There’s a lot written (and plenty of it by me) about how to speculate, how to buy, how to sell, what to trade for, what to trade away, what cards are typically underpriced by traders, and just about everything else you could ever want to know about how to win at trading. What there isn’t as much of is how to actually conduct those trades.
There are some common elements to all trades, which I believe are neither inherently good nor bad. The infamous “what do you value this at?” is not something that should be feared; it’s usually just a means of getting on the same pricing system because there are many people use. Are we using SCG prices? TCG Mids? EBay? What the local store has in the case? I’ve written entire articles about why “value” is not a dirty word and why that sentence shouldn’t be nearly as scary as it is made out to be.
But I do understand why many of you have the same reaction when you hear this. There are indeed far too many bad apples out there simply looking to rip you off when trading; I certainly can see the trepidation, and why a lot of times trading may seems like more hassle than it’s worth.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Moreover, it shouldn’t be like this. While it’s unfortunate there are so many “sharks” out there, the fact is there are a lot of honest people looking to trade, whether they’re trade grinders or someone looking to fill out their Standard deck. Neither side is out to rip anyone off and everyone walks away happy.
That is the kind of trade that should be made. And I believe there are five basic elements of any positive trading experience.
Whether it’s at your local card shop or a 2,500-person Grand Prix, the first step should always be to introduce yourself to your trade partner. When Sam Presti, the general manager of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, calls up the general manager of another team to propose a trade, I doubt he does so without even knowing their name. Likewise, when kids trade food at the lunch table, they do so knowing each other’s names.
Magic is no different. The level of the transaction is irrelevant. I try to start every trade by introducing myself, and I hope that you incorporate this habit if you don’t already. It establishes a friendly exchange and sets the right tone going forward with the trade.
Honestly Stated Goals
“What are you looking for?”
“I dunno, pretty much anything. We’ll see what you want. What do you want, by the way?”
This is not the best way to start a trade, and yet it happens with some regularity. At large events, this is often the tell of a shark who just wants to see what you undervalue. This is not conducive to making the trading process a success for both parties.
Even if I’m not looking for a particular card, I’ll lead with something like “Abrupt Decay or some other Return to Ravnica stuff.” Or as I more often end up saying, something along the lines of “MERFOLK FOILS. DO YOU HAVE ANY MERFOLK FOILS? I WANT TO GIVE YOU ALL THE CARDS FOR THEM.”
(I’m not too proud to admit it. I do that. In real life. Regularly. By the way, if you do have Merfolk foils, contact me.)
Knowing what each party is hoping to accomplish really speeds things up and can help contribute to the successful trade. If a player tells me they’re looking for EDH cards, I can point them to the appropriate binder or help them find a particular effect. Likewise, they can point me to the Merfolk foils so I can begin begging.
I’m not sure if any of these are controversial ideas, but this one may be the closet. So I want to say up front: I’m not saying you can’t make a good trade unless you talk over life philosophies.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly. I usually ask players how they’re doing in the tournament, what they’re playing, how long they’ve been playing, etc. Basically the small talk you make before you start play in a round. You hear all the time about how many great people there are in Magic and how many friends you meet through the game (and it’s true), but that can’t happen if you’re too busy playing the “what do you value this at” game instead of being a real person.
Talking with my trade partners and learning their interests also helps me trade with them in the future, something that’s very important on a local level. I know through trading conversations who wants foils, who wants EDH cards, who wants foreign cards, and so on. Look Ma, financially relevant information while making friends!
There are some psychological benefits to this as well, and unfortunately there are some trade sharks (i.e., jerks) who will try to instantly be your friend just so they can cajole you into making a bad trade. That is certainly a real thing, the same mind trick as being overly talkative to your opponent in the finals of a PTQ so they make a mistake.
Luckily, there are very few people out there who do this, so I don’t want you to be suspicious of any friendly trader. Believe it or not, even those who come to an event just to trade instead of play are still there to have a good time. Don’t get your defenses up unnecessarily, but I would be remiss to not at least make you aware.
We’ve established before in this column the pope-like infallibility of Wikipedia. (Catholic joke, I kid, I kid! I went to parochial school for 13 years.) Anyway, I’ll let Wiki speak for me here about the handshake:
“Its purpose is to convey trust, balance, and equality. If it is done to form an agreement, the agreement is only official until the hands are parted.”
The handshake dates back to ancient Greece, and it’s something I never complete a trade without, no matter how small or large the deal. The handshake means putting my integrity as a man of my word on the line, and that’s something I take very seriously. It’s as true in Magic as in any other business that your word is all you really have, and the handshake seals that. It’s integral to any trade you make, and it’s something I can’t encourage enough.
Two words say it all. When you walk away from a trade, the most important thing is that both parties are happy. If you’ve taken all the steps I’ve outlined, chances are very likely you’re going to have this situation.
This can mean both players got cards for their decks, maybe by swapping two shocklands. It can mean one EDH player got what she wanted and the Standard player acquired the last few cards to make his deck. It can mean the value trader made a few bucks and his trading partner walked away not minding because he got what he wanted.
This is not a zero-sum game. There doesn’t have to be a loser, and everyone can win.
If only we could make tournament Magic like that.
Thanks for reading,
@Chosler88 on Twitter
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