Off Topic: The Trade-Off



What a great Magic weekend. The wife had plans to spend all of day shopping and spending time with the girls on Saturday. As much as I begged to go along, they denied me access to the world of checking price tags and privilege of being a walking bag holder. Instead, the girls thought it fitting to strand me at a local game store. Darn. Therefore, I had to spend all day Saturday slinging cards with an occasional distraction of blowing up gingerbread men. In my greed to maximize my Magic time, I made a mistake. I opted to leave my trade binder at home.

A Gateway to Conversation

The venture began a little disheartening. Not enough players showed up for a viable constructed tournament. The stragglers began playing random games with the decks we had planned to do battle with that afternoon. Every once in awhile, I was the odd man out. As I looked around to find an opponent outside the stragglers, I wished I had my trade binder. Until this point, I always thought carrying a binder for trade as a nuisance at times. Trading can require a lot of energy and time. A trade binder also has to be kept track of constantly during the day from wannabe thieves. Therefore, I leave it at home if I don’t plan on trading. However, the absence of my binder left me without a tool to break the ice with fellow Magic players. Approaching a fellow gamer for a game can feel a little awkward at times. Maybe it is because I believe it can feel a little forced. Approaching someone for an invitation to trade opens the door for harmless conversation.

As the night progressed, I began thinking of the trade binder as a tool. It isn’t purely a physical representation of a gamer’s collection. I watched numerous times as players flipped somebody else’s binder begin to converse about stories of bad beats and mind numbing top decks. Fingers would point to select cards to exemplify the awesomeness of a certain card. With it, more stories would bubble up to the surface. During the course of the day, I heard more stories than I saw actual trading. A funny thought crossed my mind. I began to think of the common phrase, “Got anything for trade?” as Magic player pick-up line. In the end, I wish I had brought my trade binder. I never actually needed it, but a binder would have given me one more tool to which I could have engaged other players. Next time, I will dutifully grab my binder. Even if I don’t plan on trading anything, it will give me the opportunity to help break the ice.

Avoidance Behavior

Trading can be one of the most aggravating experiences for me. It wasn’t always this way. When I first started collecting during Invasion, we simply had Scrye and some sense to the value of our cards. Trading was simpler since most players were in the dark. It may just be me, but I don’t remember the extreme high prices some of the cards today are fetching on the free market. Nowadays, the Internet gives everyone free access to the competing price wars between sellers and buyers. Everyone knows how much their Arid Mesa is worth. Everyone knows what the card could be sold for on Ebay. I remember attempting to trade some high dollar cards where the other began to complain he was short a quarter. A quarter. He knew the card was say worth exactly $15.25 according to some unnamed source. My card was worth $15. Thus, he demanded to get something else in trade. I couldn’t believe I was being finagled for a quarter. The reason I find it astounding is because card prices change constantly. Dark Depths is the newest poster child to exemplify my point. Before Zendikar, I could have gotten 20 of them for $20. Now, I have to pay $20 dollars to get just one. Don’t get me wrong; I want trades to be fair for both parties. I just get annoyed when people quote prices like scripture.

My next peeve is dealing with the card jackals. I am talking about those deviants always looking get the one up out of the deal or pilfering some new player out of their precious stash. I once had someone try to trade for my Cryptic Command with an Imperious Perfect[/b]. The problem is the jackals are relentless. It is as if their persistence will some how pay off. Having something like a Baneslayer Angel in the trapper sends them into a feeding frenzy. Even if the jackals had anything I would exchange in trade, I simply end it by proclaiming they don’t have the cards I want. Persistent jackals will ask for specific cards I want for the heavenly angel. It is a nasty trap. If I name a card, it only subjects me to them hunting down the card and then forcing me into an exchange. Naming a card forces me into a trade. Whatever you do, don’t name a card. In the end, any exchange with a jackal has always ended poorly.

Another frustration is an owner who has cards in their binder they are unwilling to trade. It seems to go against the notion of a trade binder. Cards in the trade binder to me should be for trade. If they are not for trade, why are those cards in the binder? I can recall a number of times I point to a card and the owner explains the card in question is not for trade. I point to another. Again, the card isn’t for trade. I can understand a player being hesitant, but not unwilling. It is always hard trading certain cards. Giving up a Garruk Wildspeaker to obtain those last few cards of a particular deck can be hard. Trading can be difficult emotionally because of the attachment. We have all been in bad trades. I still at times wish I had never traded my Ball Lightning, Ajani Goldmane, or Elspeth, Knight-Errant. As such, I don’t care if a player is unwilling to trade a particular card. What I do care about is such a process dramatically increases the time it takes to trade. Pointing and pointing at cards gets very tiring.

The Exchange Rate

When looking at trading, I believe there are three types of trades. There good, bad and fair trades. I’m sure most of us can understand a bad trade. It is one of those trades where a player got taken in the deal. Bad trades happen. The more indistinguishable is the fair and good trade. I liken a good trade to when both players leave the exchange happy with each of swapped cards. Fair trades are where both players got an equal valued exchange, but aren’t necessarily happy with the deal. A fair trade to me would be a Garruk Wildspeaker for a Day of Judgement. Each card has the same monetary value on the free market for approximately $15. Neither player got swindled. However, are those players happy with what they got? The line is hazy. As a player, I try my best to come away from the bargaining table with as good of a trade as possible. Let’s say I am trading away my Sorin Markov. I could trade for the Day of Judgement or Nissa Revane. Both of them have approximately the same market value and would be fair trades in my mind. I can tell you I would be much happier with the planeswalker than the global creature destruction. With this in mind, I try to make trading somewhat happy as possible. I first resolve with what would be the fairest trades. From there, I try to gauge how happy my opposition is to each. The happy approach takes longer. In the end, I want people to be happy with those trades because happy people are more likely to trade with me in the future. Fair is fair, but happy is better.

To help facilitate the process, I have developed some of my own personal codes of conduct for trading. As of now, no general code exists for trading cards. I do wish there were some general guidelines. My personal preference is to trades rares for rares and uncommons for uncommons. Most of the time I lump mythics and rares in the same category. On occasion, I make exceptions to cards like Path to Exile. On the same note, I try to exchange dual/rare lands for rare lands and planeswalkers for planewalkers. I do stray from the system from time to time. The thing I like about it is that the process streamlines the trading process. On top of it, most players leave those exchanges happier. I’m not saying my code is perfect by any means. The purpose of my code is it at least gives me starting point or should I say a foundation on which to base my trading process. Also, my code has the nice feature of it keeping a certain amount of dual lands in my possession. Swapping four Arid Mesas for four Misty Rainforests is much simpler than grinding out a different bargain. If I want to switch back to playing boros, the swap is equally as easy.

Trade or Play

There is one big obstacle to trading. Certain trade worthy cards cannot be found in my trade binder. Those one or two cards are in my decks. Sure, I would trade say my two Baneslayer Angels in my possession. Until that time, I am going to play with them in one of my decks. What would you do? Would you keep them in some lonely trade binder until that prospective buyer arrives or play with them? Heck, I’m going put them to good use until that time. This whole play or trade scenario doesn’t just account for singles. It can be related to almost entire decks. I have a fairies deck with the majority of the cards it needs. If the proper trade were presented, I would definitely sacrifice the sake of the deck for a good exchange. I like to think of them as pseudo decks. Most of the cards are there, but still not quite yet tier one. Even then, I am conflicted. Do I go ahead and finish constructing the deck since I am so close or scavenge it for trade? Trading my lone Tezzeret the Seeker was not as difficult. I didn’t have any of the necessary cards to make full use of the card. Giving it up was easy.

The size of a player’s collection has a big impact on trading. I think it is one of the reasons it was easier trading in my beginning years. My small collection couldn’t make use of all the cards I cracked in packs. As my collection grows, I can find a lot more use for all the cards I open. Just about any dual land I open can find a home somewhere. Thinking of growth: the increase in Magic formats is impacting trading in my belief. The most notable is EDH. Singletons years ago I would have simply traded away since I only had one are now finding homes in my EDH decks. My single Thraximundar escaped the trade binder quickly to be promoted to general status. I don’t know whether it is good or bad for trading. It is my belief the format is wonderful for newer players Magic players. New players tend to have a lot of good singletons lying around. All of them can be put to good use in an EDH deck. That lone Visara the Dreadful no longer sits idly on the bench, but actually gets to see game time in the red zone.

Trading Commodities

In closing, I realize I have only scratched the surface of the broad topic that is trading. There are so many avenues and complexities. With the advent of online stores, I have begun to feel trading Magic cards to be synonymous to the stock market. There are buyers, sellers, traders, fluctuations, price gouging, future speculations, and the yet to be seen Magic market crash. As I wrote this article, I noticed the closing prices on many Zendikar singles have dropped considerably. Lotus Cobra has dropped down to a more reasonable $13 range. It will be interesting to see how the market will react with the upcoming Worldwake. As for myself, I can be considered in the bear market camp. Originally, I was very excited about the new manlands. I found it a little disappointing they came into play tapped. Personally, I am getting a little bored with lands coming into play tapped as the de facto drawback to nonbasic lands. In the current standard environment, we have 34 lands coming into the battlefield tapped with 5 more on the way raising the total to 39 lands.

Anyway, got anything for trade?

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