mtg budget

When look­ing for the cards you want for Magic the Gathering, the most effi­cient way to obtain them is usu­al­ly by trad­ing with oth­er play­ers. Buying and sell­ing cards incurs costs on both sides of the trans­ac­tion, and it can also be dif­fi­cult to find buy­ers for cards of low­er val­ue. If you can avoid spend­ing mon­ey cards at all and instead trade for them, espe­cial­ly for Standard play, then it makes val­ue fluc­tu­a­tions less of an issue. This also means you have less “real mon­ey” invest­ed in your col­lec­tion. Trading is also a good way to con­nect with oth­er Magic play­ers, and get to know more about the sec­ondary mar­ket whilst poten­tial­ly turn­ing unwant­ed bulk into cards you will get game play out of. Here are a few basic tips that apply to Magic the Gathering specif­i­cal­ly, but can also apply to any col­lec­table card game.

Look up Card Prices, Don’t Get Sharked 

trade side 1Even if you’re only trad­ing casu­al­ly, you should at least be aware of which cards com­mand high price tags to avoid being tak­en advan­tage of. Many new­er, or younger play­ers don’t know the val­ue of their cards and can eas­i­ly make poor trades. The first lesson a new Magic play­er needs to learn is not all Rare and Mythic Rare cards are cre­at­ed equal. Simply trad­ing a Rare card for a Rare card is no guar­an­tee of a good deal. Even trad­ing a Rare card for a Mythic card can be a bad deal depend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion.

It sucks, but there are play­ers — or even groups of play­ers — who will try to part unwit­ting new­bies with their cards. If you’re a par­ent of a teen that plays any col­lec­table card game then it’s best to be around if pos­si­ble when trades are being made. If you’re old­er but com­plete­ly new to Magic then try and part­ner with an expe­ri­enced play­er you can ful­ly trust to help guide you through the process. Even in Standard some cards can be worth over $50. So take a step back and eval­u­ate the deal if you open some­thing in a pack and sud­den­ly some­one wants to pres­sure you into trad­ing it to them.

The best way to do this is a quick search on your smart-phone on TCG Player to see aver­age prices. If you’re in a shop you can also look at their sin­gles prices, and their buy-list, to gauge some rough rel­a­tive val­ue. Most store own­ers don’t want peo­ple hav­ing bad expe­ri­ences and get­ting ripped off in their shop, so if you have no oth­er indic­tor sim­ply ask the staff for help.

Don’t try to be a Shark

On the oth­er side of the equa­tion, if you are known for try­ing to rip peo­ple off no one is going to want to trade with you. It’s your respon­si­bil­i­ty as an expe­ri­enced Magic play­er to not use your exper­tise to shark peo­ple. If you have a pas­sion for the game and want it to grow then being fair, hon­est, and wel­com­ing to oth­er play­ers goes a long way towards that.

The best trade is a fair trade, and that works both ways. In the past I’ve had to tell new­er play­ers the trade they were offer­ing was far too gen­er­ous, and rush offer them addi­tion­al or bet­ter cards in return. Ripping peo­ple off is only going to work a few times before a play­er gets wise and starts telling oth­ers to steer clear.

Of course a “good trade” is always going to be deter­mined by what the play­er them­selves wants, but no one likes los­ing obvi­ous val­ue or feel­ing cheat­ed. It’s a fast way to lose friends, not get invit­ed to games, and even in extreme cas­es get banned from the store if you’re try­ing to pres­sure peo­ple too heav­i­ly. No one likes a greedy ass­hole.

Maximise Your Resources 

Trading is also a good way to max­imise what you get from Draft or Sealed for­mats. It’s easy for a group of play­ers to gain all the uncom­mon and com­mon cards they need for Standard by exchang­ing after a few drafts. If you can link with a good net­work of peo­ple to trade with, and effec­tive­ly pool your cards, then it’s far eas­ier to get all kinds of cards with­out spend­ing a sin­gle pen­ny. Just because a card is of low val­ue in mon­e­tary terms does not make it use­less, and doesn’t stop it some­times being a headache to find with­out pay­ing over the aver­age.

I’ll talk about this in a future arti­cle, but you can make your play­ing expe­ri­ence much bet­ter, and dri­ve your costs much low­er if you start think­ing about your play-group or friends in store as more of a shared card pool instead of pure­ly shop­ping for your­self.

Know when to Trade

I spoke in my “Why do peo­ple Quit Magic the Gathering?” arti­cle about many play­ers not sur­viv­ing their first rota­tion. This is due to the loss of val­ue and playable cards. The way for play­ers to mit­i­gate this is to ensure they trade away cards that they are no longer using in a deck, or trade out cards that are about to rotate out of Standard and are not of any util­i­ty in oth­er for­mats.

trade insert

There is a lot of good trad­ing that can be done in this win­dow, but it takes a degree of research. Here are a few ques­tions you need to ask your­self and points to con­sid­er:

Do I like the card and want it for my col­lec­tion? This is a fair­ly sim­ple ques­tion. There are some cards we just like — regard­less of util­i­ty. Sometimes you just have to put val­ue aside and think about what you want in your per­ma­nent binder. If you real­ly like it then don’t trade it.

Is the card see­ing wide­spread play in Modern or Legacy? If the answer is yes, even if the card is uncom­mon or com­mon, then it can still go up in val­ue sig­nif­i­cant­ly if it hasn’t been print­ed too much else­where. You might not want to trade this card just yet. If the answer is no then ask your­self the next ques­tion.

Is this card going to rotate in the upcom­ing sea­son of Standard? If the card is going to rotate, and it doesn’t have any util­i­ty out­side of stan­dard, then you prob­a­bly want to trade that card as soon as pos­si­ble if it still holds any val­ue.

Will this card still be use­ful in the upcom­ing sea­son of Standard? This can be hard­er to gauge, but if a lot of cards that sup­port a strat­e­gy are leav­ing the for­mat then that card is like­ly to go down in val­ue. If you think a card has peaked in val­ue then it might be time to max­imise trade val­ue, and you’ll want to trade it out soon­er rather than lat­er.

If you’re a more advanced trader this might also be a good time to spec­u­late on some of those low-value cards you think might be going up, or are becom­ing use­ful in eter­nal for­mats. Speculating with­out putting actu­al mon­ey into a hunch is far less risky, and if you are trad­ing bulk for bulk you don’t stand to lose too much.

Trade up, not down 

Conventional wis­dom would seem to dic­tate that ten $1 cards are as good as one $10, but that sim­ply isn’t the case. Generally play­ers don’t want unplayable bulk lying around, and that makes cards under a cer­tain val­ue thresh­old use­less for trad­ing for big­ger items. But it is pos­si­ble to trade a cou­ple of $10 cards for a $20 card. If you can trade for things that are use­ful in for­mats like Modern or Legacy then all the bet­ter as they will retain much more val­ue over time. Even cards under the usu­al use­ful val­ue thresh­old can be have a role; if a play­er is unsure about a trade you can always offer them a cheap­er card they might also want as a sweet­en­er. It’s a good way to tip some­one over the edge on an even val­ue trade as it makes them feel they got a good deal.

Conversely, don’t trade your high-dollar cards for a whole mess of junk rares you won’t be able to get rid of, or cards with a lim­it­ed shelf-life. Trading up allows you to break into more expen­sive for­mats once you decide to grad­u­ate from Standard. Just be aware it can be dif­fi­cult to do.

Going Online

Tolarian Community College already has a very good spon­sored video about the online trad­ing ser­vice Pucatrade, and it cov­ers most of the oth­er points I would want to cov­er. So to save rep­e­ti­tion I will just shove it here for con­ve­nience:

Summing Up

Like many things in a col­lec­table card game, trad­ing is sup­posed to be a fun, social, and enhanc­ing expe­ri­ence for the game. At first it can be stress­ful, or con­fus­ing, but once you get the basics down and start learn­ing the tricks to max­imise your trades then it opens up all kinds of oppor­tu­ni­ties to get cards you might not oth­er­wise afford. Stay vig­i­lant, but don’t become para­noid and dif­fi­cult; just remem­ber most of your trad­ing will hap­pen at your local game store so don’t be too stingy with them. SweeneyTrading Card GamesTraditional GamesMagic The GatheringWhen look­ing for the cards you want for Magic the Gathering, the most effi­cient way to obtain them is usu­al­ly by trad­ing with oth­er play­ers. Buying and sell­ing cards incurs costs on both sides of the trans­ac­tion, and it can also be dif­fi­cult to find buy­ers for cards of…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.