I’m not a Star Trek fan, in the least, but you can pick up some solid words of wisdom from time to time. Recently, I caught the following, while surfing through channels, on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Anthwara: It is always good to understand one's adversary, in any negotiation.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard:I hope that by the end of this matter, you will no longer look on me as an adversary.
I chuckled, mostly because Star Trek is pretty cheesy, but this was a pretty valuable quote. Just because two people have different priorities, doesn’t mean they have to be adversaries. In fact, in drafting, we see this a lot. Although the player next to you is your possible opponent in the pod-finals, a successful drafter must cooperate with that player to maximize the quality of the deck. My articles are geared towards maximizing the financial benefits of drafting, many of which can be applied to most events. What is Draftcycling anyway? If it had reminder text, it might be: Discard this draft: Gain entry to another draft. Drafts, or any event really, are cycled in a number of ways. Prize support is the primary one, and certainly some tips on how to boost the portion of prize support that you are taking home, is to visit the Spike section. Secondary to this, but certainly not a small issue, is the other value you can extract from the event.
Your Local Gaming Store (LGS) is where all the magic happens. It’s where you can network with other gamers, participate in events, and most importantly, get your trade on. Once you’ve been attending the same LGS for a while, you probably already know most of the regulars and staff, and probably the owner. Many view the owner as the enemy, as a trader, when they actually should be one of your strongest allies. It is important to remember that the LGS owner is there to make a profit, and as long as you’re not negatively affecting his pocketbook, there’s likely to be a mutually beneficial relationship possible.
Knowing How the Store Operates
The more you know, well, the more you know! It seems simple enough, but there’s quite a bit of leverage you can gain by slowly weening information about how your LGS is run. Some things you should be able to answer about your LGS if you’ve been there any reasonable amount of time.
1) Does the owner hire people who are very knowledgeable about card values and hot decks? Or simply, cheaply hired Timmy’s who want to be paid to hang out at the store?
I’ve seen this go both ways, and it should simply swing the way you deal with the store. If the employees are sharp on pricing, and perhaps even know you as a value-trader, they may step-in if you’ve found a discrepancy in their “in the case” pricing, that you hope to exploit. The simple solution to this is, “I have a feeling these might spike up, and I want to pick up my set now.” And simply hold your purchase to 4 copies. This is less likely to raise a fuss, as compared to, “OMG, they have Stoneforge Mystic in the case for $5, I’ll take 20 of those please! HAHAHA.” This type of comment would probably result in a quick repricing, and all your value will disappear. In the other direction, if the employees are less knowledgeable on pricing, just simply keep quiet during your transaction. Any comment like, “You guys are clueless, I’m going to make a killing on these,” is a sure-fire way to not only make “Timmy the Employee” uncomfortable, but it will likely hurt your ability to find value at other times.
2) How does the owner set his pricing? Does he look to the Internet? Make his own personal valuations? Is it done by an employee?
It’s very important to understand how pricing is set at your LGS. In today’s age, it’s extremely likely the owner has some awful formula from an irrelevant source, that they use to set pricing. Sometimes, the owner is actually pretty sharp, and on top of his game. In either case, it shouldn’t be too hard to find out what the situation is, either by befriending an employee, or simply asking the owner, “How do you go about setting your retail pricing? Do you use an online site?” Some LGS store owners use a site like magictraders.org and set their buy/sell prices on some set percentages off that price guide. What they probably don’t realize, is these prices are generated based off of average E-Bay sales over a period of time, and if a card suddenly spikes, it may take some time for the site to reflect that change. This is my opportunity to pick up cards in the case, before they are repriced. The instant I saw the Tezzeret deck from the Pro-Tour, I raced to my LGS, and purchased 4 copies from the owner directly. I used my, “I want to pick up my set before these go up.” line, and it is true, but also misleading, as I already owned two copies. If the owner feels he’s being abused, they’ll scrutinize every purchase you make, and offer you less value on cards you want to sell or trade to the store.
3) What are the biggest markup items? What are the loss-leaders?
In business, every successful retail store has loss leaders. Loss leaders are products that are priced so low (often at a loss to the owner) that people will come to the store just for that product. The store owner hopes to sell you additional products, making up for that loss. Subway’s $5 foot-long is an example of this, while the store owner makes next to nothing on the sandwich, he’s making almost pure profit on the soda and chips. Most of your LGS aren’t going to have many products especially desirable to you in the form of loss leaders, but keep your eye open for when they do. I’ve seen stores offer price breaks on pre-ordering sealed product, that rival the best online sites. By supporting your LGS, for these types of purchases, you maintain good rapport with the owner. While unwarranted, I’ve witnessed owners getting offended when regular customers gloat about good deals they found online. Even if you did, rubbing this in the face of the owner, is not a good idea. T he biggest loss leader for store owners is their events, where much of the revenue is turned back out in prize support or limited product. This is how Draftcycling came to be, and why it's possible to "go infinite".
4) How often is pricing adjusted on singles?
This ties in with #2, but gives you an idea of what type of cycle the store operates on. It’s always a good idea to take a look at the case on Thursday, if pricing is always adjusted for FNM on Friday. As much as your LGS owner loves Magic, its likely that the reality of being a small business owner has prevented him from being on top of all the buzz that is constantly changing.
5) How is prize support awarded, and what do I do with it?
After a quick Twitter poll (find me: @torerotutor), it appears that prizes run the gamut of packs, store credit, and in some rare cases, cash. If you’re trying to Draftcycle, store credit, is the best option for you, and if you have multiple LGS options to choose from for your events, the ones that offer store credit will get you the farthest. They tend to have the strongest prize support, because they anticipate people using that credit to buy highly marked up products. In reality, you’re simply funding more events, and building up your credit at the store. Ultimately, you may use excess credit to leverage that credit into cash, either by picking up entries for friends, or simply buying under-priced cards from the case. Packs, as prize support, are a bit tricky to understand. In my experience, packs are best used in trading, AFTER VALUES HAVE BEEN DETERMINED. Maybe you and your trade partner are about $4 off of each other in value. You can simply offer up one of your prize packs, as the remaining $4, as that’s what they likely sell for at the store. In reality, cracking those packs is rarely worth the $4 in trade value, and you’re reducing the risk by trading into known cards. Sure, you may be annoyed when that guy cracks a foil Tezzeret in the pack you traded him, but those are the breaks. Last week I traded a pack, and unfortunately for that guy, he got a Semblance Anvil. Thanks for the $4.
Form a mutual respect with your LGS owner
This is a grey area, that not everyone will have success with. Some of it may be a part of age difference or even appearance, as we can’t control any prejudices our LGS owner may harbor. However, the owner must understand that you don’t want to be gouged on pricing. If the owner is around, I’ll attempt to make my purchases from him directly. Show him my face, let him see I’m spending cash (or store credit) and not just free-rolling events. I ask him about his business, and build a rapport that I know has personally benefited me many times.
Part of this, is you need to throw your LGS owner a few of your trades. There are a few reasons to do this. Primarily, you may need to cash out some of your trade-ups into funds. Your LGS owner is a good way to do this, if you need to do it promptly. Believe it or not, your ability to negotiate with them will greatly depend on how much they respect you. If you are constantly giving him attitude, then he will try and low-ball you so he can feel like he’s gotten some value out of you using his tables as a place of business. If you treat the owner and the store with respect, you’ll be in a much better place to shoot back with, “Actually, I was thinking I need something like $X for those.” Second, you may need to ship the store some cards to fund a draft, if you don’t have the cash or store credit to participate. More than once, I’ve handed him cards that I know total up to about $3 short of the draft cost, and said, “Anyway I can trade these in for a draft?” The answer is yes, more often than you’d think. While those cards are probably worth the draft anyway, it takes this fine maneuvering to let the owner give you that full value for them. Remember, the owner must love gaming too, or he wouldn’t have opened the store. It’s also highly likely they get a small bit of satisfaction from knowing how many people enjoy the events. As long as you’re on good terms with the owner, trades like this are far easier to tackle.
I don’t care what they say, I come here, don’t spend a dime, and make all my value on trades!
This is a fools error. Not only do you miss out on the additional value you can squeeze from your LGS, but there will come a time where the LGS owner decides he doesn’t need your business, since you aren’t giving him any. Part of this also falls into general “douchey” trade practices, that likely trickle down the rumor mill to the owners ears. It reflects poorly on his store when young kids go home and complain about being ripped off in a trade, or something of the like. The owner knows people trade, but don’t be “that guy”. You never want the owner to be able to describe you as “That guy who rips people off in trades.” or “That guy who sits here and mooches my internet to MODO.” As long as you make the effort to be the type of customer that is positive for the store, the store owner will make the effort to make the store beneficial to you.