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Using Your Tools: Buylists, Spreads, and Foil Multipliers


One of the most exciting things about writing for MTGGoldfish is that the site is always improving. Over the past several months SuperBrew was added and the Tiny Leaders metagame page was born. Then, just yesterday, there was an update that is very exciting, especially for those of you (who like me) are interested in the financial aspect of the game. Take a look at the Brainstorm page, notice anything different?

That's right, as of yesterday we have a ton of new data to work with including the spread, foil multiplier, and all-time highs/lows. This is not to mention the expanded selection of buylist prices including ChannelFireball, ABUGames, and my personal favorite CardKingdom. These are some of the most fundamental tools of MTG finance. Understanding how they work, what they mean, and how to take advantage of them is one of the most important parts of making money in the Magic card game. As such, today we are going to be discussing these tools and how best we can use them. 

Buylist Pricing

The most obvious benefit of buylist prices (which can be found by using the toggle button underneath the list of vendor prices) is that they tell you how much you can sell your cards for, right now, today, for cash. I have a ton of personal buylisting experience with all of the vendors listed on the site; they are all very reliable and pay quickly so I have no worries sending any of them hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of cards — with reputable vendors like these it's as good as money in the bank. 

Last fall I published the Great Buylist Review on Reddit based on my experience sending hundreds of order to various buylists including ABU, CardKingdom, and ChannelFireball. Here's a brief summary of my experiences with these three vendors:

Card Kingdom

Card Kingdom has solid customer service, however, unlike some buylists, once you ship your cards they belong to Card Kingdom unless you specifically ask them to contact you before sending your payment (for instance, to let you know about grading deductions).

Another great thing about Card Kingdom is that they often purchase the highest number of any specific card (seriously, today they are in the market for 193 copies of Monastery Swiftspear). This is especially important if you “go deep” on a cheap bulk level spec.

They are among the most consistent graders, and although they do not have a published grading chart, they seem to grade cards in a manner similar to myself and most players I know – if you think it looks SP, Card Kingdom is probably going to grade it SP, if you think it looks NM, they are probably going to grade it NM, etc. Of note is the fact that they will not buy any (non-promo/duel deck) foils, and will not buy any signed cards (even with a condition deduction). It doesn’t matter if it's a signed Revised dual or a signed Storm Crow, don’t even try it – they will send it back.

The grading multiplier (the amount I expect to get after grading deductions when selling a random, mixed condition collection of cards) I use for Card Kiingdom is 0.78, and almost every order (out of the 100+ in the past few years) has come in between 0.80 and 0.76.  

ChannelFireball

ChannelFireball has first class customer service befitting of their status as an industry leader and offer prompt payments with a 30 percent store credit bonus. The downside I've found is that their grading can be tough-ish, with a multiplier of 0.73 (I expect to get 73 percent of the quoted price on a mixed condition lot of cards). This tough grading is especially true for just above bulk played cards, so CFB is probably not the place to send your 100 played Mogg Fanatics for $0.05 each (this is because cards with a buylist price of less than $0.05 are counted as bulk commons ($3/thousand) if in played condition). They buy pretty much everything, including foils and promos and are typically paying a fair price.

ABUGames

ABU runs another world-class buylist with some benefits that no other vendor offers. For one thing, they run a grade-it-yourself system that only has two grades: Near Mint and Played. Prices for both conditions are listed, and you simply click the options. The benefit for the seller is that, with only two grades, a SP card often falls into the NM category, so a few slight imperfections are not held against you at all price wise. Because of this I don’t use a grading multiplier for ABU – if you honestly grade as you go, you can expect to get full price in most cases (unless you have cards that are very heavily played or damaged).

Another thing that sets ABU apart is the fact that they buy foreign cards, which they price individually by language. In many cases they actually pay more for foreign cards than for the English version (and not just for the most desirable languages — they typically pay just as much for Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French cards as they do for Japanese, Korean, and Russian). For example, ABU buys pretty much all foreign language commons and uncommons from Innistrad forward for between 0.04 to 0.06 cents each — significantly higher than bulk rates.

More on Buylists

If you are looking to trade cards for cards, all of these buylists offer a significant store credit bonus of 25 percent (ABU) or 30 percent (Card Kingdom and CFB). While taking store credit obviously limits your options (because you have to purchase from the same vendor), it also offers an avenue for getting full retail value (or very close to it) for your cards, which is difficult to do by other methods. In essence, buylisting for store credit allows you to trade just like you would at an FNM or GP, only with a vendor over the internet. Since these vendors have pretty much every card imaginable in stock, you can trade your leftovers for whatever your heart desires. To figure out how much store credit you would get from a vendor, simply take the buylist prices listed on the site and multiply by 1.25 or 1.3. 

You should also be aware that the buylist prices quoted on the site are for near mint cards. All of these vendors will purchase played cards, but they will also deduct some percentage for condition. Typically when selling a collection of mixed condition, I figure I'll receive somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of the stated prices. This does not apply to ABUGames, which allows you to grade the cards as you are buylisting them. If all the cards are selling are near mint, you shouldn't have any issues regarding deductions.

Buylist prices are important even when you are not planning on selling your cards because combined with retail prices (the price vendors sell their cards for), they can give us an idea of how vendors feel about a card, which brings us to our next tool: the spread. 

The Spread

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The spread is quite simply the percent difference between the highest buylist price and the lowest retail (sell) price. For instance, the best buylist price for Dragonlord Ojutai is $18.32 from ABUGames (remember, this is the cash price, with no store credit bonus) and the lowest sell price is $26.00 which makes the spread 30 percent (1 - 18.32/26). Typical spreads vary a bit depending on the type of card, but generally a spread in the 20's is considered low, a spread in the teens means something is definitely up with a card's price, and a spread in the single digits (or a negative spread) can indicate an opportunity for arbitrage (where you can buy from one vendor and immediately resell to another for a profit). To get a more specific understanding of the spread we need to look at some different categories of cards. 

First, let's talk about Standard staple rares and mythics. These are cards you can find on the Most Played Cards in Standard page and have significant demand from tournament play. The spreads in Standard are currently a bit wacky because buylist prices on most Theros block cards have dropped significantly due to their impending rotation (which I wrote about earlier this week). This is normal as vendors drop their buylist prices faster than their sell prices to make sure they don't get stuck with a bunch of unsellable cards. As a result we are better off looking at Khans block cards, which have a spread more representative of their actual demand (driven by the amount of play they see in Standard) rather than rotation. Here are the seven most played Khans block cards along with their current spreads.

Khans Staples
Card Sell Price (TCG-MID) Buylist Price Spread
Siege Rhino $4.65 $2.01 55%
Dromoka's Command $7.85 $4.50 43%
Windswept Heath $12.08 $8 34%
Wooded Foothills $11.87 $8 33%
Den Protector $8.50 $5.55 35%
Thunderbreak Regent $7.31 $3.50 50%
Deathmist Raptor $24.00 $19.00 21%
Average     38%

Based on this sample, the average spread of Standard staples is 38 percent, which lines up with the commonly held belief that somewhere between 35 and 40 percent is average. Thunderbreak Regent and Siege Rhino coming in at 50 percent is a bit high, but not really anything to get excited about. On the other hand, Deathmist Raptor coming in at only 21 percent bears further investigation. 

There are several ways of using the spread, but perhaps the most important is as an indicator of supply and demand. Cards that are very liquid tend to have lower spreads (because vendors can pay more per copy but still make a solid profit by selling more copies overall) while cards that are less liquid typically have lower spread. Another way of looking at the spread is as an indication of how much vendors want a specific card. 

The 21 percent spread on Deathmist Raptor suggests a couple of possibilities. First, vendors are selling (and expect to continue selling) more copies of Deathmist Raptors than they are buying and they need more copies for their inventory. If this is what's happening, it is likely that the sell price of Deathmist Raptor will increase to move the spread back into the "average" range of 30 to 40 percent. Second, vendors are dropping their sell prices and one (or more) vendors has yet to adjust. If this is what's happening, you should take advantage of the the vendor with the high buy price and out your copies before the prices drop (which would also move the spread back into the typical range). Finally, as I mentioned before, a low spread can simply indicate that a card is very liquid and vendors don't mind paying a bit more for it because they can resell them quickly. All together, what this means is that an out-of-the-ordinary spread (either high or low) isn't by itself an indication to buy or sell a card, but a big, flashing sign telling you to investigate further because something is going to happen.

As for the Most Played Modern Cards, the concept of using the spread is similar but the average spread is typically slightly lower, generally between 30 and 35 percent. There is also usually less variance; seeing a Modern staple with a 50 percent spread is much more unusual than seeing a Standard staple in this range. For instance, MMA Blood Moon currently has an abnormally high spread of 48 percent. Take a gander at its price chart and see if you can figure out why the spread is so far out of the "normal" range.

To me this one is pretty clear. Over the past month, the retail (sell) price of Blood Moon has increased $20 to nearly $50, while on the other hand the best buylist price for Blood Moon has only increased $7.50 to $25. Since buylist prices often increase slower (and drop faster) than sell prices, I would expect that buylist prices will increase significantly (up to between $30 and $35) over the next couple weeks and the spread will move back into the typical range. If buylist prices on Blood Moon stay the same, this would be an indication that the vendors don't think there is much demand at $50, which would mean the new price of Blood Moon would be much less likely to stick over the long-haul. 

Blood Moon is an example of using the spread as a jumping off point for further investigation. If you just automatically think "high spread=bad, low spread=good" you can get yourself in trouble. So again, use the spread a starting point rather than a call to action.

Foil Multipliers

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The foil multiplier is the difference between the price of a 'normal' pack printing (non-foil) and the pack foil of the same set. For instance, a Mercadian Masques Brainstorm will set you back $1.60, but a foil MM Brainstorm will cost you a whopping $165. This means the foil multiplier (or just multiplier) for Brainstorm is x103; the foil costs one-hundred and three times more than the non-foil. A huge percentage of cards have a foil multiplier of between x1.5 and x3, so like the spread, an out-of-the-ordinary foil multiplier is another sign that something strange is going on with a card. However, unlike the spread where we sometimes have to dig pretty deep to figure out what is going on, the reason for an out of the ordinary foil multipler is usually fairly obvious. Let's talk about a few groups of cards that typically have odd (either high or low) foil multipliers. 

Intro Pack Rares

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I wrote an entire article (and list) on intro pack rares a few months ago and what I found was that these cards always, without exception, have a lower-than-average foil multiplier, with many being close to x1 (which means the foil and non-foil cost the same). Typically foils command a premium because they are rarer than non-foils (in theory, if things were reversed and most cards were foil non-foils would command a premium), but being a foil in an intro pack changes this math drastically. Part of the problem is that there is nothing to set these cards apart from the pack foils (some people argue that the foiling is slightly different, but no major vendors recognize this difference; a foil Consuming Aberration is a foil Consuming Aberration whether it originated in a Gatecrash booster or in an intro pack), so for all practical purposes, the supply of these foils is much higher than a regular foil. 

Legacy Staples

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Legacy players love their pimp, and the prices of foils that are playable in the format reflect this love of all things shiny. When you are already spending several thousands dollars to build a deck, spending a few hundred extra dollars to make your deck as sweet-looking as possible really isn't a big deal. What's better than winning a tournament? Winning a tournament with the best looking deck in the room. Check out this list of some of the most played cards in Legacy along with prices and multipliers.

Legacy Foil Multipliers
Card Non-Foil $ Foil $ Multiplier
Brainstorm (MM) $1.60 $165.00 x103
Ponder (Lorwyn) $1.19 $47.00 x39.9
Young Pyromancer $2.32 $37.91 x16.3
Daze $3.28 $109.16 x33.3
Deathrite Shaman $7.77 64.99 x8.3
Snapcaster Mage $62.99 $145.79 x2.3
Terminus $2.99 $17.99 x6
Stoneforge Mystic $31.47 $153.60 x4.9
Grafdigger's Cage $3.52 $16.43 x4.6
Cunning Wish $18.05 108.99 x6.4
Infernal Tutor $16.03 $68.68 x4.71

For expensive legacy staples ($10 or more dollars), the typical multiplier is somewhere between x4 and x6. For inexpensive commons and uncommons that are heavily played in the format, all bets are off. Oh, by the way, did you notice anything strange on that list? That's right. Foil Snapcaster Mage is extremely underpriced at the moment. Non-foil copies have more than doubled over the past six months while foil copies are the same price as they were when Magic 2015 released a year ago. Even at an x4 multiplier (the low end of the normal range for Legacy staples), a foil Snapcaster Mage should cost about $250; giving Snapcaster Mage the same foil multiplier as Stoneforge Mystic would put the foil price over $300. I know it's a big investment up front, but I would be shocked if foil Snapcasters didn't double (or close to it) by the end of the year. 

EDH Staples

Now EDH finance (or EDH in general) is not my thing, so I'm not going to spend too much time on this one, but you should at least be aware of the fact that EDH players love their foils as much as Legacy players. As a result, the most popular Commander cards typically have abnormally high multipliers. Let's take a quick look at the foil multiplier of some of the most played cards in Commander with the help of scoeri's list from MTGSalvation.

Commander/EDH Multipliers
Card Non-Foil $ Foil $ Multiplier
Solemn Simulacrum $4.83 $24.00 x5
Eternal Witness $2.95 $21.80 x7.4
Cyclonic Rift $2.99 $10.53 x3.5
Austere Command $6.72 $28.83

x4.3

Mimic Vat $2.35 $10.04 x4.3
Birthing Pod $4.50 $20.39 x4.5
Woodfall Primus $4.32 $26.66 x6.2
Dictate of Erebos $0.77 $5.49 x7.1
Chromatic Lantern $6.29 $13.91 x2.2

As you can see, the multipliers on EDH staples look similar to Legacy staples with multipliers typically coming in between x4 and x6. Out of the cards on this list, Chromatic Lantern and Dictate of Erebos are by far the most interesting. In some ways the artifact reminds me of Snapcaster Mage. Non-foil prices have been on the rise but the foil prices have yet to catch up. Barring a reprinting (which is extremely possible, since it fits in just about anything), I would expect Chromantic Lantern foils to climb to between $20 and $30 in the coming months putting the multiplier in a more typical range. 

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As for Dictate of Erebos, I expect the opposite to happen. Foils have been on the rise recently while non-foils have been stagnant. While it may not happen quickly, the enchantment is as close to a slam dunk casual spec as you can get. The summer before rotation is typically the floor on these type of cards and there is very little risk if you buy in now. It's hard to imagine something like a Commander reprinting driving the price much lower than it is now.  All you need to do is look at the price of the six-printing Grave Pact to realize just how much demand there is for this sort of effect. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. If you have a few minutes, browse around the site a bit. What crazy multipliers and spreads can you find? Why do you think these cards have stats that are outside the norm? What does this mean for their current and future price? I'd love to discuss it with you in the comments, so make sure to post your finds there! Also, if you have any questions about how to make use of these tools or suggestion on other tools you think would be beneficial, make sure to leave those in the comments as well. I'll be back next week as we continue our series on preparing for rotation. Until then, you can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive.


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