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.

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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.