How Much Is a Card Worth to You?

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Last week I ended by talking about some things to look for when comparing prices across different sites. By keeping an eye out for prices that generally remain the same across sites and others that vary significantly you can set up trades that will net you some value even if they appear even according to a particular price guide.

That brings me to my first topic for this week: never stick to a single price guide. I see this more often online than in person but by saying something like "I only use MOTL for my prices" you are setting yourself up to lose value. Let's take a specific example, Frost Titan, and try to determine the price. I traded for a Frost Titan on 10/26 and according to MOTL it was worth $6.74. Apathyhouse had it at $5.74 and the mid price on was $20.86. This is a pretty broad range but when I checked ebay for the most recent prices you would be lucky to find one for $12 with $13-15 being the most common range. So if you stuck to one price site you could have lost nearly half of the value of the card by trading it away.

The reason for the dramatic shift in price across sites has to do with the surge in popularity of Frost Titan. Stores are able to quickly change their prices so a site that looks at stores will also be able to quickly reflect the change. On the other hand, sites that look at auction sites and takes the average price over a period of a month will take some time to catch up because while it is seeing the new, higher, prices it still takes into consideration the old prices. As I write this now, on 10/31, MOTL is listing Frost Titan at 7.91 but looking at completed auctions on eBay they are still going for about $12.

While I think that you shouldn't get stuck on using a site for pricing I believe even more is true. You should not use any site for pricing. No site is going to be able to answer the question, "How much do you value Frost Titan at?" Price guides will tell you how much people are willing to pay on eBay for a card or how much certain stores buy/sell a card for but none of them can tell you how much you are willing to part with for a card. How much is your Ancestral Recall worth to you? Would you pay the same for a second?

Most of the time when a card is played in constructed we generally include multiple copies of that card in our decks. In those cases the fourth copy of the card is worth nearly the same as the first copy. My fourth Jace is just as valuable as my first. My fourth Iona, however, is almost worthless to me. I would not trade nearly as high for the fourth copy as I would for my first.

As a trader you need to keep these things in mind when trading for a card. How popular is that card? Do I know people that are looking for it? How much play does it see? Is it a casual-friendly card? How long do I think it will take me to trade it away? How much do I think I can get for it? Do I think its prices will change soon? These are just a few of the questions I ask myself when trading. Let's look back at the Frost Titan and figure out how much it is worth to me.

It is a very popular card right now and I know people who are going to want to start building decks with it since it was in seven of the top eight decks from the SCG 5k in Charlotte. I'm pretty sure I could trade it away pretty fast since I am attending the SCG 5k in Boston the following weekend. On the other hand I feel like it is an easy card to beat. Most of us didn't give it much thought when it came out because it wasn't great against the decks at the time. Now that people are playing decks that are not threat-heavy and that win by swinging with big guys, Frost Titan becomes more dominant, especially when we can ramp into it on turn 3-4 very easily. I don't think that people will have a difficult time finding ways to win against Frosty though so I think he will start to see less play as he shares the load with other cards. Still I think I can move it before that happens. Maybe I can get $20 for it but I would count on getting $15. In that case it is worth no more than $10 to me. I would trade for it at $12 if I was able to get a cheap throw-in.

That is how I value cards. I certainly use the price guides when determining the value but I don't just blindly use a certain site to tell me how much I should trade for a card or for how much I should trade it away. One other thing to consider that I think most people skip over is how expensive the other cards in the deck are. For example Frost Titan almost exclusively sees play in decks running 3-4 Jace the Mind Sculptor. Players who don't already have those may not be as interested in playing blue and therefore not really interested in your Frost Titan.

Chas Andres wrote an interesting article here about buying collections over Craigslist. I've picked up a few collections in the past but never over the internet so it was a fun read.

I want to briefly mention two collections I bought and especially how I found them. The first one I bought from one of my college professors back in 2006 and the other from a neighbor. Both of these acquisitions happened just because I mentioned in a conversation that I played Magic.

Every time something in Magic changes you always hear people talking about how it will ruin the game and how they are quitting. Most of this is nonsense but there are thousands of people who have played Magic at one time and quit. Most of these people now have careers and just have their old cards lying around somewhere. They probably wouldn't have thought about them if you didn't mention Magic. The collection I bought from my neighbor was small but had a Scrubland and a bunch of $10 Legacy rares in it. My college professor's collection, on the other hand was massive. It took me and a friend the better part of a day to go through everything. It was all early magic stuff and included an Unlimited Black Lotus, but no other power. This was in 2006 so cards weren't quite as expensive as they are today but it was still pretty sizable. He knew the Black Lotus was worth a bit but he didn't really care about the other cards. Going through the trouble of looking everything up and selling it just wasn't worth it to him. I ended up buying the entire collection for $1100. $600 for the Lotus and $500 for the rest. Before buying everything I already had someone willing to pay me $800 just for the Lotus. I sold off some of the collection to dealers to recover the rest of my money then kept some and shipped the rest to dealers for trade credit and got stuff I actually needed. None of this would have happened though if I had not mentioned Magic at some point. You never know when you will find someone who would love to get rid of some trash for your cash.

More recently I have noticed some local players who used to play Magic a couple of years ago and now that they see there is a vibrant community they want to come back into it. I've spent a good deal of time going through their older stuff in order to trade them cards from more recent sets. The main thing I always seem to hear from them is how big their collection is and how old it is. Then it usually turns out to be about 5000 cards from Time Spiral block or something.

There are still usually some gems to be found though but avoid the temptation to point out that their collection is neither old nor big.

Pretty much every author here will tell you how important reputation is if you want to be a successful trader. At Game Day I had two situations come up where my reputation could have been affected. The first was easy to handle. While trading a small kid, probably no more than 10-11, came by and noticed I had a foil Tezzeret from the duel deck and instantly offered me all his rares for it. He handed me a stack of maybe 30 cards and I figured he would have a bunch of bargain rares and uncommons and that I would take out a couple of things and just hook him up with the Tezzeret. I was surprised to find a bunch of money rares and if I had to guess the stack was worth at least $60. I told him I would love to make that trade but I couldn't do it and just traded him the Tezzeret for a Ratchet Bomb. If you are the kind of trader who would have made such a trade and justified it with, "Well he offered me the trade," please do everyone a favor and just stop trading.

Later on I made the following trade: my 4x Plague Stinger promo for his Summoning Trap and Necrotic Ooze. This wasn't even a great trade for me but I know some people looking for both of those cards and he really wanted the promos for his infect deck. Immediately after the trade his friend comes in talking about what a terrible deal he made and the guy starts looking through my binder again. At this point I was a little annoyed because I already knew the original trade wasn't even in my favor. I could have argued my case and even pulled up eBay but is it really worth arguing over essentially nothing? I let the guy pull out a Tunnel Ignus and in the long run handling the situation this way will probably work to my benefit. Keeping people happy even when they are wrong is one of the best ways to keep them coming back.

Next week I will talk about how trading went at the SCG 5k in Boston and discuss some of the interesting dilemmas that come up by being both a trader and a collector. If there is any topic in particular you are interested in please let me know in the comments or email me at mattsedlak at gmail. Also please try to fill out the Reader Poll here: if you get a chance. Someone will win a Mox Opal just for filling it out! Until next week...

3 thoughts on “How Much Is a Card Worth to You?

  1. I totally agree, Matt. There is a special place in hell for people who rip kids.

    It is an unspoken rule in Magic that a trade is between two people; for better or worse. I break this rule for kids. They are the future of magic and while they might not know that their Tarmogoyf is worth $80 and they think your Lord of the Pit is amazing, make it fair. Give them a fat stack of whatever they want and keep them in the game.

  2. Grats on being honest! It makes me so angry when I see my peers at my local shop ripping off kids and people just getting into the game… then bragging about it.

  3. I had a similar experience last week. One of the players at my local university playgroup (which I run) brought all his cards for me to look through. I rummaged through looking for foils for my common/uncommon cube and found a 5 or so that I wanted, cards like foil Naya Charm, Cadaver Imp, Blind Creeper etc. Nothing of great worth, except I also found a foil Daze. So I pick them all out and ask him what he wants for them, and he is happy to give them me (as he isn't at all attached to his cards and I do all the work in running the club, plus they are for my cube). Which is the point at which I let him know that the Daze is worth at least £10, and we end up with me taking it on a gentleman's agreement that I give him something for it if I sell/trade it, as he is never going to meet Eternal players to move it on. I could have just taken it and I can't imagine him ever being any the wiser, but I couldn't rip him (or any of the other players) like that.

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