In the world of a grinder, every trade is an attempt to gain small incremental value. Though this works to assemble a solid binder over time, it’s not the most effective way to build a true collection. So if not on the trade floor, where do we make our big gains? The answer lies in a multitude of places, but buying larger collections from those who no longer play the game is usually the most effective way. This week, I will be discussing the acquisition of collections through both cash and trades.
Any time you are dealing with a collection, the key is to remember that the rules change from that of a usual trade or buy. The first major difference is the margins. While in a trade you will usually make between 10% and 20%, a collection can have you netting 50% or more regularly. Collections also contribute to expanding your stock in a way that would otherwise be difficult through just trading; it is very difficult to sell someone who is still in the game on the idea of parting with his dual lands for 50% of their value.
When acquiring a large collection, you have to make sure you cover your own behind while at the same time attempting not to rake over the coals the guy you are buying from. If he only has a few thousand cards, it is easy to look through them and just keep a tally of how much you pay on each card. In my experience, however, I find that it is rarely the case that you deal with small collections. Most people who played this game in the beginning had large collections, because buying packs was the best way of acquiring cards. There were no websites or even retailers in some areas; instead, you relied on what you could open and what your small playgroup had. Because of this, the older collections tend to contain a great number of cards, sometimes more than you have time to go through. If the seller is willing to allow you access to the cards to search, though, it makes the process better for both parties. However, if he would prefer just to sell the collection as-is, there are a few key questions to ask.
1. When did you play Magic?
This is a key factor in knowing what sets he might own and what hidden treasures the boxes may possess. This also allows you to have a general idea of how much interest you have in his stock. If he played during Fallen Empires and Homelands, you are certainly less likely to want that collection than if he played during Legends and Arabian Knights.
2. How often did you play?
This question relates to the first one. If he was a once-a-week player back in Legends, he probably wasn’t competitive, so in these collections, you are less likely to find complete playsets of cards, but at the same time more likely to find hidden gems. Casual players typically have ADD when it comes to deck-building, so it’s likely that you’ll find a greater variety in this person’s collection than in a Spike’s. However, as the sets get newer, it’s the Spikes who have the more exciting collections, on average. If you know someone played competitively during Mirrodin block, he’s likely to have a lot of cards that still hold value today. Casual players may have a great variety, but they usually only have so many of each rare, so even if you find a valuable rare, it’s unlikely you’ll find a whole set.
3. Why are you parting with these cards?
This is, in my opinion, the most important question of the three. Though it may not seem like it matters, it allows you to gauge a multitude of things. The first is how much of a rush he’s in to sell it. If someone is moving later that weekend, it’s a bet he is willing to take slightly less to just move the cards. In these cases, he doesn’t always want to take the time to let you look, so you may get the collection for a real steal. The second is to gauge how much of his collection is actually for sale. If he mentions that he is keeping a few decks or isn’t getting rid of certain cards, it’s important to ask what he is keeping. If he is keeping a personal collection still, be wary; you may be getting the dregs.
Once you have gathered this information, you can better gauge how you want to handle the acquisition, or if you are even still interested. Never feel obligated to buy a collection; just because he doesn’t want it doesn’t mean you do!
As a rule of thumb, it is important to know that you can always get $5 for a thousand bulk commons and uncommons. With this in mind, remember that, worst-case scenario, you can always resell a truly bulk collection for this. I will usually offer $5 to $6 per thousand cards if I am not given the chance to search through a collection. Using this knowledge in combination with the abovementioned questions allows me to formulate a price for unknown collections.
If you are allowed to look through the collection, keep a running tally of all money cards and then base the price on a percentage of the resale value of each card. My formula goes something like this:
This allows you to profit while at the same time giving a fair price to the seller. Everyone uses different numbers and percentages, but the basic idea is the same. This is of course assuming cash values; trade-in value for newer cards is a far higher percentage and is a person-by-person case. A great example of this is a trade I made when Box to Extended was first starting last month. A gentleman at my local shop was looking to get rid of an old collection from Urza’s block and in exchange was looking for Standard cards for his casual decks.
−3 Grave Titan
+ Urza collection
In the collection was nearly the full block’s worth of cards and had multiple copies of some of the midrange cards. The only big-ticket items that were missing were the Academy and the Cradle. Although I ended up with the better end of this deal, AJ fully understood the value. This is an example of a casual player using his cards to get into a new format or deck, and although the values are off, the new cards are worth far more to him than what he had.
+ approx. 300 bulk rares
Okay, so I can’t even list all the cards I obtained in this trade. I was questioning what I was doing as I was doing it—the only redeeming factor is that there were three hundred rares. Worst-case scenario, I can sell these rares for cash and still come out ahead; however, for the binder, losing Metamorphs was rough. This trade was to help a friend out and therefore wasn’t extremely profitable, but it shows the basic idea of how to turn your rares into bulk cash equivalent.
I was looking to cover Innistrad this week, but I feel that I haven’t studied the spoiler enough to give the best opinion from a financial aspect. Unlike players, as a grinder, you have to look past the flash. Instead of concentrating on the Snapcaster Mages of the format, you have to find the Kessig Cagebreaker sleepers. Next week, I will be covering the set in depth from A to Z, with my honest opinion of each rare and money uncommon that Innistrad has to offer. I feel that this set has a lot more value than people are giving it credit for. I certainly don’t believe it’s a Worldwake, but it’s certainly not a Fallen Empires, either. I really like the flavor of the set, but that doesn’t make it a great one, so after some studying and analysis of the cards in various formats this weekend, I will have a better idea of future values. Expect a full analysis for next week’s release event; know what to pick up and what to dump.
I wanted to include a few more trades, but I left my book stating all the current trades in my bag, so I don’t have exact details at the moment. I can say that I was trading heavily for Leonin Arbiter, Cemetery Reaper, Vengeful Pharaoh, Visions of Beyond, and Necrotic Ooze. Given the nature of the grave theme in this set, even if these cards don’t see much play, their prices will surely rise, even if just temporarily. Arbiter, of course, fits in with Ghost Quarter and at a dollar is a sure pickup.
Well, that’s all for this week’s edition of Box to Extended. After Montreal this past weekend, I expect a very volatile market for the next few weeks given the bannings in Modern and Legacy. With the banning of Misstep in Legacy, I could certainly see an increase in previous staples such as Lackey that have taken a small dip due to the card’s existence. In addition to Innistrad, next week, I will discuss the bannings in further detail.
Until then, keep on trading!