All posts by Douglas Johnson

I'm a 20 year old college student with a scholarship from Gamers Helping Gamers. I write finance articles for, am a Resident Assistant at school, intern at the Sheriff's Department, and play League of Legends.

Colorless Transparency

(Credit for the cover photo alterations goes to Sean, @SeanOhhhh on Twitter.)

So, uhhhh… how about that Jace, eh?  Actually, I really don’t care about the card. I’ve never even owned an Origins Jace, and I certainly don’t plan on buying in at $80. You’ll hear about the mono-blue mind master in much more detail from several of my colleagues this week, so let’s move onto something much more interesting.

Something Much More Interesting

You know what? Let’s check out “today’s most interesting cards” from this past Monday, because that sounds like a fun day that I definitely picked at random.


Oh, darn. According to my ProTrader email, nothing interesting happened that day… OH, WAIT.

spawnsire today


So that finally happened, although I don’t think it’s a coincidence that last week’s article was literally all about Spawnsire of Ulamog and why I thought it was a good spec target at $3. When I wrote that article, the card had crept up to $4, and I even advocated *not* buying in anymore if you were trying to make a profit. Parroting last week, buying in at $4 means that you’re hoping for the card to hit $8 or $9 before you can start to see worthwhile and noticeable margins. As a personal rule, I don’t buy unless I’m confident in my ability to at least double up.

As you can see by the pictures and timing of the whole thing, my article looks like it was the final stroke required to convince some number of people to buy the last 30 or so copies that were available on TCGplayer, and the half dozen left on eBay. I seriously doubt that these people are going to make any money, if it’s any consolation to you.

My hope for the rest of this article is to show two things. First, I want to be as transparent as possible about all of my suggestions to speculate on Spawnsire, be clear exactly where I made money, when and how I bought and sold each of my copies, the areas where I went wrong, and how I would change my approach in the future. Second, I want to explain the concept of the greater fool theory, a topic that Jason Alt first intertwined with MTG finance a couple of years ago back when Theros first came onto the scene. It’s been a little while since then, so I’ll provide a refresher.

Time Warp

Alright, let’s take a trip down the magical mouse-wheel and scroll back to about five weeks ago.


August 30 was the first time I mentioned Spawnsire on Twitter. I subsequently grabbed a dozen or so copies on PucaTrade, because I very rarely buy into a spec target with cash. Most of my “speccing” comes from buying large collections or lots of singles at buylist or below, and setting aside the cards that I’m anticipating will go up for later. While I don’t always get the quantity or card that I’m specifically looking for by using this method, I’m almost guaranteed to not lose money in the long run if the end result is different than my vision.



Fast forward to September 4. I noticed on my daily check of the MTG Stocks interests page that the foil version of Spawnsire had doubled, seemingly out of nowhere. I didn’t own any foils, but I did see that the non-foil was still hanging around the bottom of the interests page. At this point, I was very confident that the card was primed and ready to spike within a couple of days, following the trend of the foil.

I bought the copies that you read about in my article last week from Star City Games, because I saw a perfect storm of reasons to pick them up there: SCG was the cheapest place to buy, I could get 36 copies at once, and I was guaranteed that they would ship. I continued to check the stock on TCGplayer for several days, and it continued to teeter anywhere from 33 to 50 sellers at any given time. There were stores listing new copies, and then they would get eaten up, although I’m not sure if that was the work of non-competitive players looking for their copies, or speculators following the feed of information that I was providing.


And here we are about a week after I bought my copies from SCG. Unfortunately for me, they simply restocked another 40 SP copies a day or two after I cleaned them out, so it meant that there were still a lot of casual players who would need to pick up their Spawnsires at $3 to $4 before I saw any sort of profit. I didn’t want to buy anymore than I already had to force the market to move. Getting rid of 50 copies of a casual card that was likely only a one- or maybe two-of of in a deck was hard enough, so I held back.

In hindsight, I should have also tweeted here that SCG still had 40 copies in stock.  I focused too much on the TCGplayer and eBay stock affecting the price, and should have tweeted back on the 13th that SCG still had a bunch of copies, and that they were probably the place to buy them if you needed Spawnsires to play with.

That was my last tweet before the last of the supply on TCGplayer and eBay disappeared on the evening of October 5. I really wish I had written my last week’s article three weeks ago so that it didn’t coincide with the actual release date of Battle for Zendikar. I would be interested to see if Spawnsire’s available supply decreased at a similar or identical rate without my article, simply because of the set release allowing casual players to get their hands on Battle for Zendikar and start crafting their Eldrazi decks.

Similarly, I wonder if my article would have been enough of a match in the powder keg to spark a buyout three weeks ago, without the set being released in the same weekend. As things played out, though, I think it was the combination of both factors that made the buyout happen. Now, let’s take a look at what I did that night as a result of the buyout, regardless of who bought the copies that started it.


This screenshot was taken on the night of October 5. As you can see by checking your own TCGplayer mid prices, Spawnsire has settled since then at around $6 to $7, right where I was hoping for. Immediately after I noticed this jump, I went to TCGplayer and listed my own copies. I put up 37 NM copies for $6.99 (if you’e been keeping track, I only got 15 or so NM copies from PucaTrade. I graded all of the 35 SP copies that I got from SCG, and I personally felt that almost half of them were NM. SCG’s grading system is extremely rigid). I also put my 17 SP copies up for $6.49 and crossed my fingers.

While I waited to get lucky and hopefully sell some Spawnsires into the hype, I went to SCG to see if they had been bought out as well. Did the instigators of the buyout really grab all 40 of SCG’s SP copies? Well, not exactly.



While the cheapest copies of Spawnsire on TCGplayer were my own at $6 to $7 and eBay was completely empty, SCG still had 40 SP copies on their website sitting at $3.35 each. Huh. While this is definitely a risky move and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sell all of these, I felt that I would be able to slowly move them on TCGplayer or through trades at $6 to $7 a piece, eventually making a strong profit. It would take a while and tie up my money, but I didn’t really put a lot of time into thinking about it. I was concerned that someone else would snap them up before I did, so I hastily jammed them all into my card and swiftly made it through checkout.

Ugh. Now I had to move almost 100 of these things. I went to bed that night thinking of strategies of how I would move more than 90 freaking Spawnsire of Ulamogs. Maybe if I got lucky, one buylist would hit $4.50 or $5 and I could just sell them all en masse for a small but safe profit. Facebook would probably be a strong outlet, as there are a ton of non-competitive players in all of the groups that I’m in. I could jam a few in my display case, because I mostly market myself to EDH and newer players out of the store. I’m sure some of them will want to build Eldrazi decks, and slam Barrage Tyrants and Desolation Twins into play with Spawnsire. Hmmm…

Greater Fools

Alright, now we’re almost caught up to present day. I got out of my sports psychology class Tuesday afternoon to check my email, and I was happy to see an email from TCGplayer. I had a Spawnsire sale! The first of many, I’m sure. Although it would be a slow process, I would eventu—



Well, alright then. Either this person knows something that I don’t, or he has a really weird thing for tentacles. One person bought out all 37 NM copies for $6.99 each, so I suppose that solves one of my problems. Obviously no player buys 37 copies of a single spell that’s not a Shadowborn Apostle or Relentless Rat, so this is a purchaser looking to make money. I’m assuming that this person doesn’t read my articles, because I suggested the exact opposite of what this party did. If you buy in at $7, then you’re looking for Spawnsire to hit $13 or $14 before you sell, and you plan to sell 37 of them at that price?

According to the greater fool theory, irrational buyers will set the price of a commodity when that thing’s price is not driven by its own intrinsic value. In this party’s mind, they’re not the fool. They’re going to sell to some other guy who’s a greater fool.

“I can’t wait to get these 37 Spawnsires, so I can sell them to some guy for $10 each. I’ll make like a hundred dollars because I’ll get approximately $3 profit off each one.” –Spawnsire Sam

The problem here is that you’re assuming that person exists, and that the market will still be as volatile as it was when you bought my copies. I’m shipping those Spawnsires out on Wednesday afternoon, so the buyer probably won’t get them in the mail until Monday. Do you still think Spawnsire is going to be $10 on Monday? Hell, it dropped below $10 already, and it’s probably still going to be $7 when this article goes live on Thursday.

When I bought Spawnsires three weeks ago, I had a choice when I saw the spike happen. I could either sell them immediately by racing to the bottom of TCGplayer (an option that I only have because I had the luxury of having copies in hand from three weeks ago), or I could take a greater risk and try to predict that the price would stay at $10, $11, or predict that it would go to something like $15. The choice I made is pretty obvious: I took the safer route. Move the cards, lock in the profit.

The party buying my Spawnsires had a different set of choices. They could either buy my $7 copies, hoping to sell them for $10 or $15 as soon as they get them in the mail (what they did), or they could stay out of the game entirely. The bus already left the stop, and this guy is trying to take the elevator to the fourth floor of his apartment building and parkour from the top of a roof to land on top of the bus, all so that he can hand out free Spawnsires to all of the little boys and girls. I didn’t feel confident that my copies of Spawnsire would be able to sell at anything above $7. More specifically, I didn’t expect any fools to come along and believe that there would be any greater fools to buy at $15.

Unfortunately, I’m still not out of the woods yet. I have to sell the 40 copies I’m getting from SCG in the next week, and that’s going to take, uhhh… a while. Only one buylist has hit $4 as of right now, and I doubt there will be many that go above that. In hindsight, buying these additional 40 wasn’t the best move, but at least I won’t lose money on the purchase.

End Step

Are you tired of Spawnsire yet? I hope so. It’s been a while since I’ve dissected a spec to such a degree, but it was a lot of fun writing both of these articles. I hope everyone learned at least a little something, even if it was, “Don’t buy 37 copies of Spawnsire of Ulamog at $7.”

Let me know what you thought of my article through Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments section below!

Specsire of Ulamog


Man, I haven’t been this apathetic about Magic in a while. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it. Magic: The Gathering is my life, and I don’t think I could ever quit the game barring some unforeseen life circumstances that force my hand.

But man, I’m just so bored of this set already. I eventually need foil copies of Retreat to Hagra and Omnath, Locus of Rage for Child of Alara, and a foil Smothering Abomination for Savra, but that’s basically it. I don’t get as excited for EDH as Jason does, and I don’t have a brewing bug like everyone else. I’m stuck in this weird limbo that’s not quite backpack-finance-grinder and not quite full-time MTG retailer, so I have to sit and wait patiently for everyone else to crack their boxes and then sell all of their unwanted stuff to me at buylist prices.

Playing It Safe

Anyway, enough about my first-world problems. Most of you know that I don’t speculate much, especially on the new stuff. There’s nothing in Battle for Zendikar that strikes me as a “buy this now before the Pro Tour so you can make hundreds of dollars before it’s too late!” and I wouldn’t follow my advice even if I was confident in one particular card.

When I do tend to pick out a card that I think is going to go up, I (obviously) want to be as sure as possible that the card will see the price changes that I predict, and I want to minimize risk to the point where I basically can’t lose out if my decision ends up being incorrect. These factors are why I continue to slowly stockpile up on cards like Necrotic Ooze, Heartless Summoning, and Glistener Elf. Barring the erratic multiplayer product reprint, all of these cards are safe to sit in my speculation storage, while I patiently wait for the right combo piece to be printed, or the right Top 8 configuration to make me a bunch of money.



Speculating for Fun


Every once in a while, though, I like to get in on the fun of speculating on shake-ups in the Standard metagame, or the effects of the casual market. In a previous article of mine, I pointed out how much I liked Spawnsire of Ulamog as a pickup. While the card obviously has zero competitive appeal (except for this one Travis Woo decklist, and the accompanying article that never fails to make me laugh), it’s a casual double whammy for both Timmy and Johnny, and is a budget version of “I win the game” for players that can’t afford Emrakul and friends.

I predict that as these non-competitive players buy packs from Wal-Mart, Target, their LGS, etc., they’ll start to build their own Eldrazi-based decks, and look to utilize some of the older Eldrazi from ROE into their new lists. Spawnsire is cheap, but more importantly, flashy. Remember how there were several dragons that increased in price after the Dragons of Tarkir set release, because these invisible players wanted to complete dragon decks? It’s basically the same principle.

I started by picking up a dozen or so copies off of PucaTrade at an average of 329 points (a point is basically a penny in trade value, so I paid $3.29 in trade). After I checked and noticed that there were a dwindling number of copies available on TCGplayer, SCG, and eBay, I became more confident in my speculation choice and bought out the remainder of SCG’s copies (on September 9, 2015; they’ve since been restocked at a slightly higher price). There are a couple of benefits that ordering from SCG will give you, even if their prices are usually a little bit above the market value. Thankfully, these Spawnsires were the cheapest available on the internet at the time, so that problem was negated. But otherwise, buying from SCG means that my order is guaranteed to come, and I don’t have to worry about the store cancelling. In addition to that, SCG employs extremely strict graders, and several of the SP copies that I bought turned out to be NM by my own standards.


Right now, the cheapest single copy of Spawnsire I can find is on TCGplayer as an LP one for $3.69, and NM ones are upwards of $4.50 on TCGplayer and eBay. I’m not writing this part of the article to try and convince everyone else to buy in with me so I can flip my copies. I’d actually advise against buying in right now if you’re solely trying to make a profit, because for every dollar extra you pay, you have to hope that the card increases by twice that much more to cover the costs of what you bought in at. I bought in at $3.25, so I’m hoping and expecting that Spawnsire reaches at least $6 to $7 retail before I cash out through TCGplayer or trade outlets. If you buy in at $4 to $5, you’re hoping that it reaches $8 to $10 before your profits become noticeable and worthwhile. I still think the card is a fine trade target at $4, if for some reason you happen to still find these in trade binders.


Now, the price isn’t the only thing that I’ve kept my finger on the pulse of over the past few weeks. There’s another number above the store listings that has been slowly and steadily dropping, and it’s a lot less visible to someone who’s just looking up the TCGplayer mid price every few days.


As the number of stores that have the card in stock decreases, the closer we can expect there to be to a sudden price jump. When I bought my copies from SCG, the total number of English sellers on TCGplayer was above 70, and we’re down to 55 as of September 30, 15. While Spawnsire isn’t exactly the kind of card you usually want to own a playset of, it’s worth mentioning that only eight of the sellers on TCGplayer have four or more copies in stock at the moment. It’s very easy to decrease the number of sellers one at a time, as each non-competitive player picks up the one or two copies they need for their ramp deck over the next few weeks.

My last point about Spawnsire goes all the way back to an article I wrote in March, and it was one of the first pieces of content that I ever produced for MTGPrice. If you haven’t read it yet, I personally think it’s one of my better and more original pieces of writing. If you’d rather not go through and read another 2,000 words in addition to your weekly dose of DJ Johnson, the TL;DR of the article was that it’s important to keep track of the cards at the bottom of the MTGstocks interests page, whose prices have only ticked up by a small percentage day after day. These small bumps can forecast a larger, more sudden spike that everyone will later claim “came out of nowhere,” even though it was fairly predictable to those who paid attention.


As we can see here, Spawnsire received a small five-percent bump since yesterday, and he’s been on this page multiple times every week. Even though these price changes aren’t nearly as drastic as the newly unbanned Black Vise, they’ll certainly be more relevant and longer-lasting months down the road when non-competitive players continue to seek out Spawnsires with no additional supply and nobody cares about Black Vise anymore.

End Step

Huh. I did not think I could write an entire article about a single card, focusing on my strategy and tactics of speculating on it. Was this helpful to you? I figured everyone wanted a break from the past two weeks of Q&A-style articles.

In other news, Hardened Scales continues to reward me for my laziness. Every time I see that thing jump up another dollar, I think, “Man, I should really sell all of those copies I have. There’s no way that this hype can be sustained for this long without a proven winning decklist.” Then it goes up again. This time I’m going to remember to sell out at $4. I mean it.

The Finance Article That Reddit Wants

So my articles are tossed out into the wild of the internet for all to see on Thursdays, right? Well, that means I sit down to write them on Tuesdays, usually at 11:00 p.m. in a hurried rush so that I can get enough sleep for class the next morning.

On Wednesdays, the /r/mtgfinance subreddit posts an AMA thread where new players and budding financiers can post questions relating to card prices or market trends, no matter how specific or weird. I’ll link you to the one from September 9, 2015, right here. I have a tendency to browse through the thread every week, often trying to find something that I can configure into an article, unless I already have something at the ready.

I’m assuming that you guys don’t really want to read yet another installment of, “Here’s this collection I bought, this is how I’m going to organize and process the whole thing, and this is how I plan on selling all of the different pieces of it.” I mean, if you do want to read more of that, then please let me know. It’s kind of my niche on this website, while Jason pleasures himself to the number 99 and Travis buys out the internet of Dragon Whisperer (hint: there’s still time to buy that card, and there’s a reason that SCG is sold out at $3 right now).

Assuming that you didn’t want to read more about my collection-buying exploits, and recognizing that Reddit is a good place to search for ideas, I went fishing. The thing is, I couldn’t find one specific question on the subreddit’s weekly AMA to constitute writing an entire DJ Johnson article. I’m determined to make this work, though, and I noticed that there were a decent number of cold, abandoned, answerless questions lying around on the thread. I’m going to use this week to answer several of those inquiries to the best detail of my ability, and then message this article to those Redditors who asked the questions.

Can You Make Change for a Canadian 20?


Yeah, I ran into this problem a while back. No, not being Canadian. Why would you assume that being Canadian is a problem? Canadians have way better healthcare than we do, although apparently that doesn’t prevent them from falling into the same trap as us Americans. I’m saying that I bought a bunch of FTV:20s a couple of years back at the set’s release, thinking that it would be a slam-dunk long-term investment. I had a hook-up with a shop owner so I only paid $100 USD each, and I was fully prepared to reap my rewards a few years down the road. Welllll…


Yeah, that didn’t exactly turn out well. If I sold them right now, I wouldn’t even make any money after shipping costs and eBay fees. That’s a really mediocre two-year investment. About six months ago, I actually ended up just deciding to crack all of the boxes and sell the singles, because a local player wanted to buy a couple copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor off me, and the only ones I had were locked inside their sealed-product prison. As it turns out, the contents of the box are more valuable cracked than they are sealed, according to MTGPrice’s Fair Trade Price list:


Even if we ignore the garbage towards the bottom, we still make out better by moving the top five or so cards through TCGplayer, Facebook, or a similar out. You’ll almost certainly pay less in shipping as well, with Jace being the only single I would ship with tracking in a bubble mailer.

To answer your question, Hiroshimarc1, I wouldn’t sit around expecting FTV:20 to continue to grow in value. You’ll waste a lot of time sitting on gains that don’t exist, or you’ll suffer from very, very small marginal increases at best. I recommend cracking your FTVs and selling the singles inside. The higher-end stuff will move a lot faster, and you can ship the cheaper stuff to buylists to recoup the cost. We both lost on this one, but it’s better to try and recoup your losses instead of sitting on dead weight.

Guide Me to the Delta


Thanks for the question, Farsho! As of right now, the total Puca value of what you have is 6150 points, and the 3 Polluted Deltas will run you about 7122 points. I hope you have some extra points to push towards the Deltas, otherwise you won’t have enough. I definitely support trading the two Guides for three Deltas, for multiple reasons other than it just being a good trade for value.

Right now, you’re not using the Goblin Guides for anything else (at least I assume so from your post). Even if the lack of a recent printing means they will marginally increase in value by a couple of dollars over the next month or so, is that really worth not being able to optimally play your UR Delver deck with the Deltas? If you’re a player, there’s an inherent value in actually being able to, well, play your deck. Even if the Guides were $37 each and beat out the Deltas in pure TCGplayer mid value, I’d recommend trading cards you’re not playing for cards that you will play. Neither card will see a reprint anytime soon, unless WOTC really surprises us.

Hedron-Shaped Box


Well, hey there, gravitygroove. By the time you’re reading this article, your comment will be at least four days old. Getting a case at 540 seems like a perfectly fine deal, considering we’re seeing a lot more hype for whole cases with this set. We can give thanks to the Zendikar Expeditions lottery for that, bringing approximately one golden ticket to every six boxes of BFZ.

Personally, I really don’t think you want to hoard them. I went over a few of the reasons that sealed product is problematic back in the first question, and sealed booster boxes are even more of a pain to move than From the Vault product. They weigh more, and it’s harder to find that one guy looking to crack them for drafts a few years down the road. In addition to that, we really haven’t been seeing the returns on sealed product that we used to.

My colleague Sigmund Ausfresser can tell you a lengthy story about his first-hand battle with Innistrad sealed product, and how it was an absolute nightmare for him to move. While those eventually ended up being a slam-dunk, it’s the last booster box to ever take off like that, and we have the dynamic duo of Liliana of the Veil and Snapcaster Mage to thank for it. Boxes of Return to Ravnica really hasn’t seen any signs of growth at all. In fact, we can still pick them up for $90 with free shipping on eBay:

RTR boxes

Remember that Expeditions cards will likely water down the rest of the set, simply by flooding the market with non-Expeditions stuff. Vendors will be cracking hundreds and hundreds of these cases, looking to complete playsets of those full-art lands. You’re one small case in a large ocean of vendors, so these cards will be on the market for years to come. I really don’t think there’s any value to be gained on stashing a $500 investment that also takes up a non-zero amount of closet space, when we don’t see clear signs of significant returns down the road.

If you’re looking for a quick flip, you might have some luck selling individual boxes locally at $100 to $110 each, especially if your LGS runs out of product on the weekend of release.  That would net you a $60 or $70 profit with almost no work involved—you would just get to be the middle man. However, if you’d rather get that high from cracking packs and sitting in a pile of bulk commons/uncommons, tokens, and booster pack wrapping, there is a third option.

Cracking everything and moving it as soon as possible is a way to get value, but it’s obviously a gamble. Opening that $200 (or more?) Expeditions Scalding Tarn cushions your case cost by a significant margin, but opening one of the new BFZ duals will leave a bad taste in your mouth. If you’re fast and efficient with how quickly you move a lot of the mythics, rares, and uncommons before they plummet to their bulky graves, it’s not out of the question that you could recoup 80 or 90 percent of the value of each box, or even come out ahead in the long term.

Fed Up With Standard and Looking for Something More, Ahem, Modern


Nice, a two-for-one!

Users bananaderson and Marcoox here are both on the same page, and are wondering what the likely price trajectories are for Eidolon of the Great Revel and Thoughtseize, once they leave Standard and head off into the world of eternal-only play. For cards like these, I like to use the good old analogy of Snapcaster Mage.


Snapcaster didn’t plummet at rotation. He may have dipped by a dollar or two if my memory serves, but he certainly held his value as he made the transition to the world of eternal. Everyone knew already that he would find homes there, so a large majority of Standard players kept their copies because they knew that they would continue to find use for them. Thoughtseize and Eidolon will likely follow a similar pattern: they’ll barely (if at all) drop when they rotate out of Standard, and will continue to hold their own or increase as time goes on. If you need either card for a deck, either now or in the near future, I recommend biting the bullet, taking that shock to the face, and buying in or trading for them right now.

End Step

Some of these questions had a bit more of a “Finance 101” feel to them, but I think that’s alright. I enjoy answering these questions, because it reminds me that while it might seem “easy” or “obvious” to me, there are still newer players and growing financiers who are still just starting to explore the world of Magic finance that I discovered several years ago.

Maybe I’ll turn this into a semi-regular thing, using the Reddit thread as a solid crowdsource for specific finance questions that I can answer in an article. At the very least, it gives me something to write about every week. Hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit if you want to talk, suggest a topic, or provide constructive criticism. Oh, and the comments section exists, too. Use it.


Conditional Value

“I just want the cheapest copy you have. It’s for personal play, and I’m just trying to build the deck on a budget.”

–Probably one of my local customers

Man, I misuse quotations a lot. You wouldn’t know this if I didn’t tell you, but I didn’t actually  document that quote from some local guy I know. I mean, people have said similar stuff to me over the years, but I probably shouldn’t use actual quotation marks for it.

Anyway, what have we got to write about this week? Fetches? Boring. From the Vault: Lack of Linvala I really don’t care. I’d rather continue on my track as a brilliant comedy writer who basically wrote A Modest Proposal in MTG finance form (it’s right freaking here, for those who haven’t read it). As much as I’d love to continue writing satire and reading the comments, I do kind of get paid to provide useful and actionable financial information about our lovable little economy. I’m hopping back to more of a Finance 101 topic this week, where we’ll go over card conditions and why you shouldn’t write off buying and selling slightly played (SP), moderately played (MP), and heavily played (HP) cards.

Tell Me More

Let’s go back to that opening made-up quote. This more often applies to Legacy, Modern, or EDH than Standard, where the prices on dual lands, fetches, and older staples are symbolic of there not being enough to go around. Not all of the original dual lands have withstood the past twenty years of wear, and the ones that have been used as sandpaper have a price tag to show it. As a result of this, players on a budget who just care about the end result of finishing their decks are more often than not willing to sacrifice card condition to complete that goal.

Take a look at this Tundra, for example: it was one of the first dual lands I ever picked up, and I paid approximately 50 percent of retail for it, because it looks like someone smoked a cigarette directly onto the card for two days straight. (Seriously. The pictures below don’t capture just how yellow the card is.)

smoke tundra 2 smoke

“Yes, DJ. Used merchandise sells for cheaper than brand new stuff. That’s obvious. Why are you telling me this?”

Well, Mr. Stereotypical Devil’s Advocate Who So Many MTG Financiers Invoke in Their Articles, I’ll tell you a few things that you can use to take advantage of in the field of less-than-NM cards.

tweet gets a lot of flak for having singles that are  often priced slightly higher than the rest of the internet, but I’ve never seen a more strict grading system in action when ordering cards from the company. Last year, I ordered 40 copies of Ghave, Guru of Spores from SCG. Ten of those were NM and 30 were SP, and I paid 50 cents less on each of the SP copies. When the cards arrived, I couldn’t even tell that some of them were SP. I ended up grading around half of them as NM, and sold several on TCGplayer and out of my local display case as NM with no complaints.

If you’re ever looking to go deep on a particular spec target, I highly recommend checking out the SP and MP sections of SCG. My local customers will tell you that I’m a tough grader, and even I had trouble finding marks on the cards that would justifiy them being slightly played. Another side benefit of ordering from SCG will be that you’ll be guaranteed to have your order shipped to you, with no concern over cancellation or shipping worries.

On the Other Hand…

Let’s say you have a card that you graded as NM, and you throw it up on TCGplayer. You sell the card, package it up, ship it out, you know the drill. You’re happy to have a sale. However, you get a message about a week later. The buyer is unhappy with the condition of the card because he found a nick or two that he believes knocks it down to SP. Now they want a refund—either a partial return on their purchase for the condition or a full refund with them shipping the card back to you. Sometimes they’re correct, and sometimes they’re just being too critical of a grader. Neither of those choices are very appealing though, and unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.

However, I’ve never had anyone counterclaim my grading of SP or worse cards. The line in the sand between SP and MP can often be blurry, and I’ve definitely listed some cards on TCGplayer as SP that some people might argue as being MP. Even so, buyers have never messaged me about it. They purchased the card expecting some amount of wear, and were satisfied with their purchase costing less than an otherwise minty version would have run them. If you err on the safe side and list it as SP, you’ll remove most picky graders from the equation and not suffer a huge loss in the process. I’m not suggesting to list this thing…


…as “SP” and cross your fingers hoping that you don’t get hate mail, but you can probably get away with posting it as HP instead of just straight up “damaged.”

A Rough Guideline

If you’re new to Magic or to the seller’s side of the game, I recommend checking out TCGplayer’s condition guide for grading. While I think it might be a little bit too strict on the definition of LP or MP, it certainly gets the job done if you’re trying to successfully sell on TCGplayer or eBay.


Only the NM Shall Pass

When trying to sell off SP and worse cards, it’s important to remember that some businesses don’t allow you to trade or sell them. PucaTrade is a website where a lot of heated discussion over condition takes place. Some users don’t take the time to read the requirements of sending a card, and don’t understand that unless notifying their trade partner beforehand, it is not okay to ship out cards that are SP or worse condition while expecting the full point value.

StrikeZoneOnline is a vendor with a buylist that only accepts NM cards, and grades extremely strictly. If you send cards that are even close to questionable on condition, StrikeZone will send you back the cards that they rejected and remove the cost of shipping from your payment amount. If you’re an inexperienced buylister and ship to them expecting to get a simple “condition discount” like CardKingdom offers, then you’ll end up very disappointed. StrikeZone will almost always pay top dollar on foils if you keep your eye out on their graph line on MTGPrice, but you need to be sure that there’s absolutely no clouding, smudging, or edge wear at all before you send the company cards. Interestingly enough, I’ve found StrikeZone’s grading system to be much more lax in person when I sit down to sell to them at Grands Prix. I don’t know if this is because it’s harder to be strict when you have someone sitting across from you to dispute your grading, but I’ve definitely shipped the company SP cards in person and been paid in full.

Everything Comes Back to Cube/Commander

It seems like every time I write an article, there’s at least some mention of Commander or Cube. These two formats allow for some of the most unique personal expression in Magic, and have some of the more interesting house rules or restrictions when building, so it’s no wonder that financiers can end up finding unique ways to cater to these types of players. I once attended an SCG Open and spectated a draft where a player had a cube composed of entirely HP or worse non-foil cards.

He didn’t want to pay the full price to obtain his otherwise expensive cube, so he decided to make a game out of building the cube itself, while at the same time helping the cube be more affordable. The Jace, the Mind Sculptor in that cube looked like it had been used to paint somebody’s driveway, and certain text boxes weren’t even visible anymore. However, he proudly explained that he had only paid $40 to a vendor that was dying to get rid of it, as he ticked up the loyalty on a card who’s initial loyalty placement in the bottom right had been peeled away at some point.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

If you’re trying to build a budget cube without dropping the power level to commons and uncommons only, then this might be your way to go. Challenge yourself to only include cards that you find in the parking lot, or something to that effect, and you’ll be done in no time. While I’ve never actually seen someone do the same with a Commander deck, it could certainly be done, and it would be a much cheaper alternative that comes with a story every time you sit down to play it.

End Step (NSFL)

If you’re a fellow Redditor and looking to see some of the most destroyed cards that Magic has to offer, I recommend indulging in MTGgore. While a “flip it or rip it” phase seems to have taken over a little bit, there’s some sort of sick pleasure obtained from looking at picture of a Legacy deck that just went through the wash. It’s like watching a dumpster fire: there’s no value to it, but you just can’t look away.