Insider: Value is Not a Dirty Word

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Blame Medina.

The rise of the “value” trader can be directly attributed back to Pack To Power, which Jon Medina started in the summer of 2010. After that, everyone thought they were “value traders.” Not only are the majority of these people either terrible at trading or just out to shark people (which also falls into the “terrible at trading” umbrella), it made things a bit more complicated for the rest of us.

The backlash has been growing. For instance, at States last weekend I wasn’t able to do as much trading as I wanted, since I was playing Solar Flare and taking a lot of time in the rounds even though I play quickly (went 5-1-2, losing out on Top 8 in the last round).

However, the tournament was a fun experience, mostly because people are awesome and someone loaned me the entire deck to play. The person who loaned me the deck? Someone that I met through trading, incidentally, proving that the point of trading is not just to make money — it’s to make friends.

But back to the story. After missing out on Top 8, I began finally hitting the trade tables, and doing some pretty good work. As I’m trading, some jerk I don’t know walks up to me literally three different times and yells “what’s up value trader?” loud enough that it was clear he was trying to cause a scene.

I have no idea what prompted this, who this guy is, or if he has a problem with me or is someone who just recognized me. Either way, it was both annoying and rude. Not one of my trade partners at this time said anything about it, and we went on to complete trades that were both profitable to me and helpful to them. In short, everyone was happy, as every trade should accomplish.

As I said, some d-bag calling me a value trader is annoying, but it’s not offensive.

Because “value” is not a dirty word.

So I traded for value. Who doesn’t? Does the guy who ships me $10 retail in cards for $7 of mine not get value from the fact that he has now completed his deck for the PTQ? What about the guy who picks up Liliana “at a steal” just to have its price plummet the next week? (Which it did, as we all warned you).

“What do you value this at?”

I’ve seen multiple articles pop up in the last week or two claiming that anytime someone asks “what do you value this at?” you’re immediately supposed to label them a “value trader” and stay away.

This is flat-out ridiculous.

I trade for value a good deal of the time (though not always), but I will trade anything out of my binder and the same people come back to me time and time again knowing full-well how it’s working. They get what they want, and that’s all that matters to them. Numbers on a web site really aren't the end-all, be-all for most people, since they aren’t going to do much with those particular cards outside of either playing them or keeping them in their collection.

I completely understand the desire to not want to “lose” in a trade, and I have no problem with people bringing out the smartphone. You can still make trades you want to make while coming out even or even losing “value.” Know some people who want EDH? Trade your $5 Standard card for their $4 EDH card that you know you can easily move later. I’ve written about having the right audience before, and making these connections means you don’t have to “win” every trade to make it worth your time.

An even more objective defense of the “value” question is this. If I ask you what you value Solemn Simulacrum at, what’s your answer? The card retails for $12 on SCG, the TCGPlayer mid is about $10 and the low is about $8. CFB sells it for $10, and you can get them at about $7 on Ebay. That’s a $4-5 difference (30-50%), and I’ve seen regular players on the floor price out cards on every one of those systems.

And that’s on a low-variance card like Solemn. If you go bigger and look at something like Liliana of the Veil, the difference is even more pronounced! $60 on SCG, $54 mid on TCGPlayer, $44 low, and the card is closing under $30 on Ebay! How can you even begin to trade with someone worried about “losing” a trade if you can’t even find out what price system they affix to their cards?

With this in mind, the question is not how can a person dare ask another what they value a card at, the question is how can you not!?

I will allow that the majority of people who open a trade conversation like this are out to make money from you. But sometimes that’s okay. Down $2-4 theoretical dollars? Deal with it. You got what you wanted without giving up a single dime out of your pocket. On the other hand, if you don't want to deal with this hassle (and with many of the people who think they're "value traders" these days, it is a hassle), then just don't trade with them. That's fine. But don't be afraid to start throwing around prices with your trade partner, it doesn't mean they're only going to shark you and it doesn't mean that they'll think you're trying to shark them.

I could go into even more ways that “value” is misused, but I’ve done it before and Chas Andres, former QS and current Channel Fireball writer, has covered it recently as well. I’ve covered a ton of the ways this breaks down in the past (here and here for a few examples), but today I want to look at a particular trade I made at States that illustrates quite a few important things to keep in mind.

Before we get into it, I want to relink this article. It's one of the works I'm most proud of, and applies perfectly to this topic.

I made this trade with Trevor Hunt, the Oklahoma 2010 States champ, who also just missed Top 8 this year.


Geist of Saint Traft

3x Hero of Bladehold

3x Consecrated Sphinx

Foil Brimstone Volley

2x Tempered Steel

Stromkirk Noble

Chandra, the Firebrand

Solemn Simulacrum


3x Wooded Foothills

2x Mutavault

Cascade Bluffs

Tell me, without prices yet, who do you think gained “value” in this trade? Which side of the trade would you rather be on? Is that the same thing?

Now let’s try it with prices (SCG used)


($20) Geist of Saint Traft

($45) 3x Hero of Bladehold

($45) 3x Consecrated Sphinx

($5) Foil Brimstone Volley

($10) 2x Tempered Steel

($10) Stromkirk Noble

($16) Chandra, the Firebrand

($12) Solemn Simulacrum

Total: $173


($75) 3x Wooded Foothills

($60) 2x Mutavault

($15) 1x Cascade Bluffs

Total: $150

So tell me again — who won this trade? I’m happy with my end of this deal every time.

But here’s the important thing about this trade: we both knew exactly what was going on. Trevor sought me out (literally hounded me all day) to “take his expensive cards.” Why would he do this? We all know that getting Legacy staples is much more important than picking up Standard cards, and Trevor knows this as well, so why would he seek me out to do this deal, and why me?

The important piece of information here is Trevor works a store in a different city and said they literally cannot keep the Standard cards in stock. He’s going to take those cards home and move them very quickly at retail.

On the other hand, I love picking up Legacy stock. The buy price percentage from dealers is terrible on something like Stromkirk that is used only in Standard compared to something like the foothills, when I know I can get 50-60% of retail in cash when I sell it. And I don’t have to rush to move them. I’m happy to take a sizable loss in “value” because it fits my business model, just as the Standard cards fit his.

There was no arguing over prices, we were operating as two dealers helping each other out. We used “in” prices while making this deal so as to avoid the mess with different pricing schemes I explained above. I set the prices on everything using the one system I care about most — buylist prices. He agreed or negotiated a small change on each and we both walked away extremely pleased, even though we both knew he made the “value” in the deal on the surface.

In case you’re wondering, the final tally using SCG buylist prices is this: $69 for the stuff he got,  $73.50 for the stuff I got. See what I mean about how meaningless the concept of “value” is? This perfectly illustrates the point that so many people miss, both “value traders” and regular players alike who are wary of traders.

I’ve seen multitudes of “value traders” brag about how they made $10 in some sick trade, only to let the cards rot in their binders for months until they lose value. Newflash: You’re not making a cent if you’re not selling cards. You may grow the monetary value of your collection at that moment, sure, but if you aren’t constantly moving cards for cash or you deal exclusively in the eternal market (which is so very few people), then you aren’t making any real money, regardless of how much “value” you think you’re making.

By the same token, I see players all the time cry about how a trader took them for $10 and whine and say it ruined trading for them forever. The money they “ripped you off” for? Probably something like $2-3 in actual cash. I gave a man on the street $2 today. I also spent $2 on a soda I didn’t need. I waste two bucks all the time. And guess what? So does the guy complaining as he casts the Akroma's Memorial he got “so ripped off” trading for.

Why me?

Another thing I wanted to touch on regarding the above trade. Trevor sought me out in particular for this deal. Why? Because he was told by multiple people that I was “the trading guy” in Oklahoma. We’ve seen each other around tournament before, but haven’t spoken much and certainly weren’t friends beforehand.

But he came to me and trusted me based on my reputation, as suggested to him by the very same people I’ve traded with and asked them the infamous question “what do you value this at?” I’ll be honest, I make a decent profit trading, usually through volume rather than big scores, and I don’t hide that fact. Yet people still trust me enough to suggest that a stranger come to me to trade off some big-ticket Legacy items.

That’s what happens when you do trading the right way, and the concept question of “value” doesn’t matter a damn bit if you’re doing things the right way.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

16 thoughts on “Insider: Value is Not a Dirty Word

  1. well done sir. My main qualms with the whole "value" question are A) everyone is just rattling off the same script, and it takes away the whole allure that you mentioned of "meeting new people" it's almost like dealing with a bot on MTGO. B) It shows what their priority is. it's actually extremely revealing. When someone looks at my binder and points at all the hot staples asking what I value them at, I know exactly what their up to. Does this mean I'll never trade with them? Not neccessarily, but I need to change my approach to give me the edge i want in the trade.

    It's not that "being a value trader" is inherently wrong, its that being a robot is not to your benefit, and trading with robots is usually not to your benefit. So unplug their power cord in anyway you can before talkign prices. I talked abou tthis a little bit in my column last week.

  2. Corbin, every time I read an article by you, I think to myself. "This is golden. The best advice I've ever gotten. How could anyone top this!?"

    Then I read your next article. Keep it up!

  3. Great article, it's good to hear one of the names leading this age of trading offering a different perspective on what some of the other names have discussed.

    That being said: I feel as though this article would be better served as a free article. This is more of a discussion about value trading than it is financial advice. Throughout the read I felt as though, while being a great article, it wasn't written with me, a subscriber to QS and fellow trader/seller, as the audience in mind. I feel it was more geared towards the people "attacking" value traders, the ones who think "value" is a dirty word that dont trade, as well as those who are "in" the scene.

    Having this only available to QS insiders means it never reaches those who really need this message, it would better serve the trading community as a free article imho. This isn't revealing the next biggest spec targets, and doesnt go too in depth in terms of trading strategies, etc, that you would expect a QS insider article to do. I don't see the harm in turning it loose to the free side, it could even garner more traffic that may turn into subscribed readership.

    But either way I enjoyed it, it describes my feelings towards the topic precisely. Good work!

    1. Feedback is always good. I know sometimes I forget who the target is on some of my pieces, but i think corbin had some stuff in here that is great for insiders. Knowing how to properly evaluate your trade for example, when people are focusing on SCG prices, is really relevant. Since I know you personally, i'll relate it to you. Your goal is finding cards you can move on EBay at a profit, so your valuation of cards would be different than someone who only does work at trade tables at legacy events for example.

  4. Thanks for the kind words everyone! I'm glad to know you guys are enjoying the work.
    @Soup That's fair. The thing is, not all our insiders are in the same position you are, some like to be able to read stuff like this, especially since as a site you get everything, every week. We're working on filling the schedule back out after losing a few people, but for instance this week you got spec tips for Chad, a set review from Doug, some cool number-crunching stuff from Kelly, and a more general piece from me. Next week I'll be back to card spec, so no worries.
    And I like the free suggestion, if the Power That Be at QS want to make it free.
    And thank you again for the feedback, it's how we improve.

  5. Oh I definitely got value out of this article, and am not saying that the article doesn’t satisfy me as insider content (cause it does). I just think that this one is useful to both insiders and free readers while not providing too much that you’re giving the benefits of insidership away for free. Tossing a juicy taste of insider content in that way would drive conversion, it would have swayed me back when I was reluctant to subscribe.

    I think that generic articles are great, they provide a breath of fresh air. Hope I am not causing any insult :), great article

  6. Great article Corbin. Part of me wishes this wasn't insider so I could point EVERYONE to this post and dispel any myths about 'value trading' and how 'it's killing magic'.

    Also, on "pretend double money." That term came from Ryan Bushard's friend, Tom Mckee after trading at GP Providence. The event was filled with so many wannabe Medinas it wasn't even funny. Case in point, though. Everyone wants to be a value trader, but almost no one is good at it.

  7. Great article corbin. So many important topics in this article. I know personally, I say “what do you value this at?” all the time. We all need to know where each other stands on card value. Lately I have been engrossed in the store I’m running at the shop I go to, so I can definitely understand your trade partners side because that’s exactly where I would have been.

    Also, I think this a great example of how valuing at starcity prices is a horrible idea. I hate pricing from them while trading because some cards are so inflated from what the cards actually sell for elsewhere. When I totaled up the standard cards at more realistic prices, I still think the legacy cards came out ahead also, even though that’s not the point.

    Both people need to be happy with every trade.

    Great article. Everyone should read it.

    1. Mike,

      I agree with you on the SCG value front. That was actually one of the main reasons we at QS were inspired to create Project Condor. We're really excited to have an honest tool at hand to discuss the VALUE of cards across the board.

  8. No way this article should be free. In addition to what cards to be investing in, HOW to acquire these cards is also part of the product that QS presents and that insiders pay for.

    Writing an article about how Value trading is good, for a premium site devoted to making people better Value traders is definitely going to be well received. Of course the article is good, it's Corbin. But with all the fire we are taking, what also needs to be addressed is how to keep people at the table if they are turned off by you being a VT, how to get them to the table in the first place, or "What to do if you've been labeled a Value Trader". PDM is hilarious, btw.

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