How I Traded Commons and Uncommons for a Time Vault

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

I’d like to share a wild trade-in story with you today. Having played this game for so long, and acquiring cards as a collector for over two decades I have some neat stories, but this one literally just happened to me, and it’s a great one. I want to tell you about it, because it wasn’t my own idea. One of my best buddies, Andrew, told me he had recently traded in a ton of uncommons to a larger online dealer for about $1,000 in store credit. I was initially shocked, but once he told me about the prices of some the uncommons that are in high demand and low print runs it all clicked into place. I decided I’d do something similar. My goal was to comb through all of my old foil commons and uncommons to see if I could get off to a good enough start to justify combing through the rest of my stuff for more. Since I’m writing this article, and you know I ended up at least with a Time Vault, then you know I found enough foils to justify the search. Once I realized I had enough value in foils that I had literally pulled out of a box in my basement (I keep my cards I play with or hope to play with upstairs), I knew it was time to start the process in earnest. I’d like to detail how I did this for you, because you might be surprised how much unused value you have laying around waiting to be turned into that dual land you keep eyeing in your LGS’s case, or maybe that amazing foil Commander you just can’t afford.

Build a Spreadsheet

I’m not a numbers guy. I really tend to stink at math, and my wife will tease me with basic math facts in the mornings. I routinely get them wrong, and I wish it was just because I’m slow to wake. I suspect I’m also rusty with my math. However, I know how to use Excel or google sheets to help me fill in my mathematical gaps. Honestly, you don’t need a ton of knowledge. Just setting up simple sums and percentage columns is more than enough to help you determine where you can get your best deal. I opted not to use my L.G.S. this time, because they didn’t have a Time Vault. So, before I get into the deep and dark corners of this crazy experiment, let suggest that you try trading in your stuff at your local store for the card or cards you want. It is significantly less stressful and time intensive. But, let me help you find a way to get what you want if your local doesn’t have it.

Determine Values and Costs

When setting up the spreadsheet it is important to have columns dedicated to the stores you are looking to trade your cards into. I made column for the card names, store names, and percentage difference between what they offered. I figured I would see what cards each store was offering the most credit for, and then I would go ahead and pull out what I had in extras. I always like to keep at least two of a card in reserve, but if you’re a die-hard Commander/EDH player, then you only need one. I used the store’s searchable buylist to determine the most expensive commons and uncommons from each set. I then wrote down what cards I thought I had from those sets, and entered them into the spreadsheet. I proceeded to then look up what competing stores were offering as well. I managed to narrow it down to two different stores that would be worth trading my cards into. Basically, they had the Time Vault I wanted. They also had other cards I wanted as well, but more on that later.

Once you have the cards you think you own and the cards you feel OK about trading in, then you just keep plugging in what the stores are willing to offer you for them. Once you have the prices all determined, the next step is compare those prices by setting up a simple division formula. It will give you positive and negative percentages, so this may seem odd or even un-useful.  It’s actually perfect. The next thing you want to do is determine what cards you actually want to trade in your stuff for. Compare those prices between the stores in exactly the same way. I found that the cards I wanted to buy were about anywhere from 5% -55% more expensive at another store. Store A would give me less credit, but they also charged less for the cards I wanted. Store B would give me more credit, but also charged more for their cards. Now is the time for me to take a little detour. We will come back to explaining how this percentage in price differential actually matters, but for now, let’s take a quick detour into store credit land.

Do comparison shopping

Usually, a store will give you more for your cards when you ask for store credit. Basically, it’s going to cost them nothing to increase their inventory by accepting your trade-in. That’s good for the store. Additionally, it means they are also going to move some of their stock through you, but buylist items are usually things the store needs, because there is actual demand for those cards. They also aren’t giving you the full “value” of your cards at retail price, so they are still coming out on top. Meanwhile, if you want to get more cards with your cards, then you also win using this method! The store credit bonuses are what made me bite. It can be as much as a 30% increase in what is offered. So, this is not an article about selling cards for cash. If you know me, then you’re not surprised. I would rather spend more money on Magic, then sell my cards and have less Magic to go around.

Know the Values and the Costs

This brings me back to the spreadsheet. While setting it up you need to account for the differential in credit offered, and weigh it against the differential in prices of cards. I found that Store B generally offered 33% or more credit for the cards. I also found that if I traded in cards that got me 33% or more, and I found cards from Store B that were below a 33% increase in price from Store A, then I suddenly had even more credit. I was able to stretch my store credit to the maximum. So here’s the thing. Once you figure out the credit differences and compare them to price differences you can actually stretch your credit to the maximum. This was important for me, because I was trying to make what is basically an impossible trade: “Hey random player, will you take a pile of my uncommons and commons for that amazing, unique, reserved list, Vintage deck worthy rare?” Other player, “….”

Trading

I mean I have never traded someone a pile of what is to me, worthless extras, for an incredible powerful and expensive card. No player would ever make such an awful trade. A finance player—like a big store—can see a way to grind immediate value from such a transaction. Those places can make money off a horrific trade. Think about it. This would be a trade that if any of us traded away our Time Vault or Tundra for a pile of commons and uncommons (none of which are reserved list items mind you), I don’t think any of our friends would be impressed. We’d be the laughing stock of the trading circuit.

Yet, that’s exactly what stores will do for you. You can turn those unwanted binder fodder cards into a crown jewel of your collection. You can totally play with amazing cards by leveraging the value that’s hiding in your collection boxes. Building a simple spreadsheet is fun. No, seriously, it was fun to build and watch the trade-in value just keep creeping up as I entered more and more cards. The autosum formula is fun. The percentage formulas are easy enough to create, and you can easily drag your formulas across many cells. This means you actually don’t have to retype them or anything. You can reap the benefits of your trade in experiment to the maximum by doing this. Trust me, even if you’re not a numbers person, you are going to love what this will do for you. Also, it is information that will help you make your best decision moving forward.

The Grading

Now, once you have the prices determined you may be able to simply go with one store. You might even be able to take your spreadsheet to your LGS and see if they can cut you a similar deal. Seriously, they just might do it. The hidden benefit of doing all this work is that you have invested the annoying amount of time (for me it was 20+ hours and I traded in a little over 200 cards) to determine approximate values. This is good. When determining the values you need to be very aware of the grading guidelines. If you think the card may be good enough to be NM, it’s not. If you think its maybe LP or HP at the worst, then it’s HP. You need to be hyper critical of what grades you may get back from the stores. I say this so that you can curb your expectations. If you go in thinking that all your items are Gem Mint, and you believe you’re getting $1,000 credit…well you are going to be disappointed. I curbed my expectations, but Store A still downgraded a few cards lower than I ever would have. I was a little surprised, but in the end it wasn’t worth having them mail it all back to me. –This is yet another cool benefit when you are bale to deal with your L.G.S., because you don’t have to mail it or ask for it back, because you just push it into your keep pile— So, I took a little bit of a hit on some of the grades, but I was still pleased with what I was able to garner enough for the Time Vault plus another $1500 in credit.

Mail Tips

When you go to mail your cards away—again something you don’t need to worry about when dealing locally—you should insure it. That’s not cheap. I mailed two separate packages and it cost me $75 to mail them both with insurance enough to cover the amount I hoped to get back. I couldn’t risk the cards getting destroyed in the mail, and just suddenly being out all that time, effort, and goal setting! So, be aware that is also a hidden cost of this type of transaction. It would have cost me less to mail them all to one store, but because I was going to get way more than $35 in value by splitting it into two transactions it was worth it for me to mail away to two different stores. In the future I’ll probably just eat the “loss” or mitigate it by trading additional cards in to cover the cost. Also, when it comes time to buy your cards from these stores with your store credit be aware of what they charge to ship you cards. Some stores offer deals on shipping, but others do not. This is another benefit of being able to trade at your L.G.S., because there’s zero postage to worry about!

Now, that covers using spreadsheets to get the best trade in value versus price you will be paying for cards. We covered the hidden mailing costs with insurance and tracking and even buying. Oh, and we also mentioned a bit about the time you need to spend to doing this. It took me a long time to comb through thousands of commons and uncommons. My stuff is organized by my system for deck building, so it took me a little longer to find the exact cards to trade in, but trading away cards to stores is not something I do regularly, so I didn’t mind that my organization system wasn’t streamlined for this activity. I actually prefer my organization system, which is based around brewing your own decks, and you can find that article here. I managed to do acquire a Time Vault by trading primarily commons and uncommons. I did trade in some rares in order to beef up my trade in amount, but going through those took almost no time as they were in binders and had been for quite some time. My point is your unused commons and uncommons can be traded for amazing and powerful cards.

Overall, the cards I traded away were all cards that I was not using and did not plan on using anytime in the future, so the likelihood I will regret this colossal trade-in is pretty close to zero percent. The rares I traded in were cards that have either been reprinted once or are in sore need of a reprint sometime soon (Commander popular and only printed in a low print-run recent set). I’m betting that several of those rares show up as The List reprints or find themselves in future Commander precons. Additionally, I hedged my bets and kept a minimum of two copies for myself. I recommend you do that as well, because righting wrongs can take a while, and you can read all about that here.

I hope my experience will help those of you out there thinking about trading cards in to your local gaming store or even one of those online stores that is quite a ways from you. I highly recommend you set up a simple spreadsheet to keep track of your data and compare trade-in values. The prices places charge for the cards you want is also very valuable information that you can compile in the spreadsheet as well. Once you’ve put together the numbers you can crunch them and find your best route to value. Overall, I’m extremely pleased that I’m turning 40+hours, $75, and bunch of my unplayed extras into a Time Vault, Rohgahh of Ker Keep, Vaevictus Asmodi, All Hallow’s Eve, Gaea’s Avenger, Raging River, Blaze of Glory, Gate to Phyrexia, Spinal Villain, Survival of the Fittest, Infernal Tribute, and a few others. Those cards are going to see a ton of play in my decks and my cubes. If you do plan on doing this, then I suggest you take a day off work, sit down and bang it out in a one day. That way you can hit the price values as they are and make your case to your local store or finalize the online buylist order immediately. That way you won’t lose value when your cards get reprinted (like I did with my Rings of Brighthearth) and you won’t have prices jump to much like I did on All Hallow’s Eve (it jumped $35 overnight when it was in my cart). Be smart, be organized, and get it done quickly to save yourself sleep, time, and money. Until next time, may the cards—and their trade-in values—be ever in your favor. 

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