re uncraftable), they’re worth less.

What is a shark?

A shark is someone who preys on new users by offering them low-value items for the new user’s high-value items. Here’s an example:

  • Shark sees Unassuming Noob unbox a Green Energy Fruit Shoot and immediately sends a trade request.
  • His interest piqued, Unassuming Noob accepts the trade request, excited that he’ll get something really nice out of this trade for his shiny new hat.
  • Shark tells Unassuming Noob that his new hat is only worth, say, five keys (or offers a few laser weapons). Unassuming Noob, being the new player that he is, accepts Shark’s lie as truth, and goes ahead with the trade.
  • Upon completion of the trade, Shark leaves the server immediately and goes to sell off the Green Energy Fruit Shoot for 3 buds – a ridiculous profit.
  • Unassuming Noob eventually finds out that he was sharked, and is sad about it.

Sharking is ridiculously immoral, and only bastards do it.

Someone offered me PayPal/WebMoney for my hat. Should I accept?

This really depends on your level of experience with unusual trading. If you’re new to it, I would highly recommend that you only trade for TF2 items like buds and keys. If you’ve done a bunch of unusual trading before, then you’re free to make your own decision on it, since you likely know the risks behind selling hats for money.


Massed Flies Grim Hatte. This is maybe the only Flies hat that actually fits with the character it’s attached to. $180.


Y’know those nights where it’s nearly midnight and you feel a bit like writing a guide to help noobs out then it’s 2 AM and holy shit I need to get up at 7 tomorrow morning?


Anyway, I hope I’ve stayed coherent throughout this – I’m talking from experience, though I’d very much like to thank, in no particular order:

  • the lovely folks at /r/tf2trade and the associated Steam group – they’re always very happy to explain things to new players and often spend their time making guides on how to profit from trading
  • shokwaav, for making (and allowing me to use) the fantastic screenshots included in the article, which demonstrate unusual hats and effects
  • J-O-N, for giving up his Sunbeams Nano so that a very happy DemanRisu could wear it (4eva).

That’s all for now.


16 thoughts on “TF2 Unusuals: Explained

  1. Hey, this is awesome. I was wondering cuss you seem to know a lot about hat prices, what might an Unusual Honcho’s Headgear (It’s A Secret To Everybody) go for? I have had offers of $800 and was told on Unusual Bible it was worth 25+ Buds.
    It would be appreciated.

  2. I saw a sharking one day when i was a noob i didnt know the price of an unusual and thought weapons were awesome so 40 weps for and unusual i thought was a bad trade. I didnt know a thing.

  3. managed to trade my way up to a old guadajuara with sunbeams, although it is only estimated at 3 buds, I value it much higher (especially being themed).

  4. How much would an unusual vintage merryweather with the dead presidents effect be? I have searched all over but no luck.

  5. Hello Damon, I don’t know if you will reply to this, but I have a question for you. What cancer tier unusual effects do you think are the “at least noticeable and nice looking”?. I am still a little bit of a newbie in trading and I always wanted an unusual hat for at least 20 keys (I am saving money for one) so I want to know what cheap unusuals are nice. Can you recommend me some?

  6. Really enjoyed reading this and learned a lot, thank you. I recently started playing TF2 as a bonding exercise with my son and now find myself completely hooked, playing it when he’s at school and spending grocery money on hats – it’s shameful! Want to get him a cool hat for his birthday though so appreciate your explanations and tips – don’t want to get him a rubbish one so I’d better start saving! Cheers.

    • Well, you don’t have to spend out the nose to get him something he’ll like! Try and figure out what his favourite class is, and pick a hat he likes for it. Unless the hat is multi-class, chances are you can get a cool effect for it without spending more than $50-$80.

      Best of luck – and thanks for the kind comment!

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