This article is the second in my series on sharking. The previous article can be found here.
Quiet Speculation and I do not condone sharking. We have published this article on the free side to make sure it's available for everyone to learn from. If you cannot do well in the market without ripping people off, then you really shouldn't be into MTG finance. I am not proud of my past as a shark and have left it behind me, but I do believe there might be some lessons to be learned from it. I am writing these articles for that reason.
This article will elaborate on some of the topics mentioned in the previous article and introduce a few more things to watch out for to avoid getting sharked.
At the monthly convention in Purmerend, there was this young guy who I would regularly trade with. We were talking about Magic as he was browsing through my binder. He knew I was a fanatical trader who aimed to get ahead. I think he looked up to me as he would often follow me around or watch me trading.
At some point, he came across the three Time Warps in the binder and exclaimed: "WOW! You have three of those?!?"
"Uhm, yeah, I do, as you can see," I replied, somewhat confused. He said that he had heard those are very expensive, and it soon became clear that he thought he was looking at Time Walks. Trading them away as if they are Walks is even beyond how far I would go (and probably beyond what's in his binder in any case), so I explained that he was confusing the cards. I told him they were still quite expensive, but not close to what he has in mind, and he expressed interest in trading for them. I ended up getting about twice their value.
- I knew my trading partner well; I knew that he was less knowledgeable than me and was also (subconsciously) aware that he looked up to me.
- Made casual chit-chat.
- Took advantage of an obvious mistake in his valuation of my cards.
- Was his only source of information and overstated how good the cards were.
- Put together a very good deal for me knowing he would not ask for a second opinion.
I'm sure this guy would have gone with pretty much everything I told him, as that's how our trades had always been. He certainly wasn't going to admit that he knew less than me; it was already bad enough that he had made the mistake of incorrectly identifying the card.
So what could he have done better?
- Verify: Your trading partner may not have your best interest at heart. Don't believe everything they tell you. I'm sure he knew about checking the various magazines with price guides available at the time.
- Move in packs: If he would have had his friends with him, it would have been much harder to make this deal. It would have allowed him to get a second opinion or have a friend blurt out that he was getting taken advantage of, and it would have led to me being far more careful to avoid those things.
I was still very young myself when I made this deal. These days I probably wouldn't even trade with someone his age knowing they probably don't know the ins and outs of trading. This doesn't mean that there aren't sharks out there who would and who are trying to make a trade a bit further away from everyone to avoid outside comments as they take advantage of a younger player's ignorance.
Helping a Friend
This trade took place much later, and I wasn't even a participant.
I went to a different local convention with friends. A few were playing some Limited format, but others of us were there hoping to play some Commander. Some guys came up and what a surprise: one of them is someone I knew from the convention in Purmerend (which had stopped operating years ago at this point). We played with them, talked about Magic and had a fun time. I looked at their binders, but there wasn't much I was interested in. We may have made a minor trade; nothing special.
One of the friends I was with did see a few cards he wanted and started working something out. I learned that some of the cards he wanted were shared between two of the other players, so they both had to agree to any trades. I watched but didn't otherwise get involved in the trade, as I knew my friend had a decent idea of values and didn't want to be seen as meddling. The parties couldn't seem to come to an agreement and eventually asked for my input. I couldn't resist and jokingly remarked: "Four cards for four cards; can't get much fairer than that!" They closed the deal as is and my friend got away with a steal.
I know very few traders who would say no to a deal skewed in their favor when proposed to them, and I know my friend certainly isn't one of those few. Afterwards, he told me he couldn't believe they accepted the trade, so he was definitely aware of its skewed nature.
- My past reputation: I'm sure the guy recognized me from years ago and probably knew I was a fanatical trader back then.
- We had some fun together first when we played a couple of games. This sets the stage for easier negotiation later.
- Joked around: I tend to make scattered jokes while playing, and I am pretty good at keeping a straight face, so they probably didn't realize I was joking when I gave my answer.
They probably figured that if my friend values my thoughts on the deal, then they can probably trust what I say about it too.
So what could they have done better?
- Stuck to their guns: They were clearly doubting the deal at first, and they shouldn't have let me change their minds on that. Even regardless of prices: if you're unhappy with a deal for any reason, you should walk away.
- Get a second opinion: There was a dealer present. For just a small deal, I'm sure he would have evaluated both sides for them. They had no reason to trust me as an expert, and I of course wasn't going to screw my friend by pointing out I said it as a joke.
Maybe I should have interfered in the deal, but I know my friend would have then wanted to take revenge and butt in on trades that might be skewed in my favor. That would get annoying pretty quickly, especially as he's not as accurate on grading or prices, so he may very well be wrong but still succeed at making my trading partner have doubts.
Deck Building Advice
I've run into this situation several times, and it always plays out similarly. Sometimes it's a beginner, sometimes a more advanced player, but always someone whose skill level is below mine.
I meet a new player and I end up discussing Magic. They are soon impressed by my knowledge of the game. At some point, I'm invited to play and after beating them easily, I'm asked for advice. Of course I provide the requested advice, and what do you know? I just happen to have some cards with me that match my advice. I look through their cards, and often they have quite a few cards I would like to get from them. In fact, what they have for me far exceeds what I have for them, even if I start scraping the barrel. However, my side is almost completely older cards that they didn't know existed, and it's obvious that they won't know how to price them.
Of course, I could at this point only trade for cards from them that are roughly equal in value to mine. I may even make the deal interesting for myself by trading up at no premium and this would still be defensible as fair. If I told them as much, they would probably be absolutely fine with it. It is, however, incredibly tempting to make a skewed proposal at this point, as it's fair to assume they just won't know fair from skewed, and even if they have doubts, they will remember the help I gave them. It's not even that I'm out to make an unfair deal; I'd be happy to make it a fair one by adding more on my side, but there's simply nothing else they'd want or even take.
It takes a strong dedication to being fair when this situation comes up. I would still be tempted by this, especially if I could get some cards I still need for my collection. These days I won't give in to the temptation, but it's hard.
- Being nice. Being nice and helpful in one aspect of the game almost always results in them letting their guard down when it comes to other aspects – such as trading.
- Thinking along. I made suggestions for their deck, and as I appear to be the better player, I give the impression that the cards I suggest must all be very good for their deck.
- Abusing a knowledge gap. The cards I recommended are likely to be hard-to-move cards, but they won't know prices, so I could tell them anything.
Trust is very easy to abuse.
So what could they have done better?
- Nothing: I wish I could tell you how to avoid this, but you shouldn't doubt every player being kind to you. You'd be right not to 99.9 percent of the time.
- Watch for mistakes: Perfectly executed, there really isn't anything you can do as you are trusting this person, but, you may catch the shark on a mistake that gives away his intentions. You'll have to apply all suggestions I've made in this and the previous article and hopefully avoid trading with him altogether. Never think you can outsmart the shark. You'll be trying to beat him at his own game, and he'll be happy to take advantage of that mistake.
- Read articles like this one: Just being aware that sharks are out there, knowing some of the tactics they use and preparing in advance for trading means that you'll never face a knowledge gap as large as the new player who hasn't even made a trade yet.
In these articles, I've shown you a few ways to avoid being fooled by a trade shark. I share these tactics because I want to help you identify sharks and avoid them. The sharks that can do all the things I've described are a rare breed, making it unlikely that you'll ever run into them in the wild. There are, however, more common variants, and I hope I've at least given you the tools to identify those in time to get out of the water.
If you want to further read on how people might scam you, I highly recommend Simon Lovell's book How to Cheat at Everything.