You are at a party and casually mention to a friend that you are going out of town to play in a Magic card tournament next week. “Oh, Magic! I had a slivers deck back in high school!” he says, and asks you if his cards are worth anything. Being a good friend and a savvy trader, you offer to look at his collection and make him an offer.
Four days later, you have a collection of cards in boxes. They are unsorted. Some are pristine and others, beat to hell. Included is a binder full of black Ice Age uncommons. How do you break it down to resell?
This week, we're going to look at how you break down a collection of Magic cards that you have purchased. In a sense, I am putting the cart before the horse, because I am assuming that you already have a collection to dispose of. Fear not, we'll talk about how to make collections come your way in the near future. Tearing through a collection has all the thrill of a treasure hunt and can be loaded with disappointment when you realize that your friend collected in the “dead zone” of Fallen Empires. Let's look at how to go through this, step-by-step. I just got a modest collection from a friend recently, so I will be liberally using examples from that deal.
It is essential to know what you are looking for when you are going through these collections. While most bulk rares are worth between ten and fifteen cents from a dealer, there are some that are worth a little more. Even commons and uncommons can be worth a slight premium if they are desirable. I looked at the buylists on trollandtoad.com and coolstuffinc.com to get an idea of what I should keep an eye out for. As you break down more collections, you will develop a better sense of what has a casual market appeal and thus, a premium.
The First Look
You've got a collection before you and you may not have even looked through it yet. You need to maximize the return on the time you put into this stack of cards. Remember that dealers will pay $4 per 1000 cards, sight unseen, so you are just looking to add value to that number. Your first step is to go through and pull out the cards that you recognize as playable or rare cards.
In my collection, I was dismayed to find that, indeed, my friend collected during the “dead zone.” He had many 4th Edition cards, Fallen Empires and Ice Age, up through some Weatherlight cards. None of the potential money cards from Tempest. This is an awful span of cards to go through. Even the cards themselves are depressing – is Irini Sengir playable in your wildest imagination?
I did find some nice staples going through the first time. I located two Tormod's Crypts, a set of Counterspells and some Dark Rituals. I put aside Hymn to Tourachs because, even as a common, I knew they were worth more than most bulk rares. I also found what would be the critical elements of any return on profit – a Force of Will and a Natural Order. Dealers are paying $20 cash for both of these cards, so I could reclaim some amount of any investment I put into this collection. Unfortunately, there were no dual lands to be had and the rest of the pickings were slim. I would have to put a lot of effort into getting value from this collection!
The Bulk Rare Sweep
Much of the value you will get from reselling a collection will come from bulk rares. The players who had all the tournament chase rares and left the game knew enough to sell their cards before they got out. You will mostly be buying collections from the Elf Deck Guy, so you have to know how to make up that value from their lackluster cards.
This is the next step where you do your research. You must know all the rares in all the sets represented to you so that you can sweep through the whole stack of cards once or twice and get almost every card. To do this, go to Gatherer and make an advanced search, by rarity, for all the sets you are looking at that do not have rarities marked on the card. Take a look, three sets at a time, so you visually know what to pull out. I find that this is far more effective than printing out a list or sitting by my computer and looking them up, because I have a good visual recollection of cards. I pull anything I think will be a rare and then look it up later. Know that there were absolutely terrible rares printed for most of Magic. Don't worry, though! They are still worth at least a dime to any dealer you find. Take a look at this list, rollover with your mouse to see the picture, and try and identify all the rares on the list:
I'll let you know the answer in a moment. In a collection with two thousand cards, you might find 150 or more bulk rares. At fifteen cents apiece, that is $22.50 for about twenty minutes of sorting. That can cover the cost of shipping the cards to a dealer or making up a shortfall if you spent too much on the collection. By the way, every last card up there, even Mind Whip, is a rare. See what I mean about awful cards?!?
In the collection I bought, I pulled out 159 cards that I knew were rares. My friend spent $11 to ship his collection to me and I would probably have to spend a similar amount to sell this to a dealer in the mail, so the bulk rares made up a substantial portion of the overhead that I would have to bear.
Pruning The Bulk Rares
After you have a pile of rares, the next step is to mine them for more value. At this point, you should review those buylists again so you can stick card names in the sets you have in your head. Some cards command a significant premium over a bulk rare, just because they have a casual appeal. For example, Anvil of Bogardan is worth at least $1.25 from dealers. Identifying a few of these dollar rares will improve the value of your stack. When you find these “money” cards, put them in piles with similarly priced cards, so you can easily pack them together and add up what you expect to get from the collection.
In my collection, I found cards like Archangel of Tithes, Blanket of Night, and Teferi's Puzzle Box, all of which command a small premium. In collection purchasing, this is where you can make your money, even with collections full of clunkers. My stack of bulk rares dropped to about 110 cards, with the remainder going into slightly more valuable piles. I picked a buylist that would give me the most value for selling these; I prefer to sell to one dealer instead of split across two if the difference is less than the cost of shipping and my time.
At this point in your sorting, you should have a pile of bulk commons and uncommons. Put these aside and only go through them again if you have absolutely nothing better to do. Mining this stack for gems results in rapidly diminishing returns. Focus on getting more value out of those bulk rares!
Optional Step: Sorting Uncommons
There is one last step that can get you about $9 or so per hour of work, if you are willing to put in the effort. Larger dealers will buy sorted uncommons, sometimes for $10-$15 per 1000. Pre-Exodus cards (as in, before rarities appeared on the card) are intensely hard to sort into uncommons. You have to look up a huge pile of cards, and the return rate is low- many cards that you think are uncommons are actually commons.
However, if you are dealing with a lot of post-Exodus cards, pulling out the uncommons is simple. I suggest doing this final step with larger collections, since you can probably find one thousand uncommons in your hunt. It's a way of making added value and since you are just looking for a grey expansion symbol, it goes quickly. I recruit my organizationally-minded girlfriend to help with this, even though she doesn't recognize any Magic cards, because it is simple to go through a stack by looking at the expansion symbols.
The collection I was sorting had no rarity-marked cards. As it was less than 2,000 cards total, I omitted this step.
Like the Native Americans hunting buffalo, every Magic card can be used for some purpose. Collect everything that can be worth more than a bulk common and sort them out according to a preferred buylist. Next, count up your bulk rares and then, finally, your commons (which you can do by weight or height per 1,000).
Know that shipping cards to a dealer can suck huge amounts of your profit. You can look at $20 or more for sending a decently-sized collection. If you can possibly get to a large event soon, contact the dealer you wish to sell to and ask if they will honor their buylist prices for the event coming up soon. Otherwise, organize your cards, put them in box and send them parcel-post. Regarding insurance, you should insure if the package is worth more than $100 in cards. Some unscrupulous dealers (that are no longer in business) would claim that any uninsured package sent to them was lost in the mail. They would take the cards out, resell and not pay the sender. Insurance is cheap and counters this piracy.
The Final Tally
When you get your check for the cards, put in a little reflection on how much you made versus how much time you spent on the collection. I made roughly $75, having spent 3 hours on the collection and $40 for the bulk. That works out to roughly $11 per hour profit to sort through Magic cards and look at some hilariously awful old cards. My rate for doing any sort of Magic-related work is $10/hr, so this was a profitable venture (but just barely). You can see how, absent that Natural Order, I would have had to struggle to make any decent profit on cracking apart this collection.
You can, instead of trying to make a profit, just sell enough cards to cover your costs. If I needed that spare Force of Will, I could have held onto it and some other choice cards and just sold enough that I could have some “free” cards for my time. It can be tempting to sell those Dual Lands for a big profit, but if you need them, you can be content with just selling enough cards to match your expenses.
Collection Breadown Recap
- Do your homework on buylists so you know what to set aside.
- Your preliminary scan should be for anything worth money.
- Knowing bulk rares from old sets will greatly increase the value from sorting.
- Sort out uncommons only when it is genuinely profitable
- Consider alternate ways of shipping your cards to save on overhead expenses
Post in the feedback to this article with your favorite collection breakdown story and share your own tips for shredding through cards for resale.