The Art of Selling Out

Written by Corbin Hosler on . Posted in Finance, Magic Culture

The Art of Selling Out

Corbin Hosler

Corbin Hosler is a journalist living in the hotbed of Magic that is Oklahoma. He started playing in Shadowmoor and chased the Pro Tour dream for a few years, culminating in a Star City Games Legacy Open finals appearance in 2011 before deciding to turn to trading and speculation full-time. He writes weekly at QuietSpeculation.com and biweekly for LegitMTG. He also cohosts Brainstorm Brewery, the only financial podcast on the net.

The first time is always the worst.

You sit down across from the dealer. Maybe you’re at a Grand Prix or maybe you’re sitting at your local shop. You nervously set your binder on the table in front of you, unsure of what the next five minutes are going to bring.

This isn’t like any trade you’ve done before. That trade an hour ago you felt confident about, knew the prices, were certain you were getting the right end of the deal. This is different.

The dealer brushes through the first page of your binder quickly, not finding anything of interest. On the next page he stops at your Restoration Angel you picked up in trading earlier today.

“Four dollars,” he says as his finger lingers over the card.

Your mind races. Is that good enough? Isn’t that a $10 card?

You slowly shake your head from side to side, and the dealer moves on quickly. His next stop is your Murkfiend Liege.

“I usually give three, but this isn’t in great condition. Two dollars okay?”

You look up at the dealer. This card is worth a few bucks, even in beat-up condition? When you grabbed it off of that EDH player back home, the thought hadn’t even crossed your mind. You nod yes, and the dealer pulls it out and moves on.

This agonizingly slow process continues for another five or 10 minutes, and by the end you’re up some amount of dollars and out some amount of cards, and you may be wondering whether you did the right thing selling off those cards for what you got.

This scenario is far too common. Players need cash or want to get rid of their old cards, and they walk up to a dealer booth without any idea what they’re getting into. This leads to long, drawn-out interactions that aren’t very fun for anyone involved. The dealer wastes a bunch of time offering prices to people who don’t often take them. The seller often doesn’t know any better.

I hope to change that experience for some of you. First I want to cover the most important thing when it comes to selling — when you do it. Then I’ll cover some of the more functional and logistical issues revolving around selling cards to a dealer. Whether you’re new to the game or an old pro at selling cards, this should help maximize your profits.

When to sell

It’s all about rotation

People love to get in on cards when they’re cheap and feel proud of themselves or show off when the card goes up in price later. It’s awesome to save a few dollars on your cards this way, but it doesn’t mean you’ve “made money.” I call this type of behavior the Myth of Making Profits, and it gets you nowhere if your goal is to make real money that translates outside of the cardboard world. The proper question is not “What should I buy?” but “When should I sell?”

The most important thing to keep in mind is rotation. The “rotation dip” is a well-known concept, but it’s actually becoming less important. Possibly because of the increased knowledge of card prices or the proliferation of smartphones, this dip seems to take place earlier and earlier every year; that makes it less of a dip and more of a gradual descent.

Sell into PTQ seasons

Generally it’s best to sell near the beginning of PTQ season for whatever format.

For Modern, this is the peak demand for the cards. It may seem better to wait until the middle of the season, when you would think demand is at its highest, but people already have their decks together by then. Getting out at the beginning of the season is the safest bet overall. Standard doesn’t go out of style as much, but PTQ season does affect it. You should sell off cards that are rotating at the beginning of the summer as we enter PTQ season and don’t look back. Some of those cards may spike before rotation, but as a whole, buy prices get steadily worse the deeper into summer you get. Legacy prices peak around the time of a Legacy GP in the states, though prices for most Legacy cards are fairly stable year-round.

For hot new cards from a set, you want to sell in the first few weeks of a set’s release or wait until its been out of circulation for a while. Look at Lingering Souls, which spiked soon after release and offered a good opportunity to sell. Then the price settled down. Now Dark Ascension is no longer being opened, and Souls will slowly climb back up. I’m looking for big money out of this card in a year, and you should be acquiring them now because it’s simply too powerful to not see heavy play after rotation.

Sell into speculation

Let’s say you were watching coverage of the last Pro Tour and saw Wolfir Silverheart was having a good day. Or maybe you were just following me on Twitter, where I posted the Wolfir tip the day before the Pro Tour. Either way, let’s assume you got in cheap.

When, then, to move these cards? There was an initial spike, but the card hadn’t even affected Standard yet, so it possibly could go up even past the $14 mark it hit.

In cases like this, you should always sell into the speculation. I got burned after the Jace, the Mind Sculptor banning on Primeval Titans, where I bought a number on Ebay that night and waited until I had them in hand to relist. They sold, sure, but a week later when my auction ended and a full two weeks after the bannings. By that time the price had settled, and I lost a few bucks on each copy rather than making $5 to $8 each if I listed them immediately.

If you got some Silverhearts the weekend of the Pro Tour, you should be looking to unload them the following Monday or Tuesday, or basically as soon as you’re confident your order is coming in. By trying to time the peak price perfectly, you’re just as likely to lose money by holding onto them as you are to make a few extra bucks. It’s better to lock in slightly smaller profits than try and squeeze out every penny and take a bigger risk.

Clean out your binder

I actually get a little nervous if my binder grows too big, even though I do my best to trade into Legacy and casual staples that will hold value better than Standard cards. The urge to cash in some easy money and lock in profits will usually get to me if the collection grows too large, but that may just be me since I’m more into cash than having a sick collection.

This is especially important when it comes to Standard cards. These cards get cheaper and cheaper the closer rotation gets. That couple of bucks for your Mirran Crusader may not sound great, but it’s a lot better than becoming nearly a bulk rare by sitting in your binder a year past rotation. Purge these cards at regular interval, because it will help keep you from leaving a bunch of money on the table over the long-term.

Practical tips for selling

What to sell

It’s no secret Standard cards typically get the worst buy prices as a percentage of retail value when compared with other cards. Ergo, you need a goal for making that last step before cashing out. There’s nothing wrong with selling your Standard stuff, but you stand to make more money if you’re able to turn it into a different segment of cards, even if the retail value is the same.

I’ve been around the trading community and on the floor at enough events to have seen just about every type of trade strategy. I could go into infinite detail, but let’s just look at a few of the popular ones:

Bulking — This is where a trader trades his cards for another player’s “bulk.” The big moneymaker here is that very few people can actually distinguish true bulk from not-quite-bulk. A lot of players end up making these trades, because they move hundreds of cards they think are worthless for an expensive one. Here’s the kicker. Each of these cards is worth 10 cents in cash (or dimes, as the case may be) to a dealer, so if you’re doing this, you need to demand cash prices on their cards as well.

Still, people go for this all the time. It’s a viable trading strategy because you’re basically selling your cards at full retail, even assuming you actually get nothing but bulk.

If this is your plan to cash out, you really need to be at a big event to make it work. Take your cards to a dealer in 1,000-count longboxes and tell them it’s all bulk. If you plan on selling online, do not engage in bulk, because you’ll get killed on shipping costs. It also helps to have someone more experienced pick your boxes to pull out all the non-bulk. Trust me, I find $5-plus cards in “bulk” boxes all the time.

Casual appeal — This is basically what I do. I’ll trade a hot Standard card like Champion of the Parish for Sanguine Bond every time. The cards are similar in retail price, but you’ll always get more for the casual card because its price is less fluid. This lowers risk for dealers, and they pass that benefit along to you.

Do whatever trading you want to build your binder into something sexy. But when it comes time to cash out, remember you can maximize profits by rolling some stock into casual and EDH staples.

Legacy staples — This is the same principle as casual cards. Legacy prices are more stable, so you’ll get better buylist numbers. The only problem is people will usually demand a premium to trade away their Legacy cards (as they should), meaning you’re likely to lose as much as you gain by converting into Legacy stock. You can achieve the same benefits without the Legacy Toll by trading into casual stuff.

Condition matters

I’ve become the Fed Hawk of card condition in the last few years (Apologies to those who don’t read CNNMONEY daily. It’s like MTG finance, only in real life!). Point is, I’m more harsh on condition that just about anyone I know because I work on the same axis as dealers. I understand how damaging it is to a card’s cash price if it’s nicked or beat. You’re looking at losing 20-25 percent on a card’s buy price if the condition isn’t up to snuff. That will quickly eat into your profits if you’re careless when trading. That crease may not matter if you’re trading to play, but if you’re trading to sell you need to be very aware.

I don’t hate trading for not-perfect stuff, as long as its something I can move easily. Let’s look at the Champion of the Parish and Sanguine Bond example again. While I would rather have a near mint Bond over Champion to sell, if I have a nicked copy I would rather have the Champion. The Bond is worth a little bit more, but you can trade that Champion away a lot easier, and most players don’t care about a crease or two if they’re going to play with it.

Do your homework

The first thing I do at any big show is scour the hall and pick up every printed buylist. You can peruse the lists in your hotel room to figure out where you want to cash out, and even pull out the cards you want to move beforehand.

The one huge advantage I get is finding out what is undervalued in the room. It’s different at every tournament. At GenCon last year people were trading Hero of Bladehold at $4 to $5, and Channel Fireball was offering $5 cash for either version. That makes for some very profitable trades. At GP Nashville earlier this year it was Black Sun’s Zenith, which again I was able to trade for at nearly cash prices.

Be prepared

It’s the Boy Scouts motto for a reason: It works. Know a dealer’s buylist when you walk up to them. Sort the cards you want to sell by their printed buylist, and pull them out beforehand. This shows the dealer you’re ready to do business and aren’t some random player who scrubbed out of the tournament and is going to waste 10 minutes flipping through your binder.

Not only does this make the whole process easier for both you and the buyer, it saves a hell of a lot of time.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate

The worst that can happen is a dealer says no. The more you sell, the better you’ll get to know dealers, and if you work with them they’ll work with you in return. I’ve gotten better buy prices on a lot of orders simply because I’ve developed a working relationship with a buyer and asked for better prices. You’ll never know what they’ll say unless you ask. There’s usually room for you to work with the buyer and both still come out ahead. They get your business and your cards; you get better prices.

This is a lot of information, but even applying as much as you can will begin to pay off, and it gets easier as it goes. The delay between articles is because I got married just a few weeks ago and spent some time out of the country! Between that and trying to settle into married life while getting caught up at my day job (I’m a journalist), it’s been quite busy, as you can imagine. The good news is I’m back and plan on coming to you as regularly scheduled!

Thanks for reading,
Corbin Hosler
@Chosler88 on Twitter

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