Insider: Tales from the Floor of the SCG Invitational

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As you might have known, last weekend I attended the Star City Games Invitational, where I was hoping to improve on my Top 32 finish at the last Invitational.

The only interesting thing about the tournament itself if that I played Burn in Legacy. After being an avid Merfolk fan (and a person who won a lot with the deck without cheating), I really wanted to play it again. The only problem is that the deck is stone-cold terrible right now. If Batterskull hadn’t already mostly killed the deck, Snapcaster Mage sure did, giving the UW decks the ability to play virtually 12 copies of Swords to Plowshares after boarding.

With this in mind, I chose to play mono-red Burn. My friend Sam Davis had Top 8’ed a month or so prior with the deck (which really inspired the move to UR Delver in Legacy), and he told me it had a good matchup against Stoneforge, which was good enough for me since I didn’t really have anything else available anyway. Some testing Friday night against eventual Top-16 finisher Darin Minard quickly dispelled the notion that I could beat Stoneforge with Burn (against him at least), leaving me pretty disheartened going into the tournament, though I did realize that Searing Blaze was very good against Stoneforge.

Of course, I then proceeded to win every single game I played against Stoneforge decks. I also beat a Painted Stone deck and then died on Turn 1 two games in a row to Garrett Young playing Charbelcher. It’s a bad sign if your Burn deck deals 3 damage over the course of two games.

Anyway, I felt decent going into Standard at 3-1 with RG Wolf Run, where I managed to promptly lose to Orrin Beasley playing UB after I drew just 3 real spells to go along with 16 land/ramp spells in Game 3. I then lost the mirror to a top deck. Bad beats, etc…

Here’s where we get to the crux of what I want to talk about today. While most people would be crushed after scrubbing out of a huge tournament, I felt a sense of relief. Finally, I get to stop grinding with decks I’ve never practiced with and I can hit the trade tables!

I almost didn’t believe it myself — I was actually looking forward to trading more than playing. While I’ve always enjoyed both equally, I was actually taken aback by how much I wanted to get off of the Invitational tables and into the masses to start the cards flowing. Maybe it was because I was more comfortable on the trading floor than this particular format (I want to play Combo), maybe it was lack of sleep, maybe it was delirium, maybe I just wanted to prove myself on the trading floor. I don’t know, but I jumped right in.

As I talked about last week, your trading strategy should be a variable thing. In normal situations at big events, I’m looking to cash out that weekend, and tailor my trading preferences to that. The only problem with that strategy is that Star City was the only dealer at the event. That meant I was free to trade around for anything, and did so quite well. I want to highlight a few particular lessons that were reinforced for me last weekend.

Trade what you know

As you probably know if you’ve ever seen me trading, I love to deal in low-value items that I can pick up for even cheaper. This means I look all day for things like Adaptive Automaton and even Cemetery Reaper. I picked up both of those cards as throw-ins in trades all day, and they quickly add up when you start selling them at a dollar or two apiece to a dealer.

Why do I focus on these types of cards? Part of it is the long-term investing strategy I talked about last week, but another reason is simply that I know the prices of cards like this very well. Things like Dragonmaster Outcast slip under people’s radars all the time (or they just don’t care about the card), and this is where I make my money.

While it may seem flashy or cool to start dealing in higher-dollar items like Ravnica shocks or older Legacy cards, you take a big risk if you don’t know your prices. Personally, I’m not very good with a ton of older cards, due to having only played for around 3 years, so I feel safer just avoiding the area and not risking missing big.

Retail is bunk

While retail prices usually guide most of the trading floor talk, you must understand that SCG prices are gospel. For example, let’s look at a card I picked up all weekend – Scalding Tarn.

As I’ve talked about before, these are a steal in trading at their current pricetag of $12, but that’s what people were moving them at to me all weekend long. On the flip side, I wouldn’t let mine go for less than $16-18 in trade, and I only traded them when I didn’t really have another choice. People would tell me they were at $12 in the case and that because of that I should trade them at that price, but I was persistent in my stance.

“It’s no secret,” I would say, “that this card is going to spike in Modern season, and I have to trade it at that price if you want it.”

Guess what? People picked a few up off of me at that price.

Here’s a couple of other cards that are hard to price. Tell me what you come up with for these, and I’ll tell you how I valued them at the event.

-       FOIL Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

-       FOIL Japanese Army of the Damned

I’ve had the Elesh Norn forever, and I picked up the army at $8 in trade since that’s what SCG had offered the guy who had it in cash.

Now the hard part – what price do we use when we’re moving these?

Let’s start with the Praetor. It’s sold out at $30 on SCG, so I told people all day I had to have $40 out of it. Most people balked at this, but you really have to pay attention to the number in stock online. If it’s out of stock at $30, chances are it’s going up after they restock. In the end, I ended up selling it to a friend for $20 cash, giving him the friend discount in the process.

Now the Army. Foil Japanese is sexy, but it’s very difficult to move. SCG has a few in stock at $20, and I figured the easiest person to move this to was my buddy and GatheringMagic writer Ryan Bushard, who loves Japanese foils. Using Ebay as a guide, we put the Army at about $15 in cash, and I picked up some casual foils I’m sure I’ll get a good price for. Namely, I got three foil Adaptive Automaton and a foil Bramblewood Paragon, along with something else small.

While these may not seem great, keep in mind that the Army was worth $8 in cash to SCG (and I got it at basically $4 in cash value), and I get destroyed by fees if I sell on Ebay. The cards I picked up will only sell to SCG for $4, but like the Army they have a niche market, albeit one a bit stronger than the Army. I’m either going to trade these at a premium to the casual players I have at my shop (who don’t care about Japanese), or I’m going to move them to a dealer at GP: Austin in need of stock. It’s all about having the right market. I don’t have a great market for the Japanese Army, but the foils casual cards I can move well.

Bulk to Tundra

This is my #sickbrags of the weekend. I’m telling this story because I’m proud of myself, but also because it demonstrates how important finding the right buyer is.

Let’s start with the first. I’m trading with an EDH player who wants some EDH things and a few other casual cards, headlined by an Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. He has a pretty small collection, and the only thing I find that I want is a nicked foil Scalding Tarn. I pull it out and ask him if we can get there. He put the value on the Tarn at $40, and after I point out and discuss the condition with him, he knocks it down to $25, mostly because he was happy to trade it for EDH goodies.

After picking up the Tarn for a bunch of $4-10 cards, I’m pretty satisfied with myself. A little while later, another player wants it from me, and has a fairly played Force of Will that he spots at $45. He wants the Tarn, and happily trades straight across. I’m already doing a bit of a dance inside, because it’s the first Force I’ve owned.

Flash forward a bit later. The guy across from me is in desperate need of a Force and doesn’t care how played it is. Obviously this works out well for me, and he has quite a collection to trade. This is where I felt like I did my best work. Recognizing that he was basically already committed to the Force, I was very clear in what I wanted and what it would take for him to get it.

I pulled out his NM Tundra and told him it was the card I needed if I was giving up the Force. Obviously the Tundra is a lot more expensive than the Force, and after values were set, we were short about $45-50 on my end. He kept trying to convince me to pick up his SP-MP Tropical Island instead, but I knew I had him and stood my ground. In the end, he went for it, getting two Scalding Tarns from me that we put at $15 and a MP Wooded Foothills that he accepted $20 for. We shook hands and the cards were exchanged.

And just like that, I had moved a pile of EDH cards and a few fetchlands into a NM Tundra in just a few hours.

Covering costs

As I spoken of in the past, it’s very important to keep track of your expenses and revenues if you are serious about making a profit in this arena. Not being able to sell on-site made this a bit harder for me, but here’s where I’m at.

-       Gas for the 36-hour round-trip ($85)

-       Hotel bill for 3 nights and parking ($407)

-       Food (about $75)

Due to a miscalculation on my part, I ended up about $15 short from one of the people staying with us, so I’m basically going to have to eat that cost. After settling up the hotel with our driver, I had about $500 in charges that represent the total cost of the trip.

After getting cash from others in the room and selling a little of the cards I got on the weekend, I’m currently sitting at $320, or about $180 short of paying for the entire trip. My goal is to sell enough at GP: Austin to get me there (and cover that trip as well), and keep the Tundra as my spoils of the weekend, in addition to whatever I profit in cash. As my binder stands now, I think I’ll be able to pretty easily do this, as I’m sitting on a ton of stock at the moment due to the weekend.

And that, my friends, is the tale of my trip to Charlotte. Despite scrubbing out of the tournament, I got to see a bunch of friends from across the country, had a fun 36-hour car ride with a few buddies and will be able to cover the cost entirely with the trading I did over the span of a few days.

Not bad.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

6 thoughts on “Insider: Tales from the Floor of the SCG Invitational

  1. Seems it works both ways, because I always enjoy your articles as well. You have a real down to earth approach to the financial community. Easy to follow and easy to implement. I find myself grinding the low end frequently also. My recent low end finds are Necroskitter, Stuffy Doll, and Gauntlet of Power. I don't expect those to continue to be frequent but when you find them, they are great deals. Parallel Lives from Standard always moves well for me so I tend to pick that up cheap whenever possible.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Knight of the Reliquaries went well all day, and I'm okay with moving them at $12-13 right now. They're going to continue to go up, but I think I'll be able to get them at $10-12 for the foreseeable future.

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