Insider: How to Cheat at Magic Cards

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We've learned a lot in recent weeks about how some players cheat at Magic.

You'd think that a room full of magicians wouldn't fall for simple card manipulation tricks time and time again, but here we are, tuning into slow motion videos recapturing the subtle card manipulation complete with Maddenesque circles and arrows to help us understand what exactly we're looking at.

We've created a community that is ripe for plundering and now the wolves are showing up in sheeps clothing (hoodies + shorts + sandals) to rob us of our hard earned rewards.

Robbing others of their wealth doesn't occur solely at the play tables these days. We've got scammers on eBay. We've got counterfeit rings undermining the financial integrity of the secondary market. We've got people committing actual heists, stealing tens of thousands of dollars in Magic cards in mere minutes. And there's some Faithless Looting occurring at the trade tables every weekend.

Wait, wait, wait... let's start over...

Lets start this out like a High School Senior starts their English final, with an awkward definition: Cheat

[cheet] verb
act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination.

Do you see where I'm going with this yet? You do, don't you?

Goblin Game

"What's this card worth?"

Nobody says that, do they?
We've evolved past that.
We've insulated ourselves from recrimination.
We're certainly not guilty of anything.
After all, we've taught ourselves to ask the right questions... haven't we?

"What do YOU value this at?"
"What's your number on ____?"

That's the ticket! Now we're being 100% honest! Taking advantage of your trade partner's knowledge gap is in no way deceptive, and certainly not unfair. They should know the value of their cards, right? Right?



Pot Meet Kettle

As a community, we (Magic: The Gathering folk) have been forced to change in the face of a number of controversies over the last couple years: homophobia, bullying, online asscrack shaming, and sexism are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our community's collective sins.

When you ask players why they quit Magic, you're bound to get a variety of reasons. But high up on that list is an unwelcoming community. And there isn't much more unwelcoming than "Hey new guy, give me your money."

It's just as bad when a player comes back to the game. How many times have you heard this exchange?

"Yeah, I used to play back in the day."
"Do you still have any Dual Lands or Moxes?"

Circling Vultures

Vultures will always circle fresh meat hoping to get a piece.

I'm not casting any stones here. I'm holding the same piece of moral high ground as a vegan with ear gauges made out of ivory.

I'm no stranger to "The Game". But in my old age, I've begun to question a number of the antisocial practices that the Magic community as a whole has endeavored in. For a long time, I thought that players quitting Magic was just part of the game--life happens and people move on to other things.

But then my best friend quit playing Magic. We had spent hundreds of hours playing EDH and attending tournaments together, but the toxicity of the Magic community finally wore him down and he was done.

I began to question everything. Were my actions pushing other players out of the game? Was my hardline stance to get "value" out of every trade REALLY helping me in the long run? Was "CRUSHING" my local FNM or prerelease really helping the local player base become better players?

"Be the change you want to see in the world."

Now there's some advice I can get behind, seeing as I am the self proclaimed "#mtgfinance Ghandi" and all that ...

But is it REALLY Cheating?

"What's your life total at? I haven't been keeping track."

So what really counts as cheating? That is the $15 question now isn't it? Let's look at a hypothetical:

You're flipping through your opponent's trade partner's binder and you see a shiny new foil Birthing Pod. Your opponent trade partner hasn't played since it was legal in Standard and is looking to acquire a few fetchlands today so he can get into Modern. You know that a foil Birthing Pod is worth at least $30 and you ask every power trader's favorite question:

"What do you value this foil Birthing Pod at?"

"I think they were like $10 when it was legal and it's probably gone up since then, so $15?"

"And what do you value the Bloodstained Mire at?"

"I don't know, $15?"

Jackpot. Now it's time to put this guy out of his misery. You offer him a Bloodstained Mire and he jumps all over it. They were like $30 for the Onslaught version when he played, so $15 for the Khans of Tarkir version is a steal! You could easily have been honest in this scenario and told your opponent trade partner that his card was worth $30. But why do that when you can rake him on this trade?

So you won big on this one. Feels great, doesn't it? You made a "fair trade" with an uninformed opponent trade partner. Technically, you did nothing wrong. But is it really being honest if you have to say that it was "technically not dishonest?" As long as you're both "fine" with the trade, everything's copacetic, right?

How is that any different than lying about your life total in a game of Magic? Both you and your opponent are "fine" with the outcome of the match when it's over, so no harm done, right? Just like with the trade, you know that the outcome would have been different if the other player had "better knowledge" and they're left completely unaware of a potentially better outcome, so they have nothing to be upset about.

What if I flip a couple lands to the top of your deck? It's fine as long as you don't notice, right? What if I fill out the score sheet in my favor instead of yours and you don't notice?

"But they willingly made the trade."

Is it fraud if someone e-mails your grandmother and convinces her to send money to Nigeria? She did it willingly, so it's technically not stealing. Technically.

Why This Hurts You

This guy is probably going to be around for a while, and you know what's going to happen after a couple of months. He's going to start looking at cards and looking at prices. And what happens when he figures out that you ripped him off?

He's probably not going to be real eager to trade with you anymore, is he? He would probably forgive a couple dollars here or there, cards are fluctuating all time. But that $20 is going to sting.

Why This Hurts All of Us

We all like rising prices, right? Well, rising prices on the cards we own, at least.

Metagames and format changes only account for so much of the rising prices we see. The biggest factor in the financial growth of Magic is the player base. Tournaments are getting bigger and more plentiful because the player base is booming--demand for older cards is expanding because year after year we're adding more Magic players than we're losing.

But what if we made Magic a more welcoming community? What if players didn't quit Magic as often? How many more players would there be today if just 5% of the people who have quit over the years hadn't?

Maybe you've noticed that players don't trade as much as they used to. Why do you think that is?

Now I leave you with the $15 question: if you're fine with "ripping someone off" in a trade, why not just take the entire binder?

Avatar photo

Derek Madlem

I've been playing Magic (this time) since Shards of Alara. My first stint went from Ice Age through Invasion. My collections covers everything from Commander to Vintage and I've been known to brew up some fairly convoluted decks.

View More By Derek Madlem

Posted in Cheating, Free, Free Insider, Timeless Info, Trading, UnlockedTagged , ,

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27 thoughts on “Insider: How to Cheat at Magic Cards

  1. Excellent article with a lot of valid points. I’ve definitely noticed a lot of people shying away from the concept of “trading”, sharks have mauled the little fish and now the “survivors” are always weary of anyone who wants to look at their cards. The only good thing about the question “what do you value this at?” is that it almost always outs the wolf out of the sheep’s clothing and you know that your trade opponent is up to.

    I once had a guy brag to me that he doesn’t trade until late in the day/evening because a lot of people’s phones are dying/near death so they won’t look up prices as often….needless to say it was easy to say no when he asked if I had anything for trade…

    1. Like you said, now the trade tables are full of “survivors” instead of traders … so many people would rather just go straight to a vendor, take 30-50% off their cards value and get exactly what they want than trade with other players.

    2. Way back I was printing price guides at a font size only I could read (I’m near sighted)… The good old days ;).

      I haven’t really noticed a fear of trading in these parts, but admittedly I don’t regularly go to tournaments. I’m surprised the “wolfs” would ask that question. I never asked anybody what they value things at, I just make stacks: these cards for those cards seems about right*. Any wolf could use the same approach. I imagine it’s the people who are actually good at being a “wolf” are those that stick around and keep going at it. I wouldn’t worry about those that give themselves away that easily.

      *On bigger deals I might look up prices, but even then it’s easy to get value by asking for compensation for downtrading, indicating you don’t want certain cards that badly or are hesitant to let go of yours.

  2. I was a victim of a ‘played back in the day’ the last time I came back. Someone traded me a Nicol Bolas and quoted the value of Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. Never saw him again so I suppose someone else ‘taught him a lesson’.

    Thank you for writing this article. It contains honesty. 🙂 (seriously, that wasn’t sarcasm)

    1. Same here, I had the nostalgia bug when I came back and Demigod of Revenge seemed like the coolest thing since sliced bread so I traded “some old trash” I had lying around: Intuitions and City of Traitors and some worthless old cards like that.

  3. Very well written indeed! The best way to drive prices up and improve all of our MTG portfolios is to simply make the game bigger than it is today. That rising tide would lift all ships, making everyone happy. It’s why Legacy made so many people lots of money randomly. Same with EDH. We all benefit from the growth.

    I have definitely noticed a LOT less interest in trading recently. At my LGS most people will only be looking for a specific card or two and if you don’t have it, they don’t want to bother. Others will look through the binder and kindly close it up afterwards saying they didn’t really see anything. The impact of sharks and cheats is real.

    1. Luckily people are naturally attuned to scumbags so they don’t last long, the real problem is in smaller communities where a single shark can control most of the market by being the only person that really has anything “in stock.”

  4. It’s tough thinking back to the days when I had no concept of trading based on monetary value. I used to try to get every rare land I could because I knew a guy who would trade any one card in his binder for one of the rare lands. I was excited when the deal went down, who wouldn’t be? I got a really cool creature for my deck. I know I shipped him at least 10+ filter lands for bulk rares.

    Thankfully, I became far more serious about Magic and learned from my mistakes. In the end, I refused to trade with him ever again as did other people.

    1. Just be glad you played in a time with expansion symbols for rarity … I remember going to prereleases and there being a scramble to determine which cards were even rares … oh the shenanigans we pulled in those dark times

  5. Really nice article. I’ve had this happen in front of me, and people got very upset when I corrected and “sabotaged” a trade. The guy quoted the promo foil price of Emrakul, to a player who came back after a hiatus and was about to trade for the regular foil one. I mean seriously, that is just not done. We seem to be pushing more and more people out of the “trading” nature of the game.

    Also, Derek, it’s Gandhi and not “Ghandi”! Sorry, but I’m Indian and he’s a pretty important figure in my history, so just thought I’d correct you there. (Don’t mean to sound pedantic, I totally get that Typos happen).

  6. It might be because I’ve only been playing since ’09, but I honestly don’t see much of the “toxicity” most people apparently see in Magic. The worst Magic experience I can honestly say I’ve ever had is someone stealing my Kozilek from my binder a couple months ago. Other than that, the community has been great imo.
    Now League of Legends; THAT’s a toxic community.

    1. It’s definitely going to vary by store / region / etc … but there has been a lot of talk recently about Magic not being very “welcoming” to women, racist undertones, homophobia, and general antisocial behavior. In comparison to free-range internet foolery Magic may be low on the toxicity scale, but compared to a healthy community it’s pretty rough.

      For example, I worked a mixed gaming booth at Gencon, we sold board games AND Magic. MAYBE 1in 10 of the boardgame / Warhammer players was rude whereas 3 in 10 of the Magic players were rude. Sure it’s anecdotal evidence, but I’d heard similar things from friends working in game stores.

      I think that Magic players feel entitled because, compared to most other hobby games, we’ve long had a lot done for us (events and such).

      1. Well when it comes to the homophobia, sexism and all that jazz, that can usually be attributed to this new generation that’s so much more sensitive to all that then before. It’s always been there but we only care now because social climate, the media, and others tell us its important to care about it now.
        Case in point with bullying usually.
        Personally in my local group we’ve always been welcome to whatever so I don’t recall any instances where someone was being overly homophobic or sexist. We even have about 5 girls that play at FNM pretty regularly.

  7. The entitlement you see may be because its felt that magic keeps shops open. The money made of magic sales can keep a store afloat when boardgames and such don’t seem to have as wide a margin. Or it could just be that magic seems to attract a certain kind of person, although I’ve played boardgames a ton over the years not just magic and i seem to have encountered the rude boardgamers you were mnissing.

    1. When you compare Magic to virtually any other hobby game, Magic has more events on a magnitude of 10x. If you look at games like Heroclix, players are happy to drive hours for a chance to lose at Heroclix and be thankful for the opportunity to play. Take a look at Gencon, there are some games played by only a handful of people across the entire country and you’ll see that handful meet up at Gencon every year to just for a chance to play their favorite games.

      On the other hand, Magic players are “used to” having an event every week at the least, with many getting to play multiple nights a week at the same shop. For me living in a metropolitan area, I can play in a Magic tournament pretty much every day of the week if I wanted to without driving much more than an hour.

      Magic players have just been spoiled the last few years with Organized play opportunities.

  8. This is excellent. I *rarely* trade anymore (unless I *need* something for an impending event). Part of it is the disgust I feel for people who regularly try to use the “what do you think this is worth?” tactic to rip people off, and partly because I’ve become more financially stable and can afford to not try to grind value to cash out cards at EVERY EVENT.

    I really like this perspective, and think this is worth sharing, especially in light of the events recently brought to the forefront of the MTG community.

    1. Turning the corner and being at that point where you don’t “need” anything from other players is a great place to be. I don’t “have to” wade into the trade tables anymore if I don’t want to and that’s a great feeling. Also using Pucatrade to fill out playsets has made trading in person a chore by comparison.

  9. In my area, it is too far gone in exactly the opposite way. EVERYONE here uses a smartphone to laboriously and tediously check the price on EVERY card, even random foil commons and uncommons (Altac Bloodseeker, etc.). And this has caused me to slightly dislike trading, or at least with certain people.

    Moreover, the fear of getting ripped off has led to a certain mindset that a player DESERVES to get every penny out of their cards. They hear messages like “don’t get ripped off” and so when I suggest trading an $8 card for a $9 card, they “have to find $1”. And take five or ten minutes to do it. And if they don’t, they will call off the trade entirely. CHRIST ALMIGHTY YOU DOUCHE, NO ONE’S TRYING TO RIP ANYONE OFF HERE, JUST MAKE THE TRADE

    1. I’ve walked away from trades where the other person spends 5 minutes flicking through my binder looking for a 2 dollar card that he needs(when there’s you know, 5 2 dollar cards in there) so the trade is “worth it” for him.

  10. I’m so glad this article exists. I try to trade this way but so many don’t and it’s killing the trading scene.

    Dealers are adapting too. Why do you think we offer sick numbers on cards for ‘store credit’? It makes it easier for players to trade with dealers instead of with each other.

  11. Great article, I’ve too been a victim of trade theft. one day it was were did my mutavault go when it was $30, couple days later I’m missing a reckoner outa my deck I played last week? A few days later I gotta tell the guy I don’t have the storm forge mystic I sold to him on eBay. After many hours of sifting through my collection because I figured I had to have miss placed it. I arrived to conclusion that they were just gone. That was enough for me to quit paper. The cost to lose those cards was comparable to eBay/PayPal + shipping fees. I just leave my cards at home and play online. Now that we have cycled I am really exited to get rid of the rest of my paper on eBay after theft scammers and fees it’s just not worth the opportunity cost to deal with paper at all. Shops should take more initiatives into preventing this activity because they are losing there most valuable customers.

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