Insider: Collection Buying 101

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As a man of many hats, I am more than just a competitive player. Playing in Grand Prix and PTQs will always be amazing but I also am passionate about the financial side of the game. One of the reasons I was able to start attending these competitive events was because of the work I did making some money from Magic. The best way to make money in Magic is through flipping collections. For many years now, I have been buying and selling collections. It is one of the most exciting things you can do in Magic. Looking through all of someone’s cards is like peeking back in time and getting a glimpse of what Magic meant to that person. Everyone’s collection is unique. I’ve bought collections where every card was in an Ultra Pro Sleeve, where every card was in a binder, or of course where they’ve had an obsession with a creature type (usually angels or goblins). No matter how big or small the collection, looking through all of their cards is like Christmas morning. Sorting through their commons and uncommons is like digging for buried treasure.

How do I find a collection to buy?

Sourcing collections is the most challenging part of the equation. I’ve had good success on Craigslist. Although  some postings are a waste of time, the majority of them are legitimate. If you are truly interested in pursuing collection-buying, you must accept that once in a while you will be on a wild goose chase and come up empty-handed. The times when you acquire a collection make it worth all your effort. Some entrepreneurs try their luck on Ebay, but I wouldn’t recommend it. For every legitimate collection, there are a dozen that are just a dealer or trader packaging their extra junk as a "collection".  These are usually "cards found in my brother's basement" or something similar.

A lot of these listings contain photographs of a few expensive cards, but the lot likely contains little else.  Sure you might be obtaining a Demonic Tutor in the lot, but anything else not shown or specifically mentioned is unlikely to be valuable. It’s unfortunate that this is the case because there are people trying to sell collections on Ebay that have many amazing things in them and they don’t get the attention they deserve because of practices like these.

Though sourcing collections is difficult, you will start to develop a reputation once you've done a few deals in your area. Over the years I have bought many collections that were referred to me by a friend of a friend or through some string of acquaintances. Once you are known as someone who buys cards, more people will come to you on your own and you will have to do less work tracking down the cards. At this point in my life, I own a shop with my buddy so I have an even easier time acquiring collections. Apparently , if you run a store that buys and sells Magic cards, former players will swing by with their old cards and ask you to take them off their hands. Honestly, I thought this was an urban legend, but it is apparently true. We have had the shop open since October of last year and this has happened to us a number of times.

How do you price a collection?

Sometimes the owner of the collection has nailed down a price they think their collection is worth. From experience, they rarely know what they are talking about. Collections are overvalued because of the amount of time and money it took to put them together. People think that because they invested hundreds of dollars or more that they should be able to get all of that back out when they sell. The harsh reality is that it doesn’t work out that way the majority of the time. There will be times when the purchase price is too low, but most of the time, it’s on the high end rather than the low. With the explosion of the Modern format and the flourishing Legacy format, collections will tend to be worth more money than they have in the past.

Settling on a price can be tricky, but if you have been reading and following the advice of other columnists on this site, you are on the right track. The trick is to have a base knowledge about the financial side of Magic and have a general sense of how much most cards are worth. Trading and buying cards regularly develops the skills you need in order to price a collection. There will always be cards that you over or under price, but what I’ve found is that knowing how much most cards buylist for is an invaluable tool. Add up in your head the approximate amount you can get for each important card and then add in five dollars per thousand commons and uncommons they have. You can always flip bulk commons and uncommons to a dealer for around that amount so it’s a safe way to help you reach the amount the owner will be satisfied with.

Trader Tools was built with this process in mind.  It aggregates a few of the most reliable buy lists and can give you a running up-to-date total of what the collection is worth.

One key point to remember is that if you are paying them on the spot, even if they are not getting the amount they think they should, money is money. Be firm and honest with the price you offer. Pay as much as you can but make sure you will be able to profit from the collection. If you develop a reputation of paying a fair amount for collections you will have more come your way. The first person you rip off will destroy your reputation and it will be much harder to continue this profitable hobby.

So you bought a collection, now what?

Step One: sort the rares. Some collections will have a binder of rares which will make this first step much easier. Other collections will have all the rares in a box or maybe even mixed in with all the rest of the cards. What you want to do is get all the rares that are worth something in the same place. In short, separate the real rares from the bulk rares. Some of these you may want to keep for your own personal collection but keep in mind that everything you pull from the collection is one less card to help you make money on your purchase.  Again, Trader Tools is your friend here.

Step Two: sort the commons and uncommons. This step is crucial to helping you make money on every collection you buy. Picking the bulk is an art form that takes practice and constant maintenance to maintain. Cards change in price as they are reprinted or the demand for them increases or decreases. Familiarizing yourself every once in a while with the price of these types of cards will help you pull the valuable cards from the bulk. There are many obvious cards that get pulled out immediately like Modern and Legacy playable cards, but there are also many that are worth money you may never have known.  If your collection is at all sorted by set, use Trader Tools and do a search by edition.  Filter out cards under 0.10, and get acquainted with what commons and uncommons actually sell to vendors.

If you follow me on Twitter, I have been posting a #CollectionReport of the latest and greatest from my recent acquisition. The interesting part about this collection is that every card in it is pre-Modern. I’ve never bought a collection that was solely old cards. Through this process I have discovered much about these older sets that I didn’t know, like what every common looks like from Invasion. Most of them are, sadly, totally worthless.  You’ll have that when you look through 3000 Invasion commons though. Sorting this collection made me realize that this might be the best collection I’ve ever bought. Never again will I be able to pull Natural Order, Artificer's Intuition, or Ancient Tomb from the bulk commons and uncommons. Looking through 35k cards was the most exciting thing I’ve done in a long time because I found so many hidden gems littered throughout them.

The commons and uncommons contain not only constructed playable cards but casual cards that are worth money as well. In order to get the most from this collection, I took a couple hours and scoured buylists for hidden gems like Victimize. There are plenty of cards like that and you can profit from them. Here is a good starting point for cards you probably know to pull.

Easy to Identify

There are many other cards dealers will buy that are not so easy to identify.

Harder to Identify

Finally, make sure you skim through the lands in the collection. You never know when there will be some Beta basics or the ultimate find, Guru lands.  There are often non-basic lands buried in the land box.

I love buying and selling collections. For years I have helped friends out when they needed money or tracked down people uninterested with this game they used to play. If you have the chance, try your hand at it. You may find you are better at it than you think. If you read articles on this site, you already have the basic skills you will need. If you have questions about collection buying, I'm always available in the comments or on twitter. Until Next Time,

Unleash the Force on Modern!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

16 thoughts on “Insider: Collection Buying 101

  1. Great article. Those lists are awesome, but it would have been super if the list of cards was ordered alphabetically 🙂

    I also notice a few cards are on both lists (The Rack for instance)

    1. Thanks for the heads up. It was a logistical nightmare trying to separate my one list into two lists. I thought I had everything, but I guess I missed the rack.

      The cards are actually sorted by set, but you can’t tell as much because the database pulls the newest version of the card. Do you think it would still be better alphabetically?

    1. Thanks for the link. Interesting story about your craigslist experience. If you don’t mind my asking, how much money did you make on those cards you bought?

      I’ve considered writing about my experiences from that site as well. Maybe I’ll give it a shot the next time I do.

      1. I was just looking at the pictures, and trying to reflect.
        I buylisted a good amount of the $0.25-2 stuff in the $60 collection for $65, made another $20-30 on buylisting some of the larger stuff, and still have about $30 in things I held onto. Probably not worth it for the amount of time spent sorting, but I was driving at the same time so I didn’t notice too much.
        As for the $5 collection, I sold the Natural Order for $25, Land Tax for $15, and still sitting on the Sliver Queen Life Counter, Ensnaring Bridge, and Defense of the Heart. Probably just buylisted the rest later than summer.
        My strategy for collection buying is offer buylist for anything over $10, a bit over buylist for anything $5-10 with upside, and try to offer bulk for everything under $5. It usually gets to a decent amount that the owner is happy with, and it’s easy to flip for my money back and leaves me with a large amount of inventory to find value in later.

        1. Not a bad strategy for developing a price for a collection. I suppose how I operate is similar to that. I do my best to offer as much as I can and still make money off the collection.

        1. lol. Yeah, you have to be firm with your price sometimes. Other times though, if you really want the collection, I think it’s fine to move your price point up a little to make it happen. This collection I bought recently, the first and second numbers I quoted the guy, he wasn’t happy with. I reassessed the cards as we were chitchatting and offered him a higher amount. I’m glad I did because of how many amazing cards I pulled from the bulk.

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