Insider: Your Guide to Trading At GenCon

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With GenCon a little under two weeks away, this is a great time to get ready for trading your heart out at the world's largest Magic convention. Since there's plenty of Magic as well as all sorts of other games going on, it can take a little knowledge going in to get the best deals around. This week, I'll share some veteran GenCon info from myself and other long-term attendees. If you aren't sure that you're going to the con or if you have no plans, most of this information can be generalized into basic large-event information. Ergo, there's something for everyone.

Working the Dealer Hall

One of the best draws is the Dealer Hall, which is full of lots of Magic vendors looking to buy and sell you cards. The trouble is, the Dealer Hall is also slam-full of other dealers selling things. You'll see Fantasy Flight's board games, D&D product demos, the Magic Online beta testing and a goggle-boggling number of steampunk costume vendors. The hall can get really chaotic, making it hard to stand around in crowded aisles and browse bulk boxes.

Speaking of bulk boxes, they are home to some real hits. If you arrive early on Thursday or Friday, spend a little time looking through dollar boxes. While most dealers are pretty sure of their stock to set down the $1,000 a day to have a booth there, you can still find some real gems. Kelly still talks about the $1 AQ Hurkyl's Recall he dug out of a box a year ago! That said, I don't think it's worth spending a huge amount of time looking through bulk boxes unless you truly have nothing else to do. Foil boxes are the same way; now and then, you can pull out some extreme gems that dealers have no idea the value on. Have I bought Japanese Tendrils of Agony out of a junk foil box for $1 before? I have.

With so many dealers around, you can also get the best prices for your cards. I was shopping out some Grim Monoliths last year that needed to get out of my inventory. Prices varied from $7 to $20 and I probably would have settled for $14 if I hadn't kept looking. This can be time-consuming and a pain in the butt for dealers to deal with, but you can build a grid of buy prices for a dozen cards and look who is giving the best on it. Remember that a dealer should offer you more in trade credit and this is often negotiable - it never hurts to ask for 5% more than they're offering if you'd like to trade into some cards.

Next, the dealer hall is a great place to dump your bulk rares - but don't just unload everything you think is worthless and walk away. There are a few dealers - Troll and Toad and Strike Zone come to mind - that will honestly look through your stacks and give you real values. I've been with a friend before who went up with 300 bulk rares, wanted his dime apiece, and ended up getting closer to $120. Not all dealers will do this for you; seek out the ones who will, in non-peak hours. In terms of GenCon, this means during work hours on Thursday and Friday.

A trip down Artist Alley

Another huge appeal for me is the Artist Alley, where many Magic artists reside and will sign cards for free or a small donation. This can be a mixed bag because people like Wayne Reynolds are immensely popular - think Wild Nacatl and Cunning Sparkmage. It can take half an hour or more to get your cards signed by them. If you really want to get the most out of the Artist Alley, be sure to look up the full artist list a few days before the event and then Gatherer-search their cards to set aside.

Be aware that signing almost universally decreases the value of the card. The only exception I can think of is Fay Jones of Stasis, who is just about the hardest signature to get.

GenCon is also one of the very few times you'll see some Magic artists out and about. April Lee, of Intuition and Lotus Petal, only comes to GenCon. Susan Van Camp also makes an appearance - and she's kind of a character. She'll charge you for any signatures over four and she's been going through a "cats with fairy wings" period for the past decade.

If you want to get cards or artist proofs altered, be prepared to pay a few bucks and wait. If you have a huge stack to get signed, then sling the artist some dollars and let other people get their cards signed after every few of yours. I can't count the number of times that Jimmy Backpack has set 250 cards down in front of an artist and I just want to get three cards signed...

Finding the best times to trade

The best times to trade are kind of hard to narrow down; they come in bands. People coming there are mostly at GenCon to play Magic, not to trade. Thus, you'll have to hit a couple periods of time to make the most of trading. For example, I don't think it's worth doing a whole lot of trading on Thursday or Friday before about 5pm unless you want to do some high-volume trades with other like-minded traders. To hit the casual and local store crowds, it's best to start hunting around dinner on Thursday and Friday. Friday night is typically the Free FNM event. You might get a lot of traffic if you wait around until the end of the second round - people who drop might be interested in seeing your cards.

If you move Legacy or Vintage staples, then staying around for those events is a smart idea. While most of the Vintage people will be playing in the Vintage champs, they'll have a bit of time to trade in between rounds. This is only advised if you have some real Vintage hits or oddities. Japanese Spell Snares play, English Huntmasters do not.

Trading happens at all hours because the TCG Hall is open all day and all night. During the day, all you're going to run into will be sharks - don't get deep in those waters unless you really want to. However, long after the sharks have gone off to a steakhouse and the dealers have closed up, people are still playing and trading. It's truly a 24-hour event; you can get some monster trades done at 4am if you decide that you're going to be a night owl instead of an early bird. I'd go so far as to say that you've got the best trading field available late at night.

Finding the elusive and skittish casual trader

While GenCon sprawls all over the convention center, remember that there are people playing Magic in the hotel lobbies and hallways all over Indianapolis. If you're looking for more casual traders, it's absolutely worth it to go looking in the Marriott lobby in the mornings for Magic players. I don't advise trying to rip these guys off, but they might be more interested in your casual cards than other people are. I find that even when I explain that yes, your Snapcaster is worth $17 and I'm willing to trade multiple cards for it, I often end up getting rid of what I consider low-end, low-volume cards for good binder materials at a fair trade. These players often don't want to trade with people inside the convention itself, since they feel out of their depth. The best approach isn't to go up and say "got a trade binder?" but to engage people about how cool something is that's happening on the board and going from there into asking about trading.

It's imperative that you never let on that you're just around to trade with people - always have something specific that you can say you're looking for. Remember that casual players are easily scared off of trading because they and their friends have been ripped off before! You can say "hey, I'm looking for weird old foil cards for a cube deck, do you have anything like that on you?" or "I'm trying to get a fourth Restoration Angel for my deck, can any of you guys help out?" It helps to have a physical short-list of cards that you're hunting for, too.

It also pays to stack a binder for low-end trading. You want to do everything you can to NOT look like a trading machine. This means that those Unlimited dual lands go in another binder. It means you don't flash around expensive Standard staples to them or brag. If you assume the appearance of a small-time Magic player, you can get access to more binders. Again, it pays to be friendly about the game of Magic.

General Safety

"I keep my bag wrapped around my leg, I keep it on my shoulder when I'm walking around, and I never let it out of my sight."

This strategy works until you're taking a wizz and someone pushes you into the urinal, grabs your bag and takes off. This actually happens. Don't make yourself a target; don't flash around any cards you aren't willing to trade or lose. Drop your things off in the hotel room when and if you can. Don't show off stacks of cash. I even go so far as to use bathroom stalls instead of the ol' trough - better safe than sorry! The buddy system is also essential. Even two scrawny dorkolites, no greater than 1/1s, can keep predators away. People can also jack your iDevices, so be aware.

Remembering what you're there for

GenCon is great to trade at but it's best used as a convention - meet people, have a great time and see some cool stuff. I've developed many friendships through conventions and there's a cast of characters that I look forward to seeing each year when I return. Make the most of it!

If you have GenCon tips and tricks or if you have specific questions, please share your comments below.

Until next week,

Doug Linn

getting casual traders

Douglas Linn

Doug Linn has been playing Magic since 1996 and has had a keen interest in Legacy and Modern. By keeping up closely with emerging trends in the field, Doug is able to predict what cards to buy and when to sell them for a substantial profit. Since the Eternal market follows a routine boom-bust cycle, the time to buy and sell short-term speculative investments is often a narrow window. Because Eternal cards often spike in value once people know why they are good, it is essential for a trader to be connected to the format to get great buys before anyone else. Outside of Magic, Doug is an attorney in the state of Ohio.  Doug is a founding member of Quiet Speculation, and brings with him a tremendous amount of business savvy.

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8 thoughts on “Insider: Your Guide to Trading At GenCon

    1. I don't know if it's at GenCon specifically but this happened at GP: Indy last year, which is in the same city. You just can't catch a break!

      I have this mental image of a dude chasing another guy out of a bathroom with his glory hanging out, shouting in pursuit.

  1. I'm wondering, would you recommend in favor of or against putting locks on your backpack? On one end it makes it much harder to take anything out, so it'll be a deterrent, but at the other end it does make the backpack look far more interesting.

    1. If I were stealing from you, I'd take it anyway and cut the lock off later. I could just use a pocket knife and slash through the bag in the privacy of my hotel room. I think the best policy is to only keep a few small binders on you.

      I also want to make QS-branded fannypacks so people can carry their decks around…

  2. I've been to GenCon the last 5 years and it's always something I look forward to. Based on my own observations, you somewhat undersold how bad the theft has been in recent years. There are groups of professionals at work in the TCG halls. Last year, the guy sitting across from me got his deck swiped while we were playing in a limited event and neither of us saw it. I also heard both participants in the finals of the legacy event got their decks swiped. Please keep a close eye on your stuff everyone!

  3. Great article. I especially like the last part about extending your horizons. Anyone who spends 100% of their GenCon trapped in CCG area is missing the point. Get out there and network, explore, and learn. Take a while to tour the whole convention, try some games you've never heard of and get your picture taken with a cosplayer or three. This year my friends and I are trying True Dungeon for the first time, we've been coming for years and always talked about doing it. It looks like a blast. A trip around the convention can be profitible, too. Some companies give exclusive promos and swag for trying their games that you can turn around and hock on Ebay after the convention. I heard this year there's a WotC dice giveaway for people who test their D&D product line, for instance.

    Oh, and one more tip: TWITTER RULES at GENCON! There are tons of "First person to find me wins a freebie!" tweets that roll all throughout the convention. One year I spent a whole day 'Swagsurfing' and tried to win as many of these as I could while grinding demos for swag all day. I came away with hundreds of dollars in shrinkwrapped nerdery without having to trade anything at all for it. The gift bags they give out when you get your badges are rather pitiful these days, but if you do your homework and find out where the good giveaways are you can do quite well on free or discounted gaming product.

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