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Insider: Finding the Underpriced Gem

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A couple weeks ago I talked about one strategy I implement to find and purchase underpriced cards. I sort a MTG site by a certain set and rarity and simply window shop. Inevitably I find something that is listed for under eBay completed prices and since eBay is my primary outlet for selling, I pull the trigger accordingly.

There’s a bit of a corollary to this strategy that I think may be non-obvious until mentioned explicitly. It has to do with the obscurity of older cards from Magic’s earliest years. Because these singles are off almost everyone’s radar, there are some trends that can be easily exploited with minimal competition. Of course, mentioning some of these trends here may erase the opportunity if suddenly dozens of speculators begin to implement the same strategy.

That’s a risk I’m willing to take—I’m fairly confident that even if many copy-cats decide to follow my suit, they won’t be able to locate every possible deal I would find. So it may become harder, but it will still be worthwhile. Besides, I’d rather make my readers money in Magic than make the money myself because it ensures this writing gig keeps me profitably employed. Just being honest here.

Demon

A Saturday Morning Purchase

Last Saturday morning I bought a Slightly Played Italian Living Plane from Star City Games’ website. The total cost including shipping was $29.99. This was one of the easiest snap-buys I have experienced in quite some time.

Sold Planes

A quick search on eBay indicates this card—yes, even the Italian printing—should be retailing for $79.99 with SP copies probably in the $69.99 range. Thus the copy I purchased was essentially half price versus the rest of the market. This isn’t an artificial spike either. There is real demand for the card, and I have been watching it continuously hit all-time highs on MTG Stocks.


While I may be seemingly bragging here, I want to emphasize the process here rather than the result. After all, aren’t you curious as to why I was up on Saturday morning looking for Italian Living Planes in the first place?

It All Started…

Clearly there was an active buyout for Living Plane. A card like this doesn’t just suddenly spike on its own. And I don’t think the 300 EDH REC lists that include this card really justify such a huge price swing. But being from an old set, and legal in Old School, and an Enchant World, and on the Reserved List, means any sudden interest is likely to make this card’s price stick higher. And that’s exactly what happened.

But this is only the beginning of the story. Old School cards spike all the time. That wasn’t enough to develop the strategy that led me to this sweet purchase. It wasn’t coincidence that I ran the search for Living Plane and found a match. Here’s how events unfolded:

  1. I observed Living Plane spike a while back when it initially showed up on MTG Stocks’ Interests page.
  2. I searched furiously for copies at the old price—all the usual sites such as ABU Games, Card Shark, Star City Games, Card Kingdom, etc. (No luck.)
  3. I signed up for a restock alert on Star City’s site.Restock
  4. Months passed. I actually forgot about this card except for when it showed up on MTG Stocks’ All Time Highs/Lows page.
  5. I received an email alert that this card was restocked.

You may be wondering if this was the end of the story. But it’s not. By the time I clicked on the email link and navigated to Star City’s site to purchase the (still-underpriced) Living Plane, it had already sold. My purchase would have to wait another day.

The Secret Sauce

When I saw Star City Games restock this card at the old price, I knew that they hadn’t adjusted their pricing yet, despite the market data suggesting the new price was real. The restock email I received came a week or two ago—well after the spike in Living Plane’s price. This fact served as a reminder to me that this card could still be purchased at below-market pricing if I had enough agility.

Clearly, waiting for the email reminder that a card was restocked would not work. I don’t have the time to watch my email like a hawk, and there are probably dozens of others with the same alert saved.

That’s when I realized something—these email alerts are only available for Near Mint cards. When Star City Games is out of stock of a Near Mint card, they give you the option to request a restock alert via email. But if they are out of stock of SP and MP copies of a card, they simply don’t show those line items on their site. There’s nowhere to click for a restock alert.

What’s more, see that little “1” on the bottom of the picture above? That’s their page numbering. In other words, there are no other matches found for the card search. What’s missing? Italian copies! They don’t offer restock alerts for foreign cards, including Italian Legends! This means I have a fighting chance of finding these underpriced cards. With no email alerts, it becomes a matter of persistence and luck; I simply run a search on Star City’s site for those underpriced cards I’m after whenever I remember, and see if I find a hit.

If not, I move on. Minimally this brute force method gives me important pricing information on SCG’s site. And once in a blue moon I get lucky and find a match resulting in a snap-buy.

It is also worth noting that Star City Games seems to restock cards by set. This is only anecdotal data, but the information should be assumed true until proven otherwise. After I told my friend about my Italian Living Plane purchase, he ran a search for an Italian Legends card on his radar: Thunder Spirit.


Sure enough he found a couple copies had been restocked! The price was somewhere in the $12.99 range, which is a steal when compared to eBay completed listings most recently in the $30 range. It appears that Star City Games restocked a handful of Italian Legends cards all at the same time. This strategy is implemented by other sites as well—I once found Card Kingdom had restocked their International Edition cards, leaving many prices where they were previously. That’s when I sharpen my pencil and get to work, picking up anything underpriced I can find.

My Radar

The most obvious question you may be asking now is, “What are the other cards on your radar that Star City Games still has at below-market pricing?” It’s a fair question, and one that’s difficult to answer. If I report the list here, what’s to stop SCG from simply adjusting their prices accordingly in reaction to this column? I hear they have a QS subscription, so it wouldn’t surprise me.

Remember the time I wrote about buying a Beta NM Wheel of Fortune from Japan to flip to SCG’s buylist, which was $500 at the time? Well within 24 hours of my article going live they dropped their buy price on Beta Wheel to $400. I’m not sure this was a coincidence.

I fully expect Living Plane’s price to be adjusted shortly after this article goes live. SCG’s price is just way too low given how much these are selling for on eBay. If I start mentioning other cards that are out of stock and priced too low, no one will have an opportunity to profit because prices will be modified.

My advice to you is to formulate your own list, then use my tips above to track down those relisted underpriced copies. The more obscure the card, the more likely people won’t find them before you. Old School cards are best. But if you can get even more random, such as foreign black-border (FBB) cards or Italian Legends, then you will increase your odds of a lucky find.

Okay, fine, I’ll give you one other card on my radar just so you believe me when I state that this is worth it. But I’m going to take a picture of SCG’s price now to see if they adjust pricing going forward.

The card is Beta Icy Manipulator.

Beta Icy

As usual, they show the “Restock Alert” option for Near Mint copies of the card. But in reality, their NM price isn’t what’s compelling. It’s their much cheaper Slightly Played and Moderately Played copies I’d be after, and I can’t request restock alerts for those.

Actually, as I write this article, I’m realizing they just increased their price on this card by $10. It used to be $69.99 for Near Mint copies, $49.99 for Slightly Played, and $29.99 for Moderately Played. In fact I know this because back in February I got lucky and found an SP copy:

Icy Purchase

This was well below eBay pricing, and I proceeded to flip the card on eBay for a small profit (sadly eBay got most of the profits via fees).

So now at $10 higher I’m not so sure this is worth tracking as closely. That said, the card is iconic and Alpha and Beta copies are in hot demand, so I will probably still track this one going forward just to monitor pricing. I just may not end up buying any.

Wrapping It Up

These obscure strategies may appear tedious, but they are definitely effective. In a world where there’s near-perfect information at everyone’s fingertips, the low-hanging fruit of finding underpriced cards are simply not there anymore. I wish it was easier, but the advent of the internet pretty much ensures everyone is on a level playing field when looking for deals on cards.

What remains are the nooks and crannies that most people don’t look into for one reason or another. Some may not be interested in these obscure cards, while others may simply not know about them. I can’t help the former, but my goal is certainly to eliminate the latter. I’m doing this by writing about all the little tips and tricks I can dig up that can be used to make a little extra money from the game.

I’ll leave you with one more, although I know that as I write this I won’t be able to get one for cheap anymore: Collectors’ Edition Sedge Troll. This is a card sold out just about everywhere. Star City’s prices on other copies are all too high to be profitable, but their CE and IE prices are compelling low-budget options for the card.

Sedge

Sadly, they never get any back in stock. But that doesn’t stop me from checking all the time. One of these days, they just may have an SP copy worth grabbing. Of course, now they probably won’t because I’m writing this, but hopefully the example illustrates my point. Stick with the obscure and the played cards, and you just may find a gold nugget to make it worth your while.

Sigbits

  • I tweeted about this, but I’m so shocked by the data that I felt compelled to mention it here as well. Check out Juzám Djinn on Star City’s site. They have one SP copy and one MP copy, while having zero NM copies in stock. Their price tag is $699.99, a huge jump from one year ago. They are best in class on buylist for this card too, paying a whopping $450 for a NM copy!
  • When we saw that cycling would return in Amonkhet, I immediately went out and bought a few copies of Living End for around $7 each. These copies sold the day I listed them on eBay for around $13. At this point, I think the easy money from this spec is gone. Star City Games is testing the waters themselves with four SP copies listed for $13.49. Given this is right around where I sold my copies at, I don’t think this card will climb measurably higher unless something is spoiled that bumps Living End decks to Tier 1 in Modern.
  • Here’s one last card to keep searching on Star City’s site, just for those who stuck with this article to the end. Have you seen Three Wishes spike? Well SCG still has their price at $0.49 (for now). Chances are any NM copies restocked will be purchased within minutes. But it’s worth checking back frequently just in case a foreign or played copy pops up at this “old” price. You never know!

Sigmund Ausfresser

Sigmund first started playing Magic when Visions was the newest set, back in 1997. Things were simpler back then. After playing casual Magic for about ten years, he tried his hand at competitive play. It took about two years before Sigmund starting taking down drafts. Since then, he moved his focus towards Legacy and MTG finance. Now that he's married and works full-time, Sigmund enjoys the game by reading up on trends and using this knowledge in buying/selling cards.

View More By Sigmund Ausfresser

Posted in Buying, Finance, Free Insider, Old School MagicTagged , , , , , , ,

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