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The Frustrations of Buying Collections Online

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My New Home

Welcome, speculators and speculatorettes! My name is Chas Andres, and I am proud to announce myself as the new Friday writer here on Quiet Speculation. Before the content, I want to tell you a little about myself. If you want, please comment and tell me about yourself, too. If you’re reading this article, I would love to know who you are and what you want to read. Let me know!

At any rate, I’m 25 years old and I live in Studio City, California. I currently work for a major broadcast television network, which is a pretty sweet deal. I am an aspiring TV writer, and I play Magic every Friday night and most weekends. I have a deep love for the financial side of the game mostly because it reminds me of a youth I spent searching for antiques and collectables at flea markets and yard sales in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

While I have never made the top 8 of a GP or PTQ, I did manage use Magic: The Gathering to pay for nearly all of my living expenses for 8 months when I first moved to California. While I no longer buy and sell cards full time, I still manage to use trading to put together any constructed decks I want as well as to fuel the continued pimping of my cube. My goal as a trader is to go infinite in constructed and EDH as well as to own a foil copy of every interesting and relevant card in the history of Magic.

Late One Wednesday Night in February, 2009…

After sitting in a Glendale Starbucks from 9 PM until close, I finally drove home.

I was miffed. The guy must’ve gotten cold feet or found another buyer. I understood his reluctance, but he could have at least called me and given me a heads-up. I had left him over a dozen phone messages with no response. I guess I shouldn’t have been too shocked. The listing had been up on Craigslist for several hours at this point, and while I knew that I was the first person to inquire, I doubt I was the last.

It had been months since my last major score, and frustration was mounting. I could only paw through piles of three dollar Thorn Thallids so many times before despair set in.

My phone rang as I turned onto my street. I pulled over and answered it.

Hey,” said the voice on the other end. “Sorry about that. A cop pulled me over on my way to meet you, and I didn’t have my license. Jerk took his time writing me a ticket, and then I had to drive all the way home. I know it’s late, but do you still want to meet?"

“Sure!” I replied. “Starbucks is closed now, though. Got somewhere else in mind?”

An hour later I found myself driving through the deserted town of Eagle Rock looking for an Asian market called “99 Ranch.” Why he settled on meeting me there, I had no idea. The market was closed – everything in town was. Perhaps the parking lot had especially bright lights?

After waiting in the parking lot for about fifteen minutes, a battered SUV drove up with three guys stuffed in the cab. It pulled up next to my car, and the driver swung out of the door and walked over to where I was standing.

“You must be Chas,” he said. “Let me get the cards for you. They’re in the back.”

My heart was pounding as I heaved the 5,000 count flat row onto my hood and picked up the first stack. The box was about ¾ full and organized by set. I started with the tab marked “The Dark.”

Giant Shark, Giant Shark, Giant Shark, Elves of Deep Shadow, Maze of Ith, Maze of Ith…

I pulled the Mazes out and looked at them in the yellow glow of the parking lot’s dim illumination. They were flawless. I put them aside and kept going.

Half an hour later, I had a stack of about a hundred and fifty cards pulled aside. There were five Mazes of Ith, a couple Sol Rings, three or four revised dual lands, some weird old gold Legends rares, some Antiquities Strip Mines and Mishra’s Factories, and a whole stack of Antiquities Urza-tron lands. After a couple of twenty dollar bills changed hands, I was back on the road heading home.

The cards I got that night would end up covering half my rent that month, no small matter for a guy who had been unemployed for six months and counting.

The Undiscovered Country

If you want to provide a positive benefit for the Magic community while making an absolute killing, you may want to consider spending some time buying old collections.

One of the major concerns about the health of Legacy is that there are a finite number of certain staple cards. Thanks to the reserved list, Wizards can not and will not ever print another original dual land. The number of Tundras that exist now is the maximum number of Tundras that will ever exist, and anyone who knows about coin circulation will tell you that this number is likely to shrink as cards get damaged or destroyed.

However, until the day that a group of highly motivated eternal players swarm the WOTC printing press and put an end to the reserved list themselves, there is another way to increase the number of duals that can be used: mining the collections of long-inactive players.

O HAY, just been sitting in this Nike box for thirteen years...

When Revised was first printed, tournament magic was in its infancy. For every pack opened by a kid that is still playing the game, a thousand were opened by people who haven’t thought about their cards in years. Every dual land plucked from a dusty closet shoebox or basement drawer is one more card with the potential to be in an active player’s deck

And the best part? If you want a true treasure hunt – if you want to really feel the rush that you get while trading – searching out these collections is the best way to do it!

There’s only so much value that can be gained on a trade before it starts to weigh on your soul or threaten to harm your reputation, but there’s no limit to the score you might find once you start searching for Magic cards in the Muggle world.

Ever dream about picking up a Black Lotus with a 50 cent price tag?

The Craigslist Equation

In the search for collections, the first place to turn is Craigslist.

Of course, I guarantee that you are not the only one looking for Magic cards on the web’s largest catalogue of classified ads. Often, only minutes will pass between a collection being posted and the first offer from a hungry buyer.

Once, I responded to a post about the sale of a complete, mint set of Revised only ten minutes after it had been listed. The seller had already been offered $20 each by someone for the dual lands. (Just slightly under fair market value at the time.). I was able to buy the set by offering slightly more for the rest of the cards, as well as agreeing to make the drive down to his house in Santa Monica immediately, but if I hadn’t been as on top of things as I was, I would have missed that deal entirely.

There are hundreds of other collections that I was just moments too late on, as well as thousands I never saw at all.

Constant Vigilance

If you are going to play the Craigslist game, timing is everything.

RSS feeds are particularly helpful if you don’t want to constantly refresh browser windows. If you don’t currently have these set up, I recommend them. I use netvibes.com, where I have a page set up that shows my latest emails, eBay auctions, weather, YouTube channels, new articles on my favorite sites, and whatever Craigslist search parameters I want to use. RSS or not, you’ll want to manually search Craigslist as often as you can. I use the terms “Magic Cards” and “Magic Gathering”, as some listings will contain one of the two words but not both.

Be prepared for lots and lots of people selling Magic Johnson basketball cards, as well as YuGiOh collections full of cards with ridiculous sounding names.

Patience is also crucial. When I was searching for collections on Craigslist full time, I would still only make a reasonable score about once a month. And for each collection I bought, I drove to and passed on three or four.

If you are truly serious about tracking down cards via Craigslist, I would keep half a tank of gas in your car and $500 cash in a drawer at all times. Many times, the seller will send you an email saying something like, “whoever gets here first can have the cards.” If you are the one who is prepared, then a winner will be you.

Safety First (or at Least Second)

I have no doubt that some of you who read my story were waiting for it to turn into a mugging. I know I sort of was.

The best place to meet for deals like this are in public places with lots of other people nearby. Starbucks is probably the best, followed by fast food restaurants. I have gone to people’s houses, and I have met in darkened parking lots, but never when I was dealing with amounts of cash over $50.

Never invite people you don’t know into your house.

For transactions that involve more than $100, I lock all of my money in my glove compartment and only pull it out once the cards are physically in my possession and a deal has been reached. A strong or smart thief could still find a way to get it, though, so I don’t recommend buying collections at all unless you generally trust humans to behave like reasonable people. If you are perpetually afraid of being robbed, it isn’t worth the risk.

How to Know When to Go

Before embarking on your new quest toward purchasing collections, you need to figure out what sort of profit margin

Rare and old! (and weird)

you need to be making for it to be worth it to you to start driving all over town.Are you only interested in turning forty bucks into several hundred? Are you willing to put in the time to turn $20 into $35? Or $300 into $400? Do you just want to re-stock your trade binders at below-eBay prices?

The big scores are usually going to be obvious, and you’re going to have to jump on them fast. The cards I got in the above story came from a listing that advertised a box of 4,000 Magic cards from Legends, Revised, the Dark, and Antiquities for $80. It also said that the lot contained “a lot of the rare (gold) ones.” Since I knew that cards from that era lacked a gold expansion symbol, I asked the seller about that over the phone. After a few seconds, I quickly realized that he believed that his multicolored cards were his rares! This told me that he had not played in a very long time and probably did not have a full grasp on values.

I knew from that moment that this collection had a chance to be special.

If you want to start increasing your intake with lower-profit acquisitions, then I would inquire into most collections offered on Craigslist that don’t look immediately terrible. Keep in mind, though, that -

Craigslist Sucks

A good 95-99% of Craigslist collections are pure garbage. For example, most lots will look something like this:

Magic: The Grathering Lot - $300 (Culver City) - This a huge collection on cards! It whopping 850 card big. Kamiwaga through Scrag! Cash only – no other than cash.

Included with the listing will be a few tiny pictures showing different angles of a stack of cards. On top will be a fourth edition Island completely covering everything else.

Where to begin? While 850 cards may seem like a ton of cards to someone unfamiliar with the game, it is a miniscule number of cards to anyone who knows about Magic. Assuming this collection contains no basic lands and all of the cards were purchased in sealed packs, we’re looking at a total of 56 rares.

Of course, the assumptions I just made were horrible. Without even talking to this person, I would guess at least 100 of the cards are basic land and another 200 are crappy commons that came from a store’s bulk bin or a friends’ forgotten collection. How do I know this? I’ve looked through a thousand collections. It’s always true.

You also have to hope that among the rares, there is a reasonable distribution of awesome eternal staples. While some players knew the value of their cards or kept their fetchlands tucked away, for the most part you’re looking at the collections of casual players who have long since cashed in their high-value cards for playsets of Elvish Hoedown.

And this is just one of the exciting hurdles you’ll run in to when purchasing collections from ex-players!

Standard Shall Rise Again

Many players only invested in a real standard deck once. As such, they believe that all of their cards still hold the same value they did when Anurid Brushhopper was a chase rare. Did you know that other than Stifle, there’s not a single card Star City Games will buy from Scourge for over $1.00? Or that Akroma’s $2.00 buy list price tag makes her the only card in all of Time Spiral worth more than $1.00? Try telling this to the guy who thinks his Flagstones of Trokair are worth their weight in gold.

A sad corollary to this is the fact that most staples aren’t what they used to be. Birds of Paradise and Wrath of God used to be the peanut butter & jelly of collection purchasing; you could always count on them to be easy to find and easy to trade. Unfortunately, due to years of reprints and power creep, there’s just no desire for these cards anymore.

Fifteen Cents Adds Up

There is a site out there that calculates the value of your Magic card collection via the aggregate listing prices of eBay auctions.

No – not sale prices like Magic Traders – the listing price.

While this might help you determine that your Force of Will is worth somewhere between $30 and $50, it really does a number on commons and uncommons.

Entering a pile of 500 bulk cards into this program will give you a VERY false sense of what your collection is worth. Some cards, like Lightning Bolt, may include values from Beta or foil listings. Some weird commons and uncommons might show up as being worth $15 because some nut listed a copy for $15 once and no one else has ever bothered listing a card that no one will buy. Even without these outliers, this site will determine the value of each common between $0.08 and $0.20.

This adds up – fast.

The guy looking to unload his cards enters them into this site and checks what they're worth. In the end, our jubilant collection owner is left with a spreadsheet detailing 1,200 cards with a total “value” of $540, even though there are maybe 5 playable rares in the whole collection.

But don’t worry, they don’t want book value – they’ll take $350 for the lot. That way you can still make money too!

The Uncanny Valley

If you buy a collection of cards from Revised, you will probably end up with some useful staples. Dual lands, Sol Rings, Demonic Tutors, Swords to Plowshares, Fork, and Wheel of Fortune are all in Revised, and the uncommons have the chance to be present in plentiful numbers. I once bought a collection that came with 10 free Sol Rings. 10! Of course, Revised was old news when Magic was at peak popularity. Ice Age was the new kid in town, and everyone wanted to open that sweet new Jester’s Cap.

You do not ever want to see this in the stack of cards you just bought.

Between the duals in Revised and the printing of Force of Will in Alliances, there were three Magic sets – Homelands, Ice Age, and Fallen Empires – that don’t have a single good card between them. You could literally buy a collection of 5,000 Magic cards from this era and not end up with a single money rare.

I have answered many promising ads for large collections, only to get to the seller’s house and learn that 95% of their collection was from this era. Since so many cards from this time period were sold, most old collections span these unfortunate sets.

So watch what you purchase from the valley between Duals and Force. While having an extra playset of Ice Age Brainstorms is cool, paying $150 for seventeen extra playsets of Ice Age Brainstorms along with 8,000 useless cards is not a smart decision.

Have I dissuaded you enough from buying collections yet? No? Then let’s examine some actual ads from Craigslist and see if anything looks promising.

Let’s Hit The Streets

Magic the gathering box - $50 (Huntington beach/fountain valley)

box full of magic the gathering cards good condition if interested contact me

Underneath is a picture of a box of cards with no indication of quality or age. About half of them are in sleeves.

I would say this is actually a fairly promising lot. While there are very few details here, and a reasonable chance that nothing in this box is worth even close to $50, all it takes is one Underground Sea for this to be a great score. Who knows? The sleeved-up decks could have Sinkholes, Forces, Natural Orders, and City of Traitors.

Sleeved cards are a good thing. People rarely trade out of decks they build, and a box full of decks might mean playsets of staples as opposed to bulk commons. Were I to pursue this collection, I would first respond by asking for a little more detail. Could they provide you any information about who bought the cards and when they were purchased? Do they know if there are any rares? Are there any more pictures available, or at the very least could they send you a list of 9-10 cards so you can gauge which era they’re from?

I would only go to see these cards if the responses were positive. Unless they’re from the pre-Masques era, the chance of that box containing $50 worth of cards is very small.

Magic the gathering cards - $1 (Irvine)

I have a huge collection of magic the gathering cards ( couple thousand). I am selling them for various prices about $20 for 500 but will negotaite depending on what u want (mana, sets, decks, common, rare etc email me with questions. I DO NOT SELL SINGLE CARDS SO DO NOT ASK ME FOR A LIST OF MY GOOD CARDS AND PRICES

This is another semi-promising lead, despite the vitriol at the end of the listing.

$20 for 500 cards is an amazing deal if you’re getting his good stuff, and since we SHOULD NOT ASK HIM FOR A LIST OF HIS GOOD CARDS AND PRICES, that means that we can meet him, paw through his cards, and find his good cards without having to discuss prices! I would note that this person is probably crazy, though, so I would call him up and try to find out as much information as I could before heading over.

Magic the gathering cards - $350 (Bakersfield)

misc 4th edition and up urzas saga 5th edtion worth alot more than $350.00 its a entire pop corn tin full of cards

I would probably not pay this collection a visit, even though “its a entire pop corn tin full of cards.” 4th edition and up precludes any truly valuable singles – no duals or forces here. 4th and 5th edition cards are usually just as bad as Fallen Empires, honestly. With Wrath and Birds no longer being worth anything, these sets are gigantic dead zones in the history of Magic. Even a couple hits from Saga, like Exploration, won’t be enough to get even 10% of the way to the $350.00 asking price.

Also, the presence of the popcorn tin tells me that this collection is owned by the most casual of players. They probably didn’t seek out expensive tournament rares, and I would wager that many of these cards are in awful shape.

This lot is a pass for me.

Negotiation Tactics

So let’s say you find a collection seems interesting. You set up a rendezvous, meet the seller, and find some cards you want. What now? Unlike active Magic players, former players often have very unique opinions of what comprises the value of their cards.

To many players, the “good” cards are only worth slightly more than the “bad” ones – it’s the volume that makes up the value. If they’re asking $200 for their 1,000 card collection, there’s a shot you can snag the ten best cards for $20 or less. Other players will assign a flat value to all of their rares. This also allows you to cherry pick their collections a bit, passing over Mudholes in favor of Sinkholes.

Still others might want Star City (or higher) prices for each of their rares, but will sell you any uncommon for twenty-five or fifty cents. This is where you can dig for a few minutes and come up with Aether Vials, Sensei’s Divining Tops, Standstills, and maybe even a Wasteland.

If buying the whole collection is cost prohibitive, I will ask the seller if I can just buy the cards I want for a reduced amount. If I offer them, say, half of their total asking price for a small handful of cards, they can still sell the bulk of their collection to a casual player and make a reasonable amount of money. If you do this, though, please make sure to leave a couple of good rares so that their collection isn’t totally unsalable. And be honest with the buyer that you are going to be purchasing most of their valuable cards. They’ll still make the deal with you 9 times out of 10.

The Ethics of Winning

I imagine that there might be a few complaints in the forums from people who think that this is an even bigger rip off than making lopsided trades. After all, I am suggesting that you go out and buy a pile of Aether Vials for 50 cents each! Unlike trading, where you are both sitting in a safe, warm card shop with stocked binders, you must make a profit when you are buying collections. If not, then you are losing time and money.

In order to make even minimum wage buying collections, you need to be making even more of a profit than stores do when they buy up people’s unwanted cards. After all, those collections walk in their door, and then they can sell all the cards at retail.

You? First you have to spend a ton of time tracking down collections, writing emails to sellers, and identifying the promising lots. Then you have to spend gas and time driving to those collections, and not all of them are going to be winners. Then you have to find a good way to sell them in order to make a profit. (This will be a subject of a future article of mine.)

So remember: the ethics of buying collections are more similar to looking for bargains at a yard sale than pulling out a binder at a game shop.

Conclusions

In between the hundreds of posts advertising MANNY RARES! Ajan Goldman! Elspiathe! I have had some real successes on Craigslist.

My best purchase ever saw me hand over $1,100 cash in the parking lot of a Van Nuys Costco in order to get a collection that came with the full Power 9 and eventually netted me over $3,500 in profit.

And really, it’s about the adventure as much as it is about the cash.

My favorite story is from when I purchased a collection that came with a burnt, blackened piece of the card Chain Lightning. When I asked the seller what happened to the card, he told me (as though I should know) that it had been used in a game of “real Magic.”

I asked him what that was, and he told me it was a variation of the game where you had to pretend that the spells were real. Apparently this involves lighting your burn spells on fire and dumping water on your hydroblasts or something.

At any rate, if you are looking for an easy, painless way to increase the value of your collection, look elsewhere.

If, however, you are looking to go on an awesome treasure hunt with the possibility of a major score, searching for collections online may be your new weekend activity.

Until next week,

-Chas Andres

Chas Andres

Once upon a time, there was a little Thraximundar. He ate, and ate, and ate, and one day he grew up to be a very large Thraximundar that played the bass for Grixis' second best metal band. Oh, you wanted something about me? My name is Chas. I'm 25 years old, unless you're reading this after September 22nd, 2011, in which case I am 26 or more years old. I live in Studio City, California with my girlfriend, our two cats, and a few hundred thousand Magic cards. I am trying to become a television writer, but instead of working on my pilot I am writing this bio and/or an article for this site. I mostly draft, and I am generally pretty good at it. I tend to 3-0 most weeks at FNM for the first month or so of a new set. Then everyone else learns how to draft it and I tend to start to lose. I like foils. Even the bendy ones. I put them in perfect fit sleeves inside other sleeves and pretend they aren't bendy. My favorite animal is Robot. My favorite color is Simic. Read my articles and comment about them. I like the attention.

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26 thoughts on “The Frustrations of Buying Collections Online

  1. Chas,

    Great article! I know the pains and rewards of the early yard sale myself. While I haven't picked up $5 duals, I've gotten a number of uncommon staples such as Vials, Tops, and Standstills for as low as a quarter each. I've checked Craigslist as well a few times, but in the end, I also found that most of the times its a lot of useless junk that already had anything worth money sold from it. Keep up the great work!

    Stephen Moss

  2. Hey –

    Sorry about that! You can reach me at candres@mac.com, and that will be fixed in the future.

    Also, if you've read this, please check back again soon! I wrote a much longer version of this article with more info, only they didn't post it. Hopefully version 2.0 will go up tomorrow.

    Thanks!

    – Chas

  3. Great article, Chas! I loved reading this – it's like a primer for someone who is just starting to get into buying up collections. One thing you didn't mention is that fifteen cents adds up in your direction, too! You can safely buy Dead Zone cards if you are paying about $6/1000 of them, since that breaks down to $4 in bulk for the thousand and approx 7.50 for the 50 or so rares that will be in there. That's a total grind, though, and you are right that there is nothing in there worth money.

    I was surprised that Scourge is so worthless, too. There are some power uncommons, like foil Tendrils of Agony, that can step in at least.

    1. You're right – buying bulk does add up. Of course, finding a profitable way to sell bulk is another story. Mailing it to dealers is a no-win game, usually.

      I will do an article sometime soon on how I sell cards, which will help. But yeah, you can spend on bulk as long as you're getting a really good deal on it. Of course, $6/thousand is not a very attractive number to most people who spent $3-$4 on each 15 card booster pack…

  4. I'm interested more in what your "phone interview" is like. The best score I ever found on craigslist was gone way before I was able to make the hour drive out there. It was only 200 cards but I was pretty sure by talking to him that he had at least 10 duals in it. He was asking $75. So since most people don't want to list thier rares, or don't know what's valuable. How do you basically tell them "I'll meet you, check out your cards and if they are worth it, I'll buy them"?

    On a side note: My wife has a couple friends that "yard sale" every saturday. I gave them a couple of MTG cards so they could see the back and said "If you every find a box of these call me asap. If they're good I'll pay you a finders fee". She's a sweet one for a deal. Bought 2k cards for $5 that they flipped to me for $20. It was mostly commons but I got a bunch of those aformentioned Counterspells, Brainstorms, Gush's and Daze. The only real $$ card was a signed Mox Diamond.

    1. The phone interview is very tough, and sometimes you just won't win. Here are my tips and tricks:

      Gauge the seller's knowledge of their cards by asking some easy questions. When they bought them, if they know about any rares, if they played in tournaments, etc. If they know a lot, get all the information you can about the money rares. If they don't, ask about what era the cards are from. You often have to make a leap of faith if you decide to check them out.

      It's important to present yourself as the seller that they would most want to sell their cards to. To wit:

      – If the seller is someone who played cards back in the day and still has some nostalgia for them, it's best not to mention that you trade or sell cards for profit. You don't need to lie, but it's best to get excited in the same way he does – as a player who enjoys awesome old cards. This assures the seller that his cards are going to a good home.

      – If the seller is a more recent player looking to get quick cash out of their collection, it is best to play up the angle that you know exactly what these cards are worth, and will give them a fair cash value for them as an expert. If they sell to someone else, they might get ripped off.

      If the seller tells you that the first person who gets there gets the cards and you don't think it's going to be you because they live far away and others have said they'd be right over, I might let slip that their cards are more valuable than their asking price. After all, getting 10 duals for $200 is better than someone else getting 10 duals for $75, right? This might lead them to go online and check eBay, in which case you've driven an hour for the chance to…buy dual lands for eBay prices. But it also might let you snag a collection on the slightly-less-cheap by being the honest buyer who told them their cards were worth a bit more.

      Everyone has different reasons for selling their cards. By presenting yourself as their ideal buyer, you stand a better chance of getting what you want.

      Re: the yard sale commission thing, that's a great idea. If anyone else does this, though, make sure the person buying the cards calls you when they find a score so you can OK it. Otherwise, you might inadvertently buy a 9th edition starter deck for $25.

  5. I wish I read this article a long time ago. I tried my hand at flipping collections once. The first one I did was about 3000 cards from revised through mirage. It basically turned into me buying $100 worth of sol rings for $100.

  6. It pains me that for years when I was a kid, I'd go in every weekend and spend my allowance on whatever the fanciest newest set was. This meant buying Homelands, Fallen Empires, 4th and Ice Age, when I still had easy access to Revised. I look back at my collection from 16 years ago and see how much garbage is in there.

    Coming back to the game with M10, there isn't much I can still use from back there. At least I have stacks of fireballs and lightning bolts to give away to friends, and I have a funky looking Triskellion that really turns some heads at FNM 🙂

  7. Great article! I've wanted to start buying collections for a while now, and this gives some good direction on going about it. Now the real treasure hunt begins 🙂

    @the_cardfather: The "finder's fee" tip is pretty cool – I'll need to try that.

  8. @Chas – Thanks. I thought about that while I was writing this. Don't know why I didn't think about it at the time. I really should have told him I thought his collection was worth more, but I was pretty new to hunting on Craigslist.

    You mentioned using an RSS feed to get new listings? Does Craigslist have that built in? Or is it more like a search that you have to set it up for a certain time interval (like eBay)?

    @All – Regarding yard saleing. You have to know someone who is into it. I was calling people who had yard sales listed online but after calling 5-10 most people don't know what you are talking about. "They're cards with brown backs that say 'Magic'?" It got old.

    Then one day my wife said, "I was going to hang out with _____ but she's going yard saleing w/ her aunt. She was bummed, but I was like.. oh really? The girls that do it for me locally here are one of my wife's old co-workers and her aunt.

    I have an Aunt who is really into it in TN. I'm not really sure of the logistics, but I'd love to work out something with her too.

  9. Chas,

    Great first article, and I'm definitely interested in seeing more from you — especially your thoughts on the 2nd half of the process — how to resell. There've already been a couple of great articles here in QS about the process, but I'm looking forward to hearing your take on the process.

    One question I have is this: How much time are you willing to spend looking through a collection? Once you've sized up that the bulk may be RV combined with Dead Zone era cards, do you look through the first couple hundred, and then make a gamble and offer them a flat rate? Staking there leaning on the hood of your car flipping through a couple of shoeboxes may be trying the patience of the seller.

    A recent craigslist collection I bought, via my pre-purchase phone call/emails, I had told them that from their description I might be willing to pay $20-$40. When I got there, I spotted a few RV Tutors, Regrowths, and other 2nd-3rd tier uncommons, but I stopped about 5 minutes into looking, and said "I can give you $30" And then we were done, and I took the boxes and left. I didn't finish looking through the cards until I got home, at which point I figure I probably broke about even — no dual lands or other noteables, but enough mid-grade stuff that I can grind my initial investment out of it.

    But as I left she said "I probably would have taken $10, I was going to throw these out if you didn't buy them. My daughter hasn't touched these in years" At first, I felt, "Man, I could have gone lower. She had no clue about any prices." But I could also tell though, from the condition of her vehicle, the difficulty of scheduling a meeting with me while shuttling her 3 kids around, etc., that that $30 probably helped her more at that moment than it was helping me. So while I didn't make any money, I still feel okay about the deal. Perhaps I'm a sucker, perhaps I don't know how to play hardball.

    Buying collections via ebay sometimes is easier – no potential emotional attachments, because there's no physical meeting.

    Lackey
    (Twitter @lackey)

    1. You really have to judge the mood of the seller. Some people are perfectly willing to sit there and shoot the breeze with you while you flip through piles of cards. Others want to get out of there as quickly as possible. Like most things, it's about reading the situation.

      Remember – you're the one with the cash, so you're the one in the drivers' seat!

      Some collections it is clear you will make money. Say, if they want $60 and there are two duals in their 'rares' pile and you're getting 5,000 other cards that might include any number of goodies. Then, it's fine to either pay the $60 or start haggling without wasting time.

      I have also gone through every single card – up to 10-20k in one case – because I knew I was going to make them a smaller offer for only the cards I wanted.

  10. Great article.

    I've been thinking about collection buying for a long time, but that would mean I was competing with my friend who runs an eBay store. He was fantastic at flipping collections. A couple months ago, he got two insane deals in one weekend. Both were through more indirect contact, not online. (He just told me it was "a friend of a friend". Damn trade secrets.)

    In the first one, the guy had his big 5000 count box and a few smaller boxes around it. On top of that box was a stack of Vanguards. In fact, it was nearly the whole collection of Vanguard cards. So, my friend took note of that and took a peek into the 5k box. The first card he saw is an Alpha Contract from Below. He asked the seller how much per card. The seller said .10 sounded about right. Then my friend asked for the whole collection.

    "For the whole thing? $10."

    "Deal."

    I have no idea why the guy jumped from somewhere around $600 to TEN DOLLARS. Anyway, it turned out there was no Power or duals in that sale. The seller was actually holding those back in his "personal collection", but the collection was still worth a few hundred. Obviously the Vanguards were more than worth it.

    The next day, my friend bought a small collection that had duals and Sol Rings in it that was priced from an old Scrye magazine or something. Turns out he got the blue duals for $10-30 a piece and the Sol Rings and Maze of Iths were basically throw-ins.

    Anyway, this friend of mine recently moved away, so perhaps I can step in and take his place. There are no other collection flippers in this region that I'm aware of.

    One question: are there any other ways to contact sellers other than Craigslist and yard sales?

    1. I'm sure there are other good ways to look for collections, but I didn't explore them too much. In the old days you could find them on eBay, but now they're more likely to be cleverly disguised repacks.

      You could try putting fliers up around town, putting a sign up on your car, or making an "I buy Magic Card Collections – Ask me!" T shirt if you really wanted to get nuts with it.

  11. Great timing! And great article, I enjoy the way you write.

    I bought two collections on Craigslist today. Here is one posting:
    "Misc Magic the Gathering cards I have collected thru the years
    Hundreds of cards…Take the lot for $40"
    We meet at a gas station, say hi, and I start flipping. I see NO rares. Hardly any uncommons even and I'm thinking what a waste (this was my second buy in the same area so not really, but.) Talking with him, he says he had a friend come by two months ago and ask if he could borrow some stuff. haha! He cleaned this guy out (I do believe he was telling the truth). I said he should just give the rest to his friends 'cause all I could offer was $10. He said sure. Fortunately I found a dozen rares and 26 careful studies! which BIN on ebay for $4.99/playset. So with the bulk going to the local shop I should do ok.

    The first buy of the day was from a college kid with mostly standard cards. He wanted $65, I offered $40 and we settled at $50. His came with three fatpack boxes of c,un, and r with foils. Money cards are 2 Eld Mon, Figure, foil spell pierces, and some others. I'll be lucky to break even but I have a hard time saying no which is easily my biggest Collection buying weakness.

  12. It seems the craigslist route is mostly miss (with some hit) in the area because most people on there know their collection, played in dead zone era (and often times feel insulted when i say $30 for their 3,000 cards with necropotence, sol ring and a few $3 cards being the best I see) or sold anything good long before. The rest is bought by the clever dealers in my local area who often times may even get them brought into them the same day at their shops by the person who put it on craigslist and forgot to check emails.

    My only story so far is when i bought a collection, description was something like:

    blah blah i have a collection of 5000 mtg cards, don't want them anymore, will take them for $30.

    I do the deal figuring i break even if it's all bulk commons/uncommons, and i assumed from the description it was including rares.

    I get the cards but misjudge the size of the bag. It was 3 1,000 or less boxes in all. One was all basic land (about 1,000, so $10 ifi sell in bulk to SCG), one had a mix of standard stuff in an order that looks like it was drafted recently (mostly limited commons/uncommons that would see play)

    Then a box mislabeled: ARtifacts, multicolor, keepers is at the bottom and i pull

    12 Priest of Titania
    10 Brainstorms
    8 Daze
    4 Lotus Petal
    and a ton of $1-3 commons/uncommons in playsets
    a couple arena lands (which i didn't notice until someone pulled them out of my bulk holos i was offering to trade out of)

    Not a single rare in sight other than a forgotten rite of replication (lol) but i can grind the lot, sell the rest as bulk, and probably double if not triple the profit on it, worst case scenario i trade to people starting up legacy and trade up.

    The story gets funny tonight at FNM when i see the guy drafting there. He asks me how i like the collection and i said it was pretty nice. I come to find out he sold his collection to support drafts as he wanted to invest in drafting and try to go infinite. I joke how it felt like i was looking at a bunch of draft sets in the late 90's then suddenly a bunch of draft sets 10 years later. I fin out i was the second guy to see it. The first guy was a dealer who bought all his rares for $900, which include multiple duals, playset of force of wills, and essentially a legacy player's wet dream.

    I sold a yugioh collection recently for the same price, so it's sad to hear i could have flipped it for an MTG legacy collection, but such is life.

    Now with the story out of the way, wondering where else to find collections, or get people to come to you? I'm looking to fill my collection and flip anything else useful so i often offer to pay close to premium for collections anyway. Don't mind the treasure hunts either, but i have no idea who to even ask that might "know someone" who had a bunch of old cards. Also old cards encompasses both beta-revised and the sad Fallen Empires, Homelands, Ice Age, Alliances, 4th Ed, 5th ed collections. Some people might also refer to Mirage all the way to Urza block as an old collection, but at least those collections have more potential in the common/uncommon department than dead zone collections that even most dealers won't buy (my local dealer said he refuses collections from these sets simply because 99% of these sets are absolute bulk)

    1. If you figure out how to make collections come to you, please tell me. I would love to know as well.

      The best thing to do is to make everyone around you aware that you are looking for collections, and sometimes you might get friends and friends-of-friends telling you about a box of cards in their closet.

      I've tried posting "looking for/buying collections on Craigslist", but I've never gotten a response.

      1. I've posted the looking, but once again, the responses are usually not what you want from craigslist. Pretty much here's the things i would get:

        "I have 20,000 bulk commons. I'll sell them to you for $200 firm. I play magic competitively and trying to get rid of my bulk."

        -okay…so this person knows star city only wants $120 for this lot, and given they're a competitive player will likely have taken out any commons/uncommons of value.

        "I'm selling my revised duals since I'm getting out of legacy and back into standard, does (SCG or CFB prices) sound good for them?"

        "I have some magic cards, do you want them?"

        I have the hardest time with this simply because there's not much i can say without offering to look, which may not be worth it many times. Some of these people had a family member or significant other, or son/daughter etc who played and don't know the first thing about them, and the others have been so out of touch the answers something like "well i played during 4th edition and have stuff like shivan dragon and birds of paradise. I did get some rare cards from older sets likerevised like Sol Ring and Royal Assassin and Regrowth too! I also have a jester's cap from Ice Age which must be worth a fortune now." – and these people are a tough egg to crack because there's either a slight chance they're sitting on a playset of force of wills they'll sell you at 2 bucks a piece, or a greater chance they have junk and will be insulted if you try to buy it in bulk.

        I also get the ones like: "I played five

        years ago and got some cards. There's about 150, want to buy them for $10?" which is impossible to get into as there's next to no chance of being anything of value.

        I'd try to go through collections and comb out the good stuff, but given time restraints and arranging a time to meet and take the time to do so has been difficult and it's easier for me to enjoy the treasure hunt by buying it cheap.

        My most recent story is interesting. Vindictive ex-girlfriend finds the collection. Her boyfriend was apparently cheating on him and her idea of revenge is selling his magic collection. 3 boxes of cards. She wanted $100 each for them. I misread it and thought she wanted $100 for all 3 and offered her $30 (she claimed 1500 per box "probably" and they were plastic bins rather than real card boxes, she also said he's been playing for under 10 years, which drove up the red flags.) figuring worst case scenario i flip it to bulk out to SCG assuming i can make $40 from it to cover shipping. Given the storage and time period though, very good chance there's nothing of value as he might have been Elf Guy Mike rather than Card Slinging Steve.

  13. I post want MTG ads on CL and have gotten about a dozen hits in 2 yrs. Although nothing like the scores I get from responding to other peoples posts. The best one I had respond was 6 decks with nothing else. Decks had playset of Glimpse, Jitte's, Rav duals, and a foil unhinged land. Got it all for $50. Like you said, the key is to know your audience. Typical CL'er isn't looking to turn a profit, just get rid of their cards to a good home. My post has a friendly greeting and explains the process (meet, look, and make a fair offer). A post is good for 45 days, so 8 times a year to have first crack is a good investment.

    One of the biggest untapped venues I believe for finding magic cards is the military. I have bought a lot of cards from military guys or their spouses. Sometimes they are just cleaning up, or they played while deployed, whatever. I tell all of my military friends that I play and to ask around for me. Plus I make it a point to chat up the military guys in my LCS to see if they know anyone else with cards they want to turn into cash.

    This doesn't work for everyone, but you're surrounded by bases Chas; might be worth looking in to.

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