Insider: Trading Is Dead (But Not for Bulk)

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I'm sure this isn't the first article written about Magic finance to use Trading Post as a thumbnail. Thankfully, I'm pretty sure it's been a while. The concept of "trading" (between players, not trading cards into an LGS for credit) has been written off as dead or dying for the past few years, ever since the proliferation of MTG pricing apps and the constant fear of "losing value" on the side of either party. The ease and accessibility of buying cards online has contributed to this, of course. Dedicated "binder grinders" have mostly faded into antiquity, other than on the Grand Prix scale.

I personally stopped bringing binders to my LGS back in 2013 or so, because it was just too much of a hassle. I didn't want to spend 20 minutes of my time trying to find another dollar card to make a trade even, so trading as a frequent occurrence just sort of vanished. Of course, this is all anecdotal. I don't go to your LGS (unless you live in Upstate New York and frequent Legacy Gaming Company), so maybe trading between players is still alive and well where you are. Maybe none of this paragraph applies to you, and there are binders open all the time at your LGS, with players happy to work out deals among themselves.

I can only attest to my own experiences. I'm here to tell you why (and how) I shifted to trading for bulk rares, near-bulk rares, commons, and uncommons.

I wish I could tell you about the first bulk rare trade I made. It was probably around 2011-2012, and it was probably after reading an Insider article that suggested the concept. I had accumulated an average binder of singles, but I also had all the decks I wanted to put together completed. I had Standard Birthing Pod, Modern Birthing Pod, and my Savra, Queen of the Golgari EDH deck. I wasn't really wanting for anything other than foils for the latter two, so trading was spent trying to get value.

I would try to pick up cards that I thought would go up in price (shocklands were a big one back then), and I would be moving common/uncommon picks as playsets (Azorius Charm, Strangleroot Geist, that kind of thing), but it was really just trading for nickels and dimes. I wasn't moving $100 trades constantly, it was just low-level stuff. It had gotten to the point that, other than specs, there was nothing I could find in someone else's binder that I actually wanted.

Eventually, it got to the point where there was nothing in the other party's binder, but I still had something they wanted. Whether it was a Sphinx's Revelation, Griselbrand, or even one of the few dual lands I owned at the time, we had reached a point where I was staring at eight pages of Sire of Insanity and Corpsejack Menace, while they wanted a single card of high value.

I made an offer. "Would you be willing to trade all of the garbage rares, at a flat rate, towards this Tundra?"

You can, of course, let them choose what's bulk, and feel free to correct them if they make any egregious errors. Once I had someone try to bulk out a Coat of Arms to me at ten cents and I had to gently move it over to the four-dollar pile on my price mat. Giving people more value than they expect is a great way to make repeat customers. Moving stuff like Smuggler's Copter to the $0.50 pile will widen a few eyes too, considering how these have sat in binders for so long.

Obviously, pulling out a pricing playmat at a Grand Prix or inside of an LGS without permission is not okay. Discuss this with the owner prior, or figure out a solution that works best for both of you. However, local stores and conventions aren't the only places where Magic is played. Is there a weekly Commander league at your school where people bring their binders? Maybe you can make some extra value trades while you get some games in. Competitive playtesting sessions with the grinders looking to tackle PPTQs? Bring your binder just in case someone decides they want to tech the Leyline of the Voids you brought with you in their sideboard.

Bulk rares are more common than you might think, especially once you do this for a few months and eventually secure a reputation as "the bulk rare person." This strategy might not work for everyone, especially if your LGS is willing to accept bulk rares at a reasonable rate.

Alternatively, let's go down that road for a second. Maybe your LGS buys and sells bulk rares. Unless they're a very large and successful store, they probably don't have literally every card cataloged by set and alphabetically. Even now as the guy sitting behind the counter, I have customers pull out stuff that I probably shouldn't have had in my 25-cent box.

They make money off of me, and so can you. If your store has a $0.50 bulk rare box or something similar, I highly recommend going back and reading a few of my articles from last month (and the next few to come), then digging through the bulk at your LGS. You'll probably find some Reef Worms like we discussed previously, or even some of the non-bulk rares I'm going to go over now in this week's section of Breaking Bulk.

Breaking Bulk

Lifeblood Hydra was in the Freyalise deck, and it's getting a reprint in Commander: Anthology. Don't let that fool you though; this Hydra isn't one of the bulk ones that rest in my quarter box. Retail on this card is close to $3, and I doubt that the upcoming reprint will be enough to put a dent in the price tag for very long. You might have local players cracking that very product to get the Kaalia, Meren, Freyalise, and Sol Rings, but they'll probably leave stuff like Siege Behemoth behind. Be there to trade for them or pull them from bulk.

This is one of my favorite trivia cards that everyone seems to think is worth bulking out at a dime. I'll happily pull these out and buylist them at close to a dollar all day, especially with such a small spread. TCG market on this fragile Leyline of Sanctity is close to $1.50, but he gets skimmed over all the time simply because Journey into Nyx was kind of a garbage fire of a set. It's also not really a competitive card (that I know of), so it flies under the radar pretty often.

It's Frontier-legal!! Okay, that's not why this card is $1. It's more than a bulk rare because it has one printing, and enough casual demand with people building Stuffy Doll-style decks where they ping their own creatures and play stuff like Blasphemous Act and Shivan Meteor.

Buylist? Anywhere from 25 to 50 cents, depending on the way the wind blows that day. Obviously you're not a Magic finance millionaire if you just find one of these in bulk, but that changes if you stop by an LGS that happens to have a playset of each card mentioned in this article so far. Add them to a buylist order to Cardkingdom or the Blueprint, and you suddenly paid for all your shipping costs.

End Step

This will be my last article before Grand Prix Las Vegas! I'll be working at the Hareruya vendor booth on Wednesday and Thursday, so feel free to stop by and say hi! I'll be spending the rest of the weekend selling cards to vendors, getting married, and then hanging out at the Command Zone's party on Thursday night. I hope everyone has safe travels to the event!

5 thoughts on “Insider: Trading Is Dead (But Not for Bulk)

  1. I’ve seen almost the same thing..though I am finding trading on Facebook to work out…it allows me to move into more liquid stuff. Most of my trades now are either with people who message me before some tournament with stuff they need and I trade up into bigger stuff for it (knowing what I want ahead of time).

  2. I generally agree. I’m heading to GP Sydney in Australia(i’m local to Melbourne) and i’m considering getting a t-shirt that says i trade for bulk rares.

  3. I used to be able to trade for bulk rares towards anything in my binders, but upon moving to a different part of the country it no longer worked: I moved into an area in which people didn’t want to ‘lose’ a bunch of cards they opened for only a couple cards in return, and I moved away from an area where people loved turning junk into gold.

    Trading is certainly harder on an average day, but I still have some success trading right before events like FNM/PPTQ/IQs, provided I have the correct cards for the format. However, stores are now the first point of attack for people with cards that are ‘extra’, even if people in the store have the cards they want and would give them more for their trade. Stores have done a good job of taking control over the traffic flow of cards in-store.


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