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Trade Routes – Making Money Where You Can

So last week, a reader called me out and stated that my article was geared specifically for US consumers only. I do admit, that last week’s article was indeed just that, but it did get me to thinking a little bit about those who live abroad, and those domestically, who may live in areas or situations where attending large events are simply not possible.

To preface, this article will separate between making physical money and increasing value of a personal collection.

Making Money with Magic

Making money with magic is fairly easy if you have time. With the rise in popularity of online Magic singles sites and the popularity of eBay, buying and selling magic cards is incredibly easy. To make the most of your current collection, it’s important to take note of the different cards within your collection and break them down by format.

By far, the most profitable area of magic for me is EDH/Commander. I love trading and selling to EDH/Commander players because they don’t ever need a playset and will always take some of my more obscure rares/mythics. Chas Andres, a fellow financial writer has been publishing a pretty awesome series of articles in his weekly column, detailing the cards that are profitable within this format. He does a good job of listing cards that are not multi-format staples and how they are often underrated in value.

The popularity of EDH/Commander is incredible right now. Card stores and dealers alike will all attest in the fact that a majority of their business has shifted from the tournament scene to the EDH one. As individual traders, it’s about time we capitalized on this.

To do this, first start by cataloging and organizing your collection into cards based on format. If an EDH/Commander playable is also a playable in another format, place the card with others based on format. Meaning, if you have an Arid Mesa and you are debating between EDH/Commander and Standard, place it in Standard. Once you’ve sorted through your collection, go through everything that is not EDH and remove all your extras. I tend to do this by rares, but powerful uncommons can make the cut as well.

Once you’ve separated everything, build your trade binder. You can place the higher end cards (fetchlands, mythics, etc) into a different binder. Next, figure out where and on what days your local community has their EDH games/leagues. Denver currently has 3 store-sanctioned leagues running and is quickly growing. Most shops have a calendar of events and EDH/Commander will almost always be found here. Go to these events to trade. The beauty of EDH/Commander is that often the casual magic crowd will be in full attendance and almost every one of them will have a trade binder. Use your extras to obtain tournament staples. First, go after Eternal format cards before moving into Standard. If you are planning to sell these cards on eBay, the disparity in value between card shops and eBay are far less on Eternal Staples than they are on Standard ones.

Trade, Trade, Trade. As you pick up staple cards, do not place them back into your binder. At least not right away. Keep them separate until you find that your binder is lacking. If you find that you have very little extras, do not be afraid to fill your binder with bulk. You’d be amazed at how many people will consistently trade for bulk rares. Casual players love obscure cards as most of them are Johnnies at heart.

As you will find, your binder will begin to empty quickly. Once you’ve worked through your EDH/Commander community, take a look at your acquisitions. Immediately set aside your high end cards and refill the binder with the Standard/Eternal staples. Use these cards within your local Standard/competitive community and start trading for hot cards. Currently, Sword of Feast and Famine, Black Sun’s Zenith, Green Sun’s Zenith, and Stoneforge Mystic are pretty solid. Trade for as many copies as you can. On top of this, trade for any real estate, aside from M10/M11 duals as possible. These cards are always solid investments and are also good when trying to trade for the above mentioned cards. Don’t be afraid to chase down foreign versions of hot cards, but do not overvalue them.

In a similar fashion, do not re-add the cards you traded for into your binder. Instead, keep an extra deck box with you to add any new acquisitions to. Now, the time frame in which you have to do this is pretty small. Trading hard for these cards are important, as you are going to need to move them quickly. When figuring out what to trade for, keep an eye on Store Buy prices. Channelfireball lists their buy list on the top of their front page. Currently, they list:

Jace, the Mind Sculptor, $75.00
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, $35.00
Vengevine, $25.00
Gideon Jura, $15.00
Sword of Feast and Famine, $10.00

These cards are definitely hot right now or the store is currently low in stock. Be sure to check this out before committing it to memory. Check and compare these prices with completed listings on eBay. Take those prices and minus approximately 20% (more if you are willing to cover shipping costs) and decide on where you want to sell these cards. If you plan to simply buy more cards with the money you’ve made from selling, also take into account additional store credit bonuses (when selling to online shops). Channelfireball.com offers a 30% trade in bonus, which on cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor makes the total value $97.50 in store credit.

Now understandably, you would then argue that buying from a store is far more expensive than websites like eBay, but that’s not necessarily the case. Depending on the quantity purchased, buying your singles from card shops are actually pretty decent. Buying a single card may be cheaper with the popular online auction site, but buying multiple cards are usually better from a store.

The other day, I won 11 auctions on eBay for various cards. My total was $111.80 and my shipping paid was $22.50. This means that on average, I paid almost 20% more just to have the cards shipped. Many sites, including Channelfireball will provide free shipping on any order over a certain dollar amount. Even if you do not plan to spend the required amount, ask your friends if they need any cards. On numerous occasions, I’ve saved a considerable amount of money by placing one large order for me and my friends.

Choosing to sell cards to stores can be pricey if you live overseas. Shipping internationally is both expensive and a bit scary. Europe has a few large card dealers (I am not allowed to list them), which can be used as an outlet for selling cards. Asian countries also have a few reasonably sized dealers to sell cards to as well. Unfortunately, I cannot speak to the validity or the reliability of selling overseas as I am lucky enough to be located here. However, I do know that channelfireball.com consistently take in international orders and their response time is pretty quick.

You have to remember when shipping cards overseas that although your country’s postal system may seem fairly safe, this is not the same for every country. If you are a U.S. Resident, shipping overseas using any other company than DHL is a potential nightmare. Unfortunately, using a company such as DHL is incredibly expensive. Once your package leaves American soil, you are at the mercy of the other country’s postal system. Insuring packages is also a nightmare as a lot of the time it is incredibly difficult to collect losses.

Not to digress, as I mentioned earlier, once you’ve traded for hot tournament staples, it’s important to move them right away. If you are domestic, decide on whether selling to a store or on eBay will be the most profitable. When I do sell on eBay, I will always try and make sure that I have enough cards to open a store for a month. Harder to move cards will be placed as items within the store while hot cards will be listed for auction. I never put a reserve on it (as they traditionally sell for less) and I will always list them at $0.99. Remember when conducting this research, take into account the amount of fees involved in selling through eBay. In all reality, I have found that selling to online stores have been more profitable as of late as I always have cash in hand and they tend to pay very quickly.

This profit margin changes drastically in slightly played cards. Most stores buy them for considerably less where eBay will fetch you considerably more. The other option is to keep slightly played or worse cards for trade, as players tend to be less picky.

Improving the Value of My Collection

So now you may wonder: what if I don’t want to trade/sell cards to make money, but rather to improve the value of my collection? What can I do if I don’t get to go to major events? What if I live abroad?

I feel at different times throughout the year, I’ve covered this in depths. However, after talking with some friends, I did come up with a couple of new methods.

For the past month, I’ve been sifting through previously purchased collections, separating bulk from playables and sorting each by color. I was discussing my plans on the bulk with a buddy of mine and whether or not I had planned on building sets. Currently, I have between a 1x and 4x set of everything from Arabian Nights through Scars of Mirrodin, including about half of the core sets. These sets are separate from what I would consider my playables and have only served to take up space and look “neat” on a shelf.

This conversation led to a discussion on cards like Grindstone and Dark Depths that blew up in value as combo pieces for them become printed. The discussion then shifted then into reprints such as Reflecting Pool and then to staples such as Wasteland rising considerably in value as either reprints occur, or the format they are played in rises in popularity. Although I didn’t necessarily agree that the space was worth the amount of profit that only a couple of virtually worthless cards would bring me in situations listed above, it did make me reconsider the current market and think about how I could capitalize on current cards that are low and unplayed.

As we look at the current state of Magic, we see that there are quite a few cards that are lower than they should be. Prior to Paris and the printing of Sword of Feast and Famine, we would have noticed the extremely low value of Stoneforge Mystic. Prior to Caw-Blade, Stoneforge Mystic only saw play in a select few versions of Boros and in Mono-white Relic/Quest style decks. Since then, we’ve seen Mystic /SoFF packages being played in various Standard and Extended decks. These two cards being paired together create for a very powerful tool for creating attrition.

Now obviously this is the wrong time to pick up either of these cards. They’ve both blown up and are going to only go down in value from here. Sidenote: Stoneforge Mystic was the first rare in a very long time to demand a $20.00+ price tag.

So if we take a look at other cards within Standard, what have we seen climb to a fairly decent level, but then decline over the past few months? Here are ten cards, that I would consider making investments in. Worst case scenario, you are only out a small amount of money, while the return can be pretty solid.

Card: Consume the Meek
Current Value: $1.99
Reasoning: This card is still solid, even with the printing of Black Sun’s Zenith. It deals with Squadron Hawk, Stoneforge Mystic, every creature in Vampires and Boros and doesn’t negatively effect any of your own creatures. This card has the potential of being a solid $5.00 and is worth investing in. Being a solid piece of removal, this card will probably never fall into the bulk rare category and at worst, will become a $1.00 rare.

Projected Profit vs. Loss (Based on Playset): $12.00 vs. $4.00

Card: Fauna Shaman
Current Value: $5.99
Reasoning: This card is currently underused and not as popular as it was a few months prior. This card definitely has the possibility of ranging from $8.00 – $10.00, and definitely has staying power. Comboing well in Standard with Vengevine, it is not out of the realm of possibility that as Standard season starts up again, we can expect to see a rise in this card. Worst case scenario, you break even on your investment.

Projected Profit vs. Loss (Based on Playset): $16.00 vs. $0.00

Card: Stirring Wildwood
Current Value: $1.99
Reasoning: Since the rotation of Alara block, we’ve seen only limited play with G/W style decks. However, this man-land is still very solid. It blocks creatures with flying and has a 3 /4 body to boot. Being a member of the real estate community, it is very unlikely that this card is going to drop any further (maybe $0.50) and can likely climb up to $4.00 – $5.00 if Naya or G/W comes back.

Projected Profit vs. Loss (Based on Playset): $8.00 – $12.00 vs. $2.00

Card: Lavaclaw Reaches
Current Value: $2.49
Reasoning: Within a similar vein to Stirring Wildwood, this Worldwake manland is currently being underplayed. Arguably, one of the weaker manlands, this card pairs two very powerful colors together. If a resurgence of B/R vampires return, or a new archetype in the next year arises using these two colors, expect this card to climb back to $5.00+. If this card doesn’t see play, it will stay around $2.00 for the long haul.

Projected Profit vs. Loss (Based on Playset): $10.00 vs. $2.00

Card: Inferno Titan
Current Value: $6.99
Reasoning: Probably the most underrated titan, Inferno Titan saw limited play in both Standard and Extended. If aggro becomes very popular, this piece tech could become high demand. Best case scenario, this card rises back to $12.00, and in the worst it will cap at around $5.00, as casual players still love this card.

Projected Profit vs. Loss (Based on Playset): $20.00 vs. $8.00

Card: Abyssal Persecutor
Current Value: $11.49
Reasoning: This card is interesting. After Worlds, U/B control was super popular and with Kibler’s continued success before Paris and Team Fireball’s success at, Caw-Go/Caw-Blade has become super popular and the title of “deck” to beat. Although this card does not block an equipped hawk, it will certainly help race, and paired with a Grave Titan, putting u/w on a clock is good. Worst case scenario, this card levels off between $9.00 and $10.00, but with potentials of being back up to the $15.00.

Projected Profit vs. Loss (Based on Playset): $14.00 vs. $6.00 – $10.00

Card: Molten-Tail Masticore
Current Value: $4.49
Reasoning: So I bashed this card upon release. I stuck my frowny-faced assessment for months and I still think this card is pseudo-trash, except now it deals with an equipped hawk, lynx or most other creature pretty well. I suspect this card to earn sideboard spots in the next month or so. If this is the case, expect it to climb up to $10.00, if not – it will still stick around the $4.00 – $5.00 mark.

Projected Profit vs. Loss (Based on Playset): $22.00 vs. $2.00

Card: Venser, the Sojourner
Current Value: $11.99
Reasoning: It makes me a bit sad to see this card so low. It’s unique ability to bounce has some very neat interactions with cards that have come-into-play (CIP) abilities. I don’t think Venser’s hay-day is over yet and at worst, it will drop to $10.00 or so and at best will climb back over $20.00.

Projected Profit vs. Loss (Based on Playset): $36.00 vs. $8.00

Card: Elspeth Tirel
Current Value: $11.99
Reasoning: Another solid Planeswalker. Unfortunately, it suffers from the 5-mana curse that planeswalkers sometime face. With white being renewed in Mirrodin Besieged, I expect Elspeth to begin making an appearance again. Worst case is very similar to Venser, in if it takes off, expect it to climb back to $20.00 or more and at worst, it will fall back to around $10.00.

Projected Profit vs. Loss (Based on Playset): $36.00 vs. $8.00

Card: Sarkhan, the Mad
Current Value: $5.99
Reasoning: With the rotation of Jund, this planeswalker plummeted in value. Many of us forget how powerful Sarkhan was during old standard. With some of the living weapon gear floating around, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see a resurgence of this planeswalker. Unfortunately, not many insane dragons like Broodmate are floating around. This planewalker can’t really fall any lower than he is and can only go up. If this card sees play again, expect it to rise back to $15.00 – $20.00 and the loss is pretty minimal.
Projected Profit vs. Loss (Based on Playset): $36.00 – $56.00 vs. $0.00

Now before you go and buy up all these cards, remember that these cards are what I would and have invested in. I feel like the power-level of the cards far outweigh their currently low values and in a down market, making investments like this are usually pretty good. We still have a whole new set before the next core set and right now is the time to move.

I hope this was informative for those who live in areas where attending large events is not as easy as for us who live in close proximity to areas where large events regularly occur. In the end, making money and/or increasing the value of our collection is a multi-tiered process that we have to constantly stay on top of.

Until Next Time,

Brian Grewe
mtgo: briangrewe

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