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Why you can’t trade cards in Marvel Snap

Blame the variants!

Cards featuring Iron Man, She Hulk, Daredevil, and more superheroes flutter around in a screenshot from the Marvel Snap trailer. Image: Marvel/Second Dinner Games via YouTube
Ari Notis (he/him) is a guides editor at Polygon, where he writes, edits, and shepherds service-oriented articles about the biggest games du jour. He previously worked at Kotaku.

Tense battles. Tons of superheroes (and villains). Holographic cards that practically compel you to go oooh and ahhh and shiiiiny. For the most part, Marvel Snap has it all, except for one thing: You can’t trade cards with other players.

To a degree, this makes sense. Marvel Snap, developed by Second Dinner and out now for mobile devices and computers, became 2022’s most-hailed card battler thanks in no small part to how impeccably balanced it is. You can’t pay your way to a significant competitive edge. Everyone unlocks new cards at a randomized cadence, with higher-leveled cards restricted to tiered “pools” that you advance through as you level up. For the most part, it feels fair, even when you’re getting demolished. A card-trading marketplace could potentially destabilize that equilibrium. But something like that, earlier in Marvel Snap’s development, was on the table.

“Trading would be rad! We actually had dreams about doing some kind of trading system once upon a time,” said Ben Brode, chief development officer at Second Dinner, to Polygon via email. “As we developed more of our systems, however, it started to get a bit more complex.” (Brode’s previous card-collecting game, the similarly zeitgeist-dominating Hearthstone, didn’t feature a trading system, either.)

The complexity is largely due to Marvel Snap’s variant system, which allows players to have multiple copies of the same character, each one in a different art style. Last month, Second Dinner added winter-themed variants to the rotation, which became a sticking point among Snap devotees who lambasted the rare drop rates. Here, a trading system could work wonders. Who wouldn’t wanna swap Captain America for a copy of Abomination in a tiny Santa hat?!

You can get variants both through standard play and, because Marvel Snap is based on a free-to-play model, by spending IRL money. In true multiverse fashion, your Marvel Snap card collection could quickly end up featuring multiple iterations of the same character. They all serve the same purpose, functionally speaking. They just look a little bit different.

A photo of the Devil Dinosaur card in Marvel Snap on an iPhone Image: Second Dinner/Nuverse

As you play your cards, you’ll be able to level them up through a series of rarity ranks. By default, cards have no visual effects. A rare card gets a snazzy three-dimensional appearance, though, while a legendary one will sport a shiny logo. When Second Dinner first considered implementing a trading system, all of these cosmetic tweaks were totally random; variants were the crux of trading, according to part of a design document Brode shared with Polygon. Here’s the full list:

  • You cannot trade away “base” cards, only cosmetically enhanced cards like variants, foils, that sort of thing.
  • You can only make one trade a day.
  • Once a card is traded, it can never be traded again. (Brode calls this “soulbound.”)
  • Traded cards would come with additional UI elements that tell you who you got them from and when.
  • One single card must be traded for another single card.
  • When there is a mismatch in card rarity, Marvel Snap would display some kind of message alerting you to that disparity.

But Marvel Snap’s Infinity Split mechanic fundamentally changes the calculus of implementing a trading system. With Infinity Split, once you fully level up a card, you can create a copy and start leveling it up through the rarity ranks again from baseline. When it hits its max level, you can create another copy.

“We basically gave everyone a photocopier to make their own copies as many times as they wanted, which breaks the ‘trading’ market, because increasing supply is essentially free,” Brode said.

As with all things of this nature, there’s always the concern of third-party marketplaces popping up, but the planned soulbound feature would go a long way toward preventing them from proliferating in any meaningful way, lest Marvel Snap find itself the latest battleground in the war on NFTs. (Video games and NFTs have historically not had much success in mixing. See: Ubisoft, Square Enix, the storied Axie Infinity debacle.)

Marvel Snap is continually evolving. Just this week, it rolled out a new location, the double-edged Altar of Death. Over- and underpowered cards are regularly adjusted in the perennial quest for balance. Later this month, Second Dinner will add an expanded competitive mode that allows players to battle against their friends. But anyone waiting for the option to trade cards might have to wait a while.

“I love how trading systems create stories and encourage social interaction,” Brode said. “Hopefully we can figure something out someday, despite these enormous challenges.”

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