Acceptable Losses

“I’m a dealer.”

– Guy with binder of draft rares



Happy Wednesday, dear lavender-­scented ~*~*MTG Financiers*~*~. Do you sleep on alphabetized piles of bulk rares? Do you curl up with your phone at night, to ensure that you wake up for any ProTrader or Insider emails? Do visions of Google Sheets dance through your head?

(Excel? Really? What year is this?)

Well, if we want our profits to Excel and the Pages of our binders to fill, we sometimes need to expand our Outlook. A lot of trading advice is kind of OneNote, so today we’re going to focus in on a real PowerPoint.




Platinum Angel

Skill in Magic — ­as in many games, but more so than in most — is about value.

Many of us started understanding this at a young age, when we realized our two-­mana [casthaven]Terror[/casthaven] or [casthaven]Counterspell[/casthaven] could make their six­-mana [casthaven]Shivan Dragon[/casthaven] a wasted turn. Then we learned to trade one resource for another, like when someone showed us why [casthaven]Necropotence[/casthaven] was good, or the first time we [casthaven]Repulse[/casthaven]d or [casthaven]Remand[/casthaven]ed their on­-curve play while we kept bashing in with some kind of bad Merfolk cards.

It only makes sense, then, that the Magic community is a natural hotbed for value­-seeking activity outside the game as well. More and more, as the culture formalizes and the market formulizes ­­ due largely to the Internet and to the game’s growth ­­ we see this obsession bear out in many ways. And with the exception of true trade sharking and deceptive dealing, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

(It’s not like we’re gambling with anyone’s home loans or life savings here. That’s a bank’s job!)

But as anyone who has ever cast [casthaven]Platinum Angel[/casthaven] quickly learned, #NotLosing is not the same as #WINNING. And in trading (as in life), operating from a fear or unwillingness toward the idea of losing a little value can really hold us back.




One thing I often come back to for each question in the process is: how does a business operate here?

(Side note: asking “How would I handle this if I were X?” often enough is a great way to become X.)

The vendors and dealers I see getting a lot of return customers are not ones who consistently lowball. They’re ones who consistently have good buy and/or sell prices, who don’t do pushy or demanding haggling, and who are willing to compromise based on context.

I see a lot of people really nickel-­and-­dime even very small trades, and those are the people that everyone complains about and no one wants to trade with again. The social capital of being remembered as a cool, reasonable, friendly person to deal with is real value of a different kind.

And on the reverse of that double­-faced card, nothing spreads more like [casthaven]Wildfire[/casthaven] than a bad reputation. If you’re known as a ripoff artist, a scammer, or even just a difficult or unreasonable trader, mark my words that there will be some strangers at a GP one day who will opt out of trading with you, and you’ll never know it was because they’d heard about you.

Even on a selfish level: the less you seem to care about someone else’s concerns, the less they will care about yours.

But maybe you’ve already got plenty of [casthaven]Piracy Charm[/casthaven]. Customer service aside, what incentive does a business (or a trader) have to take a loss — or simply less of a gain?



Kolaghan's Command

In many ways, this question ties back to my point two weeks ago: a card is only “worth” what you can do with it.

At a recent GP, I saw one vendor buying [casthaven]Kolaghan’s Command[/casthaven] at the same price other vendors in the room were selling it for. It’s possible this means they’re speculating on a price spike, but much more likely, it tells me they know something about the existing market that I don’t.

Sure, a store could try to milk a $3­-4 margin out of each $8 Command. Even in a large room with lots of competition, just by being there, they may pick up ≈10% of the copies that get sold to vendors that weekend. That’s not bad at all.

But if they’re willing to make a mere dollar on each copy, maybe they end up with 75% of the copies in the room. Thought of this way, taking that theoretical $2­-3 hit per copy starts to look smart — especially if they happen to know that card will flip quickly and constantly for the next few weeks at their retail location (or on their TCGPlayer account, or on their Amazon store, or on eBay, or on…).

It’s the equal opposite of having a sale, which is another approach you can utilize when trading. If you pick up a card regularly at $5 and flip them for $8, that’s great. But if the demand starts to die down and offering them at 6 or 7 gets them to move quickly instead of sitting in your binder, you’ve actually produced more value for yourself by lowering your price.

Liliana of the Veil

I once traded a dealer a foil [casthaven]Liliana of the Veil[/casthaven] for a foil [casthaven]Liliana of the Veil[/casthaven]. The only difference was that mine was signed by the artist. I had three unsigned, and I wanted a matching set.

Now, if you’ve ever sold cards on TCGPlayer or any similar market, you’ll know that signed cards are actually “worth less” than unsigned: they’re technically no longer Near Mint.

He took my Liliana at full TCG Mid and we exchanged the two cards almost one-for-one. Why would a dealer do that? Because he knew that sometime during the SCG event we were at, he’d find someone who would trade for it at a stupid premium. He did.

A card is worth what you can do with it.



Ashnod's Altar

Imagine trying to get people to trade you their cards at buylist prices. You’re going to pick up your binder and tell everyone you trade with up front that you value their cards at 50%.

What’s anyone’s incentive to take that deal?

Let’s say the rarest, most valuable card you have is a Khans [casthaven]Bloodstained Mire[/casthaven]. Seems rather uphill, doesn’t it?

Now imagine the rarest, most valuable card you have is a Revised [casthaven]Underground Sea[/casthaven]. Seem quite a bit easier.

I was struggling up until recently for more consistent ways to get people to trade below retail. So at the end of a GP, after I’d cashed out all my bulk and small stuff, I decided to take a huge loss.

I went around to all the vendors, checking prices and trade-­in bonuses. I determined which store had the best combination to minimize my loss as much as possible, and then I buylisted them a bunch of stuff ranging from sub­-dollar cards up to a playset of [casthaven]Goblin Guide[/casthaven]s.

(Of course, I haggled up their buy price on each card too, but that’s just minimum required effort. Don’t join the game if you’re not gonna play.)

And what did I walk away with? A Revised [casthaven]Underground Sea[/casthaven] and two other Revised duals.

Then I happened to meet two really cool German guys (hi guys!) and did roughly the same type of trade to get two foil Zendikar fetchlands.

The most amazing outcome of this gambit isn’t that people were just more willing to trade at a loss when they wanted my [casthaven]Underground Sea[/casthaven]; it’s that they were more willing to trade at a loss for any of my cards, just because I had one.

Value comes in many forms.



Balancing Act

A bird in the hand is worth two in the Bush era, or whatever that saying is. I think it means the economy’s improved a lot in the last eight years.

Either that, or that it’s better to have Something Now than to hold out for More Later. Sometimes Later never shows up, or it just doesn’t bring More to the party.

And when it comes to trading, sometimes half a bird in the hand is actually worth four in the bush. Thanks Obama!

The point is, stop worrying about getting every last little cent out of your trades. Stop worrying about how to always “win.” Stop worrying about when the spike is coming (unless you’re trying to avoid getting impaled on it).

Instead think about how to be a person that people want to trade their cards to — whether that’s through personality, making compromises to build a strong binder, and/or being flexible about what everything is “worth.”



Join us at the Table next Wednesday when we sit down and get serious about, yes, right and wrong.

Until then, don’t be afraid to make that…




Stefano Black is an NYC-based writer, filmmaker, Innocent Blood, and cardboard-drug dealer. He can be found on Twitter as @StefanoBlackest, sharing humor, criticism, and Garfield-related poetry, and is available for hire or collection buying. He also unabashedly wants your money.

If you enjoyed this, check out ILLUSORY GAINS: On Speculation and the Bargaining Table archive, and offer your playgroup bulk rares for catching up!

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