Trading Card Games for the Rest of Us — Trading and Collecting

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Now that you have some cards, and know what cards you want from your deck, it’s time to talk about getting the cards. Because cards have different rarities, some are more expensive than others. The hardest task as a collector is going to be getting your cards for a reasonable price.

The major factors at play regarding card values are:

  • Rarity — How many of that card have been printed?
  • Popularity — How many players want that card?
  • Utility — How useful is that card?
  • Format — How many types of decks can use that card?
  • Art — How pretty or unique is the art on that card?

Right from the start, we have basic supply and demand. But even these two seemingly straight-forward factors can be mercurial. Cards may be re-printed in later blocks, meaning there are more of them, and the reprint may make them more popular.

If they are reprinted, they may have a new use in the current block. The synergy between cards can change from block to block, meaning a card that seems useless now may be critical in the future.

The formats that permit any given card can make or break a card. Once a card graduates to Modern or Vintage formats, their value can change drastically. This is because those cards are now competing with thousands of other useful cards. Some cards become less useful, as their abilities are trumped by similar cards. Other cards become the battlefield changer for a deck because, outside of their own block, they are quite difficult for other players to prepare for.

Full-art Forest card from the Zendikar series.
Full-art Forest card from the Zendikar series.

Finally, the art on a card can change its value to collectors. Where you could normally buy land cards for pennies, a single full art land, like the one above, can sell for ten dollars! There are also alternate-art cards printed for special events, and are only available at that time. You won’t find those in booster packs later, so they are often quite expensive.

There is no “right” price for any card–ever. Collectors will often be required to scour websites for the best value. If you aren’t in a hurry, feel free to wait and see if the value drops with the next block. But proceed carefully, as those prices could rise dramatically.

Rules to follow regarding purchase and trade of cards include:

  • Always look up the value of a card. Know what a card is worth before considering any trades or purchases. Experienced players have sometimes taken advantage of newer collectors. I had a shop manager offer me $0.75 for a card that turned out to be worth about $25.
  • If someone pressures you to trade, don’t be afraid to put them off. Most traders value their cards, and you should too. If a player really wants to make a trade, they can wait a minute while you look up a price, or consider how many you might have/need of the card(s) in question.
  • Keep a “Trade Binder.” I cannot stress this one enough. If you have ten copies of a common card, and are always willing to trade some of them off, set them aside in a binder, so you can hand it to another player to peruse. This keeps your cards in good condition while they look at them, and keeps you from having to count how many of a particular card you own while trading.
  • Trade on a clear table, and don’t let anyone’s cards get near your (or other’s) cards.You do not want the headache, or arguments, that inevitably come from an accidentally knocked over pile.

If you follow these guidelines, they can keep you out of trouble while you learn how to haggle and negotiate with other players, or even sellers. Don’t be surprised, though, if a shop owner refuses to haggle prices. They will often check the value of a card on the spot while selling to you. You aren’t going to change the demands of the entire market, and they don’t want the headache.

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