If you start playing regularly at an LGS, it’s only a matter of time before a stranger comes up to you, binder in hand, and asks, “trades?” While trading your cards isn’t, strictly speaking, a necessary part of the game, it’s still a huge part of Magic culture and something that, generally speaking, is of mutual benefit to everyone involved.
Magic is a trading card game, after all, and if you draft or open packs, you’re bound to end up with cards you don’t want or need. You can pack ’em up and ship ’em off to CFB’s You Box We Buy, of course, but you can also whack ’em in a binder and try to trade them away for other cards you need from people looking to get rid of their unwanted cards.
Besides, for many, trading is fun! Wheeling and dealing, haggling and negotiating and coming to an agreement that leaves both people happy with their new acquisitions can be very satisfying – not to mention the fun of having a stack of new cards to play with after a trade.
Today, we’re going to talk about what’s involved in trading – how to prepare your collection to make trading cards easy and painless, how trading actually works on a mechanical and logistical level, and how to make sure that all the trades you make are fair ones.
First and foremost: get a binder. There’s just no other reasonable way to facilitate casual trading at an LGS – you need a binder. No one wants to trade with someone who has all their unwanted cards haphazardly thrown into random boxes. Binders are purpose-built to make it easy to sort and look through a collection. Get a binder.
You can organize your binder in a few different ways. The two most popular ways, in my experience, are by color and by price. Color is simple – count the number of pages in your binder, divide roughly into eight sections (six slightly larger, two slightly smaller), and then put all your cards in. Most people use WUBRG order, followed by gold cards, then finally artifacts and lands (the two smaller sections).
You obviously don’t have to have it as organized as this, but it does make it easier for people to look through. Having them in a random order, stuffing cards in however you like, is fine, sure, but will make it harder for people to find the cards they’re looking for. For instance, if someone really needs an Iymrith, Desert Doom, making them scour the entire binder for it rather than just flipping through the blue pages isn’t ideal.
Alternatively, you can sort the binder by price. This is less common, but gives your trading partner a good idea of how you value the cards you have. This can help with the negotiation process and speed up trading overall, but it requires you to constantly rearrange your cards as prices change, and as you usually look up trade prices when sealing the deal, it’s kind of unnecessary.
My advice: get a binder, sort your spare cards into WUBRG/gold/artifact/land, and stick them in your binder in that order.
Usually, a trade will work like this. One person – it can be you – will approach another, and ask something like “do you have trades?” The answer won’t always be yes – sometimes people don’t have a binder, or aren’t interested in trading then and there. It’s not impolite to refuse to trade, even if your binder is sitting in front of you, so don’t feel bad about saying “no” if you don’t feel like trading when someone asks.
You’ll sit down with your trading partner and exchange binders, flipping through the pages. Often, you will pull out the cards you’re interested in and put them on the table between you, but always be sure to ask your partner before doing this. Don’t assume it’s okay to start ripping their cards out of their binder – it usually will be, but be courteous and ask first.
Once both players have gone through the other’s binder (or binders), you’ll compare the piles of cards you’re looking to trade. At this point, it’s common to use a pricing app with a trade interface, with two columns where you add all the cards for each respective person and have their prices tallied up.
There are tons of Magic apps with this functionality, and they’re all fine – but make sure both of you are using the same price source for both piles. Don’t price your cards with Source A while your opponent prices them with Source B, as prices can differ wildly (particularly around the world). If you both use the same source, the relative value of the two piles should remain appropriately consistent.
Occasionally, there will be disagreements over which pricing source to use. Typically, the most common sources are TCGPlayer Mid, MKM, SCG and of course CFB. If your partner doesn’t accept any of those three and wants to use something else, they may not be being entirely reasonable. More on that in a minute.
Depending on the relative values of the two piles, you may have to add or remove cards to bring them in line with one another, or to a point where both parties are happy with how it all looks. Once you both are satisfied, you take possession of their cards and they take possession of yours, and the deal is done.
Note: Almost every LGS have very strict policies about buying and selling cards in-store. It is considered extremely poor form to exchange cash for cards inside an LGS, and many LGS owners have very limited tolerance for doing so. You might get ejected or banned for doing so, especially now that you know you shouldn’t. Of course, what you do outside the shop with your own money is your business, but generally speaking, I advise you very strongly against bringing money into trades at an LGS, unless you don’t mind never being welcome there again.
At any point, and for any reason, you can decide the trade is not for you and pull out. This might be a little awkward, sure, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing it. Do not feel pressured to go through with any trade you don’t feel comfortable with. You don’t have to wait for a certain time, you don’t have to provide your reasoning – you can just say “nah, it’s okay, thanks anyway” and gather up your cards and exit the trade.
You can do this while they’re looking through your cards, while you’re negotiating on price, at any point. If you feel something is wrong, if you’ve got a bad feeling about it, if you’re just not into the idea any more, you can pull out. Maybe your opponent is being weird with prices, maybe they’re being too demanding or pushy, maybe you’re just getting bad vibes. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself and just walk away if it’s not working for you.
When trading, you should always be looking to strike a fair deal. That’s not to say you can’t find a way to come out a little ahead, but you shouldn’t approach trading with the hopes of ripping off or sharking someone. Trade sharks get very bad reputations very quickly, and you’ll find that even ripping one person off one time will have a very negative effect on your standing in the LGS community.
Many years ago, I ripped someone off in a trade accidentally when neither of us bothered to look up how much a foil version of a card was compared to the regular version. We both assumed it was a little bit more expensive, a dollar or two, and walked away happily. It turned out later that the foil version was more like 20 dollars more expensive than the regular one, and I was up enormously on the trade.
Even this – a simple misunderstanding – raised more than a few eyebrows, and I found myself having to explain I didn’t know the price of the foil card when trading – even offering to reverse the trade didn’t help my case. My point is this: if you go around looking to take advantage of people, it won’t be long before this comes back to bite you, especially in a close-knit community like most LGSs have. It’s also just not a very nice thing to do. Don’t shark people.
Ultimately, you should be looking to make the difference in the prices of the card piles as close to zero as possible. Of course, when negotiating on price, you can certainly leverage a favorable position to get a bit of extra value, within reason. If you’re trading a format staple for a stack of less desirable and therefore less liquid cards, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a throw-in or two to sweeten the pot. Don’t take people to the cleaners, but there’s nothing wrong with haggling to get ahead by a couple of bucks, as long as both of you are happy with it.
Beyond it all, however, make sure you’re trading in the spirit of fairness. If someone doesn’t know the prices of their cards, help them understand rather than ripping them off. This happens with kids, in particular – they often just want big shiny Dragons, and can be persuaded to trade away boring things like fetchlands for next to nothing.
That’s not to say don’t trade with kids or anyone else who is less informed about card value – I’ve traded a few valuable cards off kids in the past, but I make certain that they’re getting their money’s worth. Often they can’t believe their luck, as they walk away with a pile of 20 or 30 rares and mythics for something as boring as a Flooded Strand, but that’s not an excuse to rip them off and give them less than the card is worth.
Finally, don’t hesitate to intervene in an ongoing trade if you think someone’s getting ripped off. I have no problem stopping someone from taking a bad deal if I happen to see them getting fleeced by someone – I’ll approach and say something like “hey, I think you might want to re-check the prices of these cards as I don’t think you’re getting a good deal.”
Ignore the protestations of the person trying to rip them off, and help the other person understand that, yes, Mishra’s Bauble is worth $15, I know, it’s weird, not a very good card, right? But that’s its price. If this doesn’t work, and both people still seem happy to go through with it, well, hey, you warned them. It’s not your responsibility to shut down the trade altogether, but in my view it’s well worth stepping in briefly to make sure someone doesn’t get ripped off.
Trading is a great way to hunt down cards you need without spending money, expand your overall collection and most importantly get rid of cards you don’t want at a favorable rate. Armed with the information in this article, you should be ready to get into trading with people at your LGS. Just remember – you can pull out at any time, always try to be fair, and don’t offer someone cash for their cards while inside an LGS!