A Colossal Waste Of Time

Chas digs into and explores the slow grind of dealing with bulk cards by the boxload, trying to extract maximum value from a random thousand-count box to analyze the profit of spending time to make money via bulk cards.

I don’t like buylisting cards. It almost always means leaving money on the table, and I’ve spent enough time either unemployed or working subsistence-level jobs to develop a ‘leave no dollar behind’ policy about my life. If I have twenty copies of a card that I can either buylist for $2 each or put in some time and effort to get $4 each for, I’m going to opt for the second choice every time.

There are four cases when it seems to make sense to ship cards out to dealers, though:

  • When a Standard card is falling like a rock and trading it to a player is nearly impossible.
  • At events, when dealers are desperate for cards that are sold out in the room.
  • When I need to move oddities or weird foils that have sat for months without interest.
  • When I want to sell a whole bunch of cards that are too cheap to move as singles.

I’ve written about the first three cases before, so today I’m going to focus on selling a bunch of near bulk cards to needy dealers. Do you have eight quintillion Magic cards wasting space in your closet? Is it really worth going through these boxes card by card in an effort to sell cards to buylists for pennies and nickels? I’ve warned people in the past that this would be a colossal waste of their time, but I’ve never actually sat down and seen whether or not that was actually true.

Settle in, because I’m finally going to give it a shot.

Frank Talk about Buylists

The Star City buylist is a very helpful asset. Selling to Star City is a lot like buying from Star City – it’s clear, dependable, and safe. There are some retailers out there who do pretty unscrupulous things when they buy cards, and I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about stores that buy rotating or reprinted staples, hold the cards for weeks without payment, and then only offer to pay out based on the current, lower price. Many other stores are only willing to buy one or two copies of a card, and you can end up sending cards that are rejected after mailing because the dealer doesn’t need them anymore.

Star City doesn’t do any of this stuff. The prices are what they are, and you’re either in or you’re out.

That said, Star City’s buylist won’t do us much good when it comes to this project. For one, SCG doesn’t buy a lot of weird commons and uncommons. Their stock is already so huge that they simply don’t need another 40 copies of Monstrous Carabid. For the same reason, Star City also doesn’t need to pay weirdly high amounts for random bad cards. SCG buy prices set the market, and the company never seems to buy out of desperation.

In order to give ourselves the best chance at making money with our bulk, we’re going to have to go high risk/high reward and optimize our time as much as we can. Since we don’t want to have to check each and every card on multiple buylists, we’ll be using an aggregator that pulls together multiple lists in a simple search feature. Luckily, the gang at Quiet Speculation built exactly that.

Quiet Speculation is the site where I got my start, and they do good work over there. Trader Tools – the web-based buylist aggregator I’ll be using – is behind a paywall, so make sure to factor the subscription cost into your budget if you decide to sell cards this way. It’s the best tool for the job, though, and it links up to several buylists that are often willing to pay up for oddities that I would have otherwise left for bulk. (Note that Star City is not among these, as they do not allow bots to crawl their buylist for the metadata that is needed to be included in an aggregation program.)

So we have our cards and we have our buylists. Let’s (very slowly) make some money!

Night One

It’s 8:27 PM and I’m amped up. I’ve got a long, juicy box filled with cards from all eras of Magic in front of me, and I’m ready to cash in on some hidden gems. As far as I know, this box is 100% bulk, but I’ll be more than happy to prove myself wrong.

Right now, before pulling a single card, I would gladly accept $8 cash in exchange for this box and be very happy with the exchange. That’s probably what I paid for this bulk if it came in during a collection buy, though back then it probably had a lot of juicy stuff that I pulled out and sold years ago. I love buying “unsorted bulk” in collections – I even found a Grim Tutor doing that once.

A wild long box of cards has appeared!

In the background you’ll notice my brand new headphones, drawing tablet, and an old Digital 8 camcorder that I’ve been using to transfer old home movies onto my laptop so I can edit them for my family. There’s also a random Creature from the Black Lagoon box I found at a garage sale.

Battle stations, everyone...

Here’s the battle station. Got my snooty flavored (calorie free!) sparkling water, Red Sox paperweight, and dual monitor setup. The Boston skyline on one side and LA on the other: my past and present.

Don't judge me, bro...

I like to watch reality TV or sitcom reruns when I sort cards or pull orders. It gives my brain something else to focus on other than the mindless drudgery of entering data onto a spreadsheet or printing address labels. Up first on the docket: Bar Rescue. It’s a half-baked Kitchen Nightmares rip-off where Jon Taffer – a guy with far less charisma than Gordon Ramsay – goes around and yells at people who run lousy bars and then tries to fix them with piles upon piles of money. I love it.

The adventure begins...

The first pile of cards!

I’ll admit, I’m kind of disheartened to be starting with Shards block. The foil packs hurt the value of these commons and uncommons across the board, and I’m pretty sure that most of them won’t register on anyone’s buylist.

Score! Maybe? I hope so!?!

Two minutes in and bam! My first hit.

Monstrous Carabid is played in Modern Living End decks, so it makes sense that some needy store would need a couple of extra copies.

Perhaps 'score' was premature.

…and here’s how much they’re offering: four cents. I’ve thrown out four cents in pennies that I’ve found lying around my room because I couldn’t be bothered to carry them around before. I need to keep reminding myself that this is a marathon and not a sprint. All I need is another couple hundred more hits like this one and I’ll be at, like, four bucks.

Sorting begins.

Ten minutes in and I’ve found four total cards that are on buylists. Not wanting to risk being unable to keep them straight, I took some blank business cards and wrote the names of each store on each pile. Now I just need to make sure my cat doesn’t knock them over…

Finally, an opportunity appears.

Fifteen minutes in now and I’ve come out with my first big score: strikezone offering $0.21 for my useless and terrible Tidehollow Strix. This is nearly as much as the TCGPlayer retail price on a card that I would never have considered valuable in the slightest. $0.21 is almost real money – who knew?

Are you an angel? Am I already that gone?

On TV, Jon Taffer has just found mold in the bar and he’s shutting the place down. I’m daydreaming about how I’d rather eat that mold than finish this pile of Ice Age and Revised commons. Arctic Foxes? Guardian Angel? Unless you are placing an order from a school lunch table in 1994, you have no interest in these cards and neither does anyone else. I’m resisting the urge to skip cards for the moment, but my willpower is fading fast.

Tedium sets in.

Here’s the stack I’ve gone through so far. Note the ‘winners’ in the background. Apparently not all Ice Age and Fallen Empires cards are totally worthless, just most of them. Also, the ones that aren’t totally worthless are generally in the $0.02 to $0.04 range.

I wish I had protection from circles of protection

I found a vein of Circles of Protection! Unlike a vein of gold, these are totally worthless.

Finally, a rare

My first lost rare! It’s not a bad one, either, and it’s easily the most valuable card I’ve found so far. I knew this was a rare when I saw it this time around, but I must have missed it last time because Ice Age cards are so numbing.

Racking up the pennies!

Jon Taffer has saved the bar, and our piles have grown by quite a bit. Who knew there would be value in so many dead zone sets?

Time to start skipping.

The see-saw continues. It’s been at least thirty or forty cards since I’ve found anything, but I’ve started to identify some patterns in what stores are looking for. Artifacts and Lands are more likely to hit than single-colored cards. Uncommons are far more likely to hit than commons. Bad old commons like Ironroot Treefolk are never going to be worth anything to anyone ever. As my confidence and frustration are growing, so is my desire to skip at least a few cards. I’m skipping past a few of them now – things that I can project with 95% confidence won’t be a hit.

A penny for my time

I’ve had my fair share of $0.02 and $0.03 hits to date, but this is the first straight-up penny card I’ve found. If every card in the box is worth about this much…I could get a whopping $12 for it.

I thought briefly about ripping the card up just out of principle, but ultimately decided to put it in the pile. Every little bit helps, right?

Cut to the chase, Mr. Fox

Phew, back to cards from the modern era! This little fox might be one of the best answers to Theros’ gods, but that doesn’t mean that he has any value. No one will pay me even a penny for him. Poor little guy. I hope someone plays with him again someday.

What an hour's work looks like

One hour in. The piles are getting much more formidable because I’m skipping larger and larger sections of older commons. Thing is, I might miss a stray $0.01 Giant Growth this way, but I can cut the workload down by about 80% while still squeezing 80% of the value out these rocks.


I’m almost at the point where I need to stop or I’ll go crazy. Luckily, I’ve just upon the most valuable card of the evening: Utopia Mycon. Did you know that the retail value of this one is $2.50? I found a buylist price of more than $1 and things finally seem to be coming up Millhouse.

With two episodes of Bar Rescue in the books and my laundry finished, it’s time to pause for a few nights. I’ll be back soon enough, refreshed and ready to go.

Night Two

A week and a half has passed and I’m finally back. This article was something I had been looking forward to for quite a while, so I was a little shocked to find myself getting burnt out on it so quickly. I generally like making piles of cards while watching mindless TV, but this is just too horrible.

Even still, I’m willing myself to get it together finish the box. You guys appreciate my sacrifices, right?

Another day, another pile

This time around, I’m going to be much more liberal with my ‘no skipping’ rule. All the Streams of Life and Welkin Terns are going straight in the bulk pile without so much as a second glance. Screw ’em.

We begin on a sour note...

Can you believe that neither of these two cards is on a buylist!? I had to go check the Star City list too just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. Nope – no one’s gonna give me a single cent for either spell. It makes for an inauspicious start to the evening.


Hey, it’s a second misplaced rare! Forsaken Wastes appears to be some kind of half-baked Sulfuric Vortex from the Pleistocene. Some sucker is willing to give me $0.45 for it, though, making it one of the best finds in the box.

Don't judge me, bro...

What’s on TV tonight, you ask? Why, it’s Emmy-winning drama “My Weird Addiction” on TLC! This episode is about a woman who has grown her nails out way too long and the producers are trying to convince her that this is a harmful addiction. They are doing this – I kid you not – by taking her to a lobster restaurant and making her take a class in how to eat lobsters. Their hope is that she’ll find the process of eating lobster so difficult that she’ll realize just how harmful her long nails truly are. The nails are as gross and horrible as you’d think, but the premise of the show is so hilariously flawed that I’m rooting for the addiction.

My sanity is under siege... mastodon

Here’s a good example of how to shortcut this process using common knowledge of Magic cards. Siege Mastodon has never been played in a constructed deck and he’s not that good in limited unless your name is Shuhei. Pyretic Ritual is part of a long line of cards that are always useful. Guess which one has a buylist value and which one doesn’t?

All done! Uh-oh...

With the box finally done – hooray! – I’m going back to my piles running them back through Trader Tools again to make sure the buy prices are still good.


Most of the best prices are gone! Remember how Strike Zone was offering like $0.20 for Tidehollow Strix? Not anymore.

My heart just keeps sinking. Nearly half of the cards I pulled are either no longer being bought or have had their price significantly reduced over the ten days since I had previously looked them up. This is what I mean when I talk about the stability of the Star City buylist – with most of these stores, you have to act immediately or the deals are just… gone.

Rejected after-the-fact

These are just a few of the cards I had to cut out of my piles completely. I wonder how many other random cards would be in demand now if I ran my reject pile through the system again? Is this whole experiment like some sort of weird bulk-based roulette?

It’s true that none of this is an issue if you act fast enough, but who really has the time for that? Shipping costs are a very real thing, so ideally you’d want to spend at least a month plowing through all your cards so that you could send in all your bulk at once. If you do that, though, you’ll find that half the cards you had wanted to sell simply won’t be wanted by anyone anymore. Your only choice is to submit orders one day at a time and hope you make enough from each pile to at least cover shipping.

After re-processing all of the piles, I ended up having to lose one store’s stack of cards altogether due to non-interest. ABU’s pile came to a total of $1.07, Card Kingdom’s added up to $2.17, and Adventures On was willing to pay $5.32 for their cut of the loot.

That means that the best cards in this box add up to a total buylist value of… $8.56.

Not counting postage.

Or printing the address labels and shipping lists.

Or the three hours’ time it took to sort the cards.

Or the time it would take to alphabetize and pack them.

Or the money that would be docked due to condition issues.

Honestly, most of the value was from a small handful of cards that wouldn’t be too hard to identify during a much faster sort, either. Here’s the full list:

Utopia Mycon $1.24
Forsaken Wastes $0.45
Sand Silos $0.38
Demonic Torment $0.26
Enduring Renewal $0.25
Black Vise $0.20
Palladium Myr $0.20
Glacial Chasm $0.17
Well of Knowledge $0.17
Glacial Chasm $0.17
Urza’s Mine $0.14
Urza’s Tower $0.14
Urza’s Tower $0.14
Urza’s Tower $0.14
Urza’s Tower $0.14
Urza’s Tower $0.14
Urza’s Tower $0.14
Pyretic Ritual $0.13
Thrummingbird $0.12
Ornithopter $0.10
Skull of Orm $0.10
Quest for Renewal $0.10
Goblin Wardriver $0.09
Nature’s Claim $0.09
Hand of Justice $0.09
Soul Manipulation $0.09
Call to Mind $0.08
Uncle Istvan $0.08
Bojuka Bog $0.08
Demonic Dread $0.08
Grixis Grimblade $0.08
Contagion Clasp $0.07
Full Moon’s Rise $0.07
Groundswell $0.07
Plague Myr $0.07
Darksteel Myr $0.07
Wiitigo $0.06
Staff of the Ages $0.06
Pygmy Allosaurus $0.06
Dancing Scimitar $0.06
Lightning Blow $0.06
Fountain of Youth $0.06
Tidehollow Strix $0.06
Delirium $0.06
Voltaic Key $0.06
Whispersilk Cloak $0.06
Graypelt Refuge $0.06
Khalni Heart Expedition $0.06
Boar Umbra $0.06
Guul Draz Vampire $0.05
Abyssal Gatekeeper $0.05
See Beyond $0.05
Duress $0.05
Glimmerpost $0.05
Curiosity $0.05
Curiosity $0.05
Library of Leng $0.05
Pawn of Ulamog $0.05
Liliana’s Specter $0.05
Acidic Slime $0.05
Condemn $0.05
Llanowar Elves $0.05
Aura Gnarlid $0.05
Goblin Caves $0.05
Llanowar Elves $0.05
Monstrous Carabid $0.04
Black Knight $0.04
Black Knight $0.04
Skinrender $0.04
Diminish $0.03
Unified Will $0.03
Sylvan Ranger $0.03
Emrakul’s Hatcher $0.03
Myrsmith $0.03
Celestial Purge $0.03
Cerodon Yearling $0.03
Cerodon Yearling $0.03
Perilous Myr $0.02
Wall of Frost $0.02
Ornithopter $0.02
Nissa’s Chosen $0.02
Akoum Refuge $0.02
Abyssal Specter $0.02
Abyssal Specter $0.02
Deprive $0.02
Syphon Soul $0.02
Arbor Elf $0.02
Arbor Elf $0.02
Falkenrath Noble $0.02
Victim of Night $0.02
Horn of Deafening $0.02
Balm of Restoration $0.02
Viridian Claw $0.02
People of the Woods $0.02
Fathom Seer $0.02
Corpse Connoisseur $0.02
Kabira Crossroads $0.01
Umara Raptor $0.01
Umara Raptor $0.01
Dispense Justice $0.01
Blood Seeker $0.01
Giant Growth $0.01

As I said in the title, sorting cards like this is a colossal waste of time. I named this article before I had sorted a single card, but I was still shocked at just how terrible the buy prices ended up being.

If you have a bunch of extra chaff lying around, shuffle through your commons and uncommons briskly, pull the things that seem like they might be good, and throw the rest back. Don’t waste your time with every single card. You’d make more money walking around outside with a bag over your head hoping to trip over a nickel than you would doing this.

Theros – Gainers and Losers – Week #3

After a week of huge losses, Theros has started to settle in. Of course, the Pro Tour (that hasn’t started as of the time I am writing this) will likely have something to say about where many of these prices will ultimately end up. Nothing causes a card to shoot up in price as much as being in a winning deck list. Everyone will be cribbing off the Dublin Top 8 for months to come.

Rising Stock

Falling Stock

The biggest news coming out of last weekend was the emergence of a mono-green deck that rode Nylea and Boon Satyr to a 4th place finish in Cleveland. I’ve said from the start that Nylea is the 2nd worst god in terms of raw power, but the easiest one to activate devotion for by far. Well, she’s showing how useful that easy devotion is now. With G/W Aggro taking down the tournament, Fleecemane Lion has proven that it can exist happily alongside Voice of Resurgence and that the two cards aren’t mutually exclusive. Boon Satyr was a nice little boost to that deck as well. Whip of Erebos and Hero’s Downfall are also up on the strength of their finishes, and Master of Waves is likely up because a ton of people are still trying to make that deck work and demand is still high. [Editor’s Note – And price is spiking after Master of Waves met itself in the finals of Pro Tour Theros.]

On the downswing, Hammer’s price fall is just stabilization – the card continues to see Tier 2 Standard play and I continue to be a believer. The others have yet to find a home at all. Xenagos in particular is in freefall – down $5 this week after being down $15 (!) last week. If he is a no-show at the Pro Tour, the next stop for him is $5-$8. As for Underworld Cerberus, my pick for sleeper mythic of the set, I still believe. The truth is out there! Or something.

Spec Portfolio – Week #8

After several weeks’ worth of gains, our portfolio has finally stalled a bit prior to Pro Tour Theros. U/W didn’t put up many numbers this weekend, fading in the face of a whole pile of green and white aggression. While it is possible (even likely) that U/W will re-emerge over this (past) weekend, I don’t want to get too greedy. I’ve doubled up on all of my U/W staples and it’s time to lock those profits in.


So now that we’re two months in, what’s actually going on here?

The first is that nearly all of my ‘safe’ Standard specs have paid out big. I’ve already sold Desecration Demon for a massive profit, and now I’m cashing out Detention Spheres, Jaces, and Supreme Verdicts. All that’s left are Advent of the Wurm, Watery Grave, and Aetherling, all of which are looking good.

My Modern/casual specs haven’t done anything, nor have any of my long shots. I still think these cards will be good over the long term, and I haven’t lost out much in the short run other than flexibility, but I now suspect that we might have to wait until February or March for something like Raging Ravine to pay out.

Speaking of Advent of the Wurm, it was a 4-of in the 1st place Cleveland deck, a 3-of in the 2nd place deck, 3-of in the 3rd place deck, and a 4-of in the 8th place deck. That’s a ton of copies. I could easily see this card hitting $8 – there wasn’t as much Dragon’s Maze open as most of the other sets – so I’ve decided to go in even deeper and buy another 23 copies (what SCG has in stock as of this writing) at $3.99/card.

Until next time –

– Chas Andres