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Magic 30: Vendors, and the State of Magic Finance

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This week’s Magic 30 article looks deeper into the vendor environment in Las Vegas and what it reveals about the current state of Magic finance. There were a variety of ways to approach this article. Ultimately, I decided to focus on hotlists, the buylisting environment, and a few noteworthy trends on the selling side. I didn’t always note which vendor had which inventory or buy price, but I tried to provide vendor-specific information whenever I have some from my notes.

Note, for coverage on other facets of the event outside of the financial component of Magic 30, stay tuned for subsequent articles in this series, or check out my Magic 30 overview and the topic guide at the end of that piece. Now, on to the vendors' floor!

Kicking Things Off with Hotlists

In traditional fashion, a handful of vendors posted a hotlist, advertising the cards they were paying most aggressively to acquire. This is a fantastic way of gathering market-relevant data rapidly without having to wait in line to talk to the buyers.

Mystery Hotlist One

I don’t recall which vendor posted this particular hotlist, but I also didn’t dwell on it all that long. Seeing as I focus mostly on older cards, seeing a list of new cards, including a bunch of shock lands, didn’t really impress me much. The advertised $3400 Mox Jet in the upper left corner of the picture is amusing, but also not noteworthy.

The important tidbit I want to emphasize here is that Unfinity shock lands were very popular throughout the weekend. I heard some talk that foil copies were very difficult to find. I've already picked up a sealed booster box of Unfinity to sit on. if these gorgeous shock lands maintain a higher price point (I can’t imagine a ton of this product will be opened), sealed boxes could climb in step with previous Un-sets.

Mystery Hotlist Two

Another mystery hotlist. Again, a posting of newer-ish cards, many of which I didn't even recognize. I think there were some Modern staples on this list in cards like Force of Negation and Giver of Runes (maybe these have Legacy demand too?). The most expensive card on this list was Wrenn and Six, with a $45 buy price. Like the previous vendor, this one didn’t offer much to comment on for Old School collectors.

That’s not to say these vendors weren’t buying old cards, it just didn’t appear to be a priority. It’s an accurate reflection of the overall market sentiment for Old School cards—there is definitely a bit of weakness in the secondary market. Prices are dropping, and I’m not the only one taking notice.

Strike Zone

The next hotlist was a good bit larger, plus I applaud the vendor (Strike Zone) for writing their shop’s name on the poster board! The size, breadth, and legibility of their hotlist poster was excellent compared to the previous ones. Ordering the list alphabetically made it a bit awkward to read for what I was looking for, but I did see some older cards sprinkled throughout the list. Candelabra of Tawnos for $700 and Guardian Beast for $575 both caught my eye. They also posted a ton of high-end foils on the righthand panel of the posterboard, with some eye-popping numbers.

Strike Zone has been around for decades, and they often pay competitively on various cards. In hindsight, I wish I had sat down with them to try and sell a few Old School cards. Alas, their buyers were fairly swamped most of the weekend and I never had a chance to wait in their line. Perhaps this was a missed opportunity.

Tales of Adventure

In my overview of the event last week I mentioned that Tales of Adventure (TOA) was my favorite vendor to work with at Magic 30. The colorful, easily legible, and simplistic nature of their hotlist is a good indication of their professional and well-thought approach. I walked by that poster, saw the attractive $500 buy price for HP Volcanic Island, and immediately knew I had to sit back down to sell more.

Just two weeks prior to the event, I purchased a heavily played Volcanic Island from Dave & Adams Card World (for around $475), with the intent of using the card in Vintage. I ultimately decided not to play the card, and was delighted to see I could flip it to TOA for a modest profit.

While TOA didn’t have a huge hotlist with 100 cards like some other vendors, I liked this format better than the hand-written lists. By mentioning a couple of Dual Lands and Unfinity lands it meant they were purchasing cards both old and new. Note the emphasis on some Modern cards there, but also Wheel of Fortune at the same time. This booth was buying almost everything, with attractive buy prices to boot.

Browsing Store Inventory

Despite shops advertising hot buy prices on Modern legal cards from recent sets, there was no shortage of Vintage / Old School cards for sale at most vendor booths.

Booth after booth contained dozens of Dual Lands, Reserved List cards from early sets like Arabian Nights and Legends, and a smattering of Alpha and Beta cards. There also had to be north of 300 pieces of Power for sale across the various vendors, perhaps even more as some had them stacked.

Every year that goes by, I assume Power 9 cards are becoming rarer and harder to find. Apparently, that’s not the case. Prices are higher now than they were at the last Las Vegas event, sure, but there’s no shortage of copies for sale. Just look at them all!

Even Black Lotus was plentiful.

Granted, some prices were more attractive than others. In general, it’s no wonder vendors aren’t paying as aggressively on Power 9 right now. They clearly have a ton in stock already. The same goes for random Beta stuff like in the picture above. Stasis, Smoke, etc. are all cheaper now than they were a few months ago. Vendors bought up this stuff and now they’ll have to sell through it all.

Unfortunately, their sell prices on these older cards didn’t reflect the softening demand. I wasn’t really in the market for too much at this event, but I checked prices on Power, Shahrazad, and Juzám Djinn. Tales of Adventure had a $400 Shahrazad that I picked up with trade-in credit, but otherwise I didn’t see many attractively priced Old School cards at the event. Perhaps negotiation was possible, but I didn’t have the time nor the interest to haggle. I suspect vendors will have to reprice a lot of this stuff in the coming months before prices can really hit a bottom.

Where's the Sealed Product?

What was harder to find last weekend was a large selection of old sealed product. Granted, it’s probably a pain in the neck to travel on a plane with booster boxes, but that didn’t stop a few vendors from bringing some along. If you wanted a Black Lotus, you had dozens to choose from last weekend. If you wanted a booster box of Revised or a starter deck from Unlimited, your options were far more limited. I even asked vendors if they had any inventory of older sealed product. Often, the answer was “not much.”

The exception was Chimera Hobby Shop, Inc, a shop based out of Wisconsin. They had the only sealed Arabian Nights booster box in the room (as far as I could see) along with a selection of other valuable sealed product. When I asked about them, I was left with the impression that the owner didn’t have many Arabian Nights boxes in inventory (perhaps just the one), but that they had a number of The Dark boxes and old starter decks.

Conversations and Interactions With Vendors

I would be remiss if I didn't mention some details from a few interesting conversations and interactions I had with vendors at Magic 30.

Star City Games

I spent a few minutes chatting with Ben Bleiweiss, head buyer at Star City Games (SCG). They had a sign at their buy table stating they were only issuing trade credit for the weekend. When asked, Ben elaborated that SCG was using the event primarily for selling and not for buying.

When pressed further, he simply said that an event of that magnitude made for a great chance to sell inventory. Still, it was unexpected that while so many vendors were paying cash for cards all weekend SCG was focused primarily on the selling side of the equation.

By the way, the 1,001 Black Lotuses Ben advertised on Twitter before flying to Las Vegas were from the game Duel Masters.

Apparently, this is another Wizards of the Coast game popular in Japan. After selling my actual Black Lotus, I was inspired to buy one of these $20 copies as a sort-of proxy, just to have one. SCG sold through most of the copies they brought to the event, so clearly I’m not the only one.

Card Kingdom

Card Kingdom was another major vendor that had a booth onsite. This is fairly rare because Card Kingdom doesn’t do Magic conventions all that often. It showed. On Friday I walked up to their smaller-than-average booth and asked if they were buying. “Come back tomorrow,” was the response. I returned Saturday and asked again. “Come back in a few hours,” was the updated answer.

Finally, late in the day Saturday, I talked to someone authorized to purchase cards at Card Kingdom’s booth. They didn’t have a formal setup, and the buyer indicated they were mostly looking for high-end cards. A buddy of mine sold them a Beta Forcefield for a fair price. When I showed them my FBB Wheel of Fortune and Unlimited Badlands, however, the buyer tried to push me hard to accept trade-in credit.

I can’t imagine Card Kingdom brought in very many cards that weekend.

Game On Chattanooga

A smaller vendor, Game On Chattanooga, had an impressive selection of high-end cards, including a BGS-graded Phoenix Heart card priced at $50,000.

They had no line at their buying table, so I sat down and showed them two low-end graded Beta rares I had in possession. After they spent a few minutes looking each one up online, they made me a disappointing offer. When I responded that I would think about it, the buyer proceeded to lecture me on how it was shameful for me to waste their time trying to shop cards around at the various booths.

While I understand where they were coming from, and tried my very best to not waste buyers’ time that weekend, I was miffed by their tone. After all, there was no one behind me waiting in line to sell to them vendor at that moment. I accepted the offer as a conciliatory gesture and moved on.

As I sold through my cards, I started running thin on remaining items to peddle. Toward the end of Saturday, I sat down at a smaller vendor to show them the few cards I had left. They straight-up told me they weren’t buying Alpha, Beta, or Unlimited cards at the event. Such cards had been sitting stagnant in their inventory for a while now, so they had no interest in acquiring more. Once again, a telling story. Perhaps I should have negotiated and tried to buy some cards from their booth rather than try to sell them cards? Hindsight is perhaps 20/20, and by this point of the weekend, I was already fairly exhausted.

Magic 30 Singles

I can't conclude this article without briefly talking the hot ticket items of the weekend. I've already touched on the Unfinity lands, which were definitely hot, and not just the shocks. Even the Unfinity basic lands were in demand. The Unfinity lands were nothing though, compared to the sealed Magic 30 booster packs given to certain VIP attendees at the event.

That’s right! As a surprise gift to VIP attendees, each received four booster packs of Magic 30. I asked around from vendor to vendor to see if they had any singles from the set available for sale. I found almost none. Apparently, not many boosters were being opened throughout the weekend. Instead, attendees were selling their sealed boosters directly to the vendors.

Look again at the photo from Chimera Hobby Shop—the one with the sealed Arabian Nights booster box. Notice what’s in the background, towards the top of the picture…

They had 20 or so sealed packs of Magic 30 in stock and were asking $300 each. Vendors were aggressively buying these packs throughout the weekend. The best offer on the floor gradually declined throughout the weekend as more and more players sold their supplies. Looking at eBay's completed listings, I see these boosters selling for $350-$400. I guess I should have picked up a couple?

I expect these prices will drop back down again once the official release hits the market at the end of the month. We’ll see where things end up then. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a particular Magic 30 card for a collection, you’ll likely have to wait a few more weeks.

Wrapping It Up

As you can see, the buying and selling activity at Magic 30 was intense! Vendors had lines of customers looking to sell their cards nonstop all weekend. As I mentioned last week, as soon as the doors opened Saturday there was a line ten people deep waiting to sell to Tales of Adventure. It was absolute madness.

Overall, the sentiment is what I expected. Vendors recognized the softness of the Old School market, and their buy prices reflected this. What irked me was that sell prices haven't really moved in step yet. This Indicates to me that the bottom isn’t in yet. When vendors start discounting cards (perhaps a good Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale), then we’ll see the supply finally start to dwindle so that prices can stabilize.

The hottest movers of the weekend were Magic 30 booster packs and Unfinity lands. I’m sure Modern staples did well too (there were some very large Modern events throughout the weekend). I was shocked at how many pieces of Power were behind dealer booths. At the same time, I was equally shocked at how hard it was to find old sealed product. This is becoming a greater area of interest for me going forward, and I’ll be sure to write more about it in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned for next week when I dive into the play experience of the event, including a basic-level tournament report for the two side events I played throughout the weekend.

One thought on “Magic 30: Vendors, and the State of Magic Finance

  1. It was only two years ago when a near mint copy of Shahrazad would sell for $300. It’s very likely that the vendors bought those power cards around that time so they’re still pretty high up in terms of value. They don’t seem in any rush to sell. The most interesting thing I noticed is that they started classifying the cards by mint. Cards used to be sold randomly at events with no mint so I would have to study the card myself to see if it was worth the price.

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