Insider: A Collection Buyer’s Guide

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Last Friday evening I had some friends over to play Commander (or EDH for those of us playing awhile). One of my friends brought over a box of cards that were "left overs" from a big collection he'd purchased recently. He told me he'd spent around $4800 on the collection, which included one of every dual land and a full set of Survival of the Fittest. There were some good playable cards leftover that he didn't really need, and he wanted me to go through them and see if there was anything I wanted.

So Saturday morning I got up early and began looking through the box only to find a lot of highly liquid cards I could sell on my online store. This article will go over my process of buying cards when people come to me wanting to sell (or in his case trade).

Step 1: List Everything Valuable

Obviously the first thing you want to do when reviewing a collection to buy (regardless of size) is to get a list of everything of note.

What qualifies as "notable" will depend on your outs, and the profit margin and fees associated with them. In some cases you may only want to focus on cards over a certain value. As I've mentioned repeatedly, on TCGplayer net profit and percent returns based on sale price are pretty abysmal for anything under $5. That's where I usually set my lower limit, but depending on your own circumstances you may want to use a different threshold.

This part can be a bit tedious, and ideally the person selling to you already has this list. In this particular instance he only handed me a box so I had to sort and come up with a list myself.

I didn't mind doing this because he is a friend, but if you have to do this for a stranger it's important to remember that your time is valuable. If it's a larger collection, you need to include the value of your time that you've already spent when making a final offer. For example, if I created a list, ran my numbers, and was going to offer $500 on a collection, but I've already put in three hours of work, I may only offer $450.

Step 2: Price Out Everything on the List

The next step is to get the market value of the cards (using whichever price system you prefer). This is typically going to be the price you would sell them for before any taxes or fees are removed. This is where you need to be picky on condition, as it is the first step in the monetary evaluation.

We will use an example of one card on my friend's list to show each step moving forward.

Card Set Qty Condition Market Price
Geth, Lord of the Vault Scars of Mirrodin 2 NM $10

So far, I doubt anybody is surprised with this exercise. However, this next step is something I haven't seen anyone else do.

Step 3: Cost of Selling

There is always a cost to selling something. It may be zero (like if you sell a card to a friend you're already planning on spending time with); it may be the fees and shipping cost of TCGplayer; or it could be much more if you end up having to buylist the card in the end. The important thing here is that both you and the seller come to an understanding about this cost. Nothing derails a buy faster than when you and the seller are on different wavelengths.

Up to this point in the process, I'm usually happy to be transparent with my seller. Everything is straightforward and there isn't anything that might be considered "company confidential" (i.e. information that you wouldn't want your competitors to have). If I'm sitting down with someone who is looking to sell me a lot of cards, I have no reason to deceive them on the numbers behind my offer.

Continuing our example from above, we now have something that looks like this:

Card Set Qty Condition Market Price Shipping Cost TCG Fees Card Sold Value
Geth, Lord of the Vault Scars of Mirrodin 2 NM $10.00 $0.51 $1.60 $7.89

Step 4: Risk Factor

When it comes to Magic cards, there is always risk when trying to sell them. If a card gets reprinted it loses a lot of its value. If it gets banned it can lose most of its value. If the metagame shifts or a better version is printed it can lose value. So for each card I have to determine the risk tied to it.

Currently my biggest concern is that Wizards is showing a trend of creating more and more supplementary products (i.e. products that may or may not be Standard-legal, but serve as additional sales revenue). Now I will admit that my risk factor is a somewhat subjective number, but it's important to have a process and to stick with it.

For me, I use the following table for my risk factor.

Risk Factor Description
1 Reserved List card
0.95 Extremely unlikely to be reprinted or banned
0.9 Very unlikely to be reprinted or banned
0.85 Unlikely to be reprinted or banned
0.8 Less than likely to be reprinted or banned
0.75 Could be reprinted or banned
0.7 Somewhat likely to be reprinted or banned
0.65 More likely to be reprinted or banned
0.6 Very likely to be reprinted or banned
0.4 Just got reprinted or banned

This part is a little more sensitive as far as divulging it to your seller is concerned. Unlike with card condition (which is something you should come to an agreement on), risk factor is highly subjective. It's important that you feel comfortable with the risk you're taking on, and your seller is likely to disagree with you—after all, they're trying to maximize their profit as well. Because of this, I simply let them know that I calculate the risk of getting reprinted/banned into my evaluation, but do not divulge what that factor is.

Continuing our example of Geth, Lord of the Vault:

Card Set Qty Condition Market Price Shipping Cost TCG Fees Card Sold Value Risk Factor
Geth, Lord of the Vault Scars of Mirrodin 2 NM $10.00 $0.51 $1.60 $7.89 0.85

Step 5: Expected Profit

The last step I have when calculating buy price is what I want my expected profit to be. Let's say that for Commander cards above $5 I want a 20 percent profit. Now I need to multiply things together to get a final price offering on a card. I do this with the following equation:

Returning to the Geth example:

Card Set Qty Condition Market Price Shipping Cost TCG Fees Card Sold Value Risk Factor Profit Margin Price Quote
Geth, Lord of the Vault Scars of Mirrodin 2 NM $10.00 $0.51 $1.60 $7.89 0.85 20.00% $5.37

So my final price quote comes to $5.37 per copy. This may seem kind of low, but thanks to the shipping cost and fees I have to look at the card as an $8 card and not a $10 card. If you have outs with lower fees/shipping than you can adjust accordingly and likely offer higher buy prices without taking on additional risk or lower profits.


The reason I like using this more methodical approach—as opposed to a blanket approach like what I see on Facebook all the time—is that it accounts for each card individually. Some people prefer to use a flat percent (like 70% of TCG Low), which doesn't consider the unique conditions for different cards.

I am also not a fan of TCG Low as a whole, because it's often manipulated with high shipping costs and isn't a good representative price, especially on cheaper cards. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen $3.5-market-price cards listed at $0.5 with $2.99 shipping. This can allow for some screaming deals if the seller has a lot of cards like that listed (as shipping isn't compounded), but it tends to distort the picture of the real market price.

My method does take a good bit more effort, but it also allows me to control my risk by making sure I factor it in before buying anything. In the end you need to figure out whatever method works best for you and your circumstances, but I wanted to share my method for those who didn't know where to even start.

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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 InsiderTagged ,

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4 thoughts on “Insider: A Collection Buyer’s Guide

  1. When you’re buying do you bring along a buy mat and laptop? What tools and resources do you bring to the table to ensure that you’re prepared to buy?

    1. Excellent question. My more recent purchases have been from local players through facebook and I request a list of everything they are looking to sell and I do the prework ahead of time and then when we meet it’s a faster/simpler process in which I’m grading the cards to verify the condition is accurate to what they said (and if I have to downgrade I do). However, I have made myself a buymat and I did bring a laptop when meeting up with people before. I find it incredibly useful to have an actual keyboard, though since my laptop died I’ve just been using my phone which has worked fine. I know that at a major event like a GP it can take a considerable amount of time to price out a collection (hence why many dealers appreciate my ogre’d boxes) so any “pre-buy” work you can do ahead of time will make the transaction go a lot smoother.

      1. I come across the problem of asking people for lists or as much detail as possible for buying their stuff, and then never hearing from them about selling their collection. I think asking for so much work and preparation scares away potential prospects. Any suggested work around?

        Do you bring the cash with you? If you do, do you recommend bringing a certain percentage above the discussed amount?

        How do ‘you’ determine whether a card is (Very/More Likely/Likely) or (Very/More UnLikely/UnLikely) to be reprinted?

        1. For your first question; I simply let the perspective seller know that by giving me a list ahead of time I can make sure I have enough money to buy their cards and I can provide them a proposed buy price ahead of time so they can make sure they are comfortable with it.

          For the second question; Yes, I bring cash and I typically bring about 25% extra unless the person is only selling me specific cards and there isn’t likely to be a chance to buy more. However, as you may or may not know the person it’s important to meet in a safe/neutral location, especially if you have a lot of cash on you.

          The third question is unfortunately the most subjective as it’s impossible to know for sure whether WoTC will reprint a card or not (unless it’s on the reserved list). However, I look at factors like;

          Is there a set specific keyword on the card? Is there a set specific character referenced on it? When was it’s last printing? Has it been reprinted before? Has it’s value gone up dramatically outside of the last 6 months? Is it part of a cycle? Does it require additional support (like flip cards do)?

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