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.
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.
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
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 -
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,