How to Buy a Collection

Feature Article from DJ Johnson
DJ Johnson
10/31/2017 11:00:00 AM
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Hi there! The title of this article isn't a clever joke, nor does it contain any Magic card name puns. It is, however, probably the most frequently asked question I receive on a regular basis. I'm sure many of you have had a similar question pop into your head at some point. If you've been playing Magic for a number of years, you've likely made friends through this game, watched others learn the game, quit, then maybe come back later. For every one of us who has consistently played Magic for at least a decent portion of its 24-year life span, there are several others who played for a fraction of that time and then quit, deciding to sell their entire collection off for one reason or another.

Buying collections like these on a regular basis is what gave me the knowledge and experience to do what I do today for a living. Purchasing a large collection from a friend or colleague who doesn't want to own their cards anymore can be a daunting task – on one hand, you want to give them a great deal and provide a competitive number so that they don't just decide to sell somewhere else. On the other hand, you need to value your own time and effort at a non-zero amount so that you don't overpay. It's a difficult tightrope to walk. While I've written articles similar to this one over the past several years while working for other websites, I think this is one of the core perennial finance articles that will always be relevant and important for new audiences.

So how do we come across a collection? If I claim that this method is how I ended up making a living out of trading cards, then clearly they're worth searching for and trying to pick up, provided your budget and living space can accommodate. Of course, everything depends on your personal situation and time investment, so I'm going to split this up into passive and active collection buying. Depending on the amount of time you want to invest into this aspect of the game, you can choose a strategy that works for your own interest.

Passive Searching

I expect this is what most of my readers will make the most use out of on TCGplayer; it doesn't require a bunch of legwork, advertising or searching on your part. Passive collection buying is more focused on being aware of the opportunities you might not be cognizant of, and the people around you who might have Magic cards they're not using. One of my more recent collection buys is a good example of this. My wife currently works in an office cubicle setting, with a small team of a few other people. When the topic of "What does your spouse do for a living" was eventually raised, she told them that I do this to pay the bills. One of their responses was "Oh, I used to play that game. I've got some cards in the basement; could he take a look at them for me?" Aaaand the rest was history. Granted, that's a bit easier for me because of how easy it is to bring up a significant other's job at work. The point is that letting people find out your hobbies can surprise you at how many others you know who currently or used to share those hobbies.

Alternatively, you can keep your finger on the pulse of local social media groups for Magic. If you have a Facebook account, you probably also have a local Magic group. It might be titled "Syracuse Magic the Gathering," or "Upstate NY buy/sell/trade MTG," or something else entirely. If you can join these groups and simply keep an eye on what's being posted once in awhile, you might be able to catch a collection or two from someone who's looking to cash out of the game. When unexpected expenses happen, I watch people frequently turn to Facebook to liquidate their cardboard. Because I'm well-known in the area, sometimes I just get messages about buying collections out of the blue. If you're trying to make collection buying a regular thing, repeat business and word of mouth are two of your best friends that will help you build a reputation towards being "that one person who is always willing to buy stuff."

Active Searching

Alternative, some of you might be looking to actively acquire collections in your area. If your scene doesn't have someone who's willing to buy painted cardboard en masse, that's a very niche and fun role to fill while being a valuable asset to the community. One of the ways I started out was to keep hitting the F5 button on various Craigslist searches. While results may vary drastically based on your area (those of you who would be competing with a larger store or company could have less success), some of my best collection finds and most interesting stories have come from those I've purchased off Craigslist. If you're into reading Twitter threads of heartwarming Craigslist experiences, look no further than my most recent experience.

Most collections you'll find on Craigslist won't be all-stars. Some will be overpriced, and some won't even be worth asking about. "Or Best Offer" can only go so far when a person wants $300 for a few thousand cards from Theros block, so I want to reinforce the idea that reselling websites like these aren't going to be full of gems like they were in the old days. Regardless, it's still a good idea to keep checking to see if any new ads were posted every couple of days. Here are a few of the search terms I use when looking to buy, to make sure I'm covering all of the bases.

- "Magic the gathering cards"

- "MTG cards"

- "Magic cards"

- "MTG"


Here's an example of a listing that isn't really worth sending an offer about. The person is valuing their cards at higher than retail already, and they're only offering a "deal" of about 15% of what they think the value is. Definitely not worth my time or investment, and this is assuming all of the cards in the collection will be near mint.

One of the greatest investments I've made throughout the past several years have been business cards. Even before I had an LLC or did this as my full-time job, I paid a friend to do some graphic design work, and got an official looking logo to put on the back that had my TCGplayer store name, while my name and contact info on the other side. Once I got into the habit of handing these out at every collection buy/sell/trade that I did outside of the local game store, I started getting collections from those people's friends, relatives, and coworkers because they had passed along the business card. I want to reiterate that you shouldn't be passing these out in your LGS, but they're so helpful for the aforementioned situations where you can spread the word of "I'm here if you ever want to sell your cards."

What do I Pay?

That's a pretty good question. Phase one is finding someone who's looking to sell their collection for a sweet deal, but pricing stuff can be difficult when you're not just trading cards straight across based on their Market Price. I mentioned earlier that you'll want to pay a number that both gives them fair value for their cards, while also not putting your own time, effort and knowledge at zero dollars.

A general good rule of thumb of where to start is checking the buylist prices of the more expensive cards in the collection. By seeing the price that stores are immediately willing to pay for the cards in the collection (assuming that the cards are NM), you can provide transparency to the seller, and determine what the minimal amount you can cash out the collection for if you absolutely have to. For example, let's say for example that the collection is as follows;

- 5,000 commons and uncommons

- Two Commander decks

- A binder full of Standard staples

There's a lot to go through here if you've never bought something like this. Step one will be going through the decks and binder, pulling out the more valuable stuff. The definition of "more valuable stuff" can vary from person to person, but a good rule of thumb for beginners would be to have a buylist price for anything that you're paying a dollar or more on. All the Champion of Wits, all the Fumigates, and even the Sol Rings or Thought Vessels. The seller could reasonably pull those out and buylist them to TCGplayer buylist or a similar outlet, but that would require sorting, packaging, shipping, waiting to get paid, and accepting the conditioning changes that TCGplayer might make. In exchange for saving them all of that effort (and doing it yourself), you'll want to adjust the number that you pay accordingly.

Mid
Low
 Fumigate
$4.59
$1.98
Store QTY Price  
WoofandDargonGaming 1 $1.98
Chez Geek Boutique 3 $2.49
Jedi Temple 1 $2.50
packfresh nm 2 $2.70
Ponnis Point 1 $2.71
MTG lnventory 1 $2.76
Sotos Cards 1 $2.76

>> View all Prices for Fumigate <<

Store.TCGplayer.com allows you to buy cards from any of our vendors, all at the same time!
Shop, Compare & Save with TCGplayer.com! - [Store FAQ]
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Fumigate Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card


For example, the current TCGplayer buylist on Fumigate is $3. As a card with a Market Price of around $4.50, that's actually a really strong buylist number. If you're looking to resell parts of the collection, I highly doubt you'd be able to make any amount of money buying at $3 and then selling at $4 after fees and shipping. I personally pay $2 on Fumigates locally, because I know that I'll still manage to make a little after the time and costs associated with selling the card. The same goes for Sol Ring; depending on which Commander preconstructed deck it came out of, the buylist price generally hovers at around $1. That's a fair number to pay on a Ring from a collection, especially if you plan on reusing it in a deck yourself or trading it out eventually instead of reselling it. If your goal is to buy the collection and then flip it for a profit, you'll probably pay closer to .50 per card.

What about the higher end stuff? When it comes to a staple like Mox Opal, I'm more willing to pay a number that matches the current buylist, instead of having to go under a little like with the less expensive cards. Mox Opal's current high buylist price is $35, which is an alright number to buy at when the market price is around $55. If we list Opal at 55 on the site, we can expect around $47 or so after fees and shipping. That's not a massive profit margin, but assuming the collection is small and easy to flip, we don't need to triple our investment to make the buy worth it.

Mid
Low
 Mox Opal
$61.74
$46.00
Store QTY Price  
The Game Cave 1 $50.92
EMG Marketplace 1 $51.00
KnA Games 1 $52.61
Epik Cards & Games 1 $52.65
Infinite Consortium 3 $52.75
FORC Arizona 2 $53.00
Linden Cards 1 $54.41

>> View all Prices for Mox Opal <<

Store.TCGplayer.com allows you to buy cards from any of our vendors, all at the same time!
Shop, Compare & Save with TCGplayer.com! - [Store FAQ]
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Mox Opal Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card


As for the leftover bulk commons and uncommons, I always offer to pay a flat amount per thousand as long as they're all near mint, English, and facing the same direction. While that might seem like a lot of stipulations, I go through enough bulk on a regular basis that I really don't have the time to deal with (over) 9,000 Moderately Played, non-English Theros cards where every other card is upside down or backwards. Personally, I pay $2.50 per thousand in cash (or $3 in trade), because bulk can be somewhat difficult to move if you don't have a consistent out through Craigslist or a store owner who buys it off you. This number gives you room to make a few bucks off the "picks" you'll find like, while still paying a fair number that most other stores won't be able to match.

Another general rule of thumb is that the multiplier for what you should be paying will go down more as the size and difficulty of organizing/selling the collection goes up. If it's a bunch of binders that are already sorted and organized, you won't need to do as much work. If the collection is "here's a shoe box of rares I found in my basement,” you'll need to do a lot more leg work, and should be valuing your time accordingly.

End Step

There's a lot that goes into collection buying that I can't really cover entirely with a single article. I haven't even breached the subject of dealing specifically with high end cards like dual lands or power, obscure non-English or foil cards, or what to do when the bulk ends up being way more valuable than you expected. I could do an entire series on collection buying, or I could sprinkle these articles out so that I revisit the subject every once in awhile. Let me know what your thoughts are, and I'll adjust my schedule accordingly. Do you have any interesting collection stories to share, buying or selling? Let me know in the comments section below; thanks for reading!

- DJ Johnson




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