Trading Vs Collecting

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Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend the SCG Open in Boston this last weekend. I had loaded up on Mimic Vats and Abyssal Persecutors hoping to make some last minute trades Friday night and Saturday morning since I expected a lot of people to jump on the GerryT bandwagon and play U/B Vat. From what friends told me there was a ton there although it didn't seem to place well. That isn't too surprising though as I've found it can be a difficult deck to play well and picking it up for a week before a major tournament probably isn't going to give you enough time to learn it.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about the trades I made there but since I didn't go I want to spend some time talking about collecting versus trading for value. I didn't start trading because I wanted to make money; I did it because I wanted to get cards I needed to complete my collection. Even though I now do most of my trading for the profit of it I still make trades to finish my collection.

There are two kinds of things I generally look for when I'm collecting. The first is that for whatever set I am collecting I want a playset of everything. Second I'm currently trying to complete a playset of promo cards. For both of these I have found that trading over the internet is the best way to acquire the cards I'm seeking.

Some promo cards are easy to find. Recent FNM promos, textless player rewards cards and pre-release/release promos can usually be found in the binders of people at your local gaming store. On the other hand older promos, Vanguard and judge promos are generally more difficult. Without trading sites like MOTL or the trade forums on sites like mtgsalvation my only other hope would be to try and luck in to finding them at larger events or to pay cash for them on eBay or from dealers. In general I would prefer to spend as little cash as possible on my collection.

Trying to collect a playset of a given set comes with its own unique challenges. Generally buying a box and doing some drafts is enough to get the commons and most of the uncommons. I've actually found that the most difficult cards to trade for can be the bulk rares.

The reason for this is that many traders tend to overvalue cards like this and generally try to get at least a dollar for them. While it is often possible to get a couple of them as throw-ins this can be a slow process when trying to complete a set.
In my experience the best way to trade for these cards has been trading down. Not everyone understands the generally accepted convention among traders of giving up more when trading up. They see twenty-five dollar rares as being equal to a $25 rare. Sometimes you can get them to understand where you are coming from, especially if you can get them to understand the difference in value when selling cards to a dealer. For example that $25 card may be sellable to a dealer for $15 but those bulk rares would only get you $2.50. This may not always work though and again this is where internet trading comes in.

The traders you meet online are often more understanding when it comes to trading up/down and many of them will be delighted to trade up. Now I'm not recommending trading a $20+ mythic for a bunch of bulk rares unless the deal is amazing but the $5-10 rares are perfect for this. They are often easy to trade up for then use to trade down for more than what you traded away.

If needed you can also purchase the cards you need from a dealer or eBay. I will usually do this to complete the last few cards of a set. When I need 30 cards it is easy to find people who have some of what I need but as my list shrinks so do the odds that I will be able to make a trade for them. Selling off a few cards to pay for the last cards can be a great way to save time.

Generally being a collector means that you may take a 'loss' in some of your trades. While it may not be a loss in the strict sense, i.e. you didn't actually lose value, often it will mean trading down or making a trade that is not as favorable as you would normally like. The key is to minimize these losses by using a variety of methods to complete your collection.

One final thing I want to mention is the idea that you shouldn't have any emotional investment in your cards. That is, the idea that you should look at cards as currency. Unfortunately for collectors this is often more difficult to do. We value our collections and completing a set is, for me at least, an accomplishment in its own right. Breaking up a collection is not something I like to do.

There are cards in my collection that I wouldn't trade away but on the other hand some cards I'm willing to make deals for. Generally I let people know that the card is coming from my personal collection so I would expect some added value out of it because I will need to replace it later on. My fourth copies of Iona or Avenger of Zendikar, for example, are cards I could trade away because the chances of me actually needing all four copies are slim.

It is ok to have some personal investment in your cards. I would urge you not to keep any of those cards in your trade binder. I'm sure we all know people who will hand you a binder where they are only willing to trade half of the cards in it. Asking, “Is this for trade?” gets annoying pretty fast when you have to do it for every card you want. If I hear that someone wants a card that I own and am willing to trade away and we can't work anything out with the cards from my trade binder I will sometimes let them know that I have a copy that might be for trade and see what we can work out.

When I am in the process of completing a set I am much more likely to trade from it than if it is already completed. This is actually a bit irrational but I, and many other collectors I know, have less of a personal investment in sets that are yet to be completed. If you are a collector, the next time you hear that someone wants a card in your collection don't automatically dismiss it but try to see what you can get for it. In the end you will probably be able to get the card back easily and have some extra cards essentially for free.

For those of you who are both collectors and traders I would love to hear from you. How do you go about acquiring the cards you need? Are there any interesting situations that have come up from being both a collector and someone who looks to trade for value?

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5 thoughts on “Trading Vs Collecting

  1. Hey Matt! Great article ;).

    I am one of those fabled "collector / traders" of which you were making reference and can agree that it carries its own set of challenges.

    I've fallen into the trap of NOT bringing my collection with me to FNMs etc because of it's sheer size / volume. Your Iona example was perfect… I have playsets of all of those mythics that are used as 1x or 2x in some decks that are just sitting around in a binder growing mold.

    I think another important skill us collectors need to learn is to evaluate which cards should be "pick up a playset" vs. "pick up a 1x for EDH". When I look back on my collection and see my 4x of Sensation Gorgers and Spearbreaker Behemoths it makes me (and my wallet) sad.

    Collecting is AWESOME, and is probably the aspect of MTG that I enjoy most. It's been a challenge for me to curb my spending from "buy a playset of everything" to "buy just what you need / want to speculate on". I've found that since I cut down on my old theory of "buy everything" that I've had a lot more disposable income to use to buy collections / underpriced singles which I then use to trade for the cards I would have outright purchased anyways. 😉


    Carl Szalich

  2. Thanks for posting this article. I am primarily a collector but have been trying to get into the trading for value game in order to complete some of the more difficult playsets.

    I started playing again (after a more than 10 year hiatus) when M10 was released. Somewhere along the way I decided that I wanted to collect full playsets of each set that was released. The way that I've been doing it recently has been to pre-order about four boxes of each set (usually at about $84/box). I open the boxes, build my sets and check what's missing and what I have duplicates of. It's a bit of a gamble because sometimes you will get extras of great tradeable cards. Other times you have a stack of Necrotic Plagues.

    What I then try to do is trade the extras I opened for the cards I'm missing. This is usually a very slow process, but I admit…it is fun. There is a rewarding feeling to completing a set when so much work was required to do it.

    I currently have full playsets of every card in Zendikar and Worldwake. I am only missing 3 Baneslayer Angels to complete M10.

    I'm pretty far off on Rise of the Eldrazi and Scars because they both had a number of high dollar mythics that have taken/are taking a while to come down in price. Same with M11. The titans have all been pretty pricey so far.

    I don't mind taking my time with collecting because there isn't any real need to complete the set while the cards are in standard. Of course I also like to play them so I always try, but waiting until rotation can be a great way to pick up former all-stars on the cheap.

    My next collecting goal is going to be planeswalkers. Ever since I returned to the game I've just been enamored with planeswalkers. My goal is to collect one foil copy of each planeswalker in each English version that is available. So for instance I would be looking to get four Jace Belerens: 1 book promo, 1 original art (Lorwyn, M10, M11), 1 Duel Decks (English), and in the special case of Jace and Chandra, I will also get the new manga art Japanese duel deck versions just because they are cool. But for Nicol Bolas, I only need to try for one…Conflux English foil. It will be a real challenge I think, but it will be fun (except for a foil Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I imagine that will be the most difficult to get my hands on).

  3. About time some wrote an article like this, I primarily collect as well so it is nice to hear that point of POV. What do other collectors do with their sets, will you pull cards out of them to play with, or do you keep the set "sealed"? I try to collect 1x of each set and can never decide whether or not to pull a card out of a complete set to use in deck on the rare occasion when I play.

    Oh and Luke, I am pretty sure the book promo was not released as a foil.

  4. Thanks for the comments! I'll be sure to write more about this in the future.

    @Psilence6K: I've never really had the problem of which to pick up 4 of and which to pick up 1 of since I need to have 4 of everything! However, even in my case it still makes sense to pick up some cards before others. Generally I pick up a playset of the playable cards before going after the true bulk. Even if I think a card might be marginally playable I try to grab those before getting my 4x Venser's Journal.

    @Luke Sonnier: I used to just buy a case of a new set then trade for the few remaining cards I needed but with Scars I went a different route. I've only opened one box, plus prize packs, and this time I've just traded for the set. The other day I decided to trade for a second playset of Scars and talk about those trades in a future article. I'm a good portion of the way there after less than a week! I'm definitely looking forward to writing that article so look for it in about 2 weeks.

    @pureval: My motivation for collecting is generally to have every card available for deckbuilding. In the case of promo cards and such it has more to do with me being a completionist. When I complete a set I generally put them into a properly labeled binder, in set order, so I have easy access to them. For bigger sets especially this can put "binder-bend" into some of the cards so this method certainly isn't for everyone. It works well for me as a player since I can find any card quickly.

    Thanks again for the comments guys and look for another collecting article in about two weeks!

  5. @ Pureval: I pull the cards that I need from my sets to use in decks. That's why I have the 4x of every card squirreled away ;).

    Something else I should mention about my method of collecting. I only collect a playset of either the FIRST set a card came out in OR the pimpest version of a card.

    Example: I have 4x Foil M10 Drowned Catacombs & 4x Foil M10 Baneslayer Angels but ZERO M11 Drowned Catacombs / Baneslayers.

    I figure that I'd only want to use the best version of a card in my deck, so why continue to duplicate playsets with inferior cards? The money I save on those 2nd playsets of duals / baneslayers now gets spent on upgrading the rest of my collection or completing the sets that are still missing cards.

    Waste not, want not. Right? ;P


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