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From the minecraft wiki, I can see that each villager begins with one trading offer which must be accepted before it can trade more offers. In my test world, every villager I've clicked on has offered to sell me things (as in, asking for emeralds in exchange for goods). They are capable of buying things (asking for goods in exchange for emeralds); is there something in the algorithm that prevents their first offer from being a "buy" offer (so I can get emeralds to trade to other villagers) or do I just have bad luck?

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No, I loaded up -671258039, the first villager I clicked offered this trade:

enter image description here

You're just unlucky.

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    In my very brief experiment, roughly half of the trades were selling emeralds. – fredley Aug 2 '12 at 12:40
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    @Yamikuronue it is possible, the RNG in mine loves winter, each world I create the initial spawn is in a snow biome. EACH. ONE. Some RNGs just don't have much 'R' :P – hammythepig Aug 2 '12 at 13:26
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    @hammythepig xkcd.com/221 – fredley Aug 2 '12 at 13:33
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    Breed more villagers, or kill some and watch them make more. – Broam Aug 2 '12 at 15:55
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    @Broam pervert... – fredley Aug 2 '12 at 15:56

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