A few years ago, I had a collection of Magic cards that numbered well above 150,000 cards. In the right hands, such a collection would be a manageable size. However, my ability to organize things is highly dichotomous. When it comes to my job, I'm very punctual and organized. When it comes to anything else, I have, shall we say…organizational problems.
Some of my cards were nicely filed away in binders. The majority—including dual lands, mythics, and valuable cards—were literally in a giant pile that occupied a walk-in clothes closet. It was a nightmare. In a fairly misinformed article on the value of Magic cards as a collectable entity, I saw this picture:
Imagine that, but with all rarities and playability levels mixed together, six feet tall, and occupying a room. That was my Magic collection.
When I moved, I actually just bought giant plastic containers and threw all the cards in to create monstrously heavy boxes that required three people to move up a flight of stairs.
Eventually, all good, absurd things must come to a point of lesser absurdity.
So I'm here to tell you how I (to some degree of efficiency) cut my Magic collection down to around 3% of its original size. I'm no Chas Andres on the trading floor. I'm just a person who sold a lot of random Magic cards for…well…in many cases, fewer but fancier Magic cards (and honestly, a bit of fun by the end of it).
Step 1: Organizing Our Cards
Not everyone will need to go through this step, but it's very important to actually be able to physically manage your cards while you're going through your collection. It would have taken me forever to put all of my cards into any coherent order by myself.
My solution was to find several Magic players from the area who didn't have a lot of money to purchase cards and to pay them—in cards—to organize my collection. I bought sorting boxes and developed basic criteria (I wanted cards sorted by set and rarity for this first pass). They came over and sorted for a few hours every once in a while. Their incentive was that they could take, within reason, any cards they wanted. I had an internal "soft cap" on what they could take, but they never reached it, so I never had to share it with them.
It's surprisingly easy to "just let go" of cards that you never knew you had in the first place.
Fast forward a few weeks. We now have a collection that's sorted by rarity and set. Theoretically. Remember that some sets don't have obvious membership criteria (i.e., Unlimited vs. Revised can take a second glance), the older sets didn't broadcast their rarities, and there were some hideously bad rares. Mistakes were inevitable. That doesn't really matter, though.
Step 2: Deciding What to Do with Our Collection
Cutting down a massive collection isn't an arbitrary process. If we don't have a goal, then we're just making random decisions without intention and hope that everything turns out ok. That's fine for people getting out of the game entirely, but for those of us just hoping to create a more manageable collection, we need a game plan.
I decided that I wanted build a cube and wanted to keep up to four copies (irrespective of set) of every card that I considered playable in Standard, Modern (Extended), Legacy, or Commander (EDH). I decided not to keep foils.
That seems like a broad list. Playability is a broad category, and it is very subjective. That's fine because we're working with our own collections.
Let's take a look at Legions for an easy example. Let's also assume that I kept copies of the Slivers for casual value. Here are the cards of which I kept up to four copies:
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Bane of the Living
Caller of the Claw
Phage the Untouchable
That may seem like a lot, but let's put it into context. There are 145 unique cards in the Legions expansion, but there are only 26 cards on my list. Assuming I only had four copies of each card, I'd be keeping 104 cards out of 580. It's much more likely, though, that I had as many as ten or twenty copies of some commons—especially those that were good in Draft since much of my collection was just Draft decks thrown in the closet after FNM. In reality, this list probably eliminates over 1,000 cards from the collection.
Further, a number of these cards have been reprinted. In non-premium sets, around a third of the cards on this Legions list have been reprinted. We simply select our favorite printing of those cards (i.e., Legions White Knight over Revised White Knight) and exclude the rest.
Going through this set-by-set is fairly time consuming, but it's worth it because at the end we will have set aside a much, much smaller block of cards that will constitute our collection (until the next set is released).
Step 3: Selling Foils
If, like me, you've decided not to keep foils, then I recommend selling them first because they're the easiest to manage. The buylist here on Starcitygames.com is a quick way to determine which cards are bulk foils and which are not. Depending on the amount of time that you want to spend on these, your decisions may vary. When I began selling my foils, this is the process I used:
1. Identify which cards are bulk foils and which are not and separate them by relative price level in several boxes
2. (optional) Take all of your foils to your local game store or approach individuals with cubes or who are in the process of building a cube and let them know that you have foils for sale. Also contact individuals who play a lot of Commander. You can get better-than-average prices in these instances.
3. (optional) Find online message boards for your local Magic community. Offer to sell random stacks of bulk foil commons/uncommons. I sold mine at $3.00 per 20 (a fair midpoint between SCG buy and sell prices).
4. You now have a remaining stack of bulk foils. SCG will pay $0.05/foil for bulk or $0.063/foil in trade for bulk. They also pay $0.25/foil for bulk foil rares. This is a quick and easy process—I traded the remainder of my bulk foils for a copy of The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale for my cube. This embodies the magic sensation of space conservation.
5. (optional) If you have the time, I'd consider selling any remaining foils (i.e., those above bulk value) on eBay if they exceed a certain price point. In my case, I sold most foils worth more than $2 in SCG buylist prices.
6. Sell the remaining foils (i.e., those between bulk value and $2/each) to SCG. If you skipped the previous step, you still get decent value by selling all foils. I discourage selling any highly expensive foils (i.e., foil Tarmogoyf) anywhere for buylist prices.
Step 4: Selling Rares
The middle-sized stack of cards you have to sell is your rares/mythics. I recommend selling these second because you still will have some energy left after selling your foils won't have eBay fatigue yet. The process is similar to how we got rid of foils with some exceptions. Steps 1 and 2 are similar; just replace "foils" with "rares."
When we get to step 3, we use slightly different price points. In general, the "dollar rare" is what players expect to see at stores. I was happy to sell rares for $0.25/each to members of my local Magic community. I also sold "packs" of 20 rares for $4/each to encourage bulk buying.
For step 4, we can sell the remainder of our bulk rares and mythics to SCG for $0.10/card or $0.125/card in trade value. Because of the cost of shipping large quantities of rares, I strongly encourage waiting for a large event to come to a city near you so that you can trade in person. I also recommend waiting until the main event has started to sell cards so that people who need to sell cards for their entry fee are able to process their transactions. The other nice thing about doing this is that your SCG "buylist guru" at these events will scan through your cards, identify those worth more, and pay you accordingly.
I used the same price point for steps 5 and 6 that I did with foils. I listed cards with a SCG buylist value over $2 on eBay, and I sold the remaining cards to SCG for the appropriate prices. There are a lot of rares in the $0.50 - $1.00 range.
Step 5: Selling Commons/Uncommons
By now, we're probably a bit tired of sorting through cards, but we're almost done. There are some very valuable uncommons in Magic, but we can be a little less careful here (Wastelands, Aether Vials, et al. excepted).
At this point, I separated my commons and uncommons into two loosely defined types. The first type was "playable but I have already set aside my four copies" and "relatively unplayable."
I once again completed step 1 from before, except that I only brought my excess playable cards when I approached Cube and/or Commander players. No one is interested in sorting through a collection with 100 Squires in it. Then, for step 3, I offered giant stacks of playable commons and uncommons at the 40% point between SCG buy and sell prices. For example, Counterspell from Ice Age is $1.49 if they buy it from the store, and SCG buys them for around $0.10/each. So I sold 20 of them at $0.50/each.
Sometimes you will have large stacks of cards that don't have a buyer in your local area but that still have some value. In these cases, you can get a lot of value from SCG buylist prices once again. I had 63 copies of Ancient Den, which is $6.30 in cash or $7.88 in trade value. That's a quick and easy transaction that you can repeat for any valuable commons. Again, though, I suggest completing these transactions in person rather than through the mail.
With your true bulk commons and uncommons, I recommend checking with any local stores to see if they are interested in purchasing them at $4 per 1000 cards. Many stores sell products like "Frankenboosters" and need commons/uncommons with which to package their grab-bag rares. If you can't find an opportunity like this, SCG has your back and will purchase cards at $3.00 per 1000 in person. Again, it's a terrible idea to ship bulk commons through the mail.
Step 6: Relax
With a large, unorganized collection, this process can take a long time. My goal with this article was to share with you some of the techniques that I used to organize my collection and maximize value from my cards while minimizing effort.
Hopefully, there's someone else out there with a closet full of cards just waiting to be sold…