After reading the comments last week - thank you for that by the way - I realized that it was a misplay not to begin with an introduction. The tough part is this: how do I introduce myself as a credible expert? For Pro Players it’s easy - a list of solid tournament finishes usually does the trick. In the world of trading there are no tournaments to "win." Instead a trader’s success is based on his ability to continue with the grind without spending external money. I have been successfully grinding for the last couple of years now but it wasn’t always that way.
I started playing this game shortly before the release of Future Sight. I was working a lot; after working all day as a Systems Engineer in the evenings I would put on my creative hat and burn the midnight oil at the small graphic design firm that I owned. I was looking for a way to blow off steam on the weekends. I was newly married so the popular recreational activities like hooking up with chicks hanging out at bars and catapulting myself into life-threatening situations were all off the table. I figured that I would pick something safe something that was not likely to get me trouble. This is when I found Magic.
Sucking the Marrow out of Magic
Like everything else in my life I poured myself heart and soul into my new hobby. It started with a couple of starter decks and a handful of booster packs. After I got a taste I quickly graduated to buying booster packs on a daily basis. Every day or at least every other day I would stop by the shop at the mall and pick up three to six booster packs. The excitement of cracking the packs was addictive and I justified the money that I spent by saying "It’s an investment." Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it my wife did not agree with my investment practices. She had to put her foot down and cut my cash flow. Cue the sad music.
I knew she was right so I honored her wishes and cut my spending. This however created a problem. How was I supposed to immerse myself in the world of Magic without the cash flow? My weekly allowance only made up my tournament entry fee and maybe a pack or two and this wasn’t enough to curb my appetite. I wanted to build the best decks have the best collection and be the best. These dreams seem more complex from where I stand now but back then in between the four walls of a little card shop in Vermont all of this was within my reach. I simply had to make a plan to overcome my obstacles.
My Pops the Ultimate Grinder
I remember thinking back to the family meetings of my childhood. My dad would call us into his room and we would surround his bed. He would lay out the plan. Typically the plan revolved around getting money to pay a bill. My dad worked two jobs but sometimes two jobs aren’t enough to raise ten kids. I recollected how he would methodically pool his resources. Some of the kids would load the truck up for a swap meet run some might be sent to gather the recycling (in California you get paid for turning in recyclable stuff) and others might prepare items for the pawn shop. We would spend the weekend grinding and we would always succeed.
I took the same approach as my dad in regard to my Magic collection. I called all hands on deck and pooled my resources. If you look closely you can see parallels between last week’s article and the story of my childhood. Purging is essentially pooling resources and the swap meet while the pawnshop and the recycling place are all outlets just like trading bulking and buy lists. A lot of what I learned about grinding cards I learned as a child. With a plan and my newly created trade binder I entered the world of trading Magic cards.
I Became a Dealer and a Pimp
My local shop was a great place to play Magic and buy packs but they had almost no singles. I noticed the need and I started to fill the gap by dealing cards to my local play group. My stock began to grow but I had no outlet except the local shop. That’s when I started traveling to other shops to trade and pick up cards for the local players. I was gaining cards quicker than I could trade them away so I scoured the Internet for the best way to sell or trade my overstock. That’s when I was introduced to "pimping."
"Pimping" is the process of making your deck – and on a wider scale your collection - unique. You do this by investing in Foreign foil miscut and misprint cards. I was attracted to the prestige of having the most expensive and unique deck so I used my profits from selling and dealing cards to pimp out my collection. In doing so I learned all the ins and outs of pimping: which cards are very rare which languages are preferred the value of obscure foils and other things of this nature. This opened up a new market for me. The people with whom I was trading had tons of hidden treasure in terms of foil and foreign cards. The market for those types of cards was slim so I was getting killer deals on them and I would then sell or trade them online for a premium.
Pro Tip: Check out the "What’s the most Pimp Deck you’ve ever seen" thread on the StarCityGames.com forums. If you like style then you will lose a good five hours of your life on this thread.
Pack to Power
After about a year of grinding cards I entered the Magic writing community. I started my own blog to share the information that I had learned. Word spread through the interwebs about my apparent ability to amass large amounts of cards from essentially nothing. That’s when Trick Jarrett of Mana Nation contacted me. He had an idea for a column and he knew after watching my trade feed (I used to post pictures of my trades online) and reading my articles that I was the man for the job. We talked chatted over instant messaging and Pack to Power was born. The concept is that I would trade one pack of Rise of the Eldrazi up to a piece of the Power 9. I started at the release of Rise and I am well on my way to making my deadline September 15th. I have already traded the pack which contained a Bear Umbra up to a Grim Tutor Illusionary Mask and a binder full of tradable cards.
Aside from Pack to Power I currently keep about ten thousand dollars in trade stock. I have connections with multiple online dealers rarity collectors and singles wholesalers. I am on a handful of restocking lists (when an online store starts to run low on certain cards they will email their restock list to make some quick buys). I also stock my local store with hard to find EDH foils and Legacy cards. I have forged my name in the MTG internet community as an authority on card valuation trading and speculation.
Needless to say at this point I don’t need an MTG allowance. We did away with that shortly after I started grinding. I don’t take any money from my paycheck to pay for Magic. All my trips are paid for by money that I make selling and trading cards. It’s gotten to the point that not only can I can travel anywhere build any deck and buy any card I also have enough to make regular contributions to the household. This keeps my wife happy which is probably about as good as going infinite itself.
How to Build a Trade Binder
Holy smokes that introduction was long! I hope that gives you a feel for who I am and what I’m about. If it doesn’t I would encourage you to stop by and say hi next time you see me at a big tournament. Alright enough lollygagging. Let’s get down to business! Nationals is right around the corner as is the StarCityGames.com Open weekend in Denver and I have received a ton of questions on how to organize a trade binder.
To be honest I never really considered this for an article topic but judging from the amount of inquires that I have received I assume it’s a real question. Let’s talk about what it takes to build a legitimate trade binder.
Before you can actually build a binder you need some essentials. You’ll need a binder preferably one that doesn’t have a messed up bottom ring that makes every page you turn jump out. I hate flipping through binders like that. They feel more like booby traps. For binders I recommend a Five Star zip-up binder and this is also fine. You will need some nine pocket binder pages. I recommend BCW but these work too. I also use plastic tab dividers to mark my sections. You may want to adopt this but it’s not necessary.
Once you have the gear the next thing you need is the strategy. There are two strategies that should be employed when developing a binder: the general strategy and the specific strategy. The general strategy is true for all binders and the specific strategy is something that you will need to develop on your own. Don’t worry I will show you my specific strategy and give you the tools to execute yours.
The General Strategy
The General Strategy is the common sense of making a binder. The key is to make every trade as efficient as possible. The more trades you make the money you make. This means that people need to navigate your binder easily. Your binder should also be appealing; it should draw people in. Think about all the times that you’ve opened a binder. How did you feel when you opened up to the first page? How do you feel if the binder is full of junk? Personally I don’t like looking through a binder full of bulk rares… Well maybe I should rephrase that: I like it less than looking through a binder of good stuff.
I recommend that you take your bulk rares out of your trade binder and put them in a box. When I say bulk rares I mean the crappiest of the crap. The kind of rares that have never and will never see play anywhere. It’s the kind of rare that dealers pay 10 cents for. I am not talking about playable cards like Stormtide Leviathan or Renegade Doppelganger. If you are not sure if something is a bulk rare or not then just leave it in the binder. You will get better at this as time progresses. If your trade stock is nothing but bulk rares then you have to keep them in the binder but as you level up your collection you should take them out.
Now that you know what to do with the bulk rares let’s move on to a more controversial question: what do we do with the good stuff?
I Saved the Best for First
I can’t count how many times that I’ve opened a binder to find all the good cards on the front page. Typically the situation goes like this. I will thumb through the first three pages and then the guy will look over and say "Oh it’s all downhill after those pages." Then I will skim through the rest of the pages without really looking at what he has for trade. Instead I am thinking about how I am going to get his Jace off him. Eventually I get bored of looking through pages of non-organized crap and I break the ice. "Did you see anything that you like?" Typically by then my trade partner has found some odds and ends but nothing that equals a Jace.
This situation is not the end of the world but you have to be careful about where you are leading people. Is your strategy to trade the Jace? Or is it to trade the other stuff in your binder first? I would assume that you would rather trade other stuff than a Jace… I know that I would. The placement of your good cards should draw people into looking at your binder. The best way to do this is to stagger the good rares throughout your binder or to put them in the back of your binder. Again this depends on your specific strategy. We will talk more about that in a moment but first let’s talk more about the common topics of binder building.
That’s Not for Trade
One of the worst things you can do is put stuff in your trade binder that is not for trade. Seriously. People do this. It makes for a negative experience for your trade partner if while he is trying to select cards you are towering over him like a police officer barking "that’s not for trade." You might as well carry a buzzer around and buzz him as he goes through your binder. If it’s not for trade take it out of the trade binder. Hopefully after last week’s purging exercise there are a lot more cards that are for trade than ones that are not. For cards about which you are still undecided stick those in the binder but put them in the page upside down. Then you can let people know that the cards that are upside down are cards that you would rather keep but still cards you would be willing to trade away for the right deal.
Another thing that I recommend is using plastic separator tabs to keep a section at the very back of your binder for cards that you picked up for yourself during the day so that you don’t mix them in with the tradable stuff.
The Specific Strategy
Crafting your Specific Strategy depends on two things. You need to know your market and your end game. I will outline my market and end game for you and then show you how I accomplish it. I trade weekly at FNM and local weekend Magic tournaments. There are very few Legacy tournaments and virtually zero Vintage tournaments in my area. This means that I mainly deal with Standard and EDH players. My specific strategy is to trade cards with values of $9 and down for cards with values of $10 and up. The reason I do this is because dealers pay more on cards worth $10 and up than they do on cards worth less than that. For example a dealer may buy Misty Rainforest at $7 while it’s a $10 card but they buy Extirpate at $4 and it’s an $8 card. I would rather maximize value by trading the Extirpate at $8 or $9 than sell it at 50% of its value but I don’t mind selling the Misty Rainforest at 70% of its value.
Don’t get me wrong I would rather trade everything at 110% value but at some point I have to turn the cards into cash. Typically the cards that are above $10 have a higher exchange rate. To accomplish this specific strategy it requires me to have a second trade binder. It only makes sense to keep the cards that I am planning on selling separate from the cards that I am focusing on trading. It also helps when I am trading to a dealer or another grinder; you don’t need to mess around with protocol you just get down to business. So based on this specific strategy here is how I have my two binders laid out.
The Lead Binder
This is the binder that I give to everyone first. It has stuff like Sarkhan Vol Wall of Omens Leyline of Sanctity Little Jace Lightning Bolt Oblivion Ring and Sensei’s Diving Top. I keep only one copy of each card in the binder. Any duplicates are put in a penny sleeves and filed in their prospective color/ section in a one thousand count box that I keep in my backpack.
I do this for a number of reasons. If my lead binder ever gets stolen off the table or if someone steals cards out of it the damage is kept to a minimum. It also allows me to control how many copies of a card I that I trade to someone without looking like a jerk. For example if someone wants two copies of an $8 card and I only found $14 of stuff in their binder then my trade partner is guided into find $6 more rather than asking the typical question: "can you do these two cards for that stuff?" I would usually accept such an offer just to keep the trade binder open and let the spectators know that I am easy to deal with but this would mean a $2 loss. There are also the times when I want to throttle my stock levels of a card if it’s hot. Typically a hot card opens doors for trades which open doors to gaining value. If I trade someone ten Leylines of Sanctity to one dude I won’t have any left to form future trades. Having one of each card also allows you to display the most product in the least amount of space. Think of it as the liquor store model of trading. You could stack cards in the pages but that sometimes causes cards to slip out and it doesn’t offer any of the advantages that I describe above.
The lead binder is split into three sections sometimes four. Each section is divided by colors in this order: Lands Artifacts / Colorless Multi Color Blue White Red Green Black. The colors must be in this order or all your trades will fail. Keep that in mind.
Section 1 only exists for three weeks after a set is released. It’s the new set section. It’s where I keep all the cards from a new set. Typically in the three weeks after a set release people are primarily looking for new cards and I want to make them easily accessible. This is the first section in the binder.
Section 3 is where I keep all the all the Extended Legacy and EDH playable cards. Things like Sensei’s Divining Top Coalition Relic Extirpate Brainstorm Nevinyrral’s Disk etc. I often use this section to construct entire EDH decks.
Section 4 is where I keep all the playable foils foreign and miscut cards. People who aren’t into such cards don’t like looking through them in a binder. That’s why I keep them in the back. The people who are into these cards usually go shopping from that section. I am not a fan of keeping bulk foils in your binder but it requires knowledge to distinguish bulk from playable foils so it’s okay to err on the side of caution. Just make sure that they are in the back.
The Awesome Binder
This binder is divided in two sections: regular cards and pimp cards. The regular card section has stuff like Revised Dual lands; Power; Tarmogoyf; Jace the Mind Sculptor and other $10 and up cards. The pimp section had high-end Vintage pimp foil Japanese Fetch lands and Signed Altered Mana Crypts stuff like that. Whenever I see a card like a Dual land or Jace I first try to trade for it from the Lead binder. If I can get the guy to take $100 out of the lead binder then I preserve the awesome binder stuff for my eventual paycheck. If I can’t get there with the lead binder I take out the awesome binder. I am sure that I will be able to gain value no matter which binder I use but trading out of the lead binder gives me more inherent value.
This is how I set up my binders based on my Specific Strategy and my market. Before I take off for the week I wanted to touch base on another way to organize your binder. My way works for me but for people who are just getting into trading a good way organize your binder is by price. This was recommended to me by my buddy Ryan who owns an online card shop. He has people trading for him at events and in that kind of situation it’s helpful for his workers to be able to price a card based on the cards that surround it.
With this method you still want to take out the bulk and you still want put the more expensive cards in the back but instead of by color you will price your cards I recommend that you make a stack for each dollar amount then populate the binder from cheapest to most expensive. You can still use my section methodology but just populate it by price. It makes it easier for you to price cards in a trade based on their location in your binder. I see a couple of drawbacks to this method but they are not deal breakers. One is that a savvy trader will notice what you are doing and will have an advantage because he’ll know what you price things based on your binder configuration. It also may take people longer to find cards in the binder because it will seem that there is no rhyme or reason. This is definitely an option to consider if you need the training wheels.
That’s all for this week! I hope you enjoyed getting to know me a little and learning about the wonderful world of binders. While you’re out there making the trades keep a lookout for these rarities… you may stumble upon a great deal.
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions hit me up in the forums. You can also follow me on twitter @mtgmetagame. See you next week!