Everybody wants to get something for nothing, and today, I’m going to share a tried-and-true way that I consistently extract exactly something from nothing from my bulk cards. The key to my strategy is patience and organization, but with a little bit of both, you’ll be able to start raking in that easy free value down the road.
What is Bulk?
If you’re reading this article, you probably have at least a rough idea of what constitutes bulk MTG cards. Essentially, these are cards that do not have value attached to the name of the card, only value attached to simply being a Magic card of a specific rarity.
These are cards that basically have bottom-basement pricing when it comes to their individual values. Most retailers will buy bulk rares for ten cents apiece, and most will buy bulk commons and uncommons for between $2 and $3 per 1,000. That is basically the cheapest that Magic cards can be acquired in bulk, since they can always be sold and bought at that bulk price.
The reason that retailers buy bulk Magic cards is that they are betting that there will be non-bulk items mixed into the bulk that they can pull out, sell for a premium, and then resell the bulk for the same price or better. It is also worth noting that it is pretty much impossible to make a bad bulk investment, since you are paying a price that you are almost guaranteed to be offered up in return.
The biggest problems with bulk as a strategy is that it takes up a lot of time and storage space. The biggest upside of bulk is that it is guaranteed to make variable price gains over time and has almost no risk on investment.
Mitigating Downside, Maximizing Upside
So, I’ve already stated that storage and time are the downside and the upiside is basically guaranteed. Why is the upside guaranteed?
Well, when it comes to bulk, we are looking for outliers. Indivdiual cards in the bulk that are, in fact, not bulk at all. This can happen in a number of ways. Sometimes people don’t pull out legitimately good commons and uncommons when they sell off their bulk, sometimes they miss them, and most importantly, cards can very easily go from being a bulk card to a money card given some time.
You don’t have to look very hard at the Pauper and Modern landscape to see that it is riddled with cards that used to be bulk at one time and are now vaulable: Conflagrate, Standard Bearer, Mishra’s Bauble, Gorilla Shaman… The list has got to be in the hundreds deep at this point.
My theory of bulk is to basically bet on the aforementioned phenomenon being something that is intrinsc and repeatable in MTG finance, because it is.
The part of the equation that is both the cost and the metric by which value is gained is time. The cost is the time it takes to sort through thousands of bulk cards. However, it is also the passage of time that will allow indivdiual cards in the bulk to gain value.
Here’s an example:
I will always buy bulk from my friends and MTG acquaintances because I think it’s great value. When they mention they are going to sell their bulk, I’ll simply jump in and offer to match the $2 per 1,000 cards.
So, let’s say I bought 4,000 cards for $8.00. I could sort through those cards immediately. It would probably take me about a half hour to get through the collection. I’m presented the option to pick through the collection immediately and probably find a few above-bulk cards to pull out that I can immediately resell to gain my $8 back – except, I’m up a few above average commons and uncommons.
The problem is that most savvy sellers will spend the half-hour up front to pick out those good cards upfront, making it unlikely to find much real value.
My strategy, is that I take that box of bulk, write the date I acquired it on it somewhere, and stash it away with my other bulk to come back to later once more time has passed. By doing this, I’m not wasting my time by sifting through stacks of cards where I’m unlikely to find anything that is worth the time I’m spending sorting.
Time has value, and I don’t mean to waste mine doing things that have very little value. Minimum wage is like $10 an hour, I certainly wouldn’t want to be doing work and making a profit that is less than that. The cool thing about bulk cards is that if you hold onto that 4,000-card purchase for a two years, you’ll almost certainly be finding enough cards that have gained value to be worth your time. In fact, I’d expect to do much, much better than $10.00 profit per hour after selling.
You can also sort bulk in cycles to make profit. For instance, after I’ve waited a year to go through bulk for the first time I’ll sort those cards into three different piles:
- Good cards I’m pulling out to sell and trade
- Cards that are better than bulk and have future potential
- Cards that I want to bulk off
Some cards are so obviously bad that there is no reason to keep them around. For instance, there is basically no world where I need to save Grizzly Bears and Hill Giants. These cards have zero potential, and they are the kind of cards that I’d like to sell off in bulk once I get the chance.
In a 4,000-card lot that has been ripening for a year, I’d expect to find between 50 and 100 legitimate cards that have become better than bulk. I’d expect to hold onto about 1,000 cards that I think are interesting or have potential. I’d sell the other 3,000 cards as bulk.
The key on the resell is threefold:
- I’ve already spent my time looking at these 3,000 bad cards once. I don’t want to spend my time looking at them again if the likihood of new value is approaching zero.
- I don’t want to use my house space to store bad cards that have little upside.
- When you cash them out, you make back your initial investment and can reinivest.
It is a tried-and-true strategy that I’ve developed over the course of many, many years doing picking and acquisition for my LGS. Bulk is insane for value if you do it poorly, but if you do it intelligently and with a strategy, it is extremely profitable and most importantly, repeatable and reproducable.
The downside is that it takes time to work. You may read the article today and be like: “Wow, that’s great – I’m going to do that!” And then realize it would require buying bulk and shelving it for two years. It’s not exactly the most exciting thing in the world.
However, imagine it’s four years from now and you’ve been working the process. You’ve made back 50 percent of your investment by selling off the “true bulk” on the first picking. You’ve hit every single Pauper and Modern “out of nowhere” spike between four and 10 times over the course of the past few years, and you are now set up to hit every future spike down the road.
I do the same thing with my own bulk that I generate. I never sell my bulk commons, uncommons, rares, or foils right away. I save those in boxes labeled by set: “Ixaland Draft Bulk – Last sorted August 5, 2018.” It’s a little bit of effort upfront for a big payoff down the road.