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Insider: GenCon 2011 – A Trader’s Report

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All I can say is, “Wow.”

I’ve never been to a large convention, so after I received a pass for “the best four days in gaming” (otherwise known as GenCon), I knew I was making the 13-hour drive to Indianapolis. What I didn’t know is what I was in store for.

I can assure you that GenCon lived up to its lofty aspirations, and I was only there for two full days. I took a camera along with me to try and take some snapshots for you guys, but the camera I was loaned turned out to be more ancient than my not-picture-taking phone, so we’ve got some grainy images instead! Pretend they’re supposed to look like that.

I went to Indy with a simple goal – to trade well enough to cover the costs of the trip. If I was able to turn a profit that would be great, but the first step was not losing money on the trip.

Needless to say, there were some fun hijinks and fun experiences throughout the weekend, and I’m here to recount them all for you. I’ve also got some tips from the floor regarding what cards were hot, which were overpriced, and a few tips on how to find the right trades in a field full of sharks.

Thursday

Getting up at 6 a.m. for the first time in six months is not a pleasant experience. But once I made it to meet the group of Oklahoma ringers I was riding with (Tyler Lytle, Jon Hammack and Chris Allen were the other Magic players in the group), we were off.

The most notable thing about the trip there was that I had my faith in Wendy’s restored. The last time I went to Indianapolis for the SCG Invitational (that I cashed!) we decided to stop in Joplin, Missouri for some Wendy’s. My response as we entered the restaurant?

“This is sweet, I cannot wait to get a Frosty and some chicken nuggets!”

If you don’t know what Wendy’s is, it’s a typical burger joint notable for only two things – its passable nuggets and delicious chocolate frosties. But apparently not the Wendy’s we stopped at. No Frosties. No nuggets. No ketchup.

“You really don’t have any ketchup at a Wendy’s?”

“No sir, we’re running really low, but I can give you one packet if you really need it.”

“Um. Sure…”

It’s not easy to eat a 10-piece chicken nugget order with fries on one pack of ketchup. The worker at the counter blamed the lack of tomato-y sustenance on the recent tornados in the town.

I live in Oklahoma, lady. I know about tornados. Gary England is a god around here. He was the true star of “Twister,” not Helen Hunt. I also know that unless the tornado literally picked up the ketchup truck and threw it off the road, you should have ketchup at a burger joint.

If you don't believe me, watch this video explaining it all (You owe it to yourself to watch this video).

Anyway, I digress.

This time we stopped at a Wendy’s in Missouri and they delivered me a delicious Frosty and fresh nuggets. As such, I have renewed faith in Missourians everywhere.

After arriving at our hotel at about 8 p.m., which was a short walk from the convention center, we went to get our badges. It turned out I needed to get mine from a different place because I needed a press pass. Of course, the press office had closed a few hours earlier than the rest of the booths, so I wasn’t able to get my badge.

I figured this would be a minor setback and I could talk to a manager to get something temporary for the night. As a sports reporter, I’m used to being press at events. People typically bend over backward to help you, and I figured I could work something out here.

Yeah, turns out that wasn’t the case. Let me tell you, if you ever want to lock someplace up tight, I suggest hiring a legion of old ladies to guard the doors. Not only did these silver-haired bouncers keep me out of the Magic area, they also tried to boot me out of the hallway of the convention center. My question is this – If I’m not allowed in the hallways, how am I supposed to get to the booth to pick up my pass? Someone didn’t think that one through.

Soundly rebuffed at the Convention Center, I took solace at the hotel bar with an overpriced order of wings and a beer. I spent the rest of the night helping my roommates test and prepare for Nationals, and learned I hate playing Cawblade even more than I hate playing against it.

Friday

One of the nice things about going to an event solely to trade is not having to get up early to make final preparations for the tournament. Instead, I slept in until 10 and then gathered up my binder and headed to the convention hall, where I was able to navigate the halls and slip by the ever-vigilant old ladies until I secured my press pass.

The first thing I did (as every serious trader should do before an event) was scour the vendor hall for every dealer booth that had a buylist. I immediately spotted my targets for the weekend. Channel Fireball was buying Hero of Bladehold for $6 and the promo for $5, and Cool Stuff was buying Angelic Destiny at $6. I was able to pick these up for $5-6 in trade values (otherwise known as SCG prices, or as Kelly calls it “pretend double money”), and then I was able to instantly turn them into cash.

Upon entering the Magic area, it was easy to spot the sharks, and I set down to trade with one to get my bearings. At the time it was the only trade spot happening, so I figured I could get things rolling. My trade “partner” seemed to think all his Zendikar fetchlands were worth $18 and his Darkslick Shores were $10. I quickly ended that trade, but it had served its purpose. Other people were now milling about the area, and it was time to get some real trades rolling. The one trade of note from this time came from one of the numerous people trying to “Pack to Power.”

Generally I try to avoid trading with these people, as it’s unlikely the trade is going to be worth my time, and many of them are just trying to make obscene margins on their trades. I also don’t want to ruin a new trader’s experience by setting them back in their Quest. But the one trade I did make with one of the myriad P2P’ers was a guy offering a Sword of Body and Mind. Here’s the trade (SCG prices).

His:

Sword of Body and Mind ($10)

Total: $10

Mine:

Grand Abolisher ($8)

Archive Trap ($3)

Total: $11

Net: -$1

On the surface I “lost” this trade, but a quick look at buylist prices shows that I can get $5 for the Sword while he can get only $3.50 combined for the other two. A clear win for me, but I felt a little guilty about using my experience to knock back a trader who may or may not have pure intentions for his P2P. The problem is, while some people are new to trading and try to use it to build a collection, there are far too many sharks that use it as a crutch to try and elicit horribly lopsided trades. This is why I suggest avoiding these guys altogether.

I went to meet up with some other members of the QS crew for lunch and found this scene:

Of course I immediately dug in, and then I hit the jackpot:

Scrambleverse

That’s right. Forget Underground Sea guy. I’m clearly the master of draft leftovers. We later found out these cards were going to charity. I hope they don’t miss a few Oblivion Rings and Phantasmal Dragons.

We ate lunch at RAM, which had decorated the entire restaurant and made a special menu for GenCon, full of Dungeon and Dragons posters and references. Or HeroClix. Or Warhammer. Or 40,000 Warhammers. Or some other game I don’t play and don’t know anything about. Either way, the meal was good and the beer was cold, so it worked for me.

Friday night ended with a decent pizza, a good cube and great drinking in the hotel lobby. We drafted Kelly’s foiled-out common and uncommon cube (my 18-removal spell deck won that one), contemplated trolling Conley Woods from across the lobby and instead invited him to cube with us, and in general had a good time. Then we drank some more.

Walking back to my hotel that night, I had a revelation – What’s the best possible thing to do when you’re still semi-drunk at 2 a.m.? The answer – Get in some trades!

This turned out to be basically the best idea ever, as all the sharks were gone and there were a ton of casual players still around! I got in some great trading, and even sat down with a few of them to play some casual games. I pulled out my trusty Treefolk deck – a casual powerhouse, and was promptly milled out by a million Jaces Erasure and Ponders and Preordains, all the while playing Mental Magic with a Splinter Twin deck against Kelly playing his actual CawBlade deck (I won!).

Headlock or Hug? You decide.

Saturday

Since I had such a good day trading and selling Friday, the pressure was off Saturday, and while I got in some trading, I also spent a lot of time railbirding, watching one of my friends go 7-1 in Constructed with RUG TwinPod just to tank M12 draft.

Saturday night I did a Powered cube draft with everyone from Oklahoma who was in attendance. The games got cut a bit short, but the highlight of the draft was watching a Turn 1 (on the play) Hero of Bladehold go to town.

Again, Kelly and I were able to score some insane trades after midnight, and then we took time to watch Conrad Kolos, Eric Klug and few other guys trade from a pack to a box without ever leaving their seats while Craig Wescoe tried desperately to convince us to thrown in a pack. We left before they finished, but they were up to 29 opened packs when we left the scene.

Sunday

I woke up Sunday morning and finished selling my cards for the weekend. I tallied right at $500 in sales for the weekend, easily covering my $275 or so of expenses for the trip. One 13-hour car ride later and I arrived back home just in time to attend a pretty epic DOTA lan party. Nerdy, I know, but my fiancée supports my habit, so how much luckier could I be?

Thoughts on the weekend

  • Keep your cards close AT ALL TIMES. Mike Hawthorne had a friend get his cards stolen right out from under him, and David Williams had his $20,000 Vintage deck stolen. These are just two of the many sad stories of theft that came out of the weekend. There are professional teams of thieves at events like this, and you can never be too careful. Keep your bag closed and wrapped around your leg if it’s not in front of you.
  • Actively seek out traders. You can grind your value at the Shark table if you want, but I prefer to be mobile, going to players just out of Win-A-Box drafts or players who aren’t immediately apparent. This is not telling you to “seek out the fish.” Instead, it means trading with real people, not guys who value their cards at 200% and yours at 50%. I find avoiding the sharks is a lot more profitable than measuring penis size with them.
  • Set specific goals when trading. I targeted Heroes, Angelic Destiny’s, and Filter Lands, and it paid off. Using buylists at events, you can find cards that carry a nice buy price despite having a lower perceived value, and parlay that into profits.
  • Trading down is not a dirty word. I made multiple down trades on the weekend, doing things like moving Noble Hierarch and Verdant Catacombs for lower-priced cards that ultimately sold for more than the original card would. When you’re trying to turn immediate profits at an event, this is a very sound strategy, even if you’re losing “long-term value.” This is just another example of how both sides can come out of a trade happy that they “won.”
  • No matter how well you’re doing trading, take some time to enjoy what you’re doing there. Cube drafts, EDH games, or even just hanging out with people you meet on the weekend is worth a lot more than they money you’ll make grinding.
  • Go to GenCon next year. I'll see you there.

That’s all for this week, and I hope this was an entertaining enough report for everyone!

Thanks,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

Bonus!

Ever wondered what to do with those bulk commons you have lying around?

It really is too bad they destroyed this at the end of the weekend.

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