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Insider: Hunting for Treasure While Out of Town

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This past Memorial Day weekend I went to one of my favorite places in the US: Hilton Head Island, here in the beautiful state of South Carolina. This trip reminded me that many of us will be traveling about in the next couple of months, as school gets out for some, and others just like to take some sort of summer vacation from work. These trips are often few and far between for many of us, and they offer us a unique opportunity to go hunting for treasure.

treasure map

Not that type of treasure... Well, you can also go hunting for that type, but I'm referring of course to the Magic: The Gathering type.

Magic has been around for a long time, and is sold by a wide variety of businesses---you never know where valuable singles or collections might pop up. Finding the random places where Magic cards and collections have been lost to time is a skill like anything else.

Today I'll discuss how to do this, starting with the most basic hunting techniques and moving forward.

Level 1 - Wizards Stores

This is the most basic MTG treasure hunting technique. You simply go to Wizards Store Locator, put in your destination and look for stores nearby. Easy peezy.

treasure huntAs these stores typically sell Magic as part of their core business model, it behooves them to carefully examine their own stock. So your likelihood of striking gold is low---but that isn't to say it doesn't exist.

One of my favorite things to do is ask shop owners if they have a $0.5 box or $1 box (or whatever amount). These beautiful boxes more often than not contain the remainders of collections they purchased but didn't have the time or inclination to thoroughly review.

Sometimes you find decent stuff in these types of boxes, like cards that were bulky for a while and recently spiked, or unassuming cards that are rare enough to command a higher price than it might seem at first glance.

Level 2 - Non-Magic Stores

This is a more advanced local search. It will take up more time and has a lower probability of finding Magic cards, but when you do hit you have a higher chance of finding good stuff. For this type of search we want to try and think of places where Magic cards could be sold. These stores usually fall into a few categories.

1. Sports Card Stores

Believe it or not, Magic stores didn't exist in the early days of the game. Many Magic players in the early and mid 90's were introduced to the game at their local sports card store.

If you weren't around in those days (or were too young to remember), sports cards used to be the big collectible for many young kids (and often many adults), and sport card stores were plentiful. I know that my first introduction to Magic came from my local sports cards store (Shelby County Collectibles in Sidney, Ohio).

2. Comic Book Stores

treasure hunterThese stores are more likely to carry Magic: The Gathering cards than others on this list because of the common love of fantasy and heroism shared by comic book collectors and Magic players.

Many of these stores still carry Magic as a core product and thus show up in your Level 1 search. But there are definitely some that gave up on the game or didn't have the necessary space to support tournaments and extensive singles cases. This likely means space is at a premium, so if they do have Magic cards lying around they may be happy to be rid of them to free up space.

3. Flea Markets

Flea Markets are places where people go to get rid of stuff they no longer want. Sometimes (if you're lucky) that includes Magic cards. I've been to quite a few of them and only gotten lucky a handful of times, but when I do I tend to get my biggest wins.

Many flea market vendors have only a single table to move their merchandise and things that take up a lot of space but are only valued by a niche market (like Magic the Gathering players/collectors) are typically not desirable to have around. Should you come across some, you have a better chance making an offer on the whole lot and sorting it out later.

That isn't to say you shouldn't see what you're getting into before making an offer, but most of the dealers I've run into will accept the standard bulk rates (around $3/1000) just to be rid of it. You can't really lose out with that as a starting offer. If they say no or counter much higher, you might want to dig a bit deeper into what they have to make sure you aren't overpaying for bulk.

4. Thrift Stores

These stores are particularly near and dear to me as I love visiting them when down in Hilton Head. Finding Magic cards at these types of stores is a very rare occurrence (it's yet to happen for me), but you can find all other kinds of great deals at them (I've found a good many pairs of very nice khaki pants and jeans for a steal).

If you do find Magic cards, they are most likely only there because the original owner didn't want them anymore (or because a kid's parents were tired of seeing them and shipped them off). This usually means people who weren't heavily invested or knowledgeable about the game, or relapsed players with older collections. In both cases, you're more likely to find valuable prospects.

5. Collectibles Stores

These are very similar to sports cards stores (and many sports cards stores sell other collectibles as well), but some stores specialize in non-sports collectibles only. You may find old records, statues, or any number of other things at these types of stores.

Given that Magic is advertised as a collectible card game it's entirely possible for some of these stores to carry it. I know I personally found one store owner that claimed he had a ton of Magic cards (but wasn't able to get to them easily as they were in storage). I kept his business card and plan to call him a week or two in advance the next time I make a trip to his location.

Level 3 - Doing Your Research

If you ever watch the treasure hunter shows on TV, they often downplay the time spent researching ahead of time (it doesn't tend to make for exciting television). But in order to find treasure, a lot of the treasure hunters spend months, if not years, doing proper research before they ever take their first step on the actual expedition. The same goes when hunting for Magic cards.

Level 3 is actually a more detailed take on Levels 1 and 2. The Level 3 approach is to research the options available throughout your trip. This requires you to look up the zip codes that you'll be traveling through and do a thorough search for all the previously mentioned stores or markets that fall along your journey's path.

This can be very time consuming (especially if you're taking a longer drive). If you're flying you're much more limited on options but you're also not going to have a shot at whatever treasure lies between you and your final destination.

Now, obviously you may be limited if your significant other and/or children don't enjoy this type of searching---driving eight hours in a car with children in the back can be tumultuous to say the least. So don't add 3-4 additional hours searching for Magic cards if it's going to lead to you getting papers from a lawyer. But if you're a cash-strapped student off on a road trip adventure this is exactly the type of searching you and your buddies may want to do.

When True-Name Nemesis first came out and was in high demand, I heard of some players who paid for their entire trip to Grand Prix DC by stopping at every Wal-Mart and Target they came across and buying up all the "Mind Seize" decks. Dealers were paying $50 for True-Name Nemesis alone, so the players were able to make an easy $15 profit immediately (and then buylist off the rest of the deck for another $10 or $15).


So if you have the time and want the adventure, the more detailed Level 3 approach can cover the trip costs if you're just a bit lucky.

Good luck hunting!

David Schumann

David started playing Magic in the days of Fifth Edition, with a hiatus between Judgment to Shards. He's been playing Commander since 2009 and Legacy since 2010.

View More By David Schumann

Posted in Buying, Finance, Free Insider, Timeless InfoTagged

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