Morality and Ethics, Valuing the People

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Welcome back to Whinston’s Whisdom on Quiet Speculation. This is a continuation on last week’s article, as it ended up running long and I didn’t want to do too much of a magnum opus on the topic of morality, instead deciding to split it up. You can find part 1 here:

Let’s start by summarizing last week’s article. Essentially, I talked about how my own personal experience has led to me placing a high value on my Magic community and atmosphere. This means that I care more about building a sustainable player base than I do about making a quick buck or two, and because of this, I will always inform new players if they’re about to get ripped off. But n00bs don’t make up 100% of the MTG community. What about everyone else: the FNMers, PTQ grinders, Pro Players? Well that’s what I want to cover in this article, my code of conduct for miscellaneous trading.

The first area for potential controversy is in how I organize my binder. I’ll be honest, there’s nothing I hate more than looking at a page full of original duals and Jaces and have the other trader say “oh that’s not for trade”. You are handing me a trade binder, where 90% of the value in it is unavailable? The chances of you finalizing a trade with me have just dropped significantly. It is my belief that not only is doing this rude, but it also can be misleading. If I see a first page of Jaces, I’m much more likely to search through the rest of the binder because there will probably be more cards of value there. But if I see some Llanowar Elves and Joraga Treespeaker, my time at the trading table will be relatively short. But knowing this, if I organize my binder to put all my very high value cards at the front, but say they’re not for trade in order to get the other trader to look through the rest of my lower value cards, I would find that to be unethical. Of course, not on the level of ripping somebody off, but still something I avoid. This is why everything that is in a binder I hand you is for trade. Every single card. Now this may mean that you’ll need to give me double or triple value on the stuff I want to hold onto, but there’s always a price, and I do my best to keep it reasonable while also reflecting my need for a specific card. And to be fair, there are other considerations when not wanting to trade a card. Maybe it has sentimental value, or your holding it as a loan from a buddy. In this case I have a very simple system. I have a second binder. Revolutionary, right? This is where I keep my decks when they’re not sleeved up, and all the stuff that I simply can’t trade off. If you lack the resources to own a second binder, feel free to put all the untradeable stock at the back of your trade binder, but flashing around the untouchable bling is just obnoxious.

Another topic I wanted to cover was pricing, but because this is such a broad topic, I divided it up into 3 subsections.

First, sealed product. Occasionally, though infrequently, I will get my hands on sealed product that I have no desire to open after winning it at an event (though thankfully Pastimes gives out store credit for FNM so this is rarely a problem). For most sets, cracking packs is a losing proposition, so I often try to trade it off to other players for format staples. A quick note though, selling packs to dealers tends to be a poor idea. At the events I attend, I will only get rates of about $1.75 per pack, which is just not worth it, especially when I can get $3+ in trade value. An example: at the 2nd Chicago SOM Sealed PTQ for Paris I ended up 6-1-1 but ending up in 9th on tiebreaks. Yeah, it sucks. For my efforts, I got what I believe were 9 packs of Scars. These I almost immediately swapped for 3 Knight of the Reliquary, a Ignoble Hierarch, and some other smaller rares. Clearly, my margin on these cards was far superior to what I would have gotten from either cracking or selling these packs. But it’s important to remember your priorities when dealing with sealed product. Team Drafts before Trading BAMF. A bit of a stretch, I know. But let’s be honest, Magic is about hanging with awesome friends. I’d take a team draft and some petty cash over more value in cards any day. And be sure to stick with your local going rate. The first time I team drafted, I started off charging WAY too much for the packs I was selling to my teammates (about $12 per draft set, rather than the normal $8) because I didn’t know any better. I quickly lowered my asking price after I was informed about this, because my goal was never to price gouge my friends. That’s not a very good move. Friends before profit, any day of the week.

Funnily enough, another subsection in pricing is about trading with friends. As I said above, the most significant part about Magic for me is the friendship I can cultivate with other players. You know that awkward feeling you have when you’re the first player from your play group to get to a PTQ and you’re sitting by yourself at a table? Yeah, it sucks. Staying close with your Magic friends is the most important thing within any path of the game that you choose. So while some may see it as a double standard, I try to never trade for significant profit with friends. I have had some missteps along the way. Old habits have kicked in and I ended up making a trade that looked fair but was really tilted heavily in my favor. But as a rule, I do my best to stay even with my friends. Part of the definition of having a friend is that you value them more than the small amount of cash you could gain by ripping them off. I honestly have no respect for those that don’t follow this code of behavior in their Magic financial conduct.

And finally, we come to just trading around. What are the rules we must hold ourselves to while we are actually trying to make profit? The first of these is the simplest. No lying. Period. Under no circumstances will I lie or mislead a trading partner as to the value or the potential value of a card. This doesn’t mean that I’ll inform them that Stoneforge Mystic was a critical part of the last Standard Pro Tour top performer, but it also means I won’t claim that Japanese Ally combo with Halimar Shapeshifter just won a Grand Prix. Analysis, you’re free to keep to yourself. But the facts must be out in the open. Likewise, if they ask you about one website’s sell price on a card, you must answer truthfully or not at all. Taking advantage of superior preparation is not the same as doing it through dishonesty, and as someone who takes the financial side of MTG seriously, your integrity is crucial to success. Even if you are a solely profit driven entity, you have to recognize that lying and taking advantage of others through blatant dishonesty is only bad for business, as it tarnishes your reputation and reduces the amount of people that are willing to trade with you. There are certain people at my local store who are just unwilling to trade with me, just due to my attitude towards trading and not due to dishonesty, but that inability to make deals with some people has hurt me. I promise you, lying is not going to bring about a net monetary gain.

That’s all for now (except for a brief conclusion at the end). Last week’s contest winner wasBrandon Cooper…because he was the only person to enter other than Wade who had already won. I guess free cards just don’t cut it anymore. So Brandon, email me your mailing information and I’ll get your cards out to you. Anyways, I obviously need to ramp up the prize support a little bit, so the winner of this week’s comment contest will receive a Demon of Death's Gate and a Dark Tutelage. Remember, one positive comment, one constructive criticism, and one future article topic. You may enter by emailing me, commenting on the article itself, or contacting me on twitter (my username is at the bottom of the article).

Though it may sound corny, “treat others as you would want to be treated” is probably the best approach toward trading ethics. Personally, if someone leverages knowledge of a format in order to make profit off of me during a trade (I’m looking at you Craig Wescoe!) I’ll feel disappointed with myself and make sure to study the basics of that format before I hit the tables again, but I don’t feel cheated, just outplayed. But if someone lies to me, then they are on my blacklist. And I won’t deal with them again. Take a lesson from this, and let’s work together to put to rest the rumor that all traders and speculators only care about their bottom line. Just like players, we care about the people too.

Bros before pro(fit)s,

--Noah Whinston

nwhinston on Twitter

Arcadefire on MTGO

Baldr7mtgstore on Ebay

12 thoughts on “Morality and Ethics, Valuing the People

  1. I love that you call out the guy who stocks his binder with things that aren't for trade. There was one guy I tried to trade with a couple of weeks back whose binder was 60% angel cards, 4 Vensers, and a ton of dollar rares. I asked him to pull something out of my binder to trade for a Grand Architect. He pulled an Iona and Linvala. I asked about the Vensers in the hope of evening the trade. They weren't for trade. The angels weren't for trade either. I then asked him to pull something less valuable but there was nothing else he wanted. *sigh* I ended up buying a playset of Architects on eBay.

    More specifics and less generalities. Talking about winning and selling packs is great, for example. It's a specific event, and you tell the story of when you overcharged your friends. The next paragraph talks in more general terms about the same idea (don't overcharge your friends) but it is less punchy because you have not tied that idea to one of your real world experiences.
    I would like to see more stories and anecdotes about trading, whether it's good trades, bad trades, or even other people's reactions to trades (like somebody stepping in to disrupt a trade where someone was getting ripped off). I would also be interested in hearing about some MOTL stories if you have any good ones. Maybe people who haggle down to the cent, or other annoyances.

    Thanks for the article!

  2. I believe we have all been in a situation where someones cards in a "trade binder" were not for trade. It truly is an annoying situation. I agree completely everything is for trade for the right price. I am actually going to be working on my trade binder(s) tomorrow to get them ready for the prerelease and I will be adding some cards that have a high price but can be traded to catch attention. I would like more info regarding how you prefer to price ? Let the trading party choose? You pick a site you are comfortable with? How do you keep that consistent to keep up with it all in your head or just use the wonderful smart phone? I would be interested to read your opinion on stores who seem to be a bit shady and how that can be handled to protect yourself and your friends?

  3. Positive – Sealed trading! How the hell have I missed this concept?!? It never even occured to me to go to big events with a box of product to trade packs at $3 for cards. I'd do that all day long! Thank you for pointing this concept out!

    Negative – I need more info on how I should organize my binder. Do I put dollar rares in there? Hot non-rares (mana leak, bolt, wall of omens, etc)?

    Future Article – Specific advice on how to handle difficult situations, like when the person you're trading with insists that Tendrils of Agony is a $5 card. Or what you say to people with binders half-full of cards 'not for trade'. Or when the person wants to offer you cash somewhere you are not supposed to sell cards (local shops, dealer halls).

    1. I'm not a trading master these days, but there area few ways i'd suggest approaching those questions.

      I tend to organize my binders by color for ease of use, but that can back fire. I think the best mix is to have a smaller binder with the cards people drool over which is very organized, shows you are a pro. And then a general binder which is somewhat in disarray. When trading smaller cards it's not always a good idea to appear to know what you're doing since there are lots of times that you are perfectly happy tossing away lots of small stuff for bigger stuff. in that scenario i would only bring out the binder of bigger cards if i saw things that i was willing to trade them away to receive.

      I have found that the best way to work out value differences like that is to always ask the other guy what they value their, and my, cards at. that way I can either get things that i value higher for cheap, or it gives me the framework to "add my opinion" to what I think they are worth without calling them a liar.

      if someone has cards that aren't for trade in their binder i usually just trade a bit harder. "well that's the only card i want." if they don't relent, move on.

      cash deals are done on the side a lot, sometimes in the parking lot or sometimes just under the table. use your own moral judgement on these kins of things, or just play with them a bit. tell that you only accept double or triple value in cash because your home town is short on cards etc.

    2. After reading some articles on this topic, I've settled into breaking up my binder into categories, organized by color. They are, in order: Standard, Extended, Commander, Fancy (Foils, Foreign, Promos, Signed, etc…), and the <$1 section. I like having the junk in the binder because sometimes you are able to trade away that Seer's Sundial. The bulk also helps to even out trades or offer throw-ins from that section. Keeping them segregated at the back doesn't force anyone to look at them if they don't want to. I also keep a small binder stocked with things I am less inclined to trade away (Fetches, Jaces, Baneslayers, etc…).

      Something that Medina (I think) proposed a while back that is AMAZING: Keep a one of each card in your binder. Keep any extras in penny sleeves in a box that you bring with you when trading. You'll have to sort them so you can find the extras quickly when need be but that isn't hard. You have to let people know that you have more than one copy of most things in your binder, but it's great because:
      -It maximizes your binder space and keeps your binder from getting bulgy
      -It doesn't stretch your pages
      -People don't know how many valuable cards you have (makes you less of a target)
      -Minimizes losses if your binder gets stolen
      -Allows you to control how many of a card you want to trade to someone
      -Some people get intimidated when they see you have multiple playsets of cards
      This technique has worked very well for me and I would recommend it to anyone!

  4. You touch on a pet-peeve of mine: the dreaded first page bling that isn't for trade. It's like dude, I don't care how big your cardboard penis is! After being told something on the front page isn’t for trade, it makes me want to hand the binder back and move on.

    I like your point on “Treat others as you would want to be treated”. This needs to be the golden rule in trading. Do right by someone in a trade and they’ll be eager to crack their binder open when they see you again. Develop the relationships and the opportunity for cards will come! I wish more people understood this.

    Somehow I never considered the value of trading packs to other players. I’ve always been a pack buster. If I win any packs they get opened as soon as I get home. Now maybe I’ll reconsider my stance thanks to your article! Do you think it could be worth it to buy a box simply to trade the packs? You would have to make sure you get no less than $3 value on each pack of course, but I wonder if it could be good leverage in trading to someone who doesn’t have the funds to buy new packs (especially when a new set is out and demand for that set is still high).

    I agree with the first commenter. More anecdotes are something I would like to read about. Reading about personal experience sticks with me more. It would have been interesting to hear about some of your specific missteps in trading with friends. What was the trade? How much was the value skewed in your favor? Once you realized you were getting the better end of the deal, what did you do to even up with your friend? Did you go back to him afterwards and make it right?

    Like last week’s comment, I still want to hear your methods of preparation for a larger event like a PTQ, or even a GP or SCG Open. In addition, I think it would be of value to read about how you prepare for a new set. Prereleases are a different beast altogether than any other event because of the hype and speculation on the new cards. Some tips on how to prepare and how to approach trading at a prerelease would be well received.

    Keep up the good work!

  5. one positive comment: I am so glad when I see these articles. A few other financial writers have covered similar morals to trading but everyone is different. My hope is that if people keep writing these articles it will make the magic community a better place to hang out and be able to trade for the cards you need.

    one constructive criticism: Other than hey, have some basic morals when trading, the article did not really have any specific advice. There were a few things not to do but not really a lot of content. I thought the article must be really short because there didn't seem to be much meat to it. Obviously looking back, it is decently long, but it didn't feel like there was much to it. That may not be as negative as I am making it seem because it was such an easy read that it just seemed short.

    one future article topic: One thing that i have not seen anyone write on that would be interesting is the value and tradability of cards from other formats. I am not talking about even the recently popularized edh, I mean things like pauper, vintage (the nonlegacy cards), and things like that.

  6. You let the cat out of the bag regarding trading away packs. Glad to see packs acknowledged as inventory. Currently I have around 24 packs for trading away to other players. One thing I do is buy prize packs off of others at $2 a piece & then trade them for $3-4 depending on the quality of what I am trying to get. There are a few players around here that just love busting packs & they will gladly trade for them at $4 each.

    This article is a bit better than your last one. However more examples are much appreciated. I don't always want to know every detail, but a few more details would be appreciated.

    Two things I'd like to see in the future:
    1) how to balance an awkward trade
    2) exit strategies and when to use them.

    (for the QS admins, why can i not login with my insider login? Twitter is blocked at my job & I don't have accounts with the others)

  7. Pros: Liked the length of the article and general layout, not to mention the valuable content.
    Slops: Add a pick of the week or something… even if it is something everyone else on the site has talked about already. The more people that agree on something the more confidence buyers have.
    Topics: How to find your markets & What to trade with someone looking for the same thing you are.

  8. Positive: The article discussed a topic I agree with. At most shops where I go, people know that I am there to have fun playing AND trade in an open, responsible manner. Because of my honesty with other players, I don't have to pull out my binder and roam the room anymore pestering others for trades. Instead, people want to show me their binder before I even get a chance to sit down.

    I like the idea of trading away packs, however at my local game store nobody will trade for them at $3 a pop. I have been trading them at $2-$2.50 and still have been enjoying the rewards. I like it when somebody rips open a mythic in front of me, they get what they want (excitement) and I get what I want (certainty).

    Cons: I would like a solid piece of information that I can take away from each article. Here, I was already in the know. I understand that there is no way you can predict what your readers do/do not have a grasp on, but I believe that this topic has been approached by many financial writers around the web.

    Future Article Idea: Transitioning from sitting at the PTQ by yourself to getting your friends to come along, or, how to prepare your trade binder/card stock for the next upcoming PTQ. Ending articles with a quick, solid idea about a card that is about to heat up and why / what actions to take would also be a boon to any article you write.

    Example: Abyssal Persecutor is going to heat up. Why? MBS spoiler card "Go For The Throat" has caused a lot of hype. The first time you see this card in a top 8 at a major event you should dump your copies and reap the rewards of this questionable card.

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