Last week I missed my first weekly article in a couple of years. It was refreshing to ignore the MTG finance game for a while, but I didn’t disconnect completely. While away, I made a couple purchases, including a played Jihad for $155 from eBay, and a sweet Beta Lightning Bolt from Card Kingdom with store credit.
The Jihad I immediately buylisted to Card Kingdom while they were flashing a $245 Near Mint buy price—this will net me a solid gain despite the copy being Heavily Played.
While I was making these transactions, I continued to ponder the magnitude of growth these cards have experienced recently. This newfound wealth isn’t something we really dwell on that much because we sequester our Magic resources within our brains. Magic money begets Magic money, so the absolute dollar values of our purchases and sales never really get put into context.
I want to change that a little bit.
What Can a Collection Really Get You?
I tweeted this off-hand comment a couple weeks ago and it was met with some interesting replies.
When you compare prices of older cards to real life things (rent, groceries), numbers are crazy. But with the rising tide lifting all ships, as long as you're trading within cards, it's easy to numb to the absolute values we're dealing with.
— Sigmund Ausfresser (@sigfig8) May 16, 2018
For the most part, people were in agreement that Magic card prices would look ridiculous to an outsider, and that these gaming pieces of cardboard are equal in value to some fairly substantial items. But as I mentioned in my tweet, we tend to think of Magic values within the context of Magic. So what if I sell a Bazaar of Baghdad for $700 to buy a Library of Alexandria for $850? It’s all Magic money, right?
The money may be coming from Magic, but it is completely fungible. Proceeds from a large Magic sale could be used to fund additional Magic purchases, of course. But it could also be used to buy substantial non-Magic items. That $700 Bazaar sale could pay rent for a month. Selling a Legacy deck can buy you a reasonable used car. And at this point, a Vintage deck can probably fund a major house project, such as finishing a basement.
I’ve already talked about the rising value of cards, and how, in a vacuum, they can be exchanged for substantial real-life goods and services. It is not my intent to repeat myself ad nauseam. Instead, I want to share some observations I’ve made recently on exit strategies.
I’m not really eager to sell out of my older cards. Far from it. But I have found myself in situations where I need to sell some cards in favor of others I wish to play in decks. Gone are the days I could just pick up extra, random Legends and Arabian Nights cards just because they’re cool. The prices are far too high. Luckily, I’ve noticed some really useful pricing trends I wanted to share here to help others accomplish similar goals.
Depending on what you’re trying to sell, I’ve found that different strategies yield more optimized payouts. Of course, grinding out sales on eBay, TCGplayer, and Twitter/Facebook are going to maximize proceeds. But in a world where card prices are rising fast, sometimes you can’t afford to wait for that sale. That’s where buylists come into play.
Card Kingdom has been my perennial go-to store for selling Magic cards. In fact I basically default to Card Kingdom 90% of the time, which has generally proven to be a solid strategy. Their 30% trade-in bonus provides a great boost and I have historically found good deals to spend that credit on. Also the fact that their condition downgrade percentages are very modest on all sets besides Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited make selling very played copies of cards to CK a solid proposition.
What I sell: Card Kingdom is great for selling Old School and Reserved List cards. They often have the best buylist prices on Legends, Antiquities, and The Dark cards specifically. I especially love selling them less useful rares from these sets because they still pay aggressively.
What I buy: At one point Card Kingdom had competitive prices on some Arabian Nights and Antiquities cards. Those were my go-to pickups. Then I noticed their Alpha prices were all extremely low. I amassed a modest Alpha collection from this shop at a low net cost because I was able to sell extra copies to offset my buy-in price.
But now their Alpha prices are closer to market prices. The one set they haven’t price-adjusted yet is Unlimited. Duals, Power, and playable Old School Unlimited cards are all great to acquire with store credit at Card Kingdom. Selling useless Legends rares and acquiring playable Unlimited cards is one of the best things you can do right now.
For a time I was ignoring ABU Games’s buylist because it seemed behind the times. But once their new website was launched, I noticed they had gotten quite aggressive on older cards. That trend has continued for the past few months, and in many cases they offer best-in-class buy prices.
What I sell: Whereas Card Kingdom is just now catching up on Alpha and Beta pricing, ABU Games was ahead of the curve. Therefore, selling ABU Games Near Mint and Played Alpha cards has become quite lucrative—especially if you have some played copies acquired from Card Kingdom just a few months ago. Taking the trade-in bonus yields an even juicier profit margin.
And let’s face it, selling a played Alpha Crystal Rod on eBay can take quite a while. Why not take the $10.60 ($16.00 in trade) and just be done with it? In addition, ABU Games sometimes pays even better than Card Kingdom on Arabian Nights cards specifically—especially if they’re Near Mint. Before shipping any Arabian Nights card to Card Kingdom, check ABU Games’ buylist first!
What I buy: This is more difficult because ABU Games’s prices can be pretty steep on older stuff. Lately I had been flipping my store credit into graded cards: a bunch of graded Alpha cards and a graded Revised Badlands. But that well dried up pretty quickly. For now, your best bet may be to sit on credit and flip it into cards that are spiking. It will probably yield you the best payout. But if you’re desperate to acquire something before it spikes, you may be better off taking the cash.
I don’t really engage with other sites in the same way as Card Kingdom and ABU Games. But I do have a couple remaining notes I can share about some other vendors.
First of all, Star City Games is still a little behind on pricing of Unlimited cards. I nabbed a Contract from Below from their site the other day for $10 and sold it on eBay for $35. There are some opportunities. I just don’t like their buy prices so I never have store credit there. But they do have some cheaper Old School stuff on occasion, when they actually have copies in stock.
Cool Stuff Inc is a great place to buy cards from, but not so great to sell older cards to. For the longest time they had some underpriced Alpha cards, but that ship has since sailed. Still, when they do restock there can be some great deals if you’re agile enough.
My Overall Strategy
While this article was about selling, I want to emphasize here that I am still a net buyer of older cards. Not only have I been loving the 93/94 format, but I also see more upside for these collectible cards ahead. There are some major events in the coming months that will showcase the Old School format, and this will increase demand.
Additionally, well-known players are starting to get involved, including Luis Scott-Vargas. When he starts tweeting about Old School, he is advertising the format to over 72,000 followers.
Juzams and Serra Angels and Chaos Orbs, oh my. https://t.co/fCZJ56w8yl
— Luis Scott-Vargas (@lsv) May 26, 2018
There may arise a time when a bubble really does form. But for now, the overall health of these cards could not be better. I will continue to buy and sell cards as I gradually grind out a larger collection. I will continue to advocate not buying out cards or speculating deeply on any single Old School card. But as I have been saying for the past couple years: if you want a given Old School or Reserved List card for your collection, the best time to acquire them is right now. Prioritize accordingly.
Wrapping It Up
As prices reach into the stratosphere, it is natural to be tempted to sell out of some extra cards we’re not using for much-needed cash. This cash is often plugged right back into the Magic secondary market. But we should at least remind ourselves that we’re talking about real money here. Money that could be used to pay groceries, rent, fund a vacation, or support any number of alternate hobbies. The possibilities are endless, and they continue to expand as collection values climb higher.
In this light, I wanted to share some trends I’ve noticed across different vendor buylists. Since I live and breathe these older cards, I thought it would be helpful to share the insights I’ve picked up along my buying and selling journey. While I could have kept some of these observations to myself, I’d much rather share them so that others can temporarily reap the benefits.
Then, eventually, prices will adjust and the opportunity will disappear. But that will happen eventually anyway, and I believe it’s healthier for the market to adjust sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, I will continue to acquire key cards to build up my collection. I won’t do so aggressively, and I won’t be buying deeply into individual cards. But there’s always that update to make to a deck or that card to acquire to fill out a collection, and I don’t see that changing. This is the part of Magic I thoroughly enjoy—the thrill of the hunt! I’m just so excited there’s a format in the game now that facilitates this type of engagement!
- This week I wanted to share a couple examples where ABU Games’s buy price on cards is actually better than Card Kingdom’s. For starters, consider Bazaar of Baghdad. As of right now, Card Kingdom pays $840 on Near Mint copies while ABU Games pays $1120! If I had to guess, I’d predict Card Kingdom will increase their price before ABU Games drops it.
- Card Kingdom pays $180 on Near Mint Shahrazad, a solid price. But it pales in comparison to ABU Games’ $315 buy price! Now granted, ABU Games pays substantially less for played copies: $135. This is why I advocate selling played stuff to Card Kingdom—their downgrade on condition tends to be more tolerable.
- Lastly, I wanted to mention Chaos Orb. Card Kingdom finally increased their buy price on this Old School staple a few weeks ago, and now they’re offering $600 for Near Mint copies. But ABU Games is currently paying $840! What’s more, Card Kingdom’s condition downgrade percentage for Unlimited cards is more aggressive. So while an MP copy will only fetch you $360 from Card Kingdom, ABU Games’s $525 buy price is still best in class.