My longtime readers know I love bulk rares. I think that started around the time I got into Legacy, back in 2012. I met a gentleman gladly trading dual lands, power, and other expensive cards for bulk rares and mythics. At the time, I thought it was fantastic trading him all these cards I wasn't using for expensive cards I then didn't have to buy. While he only gave $0.10 on rares and $0.25 on mythics, it was still easy to trade into $50 played Savannahs and $30 played Kabira Takedown // Kabira Plateaus. What I didn't realize was that he was collecting all these bulk rares and mythics, trading them to the big vendors, getting credit with the trade-in bonus, and then picking up those same duals with that credit, and netting a nice profit in the process.
Fast forward a few years and I am now on the other side of those bulk trades. I am the one who has bought extra dual lands and other high-dollar legacy cards to trade people for bulk rares. Admittedly, it is harder to find people willing to make those trades and I often resort to just buying bulk rares and mythics at the going rates of $0.08 per rare and $0.25 per mythic.
ONE Deal Too Good To Resist
The reason I bring this up is that in March I noticed an interesting trend in Phyrexia: All Will Be One (ONE) rares. Many vendors were selling them below this $0.08 threshold. I began to scour TCGPlayer for sellers with large numbers of these bulk rares. I added all rares that they had below that $0.08 value and all mythics below $0.25. Then I added in shipping and taxes to see if the order made sense. If, with the shipping and taxes, the average card value was still less than $0.10 for a rare or $0.28 for a mythic, it was a good deal. In the end, I ended up with seven orders I could justify pulling the trigger on. Would these stores honor these prices?
I was curious to see if the stores I ordered from would actually ship large numbers of bulk rares at or below the going bulk rare and mythic rates. From my perspective as a seller, it doesn't actually seem like a good business plan. When you factor in the selling fees, each transaction likely ends up as a loss. From the start, I wondered how many of these stores might not even ship these orders, and just use USPS as an excuse and refund my order when I brought up that it never arrived. I'll admit, I was concerned about the possibility that if most of the stores refunded my order claiming it was lost in shipping, my account might get flagged by TCGPlayer, thinking I was the one trying to scam people. While I was curious enough about the outcome to go through with it, after this experiment, I'm holding off on more bulk rare orders like this for the immediate future.
A Breakdown of My Seven Transactions
This is actually the order that inspired it all. Originally I was looking for Minor Misstep in bulk as a potential speculation target. This store listed 14 copies at $0.09 each. Whenever I buy cards from a store on TCGPlayer I always do a quick look to see what else they have since dividing the shipping costs over more cards lowers the overall buy-in price of each individual card. That is when I noticed them offering a bunch of ONE rares at $0.03, $0.04, and $0.05 each. It took me about half an hour of digging through their inventory to come up with 185 cards at a grand total of $14.86. This made the average price per card about $0.08.
This store didn't have any Minor Missteps, but they did have a lot of Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate (CLB) bulk rares under $0.08 each. Previously, I've mentioned how I think Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate is a set that has a lot of potential from a speculation standpoint. It was released close to Double Masters 2022 (2X2) which had insane value in it. Most Magic players have limited income for buying product. Talking with some local store owners, it was clear that when given the option of Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate packs or Double Masters 2022, players almost universally picked the 2X2 packs. My transaction with this store came to 130 cards for $14.02. This made the average card cost about $0.11.
The third store had 11 copies of Minor Misstep for $0.03 each, so I dug through what other rares they had and again found a lot of CLB bulk rares under my $0.08 threshold. I also noticed they had a fair amount of Dominaria United bulk rares under $0.08. Given that this set will remain in standard after rotation it seems that there's always a decent chance that some cheap rare from the set ends up finding a home when the format's card pool contracts. This order came out to 62 cards for $11.08. This makes the average card cost $0.18, which is higher than I expected, but there were a fair number of mythics in this order.
This store had five copies of Minor Misstep and a bunch of cheap, but not bulk, ONE rares. I only bought 27 cards in this order, but every single one was from ONE. I am trying to finish a playset of Mercurial Spelldancer and they had a copy for $0.75. Other notable pickups were copies of Green Sun's Twilight and Blue Sun's Twilight. This order ended up costing $7.46, with a per-card cost of about $0.28.
This store had a fair number of bulk rares below my $0.08 threshold that are currently Standard-legal. At the time of this order, I was hoping to participate in one of my LGS's Buy/Sell/Trade day events and I currently have almost no Standard cards. The scene there is very casual-oriented, so I figured if I could stock up on a bunch of fun-looking Standard rares I could either trade them towards something I wanted or sell them at $0.25 cents each and still be the cheapest in the area. This order was 58 cards and totaled $8.26 with an average card cost of $0.14.
This store had a fairly decent assortment of ONE bulk rares at $0.08 or less, and quite a few Dominaria Remastered (DMR) ones as well. I realized I currently have no DMR bulk rares, so I picked up all of those. I'm not sure how well that set will do ultimately. If it ends up being less opened the rares have a bit more upside. This order was 71 cards for $7.84 with an average card cost of $0.11.
The last store I was able to make a worthwhile transaction with had a lot of Kamigawa: Neon Destiny (NEO) rares listed at less than $0.08 and helped fill out a pretty meager NEO spot in my bulk rare collection. They also had a lot of ONE bulk rares below $0.08 and I managed to buy a large number of them as well. This order was 174 cards for $14.94 for an average card cost of $0.09.
- Store 1: 185 cards for $14.86 ($0.08/card)
- Store 2: 130 cards for $14.02 ($0.11/card)
- Store 3: 62 cards for $11.08 ($0.18/card)
- Store 4: 27 cards for $7.46 ($0.28/card)
- Store 5: 58 cards for $8.26 ($0.14/card)
- Store 6: 71 cards for $7.84 ($0.11/card)
- Store 7: 174 cards for $14.94 ($0.09/card)
Total: 707 cards for $78.46 (about $0.11/card)
Overall, four of my orders actually arrived at my doorstep. Store #2 canceled a day after I placed the order. The seller claimed they had inventory issues. Stores #1 and #3 both claimed they shipped, but have not arrived at the time of this writing. These hurt the most as they were some of the largest, and included a large number of the Minor Missteps I was after.
As expected the smaller orders that had an average card cost above $0.20 were all sent and arrived. I should mention that in every case those orders required a padded envelope and oddly enough only two supplied a tracking number despite the fact that all the others ended up having one on the envelope.
Store #7 actually messaged me asking me not to order a bunch of cheap cards from them again, claiming they made no money on my order. Looking over it now, they're probably right.
The two stores that refunded me after claiming they shipped my orders out both came off as very sketchy to me. Speaking as an experienced seller, I know you can't ship 100+ cards without using packaging that would include tracking. I will not be ordering from those sellers ever again. Ultimately though, what this experiment has exposed is more than just problematic individual sellers. It's an issue with how TCGPlayer charges shipping on orders as a whole.
The Issue With TCGPlayer Shipping
I think the above experiment demonstrates that it's ridiculous for TCGPlayer to have a single shipping price for any number of singles. If any of these sellers broke even on these transactions, they were lucky, as my conversation with Store 7 shows.
Smart sellers are going to realize that it's not in their best interest to list cheap cards on TCGPlayer unless they have TCGPlayer Direct or have really high shipping fees. I'd recently been debating whether I would lower my current threshold of $0.79 on singles to increase available inventory in my own TCGPlayer store. However, after this experiment, I think I will keep that threshold in place and pass on trying to sell cheap cards on TCGPlayer.
Fixing TCGPlayer Shipping For Sellers
My suggestion to TCGPlayer would be to break singles shipping down into multiple tiers to allow sellers to charge more for shipping singles when they will have to pay more to ship them. Something like:
- 0-12 cards: Can easily be sent in a plain white envelope (PWE) with one forever stamp
- 13-24 cards: Can be sent in a PWE with non-machinable postage paid
- 25+ cards: This likely requires a small padded envelope which will then include tracking and likely cost somewhere in the $3.50-$4.25 range here in the United States.
Admittedly, had this type of system been in place, my own ordering would have turned out differently. I'd likely have gotten the Minor Missteps that I really wanted, and that would have been the end of it.
I'll admit I went into this with the mindset that I could buy a bunch of Standard-legal bulk rares at the same rate I would normally buy random bulk rares in person. While I still got arguably the better end of the deal than all these sellers, my average card cost exceeded the original $0.08 threshold. It just goes to show that even when buying a large number of cards under a certain cost, once you factor in shipping and taxes you can easily exceed your threshold.
Given how Standard cards often spike in price after a Pro Tour, or at rotation when the format shifts, this experience felt like buying a bunch of lottery tickets that I couldn't lose on. Sure, for most of them, I'll just be breaking even. Should one or two hit though, I'll get that rush of success one feels when a speculation target hits. It's a rush I haven't felt in a while.
I mentioned earlier that I'm putting these sorts of bulk rare buys on hold at the moment. It actually takes a fair amount of time to find sellers with enough bulk rares to justify the shipping cost from a bulk buyer perspective. However, I think that if you own a brick-and-mortar shop and have a lot of casual players in your local scene, buying up other online stores' cheap rares could be a viable inventory acquisition strategy.