Blatant Thievery

“What do you value this at?”

– Con artist



Good Wednesday, my ivory-crusted ~*~*MTG Financiers*~*~! Did you come to the Table this week for hard, fast, concrete advice on how to trade, buy, and sell your favorite fantasy collectible cards?

Well, that’s what you’re getting — but not the kind you want. This week we’re going to get our hands dirty and talk about the big, bad [casthaven]Rogue Elephant[/casthaven] in the convention center: the ethics of trading.

This topic gets only a little bit of attention. Yet it’s an inescapable concern in every single face-to-face trade you will ever do, and it raises questions that are essential to maintaining the health and vibrancy of a community.

So today, it’s interrogation introspection time! I’m gonna sit you down at the Table, shine a bright light on you, and demand to see the blood on your hands — but first, here’s mine.



Mercurial Pretender

It was a cold, bleak Friday in the dead of winter, or possibly fall or spring. Definitely a Friday.

In between rounds at the Local Gaming Store, I had, of course, my binder sprawled out: tempting, lurid, weaponized.

Transformed in the moonlight, through my veins coursed an unfeeling, unholy hunger for only one thing, my singular love.


There was a new player that evening. He had started very recently and was hanging out at our store for only the second or third time — a really nice guy that we had all welcomed with open arms and encouraged to keep coming back to our favorite haunt.

We sat down to trade. I already knew he had a [casthaven]Thoughtseize[/casthaven] from Theros, and I intended to pick it up. My approach to Extracting Value (ugh) in that period of time was, perhaps surprisingly to some, extremely hands-off. I would sit back and flip through my “opponent’s”* cards, trying to silently peg what that particular person would undervalue the most in their own collection, what card or format or market corner they might know the least about. Then I would often wait for them to find something they wanted, let them know which cards I was interested in, and passively wait to see what happened.

Lazav, Dimir Mastermind

Now, with many fellow players and traders (and a less [casthaven]predatory focus[/casthaven]), this approach is actually not that horrendous. Between two adults who both know more or less what they’re dealing with, the result of this can sometimes be a surprising trade that all parties are (rightly) satisfied with.

And yes — with clear, upfront communication about your value-seeking intentions as a dealer, Pack-to-Powererer, or whatever else you are besides a [casthaven]giant shark[/casthaven] — this can be a valid, trader’s-remorse-proof approach to profiting on your trades in a way that lets your trading *partners dictate the terms within their respective comfort levels.

But that’s not what was happening here. I was looking to get that [casthaven]Thoughtseize[/casthaven] for as little as humanly possible, and I had myself convinced that it was okay as long as he picked out the trade and was willing to shake hands. And I didn’t just lean back waiting to see what he would believe was equivalent — I made sure to hand him my bulk box first.

I don’t think he had even laid a hand yet on my binder when he pulled out the [casthaven]Wild Ricochet[/casthaven].

Crib Swap

There were two copies; after a pause, he asked humbly if he could get both for his card, probably worrying that that might seem unfair. He was working on a blue/red Standard deck that I had seen — and helped him tune! — earlier, with lots of splashy instants and some mill cards. These would be good for what his deck was trying to do, and [casthaven]Thoughtseize[/casthaven] wasn’t useful to him at this point in his playing career.

We made the trade. I “won.”

If I saw him at the shop again, it was only once more. I don’t know whether he continued playing Magic, and if he didn’t, then I don’t know whether learning the awful extent of this trade’s imbalance ended up having some influence on that. I just remember that one of the times when he arrived, I gave him a small stack of useful commons and uncommons — nothing more valuable than some [casthaven]Acidic Slime[/casthaven]s — free of charge, because I “always like to help a new player build his collection.”

And to absolve myself of a little of my guilt — at a negligible cost, of course.

But that might have been just before we did the [casthaven]Thoughtseize[/casthaven] trade, ‘cuz I had also ripped him off the previous time for three or four shocklands.

Clever Impersonator



The Wolf of Wall Street

In case it’s any less than perfectly clear, I still feel really terrible about this trade. That’s why I remember it in such detail.

And I should. It was a messed up thing to do. If any part of you, sitting there at the Table, is thinking that something about this story sounded “fun” or “cool” — while I can fully understand, because that’s how I was looking at things during that period — then you need to check yourself.

To be perfectly frank, that’s not a healthy impulse, and it speaks (if you’re anything like I was at the time) to a lack of other, more meaningful places to put your skills, your competitive aspect, and your productive energy.

I’m emphasizing this because, although I enjoyed the film, I don’t want to make The Wolf of Wall Street: a really entertaining but amoral story that totally glamorizes the bad guy and lets him off the hook easy.

Evil Twin

But I’m also putting my own worst foot forward first because I don’t want to seem like I’m doing any kind of empty, detached moralizing from the comfort of some [casthaven]ivory tower[/casthaven]. I’ve been the rotten apple that spoils the bunch. Between my return to the game and the time of the above tale, I had been gradually sliding from modestly looking for a little value toward out-and-out sharking wherever possible.

As I alluded to sidelong in last week’s column, there were even a couple instances where people I wanted to trade with told me they remembered getting burnt by me on a trade long before, or simply seeing me rip someone else. In one such case, I couldn’t even remember ever having met the guy.

And then…a brand-new player might have quit the game because I ripped him so hard. This interpretation could be totally false, but it was what stuck in my head. I had already felt remorseful about that trade as it happened — much more so than I’d felt about some much bigger, even more lopsided trades I’d done with people who “should have known better” — and so it really started to eat away at me when I noticed that Mr. [casthaven]Thoughtseize[/casthaven] wasn’t showing up to play anymore.

And who could blame him? Who wants to be part of a “community” like that?




So let’s call a [casthaven]swamp[/casthaven] a [casthaven]swamp[/casthaven]: I was an asshole for a while.

And if you do things like this, you’re an asshole too.

Right now, that is. I try my best to never judge anyone wholesale: choices aren’t habits aren’t beliefs aren’t personalities — and even personalities aren’t fixed or graven in stone.

But if you’re out there doing shit like this: just fucking stop. You’re ruining it for everybody.

All of us in this community — and that’s how you should fucking think about it — are ultimately on the same team. Whether it’s out of concern for preserving the enjoyment of our hobby, the value of our collections, or the experience of the social environment itself: we all want this game to live.

Every one of us has a vested interest in seeing our little culture thrive. Every one of us has a reason to want to see more players, more diverse players, more collectors, more marketplaces, more dealers, more vendors, more positive press, and more mainstream media acceptance for the game of Magic. Even if most of those changes don’t directly affect all of us Friday-to-Friday, the more the Magic/CCG community grows and thrives, the more new places there are to play, new faces there are to smash, new cards and products and decks and formats and events and friendships and worlds there are to explore.

But that doesn’t work if we all constantly [casthaven]poison the well[/casthaven], so get the fuck over yourself and think about the [casthaven]greater good[/casthaven] for once.

Ego Erasure

This doesn’t only apply to trading, either. If I may put all my soapboxes on the stack for just a moment, this same principle means fostering an inclusive environment where people feel welcome no matter who they are or how they got here. This means being open to the prospect of our Special Little Thing appealing to more and more different types of people that we may not initially believe we have common ground with. And this means believing people when they want to join our [casthaven]rank and file[/casthaven] but try to point out that some of us act more like a [casthaven]pitiless horde[/casthaven].

If we wouldn’t doubt someone for saying “Some jerk really ripped me off because I’m new,” nor blame them for questioning whether to stay, then why do we do so when they say “Some jerk made me feel really unwelcome because I’m different?”

Body Double

These topics may seem far-flung from each other, but they aren’t. At the risk of being accused of politicizing the subject (as if I’d mind), anything that punishes a person for wanting to be part of our culture is a trend that is bad, toxic, violent, and self-destructive to boot.

And of course, accusations of “politicization,” like the [casthaven]chorus of woe[/casthaven] we’ve heard in the wider gaming world this past year or two, are a bunch of distractionism bullshit anyway.

Everything involving human beings is political. If it doesn’t look that way to you already about any given situation, it just means that you’ve had the fortune — as I have! — of benefitting from that culture’s defaults.

It’s on all of us to question those defaults and [casthaven]cultivate[/casthaven] a healthy, mutual, respectful economic and [casthaven]cultural exchange[/casthaven].



Greater Morphling

Fuck your margins.

Fuck my margins too. They really don’t matter that much. Just last week, we went over ways in which accepting a thinner margin (or even a loss) can make you or your business more profitable. And as any of my repeat readers so far should be gleaning by now, a major theme and goal of this column is to emphasize the importance of social capital and community-building — something that well run enterprises call Customer Service, and think of as simply a Cost of Doing Business.

After all, your long-term alternative to giving everyone fair, honest pricing and reasoning is to pay someone $40,000 a year to handle all your complaints by phone.

So what I’m talking about here is a much bigger picture: what’s best for every other Magician we meet is what’s best for the community as a whole is, yes, what’s ultimately best for the market — which is what’s best for even the coldest of us.

None one can make a killing without a [casthaven]living terrain[/casthaven].


And the best part is, honesty doesn’t even really impede your profits or your growth. For every couple bucks I’ve given up in value over the last year or two by being fairer than I could get away with, I’ve made a couple bucks back — or found entire new trades — because someone knew I was an all right guy that could get them what they were looking for without any shenanigans.

Frankly, I feel a huge difference being able to confidently say at the outset of a trade: “I’m a dealer. I do this for a living. If you’re willing to flex a little on prices, I can trade you just about anything.” I feel less stressed out and anxious about preserving the best outcome, because there’s nothing to hide: no two streams of information to manage.

Just one puzzle with a solution that will emerge naturally from conversation with another Human being who, like me, is just trying to get by — and have some fun in the process.

And if I ever see that guy again, I’m going to apologize and give him something that’s worth a hell of a lot more than a fucking [casthaven]Thoughtseize[/casthaven].



I hope you’ve enjoyed this [casthaven]profound journey[/casthaven] into terrifying territory as much as I’ve panicked about dragging you here! This was a new, challenging, kind of scary piece to put forward, so I’d especially love feedback this week from any of you out there who were strongly struck by it in any which way.

Join us next week, as we gather ’round the Table to examine all the different, shifting shapes that Magic traders come in. How will you fare in the quiz…?

Until then, watch your back at the…

Thieves' Auction



Stefano Black is an NYC-based writer, filmmaker, Thief of Hope, 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 trading advice with a twist, check out ACCEPTABLE LOSSES: Losing to Win.

If you want more strongly-worded criticism, see ILLUSORY GAINS: On Speculation.

If you can’t get enough ~*wacky*~ style and Hot Ass Takes, hit up the Bargaining Table archive and give your EDH group foil basics for catching up!

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