I arrived on-site at MagicFest Indianapolis at around 10:20 am, Friday morning. My mission: to sell some Alpha and Beta cards in an attempt to raise cash. With around ten vendors in the room of varying sizes and shapes, I was reasonably confident I’d find the right buyer.
Entering the room, I went first to the MTG Deals booth to say hi to some buyers there I knew from Twitter. When I approached them, I asked if they were interested in purchasing some Alpha and Beta cards. They promptly replied, “We aren’t buying any Old School cards this weekend. We only want Modern bordered stuff and casual cards.”
This may be harder than I thought, I pondered as I walked to the next booth.
In all, about half the vendors had no interest in Old School cards whatsoever. Some wouldn’t even make offers. Others made offers so low that it was clear after two or three cards that they weren’t really interested in buying these collectibles. I couldn’t even find a reasonable offer on my Alpha Mind Twist, which I thought for sure would garner some interest since it’s so rare and valuable.
The MagicFest Indianapolis Atmosphere
If I could describe MagicFest Indianapolis’ Friday atmosphere in one word, it would have to be “desolate”. There was a massive sea of empty tables. Vendors were milling about, itching for things to do. One vendor even commented as much—when I asked for a few offers on cards and apologized when I declined each time, they defeatedly stated, “It’s fine, I have nothing else to do.”
It seems the Las Vegas event of a couple years ago still left folks with a Magic hangover of sorts. Perhaps that’s a major factor in why not many showed up on Friday for the event. Or, it could be related to the fact that it was scheduled around the time many were returning to school. Perhaps fewer people could get the day off coming off a 3-day Labor Day weekend. Whatever the reason, the turnout was abysmal that first day.
So with vendors there to buy cards, eager to justify their booth purchase at this event, you’d think they’d be happy to pick up some highly coveted Alpha and Beta cards. But this was simply not the case. There was a ton of Old School on display at most booths, and not much of it was moving. The market on these cards has truly cooled off. Even some of the hottest collectibles from Arabian Nights have dropped in price significantly from their recent highs.
Everyone clearly wanted Modern and Commander staples. Hotlists were paying aggressively on cards like Mox Opal, Leyline of the Void, and Fetch Lands. As for Old School, the only card on anyone’s hotlist was Chaos Orb, on which 95MTG boasted a $1000 buy price (I asked…they were offering $500 for heavily played copies).
95MTG to the Rescue
I don’t know very much about this vendor, other than they generally post aggressive buy prices at large Magic events and they have an international presence. It turns out this was all I needed to know because they were the only vendor paying well on my Alpha and Beta cards. (I did sell a couple cards to smaller vendors on site, but sparingly).
Why did 95MTG pay well while other vendors wouldn’t touch these older cards with a ten-foot pole? It all came down to their international presence. They have a Cardmarket (formerly MKM) account and sell cards in Europe. It turns out Alpha prices are quite high in Europe and these cards still sell relatively well there. Using MKM’s site to study pricing, 95MTG’s buyer and I negotiated and agreed upon many of the cards I was looking to sell. If it wasn’t for them, I would have walked out of that event with very little to show for it.
One collection of cards 95MTG’s buyer and I couldn’t agree upon was my Beta rares. I only had a few, ranging from useless stuff like Animate Wall and Farmstead up to some half-way decent playables like Crusade.
While MKM pricing on Alpha cards is still quite high, many Beta cards can be purchased for at or below my 55%-60% of ABUGames store credit valuation. For example, I tried to sell my played Beta Elvish Archers for around $175 since ABUGames pays $332.50 in store credit for them. Going lower wouldn’t make much sense when I can ship the card to ABU Games and get a $190 card without much effort.
Unfortunately, you can buy a near mint copy from MKM for about $220. So for 95MTG to make any money on my copy, they’d probably have to list at around $200. After fees and shipping, they’d probably net $175-$180 on the card. Therefore they had no interest in purchasing mine at $175 as it left them with no margin. The same pattern exhibited itself across all my Beta rares.
The Beta market, it seems, is not as hot as the Alpha market in Europe.
Overall I was pleased with my success in selling cards to 95MTG at the event. I also sold a couple cards to other vendors to round out a solid day of selling. But I was left with two actionable next steps.
First, I continued to be baffled by vendors’ refusal to make a good offer on my played Alpha Mind Twist. Channel Fireball almost offered me $1500, but deemed the card “heavily played” and therefore dropped the offer too far for my liking. Each time the message track was the same: my desired price of $1500 is probably solid, but they had no interest in buying such an expensive card, only to have it sit in their inventory to rot.
While this is understandable in principle, I knew for a fact that an Alpha Mind Twist would not sit and rot in inventory if marketed in the right place. I had shopped it around on the Old School Discord and got some interest. And I had the card listed on eBay and declined a $1600 offer there already. Alpha Mind Twist will move if priced correctly.
To prove this to myself (I doubt the vendors care), I threw it on the Old School Discord with a $1550 asking price. It sold within ten minutes, literally.
The other takeaway I had from the event was that my Beta cards have very little demand and that ABUGames’ trade credit was probably my best out for them. This is what I have begun doing—I shipped them a couple Beta cards and a few straggling Alpha cards no vendor wanted. With the store credit, I’m acquiring Modern and Commander staples. These are what’s hot right now, and moving from illiquid stuff like HP Alpha Bad Moon into Force of Will, Mox Opals and Fetch Lands seems like the right play.
Maybe the Old School market will pick up again. It seems almost inevitable—there’s a recession of sorts in these assets for now, but prices can’t get much lower. There is still a ton of activity in the Old School Discord, and any cards listed at competitive prices are immediately purchased. Prices may have gotten ahead of themselves last year when they spiked, but there’s plenty of real demand for these cards at reasonable prices. We won’t be seeing $200 Library of Alexandrias and $100 Chaos Orbs again. There are simply too many people itching to buy these once their prices come in enough, and this will be sufficient to buoy the market and prevent major sell-offs.
Wrapping It Up
All in all, I was very happy with my time at MagicFest Indianapolis. The slow crowd on Friday worked as a boon for me because vendors didn’t mind looking through my older cards and making offers. I checked with the 95MTG buyer multiple times to make sure he didn’t mind the tedious negotiation process. He reassured me that all was good—it was dead quiet, there were no lines, and my advanced preparation made the process smooth for both of us. That spreadsheet I created and printed out was a lifesaver because it gave the buyer all my numbers up front, making for easy negotiation.
I wasn’t able to sell everything I set out to sell, but that’s OK. I don’t mind trading ABUGames unplayable Beta rares to acquire Modern staples, which apparently everyone wants. I also couldn’t move a single Dual Land. Buy prices on heavily played duals were incredibly low—one vendor had offered me about $30 on a Plateau and $120 on a Tundra. These sell instantly on social media at $70 and $170, respectively, so there was no reason for me to sell these.
The net takeaway from the event: the Old School market has definitely softened. There’s no doubt about that. But there’s still demand for the most playable of cards, especially in Europe, as evidenced by 95MTG’s willingness to purchase my Alpha cards. They even have Chaos Orb on their hotlist, so clearly, they see demand for Old School cards.
From here, I’m going to make the effort of trading out of the unplayable Old School cards and into Modern and Legacy staples. This will increase my liquidity and save the hassle of trying to negotiate and sell cards that very few people want. Thanks to ABUGames’ aggressive trade credit numbers, I’ll still do well shipping them some of these Beta cards. So it all works out well in the end.
If you’re in the same place as me, I’d recommend considering a similar approach. If, on the other hand, you’re in the market for Old School cards, now may be a great time to be buying. Since the market is soft, prices are low. I’d suspect vendors would even negotiate a bit on their Old School stock since the stuff isn’t moving nearly as quickly nowadays. Some food for thought as we navigate the coming months, when the market will hopefully pick up again.
- Another Beta rare ABUGames pays quite well on is Lord of the Pit. They currently pay $198.45 cash and $427.50 in-store credit for the iconic card. This was another one no one wanted near this price, and I was honestly content to keep my copy for the time being.
- Card Kingdom doesn’t have many Old School cards on their hotlist, but since dropping their price on Library of Alexandria and Juzám Djinn, they have added the two cards to their hotlist. Both currently boast an $840 buy price. Whether the price goes up or down will depend on how quickly they take copies in at that price point and how quickly those acquired copies move. But I suspect prices won’t drop much lower given how quickly the community pounced on copies once their price dropped.
- After spiking and then retracing significantly, it’s interesting to see Gaea's Cradle on the move again. Card Kingdom has slowly been increasing their buy price on the card, and it currently resides in their hotlist with a $240 buy price. I don’t know if there’s newfound demand for the card or if, like Library of Alexandria and Juzám Djinn, they dropped their price and copies started moving quickly.