The Magic finance game is complicated enough when one limits oneself to just a single language, but foreign-language cards add a whole other dimension to the equation. Don't worry! I've got your back this week with an easy guide to everything you need to know to have a solid working knowledge of these highly coveted, yet slightly tricky, MTG singles.
Are Foreign Cards Worth More Than English Cards?
The average Magic player's cursury experience with foreign-language cards often starts from looking at singles in a case. A keen observer will notice that when it comes to "case cards," foreign versions tend to be priced higher than English versions.
Many people assume non-English cards are "more expensive" than their English counterparts, since people encounter foreign card pricing in the scenario I just described: a dealer has English Snapcaster Mages priced at $65.00 and Japanese at $75.00.
I have consistently observed a tendency for premium prices on highly coveted foreign-language singles in the marketplace, especially when it comes to Japanese, Korean and Russian cards. A good rule of thumb for desirable staples in Japanese, Korean or Russian is to add between 5 and 10 percent to the value of an English version. However, a card can go significantly higher depending on how scarce it is in a foreign language and/or if the card is foil.
A few years ago, a dealer had a saucy four-column box with older, quality, non-foil staples. I looked through and noticed the cards were marked up 30 to 60 percent from English, which I considered too rich for my blood. Still, there were people lined up all weekend to drop hundreds of dollars on those tough-to-find cards that had been alluding them. So these cards can demand a significant markup – provided you find an enthusiastic buyer!
On the other hand, a booth that has English Snapcaster Mage for $70.00 might have a French or Spanish version for $5.00 less. What gives?
Value Depends on What People Want
Last week I wrote about the differences between cards that people intend to "own" versus "rent."
In most cases, non-English cards tend to be cards that people collect to "own."
These cards are more scarce than English and are difficult to track down. Foreign, non-foil cards are a neat way to personalize a deck without paying huge premiums on pricey foils. Or, foil non-English cards are another flashy way to to take blinging out a deck to a whole new level!
A friend of mine once made a compelling argument for why he enjoys Japanese- and Korean-language non foils. He set down an English Lotus Petal next to a Korean one and said, "The images just pop much more on Foreign cards." I said, "I think that Korean one is inked a little bit darker." The art was more vivid.
He pointed out that they were inked exactly the same, but the image appears to pop more on the Korean card because I can't read the language. Apparently, when the brain can't process information (such as an unreadable language), the mind focuses more on what it can interpret. So we focus on the image rather than indecipherable characters. Neat.
I personally collect non-foil Japanese cards. I think they look cool and it is a way to collect uncommon items without breaking the bank. I have friends who are into Russian foils who get a similar (albeit, more expensive) thrill from hunting down extremely scarce and valuable singles.
Again, back to the key point: Foreign cards tend to be cards that people collect with intent to "own," which means the right buyer will be willing to pay a premium. Hence, the extra value.
The Downsides of Foreign Cards
Why don't more people buy foreign product if there is extra value to be had in it? Great Question. The key is that non-English cards are worth more to the people who specifically want them, but to everybody else they are "less than or equal."
Have you ever tried to sell random non-English cards to a dealer? It sucks.
Many vendors aren't interested in buying foreign cards at all. First of all, online websites and stores sell for volume and are not interested in finding a "special owner" for a random card. Shops and stores want things that will move and not collect dust. Casual players buy a lot of cards and are often adverse to foreign cards, since they cannot be read, which means they are unlikely to purchase them.
I like Krenko as an example because he is the kind of card that sells really well in a store. The card is powerful, flashy and fun. Stores sell it by the boatload. Dealers often pay above known buylist price on cards that "just sell." However, the same dealer that says, "I'll take every Krenko you have for $2." Will also say, "Except for the foreign one." The pitfalls of Non English card ownership. Also worth noting, many buyers will not purchase Foreign Bulk Rares or Standard cards.
I used to buy Japanese boxes whenever a new set would come out, but I've stopped. It is too difficult to move the cards I don't want. The problem is compounded because Standard cards tend to be cards that people "rent" rather than "own," which means that many folks don't really care to pick up foreign versions.
So the cards that have a "foreign premium" really earn it, since everything else teeters on the edge between unsellable and "less than English."
So What Kind of Foreign Cards Should I Target?
The non-English card market is nuanced and complicated because it revolves around what people are looking for at the moment, but here are some basics that will take you far. The key is targeting cards that have many potential new "owners."
On the other hand, older non-English cards are great, since they are difficult to find. In particular, Korean staples from sets that predate foils are scarce and always in demand. Eternal, Commander and even Modern Staples with the old card frame are a goldmine.
Modern staples from "early Modern" expansions are easy to move. I've also had a ton of luck with making a foreign Pauper binder out of the chaff that I've acquired over the years from buying Japanese boxes. I think I've traded off about 30 Japanese Electrickery for between $1 and $2 each!
Last year, I had an eBay auction for a Korean Visions Crypt Rats end for over $20.00, and that was when Crypt Rats was only worth fifty cents! I picked it out of bulk. Clearly, the winner wanted to "own" those rats!
I like commons and uncommons as tradable objects because people are willing to pay a premium when the premium is smaller. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who make a lot of money going the opposite direction by focusing on extremely expensive Russian and Korean foils.
I think I've covered most of the basics, but keep in mind that the non-English singles marketplace is very nuanced, since it is all about what people actually collect and are looking for. The more you know what to look for, the better success that you'll have. I got into collecting Japanese cards because I thought they look sweet, but there is a whole world of opportunity once you start looking!