A Definitive Guide to Online Trading

Trading has been, and always will be one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of Magic: the Gathering. There's some kind of thrill you get while rifling through another player's collection hoping to find specific wants, old or random goodness, or even just to see something you haven't such as an artist-altered version of a classic card. Trading is how many of us acquire cards to complete decks, sets our basic wants for our collection, and it has evolved quite a bit since the beginning.

In its genesis, trading was something the average person could only do on Friday nights at their local hobby shop. If I remember right, there was never enough time and in my case, Mom was honking her car horn for me to hurry up before she came inside wearing a bathrobe to pull me outta there. "Just a sec. Mom, I'm trading for a Vesuvan Doppelganger!" One night never felt like enough, though. Weekend events came around, but those were few and far between. You always had your friend's collections but they could usually only help you so much. This always left you eager for next week's trading opportunities, always unsatisfied until you had completed your goal.

Then Al Gore invented the Internet. (Ha, Ha.)

MagicTraders.com was the first major site dedicated to trading, a secure trading system and to boot - a fantastic 'price-checker' that anyone and everyone can use for free. MagicTraders set a standard with its 'ref checker' system which allows traders, sellers and buyers to rate those they made transactions with. This reference check system offered some peace of mind to those interested in trading online with someone because it gave a history of who this person was and how other trades they were involved with turned out.

MTGSalvation.com uses a similar system, with its 'i-trader' system. Once again, this is a system to allow users to rate one another based on trades, sales and buying.

'Refs' or 'i-trader rating' and others like it are very important to online trading. These systems serve as an online reputation for an individual. Those with proven reputations are held in high regard - but this isn't the only benefit of having a strong amount of online trading refs.

A person with a high amount of online trading references will usually be able to expect to receive his cards and/or money before he/she is requested to send the other end out. This is because he is an established trader, his online reputation grants him this privilege. Someone with a low amount of refs will find that they will need to establish themselves before they will ever receive first, or even be offered a 'simul-send'. ( Where both parties send simultaneously on the same day )

Now trading could be done 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - online. And so, Online Trading was born. But what is online trading, and how does it compare to typical, 'real life' trading? There are obviously some major differences that include some advantages and some disadvantages.

The Advantages of Online Trading:

The biggest advantage to online trading is the card pool. There are literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of people to trade with online through various trading sites. The combined card pools of these online traders is immense. You have the opportunity to find the cards you need from several different users - each of them different in the way they value their cards and yours. Completing a deck or a set with such a card pool goes from being a fairly large task to something that can be done quite easily with some time spent.

The ease of viewing card lists online is another major advantage to trading online. When trading physically with someone you'll have to rifle through their binder or binders, boxes - perhaps even decks to see everything they have, and after all of that perhaps find nothing you need. Online trading allows you to browse 'have-want' lists quite easily - or even more convenient technology such as MagicTraders.com or MTGSalvation.com's Have/Want systems to find who has what you want immediately. Once you've found what you're interested in, a simple post or private message and you're done, move on to the next 'Have / Want' list and begin the process all over again. You can review tens of lists in no time.

Communication online also seems to have its advantages versus in person. Many times individuals can be nervous or not great speakers, and this can hinder trades or make for bad ones on both sides of the deal. Online trading allows us to speak through text, behind a screen where we can feel comfortable and make our feelings about a trade clear.

With this, sitting behind the computer to trade also allows traders to know relative values of cards they might not know off the top of their head in a card shop. This makes for much more even trading for the most part. Obviously people will still trade for what they want sometimes, regardless of their relative values - but online guides and pricing, not to mention a communities help, can help everyone come out with a fair deal.

An advantage that many of us are familiar with is the ability to offload a lot of cards you never thought you would, or even could! There's always someone out there who wants something of yours you never thought possible. This includes bulk of rares, uncommons or even commons and basic land. Online trading provides massive communities with people who may actually want the stuff your girlfriend told you to throw away 'or else' - think about that the next time she, or your mom, decides the cards have gotta go.

Finally, the ability to trade on a busy schedule is a really nice thing. Many of us work and/or go to school, so it's hard to find the time and sometimes FNMs and big events just aren't an option right now. Online trading allows even the busiest guy or gal to get some kind of trading done, even if it's at the latest hours of the night or earliest of the morning. Convenience is the name of the game.

Of course, there is no light without dark, no good without bad and no advantage without disadvantage - so here it is:

The Disadvantages of Online Trading:

The most obvious disadvantage to online trading would probably have to be the time one must wait for their cards to arrive. That limbo that you endure waiting for your cards can be very frustrating especially when you are in need of these cards to complete a deck for a FNM tournament, or an even bigger event. It's a time when a lot of things can happen: You might forget a particular card is on its way in the mail and trade for it again to someone locally, you might accidentally trade something away that is supposed to be sent as soon as you receive your end of the trade in the mail, and you might start to get a bit paranoid and wonder if your cards are ever going to come - be it because of a ripper or because of an issue with the post office.

This brings up three major concerns that many have with online trading:

The first, bad traders or 'rippers'. Bad traders are defined as someone who may have a bad attitude when trading, an irresponsible manner in which they trade, someone who packages poorly, or backs out of deals after confirmation of trade but before any cards are sent. These types of traders can be very annoying and make someone interested in online trading be very wary and perhaps not do it at all.

Secondly are the 'rippers'. Rippers are just that, someone who rips another online trader off. They accomplish this in many ways, usually requesting someone to send to them first for some bogus reasoning or by requesting a simul-send and never sending, or sending an empty package for that matter.

And finally (thirdly), the U.S. Postal Service and international post offices. Mail can be lost, damaged, delayed, and held in Customs, and so on. There are many undesirable outcomes to sending through the post office. This isn't to say the same issues can't arise with independent shipping companies such as FedEx, UPS and DHL, because the same issues can exist when using their services as well. Later on in the article I will explain how to avoid some these negative outcomes and ship properly.

Another disadvantage (depending on who you ask) can be the upkeep of an online 'have/want' list. Depending on the size of your collection, this can be a real undertaking - and a serious drag. Not only do you have to update the post for trades you've done online, but you also have to update it when you get home from a card shop or event. Remembering what you traded away and what you got can be very hard sometimes and chances are you don't keep a list of each trade you make. Without properly updating this list you might confirm trades online with cards you actually don't own - this is a big no no.

The last disadvantage of online trading is - it costs money! No, no, it doesn't cost money to make trades on MTG communities such as ours, but it does cost money to ship packages. How much? Well, that depends, but on average you'll find you spend anywhere from $.75 - $2.00 to ship a package. The cost will depend on the type of envelope, type of shipment, and the weight of the package.

How Online Trading Works - In a Nutshell:

Online trading is really as simple as viewing someone's 'have/want' list, seeing if they have something that interests you, letting them know what you are interested via PM or post on their thread and awaiting a response. After receiving a response, or what is known as a 'counter offer', continued communication will occur until a deal has been agreed upon. Finally, both parties will confirm by exchanging personal information.

How to Confirm a Trade:

Confirming a trade is like a virtual handshake, agreeing to a deal. It looks something like this:

Quote from Confirming A Trade »
Sounds good, so our deal is:

1x Draining Whelk

For My:
1x Boros Signet ( FOIL )

Simul-Send Friday, November 24th.

My Address is:

Jason Church
777 Eggplant Drive
Emuville, CA 94928
[Address has been changed to protect and/or confuse the author. -Ed.]


Upon the other trader's review, a confirmation message will be sent back agreeing to the deal and providing their address. Now the trade has been confirmed. A confirmed trade is written in blood. Well, not exactly, but it should be considered no different than as if you were trading in person and you've already exchanged cards - they're gone and that's that. Think of it this way and you will do well.

Now it's time to ship your cards out, but how? There are so many options!

How to Properly Package & Ship:

Shipping trades properly through the mail is very important. It ensures the cards shipped will arrive in the same condition they were promised to be in without being damaged on their way. Thankfully, it's also very easy. Below you will find pictures of how to properly package cards. Below is a comprehensive list to help:

1. Place no more than 2 cards in a sleeve - this can be a 'penny' sleeve or a deck sleeve. This will serve as a soft shell for the card to be protected in.
2. Now, place no more than 2 cards ( in 1 or 2 sleeves total ) into a 'top loader'. This will serve as a protective, hard shell for the card so that it is not bent or dented during shipment.
3. Then, place this ensemble into a bubble-wrapped envelope. You can also insert your own padding into a standard envelope, if you wish.

These simple steps will ensure cards are delivered just as they were shipped, just as they were expected by the recipient. Now it's time for you to choose how to ship your package - after all, not every trade has the same stipulations.

When shipping within the continental borders of your country, you should ship your mail first class or standard rate (names vary by country - the same way you'd mail a letter) unless you are on a deadline or have agreed to priority shipping. (which will cost much more). First class is approximately a 1 week delivery time depending on the size of your country and typical delays in the mail system. First class mail is also very cheap which will be nice for your pocket book.

Delivery Confirmation is the next important piece to the puzzle. Delivery Confirmation is not a tracking number. Delivery Confirmation reports when/if a package has been shipped and when/if a package has been received, and where - that's it. This is not to say Delivery Confirmation is not a good thing - it's a necessity in order to cover yourself in online trading - but understand what it is so you have no unrealistic expectations.

Insurance is an option not everyone, or every trade needs. Insurance is a good idea when a shipment is of high value or importance to you. Insurance is also an important option when shipping internationally if you fear the country you are sending to does not have a dependable postal service. (This is not to stir up any stereotypes, it is what it is.)

Despite all of these precautions, things can still happen. And despite being a good person, some people aren't good people, or they do bad things. So what can you do if someone rips you off in an online trading deal?

The Truth about 'Mail Fraud' and 'Internet Crimes':

Quote from Typical Trading Rules from a Have/Want List »

1. Don't Rip, I will file Mail Fraud.
2. Ship in a Top loader.
3. Have Fun.

Will you? Let's take a hard look at what you really can do and what you only think you can do.

An internet crime is defined as:

Quote from ICCC »
Internet crime is defined as any illegal activity involving one or more components of the Internet, such as websites, chat rooms, and/or email. Internet crime involves the use of the Internet to communicate false or fraudulent representations to consumers. These crimes may include, but are not limited to, advance-fee schemes, non-delivery of goods or services, computer hacking, or employment/business opportunity schemes.

You can file an internet crime report using this online form:


Now, you will note that I've bolded what an internet crime is and where a 'ripper' situation might fall under. Unfortunately, this is quite a broad field and it's actually intended to reflect a website that has not shipped goods after receiving funds. This puts us traders in a very low priority bracket, if any, when filing this complaint. In fact, as far as I can investigate, nothing will come of this complaint for online trading issues. It is possible, however, that if you've sold a large amount of cards that you would have a better chance of receiving some assistance because it's now money involved, not just a kid's card game.

Filing Mail Fraud, the Fine Print:

Quote from USPIS »
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is a federal law enforcement agency. Postal Inspectors gather facts and evidence to determine whether a violation has occurred under the Mail Fraud or False Representation Statutes. While the Postal Inspection Service can't guarantee that you'll recover money lost to fraud, the information can help alert inspectors about new fraud schemes and prevent others from being victimized.

Postal Inspectors base mail fraud investigations on the number, substance and pattern of complaints received from the public; therefore we ask you to keep all original documents relating to your complaint, including the solicitation, any mailing envelopes and canceled checks. Under our Consumer Protection Program, Postal Inspectors may contact individuals or businesses on your behalf to request that complaints need to be resolved.

You can file a mail fraud complaint using this online form:


Again, filing this action may serve little purpose but to document the event to help build a case against others. According to the fine print, this complaint is for investigators to review and determine if it's a true act of mail fraud. The criteria for this crime may in fact require a significant dollar amount (as everything else does) to get any real kind of response.

The misconception is that if someone rips you off, you have these resources to not only hear your pleas, but return your cards - or at the very least, prosecute who stole from you. This is a misconception. These resources document your case, file it away only to be reviewed if the same complaint occurs on a large scale - and even then there's no guarantee, as many of us have witnessed in the past. I attempted to acquire more information from these departments via their website and email but received no response - this might be a good indication that low value issues won't get much attention from them.

The concluding point to this information is that you are not protected by any local, state, federal or private agency if you have been 'ripped'. You are able to report the incident, you may even be able to speak with a representative if the matter involves a decent amount of product or dollar value but this in no way guarantees you any type of protection or reimbursement.

The advantages of online trading outweigh the disadvantages in my case, in my life situation, but they may not for you. It's important to understand everything that is involved with online trading, what it takes to do it correctly and maturely, and to be sure you can meet those requirements. I love online trading, I think it's a great thing and I hope it's always a viable option for those who are interested in it. I hope these words I've written will help you understand online trading and its inner-workings better, perhaps a few more of you will give it a try and add to our ever-growing community.


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