Insider: Making the Right Trade

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Here on QS, I like to talk about trading. There are dozens of factors that will affect the long term outcome of a trade. You sit down with a stranger or someone you know and swap your wares. In the age of smartphones and companion apps and space age polymer binders, everything should come out even, right?

This is where all the MTG Finance theory goes right off the rails. By attempting to evaluate a trade in the moment, you can fail to take into account what each side is trying to accomplish. I've made some pretty large trades in my day, but one trade was significantly larger than all the rest:

This is what I traded for:

*Arbiter was a FOIL for my Ravnica Cube. I'm not a complete savage.

But what did I bring to the table?

  • Sealed box of Shards of Alara
  • Sealed box of Conflux
  • Sealed box of Alara Reborn
  • Sealed box of Zendikar
  • Duel Decks: Garruk vs Liliana
  • 24 packs each of Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension
  • 2x From the Vaults: Exiled
  • 3x From the Vaults: Relics
  • 2x From the Vaults: Legends
  • and a spattering of Standard/Modern cards

So who made out big on this trade? Obviously we need some more information to figure that answer out.

This was Gencon 2013, so a little over a year ago. Vintage Masters may or may not have been announced yet, but the Moxes were all $600 or less, the Bazaars were a meager $300, and the Time Vault was under $300 as well.

Since then, everything I acquired has appreciated by at least 25%. the Bazaars are hovering around $400, the Mox Emerald has more than doubled in value while the Ruby has gained a paltry 50%, and even that Time Vault has gone up $75 or so. Grand Arbiter... well he remains a 13th - 15th pick in the cube, guess he's not that grand after all.

So right now it looks like I gained HUGE. My $2,300 in pickups is worth roughly $3,300 now.

The guys I was trading with run a shop outside of Cincinnati, so for them it was cool to have these random booster packs (lottery tickets) and FTVs to sell to their customers. Some of that sealed product has gained modestly in value, but, on average, their side of the deal is only up 20% over a year ago.

Clearly I won big on this trade right?


"Wait what?"

Yeah. I didn't win.

I didn't lose either.

"Huh? You're not making much sense sir ..."

For them, this trade was about acquiring something that they could sell. For me it was about acquiring something I could keep. Both of us had different goals, and in the end we both won out.

My cards have appreciated substantially and they've sold all the product they acquired from me. Did they miss out on the modest gains all that sealed product produced? Sure. Did they miss out on all the growth the cards they traded to me incurred? Yep, that too.

But they were able to convert inventory into cash, which they then used to acquire more inventory. And then more cash. And then more inventory. So in a heads up comparison of where that trade ended up, their side is light years ahead of mine.

But that doesn't mean I lost. I don't run a store. I don't ever set up a booth at a Grand Prix. That sealed product would have just sat in my closet and I would have made some gains, but not as substantial.

Everybody involved won.

You Don't Have to Win Every Trade

"Value trading" is a dirty word to me.

Value when? Now? Whose value? For me, there is nothing more miserable than sitting down with a sleaze and having them flip through my binder saying, "What do you value this at? What do you value this at? What do you value this at?"

Ever wonder why nobody trades anymore?  Why hassle with the guy at the trade tables when you can just go sell cards you don't want at half price and get exactly what you want? The results are the same--you still get screwed over, but you don't have to spend 20 minutes doing it.

Sitting down at the trade table with your goals in mind is a great place to start. When I made the above trade, I had two goals in mind: trade for Vintage cards and finish foiling out my Ravnica Cube(d).

Did I make other trades? Sure. I'll always trade away cards I don't want for cards that I might want, but I knew what I was working for.

If you're only goal at the trade table is to make money, then you've probably left a lot of opportunities on the table.


So how do you apply this to every day trading?

Keep in mind why you're trading.

Almost every card in existence is available at the click of a button and will arrive at your doorstep within a couple of days. For most of us, trading is a way to avoid spending money.

So take this guy for example:

He's hovering around $40 (when I was writing this), but do you want to shell out $40 to get him? You really need him for your deck tonight, but $40 is a lot of trips to Taco Bell and that colon is not going to blow itself out.

You find the one guy in the room that has him--he came in and bought one pack and opened a Sarkhan--and he picks out two copies of Thoughtseize. OMG! What do you do? You're losing $4 on this trade, but the tournament is going to start in a few minutes and this is the last card you need.

MAKE THE TRADE. The alternative is that you shell out $40, and realistically you would gladly sell your Thoughtseizes at $20 a piece if someone was buying, so you're not really losing anything. And you're definitely going to win the tournament and celebrate with a greasy sack of Taco Bell on the way home. SUCCESS.

Let's take another look at a trade involving everyone's favorite dragon speaker.

You're sitting on a copy of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. You know he's pretty much reached his peak and will soon begin a meteoric spiral from $40 to a paltry $25. Some punk kid with a Hello Kitty nose ring and an ironic tattoo of Luigi dressed as a Frenchman really needs a Sarkhan but only has two copies of Polluted Deltas for trade, a $34 value.

Today Sarkhan is worth $40. In two weeks, when your schedule allows you to come to the local game store again, he is likely only going to be worth around $25. You know that Deltas are probably not going to lose too much value in that same amount of time, but the kid has a nose ring... seriously, who does that? What do you do?

MAKE THE TRADE. Taking a "loss" in a trade doesn't mean you've lost. There are a number of things to factor into the equation--timing, price trends, play needs, collection goals, and on and on. It's easy to say you should always trade for value, but what does that even mean?

Did you really come out ahead in the end? Knowing and properly evaluating your needs and your outs is more important than knowing the latest price in a trade.

21 thoughts on “Insider: Making the Right Trade

  1. Derek makes a lot of excellent points in his article this week. While it’s important to know the value of the cards your trading away/for at the time of the trade it’s even MORE important to consider what you think the cards will be worth in the future (i.e. when you want to get rid of them). Case in point; I traded a Sarkhan and a Deflecting Palm the weekend after release for 1x Elspeth Sun’s Champion, 2x Siege Rhino, and 1x Savage Knuckleblade…at the time TCG Mid had me down $2.5, now I’m up quite a bit…The point was I wasn’t looking at the current values of the cards, I was looking at the future expected value, which is honestly how I do most of my trades now. I’m perfectly happy trading anything away if I can get something that I feel is under priced or has a strong chance of going up….even happier if I feel like what I’m trading away will drop in value.

    1. Good points that you would think are common sense, but most traders don’t even think about. I often use that to my advantage. They want standard stuff ASAP, and are willing to ditch modern stuff thats sat in their binders forever to get it. Which is great for me.

    1. Thanks, I think it’s important to keep all of this lighthearted, we are literally talking finance about cards with wizards and goats printed on them.

  2. Man I agree with you whole heartly. I did a trade where my sliver queen for 4 xenogas, the reveler because I was thinking, Xenogas was going to go up. The guys around me were like wtf? Why you trading the queen for 4 standard stuff?

    Also happens when I trade for their bulk. They all laugh at me and be like here my stack of stuff, Ill take your thoughseize. Sure i dont care. I trade them in at 13 cents a pop and then go around and get 25 cents a pop for the card. People these days…. haha

    1. But then you check back and Xenagos is now on the way back down and Sliver Queen is still worth money, analyzing a trade is impossible without factoring in use / and when you get out of owning a card.

      1. Right after the spike for Xenogos I sold them for around 13-14 each and ran like a bandit. Im happy with the cash and the guy is happy with the sliver queen. In the end all that matters is if everyone that that the trade is fair correct?

  3. Half of my trades are for things that I don’t want because I know I can trade them to people who have what I want. Doesn’t everyone do that thing?

    1. My policy is to always trade things I don’t want for things that I might want, so if someone is going to look through my binder and finally want to trade for that FOIL Dragonmaster Outcast that I’ve been carrying around for 6 years … I’m going to find SOMETHING to trade for.

  4. Derek, Great article. It’s a great look into the obvious that we all forget. It’s those crucial reminders that you provide us that keep us as great speculators. You are very quickly becoming my favorite author on this site.

  5. I totally agree with your thought process of keeping goals in mind. I’ve been doing the same, making every single trade I make build up to one goal: I want to get into Modern, play some healthy decks, and would like to not break the bank as much as possible.
    This site has helped tremendously with that; I’ve upgraded my Mono-Green Infect deck into the U/G version (next goal is BUG!) and I’m taking a RDW and upgrading it into a Mardu Burn deck, and this site and articles like this have helped me alot in making progress to that in the short month I’ve been here.

  6. One of the best articles I have read on QS in the two years I’ve been a member. Looking at the future prospect of financial gains should certaily outweigh current even trade requirements.

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