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Insider: Paper Pauper Purchasing Pros & Pitfalls

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Despite being a supported MTGO format, Pauper was a format with only modest support in paper. That is, until recently.

Under the tutelage of Tolarian Community on Twitter, the format has risen to a new level of hype as Channel Fireball began hosting Pauper side events at Grands Prix. In London, they hit 302 players. In Houston, they were around 600 players. That’s a lot of commons!

Any time a new format leaps onto people’s radar speculators swoop in and buy up key cards. This happened in the past with Tiny Leaders, it’s been happening with 93/94, and it is happening again with Pauper. This is leading to some substantial gains, at least from a percentage basis. This could be perceived as an attractive prospect, leading to further speculative buying.


But I fear some people are diving into this deeply without considering all factors involved with this hype. This week I want to share some pros and cons to Pauper speculation, and offer some advice on where to focus your resources.

The Positives

Any time a new format takes off, cards that were once not even worth listing for sale suddenly become in high demand. Only so many stores take the time to bother listing all their old commons on sites like TCGplayer, so the online inventory represents only a fraction of the total copies out there. That said, it takes time for all these old cards to be dug out of bulk and this window is your opportunity. The older the card, the more profits to be made.

Tortured Existence is a great example. A common from Stronghold, it’s tough to estimate how many copies are going to be readily located now that the card is worth something. Buylists will likely jump too if newer shops weren’t around when Stronghold was open in significant quantity. This means if you’re able to dig copies out of bulk at your LGS or within your own collections, you essentially uncover free money. Minimal investment with positive returns? Sign me up!

Gorilla Shaman is another cool Pauper card that hasn’t been printed in ages. Even older shops may not have a ton of Alliances bulk lying around. As a result, any copies you can dig out of your collections or find for five cents at an LGS can easily be flipped for a buck or two to buylists.


What’s more, as the format continues to soar in popularity we will see more and more of these spikes. Even though more copies exist, it will take some work for people to find all their copies. I suspect the momentum is far from over, especially if these side events grow in participation rate! With some vocal supporters within the community, I don’t see Pauper dying out quickly like Tiny Leaders did. This format already has a following and who doesn’t like playing decks for cheap?

One last positive to Pauper speculation is the fact that this trend is so new. Why is that important? Because it usually takes Wizards years to plant reprints in response to the secondary market. While there will be some reprints in sets like Iconic Masters and the next Commander decks, it’s not like Wizards would have seen a buyout of Oubliette or Gorilla Shaman in time to include these cards. They may be included by random chance, but there will be no Pauper-oriented reprints to keep prices reasonable for some time yet. This gives you ample time to flip cards for profit.

The Negatives

Pauper is inexpensive for a reason: it’s a format that only allows commons! What does that mean? It means there’s no Reserved List, no chase mythic rares, and no shortage of supply of cards for the format. There are no publicly available print run numbers for sets beyond 1995, but we can do some extrapolation based on Crystal Keep’s Ice Age numbers for an estimate.

Consider this: there are an estimated 2,047,000 copies of any Ice Age common printed. I would argue that just about every set afterwards will have at least the same size printing if not higher. That would mean at least two million Tortured Existences, two million Gorilla Shamans, and likely well over two million Gushes thanks to its reprint.


Let’s say Pauper really takes off, and 10,000 new Pauper players build a couple new decks. Even if every single one of those players decided to grab a playset of Gush, the total copies purchased would barely put a dent in the total supply. We’re talking 40,000 copies out of over two million, or 2%. While 2% seems like a huge number on this scale, I’m not sure it’s enough to merit the price jump that Gush experienced recently. I suspect that movement is largely due to speculative buying.

If that’s the case, then there are probably hundreds if not thousands of copies sitting in speculators’ hands just waiting for that buylist to pop to sell copies. This means as soon as a buylist increases, people will ship copies, knocking the buylist back down again. In addition, collection buyers and bulk pickers will start prioritizing these Pauper picks, increasing market supply drastically.

But let’s say you don’t want to buylist. Perhaps you have already had success selling these on eBay or TCGplayer. This sounds great, but let me ask you: is it really worth selling Gorilla Shamans on eBay at $2.25 each? I estimate you get about a buck after shipping and fees. I guess that’s a huge profit if you got these cards in bulk or bought them from your LGS for a nickel, but how miserable is it going to be to ship these out one at a time?

I wouldn’t hate doing this with a couple copies, but I sure wouldn’t want to sell 100 of these that way. Making money on $2 cards is very doable, but it’s not the most glamorous side of MTG finance. I’d rather buy a $60 MP Serendib Djinn and ship to Card Kingdom for $75 with that money and save myself the headache of shipping 100 PWE’s.

Some Advice

I’ll preface my Pauper advice by disclaiming my minimal involvement in Pauper speculation to-date. At this point, in reaction to the Pauper side event news, I literally bought one additional Oubliette and a few Battle Screech. That’s it. I considered buying some five-cent cards from Card Shark but the high shipping costs combined with my lack of confidence turned me away. I love making a buck as much as the next person, but I have so much going on with Old School and Alpha buying that I don’t need to be distracted by another format.

That said, I recognize that many of you are interested in Pauper speculation. So with that in mind, I do have a few suggestions/rules of thumb to consider when doing your buying.

1. Stick to Older Cards

The older the card, the lower the print run numbers, the lower the supply. In addition, older cards will be less likely found in newly purchased collections and store bulk, which means it’ll take longer for copies to resurface and hit the market. This should maximize your potential profit while giving you the most amount of time to out your copies before the inevitable price wars begin.

2. Favor Non-Common Paper Cards

Because Pauper started as an MTGO format, the MTGO list of legal cards are what paper players currently use. This leads to some anomalies where cards are not common on paper but are on MTGO because of some MTGO-unique product. I speculated on Battle Screech because it’s an uncommon from Judgment but Pauper-legal due to its common printing in MTGO’s Vintage Masters. If you want some other ideas, consider the list here.


3. Watch Buylists Closely

Buylists are going to be the easiest out for these commons. Because of shipping and fees, your time can be saved by shipping to buylists all at once. Therefore I encourage you to monitor buylists closely as cards jump in price.

Card Kingdom, for example, will vary their buy prices almost daily and you can check their site often to pounce on an opportunity to cash out. When CK upped their buy price on Battle Screech, I immediately took the easy out. I didn’t want to sell these one at a time on eBay and playsets were selling for around CK’s buy price. Use those indicators when deciding what to speculate on in Pauper.

4. Leverage Scale

In Old School, I discourage massive buyouts because they manipulate prices and can make for very illiquid inventory. My sentiment on Pauper speculation is the exact opposite. In order to make this endeavor worth your while, you need to buy up enough copies to justify shipping costs.

This was another reason I passed on buying some Pauper stuff on Card Shark—I could only get a few copies of a single card. That’s not enough to make it worth my while, and it means shipping costs really eat into any potential profits. Try to stick to targets where you can get 20+ copies so that when buylists go from $0.10 to $0.60, you can ship enough to make it worth your while.


Wrapping It Up

Pauper is the next new and exciting format grabbing the attention of the MTG community. Unlike Tiny Leaders, this format is likely here to stay for a while, which means buying into it now at the ground level could lead to some very attractive profits. Wizards will not nearly be agile enough to reprint key cards and keep prices low. So old cards from the 90’s likely have some runway ahead of them.

All that said, I still recommend some caution when you’re speculating on paper Pauper cards. There are some major downsides to speculating on a format full of commons. You don’t want to be left holding cards that appreciated significantly on paper but are unable to be sold for much profit because of shipping and fees. And with so many copies of all these cards printed, there’s likely to be some steep competition from other speculators.

If you follow my advice and pick your targets strategically, you will avoid some of the worst Pauper pitfalls. I think there are some cool pick-ups worth buying into, and of course it’s always fun to have your bulk worth more money suddenly. But going too deep could lead to some logistical nightmares.

For me personally, I’m just going to enjoy selling more bulk cards for money. I don’t own a ton of bulk, but every so often Card Kingdom is willing to throw me a nickel for a card I have no money in. So while I’m shipping some other stuff to their buylist, I like to add in a buck or two worth of this bulk. Since I’m shipping them stuff anyway, why not?

I may decide to buy into other Pauper picks in the future, but for now my attention remains on Alpha and Old School, not to mention the two-day Vintage event recently announced by Star City Games. A pseudo-Vintage Grand Prix?! Better get your Power now, that’s all I’ll say about that! This is where my attention will be focused for the next few months!

Sigbits

  • I did a cursory look at Black Lotus prices at major vendors. ABU Games only had Near Mint copies in stock for some exorbitant price ($7500). Cool Stuff Inc had a really nice copy for around $4800. But Star City Games actually had the cheapest one I could find, an HP copy for $4000. I wish their buy prices weren’t so terrible because that would be a great pickup with store credit.
  • Speaking of cards worth buying from SCG with store credit, consider their “PL” Juzám Djinn for $850, which looks like it’s Slightly Played based on the images. That’s a really good price for an SP Juzám. Add in store credit bonuses, and you have a card at a steal. Once that one is gone, I suspect they will have to increase their prices to be more in-line with other major vendors.
  • Lastly, I just want to point out that Star City Games is completely sold out of Oubliettes at $34.99. These are on the verge of jumping higher, so if you want any copies I’d encourage you to buy them ASAP. It’s a black Oblivion Ring, but its oracle text is so odd that I’m not sure Wizards is eager to reprint the card in paper. This will make the Arabian Nights card all the more attractive for speculation.

2 thoughts on “Insider: Paper Pauper Purchasing Pros & Pitfalls

  1. I bought 30 Gorilla Shaman a few years ago when I was still playing Paper. I had just moved up to Toronto and my LGS had a weekly Pauper tournament. For whatever reason I bought so many copies of Gorilla Shaman because it was an old card, I liked the art, and it was worth over $20 on MTGO at the time.

    Do you think I should hold onto them? And for how long?

    1. Kyle,

      I just saw this comment, sorry for the delayed response!

      I think you will want to sell into the hype. That was a great buy and your investment is paying off right now. But the ceiling on this card is what? $5? It’s still a common, after all. I’d suggest either trying to sell playsets on eBay so you can move copies 4 at a time, or shipping them to a buy list that gets a little overeager in pricing.

      Congrats on the great buy!

      Sig

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