I've had this article in mind for a while now, but I’ve been putting it off for several reasons.
The first is because I wasn’t sure what it actually was. Is it a story of self-actualization, a story of my personal journey to get where I am? Is it a story of good business practices? Is it something that provides any real value to someone not in my exact situation?
These questions have bounced around for a while, and I’ve put off doing the article because of that. But after reading Dylan’s heartfelt piece on why we do this, and Jason’s article about his selling, I’ve decided that I’m not going to try and decide what it is. I’m going to tell my story, do my best to give value to you out of it, and let it be what it is.
So let’s start.
I got into Magic in 2009, and Magic finance in 2010. I was a broke college student and wanted to make the Pro Tour. I didn’t have any friends who really did tournaments, and my card pool was really small.
Having been raised by a very frugal father, a trait I'm proud to have inherited, it pained me to buy cards to play with or even my $12 to draft. The happiest day of my early Magic career was when I opened a Thoughtseize in Lorwyn and was able to sell it for $20 in store credit.
I’ve come a long way since then, and I’ve told my story several times over in different articles or podcasts or forum posts or even ambitious storytelling pieces, so I won’t bore you with it again. Instead, I want to talk about the part that I haven’t detailed before: how I went from an active trade grinder and collection buyer while actively playing the game (the position I imagine many of you are in), to the place I am now, where I sell enough Magic singles out of a storefront to actually consider it a second job.
The First Step
The first step is, of course, always the hardest, and for me it started from the position I know many of you are in. People would come to me for cards. I was the go-to guy for trades and damn, was I good at getting value while leaving my trade partner happy. I would snap up Murkfiend Lieges like crazy while trading away Standard cards, and since even then smartphones weren’t ubiquitous, this type of floor trading was super profitable.
Things quickly changed, something that I too played a part in. Jon Medina’s Pack to Power series started the ball rolling, and soon I was on board writing for Doubling Season (the precursor to Quiet Speculation), Medina was on Star City, Kelly was on ManaNation and MTGFinance was truly born.
That killed trading rather quickly, as did the proliferation of smartphones and general trade awareness. And while plenty of us were still doing it fairly, a growing number of true sharks were in the waters, ripping players off and making them terrified to ever trade with a stranger again.
Soon, trading this way was no longer an option. The only way to make money was to live on your reputation and your collection. If you’re the guy someone trusts to track down a card, they usually don’t mind giving you value in a trade, especially if you’re also willing to loan cards out to people who need them.
Around this time I also got more serious about collection flipping, and I’ve grown extremely good at picking everything worth a dime or more from a box of common/uncommon bulk.
Things were going well, and while it was a nice way to fund future drafts, it certainly wasn’t paying the bills.
I knew of other people selling singles out of stores, and my LGS even allowed me to do so since their singles collection was very sparse, but I was still in an awkward middleman position.
Then I caught a break. A former employee who I had been friendly with bought the place, a small store with a small Magic community that survives on board games. He wasn’t a Magic player and he didn’t know anything about the market.
The first work we did together was to sell Modern Masters boxes. He had them coming in but was worried they would sit on the shelf (this is before we knew everything about them, obviously). I stepped in to find him buyers, and I was compensated for my time.
So I just threw out the offer: What if I started selling singles here?
Just like that, we were off. I started with a small case displaying not more than 50 individual cards. I had some business cards made and I had no idea if I would have any success. In the first month I sold maybe 25 bucks in cardboard while buying much more than that.
While nothing was happening yet financially, I noticed a few things almost immediately:
- People treat you differently if you’re standing behind a counter. It’s that simple. You can use “buylist” prices when they’re trading in for cards in a case and it’s okay. This blew my mind at first, since literally a month earlier we’d be across from each other on the FNM table.
- Being at an LGS affords you a lot of buying opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have. A lot of people don’t go straight to Craigslist to sell their cards. They Google “game store magic” and call the first place that pops up.
- You’ll never have the random older card someone wants from you.
Suddenly what was a hobby for me had become a job. That meant taking phone calls to set up meetings at the store, hours of sorting cards, worrying about buying the new set, and building up the store’s Magic community.
It was (and still is) hard work. But it has begun to pay off. I don’t mind being fairly forthcoming about this--I’ll tell you that while I’m likely not doing the business some of you are running a TCGPlayer store, I don’t have to make frequent trips to the post office and I’m toiling in somewhat less anonymity, which can be nice locally. My margins are better even after I cut the store its share of the profits and I’m not in a rush to flip collections to buylists like I used to because I have the confidence that they’ll eventually sell.
And I’ve learned a few other things in my time doing this.
- Standard is suddenly a thing for me. I’ve always been known as the “casual card guy” because I want all the Lieges while trading away all the Standard rares, but running the case means I suddenly need to stock up on things like Courser of Kruphix, even though it’s likely near its peak for the next few months. It’s a completely different mindset.
- Long-term holds don’t do much for me. While they’re a sound investment strategy in Magic, and I still do a fair amount of this, it’s become secondary to “buy these cards, sell these. Get them in, get them out.”
- While people do care about Standard, it’s casual play that rules them all. And I mean truly casual, not Commander. The vast majority of my business comes from guys who have never stepped into a Friday Night Magic draft. They just want cool cards for their 60-card decks at home.
- And what’s cooler than a planeswalker? These sell like crazy, even crap like Tibalt. (Okay, maybe not Tibalt.) But seriously, planeswalkers are the hardest thing to keep in stock.
- People would rather buy ten $5 cards over a two-month period than spend $50 on one card. Fetchlands, Snapcasters, even expensive Commander staples, they all just sit in the case for weeks while Phenax, God of Deception and Ajani Goldmane fly off the shelf.
I’ve built my business to a spot I’m really happy with, and something I can see quickly becoming a larger and larger part of my day. That’s something I don’t mind. Being local only, I know there’s likely a ceiling I’ll reach with this, but that’s not something I mind either.
So Why Do You Care?
Of course, this is the most important part of the article.
But, while you may not have noticed, I think some of the things I mentioned do a lot to explain the side of Magic we never see. As tournament watchers and Twitter users we’re not sitting down at the kitchen table to jam games with our Spellheart Chimera deck.
What this drives home to me is that, as someone interested in the value of their collection, don’t forget about those casual cards. I write articles every few months looking at the solid long-term casual pickups, and being on the front lines I’m now seeing the importance of this firsthand.
But there’s another why I finally wrote this article: I want you to take a shot. If you want to, that is.
I’ve been pretty clear that what I’m doing is a job, and as a job it pays like a decent part-time job would. Maybe that’s not you. It can be hard to separate Magic “play” from Magic “work,” and if you don’t want it to become the latter, that is totally justifiable and you have to make sure you keep it that way.
But if you are interested in taking the next step, there are things you can do that don’t involve spending $100,000 on inventory and travel plans and Grand Prix booths.
- Already the go-to guy at your LGS? Get to know the owner. Who sorts his Magic cards? Who buys the collections? Does he ever have someone come in to sell something he doesn’t want to buy? If so, where does he send them? Why not you?
- Believe it or not, a fair percentage of stores don’t sell singles. Oftentimes the owner doesn’t do Magic and either halfheartedly sells singles or doesn’t at all. A little rapport and mutual trust between the two of you, and you could be in business. Everyone can win here, and even if you don’t work out an arrangement like I have maybe they need an extra hand to sort the cards and will ship you some store credit for helping out.
- What about finder’s fees? Of course ideally you may want to buy a collection yourself, but sometimes it doesn’t work out, either because you don’t have the funds or because the seller wants prices you can’t provide but a retail location could. Most store owners interested in buying Magic cards are also interested in rewarding those who bring them business.
- Maybe you can become a sort of headhunter for the store? I’ve struck deals with store owners before where I’ll get a list of what they need before an event and I’ll spend the day on the trading floor picking up those cards, in exchange for a higher buy price than random guy off the street. Again, this is something that is probably fairly easy for you but provides a service to the owner (seriously, I could use some Courser of Kruphixes right now). Again, it’s easy to create a win-win situation here.
- Develop a professional relationship with the owner regardless. It’s possible none of these ideas will work, or maybe you don’t want to turn it into a business relationship. That’s fine. But trust me, a little familiarity with the person running things goes a seriously long way, even if it just comes down to something simple like getting first dibs on preorders.
That's It So Far
That’s my story, and I hope you can take something from it. It’s safe to say when I first sent a tentative e-mail to Kelly four years ago about maybe saying a thing or two about Magic card prices I never thought I’d be in the situation I’m in today. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been a lot of reward too, and most importantly in ways that aren’t financial.
So now it’s up to you. That next step will be the hardest one, but if you truly want to you will get there eventually.
And one other thing, a tip I heard long ago from my frugal father; one that you’ve all heard and one that gets filed into the back of your mind as a child but has become my watchword as an adult:
It doesn’t cost you anything to be nice to somebody. And you never know when it will come back to you.
Thanks for reading,
@Chosler88 on Twitter