The number of different cards printed per year has skyrocketed. Furthermore, new card treatments, styles and limited edition sets make knowing the dollar value of any card in real time challenging. Nowadays there are so many reprints that what was once a solid ten dollar card can become 50 cents overnight. A lot of players use card scanning apps for trade value or for collection management. However, for collections with thousands of cards, there are some issues with relying on apps.
There are multiple reasons scanners don’t always work well. They can record the wrong edition, the wrong card entirely, in the wrong art treatment and also don’t take into account condition. When you’re feeding in the wrong information you’re getting the wrong evaluation.
On the buying side, it’s not possible to heavily scrutinize every single card in even an average collection of just a few thousand, and scanning them all would take equally long. Luckily, there are a few tips that work for the vast majority of collections to simplify the evaluation process and make it easy on both buyers and sellers to quickly reach a fair middle ground.
The goal of this article is to equip you with some basic knowledge in terms of purchasing your first MTG collection and pricing out your loot efficiently and effectively.
Know the Value of Cardboard
Any day of the week you can purchase cards from a variety of sites. Let’s take a look at a very reputable marketplace and see what bulk cardboard goes for.
With tax and shipping, you can see that $20 or thereabout will let anyone buy 1,000 bulk cards over the last year. Compared to the price of packs, this is certainly a bargain on the quantity side of things. Of course, your odds of pulling anything great in a bulk lot are next to zero. That said, this is a good indicator of the rough value of 1,000 cards. Most retail stores buy bulk between $5-$10 per thousand.
On the selling side, once you pay fees and shipping plus your overhead, you’re typically only bringing in a few extra dollars. It’s not a particularly large margin, most of the time, and it takes a lot of work and space churning through bad cards.
The fact is that even bad cards, in quantity, have value but that value is extremely well defined. Trying to buy 1,000 cards for less than $5? Good luck. Trying to sell 1,000 bulk cards for more than $25? No way. Certainly there is a lot of ground between those two price points.
When you are buying collections first-hand, you have some advantages. Are there sets in the collection that have particularly valuable commons and uncommons? Is the collection in played condition or pack fresh? These are factors that can help you decide how decent the overall value is going to be.
Pack fresh bulk that appears to have a high percentage of uncommons will likely have the decent cards players want for deck building or resale. Unsorted bulk that has not been picked over has relatively good value. As a seller, if you know you have not scooped out every single common or uncommon worth $1 or more, your bulk has decent value and you can ask for more and likely get it. If it’s been picked over or the cards are in relatively played condition ,they simply are not worth very much. For a generic “collection” of 5,000 bulk cards, a value of between $25 and $100 is very fair. Great condition, lots of uncommons, not picked over? You’re closer to $100. Nothing good and many cards are heavily played, damaged, or otherwise not pack fresh? You’re closer to $25.
What about rares or foil cards? Bulk rares and bulk foils are the penny stocks of Magic. Sometimes they go up in value and you feel really good but most of the time they’re worth only a few pennies. You can buy 1,000 bulk rares for pretty close to $100 retail and vendors typically pay one to four cents each. Unfortunately, there simply is not a lot of value to demand here.
Asking for more than this, or offering less, are going to get you nowhere. Know what you have, know what you’re looking at and you should be able to arrive at a fair compromise on value for the bulk portion of a collection pretty quickly. Keep in mind that the vast majority of any collection is bulk.
Know the High Value Singles
Wilds of Eldraine has two very valuable cards in Beseech the Mirror and Agatha’s Soul Caudron. The next most valuable card? Moonshaker Cavalry at roughly half the price, and, Virtue of Loyalty // Ardenvale Fealty at half the price of that. After these few cards value quickly goes down. The vast majority of cards from most sets are not worth very much. This is very, very normal. Here you can scan these few really valuable cards, scrutinize them, and know that on a good day they are “worth” pretty close to that amount but most other cards simply are worth a lot less.
However, note pricing trends. A $25 card that was selling at $30 last week is likely worth less than a $25 card that was $20 last week. Consider it Newton’s Fourth Law of Magic card prices; cards that are going down tend to stay down, cards that are going up tend to continue going up. In any case, this is where the vast majority of the value in a collection resides and any real negotiation should take place at this level. There is a lot of variability in terms of what constitutes a fair offer but as a seller you cannot expect to sell everything at full price. Typically your best bet is simply to ask the buyer what percentage they are looking to pay and accepting that offer or not.
In general, buylists start at around 50% of non-bulk card value and can go higher, percent wise, based on how popular a particular card is but can also go down based on condition. Card condition matters, always, and vintage cards need to be more heavily inspected due to age and also who is buying them. This means that collectors generally want better condition cards but deck builders tend to care about finding the card for the lowest price. Not every card appeals to every buyer in the same way and that means that not every $20 card is worth $20 to every player so you will have to accept less to sell now or wait forever to find that exact buyer.
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Know the Value of Money
What is fair? At one end of the equation is cash which has the utility to buy anything, now. At the other end, magical cardboard rectangles that, sometimes, can be worth a lot of cash to the right player, other times not so much. The nice thing is local stores and online buylists establish a price floor where it does not make sense to sell under. If you add up your most valuable cards and add in the rest as bulk you’ve got a pretty general idea of the approximate value of your collection on any given day.
Keep in mind that value isn’t the same thing as money, though. $100 in cash is way better than $100 in cards because you can always go get the cards with that amount of cash. The reverse is seldom true. There is a fee for liquidity when you exchange goods for money. A scanned list of $250 in cards is almost never going to result in $250 in cash unless they are all pack fresh, in demand cards.
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Pay for Value you See
Never buy based on the hope you will find something. There is either an amount of value in a collection or there isn’t. Sure, you will find a good card tucked away in a bulk box now and then, but the vast majority of the time, good cards are sorted in a box or waiting in a binder.
As a seller, it’s your job to present the collection and show the value. That is the only way to expect an offer that makes sense. If you are a seller and keep getting offers way below what you think your collection evaluates at, find out why. Are you overvaluing cards? Have they rotated out of a format, become banned, or are no longer meta and thus no longer desirable? Is there damage or general condition issues you didn’t see before? On the other hand your local market may simply be saturated, it might make more sense to buylist your collection off or at least accept an offer just above a buylist evaluation if you would rather have money than cardboard.
As a buyer, if you insist on sticking to offers that are incredibly low you will get less referrals. It’s way better to be known as the buyer that pays a little more than the buyer that pays the least around. Ultimately, wanting to pay pennies for dollars is not fair, wanting full price for every single card is also not fair. When both parties identify what is bulk and what is high value, you should be able to reach a compromise in short order and not waste each others time.
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