So, you've been grinding the trade tables pretty hard and have a huge surplus of random "good stuff." It's been an impressive haul. However, we all know the entire point of grinding all of those trades, making those sick specs, and building up our trade stock was to eventually get to the final payoff.
The trade binder endgame varies from person to person. Maybe your goal is to trade into some rare Reserved List treasure like a Mox or Mishra's Workshop. Or, maybe you're into foiling out a favorite Modern or Legacy deck. Perhaps you just want want to turn your extra cards into cold, hard cash money.
No matter which final payoff suits your fancy, there's a good chance that at some point or another you'll sell cards to a dealer at a Grand Prix, convention, or other Magic event. I have extensive experience on both sides of the dealer booth. I've bought, sold, and traded cards from the dealer side, but I've also done tons of trades and sales to other dealers as well.
In today's article I'm going to outline some important do's and don'ts to keep in mind whenever you engage in selling or trading at a dealer booth.
1. A Cut You're Comfortable With
The first thing to keep in mind is that a dealer is always going to take a cut off the top. The store is going to sell your cards at retail price which means in order for them to turn a profit they need to pay a percentage less than retail.
One thing to keep in mind is that as the overall price of the card goes up, the off-the-top percentage that dealers take tends to goes down. The reason is that on high-end cards it's easier and more worthwhile for individuals to just put their card on eBay and sell it themselves.
eBay is a great resource for selling cards, but it takes time and energy in order to get the maximum value out of your cards. You have to list them, wait for them to sell, and then ship them. If you have 500-plus cards to sell, it's a ton of effort and energy.
When you're selling to a dealer, you are basically giving them a cut for the convenience of not having to sell your cards yourself.
On high-end, high-demand cards, dealers should pay you a high percentage of retail because they need to compete with the do-it-yourself option. On cheap singles, however, which are often difficult and tedious to sell, dealers will typically offer a much smaller percentage of retail. For instance, it isn't uncommon for dealers to offer $0.25 or $0.50 on cards that retail for $2-3.00. The percentage is quite bad but the convenience is quite high.
This rising percentage of dealer buy price on more expensive singles is the reason why trading multiple lower-priced singles into more expensive singles is good value in MTG finance.
2. Compare Buylists
If you want to get the absolute best deals possible when selling or trading your cards to a dealer, you'll need to do a little bit of homework beforehand.
One thing you can always do is walk around to the various dealer tables and pick up their buylists. A good number of the dealers will have a "hot buys" or "buylist" printed off on paper that you can literally pick up and take with you. When I have a large sum of cards I'm interested in cashing out, I like to pick up every single buylist I can and compare them for good measure.
Usually one or two dealers will have significantly better buylist prices than the other booths. On most weekends the "hot buys" will be the same across dealers, so it's easy to compare all of the booths against each other. The booth with the best prices will typically be the same or better on nearly everything across the board. Once you single out which booth has the best prices you can make sure to take your cards there.
Not every dealer booth will have a buylist, but the ones that don't tend to have worse buy prices. In a world where advertising that you have the best buy prices will clearly lead to more buys, it says something for a booth not to offer a list for perusal. Typically they don't want to advertise that their buy prices aren't the highest in the room!
Some of the larger retailers like Star City Games and Channel Fireball won't bother with printed-off paper buylists because they already have an online buylist that people can check. In my experience, the stores with great paper buylists are always going to beat the staple SCG or CFB online buylist. Those people are on site because they badly want to buy as many cards as possible and they plan to make their profit on margin.
If you truly want to maximize profit you could go to every single booth and have them quote you prices on every single card, but that is time-consuming to say the least. If you want to get the most bang for your buck without spending the entire GP weekend grinding dealer booths, check the buylists and prioritize selling or trading to the booth with the best paper buylist.
3. Be Polite, Friendly & Assertive
How you act and carry yourself can affect how a dealer treats you, and the offers they make. Some places work strictly off a buylist on a computer, but there is always some amount of wiggle room.
If you sit down and act like a jerk (even if you're not crazy about some of the prices you get offered) the buyer probably isn't going to go out of his or her way to give you the best possible prices. If you treat people badly there is a high chance that they will treat you poorly in return.
Be polite. If you don't want to accept an offer, be cool about it. "I think I'm going to hold onto that one." "No thanks."
Often there's some back and forth between buyer and seller, as each feels the other out to see what kind of prices they'll offer or accept. I don't know about you, but when I'm selling cards I always want to get the most possible. So I'm not going to accept any offers that aren't on the high side of buylist price.
Even if you get offered a price that you don't like, make sure to politely decline. Chances are that the buyer understands the reason you said no is because their price wasn't great, but don't make it personal by acting like the buyer is an idiot for making such a terrible offer. It won't get you better offers down the line.
You also want to be assertive and straightforward, but without being a condescending jerk. Certainly don't say yes to offers you think are mediocre if you're looking to get maximum value. It never hurts to let the buyer know you're informed and knowledgeable about card prices. If they know you're informed, they will be much more likely to make better offers—since they know you're likely to politely decline weaker offers.
In the same vein, making a counteroffer can be effective, but you really need some skill in the polite-but-assertive category. It isn't unreasonable to say, "Another buylist has them for $6.00 and I was going to sell to them—but you can have them for $6.00 if you want."
Buyers want to acquire your cards. They don't want to sit and be told, "No thanks," for a half hour. If they realize it might take a slightly higher margin to get a yes from you, there's a good chance they'll give it to you.
4. Don't Get Wrecked on "Condition"
One thing that drives me absolutely nuts is when dealers hound players about the condition of their cards. Obviously, if your cards are disgusting and messed up, they're worth less than nice copies. But sometimes dealers get super picky and go overboard on downgrading cards.
This weekend I had an experience selling cards where a dealer had Voice of Resurgence on their buylist for $15. The buyer saw three copies in my binder and said, "$15 on Voice?" I said, "Sure." So, he pulled out the three Voices, inspected condition and said, "I can do $15 on these two, and $12 on the other one because of condition."
I asked to see the one he offered $12 on and it was actually in great condition. I asked the buyer what was wrong with it and he pointed out that there was a small smudge on the front and explained that he wouldn't be able to list it at NM condition. So, obviously I declined the offer of $12.
The point is that some buyers will take liberties with you on condition if you let them. In fact, it's something I've noticed getting more and more obnoxious over the past year or so. I understand that online sellers have higher condition standards, but I'm not going to accept 20% less money because a buyer wants to put a card under a microscope and find even the tiniest flaw.
My advice is never to give in and take less on condition unless your cards are obviously flawed. If the buyer is able to constantly offer you one price, and then pull out the cards and lower it, I guarantee they'll look for opportunities to pay you less.
When I can tell a buyer is being super picky about condition, I've found it's helpful to decline any offer lower than 100%. Dealers want to buy your cards. Ideally, they'd like to pay less if you let them. However, if they see that you're not going to bite and accept less on slightly-played cards, they have two choices—either buy your cards or not. On close calls, dealers would rather buy your cards than not.
5. Check Prices on Your Phone
I've always found it helpful to have a phone or iPad out to check the prices you're being offered against another online buylist. For starters, it keeps the buyer honest. If they know you're checking their prices, there's almost no chance they'll try to lowball you on any offers, since they know you'll decline.
It also helps you avoid taking bad offers on cards where you might not be 100% up to date on current prices. Maybe you didn't know that Aetherworks Marvel spiked up during the week, but if you have your phone open to check offers you'll know when the buyer lowballs you (or is also unaware of the change).
Selling cards to dealers is a great tool to have in your speculation arsenal. It makes turning trade stock into cash or better high-end cards a possibility. The key is to take the basic steps toward getting the best possible deal with the minimal amount of effort.
As you begin to follow the steps I outlined above, they'll start to become second nature. Building a good rapport with dealers will also pay dividends down the line—just don't forget to be assertive and protect your own interests.
Best of luck!