The Market of Played, Poor, and Damaged Cards: An Analysis

Buying poor and played cards at the right price is not as easy as it seems. This article is an analysis of the used cards market with some advice on when you should go for used Magic cards.

I bet that anyone at some point in his career as a Magic player/trader found himself in desperate need of a card that was much too expensive. It was inconvenient to purchase at its current price and was simply unaffordable.

This often happens with rare Vintage cards – can anyone say Black Lotus? But it also happens for less expensive formats than Vintage, like Modern where people are still priced out of cards like Liliana of the Veil or Tarmogoyf.

So, do you remember what you personally did in those situations? Did you borrow the card from a friend? Did you playtest your deck with a proxy to see if the card is really worth buying? Or did you say: "Never mind, I will try another card or another deck instead."

These are all good, but not definitive solutions.

As Long as It's Sleeve Playable?

A good and definitive solution is to buy a sleeve playable copy of the card you need at the best price available.

How? That’s the easy part! First, you take the lowest price in Cardmarket, then you look at the vendor’s comments. Ask for a picture of the card, so you can verify yourself if the card is sleeve playable in a tournament. Basically, if the card is 100% readable without tears, then it is sleeve playable and you can go ahead and buy it.

Is it really that easy? That depends. Sometimes, even played and poor cards can be expensive. You should also take into consideration that if we're talking about expensive Magic cards – let's say over 30-40,00 € – the scenario drastically changes: Buying such a card becomes similar to buying stocks of a company. You're making an actual investment. And unless you're too big to ail or too rich to worry (In that case, you're probably not reading this article.), you need to research a little before committing to making an investment.

Investments and Grading

When it comes to cost, the first and most important rule is that of Supply and Demand. This typically generates a price and/or a market tendency.

Magic card prices have an extra dimension as both collectors' items and part of a TCG. This comes down to the play value of certain cards and, more importantly, the condition. For example, whenever you buy something from the supermarket, that specific product will have a clear reputation (based on its brand), a clear price, and printed expiration date, and visible and verifiable ingredients that point towards the quality of the product. However, when you buy a Magic card, let's say on the Internet in CM, you have a somehow certifiable seller (based on feedback) and a clear price, but you don't have clear information about the actual appearance and the quality of the card.

This card aspect is commonly defined in MTG as grading.

And here’s the issue: When it comes to card grading, everyone has their own standards and criteria. I know reputable sellers that NEVER grade cards as "Near Mint" unless they personally took them from a previously unopened booster pack. Others may grade cards as "Good" or "Excellent" that stricter graders would rate as "Played" or "Light Played".

But here again you might say: What’s the problem if I can see pictures of the cards (or even see them in person) and just grade them myself?

This leads to a second issue: Grading and pricing a NM or Excellent card can be quite easy, but how can you tell the correct price of a played/poor card?

In the next section, I will try to be as helpful as I can by giving you guidelines on how to determine the price range of a played card.

The Price Scale

The logical and universal method adopted to determine the correct price of a played card is by using its grading scale. You start from the tendency/NM market price of a card. Then as the card condition decreases, you reduce the price by a percentage of between 5 to 10 percent.

Here's a practical example:

The price of Force of Will, Alliances is about 48,00 €.

Force of Will

This means you should expect to pay 48-50,00 € for a NM, 44-47,00 € for an Excellent, 40-43€ for a Good, and 35-39,00 € for a Played, depending on the amount of playwear.

But what happens if the card condition goes below "natural" playwear?

Whitening, Bending, Inking, and Other Damages

Played and poor cards often cannot be valued (or at least it's very difficult to do so) with the price scale method. This is because there is a wide range of different qualities within these card conditions. In the Poor condition, you can find a completely whitened card, a card with broken angles, a card with a missing piece, or a card with visible bends or tears. Each can have different prices despite being in the same condition classification because each have a different quality of "poor".

Monolith with Bent Corner
A Monolith with a bent corner

Aside from the fact that a "damaged" grading is not present in the card conditions listed in CM, we’re speaking of a category of cards that is very dangerous to deal with because some damaged cards are subject to an evaluation of a Judge during a tournament.

Same can be told for inking. Inked cards have visible pen marks, typically used to correct the imperfections or the damages of a card. For that reason, inked cards are generally rated as "Poor" or "Damaged", simply because if you remove the ink traces (which isn't easy to do) you’re likely to find damages to the card or significant playwear.

Inked MTG Card
An inked card

Is the Lower Price Always the Best Price?

How can you realistically price a poor or damaged/inked card?

The decision is up to your own sensibilities. Let’s say you paid for a card that was 50% of its market price thus, achieving the result of having a copy of a card you could normally not afford. You still however, have to consider that there is the probability of not being able to resell the card once you no longer want or need it. This means that a low-priced card, most likely the lowest price available on the market, is sometimes a wrong investment because you cannot resell the card at the price you initially paid for or at a higher price to earn a profit.

In the end, what you initially considered as a "good buy" because of the cheap price became a "value zero" investment because of the inability of the card to be resold. We're speaking of items with a very particular and narrow marketplace.

Conclusion: When Should I Buy Poor and Damaged Cards?

You can probably already see where I'm getting at. As I conclude, I will try to summarize under which conditions should you more likely buy poor and damaged cards and vice-versa.

Damaged MTG Card
The (damaged) balance between different factors
  1. The Total Cost of the Card: The cheaper the card – in terms of market price and its overall value – the more you should consider buying it because there are no high-stake risks involved.
  1. The Purpose: If the card is mainly for playing and not for reselling or collecting, the more you should consider buying it because you don't really have to worry about the card's market value. (I mean, why should you in this situation?)
  1. The Type of Card: The rarer and more sought-after the card, the more you should consider buying it because the value of the card is likely to grow over time, and so will your "investment".
  1. Your Finances: The more limited your funds are, the more you should consider buying a poor or damaged card because realistically cannot afford to buy it in NM. Doing so will also free your funds for other purchases needed to complete your decks.
  2. Your Contacts and Reputation as a Seller: The more you are known and the more reputable you are as a seller, the more you should consider buying poor or damaged cards because you will have more opportunities and a higher probability of reselling the card compared to other sellers.

Lastly, always remember: Played cards have a lot more of battle stories to tell!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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