GP Atlanta was huge success for me! Not many players can go 1-3 and still say that. After sucking out of the event, I spent the rest of my weekend
hanging with the grinders, working the trade tables, and swimming with the sharks. For people on the outside looking in, trading at big events like a
GP probably seems to be all about the money, but for me, this isn’t the case. The trade tables are a great place for learning, and they are
teeming with talent.
You’re guaranteed to run into a wide variety of characters, everything from Medina-wanna-be’s-never-gonna-be’s to the really sharp up-and-comers.
This is also where the trade veterans hang out — I’m talking about guys who have a couple sets of revised dual lands and unlimited Power in
their trade box. The collaboration with these guys is really reminiscent of the kind of collaboration that happens in one of biggest institutions in
the country, prison.
“You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do in here, you know.” There was plenty of machismo in my brother’s voice. I
couldn’t help but worry for him. I didn’t want him buying into the jailhouse bull crap. For those of you who don’t know, prison is
like a graduate school for criminals. When you fill a building with convicts who have nothing to do, they spend hours perfecting their hustles,
comparing notes, and building a network.
Much like prison is a boon to the criminal mind, the trade tables at big tournaments are my sanctum of learning. If you’re in the know, financial
information is free-flowing. There’s no other environment where the financial tech is this solid. All weekend (in Atlanta), I was hearing things
“Ship Thoughtseizes now!”
“Pick up Time Warp.”
“Pick up Shape Anew.”
“Pernicious Deed is due for a price bump.”
I spent most of my weekend talking to the veterans and the new grinders; amid the typical financial conversation, we stumbled onto an interesting topic
about the player who trades to play (TTP). When it comes to trading (or anything), there are different kinds of Magic players (I took this sentence
from the Captain Obvious handbook). If you understand how people do business and what motivates them, then you can better serve them and make
opportunities for yourself.
There are four types of Magic players. Naturally there are exceptions to the rule, and there are even people who straddle more than one type.
— This person shows up to a tournament with no deck, and then by the player meeting, they their seventy-five sleeved and ready to go. Since
“The Borrower” always borrows cards, they don’t have a collection to trade.
— This person would rather buy their cards than trade for them. They have very little to trade (probably draft leftovers) because they only buy
what they need, and typically they keep what they buy.
— This is the person who trades for money or to increase the value of their collection. They have lots to trade, but they’re looking to gain
Before we move to the fourth type, have you noticed something? None of these three player types are profitable to trade with. This raises the question,
where do guys like me gain value? We get it from this guy, the trade to play (TTP) player.
The Trade to Play Player (TTP)
— This person can’t afford to buy all the cards that they need, so they leverage their collection and budget to run the decks that they
want to run. These players are in a troublesome predicament because they are the “lower life form” of the Magic economy. I don’t mean
this in an insulting way; I’m just trying to give the position perspective. Let’s look at their options or lack thereof.
Can they buy the cards that they need?
No. If they could, then they would be a Buyer or a Businessman. There’s a reason that they’re trading for the cards that they need. It’s
because they can’t afford them.
Can they can barrow cards?
Yes, but if they’re at the trade tables, then chances are that they were unsuccessful in borrowing the cards. Even if they borrow their
friend’s cards, they’ll always get the leftovers, which is fine if you just want to game but not fine for serious tournament competition.
Can they sell their cards to a dealer?
Yes, this is a sure way to get money, but this method does not offer the same return on their investment as floor trading does. The loss in value
entices them to trade with other players. This is obvious, but its effect isn’t so obvious. If the dealer set low buy prices and the TTP player
has no money to buy cards, then what position does this put the Businessman in?
Think about it; the TTP can’t buy the cards; they can’t go to the Borrower or the Buyer, so they’re almost forced to do business with the
Businessman, which means that the Businessman can value their cards at whatever they want as long as they’re above the dealer buy prices. This
situation creates a cycle in which the TTP player is stuck losing value every time that they switch decks, and the Businessman (and dealers) profit.
The Cycle Begins
The cycle begins when the TTP player makes their initial investment in Magic. Typically, the person buys a bunch of sealed product and builds a crappy
Ally or artifact deck. They play it with their friends until they stumble into the card shop and cross paths with tournament players. The allure of
tournament play sucks them into the cycle, and their first real-world trading experience happens when one of the tournament players asks, “Do you
guys have trade stuff?”
Keep in mind this tournament player is probably in the same cycle that newbie is about to begin. The tournament player strips the guy of a bunch of his
playables in exchange for a bunch of casually appealing cards. Over the next few weeks, the new tournament player gets his ass kicked all over the card
shop, and he wants a better deck, but it turns out that his collection doesn’t have a lot of value. The common move here is to use everything he
has to build his first competitive deck.
This gets him through a month or two until a new set comes out; then he needs to make a new deck, one that is more relevant. So he trades the expensive
cards from his first deck for the expensive cards of the new deck. Then he makes a small cash buy for the odds and ends. It’s much like the
payday loan system.
How the Cycle Works
If you’ve never done a payday loan, this is how it works (so I’ve heard). You can borrow money until your next paycheck. Then when your
next paycheck comes, you need to pay the money back plus a fee. Let’s say you borrow $400; a week later, you need to pay the $400 + $35 dollars
for the fee. Now here’s the problem: you’re short $435 dollars for this paycheck! The typical remedy to this problem is to borrow another
$400 until next week. I’m sure that you can see where this is going.
This isn’t a perfect analogy, but the concept is still the same; every time a TTP player switches decks, they need to pay that fee. The
Businessmen are the facilitators of this transaction, and they pocket this fee. When you put this in simple terms, then it doesn’t seem to have
“Players trade their old cards for new cards. If you have cards to trade them, then you can make a profit.”
Obviously! But when you understand this as a cycle and not as a fact, then you gain an edge. If there’s one thing that I love as a Magic player,
it’s free information. Keeping this cycle in mind while trading or meeting people will give you information. It will tell you things like how
they trade, what they are likely to have for trade, and even when they will be more interested in trading.
I watch the players at my local store. Not in a creepy stalker way but I keep an eye on what decks that they’re playing. I know that when they switch
decks, there are probably key cards from the other deck for trade. If one week they are playing a Vengevine / Fauna Shaman deck and then three weeks
later they are playing Caw-Go, then I can be pretty sure that they have Fauna Shamans and Raging Ravines for trade, since they probably traded the
Vengevines for Jaces.
If I flip to the back of a binder and I see four Creeping Tar Pits and two Grave Titans, I automatically know that this person is trying to build U/B
Control. I also know that he’s a trade to play (TTP) player and that he probably needs his third Grave Titan. When someone Duresses you, the last
thing that you want to do is make sudden eye movements toward the card that you need to keep. This is going to tip your opponent off to your game plan,
and it’s going to allow him to get you over a barrel. The TTP player is figuratively in the same situation.
When I notice the missing Titan in the back of the binder, I know that the TTP player needs it, but I’m not going to let them know that I know.
Somewhere toward the end of the deal, I’m going to collect TTP tax when I trade that Titan. The TTP player loses a lot of bargaining power in this
situation. For example, they can’t say, “I’ll just go buy one at the vendors,” with any amount of believability. Both of us
know that the last thing that they want to do is buy something; they might not even be able to.
Breaking the Cycle
As you can see, there are a lot of subtleties that you can pick up as a trader by understanding the TTP cycle. If you identify with this TTP player,
then you’re probably asking yourself, how can I break the cycle? This is a tricky question because if you’re trading to play, then chances are
you don’t have a lot of resources. The key is utilizing your resources properly. Here are my recommendations for TTP players.
Pick a style of play and stick with it. I love to play control; when Jace came out, I picked up four. From the new set, I made it a priority to get:
These are the only cards that I cared about, since these seem like cards that would go in a control deck. You’ll notice that I don’t care
about the Green Sun’s Zenith or Thrun, the Last Troll; this frees up my resources, since I don’t need to trade for them, and I can trade
them off if I get them. Chances are that when I go to build an Extended deck, some of these cards will be in it. If I were to change my play style to a
midrange style, then I would have to convert my collection to Vengevines, Fauna Shaman, and things like this. Since the TTP player pays a fee every
time they convert cards, it’s best to pick one play style and stick with it. This is also helpful when trading because you can trade off staples
that are not in your play style without worrying about needing them for a deck.
To break the cycle, you’ll also need to become part Businessman. Merely trading cards doesn’t make you a trader; being strategic about it does.
The key difference between TTP players and the Businessman is that the Businessman needs nothing, so he is free to trade at his own pace for whatever
is profitable. This gives the Businessman the opportunity to wait for good value trades. To break the cycle, you have to trade like the Businessman.
This means that you will trade for cards that you don’t need for value.
You also have to become the Borrower; build a network of other players, and pool your resources. I’m not saying to become a full Borrower, but
borrowing cards for tournaments instead of trading for them before the tournament gives you time to bargain hunt. It allows you to be like the
Businessman because you don’t need the cards, since you can borrow them. Make decisions that build your collection instead of cashing it in every
time you get the urge to play a new deck. Over time, once you build your collection and your trading skill, you can start shopping your collection for
cards that you need and still have plenty left to trade. Building a collection is the only way to break the cycle, so you’ll have to use
self-discipline to get there.
Before I get out of here, I wanted to give you a “This Just In” tip. It may not be relevant by the time you read this, but I’m at SCG Indy
right now, and, judging from the performance of the new Kuldotha Red deck, you probably want to pick up these two cards.
The deck is brutally fast, and it’s in its early stages of development, so there’s room for the deck to get better. Thanks for reading.