The Myth of Making Profits

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Let me share with you a conversation I’ve had several times with my girlfriend after returning from FNM.

Marianne: So how did it go?

Me: It was okay. I went 3-1 playing, but I made like $30 trading!

Marianne: Great, so are you taking me out to dinner tomorrow night? Or are you going to buy me shiny things?

Me: Well, it’s more like “theoretical money”

Marianne: So macaroni and cereal again?

Me: (sigh) Yeah, but I really like those!

This example shows clearly two traps you can fall into. First, while macaroni and cereal sound great when you’re a kid, they get old after four years in school. Two, thinking you made money trading just because at the end of the night you walk away with the cards that Star City Games is selling at higher prices. (Shiny things is code for “engagement ring.” Be on the lookout for your significant other trying to casually slip it into conversations like this)

The Myth of Making Profits stems from the fact that many traders believe that trading their Predator Dragon for your Thoughtseize means they have profited the difference in the sell prices of the two cards. This simply isn’t true. All they have done is trade one piece of cardboard (that beats up on Extended) for another piece of cardboard (that makes a really huge Dragon to beat up on everything). Neither player has profited from this exchange, they have simply gained or lost value.

Profit comes in only when these pieces of cardboard are turned into actual money. Trading up is not the same as profiting from trading. As covered numerous times on this site, cards sitting in your binder do nothing. They represent unrealized profit and restrain you to macaroni and Captain Crunch. Don’t get me wrong, you need to make “theoretical money” while trading, but you can’t stop there and rest on your laurels. It’s great to flip through your binder and see that shiny near-mint Tarmogoyf and other Legacy goodies like Force of Will. I assume you aren’t looking at Survival of the Fittest because you took the advice of those on Quiet Speculation and sold them before the Dec. 20 banning.

But what is the next step, and how do you take it? I’ve covered before Why We Trade, which basically means every person needs an endgame. A destination. Your own personal Mordor. For some, it’s collecting. For others, it’s playing the deck you want. For many of you, I suspect that end goal is to make a profit, which is the endgame I’ll be referencing today.

If you’re planning to flip the cards you pick up in trades into cash to buy Red Lobster, shiny things or just more Ramen, you need to understand the difference between buy and sell prices (you can read about my latest selling venture here). Star City Games sells Abyssal Persecutor at $15, but buys it at just $8. Selling through Ebay means you lose 12 percent to fees. Both incur shipping costs, in both your time and money. These things shouldn’t deter you from using these venues to cash out your cards, but you need to understand the back end of selling when you’re trying to get into the game. The time you put in trading is just the beginning, and it’s by far the easiest part of cashing out with your cards. Luckily, QS has some resources to get you going in these areas. Doug Linn wrote an excellent primer on Ebay sells here and Chris McNutt keeps you updated on all the best Buy List prices regularly.

Another common option is to sell directly to a dealer in person. This is by far the easiest option, and allows for haggling on prices, but availability can be an issue if you don’t have dealers in your area who buy regularly. For instance, in my hometown of Oklahoma City, there’s only one shop that even buys cards, and they offer ridiculously low buy prices (and then try to sell you Survival of the Fittest at $65).

But there is a fourth option, and one that is criminally underutilized – Selling cards directly to players. There are multiple factors you have to be aware of when going this route.

The first is that you need to be aware of your surroundings. If the store owner doesn’t like you selling cards in their store, take it out, and I don’t mean right outside the door. Wait until the night is over and do it elsewhere. You don’t want to upset the store owner, and they understandably have a complaint if you try to take their business right under their nose.

If you sell cards on a regular basis, you need to understand the legal implications of it, and at what point it becomes a small business where you need to report profits on your taxes. Unfortunately, I don’t have the knowledge to guide you through this process, but selling a few cards every month is unlikely to cause you any trouble.

It doesn’t hurt to ask a player if they are looking to trade for cards or if they are interested in buying if you can’t work out a trade. Cash can also be used as a throw-in to even up trades.

The reason selling cards directly to players is appealing is because it helps you to circumvent the Myth of Making Profits by eliminating a ton of back-end work. You save a few dollars on shipping and an hour of your time (and gas money) by making a deal on the spot. Both you and the player buying from you are in an advantageous position by dealing like this. For them, they can get a card for cheaper than the sell price online and don’t have to pay shipping and handling (and have no wait) while getting what they want. For you, you sell a card for at or better than its Ebay price while avoiding all the hassle associated with selling online. You can offer better prices than brick-and-mortar stores because you don’t have the overhead.

I want to make it very clear that I am NOT advocating pricing out your local store. You need them a lot more than they need you. You must be extremely careful to not step on anyone’s toes. Personally, I play at a store where the owner has a limited singles collection, and doesn’t mind other players buying cards from one another. I suspect this is the exception, which means you have to be very conscious of your local environment before going this route.

If you can clear those hurdles and receive the go-ahead to sell your cards, don’t be afraid to do it, even if it’s at a lower price than you would get on Ebay. Chances are losing out on a few dollars by selling it in person is well worth it, because the hassle of shipping cards through the mail is a lot greater than handing someone that card from your binder.

Last week at FNM a friend loaned me his BUG deck to play with, marking my first tournament that I’ve cast Jaces in real life (It doesn’t suck). I went 4-0-1, grabbing first place and earning $24 in store credit ($20 after the $4 store credit entry fee). I also made a few trades and sold a couple of cards, making it a very solid night all around.


Master of Etherium ($4)


[card]Inexorable Tide[card] ($1)

Net: $3

My partner wanted the Tide for the Poison/Proliferate deck he was building, and didn’t mind parting with the Master for it. With the play the Master is seeing in Extended, there’s plenty of chance I’ll be able to flip this easily.


Scalding Tarn ($13)

Kitchen Finks ($3)


Abyssal Persecutor ($15)

Net: $1

I have a lot more long-term hope for the Tarn and the Finks than I do the Persecutor. The Finks is really necessary for a lot of Extended decks, so I’ll either end up playing it or trading it up in a few months. The fetchland is a safe hold that is a lot more likely to retain value long-term than the Mythic that rotates in less than a year.


I also sold a few cards on the night, as I mentioned. I was able to unload a Persecutor for $14, which is a very good price since it goes for $10-11 on Ebay. Note that as I mentioned above, this deal works for my partner and I both. After shipping, he saves at most a few dollars from getting on Ebay, and has to take the time to find an auction, bid on it and wait for it to ship. This way, he gets the card he wants at no hassle and in return I get a premium price for it.

My other deal involved a player really wanting to finish his Vampires deck before the tournament. This is basically the dream scenario for a trader, and I was able to capitalize.


Fauna Shaman ($8)

$10 cash


2x Consuming Vapors ($4)

Foil Vampire Nighthawk ($4)

Total: $12

Net: $6

The point of this trade is to demonstrate that my profit, while strictly using SCG values, is about $6. But if you account for the Myth of Making Profits, you’ll see that the $10 in cash I picked up goes a long way to making this trade better for me because I don’t have to sell the cards I received to earn that cash, saving at least an hour of my time. In addition, my partner was willing to use SCG values on the cards, even though he was essentially buying them rather than trading, which means he could’ve got away with offering premium Ebay prices for the cards rather than SCG prices. In the end, we both got what we wanted and walked away happy from this trade/sell, making it a success for both of us.

That’s all the space I have for this week. I’m taking a week of for Christmas, but I’ve chosen my favorite article of the year to run next week. It was actually written for Doubling Season (the original home of QS’s current content), so it’s a safe bet many of you haven’t seen it. I think you’ll enjoy it if you check it out.

Until the New Year,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

5 thoughts on “The Myth of Making Profits

  1. Good article, Corbin. A lot of people don't realize how hard it is to turn cards into cash if you don't have a storefront. That's why it makes me sad when I see local stores charging 180% of SCG prices on singles and never make any sales. They've lost so much opportunity!

    This is also why it ain't worth it to haggle over 50 cents or a buck here and there. It's not even real money!

    Something I try to do: trade into playsets. Not only can you command a trade premium when you have four of a card, but if you do want to eBay your stuff it allows you to maximize your profits there.

  2. I am no longer positive the place you’re getting your info, but good topic. I must spend a while studying much more or understanding more. Thank you for excellent information I used to be looking for this info for my mission.

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