There are few people out there who are as good at trading as I am, but nobody runs hot all the time. In the comments last week, there was a particular comment that got me thinking.
“Seriously does every article need to be about how good you are? Am I the only one noticing a pattern of back-patting ego going on constantly in these articles?”
Usually I would make a smart-alec comment about how awesome I am, but since the comment came from someone that I respect, I pondered the topic. I knew that this week would be about my biggest blunders, the only problem was finding times when I actually failed. It took me all week, but I came up with my top five trade fails.
I lose value on trades here and there, but most of the time it’s intentional. It’s like a mini trade; for example, I’ll trade value for reputation or value for my trade partner’s happiness. What makes these five trades different is that I didn’t intentionally lose value. Without further ado here are my top five failures as a trader in semi-chronological order.
One: Paying Dues
When I was a young pup on the Magic scene, I didn’t know anything about trading. I can still remember my first trade binder. I stuck every card I owned in my binder, including the commons and uncommons. One of the regulars at my shop, Steve Z was excited to see me with a fat trade binder. I can just imagine what he was thinking as he looked at the packed pages of the closed binder. The joke was on him when he opened it to find pages of commons; it wasn’t quite the treasure trove that he had hoped for. After flipping through half the binder, Steve closed it and said, “You know that you don’t have to stick commons and uncommons in your binder; you should probably only put rares.” I was grateful for his advice, so I switched it up for the next week.
Since I only had a few pages of rares, I decided to bust a box of Future Sight (much to my wife’s dismay) to buff my binder. I don’t remember what was in the box and come to think of it, there are very few packs that I remember opening.
DETOUR: Top 5 Packs Ever
One: Planar Chaos–
The first foil that I ever opened was a foil Damnation. I opened it in one of my first packs and immediately shipped it to eBay. Why would I want to kill my own creatures!? Stupid Card.
I and my bro, Josh Gannon, split a box of Eventide. We both love the U/G color combination, so we were hoping to pack a Flooded Grove. My wife needed me at Kmart, so I told Josh, “Be right back, open whatever half that you want.” I don’t remember what Josh packed, but my first pack had a foil Flooded Grove and a regular one. This pack still remains legendâ€”wait for itâ€”dairy.
I split a case with my buddy Eugene. I knew it was an outside shot, but I was really hoping for a foil Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker for my cube. We opened my half first. It was the crappiest three boxes that I ever opened. I was cleaning up when Eugene said, “You’re never gonna believe this man!” He used to always mess with me, so I didn’t pay attention, until he flashed me a foil Bolas. Needless to say, I traded for it.
I bought two cases; one was English, and one was Japanese. My excuse was that I needed to stock my trade binders, and I was expecting the fetches to hold value, but secretly I just wanted to open a foil Japanese Misty Rainforest. After tearing through both cases, I was down to two packs of Japanese. I was so pissed. I opened two foil Japanese Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet, but no foil Japanese fetches. Distraught, I opened the second-to-last pack; there it was in all its glory, a beautiful, shiny foil Japanese Misty Rainforest. I said, “Yes!! Now, we’re in business!” My wife looked at me. I was sitting on the living room floor, buried in wrappers. She said, “Oh, did you get the card you wanted. Cool. Now can you clean up all these wrappers?”
I was at a local Prerelease, and the store was so packed that I had to sit at a table in the front of the store. The store owner had just finished making an announcement, so I jumped up and put in a trade plug, “If you guys pack a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, then trade it to me!” I sat back down to open my packs. Behind the metallic wrapper, Jace was waiting for me. I stuck him on the face of a pack and jumped up again, “Just so you know, Jace looks like this. If you pack one, see me after.”
My binder was packed with lots of Future Sight love, and I was ready for some trading. As usual I got to the tournament about fifteen minutes early. I sat down to do some trading with my buddy Chris. He flipped through the binder and stopped at the page with the two Tarmogoyfs. “I want these; are you trading them?”
I looked at the Goyfs. “Didn’t I trade you one of these a few weeks ago?”
He answered back, “Yeah, but I haven’t made my playset yet.”
I shrugged, “Sure man, I’ll trade them to you.” We agreed to settle up at his house after the tournament.
After much negotiation, I was the proud owner of a new Snow deck with all the basic snow lands that I could’ve wanted. Not to mention that the deck ran Skred; this was my favorite card at the time and probably in my top five favorite cards of all time.
DETOUR: Top 5 Favorite Cards of All Time
At the time Tarmogoyf was about $20 a pop, and in some alternate reality, this Snow deck, with the only rares being Scrying Sheets, was worth $40. I never regretted this trade, or any trade that I made as a beginner. I see now how lopsided they were, and I get a chuckle out of how those guys rolled me for value, but I just consider it my initiation into the world of trading.
Everyone entering the game has to pay their dues. They have to take losses for silly misplays. They have to get game losses for rules violations. They have to lose value in trades, and even at the pro level, you have to play the credit card game and take a hit in the pocketbook every now and then. At the end of the day, those who pay their dues and endure become better for it.
It wasn’t until I wanted Tarmogoyfs for my Threshold deck that I realized how bad that trade was for me. As it turns out, not a lot of people wanted to trade their Tarmogoyfs for Snow cards. I had to use Quirion Dryads for six months until I could afford to trade for Goyfs. This was my first experience with trading down; this experience forged my understanding that trading a high dollar card for a bunch of smaller valued cards is bad idea, unless you get more value to cover the lost value of trading down.
Two: It Could Happen To Anyone
Let’s fast forward to a wiser and more experience Jonathan. I was trading religiously on
I made friends with a guy who owned a store; his name was Nick. Nick and I had traded thousands of dollars in cards between each other. We knew each other’s sales lists backward and forward. I had all the Standard cards that I needed, but I was looking to get into Vintage. That’s why Nick sent me a text message when a Time Vault walked into his store. I asked for a scan, and we started negotiations.
Nick was getting a deal on the Time Vault, so he was happy to trade it to me for $160 in Standard cards. This was also a great deal for me too. We rolled it into a deal with an Italian Mana Drain. Since we had done so many deals, we both shipped at the time. Nick is a stand up guy, and I trusted him with my $160 stack of cards. I couldn’t wait to take my Time Vault proxy out of my Vintage deck and start rocking the real thing.
My trip to the post office every morning was like Christmas. I had three to five trades coming in per day from MOTL. Nick’s packages were always the biggest. He opened tons of packs, so he always had a lot of playable commons and uncommons, and he’d use these as packaging material for my orders. My cards would come in top loaders surrounded by Kitchen Finks, Knights of Meadowgrain, and other cards of the same caliber. They were stuffed into the envelope to protect the “good” cards. I always got a kick out of this.
The morning that I got the Time Vault package, I couldn’t wait to open it, so I decided to open it at a counter in the post office. When I ripped open the envelope, the uncommons spilled onto the counter. I stacked them up; then I took out the Mana Drain for inspection. The Drain was crispy; I was pumped. The next card was the Time Vault. I took it out of the top loader. The texture felt a little strange to me, and the card looked off. I was just getting into Vintage, so I didn’t have a lot of Unlimited cards. I just figured that Unlimited cards were a little different than newer cards. I packed the cards up and took them back to my office and went on with my work day, but I couldn’t kick the thought that something may be fishy.
When I got home I looked for an Unlimited card. I found an Unlimited Plains, and I felt the texture. It felt different from the Time Vault. I searched the internet to see how I could check if the Time Vault was a fake. It was the most expensive card that I owned at the time, and I was really paranoid. I stumbled upon
on the Mothership. This is where I learned about the methods for testing cards and “The Bend Test.” I wanted to avoid the bend test, so I did everything else. After doing the other test and comparing the Time Vault with the Plains, I was 97% sure that it was a fake. I got Nick on chat and told him what I found. I asked him if I could bend test it. He was hesitant, so I told him that we could just undo the trade, and he could test it. We went back and forth, and finally we decided to bend test it.
The card creased before it was fully bent. Nick thought I was joking at first, but then I sent him pictures and showed him how the Time Vault had a different cut than the plains.
DETOUR: The Infamous Bend Test
The bend test is a really bad way to test a card’s authenticity; even some authentic cards can form creases from the bend test, and if you administer it incorrectly, you can damage a card. Typically checking the print quality, texture, and the cut of a card is sufficient. You can also use a jeweler’s loupe to inspect the printing marks on a card. There are a lot of ways to check the authenticity of a card, but one of the best ways to know is the old saying, “If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Nick said that he bought the card off some guy, and he had no idea that it was fake. I believed him. The question still remained, who’s going to eat this $160 dollars. I had a good relationship with Nick, so when he asked me to split the loss with him, I accepted the proposal, and he shipped me $100 of my cards back. I told him that I was going to keep the Time Vault as a proxy. The interesting thing is that one of my friends traded for the Time Vault at $20; he said that he wanted the proxy (he knew it was fake). I ended up getting it back when I bought his collection off him two years later. Now it’s in my office with a bunch of sentimental cards that I’ve been saving.
There are counterfeit cards out there. Be very careful when making deals for high-dollar stuff. Always get a second opinion and learn the tell-tale signs for fakes. Be suspicious of awesome deals. When trading online, get high-resolution scans and ask an expert to take a look at the scans. If my eye had been trained, I would’ve been able to tell that this card was fake when I got the scans from Nick.
Three: Ancient Tombs and the Chump in Me
This is one of the few trades that I actually regret. I was trading at the SCG Open in St. Louis last year, and I shipped my four Korean Ancient Tombs. Let’s lay the backstory here. As many of you know, I used to “pimp-out” all my decks; this means to add foils and foreign cards in place of boring, English, non-foil cards. When I was in St. Louis last year, I was going through a de-pimp phase, so I was trading all my awesome cards for lame cards plus value.
My fifth-round opponent put me out of contention for Top 8 with a sick U/W Tap-Out Control deck. It was his homebrew, but what stuck out more about the deck was the bling-bling; it was almost all foil. I, being the awesome trader that I am, asked if he wanted to trade. He said yes, and we introduced ourselves, “I’m Jonathan.”
I shook his hand and he said, “Hi, I’m Jeff.” Before we got to trade, time was called, and I told him that I would catch up with him later in the day.
Later that day, I found him sitting at a table with a bunch of the grinders (traders), making some big-time trades. His binder was packed with awesome cards. A Loyal Retainers caught my eye. I sat down to make the trade for the Loyal Retainers; he gave me a sick deal. I traded him a bunch of the foils that he needed. Throughout the day, we made other trades, and I was feeling generous because of the Loyal Retainers, so I gave him value on the other trades. At the end of the day, we sat down to do our final trade.
He had a set of foil Intuitions, which I wanted. We were trying to get the numbers to work, but it wasn’t happening. I remembered that he wanted my Korean Ancient Tombs. I was asking $35-40 apiece on them. I remember doing research on the price a few weeks before, and that was the number that I came up with. He didn’t like the number, so he asked me if he could look them up. I was agreeable; if my research was correct, then I had nothing to worry about. He found a set that sold for $80 on eBay. That’s what he offered me for the set.
I didn’t want to trade these Tombs for $80; I was pretty sure that I paid at least $30 apiece on them. My friends wanted to hit the road soon, and without the Tombs, I wouldn’t have been able to get foil Intuitions, which as it turns out, I really didn’t even want. My addiction to trading wouldn’t let me walk away. I was obsessed with making this deal work. Part of it was because I felt a camaraderie with Jeff; he was a fellow pimper, and I knew that he would use the Tombs in a deck. I also didn’t want to look like a chump for wasting his time on this deal.
Against my better judgment, I accepted the trade. I told myself that $80 for the set was decent, since that’s what the last set sold for. I also used the logic that he gave me a deal on the Loyal Retainer, so it was okay to give him value on the set of Tombs ($60 is not justifiable value to give). This is how I got myself through the night, until a couple of days later when I saw a guy buying Korean Ancient Tombs at $35 each. Dammit! I just flushed $60 down the toilet because I didn’t want to look like a chump. Oh the irony — I guess if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck.
I don’t hold this against Jeff; he’s a fair guy, and I don’t think he was trying to pull anything over on me, but I knew better. I was more pissed at myself for not keeping a clear head and trusting my data. Jeff is probably reading this right now laughing at how oblivious he was to my secret grudge. (I love you, man; how about selling me a set of Korean Tombs for $80?)
Know your prices, and trust your data. If you don’t want to do a trade, don’t do it. Even a master like me needs to be reminded of the basics every now and then.
Four: 3K and All I Have To Show For It Is This T-Shirt
This deal was bad mostly for reasons beyond my control, but it taught me an important lesson. My momentum as a trader was building. My stock was looking great, and I was focusing on the coming Extended season. I started to convert my Standard cards into Extended. I really had a read on the format since I’d PTQed quite a bit in the season prior. I was reinvesting all my spare cash, and I had my money spread out among different deals. That’s when I got the call from my buddy TJ.
“Hey, are you still buying and selling Magic cards?” I told him yes. TJ played a lot of Magic in Ravnica block. That’s when he came back to the game after a long hiatus, so I knew that he’d have a ton of Extended staples. This collection was perfect for my goals at the time. It was going to give me the momentum that I needed to generate some serious cash in the coming Extended season.
We batted numbers around, and I ended up buying on the high end, knowing that the return was going to be sick. I think the number that we settled on was around $2800. The only problem was that I need to find $2800 dollars. All my money and stock was tied up. I decided to cannibalize my collection. I extracted some stuff from my collection: all my FBB duals, a Library of Alexandria, a The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, and my set of Italian Mana Drains. I shipped them to my friend who’s a dealer for the cash that I needed.
Naturally I took a loss because he was a dealer. If I had sold the cards as singles, I would have more money, but time was of the essence, and I didn’t want to wait six months for the money that I needed. I didn’t mind losing some money on the lot because the return on this collection was going to be sick. The transaction for the duals and stuff was smooth; I had enough to pay for the collection, and I replenished my PayPal account. I called TJ and said payment was ready and asked him if he could ship the cards.
He called me from UPS, “Hey dude, it looks like shipping is going to be more expensive than we thought.” I said, “That’s okay, how much.” I heard him ask the clerk in the background; he answered back, “Looks like $380.” I was a little annoyed at first. In negotiations, I agreed to pay for shipping because I knew that the return on this collection would be sick. Are you sensing a pattern here? I agreed to pay the shipping and bit the bullet.
Shortly after I got the cards, I got the announcement that Wizard of the Coast was going to rotate Extended. That means all the Tarmogoyfs, shocklands, Dark Confidants, and countless other Extended staples that I got instantly dropped in value. Needless to say, the return on this investment was not sick.
You can’t count on anything, especially Wizards of the Coast (they like to shake things up). The other key lesson here is the fact that I accepted losing value at each junction of the deal. You should never throw earned value at expected value.
Five: Value Comes To Those Who Wait
This is the most recent bad trade that I made. This weekend, I, like many people, had a couple of days off work. My wife and I decided to drive up to New York to visit her dad for the holiday.
DETOUR: Top 5 Road Trips
One: VT to NC-
My wife and I drove to North Carolina. I proposed in a random park in Washington DC (not my first choice).
Two: CA to NV-
I was eleven years old; it was 3 am, and my dad was partying. Let’s go to Vegas.
Three: VT to Toronto-
My buddy Joe and I drove to Toronto for a business meeting. We listened to 10+ hours of Howard Stern.
Four: OH to PA-
I tripped to PA with Wienburg, Pozsgay, and Wescoe. I was the only one in the car that wasn’t awesome at Magic. I ate Pat’s cheesesteaks with the Joes from Yo! MTG Taps.
Five: CA to AZ-
It’s Monday; I have to be in AZ for work by Tuesday. Instead of driving, I hang out with one of my girlfriends all day long and start my seven-hour drive at 8 pm. After two tickets and a nap in a parking lot in Phoenix, I made it in time to start my work day.
We packed up the car and left for NY after work. We were going to be in the car for at least ten hours. My wife likes to drive the long distances, or so she says. I have a sneaking suspicion that she doesn’t trust me not to kill us since I’m a maniac behind the wheel. I figured what better way to spend the time on the road than to play MTGO.
I wanted to start testing Extended and Legacy, but I didn’t have any decks built on MTGO. My first instinct was to trade for the cards that I needed. Naturally this was a huge pain in the rear. First of all, I’d rather just pay the extra .50 tickets for my cards than deal with some of the d-bags on MTGO. Second, most people weren’t even selling the cards that I needed like City of Traitors or Trinisphere. It took me five hours in the car to realize that trading was not the route to take. Just as I realized this, Meredith wanted a break, so I was on driving duty.
I was really cranky. It had been five hours of driving, and I didn’t have a single MTGO Wasteland to my name. Just a bunch of wasted time fighting over .25 tickets in trades. If I could give a fraction of a ticket, I would; why don’t these people just round down? You may be asking, “Why do they have to round down, Jonathan? Can’t they round up?” They can round up, but typically this makes the card more expensive than retail, and that makes me want to buy all my cards at retail; at least the online card dealers have a full stock. Regardless, now I couldn’t waste more time trading online, and I couldn’t over-pay at the dealers, because I had to drive.
I put on some AC /DC and put the pedal to metal. We crashed at a crappy Ramada Inn. Meredith took the keys back for the morning, and I started trying to grind to get the cards that I needed for decks. I started to get impatient, and for those of you who don’t know, impatience is a trader’s worst enemy. The night before, I asked one of the bot owners what he would give me on Jace, the Mind Sculptor; he said 93 tickets. The whole morning I was considering selling a few Jaces, so that I could buy more digital cards. When we arrived at our destination, I really wanted to play some MTGO, so I logged in to ship three Jaces.
I contacted the guy and said, “Hey, I just wanted to verify how much you’re paying on Jace.”
His response took me by surprise, “83 tickets.”
I had a dispute with him, “You said 93 last night.”
He said, “These things change every day, you know that.” After a short two or three minute fight, he agreed to 92 tickets. I took the tickets and bought some Extended cards to play with. There are two issues with this trade.
I traded for cards that I was going to play with. There’s a reason that drug dealers say, “You don’t get high on your own supply.” I typically take money to play out of the profits of my investments, not out of the investments themselves. These Jaces were investments; I know that it’s going to break 100 tickets on MTGO, and I should’ve held on to them.
I could’ve got more than 92 tickets for the Jaces. They’re selling for 97.5 tickets retail, but I was impatient. I wanted to play Extended
This happened this weekend, so I’m sure the lesson won’t fully sink in until Jace breaks 100 tickets. This is another example of trading down; now my MTGO collection value depends on hundreds of cards instead of three.
I could go on about my failures as a trader, but I think this is already my longest article ever, so I think I’ll end it here. Thanks for sharing in my agony as I relived these great failures, and I hope in some twisted way that they help you to become a better trader. Before I leave, I’ll give you a top 5 investment picks.
Ranger of Eos: MTGO
Ajani Vengeant: MTGO
Fulminator Mage: Paper
Glen Elendra Archmage: Paper
: Coralhelm Commander: Paper
Thanks for reading. See you next week.