I got the opportunity today to discuss the case I run at an LGS. I like when I get the opportunity to talk about that case because I feel like it's instructive to do so. As much as I fell bass-ackward into it a little bit, I still feel like it was a great example of seizing an opportunity when a good idea occurs to you.
I've talked about that case at length. I've discussed how I came up with the idea, how I negotiated the deal, etc. I've even talked about how to use it as a place to subtly establish the price of a bulk rare as $1 to make your instant collections jammed with bulk rares seem more appealing.
I don't really want to talk about that right now because I've gotten an idea for something that I don't talk about enough about but which matters as much as any of the rest of it. I know I normally talk about how to out your cards using a buylist, but what you sell matters as much as how you sell it.
Filling Up the Case
There are other shops in the town where my LGS is located. In fact, there are too many. Last summer it was "my" store and one other; run poorly by a borderline criminal and whose idea of a "sale" was selling for "just" Star City prices.
That store had a community built around Friday Night Magic so they still had the market on competitive singles cornered. When I first started running the case, I figured I'd run a bunch of different stuff up the flagpole and see who saluted. I jammed some casual stuff, some competitive Standard stuff, some Legacy and a bunch of dollar rares.
The dollar rares sold well as long as I cycled the contents of the boxes. If someone digs through and sees the same cards twice, they won't dig through a third time; Einstein's definition of insanity and all that. I noticed that the Standard stuff sold okay, but the casual dollar rares sold better than the staples. The Legacy stuff scarcely moved.
I left some of it in there after the prices increased to see what would happen and it just didn't move. No one was interested in $9 Shardless Agent. It would have been worth it to me to sell them for that cheap if the buyer told his friend what he paid and where he got them, but no dice. Legacy stuff just sat.
I put together a playset of Urzatron lands with the same art and sold a set of 12 for $10 and those all moved, which was cool. Playsets of things like Dragon's Claw and Oblivion Ring moved in the boxes I stuff them into, which really beat the buylist price and allowed me to fuzz the value by putting individual copies in the boxes for about 40% of what I sold the playsets for. It's easy to beat your own prices; I recommend doing it as much as possible.
I rotated the contents of the boxes of commons and uncommons and there seemed to be no discernible pattern. Goblin Matron didn't sell better or worse than Trinket Mage, Muscle Sliver didn't sell better or worse than Fiend Hunter, etc.
Uncommons with very low spread just sat in the boxes for a while if they sold at all, so I started putting high spread cards like Squadron Hawk in the box to see if I could get more than the "basically dildos" I'd get for them on a buylist. Again, no discernible pattern, but stuff sold and it's hard to sneeze at free money unless you're allergic to it.
EDH staples moved well, even some of the super expensive stuff, which puzzled me. I didn't sell a $9 Shardless Agent over a two-month period but I sold a $100 Karakas in under a week. Foot traffic is a funny thing and that appears to have been an isolated incident.
Cards that were only available in the Commander decks moved quickly, and even some foil cards (and even some foreign cards) that are good in EDH moved. Clearly the traffic into the store was more casual than competitive.
I combined these data with one immutable truth I learned almost the very first time I checked in on my case.
I Can't Keep Planeswalkers in Stock
If you would like, I can make a list of all of the planeswalkers I have a difficult time keeping in stock in my case because the answer is "all of them." Accordingly, the list of planeswalkers I need to pick up at any given time is also "all of them." I need to get every planeswalker I see in a binder.
Seriously, all of them. If I see damaged ones on TCG Player for close to buylist, I buy those and put those in the case. They sell even better because they're below full retail. I just write the near mint price on the sleeve, cross it out and write a cheaper price on there and kiss the cards goodbye. As long as the cards have four corners, plus or minus one, and are not nor have ever been on fire, I can move them.
It's no mere coincidence that the number of players joining the game began to expand exponentially when Lorwyn was released. Planeswalkers have captured the casual community's imagination like nothing ever before. If you're insulated from that community, you may not be aware of how differently planeswalkers are treated by that community.
I keep going back to this example because I feel like it's illustrative and it has the benefit of being a true story which gives me all kinds of built-in gravitas.
I was at a local community college because I had discovered that players hung out in a common area near the cafeteria and jammed casual games for hours in the afternoon between their classes. I gave them my trade binders and they blew past the first few pages with all the "good" stuff like Snapcaster Mage and Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells and began salivating over the "bad" stuff like the foil promo Moonsilver Spear; one of them literally ejaculated a "Holy crap!" when he saw I had three more copies of the spear in the binder page behind the first. "I will trade you literally anything for that!" which sounded like an odd thing to say.
As we got trading and I pointed to a Liliana of the Dark Realms to see if it was for trade, two of his friends both said in unison "he won't trade that" and he had to interject and assure me that, yes, it absolutely was on the table. His friends seemed taken aback. It was then I realized that what sounded hyperbolic to me was actually a coded phrase--he was telling me, "I will even trade the Liliana that has been sitting in my binder that I don't even let me friends breathe on."
Another member of the group explained to me that the page on the back of his binder that had five of the cheapest planeswalkers on it was not for trade. He was collecting all of the planeswalkers. He didn't have Jace, Liliana, Karn or any of the ones over $20, but he was collecting them, dammit!
I had always known that casual players liked planeswalkers instinctively. What I did not know was that some groups liked planeswalkers so much that if you didn't do the secret handshake you weren't allowed to point to the page they were on. This was excellent news. The next time I went back I made sure I had some cheap walkers. Garruk Wildspeaker, Elspeth Tirel; I thought two of them were going to fight over who got to trade for Tibalt. It was insane.
Since most of you don't have a display case where you can sell planeswalkers for retail, how can you leverage this observation? Is there a way you can benefit from trading for planeswalkers at retail and buying jacked up copies online?
Grim and Spread 'Em
The way to deal with planeswalkers is to be aware of where there is a margin built into them. First of all, it's important to get a sense of what we're dealing with.
The spread varies a bit, but it hovers around 30% +/- 10% for almost all cases for mediocre planeswalkers. I target mediocre planeswalkers for a few good reasons.
First of all, competitive players don't care about them at all. Even if they look the price up, something they might not even do, there will be no inertia. A guy trying to trade for a True-Name Nemesis isn't going to beat you up over the price of his Venser the Sojourner; you'll likely get value on principle. You can afford to trade for the planeswalker at retail price easily because you know you're going to have no trouble trading your planeswalker out.
Second of all, mediocre planeswalkers are attainable. If you show up at the community college with a binder page of Japanese foil Jace, the Mind Sculptor, you might as well have farted and fanned it under their noses. They'll just look at it, sigh, look at their binder and say something like "I could never afford that."
Don't bum them out. The crazy thing is, they'll see a slightly warped Jace Beleren and say "I don't think I can afford that" and you get to show them that they totally can when you take stuff out of their binder they don't care about. You know an excellent place to get copies of True-Name Nemesis? The casual player who bought a Mind Seize at Walmart and has no use for a 3/1 merfolk in his demons and dargons multiplayer deck.
Since I realized all of this, I started targeting every mediocre planeswalker I saw in binders and it was a strategy that I continue to be very happy with.
OK, so the technique of "trade casual cards from competitive players and competitive cards from casual players" isn't exactly a huge revelation to many of you--this is that principle but with all of the thinking taken out of it. Since you know the spread range for any planeswalker, no matter how little it's played, is going to be around 30%, you can aggressively trade Standard stuff for it.
If you have a binder with 100 copies of Polukranos, you can take it to an imaginary dealer and they'll give you about $350. That's going to pay for the trip, but we can do better. Selling a card with a 40% spread that is so desirable in Standard right now feels bad. If you can get players on the floor to value Polukranos at around $7 and trade you two copies of their $11 Nissa Revane for three of your $7 Polukranos, making up the extra dollar with either hand-waving or a pull from your $1 binder of dime rares, you can turn 100 Polukranos into 66 Nissas which will buylist for $544.50. Moreover, the Nissas are much more likely to retain value. I will snap trade any "hot" Standard card for planeswalkers. They are quickly becoming my favorite place to stash value.
Even Riskier Business
When there is a real gap in spread like between Standard staples and planeswalkers, it can make real sense to buy in with cash. You can pay retail on cards with big spread, like Polukranos, Sylvan Caryatid, Master of Waves and trade them for any one of the many planeswalkers whose spread is closer to 20%. If your goal is to sell to a buylist at the end of the weekend, you can easily double your money by buying hot Standard cards and trading them with the many, many willing trade partners who don't value low-spread casual cards.
Are there cards with lower spreads than planeswalkers? Sure, but if you don't have them all memorized, you know for sure that a planeswalker will have a low spread, high desirability, retain its value even in spite of a reprinting or two and will serve as a secret handshake to get casual players excited to see you every week.
I won't even sell the planeswalkers at buylist like in the example because I know I can move them in my case for full retail. If you can buy the Standard cards at buylist prices or even above buylist, even better. Paying $4 for Master of Waves is below retail, above buylist, and a great way to have cards a competitive player wants, making him more than happy to pitch you a few copies of Chandra Nalaar for the equivalent value in Masters.
Planeswalkers have a lot of profit built into them for the people willing to mine them out of competitive players' binders. Even the spikiest of spikes may have a soft spot for certain walkers and sometimes they aren't for trade, but if you do see them in a binder, you don't need to get your phone or go into the tank.
Try it next time you go trade. Tell people you are only looking for planeswalkers, you don't care which ones. You will get trades, and people might even come find you when they hear you are looking for them. You can track exactly how much you made trading straight across because of the low spread and high saleability of Magic's most iconic card type. How can you not make money? They're worth literally anything.