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Christopher Price
Christopher Price

Buy Magic The Gathering Collection

Buying collections is an essential part of mtgfinance. While speculation is far more exciting, buying collections is really the bread and butter of making money with Magic cards. Just look at all the major vendors. They don't buy and sell Magic cards like stocks; instead, they buy them like they were running a pawn shop or second-hand store. If we use Magic players as an example, speculating is sort of like Justin Cohen, they guy who wins a PTQ and Top 8's his very first Pro Tour. It's awesome when it happens, but it's not something that you can really expect or count on. Collection buying, on the other hand, is Christian Calcano, a grinder who grinds prize money week after week, tournament after tournament. Sure, maybe he didn't take home $20,000 in his first Pro Tour, but over time, the profits are just as great. So today I'd like to talk about where to find collections, and begin a discussion on some of the basic rules of collection buying.

buy magic the gathering collection

In my experience, there are three places to find collections. There may be others out there, but these are the big ones: classified ads (of which Craiglist is likely the most popular), Ebay, and your Magic social circle (this includes Facebook groups, friends, local gaming stores, and players in your local area). I guess it is also possible to find cards at the Salvation Army or some other second-hand store, but I've never had any luck at those places myself. Each of these sources have some positives and negatives, so let's break these avenues down one by one.

The downside of Craigslist is you often have to drive all over the place. I've definitely driven two hours only to turn back and go home with nothing. You also never know who you are going to run into on the other end of the connection, and while most of my experiences have been positive, you still need to be careful walking into a stranger's house with a bunch of cash. There are quite a few people who create very ambitious (or ambiguous) posts on Craigslist, either asking for far more than the cards are really worth, or just not giving enough information, so you need to learn to dig through the slag to find the gold. Finally, the amount of competition for collections (at least in my area) seems to have increased in the past two years.

A final note on Craiglist: make sure to try alternative search terms. I generally use not only "Magic Cards," but "Magic the Gathering," "Magic: the Gathering", and "MTG" as well. You will be surprised how many people don't have the word "magic" and sometimes even "cards" in their listing for an "MTG Collection." Leave no stone unturned in the search bar.

A very small percentage of the cards I buy come from Ebay, and for collections in specific, the ratio is even less. The only upside I see to Ebay is that you can bid from the comfort of your own home which eliminates the driving problem from Craiglist. Apart from this, buying collections on Ebay has the potential to be a nightmare. There are numerous scams and semi-scams which seller can (and do) run, ranging from slipping a couple expensive forgeries into an otherwise legitimate collection, to "stacking" the pictures of their collection.

The competition is also fierce on Ebay. Unlike Craiglist where you are competing with a handful of local buyers, you are competing with every Magic player/collector on Ebay. They range from people just getting back into the game to people who buy cards for a living for ChannelFireball or StarCityGames. This makes it very difficult for a worthwhile collection to slip through the cracks, which means the main (only?) way to make money with Ebay collections is to take more risk than the other buyers (like the guy in the story I just told). Needless to say, this is dangerous. Even when you think you find a good deal, you have to ask yourself, "Am I really smarter than everyone else, or am I missing something?"

75% of my collections come from Craigslist, 0% come from Ebay, so that means the other 25% come from my Magic social circle. While I'm not a Facebook guy, I know people who have very good luck buying collections from either friends or various Facebook groups. Another is to just put the word out in your playgroup, at your local gaming stores (with their blessings of course), and to your friends in general. Just getting people to know that you have cash and are looking for collections is half the battle. This method can score some pretty sweet deals. I recently bought a collection from my sister's boyfriend who had fond memories of opening 60-card boosters with his parents when he was 8 years old. I've also bought several collections from friends or playgroup members who decided it was time to move on from the game. Since they knew that I had the cash and am a fair dude, they came to me first when they wanted to sell their cards.

A few years back, one of the local stores decided they were going to get out of the Magic singles business. I had been buying booster boxes at this store for years and the owner gave me the first chance at buying out his leftover inventory as just-above-bulk rates, which I did happily. One of his problems was that people kept coming in to sell him their collections. Even though he was out of the singles business, it pained him to see those cards walk out the door. So we ended up coming to an agreement where he would call me whenever a collection came in, and I would give him a finder's fee for the referral. I'm not saying this is possible in all locations, as many places obviously want to buy the collections themselves, but it is worth looking into. If there is a store in your area that isn't buying collections or isn't in the singles business, see if you can help fill that role. It helps the store and it will also benefit you.

Regardless of where you are getting a collection from, there are a few basic rules to live by. Remember, collection buying is a grind for value, so unlike speculation, where I fully embrace the theory that you don't need to "hit" on every buy to come out ahead, when buying collections, you really can't afford to have many (or any) misses since your profits are generally much lower. I mentioned in my Crucible of the Spirit Dragon article that you only need to hit one out of every six bulk-level specs to be profitable. With collection buying, this ratio is pretty much reversed and if you miss one out of six, the one "miss" has potential to eat away all of your profits.

When you roll up to someone's house to check out a 20,000 card collection, you can't look though every card. It takes hours to sort a collection like that, and a stranger's living room is not the place to do it. Especially for rares and mythics, you need to be able to look at a card and know its price, ideally without using your phone. Looking up prices tends to make the seller nervous, like you're pulling one over on them, and once they start seeing that TCG-mid is 40% higher than your offer, they are less likely to sell.

You need to value cards at the price you can actually get when you sell them. TCG-mid pricing means very little when buying collections. If you buy collections at TCG-mid, or even TCG-low, you are going to lose money. There are various methods out there for calculating the "true" worth of cards. Personally, I just think in buylist prices. If you can buy for at-or-below buylist price, you are in great shape. You can also try to pay somewhere between 50% - 65% of TCG-low, which amounts to a few percentage points below the typical spread of 30-40%. You can use average Ebay prices, but make sure you account for shipping and fees which can be as high as 15%. I don't care what method you use; find one that works and stick with it. The important thing is that you realize you are not SCG or CFB, so you are not going to get their prices.

Paying $4-$5 per thousand for bulk is generally safe. While buylist prices have been down recently, you should be able to resell bulk cards for at least $5/thousand. Sometimes I'll pay more after looking at the collection, especially if a majority of the cards are from Mirrodin block or before, or if the seller seems to be the type to leave Remands and Serum Visions in their bulk boxes. One memorable collection I purchased a few years ago had a bunch of so-so rares from Invasion through Mirrodin. I got the bulk thrown in for free (maybe 5,000 cards) so I didn't even bother to look through it. When I got home and started sorting, I found that this guy must have opened cases of Invasion or something because there were 40 copies of Aura Shards and 40 copies of Sterling Grove in mint condition stacked in rows amongst the other bulk. On the other hand, sometimes I'll pay less, especially if the cards are new and/or the seller has most of the "good bulk" in their rare binders.

For instance, a seller is asking $300 for their collection. As I'm browsing through the binders, I'm counting up in my head. "$40 for this Scalding Tarn plus $120 for this Tarmogoyf is $160. Fifty rares I can get $3 for, that's another $150 so we're up to $310. Okay, so considering there is a bunch more stuff I haven't even looked through yet, I can pay $300 for this collection." Even though there may be a bunch of bulk, or more binders full of rares, I pretty much stop looking though the cards at this point. I might flip through more binders and take a quick peek at the bulk for the sake of the seller, but once I know I'm buying the collection, the counting stops. For a $300 collection, it really doesn't matter if I add up to $400, $750, or $1500. Once I know I'm buying it, I'm buying it.

Since I just wrote about the possibility of buying a collection valued at $1500 for $300, I should clarify a couple of things. I never ever lie to sellers about the price of their cards. If someone asks me the price of card X, Y, or Z, I give them an honest answer. If someone doesn't have an asking price, I will walk them through exactly what I'm thinking: the retail value, the buylist value, and how much I am willing to pay for the collection. However, when an adult (I generally just don't deal with minors unless a parent is present) posts a Craigslist ad asking for X dollars for their collection, I never feel bad paying the asking price, even if their cards are worth more. 041b061a72


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