My First Venture Into Collection Buying

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Hello, QS readers!

I’m back from my relocation and ready to contribute finance content again. Seems so long ago we were all hyped up on the Pro Tour and the fallout thereafter. Seems like eons ago that Magic Origins made a splash in the constructed scene. We are now in that final lull before the impending release of Battle of Zendikar. We’ve seen some extremely enticing spoilers that were outlined by my fellow QS writers here.

I’m here to talk about something different today. Something that until recently I was a total novice at (and still am largely). With my relocation, I thought it was a good time to survey the land and try my hand at collection buying.

It’s no secret that New York is fairly cutthroat and finding worthwhile collections on a local Craigslist ad or even locally is hard to come by. I’m sure it’s getting harder in a lot of states, but I found myself really unable to find a collection, and never felt my time was worth the ones I did end up finding.

It seems well known across the community that I am indeed a novice, and I never really was enticed to “grinding” collections. I’d like to thank fellow podcast host Seth (Saffron Olive) and Kelly Reid in sharing their experiences with me and I'm glad I patiently listened to their stories and ideology behind this “craft”. I also have to thank everyone out there who has written good literature about the subject; it really came in handy. You all know who you are.

The Purchase

Let’s start from the beginning. I’m going to lay out the actual numbers behind this small endeavor for all of you to draw your own conclusions. No one collection is the same, and while I may be regurgitating some of what you know already, you’re getting the benefit of someone who hasn't actually done it before.

For a while I actually stayed away from this aspect of “real” mtgfinance. I never felt it was worth my time, and luckily this was a good start to stick my toe into the proverbial collection grinding pool.

I saw a local ad in Craigslist. The original posting has been deleted by now, but I took a similar picture of what the ad showcased:


Luckily the collection was only about 30-35 minutes away. When I figured out this collection was less than 1000 cards, and basically a “binder” collection, I felt that was a good distance for me to travel. If the drive was pushing the hour-plus threshold I would have probably turned it down. The owner of the collection was asking for 500$ originally. This was not a number I was willing to pay without seeing the entire collection and the contents of the binder.

Turns out after some discussion that the owner was a decent person who I didn’t think was being shady about anything. After the owner sent me pictures of the contents of the binder and told me what else there was, I felt more comfortable about the transaction.

The haggling commenced and I was fairly forward with my negotiations. Even after looking at all the contents, I had a price in mind to make it worth my time--I didn’t want to budge from $200. Eventually the owner took my offer after unsuccessfully trying to make me come up from my price point. Again, I was very forthcoming, and was committed to walking away if I had to pay more than what I was comfortable with.

So let’s recap:

  • A local Craigslist ad asking for $500 for a “binder collection.”
  • Took about 35min to get to the destination--around 1 hour and some change driving.
  • Haggled the original price down to $200.
  • Under 1000 cards.

Once we agreed to the new price I went the next day to pick it up. We met at a public place (Starbucks), exchanged a few words and payment and that was the end of it really. A smooth transaction, I would have to say. Luckily it was during the day and I didn’t run into any major traffic going to or from the destination.

When I got back to my apartment I immediately had to sort through the cards. Call it excitement for my first collection purchase. I also wanted to handle the entire endeavor as fast as I could, take my profits and move on.


After sorting I was left with this:

I was fairly happy with what I saw and knew immediately I'd make enough profit to make it worth it. I knew it wasn't going to be a slam dunk collection or anything like the amazing stories that come from doing this kind of stuff. If you were reading this to get that story then you’re out of luck! This was not one of those great super value collections or anything, but what can you expect?

Verdict and Calculations

The following section you may not get in other collection buying literature, but I consider it pretty important to understand the process. I pride myself on being a transparent MTGFinance writer and this instance is no different. I like to give my readers the value of knowing what I'm actually buying, and what I’m selling it back for. Even if the numbers are abysmal and the profit margins are lacking.

It’s been there on various platforms, and many people can attest to the straight answers I give them. This will be no different:

First Collection Purchase Numbers:

  • 4.25 hours total time spent (driving/sorting/buylisting/shipping)
  • Bulk earnings: $25
  • Buylist stack (including the FTV and promos) - $110 dollars via Trader Tools
  • Snapcaster Mage x2 / Blood Crypt / Temple Garden - $105 (buylist)
  • Supplies - $30

Total: $270

Rate per hour = $70/4.25 = $16.47 per hour

I may be new to all this, but my time has to matter and is honestly the most valuable resource in these situations. It’s a complete 180 to clicking a few buttons and shipping out a purchased card over the internet. You have to sit down and take into account all the little nuances that come with every collection. In this instance luckily there weren’t thousands of cards to sort, hence the overall time invested is going to be a lot less.

When we sit down and look at these numbers, they’re not stellar but far from bad. If anything the old adage, “it was a learning experience,” applies here. It certainly was for me, and when you look at the numbers in context I made a little more than double the minimum wage in America and it took me half the time of a full work day to do it. I was mostly happy that I didn’t actually lose money, all things considered. It was really a good step into something that many financiers out there have gotten down to an art form.

The takeaway here is that for my first time working with a completely different side of the market I’m not used to, it was a decent success.

If more opportunities like this come up, I really have to get better at setting the tone for an asking price. I felt my offer was good, and not low-balled, but that also came with a less-than-stellar profit. Obviously this endeavor would have been much more lucrative at $150-180. I’ll be sure to know that for next time.

In the end, it was fun and I got experience (and an article) to share out of it. Which is honestly what's most important to me--sharing and contributing to the community.

I hope this was insightful and shed some light onto collection buying from someone who didn’t really care for it prior to this experience.

-Chaz (@Boltsnapbolt)

Chaz V

Started playing during Invasion block at the age of 13. Always a competitive person by nature, he continues playing to this day. Got into the financial aspect of the game as a method to pay for the hobby and now writes, Podcasts, and covers all aspects of the game, always trying to contribute to the community and create great content for readers and listeners.

View More By Chaz V

Posted in Bulk, Buying, Buylist, Free, Free FinanceTagged , , , , , , ,

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9 thoughts on “My First Venture Into Collection Buying

  1. Well done Chaz. I love buying collections (but haven’t found any in quite awhile)…one big factor you need to consider is the condition. It’s easy to look over the pile and say “well I can buylist it and make a bit of profit”, but if any of the big money cards aren’t NM…then you can very quickly fall back into the red.

    1. Thanks David! Appreciate the comment.

      Luckily since this was primarily a binder collection most of the cards were protected by sleeves and in general the cards were NM in this case.

      Speaking about buylists-not just for condition but whenever buying a collection you have to know to maneuver Trader Tools so you’re not sending out to 5 different buylists and fall into the red just from shipping.

  2. Perhaps some questions that a reader might be left with:

    – How did you come to your price?

    – What was the condition of the cards like?

    – Was there anything hidden that the seller didn’t mention?

    I don’t buy a lot of collections, but I go for the bigger / more interesting ones. In my experience:

    – If their asking price is more than roughly $1/rare I’m out, the collections I end up buying tend to be well under that. I will normally add up the more expensive cards at roughly buylist.

    – This can be very relevant and it is why you want to see a collection in person if possible. If I’m negotiating before picking up I will assume the condition is fairly bad as I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than disappointed. Especially the collections of casual players tend to be bad en nearly every seller overestimates the condition of their cards.

    – In my experience there always is hidden stuff for the collections I buy. The collections where everything is spelled out tend to be priced highest because when the owner takes the time to write it all out he’s also very likely to check prices in an online store. Convincing him that store prices are not realistic to start with will make negotiations difficult to the point where it’s not really worth my time. I have seen sellers who checked the most important cards and they tended to be quite reasonable, it’s just those who check each and every card that you’d better avoid.

    Personally I would’ve passed on the collection at your margin if it didn’t contain some cards I wanted for my own collection. If the purchase is completely for financial gain I would want to make at least 50% profit with little effort/risk. I’m happy to leave it for somebody else if it seems like there will be considerable effort or risk for little profit. I am mitigating some of the risk by not even counting the bulk stuff in this.

    I would however, like you did, be willing to accept a smaller margin if it provides a good lesson.

    1. I 100000% agree with this. Buying collections is *the* way I make money from MTG. The biggest turn-off for me is getting a complete list of a cards. Often the owner expects to get retail and the absolute maximum you can talk them down is to buylist price range.

      I’ve never negotiated with someone on price before going to take a look. Perhaps its a practice I should pay more heed to, but I think not; my experience has always been that once you’re physically with the person the prospect of immediately receiving cash is enough to sway most people to a more reasonable price.

      The best collections tend to be the ones in the $500+ range with 5,000+ cards. These are people just looking to sell it all off. If they have only one or two binders or if everything is neatly organized I’m just mentally prepared for it to be a bust. Those folks tend to be the ones that want retail.

      Finally, all the most expensive cards from collections have not been in binders, but in the row boxes, the bits that the owners don’t consider valuable (because they weren’t at the time). I’ve been lucky and found things a Tarmogoyf in Future Sight draft chaff, but even less expensive things like a foil Seedborn Muse or a stack of Serum Visions are things that you find relatively often.

      1. I prefer to see the cards before negotiating a price, but, as I need to borrow a car I do want to have some idea of it being interesting to me. In some cases that meant I agreed a price or price range in advance. I tend to play this safe, so unless the cards are not there or severely worn there should be no issues.

        My feeling is that the larger the collection, the less likely the seller is to check each and every card. Instead they just want to be rid of it and most understand that it needs to be worth your time and effort to take that burden from them. I often explain to them what they could get by putting in more time and effort, but do stress that that will take more of their time and effort than it would for me due to my existing connections, so on the whole that should not work out to their advantage.

        If I get the sense that they are going to overvalue the collection I just don’t bother. I always ask for pictures that show the collection is worth close to their asking price, if more than 10% of the price is unknown I need to see more before considering going there if it’s further away. It does depend on the situation, the feeling I get from the seller matters a lot, perhaps I know them personally as well. So far I’ve always managed to make a deal when I felt good about the seller.

        I’ve found a lot of hidden stuff as well, once a Sword of Light and Shadow hiding in a sleeve behind a Thran Lens. You can be sure I emptied every sleeve in the collection after that… Commonly the bulk contains a big part of the value and you end up paying very little for it.

    2. Thanks for the replies Pi!

      To answer your questions that you came away with after reading the article.

      -After seeing pictures texted to me from the owner of the collection I felt that with the 2x Snapcaster Mage and the shocklands I only really needed to make 75(ish)$ to at least break even. I saw that there was at least that in bulk/mythics/ect and supplies. Turns out I was right but in hindsight it may have been a little too much.

      -Mostly NM, which is a blessing.

      -Nothing mentioned that was hidden, the owner of the collection was fairly honest in our dealings. Everything we discussed ended up in my possession.

        1. Oh! Yes, the FTV:Realms Urborg and Ancient Tomb was something I didn’t end up seeing in the pictures. (in fact everything on that specific page must have been skipped in the pictures.)

          So, that was a pleasant surprise.

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