Card rarities in Magic: The Gathering comprise of common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare. Typically, each pack of cards contains 10 commons, 3 uncommons, and 1 rare or mythic rare. Over time, players accumulate piles of commons and uncommons that are deemed unplayable in most formats of the game. These piles of extra cards are called bulk cards. Players often sell local gaming stores (LGS) a mix of 1,000 commons and uncommons (bulk) for $3.00 to $5.00 in store credit or cash. An LGS will either organize the bulk cards for single selling or re-sell it at a higher price. For example, one of my LGS buys 1,000 bulk cards for $3.00 in store credit. They will then sell a bundle box quantity (about 550 cards) of unsorted bulk for $5.00.
Why Pick Bulk?
Sifting through unsorted bulk cards is a time consuming process. However, there is some incentive for players to look through boxes of unorganized cards. An LGS will buy a collection of cards from a player, but not have the time to go through every box of bulk cards. These unchecked boxes can end up on shelves for players to look through and purchase. Even though these boxes were labeled as bulk, there are many commons and uncommons in MTG worth multiple dollars each. My favorite website to see valuable bulk cards by set is MTG Dawnglare. You can search by format and MTG set to find commons and uncommons worth a $1.00 or more. Newer can also contain valuable cards that players often overlook. For example, Reliquary Tower from Core 2019 sell for about $3.00 each. You can buylist them to a vendor for $1.50 each. Finding just four copies of Reliquary Tower in a bulk box will offset the $5.00 spent on 546 other cards. A few good pulls from an unsorted box will allow you to essentially get the rest of the cards for free. Any value gained from the remaining bulk cards can net a profit.
Beyond earning a profit, some players pick bulk because they want to build their card collection. It is much cheaper paying $0.01 per card in the example above than buying single commons and uncommons for $0.10 or more. Your time spent picking bulk can save money by acquiring cards you want at a discount. Players interested in the Pauper or Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH) formats may find bulk picking a great opportunity to save money.
My Tips for Effective Bulk Picking
1. Knowledge of the Most Played Commons and Uncommons in Constructed Formats
Part of successfully picking bulk is knowing what you should pull out of a card box. The most played cards are usually worth more than others of similar rarities. A great place to start is with MTGGoldfish's format staple lists. To maximize value, I would focus on the Modern and Legacy card lists. I have found better returns on older cards than most Standard legal commons and uncommons.
2. Knowledge of the Most Played EDH Cards by Color
EDH is a popular format with a very large card pool. EDHREC has top played card lists by color, artifact, and land. I recommend grabbing guild signets, tri-color lands, and strong blue cards as a starting point. You should also familiarize yourself with the list of top commanders. This list will help you focus on gold cards that share multiple colors. Currently, I have found Gruul (red and green) as the least popular color combination.
3. Reference a Buylist or MTG Dawnglare When Picking Bulk
It is very helpful to pull up a vendor buylist or MTG Dawnglare when picking through bulk. I like to sort prices by MTG set on vendor buylists. This helps me focus on cards that are worth enough money to sell. I try to take cards that will generate $0.08 or higher in store credit. Otherwise, I believe the return is not worth the time and effort after shipping costs. In addition, I use MTG Dawnglare to quickly see a list of valuable cards by set. If I come across a set with no commons and uncommons worth over $1.00, I will skip it entirely. For example, Theros only has Burnished Hart and Grey Merchant of Asphodel that I would consider pulling. Instead of spending time going through a box of Theros, I will just skip it and move on to another set. I also use this strategy for sets that have valuable cards in one color. Avacyn Restored has one chase uncommon called Blood Artist. If I come across this set, I will only look at the black cards in it.
4. Focus on Uncommon Rarity Symbols
Every MTG set beginning with Exodus uses colored rarity set symbols on cards. Commons cards are black and uncommon cards are silver. When sorting cards, I recommend looking for silver uncommon cards. I generally skip through all commons unless I recognize the artwork or the card name. The reason for doing this is because very few common cards hold value. It is a waste of time trying to look at every single card in a box. An exception to this rule is when I come across old sets like Zendikar, Fifth Dawn, and Dissension. Common cards can be worth a few dollars from these sets. I will also take my time looking through Modern Masters sets.
5. Make Piles of Cards From Sets Without Rarity Symbols
It is hard for most players to remember rarities of cards from sets like Fourth Edition, Ice Age, and Visions. These sets do not contain rarity symbols on the cards. Some players overlook this trait and put rare cards in their bulk boxes. I strongly encourage you to set cards aside from these sets and check their values. Once you get a good sized stack, you can quickly reference a vendor buylist or MTG Dawnglare. I often find valuable cards, including Reserved List cards, in bulk boxes that are from sets prior to Exodus.
6. Take Cards You Want to Play for Personal Use
If you enjoy playing MTG and want to build a personal collection, you should take cards to keep as well. I personally take cards for EDH and older formats that are commonly played. When I recently came across a bulk box of Zendikar commons, I set aside copies of Expedition Map and Journey to Nowhere for personal use. I keep around 15% of my bulk box pulls for playing in various MTG formats.
7. Know Shipping Costs When Buylisting Bulk to Online Vendors
You should have a good gauge for the cost of mailing bulk cards to online vendors. A Reddit user reminded me that USPS sells small flat rate Priority Mail boxes for $7.90 shipped. These boxes hold around 400 cards regardless of weight. You can send an entire box of bulk across the country to an online vendor for about $0.02 a card. I could have saved money using this method with my last bulk buylist of 300 cards. I mailed a bundle box across the United States as a First Class package for $15.00. The price per card to mail was $0.05. I would have made a much higher profit margin had I thought about other shipping alternatives.
Picking bulk can be a profitable and rewarding way to build your MTG card collection. I believe setting thresholds and knowing what to pull will improve your efficiency and profitability. Keep in mind that your time has a value attached to it. Some may find picking bulk to be worth the effort to supplement MTG spending. Others may like the experience of finding valuable cards in a box of 3,000 cards. I personally enjoy looking through old cards and finding new options for EDH decks. Whatever your reason is for looking though bulk, I hope my tips improve your next picking experience.
My lovely wife, Ashley, will be contributing new content on various travel related topics. We just got back from a 19 day trip to Italy, including a stopover in London, England. Ashley planned the majority of our long vacation. While this was my first visit to Europe, she has been multiple times in the past. I hope you are as excited as I am about her future posts.
I originally bought $188.11 of Magic: The Gathering cards in April as a speculation test. I have currently sold about 56% of my speculated cards as of May 31st, 2019. Here is a link to my updated speculation spreadsheet. A key tab was added to better understand how to interpret the data. I have sold or buylisted a number of cards due to price increases, price spikes, and price stagnation. When buylisting, I divided shipping fees across all cards mailed to Card Kingdom in Seattle, Washington. While I have made money thus far, I also lost money on a few cards. Overall, my current net profit is $26.12 or a 20% return. I will cover some of the hits, misses, and observations during the first eight weeks of this speculation test.
Tithe Taker was bought at an average price of $1.06 and buylisted at a net price of $1.71. This 62% ($1.96) profit gain was attributed to its steady growth and new demand from the Unified Assault challenger deck. I covered my analysis and decisions on this card in the previous article. After selling the Tithe Takers, the buylist price rose to $2.00 each as of May 7th, 2019. I also correctly called Unbreakable Formation increasing in value. The buylist price for foils rose from $0.33 to $0.99 in three weeks. Unfortunately, I paid too much and sold the copy at a small loss. While I thought this card hit a price ceiling, the buylist price increased to $1.25 as of May 7th, 2019. It is easy to get upset knowing you could have made more money. However, you should always be happy cashing out for a considerable profit as card prices can easily decrease when buylist quotas are met.
Guardian Project was another successful speculation. I saw people talking about the power of this card in Elder Dragon Highlander. I also watched the price move from $0.35 to $0.75 in two weeks. On May 7th, 2019, copies were selling on TCGPlayer for an average price of $1.44. I saw foil copies selling fast on TCGPlayer and Card Kingdom with a low multiplier. I bought a foil copy for $3.15 due to the rising EDH popularity and buylisted a few weeks later at $4.45. This was a profit of 41% or $1.30. This card would have also been an excellent bulk buy at $0.50. Current copies of non-foils are buylisting for about $0.80 each. I would not attempt to buy deep into non-foils now. However, it may be a good speculation buying cheap foils for a long-term hold.
Queen Marchesa was a huge win off of a promotional opportunity. There was a Google Express promotion for 20% your first order in April. I was able to purchase multiple copies Queen Marchesa the day after it spiked in price for $17.10 each. I thought Queen Marchesa was going to be an easy flip. However, the buylist price quickly dropped from $24.00 to $17.25 as other people dumped their stock. The prices on Ebay and TCGPlayer began dropping steadily down to around $28.00. It became apparent that the demand for this card was inherently low. I listed the copies on Ebay for $27.99 each and ultimately sold all three for a net profit of 31% or $15.83.
I purchased four copies of Lux Cannon during the same Google Express promotion at a discounted price of $5.09 each. I patiently waited to sell them as prices kept rising from $9.00 to $10.00 over the course of a month. I tried selling the set on Ebay for $36.99, but had no luck. Finally, I buylisted each copy at a net price of $6.35. I was able to make a profit of 25% or $5.06 from the set. I learned that it is hard to sell EDH cards as a set of four when players need one copy. There was an opportunity to sell each card on Ebay for a maximum net price of about $7.25. However, I decided to accept the buylist price of $6.35 instead of taking the risk from mailing them without tracking in an envelop.
The largest losses came from cards that had a high buylist spread. Such cards included Rhythm of the Wild, Sheltered Thicket, and Unbreakable Formation. While two of them did increase in price, the spread was not enough to recoup my initial investment. The other issue with these cards is that I cannot sell them on Ebay or another platform for a reasonable profit. The price of each card is too low to sell outside of a face-to-face transaction. My only real outlet to sell the cards was by buylisting at my local store or an online vendor. I would caution buying cards where the current buylist price, including a store credit option, is not enough to cover your costs.
Another miss was selling the Gilded Lotus and Goblin Bombarment too early. I had flagged these cards as long term holds, but sold them a month after purchasing. I grew impatient that the card prices were not rising. Unfortunately, their prices increased a week after I buylisted them. Had I stuck to my original strategy, I would have doubled my total profits on Goblin Bombardment and Gilded Lotus. I recommend being patient when speculating on EDH staples and not try to immediately flip them for a profit.
The likelihood that I will earn a profit from a short-term hold is heavily influenced by a card's buylist spread. The closer my purchase price of a card is to its buylist price, the higher the chance I can make a profit. I have done well flipping arbitrage opportunities and Standard cards. Many of the EDH speculations have appreciated in value, but not all have reached an ideal price point. I will look to move some of them in June after a 60 day holding period. It appears that cards purchased with a high buylist spread, like Skyline Despot and Grafdigger's Cage, will not return a profit. The growth and demand for these cards is slow due to their limited EDH and sideboard use. There will probably be an opportunity in six to eight months where I can break even. If they reach a price point I can break even by taking store credit, I will buylist them.
In regards to buylisting, I have been fortunate enough to mail my speculations with cards from my personal collection to spread out shipping costs. Thanks to pooling cards together, the average cost per card mailed across the United States has been $0.045 cents. A negative consequence to buying inexpensive cards is the limited avenues of selling them for a profit. I either have to buylist cheap cards to a store, sell them in person, or trade them for other cards. It would make more sense in the future to buy larger quantities of low priced cards to ship together or sell as sets on Ebay. In addition, it was more time consuming selling three cards over $25.00 on Ebay than buylisting, organizing, and shipping many inexpensive cards to one vendor.
I want to highlight another topic of MTG card speculation. The condition of a card is very important when determining a card's selling price. Players and vendors can typically agree to a price for a near mint condition of a card. However, opinions start to change when discussing the price of a card with light play or heavy play wear. Some players are only interested in near mint cards while others are less concerned. Many vendors tell you in advance how much discounting they will take off of a buylist price for cards that are not near mint. I have been very particular about the conditions of cards purchased as speculation targets, especially foil versions. I also purchased some cards with light play wear that arrived as near mint. This increased my profit margin when I went to sell them. I recommend speculating only on near mint copies of cards since it is a universal price point among players and vendors.
I will continue to share updates on my speculation test as I sell more cards in June. In addition, I plan to discuss the topics of arbitrage and picking bulk in future articles. I may not have as much success selling the rest of my speculations, but I am pleased with my profit and performance thus far.
*The information in this article is of my own knowledge and opinion. It is meant for informational purposes only. I am not a registered financial professional or trying to act as one.*