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Collecting Dust

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Week in and week out, I have discussed the finer points of trading; up until now, I have concentrated mostly on trading at shows or local shops. This week, I want to talk about one of the most integral parts of being a professional floor trader: collections. Very few people play this game for an extremely long time, meaning at some point, each trader will be looking to unload what was once his or her hobby and money sink. These people, of course, can do this by means of the Internet or local hobby shops in their areas. As a floor trader, one of the ways we make the most amount of money is in seeking out these collections from individuals who have decided to move on . . . for now. I am going to break this column up into a two-part miniseries in order to cover everything I feel is pertinent. This week, I will be talking about acquisitions, which I had only touched on in a previous article. Next week, I will be discussing the process that is involved once you have actually acquired the collection—the “fun” part, which involves sorting and organizing.

So, where do you begin when seeking these treasure troves of long-lost power and fortune? That really depends on your resources at the time and whether you want to invest a large portion of capital. Assuming you already have some cash stowed away, the best place to start your search is, of course, the Internet. Scouring sites every few days can eventually pay off if you know what to look for and how to go about the acquisition. Let us assume you have $500 to work with on your first deal, and you find a couple listings that have potential.

Listing 1: I played Magic back during my college days and have since lost interest. I played for about three years and just no longer have the time to devote like I used to. I now have a wife and a kid on the way, and these cards are just taking up space in my closet. I don’t know what all is among them, but I had some very powerful decks built when I used to play with my friends in the dorms. I just want them gone, so I will take $500 or best offer. There are probably ten to fifteen thousand cards and two binders full of rares and foils. If you have any questions, contact me at 555-5555. Please don’t ask if I have any particular cards; I don’t want to take the time to go through them. I just want them gone!

In the above example, we can determine a number of things just from the small amount of information provided. The first and most important part is that this guy is probably a casual player who may have made a few small tournaments but is unlikely to have made it to anything bigger than an FNM. Given this information, we can imagine that his trading potential was limited to his and his friends’ card pool, meaning it is unlikely he will have play sets of anything, and if he does, it is not likely to be of anything expensive. We can also deduce that he has probably not picked through the boxes in some time, meaning there could be anything from complete and utter bulk garbage to a stack of Sensei's Divining Tops. While formulating a response, it is extremely important to keep this in mind so as to covertly scour the collection without ever having to see it. This is especially important if you have someone who is seeking to get rid of his or her collection unseen—gathering all the information you can in these cases is key. Another piece of information that is given to us is that he only played for a short amount of time. We can deduce from the fact that he is now married and just now having a child that it was probably not that long ago when he played—probably within the past five years. We can reaffirm this initial thought as we read further into the listing where he mentions foils, which of course were not printed in the early days of Magic. This, of course, means we are unlikely to hit the Alpha/Beta jackpot, but that does not mean we should dismiss this collection all together.

Now that we have our initial assessment out of the way, it is time to prepare for contact with the seller. When buying a collection, it is very important to know what to ask and what to stray away from when inquiring. For example, in the above listing, it would be a good idea to ask the gentleman if he remembers what years or sets he played during; this will allow us to identify what commons and uncommons we can be looking to find. Some of the better blocks to look out for include Mirrodin, Kamigawa, and Onslaught. All of these blocks contain valuable commons and uncommons, which give the shot in the dark a better chance of success. The next question I would ask the gentleman is how many cards each of the binders contained—an approximation would do. If we can at this point come look at the collection, that would obviously be ideal, but many sellers just want the sight-unseen approach so you don’t try to nickel-and-dime them.

If you are in a situation in which you have the spare capital (spare is the key word here) and feel like taking a risk on a sight-unseen collection, there are some things you should consider when coming up with a price. The first is that even the worst of cards have some value; everything from a basic land to a Chimney Imp is worth something. On an average day, you should be able to get $5 per thousand on bulk cards and twelve to fifteen cents each on bulk rares. Keeping this in mind, and assuming the gentleman approximates nine hundred rares between the binders, we are looking at a bare minimum of:

($.12 × 900) + (10 × $5) = $158

This is assuming there is absolutely nothing in this entire collection worth anything—if that’s the case, this would be the number we could expect on return in a worst case scenario. Knowing your bottom dollar helps when making an offer to someone. If you ever find a collection selling for less than the bottom line, it is almost insane not to pick it up. In this case, we have nearly $350 between our bottom dollar and his asking price. How do we decide where we should be in that range? I will usually decide based on where we are on the Magic spectrum of time; if this guy played during Mirrodin block, the chances of coming up bust is slim. On the other hand, if he was a huge Saviors of Kamigawa fan, it may be best to leave this one be. Let’s assume for this exercise that he played from Scourge until Planar Chaos, meaning he played just under three years. Now that we have a timeline, we can look at the commons and uncommons we may find—that is typically where most of the hidden value is. We have cards like Aether Vial and Top that top out over $10 all the way down to cards like Manriki-Gusari that don’t have a ton of value but make great trade bait. Assuming his collection has an average separation, we can expect to see at least a few of these high-dollar cards, meaning we are looking at another $50 to $100 there. From there, I would assume the same for rares, and considering those sets had a solid number of playable rares that have held value because of Commander or Legacy, we can assume at least another $100. On a collection like this, I would offer $300 and expect a counter down to four hundred, at which point I would still feel fairly comfortable that I could make a solid profit.

Listing 2: I have been playing Standard and am looking to unload my cards to get into Legacy. I also need some spare cash to buy a new truck, so if anyone would like to make an offer, here is a list of the cards I have available:

(Random card list with prices)

I have included what the retail price is for each, and although I know I won’t get that, I also don’t want to be ripped off, so serious offers only please. Contact me at 555-5555 for any information I have not provided. Thanks for looking!

These types of collections are far harder to make money from, but it’s still not impossible. I will usually take a look at from where the seller is sourcing his or her prices and figure out if there is much discrepancy there compared to what I would normally pay for a card. Knowing that the seller is seeking Legacy cards is also a great boon considering he or she is likely to take less than retail on cards in trade for your Legacy staples.

Deducing key factors from the information provided is just something that comes with practice after dealing with enough collections. It is always nerve wracking to deal with someone the first few times—you are walking a fine line between profit and insulting your seller. In order to make this process easier, try to make the seller as comfortable as possible; someone is far more likely to be reasonable and lenient on prices if you are willing to come to him or meet him in his desired location. It is also wise to be friendly. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours talking with him, but even just talking about the game or what took him out is sometimes enough. You will find it far easier to make him your friend than just a business transaction. People usually like friendly banter, so oblige and talk about what he used to play. This may also give you a window into sight-unseen collections you would not otherwise have had before purchase.

Well, that’s all I have for this week; there are so many more things I can discuss on this subject that I may come back to it down the road. Of all the things to be good at, acquiring collections may be among the most important in our business. Remember that creating friends not only makes the process easier, but it also gives you a chance at future business. I have had someone I bought a collection from call me to tell me his friend was interested in selling as well, which, naturally, is never a bad thing. Leaving someone with a sour taste can only hurt you in the end; instead, leave him with a smile. Everyone can be happy in this business!

Ryan Bushard

@CryppleCommand