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DJ Johnson – Getting Value Out of Lesser Commons and Uncommons

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I don’t think I would be alone if I said that the MTG finance world is surrounded by a lot of misconceptions, especially as of late. With the recent Splinter Twin and Phyrexian Obliterator price spikes, speculators are pointed at maliciously. Casuals and grinders alike believe that those of us who want to make money in Magic are manipulating puppet strings behind the curtain to control the market and initiate price spikes. While this is not an article dedicated to disproving that misconception (the Brainstorm Brewery crew already discussed it in multiple recent episodes of the podcast, and my co-writer Anthony Capece addressed the topic in his incredibly well-written article Anatomy of a Spike), I’d like to bring up a different, less-discussed topic. If you ask most MTG financiers what the most profitable aspect of our game is, I think the most unanimous decision would be collection buying. If you have the cash on hand, buying a collection to piece out and sell can yield far more profits than speculation, value trading, or purchasing singles at FNM for buylist prices to later sell on TCGplayer or eBay.

The misconception is that there are still a lot of people who think that all of the value in a collection is held in the rares and high-dollar cards. While we all want to be the guy who goes to a garage sale and grabs the $50 shoe box of cards with a NM Revised Underground Sea sticking out of the top, it’s probably not going to happen. It does on occasion, and I’m sure that someone will reply in the comments section about how they just found that exact collection yesterday, but stay with me for the sake of the argument. The objective of this piece is to show you how there can be a lot of value left between the cracks in the form of commons and uncommons, and they don’t even have to be the Imperious Perfects or Merrow Reejeereys of a collection. Those are common knowledge. We need to go deeper. We need to find the cards that nobody else cares about, the type left on draft tables for free pickings.

Turning Junk to Dollars

Most of these cards won’t be worth selling on eBay or TCGplayer, and it’ll be more effort than it’s worth to find a buyer or trade partner locally. That means we’ll have to resort to buylisting our diamonds in the rough in order to make a profit. I’ve mentioned this before, but there are two tools I like to use to make buylisting a less painful experience than it would otherwise be.

One of those methods is by inputting cards into Trader Tools at mtg.gg (requires an Insider subscription to Quiet Speculation). QS’s buylist aggregator is fast, simple, and removes stores that have a questionable history. You can also add cards to a list within the program and see the exact total of how much you’ll be getting from each store in advance. The downside is that seeing which stores are offering which prices is behind a paywall, so you need to be a QS Insider in order to get full value from Trader Tools.

A free alternative is MTGprice.com. They also have info on multiple buylists, but I have noticed that they omit some of the buylists that Trader Tools shows. If you don’t mind spending a bit more time for a bit more profit, use both. If you want to save even more time, follow my advice and restrict yourself to CardKingdom.com, ABUgames.com, and AdventuresOn.com. TrollandToad.com used to be at the top of my buylisting sites as well, but the amount of time it takes to process an order has steadly increased over the years. If you don’t mind waiting months to get paid, use T+T at your own risk.

While the process can be arduous and boring, it’s still a profitable way to spend an afternoon if you don’t have anything else going on. Turn on the TV, or put some music on, or listen to the latest episode of Brainstorm Brewery. Let’s take a look at some cards that I’ve found in piles of “stripped” commons and uncommons from a collection I bought somewhat recently, none of which are in Standard anymore, and none of these see heavy Modern or Legacy play like the obvious hits of Kitchen Finks, Path to Exile, Brainstorm, or Hymn to Tourach.

The Picks

  • Mind Sculpt currently has a buylist price of $.19. Yep, casual players really love destroying each others’ decks, especially when they can’t afford Glimpse the Unthinkable, or if they want to play mono blue.
  • Squadron Hawk only sees play very periodically in Modern Soul Sisters, but if a person needs one, they need a playset. If that person needs a playset, so do the online retailers. That’s why AdventuresOn.com is buying them at $.10. That may not seem like a whole lot, but every economics major in the world will tell you that every little bit counts.
  • Fog Bank is a casual all-star, as many of my friends who do not play competitively tell me. In a mill deck that needs to not die while getting rid of the opposing 60 cards, Fog Bank is a cheap blocker that lasts forever as long as the opponent doesn’t have removal. It also commands a price tag of at least a quarter in all of its editions, topping out at a little above $.75 for the original Commander copy.
  • Vapor Snag is in the new Ninja Bear Delver Whatever deck that Travis Woo has been playing recently, but that hasn’t affected its price at all. The Unsummon with bite has been buylistable ever since its rotation for quite a lot, as in $.24 to AdventuresOn for the New Phyrexia version. Or you could sell to Cardkingdom for a whopping $.39 for Duel Deck version.
  • Spirit Mantle is another casual all-star, because giving your guys protection from their guys lets you hit them directly. Auras may get a bad reputation, but removal be damned, the core set version of these are $.43 to ABU Games, and the Planechase versions are $.65 to Card Kingdom.
  • Go for the Throat rotated a while ago, and it was a valuable uncommon while it was in Standard. That hasn’t changed, and you can still buylist them for $.78 to ABU Games.
  • Unburial Rites is in the same boat. It rotated, sees no play in Modern or Legacy, but it’s a reanimation spell that doesn’t mind getting dredged away. That earns it a price of $.17 to Adventures On, which adds up quickly if you happen to have a bunch still sitting in a box from previous Standard, like I did.
  • Vampire Nighthawk is an interesting case. It’s been reprinted to death, but it has three extremely powerful keywords that work well in casual vampire decks, so the reprinted version is still worth quite a bit, up to $.69 each depending on the edition. Compare this to Lingering Souls, which sees even more Constructed play than Nighthawk does, has also been reprinted twice, and has a lower buylist price for both the Duel Deck and the DKA version. This is another great example of how strong a hold casual players have on the MTG market.
  • Geosurge is something I’m not sure what to make of. It never saw Constructed play as a ritual because of the restrictions on what you can cast with it in addition to it costing RRRR, but it still has a buylist price of up to $.08. I guess casual players enjoy slamming down Shivan Dragon-esque monsters on turn 4 with only a single card, which is fine for both them and us.
  • Rancor rotated along with Vampire Nighthawk, but the core set version can still buylist for almost $0.50 to Card Kingdom. Built-in aura insurance probably helps with that. It sees occasional play in the Modern Hexproof deck,
  • Full Moon’s Rise and Moonmist are worth $.10 and $.05 respectively, probably because people who missed out on Innistrad want to make their werewolf decks. I have long been advocating pulling these out of draft leftovers and piles of bulk that other people don’t care about, and now they’re finally worth something.
  • Triumph of the Hordes is an extremely powerful Overrun effect in EDH that can leave your opponent dead when they least expect it, and it can be buylisted for…okay, there are no stores that want it right now. Bear with me though, I’ve died to this thing in EDH more often than I want to admit, and it’s a whole mana cheaper than the original Overrun. I’m fine with hoarding these somewhere until they’re worth $.15 or so. I don’t advocate going out to buy any, but if you ever go through bulk commons and uncommons looking for gems, there’s not really a downside to setting Triumph of the Hordes aside.
  • Mask of Avacyn is currently worth a dime to Adventures On, and I’ve seen it pop up on other buylists for up to $.20 at times. It’s a lot less expensive then Lightning Greaves for players who want to keep their Commander decks on a light budget, and the power/toughness boost isn’t irrelevant in a format where 21 is a magic number.
  • Palladium Myr lets any color jump from three to five mana in a single turn, and is a cheaper alternative for those who don’t want to buy Coalition Relics. Even though it’s vulnerable to almost all removal, these are a dime a piece to ABU Games.

What About Standard Cards?

While these casual cards are always great targets to pick out of bulk, I’m not going to assume that everyone has piles of unsorted commons and uncommons to dig through. For players who primarily deal with Standard cards, there is still hope. There are a lot of gems throughout Return to Ravnica block that you can buylist now to receive a nice sized check in the mail later. While many grinders I know look only for the Magma Jets, Burning-Tree Emissarys and Boros Charms of a set, there is hidden value to be had elsewhere. Let’s see what RTR block brought us:

  • Judge’s Familiar is up to $.23 on ABU Games from $.18 a couple of weeks ago. I recommend selling these now if you can, as I don’t see Mono-Blue Devotion ever being more powerful than it is now.
  • Rakdos Cackler is sellable for $0.34 on ABU Games. Like the Familiar, I don’t see Cackler holding value post-rotation. It doesn’t seem to have any casual appeal, so if you have extra copies that you can’t unload elsewhere, this is a great way to get rid of them before they take their leave of Standard. At the very least, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the price throughout their remaining year.
  • Unflinching Courage doesn’t see much play at the moment, save for the sideboards of GW aggressive decks, but it’s worth almost a quarter to Adventures On. If you want to squeeze every bit of value out of these possible, I recommend waiting until Born of the Gods comes out with the GW temple. Having access to a non-gate dual land helps the chances for the voice of green white decks to resurge.
  • Wight of Precinct Six is a Standard staple, and as such…wait, what? Yes, this creature is actually worth money, even though it sees no Standard play. This is a Mind Sculpt-esque card whose value is sustained by players who want to put the top cards of their opponents’ decks into the graveyard, and then beat face with this guy and Jace’s Phantasm (who is also worth a good amount of money for a casual uncommon from a recent core set). I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to get rid of these though, as the casual demand won’t fade upon rotation.
  • Interestingly enough, even some commons have value to buylists if their power and demand is high enough. At the time of this writing, you can dump 40 copies of Frostburn Weird for $.04 each, and 39 copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel for $.07 to Adventures On. Prices like that aren’t worth making a buylist cart alone, but they’re a nice way to cover a small percentage of the shipping fees for sending in your cards.

As for the uncommons from Theros, I recommend picking up the ones that see even fringe Constructed play, or ones that you think have potential. When you’re at FNM drafting, here are some targets I recommend scavenging and holding for later if you get the chance:

  • Dissolve only has a buylist price of $.10 at the moment, but Dissipate went a lot higher than that in comparison when it was in Standard. you might be able to get $.30 each a year down the road.
  • Nemesis of Mortals has synergy with the scavenge cards from RTR block, so it might fizzle out after RTR block rotates. People love their graveyard-based decks though, so maybe this will be an uncommon worth buylisting at some point this year.
  • Magma Jet is only a quarter on the highest buylist, but you can actually just trade these off at a dollar a piece in your binder.
  • Arena Athlete seems like it could be an all-star in the right hyper aggressive deck, in a Lightning Mauler-esque role supplemented by Titan’s Strength and other cheap heroic tricks. That card ended up being buylistable for almost a dollar, and Google Drive thinks “buylistable” is a word without me having to tell it to accept it. Huh.
  • Fanatic of Mogis already gets a lot of attention for being able to just kill people on turn four, and there are certain grinders out there who ensure that RDW will never die. I can see this guy being sellable for more than the $.07 he’s worth now.
  • Mogis’s Marauder and Tormented Hero both currently play a role in a Rakdos aggro deck with Xathrid Necromancer, Rakdos Cackler and Rakdos Shred-Freak. Once Theros isn’t a 3x Draft format and supply becomes more limited later in the year, these two black aggressive cards may be able to hold their own at a solid quarter or more. They’ve already proven themselves in Constructed, so I don’t see the downside in putting them aside for later.

Extracting Value

Even though this article wasn’t full of tips to make big money on the next Modern speculation target, I hope it helped at least a few readers look at one of the more unexplored areas of MTG finance. Making money off of Magic isn’t all about rares, and it isn’t all about the obvious hallmark uncommons like Manamorphose, Spell Snare, and Memnite. The best way to make money is by taking control of a field that nobody else knows about, and this seemed like an area that (at least in my locale) is largely unexplored and ignored. It doesn’t seem like much, but there’s very little effort required, and its a great feeling getting the checks in the mail from stores for taking cards that you had no use for anyway. Thanks a bunch for reading. As always, feel free to leave constructive criticism on either the topic of the article, or any way in which I could improve my writing in general.

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Douglas Johnson

Douglas Johnson

@Rose0fthorns     -     Email     -     Articles
Douglas Johnson is a 20-year-old MTG player who goes to college courtesy of a scholarship from Gamers Helping Gamers. He is currently found writing a weekly finance column at MTGprice.com, and you can always feel free to contact him on Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit.
Douglas Johnson

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About the author

Douglas Johnson

@Rose0fthorns     -     Email     -     Articles
Douglas Johnson is a 20-year-old MTG player who goes to college courtesy of a scholarship from Gamers Helping Gamers. He is currently found writing a weekly finance column at MTGprice.com, and you can always feel free to contact him on Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit.

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  1. Carter Hatfield

    Great article. This strategy is literally what took me from a collection grinder and enabled me to become a full blown dealer. As a vendor I’ll say that I’d rather buy $1000 of the cards you mentioned that buy $1000 of dual lands.

    1. Douglas Johnson

      Thanks for the comment! I learned pretty early on when I had practically nothing in terms of high dollar cards that there was a market for cheap commons and uncommons that my friends would have need of 30 minutes before FNM. It still shocks me how often cards like these get treated like garbage when there are so many casuals and impatient deckbuilders who will pay money for them.

    2. Jason Alt

      Glad to hear you say that, Carter. I have 50K common and uncommon picks from a collection I am selling with Kelly. I’d love to give you first crack when it’s Ogred.

  2. Jim Casale

    There’s a few uncommons I think should also be on the list that may have been over looked. In the near term, Gainsay, Dark Betrayal, and Glare of Heresy will continue to be hate cards of choice. I think long term, Phalanx Leader and Favored Hoplite could be a big hit for the casual crowd.

    Also some commons worth keeping are probably Lightning Strike (searing spear was buylisting for a ton last year), God’s Willing, Read the Bones, and Aqueous Form (casual all-star).

  3. Chris

    I don’t understand something that maybe someone on here can help me with. How do you make a profit selling four cards at $0.20 each? That’s $0.80, but then you factor in shipping, and you lose like $2.00. Even if you DON’T get tracking, which you need if you don’t want to potentially lose even more money from buyers who say they never got the package. How do you make a profit??

    1. Douglas Johnson

      In order to make money off of these types of cards, it’s almost always most effective to buylist them in large quantities to a store or vendor when you have enough. You’re correct in that you can’t make good money selling these on TCGplayer or eBay unless you have a store like SCG/CFB, so us individual financiers get to do the dirty work of picking out these cards from bulk C/U until we have enough for a buylist order (Anywhere from $20 to $2000 depending on your resources and time), and take a large check all at once. Hope this clears things up a bit :)

      1. Chris

        Thanks for the reply. But in order to acquire all these buylist cards, you have to spend more money, it seems, than you end up getting for the buylist cards, no? Maybe I don’t understand what “buylist” means as a verb, or what a “buylist order” is. I know that online stores have buylists, cards that they want to buy from you, but that’s about the extent that I know.

        1. Douglas Johnson

          You’re correct. Many large-scale stores (SCG, CFB, Cardkingdom, ABUgames, TrollandToad) have online buylists that show you how much cash they’ll pay for your cards. While it’s probably not profitable to buylist a $10 Standard card for $5 because you can probably out it on TCGplayer for $8, the case is different with a card like Delver of Secrets, where the “TCG mid” value might be $.85, and a buylist takes it for $.40. A “buylist order” is when you fill your online shopping card with the exact quantity of cards that you intend on selling to the store, then checking out, packaging your cards, shipping them, and receiving your payment all at once.

          My personal method is that I buy bulk commons and uncommons from anyone who wants to sell them to me, as long as all cards are Near Mint and English. I pay a flat $4 per thousand as long as it fits those requirements. People sell for a variety of reasons, whether its’ cleaning out their closet, putting together a standard deck, or getting out of the game entirely as they sell the rares separately. After buying the cards, I go through and pick out all of the Delvers, Young Pyromancers, and other cards listed in this article (which isn’t even CLOSE to an exhaustive list). You’d be surprised at what people leave in their bulk. Once I have enough picked out, I go to a store’s online buylist, and start filling in quantities. Selling 12 Delvers and 8 Rancors and 10 Go for the Throats adds up quickly. I also usually end up selling other rares that have a low enough “spread (the difference between the highest buy price and lowest sell price)”, like card with a TCG mid of $1.43 but buylist for $.85.

          After I complete the buylist order, I re-sell the bulk commons and uncommons on Craigslist for $6 per thousand (which casual players LOVE!), and at the local video game store where I have a display case full of singles set up. I make a little over $1 per thousand on the pure bulk, so even if I don’t pull anything I make a small margin (because the 1,000 count boxes I load the cards into are supplied myself and cost about $.70 each), but usually people leave a good chunk of stuff in their bulk. I’ve found a Vampiric Tutor in a box labeled “Black Commons” before!

          Hopefully this is a bit more clear. Let me know if you have any additional questions! (I can also be emailed/Tweeted to/Facebooked for easier conversation methods)

          1. Chris

            Sounds pretty great. But where do you find people to sell you 1,000 cards for $4? Do you make wanted ads on Craigslist? I can’t imagine anyone would jump at the opportunity to make $4, you know? How does that part work?

            I can email you, yeah, what’s your email address? I don’t want to spam this board with my questions :-P

            1. Douglas Johnson

              djohnso5@oswego.edu for email, @Rose0fthorns for Twitter, or Douglas Johnson on Facebook (same profile picture as the bottom of the article). Throw any questions you have related to Magic finance :)

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