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Unlocked: Don’t Panic!

Buylists are dropping across the board. ABUGames dropped their buy prices drastically across the board, allegedly to better control cash flow. Then they list over 1,000 Alpha and Beta cards on eBay in what appears to be a desperate move to raise cash. Card Kingdom’s buy prices have been steadily dropping across most Old School cards. Even Rudy of Alpha Investments is piling on, creating this video addressing the drop in Reserved List prices.

I’m envisioning a sinking ship with the classic alarm sound—you know the one.

But let’s take a step back for a second. Is this selloff really that concerning? Have we really peaked in Magic, only to see downward price trajectories going forward? Something tells me this isn’t the case. In fact, as Rudy alluded in his video, I think this is a positive for the health of Magic as an investment. Allow me to explain.

Corrections: A Necessary Evil

When the stock market cools off and sells down 10%, people often refer to the movement as a “correction.” These happen all the time in all sorts of markets. Prices can’t simply climb up and up forever indefinitely. Eventually people will sell to take profits and raise cash. Some people believe these corrections are the symptom of a healthy market. According to CNBC:

“Many investors and analysts look at corrections as a necessary ‘evil’ to cool off an overheated stock or bond market. This is to prevent a huge sell-off or ‘bubble burst’…it’s believed that corrections adjust stock prices to their actual value or ‘support levels,’ and so are not overpriced or inflated. Many short-term investors look at corrections as buying opportunity when the stock or the overall market has reached a bottom or the lowest price level. Their buying helps push the price back up and stops the correction.”

Do you think this mindset applies to the Magic market? I do. The Old School market in particular was way overheated. Cards had increased hundreds of percentage points over timespans of a couple years or even a few months. Even unplayable junk from the oldest Magic sets suddenly spiked in price.


If this chart doesn’t represent overheated, then I don’t know what does.

The next question to ask is whether or not we believe people will view this pullback in price as a buying opportunity. While this is based on my opinion, I would say the answer is “yes.” For starters, Rudy himself mentioned that he personally knows people who would aggressively scoop up Old School cards should their prices dip significantly. While I have no way to prove if he’s being honest or not, I can certainly say I also know people who would do the same. In fact if prices got low enough, even I would start aggressively buying. Imagine how sweet it would be to finish a set of Arabian Nights for half its current price! What a steal!

And therein lies the final leg that props up prices during a correction: support levels. These are price points where buyers would hypothetically come in to acquire the equity. For example, I own three Shahrazad. It’s my favorite card in all of Magic. But at $200 for heavily played copies, I am not compelled to finish my playset. It’s not like I’m playing the card, after all.


But what if the price dropped to $100? At that point I would eagerly scoop up that fourth copy! I suspect others would also buy Shahrazad at $100 or even $150 if they had the chance. This demand at lower prices is probably robust enough to provide price support on these cards even as they gradually decline.

Net, this price correction is healthy, presents a buying opportunity once things settle out, and should reflect the health of the Magic market. Don’t forget, this is the summer doldrums. It’s never a great time for Magic appreciation.

Actionable Advice

With the above mindset, I wish I could advocate logging into eBay and buying up ABU’s listings. Card Kingdom and Star City Games’ stock of older cards has also gradually refilled. Even TCGplayer has seen a rise in stock of late. But despite the return of supply, I can’t recommend shopping aggressively. The reason is simple: prices are too high.

Sure, you could buy ABU’s near mint Alpha Counterspell on eBay for $1624.99. It’s nice to even see that there is an Alpha Counterspell for sale on eBay in the first place! But that price is absolutely insane, especially considering ABU has a tendency to accept cards as near mint that I personally would grade slightly played.


You would probably be better off acquiring Card Kingdom’s two EX copies in stock at $1279.99. But even that price point is just crazy relative to where it was six months ago. I want to say these were in the $300 range at the beginning of the year. An eBay auction from Kid Icarus sold on May 14th of this year for $350.67! Talk about a superheated market.

Looking at more recent completed eBay listings, I can see a handful of these selling nowhere near $1279.99. A BGS 8.5 copy just sold on August 1st for $840. This is the new reality we live in: there’s finally enough supply on the market to meet demand for these Old School cards, but the prices are way higher than we’re used to even a couple months ago. Large vendors like Card Kingdom and ABUGames had aggressive buy prices for a while, and now their stock is refilled. But with the higher price points, it’ll take a while for them to move all this supply. Thus, we see a drop in buy prices and an apparent market correction.

My advice: start shopping around for Old School cards from smaller sellers. This includes eBay listings from lesser known sellers as well as TCGplayer sellers. For example, Hexproof Games on TCGplayer has an MP Alpha Counterspell listed for $700. There are also a couple sellers with $900 LP copies. Better yet, wait another month or two to see where prices settle out—perhaps more copies will hit the market and prices will drop a bit further. It will be impossible to time the exact market bottom, but some savvy shopping from private sellers may score you a deal or two.

More Specifics

The above may seem fairly obvious: “the market is correcting, so look for deals.” That may not seem as useful to some folks. So let me get more specific. Just keep in mind, if people act on this advice the opportunities may be gone by the time you look. So you’ll have to act fast if you like these suggestions.

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that ABUGames still has fairly aggressive buy prices on cards if you’re willing to take store credit. There is still plenty of opportunity to grind value from any Old School cards you already have.

I could list an infinite number of examples, but one buylist I submitted recently included a played Unlimited Power Surge. I bought the card for $3 at Gencon and I’m getting $7.50 in store credit for the card. I also shipped a near mint Revised Force of Nature for $3.04 in store credit. This doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re submitting a bunch of cards like this, it adds up quickly. If you’ve got higher-end stuff to move, you can also do well getting trade credit from ABUGames. Getting $270.75 in credit for a heavily played Arabian Nights City of Brass, for example, is nothing to scoff at.


The list goes on and on.

What should you do with all that store credit? Well, you could scrounge their site looking for underpriced cards. But that may be difficult and time-consuming. You may be better off waiting for that next buyout to show up on MTG Stocks and scoop up any copies that ABUGames has listed. You may be overpaying a tad, but given the crazy store credit numbers you’re getting from your buylist, there’s certainly profit to be made from this strategy.

Card Kingdom has cooled off on their buylists, but they still pay relatively well for seemingly useless cards. Not long ago I shipped them two MP Angelic Voices and got $11.20 cash on each! They also paid me $13.60 for an EX Bronze Horse and $8 for a NM Psionic Entity. Net, if you have lower-end Old School cards you can still get pretty solid numbers for them from Card Kingdom—this is especially helpful in freeing up cash to take advantage of the declining prices.

If you don’t want to deal with buylisting, then keep an eye on TCGplayer. If I browse TCGPlayer’s Alpha listings right now, I see plenty of well-priced cards. On the low end, there are commons like Firebreathing and Circle of Protection: White for $8-$10 in MP condition. That doesn’t seem like a steal, but keep in mind ABUGames offers $13.05 in trade credit for a played Alpha Firebreathing.


I see an MP Pestilence for $23.50—that’s not a bad price. Going to the higher end, there’s an Alpha Gloom for $79.90 in MP condition that seems reasonable. The fact that you can still buy an MP Alpha Demonic Tutor for $600 baffles me. Card Kingdom’s VG price is $839.99, so $600 seems to me a great deal.

There are also still good deals on Cool Stuff Inc’s website, by the way. Their prices aren’t slam-dunks like they once were, but you can still find some stuff there at or near buylist pricing.

If Alpha’s not your thing, no problem. I am confident you can find deals on many other older cards on TCGplayer if you search. I bet you can also negotiate some good deals from private sellers on Facebook or Twitter as well. Just point out the declining buylists and lower prices on TCGplayer and you should be able to negotiate a deal. It’s a buyer’s market right now.

Wrapping It Up

Corrections happen all the time in the stock market. Many experts believe such trends are healthy for the market because it helps vent off the overheated conditions in the market leading up to the correction. While Magic cards are different from stocks, I absolutely believe the same general theories are applicable. This correction is healthy for Magic.

We certainly were overheated. When ABUGames jacked up their buy prices they really moved the market. But now they are overstocked with this stuff and their buying has cooled. The same can be said for other large vendors as well. This retraction in buy prices has caused some people to worry about the market’s health. Trust me when I say everything is fine and this is actually a good thing.

I can say this with confidence because the market was way too hot for a while. Selling Alpha Glasses of Urza to a store for $70 made little sense! In addition, there are many potential investors out there eager to buy more in the event there is a significant pullback in prices. That demand is out there, waiting to pounce. Because of this, prices simply can’t get too low. Without panic and capitulation, we’ll see a normal rebound when the dust settles.

When that will happen is tough for anyone to predict. But strategic buying from private sellers over the next few months should be a sound strategy to set you up for profits when the correction does inevitably end. Feel free to leverage the still-aggressive buy prices on certain older cards to generate cash/credit. With some patience, you should be able to take advantage of the buyer’s market.

Sigbits

  • Shifting towards Legends, Card Kingdom made similar drops to their buy prices on this set as well. Land Equilibrium’s buy price has remained robust at $140, however. They also increased their buy price on Legends Mana Drain from $90 to $100 not long ago. Demand for Karakas has also remained robust thanks to its popularity in Legacy.
  • One very recent addition to Card Kingdom’s hotlist is Beta Lightning Bolt. They are offering $225 for near mint copies now. This is far superior to ABUGames’ $140.40 cash offer, though if you went the credit route you’d get more from ABU ($321). Playable Alpha and Beta cards should remain the most robust in a market correction, so you may want to prioritize these in your shopping.


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Sigmund Ausfresser

Sigmund Ausfresser

Sigmund first started playing Magic when Visions was the newest set, back in 1997. Things were simpler back then. After playing casual Magic for about ten years, he tried his hand at competitive play. It took about two years before Sigmund starting taking down drafts. Since then, he moved his focus towards Legacy and MTG finance. Now that he's married and works full-time, Sigmund enjoys the game by reading up on trends and using this knowledge in buying/selling cards.

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8 thoughts on “Unlocked: Don’t Panic!

  1. I hope MtG actually does incur a slowdown so I too can be proactive in buying cards. I quit MtG back in Invasion and got back in during Ixalan, and as soon as I did, almost everything was spiking. I was definitely late to the party in some respects. It’s quite comical looking at the pricing charts!

    Regarding the current Summer months, I’m personally not seeing signs of people restraining themselves. Look at the recent SDCC 2018 promos. People are throwing around $100 bills for glorified Standard foils; FOMO at its finest. Read Saffron Olive’s comments also on Modern deck prices — they’re up 26% since 2018, and yet Modern is arguably the most popular format. People have shown they’re willing to pony up the extra cash.

    The U.S. economy is just too good. I’m seeing it at my work place: We’ve got guys being poached from other companies because companies are forced to offer more competitive wages in today’s tighter job market. Places everywhere are hiring. Unemployment is at record lows. People everywhere are acquiring more income, so it only makes sense they’ll dump some of it into investments, like MtG.

    1. David,

      I love your optimism! Indeed the economy does appear to be firing on all cylinders. But is this sustainable? I hear plenty of chatter on CNBC that the market is volatile and at-risk of a slowdown given the headwinds its facing: fed raising interest rates, turmoil over seas, and unpredictable president, trade wars, etc. Perhaps things won’t be so sustainable?

      I do believe there is some level of slow-down through summer months, but it seems to be isolated this year. Some markets remain hot, like EDH, but it’s about time Old School cards cool off a bit. They ran up far too much too fast.

      At the end of the day, however, many people are out there hoping prices DO drop so they can buy in. Which is essentially why a) the pullback in prices will remain small and b) we do not have a bubble. Too much demand for this stuff. Time will tell where things go from here, though.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Sig

  2. I honestly have felt old school has been way overheated/overhyped for quite some time. People felt like it was a slam dunk to invest into these cards because their value was insulated from reprint due to the formats requirements…but when too many people think something is a slam dunk you end up with super inflated prices. So this correction has been a long time coming and I’m far more bearish kn it than you.

    1. I agree a pullback was overdue. No argument here. But there is still a ton of demand for Old School cards, so any significant pullback will just be viewed as an opportunity to buy. I feel this way. Rudy feels this way. Even LSV feels this way (he tweeted this sentiment to me not long ago). We’re all wishing we had bought more when prices were lower, and if we get a second chance we’re all jumping in….which is why prices can’t get too low.

  3. Hi Sig,

    As always you have hit upon a point that is directly relevant to me, so much so that it feels like you have read my mind.

    “Imagine how sweet it would be to finish a set of Arabian Nights for half its current price!”

    I am trying to complete a set of Arabian Nights. I have about 4 high value targets left including Bazaar, Drop of Honey and Serendib Eftreet and Shahrazad. In a way, I’m so close, but as you know those cards total close to $3k in value. Do you think we’ll actually see a price drop in old school staples, or merely a plateau before the next inevitable upswing?

    1. Ben,

      I feel your pain! I used to own 1 of every Arabian Nights Reserved List card. It was so awesome! But then prices climbed higher and I sold a bunch, only to regret it later. Now I wish I could get my hands on some of these cards again but it’s too late.

      I hate to be super negative here, but I don’t think prices will drop all that much. Mostly, the demand is far too strong at lower price points. If Bazaar dropped to, say $600, people would be swarming all over them for their collections. Because of this, the price can’t get that low. The same goes for many of the other Old School cards out there.

      I hope I’m wrong. I hope prices DO drop enough to be worth getting again. But the fact that we feel that way tells me this probably won’t happen. Maybe you’ll get lucky scouting out Facebook sales and the like? This poll gives me no hope. https://twitter.com/sigfig8/status/10291549278667

      Thanks for commenting!

      Sig

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