menu

Insider: The Merits of “Window Shopping”

Are you a Quiet Speculation member?

If not, now is a perfect time to join up! Our powerful tools, breaking-news analysis, and exclusive Discord channel will make sure you stay up to date and ahead of the curve.

Well, I missed my chance. If there were any Modern cards I wanted to pick up in reaction to their absence from Modern Masters 2017, I probably had about two hours to purchase them. The only thing I managed to grab was a set of Eidolon of the Great Revel—a solid pickup, for sure, but less impressive than something like Mishra's Bauble.


I had no idea this uncommon could rise so high in price. But with a print run as tiny as Coldsnap's, I’m not surprised. Now we’re at the point where Coldnsap booster boxes cost more than original Ice Age. It’s amazing what a $50 uncommon can do for a set’s value.

But I digress…

With the internet enabling communication of information instantaneously, the time frame to pick up cards in reaction to news has shrunk drastically in recent years. There used to be ample time to make your moves. Now instead of having weeks or days, you have hours and minutes. It has become fiercely competitive.

But it doesn’t have to be. It turns out there are still some pockets of opportunity sitting out there. There’s no urgency, and it’s possible to take advantage of said opportunities at your leisure—a luxury for the MTG moms and dads out there who have less time for speculation than they once did.

A Meandering “Window Shop”

I’m not a huge fan of TCG Player’s “Advanced Search” functionality. It seems clumsy, and when I try sorting by price or narrowing a search to cards in a certain price range, I never know what price the algorithm is using. Is it TCG Low? Mid? Market price? Lowest NM price?

That’s okay, the inconvenience is still worth it. I navigate to the site and run a search for all Unlimited rares. Then I start window shopping. What cards am I looking for? Nothing in particular. In fact, I have no preconceived list in my head of cards I wish to pick up. I literally browse all the rares in the set—minus the obviously expensive ones like dual lands and Power—and I look for any card with stock under 20 copies. Sometimes I eliminate HP and Damaged cards from the search, but this isn’t mandatory.

From there I look to see if there are any good prices on the cards that are low in stock. If there are any disconnects, such as an LP card priced lower than the cheapest MP or HP card, then I cross-reference the card with other stores. If the price still holds up, I add the card to my cart. Rinse and repeat.

Here’s my most recent purchase (yes, I’ve done this multiple times):

UNL Purchase

The Granite Gargoyle was a little more expensive than I’d like to pay, but it’s a solid three-drop in Old School. Roc of Kher Ridges is a solid flying creature in red. And this copy of The Hive was about $10 less than what I sold my previous copy for on eBay.


Each of these are low in stock and will likely move higher. It may take a while for them to appreciate in price, but it will happen. This slow time horizon is perfect for me—I get the cards to play with and enjoy in the short term, and they have long-term potential to rise in price. No mad dash to buy out the market. No disappointment from joining the hype train two hours too late. Just slow, unnoticed growth with a potential to pop.

How Is This MTG Finance?

I share this story for two reasons. First, it’s a great way to find underpriced cards on the open market. This strategy has helped me acquire important Old School staples in the past, such as Unlimited Birds of Paradise, Savannah Lions, and Sedge Troll (a card that recently spiked). But there’s a second benefit.

By browsing an entire set like this, you have an edge over the rest of the internet because you know what cards are very low in stock. For example, did you know that Unlimited Smoke is completely sold out on TCG Player? Did you know Unlimited Warp Artifact is extremely low in stock? I didn’t until I did this window shopping. Not only do I know what’s low in stock, but I also know what cards to scour the internet for to pick up. Because no one notices these cards selling out, no one rushes to list their copies at 3x the previous price. So if there are any copies at online stores or at your LGS, you can still grab them for cheap.

They may not double overnight, but I’ve found that cards with low stock on TCG Player inevitably move higher over time. This is a fundamental supply and demand concept. Even if the demand for a card like Unlimited Smoke is small, if the supply is low enough the price will move. Perhaps not overnight, but eventually it will move.


The beauty of this strategy is that you can reapply it anywhere and anytime. I browse Card Shark’s dwindling Old School sets for underpriced cards once in a while. If I was in Europe, I’d do the same thing with MKM. And at any given time, there are always a handful of cards with very low stock. With a little luck, you may even find something underpriced as I have in the past. Don’t have time to shop this week? Don’t worry, dealers will restock cards very gradually so it’s worth checking from week to week or month to month.

Added Bonus: Buylist Comparisons

Sometimes when I have a little extra time, I pull up some buylists to compare with TCG Player pricing. For example, I noticed that ABU Games pays over $10 for a played copy of nearly every Beta rare. Why not try filtering out all HP and Damaged Beta rares to see if there’s anything under $10? I did this recently with a vendor (Cool Stuff Inc.) and I found a few $9.99 Beta rares. Which rares were they? It doesn’t really matter, since I know ABU will pay more for them. (But if you’re curious, I purchased a couple Timber Wolves and a Reverse Damage.)

Sometimes Card Kingdom pays surprisingly high prices for obscure Old School cards if they are completely out of stock. These prices can fluctuate significantly, meaning there may be a few arbitrage opportunities at any given time. Recently I browsed through TCG Player’s Alpha commons and uncommons and I discovered a few opportunities. The practice also educated me on some surprising trends.

Did you know that Alpha Evil Presence buylists for $6.25? I didn’t until I went through this procedure. That’s when I discovered how valuable the uncommon truly was.


Perhaps even more surprising is Alpha Twiddle, which buylists for $5.15 despite being a common! This card is nearly gone from TCG Player, and there aren’t many Beta copies left either. Sometimes it can be difficult to out these Old School cards, but with buylists being this aggressive it offers a very nice “safety net.” The downside risk becomes so minimal, and the upside potential is huge.

How huge? Alpha Black Knight huge!


Wrapping It Up

You don’t have to be an Old School metagame expert to make a little money. You also don’t need the agility of a bloodthirsty Bogardan Lancer to buy into a spiking market as information reaches speculators in one simultaneous moment. I’ve never had anyone snipe an Unlimited The Hive from my shopping card when buying on TCG Player. In fact, I can often leave cards in my cart for days without worry.

But a slow-moving market doesn’t mean an unhealthy market. In fact, the slow and steady price appreciation of random Unlimited rares and Alpha commons is arguably healthier than the rampant Modern buyouts that occur. There’s no risk of paying too much and chasing a spiking price. As long as the game remains healthy and the collector’s market is alive, these older cards offer significant upside and minimal downside.

I often tell folks that the time to buy any Old School or Reserved List cards they want or need is right now. It’s not wise to buy out the market, but it makes money sense to pick things up now before copies disappear from the market and prices rise further. By eliminating scrutiny and browsing these classic cards, you guarantee yourself a good price and a card with low stock. This is indeed the perfect combination to make money in the long term.

I’ve done this kind of window shopping many times, and I plan on doing so again. There is inevitably a new deal every time I check. Whether it be an Unlimited rare, an Alpha common, or (more recently) a desirable Collectors’ Edition card, I’ll buy it if stock is low and the price is competitive. It’s virtually guaranteed that the last few copies slowly dry up and prices increase. It takes time, of course, but isn’t that the best part? The fact that you can take your time and do this at your leisure?

Why not try it yourself and see what you can find? Happy window shopping everybody!

Sigbits

  • You think I’m kidding about Sedge Troll? Check Star City Games for their stock of the card. They have exactly zero copies in stock. That’s right, they’re completely sold out of all copies from Alpha through Revised. I personally wouldn’t waste your time with the Revised printing, but if you can find other versions of the card at the “old price” you’ll likely be able to flip for easy profits.
  • Arabian Nights City of Brass is way too expensive thanks to its utility in Old School. Recently I decided to go the budget route by playing the Chronicles version. I was amazed to learn that these are worth a bit now too! TCG Player has very few in stock and Star City Games has one copy at $5.99. That’s actually a great price, and I don’t expect that one copy to remain in stock for long.
  • I was watching some Old School coverage on Twitch this past weekend (yes, that’s a thing). One strategy that leaped out at me was a deck that combined Library of Leng, Land Tax, and Land's Edge. The player got a fistful of lands in his hand using Land Tax and then pitched them all to Land's Edge for 18 damage in one shot. It looked like a ton of fun. I noticed Land's Edge stock is pretty thin, but there are a good couple dozen copies or so. Star City Games has a few in stock as well, with SP copies going for $12.99 and MP going for $9.99. I’d keep an eye on this one.

7 thoughts on “Insider: The Merits of “Window Shopping”

    1. Power Artifact does see play, though I’m not sure if it’s a Tier 1 strategy (if there is such a thing). The card can be combined with Basalt Monolith for infinite mana. Then you can Braingeyser your opponent out of cards. This is also a viable EDH strategy, though I see it’s only in 900 or so decks on EDH REC.

      Net, yes, I see it going higher. Probably good to get your set now if you want to use them.

  1. I wouldn’t recommend the same strategy on MCM. The big problem there is that they switched grading guides some time ago and many sellers still grade according to the old, far more lenient standards (possibly simply by having had these cards up for that long). As a result I wouldn’t buy anything old on MCM without pictures, but neither would others, meaning the rise doesn’t happen quite as easily. Getting money back for a misgraded card is difficult, though not impossible, on MCM.

    Instead I would monitor various shops as their grading tends to be better (though there will definitely be exceptions). I could also see picking up cards from MCM sellers who you know to grade well, but those tend to price their cards considerably higher.

    1. Thanks for the warning, pi. I was not aware of their changes in grading recently. That is a minor drawback to my window shopping approach – it can be hit or miss with grading. I have ordered MP cards before that have shown up LP+ and I have ordered others that SCG would only take as HP. There’s a large range in the “MP” zone. I’ve found these tend to “cancel out” in my experiences, but if you’re really focused on condition you definitely need to be more meticulous.

      1. Not recently, but old cards don’t frequently change hands.

        This is not a being really focused on condition thing, this is receiving creased, inked and/or wrong language cards when you order NM or M. It’s not all bad, but there really is a lot that regularly goes wrong.

        1. In the U.S. if that happens, I open a case and return the card for a refund. It’s happened to me before, but it is rare. And similarly to MKM you can stick to the larger vendors if you want to play it safer.

Join the conversation

Want Prices?

Browse thousands of prices with the first and most comprehensive MTG Finance tool around.


Trader Tools lists both buylist and retail prices for every MTG card, going back a decade.