This article is going to focus on the basic concept of how “power” works in trading. (Not power nine, but the distribution of and how influence, sway and control moves back and forth during a trade based on certain factors. This is akin to leverage, but power is a more direct and simple term.)
How to Actually “Trade Up”
The idea of “trading up” (turning lots of small cards into a big card) is well known, but how to actually make that a reality begins with how “power” is distributed, not only in your binders but also in the manner in which you act and speak during a trade.
In trades, if you have all your cards in one binder and you see more than one card that you want out of someone else’s binder and you tell them first that you want X, Y, and Z then you are handing them the power on a silver platter. Good “trade up” traders will add up the prices of the cards you want and then point at a card worth close to all the amounts that you want put together.
You have a binder with all your cards in it and you want two Wooded Foothills. Any “trade up” trader will take power in that moment by suggesting a card in your binder that is worth about the same as the two Wooded Foothills combined. Then you are forced into having to ask for only one of the Wooded Foothills even if you really need both. Then the other person can say no thanks, they only want the big card or they can point at a card worth the same as one of the Wooded Foothills. Any way you look at it they have had the power the whole trade and the only way to finish the trade is to swap a card worth about the same as the Wooded Foothills. If your goal was to trade up or even just turn your small stuff into a Wooded Foothills it can be very hard to do if you ever need more than one card out of someone’s binder or if you have all your cards in the same binder.
So how do you make this trade work in your favor?
Option A: The Two-Binder System
The reason the binder system is so important is not only for organization and loss prevention but also for controlling what people see and when they see it. If you use the under-ten and over-ten two-binder system you can start by pulling out the under-ten-dollars binder and pointing at big cards you want out of the other person’s binder. This ensures that you have the power and they can never point to a card worth more than or equal to the big card you want out of their binder. This is the easiest and simplest way to trade up.
Only hand the other person the small binder first. Do not have the big binder on the table or in your hands or many people will ask if that is also your trade stuff and will want to see it. Look through their binder and assess what they have. Make polite conversation and then assess what to do next. By asking them a few quick questions and looking through their trade binder, you should easily be able to assess what kind of player and usually trader they are.
If they ask you what you are looking for, please, PLEASE do not say the word “value.” I have observed this to be one of the worst words you can ever say during a trade, and it naturally turns off a lot of different kinds of traders, especially the more casual types.
If someone asks you first what you are looking for, by having already quickly looked through the binder you should be able to answer accordingly by naming a card you have already seen. For example, “Actually I was looking for Wooded Foothills.” They already have Wooded Foothills in their trade binder and by naming a card they have and only providing a binder with cards less than the value of Wooded Foothills you now have most of the power in the trade.
Option B: Ask What They Want First
After quickly looking through their binder you can ask them what they are looking for first. The way they answer this question will often tell you a lot about what kind of trader they are.
If someone says “value,” well, they clearly have a lot to learn and are usually tiny sharks who are hungry for food but don’t know how to hunt yet. Try hard not to cringe and continue with the trade. It can be fun to watch these kinds of traders flounder as they whip through the binder over and over looking for “value.” Most often they will say they didn’t find anything, but sometimes they will complete the trade.
If they ask if you have more for trade you are allowed to say no. Even though you have another trade binder you are not lying when you say you don’t have anything else you want to trade towards what you see in their binder.
If someone says an exact card and/or two or more cards from the same deck then they are most likely looking for exactly those cards. If you don’t have those exact cards then the trade might fall through, but it’s not because you did anything wrong. They are just trying to trade for exactly what they need.
If someone says they are a floor vendor, or a store, that doesn’t mean you have to grab your binder and run. In fact the trade could go really well for you. Just ask to make sure they don’t take a percentage, and if they don’t, trade all your small stuff for big stuff. I know that sounds crazy but there are a lot of stores that bring binders of big stuff that doesn’t sell in their stores, and they trade it even across for small stuff that actually sells. This is a win-win and can often be a great way to turn most of your under-ten binder into over-ten stuff.
If they are just a normal trader looking to kill time between rounds, then by asking them what they want first you have made the first step towards power in the trade. Most traders will ask back the same question to you. By the time they ask you the question you should almost be done looking through their binder and have already noted a few cards that you would trade for.
Most people who use this technique almost always point to the most expensive card in the other person’s binder. I suggest pointing to a mid-range card. If they have a Dark Confidant and a Wooded Foothills, point to the fetch land. This shows them you aren’t after their most expensive card, which is often a dead giveaway that you are a trade grinder.
In time you will see the world of Magic Finance is an interconnected web. The more you learn about one topic, the more it connects to another topic and so on.
Colin Bevis started playing magic right after the release of Innistrad his freshman year of college. He moved to New York City this fall after traveling the country learning and surviving off of floor trading. He enjoys theatre and film, and now flies out to most U.S. GPs.