In my last post, I presented data on prior sales prices of graded cards and on the number of cards that had received various grades from BGS. In this post, I will explain how you can access this data yourself, and discuss some of the limitations inherent in the data. I will use a newly acquired Alpha Mana Short as an examples to illustrate.
BGS Population Reports
To access the Beckett Grading Service (BGS) report showing how many copies of a specific card have received various overall grades (known as a population report), click here. If you don’t already have an account at Beckett, you will need to create a free account before you can access these reports. Then select Magic: The Gathering under the Select Sport drop down menu, enter the set name such as “Alpha” in the Set Name input box, and enter the card name in the Player Name input box.
For example, to look up the population report for AlphaMana Short, you would set your inputs as shown, then click the “SEARCH” button. The result of this search is shown below as well.
The report shows you the number of copies of Alpha Mana Short at each grade that BGS has graded. There are no black label BGS 10s (all 4 subgrades 10), there are no copies graded 10, 5 graded 9.5, etc. Note that the numbers for non-zero entries can be clicked to see a list of all cards that received that grade, including the serial number and subgrades for each card. This can be useful for counting the number of quads (all subgrades at or above the overall grade) that exist at a given grade, as quads are generally considered more desirable than basics (i.e., non-quads). It can also be useful for identifying cards that generally have poor centering or that often have print splotches. For example, clicking on the “5” link in the “9.5” column opens a new page that displays this table.
In the case of Alpha Mana Short, there are 3 copies that are 9.5 quad, and 2 that are 9.5 basic. Both of the basics had their failing subgrade (for being quads) being centering, which hints that Mana Short might be a card that suffers from widespread mis-centering. Inspection of the population report for Alpha Mana Short BGS 9 (which you should now be able to obtain yourself) reveals that of the 26 cards assigned that grade, 12 (almost 50%) received only an 8.5 centering subgrade, confirming the hypothesis that the card does indeed suffer from widespread mis-centering. There were also 5 cards that received 8.5 on edges, 5 that received 8.5 on corners, none that received 8.5 on surface, and 4 that received a grade of 9 quad.
Given that Alpha Mana Short suffers from widespread mis-centering, one would expect that its overall population of cards graded 9 or higher would be relatively low compared to most other Alpha cards, at least those that do not also suffer from widespread printing defects. And in fact, at present Mana Short’s 31 total cards graded BGS 9 or higher ranks 48th among the 295 different Alpha cards. This can be derived from data that can be extracted from the BGS site, but it requires additional data processing. I have therefore created a public Google sheet, titled “BGS POP Report Alpha 2020-10-07”, which you can access by clicking this link. For your convenience I have added tabs at the bottom so you can view the results sorted alphabetically by card name, by rarity, and by number of copies graded 8.5 or higher, 9.0 or higher, and 9.5 or higher.
Note that all of the above data represents only a snapshot of population at the time the data was collected, and should not be relied upon to remain accurate at least over long periods of time (i.e. years). And even with up-to-date data, there are still several issues that prevent the data from being completely accurate. First, not every card is accurately graded by BGS. Some cards will appear in the report at a grade higher than is justified by the actual card’s condition. In addition, some cards will have been undergraded and cracked out of their case and resubmitted to BGS in hopes of receiving a higher grade than originally assigned. These cards are counted more than once in the population report, overstating the true number of copies that exist. Lastly, note that this population only reflects cards graded by BGS. There may be additional copies graded by other grading services or which are still raw.
eBay Sold Listings
The best public data source for graded card sales prices is eBay’s sold listings. Price data can be obtained for sales within the past 3 months on the eBay site, by searching for a card (e.g. “mtg alpha mana short”) and then changing the results filters to show sold listings.
Very often there are few or no sold listings on eBay within the past 3 months, especially in the case of graded Alpha cards. For example, there are only one sale each of BGS 8.5 and BGS 9 Alpha Mana Short in the past three months. A single sale provides at least a little information on current market value, but it is only one data point and the price of any individual sale is not necessarily reflective of the current market price. Auction results might be below market due to poor pictures, lack of demand at the specific time the card was auctioned, the fact that the seller had little or no feedback deterring higher bidders, etc. Results might also be above market due to multiple buyers wanting the card and being relatively price-insensitive. Non-auction prices can also be misleading, as eBay in many cases shows the original listing price of the card even when it was sold at a “best offer” price that is lower. Lastly, sold listings sometimes represent fake sales that were either never completed or that were between related parties and were created by unscrupulous sellers attempting to portray a higher market value for their cards.
The sold listings shown above are difficult to interpret, as the sale of a quad 9 at $1330, followed a week later by the sale of a basic 8.5 at $1400 seems inconsistent. Thankfully, eBay sold listing price data from a period of several years is available free on the PWCC web site, along with a variety of ways to filter this data. To access this data, again you will need to create a free account with PWCC. After you have created an account and logged in, you can retrieve this information on the “Market Price Research” page. Below is an example of a search result for “Alpha Mana Short BGS”. I have selected to show both auctions and fixed price sales, and I have limited results to sales over $500 to eliminate some sales of BGS 8 Mana Short. (Note that the PWCC report omits the recent sale of a BGS 8.5 for $1,400 in September 2020 that appears on eBay, for unknown reasons.)
Note that the only other sale of a BGS 9 since the beginning of 2019 was at $2650. Prices have softened for many graded Alphas since the first half of 2019. But they certainly have not softened enough to make the sale of a quad 9 at $1330 in August, 2020 seem consistent with this other sale at $2650. This data point, combined with the apparent sale of a BGS 8.5 copy at $1400 and fact that the population of BGS 9 Quad or better is only 9 cards, would lead me to believe that the current market value of a BGS 9 quad is in the range of $2,000 to $2,500.
During the past month, I have been offered two BGS 9 Alpha Mana Shorts for sale, one a BGS 9 quad+ offered at $3,000, and the other the exact BGS quad 9 that sold at $1,330 in August, which was offered at $2,500. In chatting with Benjamin Jensen, the owner of this latter card and an avid Alpha Mana Short collector, he told me that his maximum bid on the card was $1,800 and that he felt very lucky that the lack of serious competition for the card allowed him to purchase it so inexpensively.
My Mana Short Purchase
I wrote last time about how it pained me to spend $320 to purchase the BGS 9 Alpha Lifelace because neither the card’s ability nor the art have any special appeal to me. Although Mana Short has a somewhat more useful ability and somewhat better art, it is still not high on the list of Alpha cards that I care about. The thought of spending close to $2000 for even a BGS 9 basic copy solely because the card suffers from mis-centering was extremely unpleasant. So instead I planned to wait for a nice (perhaps undergraded) BGS 8.5 copy to be available that I might submit to CGC and cross over as a basic 9. I started by checking all of the major graded card sellers of which I am aware (see the pinned post in the Facebook “Graded Magic Collectors/Sellers” group for a list of some of these.) To my surprise and delight, I was able to find and purchase this lovely BGS 8.5 basic+++ for $1,000.
While this $1,000 price may appear high compared to most of the recent sales of BGS 8.5s shown in the PWCC Market Research report, it is significantly lower than the $1,400 price from September, 2020 and seems reasonable in light of my assessment that a BGS 9 should fetch approximately $2,000 to $2,500. But as I am trying to build a CGC 9 set, the critical issue is whether this card will receive that grade. If it will, then $1,000 is a tremendous bargain…if not, then regardless of price it is not a card I want to purchase.
The centering on this card appears to me to have been under-graded by BGS at an 8. But regardless of what grade this card would receive if resubmitted to BGS, my experience with the CGC grading standard for Alpha cards that are typically mis-centered gives me confidence that it will receive a centering score of at least 8.5 from CGC. The other subgrades assigned by BGS appear to me to be very solid, so I have no worry about any of them being reduced below 9 by CGC.
As a final assurance, I had previously submitted the Mana Short from my original set to CGC and found that it would only receive a 7.5 overall grade due to a very slight surface warp, but that it would receive a centering score of 8.5. I scanned this card and determined by counting pixels that the front black border on the card I previously submitted (8.5 centering) had a left-right ratio of 58%/42% and a top-bottom ratio of 53%/47%. The BGS 8.5 shown above has a left-right ratio of 55%/45% and a top-bottom ratio of 54%/46%, which is at least slightly better, giving me additional confidence in my assessment that it too will receive a centering score of at least 8.5 from CGC.
In addition to the Mana Short, I also purchased these three cards for my set during the past few weeks. If you are interested in understanding the pricing on these cards, you should now have the tools necessary to research and think about it on your own.
There are other data sources besides the two I mentioned, such as the PSA graded card registry, but I believe that if you are looking to make a quick assessment of graded card pricing, the BGS registry and PWCC market price research should be the first places that you look. I have also been told that some top collectors maintain their own private databases of sales that also include any private sales transactions of which they are aware. This seems like an extremely valuable additional resource, but unfortunately it is not one I have access too at this time.