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Insider: FAQ on How to Establish Your MTG Business (or Side Hustle)

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While we've been talking about my adventures buying and preparing to sell a Black Lotus for the past couple weeks (part onepart two), Wizards of the Coast has been really busy turning the Modern economy upside down.

I'm sure everyone reading this knows the entire Modern Masters 2017 set by heart, and has read about the effects we'll be seeing in the coming month or two. Abrupt Decay and Restoration Angel will barely hold a dollar, 'Goyf is probably headed to $40 or $50 at the most, etc.


This is boring stuff. I'm not really here to tell you what Standard or Modern card to spec on; those of you who have been reading my column for years already know that. I've built up a reputation as one of the more prominent singles vendors in the Syracuse/Oswego/Utica area of upstate NY, and my #mtgfinance golden tip has always been to work your way towards being that person in your area.

Today, I want to spend my week going over some micro skills that you can sprinkle on top of your trade to take it to the next level.


I had a Twitter conversation with one of my followers a couple weeks ago; he was asking me a lot of questions about how I've built up my reputation, inventory and storefront. I ended up realizing that it would make great article material, and decided to write about it after the Lotus stuff. This article will be an #mtgfinance FAQ of sorts, covering a lot of the questions that I'm asked on a recurring basis by people looking to start out and fund their hobby with their hobby. If my Insider readers are interested in this kind of Q&A content, feel free to tweet @Rose0fthorns or add me on Facebook. Those are the places where you'll get the quickest responses, and I can definitely do more FAQ articles like this in the future if there's interest.

Question 1:

q1
So this is a question I get asked a lot on Twitter, because I'm regularly posting new stuff for sale on a weekly or bi-weekly basis depending on how busy I am. I don't own an LGS, and it's not like I'm driving to sixteen different Craigslist buys every week to pick up new inventory for ridiculously low prices.

My biggest factor that helps me acquire inventory is my reputation. That's it. Four or so years ago, when I was trying to get serious with this finance thing, I did put a lot more effort into trying to get cards. I was out hunting Craigslist ads and checking it religiously and driving way too far for way little profit, and actually going to events to trade for specs (RIP Duskmantle Seer). Nobody knew who I was, and I didn't have the inventory for anyone to care about me, so I just tried to become "that guy" by trolling every single Facebook buy/sell/trade group in the area and DMing everyone offers on everything. After several years of that, it's gotten to the point where I don't have to be on Craigslist anymore; I just get Facebook messages, emails and texts from people several times a week.

In terms of how much money I set aside to buy and how much I pay myself? I'd prefer not to get into exact dollar amounts, but I'll say that I know enough to put aside cash for important life decisions and necessities before going out and bankrupting myself on collections. I don't pay myself a biweekly paycheck or anything like that: X dollars go toward grad school, Y dollars go toward joint expenditures like groceries and bills, then Z dollars go toward Magic.

Question 2:

 q2

Further into the conversation, we were discussing how most of my customers are loyal friends who continue to come to me whenever they need something Magic-related. I'm not the kind of person who will rip someone off or try to squeeze them dry for all they've got; I'd rather that person refer me to their friends, who then refer me to their friends, and so on. To conduct myself professionally, I try to provide the best customer service possible, regardless of whether or not I'm in a store setting or on a Craigslist buy. When someone hands me their trade binder, whether to sell out of the game or to trade up towards an Imperial Seal, I have a specific list of questions that I always ask as I start putting stuff on my buy mat.

  1. "Is there anything in your binder that you'd prefer to keep, so I know to avoid it from the start?" This way, we avoid the awkward part where they stop me every dozen or so cards to mention that they can't get rid of something, or that they're saving it for a deck, etc. Most of my customers are organized enough with their binders to turn the off-limit cards upside down, but it still shows a genuine concern for the cards they're looking to keep.
  2. "Is it okay if I unsleeve the cards in this binder?" I'm going to have to check condition anyway, so I'm going to ask for permission to let their cards touch the open air. Even if it's a binder full of Standard bulk rares and has no cards over $10, I want to make sure I'm grading accurately, that they get to keep their sleeves if they want to, and that the cards are easier to sort and process once I add them to my pile of stuff that I need to sort later.
  3. "I'm going to be taking cards out and putting them on the corresponding numbers of my buy mat. If there's anything you don't feel comfortable trading or selling at the number I offer, please speak up; I won't be offended, and I don't want you to feel like I'm trying to force you to accept a number." Sometimes my numbers on stuff that I need are really aggressive. I'm currently paying $50 on Karn Liberated, because I was asked by four different people at Modern night this week if I had any. I didn't. I want them. Sometimes, I have 25 Hallowed Fountains and they never sell, so I can only pay $2.50. I want people to understand that I'm not trying to sneakily add cards to piles where they don't belong.
As someone currently going to grad school and  holding a separate internship, I try to dress professionally for both. I'm obviously required to dress up for the latter, but I want to give my professors a memorable impression if I ever need a recommendation. There's no real downside to wearing a button-up shirt and tie to class, so I just sort of got into the habit of it. Considering I always stop by the store where I sell when I get out of my class/internship, I actually get comments from the locals (only some of which aren't lighthearted teasing) on how I dress and present myself as a vendor. While it's probably not going to make or break a sale, I would recommend owning a decent wardrobe if you have big MTG finance plans in your future and are trying to leave an impression on the people you buy and sell with.

Question 3:

question3

This is one of the most popular questions I get asked on Twitter and Facebook: "How do I explain to people that I'm not just trying to rip them off?"

Obviously you want to make a profit, but not too much of a profit. I've talked about this in an article a year or two ago, but the way I explain it is that you're providing a service. You've got a lot of hoops to jump through once you own their card; grading, listing, shipping, risks of dealing with USPS, and opening up your entire inventory to them for trade while accepting almost any card of theirs.

If you offered your cards for theirs at 100 percent of TCGplayer mid all the time, then you would make less than nothing; you'd just be a free MTG ATM for others to dump their cards on whenever they want. Let me reiterate: being able to trade for/buy (almost) anything is a huge turn-on for a lot of players. They don't have to shop around and unload X cards to Y person, sell all the foils to someone else, move the bulk to that other guy... nope. For a slightly lower percentage, you'll make it a one-stop shop. That in and of itself seals a lot of deals.

Question 4:

4

This is kind of an ironic question, because I ended up taking apart one of my personal decks very recently. I just don't play it enough (or at all) to justify owning a $6000-plus deck. It looks really pretty and is reasonably competitive, but I literally have not taken it out of the deck box in more than six months for reasons other than showing people that I own it.

To answer the question: I don't have a trade binder. I have a 5,000-card box of inventory that's currently listed on TCGplayer, set sorted and alphabetized (only cards worth selling on TCGplayer, mostly $4-plus stuff), and a whole lot of bulk boxes sorted by prices and card type. There are a few cards I own for personal reasons that I would have a really hard time getting rid of, but you know what they say: everything has a price.

End Step

Is this kind of article you'd be interested in seeing more of? If you've been reading my content for several years, then a decent chunk of this might be review. I like to imagine that you should always pretend that there's someone reading your stuff that's never read it before, so maybe this was helpful. I'm always happy to take questions on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments section below for future FAQ articles! Thanks for reading!

7 thoughts on “Insider: FAQ on How to Establish Your MTG Business (or Side Hustle)

    1. I don’t get email notifications when people reply to my articles, which would probably help my response time 🙁 I’m a lot more active on Twitter/FB if you ever have questions/wanna chat!

  1. DJ, great article. I would love to hear more about your process when buying collections. I recently bought my first local Craigslist collection which was about 2,000 cards. After all is said and done I will make a lttle profit but not much, but I gained an infinite amount of knowledge about the whole process. The seller had given me 1) a list of the cards he thought had some significant value, said he had 2) a binder of x amount of cards that basically amounted to bulk rates, and then had 3) a big box of leftovers. I ended up buylisting most of it, and found that my biggest issue was losing out Tom less than NM conditions.

    I would love to hear more about how you go through a collection and decide on a value for everything. If you’re given a box full of cards are you literally going through the whole box? When you know what you’re buying, and things are of varying conditions, how do you value it? Do you just give a certain percentage of what you would normally give for NM? Any insight into your process would be very interesting? Maybe an idea for another article…go through your whole process of buying a collection from start to finish. Keep the articles coming!

    Aaron

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