The Falling Price of Bulk

Feature Article from DJ Johnson
DJ Johnson
11/21/2017 11:00:00 AM
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It's no secret that I love bulk Magic cards. Bulk rares, bulk common and uncommons, bulk foils, bulk basic lands… buying cards en masse and learning how to pick out the gems was how I kickstarted my collection years ago. I put in the effort to grind trades, memorize prices and turn Myr Galvanizers into Razorverge Thickets.

Over the seven or eight years I've been paying attention to the financial side of the game, the price of bulk has moved glacially compared to other staples and singles that we pay more attention to. I'm sure it's a habit for many of you to check the daily and weekly Interests pages on; one of the handiest references to see what cards have been moving and shaking recently. Cards can skyrocket after new previews, bannings or unbannings, or tournament winnings. We all know it's a volatile market, and that's why so many of us try to keep their ear to the ground to maximize their own collection value.

 Doubling Season
Store QTY Price  
Tolly Games 2 $48.02
SpareDeck 2 $51.02
Gamer's Guild 1 $51.30
Your Hobby Place LTD 1 $51.50
Command Zone GandH 1 $52.24
MTG Rock 1 $52.64
Tower of Games 1 $52.84
CVCollectibles 4 $53.00
MTGFirst 1 $53.49
Pristine CCG 1 $53.79
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Doubling Season Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

On the other hand, bulk has been a rock to attach an anchor to. If you needed to liquidate your collection or had the opportunity to trade across evenly, bulk (whether rares or non-rares) was always advocated as a safe place to put your "money" because of the relative ease one could cash out. Let's say for example that you had a $40 Doubling Season, because the card was worth that much at one point in time. Let's make up a couple theoretical trade piles with players A, B, C, and D. Read all of the offers for your $40 Season, then come to a decision for which trade you'd prefer to make. For all intents and purposes, these trade prices are "correct."

A. Player A is offering you a pair of $20 Polluted Deltas, both from Khans of Tarkir. They've floated between $17 and $22 for a while, but you think they've probably peaked. The question is whether your Season has peaked at $40.
B. Player B wants to give you $30 cash. Not the greatest offer in the world at 75% of the card's value, but it's in between buylist and retail.
C. Player C wants to give you 400 bulk rares. They're all near mint, English, and they have gold symbols. They're pretty well picked through, so no secret $5 cards in there for free money.
D. Player D offers 10,000 bulk commons and uncommons, averaging out to $4 per thousand because I wanted to keep the math simple for this little thought experiment. It's picked of Remands and Sensei's Divining Tops, but experienced readers of my column know there's always more than that.

You can probably get a sense of my biases simply by knowing me and the way I wrote the question, but I'm always going to lean towards C and D. One of the reasons I've always gravitated towards bulk is how constant the floor pricing is over medium range time spans. What do I mean by that? Well when I started out doing this, the "average" going rate for bulk commons and uncommons was around $4-5 per thousand cards. Most local game stores in my area, in addition to the larger stores across the nation would pay around that price for your bulk. It was easy to trade a $12 card for 3,000 bulk, then take that bulk to a store once you accumulated enough to make it worth the trip. You could effectively sell the $12 card for full retail, without needing to go through fees or shipping. Alternatively, bulk can be turned into instant collections as we've discussed previously in this series.

However, bulk hasn't been completely stagnant. I've mentioned that the price shift has been glacial, and that's true when compared to Standard and Modern shifts. Bulk has slowly decreased in price over the past decade, as the player boom of Return to Ravnica hit, and the print run was increased to match the demand. We no longer see sealed booster boxes hit the financial returns of last decade, because there's just so much more product out there. Bulk commons and uncommons slowly decreased to $3, and now $2.5 per thousand. You're really lucky if you can get a higher rate than that out of a larger store.

 Deadbridge Goliath
Store QTY Price  
Top End Gaming 16 $0.09
Mom's Basement Games 9 $0.09
MobileMagic 1 $0.09
Prime Time Cards 1 $0.09
Crossroad Games 1 $0.10
Geekified Mind 3 $0.10
Kingdom Geekdom 1 $0.10
IDC Comics 2 $0.10
FORC Arizona 3 $0.10
Snapcasters Gaming 3 $0.10
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Deadbridge Goliath Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

Bulk rares have been even stickier than commons and uncommons. For as long as I can remember, a dime per rare was the gold standard across the board, no matter where you went. While you could get lucky at a Grand Prix by finding a vendor on Friday who would take your rares at $.12, they would usually buy to capacity by halfway through the weekend. These vendors became more and more scarce over the past few years, until the past 12 months when you've been hard-pressed to find a vendor at a large-scale event who's actively looking for bulk rares at $.10 apiece.

So, what's with the history lesson? Why am I bringing up the glacial decline on bulk right now? Well, one of the well-known online retailers recently cut their bulk prices pretty drastically across the board, by 20%. As one of the safety nets for vendors like me to dump excess bulk commons, rares and foils reliably, it serves as a reality check that even bulk can succumb to overprinting through reprints. Cruel Ultimatum can only take so many reprints before you just can't sell enough to justify paying dimes.

Up until today, I've been paying $.10 on bulk rares knowing that in the absolute worst-case scenario, I could cash out of my investment at 100% of what I bought in at (not counting time spent, factoring inflation, and a bunch of other technically relevant things that aren't really worth discussing for the points of this article). What does this mean for people like me, and what does it mean for players who utilize bulk to grow their collection? If you utilize the tips and tricks I recommended to make instant collections, do you still pay dimes in cash/trade to acquire the pieces you need? What if you just want to get value in your trades with the ability to cash out to a large store?

The first thing I did was check some other well-known buylists. While TCGplayer Buylist does offer competitive prices on a lot of cards, it can't process lots of unnamed bulk. After a brief scan of some of the other stores I've sold to in the past, I found only one that still maintained a $.10 buy price on rares. Another had dropped from $.10 to $.08, and two others had dropped to $.05-$.08. One was even offering to buy rares at two cents apiece! Gross.

There's one remaining stronghold that will take your bulk rares at the "gold standard" price. Does this mean you firesell them all and watch the floor drop down even more? With massive waves of reprints being pushed at us through more products than we're used to, do bulk rares eventually just keep dropping? To be honest, I'm a little more hesitant to hold onto pure bulk rares in the much longer term. With waves of reprints on the horizon and more cards being shoved into pure bulk rare status, I'm curious if we'll see eight cents become the new permanent norm for bulk rares in the years to come.

If you're someone at your LGS who prefers to trade high-end Standard or Modern cards for bulk rares, you might want to follow suit with the power stores and knock your price down to match. Alternatively, a two-cent decrease might not be the end of the world if you have an immediate out for the bulk rares at 10 cents each yourself, or have plans to pour them into instant collections as we've written about before. I'll keep you all updated if and when I decide to drop my own bulk rare price, and I'll take note of how it impacts my acquisition at the shop.

End Step

Did anyone pick up Iconic Masters this past weekend? This is a set full of rares whose prices were predicated almost entirely on lack of supply. Cards like Mana Drain, Ancestral Vision and Horizon Canopy managed to reach incredible highs simply because they were originally from products that were opened a decade ago, without a large quantity injected into the market since then. Because of this, cards like Grove of the Burnwillows, Flusterstorm and Glimpse the Unthinkable have already crashed, and hard.

 Glimpse the Unthinkable
Store QTY Price  
MTG Deals 1 $7.25
Gametato 2 $8.19
Cardcravers 1 $8.19
PlusOneGaming 2 $8.19
ParagonCityGames 1 $8.20
Through The Decades 1 $8.20
EMG Marketplace 1 $8.20
Game Nite 1 $8.38
Geeks MTG 3 $8.38
The Multiverse 1 $8.50
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Glimpse the Unthinkable Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

Other than those high-end rares, I want to talk about some of the cards that got downshifted from rare to uncommon. Several of the downshifted cards in this set serve as both previous bulk rares and current "picks:" Bladewing the Risen, Sanguine Bond, Assault Formation, and Hero's Bane are great picks going forward if you happen to acquire some Iconic Masters bulk. Pretty much everyone will pick out the Mishra's Baubles, Lightning Helixes and Swords to Plowshares. However, the rares shifted to uncommon will be shippable to buylists for dimes or quarters six months down the road. Alternatively, you might not really care about the dimes and nickels in the set if you were too busy cracking open foil Mana Drains and Thoughtseizes. Let me know your thoughts on bulk rares in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

- DJ Johnson

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