[Note: My apologies for the delay in getting Ryan's latest offering to you guys - it's well worth the wait! -Dylan]
Over the past few weeks I have been covering the ins and outs of both forming a solid trade circle and formulating a plan for major events. This week’s article will be devoted to the man behind the curtain, the reason that backpack traders are as essential as the players themselves. Every person who has played Magic since its beginning in the early 90’s has probably traded cards at some point - this is, after all, a trading card game. This does not, however, mean that everyone is a trader; in fact, most people who play the game concentrate so much on metagaming and deck tech they don’t even realize how much goes into being a successful trader.
A Stroll Through History
When I began trading in a serious fashion about four years ago, I was down on my luck and needed to find a way to make some extra cash. At the time, I was what most would consider a grinder: attending any event within a few states, hoping to achieve that elusive dream and find my ticket onto the gravy train. The real story for me began at a particularly dismal Grand Prix for which I had barely scraped together the money to pay for my expenses and entry. My sealed pool that weekend can only have been described as an abomination, and even with two byes I knew my chances for a day two were slim… at best. I was quickly handed my two loses and dropped from the main event, utterly disappointed and beaten, both in the game and mentally. With almost no money for side events, I was looking for something to do when a gentleman asked if I had brought trades. I was in no mood for people at that moment, but I did need a few things for my standard deck, so I politely sat down and began trading.
At the time I was familiar with most of my prices, but I was certainly not a professional trader by any stretch of the imagination. This one trade changed all of that! We sat and conversed for a good while, each mulling over the others binder, asking values to feel out terrain. I found a few cards I was looking for, although he was a little higher on his prices, and on my second pass through the binder I started asking on cards I knew people had been looking for. I was able to acquire a couple of cards at a very reasonable price and parted with some cards that he valued slightly higher than I. After the trade he got up and was on his way. I, on the other hand, sat there and looked over the cards I had received and did some quick mental math to deduct how much I had come out ahead in the trade - you have to remember, this was before the days of major retail websites and smart phones. It was at this moment that the planets aligned for me. It was like those scenes from the movies where the main character finally realizes what he should have known all along. I could do this! How else after all was I going to fund my hobby as a freshman in college that had been recently laid off?
That weekend, I proceeded to trade during every waking moment until I finally couldn’t take any more. Needing money, I walked over to the vendor’s alley to sell some of the loot I had accumulated over the weekend. No, I didn’t make a fortune or have enough to buy collections of power, but I did make enough to pay for the next event and my binder was not only still intact, it actually had more value then when I came!
Fast forward four years to now, where I am working for myself as a full-time floor trader without any secondary income, and I'm not only still able to travel, but able to pay my bills as well. Granted I no longer play much Magic, and certainly not in a competitive regard, but I do have a new love for the game. Somewhere last year I finally had the realization that playing Magic is actually just not that lucrative unless you are in the top .001%. This realization led me to end my days as a grinder and pursue not only a new avenue, but also rekindle my love for this game that had been lost somewhere in the years of finishing just out of the money or of missing a top eight on tiebreaks. It already felt like Magic was a full time job, so why not make it one? I was connected in the community and still had a solid player base with which to travel. I have found over the course of the past year that I not only immensely enjoy what I do, but I have also walked out of a Grand Prix with as much money as first place many times.
So you may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with floor trading? What relevance does this history lesson have? The truth is, this story (and almost every other floor traders' tale) can teach a plethora of valuable lessons. The first and most obvious is to do what you love. I didn’t switch over to floor trading because I wanted to become rich, and in fact this line of work is hardly as glorious as it may seem. Yes I get to see the country… from the inside of a convention center for 12-14 hours a day! Yes I make money from my hobby… which has now become my job. Truthfully, the reason floor traders do what we do is for the love of it. I get the same thrill from haggling a trade or from scouring a collection for hidden gems as I did while playing for a top eight or winning a PTQ. Though it may seem like an enjoyable job surrounded by friends and money, it is also a great deal of work. I regularly spend sixty to eighty hours a week on pricing, writing, and preparing for events. Don’t go into floor trading without a plan. You must have an organized idea of how you will tackle the trade world in order to succeed. Know your angle.
The most important message that I can convey, however, is the importance of floor traders. Now that you have an idea how I, and many others like me, got into floor trading, it is time to understand why we are such an integral part of the community. As I said earlier, I spend sixty to eighty hours a week on Magic, and most of this time is spent scouring for trades and collections in my local area. Only a small fraction of what we do is at major events, so most of my work takes place within thirty miles of my home. There are so many untapped markets that as a player you either are unaware of or just don’t have the time to devote yourself too. Sure, everyone has probably traded with that college kid who had a great selection of older cards and happened to stumble into your card shop, but if he hadn’t come to you would you know how to find him? As I stated in previous articles, small hole-in-the-wall shops and local colleges can be great places to find players (and, in turn, traders) that you never knew existed in your area. Back when I was a grinder, I knew about a few of those locations in my local area, but even armed with that knowledge I still rarely visited them because I was more concerned with playtesting and preparing for the next weekend’s event. Most players don’t have the time to scour the local area, and honesty, until I started doing this full time, I didn’t realize how much there was to scour. Between combing The Internet for deals and collections and making your weekly rounds in your area, you quickly realize why a player who is concerned with winning just could not devote the time to this.
So where does this place us, the floor trader, in the circle of Magic culture? Are we vendors? No, vendors have a very different mentality, as instead of looking for the cards they get the cards come to them, whereas we cannot afford to wait around. Truly what separates us from anyone else in the Magic community is that we are willing to leave our circle of comfort at a local shop and explore the sides of Magic that so few even know exist. Some of my favorite deck designs have come from players who don’t even have a registered DCI number. Are they competitive? Sometimes they are, but within their local circle, it’s funny how even outside of the mainstream community, a pecking order is established. Every group also has their advanced trader - this guy typically has most of the cards and is the one you want to be doing business with. So what do these players have anything to do with the competitive players? A lot more than you may think!
When I go to trade cards with these payers I am able to push a lot of stock that is no longer wanted or needed in the competitive world. Think about how many bulk rares exist in each competitive players binder and how long they will remain there. I put those cards to good use by buying them from the guys at my shop and at major events, and then in turn providing them to these payers who would otherwise have very limited access to them. Countless times I have heard these players state things like, “Man I didn’t even know this was a card - that will fit perfectly into Deck X!” So as I provide a service to them, in return I seek cards that my local players and players at major events would be seeking. Since I probably bought most of these bulk rares at dimes I can in turn flip them for 1-3 each to quickly gain value to a Jace or Titan that they may have opened in a pack. Am I ripping these kids off? Some may say yes, but upon further examination, I believe the evidence points toward no. I am A) Giving them a resource previously not available to them, and B) Giving them 5-15 cards, each of which they will likely play, for their single card that will only have sat in their binder. The groups I work with are always glad to see me and understand what I do, and if you still believe this is wrong then perhaps my next point will enlighten you!
Ethics: Just Who Wins?
So, say you believe uptrading between casual and competitive players is wrong: you believe no one wins but the floor trader. Frankly, you are wrong, because everyone wins in the end and the secondary market simply wouldn't exist if people weren't as content with the service floor traders provide. I just explained how the casual player benefits, and it is obvious that I benefit financially from these transactions, but where do the vendors and players fit in? The vendors benefit because I can bring them a larger stock of cards which they can then turn around and resell. Many times I have found cards like Wasteland or Force of Will delegated to a casual player's trash pile only because, in their circle, it has no use. By me infusing this card into the secondary market I provide vendors with a larger stock which in turn benefits the player. Can you imagine how much dual lands or other staples from years past would cost if people were not constantly scouring the casual scene or picking through peoples attics and garage sales? The truth is, by doing the service we do, we actually make Magic cheaper for everyone involved. Yes we still profit, but in the end so do the players and vendors.
Thanks for hanging with me over these past few weeks. I hope you learned a great deal and are looking at floor trading from a fresh perspective. I know I have probably left open a few loose ends with this article due to word constraints, but I hope that I can answer any questions you may have in the comment section, so please leave me some feedback, stories or just ideas in general on how you feel about this subject. Join me next week as I discuss M12 and take a look back at my calls for NPH. Good, bad, or ugly, we will be covering the whole slew of rares and chase commons/uncommon.
Tracking our Progress
I will keep this short this week since I have already bored you enough with my back story, and besides that not much has really shifted over the past week.
Lord of the Unreal: I was skeptical at first of this guy but after watching some primers and building an illusion deck of my own I can say this is the real deal. I expect some top eights in the next few months, and with this guy being a central part, expect a solid rise from his current two dollar price tag.
Phantasmal Image: I loved this guy from the start, and honesty the more I look at it the more potential I see, and not just in standard. Legacy doesn’t have a whole lot of targeting that woudnt kill the guy anyway so his “downside” is honestly not an issue. The upside however of running 4x extra of your best creature, or theirs for that matter, can be a huge boon in almost every matchup and a card I expect only to rise from the current 4 dollar price tag. If I had to label the next Stoneforge Mystic rare price ceiling… this would be it.
Grand Architect: I have been a fan since his release and I feel after rotation he may finally have his chance to shine. I expect a solid increase from his current three dollar price tage due to both Illusions and B/x artifact-based decks.
Until Next week, keep your binders open and your trade partners close!