Alpha and Beta: Two Bright Spots

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I haven’t done a deep dive on Old School prices in a short bit, mostly because my own interest in Magic has admittedly faded. However, a string of transactions I made recently has rekindled a little bit of that spark, and it has driven me to take a closer look at some prices again to see where the market stands.

This week I’m going to share the details around my transactions, my motivations behind them, and the trends I observed while doing some of this pricing research. If you’re looking for an update on the market, and particularly what stands out to me as the “hottest” Old School cards, this is the article for you!

It All Starts With Alpha

The catalyst for my updated price research was a few transactions I made regarding Magic’s earliest sets. To start, I sold a couple Alpha cards on eBay to test the waters. These were cards I purchased from Star City Games, using the premium membership discount, with the intention of selling for a small profit. The exercise worked flawlessly—not only did I manage to sell the Alpha cards on eBay as planned, but I also had an eBay member directly message me after making a purchase asking if I had any other Alpha cards for sale!

Clearly, the Alpha market remains hot, and this is evidenced by the fact that Card Kingdom and ABUGames are sold out of so many Alpha cards. In fact, Card Kingdom’s cheapest Alpha cards in stock are VG Power Leak and Deep-Sea Serpent, which still carry a hefty $22.79 price tag!

At this point, just about any sleeve playable, non-inked/damaged Alpha card is worth at least $20 with very few exceptions. It’s no surprise that Card Kingdom is sold out of “G” Alpha cards for the most part—those prices (starting at $15.20 for the cheapest commons) are just too low at this point. The most heavily played, cheapest Alpha rares also start near $300 these days. One of the cards I sold on eBay was a heavily played Alpha Purelace, which went for $275. Again, with few exceptions, they just don’t get any cheaper than that.

I’m sure the higher end, more playable Alpha cards are also strong. I just haven’t followed them very closely of late because I don’t really have many! My assumption is that if the low-end Alpha market is hot, then the high-end of the market should be strong as well. I mean…Card Kingdom is paying $90,000 on their buylist for a near mint Alpha Black Lotus. Need I say more?

From Unlimited to Beta

The transactions I made this past month included my largest single card sale ever! I sold a very heavily played (though not damaged) Unlimited Mox Sapphire.

This one was tricky to move, and I think my timing was suboptimal. The demand for Power has cooled these past few months—I think this card should have been able to fetch close to $4,000 had I sold at the peak of this latest cycle. Because I waited, however, I had trouble finding takers at my initial price point of around $3600. I dropped the price multiple times, and finally found a buyer who could not resist a deal, at $3350.

While I probably left a little money on the table, I kept everything in perspective. First of all, I wanted cash at that moment, so I had to work with what the market would bear at that point in time. Secondly, my entry price was lower so it was hard to be upset about the profit. Lastly and most importantly, I sold the card to another member of the Old School community, so I was happy to help them out with a fair deal just as I had gotten a good deal when I purchased the card in the first place.

At the end of the day, I was sitting on the highest cash amount in my Magic account (i.e. PayPal) in years. What did I do with the funds?

First I transferred nine percent right into the college account. That’s always the top priority, and I was glad to put yet another dent in my college savings goals for the two kids. With the remaining funds, I decided it was finally time to upgrade my Unlimited Counterspells to Beta. This has been on my to-do list for over a year now, and it felt like the right moment to make the leap.

I won a played Beta Counterspell on eBay from Kid Icarus on a whim, by panic bidding one last time while the auction had just a second remaining, and I won for a hair over $500. After sharing the experience, someone in the Old School Discord offered me three others for $500 a piece—in just a week, I had completed the quest to obtain four copies! I promptly sold the Unlimited copies, and my deck upgrade was successful!

Hold on a second. Were you at all surprised that heavily played Beta Counterspells go for $500? I sure was! I couldn’t believe how expensive these had gotten lately. I remember these selling for $300-$400 recently. When doing my pricing research, I checked TCGplayer and the cheapest non-damaged copies started at $675. I definitely wasn’t paying that much. When I saw the last sold heavily played copy on TCGplayer went for $475 back in September, I knew I was in for a painful purchase.

Even the damaged copies on eBay have recently sold, and now the cheapest copy listed there is one that the artist signed and drew on, with a price of $599.99. It wouldn’t surprise me to see that copy sell next.

As it turns out, it’s not just Counterspell that is rising in price. Many cards from Beta are climbing to new highs lately, bucking the trend set by other areas of the Old School market. I’ve been following Card Kingdom’s Beta buylist lately, and I’ve observed a number of cards ticking higher and higher.

Copy Artifact’s buy price just hit a new high recently at $1500. Iconic cards Birds of Paradise and Shivan Dragon maintain high buy prices of $1900 and $1800, respectively. Some mid-tier cards are also climbing, such as Mind Twist ($1140), Armageddon ($960), Braingeyser ($960), and Winter Orb ($960). Beta Chain Stasis’s buy price has increased even in the past 48 hours, because I remembered it was $840 last time I checked, and it’s now $900.

By the way, if you were curious to know the lowest buy price for any Beta rare on Card Kingdom’s site: the answer is Lifelace, $60. Though, if I had a copy I definitely wouldn’t be selling it to Card Kingdom. TCG low is $90 for heavily played copies and the last sold copies were moderately played and at about $100. In fact, as I compare Beta inventory on TCGplayer and Card Kingdom’s buy prices, I believe there’s still more upside in the latter—Card Kingdom seems to have fallen behind on the Beta market recently, and they are just now gradually adjusting.

Expect new highs and more movement in the Beta market in the coming months. In fact, I consider Beta cards the best place to put new money to work at this point in time. With Alpha cards already expensive and sparse, Beta seems like a logical next rung of the ladder, and prices are starting to reflect this. Rares, with just about 3,200 printed, are the most attractive.

Wrapping It Up

Outside of Alpha and Beta, prices on older Magic cards appeared to have hit a steady state of sorts. In the first three months of the year, we saw rampant buying and prices soared. Following the buyout period, inventory gradually returned and prices saw a pullback. Library of Alexandria is a good example of a card that followed this trend, though there are countless others.

Since about August, the best buy price on Library of Alexandria and the like have stabilized, giving me confidence that we’ve found a new equilibrium in the market. Equilibrium and consistency tells me cards are once again “fairly priced” and not overbought or oversold.

After Black Friday shopping, I’m doubly curious now to find out if the market has seen movement.

In the meantime, my focus remains on two areas.
1) Alpha (when priced very well, such as Star City Games’ HP inventory) and Beta cards
2) The occasional Old School cards I want for my collection, now that prices have stabilized

These will be my guiding principles as I look to my investment strategy with just a month left in 2021. It’s impossible to predict what 2022 will bring. Will we have more large-scale Magic events? Or will new COVID variants necessitate new safety precautions and ensuing lockdowns? I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping for the former, as we all strive to reemerge into a normal (or at least pseudo-normal) world.

No matter what happens, I’m confident the Alpha and Beta story will remain intact, and it’s a key reason why I am focusing on these markets in particular. Clearly I’m not the only one feeling this way, as prices on Magic’s earliest two sets climb higher. For Alpha and Beta, the future is bright COVID or no COVID, and investments such as these are tough to find in a world of major uncertainty!

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Sigmund Ausfresser

Sigmund first started playing Magic when Visions was the newest set, back in 1997. Things were simpler back then. After playing casual Magic for about ten years, he tried his hand at competitive play. It took about two years before Sigmund starting taking down drafts. Since then, he moved his focus towards Legacy and MTG finance. Now that he's married and works full-time, Sigmund enjoys the game by reading up on trends and using this knowledge in buying/selling cards.

View More By Sigmund Ausfresser

Posted in Alpha, Beta, Buying, Buylist, Finance, Old School MagicTagged , , , , , , , ,

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One thought on “Alpha and Beta: Two Bright Spots

  1. I grabbed a few this past week during the Black Friday weekend. I had my eyes on Smoke and Orcish Artillery for a while. I’m all good with what I have collecting wise, but I’m okay grabbing one or two once in a while before they’re out of reach. I’ve been very lucky grabbing most of what I’ve wanted at their low. It helps that the market is stable enough that you get a good feel on when to buy.

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