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Uncommonly Good

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I was at a yard sale a couple weeks ago that advertised Magic cards for sale on Craigslist.

These are my favorite things in the world, and I usually try to get there at least half an hour before the start of the sale. For some reason, this time I just didn’t want to wake up early. I didn’t get there until 2 PM – usually far too late to find a bargain – but I decided to check it out anyway. I had a hunch that there might still be something left for me.

I was quickly glad that I didn’t wake up early.

The seller was clearly a casual player back during the original Mirrodin block, and most of his cards were from that era. There was a 5-row full of commons and uncommons, a stack of rares, and a binder with yet more rares. When I strode up and began examining the piles, I overheard the seller speaking with a kid who had found a small collection of cards that he wanted to buy.

“Hold on a minute,” the seller told his customer. “I need to go look these up online. I’ll be right back with a price.”

“Ok!” said the kid, oblivious to the fact that his father had already been waiting for half an hour while his son rifled through several thousand cards and would have been happy never seeing a Magic card again for as long as he lived.

When the seller came back, it took all of my cool not to visibly choke when he started quoting the prices. I didn’t know where he was getting them from, but it was like no price guide I had ever seen. All of them were at least two or three times the price of Star City Games singles on a bad day.

So what did I do? Pick out some money rares, and try to beat him up over the price by showing him a reasonable guide? Cut my losses and go home?

No.

I decided to eschew the rares for the time being and head for the commons and uncommons. Since I knew he was looking up cards, I developed a new plan of action: get a flat price for his non rares, and hope he had some sweet ones. After five minutes of digging, I had found an Isochron Scepter, a Skullclamp, and six(!) Aether Vials.

Now came the tricky part. If I just handed him the stack of commons and uncommons and asked for a price, he’d go look them up and I’d be paying $29.95 per Vial. I knew that if I wanted to get a good deal on the cards I really wanted, I had to pay up for some rares.

In the end, I gave the guy a stack of rares that weren’t embarrassingly bad, had him look up the prices, and ended up paying him through the nose for two of them. (Yeah, $3 for Azami, Lady of Scrolls when SCG has her for $0.89 isn’t the deal of the century.)

In return, I got him to quote me a flat price of fifty cents each for any commons and uncommons I wanted.

Anyone in the market for some Aether Vials?

The Might of the Meek

While Quiet Speculation’s own Corbin Hosler posted an article this summer about the power of trading with Commons and Uncommons, I wanted to weigh in on the subject as well.

While some older uncommons (Force of Will and Wasteland come immediately to mind) are traded as rares by everyone, a good working knowledge of all valuable commons and uncommons gives you a supreme edge of those for whom value stops at the gold or orange rarity symbol.

The Threshold

I have found that there is a pretty hard threshold at $1 in terms of how ‘money’ commons and uncommons are treated. Non-rares worth below $1 (and I’m speaking in MagicTraders/eBay prices here) simply aren’t worth your time and energy to lug around.

While you may one day find that kid who really needs that fourth Dark Ritual, chances are they’ll find the card in a bulk box before they find you. And even if they do find you first, you aren’t going to strike it rich on a sub-$1 card.

The $1 threshold has another meaning to those of us who sell cards on eBay. $1 on MagicTraders means that, on average, a playset of that card will sell for $4.

Assuming you charge between $2-$3 for shipping and handling for your lot, a $4 average is the lowest price for a playset that basically guarantees your will sell your item if you list it as an auction with a $0.99 starting bid.

If you’ve ever experienced the drag of posting a ton of auctions that closed without a bidder, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

List-O-Mania

This week, I spent a few hours creating a list that I think will be very valuable to you. I went to the MagicTraders price guide, and took note of all the commons and uncommons that regularly sell for over $1 per copy. I have excluded all cards before Revised as well as the Portal releases because these sets are special cases where short print runs and rarity trump everything else. I will do an article in the future on Portal, P3K, older cards, and other rarities.

I also excluded a couple of hilarious outliers, like a Deep Spawn that sold for $19.95 or a Jinx that sold for $45.00!

Please note that while I wanted this list to be exhaustive, I’m sure that I glossed over several cards on my perusal of the gigantic list. Please let me know what I missed in the comments – I would love to have a complete list of “non rare players” for when I’m sorting through collections.

THE COMMON/UNCOMMON POWER LIST

(Sorted by price from highest to lowest)

Thirty-Nine Dollars
Force of Will
Twenty-Two Dollars

Wasteland

Ten Dollars
Aether Vial
Nine Dollars
Goblin Lackey
Sol Ring
Eight Fifty
Standstill
Seven Dollars
Enlightened Tutor
Sensei's Divining Top
Five Twenty Five
Reanimate
Five Dollars
Cabal Coffers
Price of Progress
Four Seventy Five
Ancient Tomb
Isochron Scepter
Four Dollars
Cabal Therapy
Elvish Spirit Guide
Sterling Grove
Three Seventy Five
Lightning Greaves
Mystical Tutor
Three Twenty Five
Crystalline Sliver
Eternal Witness
Lim-Dûl's Vault
Propaganda
Spell Snare
Three Dollars
Path to Exile
Two Seventy Five
Ghostly Prison
Imperious Perfect
Mother of Runes
Priest of Titania
Tinker
Two Fifty
Browbeat
Buried Alive
Cephalid Coliseum
Cursecatcher
Kitchen Finks
Lotus Petal
Squirrel Nest
Undead Warchief
Two Twenty Five
Brain Freeze
Fact or Fiction
Goblin Warchief
Heedless One
Merrow Reejerey
Swords to Plowshares
Thran Dynamo
Trygon Predator
Worldly Tutor
Two Dollars
Bloodbraid Elf
Daru Warchief
Daze
Dragon Arch
Elephant Grass
Fog Bank
Horned Sliver
Mind Harness
Necromancy
One Seventy Five
Circular Logic
Elvish Promenade
Goblin Ringleader
Jötun Grunt
Knight of Meadowgrain
Krosan Grip
Perish
Regrowth
Rite of Flame
Skullclamp
Tangle
Vampire Nighthawk
Wirewood Symbiote
One Fifty
Animate Dead
Boggart Ram-Gang
Chainer's Edict
Firespout
Ghost Quarter
Lightning Helix
Magma Jet
Paradise Mantle
Remand
Soulless One
Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Denial
Wall of Omens
Ward Sliver
Wash Out
Wirewood Lodge
One Twenty Five
Ancient Ziggurat
Anger
Arcane Sanctum
Barbarian Ring
Blightning
Brainstorm
Chain of Vapor
Crumbling Necropolis
Energy Chamber
Engineered Plague
Exhume
Fecundity
Fire/Ice
Flames of the Blood Hand
Gaea's Blessing
Gatekeeper of Malakir
Ghitu Encampment
Goblin Recruiter
Harmonize
Hellspark Elemental
Hymn to Tourach
Jagged-Scar Archers
Juniper Order Ranger
Leeches
Loxodon Warhammer
Pyrokinesis
Rancor
Savage Lands
Shifting Sliver
Shrapnel Blast
Skyshroud Elite
Spectral Procession
Tendrils of Agony
Wirewood Hivemaster
Zombie Infestation
One Dollar
Aura Shards
Beseech the Queen
Blasting Station
Bramblewood Paragon
Briarhorn
Choke
Control Magic
Cruel Edict
Curiosity
Drove of Elves
Flame Javelin
Goblin Offensive
Hand of Honor
Jungle Shrine
Mogg Fanatic
Mogg Infestation
Mortify
Nimble Mongoose
Seaside Citadel
Shattering Spree
Silvergill Adept
Tainted Isle
Tectonic Edge
Thirst for Knowledge
Tolaria West
Tormod's Crypt
Treetop Village
Wellwisher
Wirewood Channeler
Zombie Trailblazer

Conclusions

Be honest – how many of those cards did you think were bulk until you read this list?

For me, the biggest revelation was the value of the uncommon Sliver cards. While I knew that Crystalline Sliver trades right around $4, I had no idea that there were several other Slivers from Tempest and Legions that are also worth something.

Also: raise your hand if you had Daru freaking Warchief on the same pricing tier as Daze. I’m sure I’ve bulked out dozens of that guy.

Of course, before you go swapping your Dazes for Darus, remember that the sword of knowledge cuts both ways. You can probably find a few people who have Daru Warchiefs that they’ll trade you for a quarter each, but there will be very few trading partners who will trade you for them at full value.

Trading in Silver and Black

While most people you trade with will value rares, uncommons, promos, and whatever else at whatever value point you both agree with, others will look upon their non-rares with disdain. While everyone pretty much knows the cards on that list from $3 and above, starting at the $2.75 mark you may be able to get some very sweet deals on cards that appear to be throw-ins.

When asking about prices in the binder of someone I’ve never traded with before, I always make it a point to ask about the value of an uncommon that I know is worth a couple of bucks. This gives me an idea if this person values their non-rare cards higher than they should or lower than they should.

This is the same reason I’ll always paw through boxes of seemingly bulk fodder that some players bring with them to each and ever event. If they tell me it’s all garbage, that just means I can get a sweet deal on what I find!

Lucrative Lessons

When buying collections, I often make more money on the commons and uncommons than the rares. Often I’ll pay a flat rate of $0.10 each for bulk rares, and I’m lucky if I can make $0.20 on some of them. Bulk commons and uncommons? If I’m buying at $8-$10 per thousand and walk away with some Standstills and Reanimates, it’s been a pretty good day.

Like my story at the start of this post, there are many reasons to be aware of the value of non-rare cards. Are there players in your area who don’t know the value of their silver? Don’t let it be you.

Join me next time when I look at psychographics from a whole new angle.

- Chas Andres

14 thoughts on “Uncommonly Good

  1. Very helpful list, it'll be handy to keep with me at FNMs. My local shop regularly refills is "4 Uncommons for $1" box, and I'll pull Ghostly Prisons and the like out of there, and this list will help keep fresh in my mind other gems I could be missing.

    1. Good catch on Strip Mine. For some reason, I always think of that as a rare. Being added to $2.25 tier.

      Counterspell is NOT a $1 card. It's in the same place as Dark Ritual: they're hard to trade and impossible to sell because there are just so many of them out there.

  2. Attn: Kelly and Doug

    Give this guy a raise. I could not care less about the ethics of… zero-sum… BS! And I definitely wouldn't pay to read Op Ed responses.

    I would pay for this. Great job Chas, really appreciate the time you put in to it.

    Potential additions: Careful Study, Stromgald Crusader, Mind Funeral, and Buried Alive.

    1. Thanks, Shazam!

      Careful Study is under $1.00, but a good one to stock in your book if the right crowd is at your store.

      Stromgald Crusader is $1.25, great addition.

      Buried Alive is $2.75, and one of my fav. trading targets! Can't believe I forgot it.

      Mind Funeral is worth $2.50!?!? I had NO idea! Thanks for turning me on to that one!

  3. Awesome article. It's worth noting that I've built my collection mostly off of buying a handful of standard packs, and a lot of people when they see the commons/uncommons at the end of the binder say to themselves "wow, i never thought to bring stuff like that with me." I even keep the below $1 ones like lightning bolts, dark rits, counterspell with me simply because you never know when a guy will want them. I did a trade for a couple $1 rares against my urza saga rits simply because the guy likes that art for the card and wanted to complete his playset :D!!! I also manage to unload a lot of "bulk" cards to the EDH and casual guys who like big swingy rares most people don't even bother carrying due to a $0.25 price tag, but it's amazing when you can price rares at a minimum of $1 each, have them agree, then unload a few bulk rares against a goblin guide, bloodghast, or maybe 10-20 rares most dealers would hesitate to buy even for 0.10 each and get a zendikar fetch out of the deal.

    I try to keep the "good" stuff limited to the binder, but it's amazing what you find laying around bulk. I gotta sift through my collections to see if i missed some. I can't believe soulless one is on this list for example, too bad the zombie starter from legions I picked up years back to play with my buddies during lunch period in high school got water damaged. It hurt when i also realized that i pulled an unmask from an MM tounrnament pack and let it get destroyed in high school, only to get back into mtg and realize it's a $4-5 rare.

  4. You come across as really sleasy with the opening paragraphs – boasting about how you were able to rip some smuck off and trying to justify it because he was charging high on rares.

    1. My ethics on buying collections/cards from non-players is very different than my trading ethics. See my first article on buying collections for more on them.

      If you still disagree, that's certainly your right. Hope you enjoyed the rest of my article!

  5. Great article! This is what people want to read on QS. Clear and compact information that will give you an edge in your trades.

    The power of commons and uncommons cannot be stressed enough. Pricing rares aggressively while keeping a big stock of commons and uncommons is a valid selling strategy. People will buy from you, because you have good prices on rares, but for convenience they'll also get the C/UC playsets at higher prices although you might be expensive on that ones.

    More please …

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