Insider: I Just Bought A Collection.

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I've been thinking a lot about buying collections again recently. It's fun as all heck to see what's in someone's binder and you can make a pretty good profit with turnover. Moreover, I was tired of seeing Sig and Corbin post about going through collections – jealous! I started hitting Craigslist last week to see what I could find. I live in Cincinnati and I figured that there would be a lot of competition for collections, so I was not hopeful about what I'd find. Chas Andres talks about how you need to emotionally distance yourself from getting a good deal, since people can and will sell to the first person who shows up with cash.

First attempt: a failed start.

I messaged someone on Craigslist who ended up living about a mile from me. He had a small stack of cards and no pictures of what they actually were, but he had no idea what Magic cards were. He had some random worthless Heroclix figures and cards that he'd picked up at a swap meet. He said he paid $100 for them, so I had hope. He also said that he was not going to negotiate, that he wanted the full $100 – and he had a habit of typing in all caps. Oh boy.

I walked over and checked out the stack, hoping for old Revised duals. Instead, it was a stack full of trash from Odyssey block – and someone had already picked out all the rares and foils! Seriously, the only thought I had looking through it was "I wonder how much Deep Analysis is on buylist." There was absolutely nothing of value in the stack and I broke the news to the guy that I wasn't even going to make a pity offer of $5. He took it fine but I think he was internally kicking himself, because whoever swapped those cards to him made out like a bandit if they got $100 for them.

Round Two: Too good to be true?

After checking out that collection, I went to CL again to see what I could find. Another guy said that he had a big collection and wanted about $500 for it. He listed things like Unlimited Drudge Skeletons for $18.00 (in reailty, $0.25...) but luckily, he had a list of all of the rares. On Saturday, he sent it over to me and boy, this was STACKED. He had easily $500 in value in that rare binder and I wanted at it. Unfortunately, I was about three hours away in Indianapolis and I wasn't getting back until Sunday!

We went back and forth, with me trying to instill in him that I was the one he was going to sell this to. Call Oprah and tell

Taken from a site about how "the Secret can get you girls." All I want are foils, man.

her I figured out The Secret – I was using this guy's name a lot, telling him that the offers from other people for $250 were insulting, and more. I wanted this guy to hold out for me and in the end, it worked out.

One thing you need to make deals on Craigslist is cash. Not money in the bank, but the Nike shoebox full of twenties. Banks are closed on weekends and evenings and this is when deals happen. I made sure to get $500 out of my bank so that I could be prepared for this. Honestly, even if he were around on Saturday, I didn't have the actual money to get this collection – ATMs limit the cash withdrawals and I would have felt awful.

On Sunday night, I gave myself time to price out his list. It would be easy, and foolish, to punch the whole thing into a decklist builder on a Magic store and see what it would all cost to buy. This is bad; everyone will sell you Island Fish Jasconius for $.30, but nobody will buy it for that (or even half that). I used Trader Tools and I checked out all the rares on the list. It came out to be $850 in total, so I felt that anything around $500 would be a good deal. I'll also note that I didn't do the deal until a Tuesday morning. Sure, other people were emailing offers to the guy, but I was beating the war drums about meeting at the earliest opportunity with cash. This gives me hope that in a city as big as Cincy, I can still get a deal if I'm not the first to see it.

As an aside, you have to figure out what your time premium is worth. $0 is not the correct answer. This number is going to inform how much of a discount you apply to the cards that you want. I wanted to double up on this, so spending anything over $500 would not really be worth my time. I don't think you have to kick yourself morally about lowballing to get a good price if you think the discount you're applying is worth it. You also have to figure that you're assuming the risk of selling these cards. You also must only buy on what you can see. People on Ebay fail this all the time since they want to hope that there will be gold hidden in the uncommons. Look, this kind of stuff happens, but what kind of premium do you want to put on it? I find that you can get about 10% of the value of the collection's rares in “buried binder treasure” and that's about it. You can't hope that the guy just randomly didn't know that Plateau was a rare.

We ended up meeting in a Target parking lot yesterday morning. I kept the cash in my car and didn't pull it out until we had made a deal already and the cards were loaded into my car. This is a safety measure. This also totally looked like a drug deal. I looked at the cards to make sure all of the money stuff was there, and it was. Unfortunately, I also realized this principle right there:

People don't take care of their cards.

Casual players never use sleeves. They mock their friends who use sleeves. All those bulk rares I priced out? I can't sell them even at bulk – I'll have to get rid of them some other way. Those elves like Ambush Commander and hits like Kamahl, Fist of Krosa had white, nasty, beat borders. That moves a card from “I can buylist this out” to “maybe I can trade this away?” That makes your job significantly harder.

On the balance, most casual players play bad cards. The really good stuff sits in a binder because the text is too long to understand. I have this mental rule that always comes true – you'll find a mint Force of Will because nobody can understand it. I found one here, a little prize in the binder that the guy didn't even figure into what he wanted for the collection! The $90 offset from that certainly takes the sting out of it. Thank goodness the best cards are blue and casual players are allergic to Islands.

I ended up offering him $480 for it, which was a bit more than what I wanted to pay. However, I wanted these cards emotionally – I had pursued them and seeing things like Force in there made me a little more generous in my offer. While Goblin Piledriver and Sword of Fire and Ice were chewed up, I could still get something from them. Things like a mint foil Stifle helped make me confident in what I could offer.

If you buy a collection based on mint prices for cards, you will be seriously disappointed.

The Pareto Principle: 80% of everything is junk.

The Pareto principle is this theory that 20% of “things” do 80% of the work. That's vague, so let me explain the 80/20 principle more. In my law practice, 20% of my customers pay 80% of my fees. In a company, 80% of the salesforce will be average and 20% will be excellent. Those 20% will account for 80% of the profits. This rule tends to work out all the time, everywhere, in spooky ways.

80% of the rares in this binder were absolute trash. 20% were solid gold, and made up a huge portion of the actual value. For example, there was an entire set of Onslaught in the collection. You've got a set of 244 cards, but the five fetchlands and the Goblin Piledriver and Sharpshooter drive most of the value of the set. This plays out in even more extreme examples in other sets (like Prophecy and Homelands).

This collection was definitely 80% trash, but when I'd portioned it out, the remaining 20% that could sell above bulk looked pretty nice. I had to trim anything that wasn't NM and I was pretty strict in my grading – I probably left a bit of money on the table but I don't really want to push it on condition with online stores. I was also prepared to sell all of it. In fact, the only card that I really wanted from the whole thing was a Sword of Fire and Ice – the rest I could sell happily! This underscores a point I learned from a Magic card's flavor text:

Trade to trade, not to keep.

- Amulet of Unmaking

I've definitely bought collections before where I ended up keeping all of the money cards. This gets to be expensive. You get a big box and all the fun stuff is, well, fun. I've kept the Badlands, the Italian Force of Will, the Sliver Queen – you name it. That really eats into your profits and it means you have to work so much harder to break even. I've made my mind to sell as much of this as I can – I want all that money back in the bank at the end of the month!

Now what do I do with all these crummy, beat cards?

Honestly, I still haven't made my mind up. I'm 12 hours in and I've got the entire thing sorted. Removing 8,000 cards from binder sleeves takes practice if you want to end up with neat stacks.

Here are my options, as I see them:

Sell to played-friendly buylists: ABUGames has a great played-card option on their site and the prices are good. Unfortunately, their setup takes a lot of time to punch in a bigger list of cards, and this still leaves me with about 8k in actual stone terrible bulk commons and uncommons. Things like the worn Goblin Sharpshooter will probably go this route.

Sell as a collection on Ebay: This is attractive, since people seem to be going nuts about buying collections these days. I've seen things go for hundreds of dollars and all they have in the pictures are Ball Lightnings. That's buying on faith, for sure.

Piece out and sell on Ebay: There are a few cards, like the Force of Will, that I can get much more for on Ebay versus buylists, even with a 16% loss. Ebay is much friendlier to played cards, so the slight dings on the Polluted Deltas shouldn't hurt them too badly in the market. As a result of some research, I found that there's not much of a price difference when you're selling two cards or four cards – the Ebay market is pretty efficient in that regard. I have no fears about throwing up, say, two Mystical Tutors.

Stock up a trade binder and grind: I don't trade a lot these days and the thought of grinding $1 cards over and over is not appealing. I'd love to run an automatic box (you get any card in here, you have to throw in two bulk rares though) at events, so I might retain a big stack of cards for this purpose. I also don't know that there's much appeal in most of these cards for traders. Do people want Safe Haven, Bloodbound March and Forsaken Wastes? Maybe they do and I can be the king of crazy casual binders! This method does have the advantage of converting played bulk into unplayed bulk, even if I'm doing low-level trading.

When I have tackled collections before, I've run into played cards but never on a level like this. I'm looking at a stack of about six hundred worn and beat cards, from Counterspells and Lightning Bolts to Crypt Rats and Wirewood Hivemasters. They're all good and someone would love them. Things like the Hivemasters are theoretically worth money, but the only venue I can think of to dump them is Ebay – and the low profits plus a big cut make that an unattractive option.

Since I've covered a lot of my initial investment, I want to ask you, the reader, what I should do next. My time is kind of important to me and after I break even, I tend to care less about getting each last penny. Is the correct option to just send it postage-payable to Kelly Reid and make him deal with it? Let me know below!


-Doug Linn

Postscript: I wanted to provide actual reader value in this article instead of turning it into a bragpost, but If you'd like to know the hits of this set and what convinced me to get it, here's a short list. Vampiric Tutor, Goblin Piledriver, Stifle, foil Stifle, a copy of each Onslaught fetch and a kicker Delta, Arcbound Ravager, miscellaneous expensive Slivers, Lion's Eye Diamond. Casual cards like Crucible of Worlds and Altar of Dementia added up quickly, too. This isn't the collection of a one-time FNM player, but it had a good mix of chase cards.

9 thoughts on “Insider: I Just Bought A Collection.

  1. It sounds to me like you could have told him that the $500 he said he wanted would have been spot on if the cards were in (nearly) unplayed condition, however that given how many of them are worn you would have to substract something as condition matters a lot to many players. I think you might have wound up with a lower price than $480 if you went that way. From your description it sounds like I would have likely offered $400 and see where we go from there.

    I have playsets of Safe Haven and Forsaken Wastes ;). The Haven might be movable, it can be played in some EDH decks and metas where creatures are likely to die. The Wastes will be much harder to move, I would not keep that unless you know someone like me who wants almost anything playable (I could see playing mine in some kind of griever EDH deck). The March is too hard to make work in EDH, which rules out a lot of casual players. I wouldn’t bother.

    The 2:1 box seems like the best plan for these cards assuming you have a good outlet for bulk rares in decent condition.

  2. “Thank goodness the best cards are blue and casual players are allergic to Islands.” Every time a buy a collection i have this one sentence in mind 😀

    1. Happy to help! Here\’s what I sent along, parsed out:

      Hi! I\’m interested in this collection. Can you send along the word doc? I\’m going to go out of town tonight but I\’ll probably be back tomorrow afternoon; is there any possibility to come and look at it in person? Looking forward to seeing the list – I love to see what people have collected!


      Hi! This looks like a great collection. I am definitely interested! I think I can come by and see it tomorrow and I can run to a bank while it is actually open! Do you have an idea of what you would like to get for it? What\’s your phone number? Mine is XXXXXXXX


      I also wanted to mention that I am free tonight to take a look, too. I am excited to look at the cards! The more I think about it, the more likely it is that I can beat the standing offers. 250 does not sound like a serious offer. If you are available, please call, text or email me at your convenience.


      That\’s fine, later in the day is probably better for me, too. I am done with work at 4 and I\’d be happy to meet you. There\’s a Target there that I can see on Google Maps, maybe we can meet there in the parking lot? I\’d like to avoid being caught in rush hour traffic going either way, so would you be interested in meeting at 8 tonight? I tried to find a coffeeshop or something in town but came up short. If there\’s somewhere in that area that you\’d rather meet, just let me know. There may, in fact, be a Starbucks inside of Target. For reference, here is a picture of me so you know what I look like!

      [link to photo]

      What\’s a good number to reach you at? I am looking forward to seeing these cards and I am pumped to put some cash in your hands. I love looking through curated Magic collections and this one sounds like a good one. It\’s going to be hard to concentrate at work today when I\’m thinking about getting a whole bunch of cards!

  3. Great article. As a side note, here’s a tactic that has worked *really* well for me, since I live pretty far away from a major metro area:

    When you find a craigslist post that looks REALLY good, don’t be afraid to offer slightly MORE than what they’re asking, if they agree it hold it for you until X date when you can meet up (and with the stipulation that condition must be as stated.)

    This does one of two things:

    1) Secures the deal until you can go get it.

    2) Even if they decline, it puts it in their head that maybe they shouldn’t take that lowball offer.

  4. Save your commons and uncommons if you’re going to start regularly buying collections! When I liquidated the rest of my online store I posted close to 36k commons + uncommons and 1,250 bulk rares on craigslist. I listed it as a dealer collection with a lot of duplication for certain blocks I had bought cases of, and was upfront that it was picked over but still had plenty of playable extended commons.

    I priced it under dealer bulk (so I didn’t have to deal with shipping) right before I went to bed and had 6 inquiries when I woke up. Realizing my mistake I pulled the listing, apologized, and told those people they could make an offer or otherwise I’d sell it to the person who emailed at 5:30am. Ended up getting $50 over bulk prices.

    I think there is a big opportunity to sell bulk on Craigslist for more than what a dealer would pay. I bet you could list 25k Commons +uncommons for $250 and get an offer of at least $200. Unless you’re a dealer you simply don’t have access to that type of volume, let alone at bulk prices.

  5. If you go decide to stick it on ebay as a collection with some of the larger pieces removed, I highly suggest listing the bulk first and letting that resolve completely before listing the singles. Because shipping costs for collections can get expensive, I always check the sellers other auctions to see if I can combine something. If I see a vague lot and 20 other listings for singles I either bid significantly lower or I move on completely.

  6. “It’s going to be hard to concentrate at work today when I\’m thinking about getting a whole bunch of cards!” => LOL

    Miss that feeling! Need to buy collection…

  7. Great article Doug,

    Buying collections sure is addictive. It is the thrill of the chase and then it’s like playing the lotto while sorting. My best find was a playset of goblin settlers found in the red uncommon box. of 25k collection i picked up for 900.

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