I am an ambitious Thanksgiving cook. Before the meal, three pies and two boxes of stuffing seem like a necessity. I make enough potatoes to feed a Boros Legion, my bird is the size of a Jurassic predator, and I make a large pot of cranberry sauce despite the fact that no one has ever actually enjoyed eating a cranberry. Needless to say, a large portion of the food I make goes uneaten at Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving leftovers are tasty, but they are also a burden. Dumping a little of everything on some doughy white bread in order to make a Thanksgiving sandwich is a solid plan for lunch on Friday, but by that night I'm sick of eating turkey and trimmings. I want to order a pizza and call it a week, but my fridge full of food seems to mock me. "What kind of a greedy schmuck are you?" says half a bowl of creamed onions. "You made all this food, and now you must eat it all or you are a lousy American."
So I spend the weekend and the first part of next week trying to make turkey taste like something else. Turkey tacos? Why not! Turkey soup? Sure! Gravy potato sadness bowls that are only acceptable when drunk? Don't ask! By the following Wednesday, I usually decide that my leftover turkey has 'gone bad' even if I know in my heart that it has weeks of life left. Into the trash it goes, and out comes the pizza phone. Thanks for the farming advice, Squanto!
There are large swaths of my Magic collection that remind me of my leftover turkey problem. Stacks of draft leavings, boxes filled with bulk, the giblets from collection buys that have long since had the good meat pulled off the bones. For me, these leftovers span twelve large priority flat rate boxes in my closet, a dozen flat-rows stored beneath my Commander deck cabinet, and several fat packs in my desk drawer that seem to fill up with random cards at the rate of one box per week.
A few months ago, I decided to sort through my leftovers once and for all and develop an action plan for reducing the clutter and squeezing what value I could muster out of cards that I had more or less given up on. I went through my drawer first, and most of what I uncovered were recent specs and the fruits of forgotten trades. I try to track all of my purely speculative buys via spreadsheet so I can see how well I'm doing, but after a big event or a collection purchase the entire thing tends to get a little bit muddled. I ended up sorting these cards into one of five places:
My trade binder, for in-demand rares I am willing to move at current market value.
My not-for-trade binder, for rares I'm waiting to mature or expensive cards like Mox Jet that I'm not going to bring to a regular FNM. This is important to have, because otherwise everyone is going to try and trade for the handful of cards you're still trying to stock up on.
My bulk spec box, for stacks of 40-50 of the same card that I'm holding long term.
My collection binders, for cards I am going to keep for personal use. Generally Commander stuff and weird foils.
The turkey pile - for sub-$2 rares, draft leavings, tokens, and other ephemera.
The organization of trade binders and collections is a topic for a different time, but needless to say there are dozens of effective methods. This week, I'd like to focus on the turkey pile. And when it comes to the scraps, I like to start with the rares.
Rares are like the cornbread muffins of Thanksgiving leftovers - there are always a few left behind, but they'll be snagged out of the fridge long before the last of the cranberries have been dumped down the sink. Four or five years ago it was possible to find a place to sell bulk rares for $0.15 or even $0.20 cents each, but those days are long behind us. Star City pays $0.10 each for any bulk rare, which is a fair deal provided you can send them enough cards to more than cover shipping costs or you're willing to wait until the Open Series comes to town. You might have luck moving seemingly bulk rares to individual stores or collectors looking to fill in complete sets, but that's a lengthy process for only a few extra pennies and you can usually only sell one or two copies at a time to these sources. In general, getting a dime apiece and moving on with your life is fine.
There is another option though; I haven't personally sold a bulk rare in years. Since $0.10 each is the absolute bottom of the market, I can reasonably assume that outing my bulk to Star City at that rate is always an option if I want to pursue it. Instead of selling these cards now, I store them in long flat row boxes and wait for the day that they spike. Even though 95% of these rares will never amount to anything, I'm always randomly rewarded whenever a Disrupting Shoal or a Glittering Wish surges from $1 to $15. I pick through my bulk rares every six months or so, and I have never not found a small stack of cards that have tripled or quadrupled in price. It's like a small vegetable garden that occasionally supplies me with a tasty side dish.
If you're short on space or patience, you can modify my plan by bulking out the rares that are clearly never going to spike. Mahamotti Djinn and his ilk are never going to be anything more than ten-cent rares, and most pre-Urza block cards that haven't found a home in fifteen years aren't suddenly going to become Legacy relevant. Any creature with a converted mana cost above three, pricy removal, and most enchantments are worth bulking out, as is anything that has been outclassed due to power creep.
Almost everything in a Modern card frame is worth hanging on to though, and that's where I've found the majority of my found value tends to come from. Between Commander and rogue Modern decks, it's impossible to say which random thing from Shadowmoor might spike next. As a rule of thumb, anything that can get better as more cards are printed - generic tribal boosters, subset tutors, and utility creatures - are especially good holds.
If you want to be more thorough, you can sort your bulk rares by Star City retail price and use that as a guideline for what to keep. I usually make three or four piles - the $0.50 pile, the $0.75-$1 pile, the $1.50-$2 pile, and the over $2 pile. The $0.50 pile generally contains the true bulk, and most of these cards can safely be bulked out for $0.10 each. The over-$2 pile either ends up in my main spec box or my trade binder. Everything in between? That's the sweet spot for cards that have a shot at spiking. The fact that a card has managed to rise above the bottom bulk price at some point means that some demand exists, and that opens the door much wider for the possibility of future gains.
Another option I love (and have brought up in the past) is putting together a 2-for-1 rare box for FNM trading. Go through the $0.50 pile, find the most interesting casual rares, and drop them in a fat pack box. Go to FNM and allow people to trade any of their bulk rares for any of yours at a 2-for-1 rate. After you've made enough deals, go back through the box, pull everything that retails for $1 or more, and re-stock from your $0.50 pile. You'll always make marginal value - remember, everything had a 'real' price of $0.10 - and you can occasionally hit on an undervalued casual rare.
One of the biggest problems many people have when sorting bulk rares is identifying the rarity of pre-Exodus cards. Without the rarity symbol, the only way to know what cards are rare is by rote memorization. It's easy enough to figure out which cards are common due to the sheer number of them, but to this day there are some Ice Age uncommons that I think are rares and some Alliances rares that I think are uncommon. If you have enough old set knowledge to pull 90-95% of rares by sight, it's okay to miss out on a couple of dimes here and there though. If not, your best option is to hold off on pulling the rares from these sets for now and waiting until you go through the secondary sort. If you're totally lost, visual spoilers are your friend.
I wrote an article last year about what a waste of time it was to try and sell random commons and uncommons to a buylist. After several hours of work, I only made a few theoretical dollars and called the whole experiment hogwash. This still holds true if you only have a few thousand cards scattered from sets throughout the history of Magic, which is what I was pawing through when I wrote that piece. If your set is big enough though, you've got another option: sorting all of your bulk by set and then buylisting from there.
Sorting by set is not an activity I recommend unless you have a high tolerance for sorting cards, and you either live by yourself or with a spouse/roommate who has a high tolerance for cardboard being everywhere. You can fit a pile for each set in Magic on a normal-sized kitchen table, though you will likely have to keep a bunch of boxes at the ready for when some of them invariably grow too high. (Hello, Ice Age!) I sorted a couple of hours every evening for several weeks before I was done, usually using the time as a way to catch up on my reading via audiobook. I got through most of Stephen King's The Stand - unabridged, extended edition - while dropping Tempest cards into one pile and Guildpact cards into another.
You probably aren't going to make more than minimum wage based on the time it's going to take to do this. It's relaxing work though, and it feels good to squeeze a little bit of extra cash out of cards that you had all but given up on. You may also find that many of your cards are already marginally sorted by set - or at least by block - because entire Draft decks and Sealed pools ended up in your closet still stuck together. This speeds things up immeasurably, and you'll be able to blow through these stacks very quickly. It's also worth sorting out the land - you can either sell it in lots of 1,000 for more than the price of non-land bulk, or you can gift it to your local store. I've never known a tournament center that couldn't use another couple of thousand basics. Just make sure to check for Guru lands, arena promos, and Arabian Nights Mountains first.
Once your bulk is sorted by set, buylisting becomes several orders of magnitude easier. Pull up the buylist for a given set, pull the cards you want to sell, and keep the rest grouped together. I like to use this as an opportunity to sort uncommons into one pile and commons into another while I'm searching for the cards I'm going to pull. This will make it much easier to buylist from the collection at some point in the future when values have shifted yet again.
After going through the boxes in my closet and buylisting cards, I ended up with over a thousand dollars worth of spare holiday cash. That included zero rares - I kept all of those - and it accounted for the fact that I had already sorted all of those cards and pulled the non-bulk from them years ago. There weren't any Brainstorms, or Swords to Plowshares, or Mishra's Factories, or Remands in this collection. My $1,000 mostly came from commons and uncommons in the $0.10 to $2 range like Vines of Vastwood, Keen Sense, and Artisan of Kozilek. A dime by itself is relatively meaningless, but the dollars added up fast.
Of course, this still leaves you with 99% of your collection still hanging around and taking up space. That's the problem with leftover turkey - even after you make yourself a nice sandwich, there's still half a carcass left to deal with. I used to use this bulk to make 'instant collections,' where I'd pair fifty bulk rares with a small stack of basic lands and about a thousand commons and uncommons. For a while, I could get between $15 and $25 for these on Craigslist or on online forums without much trouble. They would usually go to lapsed players looking to re-capture their nostalgia for less than the price of a Duel Deck. Unfortunately, the demand isn't really there these days. Most lapsed players prefer things like The Commander 2014 pre-cons, and there is a lot more competition for bulk repacks. It's worth putting out feelers on Craigslist, but it's no longer an easy way to get rid of unwanted cards at a profit.
Star City pays $3/thousand for bulk in person (their through-mail bulk purchasing is on hold for now) and $5/thousand for basic lands. This isn't bad, especially for land, but at that point it might make sense to try and give away your extra cards. Local game stores often have tables with freebies on them, and some LGS owners like having spare cards around as a way to get kids up to speed. Local rec centers might also enjoy having a bin of free cards - just make sure you include enough basic land so the kids can build decks.
If space isn't an issue, the best thing to do is simply to keep the majority of your bulk cards. Forked Bolt wouldn't have been worth pulling out of a collection three months ago, and Serum Visions was close to worthless when Preordain was Modern Legal. You simply don't know which cards will be worth a dollar or two several years from now. If you want to keep some but not all of your bulk, I recommend holding on to all of your uncommons as well as any common that has 'the look' - you know what I'm talking about if you've played enough Constructed Magic. Cheap burn, blue filtering, ramp, creature lords, Charms, and repeatable lifegain or life loss effects are often worth it. Random Mosstodons and Thraben Purebloods? Probably not.
The other advantage of a sort like this is that it allows you to build up your brewing binders and boxes a little more. Are you always struggling to find a set of Ancient Grudges for that tournament or those extra Cultivates for building a Commander deck? Keep an extra box or two with additional copies of your most-played staples. Searching through this is easy, but going through every single card in your closet is impossible. Before my sort, I used to buy copies of commons that I knew I had somewhere but which might have taken me several hours to find. Now I know what I've got within ten or fifteen minutes.
Sorting through your leftover turkey might not be the most glamorous way to spend your holidays, but it's not a bad way to pick up some extra cash and get a solid jump on your collection management.
This Week's Trends
- Jeskai Ascendancy token combo won a Standard Open on the 22nd. There aren't many financial ramifications here - the format is still too wide open - but it does suggest that it might be time to start adding Retraction Helix, Springleaf Drum, and Hordeling Outburst to the back pages of your binder. And as Khans prices begin to bottom out, Jeskai Ascendancy will be one of the key cards I'll be looking at picking up for the long haul. Since it isn't dominating Modern like we all feared, I'm starting to doubt that it will be banned in January.
- A lot of dropping Standard stuff is going to start to surge again once spoilers for the second set in Khans block begins--it happens every winter. I know I repeat myself a lot in this section, but let me say it again: start putting some money aside now so you can buy whatever staples you're going to need for the spring at some point over the next month or so. Christmas time will likely mark the bottom of the market. I especially want stock in M15, Born of the Gods, and Journey into Nyx staples. Goblin Rabblemaster, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, the Temples, Mana Confluence, Doomwake Giant, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and more all have a chance to surge again before they rotate out of Standard.
- The fetchlands are either at the bottom of their market or close to it. It's okay to buy a personal playset now. Your next best chance will come in August of 2015.
- Chalice of the Void is surging thanks to the rise of Delver in Legacy. It's a solid card, but remember that it was just reprinted in Modern Masters despite being primarily a Legacy card, limiting its upside. I like it at the old retail price of $5-$6, but I'm not jumping in at $8-$10 because I don't think it can go too much higher than that. If you're looking to speculate, grab foils - they're still relatively undervalued.
Otherwise, it's been a quiet week in Magic. Hope you all had a happy holiday weekend!