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Using Pricing to your Advantage

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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?

23 thoughts on “Using Pricing to your Advantage

  1. "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."

    Just to clarify, by logical extension, you must believe all of the following:

    1. If you do need a card, it is not ok to gain value from any trade involving it.

    2. You would never seek to gain value while trading for a card you did quote-unquote "need", such as cards for and from older formats.

    3. Players who do not have a full playset of all cards in Standard deserve to lose value while trading with you, by virtue of not having a full playset of all cards in Standard.

    All of that follows completely from your statement, so either you think all three of those are true, or your statement is incorrect.

    1. Nobody's making other players trade with him. The way I see it, it's a question of incentivization. Why should he bother trading with them? Out of the goodness of his heart? Maybe that's enough of an incentive for some traders, but clearly not for Mr. Sedlak. And that's fine. If that seems harsh, recall that there are other forms of incentivization-like actually wanting the card in question. For instance If you want to get rid of your Koths for duals, and someone else has duals and wants Koths, then you are mutually incentivized to trade. The ability to gain in value is a the only reason he would want the cards in question, and therefore the only way he would want to make a trade.One other illustration: If you let people trade with you whatever cards they wanted, as long as you got an equal value, you would soon have no good cards and be ass-deep in dollar rares.

    2. 1. If you do need a card, it is not ok to gain value from any trade involving it.

      That's a negated, converse statement which is not a logical extension at all. I think what you're trying to find is the following contrapositive which is logically equal.

      If it's not okay to gain value, then you have something I need.

      While logically equal it does not help either argument since the condition is what we're trying to determine.

      2. You would never seek to gain value while trading for a card you did quote-unquote “need”, such as cards for and from older formats.

      This is predicated on your first statement which has already been proven false.

      3. Players who do not have a full playset of all cards in Standard deserve to lose value while trading with you, by virtue of not having a full playset of all cards in Standard.

      Again you're using converse instead of contrapositive. To paraphrase Mr. Sedlak, he "does not need any cards because he has a full playset of each." You incorrectly assume that means, "if you do not have a playset of each, then you must need the cards."

      This is similar to saying, "If you're looking at the sky, then you see blue." and saying it follows that, "If you see blue, then it must be the sky."

      If statements can only be reversed when using, "if and only if". i.e. "A polygon is a triangle if and only if it has 3 sides." Then it is also true that, "If a polygon has 3 sides, then it must be a triangle."

      That was fun! 🙂

  2. I think a valid logical extension in 1 would be, "If you do need a card, it's OK to not gain value from a trade."

    I think the third deviates from logical extension by the use of "deserves." It's fair game for them to lose monetary value because they are making up for it in gaining some other value — pride in progressing to a playset of a given card, enjoyment that they can put the deck they are envisioning together, etc.

    More importantly, it's not as though someone is compelling them to lose monetary value.

  3. Let me deal with each of your statements in turn.

    "Just to clarify, by logical extension, you must believe all of the following:

    1. If you do need a card, it is not ok to gain value from any trade involving it."

    Logic doesn't work this way and I studied math for 6 years just to make sure. In this example let A be the statement "you don't have anything I need" and let B be the statement "it is ok for me to knowingly gain value while trading" So my statement could be restated as a conditional statement "if A, then B". When that statement is true it doesn't follow logically that the statement "if not A, then not B" is true. To look at a simple counterexample. "If the sky is clear then it is not raining" is true but the statement "If the sky is not clear then it is raining" is not true since it can be overcast with no rain. So this statement does not follow logically from mine.

    2 "You would never seek to gain value while trading for a card you did quote-unquote “need”, such as cards for and from older formats."

    This is a statement of the form "If I need a card then I will never try to get value while trading for it" or to put it into our A-B form from above "If you have a card I need then it is not ok for me to get value from trading for it. Again this is a case of not A implies not B which does not follow logically from A implies B.

    3 "3. Players who do not have a full playset of all cards in Standard deserve to lose value while trading with you, by virtue of not having a full playset of all cards in Standard."

    I'll handle this one a bit different because it is not related to the initial statement like the other two are. This basically boils down to a statement "If you don't have a playset of Standard then it is ok for me to gain value while trading" but this shares only the conclusions and not the hypothesis so there really is no way to compare them. My statement does not imply this one. I am saying if you dont have anything I want then it is ok for me to gain value while trading. It is possible for you to have something I want and have a full playset of standard, or for you to have something I want and not have a full playset of standard, or have nothing I want and…well you get the point.

    Anyway I have to wake up and teach a class in 5 1/2 hours and I'm full of Benadryl at the moment so I may have mis-explained something here but what you said at the end, "All of that follows completely from your statement, so either you think all three of those are true, or your statement is incorrect," is not a valid argument.

  4. @redshirt: The only logical extension of if A then B using negations is the statement if not B then not A. In this case "if you dont have anything I need then it is ok for me to gain value on the trade" being accepted as true only tells us that the statement "if it is not ok for me to gain value on the trade then you have something I need" is true. Of course, the truth value of a conditional statement is an odd thing because the statement itself can be true when the hypothesis is false. For example "if x is in the empty set then the real numbers are countable" is a true statement because the hypothesis can never occur. How would we judge the truth value of the negation above? well it is only false when the hypothesis is true and the conclusion is false. "If the sky is clear then it is raining" is such an example. But when is the hypothesis true, i.e. when is it not ok for me to gain value on a trade? I personally don't think that hypothesis can ever be true so whatever follows it doesn't matter because the statement will always be true. However, if I did believe that when trading for a card that I actually wanted made it not ok for me to gain value on a trade then the statement is true. Personally, I just really like acquiring the cards I need for my collection so I am willing to give better deals on those kinds of trades than when I am just trading stuff in my trade binder for other stuff to put in my trade binder.

    @Ozymandius: "One other illustration: If you let people trade with you whatever cards they wanted, as long as you got an equal value, you would soon have no good cards and be ass-deep in dollar rares." QFT The danger of trading down without getting a really good value for it.

  5. This whole response is rediculous considering the original article is about MTGO and if anyone actually read it, he said that "distributors" do add value. Anyone who moves cards around in binders falls under that description, so responding to it by justifying your trades is simply getting baited.

    On MTGO people doing "floor trades" rarely add value because there is a virtually unlimited supply of the cards online. Nothing is truely rare (Except on tuesday night when you need 1 more Nicol Bolas to redeem your 16 sets of Conflux).

    This is the same reason the NYSE is a ghost town compared to electronic exchanges. It's the same reason players buy from big online stores rather than the LGS. Money follows the liquidity.

    Most of the extra tickets in MTGO are made on speculation based on tournament results or new information that the market hasn't caught up to yet.

  6. The beginning of my article was not so much a response to the Jahn article itself but more of my thoughts on the discussion that came from it which involved much more than MTGO trades. Clearly the position I hold is not accepted by everyone. Also I don't really think that the original Jahn article is only about MTGO trading. He discusses paper magic cards and his article is a response to Pack to Power traders which started offline. Much of the discussion following it and pretty much the entirety of Kelly Reid's article dealt with trading paper magic so I don't believe that my response is inappropriate, or ridiculous as you called it.

    I also don't think that disagreeing with someone is the same as being baited. Despite evidence to the contrary (i.e. the Internet) a productive discussion usually involves people who disagree, especially when those involved can keep the discussion civil and mature.

  7. Interesting points regarding Jahn's article and I have no problem with Matt addressing that, and I don't think it's wrong to justify your methods, because there is a lot of mischaracterization going on right now regarding these traders. Many players look at these traders (or the members of this site) as cold-hearted cold sharks when that is not the case at all. "Justifying yourself" is fine with me in order to present another side of the discussion to those who take Jahn's stance toward traders.
    I can tell you that I don't personally feel the need to justify myself, but tomorrow my column is an attempt to progress the discussion past "Trading for value is right/wrong" and look at the reasons why I (and many traders) trade for value.

    1. Clarification – When I say I don't need to justify myself, I mean that I don't do anything I wouldn't write about for the world to see. But I do believe there is value to many readers by addressing this topic.

  8. Trading for cards you need and getting up a few bucks is cool every now and then but, i did the hardcore trading binge for around a year while i was unemployed Traveling to GP's PT's and around shops in LA and i'll tell you one thing right now, none of you "professional traders" will ever buy a house or car ripping off adolescent minded people. Your never going to have a 401k you would have acquire and sell at least the equivalent of 300 sets of power 9 The most you'll get from it is a cool stack of cardboard in your lonely basement with some pics of you standing next to BDM to show off to your friends. Comparing trading cards to the wild west is way off course, if this were the wild west half of you would be dead for crossing a motha fucka. If my point isnt clear i'll make it so now. Trading for cards is an awesome way to get cards w/o spending money and even pay for your gas for the days event but, if you people think your going to get ahead in this game of life by ripping people off your dead wrong, hey i'll give you guys credit at least you dont go around snatching backpacks.

  9. @Secret Squirrel: I know I'm getting trolled and I wouldn't normally respond if it wasn't a comment to my own article but: lol WHAT?? I don't think I have ever read a single writer from this site (or any financial article…or even any MtG article) suggesting that you can make a living playing or trading Magic cards. The closest anyone has ever come was suggesting that trading can be a jumping off point to opening a store. Anyway, I guess it's a good thing that both myself and my fiancée are professionals who don't need Magic to 'get ahead in the game of life.'

  10. Well im glad to hear that you do thrive outside this little cardboard economy. As far as trying to open a shop, wouldn't that constitute someone trying to make a living from trading/gaming because doing so is no small task its not like a small hobby to open a business for some maybe but, card shop owners, no. So i ask you Matt. What is the point of this then? Are you trying be altruistic by sharing information so others done get ripped off or are you giving small business lessons for hapless hobbyist?

  11. My feeling on trading cards: Any trade where all participants are happy with the outcome (even in hindsight) is a good and fair trade.

    I have often traded my higher-value cards that I wasn't/wouldn't play for (slightly) lower-value cards that I wanted for a deck that I would play, and vice-versa. Those I've traded with have always been happy with the trade and have come to me to trade again.

    I would have no problem with the type of trades the author suggests.

  12. Great article! I often just tell the trading partner to go ahead and take a look for something "small" and take it in addition to our deal. I makes them happy and I feel better to even if I have a little guilt!

    Thanks,
    Mtg_Source
    Safe Haven Collectibles

  13. Matt, enjoyed the article and the mathematic approach you took to the logic behind trading.

    One thing I have also found that you touched on is that trading is a lot more about your relationship with the person than actual numbers or even a set of logics by which you trade by. Much like you I have a ton of cards and need very little so if I am going to make a trade I want to make it worth my while. This means they will have to give up more to get my cards. I make no apologies about this and it could very well turn off a person if not handled with finesse.

    My dad a notorious negotiator that enjoyed negotiating the purchases of cars or other big ticket items on people's behalf for the fun of it told me "The dealer is entitled to make a profit. I just dont want him to make a big profit off me" In a lot of ways I believe one of the keys is making people feel okay with the idea that it is okay for you to make a profit and in return you give them something they want. At the same time you want to avoid a stigma of being a hustler or wanna-be dealer. The logic you use from person to person might change. People can point out that its inconsistent but what do you care? Youre use of logic is merely a means to an end; getting a better return on your trade.

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