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Insider: Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales

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This upcoming week will see another holiday season (un)officially commence in the form of Thanksgiving--a major holiday in the United States based around giving thanks. The holiday stems from the early pilgrims who settled in the New World and shared food and experiences with the local natives.

Somehow, lost in translation, the season went through rapid commercialization and has morphed into what it is now. Millions of people will go out in the middle of the night Friday with the hopes of purchasing $99 Flat Screen TV’s and the like. To these people, I say “Good riddance. Knock yourself out, just don’t wake me up.” With the onset of Black Friday, the holiday shopping season will begin.

From: http://uptownmagazine.com/2010/12/christmas-religious-holiday-or-cultural-tradition/
From: http://uptownmagazine.com/2010/12/christmas-religious-holiday-or-cultural-tradition/

Why is this relevant to a MTG finance column? In recent years, American retailers have embraced this holiday tradition by offering stellar deals on Black Friday as well as Cyber Monday, the following Monday. These deals are often very tempting, rivaling even the cheapest of sites like eBay and TCG Player.

But every deal isn’t a steal. In some cases a deal is made to look tempting simply because the price is favorable from a retailer. Additionally, some prices are slashed deservedly due to a shift in metagame or some other factor.

This week I’ll share a few helpful tips when considering the holiday sales, and I’ll touch upon some of the cards I’ll be watching closely myself.

Always Cross-Check Prices

It’s easiest to highlight this lesson with an example. Let’s say a major retailer decides to offer one of the hottest Commander 2013 singles on the market at a discounted price on Black Friday. They may advertise “25% off all Commander 2013 singles!!” to draw your attention. So you check out the store’s listings and go directly to True-Name Nemesis. After all, that’s the most important card worth grabbing at such a great discount, right?

Sure enough, the store has precious few copies left in stock marked down from $49.99 to $37.49. This deep discount is alluring--such a comparison leads the human mind to feel they are being offered quite the steal. What’s more, the limited quantity in stock paints an even more urgent picture. Surely you must purchase them as soon as possible in order to capitalize on this rare discount.

Before snap-buying these deals I beg of you to cross-check prices. Minimally you should review TCG Player and/or eBay completed listings to make sure you’re getting a true bargain. In this example, the answer is a compelling “no”. Although mtgstocks.com lists True-Name Nemesis at $42, there are simply too many copies on TCG Player that cost less.

TNN

You may point out that all these cards are below the $37.49 price tag once shipping is factored in. This is true--but I’m not done yet. Check out some eBay prices next:

TNN2

Now all of a sudden the retailer’s Black Friday special doesn’t seem so strong. Plus you’ll still have to pay that retailer shipping and you won’t get eBay Bucks out of the deal. Thus, this “discount” really isn’t as much of a deal as one would expect.

Watch out for this trend on many of the hottest singles. Cards in high demand also usually fetch a significant premium at retail--so much that even a 25%-30% discount doesn’t make the single a profitable buy.

If you need the cards and plan to buy a bunch of singles from that retailer anyway (or you’re using store credit), then the choice to buy has merit. But if you’re looking to buy out retailers on Black Friday deals with the intent to profit by selling on TCG Player, you must exercise caution.

Keep Emotions in Check

Emotions tend to ride high during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. The prospect of grabbing a deal before peers makes the allure of shopping on these two days all the more tangible. I have some family members who live for these deals, and they are at Walmarts and Best Buys at 2 am with the rest.

Before you make any snap-buys, I urge you to consider all the valuable suggestions you’ve read previously on this site. Corbin wrote an excellent article last week on opportunity cost. This rule doesn’t go away here.

Just because you get a Chord of Calling on sale for $20 doesn’t mean you’ve made a wise investment. The price may be a full third cheaper than usual retail, but there would be no immediate profit available for you at that price and you’d have to sit on these cards for a while waiting for another possible spike in price.

Chord

Another valuable tip to keep in mind is the exit strategy. Even during this crazy time of year, you should always have an exit strategy in mind when purchasing cards for profit.

Think through why the retailer is marking down prices so significantly. The holiday is a great excuse to mark prices down and clear out some slow-moving inventory. That doesn’t mean you’re getting the deal of a lifetime. It’s possible the dealer had some difficulty selling some of these discounted cards at their previously higher price--if so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to either.

My Watch List

There are two categories of cards I’m keeping my eyes out for during the holiday sale season: Modern and Theros temples. The former because we will see many more instances of Splinter Twin-like spikes in the next few months. I will be closely watching for deals on Spellskite, Birthing Pod, Scars fastlands, Worldwake manlands, and an array of other cards prone to spiking come Modern season.

Splinter

The latter because of the same reasons I buy into every rare mana-fixing land cycle: prices will bottom soon and rise significantly next year. In fact, Temple of Mystery is already tempting me because I can acquire sets near $8.

Temple of Mystery

The other temples are dropping in price as well. Just as I did with Innistrad duals, Scars of Mirrodin duals, and Worldwake manlands, I expect to make solid profit on these acquisitions once shocklands leave Standard.

The time horizon is a bit long, but my high confidence level combined with promise of solid returns makes me feel comfortable with this slow-moving spec. Hinterland Harbor’s curve says it all.

Harbor

While I don’t necessarily see all temples breaking $10, I firmly believe at least one or two versions will hit this price tag. The others, while less desirable, will still appreciate significantly in price from their lows. At this point it’s about patience and timing--if I can find them at significant discount during the holiday season, this is one purchase I will be confident making.

Happy Shopping Season

Next weekend will be exciting as it always is. Finding those amazing deals and buying stores out of them before others can is an exhilarating experience that many of us MTG speculators live for. But we all need to keep our emotions in check--being the first person to buy out Star City Games of Show and Tell at a 25% discount isn’t really something to brag about. Cross-check first.

It may even be advisable to plan out what you’re willing to purchase should there be discounts from retail ahead of time. This is essentially what I’ve done, identifying the top cards I’m after heading into the holiday sale season. I can always look up additional opportunities before buying, but being prepared up front will provide me with additional agility. Hopefully this advanced planning will allow me to be quicker with browsing websites so I can find the right opportunities faster.

Finally, if we miss out on a steal it’s not the end of the world. Remember that these sales are designed to drive people to retailers’ sites, and many of the best deals disappear quickly. Even those who do capitalize by staying up all hours of the night may not be “winning” due to the time they spend searching through all these “bargains”. It’s all about that balance, after all.

Sigbits

Here are a couple other cards that would become favorably priced should they be marked down 25% from retail. These just might also land on my sale radar next weekend.

  • Zendikar fetchlands are still high in demand--no surprise here. What is surprising is that NM copies of Misty Rainforest sell for $49.99 at retail while the cheapest copies on TCG Player are in the $43 range. A 25% off sale would lead to a true bargain in this case. It may be similar for other fetches as well.
  • From the Vault copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor retail for $99.99 and sell for $80 on TCG Player. While a 25% discount wouldn’t lead to a profitable buy, it would lead to a favorable acquisition price if you’re looking for copies of Big Jace anyways. I may not look to outlay this much cash because I no longer play Legacy, but others may benefit from this advanced knowledge.
  • Do I really want to buy more shocklands given their disappointing performance? They're not compelling. But if retailers mark down their shocks by 25% or more, they may have quite competitive prices. This could be your chance to finish out your playsets, for example. Foil copies at this discount would be even better--this is likely where I’d look to spend my money should this sale become reality.

8 thoughts on “Insider: Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales

  1. I wonder who inspired this article ;-).

    I’d mostly be in the market for deals on very stable cards. Last year around this time I got 2 NM Beta Illussionary Masks that got discounted to about $120 each from T&T. These are a perfect example of what I would look for: high end cards rarely get discounted, their price already was pretty decent (I remember about $40 under the 2nd lowest seller on TCGPlayer) and now they got discounted even further. The lowest priced copy on TCGPlayer is currently $190, the lowest NM is $306 so in hindsight this has been a very good deal.

    Another area to look at would be casual cards, preferably those that haven’t risen yet but are expected to do so. One such card I personally like is Opal Palace as many EDH decks will want it and Command Tower has also shown great results. I know that if I come across a shop I would want to buy from I will be checking their price on this little gem. I’m also still a big fan of Winding Canyons, which I feel is the reserved list card best positioned for an EDH based price push (3rd set, old, nearly universally playable in EDH, Volrath’s Stronghold’s and Yavimaya’s Hollow current price, which, contrary to the Canyons, are tied to specific colors).

    I do like the idea of picking up Temples and Shocks, though in both cases for me it would much depend on how big the discount is. Shocks against crappies seems to work well for me, to the point where getting a few more might be wise.

    As a foreigner I also have to worry about shipping costs if I want to buy something in volume: $5 shipping was common in the past, but finding such offers has become much rarer these days, some go as far as only offering a $50 option if you go above a certain value or volume, or even as the only option period. I purposely placed 2 orders at T&T last year for those Masks because shipping would get out of hand if I had them in the same order.

    Would any of our members that are shop owners perhaps share what they are planning to do on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

    1. Oops, turns out I was looking at Alpha prices for the Mask; still, only a heavily played copy is available under what I paid for NM last year and cheapest NM is $200, so the point still holds.

    2. Thanks for the comment! You add some very valuable suggestions here. Stable casual / EDH cards and older staples definitely belong on the “Watch List” if you are looking to acquire these for personal use. It isn’t always easy to move these cards, so the propsect of flipping them for profit (unless acquired under mtg.gg buy prices) is unclear. But if you are looking to pick up these cards regardless, then this could be a chance to get them at very favorable pricing.

      I will do some additional searches this weekend to add a couple of these to my radar. I especially like the prospect of acquiring cheaper NM Alpha Rares as these will do nothing but appreciate in the future – the key is finding ones below top buy prices or in the same ballpark.

      Winding Canyons is also a good one to add to my list 🙂

  2. Speaking of holiday shopping, has there ever been a major chain retailer that offered a holiday sale on Magic? Would we ever see something like commander 2013 decks for $14.99 at Walmart or Target?

    1. That’s a good question. I know a regional store I used to shop at (Meijer) would occasionally have random 20% off sales on sealed MTG product…that was pretty sweet. But I’m not aware of any major holiday sales on MTG. Perhaps others may know? It would be amazing to pick up all the Commander Decks at a significant discount.

      1. In Amsterdam we have the American Book Center that offers a 10% discount if you’re a member and an additional 10% discount on Thanksgiving (when they also send you a 7 euro coupon, most of the cost of a membership…). Usually have some Magic on sale during Thanksgiving, not always good stuff, but it’s usually worth a check as they do serious discounts (33% off is not uncommon and that’s before applying the additional 20% discount for membership and Thanksgiving). At the very least between 20% discount and the coupon I should pick up 2 free boosters or pay for a decent chunk of a Commander deck.

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