There has been a lot of rumblings of doom & gloom in the MTG space over the past few months. Card prices are dropping precipitously. Magic 30 made it seem like the Reserved List is all but a moot point. And the analysis coming from Bank of America’s downgrade to Hasbro’s stock is now being backed up by real, tangible evidence directly from people closest to the secondary markets that singles & sealed inventory is backing up all over the place. I wanted to take a moment to expand on the singles market and the crashing prices we’ve been observing. This is particularly impactful to LGSs, so let’s dive in.
THE SINGLES MARKET: HOW DOES IT WORK?
First, it’s important to understand the singles sales model many LGSs operate on to generate a profit. Selling singles is typically done with a sales target in mind every day the same way salespeople rely on commissions.
Most successful LGSs will set sales targets per day on their sealed product; singles inventory; and any other accessories (playmats, sleeves, etc.) which they may have available for sale. These targets can be set on an hourly level; per headcount/employee level; or time boxed in an aggregate way, such as daily/weekly/monthly. Ideally, an LGS would have the time and data available to analyze their sales targets on a micro and macro level to see trends unfolding within the individual inventory components of their business. When done effectively, they can adjust inventory levels by repricing, not taking new inventory in, and more, all before a problem can arise.
When sales targets are missed, they should be examined closely to understand what the problem is. Unfortunately, 2022 presented a multitude of problems – inflation; reprints; a cooling market demand for Magic, and more – and I suspect some amount of LGSs did not rationalize all of them adequately enough for the singles market they are now facing.
MAKING MONEY WITH SINGLES
The biggest and best stores can accrue their singles inventory at buylist prices, usually around 50-70% of TCGPlayer on average, and with a goal of reselling for a minimum of 20-30% in profit margin, although often times higher.
Target margin varies, and depends quite a bit on the expectation of how fast the card will sell. If the answer is fast, the margin needed is going to be lower since a quick sale puts cash back into the business to buy more cards, rinse and repeat.
If the card is expected to sell slowly, think three months or longer, the LGS won’t pay much for them and they might expect to get a higher margin when it finally does sell to offset the expense of their holding period.
LGSs typically will want a diverse singles inventory because having more cards in stock means a higher likelihood of multiple cards selling per transaction. This increases margins and profitability, and it means the best stores (think CardKingdom) will buy nearly everything a player has to offer. The exception to this would be cards that they are already overstocked on, something that’s becoming an increasingly disparaging problem right now as demand wanes for Magic.
Vendors rely on having cards available for sale so they can generate enough margin to pay for their monthly expenses (rent, utilities, salaries, etc) and then turn a modest profit whenever possible. This is why they will pay so aggressively for staples they know sell quickly. It’s also why we’re starting to see such a big disparity in price between high-demand and low-demand cards. It used to be that low-demand cards could still fetch $5-10 but just sold slower than their high-demand counterparts. Now, many of those same cards may only fetch $1-2 if a vendor is lucky. Meanwhile, high-demand cards are frequently $30-40 or more because they sometimes singlehandedly will prop up the value of an entire set they are printed in (think: Meathook Massacre).
These pockets of demand have always existed in Magic, but the phenomenon where the $5-10 cards are evaporating due to reprints is causing a shift in the way vendors need to think about how they operate.
THE PROBLEM THAT LIES AHEAD
Most stores who sell singles accumulate a large inventory of cards to ensure they can do as I said above and make enough daily sales to pay their bills. The problem is in 2022, their inventory value was crushed by the volume of reprints. If they were sitting on 40 copies of a $10 card that now sells for $1 because of a reprint, they lost $360. Multiply that by hundreds or even thousands of cards and it paints a bleak yet very real picture of what these stores are facing in 2023.
It used to be that stores could rely on selling hundreds of $5-10 cards per day. Now, many of those $5-10 bills are $1 bills. And it is only going to get worse as more reprints slam down in 2023. This is why I said the value of inventories is being crushed earlier, but what I didn’t mention is how this also crushes margins.
Selling cards for $1 isn’t profitable when you factor in all the overhead expenses of sorting, storing, and then pulling these. There’s no way to make it profitable, either, unless you have a reliable $5-10 tier in the equation. Some stores in bad cash positions will not survive this phenomenon. They will not be able to pay their bills, and eventually they’ll have to consolidate and hope to sell at a steep discount just to walk away.
That’s becoming a real situation that is all but likely to happen for some vendors this year.
Chris Martin is the co-founder of Conviction Gaming and co-host of the Brewin’ With Conviction podcast. He has been playing Magic since 1998 and is an avid EDH player with a knack for MTG finance.
You can reach Chris and find more of his daily MTG content by following on Twitter @ChiStyleGaming.