The Greatest Collection, Graded
Do you like powerful Magic cards? Rare cards? Old cards? Want to see Magic history preserved and protected as well as possible? If so, here’s something you should take a look at: the greatest private collection you may ever see, featuring an interview with the king of collectors!
“It wasn’t a calculated decision. I wanted to have the stuff, so I bought it. Then I was happy.”
This is what Solkanar told me when I asked him about the genesis of what must be one of the most valuable private collections of Magic in the world today, now estimated to be worth over a million euros. Solkanar is not the owner’s real name but a pseudonym he picked, after one of his favorite cards from Legends. His answers were translated from German. “I cherish my anonymity, even if I could probably get quite a few followers on Instagram. But every collector is happy when they reach their goals. I’m happy, and I enjoy others taking an interest. That’s why I take part in this interview.”
Like the original Sol’kanar the Swamp King, this Solkanar is royalty too. However, his kingdom isn’t just Swamps. It spans decades. It includes playsets, or more, of all dual lands, Mishra’s Workshop, Bazaar of Baghdad, and complete sets going all the way back to The Dark, Legends, Antiquities, Arabian Nights, and even Limited Edition Beta. “I knew from the start that I wanted to collect all of these cards—from the game’s beginnings on.”
This start, his entry to the world of Magic, came in 1995. “I happened upon a comic book shop where I saw people play with peculiar cards. They summoned monsters and countered spells. That sounded exciting, so I asked what was going on. I didn’t understand a thing, but I took home two starter decks of German Limited. This is where I found my first two dual lands, a Taiga and a Volcanic Island.”
Solkanar didn’t just become a collector. “Magic quickly captured my enthusiasm, both as player as well as collector. I played somewhat regularly until Time Spiral, meaning 2006, also attending for example Grand Prix events. After that I lacked the connections and also the time, as I was busy with other things, both professionally and privately. Since about two years ago I’ve been playing again with friends. But I kept collecting. I buy two booster boxes of every new set. What cards I still miss for a complete set then I buy on Cardmarket. Good that Cardmarket exists, or I’d never get them all.”
Getting the Early Sets
Solkanar’s collection may represent seven figures today, but that wasn’t always the case. “I wasn’t wealthy. It wasn’t high income. It was more that I had little expenses otherwise, and I could and would treat myself this way. Whenever my finances allowed, I ordered one of the sets from a friend who was able to get them from the United States.”
Solkanar completed a full set of Magic’s first four expansions plus Beta in 1999, which was a different time, with a different currency. “I don’t know exactly what I paid for Beta back then, but I’d estimate it was about 10,000 mark.”
The introduction of the euro would have turned 10,000 mark into €5,113 in 2002, but a Beta set had already appreciated a bit beyond that by then. “When I bought my first set, the potential increase in value was no consideration for me. But it was when I bought more in 2003 and 2006. In 2003 I bought a second set of Beta Power Nine for €10,000 from a friendly American I had met at the games fair in Essen the year before. Then in 2006 I got my third Power Nine when I bought up another Vintage player’s collection.
A Safe and a Sound Investment
“There was a steady increase in value up until about 2017. Then things went crazy. That probably relates to the influx of ‘cheap’ money back then. People had a lot of liquidity, which also poured into the card market,” Solkanar speculated, though he’d never been much of a speculator otherwise. Other than buying missing pieces, he was rarely active on the market himself. “You never know what the future brings, but I don’t plan to sell my collection anytime soon.”
Instead he stored his cards in a special room at home, with the most expensive now locked away in a safe. “It’s a bit of a shame to keep them in the dark in a safe, as I can’t take a look at them as easily anymore.”
As someone who’s never owned anything remotely close in value myself, I was curious about all the practical issues. What’s the biggest fear? “A fire, or water damage.”
How about security? “Anonymity is the best protection. There aren’t many people who know about the extent of my collection, and some, my parents for example, don’t take the cards seriously to this day. I also have insurance.”
When I pressed for more details on that, Solkanar mentioned paying an annual premium in the four digits. “That’s a special rate and likely not available on the regular insurance market. It also comes with conditions on storage and home security.”
This led to the topic of getting a proper, professional appraisal …
Enter Cardmarket Grading
“You have to note that the ‘value’ was at times tough to determine. Even a platform as powerful as Cardmarket sometimes cannot give a complete picture of single cards’ individual values,” Solkanar noted. He needed an expert opinion. “I had checked who offered gradings in Germany once before. Two service providers I tried contacting by phone and email—with no result. I didn’t want to have any business with such ‘businesses.'”
An alternative presented itself in Cardmarket Grading, launched in 2021 as a cooperation between Cardmarket and GuardandGrading. As an accredited member of the German appraisers’ association, an appraisal here was guaranteed to be accepted by any insurance company. The communication went better too. According to Solkanar, “After one quick phone call, everything was settled. I got a tour of the offices and could inspect their safety precautions. At this point I’d like to thank the guys and gals for their good work. This was all up to the highest standards.”
He took his cards to the offices by car, driving very, very carefully. “On the journey I strictly adhered to all traffic laws. The cards were then stored safely and the grading was performed as soon as possible.”
Happy with the result? “The quality of the materials I rate as outstanding, same for the sealing. The grading process itself runs highly profesionally, I’d seen that myself beforehand. I also think the new label is well made.”
The advantages of grading? “Authenticity and condition is now legally documented, the sealing protects the cards, the database entry provides additional transparency.”
Afterward the cards went back to the safe where they aren’t as easy for anyone to appreciate but are sure to appreciate in value. According to Solkanar, “How much is tough to say, as it also depends on the specific card. In general I’d say that the grading and the sealing brings an increase of about twenty percent. A typical gain, like in the years before 2017, comes on top. I estimate that to be five to ten percent per year.”
One rarely gets the chance to pick the brains of a high-end collector at such a high end of the scale. So I just had to ask Solkanar for his thoughts and opinion on the recent news about Magic’s 30th Anniversary Edition.
“My honest opinion: Wizards will earn a lot of money with it. And precisely that is the goal of any commercial enterprise. I will not buy the stuff myself. After all I already have it—just in the original. Thus I wish everyone much fun with it.”
Bonus: Video Evidence
My colleagues took a trip to the grading offices and caught a lot of the collection on video as well. Check it out here!
Autor: Tobi Henke