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Insider: More Collection Tips

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Writing last week’s article made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve really written about selling collections. This week I’m going to go back and touch on the some of the stuff I passed over last week.

Last time we talked a lot about how to actually buylist the collection you’ve picked over and received. What we didn’t talk about was how to actually find these collections in the first place.

Finding good collections and paying the right amount on them is the most important thing there is. I know the term “MTGFinance” gets thrown around a lot and people usually are referring to speculating when they do so. But speculation is just one part of the game. Buying and selling is arguably the more consistent way to make money with Magic, and getting into collection flipping isn’t as hard as you might think.

Finding the Collections

Honestly, this is probably the hardest part. It’s not often someone just contacts you out of the blue and asks you to buy their cards. Of course, if you own or work at a store it becomes much easier, but what if you don’t have that freebie?

I’m in a position now where I usually go through enough cards just from people coming in and out of the store, but I didn’t always have it that easy. I’ve done everything in the book to find collections, and found it’s actually the simplest methods that yield the best results.

First off, simply tell people you’re interested. It seems overly simple, but a lot of people will never even consider another player a resource for this unless you tell them. Let people know that if they ever want to sell one or more of their cards, you’d be interested in making an offer.

Most stores have a strict policy against buying and selling inside their store, and it’s extremely important you respect this. There’s no faster way to ruin your reputation than by getting banned from the card shop.

But sometimes people are wary of selling to their local shop, either because prices are low or because they just haven’t handled that type of interaction before. That’s where you come in. Players are sometimes more willing to sell to other players because they feel like the cards are going to “a better place” than the store display case.

Craigslist

Whether or not Craigslist is a good avenue for you depends a lot on where you live. Smaller areas may not have a bunch of people sharking Craigslist, but a lot of bigger areas will.

That said, you can score big on Craigslist. Traditionally it’s been very hit-or-miss for me. I’ve gotten excellent deals, but I’ve also driven 30 minutes to find 500 M13 commons. Is it worth your time to look into? Yes, absolutely. But should you expect to hit gold every time? No.

Word of Mouth

Remember how I said your reputation is the most important thing you have in this business? It especially matters here. Even once you’ve got somebody selling you cards, you have to make the transaction as painless as possible for them.

How do you do this? Well, for starters, don’t be that guy who looks at all their cards, calls them bulk, and offers a low price. Understandably, there’s only so much you can do with a random guy from Craigslist you meet in a Wal-Mart parking lot, but for those from your LGS who may be interested in selling to you, you need to be as transparent as possible.

That means telling them how much you’re paying for a certain card if they ask, and making sure they understand you’re offering them a deal comparable to what a store would. People can be upset if they’re not getting retail on their cards, but in a lot of situations they will eventually just opt for the cash in front of them, and that’s fine.

Someone came into my store last week with a binder full of cards he had priced out on TCGPlayer. He understood he wasn’t going to get that number from me, but I had to explain to him I couldn’t just lop a percentage off of that number, either.

The issue is that lots of cards that are 50-75 cents on TCGPlayer are still essentially bulk to the buyer. You’re not going to be able to get anything close to that for them, and neither would the collection's owner. That’s an important distinction to make, and one most people understand once you explain it to them.

When you’re done with the deal, shake their hand and thank them for their time. Let them know you’re always buying and if they know anyone else interested to send them your way. Give them your number (business cards are even better, but I understand if you don’t want to go this far), so they can reach you if it comes up again. You’d be surprised how many people will eventually come to you via some contact you made a year ago.

Pricing the Collection

This is definitely the trickiest part of the process, and one that depends on your personal situation. Are you going to be selling the cards you buy to a buylist, to TCGPlayer/eBay or do you have another way to sell the cards? The amount you pay depends entirely on what you expect to sell them for.

Personally, I sell cards either through my LGS or to buylist. When I price, I use MTG.GG to find the highest buy price and subtract from that so that I’m around the range of other buylists, preferably a little lower.

A lot of people may consider buying for lower than buylist “scummy” or “sharky,” but the truth is it’s just not. In order to get that number from that buylist, someone has to take the time to sort the cards, enter them onto the website and go through the whole process. If the person selling to you wanted to do that themselves, they would’ve already done it.

Instead, you’re going to be the one doing it, and you deserve to be compensated for your time. The seller, in exchange, gets cash in hand and saves a lot of time.

Don’t forget condition. Remember from last week that when you do sell, the condition of a card greatly affects what you’ll get for it, so it should greatly affect what you’re willing to pay.

If you think you can get a quarter or 50 cents for a card on a buylist, the general rule is it’s a bulk rare. I buy bulk rares at 10 cents apiece and can sell them for 20 cents or a quarter locally.

If you aren’t as fortunate and can only get 10 cents per bulk rare (the going rate), then you probably want to buy at seven or eight cents a rare. We expect to make some money on the back end because a lot of the “bulk” people sell you isn’t actually bulk. But you can’t exactly sort through thousands of cards in the parking lot to determine what is or isn’t bulk, so you have to take their word for it.

What about the bulk that isn’t rare? The five thousand cards they have in that box? I pay $5 per thousand, which is again only because I can get more locally. The “going rate” for this is anywhere from $3-5 per thousand, and that is when shipping is on you.

Again, you'll probably find stuff that isn’t bulk, but there’s no reason to be chancing things. After all, what’s the point of even engaging in collection buying if you’re going to lose money? Yes, you can reasonably count on finding “not-bulk” in the bulk, but that’s already priced into what the going rate on these cards is. Were I in a different situation I wouldn’t really want to pay more than $4 per thousand cards just to cover my bases.

A general rule of thumb is you'll never make as much as you think, and you need to be aware of that from the beginning. Whether it’s buylist prices dropping, cards in worse condition than you thought or shipping and insurance costs, there’s a lot of back-end risk you have to account for when buying.

And again, remember your time is worth money. It may not be worth driving an hour to buy a collection with 20 rares and a thousand bulk C/U. If you’re going to spend hours on sorting and selling the collection, make sure you’re able to compensate yourself at a good hourly rate.

Any other questions? I’ll try to address them in the comments this week and not revisit this topic again for a while unless there’s a particular reason to. Collection flipping isn’t easy, and even though you’re looking at Magic cards it’s actual work. But it does get easier as you go, and is well worth your time.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

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

Posted in Buying, Finance, Free Insider

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4 thoughts on “Insider: More Collection Tips

  1. Don’t forget to ask people when they played before meeting them, bulk from ’94 or before will be way more interesting than bulk from ’11. I have bought a collection once guessing the guy played between Unlimited and Tempest (turned out he had 1 Tempest card, 2 packs of Planar Chaos and the rest was from before Mirage) and only asked for the cards he had shown me in pictures as I knew they’d cover the price (in fact they were much prettier than expected: they more than covered the price). Give the timeframe he played in I could be pretty sure the bulk held some decent cards. In fact the bulk on its own was more than what I paid, it’s nice to pull stuff like a NM Mana Drain from bulk, but given the timeframe I could be pretty sure to hit stuff like Hymns and Bolts, if not better cards.

  2. I am so glad these are posted. I have always been buying collections, and at first I was not making very good money on them, I would over compensate what I was getting and cards would sit for ages. Tomorrow I am meeting someone off of Craigslist, he says he has been playing since the beginning and had over 10,000 cards. I spoke with him today and set a time to meet him and I asked him what price he was looking for, and he said around a grand but was willing to work with me. I am certain I will not have to spend a grand, but I will feel bad if it’s just 10,000 bulk c/u and I break the news his collection is worth 50$, that has always been a weakness of mine. Telling people there cards are worthless. Once I drov over an hour to a fellow looking for 400$ for a pile of fallen empires garbage. Pick told him he had maybe at best 10$ worth of cards and he thought I was lying since he SWORE the guy he got them from said they are very valuable and will/are worth a lot of money. Not only did I get burned from wasting gas, this poor guy will be stuck with a bunch of worthless cards, and will continue to try to make his hundreds on them.

  3. Well a win from the collection, the guy was super nice and most of the cards were bulk and it took 2 1/2 hours to go through the all. He let me though because we had a lot of good conversations and wants to hang out more haha. Since I was nice to him he let me just take what is anted instead of the whole lot so I gave him 60 for a sinkhole and a lot of other pretty good cards, And countless dazes and brainstorms. Probably 30 dazes in the collection.

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