Collecting, Valuing, & Marketing Misprints
Until recently, the market for Magic misprints and rarities has been relatively small and closely-knit, with pockets of collectors in each geographic region who were the “go-to” people to unload anything of the sort. However, with Star City Games introducing the Misprints and Rarities category to their site last year, and an influx of Facebook groups dedicated to such oddities, there has been an explosion in demand for these cards. In fact, a search for the term “misprint” in the Magic category on eBay yields on average, four to five hundred listings. This is in sharp contrast to having as few as fifty auctions on average only a few years ago. As such, a new “floor” has developed for certain categories of misprints, and the upper boundaries have been pushed to new limits. With these new developments the ever-present question remains: how does one appropriately value Magic misprints and rarities?
Although the primary purpose of this article is focused on valuation issues, any discussion regarding the subject would be incomplete without briefly touching on what constitutes a misprint. Determining the type of misprint is important because it is highly relevant to valuation.
WHAT THEY ARE
In the broadest sense, the term misprint refers to any card that deviates substantially from its intended design. Production errors, packaging errors, and design flaws, can all result in the creation of a card that physically exists in an altered form. At the factory sheets may be loaded incorrectly which can result in crimps from the flow-wrap machine during the packaging process. The blue mana symbol with the wrong artwork and green border on the Revised Serendib Efreet is an example of a set design flaw. Cards may be shifted out of the text-box, have the wrong back or an upside-down Magic back, incorrect casting cost, and the list goes on.
Categorically speaking misprints can also be divided into two groups: those that are unique, and those that are not. For example, Mark Poole was incorrectly credited as the illustrator for Tropical Island in Alpha instead of Jespyr Myrfors. Every single one from that set has the same error. You may also be familiar with the Drudge Skeleton Swamps, Urza’s Saga Promo Foil Islands without the set symbol, and the Time Elemental/Serra Angel misprints. While the majority of Foil Saga Islands have the set symbol and are printed correctly, there are more than enough with the missing symbol to render it far from a rare error.
Although it’s completely subjective, the best and most expensive misprints are typically unique. In other words they resulted from a process that was not duplicated at any point in time. A printer that runs out of red ink might produce color errors that result in a uniquely made misprint. Similarly, sheets that are incorrectly lined up can result in the production of cards that are printed outside of the borders or beyond the text box. These types of cards, especially playable ones, usually receive the highest demand because nobody else is bound to come across another one.
WHAT THEY AREN’T
Misprints often get lumped together in a single group along with mis-cuts, and other rarities such as test prints or filler cards. However, these cards are better served by having their own categories. Test prints are cards that exist from the pre-production phase of a print run and represent a part of the design and/or test of the production process. Perhaps the best examples of these are the 8th Edition test prints, which oddly enough have an Unglued set symbol, and the Judgment test prints. Both represent experimentation with the card layout, and the latter exist in both left and right-justified versions. These could have been the way Magic cards look today! For additional information regarding test prints and some great visuals, check out Magic Librarities ( http://www.magiclibrarities.net/719-rarities-test-prints-press-checks-and-production-anomalies-english-cards-index.html ).
TYPES OF MISPRINTS
The world of Magic misprints and rarities is quite diverse and the following list is by no means meant to be exhaustive, but merely an introduction. If you’re truly interested, I highly recommend visiting Magic Librarities (www.magiclibrarities.net), the world’s most comprehensive site dedicated to misprints, rarities, and other Magic paraphernalia. Of course do not forget that you will be seeing a ton of amazing pieces on VintageMagic.com as well.
Crimped cards are created from problems with the flow-wrap machine which is used to package the cards in wrappers. If you’ve taken a good look at any booster pack over the years, you’ve probably noticed the similarity between the packaging and a crimped Magic card. In my experience vertical crimps are significantly rarer than the usual horizontal crimps, and should command a premium. There are several individuals who collect crimps almost exclusively, and an even smaller subset that primarily collect Alpha and Beta crimped cards. When determining the value, the larger and more defined crimps command the highest prices.
Shifted errors are a personal favorite of mine. These misprints have the text shifted out of the box, usually toward the left side of the card, and to a lesser extent, vertically. The most well-known of these comes from foil Mercadian Masques sheets and foil Urza’s Legacy sheets. The most prominent of which are the Brainstorm, Counterspell, Dark Ritual, and Gush. It is confirmed that there must have been at least 3-4 different sheets with varying degrees of shift, as a few of the Dark Rituals and Brainstorms have surfaced over the years. Recently a foil Masques rare showed up on Facebook, so there must have been at least one of those sheets as well. I think we’re all waiting for the Misdirection and Rishadan Port to appear! Several confirmed sales of the unplayable commons have been in the $30-$50 range; while the best cards have sold and traded for up to several thousand (U.S) each.
FOIL PROCESS ERRORS
Occasionally something goes wrong during the foiling process. As a result cards can be missing one or more sections of the foil layer. For whatever reason, these cards have mostly been seen during the Masques block era and have alternating bands of foil and non-foil throughout the card. While they can be quite interesting, the inability of people to notice these errors without scrutinizing them up-close has limited the demand for these, and thus the price. Furthermore, Nemesis and Prophecy are some of the least desirable sets in terms of playable cards.
FOREIGN OBJECT / INK BLOTCH ERRORS
This is perhaps one of the broadest categories of misprints and covers a wide range of interesting things that could happen to a Magic card. By their very nature, all of the cards in this category are unique because of the manner in which they are created. When a printer dispenses gobs of ink onto a card, obscuring parts of it, it is generally considered an ink blotch. Although no two ink blotches are identical there are literally thousands of cards that have this error on them. Thus, the value of ink-blotched cards ranges incredibly depending on whether it is on the front or the back of the card, the overall size, location, and prominence of the ink spot, and whether the patch covers several connecting cards. An ink spot completely covering the casting cost is probably more desirable than one on the outer border. Of course, the rarity and playability of the card being obscured matters as always.
In contrast, foreign objects make their way into Magic cards during the printing process far less frequently. Every once in a while a human hair is embedded into a card, or something was physically present on the sheet before printing began. A classic (yet still quite rare) example of this is a card that has tape beneath the printed layer. The uncut sheet of cards probably had some kind of tape on it prior to printing. I’ve seen a few cards with different kinds of tape being printed on, and it’s always considered an interesting misprint. Valuation for these has been fairly difficult to determine.
PROBLEMS WITH THE BACK OF THE CARD
Magic’s misprint history is riddled with curiosities. Perhaps some of the most interesting misprints that have appeared over the years involve the back of the card. Almost twenty years ago, Fallen Empires cards surfaced with card backs from the Wyvern trading card game. Since that time, three Scourge pre-constructed decks with Harry Potter backs have surfaced, with one being sold in 2003, another in 2004, and the third sold on eBay early 2013. The highest known price paid for an entire deck is estimated at over five digits.
Mercadian Masques, no stranger to misprint lore and legend, also provided the world with a foil rare sheet that had upside-down Magic backs (or, maybe the front was upside-down, take your pick!). “Junk” rare cards have fetched approximately $50, while some of the better rare cards have gone for several hundred. Misdirection, Squee, and Unmask have all been located as have many others. At least one fifth edition uncommon sheet with the front printed on the back of the card is also known to have existed, resulting in cards that are “double printed” with blank backs.
There’s no doubt about it – determining the value of your misprints can be quite difficult to say the least. Several factors go into developing the price, including but not limited to, the playability of the card, the type of misprint, the severity of the error, prominence (i.e., is the error on the back or clearly noticeable in sleeves), and whether the card is tournament legal. In addition, it is always relevant if the card, playable or not, falls into the usual collectable categories that command premium prices. There are always people who collect elves, rats, angels, demons, zombies, and so forth, and are looking to add an extreme version of such to their collection. You would be surprised at what some people collect, so the question then becomes whether or not you can find the right person.
Uniqueness and playability are the cornerstones of misprint valuation. There’s a reason that a shifted foil Brainstorm can be sold for thousands, and a shifted Spidersilk Armor goes for $30, demand is king. No offense to the spider collectors out there, but people just don’t seem to care that much. On the other hand, there’s also a reason that the foil Saga Island without the set symbol goes for $30-$40 despite being highly playable. There are literally hundreds of them, and quite possibly even thousands. Thus, uniqueness is probably the more important of the two. If an albino Wall of Wood from Revised can be sold into the triple digits (and it has, because I did), it’s probably since it was a one-of-a-kind item and not because it can successfully block Grizzly Bears. A unique version of a highly sought after, highly playable card can be an expensive combination.
SO, I HAVE A MISPRINT I WANT TO SELL. NOW WHAT?
If you’ve been in this situation before, you are not alone. As we already know figuring out how to part with an exceptional misprint can be quite challenging. On the one hand, you want to fetch a “fair” price for your card and move it within a reasonable time frame. On the other, you don’t want to find out later that you’ve been had and the misprint that you sold for $150 was immediately sold to another collector for into four digits. This last point is debatable, because some would argue that the person who had the foresight to purchase it at $150 had exactly the right relationships in place to capitalize on the subsequent sale. Nevertheless it certainly doesn’t make you sleep any better at night. Below is a best practices guide to maximizing the value from your misprints.
1) DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Before you start marketing your card, make sure you do your research. That means determining what kind of misprint you have and figure out its relative uniqueness. Browse the misprints on Vintage Magic Store, eBay, join both the High End Magic Stuff for Sale and the Misprints & Oddities groups on Facebook, and gather information through the Magic Online Trading League if possible. Magic Librarities is the best and most comprehensive storehouse of Magic knowledge that exists in this realm, so I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the information on there. Retail websites may have similar items for sale so be sure to check those as well. Finally, reach out to other collectors who may be knowledgeable about misprints and rarities. At first it might seem counterproductive to discuss values with potential buyers. However, many collectors only deal in specific types of misprints, have no interest, and yet have significant knowledge regarding what you have. There are plenty of people with great reputations who will steer you in the right direction if you approach them respectfully. You can gather a tremendous amount of information in a relatively short period of time, and it goes a long way. If after a bunch of digging you still can’t find anything like it, then you may have something really rare on your hands.
2) DETERMINE AN ASKING PRICE AND JUSTIFY IT
After you’ve done plenty of research, you should have a fairly decent idea regarding the rarity of what you have and its approximate value. Even if you don’t, I’ve found that it’s best to choose a starting price and justify that price based on previous items sold and other documentation. For example, in dealing with a shifted foil Masques card that isn’t quite as bad as Spidersilk Armor, yet isn’t anywhere near Brainstorm (take Diplomatic Immunity for example), I might reason as follows: Well, Spidersilk Armor and other “junk” commons have gone for X dollars, and we clearly know that it isn’t anywhere near Counterspell or Brainstorm, which have gone for Y dollars. However, it sees plenty of play in EDH and regular foil ones are about $6 while Japanese foils are about $15. Therefore, I’m asking a price of Z dollars, which seems reasonable considering how there are probably at best 3-4 in the world and you probably won’t find another one. If you’re worlds apart, you’ll know instantly and waste very little time. If you’re not, let the buyer counteroffer and go from there.
Unlike traditional positional bargaining, where throwing a number out there first can often be considered a poor negotiation tactic, there are a number of benefits to putting an offer out there in this context. First, potential buyers are extremely concerned about overpaying much as you are concerned about shortchanging yourself. Because of that, buyers are hesitant to shoot a number in the dark and tend to offer incredibly low prices. Secondly, the longer your valuation sits out there and gets communicated in niche circles, the more it tends to be legitimized. There used to be an inside joke among dealers with extremely rare cards. When something didn’t sell for $100, the joke was to raise it to $200. When it didn’t sell for $200, raise it to $400. By the time it reached $500+, it was sure to sell because potential buyers that were on the fence feared that the new price would be significantly higher if they kept waiting. Although this is more of a joke than anything, there is actually some reality in this concept. In a game full of people who want to “pimp” their decks, outdo other collectors, and show off their merchandise, the perception of value and prestige plays an important role in actually selling misprints.
3) FIELD OFFERS
Once you’ve done your research and determined a starting price, it is time to get the word out there as to what you have and how much you are looking to sell it for. This can be a time consuming process and a test of one’s patience given the amount of internet tough guys out there. There will be plenty of people purporting to be “experts” and arbitrarily claim that your misprint is worth X dollars (usually extremely high or extremely low) just because they say it is. Regardless, move past the trolls and spread knowledge of your misprint’s existence through the typical channels, namely select Facebook groups, Rarities, and if all else fails, the greatest marketplace in the world – eBay. If you can make it to some Grand Prix level events (and aren’t buried playing) you would be wise to bring it to every vendor on site. While most will pass on the misprint, there are a select few who really know their stuff and may be interested in it personally or have a potential buyer in mind. If the latter happens, you might be able to have the vendor broker the deal for a small fee instead of outright selling it to them. What is best depends on the situation.
Eventually you will get an offer that is satisfactory, and this is the best chance to start and continue building relationships. Once you’ve done business with someone, it becomes much easier to do business with them a second and a third time, assuming everything went well. I find that the vast majority of all the deals I have done involving misprints have been with people whom I consider to be friends after so many years of interaction. In fact, I can hardly remember selling or trading misprints with total strangers because it’s that uncommon. As a collector at heart I definitely try to keep certain things “within the family” so to speak, and it has certainly helped me out over the years in terms of reciprocity. Money isn’t everything.
If you’ve navigated to the end of this article you probably have at least some kind of interest in Magic misprints, and I hope that some of these thoughts resonate with you a bit. The entire subject can be quite tricky to deal with, and everyone’s experience in this area has probably been quite different. bandovetinh I look forward to your questions and comments, and will do my best to respond to each of them. Best of luck to everyone with their collecting aspirations!
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