The Watchtower 03/24/20 – A Definitive Guide to Arbitrage

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It’s a surreal world we’re living in at the moment, and it’s affecting every aspect of peoples’ lives. Although it might not be at the forefront of a lot of peoples’ minds right now, that does include Magic – Wizards has just announced the suspension of all in-store play until at least 10th May, which means that LGSs are going to suffer hard and paper card sales are going to plummet. Not many people are buying cards right now, and so with that in mind, instead of my usual picks today this is going to be an article on cross-border arbitrage (I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would be doing this at some point in the near future).

I’m based in the UK, and with that comes pricing on cards that is generally a bit different (and often lower) to that in the US, so with the right setup there can be a lot of money to be made between the two markets.


Pricing Differences

In general, card prices in the EU tend to be lower than in the US. This is painting with a fairly broad stroke, and doesn’t apply to all categories of card, but the best arbitrage opportunities tend to arise amongst EDH cards. EDH (or Commander, if you’re that way inclined) is hugely popular in the States, but much less so this side of the pond. That means that card prices over here run lower and stock levels run higher, especially at the release of a new set. I highly recommend reading Jason Alt’s articles, especially around set releases and paying attention to the potential EDH all-stars from each new set; they can often be had on Cardmarket in bricks of 50+ cards on preorder or at release, and can be a great opportunity for 100%+ gains, outing either to buylist or selling on TCGPlayer.

Setting Up With A Partner

As well as talking about differences in card pricing and availability, I’m going to devote a large portion of this article to discussing the actual mechanics of setting up an arbitrage partnership between the EU and the US.

The first step to take when thinking about delving into arbitrage is setting up a relationship with someone on the other side of the pond. The main reason to do this is because the primary TCG platform in the EU is Magic Cardmarket (MKM), which doesn’t allow shipping to addresses outside of Europe. That means that you’re going to need an address within Europe to ship to, which can then forward your cards to you overseas.

The simplest way to do this is if you have friends or relatives based in Europe that are happy to collect your mail and forward it on to you in bulk – however, this option isn’t available to most people, and it can be very useful for the forwarder to have a reasonable knowledge of Magic – I’ll come onto this in a bit.

If you’re an MTGPrice Protrader member, then another way to set this up is by connecting with one of our EU members via the Discord. This can go both ways too; if you’re in the EU then selling your cards in the US can be very profitable, so you could set up a symbiotic relationship where the EU partner receives orders for the US partner, and then can send over their own cards with the package for the US partner to sell in the States.

The Mechanics

Once you’ve got a partnership set up, you need to figure out the practicalities of actually moving the cardboard halfway round the world. I think the best thing here is for me to run you through my setup and how I handle everything, so here goes.

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  1. Agree on a compensation system. Before you start anything, it’s a good idea to make sure that both parties are going to be benefiting from this relationship. This could be in the form of the US party selling cards overseas for the EU party, or a fixed/percentage fee per package sent across, or something else – it’s up to you.
  2. Set up an MKM account. It’s best for the US partner to set up an account on Cardmarket, using the EU partner’s address – for my partners I’ll normally have them put “John Smith, c/o  David Sharman” followed by my address, so I know what the mail is and who it’s for before I open it.
  3. Set up a shared spreadsheet. I have a separate spreadsheet for each of my arbitrage partners to keep track of what they’re ordered, from whom and any additional info needed. My partner lists what they’ve ordered, I mark it as arrived and note any issues with it. If need be I can upload pictures to deal with any card condition issues or other order problems (this is where it’s useful for your partner to be familiar with Magic cards). This is the kind of template I use:
  1. Buy some cards! Now you’re set up and ready for the US party to start ordering cards to the EU address.
  2. Catalogue the cards. The EU party will ideally keep on top of incoming mail, mark cards off the spreadsheet as they arrive, and store them safely until it’s time to forward them on.
  3. Forward the cards onto the US party. The frequency of the mail forwarding is up to the individuals, but my recommendation is not to do this too often, as postage costs will stack up quickly and eat into the arbitrage profits. I normally send using a tracked & signed for service, which costs between £8 and £20 depending on parcel size – prices will vary depending on the country you’re sending from.

Buylisting

Speaking of buylists, another way to take advantage of arbitrage gaps without needing an overseas partner is via buylists – this is for the EU and rest-of-world readers. Something that I do from time to time is send in buylists from the UK to Card Kingdom in the US. Card Kingdom generally has the best buylist prices around, and so every so often I’ll pull together a fairly large buylist to send to them (although other buylists can also be good). To make it worth the postage this will usually be a $300-400+ package, usually including specs that I have a large quantity of and don’t want to spend the time selling individually. It can also be a useful outlet for stalled specs that I can break even or take a small loss on, so that I can funnel that money into cards that are going to move faster.

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When it comes to choosing between cash and store credit, I will mostly opt for the cash payment. This is because I do the bulk of my spending in the EU where prices are lower – however I have in the past taken store credit to spend on specific cards that are well priced on Card Kingdom compared to other sources.

Switcheroo

Finally, I want to briefly talk about arbitrage opportunities going in the other direction – from US to EU. These generally take the form of specialty sealed product, because Wizards don’t seem to like countries outside the US having easy access to special and supplemental sets. This has most recently been relevant with all the Secret Lair Drops that Wizards have been releasing, which have come with exorbitant shipping and customs charges to ship overseas. This has deterred many overseas players from picking the sets up when they only want a couple of cards from them, which in turn has created great opportunity for me to pick up sealed sets and sell on the singles. Example: I paid around £150 for a set of the five Constellation SLDs, and turned the singles around for close to £350.

Another example of a good product to ship the other way is the San Diego Comic Con sets, which are only available in the US. I’ve had partners ship me various different SDCC sets and flipped them in the UK for a good margin, due to the lack of supply outside the US.

I think that covers most bases here, and I hope it has all made sense, but if anyone has any questions then feel free to hit me up on Twitter or in the Protrader Discord. See you next week, stay safe, and stay home.


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.

MTGPrice helps keep you at the top of your game with our daily card price index, fast movers lists, weekly articles by the best MTGFinance minds in the business, the MTGFastFinance podcast co-hosted by James Chillcott & Travis Allen, as well as the Pro Trader Discord channels, where all the action goes down. Find out more.

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Underworld Value

I know it’s a crazy time in the world, and one of the things that gives me comfort is knowing that there will always be Magic in some form. People are playing Commander games with Discord’s help, trading via mail remains a lot of fun, and it’s always enjoyable to pick up undervalued cards.

We are about two weeks away from the previews for Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, and this is when we want to examine the set that’s closing down for the good buys at max supply. Traditionally, this means cards are at their cheapest, and any bit of play they see from here, especially in Standard, means an uptick. I like knowing that I have about a year to unload Theros: Beyond Death cards before they are in danger of losing value due to rotation.

To the cards!

First things first: I’m going to be talking about the regular nonfoils mostly, except for one or two specific cards. Foil prices at this point are remarkably in line with the nonfoil prices, because the players who want unique versions are going for the special version (extended art, frameless, constellation) or the foil version thereof. 

These are picks with an eye towards Standard, but if a card has uses in other formats, all the better!

Thassa’s Intervention ($1) – There’s two decks in Standard that are giving this some love: Temur Reclamation and Azorius Control, and it fills a similar role in each. The modes here are either to prevent your opponent from doing something good, or if they decline to play things into your open blue mana, you get to dig for two good cards. That’s wonderfully flexible and this is going to go up. Three bucks is quite doable, but I’m hoping for $5+, so I could buy at $1 or less and buylist them for $3 plus store credit bonus.

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Phoenix of Ash (75 cents) – Another card at near-bulk prices, it’s a good, recursive threat for whatever flavor of aggressive red deck you want to use. The core of such decks is pretty intact for the next 15 months, with just about all the best cards being from Throne of Eldraine, aside from Runaway Steam-Kin and Light up the Stage. The good news here is that decks want to play lots of copies, as extras are fine in play together or fuel escape for one another. You can get playsets for $3 or less, a price that turns around quite nicely when this sees more play.

Shatter the Sky

Calix, Destiny’s Hand (Showcase Foil) ($5) – Calix is a long-term pickup, because he’s absurd in Commander decks that are enchantment-based. That’s a relatively popular subtheme, and as time passes, better and better enchantments will be printed. His price can’t really get any lower, and while you can get the original for near-bulk prices, go for the Showcase foil and really drive some wonderful returns. There’s currently 158 vendors on TCG, and yes, that’s a lot of copies. This is for the long-term and doesn’t cost much. If you like this theme of deck, definitely get your Commander copies now. 

Ashiok, Nightmare Muse (Showcase) ($7) – I think Ashiok’s newest version is really underplayed, given the synergies involved. Currently they are only seeing play as a fun-of, but I like the inevitability and the speed of milling you can get with the Nightmare tokens. This is a less sure spec, but given the power of the card and how perfectly this fits into the average UB control deck, it’s hard not to love. I like getting the Showcase nonfoils in hopes of Standard players wanting to rebuy these for $15+ sometime in the next 12 months.

Shadowspear ($5.50/$7/$11/$36) – Whatever version you want to buy, there’s a case to be made. For a card that’s only been out three months, this is already in nearly 3000 decks on EDHREC, and it deals quite effectively with the two qualities that are most annoying in Commander. I could see this being played in any deck that wants to get around these protective qualities, and even though it’s seeing zero Standard play, the price has stayed constant for nearly two months. It hasn’t had a chance to go down in price. Copies aren’t being sold to vendors, players are keeping the ones they get and trading/using them. Since we are at max supply, it’s time to get your copies and a couple extra besides.

The Temples (between fifty cents and $2) – I strongly advocate that you get your playset of each Temple right now if you’re a Standard player. These are good lands with a notable bonus to make up for the lack of speed, as scrying away something you don’t want is quite a lovely feeling. The UW one is the most expensive, as that color combination lends itself naturally to slow control builds, but UB is not far behind. The other three are noticeably cheaper, but the supply that already existed from each of these isn’t really a consideration. Once the shocklands rotate, these will be a strong contender for the must-have lands. If you play Standard, get them while they’re cheap and you won’t have to pay $3 or $4 each in a couple months. As specs, you’re hoping they get to the $6 range.

Storm Herald (a quarter) – This is pure speculation but when it’s so cheap, it can really give you some amazing returns. Mark Rosewater told us this week that Ikoria has the biggest power/toughness boosting aura ever. Eldrazi Conscription gave +10/+10 and while it’s possible that as a troll they give us an Aura which grants +0/+21, that seems pretty far out there. What’s going to happen is that people will immediately try to build around something obscenely powerful, and Storm Herald is a natural fit, there to clean up and get one more hit in after something happens to the original plan. You goal here is very simple: Buy these cheap now, and when this new aura is spoiled, sell into the hype, hopefully getting $2 or $3 each. You’re more likely to make sales on eBay or TCG, so price aggressively and get your profits locked in.

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: The Sequel To Last Week

Readers!

Go read last week’s article and the one from the week before if you haven’t yet or need your memory refreshed. I’m sort of eager to just get into it.

We identified War of the Spark and Core 2020 as having a lot of potential, but based on those criteria, Shadows over Innistrad and Ixalan actually have the most potential. Are we waiting for them to pop or do we just not know what we’re talking about?

In any case, let’s look at Ixalan because there are bound to be interesting cards in that set, even with them randomly yanking the rug out by reprinting cards like Revel in Riches. Let’s begin.

I wouldn’t have predicted a year ago that Gishy would be the number 1 commander, but here we are. There are a lot of EDH “staple” type cards here which means they’ll be somewhat easy to reprint, which may attenuate a lot of our potential growth here, but let’s look at what matters in any case.

This is a little tricky to reprint and I think this shows that the best time to buy in was peak supply, as is always the case. That said, this is going to be an important EDH fixture forever and this could hit $20 despite it doing a very bad, clunky impression of Gaea’s Cradle. It turns out Growing Rites of Itilmoc is sort of like Frank Caliendo’s impression of Casey Kasem – it sort of sucks but it’s the best thing we’ve got and we should recognize that.

I liked this a lot as a bulk rare and picked up a ton of copies and while it’s not rising as much as I would have liked and seems to have plateaued a bit, it’s tough to reprint, is very powerful, and there’s every chance a new card gets printed that makes this $10 overnight. Barring that, this slowly climbs to $5 and I’m OK with that.

This card is 100% getting a reprint, probably soon. When it does, buy in hard. The price will tank in the near term and I need you to know that I’m betting my own money that this recovers. For whatever reason, they don’t seem to be able to print something stronger than this in a Standard set. If you make it better, it’s too good unless the set has no tribes and they wouldn’t print something like this in a set with no tribes. Players want this card and they’ll always build tribal. I’m not that bullish on its current price, but if a reprint comes along soon, I’m all in.

Compass is in the process of selling out and with double-sided cards particularly tricky to reprint, expect this to hold value well. While you’re at it, why not look at the promo editions that had the treasure maps on the back? Those are Ugin’s fate tier promos and basically unreprintable, but they’ll also shrug off reprints of the regular versions.

Briefly, other cards I like include Spell Swindle, Herald of Secret Streams, Settle the Wreckage, Arcane Adaptation, River’s Rebuke and Primal Amulet. 

In fact, there’s a good case to be made for buying quite a few copies of Arcane Adaptation.

That little blip was when people thought about using Turntimber Ranger to generate an infinite number of tokens. Anything that can mess with tribal affiliations like this will always get tested and has the capacity to spike to $5. If it could hit $5 when it was in print, imagine how high it would go now if some other new card made it relevant again. Is Thassa’s Oracle THAT much better than Laboratory Maniac and Jace that Inverter went from a non-deck to Tier 1 overnight? Maybe yes, maybe not. Either way, Inverter went banana pancakes, as did bad cards like Paradigm Shift when Oracle came out. They won’t stop making tribal stuff because it’s an easy way to appeal to casuals and competitive players alike and with Arcane Adaptation gettable for literally a tenth of a Euro on MKM, it’s not the worst idea in the world to throw a few European monopoly bucks at 100 copies or so to make you look like a genius in a year or two when they accidentally make this a $10 card. It could get reprinted, in which case you’re barely out anything, otherwise you look like Nostradamus. If you must speculate, speculate in this manner, I beg.

Speaking of begging, please comment on this article. I’m going to be stuck in my house for 2 months and I need some diversion. I’ve watched everything worth watching on Netflix and Prime so I either talk with you about cards or I rewatch 6 Feet Under or something. I know what I’m voting for. Until next week!

The Watchtower 03/16/20 – Mystery Booster Bonanza

Mystery Booster: Retail Edition finally launched last Friday, and with it came the replacement of the playtest cards with one of a possible 121 foil cards (cards not found in the non-foil slots). Since then, prices have been crashing hard – especially on foil reprints of older cards with single foil printings. Today we’ll be taking a look at what to buy in on now that prices are down, and what the likely trajectory is for some of the most popular cards.


Mana Crypt

Price today: $135
Possible Price: $200

I’m going to kick things off with one that may seem obvious, but that I think definitely needs reiterating nonetheless. After its reprint in Eternal Masters, Mana Crypt tumbled down to a (relatively) low price of around $60, but did it stay there? Oh no. Over the next two years it climbed its way back up well over $200, and that kind of organic growth is due to player demand.

This is a card that’s currently being played in nearly 27k decks listed on EDHREC, and there will be many many more unlisted beyond that. I don’t need to tell you that it’s obviously ridiculously powerful in EDH, being an absolute staple in cEDH decks and a huge boost to the power level of any other decks too. Perhaps almost as importantly, despite the prowess of the card I don’t think that this is something that the EDH Rules Committee will ever be able to ban, due to its high price tag combined with the vast number of players using it. Banning it would put thousands of players hundreds of dollars out of pocket, and that doesn’t seem like something they’d be up for doing.

Prices for the Mystery Booster edition of Mana Crypt start at $135 on TCGPlayer (compared to the $180 price tag that the Eternal Masters version is commanding) but ramp up quickly, and supply isn’t as deep. Given that these cards are nigh on identical in terms of aesthetics, I fully expect to see the MB versions climb to meet the EMA price, and then for all copies to keep going past $200 within 12-18 months. I’m sure we’ll be seeing another reprint of Mana Crypt somewhere down the line, but wouldn’t expect it for another 2 years minimum so you’ll have plenty of time to get out – and in the meantime it’ll help you ruin friendships at the EDH table.

Selvala, Heart of the Wilds

Price today: $28
Possible price: $50

Here’s another Mythic with a big price discrepancy between its (single) original printing and the Mystery Booster edition. I’m sensing a theme. Although not quite as ubiquitous in EDH as Mana Crypt, this is still a popular card. 555 decks registered on EDHREC using Selvala as a commander, with a further 4k playing her in the 99 makes for moderate demand, but there’s no mistaking the power level here either.

With just the one other printing in Conspiracy: Take the Crown, Selvala is another card that’s had a very organic growth pattern due to player demand, and a high price tag to follow. That’s also partly due to the size of the Conspiracy 2 print run compared to, say, a Standard set, but the demand is also real.

The $23 price discrepancy between the CN2 and MB versions here means that more players are likely to seize this opportunity to pick up copies for their decks, and I’m going to end up sounding like a broken record but I think this will be safe from a reprint for another couple of years, so I don’t think it’ll have a hard time pushing $50 again before then.

Alhammarret’s Archive

Price today: $5
Possible price: $10

This is a relatively small-ball pick compared to my other two cards this week, but the fact of the matter is that Mystery Booster versions of Alhammarret’s Archive start at $5 on TCGPlayer, whereas the Origins printing starts at $10. That’s some pretty simple stonks right there if you ask me. Really though, this is a pretty popular card in EDH, at around 7.6k decks listed playing it, and a bunch of these can currently be had at $5. Give it 12 months and I think we’ll see the Mystery Booster copies up close to $10.

I’m following the same logic all the way through here, and if I’m honest I think this can be applied to a large proportion of the cards reprinted in Mystery Boosters. You can DIY too; look for the most popular cards with the highest price discrepancies (ideally with few or single previous printings), and you should be onto a winner.


On a final, more sombre note, COVID-19 is a real threat to the global population at the moment. I’m not here to give you expert advice, but to tell you to pay attention to what the experts are saying and stay safe. If that means self-isolation or quarantine, then maybe you’ll have to forgo FNM for a while in favour of MTGO or Arena. You should also consider this when sending or receiving cards in the mail – COVID-19 can remain active on cardboard for up to 24 hours and plastic for up to 72 hours. At the very least, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling cards you’re sending or receiving. Stay safe, and I’ll see you next week.


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.

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