Unlocked: MTG Finance on a Budget

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Recently, I have touched upon many high-value cards in Magic. I’ve been writing about the surging prices of dual lands, the imminent price increases on Power (I heard Star City Games just upped their prices), and the chase rares from Arabian Nights and Legends. While this information may be informative, it may not be actionable for many readers.

I want to emphasize, though, that you can be involved in the finance side of Magic without a bankroll that can purchase you a set of duals and Power. In fact, for just $20 you can start to make headway in reducing the cost of the hobby. Sure, it’ll take a lot more work because you’ll have to churn that initial investment over and over again. But there’s still opportunity to grind out some value if you know where to look for it.

This week I want to talk about low-end finance for a change. I’ll focus first on some strategies to help you maximize your dollar, and then I’ll share some specific penny-stock picks worth your consideration.  None of these ideas will fetch you thousands of dollars, mind you, but they may be exactly what someone newer needs to get started.

Strategies for Low Cash MTG Finance

Even with a restricted bankroll, there are some strategies at your disposal which will help you grind out a tiny bit of value, little by little.

Find the Easy Arbitrage

It takes work—I never said this would be easy—but you can find arbitrage opportunities within the U.S. market at any given time. Trader Tools has a feature that can help you find ideas, but I’ve found that sticking to older and more obscure cards yields the most attractive arbitrage. The idea goes like this: browse a set where cards may not sell all that quickly (Alpha, Portal: Three Kingdoms, Starter 99, etc.) and compare listings with top buylists.

Sometimes when Card Kingdom specifically sells out of a card, they raise their buy price to near retail just to get a few copies back in stock. If you’re quick enough, you can take advantage of these opportunities. I was browsing Alpha cards the other day and noticed CK was paying quite aggressively on even the worst Alpha uncommons. I found a cheap MP Crystal Rod and flipped it to Card Kingdom for a few bucks’ profit.

It’s even possible to find prices that are below buylists at other vendors. This is a little harder, but it still exists in the wild. For example, Cool Stuff Inc restocked some Alpha and Beta the other day, and I managed to find a played Beta White Knight very close to ABU Games’s cash buy price. I immediately jumped on the opportunity even though I couldn’t necessarily eek out a cash profit right away. This brings me to my second tip.

Always Take Store Credit

When working with a smaller bankroll, taking advantage of online vendors’ trade-in credit programs can really make a huge difference. For one, you get a 30% bonus to Card Kingdom and sometimes an even larger bonus with ABU Games. You also get 50% bonus credit with Star City Games, though lately I’ve been less impressed by their buy prices.

With this strategy you’ll find that the arbitrage becomes a lot easier. Finding a card near buylist, like the Beta White Knight I bought recently, becomes “good enough” to grind. ABU Games only pays $42 in cash for it and my buy-in was about $44. But they offer $60 in store credit! Now I’m working with a 35% margin, and this could be a productive gain. I just need to know what to look for, which brings me to my third and final tip.

Use Store Credit to Advance the Grind

When working with a smaller bankroll, it is often tempting to take your newfound store credit and pick up a couple key pieces for your decks. Maybe you’re trying to grind out a Doubling Season for your Commander deck. Or maybe you just want to get a few shocklands to open up doors in Modern. Whatever your motivation, the best way to grind value here is to eschew your want list and spend your store credit on the best opportunities to repeat the arbitrage process.

This is possibly the most important strategy one needs to accept when trying to grind out value from a modest bankroll. If you are limited in how much you can commit to Magic finance, you need to prioritize the grind over personal interests. You may be able to turn store credit at ABU Games into even more store credit at Card Kingdom. But to do so, you have to find those obscure cards that ABU Games has underpriced and Card Kingdom has overpriced, or vice versa.

This means you’ll be dealing in cards you have little or no interest in: Portal cards, Archenemy schemes, Collectors’ Edition commons. The “what” really doesn’t matter. As long as you’re flipping credit, you’re slowly grinding out that value.

Penny Stocks

I’ve described this credit arbitrage process in the past. So for those who have been reading my articles for a while, this may be more of a review than a brand new strategy. But whereas the first section is evergreen and always relevant, this second section may be a bit more time-sensitive. I wanted to highlight a few sub-$1 cards worth your consideration if you’re trying to get the low-end grind going.

Just remember: when working with limited capital, you can grind out value, but it comes at a different cost: time. There are opportunities out there, but you have to be willing to invest the time to grind out those small margins until they add up to something more significant.

My first pick is Jayemdae Tome. But not just any printing will be worth your while. Instead, I’d focus on Revised copies for a short-term opportunity, and Fourth Edition copies if you’re comfortable sitting on them for the long haul.

The former has a market price still under a buck while the latter is plentiful for a quarter. Card Kingdom is paying $1 for NM Revised copies and these have some real upside. Fourth Edition copies have a ways to go, but they’ll soon become the inexpensive option once Revised copies jump. While we’re at it, you could consider Revised and Fourth Edition Disrupting Scepter as well for the same reasons.

For my next picks, I’ll follow my tried-and-true procedure with TCGplayer. I run an advanced search on Mirage rares, and the result is a list of rares from the set in popularity order. The cards selling most frequently of late show up on top. The number one match is a card I’ve never heard of: Preferred Selection.

Market price is under $0.50 and played copies are still available in the $0.25 range. For now there’s no arbitrage opportunity with this card as buylists haven’t moved yet. But if this does get bought out (as have many other Mirage cards), Card Kingdom will up their buylist. The price adjustments occur like clockwork and have become predictable in nature. For example, Circle of Despair spiked and now Card Kingdom pays $1.15 on the Mirage rare.

The next top sellers are Energy Vortex, Spectral Guardian (which has already jumped), Zuberi, Golden Feather, and Misers' Cage. If I had to guess, these are showing up because they’re on the Reserved List. With that backstop, combined with recent buyouts on these old cards, you have a low-risk proposition with modest upside potential when buylisting to Card Kingdom for store credit. Remember, you won’t be making a ton here in one shot—you need to be comfortable with this slow-and-steady grind!

At this rate you could repeat the same TCGplayer search process with other sets that contain Reserved List cards. I’m sure you’ll find similar opportunities in Visions, Weatherlight, and Ice Age. Each will net you a list of fast-selling cards with low(ish) inventory. You won’t be acquiring the most powerful or most exciting cards, but you’ll find cards with potential upside and a reasonable time horizon. That’s all you need.

Lastly, if you can find them, I’d recommend looking into playable Collectors’ Edition and International Edition cards. I’ve written about these in the past, and since then their prices have skyrocketed. But not everything costs an arm and a leg (yet). Something like Scryb Sprites can still be found for a buck or so while buylist is in the $0.75 range. Not profitable immediately, but CE and IE cards are extremely rare and won’t be dropping in price anytime soon. Don’t forget these were boxed sets so the concept of “rarity” is meaningless. A CE Scryb Sprites has the same print run as a CE Black Lotus!

You can still find some Collectors’ Edition cards in stock at random sites, such as Card Shark. You may even know some “secret” stores that are slow to sell out of cards as they spike in popularity. This is your chance to find those cards for cheap and re-introduce them into the market for a tidy profit. It’s a win-win because it makes you a little money for your investigative work while getting copies back into vendors’ hands so they can sell to players. We need to track these down!

Wrapping It Up

With so much talk about dual lands and Power recently, it can be intimidating to enter the MTG finance world when managing a more modest bankroll. But just because you can’t get into the high-end cards everyone is buzzing about doesn’t mean you can’t be involved. It just takes a little more effort.

By focusing on marginal arbitrage opportunities, taking store credit, and using that credit to trade into other credit-generating opportunities, you can slowly grind out value even with a modest collection. The key is prioritizing this process over personal interests, and recognizing the time investment required. It works as long as you’re committed.

Along with this overall strategy, I hope my specific ideas help. The market is very liquid right now, and you should have no problems finding opportunities with a little effort. Revised, Fourth Edition, Mirage, and Collectors’ Edition cards are all in my focus, but any older or obscure set is worth investigating. The more obscure, the better—it means some stores or online vendors may not have sold out of cards yet despite prices rising higher. You could also anticipate movement based on TCGplayer selling trends.

There are plenty of options if you know where to look and are willing to commit the time to the endeavor!



  • This week I want to share a few interestingly high buylist prices for cards you may be able to find for cheap. For starters, there’s Collectors’ Edition Unholy Strength. That’s right: a one-mana black enchant creature that gives it +2/+1. Know what Card Kingdom pays on this card? $2.10. That’s $2.73 in trade-in credit for something most people probably think is bulk. Kind of makes you re-think the whole thing, right?
  • It’s amazing to see how many random Mirage rares Card Kingdom pays over $1 for on their buylist. Null Chamber, Natural Balance, and Seeds of Innocence are just a few. And while Near Mint and Lightly Played copies may be targeted on TCGplayer, you an often find MP/HP copies for the near-bulk “old price.” Card Kingdom will downgrade them of course, but you can still get nearly $1 in store credit for an HP version of one of the above cards or something similar. Food for thought.
  • Now that Revised Royal Assassin spiked, Card Kingdom even pays $1.15 on Fourth Edition copies of the card. That’s food for thought considering how many Fourth Edition cards were printed. Keep this in mind when we see the next inevitable Revised spike. Perhaps you can get in on some dirt-cheap Fourth Edition copies, sit on them for a few months, and then ship them for a buck apiece in store credit!

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