Just as it is good to get rid of unnecessary possessions in other parts of your life from time to time, a downsize of all or part of your Magic collection can be a good idea once or twice a year. I recently saw a really good tweet about the former from someone awesome at WotC like Zac Hill or Tom LaPille, but couldn't find it again to put here, so let's just pretend it is here, and pause and be thoughtful for a moment.
That was profound, wasn't it?
Anyway: A downsize is when you sort through your various boxes and binders, and remove all of the cards that:
- You aren't using.
- Won't use anytime soon.
- Own more than four of.
- You're unlikely to be able to trade away.
- May get banned soon (!)
- Are rotating out (of Standard or Extended) soon.
Then, in a Copperfield-esque feat of illusion, you convert these cards into cash to pay for your rent/event entry/a nice dinner, or consolidate them down into fewer cards/other product you will actually use. Plus, in the process you will free up lots of space for new cards in the future!
I'll now go through a three examples of when I've done this in the past year, giving examples of what cards I got rid of (and why), and how I turned them into something more useful to me. After that, some useful tips to help you go about this.
Note first though, that this process is not suggested to be a wise move on a purely financial-level—I'm not the guy to go to for advice on “gaining value,” and experts in such a field would probably recommend against and look down on what I'm detailing here. However, if like me you are primarily a player of Magic, and want to maximize the percentage of your collection that sees use, or minimize your expenditure on tournament entry, accessories, and new cards, then read on!
Downsize 1 - A folder of standard bulk to cash/credit:
Go get your Standard trade binder/box and have a flick through it. You might have some decent cards in there: planeswalkers, mythic swords, and fetchlands - but I bet you've also got an awful lot more total chaff: blue Leylines, rare allies from Zendikar, Engulfing Slagwurms, Prototype Portals, and the like. Now, be honest—is anyone really going to want to trade for these cards? Very unlikely. Someone, somewhere might want one for a Commander deck, but you have five of each, and as a busy individual who wants to actually play some games, are unlikely to find that one person.
All these cards are doing is taking up space and remaining stagnant amongst your actually worthwhile trades, making your binder look worse to those trawling through it to boot. Realize that right now these pages essentially look like this:
And then let the dealers have everything at $.10 a pop.
Each page like that above is going to get you about a dollar, and that's before you take into account every pocket being stacked three or four cards deep. Take that, add a card above bulk rate here and there, and you're looking at more like $5/page, which is not exactly chump change.
Remember also when doing this that many decent commons or uncommons that you have five, ten, or even more of from frequent drafting will fetch $.10 or more. If you don't mind spending ten minutes or so sorting through them (while the TV is on and you're waiting for the oven to get hot is a perfect time), they're an easy way to add another few dollars to the binder at near zero effort. Plus, cards such as Preordain, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Lightning Bolt can be pretty easy to trade away if you put them in their own section of your folder, particularly when dealers are selling them at 2-5 dollars each.
Bulk rares are $.10 regardless of whether the format has just rotated or not, so there isn't any particularly good time of year for such a downsize—just notice when your folder is getting a little heavy on cards that no one is interested in, and then hit up your friendly neighborhood dealer (or value trader wannabe).
I went on a cleanout run last Saturday, and after taking out the cards I wanted to keep to trade with later (a few M11 planeswalkers, some other $5-10 rares), received £30 cash for a half-full folder of bulk rares I would otherwise never be able to get rid of. This handily paid for my admittance to the Commander release event, with some change left over for a drink and a sandwich.
I also managed to trade in four event decks and a Marsh Flats for two additional Commander decks, leaving me with $90 of exciting new product, in exchange for some old things I was never going to use. Someone in the forums will probably argue I could've done better and managed to grind that into a full set of Power 9, a holiday to Las Vegas, and a Corvette Z06 over the course of a year, but as it was that sounded like more than a fair enough deal for me.
Downsize 2—Dumping playables before the end of a format/season:
Cards are only valuable for as long as there is a demand for them—this is why the aforementioned Engulfing Slagwurms are bulk rares, whereas cards people actually want (say, Splinter Twin) are worth a fair bit more. A lot of the changes in demand for a particular card or set of cards is hard to predict and seemingly random, which can make when to buy and sell a tricky proposition without expert advice.
However, there are some very obvious times when demand for cards changes—and the key ones we are considering here is when a card rotates out of a format, or that format's season comes to an end. Consider Faeries in October 2009: It had been arguably the best deck in Standard for the last year and a half, yet as soon as Zendikar was released and the cards are no longer Standard-legal, they massively dropped in value. Likewise, certain formats (I'm looking at you, Extended) are only interesting to players during the 2-3 months of PTQs where they are played each year. Even cards that will remain legal for some time in Extended, will tank in value as soon as round 1 on that last event of the season begins, and this is completely predictable.
As such, you know when you should downsize this subset of your collection well in advance, and have no excuse not to offload such cards you will no longer need while they are still valuable. However, be careful not to leave it until the absolute last minute. Dealers are not stupid, and come the last couple of events of a format or season; their buy places will be in decline, knowing the cards will shortly be in much less demand, and that many players will be looking to dump them. Most other players you may trade with should see this coming as well and will value these cards less accordingly—but don't take advantage if you find someone who can't see the sun in the sky, okay?
In line with the above, don't expect to get top dollar for your cards at the October Prerelease or last PTQ of the season. It's much better to jettison Extended cards two-thirds of the way through a PTQ season, and rotating Standard cards just before or at Nationals—and if you're lucky, something you want to move will be in high demand at such an event!
My next such downsize will be at Nationals in August, looking to move Zendikar block cards (though keeping staples for (Over?)Extended/Legacy such as the fetches, Stoneforge Mystic, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor), and my previous one consisted of Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block playables towards the tail end of the last Extended PTQs. I had nearly a full set of filter lands, along with playsets of more niche and deck-specific cards such as Mistbind Clique, Demigod of Revenge, the entirety of Gavin Verhey's Shamans deck, etc.
Midway through the season, I'd played a couple of events with different decks, enjoyed Mono-R, so kept that together in case I travelled for another PTQ. Everything else, I took with me to the dealer table. For not even that many cards, I ended up leaving with a load of foils for my common/uncommon cube, some other new and pimp stuff for a Commander deck, and about 60 quid (FYI: quid is to pounds what bucks are to dollars) in cash. The filter lands were getting me 2-5 each, the other cards all at least one. A month later, the buy prices were back down to rock bottom, where they've stayed: The most expensive filter land will only get you two while the rest are .50, and Mistbind Clique is a bulk rare. How the mighty have fallen.
Downsize 3—Dormant Legacy staples into 4 Bazaar of Baghdad:
Here comes the big one!
It was about a fortnight before Magic Weekend Paris, and in anticipation of attending another huge Magic event, I took some time to look through my collection and sort my trades folder out, while putting a few decks together. Around the same time, some friends and I had been discussing Vintage a lot, and fawning over Nathan's fully-powered deck whenever he brought it to the club. I'd played in three Vintage events previously, a couple using basically a Legacy mono-black deck (Dark Confidants, Sadistic Sacrament, and a whole load of discard) to little success, but made Top 8 in another using a dredge deck I'd borrowed from a friend, and loved every second of it.
As I re-sleeved my Legacy dredge deck, I saw I was short just four Bazaar of Baghdad and a couple sideboard cards from the Vintage version. I then looked at the Public events schedule, and saw a Vintage event taking place every day. I had a plan... To the internet!
Naturally, the internet instantly let me down, when I saw that a playset of Bazaars came in at around a thousand dollars. With a frown and a sigh, I returned to flicking through my collection.
"There sure are a whole lot of really nice cards I never use in here."
Hold on just a minute...
Really nice cards.
I never use.
Back to the Internet, and the StarCityGames.com buy list!
A playset of Tarmogoyf (which I couldn't play in any competitive deck due to lack of dual lands) was good for 160, possibly a little more taking into account the three Japanese ones. Dark Confidants (my mono-black deck having fallen out of favor after I acquired Force of Wills to finish Merfolk) added another 50-something. I pulled more cards I was never going to use out of my binder, and started a spreadsheet. A pair of Counterbalance—five each. A foil Jhoira of the Ghitu—fifteen. A whole bunch of one-of staples I had somehow acquired for decks I would never build or play came in at between 2 and 15 dollars each.
I quickly racked up nearly 700 dollars in cards I had acquired almost incidentally over the past three years and had no need for now. I put them all in a box along with some pieces of paper detailing their values, currency conversions between pounds, euros, and dollars, and a calculator. In my bag went the box, and the bag went with me to Paris.
Within three hours of arriving at the venue, after speaking and working with to various dealers and traders, having Nathan haggle on my behalf in multiple European languages, and firmly holding my ground with some intimidating sharks: mission accomplished. I had successfully downsized all of the Legacy cards I wasn't using, plus about $150, into this compact, four-card investment:
Sure, I might not get to use them that often, I surely didn't get the best possible deal, and some of the cards I traded away might be worth more now than they were then. But, my aim is to own cards I will use and enjoy, and these ones I certainly do. Plus, I can now play a “real” deck in every Constructed format. Priceless.
When you decide to undertake a downsize of your own, be it just a few bulk rares and spare uncommons, a block's worth of playables, or your entire collection, bear the following points in mind so you can get the best and fairest deal possible:
- Go prepared!—When I took that box of cards to Paris, I had several pages worth of buy prices from two different sites (SCG and a major European dealer), currency conversions, and some eBay print outs/dealer prices to back up my idea of the value of the Bazaars I was interested in. With rock-solid evidence such as this, only a fool would try to cheat you on the value of cards.
- Don't be afraid to say no!—Preparedness is half the battle when it comes to dealing with so-called “value traders,” and a lot of the rest is in you sticking to your guns and not accepting low-ball offers. Even though you are trading away cards you don't want any more, that doesn't mean you should accept anything other than a fair price for them.
- Don't leave it too late!—It bears repeating, that when it comes to pre-rotation and end of season clear outs, you can never act too early. Don't get caught out and accept an offer of third what you could've had for your cards by putting it off for too long.
- Value your time!—In all of the cases above, I know I could've gotten a better deal had I put more time and effort into it. However, as a player and busy person, you need to value the convenience and extra time that a dealer or value trader will offer you. Sure, you can squeeze out a few extra dollars on a playset of cards by going to eBay or MOTL, but oftentimes by doing so when the volume of cards you are selling is so low, you're essentially working a minimum-wage job in your spare time. Time you could be using to fire up another draft on MTGO, or play a Commander game over a beer with friends. An easy choice, in my mind.
I hope you've all enjoyed my first steps into the world of trading, with what I think is a vastly different perspective to most “Magic finance” writers. I'm not going to be making this the subject of all my articles, but if you'd like to hear some more of my thoughts on trading, be sure to say so on twitter or in the forums.
May all of your collection see play, and none of it gather dust!