That title comes with a caveat. I’m specifically talking about card lots or collections. You may very well have a realistic assessment of what any single card you own is worth. Hell, maybe you’re one of those rare people with a pragmatic outlook and a realistic sense of how the cardboard market works, and if so, congratulations, you’re in the minority, but you’ll probably find selling cardboard to be a whole lot more satisfying than the average person. But for everyone else, what I want to talk about today is several of the ways that people fail to properly assess the value of their collections when it comes time to make some sales. As a note, if you’re a long time cardboard veteran, this article probably isn’t going to offer a ton of new info you, but I’ve seen plenty of people in the FAB community for whom FAB is their first CCG or at least the first one they’ve seriously put money into.
For the purpose of this article, we’re specifically going to focus on selling cards in lots. When you’re selling singles, things like pricing are a lot easier to pin down, and there are fewer variables in play. We’re also going to assume you actually want to sell these cards and you aren’t doing exploratory pricing. By that I am referring to sales where you’re only interested in selling if you can get a price that hasn’t previously been achieved for a comparable lot. If market on a CF Tunic is $4000 and you’re unwilling to sell for less than $5000, you’re not really trying to sell the Tunic. To add some structure, we’re going to tackle lots of cards in the following subcategories: complete collections, bulk, random piles, and curated bundles. Let’s go!
Unless you only own a handful of chase cards, your collection is actually less than the sum of its parts. If you go on TCGPlayer, or whatever price site you prefer, and simply add up all the values for the cards in your collection and use that as your asking price, you are vastly overvaluing your cards. I cannot tell you how many times I see someone selling a collection with something like “cards valued at $5760 TCG low, yours for $5500,” which is a terrible bargain for any sucker foolish enough to buy it. In most cases, what happens here is simply that no one buys the collection. Now if you actually want to sell your cards as a collection, the first step is to recognize that you are the person who is being done a favor in any transaction that occurs. It’s virtually impossible that your random assortment of cards is exactly what someone wants. In all likelihood, they want a specific subset of your collection (say the cold foils) and they’re willing to accept buying a bunch of other stuff that they frankly don’t want in order to acquire a set of highly desirable cards.
When you’re dealing with a large quantity of cards, there is generally a sliding percentage of the “market value” of a card that you can expect to get in a collection sale, and it’s usually directly related to how valuable the card is. You might be able to get 80-90% of a CF as part of a collection while a $5 Majestic might only get 20-50% of its market value. Below that mark, your cards might be valued at pennies on the dollars. That sounds like a pretty shit deal for you, so why would you accept such a low price? Because your time has value and you don’t want to sell your cards individually. If you want to optimize profits, you’re almost always going to do better selling single cards, unfortunately this takes a lot of time and effort. Meanwhile, selling all your cards in one big pile is the lowest effort way to sell them. The person buying them is likely going to either keep some and resell others or flip the entire collection. Essentially, they are planning to trade their time for money. This is totally respectable approach for people whose time is worth less than yours. When I was in my early 20’s I used to buy Magic collections that had some cards I wanted and flip the rest to pay for the next collection. It’s one of the ways I built a valuable collection on a tight budget.
So, if you value your time highly or your collection simply isn’t worth very much, selling it as one single package is a perfectly reasonable approach, but in most cases, you’ll be getting 50% of less of list price for your cards (potentially far less if you don’t have a solid base of individually valuable cards). Selling singles will maximize your profits but take the most time. With all of that said, for most people, selling a collection is unlikely to be the best choice. Instead they’ll want to do find a balance of time vs profit by utilizing a mix of selling singles and other card groupings. Which brings us to our next section!
If you’re going to split up your sales between batches and singles, you’re going to need to determine where you draw the line for how expensive a card needs to be to be worth your time. For me, I generally don’t sell single cards below $25. Any card below $5, I don’t really consider as something that has meaningful value relative to the amount of time and effort that would be involved with selling it (we’ll discuss how I approach the cards that fall between the $5 and $25 range in an upcoming section). So, to me, these sub $5 cards are bulk. Your line might be different. It’s up to you to determine how cheap a single card can be to be worth your time to list it.
How do you sell bulk? You sell it to a store for pennies or less per card or give it away for free. I’m not sure which stores, if any, are buying bulk FAB right now, but to use Magic as an example, dealers might offer $1 per 1000 Commons or $5 for 1000 Uncommons and perhaps a couple pennies per rare. Low rarity bulk is nearly worthless. You’re going to make minimal amounts of money unless you have a truly massive pile of it, but remember, it’s just taking up square footage in your living space, so either take that minimal amount of money or give the cards away. For S and M cards where you might have a piles of cards where some are worth a dollar or two, you might consider holding out until you can sell in person to a dealer in a post-COVID world or you can look for online buylists as they begin to emerge. You’re still going to get a small fraction of market price, but it could be enough of a bump to be worth your time.
As a side note: there are currently a bunch of people in the FAB community trying to grow the game by making free decks for new players out of bulk – some of them will even pay your postage to ship them said bulk. You can send your cards over to them and help out the community, or, if you’re ruthlessly self-interested, you can consider it an investment in your valuable cards, since, if the game grows, your high end cards might see gains far in excess of what you could have got from selling the bulk.
That’s it. Bulk is the least exciting part of any collection, and honestly the only thing you should really be putting time into in relation to bulk is in helping yourself get over the mental hurdle of getting rid of it just in case some random ten cent card goes to a few dollars in several years.
Admittedly, this is a weak name, but, cut me a break, I can’t come up with something of “CRUnic” caliber every time. At any rate, I’m referring to bundles of cards that aren’t someone’s entire collection, but still represent a large quality of cards with highly variable value. You often see these go up when someone does something like open a booster box, keep the L and then try to sell the rest in one go. Or, perhaps they decided they want to focus on a single class, so they keep the Runeblade cards and some generics they opened and throw everything else up in one shot. In my experience, these are some of the biggest offenders for poorly priced lots. The upshot of this sort of sale is that buying it won’t saddle you with as much bulk to deal with, and there might be valuable cards left over like class Ls or rainbow foil Majestics, but they’re still usually a real mixed bag. Also, one of the upsides of buying collections, especially as a game ages is that you sometimes get stuff that the seller didn’t realize was valuable because they are giving you all of their cards. This almost never happens with these random pile sales because people have pruned the good cards or used them as a selling point.
My hot take on these is that they should be priced pretty much the same way as a complete collection would be. Again, the expensive cards can claim a higher percentage of their market value but everything else needs to be deeply discounted to make this remotely attractive to a buyer. Much like with complete collections, the buyer is providing a service by accepting the time loss to piece this out and try to make something useful out of it.
Alright this is the area that’s actually interesting from my perspective. These are sales of batches of cards that all have some sort of relationship beyond “are cards from FAB.” What that relationship is can vary pretty dramatically, but these are often the best way to piece out your collection when used in conjunction with singles sales and jettisoning your bulk. What are some examples of curated bundles? Well, at the simplest level, a playset of cards is a small curated bundle. Being a bit more expansive, a complete playset of an expansion is a curated bundle. A set of all of the cold foil armory weapons is a curated bundle. The appeal of these as a seller is that you can demand a price that is much closer to the sum total of the individual cards as singles, and, in some rare cases, you might even be able to demand a premium. What sort of thing could get a premium? If you had a complete set of the Slingshot Underground promos, you could likely demand a premium because they are individually miserable to track down, so getting them all in one deal could be very appealing to a buyer, and they’re expensive enough that anyone in the market for them likely makes enough money that their time is valuable to them.
The major distinguishing factor between curated bundles and random piles is that there are actually buyers who want all or nearly all of the cards in the bundle. That said, you are still limiting your audience somewhat. A bundle of all four iron rot pieces in cold foil isn’t going to be interesting to someone who just needs one or two pieces, but, you can likely sell it close to market price as a bundle and gain the benefit of managing one sale instead of four. The same is true for a playest of Majestics. Someone who needs one isn’t going to buy your playset, but, if you can get 90% of the money three individual sales would generate by selling a playset to a single buyer, that could be worth the time saved.
And here’s the important part, a random pile can often be turned into a few curated bundles and bulk, or, at worse, a few curated bundles, bulk, and a smaller random pile. Let’s say that you opened a case of CRU and kept the Mechanologist, Warrior, and Generic cards, and then you want to ship the rest. Splitting it into class bundles would likely yield better returns than trying to sell it as one big pile. Again, time factors into this, and if you went through the same scenario with a single box as opposed to a case, you might not get the sort of returns that make this worthwhile. Maybe you’d be better off selling the cards worth $10+ as singles and then just taking the hit for selling the remaining random pile for 50% or less of market price.
There are some other factors that play into this whole business of selling. In a world where most of us are still not trading or selling cards in person, there are shipping costs to consider. Shipping cards costs money, and while you can sometimes pass that cost onto your buyer it’s usually a case of “six of one, half a dozen of the other” where you’re just shuffling numbers around and passing shipping onto the buyer means you have to ask for a lower sale price to actually move the card. There is a time component to packaging things and going to the post office as well as communicating with buyers. There is a money component involved in buying packing materials. All of these little elements add up to additional drains on your time and/or money, and all of them are more easily navigated by selling cards in lots. So, as stated above, you’re always trying to balance optimized profits with time spent, and where that ideal balance is will be different for everyone. I will add that, in my experience, people are often more willing to give away their time than they perhaps would be if they actually sat down and looked at how much of it they’re spending for cheap sales. If you sell cards semi-regularly, you should take some time to figure out how much time you’re spending on a transaction, from communicating with a buyer, to packing, to mailing. Are you trading a couple hours of your time for $10? Is that actually worth it to you?
There is another slightly more cynical benefit to doing fewer larger sales as opposed to many small ones, and that is the risk associated with dishonest buyers. There are definitely unscrupulous people out there who will try to rip you off. The trading and sales community, outside of platforms like ebay or TCGPlayer is highly reputation based. However, to actually check someone’s reputation, you’re going to have to review their references for people whose input you’re actually willing to act on, and then you have to contact those people. Again, this is a time spent situation, but it’s absolutely worth it for large dollar sales and trades. I know that in the FAB community, there are a handful of people who, if they can vouch for someone, it does a lot to make me comfortable with the deal. But I don’t want to bother these people for a $10 sale. Or, if my prospective buyer doesn’t have any key contacts, than I need to vet them across multiple references, which takes more time, and again, it makes those cheap sales feel more wasteful.
When selling your cards, you need to take a realistic view of what you have and how much time you’re willing to trade for profits or, put the other way, how much profit you’re willing to leave on the table for convenience. You should think about the most effective way to sell your cards and where your price thresholds are for different types of sales. You need to recognize that you, as a human being, have an inherent tendency to overvalue things that your own, and you need to compensate for that by not trying to grab unrealistic prices on things you actually want to sell, particularly on informal marketplaces like Facebook and Discord where the vast majority of your buyers will have a better level of knowledge of the things you’re selling than random on ebay (if you want to try to shoot the moon on a price, ebay is probably the place to do it, though ebay comes with its own pile of issues). Now go forth, and remember: don’t list your random pile for way more than anyone is going to pay for it.
*Header Image – Stonewall Confidence by Alexander Mokhov