Going Infinite – Sideboarding for the “Sharks” Matchup

Monday, January 10th – A shark is a value trader that takes advantage of people at any cost. Jon Medina is here to give you the tools to distinguish between sharks and other traders and avoid bad trades. Don’t lose to the shark matchup!

I’ve met many different types of traders on my way to becoming the ultimate trading end boss. Some traders are pleasant to deal with, and some
are dangerous. It seems like more than ever, the trade floor is teeming with sharks. Every time that I see them, it reminds me of those Zombies from
Dawn of the Dead,

pressing on the glass doors of the shopping mall, moaning “trades, trades!” People might classify me as a shark, but I think it’s important to make the distinction between a shark and a BAMF.

Side Note:

Speaking of BAMFs, have you seen that Mike Flores is writing for Star City Games again?
Check out his column, Flores Friday.

It’s also important to distinguish the difference between a shark and a grinder. Some of you in the North East think that a grinder is a sandwich, but that’s not what I’m talking about. A grinder is a value trader that gains value incrementally. It may be hard to tell the difference between a grinder and a shark, but hopefully after today, you’ll have a good grasp of the two.

A shark is a value trader that takes advantage of people at any cost. Their mode of operation is to soak the most money out of you and your collection that they can. A shark is like the guy who wants to hook up with every chick that he sees. He’s not interested in building a relationship, instead he’s focused on the one-time score; if the trader (or chick) stupidly comes back for more, the shark will gladly take advantage of them again. This is different from a grinder.

I consider myself a grinder. My focus is to make money. In order to do that, I often offer people less than market value for their cards. Some consider this to be taking advantage of people, but I do not. I view it as an exchange-rate service. It’s like when you get off the plane in another country, and you need to get the local currency. It costs money to switch your USD to the local currency. The difference between a grinder and a shark is that the grinder wants to build a relationship and ensure repeat business. You can see these differences in the type of tools that each type of trader depends on for building value.

The Tools

It wouldn’t be accurate for me to say that a grinder

use “X’ tools or sharks

use “Y” tools. I use a plethora of different to tools to grind into value. Between grinders and sharks, there are tools that each group primarily uses because they suit their endgame better. For example, a grinder won’t typically use lying as a tool because it’s not conducive to his overall strategy. A shark, on the other hand, will lie through all five rows of his teeth.

Grinder Tools

The strategy of a grinder is to keep a trading relationship open and gain value incrementally. You’ll notice that trading with a grinder usually yields a consistent result. These are the tools that grinders rely on to gain value.


– This is very important in the world of a grinder. It’s primarily how they make their money. You won’t typically see them with a calculator and price lists, but you can be sure that they’re processing every penny in their head.


– Grinders are often very well-versed on the pricing of cards. This includes retail pricing, buy-list pricing, and eBay pricing. This is how a grinder gets his edge. A grinder can offer better buy prices than a dealer and undercut dealer sale prices by lowering their margin. In a grinder’s mind, a lower margin is better than no income.


– This is also a big piece of the puzzle for grinders. If you had a foil Russian Zendikar fetchland, would you know where to get the maximum value for it? Chances are that you don’t, but I do (hi, Adam). This is another way that grinders gain value; they build a network of outlets. Remember when I talked about relationship being key? This is why.

There are two things that I don’t have contacts for: full sets and uncut sheets. If you bring me anything else, I can move it. This is not an invitation. Instead, I’m trying to show you some of the subtleties of how a grinder makes money without being a shark. When I see a rare card or when I’m examining a pile of cards, one of the first questions I ask is “who can I ship this to?”

Shark Tools

I don’t like sharks; they give traders a bad name. They also annoy the crap out of me because they think that rolling some kid for his cards makes them a good trader. This short-lived rant comes with the confession that I’ve sharked in the past. I opt not to shark now. If I did shark someone, it’d be all over the interwebs before the end of the week, and that’s bad for business. Oh yeah, it’s also bad for the game. Let’s talk about the ways that sharks get their edge.


– This should be familiar; it’s something that we’ve all done.

“Do you know how fast you were going?”
“Umm, no.”

 “Were you looking at that girl?!”
“Umm, no.”

“Isn’t Primeval Titan worth like $33?”
“Umm, no.”

At GP Nashville last year, I overhear this conversation between a player and a shark. I don’t remember the shark’s name, so let’s just call him

and let’s call the clueless trader
Noob Trader 105

(I added the number because it gives the story a science-fiction feel).

D-Bag: I want your Blade of the Bloodchief.

*Noob Trader 105 smiles*

Noob Trader 105: You’re like the third guy that’s asked about that. Why does everyone want this card?

*D-Bag lies*

D-Bag: I don’t know. Is it for trade?
Noob Trader 105: I guess; how much is it worth?
D-Bag: It’s a junk rare; it’s worth like a quarter.
Noob Trader 105: The other guy gave me like $2 for it. I think I want at least $1.

*More lies, plus harassment*

D-Bag: It doesn’t see play in anything; no way is it worth a dollar.

This is where I cut in; since everyone else got name changes, I’ll change mine, too.

Captain Awesome (that’s me): Doesn’t it see play in the new Vampires build?

*I turn my attention to the D-Bag and give him the “you know I’m right” look*

D-Bag: No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t see play anywhere.

Captain Awesome: Who are you trying to fool, man? It was in
Gavin Verhey article,
and now it’s seeing tons of MTGO play.

*Deny, deny, deny*

D-Bag: No, it isn’t. It doesn’t see play.
Captain Awesome: Then why do you want it?

*D-Bag starts to ignore me and looks over at Noob Trader 105*

D-Bag: So, are they for trade?
Noob Trader 105: I think I’m going to hold onto them.

D-bag shuts his binder and pouts for a couple minutes before leaving. Good riddance, freaking liar!


– This tactic is useful because most Magic players are easily intimidated. Why? I don’t know; I assume it’s because of low self-esteem. One of the intimidation tactics that sharks use is that they put a bunch of an expensive card on one page. Like a whole page of Force of Will, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or back in my day, Tarmogoyf. This seems impressive, but you have to ask yourself.

Why does this guy have a page of Jace, the Mind Sculptors? He isn’t selling the Jaces, or else they wouldn’t be in the page; they’d be sold. If he’s saving them because he thinks that they’ll go up in value, then why does he have them in the trade binder? The reason is obvious; it’s a scare tactic. He wants to say, “I’m superior to you” or “I don’t need your cards.” It’s a head game that helps him gain an advantage over you.


– It took me about five minutes to actually name this “tool.” It’s really hard to define, but I used the word “trickery” to describe all the in-trade tricks that sharks use to work you on pricing. For the shark, it’s about getting the most out of every trade with the least amount of effort. This is why sharks are often inpatient and hard to negotiate with. If I could put a subtitle to their existence, it would be

Are you going to hurry up and let me rip you off? If not, I’ll just go to the next person.

Here are the in-trade tricks that you should look out for.

Price Checking

–You can usually spot this trick in the phrase, “How much do you value this at?” However, even basic traders use this phrase to establish other people’s value systems. You can test this question by asking it back without giving a value, “What do you value it at?” A regular trader will give a price or try to reason into one like, “Well, last time I checked, it was $3, and he doesn’t see as much play anymore, maybe $2?” A shark will not give a straight answer. Instead, you’ll get a response like, “Your cards; you tell me.” They want you to value your cards, so that you get the opportunity to undervalue them.

Double Dipping

– This is another trick that sharks use, and it’s a total waste of time. A shark did this to me at the SCG Open in Philly last year, and I almost punched him in the mouth. I’m usually not offended by these tricks – I get it. “You’re trying to gain value.” No big deal, but this time it was particularly annoying.

I was working on Pack to Power at the time, so my time to grind was less than it usually was. I was also playing in the event, which made my time even more precious. I usually like to tease the sharks, but I was avoiding them that day because I was putting in work, and I didn’t have time to waste. Anyway, one of these sharks sits down next to me and says, “Do you have trades?”

Captain Awesome: I’m not interested, sorry.

Him: But I’ve seen you trading all day.

Captain Awesome: Let me rephrase; I’m not interested in trading with you.

Him: Why not?

Captain Awesome: Look, I know what you’re about, and you’re not going to get value off me, man!

Him: Do you mind if I at least look?

By now my friends had come over, so I obliged, since I was busy talking to them anyway.

Captain Awesome: Sure, have at it.

He immediately went to work, pointing at cards, “Path to Exile?”

I felt like saying, “Yes, that’s a Path to Exile; I’m glad that you can read,” but instead I gave him the price. Remember the first tool of sharking, “price checking.” That’s what this guy was trying to do. To make a long story short, we went through the whole binder, and he wore me down on the prices, card after card. I gave him my absolute lowest pricing. After the whole exercise, he had a stack of cards that he pulled out of the binder. It added up to something like $96.

He said, “This is about 90… How about 80?”

Do you see what he did there? After getting me to make concessions on each card, he then hit me with a blanket discount on top of that! That’s what we call double dipping, or being a D. I laughed and said, “I’m already giving you the discount on each card; I’m not giving you anymore.” He went on about how he’s buying for a store (like I care), and how if the numbers don’t work, he can’t do the deal.

I said “okay” and nodded. This is me messing with his mind, as if I’m going to agree with the deal. “So, you’ll take 80?” he said. “No. I meant, okay, I understand that you can’t do the deal. See you later.” He got agitated and tried to make me feel bad. I told him to beat it and stop wasting my time. I think at some point, he wanted to go back to the $96, but by then, my round was called, and I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.


– This is also a very common practice of sharks. They overvalue their cards and undervalue yours. This makes a gap between the two cards that you have to fill. The difference between this and using a dealer buy list or building value incrementally is that the values in this method have no basis in the real world. It’s whatever the shark thinks he can take you for. There’s an easy way to stop this; know your prices!

Sideboarding for Sharks

Alright, you should be able to spot a shark now, and you should have a basic idea of how to approach a deal with a shark. Let’s flesh out the finer points of how to gain an edge against sharks. You can think about this as your sideboard guide for the “sharks” matchup.

Know Your Stuff –

This is the best thing that you could have in your arsenal against sharks. If you know what your cards are worth and what their cards are worth, then they won’t be able to lie about pricing or railroad you into a trade.

When you get to an event, you should always do what I call a “walkthrough.” This is when you go to each dealer table and look for three things.

Cards that you have in your binder.

This will give you information to support your pricing when you’re on the trade floor.

Cards that you’re looking for.

Having this information will keep you from “overpaying” in a trade or at another dealer.

Cards that are underpriced.

Sometimes dealers underprice cards. I’ve bought cards from one dealer only to sell them to the next dealer for more than I bought it for a moment later.

The “walkthrough” should give you the information that you need for battling sharks on the trade floor. If you don’t know a price, don’t be afraid to look it up. Even if you do know a price, this could be a good tactic for negotiation. I’ll talk more about this in a moment. Let’s get back to the tools.

Call Them Out

– If they lie about something, call them out. For some people, this isn’t in their nature, but part of the way that sharks do business is through deception. When you uncover their lies, then they don’t have any power in the deal. Sometimes this puts them on the spot, and they’re forced to lie more to save face and even give you a fair deal. It’s important to call them out, but don’t argue with them. If they argue, just tell them you can’t do business.

Say No

– If someone passes you a joint, you should say “no.” The same is true when dealing with sharks; if you don’t like what they’re proposing, then just say no. A shark would like you to believe that they don’t need your cards. Remember they have a page of Jace TMS’s, but the truth is if everyone said “no,” then the shark would never get to level up at the trade table. At some level, every trader needs your cards; if they didn’t, then they wouldn’t go through so much trouble to get them.

Game the Clock

– There’s one thing that sharks hate: wasted time. They have a lot of people to work and only a short time to do it. I usually purposely waste these guys’ time for my amusement. It puts them in a pressured situation because they don’t want to seem like a jerk and just leave, but they also want to make as many trades as possible. Sometimes the pressure will cause them to make a poor trade.

Maintain Control

– This is essential when dealing with sharks. Since sharks thrive on control, you need to tell them where to sit, what binder to look at, and what cards they can trade for; it sets the mental mode for the trade. It seems silly that you have to set a mental mode of trading, but it’s no different from a game of Magic.

Sometimes you miss a land drop on purpose or swing in a way that says “I know you’re sitting on Baltic with nothing.” When dealing with sharks, sometimes I ask for the binder back in the middle of a trade. This is to break their concentration and to put a little note in their head, “I’m in charge here.” You can also get others involved with the trade; this introduces an element of peer pressure. Ask your friends or bystanders, “what do you think of this trade?” People are always happy to jump in.

Check Prices

– Or at least threaten to check the price. This will make a shark come down on a card, especially if people are watching. It also dispels any arguments over card prices. This alone dismantles most of the tools that sharks use: lying, price checking, gapping, and double dipping. It also helps to selectively check prices; this works well with this final move that I’m going to teach you. 

Take Stuff off the Table

– This is the masterstroke, but it’s only effective if you lead it right. When the shark is price checking or lying, play into his game for some cards. It’s helpful if you do it with more expensive cards on your side, cards that the shark will want. It’s also important that you fight the shark using peer pressure, price look-ups, and the clock to get him to bring some of his cards down. The shark will think that this it’s okay to give you low prices on some cards because he’s expecting to get everything and still bag a massive gain.

At the end of the trade when you’re doing final tallies, take the cards that you agreed with him about off the table saying, “I’d rather keep these.” Then match up the cards that you fought with him on, the cards that he marked down. This essentially takes all of the shark’s expected profit out of the trade and results in either a fair trade or a trade that’s in your favor.

There are lots of subtleties that can be learned when dealing with sharks. Give some of these tips a try. If something goes horribly wrong (whatever that means), then just abort the trade. You shouldn’t be intimidated by the shark. Be confident. You understand their game now, so go take ’em down!

I hope this article has been helpful! See you next week.

Much love,

Jonathan Medina