Welcome devoted (or not-so-devoted) readers to another edition of Touch of the Eternal. This article will focus on preparing for major events; not from the standpoint of playtesting, planning the trip, or putting together a group, but rather from the "hitting the trade floor" side of things. So without further ado, let's begin.
- Snacks and water -- Make sure you have some of each. Events can last a long time and the cost of food/drinks on site is usually astronomical (for example at SCG Atlanta a bottle of water was $4 in the event hall.) This is critical because as the day progresses hunger and thirst will wear you down physically and mentally. When you're mentally tired you make worse trade decisions. Many event halls have a policy barring outside food and drink so beware of this before hand. Usually water isn't an issue, but trying to bring in fast food may raise eyebrows.
- Prepare your trade binders -- This is critical but there's some discrepancy on how you should order your binder. One camp says to mix your cards up so trade partners must look through your whole binder, which encourages impulse trades. The other camp says to order your cards by color and format, this allows traders looking for something specific to determine if you have what they want quickly and efficiently. Of course many traders will just look through the whole binder anyway (for hidden gems) so you don't necessarily miss out on the "impulse trade" benefit.
I subscribe to the ordered camp. All cards are color coordinated and I have separate binders for each format. I also have a Legacy commons/uncommons binder and a Standard commons/uncommons binder. These are often very profitable within the hour or two before the tournament as many players scramble to pick up the latest sideboard tech or remaining cards for their deck. They'll often trade at a premium for these cards as their only other option is to pay the often-overpriced vendors.
Another common strategy is to have "high dollar" cards grouped together. This keys potential traders into valuing everything on the front page of each section (if you color coordinate it) a little higher. It's also a good idea to check over your binders prior to each event to refresh your "have list" in your mind. Then if you hear people asking for a specific card (which will often be one of the more valuable ones), you can let them know if you have it.
Check out QS forums and insider alerts for latest pricing trends and hot cards. You pay for this service, so you might as well get the most out of it. Knowledge is power and knowing the cards that are "hot" or good speculation targets ahead of time can be huge. In large trades, people will often rely on price memory and look up only the hottest or most expensive cards. It's also a good idea to note any TCG player or eBay shortages, as when very few are on the market it is a good indicator of increased demand and often a price spike (see Oblivion Stone).
- Wear something that helps you standout -- I personally have a bright-green "Trade?" shirt. I wear this to major events for several reasons. 1) it sticks out and allows people to easily spot you, 2) it often opens up dialogue, and 3) it lets people know why I'm there.
- Know what you need -- While it's often advantageous to pick up that rare foil someone is undervaluing, it's also a good idea to know what you're looking for. This ties in somewhat with #3 above, but can extend into your personal collection too. You can also talk to reliable friends who can't attend an event (keyword being reliable) to see if there's anything they need. I know several people who ask me to pick up stuff for them when they can't go due to family or work commitments, a service they'll pay me handsomely for.
Pricing Cards on the Floor
Pricing cards can be a bit daunting. Here are some strategies I've seen used in the past.
- Sharking -- A strategy used by a lot of sharks is to point out cards in your binder and ask for a price, then focus on the cards you get wrong. They will either ignore the cards you get right or try to argue you down. This strategy can be very profitable (for the sharks) as people often jump to price memory and miss out on recent spikes. However, never feel obligated to keep a price if you look it up and find you were way off. If they don't want to trade with you anymore then you saved yourself a loss and it's no biggie; there are plenty of people to trade with. Another shark strategy I've seen is to lock you into a price saying something like, "you put this card at X dollars" (which is TCG low), when the shark is valuing their cards via TCG High or SCG.
- Range -- This is the strategy I tend to use. When people ask for a price I give them a range. This leaves me more wiggle room to haggle, but also it prevents me from getting stuck at a price point when there's a difference in pricing model between traders. This strategy helps mitigate recent trend spikes and gives you an excuse to look up prices when you're unsure.
- Buylist -- This strategy is to value all cards via their buylist price. This is a way to immediately trade like cash, and gives one an opportunity to take advantage of differences in buylists. For example, if you know the buylist price for a hot card on SCG and other websites, you can use the lowest price from one to get more in trade and then sell to the other site (usually one uses SCG buylist for the trade and sells to others.)
- Bulk -- This strategy is often used to accumulate large numbers of bulk rares or other rares at buylist prices, but only from one side of the trade. I've actually bulked out my stuff several times to acquire Legacy staples. When people bulk out there's a general acknowledgment that they will lose money, but are willing to do so in order to get rid of junk for something they will use. This strategy is honestly the most profitable, but it takes a larger collection and an excellent knowledge of the latest prices.
An example of this would be trading a Volcanic Island for a bunch of Standard rares. The person with the Volcanic Island will value it at the middle retail price (in cash) and then offers the other person buylist prices on their cards to get up to the Volcanic Island. This allows the Volcanic Island owner to double up his money or more, if he can sell the cards quickly. The risk in this strategy is that you can get stuck with a bunch of less-desirable cards that will rapidly depreciate if you can't unload them in time.
Trading etiquette is another tricky subject. Most decent people will step in if they see really lopsided trade, and I agree with this. As someone who has been ripped off before, I know the feeling is terrible and it can cause newer players to quit. This is bad for everyone. A bigger challenge can be when you see dealer-vs.-dealer trading. Some dealers and store owners only want the hottest Standard cards because their local area doesn't play older formats and those "staples" have little value to them. These dealers will trade at a loss just to get the stuff they know will sell, and I won't step in on that type of trade.
It's also poor etiquette to pipe up in a trade you're not involved in (unless one person is clearly trying to screw an unaware person over). This includes the "Oh, I have that too," the "Can I see that?", and the "I want that too." It's also poor etiquette to jump into an existing trade to get another trade out of a prior partner. I had someone pull this on me at SCG Atlanta. After he'd already sharked another dealer and I was in the midst of a trade, he jumped back in to grab more, despite the fact he had thanked me for not jumping in on his trade... Some people are just jerks.
Cards to Watch
Ancestral Vision -- Still the best card in Legacy to cascade into. It has gone up a buck or two in the past two months (a 40-50% increase). Should it ever be unbanned in Modern it would quickly jump to $10-15.
Mindbreak Trap -- While Storm may be somewhat weakened in Modern, it is by no means dead and MB Trap can also hit decks like Eggs and occasionally Jund (if they play something before cascading). It's a mythic that at one point was 20-25 dollars, courtesy of the "next FoW" hype.