MTG Financial Fundamentals: The Value Game

A common scenario:
 
You are wandering from table to table at a sizable Magic tournament.  Perhaps you’ll find a few cards for your latest Standard brew.  Perhaps you’ll find a couple of cards you’re speculating on for the cheap.  As you sit down at a table, someone approaches you and asks to trade.  Optimistically, you swap binders and begin the search.  You are delighted to see a few standard staples and the occasional modern gem.  You indicate to your trade partner that there are plenty of cards you’d be interested in trading for.  Your trade partner indicates the same, points to a hot staple, and asks “What do you value this card at?”
 
This scenario has happened countless times to me, and the frequency is only increasing.  Once a way to initiate trade talk, this mundane phrase has become my most dreaded.  I understand the conversation has to turn towards value at some point.  People don’t make piles of cards and agree to trades without mention of dollar amounts any more, I get that.  It isn’t the phrase itself that irks me as much as it is the subtleties behind the phrase.  The implications, the inferences, the deductions, all become automatic once that phrase is uttered.
My trade partner is a shark.  Whether or not he or she actually is cannot be verified by this evidence alone.  But with the support of additional observations: the large collection, the strategic placement of cards, the pointed interest in staples, each lends support to a strong case.  The compilation of this evidence alone still may not be strong enough support to prove the private accusation I have just made.  Nevertheless, I will be proceeding with extreme caution as the trade progresses.  But how do I go about trading with someone after being asked this compulsory phrase?
Trading with an Assumed Shark
 
Caution is certainly necessary when proceeding.  This much is a given.  That being said, my specific responsive trading style may morph into several different ways.  The bottom line regardless is to play it safe; at the end of the day, you can always walk away.
Cautions trader 1: The “Ignorant Trader”
Let’s face it, I will be first to admit that despite all the research I do and articles I read, I do not have memorized the ever-changing value of every card.  By embracing this fact rather than denying it, I can ensure my pending trade will not result in significant loss of potential value.  So when a trade partner asks me what I value a particular card at, sometimes I have a number in mind, and other times I truly have no clue.
My knowledge at this point becomes less relevant, because I defer to other sources for card values.  Whether it be other nearby traders (which bothers some people so I try to keep this to a minimum) or my fall-back, StarCityGames.com, I make sure to look up a handful of cards to keep myself grounded in recent value trends.  As much as I gripe about SCG and question its price fixing practices, I readily confess that the company is keenly in-tune with the vibrations of the Magic finance world.  Conveniently, SCG is constantly updating prices to reflect to demand; I might as well tap into that resource since it’s free and readily available.
Now, if you’re trade partner is turned off by the fact that you are using SCG to look up card prices; simply state you will use SCG prices for their cards too. That should keep a level playing field.  If they are still unhappy, then perhaps it’s time to move on.  Most capable Magic traders know about this approach and are not turned off by it, including myself.  For me, it facilitates a fair trade and it still provides me with a channel to trade into cards I want most.  So even if there is a net of 0 in value within my trade binder, I am still encouraged by the fact that I just picked up some cards I believe will continue to be sought after.
Cautious trader 2: The “Confident Trader”
(Quick disclaimer here: I have witnessed trades proceed this way and they are very efficient, often leaving both parties satisfied with the exchange.  However, I have yet to glean enough courage myself to whole-heartedly indoctrinate the strategy.  I think it’s because of my timid personality.  In any event, I digress.)
If you exude confidence in your card values, and you are both consistent and relatively accurate, you will earn respect from your trade partner.  But if you are indeed trading with a shark, you still need to be cautious.  One mistake and you’ll be trading a card for less than it’s truly worth.  This particular approach can help avoid those situations without having to look up many cards.  Simply answer on the high side of your range, at about retail.  It seems easy, but here is where confidence is absolutely critical.  If you ask the value of the card rather than TELL someone the value, you are basically inviting your trade partner to badger you into a lower price.
“What do you value this Phantasmal Image at?” they may ask.  Respond in a firm voice, “12$”.  Is that a little high?  Well, both SCG and Don’s Magic & Sundry are both selling the card for 12$, so it may be slightly on the high side.  Your trade partner may even question the number.  But you simply need to respond “the card has been going up due to seeing recent standard play and on Innistrad speculation” and that should appease your trade partner.  If they STILL are unhappy, you can always ask them what they’d value it at.  This puts them in the hot seat, and no matter how they respond you will have additional information to move forward with.  If they say 10$, you know they are looking to trade somewhat close to eBay prices.  Make note of that for when it comes time to value their cards.  If, on the other hand, they try to undercut you and say 8$, you can be almost 100% confident your trade partner is looking for value. If this scenario were to happen to me, I would promptly ask to trade for all their Phantasmal Images at 8$.
Cautious trader 1: The “Turn-the-table Trader”
I often implement this strategy along with the first.  When asked what I value a particular card at, I will think a number in my head and simply ask my trade partner what he or she values it at.  It becomes a game of chicken at this point.  It is my personal belief that at this point, whoever names the value of a card first, “loses” the game of chicken.  No matter what the value is, the first to speak is the first to reveal their pricing scheme, providing additional information to their trade partner that they still do not have.  This strategy doesn’t always work properly, because two indecisive people will never reach resolution on a trade (at which point I look values up on SCG).  But when it does work, and my trade partner states a value, I always feel advantaged.
There are four possible scenarios if they give a value.  If the number they stated was in-line with the number I was thinking, I say so.  Agreement is a good thing. If the number they stated is a little higher than the number I was thinking, I agree as well.  No sense in arguing that my Phantasmal Image is worth 12$, not 14$, after all.  Often, the value is truly higher and I just hadn’t looked up the card since the jump.  If the number they stated was significantly higher, it becomes a morality discussion.  Am I going to trade my Phantasmal Image at 20$?  Probably not.  But this is a heavy subject I will not delve into with this article.  The fourth scenario is the hardest one: when your trade partner offers a number lower than what you were thinking.  Even though your reaction needs to be more carefully constructed, the net result will still be positive for you.  The trade clearly won’t happen at the lower number, so simply state the number you were thinking and if they decline, you can again offer to trade for their copies at the lower number.  Perhaps a middle ground can be reached with this tactic, but worst case you’ve slightly embarrassed your partner for revealing their double-standard and, in turn, their value-seeking nature.  Regardless, you know their intent is to get some value.
Conclusion
In summary, the valuation discussion has become a necessary evil when trading Magic cards.  But some cautious approaches will help empower you to trade confidently without fear of losing significant value to sharks and value traders.  Not every trade you make will be perfect, and sometimes you have to give up value to get that 4th staple to complete your playset.  But at least with these approaches, you’ll be more informed with your trade partner’s trading style, and you can use that additional information to guide your decision making.
– Sigmund Ausfresser
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Posted on September 21, 2011, in Articles, MTG Financial Fundamentals. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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