How Far is too Far? Trading and Ethics


Imagine you are playing at your local shop. Your friend, who is sitting next to you, engages in a trade with some other guy. As you are playing, you are keeping an extra eye on the trade just to see what is going on. The deal, as agreed upon by both sides, is your friend giving 2 Tarmogoyf for 1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and 2 Maelstrom Pulse. Now, you know that Tarmogoyf is worth somewhere around $30 each, and that’s current value, not inflated “in-season value.” Maelstrom Pulse is close to $20, but not quite, so you put the pair at $35. A quick rundown of the math tells you your friend is obviously getting ripped. There’s no way Nicol Bolas is worth close to the $25 difference. Maybe $10 or $15 if you are absolutely stretching it, but even at the worst, your friend is still down $10. What do you do?

There are a few options here. 1) You intervene with a, “Woah woah there, guy” Kick in another $10 or $15, then we can get to talking on this trade.” The guy gives you the evil eye for busting up his heist, and you repay him with a shrug and a smile. Desperate to get the Tarmogoyfs, the guy offers to throw in a Noble Hierarch to seal the deal and your friend accepts. The trade has been balanced and all is well with the world. 2) You watch as your friend gets ripped and you tell him after the fact to “teach him a lesson.” Your friend probably gets pissed at you for not telling him earlier, but he always double checks his values from now on before he trades. He’s learned a life lesson and all is well with the world. It’s a scenario that all of us have faced at one time or another, but what happens when you twist it?

Imagine the roles are reversed and your friend is about to come up +$15 on the Tarmogoyfs. Would you stop him? Would you ask him to throw in a little extra, or anything at all to help balance the trade? Or would you just let your friend “rip off” the guy and high-five him after? What if the roles were still reversed, but your friend was trading with a little kid? Would it make a difference?

How far is too far to “come up” when you’re making a trade? Does it matter who you’re trading with? I posed the question to a group of Magic players, and the responses were quite interesting. I followed those questions with another: At what point would you butt in if you saw someone getting ripped off? And would it matter who it was? The responses were quite varied. I’ve listed some of them below:

How far is too far and does it matter who you’re trading with?

It doesn’t matter who I’m trading with, but I definitely don’t rip my friends”¦ Then again, my friends aren’t retards.
Infinite. Doesn’t matter who you’re trading with, just as long as you know you won’t see them again.
As long as both parties feel good when the trade is done, then it shouldn’t matter.
I personally don’t like scamming people. However, I’m more likely to scam males and not little kids. Also, the smaller the scam, the more comfortable I feel.
Who I’m trading with doesn’t matter. I’m always ok giving or taking $1 or 2.

At what point would you butt in and would it matter who?

It wouldn’t matter. I try not to butt in other people’s business.
I would butt in if it was a friend getting taken for around $10 or more. If it was somebody random, I’d probably just wait to trade with them next!
It’s probably taboo, but if I know I could offer something better, I’d butt in. I wouldn’t stop another trade unless it was a good friend.
I’d definitely help a friend sooner than a random. And a little kid sooner than an adult.
If it was someone I knew, I would step in. If not, then it’s up to them.

The responses for the first question, “How far is too far?” essentially split the surveyed into two groups, the capitalist group and the fair group. The capitalists would attempt to take advantage of any positive trade situation, though most agreed that they would not try to rip off a little kid. One person actually admitted that he would rip a little kid off if given the opportunity. The self proclaimed “Rip Off Master” said, “I believe in a free market. I never feel bad about other people having a lack of information. If everything were transparent, the stock market would be stagnant and the economy would stop.”

The fair group, on the other hand, would try to keep things as close and fair as possible, even if it meant them losing $1 or 2. I found that answer quite intriguing as I would never consciously be caught on the short end of the stick unless it was a trade of necessity. Sometimes people just feel that it’s not worth the hassle to haggle over $1 and though I would always try to balance it out, I can see where someone with that point of view is coming from.

When it came to being a Good Samaritan, the majority came to the conclusion that they would save someone from being ripped if they knew the person or they were a friend. Most people would butt in if they saw a little kid getting ripped off, but random adults would have to fend for themselves. One took a more laissez faire approach and said whatever anyone does is their own business. On the flipside, one admitted that if he saw someone getting ripped, he would wait to see if he too could take advantage of that person. Another interesting thing to note is that while most people said they would not interrupt a trade unless a friend was on the short end, many stated that they had been taken advantage of in front of friends and were only told about it after.

There are also many other subconscious factors that come into play when engaging in a trade. Has this person gotten the better of you in a past trade? Are you trading with a dealer or a store? Is the person a total jerk or a stickler who you just caught off guard? Do you trade differently with people based on age or sex or race? Should your morals or trading ethics change based on who you are trading with?

It is interesting to study trading ethics as they vary greatly from person to person. Being a business major, I have faith in the free market. But taking full advantage of any and all comers crosses the line of my personal religious beliefs. Personally, I feel that it is ok to edge a few dollars here or there out of a trade, as long as both people are genuinely happy in the end and you’re not forcing anybody into anything. However, if I feel someone was getting an extreme short end, I would ask them if there was anything else small that they wanted to make up the difference.

Regardless of what I think, coming up with a definitive right or wrong answer for these questions is impossible. While not everyone would agree with the extreme capitalist point of view, you would be hard pressed to find a person who would always force the trade to be completely balanced. So if there is no right or wrong answer to this, why bring it up? Mostly, I would like to start a discussion in the forums, answering the same questions. Trading ethics is only part of the profile of a trader that I would like to address in a future article and I felt that this small article would be a good jump off for a discussion. What do you think? Let me know! Thanks for reading and I’m looking forward to your responses in the forums.



P.S. I’m still looking for a column name. Several choices have been eliminated, but here are the contenders that are left:

– Trade Secrets
– Cornered Market
– Tricks of the Trade

Aside from your responses to the article, leave a P.S. with your vote! Thanks =)

15 thoughts on “How Far is too Far? Trading and Ethics”

  1. I enjoyed your article. I wonder though how many of the people who said they wouldn’t try to rip anyone off ever were being honest with you and themselves. I also think that the more money and time you’ve already spent building up your collection and the more extensive of a collection you possess the more you are likely to concern yourself with not getting the edge in a trade. New players who have next to nothing but know what things are worth are often very likely to look for advantageous trades in order to help build their collections.

  2. I’m going to be honest. If I have a chance I try to rip people off. I don’t really like to trade because even when the trade is about even I’m never sure if it’s fair, or if I’m losing. That’s why, unless I really need the cards, I tend to get huge edges in trade so I know I’m not losing.

    I’ve ripped even some kids, but from what they told me their parents give them a lot of money for cards. This one kid bought almost the entire domain zoo from extended just to play a few games. I think he never went to a ptq. So I had no problem selling my fetch lands really high, or ripping him off in trades several times. Anyway if I don’t do it, someone else will do and I know a guy who has ripped him off way more.

    I wouldn’t interfere in a trade unless it was a friend of mine getting ripped.

  3. Well i usually take as much as i can get. If i know my counterfeit has no idea about values, i tell them values that are off, but not thaaaaat much off. I usually dont intervene in trades because i dont want ppl to intervene in my trades as well. There are sharks and there are goldfishs when it goes to trading.
    I think its only fair to use your advantage because you invested time research card and card prices in the first place. It has to pay off.

  4. I will rip anyone off who lets me little kids included, i was ripped off when i was a little kid, and after a while it made me learn the prices. also i never tell my friends about anything while there trading i hate it when people do that to me, and i do tell them afterwards

  5. It the overall complex its pretty easy to ripp some “newb” and its likely that they will be pissed enough to stop playing Magic.

    In your local area if you care for your area (and Magic at a Game) you should allways watch “who” you ripp off.

    If its a random guy that has money as hell to buy bulks of displays, nobody really cares if you can ripp some good cards of them.

    However its really completly different if its a “newb” to the game, it can damage a player a lot if they lose valuable cards and dont have the money to recover from that loses (especially if you really wreak all good stuff of them), it is something that can easy stop the player from enjoying the game as they feel the community is full of jerks.

    If you just need the card for a tournament it makes sence to have a card collection with as many friends as you have, so if you need a card, they will give them to you, so everyone can build the deck they want without the need to buy all random cards for themself, and if your Local Area has enough “friends” you dont need to trade at all if you just want the cards for a deck for a PtQ or the ProTour.

    And you dont get friends if you trade like for your personal gain, and in this view i dont talk about 1-2 $/€ thats something you allways take into account in trades, but it gets very bad if you get a Tarmagoyf from a kid for “nothing”, as this kid will hate you forever if it doesnt stop playing Magic right off.

    In the long run its better to be as friendly as possible, anything that doesnt follow the rule is very selfish and has no real benefit.

  6. In the article you state “current value” of the cards and then gave prices … Cards have no consistent value, only an ever changing value . It’s only what the person who owns or wants them thinks they are valued at based on what they know at that time. Little kids or beginners don’t count (15 and under). And how many little kids do you know that play magic vs people (16 and older)? Your fiend, I’m guessing in this article was not 15 or under…. Lets start with value …. The main three price mirrors I know of are ebay ( winning bids vary) , wholesale or buy list (every middle mans or dealer), and retail value (dealer or price guide)… Each are different and ever changing. I know of a couple stores who pay 15$ on goyf, 10$ on pluses each and 10$ Nicol Bolas…. WOW that’s 30$ on each side… So are you saying the store(s) buy list are also ripping us off also in more ways than one. Even in a trade someone might have a buy list and uses those values… Other places use findmagiccards.com on there cell phone… All are different, all are ever changing .. everyone has their own way… I do believe if you don’t have a basic concept of card values you should not trade or at least have someone help you trade .. If you don’t, I’m sorry, its your fault…. Yes there is a too far point, but to each person its different. That is one of this issues biggest problems!… The thing I hate the most is the double standard where a store or dealer can give you 10 to 50% of a cards value in a trade, but if a person gives 75% there ripping someone off…..

  7. A healthy card economy is a wonderfull thing, if everyone trades relativley fairly then getting the cards you need can me relativley hassle free.

    A card economy in which there are bad traders looking to make unfair profits of of others is bad for all traders. If people get ripped off in trades, they become less likley to trade in the future, even with good fair traders, constricting the flow of cards making it a headache to find what you need.

    I will always give my opinion of a trade if it is asked, and if i see what i would consider an unfair trade, It is in my interest to keep people from getting ripped off, and to my benifit to keep the market fair and the cards flowing. I gain no benifit from letting someone get scamed, and it activley harms me. I do draw the line at making counter offers, if someone has a card i want but is currently thinking of trading it to someone else, i will state my opinion of the cards value, but i wouldnt say that I would be willing to trade (insert list of cards here) for it.

    If anyone deals with a store or someone acting like a store they have to expect to get ripped. stores are out to make a profit, and consider 100% markup the standard rate of business. It makes me sick when guys walk into a store with a binder and say what will you give me for this…

    Telling someone that the trade would be fairer if one side tossed in a few dollar rares hurts noone, but letting soneone get ripped can hurt everyone who trades by making people less likley to trade and constricting the flow of cards.

    The stock market has regulations and government officials watching it because bad operators hurt the market. Bad traders harm the card market just as much, and we should all make the effort to prevent them.

  8. I am lucky that my local area is a pretty solid group and we haven’t had to deal with people ripping on others. There has been times where a 3rd party has jumped in to a stalemated trade proposal to help equal out the trade.
    If you try to keep things fair in your group or FNM store then it creates a healthy playing enviroment which is more important than i think many realize.

    Tricks of the Trade would be an excellent choice.

  9. I doubt very much if the friend was the one getting the better deal in trade the OP would not have said anything except maybe nice one or good job after the trader was over …..

    If you give any trade situation every single person will give a different answer as to whats fair or not and card values…. Or to what extent is fair… All that should matter is that both parties are happy….. In my 15 years of playing magic I have many trading stories and I have seen everything.. I have been ripped off and I have gotten the better end of he trade x amount of times.. I have also traded many times as fair as possible… I have allowed myself to get ripped off to see how far some people would go. I have also traded for profit… As a store would say I don’t need that right now.

    Most people who state opinions on trades without being asked, that have nothing to do with them are looking to get one or all of the cards. They know they can get the cards for a good deal, just in their opinion more fairer… I also love it when someone passes by and goes wow is that a “——-” ? Is it for trade or who does it belong to? When your clearly in a trade..

    I have been to many events and have leaned who are the “bad traders” I like to call them sharks… We should never prevent them, they are a learning experience… I love to watch them trade… A lot of times they are a last resort and you most likely will get a better result than if you traded with a dealer… But dealers don’t like them because they can get the cards they want or want to acquire for 10 to 50 % of their value ….

  10. This is quite the hot topic. I’m of the opinion that it’s the individual player’s responsibility to know card prices. It’s not hard. This is a COLLECTIBLE card game, and part of the fun is trading and building your collection. It’s really not my problem if the other guy can’t be arsed to point his internet-enabled device to channelfireball.com and type in a card name or two. I don’t trade unless I’m winning, unless it’s to help a good friend or to finish a deck in a hurry.

    There are some times when pulling a heist isn’t the best thing. A guy gave my my 4th Maelstrom Pulse last week for maybe 5 bucks in trade. As he was pulling stuff out, he didn’t find much in my book but a few low end rares he needed. He asked if that got us there and I looked at him and asked him if he was aware that Pulse was a 20 dollar card. He had no idea but said “it’s fine, just trade nice with me next time!” I asked him to look at my book a second time and he didn’t even care. The reason I even said anything is because he and his friends were coming to the shop for the first time, trying to get back into Magic again. They were nice guys and were seeking me out for advice, so I felt a duty to them to welcome them to the shop and take care of them.

    As far as my friends, they’re all smart enough to know how to value their cards. They know I’m a damned shark and when they trade with me, they know I get my value. I won’t royally fuck them over though.

    As far as butting in on trades, if you don’t know either person you MUST stay the hell out. That’s as bad as giving advice during a tournament match. If you DO butt in, you’re probably going to piss off one person. I rarely do so, and when I do, it’s to one-up another guy’s offer and get a good trade myself. I do this and expect to anger the person I’m bogarding, so I don’t do it often. If your friend is trading, try to be subtle but take care of them. My friends run their trades by me because I’m sharp (and because I run a Magic Finance website…), and if they’re getting jacked I step in and say something. I don’t care if I piss off a Random – my friends take care of me, lend me cards, test with me, lend me money, and are usually great people. I’m not letting some Mister Suitcase jack them on a money rare.

    Long story short, take care of yourself and your crew first, and know when having a trade relationship with someone is better than jacking them once. The guy who traded me the Pulse was grateful I told him its value, and I got repaid by him doing the trade ANYWAY. Shear a sheep many times, skin it only once….

  11. Oh, one other thing: If I’m dealing with a store, I will take them for every damned mother-loving penny they are worth. I will bleed them dry if they let me. Why? It is their ONE AND ONLY business to know what their stock is worth. If they don’t know how to keep up on Magic card prices, they don’t deserve to succeed as a store that sells Magic cards. I’ll buy Sea Drakes and Grim Tutors from the bulk common boxes all day long and laugh and laugh as I smother myself in hundred dollar bills, all the while being oiled down by naked slave-women. Girls LOVE the Sea Drake. It’s my way of punishing local stores that don’t have the good sense to consult me on these things for a small amount of financial or cardboard consideration. Hire me or I’ll decimate your under-priced card binders!

  12. They were nice guys and were seeking me out for advice, so I felt a duty to them to welcome them to the shop and take care of them.

    This. Driving away a player is the worst trading sin, making new players feel welcome is the highest trading virtue.

    I do agree with taking stores for everything they have, because it’s literally their business to know what cards are worth.

    How I conduct my own trades: local stores have internet and will look up prices for you on findmagiccards.com. Very handy. I _always_ at least suggest that we use the median price their, for both my cards and my trading partner’s, to ensure a fair outcome; it’s for my own protection as much as theirs.

    As far as butting in to someone else’s trade, if I saw something seriously going wrong, I’d probably comment on the trade, like “Wow, is Maelstrom Pulse really going for that much?!” It would have to be really bad for me to forcibly interject…

    And where I determine what is “serious going wrong” is: I won’t bother if the smaller pile (measured in dollars) is at least 80% of the larger; that difference could be attributed to one player being extra desperate, or the premium placed on high-dollar cards (i.e. a $10 card is ‘worth more’ than ten $1 cards). The exception to this is if the trade is under $5 on each side: even a savage ripoff like trading draft commons for rares at that scale isn’t going to cost the loser much.

  13. wheres my post

    I posted twice in regards to this topic as oldplayer or old3player and now its going why?

  14. Id be absolutely furious if someone butted into a trade I was making for any reason, regardless of their age, gender, whether or not I know them, etc. Some people, myself included, make large amounts of money trading, having a dealer table, buying cards, etc and treat it like a business as opposed to a casual exchanging of cards. Of course, not everyone is trading for cash value, as some people just want to get a card they want for their casual deck, or for their dragon collection, or to give to their son, etc. That is why my definition of a fair trade is very simply as follows-

    At the end of the trade, if both sides are happy with their end of the deal, it is a fair trade.

    And the obvious… If you ARENT happy with your side of the trade and feel like you’re getting the worse end of the deal DONT MAKE THE TRADE. I will never ever under any circumstances make a trade in which I come out anything less than ahead. Trading equally (in terms of cash value) is pointless and a waste of time for me. It’s all about making money.

    In response to the article, I would not ever butt into anyone elses trade because I expect the exact same thing of people with mine, and I would flip if someone got involved in mine, so it is completely unfair and hypocritical if I do not hold myself to the same standard. Would I rip off a little kid, or a noob, or a casual player? Absolutely. 100% of the time. Being new to magic, or casual, does not make you new to life or lacking common sense. Random people that you do not know are NOT out for your best interest. They do not care about you. If you know you’re new or casual or unfamiliar with card values and you choose to trade anyway you’re running the risk of getting taken advantage of by someone with more knowledge than yourself and I have zero sympathy for you.

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