When Collection Buys Go Bad

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With the release of Ultimate Masters (UMA) and the insanely quick price rebounds we've been seeing on many of the hot staples, I almost feel like my last article has been nullified. But I stand by the research and data trends calculated based on previous Masters sets. I feel like Ultimate Masters may prove to be the anomaly simply because it was jam-packed with highly desirable cards for all formats.

I have been buying UMA cards like crazy the past week, but not all buys go smoothly. Today's article will help you steer through the murky waters that can occur when money is on the line.

Set Clear Expectations

Setting your expectations at the outset may seem extremely obvious. However, both buying and selling parties are coming at the transaction from different viewpoints, and what seems obvious to one may be ambiguous to the other.

I once drove 45 minutes to meet a gentleman who had posted his collection for sale on Craigslist at a gas station off of the interstate. His ad stated that he'd been playing since the early days of Magic and had quit after Kamigawa block. I didn't ask to see pictures and assumed that there would be some hidden gems in his collection. Once I scrolled through his binders I realized that it was all the chaff of a collection that had been picked over. We both left the transaction unfulfilled.

Get a Photo First

There is a reason the old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words," is quoted so often. If you are going to spend time and effort buying a collection, getting pictures of as much as you can ahead of time can save you a great deal of disappointment, wasted time, and gasoline. You can often glean a lot about a potential collection even from a few pictures.

These pictures are from a recent collection I looked at. They show that the cards may be on the older spectrum, there may be a lot of foreign-language cards included, and the owner has likely taken at least somewhat good care of them. This collection may or may not be organized, and if it isn't then it's likely to take longer to dig through.

Be Upfront About Pricing

You also need to be upfront about your intentions for buying. This day and age, almost every Magic player has access to the internet and can look up prices on their cards. You will often find people who aren't used to selling cards aghast that you won't pay full retail price on their cards. If they aren't aware of that ahead of time, the conversation and transaction can quickly go sour.

In another example, a local player I knew posted on Facebook that he was looking to downsize his collection and wanted to sell cards between 50-70% off. I drove over to his house and spent over an hour combing through his binders and boxes, all the while placing the cards I was interested in onto a buy mat. I told him to check over each price point and pull out anything he didn't want to sell at that price.

Once I had finished, he looked through the piles and then proceeded to put every card into MTG Familiar and then pushed back on my pricing stating he was aiming more for 70%. I reminded him that his post stated 50-70%, but he remained adamant. The lesson here is that ambiguity is not your friend when it comes to business dealings.

To try and prevent this kind of misunderstanding, I always mention ahead of time that I am buying for my store inventory and that I can't pay full retail on any cards. I am willing to purchase a lot of different types of cards, which allows the seller to move their wares in a single transaction. This cuts down on the amount of time they have to spend finding buyers, as well as the cost of shipping.

My buying system now incorporates a Google Sheet with information and equations built in, allowing me to automate as much as I can. I usually request a list of the cards my seller wants to move ahead of time, so I can look up the prices to make the transaction quicker and smoother. I provide pricing per card, as opposed to some stores which offer a lump sum, to allow my seller to consider each price individually and show that I am not trying to cheat them.

It Doesn't Always Work Out

As I mentioned earlier, not all buys will work out. Sometimes the seller wants too much for their cards; sometimes the cards aren't as expected. While it can feel bad to leave a potential buy without purchasing anything, it is far worse to do so with an upset or angry seller.

When it becomes evident that a sale simply will not occur, remember that your reputation as a buyer is built over time, but it can be destroyed in an instant. I always thank the seller for their time and for giving me the opportunity to browse their collection, parting ways on positive terms. This prevents me from developing a reputation as a pushy buyer and keeps the door open for future transactions.

Be Prepared for Pushback

This past year is the first one that I have actually posted buylists on various Facebook groups. This allowed me to greatly expand my buying potential and has opened up a massive realm of potential sellers. This means I am openly competing with a lot more buyers for purchases. It also means I occasionally get negative comments in my posts from random people who feel that my prices are too low and that I'm trying to "rip people off."

Most buy/sell groups tend to weed these types of commentators out, but you still see them from time to time. These tend to be the same people who would expect TCGplayer mid prices when selling a card—but in any case, it can still make you look and feel bad.

The important point to remember is that your prices need to be high enough that you seem like the best option for someone looking to sell, but low enough to generate a profit worth your effort. You may also run into people who want to haggle on your prices. While you always want to make sure you can make a profit, flexibility can be critical when it comes to buying cards on a time crunch.

This happened to me repeatedly when I posted my UMA buylist. I've learned that when prices are fluctuating upward repeatedly, you want to lock in your stock as soon as possible. Rigid pricing can cause you to miss out on opportunities that would have been quite profitable in the near future.


While I imagine some of these pointers may seem quite obvious, I try to remember that we have speculators of varying experience and it can be very unnerving to enter the minefield that is Magic: The Gathering finance.

It is easy for those of us who have been wandering this field for a long time to forget we didn't always know the obvious truths we do now—which may have come at a steep price. If we can prevent some of our newer members from paying that price, then we are acting as responsible QS members.

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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, Collection Buying, Finance, Free

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3 thoughts on “When Collection Buys Go Bad

    1. Yep. I’ve found that being a generally likable person makes buying cards a lot easier and it often keeps people returning to you if you can make sure the experience goes well for both sides (instead of focusing on your side only).

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