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Insider: What Not to Buylist

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Welcome back, readers.

This seems like an odd strategy, I know, to write an article about not buylisting my second week into a buylisting series, but I think this is an important topic to get out of the way up front. It doesn't do much good to know exactly how to buylist a card if you're not sure whether you should.

In this installment, I am going to discuss some alternative outs to buylisting and when to use them, as well as talk about the advantages of buylisting certain classes of cards. I also plan to get totally meta and talk about how I'm talking about it instead of actually just doing it. It should be a hoot, feel free to join me by doing what you're naturally inclined to do and continue reading.

Not All Cards Are Created Equal

I get cards in a variety of ways and they can fall anywhere on the spectrum from "this card was well taken care of" to "this card may have been used as toilet paper" and that is entirely out of your control. Not only that, some cards are more in demand than others--something else you can't control.

I don't know about you, but if someone wants to sell me cards, I do not refuse on the basis of what the card is. As long as the card is going to sell eventually and we can come to an agreement on price I will buy it. Sometimes that means offering less for a foreign card since your outs are limited. This can sometimes leave you with cards that are more difficult to deal with, but if the price is right, there's no reason to refuse. A lot of these things are out of your control.

However, what you can control is how you out these cards to maximize your profit. If you have multiple outs established you can easily sort the cards ahead of time based on how you want to out them. I won't discuss any kind of out that is so crazy that all of you wouldn't have the opportunity to do it. I'll also get a little bit into how I determine which avenue I will be using to out a particular card.

This can look more like an art than a science, but once you really get started doing this yourself, you'll establish your own rules. Remember, profit is profit, so don't waste too much time sweating a few pennies in the grand scheme of things. Your time is worth money, too, and we're going to work on some ways to save it so you can put your time to better use playing League of Warcraft or watching sportsball or whatever.

There are a few ways to do this, so I think I'll divide the cards up by category and discuss the out that goes with those cards. I don't know why I felt the need to discuss that with you. This isn't a democracy.

To that end, open up your mind holes and get ready to receive some advice.

Cards That Are Jacked. UP.

This is physically painful to look at.

You find cards like this all the time. Bent corners, scuffs, back whitening, dirt on the white border, animal bite marks. Even cards with the word "Darksteel" on them aren't indestructible, and while Magic the Gathering has been around since 1993, card sleeves have only been popular since 1998.

Even then, people play with cards unsleeved, drop them, write on them (how many of you have come across a Lion's Eye Diamond with "Mox" or "Lotus" written on it in sharpie?), spill drinks (Mountain Dew. Always Mountain Dew) on them and generally take poor care of them. Relax. It's not the end of the world.

Damaged cards still have value. People want cards to play with and like cards, players also fall on a spectrum. Some players want their deck to be all Korean foil cards from their first printing with Eric Klug alters of anime girls and giant robots on them.

At the other end of the spectrum you have people who play with the first 11 forests they find on a pile next to their sofa and would play with a card that was once on fire until it was extinguished with urine if it saved them 25 cents. The "I just want it cheaper" crowd has buying power, too, and they shop online.

Lots of buylists will take damaged cards. Some of them, very famously, will not.

As a quick aside, I want to bring up the curious case of Strike Zone. Strike Zone is a wonderful shop. If you buy a card from Strike Zone, you can be assured it will come Near Mint if it says it is Near Mint.

Strike Zone always processed my buylist orders quickly and over the years I developed a very good relationship with Chris, Dana and Dustin after seeing them at so many events. They are good people, and when Strike Zone is at a GP I will wait in a two hour line to give them first crack at my cards rather than go elsewhere first because I know I will get the absolute best price from them on the cards they'll take.

But that is on the cards they'll take. Strike Zone is notorious for being very picky about card condition. That is their thing. I don't begrudge them that thing, and I personally will sell to Strike Zone's online buylist because I know they pay well if you have cards in impeccable condition. People who have never sold to them before will jam a bunch of cards in a box and send it off only to get a lower offer than they'd anticipated. I will sell to Strike Zone and I will recommend others sell to them, but make sure you send them cards that are so minty that they could go in a Mojito.

Stores like Card Kingdom will take your slightly jacked-up cards but will pay you a smaller percentage. This is fine with me because I don't expect full value for the card. ABU Games will also buy less than Near Mint cards, but they ask that you enter the condition in. This is fine sometimes, but on Trader Tools this is done from the Trade Routes screen, and you have to enter the same condition for all copies of the card.

This is something we're working on, but in the mean time, it's kind of annoying. It's not ABU's fault, certainly, and it's not your fault the cards are jacked up. You didn't jack them up, did you? No, probably not. So while it's fair that you can expect to take a hit (usually 20-25%) on the card, I found a better out for damaged cards.

The Out - TCG Player

The great thing about TCG Player is that you get to determine the price you sell for. They have different categories for different conditions and you can grade the card and set the price yourself. While there are a lot of sellers jockeying to have the lowest Near Mint price, there is less competition for cards that are not Near Mint.

The best part? When people sort by lowest price on top, the cheaper card will appear at the top of the list. Some people set a "Near Mint only" filter, but you weren't getting that sale with your beat up card anyway. Therefore the people who are actively seeking a cheaper copy will see your cheaper copy first. If they don't filter out played cards, they'll see yours.

The best part? Sometimes you can list damaged cards for literally one penny less than Near Mint and you'll see first by virtue of being cheapest. Now, a lot of people will say "for one penny more I can get a better condition card--why would I buy a damaged one?" but you don't need to appeal to everyone. You need to appeal to one cheapskate only and after that, the card is his problem.

As long as you grade the card accurately per the terms TCG Player specifies you won't get complaints about the condition, just a thank you for being so affordable. Instead of taking a 25% hit on a buylist, you sold the card for literally a penny less than Near Mint. Now those are good margins.

Cards with Low Spread

You're all Insiders, I have to assume you know what spread is. I know MaRo says "assume the people reading your article have never read anything you've written and are unfamiliar with the subject matter" or something to that effect, and he's a good guy to emulate, but come on. You know what spread is.

It's the difference between the highest buylist price and the lowest sales price as a percentage of the sales price. Okay, so I just said what it was anyway. Trader Tools calculates spread for you, so I like to use mtg.gg to look up card prices because I find price and spread is more useful to know than just price.

The Out - TCG Player

TCG Player is a great out for cards that are close in value to the buylist price. Generally there is a calculus I use to eyeball a card and see if I should sell on TCG Player or just buylist it. Let's look at a few examples.


 

I don't sell for TCG Mid, I sell for TCG Low. Generally, the difference between Low and Mid almost doesn't exist--and is a virtual difference based on how much of the cost is based on shipping and how much is based on the card.

I don't charge shipping so that if they buy more than one card from me, I don't lose money since the shipping cost is only applied once per order. So I have to pay $0.45 for a stamp out of my own pocket (I just charge $0.45 more for the card and it works out). TCG Player charges $0.50 flat fee per sale plus a 10% fee. This is kind of steep on cheap cards since the $0.50 flat fee can be more than the 10% is.

So if you look at the price of a card on TCG Mid and subtract $1 plus another 10% and that's lower than the buylist price, it's obvious that you just buylist it. In the case of Lotus Cobra, I'm going to just buylist it. If the card is under $10 I can glance at the spread and decide pretty quickly if it's worth listing on TCG Player and waiting.

In the case of Amulet of Vigor, I'll get twice as much money selling on TCG Player even after I subtract the fees and the cost of the stamp. A high spread (67% in this case) means that it's not worth buylisting.

Be careful, though, because a high spread is also an indication that dealer confidence is low and the card might not sell on TCG Player. Go through your inventory often, and if something sits for weeks, ship it to a buylist before the buylist offers even less. Still, I have two playsets of Amulet of Vigor and playsets sell well and the cheapest playset sells even better.

There is no hard cutoff number, but if the spread is above 50% you are reasonably assured that selling for retail is the play. A tight spread means that it isn't worth the hassle and you should just buylist the card and be done with it.

Foreign Cards

Sweet pick-up! ....Right?

I don't refuse to buy foreign cards, but sometimes I will pay less for them. Not only do a lot of players want to be able to read their cards and prefer their mother tongue, dealers feel the same way you likely do about them. They are not inclined to incur the hardship of having cards that are difficult to move. You cannot list a foreign card on TCG Player and you can't sell it to most online buylists. This can make them a pain to deal with.

The Out - It Depends

There are several ways I have found for dealing with foreign cards. The first is to trade them off. When you deal with someone face to face they will be fully apprised of the fact that the card is foreign. Some people prefer certain languages (I have a personal weakness for cards in German and have been known to trade up at a premium to get them) and some people don't care and just want a playable copy of the card that they can use.

If you're going to find "that guy" to give you that premium, you'll have to do it via trading. I bought a ton of foreign and foil stuff for very cheap because someone wanted rid of it and I've been slowly trading it off, to great effect. It takes a while, but having a binder full of foreign cards is better than lighting money on fire.

Other outs like trading them away on a site like MOTL are an avenue worth exploring. I don't have any experience with MOTL specifically, but Facebook groups, Pucatrade and other trade sites can be potential future avenues for foreign cards. It's possible we'll be able to list foreign cards on TCG Player soon, but that's not possible right now.

While it's too laborious and annoying for me to sell on eBay right now, you are able to sell foreign cards there. It's much slower to list cards for sale on eBay but if you have a decent card, you can get rid of it very quickly and easily that way. An eBay shopper knows exactly what they're getting and some cards may even command a premium depending on how playable they are and whether they're foil.

Finally, buylisting in person is a possibility. Some stores will take foreign cards for the same price as English. In Montreal, I watched Ryan Bushard buy underpriced foreign cards from one dealer who was pricing them to move and take them to another dealer who paid the same as English prices for foreign cards. He made a few hundred dollars in an afternoon simply picking up piles on one table and moving them to another.

Arbitrage is a beautiful form of finance and if you're savvy enough, you can make quite a bit exploiting two opposing attitudes toward foreign cards. Buylisting at a GP or similar event is a good way to potentially out foreign cards that aren't eligible for redemption on online buylists.

There Are Probably More

I am sure a few of you have other outs you have discovered as the ideal way to deal with certain classifications of cards that aren't traditionally best sent to electronic buylists. Feel free to share your knowledge in the comments section.

I sell lots of damaged cards for a discount out of the case I run at my LGS. I include foreign cards in grab bag lots and "leave two rares and take one" boxes. I trade high spread cards into low or negative spread cards at events where I go to trade. Got your own ideas? Let's hear them!

See you next week.

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Jason Alt

Jason Alt is a value trader and writer. He is Quiet Speculation's self-appointed web content archivist and co-captain of the interdepartmental dodgeball team. He enjoys craft microbrews and doing things ironically. You may have seen him at magic events; he wears black t-shirts and has a beard and a backpack so he's pretty easy to spot. You can hear him as co-host on the Brainstorm Brewery podcast or catch his articles on Gatheringmagic.com. He is also the Community Manager at BrainstormBrewery.com and writes the odd article there, too. Follow him on Twitter @JasonEAlt unless you don't like having your mind blown.

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4 thoughts on “Insider: What Not to Buylist

  1. I enjoyed the article and there are some very important points people will want to focus on, outlined in it. It’s critical to have an out for anything you pick up (whether it’s buylist or regular sale) and while some cards look like really amazing pickups…then they “rot” in your binder for a year, preventing you from re-investing in other assets and in hindsight look like poor choices.

    1. I send a package to CK, ABU and AO once a week and only buylist a few hundred bucks at GPs lately. I just don\’t travel as much as I used to.

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