Insider Trading – Preventing Card Theft

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Thursday, October 16th – In today’s edition of Insider Trading, Ben takes a look at the unfortunate reality of card theft. How can you prevent your cards from being stolen? What steps should you take to protect your collection? Read today’s article for tips on how to protect your Magic investment!

Theft is an unfortunately reality in this world. People steal all of the time, for a host of reasons — greed, necessity, vanity, envy. I’m not here today to examine the motivation for stealing — I’m here to talk about ways to prevent it from happening to you at Magic events.

A few prefaces, because this is a very touchy subject. This article is not meant to cause any sort of mass hysteria or panic. Yes, people steal at Magic tournaments, and the larger the tournament, the more thefts that occur. Proportionately, there are more things to steal, and more opportunities to steal, at larger events. However, theft occurs everywhere, not just at Magic tournaments! At schools, businesses, from homes, parks, cars, the street — theft occurring at a Magic tournament is not a phenomenon exclusive to Magic events. Again — it does happen (and that’s why I’m writing this article), but the existence of this article is by no means a sign that there’s a particular theft epidemic specific to Magic. It’s happened in the past, it’s going to continue to happen, but hopefully some of the tips in this article will help keep your cards safe.

Magic cards are worth money. Yes, it’s true! It’s a simple fact, but a fact that is often ignored. Sure, the box of basic lands you have aren’t going to fetch a huge coin at the flea market, but let’s look at a Standard deck from this past weekend’s Boat qualifier:

Assuming all of the cards are non-foil and are in NM or SP condition, this deck is worth around $450-$500, with sideboard. While not all decks are going to be full of Rare lands and the most expensive spells in the format, this is a good illustrative exercise for the value of a deck.

Scenario #1: You’re at your local game shop for Friday Night Magic. The format is Standard, and you’re playing the Faeries deck from above. You win an exciting first round, but nature calls. You set your deck down on the table nearest the bathroom and go about your business for a minute. When you come back, the deck is gone. You ask around to see if anyone maybe picked up your deck by accident, but nobody admits to seeing it, and nobody saw anyone else take the deck.

I’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again, and often it’s a deck, binder, or backpack that ‘goes missing’ forever. 99% of the time, it’s because the rightful owner of the stolen goods isn’t paying enough attention to his belongings. Let’s run through Scenario #1 again, to drive this point home.

Scenario #2: You’re at your local game shop for Friday Night Magic. The format is Standard, and you’re packing Faeries. You win an exciting first round, but nature calls, so you slip $500 in hundreds from your wallet, set the bills down on the table nearest the bathroom, and go about your business for a minute. When you come out, your $500 cash is gone. You ask around to see if anyone maybe picked up your cash by accident, but nobody admits to seeing it, and nobody saw anyone else take the cash.

Reality check here: Would anyone leave $500 in cash sitting on a table, unattended, in a semi-public gathering where you don’t know half the people in the room very well? I know I wouldn’t! But without fail, whether it be Friday Night Magic or the Pro Tour itself, I see unattended decks, backpacks, and binders. People trust that nobody will steal their cards, but unfortunately there are people who see that unattended deck and don’t think “hey, I wonder whose deck this is?” but instead think, “Score! $500 in eBay money!”

It is so, so simple to prevent cards from being stolen in this way! Simply do not leave your belongings unattended while at an event! I know some of you are rolling your eyes and thinking “Wow Ben, really? You’re writing an article telling people to watch their stuff?”… But yes, I am! The majority of thefts at Magic events are acts of opportunity — someone sees a bag or binder or deck just sitting on a table with nobody around — and by simply securing your belongings on your person, or keeping them in sight at all times, you are cutting the chances that your Magic cards will be stolen to virtually zero! It is such simple advice, but it is so important, it bears stating!

I’ve had cards personally stolen twice. The second time was failing this test — I was working at Neutral Ground at the time, but I had the day off and was playing in a tournament. I had been trading my draft winnings to get back into Constructed Magic, and had worked my way up to a playset of Mana Drains, 40 dual lands, and other tournament playables circa 1997. I set down my carrying case to go behind the counter and get a drink from the cooler. I came back 30 seconds later… and my bag was gone.


That’s it — 30 seconds to get a drink, and months of trading and hundreds (and in these days, thousands) of dollars in cards were gone! And believe you me, there’s no feeling worse than having your Magic collection stolen — that’s something that really makes you question wanting to play the game because A) you suddenly are left with a void in your collection and B) you realize that someone in the room stole your cards, and are these people you really want to be around? And while B) fades when you realize that whoever stole the cards probably isn’t someone you are good friends with in the first place, it sucks having to start from scratch, having lost all the time and effort you put into building your deck/collection.

Here’s some tips for keeping your cards safe while at an event. Remember, the larger the event, the more strangers you’ll be around, and the more opportunity there will be for someone to steal something, due to the general hustle and bustle going on around them!

Tip #1: Always keep your cards in sight, or physically attached to your person. If you’ve only brought a deck, binder, or small carrying case to an event, keep them up on the table while you’re playing your match, within your peripheral vision. If you can physically see your cards at all times during your match, and they are in plain view of your opponent as well (along with anyone else at that table), they are virtually theft-proof.

Tip #2: If you have a backpack, keep it physically attached to you while you’re playing. If there’s enough room to put it on your table, keep it in sight like the tip above. If you don’t have room on the table, loop the straps of the backpack around your ankle/leg, so that it is impossible to pull the backpack without physically alerting you to someone’s unwanted presence. DON’T simply put the backpack under the table, between your legs — I’ve seen enough backpacks get pinched that way to know it isn’t very foolproof, especially if you get deeply engrossed in a match.

Tip #3: Invest in a cheap lock. This goes with #2, above, for those who carry around backpacks to events. In addition to looping the shoulder straps of your backpack around your leg, use a small, cheap lock to secure the two zippers for the largest part of your backpack (which is where the majority of your cards should fit). It doesn’t have to be anything expensive — a $2 lock with a small key would work fine for this purpose. As I stated, almost every theft at a Magic event is an act of opportunity. If someone sees that you have your backpack wound around your leg, and that you have a lock on your main backpack compartment, they are going to move on to the next person and leave you alone.

Tip #4: Only bring cards to the event that you plan on using. This may include your deck, an EDH deck for later on, your cube, or your trade binder. If you’re planning on trading, by all means bring your trade binder (as long as you keep it secure, i.e. keep your eye on it!). But if don’t really feel like trading that day, or don’t think you’ll have time to EDH it up, just leave those cards behind that day. Even if you change your mind at the event, someone else will have an EDH deck they can lend you!

Following these tips (keep your eye on your cards, keep your backpack in physical contact with your body at all times, buy a cheap lock for your backpack, and don’t bring cards you don’t intend to use that day) will make your virtually theft-proof at any Magic event. It’s very easy to thwart those who would steal at an event, because again, for the most part, cards get stolen at Magic events because people were given the opportunity to steal those cards due to negligence. Removing that negligence also removes most of the opportunity to steal cards.

But wait, didn’t I say I had been stolen from twice? Well, yes, so let me tell you that second story. It was back in New Orleans in 1995, and I had just traded for a Juzam Djinn and a Drop of Honey at a local Saturday event. One of the local players asked if I wanted to do some more trading, so I said yes, and we swapped binders. His brother started asking me about my deck for the day, and we had a little discussion, and I ended up not making a trade that time. Fifteen minutes later, I go to make another trade, and realize that both the Juzam and Drop of Honey are gone… along with the two brothers. I can’t prove anything, but enough of these ‘coincidences’ happen over short enough a period of time that the two are banned from Magic events in the New Orleans area. Karmariffically, they have their entire collection of stolen goods stolen from them the next year at U.S. Nationals!

People trade all the time at Magic events, and the majority of people you’re trading with are looking to do nothing other than just trade cards with you. However, every now and then you get someone who is using trading as an opportunity to slip cards out of your binder. Binders are great for displaying cards, but by their nature, they are designed for taking out/putting in cards with ease. This is the second most common type of Magic theft (slipping cards out of a binder/box during a trade), and is also easily preventable with due diligence!

Tip #1: Only put one card per binder slot, front-to-back. That means that if you have a 9-pocket page, you should have 18 cards total in those pages — 9 facing the front, and 9 facing the back. And when I say 18 cards, I mean 18 cards — I don’t mean 18 unique cards, with 4 copies of each card stuffed in. The thinking here is that over time, putting large numbers of cards in a page stretches out the plastic on that page, making it easier for cards to fall out of that particular pocket. If have, say, 4 copies of Bitterblossom on one side of a pocket and 4 copies of Reflecting Pool on the other, and then trade one of those two playsets, you now have four cards in a pocket that previously was stretched to fit eight cards! This makes it easier for those cards to come in or out of your binder (be it through just carrying the binder around, or intentionally taking the cards out of the page). By standardizing the pockets to two cards each (one facing each direction), you never stretch the plastic past its normal size, making the cards fit snugly at all times.

Tip #2: Pay attention to the other person while you’re trading. Keep your eyes not on the person, but on your page of cards. If you’re watching your cards and his hands at the same time, nothing will be stolen. When I trade, I never look simultaneously — I either look through their binder first, and then have them look through mine, or vice versa. This is especially important if you bring boxes of cards to trade, and don’t have a binder at all. Note: I suggest using binders to trade!

Tip #3: Make the cards harder to take out of a 9-Pocket page. Three common methods I’ve seen used: Putting Scotch Tape along the tops of the pockets, putting sleeved cards in the pockets (it’s very hard to get a sleeved card out of a 9-pocket page, because they just barely slide in/out of a pocket. KMC Perfect Size Sleeves are especially grand for this safety measure, and we use them as a business when displaying higher-dollar cards in page, or putting the cards in the page upside down, and not using the top row of the 9-pocket page (so that when someone is looking at the cards, the flap for getting the cards out will be on the bottom, not the top, making the cards harder to slip out of the pages).

While theft at Magic events is an unfortunate reality, it really is as easily preventable as following the tips I outline above! Almost every act of theft at a Magic tournament is a theft of opportunity, and if you do not give thieves an opportunity to steal your cards, then you can feel secure having your cards with you at any event. It sucks that there are people who steal, and it sucks even more having your cards stolen, but by practicing minimal vigilance on your cards, and taking an extra fifteen minutes to prepare your trade binder, you can make your Magic experience almost entirely theft-proof!

Until next week…