When the opportunity arose for me to be a vendor at a brand new card show right down the road, I was thrilled! I've sold at cons and shows before but have not in several years. Before committing, though, I checked out the event. It was packed! People absolutely everywhere, transactions aplenty, and so much enthusiasm. One thing I didn't find, though, was Magic.
In a large convention center with 20 vendors, I looked and then asked, "Hey where's all the Magic cards?" The universal response was "There's no demand here." I also checked for Yu-Gi-Oh!, and just one vendor had a handful of cards.
What was available? Pokemon and sports cards, but really, Pokemon. And more Pokemon. Unless you've been hiding the last few years, you know that Pokemon is the absolute king of the TCG market. Magic, however, has always maintained dominance of the number two slot.
In any case, I had a decision to make, should I try to sell Magic and hope for the best, or just not bother?
I Had Some Help
It turns out, I knew one of the vendors. We had played together at different events at a nearby LGS. I told them my thoughts and they gave me a Field of Dreams response. You know, if you build a Magic following, they will come to the event. Thing is, no one was coming for Magic, and it was taking up valuable space that could be dedicated to more Pokemon.
Maybe a little creative thinking was in order. I talked to several vendors about splitting a table, and thus, the expense. Frankly, the tables were expensive at this location. Many of the sports card vendors had one case of very high-end cards but nothing else. That empty table space could be mine, and the expense neatly split.
No one was interested. Armed with even more contact information, I reached out to pretty much everyone local. This led me to talking with Patrick and Chris Mangold, identical twin brothers who were planning on running a brand new card show in the Orlando area.
An Interesting Proposition
I could get in on the ground floor, and I would be the only Magic-focused vendor on site. Orlando has a large population with much better potential than where I live two hours away. Of course, it would be the very first show, so attendance was a question mark. But it was priced competitively and management took feedback to improve advertising. It looked extremely promising.
Basically my favorite part is right here. Yes, this is where the majority of the work happens, but that work involves going through piles and piles of cards, which I greatly enjoy. Of course, there's no telling what a particular market wants before selling there, so I had to take a shotgun approach and bring some of this and a little of that.
The total contents included about 2,000 bulk rares and mythics, 1,000 bulk foils, 4,000 playable commons/uncommons, and 500 or so full art, borderless, alternate art cards on one side. On top of that, 2,000 very playable cards, and 600 staples, with a small selection of very high-end vintage, Commander, and Modern cards on the other side. In terms of "sealed" product, I only brought some Commander decks, a few Secret Lairs, and a couple of homemade 40-card and 1,000-card bulk boxes.
Essentially, what I brought was mostly from the last four collections I purchased. I've said it before and I will say it again: buying collections has always yielded the best bang for buck for collecting, reselling, and playing Magic. And there's another advantage to collection buying that we'll cover a little lower.
The Show Must Go On
Our setup was quick because I deliberately did not bring everything I could. I had the table dimensions beforehand and a good idea that I would be using most of the space provided. While I could have brought a little more, I knew it would complicate setup and take up mental capacity that I did not have to spare.
With 30 vendors setting up, I was glad to be seated and ready early. Everyone was incredibly nice and helpful; many people pitched in to help others get their booth or table ready. The atmosphere was very positive and there was a tremendous selection of sports cards and Pokemon cards and accessories to behold. But only one Magic guy. Alright, technically, the event planners also had some Magic, but mostly sealed stuff and quite a bit less than what I brought. Soon enough, the show began, and so kicked in my sense of dread: it soon became obvious I was trying to sell Magic cards at a Pokemon show.
An Hour of Torment
My table was strategically chosen. I wasn't the absolute first table at the main entrance, but it was the most logical place people would funnel through immediately after. The second the event started, a mass of bodies surged into the event hall. This video demonstrates how packed the event really was (and you can catch me around the 12-minute mark).
Anticipating my first customer, I watched and waited as person after person walked up, scanned my entire table, saw I had nothing Pokemon-related, and continued on their way. This continued for the first hour of the event. Yes, I had zero customers for an hour.
The Hydra known as FUD began to manifest. I drove two hours for this? My brain sparked and steamed while it calculated exactly how much time and money I wasted. Hundreds of people walked past my table but no one picked up a single card let alone bought something. Finally, one older man approached and asked if I had a certain card. I told him there was no such card, but I named other potential cards that shared a similar name. Turns out he was looking for a Pokemon set.
However, after that first hour, we had our first customer, and then another, and another, and another, non-stop, until the entire event was over. Not only was the event absolutely packed, but eventually, so was my table!
The Magic MVPs
The single most expensive card I sold was a foil, borderless Myrel, Shield of Argive, followed by a Craterhoof Behemoth. I also sold a regular Myrel, so clearly that card is in demand. In terms of the quantity scale, Sol Ring was the most popular card, by far, followed by Hedron Crab. As an additional data point, I did sell a handful of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards to two people who had also bought Magic cards and happened to ask for them.
I talked to each customer extensively about Magic. The trend in terms of format was clear, as almost every player was a Commander player. No one identified as a Standard player, and just a couple of people mentioned Modern, Pioneer, or Legacy. Let me tell you this Wizards, but more so Hasbro: no one likes you, no one. Also, few people enjoy Arena. Yes, they play it for free, but no more spending money.
That said, the players themselves varied wildly in age, experience, and needs. One gentleman had been playing Commander for two days and was building his own deck. Another wanted singles to complete their set of AFR; they did not actually play. A customer making a Quest for Ula's Temple deck needed Kraken, Leviathan, Octopus, and Serpent cards. Another player looking through singles helped pull those creatures for them.
The fact is, Magic players are a very diverse bunch, and the cards mean many different things to many different people. It's practically impossible to predict why what might appeal to to who, so a broad selection of cards was the best strategy here. Luckily enough, four completely different collections happened to provide that sort of broad selection.
All Good Things Come to an End... With a Twist
Nearly five hours of non-stop sales later, the calm appeared quite suddenly. It was at this time that I was able to give my full attention to the vendor sitting next to me. They represented Vanity Slabs. He had a pretty interesting product, and we chatted about card protection solutions. He was already in the mystery booster market for Pokemon and was interested in trying the same for Magic.
I gave him some quick numbers about rares, foils, and the distribution in each standard $3.99 pack. Sitting next to me was the perfect point of view to see people digging through boxes and buying cards for hours. I had bulk cards, and he wanted to buy bulk cards. We reached an agreement: I got a bunch of top loaders and slabs, and brought far fewer cards home. All told, that boost at the very end put my sales into a much happier place.
I'm sure I was not the most successful vendor at that event, but I feel vindicated. Magic sold well enough for it to be worth doing even in an ocean of Pokemon. What does that mean for my local prospects? It's still too expensive in my opinion, and I'm not sure I want to pay to find out how poorly it will go. However, just a short trip away, there's an extremely attractive alternative. If anyone is thinking Magic is on the way out, a bleak recession is killing sales, and they need to liquidate their position, well, please let me know, because I am buying. Don't succumb to FUD; instead, find other opportunities.
What Did NOT Sell
The most poorly selling "segment" of what I brought was "old stuff." It did not matter if it was graded Revised duals, original Legends cards, or ultra premium foil cards from older sets. Not only did none of those cards sell, no one made an offer on any them.
More than once, people commented on how great my prices were. Realistically, these cards are not worth it for most players, and only appeal to die-hard enthusiasts or collectors. Now, granted, these are the people I figured would attend a card show. However, the simple fact might be that they did not know about the event. Well, I still have the cards for next time!
Also, there were some much more expensive Commander cards like Jeweled Lotus Dockside Extortionist and Scion of the Ur-Dragon that didn't sell, so maybe people are feeling the pinch of inflation and economic woes when it comes to bigger-ticket items. Still, I feel that people bought as many cards as they could afford.
See You in Three Months
I will definitely be going back in April. For a first show, the turnout was incredible, so I can only imagine the next one. A special thanks and shout out go here to Mang's/PLM Collectibles for starting up and hosting the show. I think the Mangold brothers took their slightly different outlooks and combined them to find this unique opportunity in a swirling sea of uncertainty.
Nothing beats buying in person. Customers can examine cards up close and be happy with having a card in hand rather than be disappointed when the wrong condition or edition gets shipped to them. There's generally room for a cash discount, haggling, or bulk negotiations; Magic players are all about value! Finally, there's just the thrill of the hunt, which appealed to so many of my customers who spent up to an hour digging through inventory looking for those gems. You know what they say about Magic: gotta gather'em all!
When is the last time you went to a card show? Have you ever been a vendor at a show? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments.