Insider: Trading Etiquette

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Today's article will focus on a concept that may or may not be obvious. Many will find my points as "well, duh" statements--but it's becoming increasingly apparent that plenty of traders out there have no idea about proper trading etiquette. Today I'd like to talk about some of these principles, and blah blah blah...

1. Don't Request Cards You Can't Afford

This should seem obvious--like really, really obvious. I do remember my younger days when my collection was heavily limited by my allowance ($2 a week, so for anyone bitching about how they can't afford this game, there's your baseline--I could buy one pack every two weeks). But just because you see something valuable that you want, don't go with an " that for trade?" and then hand them a small binder of bulk rares (unless you have enough to actually get the card at bulk rates).

The same goes for posting your want list online. People will contact you offering the cards you want and get upset when you're reply is...well I don't really have anything to trade for it.

I'm sure all those other people have all of a sudden become ridiculously benevolent beings and are happy to give you what you really want for nothing in return. If for some reason they aren't that way, all you've done is alienate yourself from future trades with every single person offering.

For a fun example here's a recent one for me:

Person A: (posting on Facebook group) I'm looking for a few Atheros's and Mana Confluence.

Me: I happen to have both available, do you have any of the new Temples?

Person A: Yes, I have 2x Temple of Malady.

Me: Well I need those, what else do you have to make up the difference.

Person A: Nothing else.

Me: Well I'm happy to take cash to make it up.

Person A: I'm broke.


Now I know there are some people who are going to push back and say, "Well what if you do happen to run into that person who'll trade their Underground Sea for your 10 standard rares?" The chances of that occurring are so low that this argument is meaningless to me.

2. Don't Interrupt a Trade to Start Your Own

I've had this occur on several occasions and it's always annoying for one of the trade partners. Often during trades (especially larger ones) people mention what they are looking for out loud. If you happen to have that card, the appropriate time to bring it up is not immediately after they mention it.

You can say something quick like, "Oh, I have that," but certainly don't try to start your own trade while two people are in the middle of one. This is just common courtesy.

When I'm near someone who is in the middle of a trade and mentions they are looking for something, first I allow their current trade partner to speak up. If they have it, then I'm not interrupting their trade. If they don't then I may or may not tell them I do and to see me afterwards (this depends on the trade in question and whether I know the people trading.)

3. Don't Pull Out Cards Before Asking

People have different opinions on trading. While it's often easier for both people to pull out what they want and do comparisons when everyone is done, there are problems to this approach.

  • If the trade falls through you each now have to put everything back. The more organized your binder(s) the more annoying/time consuming this can be.
  • Cards on the table can easily be knocked over, spilled on, forgotten, etc.
  • Thieves often have several strategies for ripping you off once your cards are out of the binder. When "putting cards" back into your binder they may drop or slide them down. Or when they pile a bunch of cards together, they may slip valuable cards in among the pile.
Can you spot the valuable card?
Can you spot the valuable card?

 4. Determine Your Price Strategy Before Starting the Trade

This is critical because it lets you know what to expect from your trade partner. A lot of people will say something like, "It doesn't matter which site as long as we use the same one". This is a trigger for smart traders.

We've discussed numerous times on the forums strategies for these situations.

  • If they want to use SCG prices, then target higher-dollar Legacy and Modern cards. The reason is simple, the spread between SCG and TCG Player for lower-dollar or Standard rares tends to be higher than the spread for higher-dollar eternal cards. While the prices may be higher across the board (though not in all cases), it makes mathematical sense to trade 10x $5 (SCG price) cards for a $50 (SCG price) card if the TCG price for the same cards are 10x $4 cards for a $45 card. In this instance you'll never want to pull out Standard cards from their trade binder, unless you really need them.
  • If they want to use buylist prices (it's rare, but does happen), then it pays to know your buylist spread, from MTG.GG typically. I will go with one or two buylists, if readily available, and target the cards with the lowest spreads.

5. Know What You Want for Your Cards

While I don't blame people for looking up rarer cards, I do find it annoyingly time-consuming when someone feels the need to look up 20-30 cards (unless they can do it very quickly). I know that nowadays people are so concerned about being ripped off that they feel the need to play it safe by looking everything up. This tether to technology can make trades go very slowly.

I realize that the concern of being wrong will cause even more experienced traders to doubt themselves and look cards up. One of the useful tricks I've found is to look up the cards you're most likely to target the night before. It isn't likely that the card suddenly spikes or plummets within 24 hours (though if you hear a lot of people asking for a specific card it's a good idea to look it up during some free time).

6. Always Thank Someone for Letting You Look

This is most often just a common courtesy when you don't find anything you need in a trade binder. This is as a sign of respect for someone who has sacrificed their time to let you see their binder.

7. Trade with One Person at a Time

This serves two purposes. When you trade with someone you're both spending time and attention on the other. Focusing on the one trade is a sign of respect. Think of it like a date; it's hardly good form to hit on the wait staff.

The second reason is to protect yourself. As I've discussed in a previous article, it's much easier to be ripped off or robbed if you aren't paying attention. While I understand there's often a desire not to "miss out" on a trade while the next person waits (assuming they followed rule #2), you'll be fine. I've found that even larger trades don't take longer than 10-15 minutes.

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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, TradingTagged ,

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16 thoughts on “Insider: Trading Etiquette

  1. Principle 1 is the reason I don’t actively keep a have list on a certain Dutch site anymore. It happens so often that people message you a request to look among their haves to trade for a card that’s just way out of their range. Often they’ll even mention “I can always try” if you comment on it. Never mind that I just wasted time checking their 300 or so crap cards trying to find a hidden gem.

    Principle 2 reminds me of a situation where I was talking with a friend (not trading) and some guy kept butting in to ask me if I wanted to trade. I did not have any binders out or anything, but I did trade with the guy before, so I didn’t really mind the 1 question. He kept coming back to interrupt even though I indicated I’d only trade after finishing my chat. (As my friend is a nice and pretty girl it wasn’t unthinkable I was trying to work out a very different kind of “exchange”, which would also be rather impolite to interrupt).

    Principle 3 is why I always indicate which binders they can pull from when handing them my binders. Nope, I only handle the binder with the expensive cards… In fact, many get so clumsy trying to pull out cards I usually jump in to do it for them. I will ask if I can pull out cards and I will put them back where they came from if a deal falls through. I’m yet to run into a situation where I didn’t remember where it was located in the binder.

    That picture is way more blurry than it would be in person. I do see several cards some might consider to be valuable, but not one that really jumps out to me as significantly more valuable.

    Principle 7 is something I loved to do actually. Back in the day, when card theft was not a problem to consider. The reasoning was not to save time, it simply felt cool to be working on 4 deals at once, sometimes even incorporating cards from one deal into another. It was quite exhilarating.

    These days I wouldn’t normally, but, if you’re in an environment where it would be safe to experiment I would certainly recommend trying to juggle 4 deals at once. It’s probably the most fun I had trading.

    1. Thanks for sharing Pi. I used to violate principle 7 as well, but sadly nowadays it’s much more risky to do (and I’m risk averse). I do apologize for the blurriness of the picture (the camera on my phone isn’t the best) so while I do agree that in real life it would be much more clear (obviously) the point is that it’s easy to “hide” more valuable stuff in big random piles and that way people can claim “ignorance” or whatnot if caught.

      1. I can understand if you don’t want to give it away, but maybe you can PM me which is supposed to be the expensive card?

        I agree it’s more polite to just deal with 1 person, however, if 4 people are eager to trade with you it does give people outside of the group the impression that it’s worth checking out what you’ve got to offer. If you manage 4 trades in parallel it shows you know your shit (which these days when it comes to MTG finance might not always be a good impression to give, but it in the olden days was a positive). There is something to be said for the reputation you might get if people frequently see you do this. I definitely think the fact that I was trading so much and with so many different people contributed to my success as a floor trader back in the early 2000’s.

        Not defending it though, we’re in a different trading metagame now and quite likely the better move is now not to let yourself be tempted to get involved with muliple trades at the same time, even if it’s just to limit your risks.

        1. It definitely does…if you’re the guy trading a bunch with a lot of people than you must be the guy who has everything people want (this is a pretty easy link people can come up with in their head). I just know I’ve been the guy trading “that guy” and I do feel a bit unappreciated while I wait for him to “hopefully” get back to our trade. I’ve also had over $200 worth of cards stolen from me in a single day, so I’m more cautious than some.

  2. Great article for reminding the community of valuable trading tips.

    What site is used most frequently for valuing cards? Memorizing SCG pricing, TCG mid pricing, and buylist pricing for numerous cards can get challenging. Do you have any strategies here? How often do you “guess” a price so you don’t have to look it up online?

    1. I’m always guesstimating ;). I reckon I’m more often right than wrong so I don’t worry about the few times I’m not unless I’m really off in my valuation. Usually I aim to gain a little on trades, so even if I’m off on a price that should provide a buffer. I do like to check MTGStocks every now and then to keep up with the most recent changes on TCGPlayer and I consider that to be enough.

    2. Great question and one of the biggest challenges with trading. I don’t advocate pouring over prices for every card you can think of shortly before going to an event. However, you really want to focus on the cards your actually looking for before hand (It’s a good idea to have a general idea what you want before you even begin trading for the day; though you obviously don’t want to pass up on a good deal or a rare item you didn’t know you wanted). If you do this, it’s likely the number of possible cards you need to know the latest price on is much lower I am typically only actively looking for maybe 10-20 cards at a time. You may also “train your brain” over time to store price information well enough that you can recall what the card was roughly worth last time you looked. The beauty there is that if you’re way off, then the shark-like traders will try to push that card to you a lot harder and you can take that as a sign you were wrong and to look it up or simply say you don’t really want/need that card that badly and set it aside in the trade (and look it up later).

    1. It’s not…it’s the black one (Griselbrand), but I’ll definitely try and borrow a camera next time…that picture looks even worse than I thought.

      1. I thought it might be a Griselbrand, but, it seems as if a 4th black mana symbol should be visible the way the picture is taken an decided it likely wasn’t.

  3. I will have to say I concer with only doing 1 trade at a time. It gets really confusing sometimes.

    Im the one at my LGS that has the “cool” binder that everyone wants to look at and trade because I have a wide range of stuff and I am willing to trade for standard is they give me X percent over. So from my own experience:

    1) As you said always thank the person even if they are just browsing

    2) Always only do 1 person at a time. Keeps the math simple

    3) I always use my smartphone to trade just so both side are happy with prices cards blah blah

    4) Have fun and chat. Thats how I get to know everyone and if people want stuff they know who to go to. Heck I have people I didn’t know come up to me with their bulk rares and ask can I trade this pile for X and Y? (I love bulk…)

    5) I have a little card in the front of my binder stating that I will trade for bulk rares at 10 cents each. Spread the word

    1. I 100% agree with chatting with your trade partner. I understand that some people trading is purely business, but having gone on business trips with our Business Development guys….real business has a lot of chatting/talking completely unrelated to the actual business at hand (and for those counting that’s 5 uses of the word business in one sentence). I’ve had trades that took 2 minutes of actual picking cards/agreeing on prices that lasted 30 minutes because we got to reminiscing about this card or that card, that’s the real reason I trade. I LOVE trading for bulk and I really love the idea of advertising it on my binders (some people know I trade for it, but some don’t).

  4. Man, this should be on the free side. I want to print it out and post it at the LGS. Wish more people know these ‘common sense’ etiquette’s.

    1. Ya..that feeling was the reason for the article. I’ve had other articles become “unlocked” so it’s definitely a possibility.

  5. David,

    Lately I find myself looking for value in trades as opposed to cards I need for decks. The problem I run into most often is that I don’t know what I have to work with.

    For example, they have thoughtseize, shocklands, etc. Of course I want to trade for those, however it seems more often then not the cards they want never “get there” in even trade value at the current time. Currently, my strategy is flip threw the binder and wait for them to show interest in particular cards to see what I have to work with.

    The problem that can occur from this when I run into a person who is doing the same thing. Basically, the $2-$5 range is easy enough to find value via scrylands but anything over that becomes problematic. Any thoughts on conducting trades with someone who is like-minded? Or should I keep trading bulk for “current bulk” and simply not target the for-sure gainers?

    1. This is a surprisingly common problem (so you’re not alone). I’ve initiated a lot of trades that ended up falling through (usually because I want something they have, but I don’t want anything they have, and one thing I’ve learned is to never “force” yourself to trade. If they really don’t have anything you want or there’s no way you can reach the value, it’s perfectly fine to thank them for letting you look but you didn’t see anything. When you run into a fellow value trader, you guys can usually figure it out pretty quick (based on what each person is interested in) and more often than not these trades fall through quickly when you each realize that you’d rather hold onto the targets of the other person.

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