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Insider: Don’t Waste Your Time

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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.

From Wikipedia:

“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.[1] 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!

More Time-Wasting

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.

-Sigmund Ausfresser
@sigfig8

36 thoughts on “Insider: Don’t Waste Your Time

    1. Thanks for the comment! With the many bots on MTGO, I can only imagine how much time I’d waste trying to eek out that extra 0.15 tix each tranasaction! As much as I love finding free money in my bulk, I simply cannot afford to spend the time on such endeavors. MTG.GG is an incredibly valuable tool, but it can drive a grinder crazy sometimes 🙂

  1. Excellent Article…and one I can definitely relate to…I recall spending probably 4+ hours one night going through MTGFanatic’s buylist because they were offering quite high on a bunch of commons/uncommons I figured I’d never use again..problem was they only wanted a few of each copy…after spending all that time gathering what I was going to sell. I looked at the cart and it was like $20…I’d just made 5 dollars an hour (minus postage)..

    1. Thanks for your comment, David! 🙂

      You are most assuredly not alone. We’ve all been there – usually when I decide to sell some cards to a vendor, I look up a ton of my bulk rares in their buylists to see if they’ll pay me $0.20 or what have you on a bulk rare. Often times I find a dozen or two more cards to ship this way, but it normally adds only a few bucks to the order. Is it worth it??? That’s a question everyone has to answer for themselves. I do enjoy the hunt, so it’s not just a matter of making money/hour for me…but my time is precious these days so I do need to weigh every activity against other things I could be doing!

      1. Honestly…I hadn’t heard any of the horror stories and they had amazing buylist prices on a bunch of recently rotated commons (I can remember they were offering like 0.15 on vapor snags and 0.50 on whipflares). But ya, I never sent the package.

    2. I do this type of sorting while watching TV or movies I would watch anyway. That makes it not nearly as painful a process and makes me feel like I’m double tasking.

    1. Wow, your buy-in prices were much better than mine!! I have 5 foil Abrupt Decays now (I sold 8 already, which was foolish of me). Averaging around $28 each on these, but I don’t think I’m going much deeper at this price. I bought two sets of Deadbridge Chant at $3.50ish each, and then I bought one more at $3.99. I don’t plan on buying more now that the hype has kicked in, and I already missed out on the rock bottom price others have gotten.

      1. I meant target exit price, sorry. For abrupt decay it is a long term hold but for me Deadbridge chant is an immediate dump as soon as the Pre-orders come in.

        1. Oh, sorry my misunderstanding. Yeah, I agree with you. Abrupt Decay Foils I am going to sit on for a while now…I’d love to get $50 on these by next Modern season, but we’ll see. Deadbridge Chant I will sell pretty much as soon as they arrive unless the card tears up a major tournament while their in transit…not so likely.

          1. Sorry, “their = they’re”. I always harp on others with misues of there/their/they’re, so I should harp on myself as well :).

    2. Man, I buy out every copy of foil Decay at 2 back to back GPs and your go-to guy to ask questions about them is a guy with 5 copies?

  2. Trading very often falls prey to this problem – I shudder to think of the hours it would take to constantly flip cards for a significant gain… I think it’s likely the whole “pack to power” thing is a net loss for anyone making more than minimum wage!

    1. Yeah, trading is a great way to kill time in between rounds. But unless you’re an expert, I find it hard to believe you’re going to get as much “life value” out of training all day vs. playing Magic. 🙂

    2. I’d guess that on a good day I’d make probably 15%/hour trading of what I make at work, I enjoy it and it’s something to do between rounds at FNM though.

      1. Certainly – the fun value of trading is a big part of why I do it! But the time value is how I convince my wife to go along with buying singles instead of just trading for everything…

  3. This article brings up a good point I’ve come across since I’ve been speculating. Some gains are not worth my time.

    I’d rather get 20% on a big ticket item, than 100% on a small priced thing.

    If my $2 card doubled to $4, by the time I try to sell them, with the fees and shipping my profit drops to nothing. I’d rather go from $100 to $120.

    1. This is a very strong tangent to my point, and I really appreciate your comment! Often times I feel a cheap card deserves to be above bulk, so I buy a couple sets and later buylist them for a few bucks’ profit. But was it really worth my time?

      Anoter example: when I make a purchase on Card Shark, I make sure to browse what else the seller has for sale to see if I can get anything cheaply (since I’m already paying for shipping). I often compare prices vs. MTG.GG buylist. If the price is lower, I tend to add the card to my cart. But I neglect to consider how much the price difference is and whether or not I will be submitting a larger buylist order to the vendor in the near future. If not, it probably won’t be worth buying after fees, shipping and time shipping a $5 card.

  4. Thanks, I’ve really been thinking about what to do with my bulk commons uncommons. I live in LA and space is limited.

    I sort play sets of all my cards but after that there just in boxes. Would you recommend I sell all my playsets from inastrad block? do play sets of uncomons commons sell on tcg/ebay?

    1. I don’t think cheap commons/uncommons sell well at all. Plus fees and shipping costs will make this prohibitive. I am honestly not the best one to ask in terms of how to handle bulk – it’s kind of a nightmare for me. That’s when your time vs. money equation really comes to the foreground.

      1. I disagree entirely! Ever since I started adding stacks of standard C/U to my TCG seller storefront, I have paid for every single bulk common/uncommon I’d bought, and tripled up! A lot of them are combined purchased(3 gravecrawlers, 4 diregraf ghouls, 4 tragic slips). I don’t mind throwing a few more cards in there, and they don’t mind not paying someone else shipping.

        eBay seems terrible for that, though.

    1. Jason explains his inspirations and rationale. I think his article has a slightly different focus (plus extra coverage of SCG’s tournament). If that answer isn’t sufficient, ask Jason?

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