Let’s face it: this is a buyer’s market. Outside the occasional buyout or speculation on new cards, prices are awfully soft at the moment. This is especially the case in the market I follow closely: Old School cards. Even though I mostly track cards from Magic’s earliest sets, I suspect pricing is soft across the board.
Despite the reduced liquidity due to a stagnating market, I’m still trying to conduct transactions at least a couple times a week. I’ll admit that some of the stuff I’m selling, I’m letting go for a modest loss, far from all-time highs we saw a year or two ago. But I’m not taking losses for kicks (well, at least not completely for kicks…it is kind of boring being stuck inside all day). There’s actually a method to my madness.
Even though demand is down, I want to share a few reasons why I’m still conducting transactions during this COVID-19 slowdown.
The number one reason I’m selling Magic cards in this market is paradoxical in nature. I’m selling Magic cards because I’m buying Magic cards!
Face it, most of us have a ceiling on the cash flow we’ve allocated to Magic. If my purchases exceed the cash I’ve allowed myself for cards, then I stop buying. Perhaps this just reflects an excessive need to self-moderate, but I find the scarcity mindset helpful as it forces me to make the most value-conscious decisions I can with my money.
If ever there was a time in recent history where I’ve been tempted to scoop up collectible, older Magic cards, it’s right now. I follow the Old School Discord closely and there are amazing deals at lower prices just about daily. Some sellers have even gone as far as to sell via traditional and Dutch auctions in order to fire-sell given cards.
Then there are the folks who are posting Alpha cards for sale by showing only their backs and providing a hint about the card. Yes, this is a thing, and it has been extremely effective. I have not jumped on any such deals yet, but I find myself regretting not buying at least a quarter of them after the mystery Alpha cards are revealed. It seems, despite the market’s softness, Alpha cards still hold some value. Even less-than-playable commons like Death Ward are well above bulk pricing.
In order to have cash on hand to take advantage of such deals, I need to keep some cash on hand. Because I enforce limits on my spending, I sell cards—trying not to lose too much value on what I let go of—in order to purchase other cards at these amazing prices. This practice helps me stay “in the game” of Magic while also refreshing my collection.
ABUGames is Open for Business
I’ve written about the online vendor ABUGames numerous times over the past couple years. When they revamped their website, they suddenly adopted a unique practice whereby they offer 100% trade bonuses on certain cards when store credit is requested. This was especially the case for Old School and Reserved List cards, where it almost seemed like ABUGames was attempting to control the market.
As you can imagine, things have changed since then. At one point last year, I traded about a dozen played, unpopular Beta rares to ABUGames for an embarrassingly high amount of store credit. I was happy to ship them my Beta Acid Web Spider, Righteousness, Farmstead, etc in order to acquire staples across multiple formats. Mana Crypt and Mox Opal were some of my favorites.
Nowadays such a transaction would be very poor form, financially. ABUGames offers a lot less on their played Old School cards, making most trade-ins a loss of value (remember, ABUGames store credit is only worth about 65% when converted to cash).
There is one exception, however. ABUGames is still offering competitive trade credit on Alpha cards. This is especially the case if the Alpha cards you’re trading are in near mint condition. Recently I picked up a near mint Gaea's Liege from the High End Facebook group. The seller’s price was competitive, but I have to imagine the number of people in the market for this particular card is quite small.
Because it was in near mint condition (TCGPlayer Direct “near mint”), ABUGames granted me a “MINT” grading, netting $600 in-store credit. I also shipped a played Alpha Volcanic Eruption to boot, netting me nearly enough credit to pick up more desirable cards. I wouldn’t ship ABUGames just anything, but if you’re looking to sell/trade some Alpha cards they’re worth a gander.
This isn’t something repeatedly exploitable—it’s not easy finding well-priced Alpha cards these days—but this is one set of transactions I’ve pursued during this slow period.
I also like to ship ABUGames near-bulk cards. They have tons of cards on their buylist for which they offer $0.03 - $0.05 in trade credit. It’s not much, but it can add up. Especially since this includes garbage like Unstable commons and junk from Homelands, such as Trade Caravan. If you’re bored one day due to COVID-19 shutdown, dust off your bulk and see if you can scrape something together. You won’t break the bank, but you may be surprised with how a trade could add up.
The last bucket of transactions I’m continuing to pursue are my daily scouring of ABUGames and Card Kingdom eBay listings. I’ve discussed this before, but it’s worth mentioning again as a reminder.
Card Kingdom lists “Below Good”—cards they deem too heavily played to sell directly on their website—on eBay. In certain cases, their “Below Good” eBay pricing is attractive, handily beating any other vendor. These can still be sleeve playable, and thus attractive targets for those looking for budget copies of high-end cards.
My favorite, though, is ABUGames’ practice of Dutch-style auctions on eBay. The online vendor lists cards from Alpha, Beta, and other Old School sets at auction with a high starting bid. The auction proceeds without interest, ultimately ending without a bid. Then ABUGames re-lists the card with a roughly 8% drop in starting bid. If there are still no takers, they rinse and repeat.
In this way, ABUGames is essentially using a Dutch-style auction to sell their cards, steadily dropping their price until a buyer is willing to pay the asking price. By the way, if you want one of ABUGames’ eBay auctions, don’t bother bidding. Just submit an offer for the amount of the starting bid, and they’ll accept every time. Asking for below the starting bid will result in a counter-offer (plus a polite note from the store’s owner, Gabe). Gabe is looking to receive at least the starting bid for the auction, so if you’re not interested in paying that much you’re best off waiting for the auction to expire to be relisted at a lower price.
By the way, ABUGames sells non-Old School stuff this way too. I focus on their Alpha and Beta listings, but here are some other recently sold auctions of theirs. What do you think? Did the buyers get a deal? I listed the sale price alongside TCG low pricing by matching condition, for comparison.
HP 6th Edition Enlightened Tutor: $18.31 (TCG low $22.99)
HP Metalworker: $30.00 (TCG low $33.79)
NM Palinchron: $22.59 (TCG low $24.92)
HP Torment Cabal Coffers: $34.57 (TCG low $42.00)
HP Shadowmoor Rhys the Redeemed: $8.39 (TCG low $12.77)
HP Phyrexian Dreadnought: $23.74 (TCG low $21.99)
They aren’t all amazing steals, but in most cases cards purchased from ABUGames auctions can provide a modest discount relative to the rest of the market.
Wrapping It Up
The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on markets across the globe. The Magic market is no exception, and soft demand is reflected in dropping prices. The trend is especially severe in the market I follow most closely: Old School cards.
But just because demand is soft and prices are down doesn’t mean I’m circling the wagons and holding out for better times. I am finding creative ways to continue transacting to maintain liquidity and refresh my inventory. This has manifested itself for me in three ways: selling cards in the Old School Discord at a loss in order to make strategic acquisitions, trading Alpha cards and bulk to ABUGames, and shopping ABUGames and Card Kingdom eBay auctions for deals.
These three strategies have helped me find deals so I can remain involved in the market. The alternative would be to hunker down and do nothing for months. That doesn’t interest me, though, as it would lead to a stagnating collection and lack of engagement in the community. Doing that would feel like I let the coronavirus win, forcing me to stop dead in my tracks.
That’s not my style, and I’d encourage others to find creative ways to continue buying and selling cards as well. Not only does this help with liquidity and maintain interest in the hobby, but it also gives me a small sense of normalcy in a world where things are anything but normal. Getting that MTG mail is a much-needed pick-me-up; as long as the USPS still delivers mail, I’m going to keep buying and selling cards so I have something to look forward to week to week.
After all, I think we could all use something to look forward to right now.
- Again, buylist pricing at Card Kingdom is a bit soft. But it’s encouraging to see some high-end cards return to their hotlist. The top card on there this weekend is Bazaar of Baghdad, with a $660 buy price.
- In addition to Unstable and Homelands, I also dug through my War of the Spark bulk and found some worthwhile pulls to ship to ABUGames for trade credit. This included Angrath's Rampage ($0.20), Arboreal Grazer ($0.32), and Cruel Celebrant ($0.06). Each of these cards aren’t present on Card Kingdom’s buylist, so if you’re looking to get rid of bulk in this environment ABUGames may be worth checking out.
- I’m not sure how competitive these buy prices are, but Card Kingdom has quite a few fancy foils on their hotlist. This includes stuff like Mythic Edition Jace, the Mind Sculptor ($110), Players Reward Wasteland ($100), Expedition Verdant Catacombs ($70), and Judge Foil Demonic Tutor ($85).