Pro Trader: A Peek at the Peak

Readers!

You no more need me to tell you that we should be buying cards at peak supply than you need be told to buy low and sell high. I won’t insult your intelligence by wasting ink explaining what peak supply is, when it is, or why it matters. As much as I am tempted to use the limited space above the fold I have to fill, I think I’ll use that space more productively. You all get it, prices are best when there is the most competition to be the cheapest seller. I have some opinions about what the best targets are when that happens and if you don’t think about Magic exactly like I do, I might have some ideas you hadn’t considered. I’m using data to back my conclusions as always, and I think Modern Horizons 2 has some parallels from Modern Horizons 1 we can reference. In short, let’s go into peak supply week with a plan and make some money, shall we?

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ProTrader: Magic doesn’t have to be expensive.

Even more Modern Horizons

The Modern metagame has been evolving rapidly over the past couple of weeks with all the exciting new additions from Modern Horizons 2, with a bunch of new decks coming up alongside older ones being revived and updated. With the world slowly returning to paper Magic and in-store play, people are excited to play Modern again and that means there are specs to investigate and cards to buy!

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expensive cards

ProTrader: Magic doesn’t have to be expensive.

David Sharman (@accidentprune on Twitter) has been playing Magic since 2013, dabbling in almost all formats but with a main focus on Modern, EDH and Pioneer. Based in the UK and a new writer for MTGPrice in 2020, he’s an active MTG finance speculator specialising in cross-border arbitrage.

Becoming a TCG Direct Seller

One of the things that our ProTrader Discord excels at is helping each other maximize returns. I asked our members about how to use TCGPlayer effectively, helping people understand what TCG Direct is and why they may want to be part of that program.

I’ve edited the conversations and posts into more of a how-to guide. If you have questions, come to the General tab and ask away! People here are super helpful.

If you’re intent on reaching TCG Seller Level 4, which unlocks custom shipping options like ‘Free Shipping for all orders over $5’, then focus on flipping lots of EDH staples or other high-demand high-value cards. Note that your level is determined by how quickly you fill orders and your feedback rating. 

Leveling up isn’t terribly difficult as long as you commit to one of three strategies: 1) put the effort into grading strictly 2) don’t do much grading or condition evaluation but accept that you’re going to take some hits along the way, including delays on your seller level 3) list your “NM” stuff at LP.

Once you have a high enough volume of sales (by value, not by number of cards sold) and a thoroughly stocked inventory, you can apply to become a TCG Direct store. This has many benefits, including:

1) Your TCG Direct sales get bundled into a single package you send to TCG. (saving you on postage AND time)

2) You don’t have to deal with ANY customer service issues for Direct sales. This is a huge time saver for you (i.e. not having to email with customers, do returns, etc.)

3) TCG Direct pricing tends to be anywhere from 5% to 30%+ higher than TCG Low. People pay for the convenience of a single package and the cart optimizer favors TCG Direct listings as well.

4) Your non-direct sales (as a Direct seller) will have slightly lower TCG fees than Level 4.

If you’re content to send just $20-$60 cards occasionally, you’re likely better off avoiding Direct. 

Keep in mind that despite higher seller fees on a TCG Direct sale, the upsides more than make up for it.

While a TCG Direct seller, you must be strict with your grading. Be sure to check your cards with good lighting at all angles. For example: You have a card you think is a NM non-foil, with a tiny edge/corner ding or microscopic surface scratches. It should be fine, but they WILL ding you for mild surface issues or minor edge issues, especially before you get to Direct status. Better to be cautious in your grading, as buying a LP card and getting something with only a small ding feels pretty good. Buying something as NM and finding a ding that’s bigger than expected may end up being a return.

The penalty for sending in a card that’s graded to the wrong condition isn’t too terrible: they purchase a new copy on your behalf and charge you the higher of what you charged or what the new copy costs, so your net penalty is basically your fees. They send your misgraded cards back later, so if it’s a hot card, you might also lose out on an opportunity.

Because you’ve downgraded your items, or graded very strictly, you’re much less likely to get dinged on condition. Instead you’ll be making sure that your sales are executed as smoothly as possible.

Please note that you can get unexpected “normal” sales when TCG’s inventory runs out, as your direct listings fall temporarily to “nondirect” status. So you can’t completely avoid sending envelopes, and occasionally this results in having to ship a cheap card at a loss depending on your pricing and listing strategies.

When it comes to listing larger quantities of cards, one member suggests: “The ‘single package’ nature of TCG Direct makes it worth listing cheaper cards. Where you draw the line is up to you, but I personally price cards as low as 5c on TCGDirect because it’s more efficient for me to just inventory and list everything from my collection rather than trying to remember which cards are worth selling.”

Once you reach TCGDirect status, take note of their fee structures. Because of how TCG Direct fees work, you should generally never list a card in the $3 to $3.14 range or in the $20 to $22.42 range. You get charged fees that are higher than $2.99 or $19.99 if the card sells by itself.

Also, now that you’re a Direct seller, you want to adjust your pricing as it relates to the TCG Direct low, not the overall TCG Low. These are two different price indicators, and you should change these prices during your transition to TCG Direct. Specifically, reprice cards after you’re approved but before you confirm the change.

If you plan  to apply for TCG Direct, note  that TCG’s invoicing system orders cards by Condition, then by Set (generally newest to oldest standard sets, then supplemental sets), and finally Alphabetically. You can prepare for this as you build your inventory system and start sorting the same way.

Getting to TCGDirect status also unlocks the TCG Buylist. You can fund your buylist account with deductions from your payouts, or you can manually fund by talking to customer service. e.g. TCG holds your buylist money up front.

For TCG Buylist, you add cards similar to how you list cards for sale (i.e. by specific card, condition, price, and the quantity you’re willing to buy. Because TCG manages the inventory, cards always sell to the highest buylist price first, there’s no brand loyalty or any other way to accidentally get your lower buylist price to trigger until all higher prices are filled. Note that you can make a buylist as if you were a customer selling cards and see all of the open buylist offers from competitors. Checking manually can be worth it because sometimes there might be only one or two higher offers compared to yours.  As a result, it may make more sense to lower your buylist offer to increase your chances of capturing a higher sale price.  

For TCG Buylist  the sellers that accept your offer will send cards directly to TCG. TCG will accept the shipments, grade them, and mark your buys as “confirmed” or not (e.g. condition not as advertised / seller didn’t ship) You can elect to pay postage once a month or on request.  TCG will then ship you everything they’ve received up to that point . Buylisters should not expect a flood of cards all at once.  Think of the Buylist as someone incrementally building up a collection for you.

TCG’s fee (in addition to postage) is a flat 10% of the buylist prices, with a minimum 10 cents per card. Please note that this fee may seem small but can really add up on the aggregate.  Luckly, there are no taxes or other hidden fees.

Another thing to watch out for as a Buylister is that if a sale ends up being unconfirmed, your buy will immediately reopen, and you won’t be able to reduce the quantity requested. So say you ask for 10 copies of a card at $10 each, and get 10 buyers taking you up on it, you can’t adjust your “buylist” below 10 qty (and you’ll get no further buys at the time) but then if one of those copies “fails”, suddenly you’re back “on the hook” to buy another copy at $10. So you have to be on top of your buylist prices and make sure they’re prices you’re willing to pay even if it looks like you’re “fully sold”.

Some other quotes from our members about TCG’s Buylist feature: 

“-The great thing about TCG Buylist is that if you have the best price, you’ll get the sale. Sellers cannot pick who to sell to, it defaults to the best price. 

-You’ll get more hits on newer cards. Get your specs in early in the format. Older cards are very random crapshoots, but staples are reasonable odds. (anything someone would think “I should sell this to get some cash”)

– You need to decide whether you want to actively manage your prices and get into bidding wars, or pick a price you’re happy with and let the chips fall where they may.

– You will be charged to ship your purchases, and it happens automatically after a month of no POs. So you want at least enough quantity of buylist so you don’t pay $5 to be shipped one copy of Deathrite Shaman.

– In a similar vein, you’ll want to load up your withholding as you add more cards. When I go on a buylist spree I generally have to up my withholding to 100% for one or two payments to load in more cash. I’ve never had them directly deposit money but I know that’s also doable.”

“- remember that you will be charged 10% fee for each buylisted card, 10c minimum. (so price accordingly) But the shipping per PO is the only other meaningful cost. No tax. They’ll grade the cards as part of the process, and I’d say they’re 98% accurate but not perfect.

– I strongly recommend putting in a price for LP variants as well. You can often put in a lower price, and if someone sends in a NM card they deem LP, you might get a cheap auto-buy from the downgrade. Conversely, often people send in as LP to be safe and the cards are totally NM viable.”

One more member testimonial about their numbers for 2020:

“- TCG Direct fees were 26.5% of my total sales. (all fees divided by all sales, so bigger sales count more here)

– Fees on non-direct sales were 12.3%

– Adding in shipping costs, 17.9%

– Adding in materials costs as well, 18.4%

So TCG Direct all-in upfront cost is about 8% more expensive than a traditional non-TCG Direct sale. However,my Direct items regularly sell for at least 10% more than non-direct and often closer to 20%. The increased sale price and the time saved by using TCG Direct are huge. 

Also note that the non-Direct sales would be +1.3% in fees if I wasn’t a direct seller, so if you’re doing a strict comparison to decide whether to make the jump, it’s 26.5% Direct vs. 19.7% Level 4.”

If there’s things that you’d like to contribute to this guide, drop into our Discord and let us know. This is by no means the definitive, all-encompassing guide, but the distillation of many members’ input and experiences.

Cliff (@WordOfCommander) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2013, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. A high school science teacher by day, he’s also the official substitute teacher of the MTG Fast Finance podcast. If you’re ever at a GP and you see a giant flashing ‘CUBE DRAFT’ sign, go over, say hi, and be ready to draft.

Unlocked Pro Trader: In Defense Of…Not Staples?

Readers!

It occurred to me recently that perhaps the best way to judge reprint risk is to assume that Wizards has access to the same data that we do. I think that they do because of course they do, but also they sometimes remind us that they do.

If the first thing that comes to Gavin’s mind when someone asserts that a card needs a reprint is to check EDHREC, whether or not he understands how many decks 1% of every deck in the database is, it stands to reason he has checked EDHREC before. If there were some secret WotC way to gauge card adoption in EDH, would he have? Did he not because it takes too long? Does he not wanting the unwashed knowing he has access to better data? Or does WotC base their decisions partially based on EDHREC? I mean, that’s what I do, so like, on the one hand it’s cool that I’m doing a thing that people at WotC do also which means I’ve figured out the best way to do it, but also, yikes, a little?

If Wizards is operating on the same info we have access to, they might be basing what they deem is worthy of a reprint on raw EDHREC data. If Gavin is saying “only 1% of decks” play Champion’s Helm (3,450 in the last 2 years, or about 500 more decks than run Godsend, a $17 card) to scoff at the idea of Helm needing a reprint, what else doesn’t need a reprint in their estimation? There are a lot of cards that can live in a sweet spot of too niche for a set like Commander Legends which they insist on making draftable, isn’t a format staple, is too expensive to put in an EDH precon or is “only” in 1% of the half a million decks currently displayed on EDHREC. If they’re looking at EDHREC to decide what needs a reprint (or a sexy new retro frame), we should look at what they’re looking at to see what is hiding.

I’m going to start by heading to EDHREC, going to Top Cards from the dropdown and clicking on Last 2 Years. That will take you here if you can’t figure it out from that description. It displays the Top 100 by default, but you can click “load more” at the bottom, which is what we’re going to do. A few times. If 1% of decks doesn’t warrant a reprint, let’s see what’s hanging out around that number.

Does 5% of decks seem like a lot? Because here is what I found when I drilled down to 5%.

Second Harvest could probably use another printing, but maybe that’s just me. At this point, I’ve hit “load more” 5 times and scrolled down to the 500th-most-played card, Whir of Invention. We’re still in the territory of stuff that seems like it deserves a reprint, but we haven’t run out of good cards, yet.

Only 3% of decks.

Clearly we have drilled down enough, because it’s at 3% of the nearly 300k Blue decks on EDHREC that we run across a card that warranted a “The List” printing but not an actual one. They don’t seem that worried about a card that was flirting with $50 getting an actual reprint, so we should check a bit more in this area.

Training Grounds was on a great trajectory and it hasn’t been harmed overly much by the inclusion in “The List” printings, which is a relief. I think cards similar to Training Grounds are good places to park money – even if they do get a reprinting, it will likely be a The List printing, which we’ve seen knock maybe 20% off of a card’s price but still leave it on a mostly upward trajectory. What else reminds me of Training Grounds?

I found a few decently expensive cards in this category but they all overlapped with Modern in a way this does not. I think it’s possible something happens in Modern to break Training Grounds, but that’s less a repudiation of my thesis and more, I don’t know, a sick opportunity for people who had a playset of Training Grounds to make some quick scrilla? I think Aesi is on its way to $20 so why not ride the Serpent all the way to value city? The metaphorical city where you get value for your cards, not the furniture store.

There may just be too many of these to nail down a good version to buy. Do you get the $70 foil Mothra with the Godzilla treatment? The $14 promo pack foil? The $18 Extended Art non-foil (probably)? Cards Ikoria and after have some special consideration we need to take and maybe we avoid them until it becomes clear what the move is. All I know is that Luminous Broodmoth feels like cheating and it’s too cheap.

I don’t expect to find a ton of $50 cards down here in the sub 5% inclusion pile, but I also don’t expect this card to stay below $10 on TCG Player for much longer. This hits $20 if WotC continues to ignore it, and given how expensive it is to cast and how feel-bad it can be to very new players, this seems like it gets left alone. I want a brick of these.

After scrolling down a lot more, I came across the card that reminds me the most of Training Grounds so far.

Oh yeah, that’s a Training Grounds, baby. Look at the year it came out, the price, the “mere” 2% of Black decks. If they reprint this, it will be on The List and then so what? If they don’t throw it on The List, GOOD.

It’s suffering a bit of a post-Tergrid hangover, but who doesn’t want to catch it all cheap and easy on the rebound?

I like Quandary a lot, especially if the price continues to drop a bit due to the post-Tergrid glut hitting the market. The next spike will be even harder and I would like to have a bunch in hand the day it does. This is a brutal card, much too brutal to put in a lot of the precons where they reprint cards and yet it’s durdly, much too durdly for a set like Modern Horizons. It’s hard to reprint this, and with it being in “only” 7,000 decks, (albeit twice as many as Champion’s Helm), I think it’s pretty safe.

I’M NOT DUNKING ON GAVIN.

He wasn’t saying anything a lot of the people in the Pro Trader Discord don’t also say regularly. Without context, a card’s percentage or even raw number of inclusions doesn’t really mean anything, but if WotC has a better way of determining what in EDH needs a printing, they aren’t tweeting like it. I don’t think relying on this tweet from Gavin to make all of our financial decisions is prudent, but I think noticing that someone at WotC in a position to decide what cards end up in these products seeming to echo common sentiment that I have made a lot of money from knowing better than presents an opportunity. If the people in a position to reprint cards tell you they’re not going to reprint something, listen. Anyway, that’s my stupid article for this week, I hope you like it and I hope we make some money. As always, Pro Traders get a 48 hour head start before I even think about buying any of these cards. Until next time!

MAGIC: THE GATHERING FINANCE ARTICLES AND COMMUNITY