Retail therapy (and my experience selling Magic the Gathering Cards in Japan)

Hey, don’t leave, I swear this is still somewhat related to my goal of retiring early!

The Retail Therapy slippery slope

So, I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m kind of a board game geek. The addiction hit me back pretty hard when a couple months ago, stressed out by a bunch of things at work, I decided that I needed to get some fun toys, that after all I deserved it, and man, what are a few hundred dollars compared to everything else my friends are spending on booze and travels.

Yes, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of “retail therapy”, something I know doesn’t make us happier and is the path to… well at the very least to no financial independence.

So, err, yeah, I spent about $450 on Amazon to buy a bunch of new board games. I tried the usual tricks (keep them in the cart for several weeks, do you really want those when you check the cart again?), but I ended up hitting the “buy” button. It could have stopped there, but in the process I also ended up buying some “hard to find” games on other sites, which added a couple hundred dollars to the bill.

And, I’ll get back to it, but one of the games I bought was a set of Magic the Gathering cards, which itself triggered an additional $400 or so expense for “more cards”. It’s not all as bad as it looks like, but it kind of is.

So, err, in total, it’s safe to say I’ve spent almost a thousand dollars on board games in the past 2 months. The redeeming aspects of this is that as long as I don’t make it a yearly habit, it’s not impacting my target significantly, and I’m actually having fun with these games, so at least it wasn’t one of those “instant regrets” kind of purchases.

Except maybe for the Magic cards, and I’ll explain this right now

So, for those of you who are not familiar with board games in general, or Magic the Gathering in particular, well I’m not sure I have to explain the whole concept, but Magic the Gathering (mtg in short) is a collectible card game. You don’t only buy a deck of 52 cards and call it a day. Instead, you buy “booster packs” that contain 15 randomized cards and help you improve your game. The concept is extremely addictive. MTG is the most popular trading card game ever, it has existed for more than 25 years, but if you’re not familiar with it you might have heard of Pokemon or Yugioh cards here in Japan. Same thing.

Long story short, I got a rush of “MTG” adrenaline that lasted maybe a couple weeks, which was enough for me to spend hundreds of dollars on the game.

I used to play MTG in junior high school, and the game was already a drag on my wallet as a kid, but at least I didn’t have enough purchasing power that it could make a real dent in my finances. As a grown up, I have to be a bit more careful.

My experience selling MTG cards in Japan

Now, and this might be the interesting part for some of you, not all the $400+ I spent on MTG cards can be considered as money that is gone. You see, some people consider Magic the gathering cards to be an investment. Some cards are exceptionally rare and can be resold for dozens, hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on the secondary market, especially as they age (It’s not that simple, I’m taking a shortcut here for the sake of the explanation)

To be honest, this reminds me a lot of bitcoin, or real estate investment: something that’s either weird or requires a lot of specific work and knowledge. MTG investments are actually a mix of both. It might be in a bubble, it might be pure speculation, it requires insane knowledge of the niche market to expect to make a profit out of it.

But somehow I got caught into the frenzy, and decided to buy a few “packs” as investment. We’re not talking anything too crazy, but I have roughly $350 worth of “unopened” packs that might increase in value in the years to come, or not. If they don’t, we’ll crack them open with some friends in the distant future and it will be a fun story to share. I guess.

This “investment” side is mostly just an excuse to spending so much money on cardboard. And that’s also what my more logical side kept telling me, so I went on a side quest to see if I could at least recoup some of my costs by selling some of the individual cards I had purchase (from the boxes I had actually opened to play).

In parallel, some of my friends who had been playing the game about a decade ago gave me their cards to help enrich my collection. Some of their cards, and some of my cards, appeared to have some non negligible value on the secondary market so I attempted to sell them.

There are multiple avenues to sell your MTG cards, but in Japan I feel I am quite constrained by my poor Japanese skills. Multiple marketplaces exist in the US to sell your cards, including eBay of course, but also some specialized MTG websites with a good reputation. On these platforms, you typically list your expensive cards one by one and sell them individually. There’s also a possibility to just sell all your cards at once to a store (whether by bringing your cards in person or sending them to the store). These options all exist in Japan, but under different brands or names. As far as online marketplaces are concerned, think Yahoo auction and Mercari rather than eBay.

I went through a portion of my and my friends’ cards, looked the prices online for the “rare” ones, to find that the total value of the rare cards I was willing to sell (about a hundred cards, including some of my friend’s with their approval) was approximately $600 (60’000 yen). Wow, that was a nice surprise.

I didn’t want to bother listing all of them individually on an online marketplace, so I proceeded to a local game store and had them review the whole thing for purchase. They gave me 14’000 yen for it, which if I can be honest was a massive disappointment. But since the whole review process took 2h and I had to be around while they were doing it, I didn’t have the courage to refuse.

14K yen was less than 25% of the market price for those cards. Where was the discrepancy?

Well, first of all, most of my cards (specifically, my friend’s 10 year old cards) were not in pristine condition. Having been stored in poor condition for a decade, they had scratches, dirt, nicks, etc… I swear that if you’re not used to these things you would say these cards looked perfect for their age, but after spending 2 hours in a card shop, seeing all these folks protecting each card individually with plastic sleeves (sometimes 2 of them), I can see how it could be considered that casual players like me and my friends are handling our cards terribly.

They were instantly graded as “moderately played” or “heavily played” (per opposition to “near mint” or “lightly played”), which greatly diminished their value. In addition to that of course, the store has to low-ball their offer based on the fact that I can offload all my cards easily and in one transaction, transferring the risk of sitting on unsold inventory on them. And also to have a margin.

Hence, less than 25% of market price. Lesson learned. Since I intended to give that friend half of the money, 7’000 yen remained for me, which helped but was still far from the $400 or so I had spent.

Reviewing the cards again, I found a lot more that I had initially dismissed, that turned out to have good value on the secondary market.

This time I decided to go an other route, if only for the learning experience, and listed some of the cards on Mercari, which is a Japanese equivalent of eBay.

Out of the 25 cards I listed, 3 of them (the most valuable ones) were almost instantly sold, and after fees, netted me about 5’000 yen (that is, pending review from the buyers and transfer of the money from the Mercari app to my bank account).

Overall I’m getting 50% to 70% of the market value for these cards. Much better than what the store offered for my first batch, but…

The other cards have been sitting there, getting no attention. It is not a very liquid market, is what I’m discovering right now.

I do not know if I will ever manage to sell these additional cards on Mercari, or if I’ll have to go back to the local game store and sell the cards at a discount to them. What I can confirm is, selling cards individually is a lot of effort (have to take pictures, list them, deal with the occasional buyer question or complain…) and probably not worth it (some cards can fetch a high value, but for most of them we’re talking a couple hundred yen profit at best). It’s a mess in my office with all these cards sitting there, and keep in mind that the only reason I actually have a shot at making a profit here is because I received literally hundreds of dollars worth of cards for free by my friends.

My conclusion with this tiny experience is that re-selling Magic cards on such marketplaces can be fun to some extent, but not worth it in terms of ROI, compared to simply reselling the whole lot to a local game store and moving on with your life.

I will probably let my cards sit on Mercari for maybe a couple months, then bring unsold inventory to the game store.

Board games I purchased in my 2019 shopping spree

Upper Deck Legendary

Upper Deck Legendary is a deck building game centered around the marvel universe. I bought it for the strong theme (my son loves Marvel movies lately. Who doesn’t?) and because it got great reviews. I found the game to be too easy to beat, but it’s enjoyable, has great reply value thanks to many bad guys/good guys combination that you can change with each game, and a ton of expansions for those who want more.

In the game, you play as a team of super heroes trying to defeat a mastermind before they can accomplish their scheme. Random bad guys also show up that you might have to defeat as well.

Lord of the rings – The card game

Last year I mentioned a tiny game named One Deck Dungeon that I had purchased to play with my son. It’s a card game in which you play as heroes trying to defeat a dungeon and its monsters.

The Lord of the ring card game has a similar concept, but much better executed in my opinion (well, it’s maybe not fair to compare a game published by a big company to that of a an independent designer, maybe).

In LotR, lcg, you select 3 heroes and a deck of card that will represent your allies and actions you can take against bad guys. Bad guys have their own card deck as well. Which cards go in the bad guy’s deck depends on which “scenario” you choose. The scenarios themselves are really interesting, with fun twists as you progress through them.

By default the game comes with 3 scenarios, and 12 heroes (and their associated decks), which gives a significant amount of replayability.

I have to say this game is probably my favorite in all the games I bought this year. It feels strategic, thematic, tense. It took me a while to succeed with the very first scenario, and then I had to change my strategy entirely to beat the second scenario. The third scenario, unfortunately, seems designed to be impossible to win as a single player, which made me feel bitter, but wanting for more. I’ll be replaying the scenarios again with different heroes, but already can’t wait to get my hands on some expansions. I hadn’t been that excited by a board game in a long time (maybe last time was a year ago wit Pandemic Legacy)

The Mind

The mind is a simple card game that doesn’t require the players to talk or interact at all. It just consists in putting the right cards at the right time on the board, as a team, without any kind of communication. It can get very tense and very fun, and is probably a good “party” game, but to be honest I like games with strong themes or stories, so I don’t feel like replaying this game very often.

My first castle Panic

My son and I have been playing Castle Panic for several years now, and, although a game can sometimes drag for 2h, it’s pretty enjoyable.

Castle Panic is a “tower defense” game in which the players have to defend their castle against an army of trolls, goblins, and other monsters. Although the base game is too simple and non strategic for my taste, with a few expansions it became one of our favorites.

His sisters now want to play the game, but it’s too difficult for them, so I bought a “toned down” version of the game, “my First Castle Panic“.

Well, this one is really for younger kids and not something I find super interesting myself (there is only the illusion of strategy in there, it’s mostly just luck of the draw with everyone’s cards), but if it can get my daughters interested in board games instead of TV, even for only 20 minutes a week, I’ll take it. Not sure how successful this game will be in the long run.

Magic: The gathering

Do yourselves a favor and do not get started on this game. It’s like drugs, except probably more expensive.

It’s also one of the most successful tabletop games ever. Games are quick and intense. You fight as two powerful mages with magics spells and fantasy creatures.

So if you really feel like you have to give it a try, start with one of the “deck builder” packs, which are enough to build two reasonable decks for the two players, and to get the “thrill” of opening booster packs.

The 7th continent

OK, so this one was almost impossible to find, because it was never really released in retail stores. I got lucky and found that the creators of the game still had some unsold inventory specifically in Asia. That’s one of the rare cases where being in Japan has actually helped me! Ebay had this game sold on the secondary market for up to $700… the actual price is closer to $80, which is expensive but not so much considering the amount of content.

The 7th continent is a bit like a “chose your own adventure” game, but in board game format. The “board” itself being progressively built out of cards you pick from a box, as you explore an island full of dangers.

Look, I can’t explain it, ok, but it’s a solo game that’s extremely enjoyable, taking you on adventures on a mysterious Island. I can say I’ve played already for 4h, and have only scratched the surface of what this game has to offer.

I can’t do this game justice. Look it up on google to find what professional critics have to say about it.

Other games

Yes, this never ends. There are other games I bought but haven’t tried yet. I will progressively test those, some of them will end up under the Christmas tree in a few weeks.

Carcassonne and The big book of madness were recommended to me as good family games to try with the kids.

Spirit Island and Hanabi are among the top recommended cooperative games on boardgamegeek.

Pandemic Legacy Season 2, because we had such a blast with Season 1 last year.

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