Since the early days of Magic, there’s been a “sweet spot” – a tranche of desirable cards for which there’s constant demand and standardized value. Shivan Dragons, for example, would trade for up to three Taigas or two Bayous. Even Underground Sea was an even swap for Vesuvan Doppelganger early on. It was simple to trade Magic cards in the early 90’s, but its since become increasingly complicated as cards have transformed into valuable assets and as the game’s profile has risen in prominence.
With the current state of the economy, the stock market, the rise of crypto, NFT’s and a seemingly unending stream of government money, there are many variables to consider if you’re serious about CCG investing. I’ve spent a lot of time studying the boundaries of the Magic market and today, I want to share my observations of the “sweet spot” with you in today’s chapter of Grade School.
My first experience upon returning to Magic in 2018 involved playing Standard at a LGS and re-learning what I thought to be the contemporary Magic collector ecosystem. I met my LGS brethren multiple times a week and realized that mythics, planeswalkers and shocklands had been invented since last I encountered Magic.
One week, it would be a Nicol Bolas card, another week it would be a legendary Angel or some other game-breaking creature, and then another it would be some iteration of the hottest new planeswalker. Every few weeks, it went from Dimir to Boros to Selesnya to something else, and the talk was all about how Watery Grave was increasing in price one day, and then by the next Friday Night Magic, Sacred Foundry was heating up. Then, Temple Garden swelled and subsided as quickly as the hip token-centric deck came and went.
I tried to limit volatility within my collection with the sheer volume and diversification within the land cycles, mythics and playable singles. For the briefest moment, I was brought back to my “Dual Land Hustle” days of 1994. I would soon learn, however, that though this scale of collecting satisfied many LGS-going patrons and their sweet spot was in grinding $5 to $15 cards, which sometimes were $10 to $35 for the rarer foil renditions, that this was ultimately an exercise in futility.
With the lackadaisical showings in recent years from Hasbro R&D, bannings coming from each new set and the oh-so-rare-that-everyone-gets-to-order-30-of-each Secret Lairs, I learned the hard way that Standard and Pioneer Magic collecting was not a worthwhile endeavor for me.
I befriended my first-ever backpack dealer at a MagicFest. Immediately, he was immensely curious in my proactive and zealous trading activities. He saw me execute a handful of trades before stopping me for a moment and simply asked me why I showed up to a MagicFest with a binder full of $5 to $35 cards.
I explained to him that it made me feel like I was revisiting my Magic Mecca days in Neutral Ground NYC. I felt like I needed to start somewhere and work my way up. This newfound mentor explained to me that instead of trading towards more of the same, I needed to consider trading into the items that other collectors sought after. Rather than figure out what the exchange rate of declining Temple Gardens were in comparison to surging Steam Vents, my targets needed to shift towards Scalding Tarns, Mox Diamonds and the ever-elusive Judge Promo Gaea’s Cradle.
This Austrian gentleman explained to me that there was an international network. It revolved around European, South American and Asian dealers coming to the US, bringing fetchlands, Silver Age iconic staples and even Revised or foreign black border (FBB) duals to trade for the hottest items that were running low at home. The sweet spot for these dealers seemed to be the $100 to $1,00o-range cards that their patrons wanted. They would show up to MagicFests in search of the most popular Jace, Mox Amber, Mox Opal or perhaps the most pursued hotlist items that each vendor booth would display so that they could replenish their sold-out listings on MagicCardMarket or liquidate for cash if necessary.
My desire to keep swimming upstream towards scarcer and more compact holdings ultimately brought me into the high-end graded market. One would think I’d have learned from my mistakes, but instead, I repeated my mistakes while making grave new ones!
I studied the market in late 2018 and 2019. Back then, I felt that Beta common and uncommon BGS slabs were underpriced, especially Silver Label BGS 8.5 to 9.0. So, I rapidly acquired nearly 1000 of them!
I essentially repeated the same mistake that I made when I was accumulating Standard and Pioneer cards. Silver Label Beta commons and uncommons weren’t underpriced; they were priced so low because the market at large had next to no demand for these slabs! Most Beta graded collectors only started to take interest in the Gold Label BGS in the 9.5 range, and some only want Quads and 10’s!
To make matters worse, I purchased several Black Lotuses to hold as trade-bait, but later realized the high unit value of a Black Lotus worked against me. These were lengthy, painful holds that, if not due to the violent upwards surge and exodus from Fiat currency that we’re currently experiencing, I would likely still be holding today.
That said, if I had noticed the writing on the wall and purchased more graded Revised duals in the $500 to $1000 range instead of graded low-end Beta in the $50 to $150 range, I would’ve held more assets in the sweet spot and more successful trades could’ve happened. If I purchased fewer graded Black Lotuses and instead diversified into multiple Moxen and blue Power, ranging from $2.5k to $5k at the time, I easily would’ve enjoyed multiples in volume! I didn’t realize the sweet spot within this segment of the collector market was in $500 to $5000 cards until a year later.
While the high-end graded market’s sweet spot sustained the aforementioned window for a solid two years – call it the range between a BGS 9 Revised Tropical Island and a BGS 9 Unlimited Timetwister – the boundaries of collector sentiment weren’t necessarily stratified within a dollar range. Given the current global crisis and the resulting reckless money printing, hyperinflation has spilled over to Magic. The same aforementioned BGS 9 Trop is closer to $1000 nowadays, while the Twister is well over $10,000.
Macroeconomic details, and society at large, are susceptible to change. However, the same Trop now or before still operates in the same sweet spot of general Magic collector demand, while the Twister looks to hold on to its prolific run, enjoying the additional tailwinds of Commander/EDH players and collectors worldwide!
If your quest is, like many seasoned Magic collectors, to hoard as many pieces of 93-94 or Silver Age nostalgia as humanly possible, please note the sweet spot of the market you’re operating in. Remember to show up to any transaction with a few extra shocks, fetches or duals, whatever’s market segment-appropriate. It never hurts to have that little extra “sweetener” to win you the deal!