As Magic players we all end up with cards we don’t want or need. Turning these into cards we can use can be difficult. That’s unavoidable and really part of the reason why Magic cards have any value at all. It’s pretty easy for people to look at a pile of cards on each side and assume it’s an equal trade, but you can’t always find someone with the thing you want who also needs what you have. When this happens the simplest solution is to sell your cards—after all, everyone accepts money. Adding a desirable currency to a trade can make both sides come to a quick agreement. From the perspective of the player, of course, the question is whether they’re getting the best offer possible.
If you’ve been playing Magic for long enough you’re no doubt familiar with the secondary market—brick-and-mortar stores, eBay and TCG Player, online retailers like Star City Games, and so on. What you may be less familiar with is how each of these different options compare to each other. A smart and informed approach to selling your excess cards can net you a good amount of extra money if you’re careful. With that in mind, today I’m going to outline all of your best and worst options for selling cards.
The True Value of Cards
The first step to selling a card is to figure out what it’s really worth. No, I’m not talking about how much you can buy it for in your local store or large online retailer. I’m talking about what it’s worth to an average person. How much are people willing to pay for a card? The first step is to determine the cheapest price you can find this card for on the internet. Let’s take a look at Platinum Emperion for an example.
Above is the pricing information Quiet Speculation provides to free users. While it doesn’t tell you exactly where to find the cheapest price (that information is available with an Insider account), it can give you a ballpark estimate. Based on this information, Platinum Emperion is worth about $16. What can you get for it? Likely less than $16. If you are actively interested in selling a card, expect to accept offers less than the least expensive seller on the internet unless your buyer needs the card quickly. Ordering cards on the internet is far too easy for anyone to prefer your copy for any reason other than price. For Platinum Emperion, $15 is the absolute maximum I would expect to sell it for.
How Can I Sell My Cards?
There are a ton of different ways to sell cards. Each requires varying levels of effort and luck, usually in direct proportion to the amount of money you can expect to get. The easiest but least rewarding is to sell a card to a store (also known as buylisting). The hardest, but most profitable way is to sell directly to a person, much like a store would. In between these two extremes, selling on an aggregate sale site (eBay, TCGPlayer, Cardshark, etc.) requires intermediate effort. The final option you have, albeit only sometimes, is to sell your cards to a vendor at a major event.
The best option for you really depends on how much time and effort you want to put into selling a card. Because cards can change in price very quickly, I often find myself quickly cashing in my profits if a card has spiked, while I’m more methodical with a steady gainer.
How do you buylist a card, you ask? The process varies from store to store but the basic premise is pretty simple. Stores that accept orders through the mail will have a buylist listed on their website. You pick which cards you want to sell them and follow the instructions to submit a buylist. Some stores (Cool Stuff Inc., Star City Games) allow you to send a buylist directly through a web interface. Some stores ask you send them via email. Either way you are going to need to wait for the buylist to get approved before sending the physical cards.
One thing to be very careful of is to check the website’s grading criteria. You don’t want to send them cards of the wrong condition (or printing). Any errors on your part will cause you to lose money. Other common errors are not properly packing cards or sorting them according to instructions. Sorting takes times and most stores will lower the amount of money you receive if your cards aren’t sorted or don’t arrive in the agreed-upon condition.
The final thing you need to consider is payment. Obviously sending cash in the mail is not a good idea and stores don’t generally offer that form of payment. Some stores offer checks (which take more time to arrive), PayPal (which has a fee), or store credit (which is not really money). It’s important to take into consideration all of your options because they can really make or break your decision to deal with certain vendors. If you often buy cards from the vendor you’re selling to then it is likely in your best interest to take store credit. Every store I have ever worked with has offered a percentage bonus for store credit.
Cool Stuff Inc. has brick-and-mortar stores in Orlando so it’s one that I frequent. It has a 25% bonus when you choose the store credit option. This means that if you decide to buylist a card it may be worth it to take store credit if you plan to buy the card you want from CSI anyway.
Using an Aggregate Site
I’ve sold a lot of cards on TCGPlayer. It’s neither the best nor the worst platform to sell on. Some people like the familiarity of eBay and that’s fine too—it’s largely based on what you like the most. The most important thing to realize is that no matter how you end up selling a card on an aggregate site there will be fees. Shipping fees are just unavoidable, as they are with a buylist, but there are additional fees too. Most of the time you are likely to lose about 11% of the total sale price plus a flat amount to fees before shipping. It sucks but that’s how the websites keep operating.
I have the most experience with TCGPlayer so I’ll explain how I list cards there. When you make an account I strongly recommend changing your shipping charges to the cheapest available. Free shipping looks a lot more enticing to buyers and allows you to more accurately control the price of your card, as well as where it appears in search results. Starting out, you need to list cards cheaper than the lowest listing or it’s likely that nobody will buy from you. The biggest mistake I see people make is marking down by too much. You don’t need to offer your card for more than 1-2% less. Even a penny less sometimes is just enough that people will click on your card before someone else’s. Just make sure that you base your price on other cards in the same condition.
Here are the lowest prices listed for Platinum Emperion on TCGPlayer. If you have a Near Mint copy of the card you’re looking to sell, you should list it for less than $22.98 (price + shipping of the cheapest NM copy). But wait, what’s going on here? I said earlier you could expect to get less than $15 for a Platinum Emperion, right? Well it turns out the lowest listed price is sold out. Stores don’t often update their prices after they sell out and since Platinum Emperion keeps trending up, the data on Quiet Speculation is a day behind. This highlights the importance of checking all of your options before you decide what to do with your cards. Sometimes the data isn’t quite accurate, or is changing too fast and one source is lagging behind.
The last thing to consider is whether this card is worth the effort of selling. Fees for TCGPlayer are 11% + $0.50 so before shipping we would lose about $3 in fees on the sale. That means you can expect to clear about $20. The best buylist price was $10.50. Add a 25% store credit bonus, and we get $13.13 as the best we can expect from a buylist. If the card sells for $23 you’re leaving about $7 on the table so it’s probably not worth trying to buylist Platinum Emperion right now. The risk you run is if this card doesn’t sell for $23 and a bunch of people list copies for $22 or $21 then your profits will shrink. It’s important to remember that buylists are almost 100% certain, whereas selling on an aggregate site carries more risk because someone has to buy the card for you to get any money.
Selling to Another Player
There are also several channels for selling directly to players. Generally the easiest is in person to someone you know. It’s generally frowned upon to sell cards in a store so you will likely need to get in touch with a player through social media. There are plenty of Facebook groups for Orlando Magic players that I’m a part of, and similar groups exist in other cities. If there isn’t one, start your own and after you start inviting people you will begin to grow the playerbase you can offer cards to.
Here is the real kicker: since there are no fees for selling to another player directly you can offer cards for a lot less than other websites. Looking at the Platinum Emperion example, you could offer to sell the $23 card for $20 and you’d actually end up with more money than if you sold it on TCGPlayer. Due to the fact that after fees you would end up with $20, you still have to subtract shipping fees before you can get the true value of the sale. There are no shipping fees if you hand the card to someone in person.
Alternatively you can also sell directly to players via the mail in Facebook groups like this one. There is some amount of risk shipping to people on this group so I would be cautious or ask for references before buying or selling. If you want to be 100% safe, make sure to ship with a tracking number.
Selling at Events
The last and probably simplest method of selling cards I can suggest is at events. Grands Prix are the best to sell at because they have the largest numbers of vendors. The thing to keep in mind is that vendors spent money on a booth and are there to buy and sell cards. If they don’t buy or sell enough then they end up losing money on the weekend—no vendor wants to do that. Some vendors go to almost every event (Cool Stuff Inc., Tales of Adventure, Channel Fireball, Troll and Toad), which you’ll become acquainted with if you go to a lot of events. If you don’t, it’s not a big deal—but if you’re planning on selling a few important or high-value cards you should go in with a plan.
The first thing to do is know how much you can sell the card for on TCGPlayer, and how much you can get from the best buylist on the internet. These numbers will help you if you want to negotiate with the vendor on a better price. It will also let you know what a good or bad price may be. If you’re looking to sell a specific card you can ask anyone behind the booth how much they’re paying for the card this weekend. Prices are likely to change as the weekend goes on. Your best bet is to sell on Fridays and buy on Sundays—vendors start with the most money Friday and want to bring the fewest cards home on Sunday.
There are some vendors that won’t haggle and that’s okay. They generally have very good buylist prices across the board so if you have a binder of stuff you want to sell it’s best to sit down with them. Some vendors also have specific cards they’re more known for buying than others. Cool Stuff Inc. is a great place to sell non-foil Commander or kitchen table cards like Doubling Season. Hareruya is my go-to for selling competitive cards. They will likely pay the most for your Standard, Modern, and Legacy staples.
In the end it’s a lot of trial and error, but generally speaking you can expect to get more money for your cards at a Grand Prix than a typical buylist and save on the shipping. You will also get your money instantly instead of having to wait for a check. The biggest downside is that there aren’t typically Grands Prix in your backyard every weekend so it’s not always convenient to wait.
Putting It All Together
You have a ton of different options for getting rid of unwanted cards without trading. It’s important to choose the one that works best for the card and for you. If you don’t have time or patience for selling online, then buylists are a great option. If you travel to a lot of Grands Prix then selling there is probably the best. What I haven’t covered in this article, however, is the best way to ship cards. There are also a lot of ways to do this but it’s going to require its own article to cover it in more than passing.
For now, I hope this article helped you get a realistic idea of how much your cards are actually worth, and how best to sell the ones you don’t need anymore!
Jim Casale is a well-established Magic player who has plenty of experience grinding the tournament circuit. He qualified for his first Pro Tour in 2016 and likes to talk about hockey. You can find him on Twitter @Phrost_.