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Insider: Moral Conundrums

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Today's article harks back to an article I wrote previously which peeked at moral dilemmas in trading. The idea for this article came from this reddit thread in which I got to glimpse the opinions of quite a few traders/speculators. It was interesting to see different people's opinions regarding trading ethics.

To make this more interesting I'll do a breakdown of the reasoning behind said opinions. I'll follow each with a possible counterpoint.

Don't Rip Off Kids

This one is actually pretty unanimous. It seems everyone agrees that taking advantage of children is wrong on all counts. There is no acceptable reasoning behind trading a small child with no understanding of value five $0.5 cards for a $50 card; on this everyone agreed.

Counterpoint: None. Everyone (save the sociopaths) believe this is a no-no. What I find most interesting about this is the unanimity itself. As humans we have a natural tendency to protect the young (even those not our own), which is shown in this uniform agreement. And for even the sociopaths, some reditt users brought up potential legal ramifications of ripping kids off.

Trading with Kids

This one is interesting as well. Some players won't trade with kids period (likely out of fear that they accidentally rip them off) and others who fear that ignoring potential traders (no matter the age) is rude.

The other issue you might run into when trading with kids is that while some understand the concept of value, others may not and there's often no way to tell before you begin trading. It's also somewhat disheartening when they get their minds set on something they can't afford. Nothing feels more awkward than having to tell a kid that they can't have that card they really really want because they don't have anything relevant.

Counterpoint: This is a challenging one. I know a few kids who are very savvy traders and I'm sure they'd do even better if they weren't pigeonholed due to their age. I usually won't refuse to trade with kids I am exceedingly cautious.

New Players

Here we have a bit of divergence. Similar to ripping off little kids, most players seem to feel that newer players shouldn't be taken advantage of as it's also likely that they do not have a strong understanding of value. However, the key word in that statement is "most".

Some players feel that once a person is legally an adult (over 18) they are now responsible for their own decisions and any lack of information regarding card prices is not up to the opposing trader to divulge.

Their argument is often based on the fact that information is often what makes things valuable (I for example would not have my current job without my Mechanical Engineering degree). Thus, their reasoning is that since they possess more knowledge than their fellow trader, that constitutes "value" that they've earned.

Counterpoint: The problem I have with this argument is that unlike information gained via hard work and studying on your part, you're really punishing someone else for not having done the same. That would be like looking at someone who didn't go to college as "deserving to be homeless" because they didn't go.

A person's age does not guarantee they have a solid understanding of value. You can look at the high amount of credit card debt held by people in their 20's to 30's and find evidence that many adults lack strong understanding of money and finances.

The fact that many people who accept the pretense of "they should know it," won't trade with family or friends is (to me) a subconscious way of actually saying they know it's wrong because they wouldn't subject those they care about to the same practice.

Interjecting in Lopsided Trades

This is an interesting issue because it addresses situations where you yourself are not ripping off anyone, but instead are witnessing it. It makes you question whether you're morally wrong to simply watch or allow something wrong to occur.

Many players are timid individuals and when they see this sort of trade going on two thoughts pop into their heads:

  1. Well it's not me doing the ripping off and I don't want to ruin my chances to trade with either of the people.
  2. There's someone who might have some other good stuff and doesn't understand the value (a.k.a. blood in the water).

Counterpoint: I'll leave you with a famous quote by Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Misleading Price Quotes

I read several players' posts who had no moral quandary with answering falsely when their trade partner asked them prices on cards they wanted. This could mean either inflating their own card prices or reducing their partners prices.

Often their logic is, "well they might not be lying depending on what site their opponent uses." To me this is just as scummy as using one site to price your own cards and another to price your trade partners' (which also falls into this category). Often the argument is that it isn't technically lying since both prices are valid.

Counterpoint: Using different sites to value cards in a trade is comparing apples to oranges and hoping your trade partner doesn't realize it. Some stores charge more for all their cards so if you use the same store to price both trade piles they should come out relatively evenly. However, when you use a store that overcharges for one pile and then one with low prices for another you are forcing a discrepancy. Forcing price discrepancies is basically stealing from your trade partner.

Pre-Rotation Trades

Many of us follow the guidelines that come summer we should offload rotating Standard staples while they still have value. Nothing kills value like rotation, so many traders really push the rotating staples come summer time. The irony is that the market then becomes flooded with people trying to unload the same cards, which causes prices to drop earlier than rotation.

The question then becomes where to draw the line of "ripping off." If you know a $20 card will drop to $5 when it rotates out, you can either 1) assume your trade partner knows it but really needs it and remain silent, or 2) tell your trade partner that it is in fact rotating out and risk not getting rid of it. The challenge becomes, "how far from rotation can you be okay with #1?"

Counterpoint: This one is really tough because there are often times when the die-hard tournament players need a staple for an upcoming tournament (or collection of tournaments). I often try to gauge why the person wants the card. There is risk to that because you can no longer claim "ignorance is bliss" when your trade partner expresses amazement that you're trading all four copies of the powerful cards they've wanted for months but no one would trade.

However, the good news is going about it this way will prevent you from suffering from guilt, which is always worth a potential failed trade. I also like to throw these cards up on eBay to sell. While the same person who doesn't know about rotation might be buying them, it's far more likely to be tournament grinders, as the people who are amazed at playsets of a staple tend to be more casual players and thus far less likely to buy cards online.

Knowledge Gap

Some people seem to take issue with trades due to a knowledge gap. The two camps tend to base acceptance on "risk to you." Most people don't seem to take issue when the trade involves higher-risk cards, the ones that might break out or alternately bust and rot in a binder. But when there is little risk, for example picking up Modern staples before Modern season, they take issue.

Counterpoint: This situation arises a lot for speculators. However, in the end, the act of speculating constitutes taking on risk. There is no guarantee of a card's success, just different levels of likelihood of success. A good speculator targets the cards with either a high likelihood of success or a high reward should they succeed. Different speculators have different tolerances for risk.

In this regard I may diverge from the redditt pack in that I feel that I'm taking on some risk by picking up speculation targets so I use my knowledge to succeed. I won't quote false prices or lie if people ask me values, but if I think a card's price will go up I'll trade to pick up all the copies I can, and often I'll tell my trade partner I'm speculating on the card.

David Schumann

David started playing Magic in the days of Fifth Edition, with a hiatus between Judgment to Shards. He's been playing Commander since 2009 and Legacy since 2010.

View More By David Schumann

Posted in Finance, Free Insider, Trading

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24 thoughts on “Insider: Moral Conundrums

  1. The last time I ripped off a kid I was still one (or at least close enough in age to consider them my peers: a neighbour’s kid who my brother and I taught the game just after we learned was about 10 when I was 14, we always hung out together and I am sure I made trades with him). I’m pretty sure the thought never crossed my mind to treat them differently. Thinking about it, possibly me still being young may have given me an advantage trading with older people who attended the same convention as just maybe some of the good deals I made were a result of them not wanting to be too difficult with me. I was certainly one of the savvy kids, by 18 I was already trading for my first power (an Alpha Ancestral Recall no less).

    I would personally trade with kids, but these days I rarely run into them. I would probably be very free with throwing in some extra stuff that would be practically worthless to me. I wouldn’t give them a better than fair deal though, but, I would certainly aim for making it as fair as possible.

    New players to me are the same as kids, but I come across them more often. I would still try to make that fair deal and throw in some extra non-relevant stuff if they want it. When I accidentally turned out to have made a deal in my favor with a new player I actually made sure to give them something extra later that they also wanted but that I thought would be too much. When a player starts making statements about card value (regardless of correctness of those statements) I tend to decide they no longer count as new players. Age has no influence on who I feel is a new player, in fact the player in the example was over 18.

    I would not interject unless the person taken advantage off is a friend or good acquaintance and I know they probably won’t realize if I don’t point it out. I do believe people should learn for themselves and if I don’t know the people in question there is also a decent chance they had dealings before that balance out what’s happening now. When asked I will give my valuations though and most people who know me have a tendency to ask for my opinion on trades. I used to be way more sharky in the past, I have certainly seen the “blood in the water” thing happen, but usually done by others after I finished my lopsided trade.

    This is assuming the trade isn’t exceptionally lopsided. Once I came across a trader who thought my Time Warps were Time Walks. If I see anyone taking advantage to that extent I will interject regardless.

    I always honestly tell people what I value cards at. I usually give a small range, so something like about 8-9 euros. I do not use any store specifically, I tell them what I value the cards at myself. What I value cards at is based on what various stores ask or buy for, growth potential or expected declines (perhaps due to rotation), condition, rarity, how many I already own, etc. I usually end around TCGPlayer low, so when I’m being lazy I just look at that.

    Rarely do I deal with Standard cards, in fact I deal with them so infrequently that I can’t remember when I last had to consider post-rotation value of anything I traded away. When trading for them I will of course use a looming rotation as an argument when trying to talk people down.

    I happily use a knowledge gap to my advantage with people who should know their prices. I get out ahead more often, but it’s not unheard of for me to be wrong and get stuck holding cards that didn’t actually appreciate like I hoped or that I misvalued (I like to remind people of that if they ever bring up that I made a trade with them that turned out well for me).

    1. I’ve done the same thing. I try to do fair trades, but I don’t mind “winning” by a bit given I’m usually providing a service (since there is basically nothing I need currently), but if I do turn out to be a bit incorrect on my prices (which can change with spikes) I do the same as you….give them some stuff to make up the difference the next time I see them. I’ve actually had 2 instances when the player never realized it and didn’t even care, but was so impressed that I was making up the difference that they seek me out when they have something good they think I’ll want. It really does pay to be a decent human being (as Dylan mentioned last week)

      1. I only do that with people who (probably) don’t know better, so mostly new players. I fully expect people aware of prices to think for themselves and try to make a deal that is at the very least fair to them. I will not ask for or expect anything if they do get the better of me and I expect them to “take it like a man” when they find out I’ve gotten away with something (I do also aim for that winning by a bit, though I’ll accept any deal that I consider to be at least fair to me).

        One friend keeps telling me about the amazing deals he finds, one might judge him a shark based on his stories, but I’ve rarely seen him do such deals in person. We somewhat regularly discuss prices as well. If he chooses to give me a Supreme Verdict as a bulk rare I absolutely believe he should know better and I won’t point it out to him. In fact, I love trading for his bulk as there’s always stuff like that and in regular deals making my margin is quite easy. I must be his kryptonite or something ;). He’ll continue trade with me as for many cards I’m simply the only one who has spares (or at least the most convenient one) and I regularly lend him nearly complete decks if he wants to play in a tournament.

  2. A few years ago when I started playing again I had pretty limited knowledge of value on a lot of cards. I got taken hard by a regular local player in trade who smelled fresh blood. I found out later on that week just how imbalanced the trade really was, and how hard he took me over a few cards I really wanted to play. He came back for more next week and I told him to get lost. Years later I won’t even let him look in my binder, and I make a point of warning new players who wander around to check prices before trading with him. He’s a pissy little bitch about it now that I’m generally carrying a lot of stuff people, including him, are looking for.

    There is a difference between speculating, and outright screwing people over for value. When you screw you people over you need to consider that in the long run it’s going to hurt.

    1. Exactly. Thanks for the great example. I myself suffered similarly when I walked into a store with a few Birds of Paradise (whom my brother and I thought were just bad Llanower Elves (because who played more than 1 color and they had a power of 0)). We ended up trading a playset of Birds (which at the time were around $7-8 each) for about $5 in bulk rares. It wasn’t until we got hold of an Inquest a week later that we saw how poorly our trade was. Needless to say we never returned to that store. So a word of warning to the store owners, it may very well be in your best interest to interject in lopsided trades; even if the shark is a regular.

  3. On the subject of interjecting in lopsided trades, I play that one very much by ear (or eye).

    If the trade is relatively low value on both sides, I judge by the players – if they’re both experienced, I leave it, if its experienced vs non-experienced, and the experienced player is worse off, I leave it, if its a new player who is getting an anger of the gods for their supreme verdict, I’ll consider stepping in.

    If its a case of a hugely imbalanced trade, I always step in. Back around ROE’s release, I saw a trade where a youngish kid (about 14) had just been given all his older brother’s old MtG stuff, and he had some seriously good stuff for a 14 year old just getting started – revised duals, 2 playsets of wastelands, mana drain, etc. His mother had asked the store owner if he and a few regulars would keep an eye on him (her implication being to make sure he didn’t get upset losing to things he didn’t understand). Anyway, midway through the afternoon, I saw him in the middle of a trade. Initially I kept it subtle, just walked past to see what was laid out for the trade. When I did, the kid has 3 of his volcanics, and 4 wastelands laid out in front of him. The other guy had a celestial colonade, amulet of vigor, a few uncommon allies, terra eternal and a few cheap alara block rares. All told, the other guy’s pile probably wasn’t worth $15, yet I could hear him asking if the kid was happy to do that trade. I stepped straight in, told the kid that the other guy’s cards weren’t even close to what his were worth and that he shouldn’t do the trade.

    The other guy got properly pissed off, stormed over to the store owner without even picking up his cards and started ranting about be interfering. Unfortunately for him, I’d been friends with the store owner for nearly 2 years at that point. He gave me a look as if to say “what’s going on?” and I just gestured at the table and said “this trade”. He came over, took one look and told the other guy (who had only ever been in the store once or twice before) that if he caught him trying to rip people off again, he’d be banned.

    And on the subject of misleading price quotes, I see a single word that says a lot about what it wrong with the shark mentality – referring to your trade partner as an opponent. They’re not opponents, they’re trade partners. Yes, we’re both trying to come out as well as possible, but do we actually have anything against each other?

    1. “They’re not opponents, they’re trade partners.” I agree 100%, hence why I used the “opponents” thing in quotes from someone on the redditt forum, whereas I always refer to them as trade partners. There is a huge difference in not only your own mentality when viewing people as opponents vs partners, but also in the likelihood that the person will want to trade with you again. I honestly think that may be why I see more sharks at big venues (not only because there are a lot more potential people to trade with, but because they believe that once they trade with the person they won’t run into them again…but I’ve traded with the same people at numerous venues over several years..if we both drove to a city to trade/play it’s very likely we’ll see each other the next time there’s an event in that city)

    2. “If the trade is relatively low value on both sides, I judge by the players – if they’re both experienced, I leave it, if its experienced vs non-experienced, and the experienced player is worse off, I leave it, if its a new player who is getting an anger of the gods for their supreme verdict, I’ll consider stepping in.”

      So you’re going to step in over a ~$2-$3 value difference? I’d like to consider myself an experienced trader, and even I would swap a Verdict for an Anger if I needed it bad enough (i.e. morning of a PTQ and the shop is sold out, etc.)

      It takes larger margins for that for me to step in, unless someone specifically asks me. Then again, the shops in my area tend to be rather spiky, so most people know their prices or look them up on their smartphones.

      1. I’m actually with you on that one Justin…I don’t step in when someone trades a $6 card for a $3 card (unless I’m asked by either party) but when I see someone trying to push a card on someone (often when it’s nearing rotation) or the trade is really lopsided say a $20 card for a $3 card I’ll say something because those tend to only happen 1 of 2 ways…2 very inexperienced players who have no idea of value and the 1 with the huge upside usually doesn’t intentionally want to rip someone off doesn’t mind and the other in which it’s a shark trying to rip off someone…the shark gets mad…and I don’t care because I don’t like those people in the first place and I’ve also made a new friend/potential trade partner with the person I prevented from getting screwed.

  4. I think it’s ok to help a kid or new player, at least to a certain extent, by “trading up” for their expensive cards. Many of these people don’t have a large collection. Exchanging one high-value card for lots of smaller cards enables them to build better overall decks and/or begin exploring more deck types (thereby developing their long-term deckbuilding skills). This is especially true with kids, who may be significantly limited in the quantity of product that they can acquire if they’re just using their allowance to crack a few packs a month. Trading that one mythic for a stack of $1 rares/uncommons might be what allows them to actually build an FNM deck that doesn’t look like a pile of draft chaff.

    That said, I think it’s important to be very careful and honest with your trading partner and not rip them off when you’re doing this. If anything, I tend to give up raw value when “trading up” with a kid or new player to get bigger cards that I want for myself or to trade for other bigger cards. And even if they don’t have a card worth trading for, it’s not a bad thing to just give them a cheap card that you don’t care about to improve their deck. It’ll make their day, give you good karma, and set a favorable tone for future trades with them.

    1. I’ve done similar things to this…however, I’ve had issues where they see something they really want (that’s decently expensive) and they fixate on getting it, but either they don’t have anything and I’m not going to take the hit (I wont’ trade a $40 card for $10 worth of rares/uncommons) or I’d have to take almost their entire trade binder (also something I won’t do). It’s a tricky line trading with new players.

  5. Agree with just about everything said, but if a person I don’t like or have had bad experiences is getting a bad deal, my mouth is shut.

    But this seems like something that shouldn’t be behind a paywall (not really financial related, no real information). Just my two cents.

    1. I can definitely see letting that trade slide (though sadly it’s rarely the douchebags getting hose on the end of a bad trade). As for the second point, I do try to mainly keep things financially related, but at times I like to branch out towards other topics. I really like it when my articles cause conversations (in the comments or forums) though and this one has done a decent job of it. Next week’s will be financially relevant, but to be fair…if you follow good morals while trading you’ll be financially rewarded (it’s just less obvious) through more willing trade partners, a good reputation, and more interest in your trade binder (it doesn’t matter what cards you have if you’re a known shark/douchebag).

  6. Was super glad to see this article and the comments. I only play limited currently so I like to trade up or trade into cards I can sell to fund my drafting. But I never feel right taking advantage of someone who just doesn’t know what they have. Even with casual players who tell me they don’t care about the monetary value of their collection I try to make sure our trade is pretty much even. I mean they paid money for those cards be it in packs or just buying an old collection. Anyway greatly enjoyed the article and comments thanks guys.

  7. i agree with everything in your article except trading standard cards pre rotation. if some one is going to trade you 20 bucks worth of leg/modern cards for a 20 dollar standard card about to rotate i see no problem with that. i go with current value of cards at moment and never force anything ever on a trade partner ever

  8. This is an awesome concept for an article, and could generate discussion for weeks, so thanks for bringing up these points.

    As far as interjecting for lopsided trades, it is worth considering how much animosity you will create between you and the person who was “ahead”. It is still the right thing to do, if the trade is too lopsided, but I’ve seen some pretty long-lasting feuds develop over a single incident. Also, I’ve been screwed out of a really good spec trade that now looking back on it has cost me at least $20, because one of my friends misunderstood which side I was on as an onlooker and interjected and the deal fell apart from that point. It was even as far as prices for the time, but I was aiming for cards I thought were going up (Mutavault, circa a few months ago, slam dunk concept, right?). So if you are going to interject, make sure you know what you are doing.

    As far as the moral dilemma of the knowledge gap, that is where I would draw the line and say that the other person just has to do their own research, just like I did, and there is no reasonable claim against the person making the “better” speculative call when the current values are close. You mentioned the risk of speculating, and that risk is very real, as none of us are always right (except perhaps QED2 😛 ).

    The unanswered question from this article for me is what is an acceptable % to be “off” on a trade to still allow it to happen. I’ve seen tourney grinders try to get down to the dime, and I’ve seen casuals having no problem being off by tens of dollars in the other person’s favor in a trade and still push for it to happen. What about when neither of you look up cards and you are just going off of memories that agree with each other? Are you supposed to come back and revisit every trade like that if there is some discrepancy discovered later?

    1. Great questions. Obviously there are no concrete answers to most of them as with just about everything relating to “morality” there are different points of view based on may outside factors. When it comes to being “off” on a trade I try to be within 15%-20% on the small stuff and on larger stuff maybe 10% (for example if I’m trading a standard card worth $2.50 I’m not going to play ball with someone trying to “look for more” if the card I want is $2.75) but if what I want is $200 then I’m not going to push a trade away if the other person is at $195 and wants to find a bit more (hence why I go by percentages). If neither of you looks stuff up (and you’re not aware of a blatant price discrepancy (like they value you’re $4 card at $10 or their $10 card at $4) and you both agree than that’s fine. I would only revisit a trade if we were both off on some card by quite a bit (say we both thought their $10 card was $4 and I picked up a playset). I do this because I know how it feels to be the person ripped off and I don’t want to make others feel that way (even unintentionally). This has the added benefit that they’ll immediately know that trading with you is “safe” which will encourage future trades.

  9. I have been on this site for years, and I have always been irritated by the fact that this site continues to push their “Holier than thou” trading principles

    I want to let you know that I and a group of sharks have no respect for kids or new players, and that is the way the game goes.

    I would never feel bad trading a grossly imbalanced trade.

    Lately, I have traded in the past two weeks aroud my gameshop.

    His Thoughtseize for My Daxos (New Player)

    His March Flat, 3 Quasali Pridemages, Heritage Druid for my Heliod

    His Vigor, Kor Spiritdancer, GSZ for my foil thoughtcast

    Bottom line is that you people need to chill out with your articles about morals and trading and saying that you have some kind of responsiblity to make trades even…

    After reading this article, I am going to see how disgusting imbalanced I can make a trade tonight.

    Also, my favorite part of magic is coming up $50-$75 on a trade.

    1. You really think that the people at your shop will “vouch” for you? What’s to vouch for, since you’re goal seems to be ripping people off to the best of your ability? You can go ahead and keep thinking that you’re awesome and that ripping all these players off will have no consequences, but it will. Having SOME moral principles isn’t a “holier than thou” approach. You understand you’re actually STEALING from people. If a mentally retarded person asked you for change for a 20 would you feel guilty giving them 2x $5’s because they were unaware of the difference?

      1. Hey slow down now, people bust out their trade binders, drop their pants,, bend over for him, then thank him afterwards for the violent buttsecks and $50 value loss he’s such a talented trader.

        If I step into a trade it’s because there’s something grossly out of whack going on. If he figures he’d pull me aside for a little chat, I’d laugh in his face and openly tell him what a piece of shit he is. Any shop that lets their reputation ride on supporting this type of thing is insane in the age of social media and consumer reports is insane.

        The first small LGS I ever played at went under because the kids who were coming in to spend their allowance were pushed out by a small group of aggressive older players continually ruining things for them, and I’ve played in several others where trading in shop was outright prohibited for exactly this reason. Trading banned, of a trading card game……..

        I think it says a lot for an individual’s sad existence in this world when”nothing makes them feel better” than ripping off someone who doesn’t know any better. This is the same sort of guy who goes straight for the most obviously sloshed drunk girl at the party, camps a spawn point in an FPS then brags about his kill count, or any other number of sad examples of a talentless individual throwing ethics aside to feel better about his easy gimme wins in life.

  10. Also, I meant to ad, when someone interjects in one of my trades, I pull them aside and ask them to mind their own business, or I will have the shop owner make them leave for harassing me. People get the point.

  11. I guess that I should also ad, I have such a bonafide reputation amoung the shops I frequent that when I walk into a shop, I am immediately bombarded for trades and the binders start coming out of the bag…. I have even had players know that they are $10-$15 behind in a trade and they will still knowingly push the trade through, as they like me enough to

    Even though I am a cold-blooded shark on the trading tables, everyone at all my game shops would vouch for me, saying I am one of the nicest, calmest, most out-going players in the community. I play 6 nights a week and I would never pass up a trade due to the fact that I am coming out ahead. I usually wont even make a trade if im not $3-5 ahead anyways.

    1. As long as you don’t go crying about it when some kid’s big brother shows up and beats your ass in the parking lot one night, lol.

      The nicest, easiest going guy who just said in his own words literally said that he has no respect for children and doesn’t care about ripping them off. You’re a piece of shit, and pieces of shit generally get what’s coming to them sooner or later.

  12. You can’t have it both ways, either you’re a “cold blooded shark” or you’re “the nicest, calmest guy”. If you take pleasure in ripping people off then there isn’t a line of people waiting to get reamed by your tiny manhood. I’m not really sure who you’re trying to impress on here, as clearly no one on this forum appreciates your personal form of delusion, but keep your bizarre power trip fantasies contained to the spank bank and don’t try to poison the community.

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