Things are definitely calmer now in the world of MTG finance. The nonstop daily buyouts of random, unplayable cards have finally subsided as people get familiar with the higher prices. With few exceptions, it seems the market has stabilized at last.
But there’s one subset of cards within my area of focus that has not yet hit its equilibrium. That is to say the demand still outweighs the supply at major vendors, leading to a shortage of cards in this category in the market. Which group of cards am I referring to? You won’t find it specifically listed on MTG Stocks—in fact, MTG Stocks won’t even report the price of this subset of cards.
I’m referring to moderately and heavily played cards, where I often focus my own buying and selling!
Years ago, the primary purchasers of random cards from Magic’s oldest sets were collectors. They would often want the most pristine copies they can get their hands on. Of course there were exceptions, but this was generally the rule. Because of this paradigm, major online retailers adopted a pricing strategy that matches this demand profile. Near Mint copies would merit a superior premium while played copies would suffer a significant drop-off in price.
With this backdrop, you get clauses like the ones below when trying to buylist old cards to major vendors.
You can see that both Channel Fireball and Card Kingdom use a blanket approach with older cards—Channel Fireball’s system is more encompassing to include additional expansions, but the same trend applies. While Star City Games and ABU Games don’t explicitly call this out, you can bet that their prices on played cards from early expansions suffer a larger markdown than more recent cards. (I believe back in the day, Star City Games used to apply a markdown strategy like those above before they redesigned their buylist).
The result: these shops motivate visits to their websites with competitive buy prices, but the numbers fall flat when someone is trying to ship them played stuff. If you have a truly near mint card, you will be rewarded. But if there’s even the slightest bit of play, you could suffer a significant downgrade.
For years this practice worked well enough. Vendors prioritized the most in-demand copies of older cards, but wouldn’t be flooded with a stack of heavily-played bulk from older sets that they can’t sell. Equilibrium was set.
The Old School Boom
A couple of years ago, things changed. The explosion in Old School’s popularity generated disproportionate demand for all conditions of these classic cards. With premiums in place for near mint copies, players started to gravitate towards the more affordable, heavily-played copies. Suddenly those played Beta Hypnotic Specters, which were sitting there on vendors’ websites for years, were flying off the shelves. When you’re actually playing these cards, many people don’t mind (or even prefer) played copies.
You could spend $350 on a near mint copy of this card from Card Kingdom, but if you’re on a budget this is severely prohibitive. That $140 price tag on “Good” copies, which is usually HP but sleeve-playable, gets awfully attractive. You could get two beat-up copies for the price of one nice one. And when prices are running away from you and you’re trying to complete a deck, this approach becomes quite attractive to many folks.
Need a Chaos Orb for your deck? Card Kingdom charges $1500 for near mint Unlimited copies, but just $600 for heavily-played versions. The played copies are far more affordable for the average player. ABU Games has much higher pricing, but the same general trend: $2125 for near mint, $1265 for played. If they had an HP copy in stock, that price would be even lower. (Aside: Card Kingdom, Channel Fireball, ABU Games, and Channel Fireball all have zero Unlimited copies of Chaos Orb in stock.
I used Beta Hyppie and Unlimited Chaos Orb as examples, but this same trend applies to most Old School cards. If a given vendor has a steep downgrade on their buylist, their pricing is sure to reflect this. It varies from shop to shop, but the general trend remains intact. If players want copies for their Old School decks, they will be strongly tempted by the discounted pricing on played copies relative to their near mint counterparts.
The Resulting Shortage
The surge in Old School’s demand for played cards has created an ironic scenario. Vendors charge less for played cards while players are eager to acquire these played cards. The result: shortages. The demand is exceeding supply.
For example, when’s the last time you saw a “Good” piece of Power in stock on Card Kingdom’s website?
Sure, you can find copies in nicer condition there. Recently, Card Kingdom finally upped their buylist high enough to get some copies into stock. But their markdown on “Good” copies (essentially HP) is too severe. Almost no one would sell an HP Unlimited Mox Ruby to Card Kingdom for $792, so they never get one in stock.
The second they do get a copy in stock, it gets listed at a discounted $1320; this is below market pricing (it’s even more tempting with store credit) and the card is scooped up immediately. The average residence time of a “Good” piece of Power on Card Kingdom’s site can be measured in seconds.
The same can be said for any played Old School card, and the same shortage exists wherever a vendor pays a far lower percentage on played copies. Players are desperate to acquire affordable copies of cards for their Old School decks. They would gladly buy “Good” copies from Card Kingdom to make their deck more affordable. But the moment Card Kingdom gets stock of these cards, they sell out. The demand outpaces the supply, creating a shortage.
A Call for Action
Because of the new demand profile for older cards, I have adjusted how I acquire cards. While near mint copies of these desirable cards may still sell faster (if priced competitively), it’s not necessary to make a sale. The demand profile for played stuff is robust enough that it’s perfectly reasonable to acquire. This is why you see me reporting sales of MP and HP cards in the Quiet Speculation Discord so often. I basically stick to cards in played condition for my decks, so when I do make a sale that’s inevitably what I am selling.
But simply buying and selling heavily-played cards isn’t the only key takeaway from this article. I also want to make a petition to vendors. We ‘93/’94 players want to buy played cards to save some money. But when vendors are constantly out of stock, it becomes a race of sorts—once a “Good” copy is listed for sale, whoever can buy it fast enough gets the awesome price. Whoever has time to refresh Card Kingdom’s website most often wins this kind of game.
Instead of doing it this way, why not increase the buylist percentage for heavily-played cards? Right now Card Kingdom offers 40% of their posted buy prices for HP Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited cards. I would propose upping this to 50%. Why not try it for a couple weeks to see what happens? It’s easy to change back in case they’re suddenly bombarded with a stack of HP Power (which isn’t likely anyway).
Channel Fireball’s downgrades are even more egregious. They give you 25% of listed buy prices for MP and 10% for “Damaged.” First of all, I find their “Damaged” still sleeve-playable, so that naming convention is awkward. Second of all, why are they offering such poor numbers here?
For some cards they have exceptions to the rule, which is why they list different buy prices for Power and other high-end cards. But if you’ve got an HP Beta Hypnotic Specter for sale, they’ll offer you just 10% of their posted buylist. That’s an insulting $20. They’ll never get a beat copy for sale at that rate, even though there are probably dozens of Old School players who wish they could get their hands on some discounted HP copies.
Wrapping It Up
It’s time to make a change! I totally get that vendors don’t want to get a buylist with 20 HP Beta Living Artifacts. But they should do something to encourage better flow of heavily-played cards to and from individuals. The current system isn’t working. Players want to purchase HP cards, but they can’t if vendors have none in stock. The demand profile is much different now than it was a few years ago, and buy and sell prices should reflect this.
Some individuals may like the current system because it means they can refresh websites every few minutes and snipe those underpriced HP cards that are listed for sale. But this isn’t a healthy situation to have long-term. Vendors will continue to get nice-condition copies of older cards in stock and then price them prohibitively high. That may work for collectors, but as a player I want to be able to shop for played stuff too. The current environment doesn’t allow for that.
Until a change is made, I’ll continue to acquire my moderately- and heavily-played cards from peer-to-peer websites like TCGplayer, eBay, and Facebook. I’d prefer acquiring these from a shop like Card Kingdom so I can use store credit, and be assured that the cards are genuine and not inked/damaged. This is especially true with high-end stuff. But until vendors adjust their pricing for HP Old School stuff, I’ll have to shop carefully from other sources.
I recognize there’s strong demand for the played stuff, so I’ll continue to operate in this space. It fits my personal style nicely. And until vendors change their practices, I will have limited competition in the space anyway.
- Another week has past and with it we’ve seen a few more decreases in buy prices at Card Kingdom as the market cools off. But that hasn’t stopped Mana Crypt from climbing higher. Card Kingdom now pays $105 for Eternal Masters copies, the highest they’ve offered yet.
- I thought Horizon Canopy would crater from its reprinting at rare in Iconic Masters. Turns out that wasn’t the case, probably because not enough of that set was opened to make the difference I anticipated. Card Kingdom is still offering $54 for near mint Future Sight copies and $45 for the reprinted version. That’s pretty impressive given the card’s spotty play profile right now in Legacy and Modern.
- Here’s one that makes me chuckle: Sands of Time. Yes, it’s on the Reserved List. Yes, it’s an old rare from Visions. Yes, I’ve been playing a copy of this card in one of my EDH decks for years now. But the card isn’t really seeing play anywhere, right? I mean it shows up in 238 deck lists on EDH REC, but that’s basically nothing. So why is Card Kingdom paying $2.50 for this card? Beats me. All I know is they used to offer even more, but they are surely getting flooded with copies with numbers this high. Hope they are okay sitting on them all for a long time.