Category Archives: Danny Brown

Trade Better

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Trading is one of the most fun aspects of Magic finance, but it can also be a huge pain. Between dealing with unreasonable people, trade sharks, and a constantly shifting market, actually completing a trade can be quite an undertaking.

But when we do make a good series of trades, it makes it all worth it, right? Flipping five or six uncommons you opened at the prerelease for a mid-tier rare that you trade for a spec target that doubles up and gets you a Thoughtseize or a fetch land is exactly the kind of story that makes people want to get involved in Magic finance. It makes a lot of sense that the MTG finance boom came right after Jonathan Medina’s Pack to Power series: everyone wants to be able to flip bad cards for the best cards, and Medina demonstrated to what extent it could be done.

traderoutes

Trading isn’t nearly as prevalent or popular as it once was, of course. I hardly ever find anyone at my LGS with a binder these days, and when I do, it’s virtually impossible to get any sort of fair deal. In recent experiences, I’m finding that people are either intent on sharking or so afraid of being sharked that they’re too timid to make big trades.

With this in mind, maybe it’s time to take a moment to go over some basic concepts involved in trading. For the casual traders, it will help you feel confident that you’re getting a fair deal. For the financier types, maybe it will help you realize that you don’t need to be getting twice the value as your partner in every trade. Making more trades with smaller value gains is generally more profitable than trying to rip off every person with whom you trade.

Understand Who Has the Power

It’s ten minutes before FNM starts, and you overhear an acquaintance trying to pick up his last Siege Rhino before the event. You’re tuned into MTG finance and know that Travis Allen has been touting this as a good pick-up for some time, and you happen to have a few copies in your binder. You don’t necessarily want to trade any away, but when the guy comes and asks you if you have one available, you figure it can’t hurt to take a look at what he’s offering.

“I’m not really looking to trade a Rhino away,” you say, “But if you make it worth my while, I could be convinced.”

You have the power in this situation. Your trade partner “needs” this card, and you don’t feel a particular drive to trade it away, so a “fair” trade is not to be expected here.

Many players completely fail to grasp this concept. In their minds, the only thing that matters is what the TCGplayer mid says, and if you ask for more than that, then they assume that means you’re trying to rip them off. As a result, these players enter a lot of tournaments with sub-par decks lacking many of the cards they need.

Asking for additional value to encourage you to give up a card you don’t feel particularly driven to unload is not trade sharking, unless you’re lying to your trading partner about what the cards in question are worth. If you start asking for unreasonable amounts of value, you might be approaching shark territory, but as long as your trading partner knows what’s going on, he or she can always just walk away. Then you’re not a shark—you’re just a bad trader who failed to close a deal. It’s when you misrepresent information that things get shady.

This power dynamic shifts a bit if you have cards you’re actively looking to trade away. I’m going to invoke Travis Allen again here, because he touched on this exact topic in his article earlier this week.

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Basically, you shouldn’t be afraid to take a small loss on soon-to-rotate cards today if it means dodging a major loss on them tomorrow. I’ll give you a recent example. This past Friday, someone flipping through my binder expressed a passing interest in my Courser of Kruphixes and Sylvan Caryatids I hadn’t managed to get rid of just yet. My eyes lit up when he asked about them. He wasn’t exactly sure he wanted them, and was waffling a bit. Eager to make the trade, I gave him a few dollars in value on a $35 trade, and I made sure to let him know that I was doing that for him.

–Travis Allen

Travis went on to point out that if he didn’t make that trade, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have been able to trade off the cards until they were worth only $20, losing money in the long run.

So in that case, the other guy didn’t need the cards, he had a vague interest in them. That’s not the time to ask for extra value. If you think the card is going to go up or have a particular attachment to it, just don’t trade it. If you’re actively looking to get rid of it in the face of greater losses, give up value if you have to, within reason. Do you want to make the trade or not?

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 Trading Horror Story #1

It’s June 1999, which would have made me 14 years old, I guess (yes, I’m an Old™). I have just opened what might be, in my young eyes, the sweetest card in Urza’s Legacy: Palinchron (aside to my aside: holy crap, I didn’t realize this had been ascending from $5 where I picked a copy a few years ago. Paying attention is important).

I don’t remember exactly what I was doing at the LGS that day. I was probably playing a match, and an adult guy I did not know asked to look at my binder. I let him, he asked if the Palinchron was for trade, I told him probably not but maybe, and he asked if he could take it out of my binder. Because I was a dumb kid, I said yes.

It wasn’t until later that night that I realized I’d never negotiated with him, and what do you know? The card wasn’t in my binder anymore, either. I never saw the guy again.

Lessons

  1. Don’t trade while you’re playing a match.
  2. Don’t ask to trade with someone who’s playing a match.
  3. Don’t let people steal from you, especially in such obvious and avoidable ways.
  4. Don’t steal from kids. (This one is especially important!)

Trading Up and Trading Down

“Trading up” refers to trading several cards of lower value into one or more cards of higher value. “Trading down” refers to the opposite: trading a high-value card for lots of cards of lower value.

Another concept players often fail to grasp is the idea that expensive, often out-of-print individual cards are harder to obtain and thus more desirable than an “equal value” amount of many lower-value cards.

Cards that are just above bulk, in the $0.50 to $1 range at TCGplayer mid, cannot just add up to Standard staples using the same valuation method. You may find finance-minded mages willing to trade down real cards for bulk rares, but they’re valuing them at 10 to 25 cents each depending what the card in question is.

Even something like trading actual Standard staples like Thunderbreak Regent or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion into out-of-print Modern or Legacy staples like Vendilion Clique, Tarmogoyf, and dual lands is probably going to require some sweetening by the person trading up. If you’re dealing only in trade, it’s a lot easier to pick up a pile of Abzan cards than it is to find someone in possession of and willing to trade a Volcanic Island.

Unless the person trading down is motivated for one reason or another (I’ve heard of shop owners all too excited to trade dual lands for Standard staples that people at their LGS will actually buy, for example), the person trading up should just understand they need to give up value. I recall a several-year-old Corbin Hosler article discussing trading a dual land down to a player for Standard cards (Huntmasters were involved, I’m sure of it) and Corbin explaining to the other guy that he was going to value his cards at buylist prices. The guy did not take it well, which is an example of why trading is so hard these days. Corbin was ultimately doing the guy a favor and he was not concealing information for gain, but the guy still thought it was unfair. This is why it’s so important to understand when you’re trading down or trading up.


Trading Horror Story #2

Basically by a fluke occurrence caused by the most casual of these events I have ever seen, I managed to win a Dark Ascension Game Day, including the playmat, with a non-optimized version of Illusions despite Delver being a well-established deck by that point. I just showed up because it was free to play and everybody who showed up got a Strangleroot Geist promo, which I thought was super sweet.

stranglerootgeist_MGD

I had only returned to Magic a few months earlier, at the Innistrad prerelease, so I was not very good at Magic, only vaguely aware of MTG finance (though I’ve always been value-conscious in most areas of life, so I was getting there quickly) , and not entirely comfortable in the LGS atmosphere. And get this—pretty much the only format I was playing at the time was Standard. (For real, though, I loved Scars-Innistrad Standard and would play it again if I could.)

I was playing with my sweet Gameday Champion playmat at FNM, and a guy kept asking me to trade it. I didn’t really want to, but he was persistent, so finally, I just said, “Sure, but you have to pay extra. I want thirty dollars.”

darkascensionplaymat

I had noticed that playmats generally sell for $10 to $20, so I thought I was really getting a good bargain here. Stupidly, I had failed to look on eBay and notice that these were going from $50 to $100 at the time. I traded it away for two Gravecrawlers and other junk I didn’t really want or need, basically because the guy wouldn’t leave me alone about it.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. A guy I was friendly with approached me later in the evening and said he was going to offer me four Seachrome Coasts (valued at $20 at the time) for it. This is when I was informed of the mat’s true value, and I was just crushed. The guy and his buddy took it upon themselves to go give $35 to $40 in value to get it back and offered to just give it back to me. Obviously, I told the guy it was his to keep, but he gave me a Seachrome Coast anyway, making it so I got a little bit more value for the mat and he got it a little cheaper than he originally intended. Horror stories suck, but this community can truly be awesome sometimes. (Sadly, neither of those guys play Magic anymore. For now.)

Lessons

  1. Don’t let yourself be bullied into a trade.
  2. Don’t trade something without knowing its value. You might regret it.
  3. Make good friends.

 All Things Being Equal

The best and easiest trades are when you have cards your trading partner needs, she has cards that you need, and those cards’ values are close enough that trades can go straight across with maybe some random throw-ins on one side or another.

Of course, Magic financiers don’t often have needs, per se. There have been times where I was trading with no particular goals but to make value. In these situations, you’re looking to have cards that people will need, so that you can have power in trades to get a little extra value. If you’ve got a bunch of stuff that nobody wants, you’re not going to accomplish your goals.

What about trading with financiers? Is it just not worth the time? In my experience, it often isn’t, but if you feel like doing it, it really becomes a game of who is speculating on what. You’re not going to get much current value out of your trading partner, so you need to figure out what he is bullish on that you’re bearish on, and vice versa. This is a way that two financiers can walk out of a trade and both feel happy.

Finally, I recall back in my Standard days that Silverblade Paladin was going for $9 or $10 at Star City Games but had a TCGplayer mid of $12. If you know anything about SCG prices, you know that it’s very rare for SCG to have a price below TCGplayer mid. I used this knowledge to trade for Paladins with people who used SCG prices and to trade away Paladins to people using TCGplayer prices. Noting value differences like this can often make you money.

As a general rule of thumb, it favors you to trade up using SCG prices if possible, and to trade down using TCGplayer prices if possible. SCG prices on high-value cards are closer to market price than bulk rares, which all get marked up to at least $0.50.


Trading Horror Story #3

One time, I was looking through a guy’s binder and a page had a crushed cockroach on it. That’s extremely gross, but I just chose to not mention it and quickly turned the page.

Then I got to the center of the binder, where the folios fold and there’s a little space in the spine. The entire spine of the binder was filled with cockroaches. An onlooker remarked in horror about it, I sat there shocked and appalled, and my trading partner profusely apologized and said he had been dealing with a huge infestation at home.

I did not complete a trade in that instance.

Lessons

  1. Don’t live your life in such a way that this ever happens.

That’s all I’ve got for this week, kids. Until next time!

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Topps Star Wars Card Trader and Magic: The Gathering

By: Danny Brown

Alright, I feel like it’s important for me to own when I’m wrong, and last week, I said this about Dragonlord Silumgar:

I just can’t help looking at Sower’s $17.44 price tag as a rare (from the pre-mythic era, yes) versus Silumgar’s $7 price point right now. Again, I’m advocating keeping a close eye here, as if this sees no Standard play (and I don’t expect it to see much, if any) it should drop sharply and present real opportunities.

It’s not like I said Silumgar was horrible in Standard and would surely be a bulk mythic, but I assumed that, like most six-drops, it wouldn’t be good enough. Considering I don’t play or watch much Standard at all, I was basing my belief that the card wouldn’t see a lot of Standard play mostly on Eric Froehlich’s analysis of the card on Constructed Resources. He wasn’t too wowed by Silumgar, and I took his evaluation at face value.

Frankly, I don’t feel too bad about missing here. I didn’t have strong reasons to believe the card would see play in Standard, so I didn’t buy in. From my perspective, it’s always better to not buy in and have a card go up than to buy in and have the card go nowhere. Sure, I might miss a few profit opportunities here and there, but I would rather save my limited MTG money for specs I feel very strongly about. Remember, my goal with MTG finance is to spend as little time on it as possible, so buying only to flip at about the same price is highly unattractive to me.

dragonlordsilumgar

If you’re looking to play Silumgar in Standard, the traditional summer lull in prices should be a good time to grab copies if you don’t need them for upcoming tournaments. As for Commander and Cube, I’m pretty comfortable waiting for rotation, but if the card drops as low as $5 during Standard, I’ll snag a copy then.

The lesson for me here is that no matter how good the player, no matter how reasonable-sounding the analysis, no matter how sure you or someone you trust is that a card is or isn’t good: there’s no way to know for sure rather than seeing it played in games of the appropriate format. Of course, recognizing when the community at large has misevaluated a card is the best way to profit—it’s just so hard to go against the hive mind.

The Force Shall Be With You

Don’t you wish you could have gotten into Magic earlier? I mean, all those early sets were just packed with value—all you had to do was be there.

blacklotus

Well, I am not The Doctor, so I am not here to take you back to that magical time in the mid-’90s. But what I can do, right here, today, is point you toward something I’ve discovered in the last couple weeks that may or may not be of interest to you (and if it’s not, never fear—we’ll be back to more traditional Magic finance content next week).

In early March, a new app was released, currently only for iOS products but coming soon to Android, called Topps Star Wars Card Trader. I’ll give you one guess as to what the product is.

appicon-sw-291x291

I happened to notice this in the app store, and being a lifelong Star Wars fan, I clicked out of curiosity and saw the phrase, “Open a free pack every day!”

You’re reading this site, which presumably means you’re a Magic player, which presumably means you like to open packs of cards. Being in the exact same boat, I was easily convinced to give it a casual try. But there’s no way these cards are actually worth anything, right? They’re digital collectible cards that don’t have an associated game, so obviously they’re just for fun.

vintagehansales

Oh.

So, what we’re seeing here is the Black Lotus of Topps Star Wars Card Trader: “Vintage Han.” This is the most sought after card in the game (can we even call this a game?), and even though the app only debuted a month ago, it’s already selling in the $150 range and occasionally over $200.

Do I believe that in 20 years this will hit the numbers that Black Lotus has hit recently? Absolutely not. But it’s pretty clear there’s money to be made with this app. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you need to know for those of you who are interested. If not, skip this section to get back to why an app like this matters for MTG.

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How SWCT Works

For the release period, Topps is giving out 25,000 credits for each day you log in, and if you log in seven days in a row, you get a bonus of 50,000 credits. These numbers will be reduced at some point, but this is the current system.

Most of the cards you’ll open in this app are from the base set. Each card has five rarities. From least rare to most, they go: white, blue, red, yellow, and gold. You can always find someone willing to give you nine of a lower tier for one of the next tier up, so completing your base sets is really pretty easy given enough time.

The money is in inserts. Understanding how inserts work is key to getting the best cards in this app.

From what I have deduced, there are two types of inserts: the first are inserts for a particular subset of cards, such as Hoth, Rebels, and Elite Soldiers.

hoth

Each of these sets has a specific number of cards to collect, and if you collect all the cards in a certain category by a certain date, you get an award card. The problem is that after the award cards are given out, these inserts lose a ton of value. It’s very common to see traders asking for inserts but specifying, “No Hoth,” which has already had its award date pass. I suspect that as Rebels, Elite Soldiers, and other sets pass their award dates, a similar devaluing will happen.

The other types of inserts are from marathon sets. Each day of the week, Topps announces a couple hours in advance which card will be available for the day. Each day has a different marathon set running, and collecting all 30 cards from a set over the next 30 weeks will result in huge rewards (with sub-rewards for each 10). The Vintage Han above is part of the marathon Vintage set, as is this one:

vintagesteel
At first people were calling it “Vintage garbage.” Not exactly an inspiring name. Now it’s known as “Vintage steel,” which sounds so much stronger.

This set has proven to be the premium one on the app, and a new card releases every Thursday. Each card released has a set number of copies “printed,” and once those numbers are reached, no more will be made. Vintage Han is worth so much because only 1,500 are in existence (you can see the number on the back of the card at the bottom left):

IMG_5690 (1)

The other cards that have emerged as the premium ones on the app are those from the Widevision series:

obiwidevision

These aren’t fetcching quite Vintage-level prices, but they’re working their way up. A new Widevision card is released every Saturday. Like the Vintage cards, more are being produced every week, so the sooner you join, the better chance you’ll have to pick up the early cards that will be worth the most.

So, if you’re looking to spend a little time on this app in the hopes of making money, you should log in every single day to get your free credits, then be on the lookout for the release of the Vintage and Widevision cards each Thursday and Saturday. That bare minimum can potentially earn you a few bucks a week, assuming you’re lucky enough to open the good cards.

Now, how do you get these inserts? Basically, at the pre-announced time, they can be found in any packs sold on the app. Odds are also given for each card released, and tend to change regularly (inserts tend to be between 1:20 and 1:80 from what I’ve seen so far).

The packs for sale in the store also change regularly, but there are three that are always available:

IMG_5691 IMG_5692 IMG_5693

When I first started using the app, the obvious choice to me was to always buy Boba Fett packs. Based on the number of cards in the pack being the same per 1,000 credits spent but offering the only chance at yellow-rarity cards (you have to pay Earth-legal currency or trade for access to gold cards), this seemed like the only way to go.

Then I learned something very important: insert odds are based on opening the insert per pack, not an insert being a particular card within a pack. This means that if you’re chasing inserts, you want to buy the Mace Windu packs, because they’re cheapest and will give you the most opportunities to open the card you’re chasing.

This is a really basic breakdown, but I certainly wish I had this information when I first downloaded the app a couple weeks ago. I personally missed the boat on Vintage Han, and each subsequent card has had a higher print run, so it’s unlikely we’ll see any with values that high. Still, Star Wars fans love their toys, and this one seems to have been adopted pretty quickly.

Why This Matters for Magic

What blows my mind here is that these cards are selling for real-life amounts of money despite having no gameplay value whatsoever. 

This got me thinking: what if Magic did something similar?

Given that it’s clear that digital card collecting in its own right is something some segment of the population clearly enjoys doing, imagine if Wizards of the Coast created a Magic trading app.

I can see it now: sign in every day to get three free commons and an uncommon. Sign in every day during a week and get a free booster pack! Include trade functionality within the app, offer free stuff and special exclusive awards to encourage collecting, and give opportunities to get the best stuff for free (with commitment), and you’ll have people who don’t even play Magic collecting cards.

Now, here’s where it all comes together: connect this app with MTGO, so that any cards one opens or trades here are synchronized with one’s MTGO account. I think there’s a really good chance that once non-players collect a high amount of cards, they’ll want to find out how to play. How many people do you know that collected Magic for a long time before actually learning the game? I certainly know several.

Here’s the thing about Topps Star Wars Card Trader: there is no way in any possible version of history that I would give something like this any attention whatsoever except for the fact that it’s on my phone. I have a lot of demands on my time, and try to not to waste too much of it on frivolous nonsense. The exception is that sometimes you have to wait in line somewhere, or have to commute to and from work, or spend countless hours waiting for your kid’s baseball practices or doctor’s appointments or orchestra rehearsals, or whatever. In these instances, having something to do is crucial. As a result, I’m much less discriminatory about time-wasters on my phone than on my laptop, for example. If I have to kill time, I might as well be doing something reasonably enjoyable that might earn me a little money, right?

And since I first started drafting this article, something even more pertinent to Magic‘s future happened:

hearthstoneforiphone

If people were trying to decide between MTGO and Hearthstone, it’s pretty clear which way they’ll be leaning now.

Look, we’re probably not going to get a mobile version of MTGO any time soon, if ever. Realistically, a collection management app with trading capabilities that links to MTGO seems nearly as unlikely, but it’s at least a little more within the realm of possible. It just seems like such a misplay for there to be no quick, easy, and official way to engage with Magic on mobile devices, given the trends in technology and popular culture. Such an app would also help fix the common complaint about player-to-player trading being virtually non-existent on Magic Online. I’d use it all the time. Wouldn’t you?


 

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