Last week one of my eBay purchases arrived in the mail alongside a handful of freebies. Some generous seller decided to give me a dozen free cards with my order, including two bulk foils, two Door to Nothingness (random, but I'll take it), and two Thought Scours. For kicks, I looked up Thought Scour on mtg.gg.
This is pretty sweet. For $29 I received the card I actually purchased -- a foil Abrupt Decay -- plus almost a buck in buy-list value. After all, I’ll take $0.23 for almost any Standard Common. Add on the $0.58 in eBay bucks and the deal just keeps getting sweeter.
What Do You Mean “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”?
After seeing how simple Standard Commons can buylist for nearly a quarter, I dashed into the other room to find my bulk from recent sets. I began to find value left and right! Noxious Revival sells to AdventuresON.com for $0.25 each, ABU games will give me $0.11 each on my Avacyns Pilgrims, and for some reason Troll and Toad will buy three copies of Alloy Myr for $0.44!
I was on a roll! I was already getting excited to submit my buylist orders to all these vendors, which would surely net me the figurative “free lunch”.
Then reality set in.
Thirty minutes had past and I had a small pile of $0.25 cards, each of which would require separate buylist submissions. Because I don’t own dozens of copies of these Commons, the actual value I was discovering just couldn’t justify the time it was taking. Even if I could keep the pace up, I was approaching around four bucks an hour. I don’t know about you, but my time seems much more valuable than that!
Time Is Money
This old saying is surely overused, but one cannot argue with the importance of this equation. It is amazing that I can go through my boxes of useless cards and find dollars hidden inside. We are all likely sitting on cash we don’t know about simply because vendors randomly need to re-stock.
The problem is that it takes a lot of time to find said cards.
Some stores can afford to find these hidden gems because they have a ton of bulk copies. Finding that ABU Games will pay $0.23 for Thought Scour may be more useful because a store would likely have twelve copies to sell at once. This adds up much more quickly and justifies the pay. However, even this becomes questionable when dealers are only looking to buy a couple copies of a card.
The unfortunate conclusion is that dealers want to have sufficient copies of these cards in stock, but many players do not have the time to find it for them. This leads to discrepancy between the “bid” and “ask” price for these cards, and the transactions don’t trigger.
“The bid–offer spread (also known as bid–ask or buy–sell spread, and their equivalents using slashes in place of the dashes) for securities (such as stocks, futures contracts, options, or currency pairs) is the difference between the prices quoted (either by a single market maker or in a limit order book) for an immediate sale (offer) and an immediate purchase (bid). The size of the bid-offer spread in a security is one measure of the liquidity of the market and of the size of the transaction cost. If the spread is 0 then it is a frictionless asset.”
Since some dealers have strange equations in place to automatically calculate what price they’ll pay on a given quantity of cards, this results in some truly strange outcomes…such as Alloy Myr buylisting for $0.44!
There are a ton of places to buy Magic Cards from nowadays. Sites like TCGPlayer, Card Shark, eBay, MOTL, and Amazon have dozens of sellers peddling their cards at competitive prices. But often times, the same vendor isn’t always selling the cheapest card. Vendor A may sell Card X for $0.30 less than Vendor B, but Vendor B in turn sells card Y for $0.35 less than Vendor A. Plus these vendors may have different shipping costs! When dozens of sellers are involved, this becomes terribly complex.
To help us navigate through these headache-inducing calculations, TCPlayer and Card Shark have provided us with tools.
These tools are a step in the right direction, both these websites have acknowledged that there is still a need. They are imperfect and incomplete. For one, I would like to optimize my purchases across multiple sites. Before checking out from Card Shark, I want a tool that will point me towards TCGPlayer and eBay Buy-It-Now listings for possible savings.
This doesn’t exist... yet, and so we are once again faced with that time vs value equation. One could easily spend an hour attempting to optimize a larger purchase with perfection – believe me, I’ve been there before. But in reality, saving that extra buck just isn’t worth the twenty minutes’ investment.
80 For The 20
My recommended approach for these and other time-wasters: follow an 80-for-the-20 approach. Often times we can reach approximately 80% optimization with 20% of the work – it’s the remaining 20% optimization that takes up so much additional time. Going 80% of the way and stopping may be the optimal balance of time and money for the time being.
In the case of buylisting bulk, I’d suggest doing this in increments. Every time you submit a buylist order, browse their buylist prices for one or two sets to identify if they are paying oddly high amounts for bulk singles. You may end up settling for $0.12 on a given common rather than $0.23, but the time and postage saved by sticking with one vendor will likely balance this out. I find this also helps me feel better when I get my cards downgraded on condition – I may lose $6 on value due to condition downgrades, but selling $2 in random bulk helps balance this out within my head at least.
In the case of cart optimization, the brute force approach is too impractical. I would instead suggest a quick search at each website for sanity checking, but little more. For example, let’s say I’m purchasing a few cards from a single seller. Then I see they also have Breeding Pools, which I wouldn’t mind investing further in.
I may do a quick look at a different website to see if any vendor is selling Breeding Pool for less after adding shipping. Sometimes this is the case, but other times it is not. Other times, a vendor has cheaper Breeding Pools before shipping, and I’m left wondering if I need to instead consider buying all my cards from this seller instead.
A vicious, self-propagating cycle has begun. Going this deep on cart optimization can add stress without adding significant value. Time to stop the loop.
Time – A Precious Resource
We all have a limited amount of time, but the resource has a different value for everybody. For some, MTG is a major part of their life or even their source of income, so grinding out every buck is needed for survival. For others, MTG is a fun hobby that can possibly pay for itself. The time vs money equation may differ between the two groups.
My suggestion is to proactively consider which equation you want to use. As you find yourself beginning an exercise of optimization which may take a significant amount of time, think about how much you are willing to invest up front. You may even want to go as far as to set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, do some quick math to see how much value you’ve saved and decide if it is worth continuing.
During my activity, I quickly realized how much time I’d have to sink to maximize profits. With a wife and young toddler at home, this was an equation I simply could not overcome.
Sigbits – Dragon’s Maze
We saw Dragon’s Maze’s impact on Standard for the first time this past weekend. Looking at some of the outcomes from SCGNJ, I thought it would be worthwhile to point out some price changes (note these prices are as of 9:00am Sunday… it’ll be interesting to see how much this changes before Monday).
For starters, here’s the Top 10 Interests on mtgstocks.com for Sunday:
- The number one card is the first one I want to touch on: Deadbridge Chant. This card has doubled in price overnight thanks to its appearance as a 1-of in some Jund decklists. I bought a few myself, but I am left to question how high this card can go. It was a 1-of in the sideboard of many decks, but if the card catches on it could jump much higher, especially now that people understand how powerful the Enchantment is. Being a Mythic Rare also adds to the upside potential.
- Advent of the Wurm is the next card worth discussing. This spell appeared frequently throughout SCG’s live coverage of feature matches, and I really came to appreciate its power. A 5/5 for four mana that can come down at instant speed is pretty solid. Add in the fact that Snapcaster Mage can help you double down and you’ve got a potent spell. I’ve got my eye on these.
- Finally, we have what some considered was the money card of the set: Voice of Resurgence. Contrary to Advent of the Wurm, I did NOT see this card throughout SCG’s live coverage. Perhaps I just missed the matches where it showed up… or perhaps the rumors buzzing on Twitter are accurate – this card is overhyped. That being said, it did show up as a 4-of in at least one Top-8 decklist, and a 3-of in another Top 8 deck’s sideboard. At $30, I’m not a buyer.