NFT Ecosystems 101: Currencies, Wallets, and Marketplaces
Where and how to buy NFT art and collectibles: Ethereum, Solana, WAX, and more
Before you read any further, please note that this isn’t a detailed how-to guide on how to buy your first NFT. I’ll save that for another article. Furthermore, none of this is financial advice. When I talk about what’s “interesting”, “the best”, “my favorite”, or “recommended”, it’s all from the perspective of a curious collector, admirer of art, and member of the NFT community.
What you’ll find below is rather an overview of what you need to get started buying NFT art and collectibles on the 6 leading blockchains, or ecosystems as I like to call them. Even though we don’t need to concern ourselves with the underlying blockchain technology, we do need to know which tools to use in each ecosystem. Luckily for us, the overall buying process is more or less the same:
- Buy the NFT ecosystem’s native cryptocurrency on an exchange like Binance or Coinbase.
- Create a personal ‘wallet’ and load it with your new cryptocurrency.
- Go to one of the NFT marketplaces and connect your wallet, typically done with the click of a button in the top right corner.
- Find an NFT you like, buy it, and admire it in your wallet!
I’ll cover each of the three main ingredients — currency, wallet, and marketplaces — as I go through the 6 main ecosystems below. Note that many new NFTs are launched on their own websites rather than the marketplaces we’ll cover in this article. Buying on a project’s own website works in more or less the same way as on a marketplace, but I’ll cover that in more detail in a future article.
Aside from Ethereum, which stands out from the crowd, the following ecosystems are listed in no particular order.
Ecosystem #1: Ethereum
Ethereum is the undisputed king in the space of NFTs. This is the blockchain that most artists and creators choose to create their work on top of and where you’ll have by far the most marketplaces to choose from and other market participants to trade with.
When you buy an NFT made on Ethereum you typically pay with the native currency called ether or ETH. ETH can be purchased with dollars, euros, or another traditional currency on exchanges like Binance and Coinbase. Once you’ve done this, you will need to transfer your ETH to a wallet which will also serve as storage for your NFTs. Some marketplaces require payments in something called ‘wrapped ethereum’, or wETH. These have exactly the same value as regular ETH and the conversion from ETH to wETH is typically very intuitive and done on the marketplace itself.
The go-to wallet in the Ethereum ecosystem is MetaMask. This is the one I use and recommend myself, and the only one that’s supported by all the marketplaces mentioned below. MetaMask has a great Chrome plugin and an app for both iOS and Android. The app’s built-in browser makes it super convenient to buy NFTs on your phone.
OpenSea is by far the largest marketplace in the entire space and is considered the “standard” for most if not all new collectibles. OpenSea is a great place to begin your NFT exploration and you’ll be sure to find a lot of great art and collectibles to choose from. Their new smartphone app makes it easy for you to browse and discover on your phone, but you still need to go through the MetaMask app to actually buy something.
Other notable marketplaces include Rarible, SuperRare, Nifty Gateway, Foundation, and MakersPlace. They’re generally more focused on art than collectibles and some, like SuperRare, are heavily curated and provide only high-quality artwork. The less curated marketplaces obviously require more due diligence as a buyer, but will typically also offer much cheaper entry points. Once you’ve set up and funded your MetaMask wallet, buying from any of these marketplaces will be fairly straightforward. Nifty Gateway and MakersPlace even accept regular credit card payments. I suggest you spend some time browsing all the marketplaces just to see the art that’s out there.
The final marketplace I’ll mention is Sorare. Sorare isn’t an open market for artists and creators like the ones mentioned above, but is rather a place for buying, trading, and playing with digital soccer cards. If you’re into soccer, it’s definitely worth checking out!
Ecosystem #2: Solana
Solana is one of the biggest contenders to Ethereum’s position in the NFT space. The Solana ecosystem is by no means the oldest or the largest “Ethereum killer”, but it’s had a lot of momentum in 2021. It’s still early days for Solana though, and the infrastructure is at a much earlier stage than that of Ethereum.
The native currency of Solana is SOL. Similar to ETH and all the other currencies, you’ll need to buy this on an exchange like Binance or Coinbase. Check here for a full overview of where to buy SOL.
The wallet I use to purchase NFTs in the Solana ecosystem is called Phantom. It’s one of the most recommended options along with Solflare.
The Solana ecosystem is evolving rapidly, so new marketplaces may very well pop up over the next few months. Solanart is the most well-established, but new players like DigitalEyes and Magic Eden are growing rapidly. Solsea looks like an interesting alternative but needs more time to mature.
Ecosystem #3: WAX
I recently heard someone refer to WAX (Worldwide Asset eXchange) as “the red-headed stepchild of the NFT world”, which is certainly how it’s treated by many Ethereum maximalists. From my experience, you have to sift through a good amount of random low-quality work in the WAX ecosystem before discovering the legit and cool projects. But there is quality to find! Besides, a lot of what’s on WAX is extremely inexpensive, so even if you won’t find the next Beeple, you can at least have fun without breaking the bank.
The WAX blockchain has its own native currency called, well, WAX. What’s important to note here is that when you buy the WAX currency on an exchange, the token is actually called WAXP. You can’t yet buy it on Coinbase, but it is available on Binance and other exchanges.
The best wallets for WAX are the WAX Cloud Wallet and Anchor. I personally use the former and have no complaints so far. Regardless of which one you pick, you’ll be ready to shop on the following marketplaces.
Your two best options when it comes to marketplaces in the WAX ecosystem are AtomicHub and NeftyBlocks. I find AtomicHub easier to use, but some NFTs may only be available on NeftyBlocks. AtomicHub is a great place to begin exploring the WAX ecosystem though!
Ecosystem #4: Tezos
You’ll find a lot more art than collectibles and avatar projects in the Tezos ecosystem. A lot of it is very affordable as well. Many upcoming artists offer their work on Tezos for a few dollars or even for free, but some of the more established creators are utilizing this ecosystem as well.
Look for the symbol XTZ when you go to buy the Tezos currency on Binance, Coinbase, or one of the other exchanges. Note that XTZ is also referred to as tez on some marketplaces and wallets, which can be a little confusing.
When it comes to wallets for Tezos, your best options are Galleon, Temple Wallet, and Kukai Wallet. Galleon is arguably the most established and trusted of the three, but the latter makes it super easy to get started with a one-click signup process via one of your social media accounts. I personally prefer Temple Wallet and their user-friendly browser extension.
Objkt.com is the self-proclaimed largest NFT marketplace on Tezos and is also my preferred place to shop in this ecosystem. It’s clean and much easier to use than the most notable alternative, Hic Et Nunc, or just HEN in everyday speech. HEN puts the art itself in focus, rather than the artists or anything else for that matter. However, you’ll notice that their website looks quite different from the others and certainly takes some getting used to.
Kalamint and ByteBlock, although still in their very early stages, are two other marketplaces worth taking a look at.
Ecosystem #5: Binance
In addition to being one of the best places to acquire your cryptocurrencies, Binance also offers its own blockchain on which creators can create and launch their NFTs. Binance is unique in this context because they’re a centralized entity with a closed ecosystem. You won’t have multiple third-party wallets and marketplaces to choose from. Rather, it’s all done on Binance’s own platform.
The Binance NFT Marketplace
If you’re already using Binance for buying and trading cryptocurrencies, their marketplace is a convenient entrance into the world of NFTs. You’ll be paying with Ether (ETH), Binance Coin (BNB), or Binance USD (BUSD), the latter being Binance’s own ‘stablecoin’: 1 BUSD is worth 1 USD. You’ll see which currency to use on the sales page for each given NFT.
Binance lets you filter their selection of NFTs based on categories such as Art, Sports, Gaming, and Collectibles, and there’s plenty of interesting work to find in all categories.
Ecosystem #6: Flow by Dapper Labs
Dapper Labs is the company behind the highly popular NBA Top Shot, an online platform for collecting NBA highlights in the form of NFTs. What most people don’t know is that NBA Top Shot is running on a blockchain called Flow, created by Dapper Labs themselves. That people don’t know about Flow is very intentional and a great success of Dapper Labs who have managed to hide the easily confusing NFT layer from their users. You can sign up and begin buying NFT basketball highlights with just your email and a credit card. No need for cryptocurrency or a new crypto wallet.
NBA Top Shot alone makes Flow worth mentioning in this article. Dapper Labs didn’t build a whole new blockchain just for that though. They’ve been teasing an NFT project with the UFC for a while now, as well as “an officially licensed Dr. Seuss NFT collecting experience” called Seussibles. I’m excited to see how these and other Dapper Labs projects materialize in the future.
Closing thoughts and honorable mentions
The NFT space is growing and evolving from day to day with new blockchains, cryptocurrencies, wallets, and marketplaces constantly entering the scene. I’ve covered the largest and most established ecosystems in this article, but new ones will certainly emerge in the coming months and years.
NFT art and collectibles are already being created and traded on Ethernity, Avalance, EOS, Waves, and Chiliz, for instance, but aren’t yet getting as much attention. Cardano just enabled NFTs on their blockchain and Tron is working towards it as well. We have yet to see how these ecosystems evolve and whether they’re going to have a significant impact on the current NFT landscape. Expect a follow-up to this article in a few months!
Originally published at techmoneyculture.com on October 8, 2021.
UX Designer, investor, and NFT nerd, writing about innovation, investing, product design, and culture ✍️