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I was high on a ladder a few months ago cleaning leaves from the gutters when I thought of booster packs of Urza's Legacy strewn on my parents' living room floor. My gloved hands were chilled and soaked from a solution of decomposing leaves an inch from my nose. I was gripping the ladder with the intensity of someone whose discomfort on ladders has only grown with age. I was getting tired from the up-and-down, and I was running out of daylight. And... Magic cards from 1999 were top of mind?
I suddenly recalled how I afforded that first glorious booster box. Nancy was the greeter at my mom's work, a physician's office. Retired and widowed, she lived alone in a home absolutely surrounded by oaks and long-needle pines. For a few years, I visited her every few weeks, mowing, leaf-blowing, sweeping, and gutter-clearing. Huge tarps of leaves, dragged to the street. At the end of the year, I'd carry her patio furniture to the basement.
We never set a price. She always paid double what it was worth, sometimes more. I lingered and ate whatever sandwich she was serving at her kitchen table afterward. My mom picked me up that first year; later I drove myself - that very specific window of life. Nancy was one of the most cheerful people I ever met. She passed many years ago, a combination of age and cancer that she'd fought successfully for several years, starting not long after I left for college. Cheerful and gracious to the end.
High on a ladder. Magic cards. Weekend sandwiches with Nancy.
It isn't as rare as you might assume. I've had entire friendships founded on playing Magic, and my collection tells more stories than I could recount without straining your attention. But I do want to tell you a couple more stories, and they help explain a strange conceit: I can't bring myself to sell a Magic card.
In fact, it's very recent I've ever even purchased a single (as in, an individual card, not a randomized pack). I only really started buying them in 2016, when I decided to begin collecting again in earnest. One time, in 2009, I bought $14.90 worth of cards:
ORDER CONTENTS: 1 x 4th Edition: Helm of Chatzuk (NM/M) @ 0.50 ea. 1 x 4th Edition: Royal Assassin (NM/M) @ 4.95 ea. 1 x 4th Edition: Web (NM/M) @ 0.50 ea. 1 x 4th Edition: Zombie Master (NM/M) @ 1.95 ea. 1 x Alliances: Keeper of Tresserhorn (NM/M) @ 0.50 ea. 1 x Alliances: Lord of Tresserhorn (NM/M) @ 1.95 ea. 1 x Alliances: Misfortune (NM/M) @ 0.95 ea. 1 x Alliances: Sustaining Spirit (NM/M) @ 0.95 ea.
That completed my second and third sets, because I was soooo close and I'd decided too much time had elapsed to ever let me complete them by casual trade. And so for the first two decades, my total singles budget was apparently $15.
I used to love trading cards and thought buying singles was cheating. The hunt is far more satisfying when ended with a handshake rather than a mouse click. These days, everyone I meet is at a card store, and they all want the same few cards for the same few deck archetypes. I often want weird loose ends no one carries in their trade binders. And so, click click click.
It would make sense that I could sell those cards I normally would've traded to fund those singles purchases, but it feels too impersonal, and the cards are nothing if not personal to me. It's just a bridge too far.
My neighbor sold me his small collection in high school for $200, basically all the money I had when he called. I'm pretty sure I got a Revised dual land now worth hundreds alone in that box. I still have it, and think about evenings playing in our mutual friend's basement whenever I flip by it. A few other friends gifted me their sets when they stopped playing or sold them for a similar amount. And then we fast forward a bit.
In October 2004, our site's founder @Mortin passed and his mom sent his Magic card collection to me (via @primesuspect), along with some baseball cards, dice, and deck boxes. I carefully organized and stored them with mine. To this day I have two of his decks in a drawer in the Pub, exactly as he left them. A couple of the cards are worth over $100 and the decks are utterly unplayable today, but the idea of pulling them out of their matching sleeves offends me. I keep one of his D20s in my favorite bag of dice. I wince whenever someone else rolls it, like this might be the roll that somehow sends it down a drainpipe.
Almost exactly eight years later, @SpencerForHire passed. His sister @LilSis forwarded me his commons & cast-offs (again via @primesuspect), and my god, it was so... maximum Spencer. He even min/maxed his card storage, and this was the min. What I got can only be described as utter chaos. Just piles of cards irreverently chucked into various-sized plastic bins with no regard for their condition. It took hours just to get them all facing the same direction. Every time I found a bent card I mourned it and fixed the ones I could. It was another 3 years before I had them all sorted into my collection, but they are all thoroughly mixed now.
How can you sell a card when it might've been Spencer's or Keith's? Or when it reminds you of sandwiches with Nancy, or evenings in high school flopping cards atop a covered billiards table? Card collecting is not a financially prudent endeavor for me, but you can't argue with the sentimental dividends.
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