Defense Against the Dark Arts OR How to Protect Yourself From Trade Sharks and Value Traders

That’s right, I channeled old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons while naming this article. Deal with it. I’ve also managed to go off on a tangent before even starting the article. This may be a first even for me.

Back on topic: There is an ever increasing emphasis on finance in Magic. It is no secret that I consider this to be the worst thing to happen since The Dojo published their first Sligh decklist. I can and have explained at great length why this is such a bad thing, but if you want to know more research what happened with comics and baseball cards in the ’80s and ’90s, because it’s pretty much the same thing. I somehow got dragged into a ridiculous Twitter fight (Editor’s note: Redundant?) earlier this evening. The fight entailed one financial writer calling out an entire financial website on…I have no idea why, actually. No one gave me a straight answer, but I don’t actually care. These people are poisonous and they have a dangerous effect on the game. Of course, the people interested in the teachings of these so called “financial gurus” don’t care what I have to say. I should have known better than to try to reach those people, so instead I’m going to try the other angle.

Instead of reading their advice on how to rip people off blatantly or to at least nickle and dime them to death, you should know how to defend yourself against these people. If there’s no food for these sharks, no binders left for them to Prey Upon, then maybe they’ll finally stop. This article is for the people who never cared about reading about MTG finance before, but frequently wonder where cards in their binder went or why they always feel like they got a bad deal.

As a side note, there’s little to learn from these people anyway. If you would even consider robbing some little kid who was handed a nice collection, you should be more concerned with what a terrible human being you are and less considered with whether you’re making a 5048% or a 5049% return. That type of behaviour is really the only thing being taught. Afterall, you can’t teach speculation. You can try, but it’s not like most people are any good. Even Medina can speculate better than a six-sided die. Besides, by the time someone who speculates well tells you what to buy, because no one in this community can think for themselves it seems (Go go gadget netdeck!), it’s already too late. So yeah, reading these financial articles is a waste of time because they’re just teaching you to be an asshole. And know what? I can teach you to be an asshole much more effectively than they can, and at least I have the decency to be honest about it.

My final point before I begin: a lot of the things I will discuss in this article are the same things that appear in the articles I am vilifying. Yes, I’m aware of the irony, so don’t bother pointing it out. Again, though, the people I’m trying to reach would not have read those articles, and people respond very differently to the same points depending on context and what not (See also: propaganda). So now, 500 words, later, let’s get on to the actual things the novice trader needs to remember.

What makes you the expert, Jeebus?

When I was 13 or 14, about a year after I had been playing, a friend of mine ripped me off pretty hard. He immediately told me, smiling triumphantly, and I was PISSED. He then showed me a book he had read on trading which very wholeheartedly and honestly endorsed being a trade shark. I was furious about being taken advantage of, so I quickly committed the book to memory to claim vengeance on the world for having wronged me. Now that I’m 29 I’m in no way proud of the things I did. Some of them were beyond scummy (My Relentless Assault, his Beta Mox Sapphire. Granted the Assault was $20 at the time and the Sapphire was only about $90, but still). While I may not be happy about how I acted as a stupid teenager and no longer take part in such antics, I still remember how to do all of it.

You never NEED a card

Maybe you’re just overly excited about finding a card you’ve been looking for for weeks, but when you say the words “I need this card!” to a trader, all they hear is “MERRY FUCKING CHRISTMAS!” You never, ever, EVER say you need a card. Other financial writers have talked about the “need tax,” and it’s a very real thing. In fact, you don’t even want cards. On the inside you may be doing cartwheels at finally finding someone who has the last card for your foil Urza’s Legacy set or your deck for the standard PTQ tomorrow, but on the outside you remain calm and say “I’m interested in this.” I cannot ever stress this enough. You do not need cards, you do not want cards, but cards interest you. When it comes time to work out a deal, you may differentiate cards by saying “I’m more interested in this/these,” or, if there’s a card that’s a total deal breaker for you, “this is the main thing I’m interested in.” This terminology will help guide the trade so you can get the cards you actually do need instead of trading away all your hot cards for a bunch of cards you pulled out thinking “Hmm..I MIGHT use this in EDH.”

Also, never give unnecessary information about the availability of a card. At states a few years ago my friends and I sat down to fill out our deck registration sheets. One of my friends asked if I still had my Kargan Dragonlords, because someone had asked him about him when he walked in the door and he mentioned to the guy I might have some. Oh yeah, don’t camp by the door asking everyone who walks in if they have something; no need to chum the waters for the sharks. Anyway, a few seconds later the guy spotted my friend and frantically ran over to our table. This is the exact conversation that took place:
“Hey,” panting from running over and looking panicked, “do you have any Kargan Dragonlords?”
“Yeah, I have three of them.”
“Oh my God, I need exactly three for my deck today. You’re the only person in the room that has any. Not even the dealers have them.
“Sure, I can trade them,” smiling like a douchebag. “They’re $30.”
“Total, right?”
“EACH.”
“Very funny,” laughing and handing me his binder.
Deadpan serious, “I wasn’t joking.”
I mean, what can he do here? I know he needs these cards for the tournament starting in 20 minutes, I know he has absolutely zero other options to acquire them, and I’m holding his binder. I didn’t actually trade them at $30, but I could have and I wanted to make sure he knew I could. In a perfect world, he would have learned a valuable lesson that day.

Know what your cards are worth

See, you would probably think this would be listed first, because you probably think it’s the most important thing. However, if you’re running around telling people how much you need cards then it won’t matter what your cards were worth; they’re all gone now. Assuming you can keep from spazzing out long enough to complete a trade, you’ll need to know what the cards in your binder are worth. Equally important is to know what the cards you want are worth, but including that would’ve made the header too long. There’s no need to go into any great detail here. If you don’t know what cards are worth, you have no way of knowing whether of not you’re getting screwed.

Everything in your binder is for trade

I wrote an article about this before on Quiet Speculation. The short version? No one cares how awesome your collection is. If it’s in your trade binder, it should be for trade. The only exception to this rule is cards that you just acquired that day and have nowhere else to put. Keep a blank page in the back of your binder for those cards so that, if this happens, you can tell people everything is for trade except the last page. Filling your binder with cards you just want to show off not only slows things down and will make the next topic nearly impossible. Now this being said, you don’t have to be willing to trade your cards for anything. My trade binder has three Temporal Mastery in it, however two of them are there to trade for a foil Temporal Mastery (Unless someone makes a ridiculous offer that I can’t refuse). Even though I’m looking for something specific for them, they are still for trade so they go in the trade binder. Limit how many cards are qualified in such a way though. You want to give as few restrictions to your binder as possible so that you can hand it to your trade partner and they can just go. This brings us to my next point…

Make them pull cards out

Ask your trade partner if it’s okay to pull cards out of their binder (They’ll almost always say yes, but it’s polite to ask instead of assume), and then inform them that everything in your binder is for trade so to just pull out whatever the want. A trick that people will use is to have you pull cards out while flipping through your binder. Once you pull cards out, they’ll go over prices (disingenuously, of course), and then use that total to go shopping through your binder, asking you the value of every card and waiting for you to slip up and say the wrong number. Their tricks related to this can be much more complex, but that’s not important. Tell them to pull out whatever they want, and start doing the same.

Now there’s a few things that can happen here: they might start pulling cards. This is ideal. They might start asking you prices. This is not. If this happens, just say something like “Just pull out whatever you want and we’ll figure that out after.” If they protest this, end the trade. No, serious. Just hand them back their binder and any cards you pulled out and tell them you’re all set. This may seem rude, but who cares? They were trying to fuck you anyway, so whatever. The other option here is you start pulling stuff and they flip through your binder not pulling anything or asking prices. Maybe they’re chatting you up, trying to glean information from you or put you at ease for the rectal probing about to take place, but they aren’t showing any real interest in your binder. Let it go on for a little bit, but once they get through a bit of it, ask if they haven’t seen anything they wanted. It’s possible they haven’t, so no need to be suspicious yet. If they say they have not, that’s fine, though probably disappointing. If they say they saw a couple things but wanted to wait, remind them to just pull them out. If they refuse to until you’re done, end the trade.

Don’t talk about card prices

You know what your cards are worth, right? Good, because you’ll need it here. You’ve now each pulled out the cards you want. Now is when you simply tell them “Make me an offer.” If push comes to shove you can make an offer first, but you really want to force them to make the first move. The reason you don’t want to talk about card prices is because this is how value trades screw you. If you know my card and your card are both worth $3-4, you’re comfortable trading them. However, if you say “$3-4” on each of them, suddenly yours is worth $3 and mine is worth $4. If it’s a decent size trade, suddenly that can be an extra $5 they say you owe them on a trade you genuinely considered to be fair.

If they’re reasonable, they’ll offer you a fair trade. You may want another card more or not be thrilled about parting with a specific card, so you may offer substitutions. This is best case scenario, and these are people you want to trade with. This process in which card values were never mentioned once is how everyone used to trade in the before time, in the long, long ago. How i miss those days.

Worst case scenario is they offer you an extremely lopsided trade. If this happens, end the trade immediately. Offer no explanation, because they know why. Only an amateur shark will just throw a lopsided trade on the table. The more skilled sharks will feed you a continuously line of bullshit while lining up the trade, explaining how their cards are all gold and yours are shit. If someone is verbalizing their every alleged thought while lining up a trade, pay close attention. Don’t listen to what they’re saying, because that doesn’t matter; you know what the cards are worth and they can’t change that. Listen to how they speak and watch their body language. There’s a clear difference between someone who is trying to persuade you and someone who is genuinely doing math or thinking aloud, and you should be able to identify this. Ideally, you’ll be able to identify this long before they get to this point.

Average case scenario is that you’ll be dealing with a value trader, not a shark. This is a pain in the ass to deal with. In reality, value traders are more sophisticated versions of sharks in that they employ the same tactics, just on a smaller scale. Getting someone to give up a dollar or two at a time over and over again is a lot easier than getting someone to give up $15-20 when you’re each trading a single card. It’s also a lot harder to spot as their trades are normally much larger so a passerby can’t just quickly do all the math in their head. Once again, what they’re saying isn’t really important. Let them work out a trade on the table, and do your best to do it without discussing prices. If the trade doesn’t seem to add up to you, offer substitutions on either or both sides. If they counter, continue to counteroffer with trades that are fair until they finally accept one or you get sick of it and cancel the trade. If you’re trading for something you genuinely need, it’s obviously okay to give up a dollar or two for your own convenience, but don’t let them get your whole binder at 50% off. Oh yeah, and no thrown ins. EVER. I mean, if it’s literally an unplayable garbage common that they happen to collect like Dementia Bats or something then okay, they can have it. But if they tell you some story about how their brother wanted them to pick up a specific card for them and can they throw in this random $1-2 card then not a fucking chance. If everyone does that, this guy’s brother, who doesn’t even exist, by the way, is going to be up $200 by the end of the night.

Most importantly, do not accept ANY trade unless you are happy with it. Genuinely happy, not “some scumbag convinced me to be happy.” Value traders will frequently try to reach your breaking point, the point at which you are giving up the absolute most value and are unhappy but will still do the deal. You know when you’re there. You know when you’re well before that point. If there is any doubt in your mind about the deal, any uneasiness, or if your reaction to the trade is “yeah, I guess I can do that” then you shouldn’t be doing it. I’m not saying you should be busting out into song and waving middle fingers at your trade partner at the end of every deal, but there should be absolutely no hesitation. You should be trading cards that you don’t mind parting with for an equal value of cards that you want. The other person will be doing the same, and you’ll both be happy. Drinks all around!

If you have to talk about card prices…

Ugh, did we really get to this point? I suppose it’s hard to avoid in this day and age. Alright, well you know your prices, right? You better. Seriously, if you don’t know what your cards (and the ones you want) are worth, you’re going to get fucked. Even if you just pick a website to use for pricing and get all the prices from there, you can very easily game the system because of wacky things that websites do with their prices. So remember: you know what the cards are worth. Don’t let him tell you otherwise. People have a lot of ridiculous excuses they will use to make you price their cards higher. Here are a few of them:

  • “This was worth $X when I got it, so I can’t let it go at $Y.” In this scenario, Y is the current price of the card and X is the price at its peak in standard. Guess what, buddy? I don’t care what you paid for the card. Sorry if you overpaid or if you think card prices should never go down when they leave standard, but I’m not going to overvalue your cards for you.
  • “I know this is only gong for $X right now, but I think it’s going to go up so I need to get $Y for it.” What on Earth gives you the right to decide a card is worth more than it is? Do you have an honest to God crystal fucking ball? Are you famous for routinely breaking formats and this is the card you’ve been brewing with? No? Okay, then your opinion doesn’t matter to me. If you’re so sure this card your speculating on is going to go up in price, then take it out of your binder until it does. Otherwise, you’re going to have to value this card at the same price as everyone else, future man.
  • “The box of [set name] I got was really bad, so I have to ask more for this to make my money back.” Someone really said this to me. I want a foil bulk rare from Planar Chaos to finish my foil set, and he wanted about $8 for it, which was at least eight times what the card was worth. You are not entitled to make money on a box you open. I don’t know what the fuck would ever give you that idea or what makes you think I’m the one that has to pay the cost for your bad luck, but find some other idiot to swindle.

Remember: you know what the cards are worth. Seriously, you did your research. You’ve got this. Don’t let your trade partner try to wiggle his prices up and take some of yours down while begrudgingly accept others. If anyone ever tries to make you feel like they’re doing you a favour for accepting the price you say on a card, they are trying to screw you. If you don’t know what I mean by them making you feel that way, you will when it happens. And when it happens, you had better walk away immediately. But pick your cards up.

You don’t have to trade with anyone

I may be forgetting something, and if that’s the case I will edit this later to include it. Hopefully this has been helpful for all of you, and you will be better equipped to trade with people without giving cards away for free. Just remember that you can always walk away. I gave many examples of reasons to walk away, but there are plenty more. You don’t even have to attempt to trade with someone. If you don’t like someone’s reputation, their attitude, something you saw them do once that was probably totally out of character, or any other reason, logical or otherwise, then don’t trade with them. No one is entitled to trade with you, and you are not obligated to trade with anyone. Magic is a hobby. For the vast majority of you, buying and selling cards is not how you pay your rent. Quit trying to screw each other over, quit letting yourself get screwed over, and go have some fun already!

Oh yeah, and stop netdecking. But that’s a discussion for another day.

18 Comments

  1. forestsfailyou says:

    As an aside effective market hypothesis clearly says that a financial “guru” is no better than flipping a coin. This is because unless he has lots of extra information (like Chapin is playing the deck that day and going to top 8) all the information about the card is already accounted for in its price. This includes things like “This is on the reserved list.” I once was trying for the life of me to find a lion’s eye diamond. I finally found one in a local traders binder for $30. I know this guy to routinely pull stuff you mentioned. Hallowed fountain was also $30, because modern tron is popular. I offered the trade and he tried to get me to throw in other stuff stating the Lion’s eye was on the reserved list. I told him that information was apart of the price, the same way hollowed fountain will never be banned (something I can’t say for with certainty for Lion’s eye). He decided against it. People who say “I think this will rise after rotation so I am going to charge you 5 extra dollars are trying to take advantage of information that is not there.

  2. Corbin Hosler says:

    @forests you are misapplying the theory. While it holds true for any cards current price, future considerations, such as rotation, seasonal fluctuations, etc, mean that prices change often, if you know what to look for. A person who knows the market better than the masses and shares that information can legitimately be called a “guru” and perform much better than a coin.
    Nice article jeebus!

  3. QED2 says:

    Most of this was fine and useful, but a couple points beg address.

    1. “This article is for the people who never cared about reading about MTG finance before, but frequently wonder where cards in their binder went or why they always feel like they got a bad deal.”
    If you don’t care about MTG finance, why should you ever feel you got a bad deal? If someone comes along and tells you you got ripped off, and you feel bad, well I guess you weren’t so indifferent to finance after all, were you.

    2. The “good old days when no one looked at prices” are the days when truly insanely lopsided trades happened, just real crazy ripoffs. Don’t pine for them. The reason sharks are being universally replaced with value traders is BECAUSE everyone looks at prices. This is a positive development.

    3. “I know this is only gong for $X right now, but I think it’s going to go up so I need to get $Y for it.” What on Earth gives you the right to decide a card is worth more than it is?
    The fact that he owns the card gives him the right to decide how to value it. You talk about what the price “is” as though it were decreed from up on high, but it’s not. Wherever your idea of a card’s price is coming from, it’s coming from some other dude, no different than the guy standing before you. What on earth gives you the right to tell me I must accept e.g. Starcity’s idea of what the card is worth?

    People who make this complaint invariably turn out to really suck at the whole trading thing. If he thinks his card is $8 and you think it’s $4, you should be offering to trade YOUR copies to HIM, valued at $6.

    4. I was excited to see the section titled “don’t need anything” but then you muddled the message by saying to go ahead and need things but lie about needing them. “Never need a card” is exactly the mindset that value traders have – everything in my binder is worth some number and I don’t care which X dollars you pull out because I don’t personally need any of them. For that matter, it’s also the mindset dealers have.

    On that note, I look forward to seeing the followup article on how to protect yourself from the worst sharks of all, dealers/vendors.

    • Dr. Jeebus says:

      1. No player cares about finance immediately when they start playing. But when you trade your Tundra for an Island Fish Jasconius and then someone tells you how awful a trade it is and how the guy ripped you off, you still get pissed.

      2. The method that was employed in the old days was sound. The problem was people didn’t know what their cards were worth.

      3. He can try to value the card however he wants, but he’s wrong. I don’t use SCG for prices, I use ebay completed listings (The only useful means for determining a card’s price). You don’t have to accept my price, but you’re wrong. If you tell me your card is worth $8 but I can go online and buy 300 copies for $4 each then you are emphatically wrong. However, since you mention SCG this is another reason it’s good NOT to talk about prices. People have different sources for their pricing. If you use SCG and I use reality, you will always value your cards higher than I value mine. A trade I want to offer may be perfectly fair under both our pricing structures, but if we try to talk about value it will become extremely convoluted because we’re using different systems.

      4. You’re missing the point, dumbass. This is about PROTECTING YOURSELF from value traders and sharks. This isn’t about how to value trade. Sometimes players need cards. Sometimes there is a tournament tomorrow and you’re running out of time to acquire the last pieces for the deck. The point is that you never say that to any of these people, because use of the word “need” or even potentially “want” will cause them to immediately bend you over whereas if you kept your cool you could’ve just traded for it anyway.

      5. Dealers/vendors aren’t sharks. They’re businesses. If you think dealers are evil, then you’re ignorant, misinformed, or, most likely, entitled. In fact, your complaints all make you sound like the sort of entitled value trader that this is meant to protect people from.

      • QED2 says:

        1. How is that in any way a rebuttal of what I said?

        2. So your dream scenario is…widespread ignorance? You sound like a bunch of hippies bemoaning the industrial revolution.

        3. Addressed below, by Jay.

        4. No, *you’re* missing the point, which is me laughing at the irony that your advice boils down to “become a good trader yourself.”

        5. Dealers and value traders are exactly as entitled/evil/whatever negative descriptor you want to apply as the other. What exactly is a dealer except a formalized value trader (who demands 50% margins on every trade)? Whatever difference you think you see exists entirely in your own head.

  4. Jay says:

    “If you tell me your card is worth $8 but I can go online and buy 300 copies for $4 each then you are emphatically wrong.”

    Nonsense. Getting it immediately versus dealing with/waiting for eBay has a value that an owner is free to consider when arriving at a price. Do you go into 7/11 and scream at the counter clerk because you can get your Twinkies for less at Stop&Shop? There is no empirical “right” price for anything, despite your oft-repeated claims to the contrary. The value of something is that which someone is willing to pay. A fine read on the whole, but this point seems like someone grew up with a dependence on Scrye.

  5. MaulerGWR says:

    I have been reading content on this site over the last few months and I have to say that I agree completely with everything Jeebus has to say. This doesn’t make me a sheep/drone/slave/etc, but I have to point out that, in the end scheme of things, Jeebus has the right idea:

    If you want a card(s), you will do what you want to acquire them. If you are patient, know your shit, and don’t let some con artist or swindler try to screw you over, you can get what you want for what you want, with both sides leaving content.

    When I stopped playing Magic, my trade binder was estimated around $600 (a few months before Mirrodin released). I traded my binder for another player’s collection of rare MTG and DragonLance hardcover and paperback books estimated at around $1,300. He knows that he got a great trade, and I know I got a great trade. We weren’t about money: he wanted my cards for his tournaments and FNM, I wanted his books since I wanted new material to read and didn’t need the cards, simple as that.

    However, if you are impatient or a sufferer of ADD/ADHD, like one of my friends I will be talking about, then you are at the mercy of the trader. My friend, who we will name Danny, has trouble focusing and paying attention. He constantly does bad trades because he gets fed up with all the loopholes and jargon his regular traders throws at him and accepts whatever is on the table at the time. He traded about $75 worth of cards one time just for 4 cards worth $12 for his blue/white aggro deck he just had to have for a tournament. His loss, the trader’s gain.

    Back in the old days, there weren’t problems with valued trades: most cards were easily accessible, so it was just a matter of rarity. But back on topic: Traders and sharks are two different terms based off the type of person/business doing the trading. In the end, the trade should be about the cards you traded for the cards you got. Money should be a secondary issue. I think that is the point Jeebus was trying to get across.

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