Sigmund’s article this week about MTG Finance on a Budget really resonated with me, partly because many of the techniques he described are things that I have been doing over the past couple of months. Using easy arbitrage opportunities and taking advantage of store credit bonuses for trade-ins are how I have extracted full value from my collection and used it to finance high-end purchases. Today I want to a dig a bit deeper into the nitty-gritty details of the process of buylisting and buylist arbitrage, explaining how I maximize my value and sharing some tips I’ve learned along the way.
Buylist Arbitrage Basics
Sig’s basic strategy for grinding out value is using arbitrage in the market, which boils down to finding cards one place and selling them somewhere else for more. Occasionally I’ve found cards in an obscure online store that I can resell to a buylist for a profit, but typically if I can find an underpriced card in a store, I’ve been better off just selling it on my own on TCGplayer or eBay and getting more value.
Where I’ve found the easiest value to be gained from buylist arbitrage is from the trade-in bonus, which brings up the price paid significantly, which is the basis of Sig’s second point: always take the credit.
In my efforts to acquire some high-end cards, I’ve utilized buylists to convert swaths of low- to mid-value cards into the thousands of dollars necessary to buy them. Rather than sell my cards and buy what I want with cash, I’ve used buylist trade-in bonuses to extract extra value from the cards. Getting full value from my cards has meant selling each card to the buylist paying the highest for it, leading to credit split between different stores.
Rather than accumulate enough credit at each store to buy something I am looking for, I accumulate credit at specific stores by using my credit at other stores to buy specifically to sell into another’s buylist. At first, I did so to finance a card that came in stock at a store, and I simply wanted to transfer my credit with minimal loss, but by meticulously looking through the stock, I was able to not only preserve my credit, but add to it by finding cards I could sell at a premium. I was able to find plenty of opportunities, to the point that the problem became one of maximizing my profit.
What’s exciting is that, in my experience, this process can actually be done in reverse, and the credit, including the profit credit gained from the arbitrage, can be then used to buy cards to sell back at a profit to the other buylist, or another buylist. Assuming every transaction leads to a small profit, it can be continually repeated to significantly add to the value of a collection. It can be used to eventually fund the purchase of high-end cards, like I have done, or as a sort of bank account to fund specs that can be sold for cash, which I have also done.
The Risks and Rewards of Near-Mint Cards
The process of buylist arbitrage comes down to comparing the stock of one store to the buylist of another or multiple stores. Condition plays an important role in this, and can often be a source of profit.
Buylists will often pay a premium for certain near-mint cards, which can occasionally lead to pretty spectacular profits, like a $129.99 near-mint purchase I was able to sell to another for nearly $190 after the trade-in bonus.
On the other hand, buylists can also be incredibly fickle about condition on near-mint cards, and will downgrade a card you thought was gem mint, which I’ve also experienced. The problem is amplified when you consider that you can’t be certain about the condition of a card that a store is sending you, and could very well send you a claimed near-mint card that is less than so, which will ruin your arbitrage.
If you do receive a card that is in inferior condition, you can likely return it to the store, or in the case of a recent incident I had, ask for a partial refund based on condition, which allowed me to continue with buylisting to another store and accept the reduced price they would pay, made up for by the refund. Buylist arbitrage with near-mint cards is a dangerous game, but can definitely be worth playing in cases where the payoff is high if you accept the risks and potential hassle.
Heavily Played Cards
Other than in special cases, I try to avoid arbitrage with near-mint cards, but instead have embraced the opposite: heavily played cards.
Heavily played cards can’t be downgraded in price, so there’s no risk of the arbitrage being ruined by being sent inferior cards. With such cards, the only risk is that you are sent a card that is past heavily played and into truly damaged, but I’ve found that cards tend to trend the other way, and have a good chance of being in better condition than advertised. By focusing on heavily played cards, I have seen minimal risk of losing value, but a real chance of being sent cards that are better than I expect, sometimes to the point that I can buylist them at a higher grade and earn extra profit.
Other Factors to Consider
Note that most buylists have a more harsh pay scale for Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited cards, so be careful if your arbitrage on these cards hinges on condition. I’ve also avoided foils entirely, for the same reason that they are typically graded more harshly, and have a risk of being in worse condition than you expect.
What are your strategies for maximizing profits through buylisting and arbitrage?