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Insider: A Call for a Moral Compass

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In the past, I’ve written at length about the rapid rise in MTG finance speculators and the resulting impact on the game. An interesting dynamic is created – one which is relatively unique as far as hobbies go.

This week, while nearly every other finance writer dives into their predictions for Avacyn Restored’s upcoming impact on the MTG financial market, I look to deviate and discuss a different topic. One related to the relationship between finance speculators and the broader MTG community.

Lucid Transactions

Most members of the MTG community are aware of our presence. Casual and competitive players alike can either avoid this fact or embrace it. Either way, there is a growing population of players who are seeking to profit from this beloved card game.

As a value-trader / profit-seeker / greedy person, however you want to spin it, my trading experiences have varied heavily from one individual to the next. Some exchanges have been augmented by the acknowledgment that I have decent availability of the hottest cards and I may trade them at a small premium. Other exchanges have become quite awkward because of this same recognition.

I have two recent anecdotes to share along these lines. I will share my immediate reactions, my actual responses and the end result. Then I will brainstorm other potential ways of handling these situations and I’ll even elicit comments from all of my readers, who have surely had similar experiences in the past.

Anecdote 1: The Pitfall of Twitter Uncovered?

By now, most of you know I am an avid user of Twitter. I have ambitions to increase my follower base and have a truly measurable influence on the MTG community.

I try to drive awareness of my “Twitter-dom” in various ways – some subtle and some (see above) not so subtle.

One subtle way is the inclusion of my Twitter handle in my signature on my MOTL account. Whenever I send someone a private message, my Twitter handle is included on the bottom of the page. I am not ashamed of this tactic and honestly I doubt it gets noticed.

One MOTL member ended up doing much more than noticing. While in the midst of some negotiations on a purchase I was aiming to make, this member looked at my Twitter feed and noticed I am a value-seeker. Upon this recognition, he wrote to me his apprehension with proceeding with the trade because he realized my motivations for buying may have been strictly financial.

This was a first for me. I could certainly understand the seller’s concern – as a person who seeks to profit from this hobby, my interest in his cards imply that perhaps his prices are a bit too low. It completely alters my perspective on this interaction. If I were in his shoes, I would certainly consider negotiating higher prices on my cards knowing a potential “shark” was interested.

Concerned I may have offended the seller, I promptly responded in a reassuring way. I explained that my intent was not to immediately sell his cards for profit – in fact, I needed the Vendilion Clique in the deal in order to complete my playset. (By the way, doesn’t Vendilion Clique seem like a great hoser for the new “miracle” ability? Nice Temporal Mastery).


(chart courtesy of blacklotusproject.com)

This seemed to settle the seller to some degree and the deal was agreed upon. Now when I receive the cards I will be faced with a tough situation. My plan is to follow through on my promise and seek to trade the cards at a local tournament rather than sell for profit on MOTL. But is this the right decision? Taking a step back, could I have approached this confrontation in a way which would have netted me the cards while not pigeonholing myself into a tough spot?

Recall I don’t want to upset other members of the community here. I don’t think we’re bad people for wanting to buy cards from others and attempt to sell them for more. Larger stores sustain their existence with this model, and I think the fact that I have the means to make moderate purchases on the fly is a service to be provided to sellers in desperate need to offload cards. I can certainly understand how this stigma has formed – if I sell cards to a shark, I must be getting ripped off.

Anecdote 2: Some People Just Don’t Want to Negotiate

I frequently sell cards on MOTL – it’s an efficient way of moving cards without the fees of eBay and the lowball prices of retailer buy lists. I strive to be reasonable with prices, at times settling with a 0 profit margin just to make another contact in the community.

I once made a fairly substantial sale (~$100) to another MOTL member. I had priced the card fairly, no negotiations were necessary. Besides, the buyer and I had chatted through Twitter in the past so we were on agreeable terms

Over a year later, I was impulsively interested in purchasing a Grim Tutor. After a couple failed attempts at acquiring one, I came across a sale list with a competitive price. Even though the price was fair, I saw little harm in attempting to negotiate a few bucks in savings.


(chart courtesy of blacklotusproject.com)

Was this an appropriate step to take? Although the price was fair and I wanted the card, my profit-seeking instincts kicked in and drove me to attempt a better price. It is natural for me to seek the best deal on a card. In my opinion, settling for the asking price is a true shame unless you’re making a speculative purchase where you hope for the price to rise.

Wrong or not, my negotiation attempt was not received well. It turns out the seller was that same MOTL member who had previously made a substantial purchase from my list without seeking to negotiate. Perhaps rightfully so, the seller was offended at my attempt to negotiate on what was already a competitively priced card.

I hadn’t meant to anger my once-Twitter-compatriot, I quickly apologized and agreed to his sale price. Almost out of shame for my actions, I was compelled to make this purchase.

picture courtesy of http://www.zazzle.com/cheapskate_tshirt-235318434923253423

My apology was accepted and the relationship was mended. I purchased the card and we parted ways at worst neutrally. Now I am left to wonder if I had behaved inappropriately and if my decision to purchase the card was strictly out of emotion. Again, I have no desire to anger members of the MTG community and here is another example of me attempting to keep peace.

Similarly to before I now possess this card which I no longer need and feel funny selling for profit. Doesn’t it feel “dirty” sometimes to buy cards from someone on MOTL and immediately place them back on the site at a higher price? This is a practice I try to avoid yet acknowledge is necessary at times to make quick profit.

Does this act cross the moral boundary?

Picking Up the Pieces

These experiences have reshaped my perceptions. Value-traders are not universally lauded for their transparency and broad card availability. Many people frown upon our habits. While this comes as no surprise, these recent experiences cause me to question my own behaviors.

Perhaps I am not carrying myself professionally in these circumstances? Perhaps I am seeking out financial gains too overtly and aggressively? Or perhaps I simply care too much about what others think about me?

Either way, I am glad to be made aware of these perceptions. Now I am left to decide how to proceed. But before I do, I want to compare my moral compass with others in the community. What do other people think about how I handled these situations?

I eagerly await your suggestions.

-Sigmund Ausfresser
@sigfig8

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Sigmund Ausfresser

Sigmund first started playing Magic when Visions was the newest set, back in 1997. Things were simpler back then. After playing casual Magic for about ten years, he tried his hand at competitive play. It took about two years before Sigmund starting taking down drafts. Since then, he moved his focus towards Legacy and MTG finance. Now that he's married and works full-time, Sigmund enjoys the game by reading up on trends and using this knowledge in buying/selling cards.

View More By Sigmund Ausfresser

Posted in Finance, Free Insider, SpecialTagged , ,

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22 thoughts on “Insider: A Call for a Moral Compass

  1. I think one of the most important things you can do is to be transparent if approached. I once traded with an individual on MOTL who asked me why I was interested in his splinter twins- this was about the same time as the deceiver exarch preview- I explained the combo and linked the preview site. He asked if that printing really made a difference in price, and I gave him the lowdown on 2-card combos in standard and my expectation on price increase- we negotiated a higher trade value for his twins, but he was happy to give me value because of my honesty.

    What goes around comes around, and when I posted a trade offer on one user's thread that was horribly slanted against me (without my knowledge, faulty research and laziness got the best of me), the person who I conversed with about Twin sent me a PM, despite being totally unconnected to the deal I was making, and pointed out the flaws in my pricing and saving me close to a hundred dollars. If you plan to sell in the future, say so if they ask. If you don't, but still might, say that too. There's no harm in being honest, value can be made in more ways than simply taking advantage of another person's lack of knowledge involving pricing. In the end, openness and honesty are significantly more important to you, the trader.

    I disagree with your approach to the clique, I think I would have pointed out that I didn't intend to sell it, but at the same time make it understood that circumstances might change. At the very least, it'd put me more at ease.

  2. I think you handled the situations very well, and there's nothing wrong with asking to negotiate a price, regardless of whether or not the other party has done the same. It's all about the tone and professionalism you bring to the negotiation that determines whether or not you've handled the situation properly.

  3. Regarding the Clique, it feels wrong to me. If you're saying it's for a playset I would expect you to not trade or sell it anytime soon, anywhere. Where you then do move it would not be relevant. I think I would have said something differently in your case, though not sure what, because when I trade or buy a card like that it tends to really be for a playset I won't touch anymore. I'm really not sure what you could have said to not get pigeonholed.

    Regarding the Grim Tutor, I think your actions make sense, assuming his price was fair. I would think you're free to try to get more for it than what he asked. If you feel more comfortable selling through oither channels, I am looking for a NM one if the price is right…

  4. Regarding the Clique, it feels wrong to me. If you're saying it's for a playset I would expect you to not trade or sell it anytime soon, anywhere. Where you then do move it would not be relevant. I think I would have said something differently in your case, though not sure what, because when I trade or buy a card like that it tends to really be for a playset I won't touch anymore. I'm really not sure what you could have said to not get pigeonholed.

    Regarding the Grim Tutor, I think your actions make sense, assuming his price was fair. I would think you're free to try to get more for it than what he asked. If you feel more comfortable selling through oither channels, I am looking for a NM one if the price is right…

  5. I honestly don't understand anything in this article. Why should someone care why I want their Vendilion Clique? If they have one for trade, and value it at $X, why the hell would they care why I want it and what I plan to do with it? If they want to change what they value it at because of who I am, I would be PISSED.

    This isn't 1993 anymore. Everyone knows exactly what every card sells for. There is no hidden information.

    Same with Grim Tutor. If I walked into a B&M store and saw a Grim Tutor for $20 in their binder, I'd have no problem offing them $15. Why the hell wouldn't you at least try to get an even better deal? When I walk into a Walmart, I know I have to pay the listed price because no one can negotiate. But if I'm in a mom & pop store, and either mom or pop is running the till, obviously I'm going to ask for a lower price. Who wouldn't? All their gonna say is "sorry, I can't go lower".
    At the trade tables I constantly hear the following exchanges:
    A: "What do you value this card at?"
    B: "$20"
    A: "could you do $18?"

    To me, that's just common sense – always ask for a better price. The worst that should happen is:
    B: "Nah, I won't trade it at less than $20"

    But the thing I simply can't wrap my head around is why someone would care what you're going to do with the card after you get it. After the trade/sale, the card belongs to me to do with as I please. Are there really people out there who will only trade you cards if they think you are going to play with them? If so, can someone give me an insight into their mind?

    1. There is a worse case than the one you cited – if dealing with someone who is perhaps in a bad mood, or emotional, or what have you. Then you may get snapped at if you're too aggressive. You've never had that happen before? Maybe it's something that happens more frequently on MOTL because there is no face-to-face interaction and people tend to be more abrasive online.

      Glad to have your support though, I agree the cards are mine to do with what I please 🙂

  6. I can’t speak as much to the quick sale but as far as trading and being perceived as a shark I’m generally pretty open about telling people that in trading for value unless they have particular cards I’m speculating on/ditching involved. I think what it comes down to is that we are trading on cash/seller prices and we want to trade with people who value their cards as buyers and exploit those discrepancies in value. When I get called out for being a value I respond as Kelly often does that we are providing a service. The trader needs to decide whether or not it is worth his time and effort to find a buyer sell the card and acquired the card he wants at retail or to give up a little and get the card immediately.

    1. Good point. Having a trade partner complain about a trade (especially while in the process of the trade) is akin to a customer complaining to a dealer or store about how they're trying to making money by selling them cards.

      I think that transparency is important. As in, don't lie about card value or why you want the cards. But don't feel ashamed. If people are selling a good at $X and you offer then $X-y and they accept, great. That's called selling something.

      If they get upset about the offer, then it seems they aren't cut out for dealing with people. 🙂

  7. I only see two ways in which a "moral compass" is involved with a magic trade – theft and lying.

    Theft is obvious. I don't think anyone could make an argument for stealing cards.

    Lying is the only 'grey' area. When you see a Personal Tutor in someone's trade binder and let them know you are interested, and they ask "what's it selling for?", here is, IMO, the only place morality enters into trading. Do you tell the full truth and say "it's actually jumped up to ~$40"? Do you try to skirt the issue and ask "what do you value it at?" Do you deceive and say something like "when i checked last weekend it was at $15"?

  8. I love all the discussion so far. Thanks everyone for their comments!

    To clarify one thing on the Clique – I meant to say that the Vendilion Clique WAS in fact a 4th card for my set. In fact, it was the only card in the lot that I DID want to keep. The rest I hope to sell. So I told the seller I wasn't planning on buying his cards just to make profit – I in fact wanted at least one of the cards for myself. At the time this seemed reassuring to the seller, though after the transaction was complete he was a good sport about it.

    As for the Grim Tutor situation, I did get snapped at for making an aggressive offer on an already-fairly priced card. This upset me, and I'm glad to hear from people that I was not in the wrong for attempting to negotiate further.

    I never lie about values and the like. I often encourage people to look up cards when they don't know their value. I'm not out to find the ignorant trader who values their personal tutor at $15…to me that's "grey". I'd rather trade based on accurate values and grind out value more transparently, or by picking up cards on the up swing.

  9. I think the biggest reason to how the IO of the magic trading community is structured is due to the limitations imposed on backpack traders at large events. There should be virtually no difference for people who deal with backpack-for-business and vendors at an event. But there is a huge difference: no cash transactions unless you pay a pretty penny to the TO and get a booth. It is hard for someone to become a respectable businessman when the only transactions they perform by their very nature are "shady". When taking the same approach to "trading" for profit (as opposed to transactions for profit) in general, it seems a bit "standoff-ish" and weird for two people who make an exchange of cardboard that one person has to come out on ahead and its vital to their bottom-line to do so.

    If instead cash transactions were allowed to happen, it should allow for some healthy competition between business and backpack traders. In theory, a B&M with large amounts of cards and overhead should always be able to out offer what a backpack vendor can give in cash value on any given card. This is merely an assumption but it seems plausible that the awkwardness of the Magic secondary market is caused by stores with large market power exerting monopolistic control over the market.

    This is just a hypothesis of mine. I hope it makes some sense.

    1. I think your point is an interesting one. You are proposing, in essence, that the fact that value traders aren't allowed to deal in cash at tournaments that this "shadiness" exists. Almost like it's an artifact of these rules rather than a personality trait of the traders. When this happens, it seems unfair in a way that the exchange of cardboard should result in monetary gains as opposed to the obvious exchange of cash for cards.

      If only there was a convenient way for all those backpack guys to convene near a large tournament location (but off site) to deal in cash without breaking rules.

  10. I love that this article has so many passionate replies. I don't feel like you did anything wrong in any of these cases. I also agree that why you are trading for a card should not be relevant. If I have a card for trade and you have something I want we agree on value and that should be it. Why I, or you for that matter, want the card (for a deck, to sell, to trade for another card you need) really shouldn't matter so much. I personally feel like trading got much more difficult when mythics came about. Many people say access to online content and decklist affect it but honestly the "Jace 2.0 worry" as I like to call it makes people trade differently. Nothing jumps as drastically as a mythic when it jumps and there are always 1-3 clear cut cards that cost WAY more than everything else (almost always mythic) and people are more picky about trading those cards. They freak because they think you are trading for it speculatively and they are going to loose tons of value and need it for a deck later. That is the real reason people want to know what you want a card for…. just IMHO…for what that is worth.

  11. Let me clarify my earlier point, I don't feel you are required to tell people why you need a card. It's just that when you do tell them one thing and then do another it feels wrong to me (unless of course the situation changed, but I did not get the impression that it did). I guess when someone is asking it's hard to not answer the question though, so when you do answer I think you should answer honestly.

    No interest in selling the Tutor to me? (or isn't it in the right condition?)

  12. Let me clarify my earlier point, I don't feel you are required to tell people why you need a card. It's just that when you do tell them one thing and then do another it feels wrong to me (unless of course the situation changed, but I did not get the impression that it did). I guess when someone is asking it's hard to not answer the question though, so when you do answer I think you should answer honestly.

    No interest in selling the Tutor to me? (or isn't it in the right condition?)

    1. I didn't lie one bit, though. I DO want to keep the Vendilion Clique. All the other cards I bought, I hope to sell for profit. But not all of them – that was the point I tried to make to the seller.

      The Tutor was not NM, it was EX+ or so. And I use the term "was" because I finally did find a buyer. Ended up pretty much breaking even.

  13. According to me value traders will always have to work in the "grey" area. If they step out of that area, they become vendors (cash flow, taxes, costs, …) and I believe most value traders would not be comfortable with that.

    I am somewhere in the middle of that (trader – vendor) and it's a tricky position.
    I have an online shop, but I do trade a lot. I do offer money as well, but the most frustrating thing that can happen is that some-one is offering a bit more than me.
    Most people can as they don't have to take into account costs (mostly taxes) while I have to…
    I know that the other guy will probably sell or trade those cards again for (more) value though.

    When I am in "vendor mode" I will ask how much they value their cards/collections. I will always counter propose a lower value. Even if the offer is way too low to begin with. Can't help it… I recently bought P9 cards for less than 30% their actual value by doing that.

    When I am in "trader mode" I will always make a decent deal. I am amongst friends, players, trader colleagues and I believe it's the fair thing to do.

    The most difficult thing is to switch between those modes 🙁

    1. It's not easy, that's for sure! I don't even have a "vendor mode", but I do have a normal trading mode and a trading amongst friends mode. Even switching between these two is difficult. Sometimes nice people give me great deals – should I not try to repay the favor on occasion? If I always take and never give, that can't be healthy for the MTG community, can it?

      1. True.

        I do believe there is a big difference in trading or buying online (forums, auction sites, market places, …) vs doing it in public (events, …).

        Online I know everyone else is able to find what is going on -> I know I am not the only one seeing the auction or reading the topics. If I am able to buy the cards for less that what I hope, I will not hesitate.

        If I am trading/dealing in person, I will honestly tell that I prefer to up trade (as a shop owner), but I will always be honest.

        Small example = I had a request last week from one of the players around here if I could get him a playset of Food Chains, while I was actually out of stock. I said that I was going to look around and if I was able to find the cards for the current selling price, I would do so. I was able to find them, but in the mean time the price went up. Although I could sell those cards easily for more money now, I will charge that customer the price the cards were on the day he requested them. I still make money and he is a very happy (returning) customer.

        Some of those customers are becoming good friends, and that's where the line gets (very) thin though 🙂

        1. Your small example is exactly how I like to build good relationships within the MTG community. Even online, where I may never meet these people, I still see repeat names and through back and forth messaging we could become virtual "friends". So any time there's a chance of working with repeat customers, is it not rewarding to be polite and honest even at the risk of not maximizing profit every time?

  14. It's a scarcely known fact in the sales industry that haggling makes for happier parties on both ends. If I post CardX for $10 and someone snaps it up, I immediately think to myself, "Damn, I should have listed it for $12!" If someone comes back and offers me $8 and we settle on $9, then we both walk away thinking we got the best price we could.

    I think people taking offence at haggling is a purely western phenomenon derived from what is being perceived as politeness. Saying, "I won't make an offer because I don't want to offend him," is like saying, "I won't tell him he has spinach between his teeth because I don't want to embarrass him."

    Western culture is pre-programmed to avoid ever putting someone in a position where the other person may say, "No." This means we capitulate prematurely, often ending in a result that is not ideal to either party. Why do people get apprehensive about asking someone on a date? We're worried they'll say no and that will be uncomfortable. The same theory applies to haggling about price. Never ever be afraid to ask, "Is that your best price." Similarly, never be afraid to ask someone out on a date ;).

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