When I first started learning about the rarity of Alpha cards—rares, in particular—one of the first cards I purchased on a whim was a near mint Alpha Two-Headed Giant of Foriys. The card was sold to me by Troll and Toad, and I made the purchase through eBay for $55.99 shipped. In fact, I still have the order confirmation email, as proof!
I made this purchase knowing Star City Games was paying $60 on their buylist, so it was guaranteed profit with upside.
How much upside? Sadly, I didn’t believe strongly enough in the prospects of Alpha cards back in 2012, so I didn’t hold the card for very long. This was before I learned about Old School and Alpha 40, two formats where this card would be playable.
I flipped the card shortly after purchasing, locking in a modest gain. But I have to know…just how much could I have made had I kept the card until today?
Comparing Buy Prices
Card Kingdom is my de facto store to sell cards to nowadays. I just love their dynamic buylist, ease of use, and competitive pricing. Looking up Alpha Two-Headed Giant of Foriys on their buylist, I see they are currently offering $1200 for near mint copies. Had I kept the card from 2012 until today, I would have made over 2,000% in profits from this investment. That annualizes to over 200% a year.
Even Tesla stock would struggle to keep pace with such a growth rate.
While kicking myself, I did some due diligence work and looked up buy prices at a couple of other sites. Here are the numbers:
ABUGames: $1020 (for MINT copies)
Channel Fireball: $1200 (do they even buy cards now that they’re moving to the marketplace model?)
Star City Games: $1300
Hold on a second! Star City Games is paying $1300 for near mint Two-Headed Giant of Foriys? Since when did they have competitive buy prices on Alpha cards? In fact, I’m not sure when they started posting actual buy prices on Alpha cards outside of Power and Dual Lands. For the longest time, they simply didn’t have prices posted for stuff like Two-Headed Giant of Foriys. Now, without my realizing it, they are suddenly best in class?
Maybe this is one of those gimmicks, where a vendor posts an exorbitantly high buy price on a near mint Old School card to attract attention, but then offering severe reductions for played copies. I remember Channel Fireball implementing such a strategy a while back. And for Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited cards, Card Kingdom’s downgrade percentages can be rough.
At 80%, 60%, and 40% for EX, VG, and G respectively, Card Kingdom is effectively offering $960 for lightly played copies, $720 for moderately played, and $480 for heavily played. How does this compare with Star City Games’ played pricing?
Well, Star City Games offers $1000 for “PL” copies, which to me equates to Card Kingdom’s EX. I’ve always been impressed with Star City Games’ grading, and many times I’ve been able to purchase PL copies of a card from them only to turn around and sell it to another vendor as near mint. So drawing this equivalence of Star City Games “PL” and Card Kingdom “EX” seems appropriate. In this case, Star City Games is yet again in the lad, paying $40 more than Card Kingdom.
How about “HP” copies? Well with Star City Games, “HP” can be kind of a craps shoot. You may get a very nice moderately played copy, or you could get a pretty beat up (though still sleeve playable) heavily played copy. I’ve gotten both. So for the sake of argument, I’ll equate Star City Games’ HP with Card Kingdom’s “Good” condition, though there is a chance for upside.
Card Kingdom is paying $540 for Good copies. Star City Games is paying $800 for their HP condition! That means, even if you equate Star City Games’ “HP” with Card Kingdom’s “VG”, you still get paid more for selling your copy to Star City Games rather than Card Kingdom!
Here Comes a New Challenger
Have you ever played a classic arcade fighting game, like Street Fighter II, where a second human player could interject in the middle of a fight and challenge the other human player? They could be in the middle of an important fight against the computer, but the fight is immediately suspended so that the challenger can play.
This is what I’m envisioning when I see Star City Games enter the Alpha and Beta buylist market with competitive buy prices.
Yes, they have solid prices posted for Beta too. I didn’t mention that yet—I was considering selling a heavily played Beta Clockwork Beast I picked up from eBay not long ago. I know this is like a $100 card, but vendors aren’t paying all that great for heavily played copies.
Card Kingdom, for example, pays $120 for near mint, so their heavily played (“Good”) offer would be a measly $48. Cash-wise, ABUGames offers $66.94, which is a little better I suppose. But Star City Games has a $90 buy price on heavily played copies of the card! That’s almost double Card Kingdom’s HP buy price and a significant premium over the rest of the competition.
Another quick example: Beta Control Magic. Card Kingdom, my go-to vendor, offers $115 on near mint copies, or $46 for “Good” condition copies. ABUGames pays $132.60 for “MINT” copies (whatever that actually means) and $53.55 for heavily played. Meanwhile, Star City Games pays an impressive $150 for near mint and $90 for heavily played copies! Once again, this is significantly higher than their competitors.
I could sit here and write up a dozen such examples. But rather than trying to cherry-pick these comparisons, I’ll make a broader suggestion to prospective sellers: make sure you check Star City Games’ buylist before listing a card for sale or selling it to a different buylist. They have significantly improved their offers on these collectible cards from Magic’s first couple sets, and this means they deserve some business! I know I’ll be checking their buylist a bit more frequently now as I think about how to price out my cards.
What About the Four Horsemen Sets?
If Star City Games has updated their buylist to pay competitively on Alpha and Beta cards, it begs the question of whether or not they pay well on other early Magic sets as well.
I started with a quick comparison of Arabian Nights buy prices between Card Kingdom and Star City Games. For this set, Star City Games is lacking. Card Kingdom pays much better than Star City Games on cards like Bazaar of Baghdad, City in a Bottle, and Diamond Valley. Even though Card Kingdom is not paying near their previous highs, they still pay better than the Virginia-based vendor.
The same trend holds for the other Four Horsemen sets as well (Legends, Antiquities, and The Dark). Star City Games’ numbers just don’t compete with Card Kingdom’s. What’s more, Card Kingdom’s downgrade percentages for condition are significantly more generous to sellers on these sets vs. the percentages on Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited. If Card Kingdom’s near mint buy price is better than Star City’s, I am confident the same trend will hold true for all other conditions as well.
Perhaps this trend will also change in time—Star City Games makes less frequent updates to their buylist but when they do, it’s usually a significant overhaul. Until then, it looks like Star City Games is competitive in Alpha, Beta, and [possibly] Unlimited. But for the rest of the Old School market, stick to Card Kingdom for now. Or, in a couple of cases, ABUGames (e.g. near mint Elephant Graveyard, where ABUGames pays best).
Wrapping It Up
A walk down memory lane ended up informing me of a new trend in the buylist market. Star City Games has stepped in with some very competitive offers on Alpha and Beta cards across the board. No longer are they only interested in Dual Lands and Power from these sets. Now they’ll buy almost any card, and in many cases, their offer is best in class.
I’m not about to rush out and sell Star City Games a stack of Alpha and Beta cards. I learned my lesson with the Two-Headed Giant of Foriys. I’d rather be a buyer than a seller of these ultra-rare collectible pieces from the game’s history. But if I do decide to sell a card or two in order to raise cash and fund further purchases, I’ll definitely be looking to Star City Games’ buylist for some pricing information. To ignore their buy prices could mean leaving money on the table. Especially if you were thinking of going the buylist route anyway.
I’m not sure how long this trend will last, but it’s noteworthy enough to be aware of, for starters. Back in 2012 when I first started researching Alpha cards, Star City Games’ buylist was best in class. They offered at least $60 on any Alpha rare, during a time when demand for unplayable Alpha cards was thin at best. Fast forward to 2021, and Star City Games is at it again. Only this time, they’re paying north of $300 on nearly every Alpha rare, with a couple of exceptions (poor Jade Monolith with its $175 buy price…those you should sell elsewhere).
It makes me wonder what buy prices will look like in another nine years. Will the cheapest Alpha rare sell for north of $500? At current growth rates, I’d say it’s highly likely. When only approximately 1,100 copies of a card are printed, it means tremendous scarcity in a collectible market with orders of magnitude more participants. It’ll be interesting to watch this decade. One thing is for certain, I am not going to rush out and sell any Alpha rare for meager gains this time (I only own a few as it is)!