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Insider: Profiting From a Thinly Traded Market – Alpha Cards and You

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I've recently made two cash purchases of Alpha goodies and while that required a significant upfront cost, the actual risks involved in the purchase are minimized by availability of the product (lack of) and a transparent buylist. Generally, I concern myself with writing about actionable advice and consider talking about personal specs no longer available to my readers to be bad form. However, in this case my purchases will provide great examples for those willing to enter what remains a volatile and thinly traded area.

Target One

I was able to acquire a slightly miscut near mint Nevinyrral's Disk from Ebay for just $206.49. A quick check of  QS's own mtg.gg shows a buy price from retailers at $199.99, suggesting I'm putting $6.49 at risk. Of course, there remains a wide spread between this buy price and the remaining four dealers also looking to pick up Alpha copies of the Disk.

With an online low of $235 for the only heavily played copy and just two near mint copies of Larry's Disk listed for $399.98 turning this purchase into a profitable deal shouldn't be too difficult. Finding a buyer between the low and the high will be harder than trading to a retailer at $350. A trade of course requires something worthwhile to trade into.

Unfortunately with prices for Modern looking a bit hot and Legacy not far enough off the highs it achieved thanks to a Pro Tour event some years back, I'm faced with an interesting dilemma: hold out for a buyer or trade into shocklands/ Standard cards. I still find shocklands a tempting target but will hold for a buyer at least until Innistrad rotation. At that time plenty of new targets come up that should face pricing pressure as they move out of Magic's most popular format.

Target Two

The next Alpha card I picked up was Meekstone for $52 shipped. Just five days after the Disk purchase, my first reaction to finding a BiN auction @$55 was to let the local shop and some random people online at the QS forums about the deal. After a meal with some friends I came home and submitted a Best Offer to the seller that (after a counter) we could both accept. Here I expect a card in excellent condition, but with a high buylist price of $72.16 and a major buylist buying at $60 this deal is approaching risk free.

The secret to speculation in thinly sought after cards is first and foremost trusting your evaluation of the card. Disk is an EDH board wipe that is easy to abuse thanks to Goblin Welder, Academy Ruins and Indestructible effects. The card itself has multiple printings, but there are only (at most) 1100 Alpha copies of the card and while I don't expect every EDH player to want one I am pretty sure demand exceeds supply.

Meekstone is a card I already have a home for. The local store owner - same guy I gave a heads up to - has already offered me more than two times my investment in trade. MtG speculators are the middle men of Magic card supply. It is our job to take advantage of real or perceived supply imbalance in a market and profit. Any investment in cardboard is easy with the other end of the deal already on the line. If you attend competitive Magic events, you can expect many willing buyers for your cards obscura. At worst you'll be playing vendors off each other for the chance to snatch up a piece of gaming history.

How to Profit

There will always be opportunities to profit handsomely from thinly traded stock. Ebay is home to distressed sellers and your chances to pick up cards for less than buylist are plentiful even excluding Alpha print runs. Buylists are more stable as concerns older cards and represent the safest assumption of risk for a speculator in my experience.

While scouring online deals for similar specs will be time consuming, narrowing your focus to limited print run cards and seeking distressed sellers at off hours will offer significant return at an easy to identify level of risk.

To see just how rare some of these cards are, I'll leave you with these stats on print runs from Alpha, Beta, Arabian Nights, and Legends:

Print Runs

Total limited run of 10,400,000 broken down as 25% Alpha, the rest Beta.

Alpha has 116 rares each with 1100 copies versus Beta's 117 rares with 3200 copies of each rare.

Alpha has 95 uncommon cards with 4500 copies each versus Beta's 95/13400

Alpha commons 74/15900 versus Beta's 75/47800.

Alpha basic lands 10/86800 versus Beta's 15/137900.

Arabian Nights:

33U2/20000 of each

17 U3/30000 of each

1U4/40000 copies of Oasis

1C1/30000 copies of Mountain

16C4/120000 of each

9C5/150000 of each

1C11/330000 copies of Desert

Legends:

121R1/19300 of each

107U1/57900 of each

7U2/115700 of each

29C1/212100 of each

46C2/424200 of each

mathieu malecot

Mathieu is a daily trader of options/stocks, selling both bearish and bullish options. Lead wrangler of "The Kitten Ranch", as in lives and works at home with two annoying and cute (annoyingly cute?) cats. Ranch motto: "Always Feline Awesome". Playing magic since beta/ high school. Casual player and regular participant in FNM drafts.

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10 thoughts on “Insider: Profiting From a Thinly Traded Market – Alpha Cards and You

  1. I would have thought that Ebay defined the market for these things, so it\’s interesting to hear that there are bargains to be found on the site. I\’ve read that the market for slightly-played Alpha is nowhere near what it is for mint Alpha, because people can\’t get it graded. What are your thoughts on that?

    I love how you\’ve already lined up a buyer on the Meekstone. Talk about a safe purchase! That kind of thing is only possible when you\’re a good human being to other people and don\’t screw over folks in the card shop.

  2. I’d fear CCGHouse is skewing your results for the Disk, they generally price cards like this way higher than any other more reasonable seller. I also had a bad experience buying from them and avoid them since then. The risk was still as minimal as you suggest, but maybe the sell target should be adjusted slightly downward.

    I’ve done the same as you with the Meekstone where I had a local shop owner trade for an Alpha Chaos Orb I found in Germany. It got me a long way towards the Tabernacle I wanted and had that lined up before I bought the Orb.

    1. while you are right about CCG pricing, using buylist prices still offers plenty of support. the disk less than 7$ at stake. considering the condtion, i’ll just park it in an EDH deack until someone gets interested.

      meekstone was a no brainer. markets remain less than perfect in terms of efficiency.

      until we get a rotation, and outside of shocks, i don’t see a ton of bargins – things like primordials/ firemane avenger carry more risk imo.

      1. The risk is minimal, I was just saying don’t let the high CCG price fool you, $300 seems a better target than $350.

        Situations like the Meekstone one are great. I’m always on the lookout for those.

  3. Great article…I knew that the alpha run was low, but honestly not that low…now I kind of want to find an alpha rare so I can own roughly 0.1% of the total quantity on earth….

  4. There is nothing I love more than collecting Alpha cards. Unfortunately sometime around 5 years ago other people also found such love and prices for most Alpha rares has skyrocketed. Do a search on completed auctions for unplayable rares in Alpha: Zombie Master, Animate Wall, Deathlace. Or if you want to become thoroughly depressed search for marginally EDH playables like Forcefield.

    Would you mind posting a picture somewhere on that miscut disk, I have a couple disk myself and would like to compare if its an anomaly.

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