Insider: The Pros and Cons of Bulking

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It seems like the perfect scenario. Your trade partner has some expensive cards you want, whether it’s a Sword or a Bonfire of the Damned. The best part is, he just wants the crap out of your binder that isn’t worth anything! Everyone wins, right?


Let’s start by defining bulking. Bulking is where someone (usually a dealer) gives a flat rate of 10-12 cents on all your supposedly worthless rares. Other traders will sometimes try and do the same.

The Cons

Bulking is an old trick to trade cash for cards. When a person gives 10 cents per bulk rare in trade, they’re essentially buying those cards at cash prices, or even below cash prices because you can sometimes get 12 cents per bulk rare, depending on the store. You must be wary of this trap, because it sounds good on the surface but doesn’t usually turn out that way.

Here’s the problem with bulking. You pull out the expensive card of theirs that you want. Say, for instance, it’s a Sword of Fire and Ice. You ask them their price, and they respond with a fair offer of $35, which you accept. Then they ask you if you’re interested in bulking, and say they even offer you 12 cents per rare.

Assuming for the sake of this scenario that all the rares pulled out are indeed bulk (this is rarely ever the case, something we’ll get to). Because 12 cents is a cash price and not a “trade” price, it is literally the exact same as using cash to buy a card, especially when you’re at a GP where the bulk is easily liquidated. You’ve essentially just bought a Sword at full retail, and the other guy has sold one at that price.

I have a few suggestions on how to handle someone asking you to bulk to them.

-       Just say no if you aren’t comfortable. Many people don’t know what is true bulk and what isn’t, so chances are you could be giving away even more than you know.

-       If you are comfortable with bulking, demand a cash price on their card as well. That means buylist price of whatever site they’re using. If you’re playing with cash numbers, they should be doing the same.

-       Target Standard cards in the exchange. Sure, it’s fine to go all the way up to a dual or something, but if you’re working with buylist numbers you’re going to get the best deal by looking at Standard cards, since they will have the lowest buylist-to-retail spread.

Now after this I can certainly see why you’d just want to avoid the process altogether, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But it’s also an incomplete evaluation, because there are ways for both parties to win with bulking, as there is in any trade.

The Pros

I’ve recently become much more involved in the bulking game because I’ve found a local store paying 25 cents per bulk rare, which is absolutely unheard of. I imagine it’s a terribly unprofitable business practice for the store, but then again maybe they get enough gems in the bulk to make it worth it. Either way, it works out great for me.

I’ve begun allowing people to bulk to me at 15 cents per rare, which is the best rate they will get anywhere. We usually determine a near-cash price for whatever I’m giving them, so this deal actually makes a lot of sense for that party. I’m then able to flip the bulk at a quarter apiece, essentially making a dime on every 15 cents I spend. In short, it’s very profitable.

But let’s assume you’re not lucky enough to have such an outlet (I assume you’re not). What does this mean to you?

Well, there are several other reasons to offer bulking to your trade partners, particularly in your local area where you may be one of their best outlets. A lot of local stores don’t even want to buy bulk, so you can fill a whole in the market.

We’ve established that bulking cards is the same as selling them in cash. And cash is something we can always work out a favorable deal with. Suppose you have a Thragtusk that somebody wants. A fair trade price is $12-15 for the card, and you won’t get more than $7 in buylist for it.

You and your trade partner could work out an equitable trade for the Thragtusk and call it a day. Or, you can get a little creative to make some cash. If you’re looking to out the Thragtusk for cash, you’re not getting more than $7 from a dealer. At the same time, the player who needs it isn’t going to get it for less than $12 from a dealer.

I smell a middle ground!

You can both win here. Just put a $10 price point on the Thragtusk and take that many bulk rares at whatever rate you can out them for (let’s assume a dime each). 100 bulk rares later, you have essentially $10 in cash and your trade partner was able to out a bunch of Vizzerdrix for a discount on a highly-desirable card for his deck. Everyone wins.

Unexpected Benefits

Under the examples thus far, we’ve assumed every card is true bulk. If you’ve ever been involved in this practice, you know that’s hardly ever the case. Even other traders have bulked to me cards that aren’t true bulk, such as Royal Assassin, which you can get 20 to 25 cents for. I realize that doesn’t sound like much, but as we know it all adds up very quickly. When you’re dealing with hundreds of cards, finding a few not-bulk cards per dozen will quickly add up, and all of a sudden you’ve sold that Thragtusk for above retail value.

And chances are you’re going to get more than just a few gems. I’ve seen Proclamation of Rebirths go for bulk to basic Zendikar lands to Asceticisms and Darksteel Plates. It’s all about grinding out value, and bulking is a way to give yourself a lot of opportunities to do so easily. It’s not the sexiest way of getting value, but as you get better at picking bulk you’ll really start to do well.

And this extends to Commons and Uncommons. Many times people will just throw these away, so grabbing them for essentially free can be insane. For instance, at GenCon last week Kelly and I picked 5,000+ C/U I had from a collection. We pulled infinite cards like Imperious Perfect, and I even found a Spell Snare and a foil Zendikar Mountain!

Of  course, when you’re trading for these you’re not quite as lucky to do so well, but I imagine you’ll definitely be able to find some Manamorphose-type cards in the bunch.

Bulking is a great power. And like Uncle Ben says, that comes with great responsibility. A lot of people are intimidated by the concept when they are introduced to it, but I hope I’ve demonstrated today how both parties involved can utilize it to great effect.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

3 thoughts on “Insider: The Pros and Cons of Bulking

  1. Corbin,
    Would you possibly write an article highlighting some of the gems in "bulk", that aren't actually worthless? Some of the easy misses? Loved the article.

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