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Insider: Maximizing Time on Collections

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I know for some of you this is old hat, but collection flipping is something we were all new to once. For me, it’s kind of new again in that I recently acquired several collections that I’ve decided to buylist because I don’t need that much inventory for my case at the LGS.

It’s been a long process working through these, and I’ve re-learned some old lessons, so to speak. Today I want to share a few tips on how to most efficiently manage your time working on collections.

If you’ve never done this before, then consider this an intro article as well. I’m not going to delve into the “how” or “why” of buying collections, but rather talk about physically processing it and turning it into cash. It’s been a long time since I’ve done an article about the benefits of collections and how to go about buying them, so let me know if that’s something you want to see in the future.

Anyway, today we’re talking about what to do when you’re staring at 10,000 cards in front of you that you need to turn into cash.

We talk about how “MTGFinance” isn’t all about the speculations on bulk cards we want to hit $10. It’s not all about buying Master of Waves the morning of the Pro Tour. A lot of it is grindy work, in the sense that it’s actual work rather than just buying 100 copies of the next big hype target.

A few days ago I sat down to do just this. Here’s what I was staring at.

Picking the Bulk

I’m sure most of you know what this is, and basically how to go about it. If not, a brief description is you’ve got a ton of unpicked bulk commons/uncommons to sort through. I sit at my couch, grab a drink and put on country music videos in the background when I’m doing it.

When picking bulk, there’s a tendency to pull out everything you’ve ever heard of before just in case it’s worth money. The more you do this the better you get at it.

I typically target cards that I think could buylist for a quarter or more. I know this may be a higher threshold than many people work with, but I think it was Paul Feudo who once said “only pick nickels if you hate yourself.”

Basically, grabbing something like Elvish Visionary that you can get a nickel apiece on is just not worth your time unless you like working for very little. Grabbing that first Visionary may not eat up a lot of time, but working through hundreds of nickels later just to make a few bucks really does chew up time.

My target is typically stuff that I think is in the quarter range on a buylist (MTG.GG is a great tool for this, by the way). Something like Tezzeret's Gambit buylists for a quarter to 50 cents, and that’s what we want.

I’m not opposed to picking cards worth a dime on a buylist like Farseek, but I don’t really make it a habit. A lot of time the stuff you think will be a quarter on a buylist will end up a dime anyway, so I don’t really go out of my way to look for more of this stuff.

When picking, here are a few tips:

  • Underpick on the stuff you know is cheap. Like I said, don’t go crazy on the Nettle Sentinels.
  • Overpick on stuff you have no idea about. Sometimes I’ll see stuff that may be either valuable or complete bulk. Sometimes you hit big and sometimes you don’t, but at the least you learn for next time. For me last week, those cards were Smother and Go for the Throat. I know Smother used to be worth something and I thought Go for the Throat may be a little too. It turns out Smother is actually just bulk now, while Go For the Throat actually buylists for up to a dollar, which is far more than I expected.
  • While you’re picking the bulk, just throw these all into one pile. We’ll come back to this later. Knock out all of your bulk at once and then put the now-picked bulk to the side, ready to send it off to your favorite bulk buyer.
  • Now go back to your “pick” pile. This is when you start to check whether a card is actually worth buylisting using MTG.GG and begin making piles to divvy up to stores.

Buylisting

The next step is actually selling it, and once you’ve sorted it into piles for stores, this is the easy part. At this point I have a few tips.

  • Don’t worry about sorting it yet, just get everything into their system. Many stores use different systems for ordering the cards, and it’s too much work at this point to figure that out. Just get everything into the system first.
  • Be wary of condition. This changes a lot in the end. Most stores will just mark down cards that aren’t in the desired condition, but some will reject them altogether, so make sure you keep an eye out.
  • Once you’ve placed the order with the store, they’ll almost always give you a list with the order they want the cards placed in. I’ve seen stores do this alphabetically (which actually makes sense), but also sometimes in color order. Either way, you’ll need stuff sorted by sets, so if you have some way to do that efficiently beforehand, you’ll save yourself some time here.

Shipping

It’s easy to overlook this part once you finally get through all the cards, but it’s actually hugely important. After all, if your cards are damaged in the mail you’ll lose out on a lot of money.

  • Depending on the size of the shipment, I use either a deckbox or a fatpack box or a larger card-holding box. It’s important that you pack it very tight with protective material like bubble wrap or foam peanuts. If you don’t have something like that, at least use something soft to pad the box for your cards. Then tape the entire thing together really tight. The goal is to prevent any shifting at all of the cards.
  • When you ship, use either a good box from your postal service of choice, or if you can, use a padded or bubbled envelope. Make sure to tell whoever is shipping for you that it’s fragile and not to be bended. Do not forget to get insurance on your package. Delivery confirmation is also good; if you have insurance this usually comes as part of the deal.
  • When selecting payment, I know it’s easier to just use PayPal, but remember that you’ll get hit with a fee when you do. Take the slower-but-more-profitable option and just have them ship you a check that you can take to the bank and cash. Sure, it’ll be a few days slower, but you’re also saving cash on the transactional end of the deal.

All of this assumes you’re selling to an online dealer. Things become much simpler if you’re able to sell in person, and even though the prices on some of the smaller stuff in particular will be lower, you’ll save on shipping costs and time. Speaking of…

Time Is Money

This is probably the most important thing to remember with any collection. Turning a $500 collection into $1,000 is a great feeling, but if you spent 50 hours doing it you’re working for just above minimum wage, and that isn’t a great feeling.

Of course your first few times will go more slowly, but when you get the hang of it things move much faster. This goes back to the issue of whether or not to pick nickels and dimes from the bulk. Yes, it adds up quickly, but it also makes your shipment larger and takes up valuable time. Your rate becomes much better if you stick to pulling quarters or more from the box.

Wherever that line falls for you, I want to emphasize that you have to consider the time you’re investing into a collection when calculating your profits. Sure, it doesn’t change the fact that you did or didn’t make $500, but you’ll learn a lot more about what you need to buy and sell at if you track how efficiently you’re spending your time.

This is the bread and butter of “MTGFinance” for many of us, and figuring out how to optimize the process for yourself makes a big difference at the end of the day.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

P.S. I did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit earlier in the week. Check it out if you get a chance!

Corbin Hosler

Corbin Hosler is a journalist living in Norman, Oklahoma (also known as the hotbed of Magic). He started playing in Shadowmoor and chased the Pro Tour dream for a few years, culminating in a Star City Games Legacy Open finals appearance in 2011 before deciding to turn to trading and speculation full-time. He writes weekly at QuietSpeculation.com and biweekly for LegitMTG. He also cohosts Brainstorm Brewery, the only financial podcast on the net. He can best be reached @Chosler88 on Twitter.

View More By Corbin Hosler

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14 thoughts on “Insider: Maximizing Time on Collections

  1. A good article. I’ve considered buying up a few collections in the last year or so, but I always held off because I was a bit hesitant on cashing out.

    One thing I was wondering about though is people’s experiences of buylisting in Europe as opposed to the US. Is it any different? I can’t imagine there’s any profit in shipping to the US to buylist, so is the methodology still as viable or do people adjust for the EU?

  2. Great article. The only thing I’d add is that it’s a very wise idea to have a box or something “per store” you plan to buylist too in front of you. That way once you start determining which store gets what you don’t run into accidentally having a pile fall onto another pile and intertwining…learn from my experience.

  3. Great article! Having flipped many collections over the years it is not a new concept to me. HOWEVER, I love reading any article on collection flipping principles. There is always some valuable piece of information or a time saving tip to be taken away from each article. And yes, factoring in how valuable your personal time is is absolutely necessary!

    I have found that MTG.GG has been absolutely crucial in helping me to maximize my efficiency and profits when collections flipping. Making a list, adding the cards, then sorting by highest buylist makes organization and shipping a breeze!

    One thing I would say to prospective collection buyers/flippers would be this: Say you meet someone to check out and possibly purchase a collection. The collection is OK (some valuable cards), but the seller is just not willing to negotiate or maybe being pushy. Or perhaps the asking price is still too high for the actual value of what you have seen. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO RESPECTFULLY DECLINE OR WALK AWAY! Simple as that. You are NOT obligated to buy!! I was recently pressed into making a somewhat questionable purchase on a collection. I should have walked away, I knew it was iffy. Ultimately I was able to extract every last cent of value out of that collection and come out ahead, and I definitely owe that to QS and excellent articles like this one!! Thank you!

  4. I disagree with not picking everything, I am looking to maximize profits when I buy something like that. I will take all of the Nettle Sentinels and Farseeks all of the time. Worst case they go into a 5 row box I have and get buylisted later, why waste free money?

    1. The idea is that it’s not “Free.” You spent time doing it. For me, at least, spending 30 seconds on a nickel (instead of the penny I get for it at bulk) isn’t worth it.

        1. 5 seconds to pull and pile, 10 seconds to look it up and pile. Another 5 when sorting and packing, not counting the extra space it takes up in the box when you pile a bunch together. So 20 seconds? This is really debating semantics and is dumb, but 20 seconds for 4 cents means you’re making less than minimum wage even if you don’t incur additional expense by having to use a bigger box.

          Not worth for me.

  5. I am always curious what to do with smaller collections. A lot of the time I use the mtg.gg page and end up with 3-4 piles worth $30-40 each, it isn’t profitable to ship to one because of the difference in buy list but it’s not profitable to ship to all 3. So usually that means letting piles sit until the next buy, which can take awhile.

  6. When Chas Anderes wrote an article that listed every un/common over a dollar in all sets since the dark, I printed it, went through my own boxes and bindered all the un/commons over $1, put the list for that set in a plastic page sleeve in front of the set, and have a four page 3 column print out of ever un/common over $1 on SCG. Most of these buylist decently. Having the visual binders and the lists printed out, I can sort un/common boxes quickly and not have to deal with pennies. I keep four in the binder, the ones over $3 sale price I put on TCGplayer, and eventually I bulk out the $1-3 (sale price) un/commons at around .25-.75 each. Last time I sold all to one store just to simplify and save on shipping. I sent over 2K of un/commons (foil and non) to a crystalcommerce startup with a big buylist. I think I sent the guy 30 dark rituals, lightning bolts and mana leaks. Worth the time to know the over a $1 un/commons – put them in a box and eventually make a sale when you reach high capacity. I don’t think un/commons are really worth using mtg.gg to send to different stores though (yet). Honestly, I’ve had problems with price accuracy, uploading the cards doesn’t always do well with condition, and the sites that aren’t directly linked result in a decrease of dollar per hour rate due to retyping.

    I will say though, crystalcommerce startups with decent buylists are easy to sell to if your cards are sorted by set and alphabetical. The search feature built into cc sites allows you to search filters with un/c they will buy per set – easy to do.

    1. (SCGs search features would let you find that information without an Anders article, but again, dollar per hour rates matter more to smart flipper than total value and that type of activity doesn’t seem worth the time when there is a resource available. I do write updates on the lists from Chas when I gain new knowledge.)

    2. And, a good use for bulk is to improve your reputation around a local game store. My husband and I give away tons of commons to new kids or people who haven’t seen cards before Zendikar. People around my area know I buy and sell collections, know sometimes I have bulk un/c for free, and know if they need money between paychecks I am the best source in the area. Giving away free commons rather than making nickels probably benefits me more in creating a larger, healthier player base, giving me a reputation as someone helpful to new players, and spurs new trades or card interest by inticing people to build new commander decks or taking up older formats (granted in a casual way). Last time I gave away cards, I took 2 four slot boxes to FNM, a few 500 count or so boxes from collections, gave kids under 16 a box, and told them to fill it. Worked well. If I had a better avenue for selling and shipping bulk I might do it, but the shipping price is just too big a barrier and the reputation bonus probably is worth more.

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