Early Insights from Magic 30 Research

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Another week has gone by, which means we are one week closer to the Magic 30 celebration in Las Vegas at the end of the month! My anticipation is mounting exponentially as I organize my collection, make upgrades to my Vintage deck, and network with friends across the community to maximize my time in Sin City.

As I’ve begun preparation, I picked up on a couple of valuable Magic finance tips along the way. These may be specific, but they have the potential to be helpful to others who may be going through a similar thought process. If nothing else, these updates will provide full transparency to how I’m approaching the game in its current state.

Vintage Tweaks

After signing up, I mentioned my intention to play in a sanctioned Vintage event to a Magic friend and Quiet Speculation member, @Cardbreaker (Matt), on Discord. When he asked me about the deck I was playing, I quickly realized my build may be quite obsolete. For example, a cursory look at a couple of recent lists would indicate that Yawgmoth's Bargain isn’t really played in Vintage Storm decks any longer.

To help me out, he sent me a link containing a recent, successful decklist that most closely resembles the one I currently have built. Here's the list:

Vintage Storm MTGO Challenge 9th Place by achillies27

I really liked the updates this list has implemented, including the addition of Underworld Breach, a card I didn’t even know about from Theros: Beyond Death. It was easy enough to pick up a copy of the red enchantment, along with a Wishclaw Talisman and Bolas's Citadel.

The one missing piece, then, became the pesky Volcanic Island that shows up in the manabase above. Previously, I was content to play a lone Badlands as the red mana source for my deck, since the only red spell I had in the main deck was Wheel of Fortune. In adding a second, it forced me to consider also including a second reliable red mana source (Mox Ruby isn’t exactly searchable with a fetch land).

Unfortunately, Volcanic Island has dethroned Underground Sea as the most expensive Dual Land. This meant my $20 investment for deck improvements would have to become more like $500. Of course, investing in Dual Lands isn’t a terrible thing. I’ll be able to recoup most if not all of my costs should I decide to turn around and sell the card again. However, I still wanted a good deal on it.

TCG low for heavily played copies started at about $470 plus tax. That’s not terrible, but without pictures, it was a riskier endeavor. Heavily Played on TCGplayer can mean a very wide range of conditions. I really didn’t want something creased and worn out like it was rubbed on concrete at a middle school playground for years.

Next, I ran a search on eBay. I didn’t find any attractive deals there, but I did note that Dave & Adams Card World had a few in stock. Most times I see Dave & Adams Card World listings on eBay, I can visit their site directly and purchase the same item at a lower cost. This was precisely the case this time—their HP copies were posted at $474.95. This is in line with TCGplayer, but at least for me (living in Ohio), there would be no sales tax from this store.

One last question remained: condition. I emailed the store, and they got back to me with pictures after 24 hours. I asked for the best-looking copy, and they set it aside for me! Talk about great customer service!

Shipping was free and quick, and the card is in my hands now ready to be shuffled up in Las Vegas. From my eye, the condition is borderline moderately played and was a very fair price relative to the open market. If you haven’t shopped at Dave & Adams Card World, I highly recommend it. They don’t have the widest inventory of Magic, but the things they do have are often priced well. If you’re making a large enough purchase, there can also be an opportunity to call them up to negotiate on price.

Researching Alpha Cards to Sell

Besides the events I registered to play, another major goal of mine at Magic 30 is to sell a decent portion of my collection. I haven’t quite decided yet what “decent portion” means, numerically, but suffice it to say I want to be a net seller at this event.

To facilitate negotiations, I’ve begun researching the values of my cards online to see what they fetch on the open market and what vendors are offering online. It may not come as a surprise to some, but I was personally shocked at how soft prices have gotten recently!

As a simple example, consider the big kahuna of Magic, Black Lotus. I could have sworn heavily played Unlimited copies of this card reliably sold for $10k-$12k. First, no vendors are paying that much for HP copies of this card. Second, recently sold copies on eBay are more in the $9k-$10k range. It doesn’t matter that Card Kingdom is sold out; they just don’t pay particularly well on copies that would be graded as “Good.”

I see Star City Games has an HP copy in stock, listed at $11,999.99. With the 10% discount on singles for SCG Premium members, this equates to $10,800, which I thought was a fantastic price. Apparently, copies are selling for a good 10% below that!

Ok, maybe it’s not wise to sell Black Lotus in this weakening market. Let’s put a pin in that one. Next, I examined what Alpha cards could fetch on the market. I’m not looking at the high-dollar stuff like dual lands, Power, or Chaos Orb. I’m focusing on low-end Alpha cards: cards like Jump, Power Leak, and Crystal Rod.

Apparently, prices on low-end Alpha cards have also dropped! To feel out the market, I posted for sale on the Old School Discord a played Alpha Crystal Rod, Soul Net, and Earthbind. My prices were calculated as around 10% below TCG low. After 24 hours without a single inquiry, I dropped prices another $5 for each. Still nothing.

Card Kingdom’s downgrade percentage on MP/HP Alpha cards, 60%, and 40% respectively, make selling to them unattractive. Next, I turned to ABUGames’ buylist. I was pleasantly surprised, and this is the valuable tidbit I felt was worth sharing this week!

Apparently, ABUGames is best in class when it comes to Alpha buylist. I can’t say this is true for all the high-end stuff, but when it comes to commons and uncommons, ABUGames’ numbers were unbeatable. In many cases, they were paying (in cash) something within 10-20% of TCGlow. It was reminiscent of 2018 when they suddenly jacked up their buy prices on all cards from Alpha and Beta.

After some mental debate, I pulled the trigger and submitted a buylist. For anyone planning on following suit, I’d encourage them to consider trading in for store credit—I suspect their credit can be converted to cash at roughly a 65% rate. Therefore, every $100 in ABUGames store credit is worth about $65. I decided to forego that additional step, and just take the cash directly from ABUGames. It’ll net me a slightly lower amount, but the difference was small enough not to be worth the extra effort. You may feel otherwise.

Turning to Beta

Another reason I decided to sell cards to ABUGames’ buylist is that I suspect selling low-demand Alpha commons at Magic 30 would be difficult and time-consuming. These card values are so condition-dependent, and it’s not worth the effort of haggling over a couple of dollars on an $18 card. I suspect vendors are far more interested in purchasing cards with greater liquidity anyways—Dual Lands, Commander staples, etc. are much easier to sell than Alpha Stream of Life.

As I shift focus to other Old School cards, such as those from Beta and the Four Horsemen sets, I’m more inclined to hold out to see what I can get in Las Vegas. That said, initial searches online have been mildly disappointing at best.

It seems it’s not just Alpha cards that have really softened lately. Beta cards, including some low- and mid-tier Beta rares, have also dropped significantly in price since the first of the year. As an example, consider Beta Aspect of Wolf.

Is this card super playable? I’d wager no, though I know as soon as I write that an Old School player is going to send me a championship decklist from a local event where Aspect of Wolf makes an appearance. I’m sticking with my answer regardless. This card leaves much to be desired, even when card pools are restricted to the first two years of Magic.

That said, a year or two ago I decided I wanted a copy for my collection because I appreciated the artwork (green Beta rares are sweet!). I was lucky to find a heavily played copy in the $125 range.

Shifting my focus to selling, I began researching what this card would fetch me today. Sadly, it’s worth far less than $125—I’d be lucky to get $75 for my copy! What happened?!

It turns out, Beta rare cards like these have lost some of their lusters. Prices have really pulled back on them. There are of course exceptions like Royal Assassin, and I suspect the more playable rares will fare better than the rest. The bottom line, though, is that I need to adjust my expectations in Vegas if I’m planning on selling some of these cards. They aren’t worth what they used to be, and this research is eye-opening.

Oh, and ABUGames isn’t a viable out here as it was for the Alpha chaff. They don’t pay well on played Beta rares at all. Card Kingdom may be a better point of comparison when I’m on-site at the end of the month.

Wrapping It Up

As I shift focus away from Alpha and Beta and towards Four Horsemen cards, I am beginning to question my decision to sell so many cards in Las Vegas. My research thus far has given me some hesitation. Perhaps the market is a tad bit too soft? Perhaps come next spring, or when the Federal Reserve’s battle with inflation is won, it’ll yield better market conditions for selling.

Initial research on Arabian Nights and Legends cards suggests prices don’t appear to be as beaten and battered as Alpha and Beta. That’s where I’m shifting focus next as I continue preparations for Magic 30. If I have to hold onto some Alpha and Beta stuff and instead focus on selling cards from Arabian Nights that could still lead to a lucrative trip. It’ll really depend on how strong the numbers are, and whether vendors are willing to pay up for these cards. After all, I have to imagine vendors can sell Serendib Efreets more readily than Beta Kormus Bells.

 Stay tuned over the coming weeks, and I’ll continue to share what I learn!

One thought on “Early Insights from Magic 30 Research

  1. Most of the vendors are still recovering from the pandemic shutdown so it makes sense to see buylist offers around 40%. It should get better. The buylist are lower but you’re more likely to get a better offer directly from the sale. I recently bought a Revised pack at a bargain price from the store. The offer was too good. The store still made a profit from the lower buylist. The card prices are lower, but not because of lack of interest. The market is still flowing and demand is still very high.

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