Magic the Gathering on a Budget: A Beginners Guide to Trading

John brings us a beginners guide to trading in Magic the Gathering as well as some tips and tricks for getting the best out of your trades.

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.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
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.
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