This quote, by Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith of the A-Team, perfectly captures the exciting feeling of flipping a card into hype for profit. We’ve all been there before: notice a trend unfolding so pick up a handful of copies, and sell them within hours of listing them. Hype can do wonderful things for one’s bottom line when actions are well-timed.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t always unfold perfectly like this. It does on The A-Team, but that’s not real life. Sometimes a number of unexpected factors disrupt the “plan”: the spike never happens, the cards get stuck in the mail and by the time it arrives their price drops, the race to the bottom is faster than expected, the condition comes in below what was ordered, etc.
It’s possible that these imperfect scenarios are what distinguishes a great speculator from a good speculator. Knowing when to cut losses and how to cut them can become critical in ensuring sufficient cash flow and avoiding severe losses. This week I want to explore my own methodology for cutting cards loose out of desperation while minimizing losses.
Step 1: Realizing It’s Time to Bail
It’s one thing to pick up a breakout card in Modern that has never been used before—something like Mycosynth Lattice spiked and never really dropped because it is that good in Modern.
Most buyouts these days are less organic. Agility is crucial when trying to flip cards, especially into a hyped buyout. Buying one day too late could mean the difference between profits and losses.
When I receive cards that I purchased with the intent to flip into hype, I make every effort possible to sell immediately. eBay and TCGPlayer can be reliable outlets in this scenario. They're natural places that people look to when purchasing copies. Since MTG Stocks reflects TCGPlayer, there’s a natural connection between a buyout and a card’s list price there. This means competition on those sites will be limited for a narrow window of time, and a sufficiently competitive price can trigger the sale.
But there are some occasions when I list my spiked card on eBay and watch it sit there. And sit there. And sit there. Usually 24-48 hours later I’ll run an eBay and TCGPlayer search for that card and realize a half-dozen undercutters have entered the market with their copies. The race to the bottom has begun. This is when you know you were a little late to the party, and it may be time to pivot towards a more aggressive selling strategy.
Another example would be with cards that are tougher to sell. This could include played foils, foreign cards, poor condition cards, signed cards, etc. These are often less liquid and may not be easy to sell even if your buyout timing is perfect. If you have little success moving these cards at full price on eBay and TCGPlayer, it’s time to shift gears.
Step 2: Go Wide
The first step I take when trying to sell cards more eagerly is to expand my selling platforms. If eBay’s not working, I know the price is too high and/or demand is too low. Perhaps a lower price enabled by a platform without fees would do the trick. I leverage Twitter, Discord, and Facebook to sell cards, and I often offer them at 10-15% below TCG low pricing to push the sale through.
If after 24-48 hours on these platforms I still can’t make the sale, I announce a price drop. I did this recently with Serra's Sanctum—my initial list price was around $80 but there were no takers (at some time last year this would have been a steal, but many Reserved List cards have cooled off since). So I tried re-tweeting with a $75 price tag. I may also drop my price on eBay in kind.
Sometimes even this doesn’t work (my Serra's Sanctum still hasn’t sold). When that happens, it really tells you that, even at a 15-20% markdown from the market, there’s very little demand for that card. That’s when the really difficult decision has to be made: do you sit and wait, or do you move into Step 3?
Because I value cash flow so highly, I often do the latter and get most aggressive with selling. The exception is with cards I enjoy enough that I’d be happy to keep in my collection: Beta rares, Reserved List cards, or cards from Arabian Nights, Legends, or Antiquities. I may sit on Serra's Sanctum a little longer simply because it's a popular Reserved List card.
It’s important that you create your own rule of thumb as to what you’re OK holding as a “failed spec” and what you’d rather unload for a small loss to avoid opportunity cost or further price declines.
Step 3: The Desperate Seller
At this point, if cards still aren’t selling at such a deep discount, it’s common that the price is nearing a store’s buylist price. That’s my catch-all plan for failed specs.
Recently I had purchased a couple foil Painter's Servants internationally—when the card became legal in Commander I thought it would be a slam dunk. As it turns out, it may have been a very profitable purchase…if I had received the cards quickly. I purchased them from a Japanese vendor, and even though I paid a premium for tracked shipping, the cards did not arrive before my family’s vacation out of town.
By the time I returned, the price spike had reversed nearly completely and I was underwater. Still, I tried listing on eBay for breakeven. But I had a second problem. Without realizing it, I had purchased played foils, and those are so difficult to sell even when a buyout is occurring. Trying to flip them during the post-buyout race to the bottom is virtually impossible.
I tried selling on Twitter but had no interest. I listed on eBay and dropped the price multiple times without even getting very many views on my listing. By the time I was approaching $40 on eBay, I realized I was better off shipping them to Card Kingdom’s buylist. Their buylist was $40 for Near Mint, and I think I can get EX on my copies, or $30. Adding that 30% trade credit bonus means $39 in store credit per copy, which isn’t too painful.
It beats sitting on the two cards for more weeks without a sale. At least now I’ll have credit to put to work in something more liquid. In hindsight, the foil market price on TCGPlayer is $33.15, so even though TCG low is in the low $40’s, I’m not sure any copies have actually sold for that price. I’m fairly confident a played copy won’t have sold for something north of $40.
Because Card Kingdom’s buylist is so agile, it can often be the best place to out spiked cards in situations where selling peer-to-peer isn’t working. But sometimes they don’t chase prices. In that case, I like to use ABUGames’ buylist. Even though their trade credit is inflated and $1 in credit is really only worth $0.60 cash, it at least gives you a chance at minimizing losses.
For example, when I noticed foil Morophon, the Boundless’s foil price was stagnating (I’ve had a foil listed on eBay for weeks now without a sale), I didn’t feel too bad shipping one to ABUGames for $70 in credit. I know there’s a psychology to their inflated numbers, and that I didn’t truly get $70 for my copy. But it gave me the chance to find something underpriced on their site; or if nothing else, I could use that credit to speculate elsewhere. (By the way, Card Kingdom doesn’t even buy foil Morophons right now!)
Wrapping It Up
We all make mistakes with our speculation. In addition to learning from these mistakes, it’s also important to react quickly before they become worse. If you’re trying to flip a card into a buyout and are struggling to make the sale, time can be your enemy. Price sensitivity from one day to the next can be quite high, and a fire-sale for a small loss may be preferred versus a lackadaisical selling approach and a deeper loss. A slower sale also means higher opportunity cost and lower liquidity—two things that can squeeze a small-time speculator in a hurry.
Because of this, I am not shy to take my small losses and flip cards quickly any way that I can. Sometimes I manage to make a sale by dropping my price quickly enough on eBay. Other times, a significant markdown on Twitter or Discord works. In some situations, I resort to the buylist to make sure I cash out quickly.
If the prices are dropping that quickly, you never know when someone else takes the buylist route and causes the buylist to drop before you can out your copies? In my Painter's Servant example, I buylisted my two foil copies at $40 each (before grading). After submitting that buylist, Card Kingdom’s algorithm dropped their buy price to $32. Unless someone buys the foils I shipped them, their buy price will likely remain lower for a while, negatively impacting others who may be stuck on foils themselves.
I admit I’m risking upside by following this approach. But cash is king, and unless you have a large bankroll, maintaining liquidity is more valuable than a possible profit on a slow-selling card. You never know when a great deal will pop up, and having cash available to take advantage is critical. In those situations, you don’t want to sit there staring at your slow-moving cards wishing they were cash. This is the exact situation I wish to avoid, and so I am quick to sell as a result.
- Card Kingdom still has foil Wrenn and Six on their hotlist, now with a $200 buy price. I think it peaked above $200 for a short period before falling back down again. That must be the neighborhood where sellers are interested in outing their copies.
- I noticed Arabian Nights City of Brass and Stronghold Mox Diamond both made their return to Card Kingdom’s hotlist. The former had moved all the way up to $280 before dropping back down to $240 again. I was compelled enough to sell my one extra copy to Card Kingdom when they had a $270 buy price. The latter had been up near $200, then fell way down, and is now on the incline again. Watch that one closely for more upside.
- Two Dual Lands show up on Card Kingdom’s hotlist this week: Badlands ($160) and Savannah ($100). Those are interesting choices—I’m sure it reflects their stock, but I would not have guessed that these two duals were particularly hot right now. I wonder if others will soon follow.