Insider: Trading at Level 2

Are you a Quiet Speculation member?

If not, now is a perfect time to join up! Our powerful tools, breaking-news analysis, and exclusive Discord channel will make sure you stay up to date and ahead of the curve.

Welcome back readers. Today's article will focus on trading, which means those who prefer to buy and sell online may not enjoy it that much. Hopefully those who enjoy trading will enjoy it considerably the overall utility remains the same.

There are quite a few articles from pro players extolling the desire to "play at the next level". This concept refers to the considering not only what cards your opponent is likely to have, but also what cards he might think you have.

This article is devoted to teaching people to trade at a higher level. But first a ritual I think every serious speculator/trader should do...

Your First Task at Every Event

Do you know the easiest, fastest way to find out which cards are the hottest? Just walk over to the retailer booth and see what's sold out. If you have those cards, people will likely want them throughout the day. Note the current "sold out" price and adjust accordingly.

Looking at what is on sale can also alert you to any recent price changes you may not have been aware of. I recall in GP: Atlanta that Restoration Angel had just recently jumped in price and dealers were buying them at $8. Had I bothered to check this out I wouldn't have traded them at $8. This is why the first thing I do at every event is peruse the retailer booth(s).

Current & Future Projected Price

When trading it's important to compare the current price (CP) of a given card to it's future projected price (FPP), what you anticipate it will settle at down the road.

For example, currently (as of 9/23/13) Griselbrand is $12 (TCG Mid) and Snapcaster is $22 (TCG Mid). This means that if one were to trade 2x Snapcasters and a $2 rare they could get a playset of Griselbrands.

However, prices are always a picture of demand at a moment in time. As speculators we need to use logic to determine what we believe the future price will be. While I can't fault my trade partner for wanting Snapcasters (he even got them at $20 each from me), it's my belief that Griselbrand's complete brokenness could easily put him in Emarkul range within the next couple of years (and he doesn't have a promo printing).

I believe Snapcaster is also a solid bet for steady gains over the long run, but I feel that his value will rise to about $25-27 within the next year or so, whereas I can see Griselbrand hitting $20-25 in the same time frame. Thus, I was happy to pick up Griselbrands all day at $12 (in trade).

The "What I Got It For" Myth

This is one I've fallen into several times and I see plenty of others doing it on the forums. Basically this is where you've already profited on a speculation target, and as a result actually undervalue it because you got it even cheaper than you're trading it for.

In the end a $20 card is a $20 card, whether you picked them up at $5 or $15. Our brains will often accept taking an actual loss in a trade because rather than valuing the card at its current price, we remember how much we paid for it and make a jump.

For example (this one hits close to home):

Player 1: I need your Thoughtseize and Temple of Silence.

Player 2: Well I need Steam at current values three Steam Vents is close to that.

Player 1: Sure, I got them for $4 anyways.

In this painful instance, I was player 1 and my trade partner player 2. I had an abundance of Steam Vents and wanted the Thoughtseize for the deck I was going to play the next day, but that is irrelevant. I made a poor trade because my brain jumped back to the value of the cards when I picked them up, instead of when I was trading them away.

In your head you've redefined the value of the cards to somewhere between what you got them for and what they are currently worth. A shrewd trader will try to get every copy of the cards that fall into this category as you are basically undercutting yourself on their current value. So the next time you find yourself trying to rationalize a bad trade because of what you "got them for," just remember what they are currently worth and trading below that is eating into potential profits.

The 60:40 Ratio

For those who enjoy legacy, you'll often hear that a 60:40 win percentage for a deck is pretty outstanding. Ideally you want as many matchups like that as you can get in any tournament, as it means you're favored in each matchup.

The same idea can be applied to trading. It's extremely unlikely to "win" or come out ahead of every trade you make, especially at a big event with lots of trading going on. That's okay.

I've had to take this one to heart on several occasions. We are all human, and we rarely have perfect information. Obviously, you always want to come out ahead or at least break even on trades. You'd think that with everyone having smart phones you should have perfect information, but alas, many large event venues get terrible reception (at SCG Atlanta even people with $500+ 4G phones were getting one bar most of the time.)

When that occurs you tend to just give up and go with the last price you knew a card to be. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. The point is that as hard as it can be to do, when you do find out you got railroaded, you have to shrug it off because it happens to everyone. Every single person, from your favorite writers on QS to the local shark at your FNM.

If you come out ahead 60% of the time then you should be good over the long run. The only time it really hurts is when you're off by a huge margin in that 40% of the time. A way to prevent this is to a) keep up with the prices of most commonly desired cards, b) look up a price if you really don't know it and haven't looked it up in a long time, and c) walk over to the retailers booth and see what they are selling it for to get some perspective.

The Horizontal Trade

This is simply when you're trading across the board (i.e. not trying to directly get value off of your trade partner). A good example would be trading a play set of $5 cards for a play set of a different $5 card, looking not at the CP vs. FPP but instead looking for cards with higher liquidity in your area.

It seems hard to believe, but more often than not the cards that are in high demand at your LGS may well not be in demand at all in another LGS 200 miles away. I do a lot of this style of trade when I attend larger events because there are a diverse collection of metagames and many store owners looking to rotate stock.

This is also the type of trade I like to do when trying to pick up rarer EDH cards (foils, miscuts, older cards). A great example of this is when I traded a Crucible of Worlds and an Engineered Explosives for an Iona, Shield of Emeria and an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Both cards he wanted had been languishing in my binder for over six months. I traded off the Iona later that day and Elesh Norn is always in demand from my local Commander players.

Trading to Store Owners

This is more of an addendum to the horizontal trade in that store owners (especially at major events) are primarily there to rotate their stock and to pick up cards they need. They are often more willing to trade Legacy/Modern for Standard so long as the prices are reasonable. This is especially true of the stores that only have a strong Standard presence, but occasionally pick up older stuff in collections. The beauty is that they view the cards as currency rather than collectibles or game pieces.

If they have been out of Supreme Verdicts for two weeks and have had to turn away customers in need of them, then they have an immediate demand for Supreme Verdicts. That means the ones you have can be valued at what they plan on selling them for.

It's similar to trading at buylist prices, except in this case the prices are the selling prices. This is an awesome way to convert Standard into other format staples without paying the "tax" often associated with this type of trading.


This is another pretty obvious consideration I often see people fail to account for. I like to have Standard, Legacy, Modern and EDH tradeables in my binders. This is especially critical when trading at major events as people with all kinds of needs will be there.

If your LGS only focuses on Standard or draft, you don't have to carry those binders with you all the time, but be prepared for the bigger events by having them available. You can also leave them in your car when you go to your LGS (and get them if needed).

It also means that it's better to have a lot of options than a lot of the same cards. My best example is with dual lands. More often than not people need these for either a Legacy deck or (more recently) EDH decks. This means that while having 4x Underground Seas in your trade binder may make one person happy, it's more useful to have one each of Underground Sea, Tundra, Tropical Island, Volcanic Island, Bayou and Kabira Takedown // Kabira Plateau.

The "Matching Site" Myth

"It doesn't matter what site we use as long as we use the same site." I hear this all the time when I ask people how they value their cards. The thing is, it does matter. A great deal.

Let's use an example. On SCG, Obzedat, Ghost Council is $14.99 and sold out. On TCG it's $8.99 on the mid. That's a huge price difference.

The rule of thumb is usually that SCG prices their cheaper Standard cards way higher than TCG-Mid, but their older Legacy cards or high-end Standard staples are much closer to TCG-Mid. That means if someone says I really want your play set of Obzedats and uses SCG pricing, you have $60 worth of trade product you can find in their binder.

That also means that you'll want to stay away from a lot of low-end cards that SCG charges $1-1.50 for because you could buy the same ones on TCG player for $0.5-0.75. Instead you'll want to trade up or go for something that SCG prices higher per card, say 3x Kalonian Hydra. By SCG pricing you're both at $60, but by TCG pricing you traded $36 for $58.

This is why it's critical to determine what price system you'll be using to trade with players. Another concern is when players use SCG but only ask for cards that are "sold out" and demand that the current price is used despite the fact that when SCG resupplies, the "in stock" price will be higher.

This is a pretty common tactic I've seen and watched out for. For your own amusement pick only higher-end cards SCG is also out of stock of and flip the tables on them. My favorite example of this was at an SCG Atlanta event where one player wanted all my Goremands at the current SCG price of $9.99 (out of stock) but wouldn't do 5x Remands for his 2x Vendilion Clique $24.99 (out of stock).

Beware the High Dollar Guy

Occasionally you'll run into the trader with just a small binder and when you open it you realize it's all high-dollar cards. They'll actually value their cards pretty fairly, however, they'll often try to get a bunch of lower cards from you, but the numbers won't add up.

For example, say they have a $100 card you really want. They go through your binder and pick out 3x $30 cards, 1x $80 card, 2x $60 cards* as the only things they want. Their goal is to make sure that what they pick out can't be made into a pile that's actually $100 worth of cards.

No matter how you stack it the piles will be $90 (which they just flat won't accept) or $110 which they will. At this point they either convince you to lower the value of your own cards so they equal $100, just accept you're taking a $10 loss....or walk away.

I haven't done any experiments yet to determine exactly how likely someone is to walk away from a trade that they've put more than one minute into, but I'd guess it's a lot less often than you'd think.

Expand Your Market and a Note on Buying/Selling

This seems obvious enough, but you can only trade to people who you have contact with. This is the reason so many of us take the 10% hit using eBay or TCG player when converting cards into cash. A lot of other people use Craigslist or other similar sites to find new collections or sell stuff they don't need.

I would suggest scouring Facebook or some other social media website for MTG trading groups and if one doesn't exist in your area, create it. I did just that because I found it paid off to have a non-store-specific trading group. It also gives me a place to post my personal buy list as well as a want/trade list.

On a slightly different note, it's important to note that a lot of card shops don't like you buying and selling cards in their shop. It makes sense, given they pay rent in order to have a presence there and you're directly cutting into potential business, so always respect that.

In a similar vein, you are never allowed to buy/sell cards at a major event in the event hall. The reason is simply the actual dealer(s) with booths paid for that booth and thus they are the only ones with the right to buy and sell in that event hall. Not following this rule can easily get you kicked out or banned from events which will really hurt your ability to trade.


***EDIT***I removed the 1x $20 card from the list because as someone pointed out..$80+$20=$100.

13 thoughts on “Insider: Trading at Level 2

  1. Great article, overall. I haven’t really gone to big events before, so its good to know this stuff before I head out to States for the first time.

    But…one thing has been bugging me since I read this. Its insignificant, but my brain just won’t let it go.

    …With high dollar guy, couldn’t you just do the $20 card and the $80 card?

    1. Doh! Pretend that $20 card isn’t there…..the main point is that they will pick cards that make sure the piles are over or under the agreed to amount and then will do their best to make sure you just relent and give up an over pile.

    1. That’s a great question. To be honest, I had a lot of help from facebook….I was already friends with a lot of the players in our area, so I created the group..invited all my MTG friends and the store owners…and then other members invited people I wasn’t friends with. It greatly benefits everyone to have a large # of active members to a group like that…Store Owners can use it to gauge which cards are the hottest and as a platform to submit their “hot list” or whatever they need to get in stock. Players can easily compare what each store is buying and what other players are buying/selling at. It’s more of a less structured TCG player (where you have lots of individuals selling items) to maximize competition. Sure it sucks when people look at my buylist and offer slightly above it..but then that’s Capitalism for ya.

  2. “In this painful instance, I was player 1 and my trade partner player 2. I had an abundance of Steam Vents and wanted the Thoughtseize for the deck I was going to play the next day, but that is irrelevant.”

    No! No it isn’t! Well, it’s irrelevant to the point you were making in that paragraph, sure. But it’s not irrelevant to the trade. The fact that cards can be used to *play games of Magic: the Gathering* is where 99% of their value comes from.

    1. While I agree that most of their value does stem from the fact that they are used to play games, the difference is what viewpoint you see them at Collector/Trader/Player…most of the time I view them from the trader view point (as I don’t play standard as much anymore)..but the point is that I acted on a whim in this instance and made a poor trade. I could likely have gotten the Thoughtseize from someone else for less.

  3. I’ve also noticed the trick using different pricing guides to trade. I’ve found that if you ‘re trading down into more cheaper cards with a high priced card say thoughtseize for scars fast lands, it’s better to trade using tcg prices to get more volume. i.e. Ballpark 1 Thoughtseize $25 -> 8 x $3 scars lands TCG, vs $30 -> 7x $4 scars lands SCG.

    And again, if they want more things from you than you want from them, it’s better to reverse it and use the SCG price guide.

    Kinda sharky I admit, but I’d say I’m just trying to maximize my value….

    1. Ya, I can see it being in that grey area between shark and trader, but my definition of Shark was the person who is actively trying to rip someone off…trading 3x $2 cards for a $20 card, because no matter where you look it’s an unfair trade. This strategy is more about leveraging your “need” vs their “need”. Many of our competitive players know I’m more difficult to trade with because I rarely “need” your card, but you often “need” mine. Therefore, if I’m trading for something I don’t need I expect to get value out of it. But as long as you aren’t confrontational about it, people tend to accept it. It also helps to be very willing to work with people. I often get a lot of trades in when someone comes to me asking for help building a deck…and yes, I’ve steered people AWAY from my own trade stuff in order to maximize the quality of their deck…but that makes me far more trustworthy than someone clearly trying to pawn their wares on someone else and it allows me to get good trades in down the line because people remember kindness almost as much as they remember “asshole-ness”.

  4. I tend to look for many small cards. I’m happy to always use the same price source, but, I have made sure it’s one where such cards are priced reasonably (I tend to use TCGPlayer low). When trading up I am more likely to accept their suggested price source, but will stick with mine when they ask.

    1. Everyone has their own trading strategies and I certainly don’t disagree with yours. I would think you’d run into some issues when their suggested price source and yours differ greatly, hence my example with Obzedat (that as of recently has already become incorrect..thanks to TCG catching up)

  5. I liked this article quite a bit–lots of good tips.

    One comment: I don’t like the idea of ever leaving my trade binder(s) in a car. This opens me up to theft or environmental damage (I live in Florida so humidity can ruin cards, foils especially). If I’m not planning to use it or bring it in to the LGS, I just leave it at home. It may be slightly less convenient but I prefer the cautious approach in order to avoid disaster.

    1. I don’t blame you at in South Carolina we suffer similar environmental conditions. I use Monster binders exclusively, which helps a lot. If you put your cards in sleeves and then in the pages, they are very well protected. I have 1 ultra-pro I won as a consolation prize in a tournament and I only keep my modern/legacy commons/uncommons <$4 in it as I don't like how "loose" the sleeves are in there.

Join the conversation

Want Prices?

Browse thousands of prices with the first and most comprehensive MTG Finance tool around.

Trader Tools lists both buylist and retail prices for every MTG card, going back a decade.

Quiet Speculation