After a week away from writing, I feel more refreshed and interested in Magic finance than I have been in quite some time. So much so, that I have even become a net buyer of cards. My interest is magnified by the fact that the stock market is floundering, meaning my MTG returns are greater than my stock returns. Given the choice right now between Magic and stock, I am inclined to lean towards Magic.
My (admittedly biased) Twitter following sort of agrees:
What offers better 10 year return?
— Sigmund Ausfresser (@sigfig8) November 19, 2018
From reading through the Insider Discord, it seems like many people are chasing after the Modern staples that were not reprinted in Ultimate Masters. Those who bought Surgical Extraction or Manamorphose did quite well.
But you already know that’s not my area of interest. I have no desire to go out and buy Modern cards left and right (not with cash, anyway). Instead, I’ve been leveraging a different strategy to grind out profits in Magic these days.
The Recent Pullback is a Gift
We all know the market had gone a bit soft these last couple months—it really is a healthy retreat given the massive gains we’ve seen in 2018. But I don’t see the recent weakness as a bearish signal. In fact, I believe the retraction in prices and the return of supply to the market is quite the buying opportunity.
In an extreme example, consider Unlimited Power. At one point, it was nearly impossible to find sleeve-playable power for much under $2000. A well-loved Black Lotus would easily run you nearly $6000 at peak. Even now, Card Kingdom can’t keep a “Good” condition piece of Unlimited Power in stock for more than about five minutes. Demand for fairly priced HP stuff has been quite robust.
However over the past month or two, supply has slowly returned to the market. Now if you want a sleeve-playable Black Lotus, you can simply buy the cheapest heavily played copy off TCGplayer for $5100 (with a juicy chunk of store credit if you bought during the Black Friday sale). It’s not the steal of the century, but three months ago such copies were scooped up aggressively.
Heavily played moxes are in the $1500’s, Time Walks in the $1600’s, and Ancestral Recalls start at around $1800. These prices would have all been considered very solid a few months ago, and I believe we will be longing for these prices again when 2019 comes along.
You also don’t have to look to Power to see these market trends. I browsed all Unlimited rares on TCGplayer and found multiple cards that seemed to be priced fantastically relative to their three-month-ago price. For example, I grabbed three moderately played Unlimited Braingeyser during the 15% credit bonus event last Friday, at around $50 a copy.
I also picked up a couple smaller Antiquities Reserved List cards and an Ifh-Bíff Efreet through Twitter sales. These aren’t immediately profitable purchases, but I’m trying to put money to work while I see prices retract so much.
The best part about these purchases is that there is very little risk involved. Why am I so confident about this? It all has to do with buylists.
Buylists: The Backup Plan
It’s true: buylists have cooled off quite a bit since prices became overheated a couple months ago. But that doesn’t mean the rug was pulled out from them altogether. In fact, there are still some fairly aggressive numbers out there, giving me confidence that I won’t be losing money with my recent purchases.
For example, consider those Unlimited Braingeysers I told you about. Did you know that ABU Games offers $87 in store credit for played copies? Granted, that’s not worth nearly $87 in US Dollars, but I’ve been using a 60% multiplier to back out what I should be able to get for my trade-in. That equates to about $52, which is a hair higher than my purchase price. Therefore, if I decide I don’t want to hold these cards for long, I can just trade them to ABU Games for something more interesting.
In fact, ABU Games has some fairly aggressive credit numbers on many Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited cards. This means I can make my speculative purchases with confidence knowing the worst-case scenario is that I simply trade the cards in for something else.
Separately, Card Kingdom has been gradually increasing some of their Old School buy prices. I’ll reiterate that of course numbers aren’t near their all-time highs; those prices were egregious. But some have seen a nice bounce. Erhnam Djinn is a good example: recently Card Kingdom upped their buy price from $125 to $155.
They moved some Legends and Antiquities cards up in price as well. And if you ever get some time, I’d encourage you to use Trader Tools to browse the top buy prices for Alpha and Beta cards (by set). Card Kingdom has very aggressive numbers on the more desirable cards from these sets—just watch out for those pesky downgrades!
The Trade-In Strategy
Perhaps I’ve piqued your interest. Maybe you’re interested in trying to flip some cards to buylists for credit to try and make a few bucks. The next question you may be asking is what to target with said store credit?
I will share my recent strategy, though I think everyone really needs to invest the time it takes to browse stock at these major vendors to find the best-priced options. This is tedious but required if you really wish to make some money with this approach.
In general, I strive to trade up. I want to ship a bunch of lower-end cards to get a lump of credit and use that credit to purchase one desirable card. This helps me streamline my collection, while also making it easier to cash out in the future.
For example, I recently traded a few played Beta cards and a Field of Dreams for a Gaea's Cradle. That Cradle will arguably be easier to sell than an HP Beta Manabarbs, for example, since the population of players who want one is much larger.
Other cards I’ve been targeting recently at ABU Games are Zendikar Expeditions. Any Masterpieces are probably worth considering, though I find the most desirable ones have the highest mark-up. I’m sure there are plenty of other options if these don’t interest you—the key is to find something with the least amount of mark-up so that you can sell the cards you get to convert as much credit to cash as possible. Or, better yet, trade for cards you’ll actually need, getting them at a fair discount to the market when trade credit is factored in.
When it comes to Card Kingdom, I continue to stick with Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited cards in “Good” condition. One recent acquisition I made was an Unlimited Two-Headed Giant of Foriys. Card Kingdom’s “Good” price was $44, and I knew I could sell the card for near that. This means I can convert a fraction of that 30% trade bonus they offer into cash.
Even if I didn’t manage to sell the card, I had a solid backup plan. Because Card Kingdom marks down their “Good” cards so much (and often times their “Good” condition still passes for “Played” at ABU Games), I can flip stuff from Card Kingdom directly to ABU Games for a bump in store credit! That’s one of my favorite pastimes–credit flipping! You may even be able to add Channel Fireball into your repertoire of vendors to credit flip with. They pay pretty well on certain things, and some of their Old School prices are quite competitive. It just takes time and research to find the opportunities.
Wrapping It Up
I certainly can’t argue with the success people have been having flipping Modern cards. Those staples that didn’t see reprint in Ultimate Masters can be a hotbed of price action in the near term. For me, however, I’ve been engaging with MTG finance via a different avenue.
As prices stabilize in the Old School market, I’ve been slowly acquiring cards strategically at prices well below their former peak. I suspect come 2019, when everyone gets their tax refunds and is done with holiday spending, prices will rebound. I want to be well-positioned when that happens.
In case they don’t rebound as I anticipate, I have a solid backup plan: I focus my acquisitions either on cards I want to keep or cards I can flip to buylists at minimal or no loss. Between ABU Games, Card Kingdom, and Channel Fireball, there are some attractive buylists out there. Despite these buylists, people are still listing their cards for sale on TCGplayer at or below what vendors are offering. Therefore, I consider the risk of my purchases nonexistent because I know I can trade these cards in for store credit and acquire something different if I so choose.
And that’s precisely what I’ve been doing lately. I’ve made multiple trades with ABU Games and Card Kingdom, consolidating small stacks of cards into just a couple more liquid and valuable cards. This makes raising cash easier while helping me keep turnover in my portfolio—one of my favorite pastimes. It’s this constant refresh that keeps me interested in the hobby, and I hope to leverage this approach for years to come!
- For the longest time, Angus Mackenzie has been the Legends legend with the highest vendor buylist. But recently Card Kingdom has placed Hazezon Tamar in that number one spot (currently $200). Does this reflect a shift in demand? I’m not sure, but it’s a trend worth keeping an eye on if you’re trying to complete a set.
- Card Kingdom still has a bunch of Masterpieces on their hot list, which gives me confidence that these are worth picking up with ABU Games credit. Recent numbers that caught my eye include Wasteland ($95), Blood Moon ($105), and Sacred Foundry ($56).
- After dropping all the way down to $50, Card Kingdom once again has an aggressive buylist number for Legends Sylvan Library: $70. This card sees Commander demand in addition to Old School, so I can see it climbing even higher as long as it continues to dodge reprint. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say I’d prefer buying these over Manamorphose at this point!