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Insider: Staying Ahead of the Buyout Curve

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I would be lying if I said I wasn’t the littlest bit surprised these Reserved List buyouts are still occurring. When this happened last year, the hype had a few differentiating characteristics not present this time around:

  • The Reserved List buyouts were triggered by Craig Berry individually as he made moves on Moat and Lion's Eye Diamond.
  • After these two cards were targeted, the MTG finance community proceeded to tackle many other playable Reserved List cards.
  • The Reserved List mania lasted no more than a week and a half.

Things are very different this time around—the targeted cards cover the full spectrum of playability and there’s no one individual responsible for all this hype (that we know of). But most importantly, the Reserved List mania is still alive and strong more than two weeks after it debuted. That’s a lot of hype-based spending.

All this said, I do believe we are in the seventh inning when it comes to these buyouts. There will be a handful more to come. This week I want to share the two sides of how I have approached this coin: the buy side and the sell side. I’ll also provide some important perspective to remind everyone what the real goal is from MTG speculation and finance.

How I Stay Ahead of the Reserved List Buyouts

I developed a simple three-step process that helped me acquire many of the spiking Reserved List cards at or near their “old price.” Last week on the QS Cast I attempted to describe part of this process, but my poor internet connectivity inhibited me from explaining it clearly and extensively. Thus I resort to this writing venue to go into further detail.

Step 1: TCGplayer browsing - I visit TCGplayer.com and move to the Advanced Search page. From there I select a set I wish to browse; for these buyouts that was Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark. Using that as my only filter, I run the search. TCGplayer’s default setting is to sort all cards by “Best Selling.” The top cards in the list that have low supply are likely being targeted for buyout.

Step 2: Supply research - I sell exclusively on eBay. So once I take note of cards low in stock on the cusp of selling out, I check eBay to see what copies are selling for there. I also check major vendors such as Star City Games, Card Kingdom, and ABU Games to make sure none of them have a significant amount in stock. These would be warning signs that a buyout was done sloppily.

Step 3: Place the Order - Just because TCGplayer has low stock doesn’t mean I scramble to buy my copies there. In fact, this is a warning sign that I need to look elsewhere to find copies at the best price. For these Reserved List buyouts, my go-to sites have been Card Shark, Hareruya, and Tokyo MTG. Why? It seems fewer people know about these sites so prices spike a little bit slower. Since I’m buying cards that are about to spike and haven’t already shown up on MTG Stocks yet, I can sometimes find copies at these sites before the true mania ensues.

This simple strategy has worked time and again. I have managed to acquire 1-4 copies (rarely more) of a card days or even hours before it spikes. A great example was Cleansing, which I predicted would sell out a solid couple of days before it actually happened. I managed to buy three copies from TCGplayer, all Lightly Played and all for around a buck.

In fact I had to buy extra junk from those sellers just to meet the $2 minimum, but I didn’t care what I purchased to make that minimum because I predicted I’d be selling these for much higher. One copy has sold at $10 and the next is listed.


This transitions me to the next part of this week’s article: the mindset I use when selling these Reserved List cards.

How I’m Selling

I want to start with a hypothetical situation to make a point. Imagine you bought 50 shares of stock for Company A at $5 a share. Then, overnight, the shares spike to $25. You wake up in the morning to find your $250 investment is suddenly worth much more. However due to the three-day settlement rule you hold your shares an extra couple of days to avoid violations.

Two days later reality sets in. Your stock sells off as speculators decide $25 is far too expensive for stock in Company A, and shares tank. They end up dropping down to around $10 as you reach your three-day requirement. I have two questions for you: how do you feel about this movement and do you want to sell your shares at $10?

I’ll share my thoughts as you ponder this scenario. I would personally feel like I lost $15 a share—$750 in total—on this investment because I did not lock in potential gains. I may even be hesitant to sell at $10 when the three days clear, though ultimately I’d decide to get out before any more profits erode. Net, I would be feeling pretty bad about this sequence of events.

I believe some of us are experiencing this exact phenomenon with our Reserved List investments. We are purchasing virtually unplayable cards at $2-$5, only to watch them explode shortly afterwards on MTG Stocks. The Interests page is revealing major triple-digit gains: 500%, 800%, 1000%! Suddenly Lifeblood is worth $80 and we paid just $4 for them, hooray!


But by the time the cards arrive, these values pulled back quite dramatically from their highs. We list copies at competitive pricing, just a hair under our competitors, in the hopes that we can salvage strong profits. But as hours and days pass without a sale, we are forced to drop our prices lower and lower. This leads to anxiety and a disappointing feeling.

I would encourage you to flip this around 180 degrees and think about it more pragmatically. To buy a card at $5 and sell at $15 is an amazing feat, especially when the turnaround time can be measured in hours. In a vacuum if I told you I had an idea of a $5 card that will be $15 next week, I’m sure everyone would jump on such an opportunity. It doesn’t matter that the path taken for said card is $5 to $100 to $15. The path is irrelevant—only the profits in your bank account remain when all is said and done.

With this in mind, I have been doing my very best to use MTG Stocks’ Interests page as an indicator of what is spiking and not how much something spiked. The numbers being displayed are unfeasibly high, and if we let ourselves fall into the trap of believing our cards are truly worth what is displayed on screen during a buyout, we will leave ourselves with a sour taste when we ultimately sell our copies.

It’s extremely important to remember your buy-in price and be content with any profits you make on these cards. We all dream of the huge payday, but in reality if you’re selling Merchant Ships for $18 you are most certainly winning even if MTG Stocks says the card is worth $50.


Want to learn more about what I’m selling? I have an idea, which may come across as a shameless plug but rest assured it is not. You can view and follow all my listings on eBay to see what I’m moving and for how much. With this information you can see the Reserved List cards I acquired and have decided to sell, along with the price.

During this volatile time filled with Reserved List buyouts, I am adjusting my pricing regularly. Often times I start high and gradually ratchet prices downwards until I either hit the minimum price I’m willing to sell at or I get the sale. This strategy has worked well for me and I plan on implementing it in the future, no matter what crazy pricing shows up on the Interests page.

Wrapping It Up

In order to navigate this volatile Reserved List market, you need to have a well-developed buying and selling plan.

Throughout the past three weeks of hype, I’ve developed a strategy for buying Reserved List cards before they jump through the roof and hop onto everyone’s radar. With how fast this market moves, you only need to buy one day before everyone else to realize significant gains. Relying on less-trafficked sites like Card Shark, Hareruya, and Tokyo MTG has been an effective way of finding well-priced copies of low-stock cards. Even buying on TCGplayer has been a successful strategy when a card hasn’t quite popped yet.

Then when the cards arrive, a disciplined sell strategy is required in order to block the human inclination to view some of these sales as “losses” even when substantial profits are made. Our bias to view missed gains will taint our willingness to cash out for a lower price, even if that price still means profit. We must eschew this tendency because it is unrealistic to expect to sell at crazy-high prices.

Does it ever happen? Probably. But it should not be the exit strategy you develop when acquiring these Reserved List cards. They may be extremely rare, but many are also virtually unplayable. We should be thrilled that we’re making money on stuff like Rapid Fire rather than upset we’re not selling at higher prices.


Lastly, remember that this is a phase in MTG finance that will soon be passing. Every day over the past couple weeks has brought us new Reserved List buyouts. But this can not and will not continue indefinitely. Eventually hype will shift gears and the MTG finance community will lose interest in these Reserved List buyouts.

When that happens, it will be even tougher to sell out of the most unplayable cards. Therefore, in the meantime I encourage you to price aggressively. Don’t focus on the exorbitant pricing of MTG Stocks—instead, determine what is an acceptable profit (hint: it shouldn’t be too much) and price accordingly.

You’re welcome to start higher and drop pricing from there as I do, but this will only work to a point. Eventually you’ll be left holding these for much longer than you originally anticipated if you’re unable to sell quickly. For me, that’s fine because I genuinely enjoy owning these cards. But if you have no interest in a small collection of Cleansings and Bartel Runeaxes, then you’d better start pricing aggressively now.

Don’t forget buylists can also be a worthwhile pursuit for cashing out at modest profits. Many buylists have already climbed significantly, and there’s nothing wrong with taking the small, easy gains rather than hoping for the large, difficult gains. Just remember that “profit is profit” and you’ll be happy to make any money on these unplayable cards. That should be enough!

Sigbits

  • Do I see anything on the horizon that could still pop? Yup. I noticed stock on some The Dark Reserved List cards has really dwindled lately. Scarwood Bandits and Lurker are at the top of the list. The former is actually an interesting card for Old School, but the latter seems pretty useless. I’d buy cautiously.
  • From Antiquities, Martyrs of Korlis and Power Artifact look primed to pop. If you like penny stocks then the Martyrs could be the right target for you. You should be able to get some copies for under a buck. However if you want something with a proven track record, Power Artifact is a useful card across multiple formats. It even shows up in over 1,300 decklists on EDH REC. This is a solid long-term hold.
  • Lastly, from Legends, a trio of red cards catch my eye. Storm World, Caverns of Despair, and Spinal Villain are all selling lately and they could all be primed for buyout. If the Reserved List dominoes continue to fall, these will eventually get in the way. Just be cautious with the first two since they both popped once before, so their entry price is higher than I’d like. Spinal Villain may be the most interesting—remember once upon a time when people thought it could be a useful sideboard card against Legacy Merfolk?

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