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Insider: Selling Singles vs. Selling Playsets on Ebay

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I've often wondered whether there was any difference between selling hot cards as singles instead of playsets on Ebay. This question gets more complicated when we think about why people are buying cards. Since you only need one of a card for Commander, you might be unlikely to pay more for extra copies you won't use. If you need a playset, you might pay a premium so that you don't have to round up the cards from different buyers and wait for all of them in the mail. I sat down and ran the numbers this week on several cards, demanded in different markets, for a good analysis on what you should do. This information is specific to the cards, but I have attempted to describe what I think is going on with the individual cards and then extrapolate them to the broader market.

The big takeaway for traders is the question of "do I trade more to make a playset of this?" You're looking at duals, Snapcasters, the hot chase rares of Standard, and wondering whether there's a market premium in completing that pack to resell. Let's find out...

Tarmogoyf

1 2 3 4
$76.80 $76.56 $79.74 $81.70

This simple graph represents the prices, averaged out, for the sale of Tarmogoyfs in the last few weeks. Tarmogoyfs are a banner Modern creature and make quite a splash in Legacy, too. They are not much in demand for Commander, because they're not that great of a creature in the singleton format. Tempo and mana are not at such a premium, so a plain beater is less exciting.

The results of the Goyf sampling were perhaps the most interesting to me. There were plenty of data on sales of the card in each quantity, which made for a good investigation. I corrected for shipping price - but at the $70+ level, you get free shipping from most sellers (it's like the NPR tote bag). Tarm0goyfs are worth considerably more when bundled with their friends - just look at the $5.00 difference! That's $20 across a playset, and you'd be mad to break up a set to sell individually on Ebay. I concluded from this data set that when a card has little Commander appeal, but broad market appeal, the market rewards sellers who can get full sets together. Tournament players seem uninterested in slowly accumulating their Goyfs.

 

Volcanic Island

1 2 3 4
$75.70 $70.50 $70.62 $72.23

 

Another card, another fascinating table. Volcanic Island has casual appeal, for sure. People love the R/U color scheme and it pops up in a lot of Commander decks. However, it's not played that much in Legacy. The color combo is probably the second-weakest, behind B/R in Legacy. The astounding lesson for me here is that bidders tend to reward people who sell single Volcanic Islands, which makes me think that players will pay a slight premium to not have to deal with buying extra Volcs. If you're selling your Volcs, I don't think it's really worth breaking up a playset - you only net about $10, which might not be worth the trouble. The data are clear, however - don't sell doubles or triples of this card! Break it into single sales and you'll make extra money.

One of my initial hypotheses was that dual lands would particularly show this phenomenon, due to Commander players. It's nice to see it play out. The triple Volc category only had seven entries in recent memory, so I have to warn you off of totally relying on it, but the data seem clear on the advantage of selling individual Volcs. Also of note: more free shipping here. The doubles category was marked by several sub-$65 per piece auctions, which is absurd. Get out your bidding scheduler and price control that stuff!

 

Force of Will

1 2 3 4
$49.48 $48.83 $51.13 $51.08

A relatively flat data set comes back for Force of Will, long a loved card in Legacy and Vintage. I was sort of surprised by this because I thought that there were enough Commander players to make single FOWs more in demand. However, a difference of about $1.50 exists in the data-rich set across the four quantities. Since it's upward-trending, we can see a slight reward for sellers who take the time to assemble a playset.

The craziest thing when I looked at FOW prices was that there were several completed BIN listings for Force of Will at $65 in single copies. This is bizarre to me, but I had to remember that some people are going to just want the card and be done with it. Force of Will is a polestar of a card for inflated dealer and BIN pricing, so the actual floor on BIN prices for this card is much higher than it is for auctions. If you have a single Force of Will, I highly suggest putting it up for BIN instead of an auction. Too many people act like cowboys and put up auctions for a single card, thinking that they'll make more money, and they just eat $10 that they could have had with a BIN auction.

 

Bloodstained Mire

1 2 3 4
$14.47 $13.52 $16.29 $13.94

I chose Bloodstained Mire because it has a good casual and Commander following, but it sees no Legacy play. It's also a lower-priced card, which means that we can get a little diversity in our data. At this price point, barely anyone offers free shipping, either. Mires are relatively steady across three of the four categories, but that third column is interesting. First, let me level as a casual statistician here that the 3x Mire auctions were few and far between; I had only seven to count. On the other hand, it looks like bidders genuinely lost their minds when bidding on these cards, and they did it all the time. Almost all of the auctions were above $51 ($17 per) and some got up to $55. That's far, far above market price for any other category. Sometimes, you see auction histories where people went nuts, and the 3x Mire category was one of those for sure. In larger data sets, those flip-outs get evened out by the people who score cheap auctions, but there were really no cheap auctions to speak of with Mire. The lowest 3x pack went for $43, or $14.66 apiece. That's still above the average, the average! for the other three categories.

My only guess for why this happened is that there's enough people who really need those three, but do not want to get the four-pack and sell the extra one.

 

Snapcaster Mage

1 2 3 4
$18.25 $19.04 $19.31 $18.72

Snapcaster Mage is just about the hottest in-print card right now, so it's no surprise to me that given the volume, the price is just even. This tells me that the market is pretty wise to actual prices, and I wonder if people are doing their research. This was a very interesting one to analyze because nearly nobody offers free shipping, which threw off the graph. When you don't correct for the $2-3 that most people charge, the one-of sales look much cheaper, coming in around $15. At higher quantities, the shipping premium erodes and you get to a closer per-card price. It's interesting to me that buyers are not forcing the market on single copies downward, but then again, buyers don't exactly get together to talk about these things.

Even with Snapcaster Mages, I saw ample opportunities for price enforcement. There were several 2-of auctions that ended for prices around $31. There were also some 4-of auctions that spiraled past $80 for a set. That kind of action shouldn't be happening, but I also figure that people at that level are thinking that "hey, this is a $20 card" when in reality, it's not. There are enough sub-$75 auctions that you can wait a little for a good deal on these.

*     *     *     *     *

I enjoyed doing this data dump and there's a lot to learn from just scouring completed listings. The FOW BIN trend, the premium on single Volcs, the slight playset premium - all of these were interesting. I think I can boil what I learned down to these points:

  • There most certainly are buying trends related to the quantities of cards sold.
  • If it's a popular or essential Commander card, you'll make more selling it as a single.
  • Most people will pay a little more for a playset, meaning that it can be worth $8 or more to get that fourth copy of a card.
  • When something has little Commander appeal, you're just better off making the playset if you can.
  • You will never profit by selling things as 2-ofs!
  • It usually pays to break sets that aren't playsets down into singles and sell 'em off.

If you want to see the analysis on more cards, just let me know! This was a brute force exercise; I just started pulling in numbers. It takes some time, but it can be enlightening. My numbers aren't perfect and I'm sure seeing things like statistical deviation would help, but for a back-of-the-envelope style hypothesis test, this was pretty good.

Until next week,

Doug Linn

Douglas Linn

Doug Linn has been playing Magic since 1996 and has had a keen interest in Legacy and Modern. By keeping up closely with emerging trends in the field, Doug is able to predict what cards to buy and when to sell them for a substantial profit. Since the Eternal market follows a routine boom-bust cycle, the time to buy and sell short-term speculative investments is often a narrow window. Because Eternal cards often spike in value once people know why they are good, it is essential for a trader to be connected to the format to get great buys before anyone else. Outside of Magic, Doug is an attorney in the state of Ohio.  Doug is a founding member of Quiet Speculation, and brings with him a tremendous amount of business savvy.

View More By Douglas Linn

Posted in Free Insider

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10 thoughts on “Insider: Selling Singles vs. Selling Playsets on Ebay

  1. Something that was not taken into account are the extra costs when selling singles vs playset.
    – listing costs at eBay (4x iso 1x)
    – paypal fee (4x iso 1x)
    – shipping costs (4x iso 1x)

    Taking the above costs into account, I almost alway opt to sell a complete playset with a BIN price (just above average)

    1. The Paypal fee is going to be 35 cents extra per auction and the ebay listing fee is on a sliding scale that I don't know offhand… Shipping costs get passed onto the customer, too. For me, it was really helpful to know whether I should trade into whole sets or just blow out that 2x of a card I have.

      1. Between 9 and 11 percent, usually, in final values fees depending on the cost of the item and whether it's an auction or BIN. Paypal fees also include a 2.9% value fee along with their flat fee.

        1. Thanks for reporting in on this. The Paypal fee is going to be the same across every transaction, but the flat fee adds to the volume of transactions. I can't remember whether Ebay went to no-fee listings or just gives them out sometimes. I also know that their fees are structured in tiers that soften up at some levels, but I don't think most Magic cards hit those tiers.

  2. I think loads of sellers are ''passing off'' some of the extra cost. They mostly cover it in the shipping & handling which I used to do as well like adding an euro or dollar extra

    What surprises me is that 3 of a kind still sells reasonably high – does it mostly have to do that buyers already have 1 card of it hence searching 3 to complete their playset or do you have another view on this?

  3. Excellent article. This concept is something I passively think about every time I list my cards on eBay – and I even actively think about it when buying. I sometimes search for 2x or 3x of a card I need in listings just to see if I can randomly get them cheaper. Well done!

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