Vintage Avant-Garde – How To Value Cards When Trading

Tuesday, April 26 – Brian DeMars steps aside from talking about Eternal today and instead provides some really useful advice on basic trading and card pricing. Read this before you pull out that trade binder!

A variety of motivations we as players and collectors have ultimately shape our collective experiences with Magic cards. Some gamers focus primarily on
playing the game, while other players’ experiences are often framed by the collectible aspect of the game.

Regardless of whether you are a collector, or a player who largely doesn’t care that Magic cards are collectibles, the very fact that the game is a
CCG—Collectible Card Game—influences not only our experience with the game but also our pocketbooks. Even if a player has little or no desire to have a
“collection” or view Magic as an “investment,” every time he or she needs to acquire a card that’s rare, scare, and/or desirable, they’re directly
interacting with the collectible aspect of the card game.

In this article, I’m going to provide an in-depth look at one of the most important ways that players get the cards they need to play—trading—and
explain a few techniques that will make the process of trading easier, more comfortable, and more profitable.

Why Many Players Don’t Trade / Why These Players Should Trade

The most common reason that players do not trade Magic cards is that they’ve either had bad experiences in the past that make them afraid to trade, or
they’re uncertain of their abilities at the trade table and are afraid of being taken advantage of by more savvy traders.

These are both reasonable concerns—however, by not engaging in trading, I’d argue that a player is adding unnecessary cost to their experience playing

Especially in a time when the economy is bad and many people are tightening their belts to save money, spending vast amounts of money on a hobby is
often difficult to justify. Turning unused or extra cards into useful or needed cards is a great way to save money, and with a little bit of effort,
anybody can become reasonably efficient at the skills of making useful trades. In the long run, learning how to be comfortable and efficient at trading
can save the average player hundreds of dollars a year and possible thousands of dollars over the course of their career as a hobbyist.

The key way to trading is to think about the end outcome of a trade as being better than having to buy cards at retail. Even if you make a trade where
you come out a little bit behind in the actual deal, it’s very possible that you still have gotten better value than if you simply bought the
cards—especially if you’re trading cards that you weren’t planning on using in the first place.

I’ve often worked the Friday Night Magic shift at the local game store and witnessed firsthand a player walking in the door and trading the store four
Glacial Fortresses for two Drowned Catacombs; five minutes later, another player walked in and traded the store four Drowned Catacombs for two Glacial
Fortresses! With a little bit of effort, it seems that both players could certainly have eliminated the middleman and made much more advantageous use
of their cards.

How To Value Your Cards In A Trade

The absolute most important skill one needs to have when trying to trade cards is a keen understanding of how to value their cards in a trade.
Unfortunately, 99.9% of people don’t understand how to accurately assess the value of their cards in a trade, which makes them poor traders.

When a person doesn’t understand how to properly value their cards in a trade, it essentially causes two things to happen:

  1. They undervalue their cards and make trades where they’re very far behind.

  2. They overvalue their cards, causing the completion of a deal to be tedious, frustrating, and annoying for their trade partner—which makes the
    experience of trading feel very negative.

Here is the secret to making your entire trade experience easier, more productive, more efficient, and more profitable:

Value your cards at what you would sell them for cash, and ask your trade partner to do the same thing.”

It seems fairly intuitive that the amount you’d sell a card is how valuable that card is—but for some reason people have a really difficult time
grasping this concept.

Players get suckered into thinking that a store’s retail price is what their card is “worth,” which is a mistake. There are a number of factors that
dictate what a card is worth, of which the retail price is only one.

For instance, let’s assume that a person is at a store or a large event where there are venders set up—if the on-site retailer is selling a particular
card for $5 cash, it’s unreasonable to assume that in such an environment an individual tournament attendee would be able to sell the same card for
more than $5. First of all, most tournament sites and stores strictly forbid the buying and selling of cards, but second of all, if the card is easily
attainable for $5 from a dealer, then why would somebody pay $6 for it?

Essentially, at a store or event, the absolute most that a card should be “worth” is what it can be easily acquired for at retail cost.

Assume that we’re at an event and need a card that the dealers have in stock at $5. We sit down to trade with another player, and he says that he
values it at $6. How does that make any sense at all? What scale can this person possibly be using that the card actually has a value of $6, when it’s
fairly clear in this situation that the market retail value of the card is $5—meaning, anybody can trade $5 cash and instantly, hassle free, have a
copy of the card.

The other limiting factor for evaluating the worth of a card is the retailer’s buy price of that card. If a dealer is selling a particular card for $4
and buying it for $1, it means the range of value on that single is somewhere between one and four dollars. In general, you should never value a card
at less than what it’s worth in terms of cash in hand, and with a buy list, you automatically know that if you can get a dollar for your card by
selling it to a dealer, it can’t be worth less than that.

The thing about professional Magic dealers is that in order for them to command the top-end retail premium on singles, they also have a lot of
overhead, which accounts for the fact that they charge a premium. Websites, stores, and dealers have to pay employees, rent buildings, pay tournament
organizers to set up, stock vast quantities of every card, and pay for web and building maintenance. Basically, when you’re buying from a dealer, the
premium you’re paying has a lot to do with the selection and ease of doing a transaction.

As an individual player—without overhead, employees, or paying for rented space—you wouldn’t need to charge the same retail cost as a store in order to
make money on a singles transaction. In addition, there are very few outlets for an individual player to sell their cards and ever get the same retail
sell price that stores, online venders, or dealers can get. Even if a player were to sell their cards on eBay, it’s unlikely they’ll get as high of a
price when one considers the selling fees and, more importantly, the time, energy, and risk. If a card is going for $5 at your local store, online, and
at the tournament site, it’s very unlikely that there are many situations where a player could ever turn a copy of that card into $5 cash.

So, if a card retails for $5 and is commonly bought by dealers for $1, it’s likely that a player would be very happy to sell that card for $3. If both
trade partners go into a trade with this sort of mindset, they can trade using values rooted in some sort of concrete reality—as opposed to both people
just naming numbers that don’t really mean anything or make any sense.

It may seem tedious to memorize the buy and sell prices of every single card in Magic—however, with the advent of phones that can easily check prices
online, it’s very easy to check out values of cards. StarCityGames.com always has an online buy list posted, which is a very good and under-utilized
reference that traders have 24-hour access to.

Different Kinds Of Value

When trading cards, there are a variety of different kinds of value that can be had, and in this section, I’m going to discuss some of the most common
types of value.

Mythic Rares And Older Cards (High Low End)

In general, the gap between the buy list and retail price on Mythic rares tends to be smaller than on other cards. The reason for this is that Mythic
rares, by virtue of their relative scarcity compared to other cards, are difficult for retailers to maintain sufficient supplies to satisfy the
relative demand.

It isn’t uncommon in the case of high-demand Mythic rares to find online buy prices offering to pay between 50-75% in cash on the retail price of
high-demand Mythics; whereas regular rares, because of their relative availability, only tend to command 25-35% of their retail value.

Similarly, the scarcity of older cards—particularly Legacy staples—tends to create a similar situation, where these cards have a higher low-end
relative to their retail cost.

When trading, it’s important to keep this kind of trend in mind; let me provide an example:

Sword of Feast and Famine: Retail, $25. Buy Price, $15.

Glacial Fortress: Retail, $4. Buy Price, $1.

The ratio between low and high is very different on these two cards.

Stores would buy the Mythic for roughly 3/5ths of what they sell it for; whereas they would pay 1/4th for the rare. It’s a pretty significant
difference, especially when we consider what happens in a trade situation.

In a trade where we’re going strictly by retail price, the following deal is relatively fair.

6 Glacial Fortress = $24

1 Sword of Feast and Famine = 25

If your gauge of valuing cards is retail, approximately six Glacial Fortresses is equal to one Sword of Feast and Famine.

However, if we use the buy list price:

15 Glacial Fortress = $15

1 Sword of Feast and Famine = $15

So, an approximately fair trade would be fifteen Glacial Fortress for one Feast and Famine.

Now check this out:

6 Glacial Fortress: Retail, $24. Buy List, $6.

15 Glacial Fortress: Retail, $90. Buy List, $15.

1 Sword of Feast and Famine: Retail, $25. Buy List, $15.

Two different scales = two completely different outcomes.

However, if we use the system I talked about in the previous section, of valuing cards based on what you’d be willing to sell them for in cash, we’ll
get a much more reasonable trade.

For instance, the range of Sword of Feast and Famine is between $15 and $25—so it seems that selling it to another player for $20 is a pretty
reasonable amount where both parties would be happy with what they’re getting. The range on Glacial Fortress is between $1 and $4 dollars—so about $2.5
also seems pretty fair.

So, ultimately it comes out to be about eight Glacial Fortresses for one Sword of Feast and Famine.

Let’s look at how the numbers match up:

The high and low on a Sword is (still) $25 and $15.

The high and low on eight Glacial Fortresses is $32 and $8.

Such an evaluation much more accurately reflects the value of the cards in relation to one another because it takes into account more information in
assessing value.

Understanding these scales and manipulating them to one’s advantage is the way that savvy traders get lots of value out of a trade. As you can see,
there’s quite a bit of value in trading somebody six Glacial Fortresses for a Sword of Feast and Famine—or getting somebody to trade you fifteen
Glacial Fortresses for your Sword.

Of course, I’d never encourage anybody to actually do this—rather, I point it out so that people can be more aware of how important it is to understand
how to properly assess the value of one’s cards.

Another Kind Of Value: Speculation

Aside from what cards are worth “right now,” you can also trade for cards based upon what you think they’ll be worth in the future…

There are plenty of cards that are simply good cards at the wrong time—meaning, they don’t have the proper support within a popular tournament format
to be a marquee card “right now,” but with the help of new cards, or with the rotation of a few old ones, they could become much, much better. Look at
Candelabra of Tawnos: It’s been a do-nothing for years and years, but with the un-banning of Time Spiral, it exploded in value.

As I’ve already stated in a previous article, I feel as though EDH is a pretty solid place to speculate on price jumps, especially with all the
Commander releases scheduled to be released over the summer.

As for Standard cards, I really like Mirran Crusader—he has some pretty sickening synergy with the Sword of War and Peace—not to mention that when
Valakut and Jace, the Mind Sculptor rotate, he could easily become a much more important card within the metagame.

Now I’ve gone and gotten all off-topic…

Trading is an absolutely awesome way to acquire cards and save $$. If you don’t regularly trade, I strongly encourage you to utilize some of the
strategies I’ve laid out in this article to give it another chance—it can really save you a lot of money.

Brian DeMars