Going Mad – Vendors, Magic, & You

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By: Derek Madlem

There seems to be some confusion about vendors. For those of you that have been watching from home, I’ve spent much of this year working with and around various vendors as both a buyer and a seller. One thing I’ve noticed from the other side of the booth is that there are a lot of people that just don’t really get what’s going on. As always, I’m here to help.

I’ll apologize in advance to all the seasoned #mtgfinance veterans out there, this article may be a little basic for you. If you’re looking for something a little more meaty check out this fine read from the archives: So You Want to Sell a Wingmate Roc

The Hot List

This is one of the most common misconceptions new(er) players have when it comes to selling cards. I don’t know how many times I’ve had someone sheepishly ask me, “are those the only cards you guys are buying?”The hot lists that vendors post are not the only cards vendors are buying, they’re simply a “hello”. Think of hot lists as conversation starters. Vendors pick cards that they know they can sell quickly and offer high prices on them just to get you to sit down so that they can make offers on the rest of your cards.

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So you should just sell cards to vendors that are on their hot lists right? Sure, if you like wasting time. One vendors “hot” price is another’s every day price. But if you feel that standing in line to sell cards at seven vendors vs going to one or two is a good use of your time, then go for it.

The Buy Mat

Most vendors are going to have a playmat that’s organized in a grid with prices printed on it. These prices will generally range from small change up to $35+ and as you and the buyer agree to prices they’ll place it on the mat in the corresponding square and then total it up at the end.

Money_Mat_02_grande

This process is usually going to involve the buyer pointing at a card and telling you a number with you responding in some audible way. Most buyers don’t just yank cards out without asking first, but if they do just stop them and ask them to check first. Some people prefer to just tell the vendor to pull out everything and put it into piles and they’ll take back what they want to keep; as a buyer I always hated doing it this way but because it felt so impersonal, but some prefer it.

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At the end they’ll shoot you a total, at this point if you’re looking at getting cards out of the case ask about any trade bonus they might have, it’s usually going to be around 20%, though some vendors do ridiculous bumps as high as 35% at times.

Trust

A number of people don’t know who to trust when it comes to selling cards to vendors. There’s a lingering misconception that selling cards to a vendor is like that famous line from Rounders:

Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.

The first thing that everyone needs to understand is that the era of vendors trying to shark you is pretty much over. There’s simply too much at stake. In an era when reputation and bad encounters can be amplified via social media and everyone has access to online pricing, there’s too much at stake to try to get one over on somebody for $3.

There was an era when basically any schmuck could show up at your local PTQ and offer garbage prices for your cards because they were your “only out” at the event if you wanted to turn cardboard into currency. That era ended with the death of the old PTQ system. Vendors are now in a situation where they have to feed the beast. They can’t just casually drop a couple hundred dollars on a booth and buy a thousand dollars in cards and call it a successful weekend.

We’re now in a world where the cost to set up a table at an event has become monolithic. Vendors can either shell out the bucks and run a $5K or similar event themselves, or they can buy into Star City Opens or Grand Prix events. A table at an SCG event is going to set them back at least a couple grand, while a table at a Grand Prix can scale all the way up to $10,000…and that’s before you pay for travel, employees, food, etc.

To put it simply, they can’t afford to waste their time trying to gut a couple of fish, they’ve got a business that depends on you selling them cards. For the average person selling binder chaff, you’re probably not going to see a huge difference between many of the vendors at a Grand Prix; it’s going to be a few dollars here and there but you’re not going to see that much of a difference until you start dropping piles of cards onto the buy mats.

Your Local Game Store

So why not just sell to your local game store? Chances are you don’t live in a major metropolitan area and  if you do, half your local game stores are poorly run to begin with…and there’s a good chance they’re not even set up to sell on TCGPlayer. Most local game stores just need some cards to sell, not all of them. They’re often the only game in town so they don’t HAVE TO pay as much as you’re going to see from your average GP vendor simply because they have no real competition.

The Lowball

The idea that vendors are going to try to shoot you lowball numbers on cards to try to screw you isn’t much of a reality these days, but there are still a couple reasons that you’ll get a lowball offer:

  1. They don’t know that the price of a card has changed drastically.
  2. They really don’t want it.

In the first scenario, it simply comes down to honest mistakes or lack of knowledge. When I was at my busiest working as a buyer, I would work shows many weekends in a row with only a few days in between so I was watching price moves daily and had the buy prices memorized for a number of cards. But when we’d be on an extended break, the last thing I wanted to do was look at charts of card price changes every day, so I would fall behind. If I had to work as a buyer this weekend, I would be way off my game for the first couple hours as I haven’t been following prices that closely for the past few weeks.

In the second scenario, different vendors want different things. Some vendors sell cards on Amazon.com and they want infinite copies of Colossus of Akros, while others do most of their selling at competitive events and only want competitive staples. Some stores just don’t want to carry an SP copy of an obscure EDH foil from event to event but others love having it in stock because they know their regular customers will snatch it up. Other times a vendor has just bought too many of a card and would prefer to spend that money on something else: Tasigur, the Golden Fang is a great card, but you can’t set up a booth that only buys and sells Tasigurs and be successful.

Typically if you get a number that seems low on a card, it’s because the vendor wants you to say no so that they don’t have to deal with the card.

The Negotiation

There’s a myth that you should haggle over the price of any card you’re selling because a vendor is always going to offer low on a card to start with, and that might have been true in the past, but it’s just doesn’t seem to be that way anymore. None of the vendors I’ve worked with wanted me playing games as a buyer. If we didn’t buy $X in cards an hour, we weren’t going to have a good weekend. For the same reasons discussed above, it’s just better for a vendor to lead with a strong offer and get the card than to have it walk away.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t haggle if a price seems way off, the buyer might just be unaware of a price fluctuation or might have a little room to give, but fighting over every single card is not in your best interest. Multiple vendors that I’ve worked with have instructed me that if someone wants to haggle over every single card, just close the binder and say “thanks” to open up the chair for someone that’s not going to be difficult.

The Elephant in the Room

The biggest mistake I see players making at events time and time again is lining up at the big name stores to sell cards while other vendors have no lines at all. This phenomena is especially true at SCG events. Star City Games has one of the most extensive buylists in the industry, but their buy prices are often among the lowest in the room for everything but the hottest of hot cards.

Much of this is likely a trust issue for newer players or just an unfamiliarity with the smaller vendors. Some players are only familiar with SCG because that’s where they get all of their content. As a consumer, you have to look at it from a different perspective – the stakes.

If you’re a vendor paying SCG $2,500 to set up a booth at their show, you have to compete to even have a chance at getting a return on your investment. Even if a vendor would normally pay less for cards and sell them for more (not sure how that’s possible), they have to change because they’re going to set up shop twenty feet away from the biggest name in Magic outside of Wizards of the Coast.

Big names ≠ big bucks. 

The SCGs, Troll and Toads, and Channel Fireballs of the world know that you’ll come to them because you know their name and you’ll do business because you’re already there. It’s in your best interest to start with the smaller guys because it’s often THEIR business and THEIR livelihood on the line, so they’re generally a bit more competitive.

Grand Prix Indy

If you’re going to be at Grand Prix Indianapolis this weekend and want to say hello, trade, ask questions, or even play some EDH, you can hit me up on Twitter @GoingMadlem. It’s my home turf so I’m going to try my hand at competing for a change.


 

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10 thoughts on “Going Mad – Vendors, Magic, & You”

  1. about trust:

    With a family, I don’t do many GP’s anymore.
    I visited some GP’s in the past, and most of the time, it was OK.
    But this year I was surprised by the sharkiness of the shops at GP Utrecht.
    Really, those guys were certainly not the trust-kind of type.
    Maybe that one shop from the US thought they could steal from European players, because they are not really big customers. They were clearly here to buy lots of stuff, and they did very well and with lots of manipulation.

    I also did my homework, for selling my bulk rares and foils, and all but one shop kept that quoted price.
    they litterally said: we only give 10 cent for a rare if we see some hidden treasures in it.
    Which is equal to saying, we try to take advantage of people not knowing the price of their cards.

    Good that it’s different in the US, but my experience with shops was bad.

    Also, it’s time the shops get creative again and do some innovation. Everywhere waiting lines because buyers needed to look up every single price on a hidden screen. So sad.

    About haggling: this was really important at GP Utrecht.
    Buyer X says 5€. I say: shop Y gives 8 €. Then the buyer checks his computer, and says: ok I give 8.
    Another shop offers 6 for a card. I say no, then he goes up.

    You will probably see this as individuals, not being part of the business, but every single individual is part of the business. And you may be the guy we can trust, but how should a player know who to trust and who is not to trust if you still have these sharks?

    1. Europe is probably a different ball game all together, for the most part that doesn’t happen here in the US very much anymore. I forget that I have an international audience, but have definitely heard horror stories about some of the gamesmanship that the Euro vendors pull.

  2. Something to note when outing cards at a GP.

    Pay close attention to currency exchange rates, lately with the CDN/USA exchange rate I took close note at the recent GP Toronto.

    It seemed as though the vendors took the Canadian GP as a place to make quick cash taking advantage of the exchange rate, selling at converted USD rates and buying at non converted CDN rates.

    I sold a few cards and specs for quick returns, but I declined to sell quite a bit of my cards even though I had the intention of dumping the majority.

    From now on, unless the dollar evens out, I will only be outing cards at local USA GPs such as Detroit.

  3. Also to add, it’s also pretty disgusting to see local Canadians taking advantage of the same measure..
    A lot of local card groups on Facebook and the like just scumbag Canadian prices.

    Like oh, I’ll buy at 70% SCG… I reply, in USD?
    “no, why would I buy in USD, we’re in Canada”
    So you’re going to buy my Tarmogoyf at 70% of the 200USD SCG is selling it for, in Canadian.
    You’re offering $140 Canadian for a card being sold at $262.
    “what makes you think the card is worth $262?”
    Thanks for the offer.
    (this was all back when goyf was 190usd tcgmid)

  4. D Mad, just wanted to say that I always look forward to your pieces every week. I think you undersold your work by saying it wasn’t for seasoned financiers, although possibly accurate, because this was still a quality article. Thank you sir.

    I actually will try hitting up more of the smaller booths at big events now although they typically offer competitive prices but not the best prices. I usually do a lot of comparison shopping and there’s 2 stores I typically sell to at events because they have the best buy prices time and time again (mtg deals and card kingdom). I typically get good deals on Standard Foils from ebay and fellow players that know I love foils but have a hard time flipping them for profit in trades, and places like Troll and Toad usually give good prices cause they can flip it very easily online. I don’t have binders full of stuff I want to sell, usually specific Standard cards that have spiked and I can’t trade at my LGS so I want some value and profit off of them (like Jace, Ojutai, Wingmate Roc, and Foil Den Protectors) so I tend to visit the booths of the stores that have a good online business because they can resell Standard staples it so easily.

    Is there any way to know which stores/shops specialize in EDH cards? I have a lot of older cards and it’s too hard to lug them around and I don’t have the time to look every one up and try to get the best value for them. Any recommendations? Any readers that have a good experience selling EDH cards to a particular vendor please chime in.

    Thanks D Mad, take care

    1. I am always weary of Troll and Toad. I don’t know how they do things now, but in the past they would buylist the stuff back from the buyers so the only way buyers made money was buying under the published buylist.

  5. I just vended my first ever gp last weekend in quebec city..the event was a huge guess on owr part…first off we had to pay for owr table in u.s.d…second vending at a gp is not going on a vacation like some people think..u get to the room a hour b4 anyone..set up to be ready for the hoard of people walking in..then once the party gets started its 12/14 of work..hard work..mentally and socially..then u are the last one to pack and leave…then u try and find a place to have 1real meal and chill a bit..sleep 5h and start over..3 days in a row….its a crazy job but i loved every minut of it…most players get it…im here to accomodate you…find a way for you to not dish out 80$ /4 on jace..since most players also have travel/costs for a gp weekend to consider..and also make a living..being ligit and building customer relations is very important…sell to whoever u want..but people should remember the small shops all aroud are the reason they have a place to play….i love the mtg community and hope is thrives for a long time!!

  6. I love dumping cards to smaller stores at big events. They don’t usually buy as much but they tend to have better prices than scg. I’ve only had one bad experience with a vendor in the past couple of years with a somewhat well known but often maligned store. Everyone else has been great.

  7. At GP Dallas. I dumped a lot of bulk/playable cards, and ended with around 2500 dollars in credit across mulitple venders and 400 cash to cover my gas food and beer expenses, plus a little extra.

    I found selling to multiple vendors was a good experience and meeting people from all over has always been a great experience. Enjoyed some coffee and conversation with a couple from Germany between rounds at the event and after being asked, offered some good recommendations for some restaurants and pubs.

    I invested my credit into playsets of khans and zendikar fetches, playable commons and a lot of good tech for modern and legacy.

    To sweeten the end of my Saturday, I acquired a Foil Judge Gaea’s Cradle to nearly finish foiling out my EDH deck, and that felt really good not coming out of pocket. That was the only credit purchase that wasn’t playset or collection related. Vendors will sometimes set lower prices, but it differs from vendor to vendor. Overall most prices were to be expected, and getting rid of a lot of extra fodder worked to my favor.

    If you have a bunch of random stuff, take it to a vendor, you would be surprised what you can turn it into.

    Jay

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