Building your PC: What should I collect?

A topic that often comes up on Twitter, Facebook, message boards, and even at our most recent local card show is…

“How do I focus my PC (personal collection)?”

Or, in other words, “What should I buy/collect?”

The second question I see dozens of times, per week, throughout various Facebook groups. Collectors are at stores and are unsure of which release to buy. Should I buy the hanger (pack) or blaster (box). “Should I buy retail, or hobby?”. “What am I looking for in <insert product here>?”. “What product gives me the most value?”.

None of these questions have simple answers. The reason being, is that the answer to each is very individualistic in nature. We all have to answer these questions for ourselves. In asking another collector, they are giving their opinion on what they would buy, which might/might not be the best choice for you. In order for anyone in the hobby to assist another collector with these questions, we must first define the word “personal”. Then we must define “collection”.

Let’s first focus on the word personal. By definition, it means that it is yours. It is not mine, or the next collectors. It is yours. So, before I get to a series of question that all collectors can ask of themselves, when trying to focus their own respective PC, one must understand that there is no right or wrong way to collect. It is your PC, so ultimately no one else’s opinion matters. That isn’t to suggest that you can’t learn from others and use their choices for their PC for your own. It also doesn’t mean you cannot change your PC, at any given time, either.

If you’re reading this, I will have to assume that you have, or are, questioning your own PC direction. That this article might help you position your PC with a little more direction and focus. With that said, there are a few things any new (or returning) collector must understand:

First: This is no longer 1988. For those returning collectors, you cannot collect in the same manner that you did once before. The “junk wax era” (commonly coined from 1986-1994, give or take a year), was flush with cards for every collector to enjoy. As many sets as there were, there was a finality to collecting. You could, in theory, collect it all. You could finish 1988 with every set from every manufacturer, as well as all of their respective sub-sets. It was very realistic and possible.

Second: The hobby has changed considerably, beyond just the “hits” and parallels that collectors now find in packs. You can no longer collect it all, even if money wasn’t a finite resource. There are just too many releases in today’s hobby, when you factor in all of the refractors, parallels, certified autographs, manufactured and player/game-worn relics. If you collect in 2019, with the mindset of 1988, you will become overwhelmed by the enormity of the hobby, before we even get to the financial impact and considerations.

Lastly: Not having a focused PC can ultimately cost you a lot of money, while you are in the process of “figuring it out”. I, myself, re-entered the hobby around 2010 and immediately bought box after box of new releases, with the intent to, not only complete the base set, but all of the subsequent insert set(s) as well. I soon realized the financial hardship that this entailed. Had I not narrowed my PC focus at that point, I would have either went broke trying to collect everything I could, or the hobby itself, would have frustrated me to the point in which I would have stopped collecting shortly after beginning again.

If you aren’t completely overwhelmed yet, please continue. The intent of this article wasn’t to discourage anyone from collecting, but to help save on time, money and frustration.

As I previously mentioned, some of the areas that this article has covered, recently came up at a local card show. A young man, mid-teens I would presume, came up to the table belonging to our LCS (local card shop). He simply asked: “What’s the best product to buy?” So, of course, everyone within ear shot offered the young man their opinion on what was best, by their estimation. This response could not have been worse for the kid. He was overwhelmed and looked to his dad for advice. Please, don’t get me wrong. Everyone was just trying to help. However, they were helping as they saw fit. What worked for their PC (or collecting habits), not his. Their desire to “help”, or offer him their learned hobby knowledge was overwhelming and could have done more harm than good.

Consider that this young man was in a much different socio-economic class than everyone who was trying to help. He wasn’t an experienced collector, so he lacked direction and focus. He was very “green” and was ready to jump down the proverbial “rabbit hole” that so many of us before him have done so erroneously. So, to save him from the other collectors who offered their own “buy this” suggestions, or even that of our friend who was running the table, I asked if it was okay to ask him a few questions which I will get to momentarily. He appreciated the advice and eventually made the purchase he was most comfortable with. Our LCS got the sale, the kid got a product he was interested in and his dad shook my hand and thanked me for helping his son to make a more-educated and informed decision.

Here are some of the questions that you might want to ask yourself, as you become a new collector, or are re-entering the hobby. If you are unsure of how to focus your PC, so that you can maximize your finite financial resources and get the most enjoyment.

(This is not a complete list of questions to ask of yourself, of course, but some that About the Cards suggests are a good starting point to help point you in the right direction… for now!)

  • What is your favorite sport? Team? Player?
  • Do you plan on being a casual collector, or a “super” collector (in which you need to collect as much as you can of any given sport/team/player)?
  • Are you looking to collect team sets? (Buying these, complete, on the secondary market is always less expensive, although not as much fun as opening packs, or trading for the ones you are missing)
  • What is your budget?
    • Is it flexible, or is it capped? (It’s very easy to buy “just one more pack/card, that will inadvertently over-extend one’s personal budget)
  • What are you looking to get out of a pack/box?
    • Are you looking for a product that offers the opportunity to put a set together?
    • Are you hoping for a chance at the big “hit”, or multiple “hits”?
    • Are you looking for the “best bang for your buck”?
    • Review the checklist to see what each release offers before blindly opening a pack/box, just for the sake of doing so. Once in a while, it might be okay to do so for “fun”, but inevitably this might cost you a lot of money over time, with little to show for it).
  • Are you wanting a small(er) collection, made up of quality over quantity? Or are you wanting to collect a “lot” of a certain sport/player/team?
  • Is buying into box/case breaks for you?
    • If you choose to buy into box/case breaks, make sure you understand what any given release has on its checklist (for your PC).
    • Ensure that you have a somewhat focused PC before buying into a box break, so that you aren’t wasting money just to get stuck with a stack of cards, you have no desire to collect.
    • Box breaking can be a great way to acquire a large sum of cards, from your favorite team/PC focus, without having to break the bank, but know that it is a form of gambling, where nothing is guaranteed. If you have an understanding of the checklist from the release, what it can offer to your PC potentially, this can be a fun, affordable and exciting way to have a chance to add to your PC. You also have a chance to “pull” cards, that might not be available with “your” budget on the secondary market (for those of us that have limited financial resources). 
  • Is this truly a “hobby” for you? One in which you buy/collect cards for your PC and don’t concern yourself with whether or not they have appreciated/depreciated in value since you bought them.
  • Are you in this hobby to make money?
    • Are you wanting to make this a self-sustaining hobby?
    • Are you looking to rip/flip for profit? (Understand that if this is your reason for being in the “hobby”, that it is no longer a “hobby”, by definition, but an investment opportunity)
  • Do you consider this a short/long-term hobby? (Be honest with yourself on this one)
  • When looking through your PC, what will make you the happiest? (As in, this was money “well spent”)

I hope that this article offered a bit more insight on how someone can focus, or even re-focus, their own respective PC. Below is a little personal advice from the guys at About the Cards:

Ben’s Advice: As the author of this article, I will keep this short. At the end of the day, it is your PC and that is all that matters. How you choose to collect, and by which means you acquire your cards truly are of no consequence to anyone else. Like anything, there is always a lot of negativity in this hobby. So, do your best, to avoid that part and enjoy collecting the cards that give you the most enjoyment. It is okay, if your PC changes over time. Remember, it is okay to be “unsure” of how you choose to collect. For most of us “experienced” collectors, it took us a “few” years before deciding on what to collect. There is no definitive timetable for focusing one’s PC. Reach out to fellow, more experienced, collectors for their advice. Don’t get caught up in the hype of the newest release, or certain players, unless that’s how you’ve chosen to focus your PC. These change like the weather, and you’ll never have a focused PC, if you change yours along with it. Remember to: Have fun!

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