I’ve been hitting the trade tables pretty hard over the last few weeks, and it’s been great for sharpening my skills. The best way to
improve your trade game is to stay in the rhythm of trading cards. This helps to perfect your information. “Information” is a pretty
ambiguous word, but I hope to dig into what it means in regard to pricing today.
It’s quiz time; I need rapid-fire answers here. Ready? How much are these cards worth? (Write your answers down and then check them after.)
Leyline of Sanctity
I had to put this space in for the cheaters who would try to look. Did you write your answers down?
It’s a good thing that I don’t get paid for article length.
All right, before we get to prices, it’s important to put this in context. Getting value at the trade tables revolves around having the correct
information and leveraging it. Card prices are complex, but today, we’ll only be looking at three dimensions of the typical card price: the perceived
value, the retail value, and the cash value. We’ll start with perceived value.
Dimension 1: Perceived Pricing
There’s no price guide that defines the perceived value of cards. In a nutshell, the perceived value is the value that most people assign to a
card; you get a feel for what the perceived value is after asking as many people as I do. Perceived value is important because it defines a common
price point for cards. It gives a starting place for valuation when negotiating. We’ll talk more about this below; for now, let’s look at
the perceived value for the cards listed above.
Leyline of Sanctity $2
Consecrated Sphinx $3
Toxin Sliver $3
Underground Sea $120
Pyromancer Ascension $2
Vampire Nighthawk $1
Captivating Vampire $1
Luminarch Ascension $1
Grim Tutor $135
One of the tactics that grinders use is to navigate the perceived value to gain value on a trade. This technique doesn’t always work because
every now and then, you’ll run into someone who is ahead of the curve and has an accurate grasp on the retail and cash value. Here’s an
My buddy JR and I were breaking the ice at the beginning of the SCG Open in Louisville with some small trade action. I probed the room for traders,
then eventually took a seat next to JR to watch him trade. I have a sick fascination with watching other people negotiate. JR was pulling a pile of
cards out of a guy’s binder when he stumbled upon a Toxin Sliver.
“Three?” JR said as he motioned to the Sliver. The guy smiled and shook his head. JR answered back, “Well, what do you want for
it?” The guy answered, “I’m looking for more like $8.” Without missing a beat, JR said, “Eight! That’s a lot!” The
guy cut JR off and said, “Well, Star City buys them at $5!” JR cracked a small smile and said, “I understand that…” His smile
grew into a chuckle as he continued, “…so, five then?”
The guy in this example knew what the cards in his binder were worth. In hindsight, that fact should have been obvious because the Toxin Sliver was
chilling in the fetchland binder. The point here is that JR couldn’t lose because he knew the perceived value of the Sliver. If the guy
didn’t know the cash or retail value of the Sliver, then JR could have made some money on the trade. The fact that he did know didn’t hurt
the negotiation because he probably assumed that JR was just ignorant (JR eventually tipped his hand, but that’s another discussion).
If you give a value that the general population of Magic players accept, then you won’t be viewed as a scumbag if the person knows the actual
value. This is beneficial because being viewed as a scumbag is usually detrimental to negotiations. Let’s see this at work in a fictitious
scenario. Let’s say that you have a Stoneforge Mystic that you want to get rid of due to the fact that there are two in the Event Deck. Being the
savvy trader that you are, you check the price and see that they are selling for $15 on StarCityGames.com. At the trade tables, you run into someone
looking for a Stoneforge, and the conversation goes like this.
Random: I’m interested in your Stoneforge, what do you put it at?
You: Aren’t they like $25? (Notice that you are asking a question and not stating a price here—I know, tricky, tricky!)
Let’s pause here. If the guy bites and takes it at $25, then you win big; if not, then you can still ship the Stoneforge at retail without
identifying yourself as a value trader (some people don’t take kindly to those types) because you quoted the perceived price. It’s
reasonable that you would think that Stoneforge is $25 since that’s the perceived value. Let’s continue with the example.
Random: No, they dropped since they are in the duel Decks.
You: That makes sense; what are they at now?
Random: $15 on SCG
You: Okay, so where are we at on the stuff that I pulled?
From this point, you’ll probably try to grind some value on the stuff that you pulled, but that’s not the focus of this section. The focus
is how the perceived value allows you to get more for your cards or pick up cards for less without identifying yourself as a grinder. Perceived value
is created by price memory and information lag. When I talk about picking up cards that are in “the window,” it simply means to get the
cards when their perceived values are less than their retail values.
Dimension 2: Retail Pricing
A good example of “the window” concept and a good segue into the next pricing dimension is Underground Sea. The perceived price of
Underground Sea is $120, but the retail price (on StarCityGames.com) is $150. This price increase just happened, so the window is still open; you can
still find people who value their Underground Seas at $120. Before we discuss this further, let’s look at the retail pricing for the rest of the
Leyline of Sanctity $4
Consecrated Sphinx $5
Toxin Sliver $10
Underground Sea $150
Pyromancer Ascension $3
Vampire Nighthawk $2
Captivating Vampire $4
Luminarch Ascension $1.49
Grim Tutor $200
As you can see, most of the perceived values are lower than the retail values. This is not always the case. Cards like Karn Liberated ($25) and Sword
of War and Peace ($25) had moments recently where their perceived values were higher than their retail values. When this happens, you should try to get
rid of these cards at the high perceived value before the retail value becomes common knowledge.
We’re living in the days when “it’s probably about $2” is not good enough for your trade partner anymore. We live in the era
where smart phones are everywhere, and even the SCGMobile app (which is completely awesome, by the way) educates your trade partners on pricing. One of
the biggest questions I get is, “Medina, how can you get value on trades when everyone is running around with a smart phone?” The answer is
in understanding the three-dimensional pricing model that we’re talking about right now. You don’t have to make value on every trade, but
you should always try to get virtual value.
Virtual value is when you trade for something that you are pretty sure you can trade to someone else for more or when you trade up. To gain virtual
value, you have to work with two things. The first is alternate pricing sources. The pricing picture looks different when you use FindMagicCards.com
(FMC) pricing instead of StarCityGames.com (SCG) pricing.
Leyline of Sanctity $3
Consecrated Sphinx $3.5
Toxin Sliver $5
Underground Sea $125
Pyromancer Ascension $1.25
Vampire Nighthawk $2
Captivating Vampire $2
Luminarch Ascension $1
Grim Tutor $200
Do you see the difference? It’s not drastically different but different enough to make a buck or two if you value your cards at SCG prices and
theirs at FMC. Switching between these pricing websites is not easy to do during a trade, but it’s good to have the knowledge. Even though there are a
lot of people checking smart phones, it’s very rare for them to check every price of every card to make sure that things match up.
If someone wants to do that, then let them. If you get stuck in this situation, the best thing to do is trade using the website with the lowest prices
so that you can trade the cards off for higher prices from other websites later (this is virtual value again).
Dimension 3: The Cash Price
The second thing that comes into play in getting virtual value is our third dimension of pricing, the cash price. In this article, when I say
“the cash price,” I mean the buy list price. I use the buy list price because it’s the only consistent measure that we have at the
event. You can sell an Underground Sea to someone on MOTL for $120, but you’re not guaranteed a buyer at that price every time. The buy list is
as close as we get to consistent and guaranteed pricing, but it’s important to note that dealers may stop buying stuff or stop offering the same
price offered at the beginning of the day. Let’s look at the StarCityGames.com buy list prices for the cards.
Leyline of Sanctity $1
Consecrated Sphinx $2
Toxin Sliver $5
Underground Sea $90
Pyromancer Ascension $.50
Vampire Nighthawk –
Captivating Vampire $.50
Luminarch Ascension –
Grim Tutor $125
If you look at this buy list, you might notice some cool things. First of all, you can buy Toxin Slivers at $5 at FindMagicCards.com. This means that
if you’re trading for a Toxin Sliver, you should base the trade on FindMagicCards.com because you can get its cash value. You can complete the
trade, then walk over to the SCG booth, and get $5 cash for it. This also means that if you’re trading away a Toxin Sliver, you should use the SCG
Now if you add other buy lists to the mix, you get even more play. For example, here are some Troll and Toad buy prices.
Vampire Nighthawk $1.13
Captivating Vampire $1.58
Pyromancer Ascension $1.13
Imagine walking around a tournament with this kind of information. You can pick up infinite Vampire Nighthawks in trades at $.50 or as a throw-in, but
you can sell them for over $1. These are the kinds of things that knowing your pricing allows you to do.
Before I get out of here today, I am going to tie this whole 3-D pricing model together with a story from last weekend.
The Binder that Kept Giving
I looked over at a guy who was just about to get up from the tables. “Got any trades?” I asked.
He passed his binder over and started thumbing through my binder. He apologized, “I don’t have much stuff. I was actually about to see what
the dealer would give me on it. I can’t imagine that I would get much for it. It’s mostly junk.”
I quickly flipped through the pages; there were about 37 pages of mostly bulk rares with some highlights. “What do you expect to get out of
it?” I asked. “I don’t know; I would be surprised if I got more than $60 out of it.”
This is perceived value concept in effect here. The guy perceives the value of his binder to be low, but in the right hands, the binder is worth more
than $60 easily. I know this because I did some quick gorilla math. 37 pages is roughly 16 cards per page, which equals 592 cards. Dealers on site were
buying bulk rares at $.10 each, which means that the binder was at least worth $59. He also had some non-bulk cards like a Sword of Feast and Famine
and a couple of Jace Belerens.
I said, “I am interested in the whole binder if we can settle on a price.”
He answered back, “I really don’t see anything,” and pushed my binder back toward me.
I said, “I have duals in another binder, but if I trade you a dual, then I have to get your binder for $50.” He obliged and picked out a
dual. I picked out cards from his small binder and deck stuff to finish the dual trade. Once the binder was in my possession, I separated the cards
that were in it.
I took the stuff like the Sword of Feast and Famine and the Jace Belerens along with anything else that would trade well at retail prices and put them
in my trade binder. Then I pulled the buy list cards like Pyromancer Ascension (Cool Stuff was buying these for $2), and I put them in a stack. Once I
had the cards organized, I went from dealer to dealer to sell the buy list cards and the leftovers from the binder. At the end of the day, after
selling the bulk rares, I ended up with over $50 cash and the Sword of Feast and Famine, Jaces Belerens, and some other stuff that I figured I could
trade at retail.
The moral of the story is: if you understand the 3-D pricing model, then you can get the most out of your deals. If I didn’t know buy list
pricing or retail pricing, then I wouldn’t know how to maximize the cards in this binder. Stay tuned for next week, where I’ll analyze GP
Providence and how it will impact the market. Thanks for reading!