Hey there! We're back with another exciting installment of finance content on TCGplayer. I'm your host, DJ Johnson. I do a lot to keep my finger on the pulse of what happens in the financial part of the game; whether it's digging up hidden gems that many players undervalue, learning which sealed products are worth less than the sum of their parts or working as a buyer on the floor of a Grand Prix, I have my hands in a lot of cookie jars. Let's talk about that first point of "hidden gems" for just a minute.
If you missed last week's content, be sure to check it out; it's an article-video combo that focuses on valuable commons and uncommons from Mercadian Masques block. If you're just starting to follow the world of MTG finance, these videos are great building blocks to understand the value that can be left behind in bulk commons and uncommons by all sorts of players. I try to make one of these once every month or two, and focus on a different block for each one.
The main reason I choose to create the Masques block video for last week was I knew I'd be out of the country visiting Amsterdam! I managed to score a really cheap flight and hotel on the same weekend as the Grand Prix in Europe itself. Both of those reasons made it impossible to say no to a last-minute trip across the Atlantic that proved to be a nice vacation, learning opportunity and way to pay for the trip by using arbitrage between the United States and European market.
What do I mean by "arbitrage"? In the world of economics and finance, arbitrage is taking advantage of a difference in prices for an item between two marketplaces. If I see that a vendor is selling Walking Ballista for $8, and another vendor across the room is paying $9 on them, I can make $1 per copy just by walking across the room and using a little bit of my own money. While it might seem too good to be true, opportunities like this exist both at the small scale I used for the example and the large continental scale that I practiced last weekend.
When it comes to recognizing the price differences between the U.S. and EU, you must understand which formats are played more and less often oversees. Commander was a grassroots format that was started in America as EDH; while it's definitely spread worldwide and become one of Magic's most popular and beloved formats, it's played a bit less oversees and the prices on cards reflect that. Legacy is one of Japan's most popular formats, causing things like dual lands, Blood Moon and Stoneforge Mystic to sell for higher than their prices here in the states. While the differences aren't so drastic to make it worth buying a plane ticket specifically to buy Magic cards, a smart traveler can take advantage of market differences and find some sweet deals overseas.
My first piece of advice while traveling with the plan to purchase cards is to get familiar with the exchange rate and plan for it by bringing cash of your destination country in advance. If you're at a future GP Madrid, Kyoto or Singapore, you don't want to be stuck accepting the ATM or PayPal exchange rate. Regardless of whose dollar is stronger or weaker, you want to be able to get the most bang for your buck before you even get to the vendor table. Just like at a U.S. Grand Prix, cash is king and can help you negotiate stronger deals in your favor. The vendors want to have as much paper money on hand as possible to buy collections, so be prepared.
The second piece of Non-Magic is to familiarize with the country or city's methods of public transit. As someone from a (relatively) smaller city in upstate New York, I'm a lot more used to driving myself everywhere as opposed to using public transit. While it's relatively easy to Uber pretty much everywhere with a few presses of your finger, the costs can rack up quick if you're traveling there and back from hotel to convention center on three separate days. I ended up burning over 60 ($73) euros on Uber before I figured out that I could be taking a 10-minute walk to the bus station, then taking a bus to the metro, then the metro to the site. It would've been a lot less expensive, for only a minimal amount of time and research prior.
If you're headed to a Grand Prix outside of the United States, casual and Commander cards are going to be your friends. Things that don't see competitive play like Bear Umbra, Aura Shards, Toxin Sliver, Training Grounds and Phyrexian Altar are going to be significantly cheaper overseas, and especially so if those cards can be found in languages other than English. For an anecdotal example, I found a Japanese Phyrexian Altar (lightly played) for only 22 Euros ($27); the English version of the same card goes for over $50! Japanese copies of Triumph of the Hordes were three euros a piece, non-english Fatespinners were two euros….. If you're someone comfortable with playing cards that you can't read in your playgroup, you're going to be really happy with the deals you find across the ocean!
In addition to non-English casual cards, it's important to note that the market in Europe can react slower to price increases than it does in the United States. If you've been checking MTGstocks or TCGplayer lately, you may have noticed that supply has been decreasing on several of the Masterpiece cards from Kaladesh and Aether Revolt. We're seeing Sol Ring sell for over $270, Chromatic Lantern at $90 and Champion's Helm at $45! Even though a lot of these price increases happened a couple of weeks ago, I had no trouble finding Sol Rings at $180 USD, Mox Opals at $200 USD, and Mana Crypts at $185. These are high-demand Inventions that are selling at a lot higher numbers in the U.S., so I was able to pay for a good portion of my trip just by arbitraging a few mana rocks.
If non-English Commander cards or higher end Masterpieces aren't for you, I'd recommend checking out some of the sealed product that the vendors bring to Grands Prix in Europe. While your mileage of bringing sealed product en masse through customs will vary, I noticed at least one vendor who had brought several boxes of Unstable, selling them for 80 euro (just shy of $100). Considering boxes are currently around $140 here, you'd be hard pressed to find a way to lose money on that deal. In a similar vein (that would take up less space in your luggage), I saw a couple of From The Vault: Realms on site for 100 euro. I personally went for a couple of cheap Commander preconstructed decks; they're easy to fit in my bag after unboxing the cardboard, and full of the kind of cards that sell very well back home.
If you're a competitive Modern player and sighing at the lack of deals, don't fret. While you're less likely to find great deals on staples like shocks or fetches, the buy prices for these items at the vendor table should encourage you to sell your extra copies while you're there. The buy prices on Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Noble Hierarch and Thoughtseize were practically the retail price here in the U.S. I wasn't aware of this prior to leaving the country, but next time I'll definitely put a deck box or two of staples in my carry-on. If I can sell a pile of Flusterstorms and Rishadan Ports for more oversees than I would selling locally, I'm not going to pass up on the opportunity!
To summarize, casual cards are your friends when you're skimming the display cases on continents outside of the United States. Most vendors will have a couple of binders on display for you to pick through, sorted by price, color or converted mana cost. These are going to be updated least often compared to the display cases full of staples, so that's where you'll find your $2 Price of Glory, $11 Foil Foil and $5 Japanese Paradox Engine. Just as with Grands Prix in the U.S., getting on site early Friday morning will let you catch the deals before anyone else, and you can expect most of the really amazing deals to be gone by Sunday night. Have you ever had similar experiences at Grands Prix overseas? For those readers who aren't from the United States, I'd love to hear what your MTGfinance experiences are like when you attend events in America. Let me know in the comments section below!
- DJ Johnson