Counting Cards

For quite a while now, I have been engaged in… uh…

…well, insanity, if you must name it. I mean, jeeze, fine, have your way, I’ve gone fucking bananas.

I haven’t wanted to discuss this… current… lunacy. Not publicly. Not even in a semi-anonymous blog.

I’ll let you be the judge as to whether or not my reluctance in describing my recent behavior was (is) justified. But first, you have to make it through this blog post. Yes, the whole thing.

[ Aside #1: That is, of course, assuming that what you require is my permission to pass judgment on my behavior. However, knowing you… and I do know you… it is my stated postulation that you require no such permission. Much to my chagrin. ]

I mentioned a while back… (this is one of those threshold moments, where once you type the next few words, there’s no real going back. I’m savoring it. Savor savor savor.) …that I have something of a collection of Vampire: the Eternal Struggle cards. At the time, the total I had derived (mathematically, you may recall) was that I had 12,000+ plus cards, many of which had been carried over from the murky depths of the past, but many of which had, instead, been recently acquired at what amounts to “fire sale” rates.

[ Aside #2: The notion that there is a reason that game store owners are willing to sell these cards at said “fire sale” rates is an idea I have been steadfastly ignoring. ]

All of the above is true, if slightly out of date. I would not be exaggerating if I were to say that the man who wrote those two posts had no idea what he was getting himself into.

But what, you may ask, is there in this ludicrous hobby to spend three months of time on?


Let me start with a boast: I can tell you roughly how long it takes to sort 13,000+ cards by type, and then alphabetize those cards within their types. Actually, “roughly” is a misnomer: I can tell you almost exactly how long it takes to engage in this tomfoolery.

I can tell you this because I have done it eight times in the last three months. It takes something like three to four full evenings. Something around ten to twelve hours of labor.

Sort #1: Naive Hopefulness
See… at first, I simply wanted to get everything I had in some kind of reasonable order, so that if I wanted to make a deck or two, I could. Easy enough: I had decided long ago that alphabetical order is the way to store trading card games.

Some folks will sneer at this: too much labor involved, not worth it, yadda yadda yadda. They overlook, in my most humble and well-educated opinion, the sweet, sweet feeling that comes over you when you want a specific card and it takes you precisely three seconds to find it. Especially when you’re finding it among 14,000+ of it’s bretheren.

So, first I sorted by card type (Master cards, Combat cards, Action cards, Action Modifiers, Reactions, Political Actions, Equipment, Allies, and Retainers… I know; you were just dying to to know that), and then alphabetized.

Sort #2: I’ll Just Fix This One Thing
But at the end of that sort, I noticed something pretty obnoxious. Cards come in different rarities (rare, uncommon, and common, generally), and so I had varying numbers of cards… see… and I had a lot of certain common cards, and very few of the rares…

…and so, in my stacks, I’d have 47 Lucky Blows, followed by 1 Lupine Assault, and then like 86 Majesties.




I know. Disastrous.

Well, maybe not disastrous. But it did certainly make pulling the rare cards out of the stacks a pain in the butt. Okay, so that’s easy to fix, right? I just sort ’em by rarity first!

…which equals twelve hours of effort.

Sort #3: Maybe I Should Sell Some Of The Extras
Having 15,000+ cards all sorted by rarity, card type, and then alphabetically within card type was quite satisfying, in a “wow, that was a lot of really satisfying work” kind of way.

Here is something I have learned about myself over the years: sorting things causes me pleasure. Real, palpable, physical pleasure. My mother is fond of telling the story about how when I was two years old (!!), she would keep me entertained by handing me two hundred pennies. I would turn them into stacks of ten, you see, all spread around in little clumps of 100.

This condition has not improved. It has gotten worse.

At this point, my wife posed an interesting question to me. “Do you,” she posed, semi-querulously and with one hand poised before her, as if to ward off any icy looks I might send flinging her way, “actually need sixty copies of the same card?” Then she bolted for the front door, pulling furniture into her wake as she ran, presumably to foil any would-be darklord-style pursuit.

You know, I think that all that labor and sorting must have done something to my mind. Maybe I was still euphoric from all the alphabetine running around in my bloodstream. Whatever it was, the idea of ridding myself of some of the extras I had accumulated made a great deal of sense.

When you decide that you’re going to take your 16,000+ card collection and pull out the ones you want to sell, the simplest thing (I figured) was to pick minimums for each card type.

[ Aside #3: This is extraordinarily true. Of course, the simplest sort would be a minimum for each type of zero, but this didn’t occur to me. ]

After some analysis, I settled on 10 of each common, 4 of each uncommon, and 2 of each rare. Seemed reasonable, and would certainly allow me to create whatever deck type I could ever hope for, were I to ever want to, you know, play this game. At some point. In the future.

…so, twelve hours of labor later, I had extracted one and a half of these here card boxes full of my extraneous pickings. It was admittedly slim fare: we are talking about the cards that I had the most of, by a long shot, and there weren’t very many rares in there, but what the hell.

So I listed a couple of ’em on eBay. Experimentally.

I made like -$5.

But… see… this was clearly because I had set my prices, shipping, and handling wonky. I tried again.

I made something like $60 on the next set.

I tell you this mainly to explain what happened next. The idea that I could pay for my obsession… with my obsession… struck my attention centers with such immediacy, that I started researching my options within 0.34 seconds this idea entering my frontal lobes.

[ I would call this next bit an Aside, but it really kinda takes over, so it’s more of an Onward!: ]

One thing I can tell you about those eBay folks: they have spent a lot of time and effort making tools to make selling stuff on their website easier.

Take, for example, this thing they call Turbo Lister. Turbo Lister is, effectively, Excel for eBay listings. It lets you assemble your whole stock of auctions, offline, and then upload them all at once. Ever wonder how people manage to list a ton of crap all at once, and in alphabetical order? No? Me neither, but as soon as I saw this tool, it all clicked.

Sure is super cool, but it sure would be cooler if there was some way to automate it… like… a way to import the card auction data from my Excel spreadsheet… like…

…everything kinda went grey and fuzzy for a while there. When I emerged, I had created what can only be described as a tool path.

[ Aside #4: Okay, you need to settle back, grab ahold of the arms of your chair, grit your teeth, and take it like a man. I’m about to go supernerd on yer ass. ]

As of right now, it goes like this:

  1. I take my Excel card database, mark which of my 17,000+ cards I want to make auctions out of (by putting an “A” in the “List?” column, if you must know), and give them a starting price for the auction. Say, “$0.99”.
  2. I then save a version of said card database (with only the columns I need for my eBay listing: stuff like th price, the name, the image file, etc.) as a “.csv” file. This file is a big pile of shit, that only something like a half-baked Python script written by a retarded gorilla could possibly munge.
  3. I then munge this .csv file with a half-baked Python script that wrote (and have re-written a hundred and fifty three times). What this script does (currently) is this:
    • Deletes all the cards I don’t want to make auctions for.
    • Figures out what printing of card I’m selling, and picks the right image for it. More on that in a sec.
    • Reads in an HTML template that I’ve written, and, using this, it generates the HTML for the actual auction body for each card I want to list. You know, the name, the picture, my shipping rules, etc.
    • Re-exports all this crap into the “File Exchange” format that Turbo Lister (eBay’s super fun tool) can read. Believe it or not, this format has something like 150 data fields, that are all undocumented. That was fun.

    At the end of this, I have a new .csv file, that Turbo Lister likes, that has just my auctions in it.

  4. Import said auctions into Turbo Lister.
  5. Snarl and curse at Turbo Lister because the import didn’t work for some fucking arcane reason that changes every time I update the program with the new version off of eBay.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 until it finally fucking imports.
  7. Review my auctions in Turbo Lister. If I am happy, then:
  8. Upload my auctions to eBay.
  9. Page through my auctions online, in stunned disbelief that it all actually worked.

[ Aside #5: Okay, you can let go of your chair now, and un-grit your teeth. ]

It worked. I had written it, and it worked. I couldn’t believe it.

I looked at my 18,000+ card collection. It had been growing recently… kindof swelling up… and it now fit in five card boxes. I had allocated 1.5 of those boxes as “for sale”.

What in god’s name had I been thinking.

Sort #4: Holy Shit Maybe I Can Actually Make Money At This
10 commons, 4 uncommons, and 2 rares?? HA!! How about 2 of each card! I mean really. Am I ever going to need a bunch of common cards and not have them or not be able to get them?? Nah. Not when I can sell ’em!

What I really want is… is…

…twelve hours of labor later, it struck me what I really wanted.

Sort #5: One Of Each Card Ever Printed
Several weeks prior, I had been at a V:TES gaming event (yes! I played! Like, twice!), and this guy had said the following (immensely destructive) words to me:

“Yeah, I finally finished my collection. I’ve got one of each card. {pause} Not, you know, one of each printing {laughs}, I decided I was good with just one of each card.”

One. Of each. Card.

Now, the thing to understand here is that there have been fourteen various printings & expansions of this game, and certain cards get reprinted a lot. There are several cards that have eight different versions, and most cards have at least two.

It was brilliant. Of course that was what the final collection should look like. One. Of each. Card.

I know you think that we’re done. Or, perhaps, you are wishing that we were done. Or, possibly, you are desperate for me to be done, and have already gouged out your own eyes.

Regardless, you are, I base-lessly imagine, wondering what I could possibly expect to gain out of torturing you with the inane details of this wacky obsession.

I can tell you that I don’t truly know. Doesn’t matter, though, because that’s just where we are, kid. Your only escape now is to read to the end.

(Or, the “back” button. Either way.)

I am, however, not entirely unaware of your suffering. To show you how much I love you, I will summarize some of the rest of this sordid tale, thus:

Sort #6: I Should Pull Out All The Cards I Really Want To Keep

Sort #7: That Was A Stupid Idea, I Had It Right With Sort #5

And, last but not least,

Sort #8: I Bought A Whole Bunch Of New Booster Packs With Some Of My Winnings

Now. I have two more pieces of information I want to share with you… each of which has a link associated with it. And, then I’ll give you a final tidbit, with a link, and we’ll be done. K?

Piece Of Information The First:
I mentioned my Excel database. This is no ordinary Excel database. It is, at this point, a 23 megabyte monstrosity that tracks the entirety of my card collection. It… it’s really something, and I cannot do it justice in word form. Brave souls may want to download and view, at their discretion.

(If you are not familiar with Excel’s “grouping” features, try clicking the little “+” and “-” symbols at the top of the sheet.)

Apologies in advance. I had no idea it would turn into that.

I’m… not telling you this to brag about how cool my .xls file is. Well, not primarily for that. I’m telling you this so that the next thing I want to tell you will fit in its proper perspective.

You see the columns that have to do with the number of cards?

Each time I sorted and resorted my 19,000+ cards, I counted them. Each card. And, then updated those values in the spreadsheet, which underwent a structural changes to reflect each organizational approach.

*whew* I feel much better for having said that. I hope you do too.

Piece of Information The Second:
It is necessary, when one is selling large numbers of things on eBay, to get images of said things.

I discovered, early on in this process, that we have a scanner at work that has an amazing feature on it. I can put 15 cards all spaced out nicely on the scan bed (it’s pretty big), and this scanner’s software will figure out that what I want is fifteen individual files, and do all the grunt work for me, with one scan. Pretty cool.

Of course, it’s not so good at naming them. “img353.jpg” is not nearly as useful to me as “assault_rifle_jyh.jpg”. That part, I have to do.

OK. Now, here’s the link to my eBay image database. Enjoy it, because I’m working on a way to protect it from hooligans like you.

*whew* I feel better for having talked about that. I hope you do, too.

Piece Of Information The Third:
I have 20,000+ cards now. I have no idea how that happened. I’ve gone completely mad.

p.s. I made that eBay store logo! I’m proud of it, even if it is a derivative work. Photoshop is cool.