The 5 Do’s And Don’ts Of Borrowing Magic: The Gathering Cards (And Not Lose Friends), by Graeme McIntyre

Borrowing Magic The Gathering Cards trades binder

Card Borrowing Etiquette For Magic: The Gathering – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge

“Come at the king, you best not miss.” – Omar, The Wire

With Modern PPTQs upon us, many people will be short on cards for their MTG decks, because the format is full of old cards, and if you’ve not been playing since the old days or pretty wealthy, then it’s unlikely that you’ll have everything you need. In Standard, this isn’t normally the end of the world, as Standard cards are fairly cheap as they’re getting opened in local card shops, in booster drafts, sealed decks, and prize support every single week.

This isn’t the case for Modern cards, and it’s a much bigger problem too, because they’re often staggeringly expensive. This makes Modern a season where players really need to look at borrowing cards much more frequently, but it’s also tricky because the heightened cost of the cards means, that there is more at risk should something unfortunate happen.

I’m a big believer in the importance of community willingness to share cards. I’d be a hypocrite not to be, given how much I’ve benefited from it over time. That said, as I get older and more conscious of – among other things – time, I can see why people are hesitant to loan cards at times, especially given the expense of the cards, and the entropy surrounding the personal habits of many in our community.

The basic principle upon which I base my expectations of others and the standard to which I hold myself is not to punish people for helping. With that in mind, here are my five do’s and don’ts of card borrowing.


5 Things You Need To Do When You Want To Borrow Magic Cards

5. Do Ask In Advance

If someone asks me on the Monday for a deck on Saturday, that gives me the whole week to build it at my convenience, generally meaning that I’ll build it during an afternoon when I have nothing else to do, or after Kirsty (my fiancé) has gone to bed. It will still take about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on which deck it is. If I’m looking through the good cards – which are organised – it wont take that long, but if it’s the big 5000 card box which isn’t even in the room I play cards in, and is certainly not organised, it will take ages. Needless to say, I’d rather you asked for Jund than Dredge…

Either way, though, if you ask me for the cards on the Friday, I might just say I can’t help you, even if I know I *could*, because I will quite likely need to either take time out from my evening with Kirsty, or lose 30 minutes to an hours sleep, hurting my tournament chances, because you didn’t have your affairs in order. If you’re lucky, I’ll have nothing to do on the Friday afternoon and I’ll maybe look for you, but otherwise you’re probably out of luck. If you’re asking someone with a 9-5 on a Friday, you’re almost certainly detracting in a relatively meaningful way from their evening.

Just ask on the Monday.

4. Do Get Cards Back Quickly And Efficiently

So a friend of mine was borrowing some cards from me for a PPTQ last weekend (I’m not going because a 5 hour round trip this early in the season was too unappealing). I had the cards back by Tuesday, because he came round and dropped them off. This, or something very much like this, is what happens every time that friend borrows cards.

There have been other occasions when I have loaned people cards, and not only have I had to remind the person several times, but I have also travelled 40 minutes out of my way to meet them to recover the cards, and then they have cancelled, resulting in me getting the cards back about 6 weeks later.

Needless to say, I’m pretty comfortable loaning the first person cards, and not the second. This is obviously quite an extreme case, and I was pretty annoyed about it, but variations on this theme are really quite common. It’s pretty reasonable for people to refuse to loan you cards in this situation, and it’s also fairly reasonable that they would be less likely to loan cards to other people in the future, but this breeds a culture where it is less easy to borrow cards, and that’s a bad thing.

Make giving back people’s cards a priority.

3. Do Take Photos And Notes Of The Cards You Have Borrowed And Loaned Out

Phones are great for this sort of stuff because it keeps it all in one place and you’re very likely to have it on you should you meet the other party at some future point, without the loan having been resolved (long after you have binned the notepad you were wrote down what was borrowed on, 3 months ago…). I’m guilty of not doing this, and it’s a pity because I’m pretty sure I’m down cards because of it (although, I also have cards I can’t account for…). Part of the issue – for me at least – is that there seems to be an implication of mistrust if you take photos, so I am reluctant to do it with close friends. The problem is that borrowing and loaning cards can get really messy, and it’s totally avoidable. There was a point in the not too distant past when I loaned out a number of Verdant Catacombs, and got back less than that number. The matter was resolved, but the other party wasn’t sure I had loaned them the number I said, and we didn’t have notes, so it wasn’t great as neither of us was particularly able to simply accept the loss. To make matters worse, it was somehow convoluted by the involvement of a third party.

Google the price of Verdant Catacombs, and you’ll see why it was tense. Always take notes.

2. Do Tell People If You’ve Sourced The Cards Elsewhere

This is particularly problematic in Modern, where a person who owns some of the cards might well own a lot of the cards. I own the majority of the really good stuff simply because I have been playing forever and got them when they were Standard cards, and there are a bunch of people like that who are in a position to help out. It does take time to take cards out, though, and it’s a bit of a pain to manage inventory, so when I get asked for 8 bits and pieces for various decks from various people, it might take the better part of 3 hours to sort it out. If a third of those people actually don’t need the cards, I’ve wasted an hour of my life. I don’t mind doing that to help a friend out, but I do mind doing it for no reason. People can be surprisingly ignorant about this sort of thing, so please try to be considerate.

1. Do Offer Whatever Help You Can

One of the key elements of community is the idea of reciprocity. If you’re “friends” with someone, such that you would be comfortable enough that you would ask to borrow their expensive cards, then you should strongly consider trying to help them a bit even if it means going out of your way a bit. For instance, if they are struggling for a lift, maybe you could drive out of your way a bit to pick them up. Just like you should be willing to share a bit of insight if that’s what you have – it’s poor form to ask a person for cards, and then lie to them about your good sideboard card, and so on.

Share the wealth!


5 Things You Should Not Do When You Want To Borrow Magic Cards

5. Don’t Pester

If I say “I’m 99% sure I have the following… I’ll look when I get a chance”, I don’t want to hear anything further about it. I’ll let you know.  Anything else is essentially pestering me to look out the cards when it isn’t convenient for the sake of your peace of mind, and obviously not remotely cool.

4. Don’t Go Dark

If you want to borrow cards from someone you should make it as simple as possible for them to get them to you. Be waiting for them if you’re getting them at the venue, don’t make them look around for you. Respond to your messages on social media, text, etc as well – don’t suddenly drop off the face of the earth because you’ve got what you wanted and don’t care about getting the cards back to the other person… not if you want to borrow from them again in future.

3. Don’t Inattentively Give The Cards Back To The Wrong People

This one sounds like a no-brainer, but it happens all the time. It obviously goes hand-in-hand with the point about writing lists, but assuming you’re opting out of that point, you need some sort of system so that you don’t give away a bunch of £25 cards. If you *do* mess this up, it’s on you to fix it, either by doing the running around to work out who you mistakenly gave away the cards to, and getting them back, or paying for new ones. If you end up in a situation where this sort of blunder can be mitigated somewhat by posting the cards, *offer* to do that, don’t wait to be asked.

2. Don’t Expect Other People To Go Running Around For You

Again, this may seem super obvious, but again, it comes up loads. If you ask someone for a whole deck, and they say “I’ve got 67 of the cards” you need a serious brass neck to say “oh, ok. Do you think you could source up the others for me?” unless this person is a very close friend, and you are – for whatever reason – unable to get it done yourself. Getting the cards is about typing messages to people asking for cards, or going round the local store and asking, or calling people…. These aren’t rare skills that only certain people have, the only reason to think that someone else ought to be doing that for you is if you think your time is worth more than theirs. It’s incredibly rude. Just be thankful they got you the 67, and work out the last 8.

1. Don’t Damage Or Lose The Cards

Once again, this is obvious, but it does happen. If you lose or damage the cards, you pretty much need to immediately offer to make it right, even if you don’t have the money to fix it right away (likely, given we’re talking about Modern…). These sorts of situation are disastrous, to be frank, and avoidable by having respect for other people’s stuff and paying attention.


This is all just what I think about the subject, of course. If you are OK with people asking you at 5pm on a Friday, or if you just don’t loan out cards at all, then that’s your business. The purpose of this article was to offer up a framework of sorts for people who aren’t sure how they want to deal with loaning out their stuff, and to draw attention to some behaviour which I think the community would be better for the absence of. All in all, I’d like to be able to loan people cards because I know it wouldn’t have been possible for me to play at times without this, but at the same time I think some people often take liberties.

Community Question: What is the best piece of advice that you’d offer with regards to loaning cards?

That’s it for this week! I’ve got some ideas for things to write about in the next couple of weeks, so should be coming out with more stuff.

All the best,

Graeme McIntyre

The 5 Do's And Don'ts Of Borrowing Magic: The Gathering Cards (And Not Lose Friends), by Graeme McIntyre
I’m a big believer in the importance of community willingness to share cards. I’d be a hypocrite not to be, given how much I’ve benefited from it over time. That said, as I get older and more conscious of – among other things – time, I can see why people are hesitant to load cards at times, especially given the expense of the cards, and the entropy surrounding the personal habits of many in our community.

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Graeme McIntyre
I've been playing magic since the end of Rath Block, and I've been a tournament regular since Invasion Block. I started studying for a PhD in Sociology at University of Leicester in 2017. I was born In Scotland, but moved to Nottingham three years ago, seeking new oppertunities both academic and magical. I play regularly with David Inglis, Alastair Rees and Neil Rigby. I've been on 5 Pro Tours the 2016 English World Cup Team, and Scottish 2003 European Championship Team, but what I really bring to the table is experience. I've played 136 Pro Tour Qualifiers, 18 Grand Prixs, 11 National Championships, 13 World Magic Cup Qualifers, 51 Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and more little tournaments than I can remember. More than anything else, my articles are intended to convey the lessons of this lived experience. Likes - robust decks, be they control, midrange, beatdown or combo. Cryptic Commands, Kird Apes and Abzan Charms. Dislikes - decks that draw hot and cold. Urza's Tower, Life From the Loam and Taigam's Scheming.