The Traveling Trader – Trading with People, Not Cards

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by Blaine Rybacki

Blaine "Top Hat" Rybacki is a Magic player from the Pacific Northwest. He's a masterful trader and shares his insights on trading, buying, and the finer points of crafting a deal every Monday on Quiet Speculation. Leave a comment below to let our newest writer know how he's doing!

Your trade binder is ready. You tore apart your old deck, and you're eagerly looking for cards for the new 75 you've been playtesting. After a night of looking through binders you finally find it; the centerpiece cards you've been searching for. You pull them out, line up the cards, and start talking about values with the guy, but it doesn't seem to be going right. He seems displeased, annoyed, and you can feel the trade slipping away. Even though the cards seem to be evenly matched for values, he doesn't seem that interested. After a long aggravating bout of haggling the other player scoops up his cards and walks off, leaving you wondering what went wrong. Maybe you really were undervaluing his cards. Maybe he was just having a bad night. Or maybe it was something else entirely that few traders consciously think about when going to trade - body language and tone of voice.

Let's look at that scenario again, but this time taking into account the other players body language and surrounding elements. You see him sitting at the table, angrily tapping his fingers and staring at his deck box. He's at the bottom tables and his opponent is quietly picking up his play mat and avoiding eye contact. By noticing these simple elements you can easily determine that he has most likely just lost his match and is pretty upset about the outcome. More than likely his deck didn't function very well, or his opponent won in a manner that he feels he could have prevented or was heavily based on luck . Noticing those elements and accurately deciphering his mood and state of mind puts you one step closer to possibly completing that otherwise impossible trade.


The first step of any trade is analysis. Rather than walking up to random players and eagerly thrusting your binder into their hands, pause a moment to size them up. The reason this is important is because most people, when in a bad mood, don't particularly want to be around some happy go lucky person who is bubbling with enthusiasm. Alternatively, a player who is in a good mood doesn't really want to be around someone who is living under a rain cloud. With this in mind, analyzing the individual before approaching them is quintessential to being prepared to get the most out of the trade. If the shop you are at has numbered tables according to standings, check and see if that player is near the top or bottom tables. This is of course a huge indicating factor for most magic players as to what kind of night they are having. God knows, most of us are pretty poor losers and completely obsessed with winning. Look to see if the player has any friends or associates hanging around that he is conversing with. Their body language and facial expression when holding a conversation is another indication of their state of mind. Lastly, and this is not always a relevant factor, take into account the physical appearance of the individual. If they are wearing the t-shirt of a band, television show, or other pop culture subject that you are familiar with it may become a common identifying factor that could serve as a conversation piece. Other elements to look out for are technological products the individual has, age, and any signs that may point out what profession they may be employed in. All of these elements, when properly employed, will help set you up for the next step of getting the most out of your trade.


Now that you have taken the time to notice these factors, which as time progresses will become a reflex action, you are prepared to approach the individual. When setting up for the trade, adapt your body language to mimic that of the person you are getting ready to trade with. If the person is in a good mood, approach with a smile on your face. If the person is in a bad mood, approach with a somber expression. What this says to the individual is I know how you're feeling and I'm in the same boat no matter how good or bad that boat is. By mimicking their behavior it helps the player to instantaneously identify with you. This puts the player at ease, and makes them more welcome to your presence because you are in the same state of emotion that they are in. When an individual feels a sense of connection with another person this not only opens up the channel for communication but helps the individual to feel better about commencing a trade with you.

Application, Part 1: Body Language

After you've mimicked the individuals mood and successfully put them at ease there are a few more methods you can employ that will help the trade run smoothly. The first is overall body language. Try to adapt a posture that is nonthreatening and places yourself at a height lower than theirs. Letting them sit higher than you do subconsciously puts them in a position of power in the trade, which helps them to feel more confident about their actions. Building this confidence is crucial to properly maneuvering the trade in your favor. When an individual feels good or powerful they are more likely to agree to trades and less likely to bicker over small differences. Adopting a nonthreatening pose also helps the individual to feel calm and at ease. By nonthreatening I mean little things such as rolling up the sleeves on your jacket, leaning back in the chair slightly rather than aggressively leaning forwards, and removing a hat if you happen to be wearing one and setting it next to you. All of these little actions communicate subconsciously to the other individual that you are not a threat and are not attempting to intimidate them in any way. Intimidation is a technique that some traders employ but more often than not this will most likely set the other player on edge and make them second guess the trade because they feel threatened.

Also, make sure to maintain eye contact with the individual in most cases, the only exception is when the individual is actively seeking to avoid eye contact themselves. Maintaining eye contact tells the other individual that you are being honest and open, that there is nothing to hide. This reinforces the nonthreatening image you have been cultivating through body language.

Make sure to observe their body language throughout the trade as well. If you hover your finger over a certain card and see that they frown or hunch over as you do that is a pretty good indication that they are not willing to trade that particular card. Also, after the cards are on the table, pay attention to which card on either side of the table they seem to focus their attention on. If they are staring at one card in particular out of your collection it's a pretty good bet that they really want that card. However, if they are staring at a card out of their collection it's an indication that card may present a problem in the trade. Take these factors into account and either emphasize the value and playability of the card of yours that they want. Alternatively, if they are focused on a card of theirs and are unwilling to trade it, put it off to the side. This lets them know that you are taking into account their feelings towards the trade and are just trying to make both of you happy. Throughout this exchange make sure to maintain a nonthreatening body posture, this keeps the other player from second guessing their decision to trade for or trade off that high value card.

Part Two: Tone of Voice

This one is very simple but also very effective. After you begin talking with the other player, notice the pitch and tone of their voice. Also try to pick up on the overall pace of their speech; if they are talking fast and excitedly, slow and calmly, brash and loud, etc. What you should be doing here is slowly adapting your voice to their tone and pace. Copying their vocal patterns helps them to feel a connection to you and be put at ease. This part is much like the Approach, where you are trying to show the other player that you understand them and share a common ground. A disclaimer here is not to try and imitate accent or peculiar forms of speech. An unsuccessful attempt could result in the other individual feeling irritated and annoyed, whether because they feel you are trying to make fun of them or because you are not respecting where they are from or how they talk.

Part Three: Conversation

This part is a little more common sense than the other parts but is equally important. A good starter topic is to ask how the individuals last round went. If the player had a good last round, and is more than likely in a good mood, ask about the decisive plays and how the deck has been performing lately. Setting up this topic of conversation will more than likely cause the other player to become excited and eager to continue conversing with you, which helps the trade run it's full course and encourages the individual to seek you out if the trade is interrupted and needs to be continued later on. Alternatively, if the individual is in a bad mood, ask about what went wrong and if they seem depressed try to swap stories about epic losses and irritating defeats. Other topics to discuss can possibly derived from the appearance of the individual as I wrote about earlier. If the individual is wearing a t-shirt with a popular bands logo on it or the characters of a te
levision show ask them about that topic. If you happen to be familiar with the band or show discuss how their last album or episode was. Once again, these may seem to be simple tips, but keeping the interest and good will of the other trader is critical to cultivating a good trade. In any case, when conversing with the person you are trading with try to make sure that it revolves around them and is something they can find interesting so they are more at east and inclined to continue trading with you.

There are many great reasons for holding a good conversation with the individual you are trading with. First and foremost, it shows them you are not just there to take their cards and leave. People are more enthused to trade with individuals they feel they can converse with. They are obviously less inclined to trade with people who walk up, name prices, talk about nothing that interests them, and leaves. Most importantly, it's a great way to make those social connections I wrote about in my last article. Making connections helps increase your reputation in the area in a constructive manner and more than likely will open up more avenues for good trades and playtesting groups. Besides, you may even make a new friend while employing these "methods"!

The purpose of these techniques is not to put people at ease so you can shark out their best cards and leave them with nothing. If you want to learn how to convince people to trade their Tarmogoyfs for a stack of crap rares, then I have no advice for you. The purpose of this article is to help people open up trading avenues that are otherwise difficult if not impossible to open. If all of these techniques are properly applied then you should find yourself able to trade with people on a much more pleasant basis than you were able to before. Additionally, these people will more than likely remember you as someone they enjoyed trading with and approach you again the next time they see you. These techniques often make the other individual feel better about trading with you, and you could even end up making a bad day a little better by providing some much-needed human contact.

A small disclaimer is to make sure you don't just jump into using these techniques, people will become confused if you switch moods suddenly or rip off your hat and quickly lean back in your chair when you sit down to trade. A gradual transition makes it seem more natural and more than likely will not be noticed by the individual except on a subconscious level which is what you are shooting for. Have a good week guys, trade wisely!

Kelly Reid

Founder & Product Manager

View More By Kelly Reid

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5 thoughts on “The Traveling Trader – Trading with People, Not Cards

  1. Yes, this is good, definitely let folks know that body odor is a major determining factor in initial contact. If you, as the seeking trader, really want to make a deal, please bathe!I hate sounding like a jerk, but some MTG crowds have the annoyingly cliche aspect of being stereotypical nerds to obsessed with whatever it is their little brains are wrapped around to do basic things like wear clean clothes, wash themselves, brush their teeth, comb their hair.Just saying,…

  2. Bob: I encourage you to rethink this. It isn't about making some stupid trade, it is about gaining incremental advantage. If someone likes you, they are more likely to make a deal. Someone who likes you will make a trade even if the values are off by a buck or two in your favor. Someone who doesn't like you won't do you that favor, if they are even willing to trade with you at all.Protip: The advice from this column is similar to what is found in 'How to win friends and influence people', which is to say that it's as close to proven fact as something of this nature can get.Protip2: I don't like you and would not trade with you. However if you took the advice of this article I would probably change my mind.Blaine: I've been doing the mimicking thing my whole life. Glad to hear it is benefiting me while trading!

  3. Bob, I am a pro trader. PRO. Seriously, this is not bragging. I have traded a box of zendikar into all 20 fetches in a month. Let me tell you that this article is amazing and absolute truth. Especially the conversation portion. I take the time to talk to people. Find out what decks they are working on, what they like in the game, and help them evaluate cards. If people feel you are there to help them get the cards they need, they are more inclined to help you get the cards you need.Treat people fairly, give honest sound advice, and above all LISTEN.

  4. I wouldn't have published this if it wasn't spot-on accurate. I deleted Bob's worthless comment, which is something I don't normally do, but it served no purpose whatsoever. And yes, Taco, once when I was working at the Star City booth, there was a guy who quite literally smelled of rotting food and feces that spent a good portion of time with one of the buyers working out a deal. I know if I were in the buyer's shoes, I'd have done everything in my power to get him out of there as quickly as possible. Bathing is very good.

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