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I went to Magic 30 in Las Vegas last year with the goal of significantly reducing my investment in Magic. While I was successful in this mission, I had a difficult time moving the few remaining Alpha rares I had left. It perplexed me. Each Alpha rare is a precious piece of history. Wizards printed only 1,100 of each. It's impossible to say how many have been damaged, destroyed, or otherwise lost over the years. Their scarcity and value are almost unrivaled.
Despite this, all the vendors I approached declined to make an offer on these collectibles. It became clear to me that just because a card is scarce, doesn't make vendors interested in purchasing them. There still must be demand from their customers. I was a bit bewildered by this at first because I was not seeing a lack of demand from my vantage point. I'd seen many Alpha rares sell in the Old School Discord. There’s even a format dedicated to Alpha cards, for crying out loud!
Alas, after failed attempts to move these cards in person, I shifted my focus to online buylists. Ultimately, I traded in my Alpha rares to ABUGames for store credit, and moved that credit into high-end Old School singles that would be easier and faster to sell.
That was almost half a year ago now. Since then, I’ve continued monitoring the Alpha rare market despite owning zero copies myself. I wanted to see if prices were truly softening or if finding a particular Alpha rare remained as difficult as always.
So far, it seems like (with some exceptions) the answer is the former. Bear in mind I didn’t own any true chase Alpha cards—my collection consisted of cards like Farmstead, Northern Paladin, and Fungusaur. These were less-desirable cards for play purposes, and most of their demand would come from the collector market. I don’t think prices on Alpha rares like these have been very strong lately.
What’s more, I’ve seen the same inventory sitting in vendor inventory for a while now. This subset of cards isn’t exactly flying off store shelves. I admit I haven’t been tracking the high-end stuff as closely—it’s fully possible that Alpha dual lands, power, and playables like Birds of Paradise are on the rise. I don’t think that’s the case, though, judging by the sparsely populated data we have on such cards.
For example, consider Alpha Mox Jet, the first power nine card that came to mind. Retail pricing and best buylist pricing for this card is well off its high, set back in 2021.
The charts for Alpha Chaos Orb and Timetwister look similar in shape, though I will confess Timetwister’s pullback has been much shallower in nature. Alpha Black Lotus, arguably the most collectible non-misprint non-custom card in Magic, hasn’t pulled back one bit, and Card Kingdom still boasts a nearly-six figure buy price.
Top end aside, however, I’d posit that Alpha rares have cooled off in general, and the less playable the card is, the more its price has dipped.
Pricing Mismatch and the Bid-Ask Spread
Readers may start to poke holes in my claim above, citing the still-strong pricing on obscure Alpha rares listed across multiple online platforms. For example, consider Alpha Gaea's Liege, one of my favorites.
Online Store Pricings...
Card Kingdom has just two copies of Gaea's Liege in stock: a near mint one for $1999.99 and an excellent one for $1599.99. If they had a good copy in stock, it would be listed at $800. That seems like a strong price for this card, doesn’t it? The best buy price is currently over $900, which seems robust at first glance. Before jumping to that conclusion, however, keep in mind that’s a near mint buy price; a heavily played offer will be less than half that number.
Next, you may challenge me by highlighting TCGplayer pricing—currently, there’s only one lonely copy of Alpha Gaea's Liege in stock. It’s listed as heavily played for $799.99 plus shipping. That’s a steep price for an HP copy, and it corroborates Card Kingdom’s $800 “good” condition price tag. Doesn't all this data support the notion that obscure Alpha rares are stronger than ever?
...Versus eBay Pricing
I would be inclined to agree, but for one final data point. Check out this eBay listing that ABUGames has posted currently, an auction for a heavily played Alpha Gaea's Liege:
This is a major disconnect! This copy is currently listed at $337.54, less than half of Card Kingdom’s “good” price and TCGplayer pricing, and there are still zero bids!
I could be challenged by someone claiming that this card’s listing is still active and that it could receive multiple bids before the auction’s end. Crazier things have happened. I'd rebuff that by highlighting this card’s auction history on eBay. You see, this isn’t the first time this card has been listed by ABUGames. Nor is it the second. Nor is it the third.
Nope, this is the fifth time this card has been listed; the previous four listings for this card concluded without a single bid. In fact, a very heavily played Alpha Gaea's Liege did sell recently, and the auction ended at $305.21.
Thus, I’d put forth the argument that, while Card Kingdom and TCGplayer sellers can try to sell their copies at whatever pricing they’d like, this card is worth far less than these sites indicate. The amount someone is willing to sell at (aka the “ask”) is significantly higher than the price at which someone is willing to buy (aka the “bid”). In this environment, the spread between the bid and ask has ballooned, leading to stagnant inventories—the very thing that Magic 30 vendors in Las Vegas wanted to avoid.
The Exception or the Rule?
One card is not sufficient to establish a trend. Perhaps this one instance is a fluke? I can tell you one thing for certain: that Gaea's Liege auction isn’t going to end without a bid again because I absolutely plan on bidding on it myself before the auction ends.
At least, I would… if there weren’t other equally tempting auctions out there. You see, Gaea's Liege is not the exception in this bid/ask pricing mismatch. In fact, ABUGames currently has a dozen Alpha rares at auction currently, with prices of varying attractiveness. Here are the few that tempt me most, along with TCGplayer low and Card Kingdom “good” pricing:
Played Chaoslace: TCG low $450, Card Kingdom good $260 (completely sold out)
Heavily Played Clockwork Beast: TCG low $700, Card Kingdom good $600
Played Zombie Master: TCG low $650, Card Kingdom good $520
Heavily Played Demonic Hordes (gotta love the “BBB” in the text box!): TCG low $960, Card Kingdom good $1480!!
Heavily Played Meekstone: TCG low $880 (a damaged copy sold at this price), Card Kingdom good $760.
Including the Gaea's Liege, that’s six raw Alpha rares that ABUGames currently has listed on eBay at arguably attractive prices. In most cases, the prices are well below alternate listings across the internet. While I compared the cards above to Card Kingdom’s “good” pricing, keep in mind that Card Kingdom doesn’t actually have any good copies in stock; in most cases, they are either sold out or have only the pricier NM or EX copies in stock.
If ABUGames had more Alpha rares to sell, I suspect many would fall in a similar camp to the listings above. Week after week ABUGames has listed these for sale at auction, and each time they’ve ended without bids. Now, after watching these cards for as much as a month, I’m starting to feel tempted—these price points are awfully attractive for such iconic, collectible cards.
A Nod to Other Old Sets
Now that I’m bringing these listings into the spotlight, I wonder if they’ll all sell this time around. As I mentioned before, I plan on bidding on one of these cards myself—I don’t have the bankroll for all of them, and I’m not sure what my priority is just yet. It feels like a game of chicken: do I bid on something now to lock in a purchase, or do I wait and see if the auctions end another time without any bidders, thereby giving me the chance at a lower price? The joys of the Dutch auction style at work.
Beta Price Trends
I want to take one moment to step aside and acknowledge that I’ve also been monitoring Beta rare prices; indeed, I have even purchased a couple of cheaper Beta rares from ABUGames over the past couple months. Currently, ABUGames has 62 Beta rare auctions listed on eBay, but I don’t think the prices are nearly as attractive as the Alpha cards I mentioned above. It seems we’ll have to wait a few more weeks for auctions to end without bids before prices become interesting—I’ll continue monitoring and will report back what I find!
Other Old School Sets
For those interested, ABUGames also uses this Dutch-style eBay auction listing strategy for other Old School cards from Arabian Nights, Legends, Antiquities, and The Dark. I would guess they do the same for Unlimited cards too, though I’ve never searched myself. The only other ABUGames eBay auctions I watch closely are for Revised Dual Lands, which seem to frequently receive bids before they can end and drop in price.
Wrapping It Up
For now, my focus remains on Alpha cards. There simply aren’t many for sale out there and after these auctions end, it’s hard to predict when ABUGames will have new copies available to sell. It could be that they won’t have another Alpha Demonic Hordes to auction for months. By then it could be the case that $1000+ copies are the only ones available on the open market. Once again, widening the bid/ask spread.
If you have any interest in the Alpha cards above, don’t dilly-dally. Place your bid! Be thankful that you are purchasing a piece of Magic history at an attractive price, up to 60% off “retail” prices offered by other websites. I will be following my own advice, and I’m already excited to own one out of 1,100 copies of a card once again. I know I had a few before that I sold, but as prices have softened over the past few months, I can’t help myself.
Sometimes a deal is just too juicy to pass up!
One thought on “An Alpha Opportunity”
It’s been that way since even before the pandemic. I had those same issues moving vintage cards at the events back then. The main reason is that many of those vendors are really not as familiar with vintage as one would think. Vintage is the market for the big vendors like Card Kingdom and Star City Games. The best way to protect the investment like in any other vintage collection is to put your money on the highest mint. Near mint cards from Alpha are extremely scarce. It wasn’t that way not that long ago.