I'm guessing that if you have a subscription here on QS that you have a trade binder and to some extent enjoy the buying, selling, and trading aspect of our shared collectible hobby. Me too.
I've been into Magic: The Gathering since I was in sixth grade back in 1995. I was into collecting then and here I am over 20 years later and still interested in the same hobby! However, things sure have changed in the past 20 years.
The Evolution of MTG Trading
When I first got started playing Magic I remember trading cards with friends at school at lunch or on the bus to and from school. The preferred method of trading was to check the price guide in Scrye Magazine to make sure the deal was "fair." Obviously, this was exploitable because Scrye overvalued terrible rares.
I remember before the smart phone boom the way that people traded was to go through each others' binders and ask, "What do you value that at?" Each person would find cards and haggle over prices.
Honestly, better access to information makes trading a much more reasonable endeavor for everybody involved. In the olden days trading was kind of stressful because it was always a game of who knows more and who is going to haggle the better deal. At least now pretty much everybody will always get a reasonably fair deal because information about prices is so easily accessible.
Now trading is pretty easy. You and I both have smart phones, we look up the prices on TCG Player, and make a deal that is even. Most of the value in trading comes from:
1. Not having to trade your cards to a store at a discounted rate in order to acquire cards to play with.
2. Trading for cards with a "speculative mindset" where you think the card you are getting has a better opportunity to gain and maintain value into the future.
There has always been an angle in MTG trading. In 1995 it was trying to pawn off all of your $2.00 Revised Aladdin's Lamps for $6.00 dual lands. In 2005 it was asking "how much do you value this Tarmogoyf at?" and hoping they hadn't heard it spiked to $50.00 from $8.00. (I traded a Goyf for two Graven Cairns to finish a buddy's deck not realizing that Tarmogoyf had more than quadrupled in value that day!)
And now in 2016 we just try to trade for cards that are more likely to gain or retain value in the future based on what we know about MTG finance trends.
How I Organize My Collection
My collection is organized into the following categories:
1. The cards that I actually play with.
I own a lot of cards that are for my personal use. I don't trade or sell these cards because, well, I use them a lot. If I've ever needed a card for a deck I've played at some point, chances are that I still own it in my personal deckbuilder's stash.
2. The "Investment Binder."
The "investment binder" is full of goodies that I've traded for with the mindset of holding on for future gains. Extra dual lands, shock lands, fetch lands, Reserved List cards, and sweet foils. These are the cards that I'm speculating on. I generally bring it with me but don't show it to people when I trade with them unless they have something uber spicy that I really want.
3. The "For Trade Binder."
This is the binder full of goodies that I actually show people when we trade.
Get the Junk Out of the Trade Binder
The way that people trade has changed. For the most part, information is more accessible and potential trade partners are better informed than in the past. As a result I've noticed a few things and made adjustments to how I organize and approach potential trades.
First of all, nobody wants garbage cards anymore. There is a roughly 0% chance that anybody is ever going to trade for bulk rares. Back in the day, I loved putting my junk rares on display because people actually wanted these cards for some reason.
It is also worth noting that more casual crowd people actually attended Magic tournaments five years ago. People still showed up to FNM with their kitchen table zombie and burn decks. Not so much anymore. People who actually spend their time going to even local tournaments are much more savvy than they used to be. They know the difference between "real" cards and "nonsense" cards. Nobody wants your nonsense anymore.
The same goes for your bulk foils.
The key is that I don't even include non-Constructed-caliber cards in my trade binders anymore. If it's truly a junk rare or bulk foil, I set it aside in a box for future use. Whenever a random junk card suddenly becomes good you can always go back and pluck it out to load it into the trade binder.
If the card is inexpensive, but even niche-playable in Constructed, it can go into the binder, because there is a reasonable chance somebody could need one for an event.
The reason I don't put junk into my trade binder is that it just looks bad and nobody ever wants it. There is a pretty tested and true trading strategy where you have multiple trade binders and give a trading partner the binder with the least impressive stuff to look at first. The key is that if they pull out anything from your "junk" binder you are happy to find something in their binder to trade your lesser cards for.
While I'm still going to advocate for a two binder system, I'm very keen on keeping my "junk" binder looking pretty nice and not cluttering it up with garbage. You've seen the garbage trade binder before, right? It's when you go to trade with somebody and they have 50 nine-pocket pages front and back (all rares) and not a single card worth trading for.
Every single time I encounter this individual with the "hoarder" junk trade binder it makes me not want to trade with this individual in the slightest. Like, are you seriously expecting me to spend five minutes pawing through your bulk rare binder hoping that I'm in the market for Otarian Juggernaut? Give me a break. It comes across as slimy and disingenuous. We both know that you have more for trade than this crap, so why are you wasting my time?
My thought process is:
Nobody wants it.
Even if they did, it's not worth anything anyway.
Showing it to people makes them distrustful of you, annoyed with you, and unlikely to want to deal with you. Why am I carrying around a 25-pound binder that nobody wants to look through again?
The "For Trade" Binder
So, I've told you what I don't put in my trade binder---let's talk about what I've actually got in there. While I bring two binders with me I'm primarily only interested in trading out of my "for-trade" binder.
I would consider everything that I put into this binder to be "real cards" but cards that I'm interested in trying to trade for more lucrative or conservative investments.
Things ranging from Always Watching to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. If the card is playable and I'm not extremely sure the card is a great "hold for more value spec," I'm looking to trade it for better speculation targets. My goal is to put as many attractive cards as possible into my trade binder, because I actively want people to pull out cards so I can trade for cards that I think have a higher upside.
If you're confident that you're trading for the right stuff, you really want to make as many trades as possible!
Another solid trick is to keep a playset or two of every good constructed uncommon in your binder as well. Cards like Duskwatch Recruiter // Krallenhorde Howler, Silkwrap, and Lambholt Pacifist // Lambholt Butcher are among the easiest cards to find suitors for! Don't be shy about trading to refill these cards because they tend to go in and out of your stock a lot.
The Investments Binder
My investments binder is basically where I keep all of the cards that I don't need for my "player's collection" but that I'm holding onto for future gains.
I love trying to trade things from my for-trade binder for cards to add to my investments binder. Obviously, Modern lands, Reserved List cards and desirable foils tend to keep going up in value over time!
I'm willing to trade out of this binder but generally only for cards that I really, really want. For instance, I need a foil Baleful Strix for my Battle Box and a City of Traitors for my Legacy Eldrazi deck right now. I'd be more than happy to pull out my investment binder in order to trade for cards that I personally would like to own.
What to Do With My Junk Cards?
I've already advocated that the junky cards shouldn't come with you to the trading floor. It is a waste of space and doesn't generate a lot of positive value for the cost that it requires.
So, I basically have two four-column boxes that I keep tucked away under my bed. The first four-column box is for playable commons and uncommons. If the card is Constructed-playable I save it and when random commons and uncommons spike I go back and pluck them out. I can't even tell you how many Serum Visions, Mishra's Baubles, and Simian Spirit Guides I've found!
I do the exact same thing for bulk foils and bulk rares. I just stash them away and go back for cards that magically become valuable later on. When my bulk rares and foils start to get too full I go through and I sift out the absolute worst bulk and sell it off with my bulk commons. I typically cull my bulk once every year or so when there is a local GP or Open. The longer you hold onto the bulky stuff the better the chance that some of the cards will suddenly become money!
Well, that is kind of how I organize my collection. My biggest innovation has been to stash the bulk away and keep it out of sight, out of mind until it is actually worth something. Then, if it isn't worth something I get rid of it later down the line.
It's a good and proven system that I have adapted and evolved over the years. Always speculate. Always trade for better prospects. And, always be organized!