Blasting Station

“$1.25? What?? StrikeZone has this on their buylist at three. American. dollars.

– Me about to receive four dollars

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Wondrous Wednesday, my tubular Tablets and fabulous ~*~*Financiers!*~*~

Previously, on Bargaining Table: Part I of GRINDING STATION, in which I, your dashing detective, teach the masses what kinds of cards are “bulk” cards — and why we want them.

This week! The Grindfather, Part Deux — in which we find out how best to get them and get rid of them. For those of you who’ve been following along: well, uh, continue reading. For those of you haven’t, you should also continue reading — after you’ve caught up on that article I already just linked to in the last paragraph.

And just to sneak it in before I dive into the meat of the matter, you all have my sincerest apologies for missing a column again last week. Now, before you go blaming yourself for this because you didn’t pledge to my Patreon yet, allow me to reassure you: you can still pledge to my Patreon.

I’m not saying it’s your fault Daddy left an empty seat at the Table…

I’m just saying, really, is this how I raised you?

Phew. Anyway, whatever your interest in today’s topic, make sure you get to the end for a bit of a special announcement. Let’s do this thing!

 

FIFTY CENTS?! THIS CARD IS THE ROTATION META.

Zada, Hedron Grinder

Portrait of the artist as a yung lady.

 

“You want all this shit?”

– Someone either offended or thrilled

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Here’s last episode’s secret subtext: most ~*~*MTG Financiers*~*~ you can read on “Internet” are not binder grinders.

As we’ve discussed before (and will again soon), most ~*MTG Finance*~ writing revolves around speculation. My positions on that topic have evolved, but for the most part, speculation advice remains a well-covered area that Bargaining Table doesn’t bother with.

What we’re concerned with here at the Table is something much more underserved in the ~*MTG Finance*~ milieu: repeatable, sustainable models of producing value that can be enacted at any time, regardless of the market.

In an eggshell, the essence of that is: smart buying and trading.

So how do you acquire bulk? First, you should be routinely posting on Craigslist, Facebook groups, etc (as I know you all already are…) that you’re looking to buy Magic collections and bulk, with some mind paid to what areas you’re posting in and what the competition looks like. And it goes without saying that all your friends, and all their friends, and all their friends should have your number and know that you’re always buying singles, collections, and bulk — for when they decide to quit, or decide to pay their rent.


 

Axegrinder Giant

The artist sharpening his tongue.

 

But that’s not how I pick up most of my bulk. Most of it is picked up while binder grinding, or spending all weekend trading and hustling at events like GPs, Opens, PPTQs, and — when times are tough — IQs. Any event (preferably with one or more dealer booths) that you have the time and energy to go hustle at, you should be hustling at.

Then, when you’re flipping through someone’s binder and seeing a bunch of cheap stuff no sane person would ever trade for, get yourself in the habit of making a polite offer: “By the way, I’m not sure if you’re into this, but I’d trade for all of your bulk rares. Same way a booth would. You can pull out any cheap stuff you don’t care about, and we’ll count it up and see where we get. If what you want is a little over, we can just call it even.”

Some people will give you a frank — or a curt — no thanks. Some people will honestly get a little offended at the idea of trading you dozens or hundreds of cards for one or two things in return, and that’s okay: you say “No problem, just thought I’d offer.” Life goes on, as does the trade.

But some people will be absolutely thrilled. And when people around you see what you’re doing, some of them will be thrilled too — thrilled enough to start piling out their own bulk for you.

These folks implicitly understand the tradeoff of time for value: obviously if you’re trading for bulk at all, you have some way to profit from it. And that’s okay for them, because they know they’re not going to — and in exchange they get to sit down for just a little while and turn a bunch of stuff they have no use for into a dual land or some foil shocks. (And if you’re not comfortable trading cards like those for bulk, then they shouldn’t be in the binder you show people anyway.)

Now, in most cases these folks will have some other cards they want to get rid of too (fucking Temples), or some other cards you’re eager to pick up (fucking [casthaven]Evolutionary Leap[/casthaven]s), or some cards they want you to double-check prices on because they might not be bulk (fucking [casthaven]Primeval Bounty[/casthaven]): that’s all great!

I’ve found that almost everyone who’s willing and eager to trade you their bulk plus whatever else is also going to be comfortable with letting you dictate your prices on things in a booth- or store-like fashion. I try to be as upfront as possible about my intentions and trading style as a dealer anyway, but with these folks it’s usually extra easy to have that conversation. Once someone is asking you to double check that [casthaven]Primeval Bounty[/casthaven] they’re not sure is a bulk mythic, it becomes easy to say “Yup, it sells for three or four bucks. I pick them up at two.” If they pass, they pass. The hell with it.

But if they’re good with it, that’s when you start making piles that resemble a booth’s pricing mat — at last, for numbers larger than “nickel, dime, quarter, fifty.”

The caveat to this is that if someone wants you to check prices on a quadrillion cards that you feel incredibly confident are bulk status, you have to be able to draw the line somewhere. Your time matters, and while this should never be used as a ploy to rip someone off, you can’t spend twenty minutes of your valuable trading time looking up [casthaven]Jeskai Ascendancy[/casthaven], no matter how good it was in a relatively recent, yet totally different world.

You’re not just trading for bulk, you’re trading in bulk; that word is not just describing a type of card, it’s also describing a process. Sometimes you’re going to honestly misplace a quarter in the dime pile or a dollar in the fifty-cent pile; you’re still giving someone a Tropical Island for cards they can’t otherwise trade effectively, and that’s the tradeoff: time for value.

Time for value.

Time for value.

Time for value.

Repeat it to yourself in the mirror in the morning: every profitable exchange is time for value.

 

SEVENTY-FIVE? …TELL ME WHAT YOU SELL THIS FOR.

Cogwork Grinder

The artist at home, calmly sorting.

 

Now you’ve got the crap. What the hell do you do with it?

You could just turn it all over right away, or at the end of the day or the weekend, to whichever booth has the best bulk rates and/or the booth you’re friendliest with. (You did run around to every booth during the lulls of Friday and early Saturday, making a spreadsheet of everyone’s rates on every type of bulk — right?)

But if you go to events frequently, it’s worth your time to lug that stuff home with you and get it all sorted and priced for proper Ogreing.

Ogreing? What the hell is that? Is that even a word?

As we should have established via numerous anecdotes by now, if you don’t know the one and only Ogre, you don’t know the grind. He’s one of the most ubiquitous presences at North American GPs and one of the most well-known dealers and binder grinders there is. So much so that there’s an entire outing process named after him, because (I think!) he invented it.

But we’ll come back to that. First, we’ve got to get this shit in order. That means sorting it in a way that makes pricing it and finding the hidden gems as quick as possible. And yes, although it’s not your intention to get steals on anyone by trading in bulk, it is going to happen sometimes. As long as it’s not completely on a galaxy-shaking scale, that’s okay: time for value. Time for value. Time for value. They gained the time, you gain the value.

So how should we sort our cards? First by set, then by alphabet within each set.

That’s it.

Sure, you should remember to treat the foil version of a set as a different set. Sure, I like to organize the sets in reverse chronological order for maximum efficiency on the tail end. Sure, if the commons and uncommons grossly outnumber the rares and mythics, it’s probably better time-value to separate the rarities and price the higher rarities first. But all that really matters is set, then alphabet.

Why? Because the next thing you’re going to do is sit down with a big empty box and some dividers, go onto MTGPrice.com, click Browse Sets, and then click whichever set you’ve got alphabetized in front of you. Then you’re going to sort the list that comes up by alphabet, and you’re going to scroll down nice and easy, looking at absolutely nothing but the Best Buylist price for each card you have copies of from that set.

(I’ll make a quick note here that Quiet Speculation’s Trader Tools is another popular option for this purpose, but the unpaid version only lets you browse by block rather than by set, and I also can’t figure out how to use that app for the life of me.)

Sometimes MTGPrice is a little glitchy or its info is a little out of date, so there are instances where clicking through to the page of an individual card will yield a different best buylist price than the one listed on the set’s page. I only bother to do this on notable cards where I suspect the difference between buylists might be significant; on everything else, I just round up a little to be on the safe side. This card buys for $0.27 but sells for over a dollar? Bam, $0.35 section. BAM, I SAY.

And of course, I don’t include distinct sections for every little interval. $0.21 is $0.25, $0.69 is $0.75. After numerous tests bringing differently categorized boxes to booths, these are currently the pricing intervals I use — and yes, I go truly HAM on the super-small stuff, but you don’t have to:

  • $0.02 — The largest interval that still feels meaningless to a buyer.
  • $0.06 — Because you’ll see a lot of cards that buy from 0.03 to 0.06, and fuck it.
  • $0.11 — Because someone will always give you the extra cent, and it adds up.
  • $0.15 — Trust me, this is a discrete slot that matters.
  • $0.25 — I used to do $0.20 too, but YOLO. They’d rather give you an actual quarter anyway.
  • $0.35 — Again, trust me. Some cards are just better than a quarter but never get fifty.
  • $0.60 — Ho-ho, it’s getting spicy in here! Gimme that sixth sweet dime, baby.
  • $0.75 — Obvious.
  • $1.00 — Duh.

From this point upward, I’ll do quarter intervals up to the $2 mark and only fifty-cent intervals (rounded up) after that. At some point you’ll want to just round up every $X.50 to the next dollar, but that point might be higher than you think — I’ve sure sold plenty of cards for $13.50 or $16.50.

Of course, you don’t necessarily need to Ogre cards that have values high enough to buylist in the teens and above — most of my Ogreing stops at the $4-5 buylist mark, and everything above that goes in the trade binder. But some things below that mark do go in the trade binder, because I know they move ([casthaven]Gitaxian Probe[/casthaven], any [casthaven]Remand[/casthaven]), while some things above that mark will just sit and sit for ages until you end up throwing them to a booth when you need to liquidate a little (fucking [casthaven]Baneslayer Angel[/casthaven]s…).

 

A DOLLAR. FINE. WHATEVER. SURE.

Faultgrinder

The artist, setting boundaries.

 

There are a few other things here that go without saying, but I’ll say them anyway. You should know by now that any rares, mythics, or foil common/uncommons have absolute minimum bulk rates. Any buylist price you see for a rare below ten cents, for example, is absolutely meaningless. I would tear a bulk rare to shreds before I would sell it for less than ten cents (not really, but I still wouldn’t sell it).

You’d be wise to give your true bulk rares their own section or box, since the price you’ll find on those is variable from event to event. The same can apply to foil rares, mythics, foil mythics, foil common/uncommons, and straight bulk common/uncommons. Personally, I no longer sell any rares for less than $0.12, and there’s no reason to ever sell foil rares to a vendor for less than $0.25, mythics for less than $0.50, foil mythics for less than $1, foil common/uncommons for less than $0.06, or straight common/uncommons for less than $5 per thousand. The only exception I can think of is if you’re just saddled down with too much bulk to carry and you really can’t get a better price.

As you get used to doing this, you’ll start to develop an eye for cards that you can bump up several notches compared to what the internet says they buy for, because of the competitive way many booths buy in the microeconomy of a large event, and because only so many buylists can be found quickly and easily online.

You’ll also get a feel for bulk and bulk-ish cards that are better to have on hand for trading (SLIVERS) or in a spec box. With the Standard rotation looming just around the corner, I have bulk/bulk-ish cards like [casthaven]Jeskai Ascendancy[/casthaven], [casthaven]Monastery Siege[/casthaven], [casthaven]Outpost Siege[/casthaven], and a smattering of others set aside in a binder just in case. The potential downside on decent and formerly played cards like these is at or near nonexistent, and the potential upside is significant if the Standard meta suddenly makes any one of them even a tier-two flavor of the week.

Phew…okay, that’s all done. What the hell is next?!

 

OGRE BATTLE! OGRE BATTLE!

Organ Grinder

FINALLY. THE ~*~*VALUE*~*~

 

So now you’ve got your Ogre box. But how do you Ogre?

First things first. Understand that picking through your box of hot garbage is, though ultimately profitable for a booth, also time-consuming and kind of annoying. Be polite! Be friendly! Show appreciation for the time and effort of buyers.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, the rest is actually really simple. At a typical weekend event, the buyers obviously have more money — and are therefore more liberal with it — earlier in the weekend. So you show up on Friday while there’s no action, or very early Saturday if you can’t make Friday, and you circle the room with your box, booth by booth.

“Hey man! So I’ve got all my cards already grouped by what I want to get for them. Just take what you can take and pass on the rest.”

While you’re at it, kill an extra Bird token with the same stone by using this time to ask them (preferably someone other than the person picking through your box…) for each of their specific bulk rates, and any other questions you have — for example, their prices on target cards you’re looking to pick up this weekend. Then, just rinse and repeat.

Once you’ve gone to every last booth, make a second pass around the room. This time, you’re willing to take alternative offers and sell things off for less than originally listed (unless you’re going to another event very soon, before prices change, and you feel confident you can offload more at your listed prices there).

An important Advanced Technique note here is that two different buyers at the same booth may price things differently, scan through with a different mental heuristic, and/or notice different things. So as you make your second pass, make a concerted effort to end up seeing the Other Buyer at each booth, and don’t point out your willingness to take alternative offers until they give the box a once-over. If you want to get really crazy, you could hit every single individual buyer at every single booth personally before telling anyone you’ll take other offers they give…

If you actually do this, you get a Bargaining Table Achievement Unlocked.

It also goes without saying (nothing goes without saying) that when you do opt to start letting the buyers make offers, you should start with the booth and buyer you have the friendliest relationship with. And when you’re done with your second pass and still have some crap left that no one wanted — yep, you guessed it — you should come right on back to your favorite booth and buyer and ask them for a number on the entire remaining stack. If it seems fair and is at least equivalent to (but preferably better than!) standard bulk rates for the remaining types of cards, ship that crap and get out on the floor to trade — or, uh, play Magic!

 

Is this the only way to price and offload your bulk cards? Of course not. There are many, many other ways to do this, from building relationships with stores that will give you special rates, to selling bulk bricks or multiple-thousand lots on eBay, to running a gumball machine full of cards in your retail store that has some actual enticing stuff mixed in with the cheapo outcomes.

However, what I’ve laid out here is a clear, dependable, repeatable process that has brought me a lot of value — and I hope it will do the same for you.

 


 

Thanks as always for joining us at the Table. Now, as I alluded to earlier, an announcement of sorts…

Things have continued to be pretty hectic for me both professionally and personally, and lately I’ve been fortunate enough to receive a number of overlapping, potentially conflicting offers and opportunities (some not Magic-related) that I have to make some tough calls about. As my regular Tabloids have probably noticed, the hustle is catching up with me in terms of staying on track with my Bargaining Table deadlines.

I’ve decided to take next week off from the Table, while I mull over decisions about how best to allot my time. Unfortunately, that may or may not include having to scale down the ambitions of this column — whether that means cutting it down to every other week, trimming down the length and scope of the individual pieces, and/or something else entirely.

While neither of us wants to see any of those things happen, my balance is reaching something of a tipping point, and something’s got to give. So as much as I hate to keep harping on it, if you want to see Bargaining Table continue in more or less the same form, please consider pledging to the Patreon. It’s quite likely that in the next two weeks, the state of that campaign will be a major factor in my decision-making.

Phew! Anyway, unless the BFZ release blindsides us with some wild, pressing news to cover (some super-secret packs will contain premium foil Jeep Expeditions), when I come back in two weeks I’d like to revisit the topic of speculation with a slightly less polemical approach and a constructive eye informed by recent experiences and observations — plus lessons learned from some pretty high rollers.

Until then…

Wheel and Deal

 

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Stefano Black is an NYC-based writer, filmmaker, Human Processor, and cardboard-drug dealer. He can be found on Twitter as @StefanoBlackest, sharing humor, criticism, and Garfield-related poetry, and is available for hire or collection buying. He also unabashedly wants your money.

If you want more trading advice with a twist, see EXPEDITION MAP: These Damn Lands.

If you enjoyed this critical look at trading, try BLATANT THIEVERY: Community Ethics.

If you can’t get enough ~*spiiicy*~ multi-part epics and Hot Ass Takes, check out the Bargaining Table archive and give your favorite buyers all their dimes back for catching up!

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