Insider: Nuances of the Trade Binder

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This article's focus will be on preparing  your trade binders, whether for regular FNM events or a large GP or PT. It is critical to know what you have and what its current value is. Just as important is how you present it.

Binder vs. Box

While it seems obvious, there are many differences between a binder and a box of trade stock. Binders are usually more organized and they display your stock in a much cleaner fashion. They allow you to keep stock of what you have easier and can also help keep track of what you're missing.

Trade boxes are fine for low-value stuff or bulk/near bulk cards you have tons of. It doesn't make sense to take up three pages of binder space with the same uncommon.

But when you want to trade with people, pulling out a box sends certain signals.

  1. This person isn't organized (i.e. they're new to trading).
  2. This person likely doesn't know all that they have.
  3. This person probably has mostly bulk or crap.

#1 will attract sharks who actually don't mind #3 as much because they believe you're likely to have a few hidden $5-10 cards they can trade other bulk for. #2 means you're unlikely to notice when something goes missing (which attracts thieves).

One way to avoid these issues is to keep a binder with pictures of the cards and a box to store them. I've seen this approach from a few stores, and I like it a lot. It prevents people from pulling stuff out of your binder which may or may not end back up in it, it doesn't stretch pages (which happens when people put multiple copies of a card in the page to consolidate space), and it gives a clean, professional look.

The downside is that this strategy doesn't let someone know how many copies of a card you have (which requires you to either keep a running tally in your head or constantly check) and doesn't present the condition of the card (many traders who sell online want NM only).

Choosing Your Binder

This seems like a pretty simple concept, but there are quite a lot of options out there. The table below will list the most common ones along with the pros and cons.

Type of Binder Pros Cons
Standard 3-Ring (Round)
  • Cheap
  • Easy to Use
  • Not too Flashy
  • Holds large amount of cards
  • Can be expanded
  • Sleeves can be swapped out
  • Can damage cards if too many pages are used
  • Bland/boring (look the same)
  • Cards fall out when binder is upside down
  • Top-loaded
Standard 3-Ring (D-Ring)
  • Cheapish
  • Easy to Use
  • Not too flashy
  • Can hold large amount of cards
  • Can be expanded
  • Sleeves can be swapped out
  • Less likely to damage your cards (as the pages all sit on the "flat" of the DBland
  • Boring (look the same)
  • Cards fall out when binder is upside down
  • Top-loaded
  • Easy to Use
  • Holds cards firmly in place
  • Looks professional
  • Side-loaded to protect cards from falling out
  • Expensive
  • Limited number of cards can be held per binder
  • Can't be expanded
  • Pages can stick together or smell "plasticy" if left in the heat
Ultra Pro
  • Easy to Use
  • Look decent
  • Cheaper than Monster binders
  • Often have a strip to hold binder closed
  • Limited number of cards per binder
  • Can't expand them
  • Cards can slide out of sleeves
Portfolio Binder
  • Cheap
  • Cool Artwork
  • Cards not firmly held in place
  • Can't expand them
  • Cards can slide out of sleeves
  • Top-loaded


This covers the majority of your binders. You can always get the trapper keeper three-ring binders, which will prevent cards from falling out if flipped upside down, but my personal preference is for the Monster Binders. I put all my Standard and high-end Legacy/Modern in Monster binders with one card per pocket, in an older sleeve.

Building Your Binder

There are two camps of binder organization, each with its own merits.

1. Organized

  • Allows browser to quickly determine if the desired card is available.
  • Looks clean and professional.
  • Allows players with color preferences to focus on certain areas.
  • Allows owner to quickly find out which card he's out of.

2. Disorganized

  • Forces trade partner to peruse whole binder, which may cause them to find previously unconsidered cards (similar to the candy placement at your local grocery store).

I fall squarely in the Organized category. I have all binders organized by color and separate binders by format. This allows me to focus on what my trade partner wants. When dealing with most FNM traders I only need to bring in the Standard binder (and leaving the more valuable Legacy binder in the car reduces risk of theft).

This also prevents me from "overwhelming" some newer players who will often fixate on something expensive which they can't afford and then they give up on stuff in their price range. It also prevents the annoying, "I have $60 worth of these random Standard cards...can I get your dual land for my EDH deck," as well as the typical fallout after the "No thanks" that ensues.

Work With What You Have

I understand that players come from all sorts of socioeconomic places. We have some with full time professional jobs who can and will dump $400+ dollars a month into the game all the way down to middle school kids who might get a pack a month after saving up extra lunch money (I was in this category as a kid).

It's easy to give up on your own binder when you see the guy with four of everything. Just keep in mind that the two easiest ways to build up a collection are time and money. Work with whichever you have.

I've seen plenty of younger players build up solid collections by being shrewd traders and keeping on top of price changes. If you're in middle school or high school you likely have more free time than a lot of the professionals. So when you see a card spiking or think one will try to get all the copies you can. From the professional's standpoint, don't be afraid to pull out your smartphone and teach those whippersnappers a lesson.

Tradeable vs. Not Tradeable

I have a few friends who go by the creed that "everything is for the right price." While this  creed sounds like the one you want to follow, the problem is "the right price" is incredibly vague and highly unlikely to occur many times.

What they end up doing is putting all their stuff into one binder, except some cards really aren't for trade unless the offer is so astronomically in their favor that they can't justify refusing. As you'd guess this has yet to occur.

What it does do is upset their trade partner when they finally find something they really wanted only to find out it's not for trade.

This is even worse when people put cards with strong sentimental value in their trade binders (the first rare they ever got, their favorite card, the card they got signed by the artist they met that one time). Guess what, your trade partner doesn't share that sentimental value and they won't pay you for yours.

I personally have Not-for-Trade Binders (where I keep my personal play sets) which I don't bring to events. Everything in my trade binders is tradeable. I've seen plenty of trades collapse because a lynchpin to a trade was in that "not really tradeable" category. Keep it simple, if it's in your trade binder that you hand to someone, it's for trade. If you go into a trade with that mindset you're far more likely to actually complete a trade.

To Bling or Not to Bling

This is the strategy of putting all your valuable stuff in the front of your binder. Often this is meant to sort of show off as well as make it easy for the traders who are only looking for big ticket items. I see this in a lot of newer traders binders, with often the first page including the best of what they have, followed by a couple of pages of random Standard rares, followed by uncommons and commons.

The problem with this strategy is that it discourages people from really looking at your binder. If you organize this way, many traders will look at the front few pages and if they don't see anything they need on page one or two they just say, "sorry I don't see anything I need."

While this is helpful when your goal is to conduct large quantities of trades, when you have a smaller binder you don't need lots of trades; you need a few good ones to get what you want or need. This strategy also tends to be favored by those with the "disorganized" binder approach mentioned previously.

Know What's in Your Binder

This serves two purposes. First it helps conduct trades quickly when people desperately need cards before a tournament (maybe they haven't finished their deck yet or just discovered they forgot something at home). These trades can often be the most lucrative, especially if they're seeking something hard to find.

Two, it protects you from potential thieves. After all, who makes a better target: the person who knows what they have when they hand you their trade binder or the person who has no idea? Hopefully the answer is obvious...

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David Schumann

David started playing Magic in the days of Fifth Edition, with a hiatus between Judgment to Shards. He's been playing Commander since 2009 and Legacy since 2010.

View More By David Schumann

Posted in Finance, Free Insider, Trading

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13 thoughts on “Insider: Nuances of the Trade Binder

  1. Dave.

    Since land is the most important part of your deck i have one monster binder only dedicated to land.They are all sorted in alphabetical order but have both legacy,vintage modern and standard in that binder.Should a land binder be seperated by format or lumped together in this shipshod way that i have it?Unfortunately with all the stuff i have it’s impossible to carry all my binders in my backpack.Any suggestions? thanks in advance

    1. We are actually somewhat on the same page. I have a land binder myself, though it’s solely modern lands as I spec’d hard on shocklands and fetchlands which take up a majority of one monster binder. The remainder of the binder is wwk manlands, shadowmoor/eventide/morningtide/etc filter lands, and Scars fastlands. I keep my dual lands in my “Legacy” binder solely because that’s where I have the space. I don’t blame you for going the Alphabetical Order route, however, my big concern with that is if you pick up a few more in the A-D range isn’t it a pain to shift all the others back? I do think it’s better to organize any binders by format/color as opposed to alphabetical for that reason. I also like to have a bit of space between sections (i.e. if you end at 1/2 a page of blue cards don’t immediately start putting green cards on the same page, but instead start on the next full page available.)

    1. That’s a good point. I always sleeve the cards in my monster binders so I’ve not been concerned about it, but I honestly believe you should sleeve them one way or another anyways, preferably with white background sleeves for blackbordered cards and black background sleeves for white boarded cards (as it really highlights condition)

  2. I’ve found that even D ring binders can leave binder imprints (this one wasn’t very full either, though may have been at some point). I’ve actually been thinking about how to store my expensive cards recently. I wonder how others handle this? My expensive cards are rarely moved and then because I put them in decks or because I got new ones to fit into the same binder with no space left on the pages.

    I’m tempted to double sleeve them and just put them in a longbox instead as fitting in new ones becomes easier, but I’ve seen someone say that long term storage in longboxes might cause corner bends.I also like them in a binder to look at. I’d probably need more than one binder if I don’t want a C or D ring binder though and that still leaves the problem of moving them to make room for others.

    Did anyone ever find a good solution?

    1. There are curved, plastic spacers that clip onto the 3-rings and hold the pages up and out of the spine so they don’t get imprinted like that. You should look for those. I’ve never seen them with anything labeled for TCG card use, but rather for sports card binders.

      1. I’m not sure I quite understand what you’re referring to, any chance you have a link for me? Not sure they are sold in these parts (I’m Dutch, sports cards are not a common thing here), but I could probably order them from the US if I know where to get them.

  3. David what do you think about having all your spec stuff in your binder? It shows off that you’re a speculator and I’m starting to think that may brand you as a sneaky guy who’s gonna take your goods.

    Or also if you show that you have like 20 Jaces for trade might seem too intimidating? But another train of thought is that if they need something from you, they’re not gonna care.

    1. That’s a great question and one that everyone must decide on personally. I follow the idea that many stores use, which is to only keep a few copies (typically a playset) visible and keep your remainders in another binder. This 1) keeps people from jumping on you for (hopefully falsely) accusing you of being a shark, 2) it creates a more “limited offer” look (if you have 20 copies of something I need I’m more inclined to keep looking elsewhere with the knowledge that I can probably find you and pick them up later if I can’t find anyone else with them), 3) It’s safer, if someone were to steal your binder they wouldn’t get all your copies. The only time I have any exception to this rule is for highly liquid staples…I have my modern land binder which has 18+ of each fetch and shockland. But people that are looking for higher dollar cards are often less concerned about dealing with “sharks” because the number of people with them is far fewer than with the $3-5 standard rares. However, that being said, I don’t advertise the modern land binder and only bring it out when someone specifically asks for fetchlands. I also keep a playset of all the shocks in my standard binder (as they are standard legal currently)

  4. I bought archival binders from a website, I think its archival or something, they are like 50 dollars each but they have slipcases and are very nice and keep dust out, and are d ring. For the pages I use ultrapro premium black pages, which are actually somewhat hard to find in large numbers, I bought more at gencon from ultrapro but they had to dig for.them so I am not sure if.they are discontinued or something..this way is great for holding high end sets on a bookcase with max protection

    1. I’d never heard of them before, but the binders look interesting. Those ultra pro pages look great (and fyi they are on amazon at 7.35 per 10) and if I ever decide to go to larger D-ring style binders I’ll probably give those a shot. I really like my monster binders which fit really well in my awesome military style laptop bag (I bought at a gun show that holds binders amazingly) (

  5. Its interesting to read your Bling section. I’ve found that if I’m trading and someone opens up the binder and sees A/B/U/R Lands and Fetches they are likely to pull out their ‘better’ binder they may have been holding back on you. Also I’ve heard some people talk about their trade stratagey being just opening their binder and waiting and it may attract more people if you have higher end stuff opened on the front page.

    1. That’s a valid point as I have seen people do that. I’ve also seen those people sitting by themselves for quite awhile too. However, as much as I love to trade, I will personally say I have never sat down next to someone utilizing that strategy because as bad as it sounds it almost screams “shark”, as most people don’t carry A/B duals on them to openly advertise them. To me (personally) it feels like I’m out of their league…just as I’ve had people tell me when they saw my legacy binder that I was out of theirs and that’s not where you want to be if your goal is to trade extensively. I realize this is often a misconception, but it is a common enough one that I should have mentioned it in my article.

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