Unlocked: Petition for Played Price Adjustment

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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!

The Reality

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.

The days where it was solely collectors looking to acquire random stuff like Beta Savannah Lions and Unlimited Psionic Blast are over. It’s time for a change.

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.

14 thoughts on “Unlocked: Petition for Played Price Adjustment

  1. Honestly, it comes down to the fact that players were willing to sell their played versions of cards at a massive discount for a good number of years. When players are no longer willing (as it seems they might be now) then stores will be forced to change that policy by the market..the first store to aggressively buy played cards will be the one making a lot of money off of Old School players…I’m still cautious as to how much actual demand there is for that format (as I’ve not seen it played anywhere) and it honestly just feels like it’s just a watered down “vintage” form (since everyone wants power), this caution could be the reason we haven’t seen change yet.

    1. David,

      I agree with you on both accounts. The first vendor to make an adjustment on solid HP Old School cards stands to gain a good amount of additional business. But if they go too deep or make some poor pricing decisions, then they may get overwhelmed with tough stuff to move.

      Perhaps it should be managed as a case-by-case basis? Though this requires more hands-on management from vendors and this may not be something worth pursuing. All I know is the system isn’t working all that well right now.

      Thanks for commenting!


    2. David,

      You are deeply, deeply wrong about how much old school is played and how much like vintage it is. There are large play groups in every area of the US and every European country. I have many friends that are willing to take flights to the midwest, the east coast, the south east and also Sweden to play old school. (I live in California.) These folks are wealthy and ready to shell out cash to get the cards they need to build a new deck or spice up an old one. It is also so much better than vintage. It is a deep an interesting format with a lot of unexplored design space that leads to new and exciting decks all the time. There is a premium placed on “spicyness, not spikiness” in old school to the extent that the best prizes will go to the coolest deck, not the best record. Although you haven’t encountered the old school community, I can assure you that there are many of us, and our wealth and cardboard crack addiction are very real.

  2. Horizon Canopy isn’t seeing spotty play in Moderns, it’s a 4-of in the best and most popular deck Humans. It is becoming even more popular because it’s used as a 2-of in the new Hardened Scales deck that now has a GP win. It’s also a 2 or 3-of in the new Bant Spirits deck, so in fact is seeing more play now than ever.

    1. Adam,

      Thanks for the data! I really appreciate it. I don’t know the Modern format all that well, so I’m really glad you got my back in the explanations. :).



  3. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that for us at Pat’s Games, we generally don’t want to tie up a lot of money in MP or damaged cards. It’s not that there isn’t any demand, it’s a very limited market. I think most vendors (us included) are happy to pick these cards up at a reasonable price but are unwilling to pay highly for them. These are cards we look to turn over as quickly as possible, and I assume other vendors feel the same way. The fact that the cards are moving quickly as things are is actually more of an argument to keep the status quo. MP old school cards are something maybe 1% of customers are interested in, so the buylists and prices reflect that.

    1. Aryeh,

      I appreciate some vendor perspective. There’s a continuum here I’m sure. There is very limited demand for some HP Old School cards. But Power? Chaos Orb? UNL Dual Lands? HP copies may not merit such low pricing? Power in particular still has solid demand, and there will always be those aspiring Vintage players looking for the cheapest copies out there. The standard pricing downgrades just can’t hold up with such a diverse group of cards anymore. That’s my two cents, anyways.

      Perhaps if there’s a flood of MP/HP cards heading to vendors, they would suffer cash flow issues and have difficulty moving copies. I just feel like the “G” pricing at Card Kingdom is far too low on a lot of things.

      Thanks again!


  4. Maybe others are willing to get better looking copies when worse isn’t available? Not everyone is as price-conscious as you are.

    Selling a higher priced item leads to more absolute profit. Shops don’t owe you cheaper stock and if the higher priced item sells anyway, why spend money on the cheaper one? (Obviously they could buy both, but if they don’t have unlimited funds they may need to make choices).

    I don’t think I see the case for shops to change their behavior, unless other shops change theirs. It takes a significant investment and money may be tied up for a long time if demand isn’t as strong as you think. It looks risky from a shop’s perspective.

    1. This could very well be a major consideration. But I’m pretty sure there’s at least SOME part of the player base who wants cheap, played copies for their decks. Maybe that population is too small or too difficult to quantify for vendors to take on the risk. But…I mean…CK has been out of stock on “Good” copies of Power for many months now. I think that’s a compelling reason to consider a change, even if they start small at first.

      Thanks for commenting!


      1. If they’ve been sold out they haven’t seen the demand you think is there. It would make sense that they don’t make the risky move of increasing the buy price on something that they don’t know for certain sells. All they could conclude is that nobody is selling at their buy price, however, that doesn’t mean it’ll sell at the price they have to ask when they raise their buy price.

        Let’s say their current list price is 100% and for convenience sake, that they buy at 50%. If they would want to increase their buy price to 70% of that old price, then their new sell price would need to be 140% to make the same relative amount of profit.

        Are the people creating this demand willing to pay 40% more for their copies just so CK can raise their buy price and actually get cards in? Obviously the numbers are made up, but that a buylist price increase correlates with a list price increase is fact and that a buy increase doesn’t result in the same absolute increase in sell is fact as well, instead the sell will increase more to still make a similar margin.

        I do believe there are players who would buy the cheaper*, played copies, I am however not so sure they would go to the stores en masse if those stores had to ask higher prices than they’re used to from FB and eBay. The margin the store could make on the played copies may simply be too low for it to be interesting to them.

        * “cheap” doesn’t seem accurate when talking about Power

  5. Hey Sig, interesting article. HP cards are almost never really discussed, so I’m glad to see some digital ink spilled on this subject. I do want to make sure I understand your hypothesis here. Are you advocating that buy prices increase and sell prices stay stagnant? If yes, wouldn’t that be less attractive to vendors as they turn less margin on higher risk stuff?

    If the sell prices are to increase, then perhaps sales on such cards will fall as players don’t see the benefit to paying for something they may have a hard time turning over if they decide to sell.

    After reading this a couple times, it sounds like you are actually trying to argue that the demand for specific, Old School playable, cards is robust enough to warrant individual buy prices for each condition as opposed to a flat rate one-size fits all multiplier. As you say, Hypnotic has more demand than Living Artifact.

    1. Scott,

      You got it! I am advocating both buy AND sell prices increase, at least with specific, in-demand Old School cards. I would love to get some “Good” copies of many Alpha/Beta/Unlimited cards on Card Kingdom’s site…but they NEVER get any in stock. And when they do, the fastest fingers get the copies. There’s got to be room to close this gap a little bit, right?

      Anyway, some food for thought. Thanks for commenting! 🙂


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