This last week there were two rather interesting articles brought to my attention. The first by Peter Jahn here and the second, a response by our own Kelly Reid. Both articles raise interesting points and the discussion of Jahn’s article was a good read as well.
So why is it ok for me to knowingly gain value while trading? My own reasoning is: because you don’t have anything I need. I already own a playset of every card legal in Standard with the exception of a few Scars cards that see no play and that I will pick up in time. On the other hand I have some cards that you actually do want. But why should I trade my cards if you have nothing I want?
Before I continue I should point out that there are in fact some cards I want. Currently I am trying to complete a playset of every promo card, and more specifically the textless player rewards cards. If you have one that I am looking for I am willing to give you a very good deal on it indeed. I’ll often give Starcity prices for them, or at the very least offer a dollar whereas otherwise they are only useful to me as throw-ins. The odds are good, however, that you don’t have the cards I want.
In this situation I believe it is perfectly acceptable for me to get some value off the cards I am trading away. I am providing a service, in a sense, by allowing them to get the cards they want without directly spending any money. In a short time I’ve already become the go to guy for cards because even if I don’t have it, they know I can get it.
Quick aside: This is one of the biggest benefits to trading over the internet in addition to offline trading. Furthermore, because I already own the card (even though it isn’t in my trade binder), once I know that I have a replacement incoming I can just pull the card from my collection and trade it away. This prevents me from having to wait about a week for the card only to find out that the other person already received or no longer wants the card. This technique won’t work for everyone of course but if you are a collector and a trader give it a shot.
In a way I am offering the same services as a dealer although I won’t take nearly the same margin that they would. If you want something from me I will try my hardest to make sure you can get it despite the quality of cards you have, although for doing that I expect to get something out of it because otherwise it isn’t worth my time.
At the same time you have to avoid seeming like a dealer. Most players don’t want their trading to feel like a business transaction. Everyone that I trade with on a regular basis knows that I am looking to get something extra out of the trade yet they are still willing to trade with me and in many cases they are the ones asking to look at my binder rather than the other way around. So how do I keep from getting the negative reputation of a ‘business trader’?
The first answer is to be friendly. I am a Spike and when someone asks me what they can do to make their infect (or insert random keyword) deck better my first thought is to say, “by playing a different deck.” This isn’t going to endear you to many players though so instead I look through the deck, discuss their choices and genuinely try to make it better if I can. While I may play Magic competitively not everyone does. They still want to win though but they want to win their way and not just any way. When playing against them don’t be a jerk. If they make a bad play and want to take it back let them even if it ends up costing you the game. Does it really matter that bad if you win a casual game?
The second thing I do is take good care of them card-wise. I’m a TO so I make it a point to try and organize some non-competitive events for the more casual-minded players and I am always getting people to sign up for the Player Rewards program. In addition I give out the promos like candy. I know some TO’s who hoard them and while I do keep a playset for myself I make sure that everybody gets at least one and often more. Whenever a new set is released I order a case for myself. This leaves me with tons of commons and uncommons that I will never need so I generally bring in about 2-3 boxes worth of these cards and just put them on a table for everyone to have. I wouldn’t recommend doing this at a store though since the owner might not appreciate it.
The key is just to be a nice person. So many competitive players in this game act like jerks. Whenever I attend a bigger event I find that I enjoy the earlier rounds much more than the later ones. If you can avoid getting a reputation as one of those kinds of Spikes you will make more friends which in turn makes trading easier anyway.
Now I want to spend some time talking about ways to use card pricing to your advantage, both over the internet and in person. The first thing that I recommend is to not use just one particular site for all of your pricing. If someone is more comfortable using a different site you should go along with it. Generally, while one site might have higher prices than another the trades still work out the same in the end. Although the value of your lot might be $20 more on one site than another, their lot is probably inflated just as much. There are some exceptions that are worthy to note. For one example, if we look at the price of Gideon Jura on starcitygames.com it is going for $19.99 while MOTL lists them at $21.39. Essentially though what we have here is a case where SCG is selling a card for the same price as it is on eBay.
So how can we use this information to our advantage? A while back I was browsing eBay and I saw a Maze of Ith about to end so I bid and won it at $10. This is a little lower than they normally go for even on there but more importantly I know that on magiccards.info they have the mid price listed at about $26. I generally hate to spend cash on a card but when there is an opportunity to make a good profit like this I will jump on it. The thing to keep in mind though is that while the opportunity is there if you just trade it at $26 you may not actually make anything on the trade. The card(s) you get for it may still only have cost you the initial $10 you spent if you had purchased them on eBay originally instead of the Maze of Ith. Being aware of cards that generally go for the same price across multiple levels of pricing is one way to make sure that you gain value.
In this specific example the trade occurred some time ago before I was writing and keeping track of trades. I don’t remember the exact trade but I know I traded away the Maze of Ith along with four Pyromancer Ascension and a bunch of the commons/uncommons that went in that deck. This was back when it was first getting popular and Time Warp was still legal. Anyway, I know that as part of the trade I received an Umezawa’s Jitte. Using MOTL pricing the Umezawa’s Jitte is worth about $14 by itself. So using that pricing the Jitte for the Maze would have nearly been even. Looking at the price of the Jitte on starcity we see that they match up just as they did in the example of Gideon. However the price of the Maze of Ith is $25 on SCG so in this case it is like I bought the Jitte off eBay then got an extra $10.
The best price guide to use for cards though is…none of them. I’ll explain what I mean next week. Before I go here is a situation that occurred the other day. I was at school and someone came by and offered his Elspeth Tirel if someone bought him lunch. I jumped on it and picked up the Elspeth for $5. The person knows what Elspeth is currently selling for so my question to you all is: would you have done the same thing?