Insider: Preparing for the Big Event

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As you might have heard if you follow me on Twitter (@Chosler88), I’ll be heading to play in the SCG Invitational in Charlotte this weekend courtesy of my second-place finish at SCG: Kansas City (report here), and I’m excited for a few reasons.

The first is that I’ve had a pretty good success rate at Opens. I’ve played in exactly one Open in my lifetime (KC Legacy), and one Invitational, in which I finished a disappointing 31st and still pulled in $500 in cash. It was disappointing because I was in 2nd place overall after Day 1 and due to a mixup missed the first round on Day 2 and then experienced the worst run of variance in my life over the next four rounds (No second Island in UR Twin 10 turns in after digging?!? Next game draw all 4 Splinter Twins and no second Mountain?!?). Anyway, I’m excited to play in a big tournament this weekend, but that’s not what this is about — it’s about how to prepare for big events like this from a financial perspective.

For me, the Invitational is the big event of the season. For you, it might be a Grand Prix in your area, an open or even just a PTQ. But there are some basic steps you should take to make sure you’re prepared.

Before you arrive

Make sure you have a goal for the weekend. It’s an old concept, but it’s one that will always hold true. Having a written or stated goal makes you much more likely to accomplish it rather than having a vague, abstract idea of “doing well.”

For me, I want to cover the cost of the trip in either winnings or selling cards. The playing side of it is easy to outline. If I cash at the tournament, I’ll cover my expenses, which break down to something like $100 for gas (Driving time to Charlotte from Norman? 19 hours. Can’t wait.), $70 for the room and probably $50-60 in food, for a conservative total of about $250.

While I won’t list all the sweet tips for traveling (Gavin Verhey has an excellent article here detailing many), I do have one tip. If you can, try to stay in a hotel that is more of a residence inn-type place. For example, I volunteer to handle hotel accommodations on all trips I go on because I love hunting for deals.

For the Invitational, the $100/night rate at the hotel SCG had a deal with expired long before our travel plans were set, so we were stuck looking on the open market. I called around a ton of hotels near the convention center and ended up finding a residence inn for $105 a night that is actually closer to the convention center than the SCG hotel.

The benefit to a place like this is that we have a stocked full kitchen in our room. Importantly, that means there’s dishes and a refrigerator and we can bring the typical cheap food (Ramen, anyone?), to significantly cut down on your food costs. If you’re not careful, food will eat up all the cost of your trip when you’re forced to eat out for every meal, so something like this can really save you money over the course of a weekend.

Onto the cards. Make sure you’re familiar with the retail prices and buylists of the vendors you know will be at the event. For an SCG Open, it’s easy. Just pull up their buylist and know what prices they’re selling at so you’re armed with the best knowledge out there on the trade floor. Doing some of this homework in advance will save you time on site.

If you frequent FNM, it also helps to keep a short list of the cards some of your locals are looking for that no one has. You can pick these things up while you’re away, and get home and trade them at a premium due to the scarcity at your store. Not only is this profitable, but it also engenders some goodwill.

On the floor

If you’re at something like a GP, make sure to make the rounds (on Friday) and pick up the buylists so you can find what the dealers need and you can find gems that they are buying at an increased price. This creates a great opportunity for you on the trade floor to score some easy profits when you trade away cards that have a lower buylist-to-retail spread than what you’re picking up. This technique allows you to make trades that are “fair” on the surface but in reality increase your “buylist binder,” meaning you make the profits when you sell.

Negotiate. Dealers know what they can sell a card at, and if they want it, they can usually offer you a little more than what is posted on their buylist. This is especially useful if you get to know a few of the dealers or know one well. Obviously something like this works much better when you make many events, but even some time spent during a dead period talking to a dealer and letting them know you’re well aware of the financial game and not some random shark or casual player can help you out later. In short, make friends with the dealers, and the benefits will come, be that in the form of better buy prices or tips on what’s hot that weekend.

Another tip is to not accept the first offer you get, especially when you’re dealing with multiple smaller dealers at a GP. Some places like SCG or CFB will negotiate to an extent, but on the whole they get enough business and enough stock that you need them more than they need you.

But with smaller dealers, if you have a pile of cards you know you’re wanting to sell, rather than going through the “thumb through my binder” routine, you can get a quote and then take it to another dealer and ask them if they can beat the previous price. This will help you pad your margins even more, but you can’t be scared to ask. You should never come across as confrontational, but you are making a business deal with a dealer when you sell, and you deserve to win just as much as he or she does.

One of my favorite tactics at events is to target one or two cards that I know have a high buylist price in relation to their perceived value. My last major event was GenCon, and the scores that weekend were Hero of Bladehold and Angelic Destiny. Due to Destiny being (at the time) a casual-only card and Hero being a prerelease promo, the perceived value on both rested around $4-7.

However, what most players there didn’t take the time to figure out (probably because the dealers were in a separate room) was that you could sell both cards for $5-6 in cash that weekend.

Both cards are obviously worth much more now, and I held onto a few of each, but it was 100% the right move at the time to trade into each of those hard and flip them for cash. I went through probably 20-25 of each in the relatively short time I spent trading (I wasn’t playing in Nats, so I just went to trade/cover the event for QS/hang out with the crew), and made the bulk of my profits on that discrepancy.

You can do the same at most events. Scour the buylists and find the right cards to move on, and work towards those cards in trades, while also doing all the usual trading moves to make your money.

Well, I’m already out of space for this week, so I might even stretch this into a two-partner and detail my experiences from the Invitational next week. Let me know if this is something you guys want to see more of. I love writing theory articles, and there’s always a place for speculation and card calls, but I think these on-the-floor tips are very practical and useful as well.

Who knows, maybe the next time I check in I’ll be $10,000 richer. You never know.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

One thought on “Insider: Preparing for the Big Event

  1. To echo what you said about targeting one or two cards that have a high sell price and a low trade price, this is the best way to make fast cash at big events like a GP.

    When the Star City Games Invitational hit Indianapolis, Cool Stuff Inc. was buying Etched Monstrosity at $2, and Elesh Norn at $4 (Which was insane at that time), and I ended up a couple hundred ahead for only doing about 3 hours of trading.

    Also, asking smaller vendors what they're on the lookout for most is a great way of getting better deals. I've talked with non-chain vendors at big events about what cards they need, go get those cards, and they'll usually buy them at a little more than their buy price because you did the work for them.

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