If you’re anything like me, you love Magic. More specifically, you love trading Magic cards. The thrill of the trade is just as exciting as winning FNM or cracking that first Baneslayer Angel.
If you’re reading this site, then I’m sure you’ve seen some of the great advice of the other writers here and maybe you’ve even acted on some of it. But what if you can’t spend hours scouring a store’s dollar bin to find that elusive Lim-Dûl's Vault? What if you don’t have the time, energy or resources to track minute shifts in demand or constantly buy and sell cards on Ebay?
Just because you can’t keep up with the demands of tracking the ever-shifting Magic secondary market doesn’t mean you don’t want to build value in your trader binder. I’m here to help you with that. First, a little about myself. I’m a Journalism student at Oklahoma City University. I’ve played Magic since Shadowmoor, and I primarily play at FNM. I didn’t make the jump to higher levels of competition until about 6 months ago and in that time I’ve posted some okay, but not spectacular, finishes (~1925 Total rating; 2nd at an Extended PTQ; 6-3 record at GP: Houston).
As you can see, I’m no Magic prodigy, but I understand how to make a trade work in my favor and make both parties happy. The ability to make astute trades has made Magic a very affordable hobby for me, as I can play on store credit and trade for the decks I want to play. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, stick with me.
The first thing I need to impress upon you is that trading at the FNM level is a vastly different ballgame than trading with seasoned vets at a PTQ. The Friday night warriors don’t care that your Vengevine sells for $35; they still don’t feel comfortable trading six cards for your one. Playing and trading Magic is not about dollar signs to them; it’s all emotion. They don’t want you to get that Elspeth they opened in their very first booster pack, no matter what you throw at them. This can be frustrating at times, but you can learn to make it work for you.
So how do you, the shrewd trader that you are, work with these players to build value in your binder? I have a few tips to get you started and then I’ll recap the trades I made at my most recent FNM so you can see these principles in action.
It’s about building friendships, not matching dollar signs.
Your typical trade partner isn’t looking to be your best friend, but they don’t want a cold and calculating opponent picking through their cards. Talk to them about why you want certain cards, tell them about the decks you’re building, share bad beat stories. I know this may sound trivial and like a waste of time, but the relationships you make with your fellow players will last far longer than the Fauna Shaman you’re getting from them.
Don’t just trade when you need something.
Hear your neighbor talking about needing a Goblin Guide while you’re drafting? Get with them after the draft and offer to trade them a Goblin Guide so they can finish their deck. If they ask you what you need, make sure to let them know you’re not looking for anything in particular, but you want to help them out. This will go a long way. Of course, in return for your help, you’ll make a nice margin on the trade.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more than you give.
Sure, you know your Leyline of Punishment goes for about $3 and the Knight of the White Orchid you’re getting in return is worth about $4. You can take the trade and be happy with your margin, but it’s never killed anyone to ask for that Leyline of Anticipationas well. You’d be surprised how many players are happy to give you these “throw-ins” because they simply don’t need them. You aren’t going to build your binder through trades that only make you a few dollars a time. Be bold.
Respect their deck ideas.
If you consider yourself a decent competitive Magic player, it’s easy to scoff at someone when they tell you about their sick Quest for Ula's Temple deck. This is a surefire way to kill a trade. Rather than tell them how jank their deck is, suggest something that might be good in it. Ask them if they’ve seen that sweet Stormtide Leviathan in M11 that would be awesome in that deck. If you’re starting to notice a theme, you'll notice that how you trade with others is more important than what you trade them.
Don’t apply prices to trades unless they want to
There is certainly nothing wrong with using price guides to complete trades, but not everyone is comfortable with this method of trading. For instance, they may not want to hear that their favorite mythic rare is only worth a few dollars, or maybe they don’t trust your source.
Another common thread among the traders you’re likely to encounter at FNM is that they simply don’t care about prices. They don’t need that $20 Thoughtseize, but they sure love themselves some $2 Predator Dragon (Rest assured this story will return in the future). The point is one Jonathan Medina has made before, and it bears repeating here: a card’s value is what the people trading decide it is – nothing else matters.
Hopefully you found those suggestions helpful, and I encourage you to apply them at your next tournament. For the purpose of demonstrating some of these principles, I recorded my trades at the July 23 FNM.
His: Fauna Shaman ($14)
Mine: Abyssal Persecutor ($14)
As has been discussed endlessly online, Fauna Shaman is the real deal, and is already seeing a ton of play. I may have technically come out even on the trade, but the Shaman is going to be much, much easier to move. I need the Shamans for my own Standard decks, which is where they're headed.
His: Fauna Shaman ($14)
Mine: 2x Bloodghast ($12)
Same thing as above. Which of these are more likely to move if I need it to? Everyone who wants Bloodghasts pretty much has them at this point. And if either of these is going up, it’s going to be the Shaman.
His: Fauna Shaman ($14)
Mine: Time Reversal ($12)
The Time Reversal is dropping fast, and I don’t think we’ll see its price come close to $12 again, so I unloaded this one I picked up drafting as quickly as possible. This card has been mostly dismissed by Spikes, but its effect just screams “Play me at your kitchen table!”
His: Noble Hierarch ($14)
Mine: Stoneforge Mystic ($4.50)
This is one of those trades that you can make much easier with casual players than you can with tournament sharks. All Ignoble Hierarch does is make mana – they have their fifth edition Birds of Paradise for that. The Mythic deck can fetch that fancy new Sword of Vengeance they drafted last night! This is in no way degrading their reasoning for the trade. They have their reasons for making it, and I have mine.
His: 3x Obstinate Baloth ($21)
Mine: Sarkhan the Mad ($17)
Something you must know when trading with casual players is that they value even the lowliest Planeswalkers exorbitantly high. This has both pros and cons. Here I got him to take the Sarkhan even though he didn’t really need it. I was anxious to make this trade because another player had mentioned he was actively looking for Baloths.
Sarkhan is certainly a good tournament card, but he’s on the way out. It remains to be seen how he fares in the post-M11 metagame, and his only home (Jund) rotates in a few months. The Baloths should hold some value against RDW for a while to come.
Now this is where the trades start to really pick up. As I said, I knew a player was looking for the Obstinate Baloths, and I wasn’t going to let him off easy.
His: Temple Bell ($1.50), All is Dust ($17), Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre ($9), Leyline of Sanctity ($6), Foil Sword of Vengeance ($8) Total: $41.50
Mine: 3x Obstinate Baloth ($21)
At first he wanted to keep this trade to the Ulamog and All Is Dust, but I told him I just couldn’t do that, especially since I had traded for the Baloths to help him out. He was initially reluctant, but was happy in the end because he got the cards he needed to build his deck.
I was happy to pick up some great trade fodder and a foil Sword, which really has the potential to take off. It even made an appearance in an undefeated Japanese PTQ deck.
This next “trade” is something that primarily happens with casual players. A guy I play with at my local shop but don’t know very well was content to simply give me a stack of cards on the condition that we record the trade and I loan him cards in the future when he finds a deck to build. I gladly accepted this for a few reasons, some of which are particularly germane to some of the concepts we discussed.
Secondly, and more importantly, when you are focusing on trading with a small and mostly casual audience, you need to develop good relationships with those people. I would never have been able to pull this off if I hadn’t put in the time to get to know the guy and help him with his limited decks and Magic theory. In short, it pays to be a friend to your trading partners, because you never know when you’ll need the favor returned.
This practice is one of the only reasons I am able to compete at a PTQ level. Since I don’t buy boxes or boosters and accept store credit instead of winnings, my decks come together through a combination of drafting, trading and borrowing. Unless you have hundreds of dollars to spend to put together decks, this is something most players, even pros, have to do. Building relationships through interactions such as this provide you that opportunity.
His: Kargan Dragonlord ($14), Mystifying Maze ($3.50), Glacial Fortress ($6.50), Destructive Force ($2.50), Kozilek, Butcher of Truth ($10), Textless Bituminous Blast ($2.50) Total: $39
Mine: A promise to loan future cards
When you are trading at this level, your reputation is everything. If you rip a guy on a deal like this, you are destroying your chances at dealing with him ever again, not to mention you will have your name dragged through the mud, and deservedly so. I have every intention of helping this man out in the future, because he’s a good guy who was willing to help me.
His: Birds of Paradise ($4.50), Steel Overseer ($5), Leyline of the Void ($4), Grave Titan ($35) Total: $48.50
Mine: Leyline of Sanctity ($6), Kargan Dragonlord ($14), 2x Textless Bituminous Blast ($5), Total: $25
This trader mostly keeps up on card prices and I let him set the values on the cards involved. He valued the Dragonlord at $15 and the Grave Titan at $15. The Steel Overseer was considered a throw-in, and I didn’t even realize it was selling at $5. It’s a card I think is definitely worth picking up on the cheap because it has the possibility to be totally broken when Scars of Mirrodin releases.
I definitely felt like I was on a streak after getting the Grave Titan on the cheap. I wanted to keep up the momentum, so I approached a player I didn’t know as he finished up his limited game. He is a newer player at my store and I haven’t traded with him before. His thing was collecting artifacts, regardless of what they did. When you’re running hot, sometimes you just have to go with it.
His: Dragonskull Summit ($7), Creeping Tar Pit ($4), Consuming Vapors ($7.50), Leyline of Sanctity ($6), Fauna Shaman ($14) Total: $38.50
Mine: Eternity Vessel ($1), Mirrodin Platinum Angel ($4.50), Temple Bell ($1.50), Keening Stone ($1), Lodestone Golem ($1.50) Total: $9.50
My last trade of the night was a dandy, and the guy I was trading was insistent about getting some valuable cards out of me. I was really looking to hold on to the Hierarch since 2 of the 4 I’m running in Standard are borrowed, but in the end I didn’t mind passing it along to him. He’s always been willing to trade me what I need, so I can think of worse ways to return the favor.
His: Promo Ajani Vengeant ($5.50), Goblin Guide ($7), Foil Goblin Guide ($10), Coralhelm Commander ($3.50), Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker ($10), Time Reversal ($12), Oracle of Mul Daya ($3.50), Consuming Vapors ($7.50), Mass Polymorph ($1), Call to Mind ($0.50) 2x Tome Scour ($0.50) Total: $61
Mine: 2x Master of Etherium ($7), 2x Sharding Sphinx ($2), 2x Quest for Ula’s Temple ($1), Noble Hierarch ($14), Elvish Archdruid ($6) Total: $30
Total Friday Night Net: $121.50. I picked up the commons and uncommon to give to a player I had traded with earlier who had told me his friend was looking for them. Again, being a good neighbor gets you a lot farther in trading than being able to quote a price guide.
By this point, hopefully you’re starting to understand the way trades are conducted by people who aren’t tracking daily price updates on CoolStuffInc.com. This is vitally important if this is your trading audience. In this example, my trade partner needed the green cards for his mono-green standard deck, the artifact creatures for his casual artifact deck, and he thought the Ula’s Temple would be cool to build around. If he doesn’t care that the prices don’t match up, then it’s not my job to make him. As this trade turned out, we both left the table happy, and have the picture to prove it! That’s all you can really ask for after trading, isn’t it?
That’s all I have for today. Remember to check out the other great content on Quiet Speculation and @Chosler88 on Twitter! Good luck trading, and leave a comment below to let me know how you liked this article. Do you prefer theory, or the trade analysis more?