Insider: Whose Value Are We Talking About, Again?

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This past weekend I had the distinct privilege of working on the Judge staff at San Diego Comic Con for the Magic Events, while also attending a sweet Judge Conference (and obtaining some super-sweet judge foils).

It was a very interesting experience, for two main reasons. First, there was a significantly larger portion of first-time or new-ish players there than any other event I've worked at. Second, the prizes were extremely juiced compared to the sizes of the event.

Combined, this created an interesting environment. The minimal numbers of spike-grinder-types were trying to roll through as many events as possible, while new players were learning the game. As new players played with each other, it was interesting to see them realize right in front of my face how important trading is.

They would pay $15 for an intro pack from M13 and enter a "league" that lasted the weekend. Every opponent they faced, they'd receive cards to add to their deck. As the weekend was winding down, people were trying to leave the venue with a solid idea of what this game was about, and what they wanted it to mean to them.

They were so narrowly engrossed in the intro-deck they had, that the concept that these cards had a secondary market value was totally lost on them. "I'll trade you this Green Rare for your Blue Rare." Said the guy with the Blue Intro Deck to the guy with the Green Intro deck.

The fact that he was trading a Thragtusk away for a Talrand, Sky Summoner was not something they even considered to be a financial transaction.

Normally, when this sort of thing happens, one person is taking advantage of another. But these were two friends, first time players, and I didn't feel the need to intervene. For purposes of why there were there, Talrand was actually worth more to the Blue player than the Green player. Also, them being friends, I figured they could hash this sort of thing out on their own once they found out such things later, leaving them with a good learning experience.

Judge Promo Commander Exclusive for Standard Cash

Later in the day, I was trading with one of my good friends. I had just received my Foil Command Tower, and since I don't play Commander, I had promised to trade it to a friend. Initially, I told him I was likely to sell it, so if we could find something in his binder I could sell at a similar price, we'd be all set.

This is when his friend (who I didn't know) chimed in: "Command Tower is only a $30 buy on Star City Games, so that for Ajani is probably in your favor as-is."

First, I have no idea why SCG only buys that card at $30, which I'd guess is likely because they don't want it, because that's only 37% of their listed sell price.

I told the third party, "I'm not really interested in SCG buyprices, thanks anyway."

I tried to redirect back to my friend, so we could carry on our trade (which was going fine). This guy didn't like my response, and pulled out his smartphone, "Which buy list do you want to check then? I can check them all!"

I had to insist, "I appreciate the offer of help, I have a smartphone too, but I just don't feel it necessary to have a third party interjecting here."

At the end of the day, my friend and I made an agreement and moved on.

Simple as Price vs Price?

I just want to point out the huge flaw I see in the "Let's just look this price up." Even if you're looking at the same source, for two different cards, it doesn't mean you're comparing apples to apples. Think about a pile of Standard Staples as compared to a Judge Promo (especially one that is only legal in EDH). Standard Staples are going to move very fast. In fact, faster than almost any other type of stock, while a high-ticket Commander card has to find the right buyer who's willing to pay the price to pimp out his deck.

As a dealer, which one would you rather invest a fixed amount of money in? Obviously, the faster moving item. To offset the time it will take to turn the product around, you have to have a bigger gap between buy and sell, especially since your sell price runs the risk of decreasing if it doesn't sell soon enough and more Judge Foils are distributed. Comparing just a buy list price isn't enough if you're legitimately trying to strike a fair deal.

What are these cards worth to me? Well, I planned to sell them. But sell them how? If Command Tower Foil was really $30 on the StarCity Buylist, I'm just not going to sell it to them. I can get nearly twice as much after fees on eBay. Where as with Standard Staples, I can dump those to a dealer at only a small loss compared to an eBay sale.

My trade partner, however, plays exclusively Commander. Cards in his binder have the express purpose of finding foils for his EDH decks, so I am his outlet. I saved him from having to trade his cards into a dealer at buy prices, and then buy a Command Tower at sell prices. We both have different priorities here, and because we're friends we can be vocal about those priorities and reach an agreement.

I told him, even with SCG Buyprice at $30, I'm more apt to use their buylist to consider your Standard Staples, but give you the Command Tower at a price that's more comparable to what I can actually get for it, which would be bottom of the eBay range, less fees.

I don't generally agree with alienating your trade partner by telling their friends to "Butt Out!", especially, if they have asked that friend to help them make a decision. But don't let a loud trade partner (or their friend) tell you what a card is worth.

The Heart of Value

This is the concept behind the question, "What do you value this at?" If you don't know what peoples values are, then it's hard to reach an agreement. I think there are better ways to gain this information without being a scary value-trader. Rather than asking them for a number, ask them why they're trading it or trading for it.

More importantly, be forthright about your intentions. You can derive values from there. In my case, I wanted to turn my judge foil into cash. So if he's offering me something other than cash, it needs to be at least as much as I could get by selling it directly.

He wanted it for his deck, and wanted to dump cards he has no use for in exchange. Focusing on their goals, rather than finite dollar values allows you to present options to your trade partner that are beneficial to both of you, like the Thragtusk for Talrand situation, which is an obvious extreme.

Final Note

A final note that I don't want to ignore until next week: Thragtusk is absurdly hot right now. Seven out of Eight Star City Games top8 decks included this monster. He's sold out at $15 on both StarCityGames and Channel Fireball. CardKingdom still had a few as of today. I don't know how much higher a non-Mythic can get, but this guy is worth watching. I'm not going to buy in on this card, but if I owned any I'd try to sell into this hype while more are being opened by the day.

6 thoughts on “Insider: Whose Value Are We Talking About, Again?

  1. Great article! Your example really resonated with me, and I get frustrated trying to trade with people who fixate on a number rather than broader transaction. This highlights why blindly looking up card prices is not always a good idea.

    Also, I agree it may be nearly time to sell Thragtusk. It's $15 on SCG…do you really think people are going to trade Snapcaster Mages for Thragtusks? I know I wouldn't, which means I shouldn't be buying them at prices near Snappy's right now.

  2. For better or worse, as a guy who writes about mtg finance, you are going to have a repuation as someone who knows what he is doing. Your friend likely just wants to make sure that he's getting a fair deal and solicited his friend for help. I've found in cases like this that you need to make sure to be able to easily demonstrate why you need to get $X for a card.

    In the future, it might help if you have written down the buy prices at a couple different stores (CoolStuff Inc is paying $45) along with the minimum you could get (net of fees/shipping) from eBay. In this case you could have said, "Wow, I guess SCG has easier access to judge foils than these other stores I found. Turns out that CoolStuffInc is paying $45 and I could get $65ish from ebay since they are selling for $80ish there. Look, I just want a deal that we can both be happy with. I figure if you give roughly $55 in cards that I can sell to a store, then we both win. Honestly, I don't even care what they are."

    1. Thanks for the feedback dude. This is essentially the conversation we had had prior to meeting that day (as i had expected to be receiving the card he desperately wanted). I even had a discussion again with my friend when this article went up, and told him,, "Had you specifically asked your friend to help you make a decision, that's totally cool. But him just blurting out prices from various sources just wasn't helping what we were trying to do." I acknowledge that it may have been awkward the way I handled it and wanted to make sure to smooth things over.

  3. You weren't wrong in telling the friend to butt out. Even if $30 was the "right" buy price for Command Tower, he's asking you to cash out your card at dealer buy prices to buy his friend's Ajani at $30 cash. Did he think you're a moron?

  4. As a guy who sticks up for noobs getting taken advantage of and says hey man u r getting taken check ur values, I do understand looking out for a friend. That being said the way the friend handled it was poorly on his side. Assuming someone would trade at scg buy prices vs retail ever, unless it was stated by the parties trading, is crossing the line. Love the article very interesting. I was at sdcc but didn’t attend any magic events now I wish I had sounds like they had some great prizes and a lot of fun

    1. Yeah the SDCC events were sweet, i highly reccomend checking out the magic stuff next time. prizes were sick, like foil sheets and such. Also a majority of players were first time players, and tons of judge ringers were winning events while they weren't on shift.

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