One of the fastest—but certainly not the easiest—ways to get into the business of Magic cards is to buy someone else’s collection with the intention of selling it for profit. I bought a collection the other day, and I joked to the seller that I was buying a lot of time spent sorting through cards. Turning a mass of cards into cash, or even other cardboard, doesn’t happen immediately. It requires developing a plan for extracting the most value, while considering the time that it will take to do so.
It’s possible to get every last penny out of a collection, but that will require a lot of time, and there are diminishing returns to the time invested as the value of the remaining cards decreases as pieces are sold. On one extreme, you could buy a collection and sell it untouched to another buyer for a small profit. On the other, you could eek out full value by meticulously sorting and selling the cards for full value without regard for time.
A sensible approach lies somewhere in between. Even the quick-flipper would be well-served to give the collection a once-over for any gems, and the value-maximizer has to draw the line eventually and accept that some cards are true bulk. Within these limits lies much opportunity for creativity, as well as for quality best practices and organization to shine and show their value. The best methods will be different for everyone depending on their situation, and may vary based on the specifics of the collection.
How to best approach the collection I bought last week is a pressing topic for me, and one I had a lot of time to think about as I drove home with my car filled to the brim with cardboard. I know a well-laid and executed plan will bring me the best results. Today I want to share what’s going through my head as I approach the collection and how I plan to process it to extract value.
I purchased my collection from someone who acquired it from an old shop. A large portion of the collection is sorted into binders by set, and by set number within. This is very convenient for buylisting online, which requires sorting cards by set, so it will speed up what can otherwise be a very time-intensive process.
Buylisting is my first choice for offloading a great deal of my cards. Partly because of the speed, and partly because of the opportunity to trade into other cards, which, depending on prices, might be the best route for some cards. Trade-in bonuses often tip the scales towards making trading a better option if you want to preserve the most value. Trading-up into a higher-end card to sell instead can be a great way to consolidate cards and convert to cash relatively quickly without losing value, and maybe even gaining it.
My aim is to buylist as much of the collection as possible, because it’s comprised of lower-end cards and stripped of the most high-dollar cards that I’d likely be better off selling on my own. The collection being sorted into binders will also make my buylisting process very easy and save time, which is a factor pushing me towards buylisting. I’ll also save a ton of time that I usually spend searching for individual cards when buylisting, because I can pull up the buylist for the set and quickly go down the list inputting each card.
This definitely shows the value of having cards sorted by set, and further by set number. In some cases it might be worthwhile to invest time sorting cards like this before buylisting, and it could even make sense to hire out some sorting work if it’s applicable to your situation.
$5-$8 Cards – The Cream of the Bulk Crop
Part of the collection is a small stack of cards that were pulled out by the owner and were said to be worth between $5 and $8. These are ripe for buylisting, and in fact I used the pictures of them that the owner shared before I bought the collection to help me calculate that the buy was a good deal. This is value that was essentially picked for me, and will be among the first cards I’ll sell. I’ll add to it with the cards I pick from bulk through my own sorting.
The collection contains a few thousand bulk rares, which is a bread-and-butter way for me to make some value. Going through the stack and pulling out anything that obviously shouldn’t be there is a good start. By then, meticulously going through the stacking and buylisting the cards is sure to reveal cards that sell for more than bulk rares should—perhaps just double, but it will quickly add up.
This is a situation where the time invested is going to be worth the fine-comb approach, and it’s also a perfect opportunity for me to break out my camera and Quiet Speculation’s Ion Scanner and use the technology to help me find the top price for each card.
Some of the collection is sorted into bulk commons and uncommons, which essentially offer the same opportunity as the bulk rares, just with less money on the table and a lot more chaff. For these cards using such a fine-toothed approach is a waste of time, and instead I’ll be served by going through and using my judgment to pull above-bulk cards I can buylist for a profit.
Everything else I can resell as true bulk, but lately because of Pauper and the general market it seems like commons are more valuable than ever. I’d be better served by just holding my bulk in case something spikes, but eventually I’ll have to give in to space concerns.
The Unsorted Rest
Another portion of the collection, and what makes up much of most collections, is boxes and binders of random cards with varying degrees of sorting or order, if any at all. These cards I’ll go through just like the bulk, but with the added process of sorting them into the previous bulk categories. These are the most fun cards to look through, since it seems anything is possible, and may be the most financially rewarding, but also the most work.
Part of the collection I was not aware of, or rather something that wasn’t part of the collection but that was thrown in, was a tub of cards I was told smelled of smoke, which I could already tell as I stood near them. Cigarette smoke is known to leave a smelly residue on cards, and it can leave them in what’s considered damaged condition.
Buylists specifically mention smoke-damaged cards as those they are not interested in, so these cards I’ll have to approach differently. One option is to try to remove the smell. I have read this is possible with ozone machines, which probably isn’t practical for me in this case, or with baking soda, which could be an option if I open some valuable cards.
My plan is to approach these cards separately, look for anything of value and deal with it accordingly, and then offload the rest at a discount to someone else.
How do you process your collection buys?