By: Chas Andres
A year and a half ago, there were no trading columns on the internet.
The only person who wrote at all about the financial aspect of Magic was Ben Bleiweiss, the manager of acquisitions for Star City Games. He wrote (and still writes) a column the day before the prerelease of each new set, detailing what he thinks will happen to the price of each new card. Beyond this he would have occasional spurts of financial writing where he’d do a column for a couple weeks every few months. Other than that, good financial information was nearly impossible to get anywhere.
Then something changed.
First came that guy on Channel Fireball who wrote “Rishadan Pawnshop”, the financial column that eventually turned into an Extended strategy column and then disappeared. Then Kelly Reid, and Quiet Speculation, and Jon Medina, and Doubling Season, and Pack to Power, and then PacktoPower.com, and a whole community of people turning toward trading as another competitive aspect of Magic. Our new readership saw what we’ve known about for years: that the rush of trading Magic cards is every bit as interesting, complex, and rewarding as playing the game we love. Now, I can read a financial column nearly every day if I want. I have real-time Twitter updates on hot cards from trusted experts. My own Pack to Power has made me “the trading guy” at my FNM, and I’m not the only one there trying to turn a pack of cards into a pile of profit. The world is different now. We’ve changed it.
But even though there are more people trading now than in years past, I fear that the growing attention put on the trading/financial community is going to backfire on us and destroy our favorite part of the game. As more and more power traders emerge, so too does the pool of available casual traders go down. This is because all it takes is one horrible experience with a power trader for a casual to put their binder away and stop bringing it to FNM.
It is important that everyone understands this:
Casual traders sustain our continued business, much the same way the Earth sustains our continued life. If we mistreat the Earth, our ability to survive goes down. It we mistreat the people we trade with, our ability to keep making trades goes down.
There is a trader at one of my local stores who doesn’t get this concept. He will badger people to trade in the middle of games, on their way to the bathroom, and when they’re in the middle of other trades. Then he will take them for as much value as he can. Then he will walk away. If you trade with him again, he will often remark about how much value you “got him for” last time (regardless of whether it’s true or not), and demand an even more lopsided deal this time around.
If you act like him, we all lose. As power traders, we are all effectively small business owners working in a VERY customer-oriented business. If you mistreat your customers, not only will you find yourself ostracized, but you will be tarnishing all of our names.
How many players have you traded with who were hesitant or unwilling to make deals because they got burned by an earlier trader?
We are not car dealers – we are not a necessary evil. If Magic trading were banned from shops, the game would still survive.
That said, here are a few rules that I believe you should follow in order to keep our community healthy and vibrant. And as an added bonus, they’ll make you a better trader. It’s a win/win: my favorite kind of win.
1) Establish a fun dialog with your trading partner.
You should not be all business when you are trading unless you are dealing with a true shark. Instead, you should be seeking to engage them on whatever level they enjoy Magic the most. If they’re after Johnny rares, talk to them about fun combos and game situations you’ve been in. If they’re after staples, talk to them about the sweet new brew they’ve just read about. This not only helps you figure out what best to trade for, but it makes your partner enjoy the act of trading. If they think of trading as a fun conversation that ends with them getting awesome new cards, they’ll be more likely to do it again.
2) Don’t always trade for value.
Sometimes, it makes sense to complete a trade that is perfectly even. Even if the cards you get in return aren’t staples. Even if you aren’t trading up.
Making a trade that your partner wants even if it is a gain of zero for you is still a positive. Why? It establishes you as someone who is easy to trade with. Who do you think they’ll go to next time they need a card?
One of the biggest complaints people who don’t often trade have about trading is that it is hard. Make it easier for them.
3) Don’t haggle over that last buck.
Jon Medina once wrote about how haggling for the last buck over a trade is a waste, because you could (and should) be using that time to make additional trades. Kelly Reid once wrote that you should end most trades DOWN a buck so that you can ask for a couple throw-ins, which usually add more than a buck to the final value of a trade.
While I love Medina’s thinking and Reid’s gambit, there’s another reason not to haggle over a buck either way: it’s excruciating.
Have you ever been at a trade table for 10, 15, 20 minutes just trying to finish one trade? Every time you get close, the value is just a little to far in someone’s direction for both of you to feel comfortable pulling the trigger.
Do you think that this person will ever be excited about trading with you again? Do you think they’re going to want to trade again that night at all?
Plus, ending a trade down a buck makes your trading partner feel like they owe you. Next time, they’ll remember that you did them a solid and may reward you for being a cool guy.
4) Don’t brag about how you stomped someone else at the trade tables.
In Magic, coming back from an impossible situation to beat your opponent is exciting. The cards cut a certain way, you get exactly what you need two turns in a row, and suddenly you’ve come back and won a game that you had no right winning. It’s cool, and exciting, and it’s mostly luck based, even if you played well. During M11, I lost a game of draft where I had a couple 2/2 creatures on the board, 20 life, 8 swamps, and a Corrupt in my hand. My opponent was on 3 life, no creatures in play, and only 2 cards in hand. It was game 3 of the last round of FNM. And I lost.
I certainly hope that my opponent is still telling the story about that game, because I sure would be. It was epic.
In trading, however, there is no luck.
If you beat someone at the trade tables, it is because you knew something that they didn’t know and used that information to your advantage. I’m not saying this is wrong – in fact, our whole country is built around using and exploiting this very principle – but you should know better than to then start talking about how much you “owned some n00b” for their titans.
If it gets back to them, they will feel terrible. They can’t blame luck, or the draw, or the shuffler. They can only blame themselves for not knowing what you knew.
If it gets to someone you were planning on trading with, how are they going to feel about trading with you in the future? Or with anyone else?
5) Adjust your trading style according to who you are trading with.
If you are trading with a player who has opened <10 booster packs in their life, the only kinds of trades you should be looking to make is to give them a TON of stuff they need for their deck for their 1-2 standard staples that aren’t doing them much good. This is where you trade up, not where you gain value.
If you are trading with a child, you should not expect them to know values. You should present them with fair, market values for their cards and yours. Kids don’t know any better.
If you are trading with a casual trader, you should not force them into making deals they’re not comfortable with. Let them set the tone.
It is only with sharks and other value traders that you should be looking to pull out all the stops and go for as much value as possible. The only people recently that I have gone full-bore with are those who I knew were regular readers of this blog, and knew every trick I have.
6) Provide a service for people.
People like trading with me because they know that I have a ton of cards and I’ll work hard to get the cards they want. At the Scars prerelease, a guy asked me for a Solemn Simulacrum, and I told him I didn’t have one. His face fell, and while we were planning a lesser trade for other cards, his flight got called and he left.
You know what I did? I traded around and found someone with a Solemn. An hour later, I went back to that guy and told him I found the card he wanted. Not only couldn’t he have been happier, but he gave me incredible value because I went out of my way to help him.
Last week at FNM, I got to make the following trade:
- [card[Koth of the Hammer[/card] x3 – $119.91
- Molten-Tail Masticore (foil) – $49.99
- Baneslayer Angel x2 – $35.96
- Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre – $8.99
- Jace’s Ingenuity (foil) – $1.99
- Mutavault – $17.99
- Vengevine – $37.97
- Eldrazi Monument – $18.98
- Elspeth, Knight-Errant – $14.99
How did I make this trade?
Well, first we both undervalued the Monument, which really peaked over the last few weeks. But more to the point, he *really* wanted Koths for a deck and wanted them now. I had three Koths at home in a deck I was brewing up, but told him I was willing to part with them at the right price. I told him that I would drive home and get them for him if he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
So he did.
Not every trade is about value for everyone. There were no other Koths for trade in the room – only mine, which were actually sitting in my drawer a few miles away. By providing a service for my partner here, we both wound up very happy at the end of the evening. He got the cards he needed, and I got enough value to make it worth giving up cards I wanted for a personal deck.
Remember: cards have no value on their own.
I like to say that cards + knowledge + time = value, but the real equation is this:
Cards + Knowledge + Time + Customers = Value
Don’t forget about the human element, or it’s all over for all of us.