Jason’s Archives: The Other Side of the Table

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I couldn't shut up about it for a week, so you all probably know that local financier and QS Insider Carter Hatfield and I had a table at the West Michigan Gaming Convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We really had no idea what attendance would be like and were delighted when the event got nearly as many players as the larger TCG Player 5k in Indianapolis on the same day. Add that to the crowds of random people hanging hanging around the building for other events or because they were nerds and heard the word "convention," and you can imagine there were a lot of eyeballs on my case.

But was I there to sell cards from my case? Not necessarily. The big advantage to an event like this over selling on another retail-caliber out is the ability to buy cards at buylist numbers, and buy cards I did. Sunday was a bit slow and most people wanted to trade things in toward Legacy stuff, but Saturday we spent the full amount we'd projected for the entire weekend within six hours. Fortunately we brought extra, but business was actually booming. This was my first time buying in this capacity, and I learned a few lessons over the course of the weekend.

1. Don't Try to Jack People

Some people told me they'd been sent to our booth by their buddy who claimed I was paying the best in the room. That said, I was offering numbers that, were I on the other side of the table as I so often am, I would not have accepted. Learning that you're paying the best isn't an invitation to offer even lower prices. It's a sign that you're getting a reputation as a fair buyer and you're going to get the first crack at people's binders.

I paid below other buylists so that, worst case scenario, I make a buck or two per card just shipping the stuff I can't eBay to another buylist for a profit. I paid an amount of money necessary to make a good profit selling the card for retail and people didn't say "no" all that often. I don't think I overpaid, so I'll try to shoot for the "best prices in the room" guy next time.

2. Buy a Calculator

It's tough to use the calculator app on your phone and also use it to look up prices if you have to. A nice cheap calculator with a big display lets the seller follow along with what you're doing and makes them more comfortable when they can see the numbers add up. Your phone might last more than three hours if you stay off of it for a bit.

3. Bring Business Cards

I didn't have any so I gave out Carter's. People impressed with how fair my buy prices were are now going to repay it in kind by patronizing his online store, Perfect Storm, as a result. I'm cool with him benefiting, but I should have business cards made up, even if they just state my name, phone number and e-mail address.

Other than that, the weekend was a great experience. I feel like the venue, the 28th Street Showplace, will be home to a lot more events in the future. The minor difficulty in finding the place (it's around the back of the building?) and the glacial pace of the internet connection (the free internet connection, mind you) was outweighed by the reasonable table price, ample space for vendors, proximity to a major highway, incredibly cheap concessions, free food for vendors and a bunch of excellent stuff I probably forgot (the bathrooms were so clean I would have eaten soup out of the sink). With enough space that it could have hosted a 400-player PTQ, I hope to be back at that venue soon.

The best part about the event was that I knew almost everyone playing so a lot of my friends won money.

Great, You Made Money. What About Those of Us with Jobs?

At the risk of reiterating my whole "have a buylist" diatribe from last week, I'd recommend trying to find your own opportunities to buy like that. If not, there is money to be made on the other side of the table, too. Word got out that I was paying $3 on [card Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]Thalia[/card], and I was shipped a stack of them. Had I been trading on the floor, I would have targeted Thalia at $4 in trade since another vendor was selling them for $4, and turning $4 in trade into $3 cash is obviously money.

Also, don't be afraid to beat up the buyer a little. I was there to spend all of the money I brought, and if that meant giving someone an extra buck on an [card Obzedat, Ghost Council]Obzedat[/card] I was buying at 50% of retail, then so be it. I didn't have a lot of people saying "no" when I offered numbers, and the more I got the impression they were going to "yessir" any number I threw out, the incentive to offer fair prices began to evaporate.

On the other side of the table, you want to have an idea of what you need on your cards. If they come in under your number, don't be afraid to keep the card. Someone else in the room may pay your number, and if everyone else offers you less and you decide to ship after all, you can always go back. Buyers don't mind when you say "I need at least X on that card" and it keeps them on their toes.

Knowing prices also avoids mutual mistakes. My phone was not getting access to digital buylists so I relied on a few printed paper buylists, and if a card was not on it, guess what? That's right, I guessed. Most of the time I was close. A few times, I was incredibly not close at all, and sellers who said "sure" didn't catch mistakes that were in my favor. Buyers aren't always out to get you, and someone offering $2 on [card Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger]Vorinclex[/card] may still think it's $4 because prices change all the time. Knowing Vorinclex is $4-$5 buylist will help you get the most for what you're selling.

Let's talk about decklists.

Worth Mentioning

The West Michigan Gaming Convention held a Legacy event on Sunday, and Sunday morning Jon Johnson approached me asking for City of Traitors. I was a little disappointed, figuring he was just going to jam something "safe" like Sneak and Show. Little did I know that he was actually going to play the most hilarious Legacy deck I've ever seen and finish in top eight.

Yes, this is real life.

You're probably looking up Hanweir Watchkeep // Bane of Hanweir and Instigator Gang // Wildblood Pack to see what they do. Apparently, the answer is "flip immediately because you land a turn one Trinisphere, [card Chalice of the Void]Chalice[/card] or [card Blood Moon]Moon[/card], and then swing for five or more." They flip easily, don't flip back, and in case you're wondering, two flipped Instigator Gangs swing for 22. The deck looks like a joke.

It isn't.

This outclasses aggro's creatures, punishes unfair decks with a raft of hosers like Trinisphere, Moons, [card Phyrexian Revoker]Revoker[/card] and Chalice and plays what turn out to be some of the most insanely efficient red creatures in Magic. Talk about thinking outside the box.

The land is hard to see, so I'll tell you it's 4 Ancient Tomb, 4 City of Traitors, 4 Cavern of Souls and 8 Goblin Mountaineers. Cavern in the best card in the deck, Zealous Conscripts is the worst and may want to be a Rakka Mar, although double red is usually an issue.

I wanted to use this deck to showcase the ton of brewing taking place in formats like Legacy and Vintage. (The following cards are being used in Vintage --Nightveil Specter, Hypersonic Dragon and Talrand, Sky Summoner-- but that could be its own article.) These are dynamic formats where someone can jam a deck like this without even tuning it and top eight. Eschewing that in favor of the relatively static Standard and Modern seems like a silly mistake for people to make, but make it they do. I need to stop writing about this before it turns into an entire article and I lose interest in talking about decklists.

SCG Invitational

The problem with the Invitational is that it's tough to say that the top eight players' Standard decks are the best Standard decks because what they played in Legacy mattered too. I think there is merit to concluding that players who did well enough to top eight at the end of Day 2 obviously made good choices on their Standard decks so there is some merit to that.

Honestly, though, if you want to get better at Magic, or finance, you can't ignore coverage of a big event like this one. There isn't a ton of data to mine here, so we'll go pretty quickly.

SCG Invitational Top 8 Standard

Again, these are the decks played in Standard by the top eight finishers, but an interesting trend still emerges. These are the game's top players, and three of the eight felt they would give themselves the best possible shot by running a deck we've seen emerge very slowly -- Esper Control.

Since creatures have gotten so much better lately, it takes longer and longer for the control decks to get their numbers right. Creature decks have obvious, powerful quick dudes (Champion of the Parish, Flinthoof Boar, Rakdos Cackler), value guys (Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, Boros Reckoner), ways to stuff sweepers (Boros Charm, Reckoner, Golgari Charm) ways to stuff counterspells (Cavern of Souls, counterspells being kinda terrible lately) and even the combo decks are running creatures as win conditions ([card Craterhoof Behemoth]Craterhoof[/card] for the win). Control decks have the tools they need, but it's taken this long to lock down a good list.

The three approaches to Esper Control were a bit different, but they had the same cards, relatively. Shaheen Soorani wanted a lot more planeswalkers, Ben Lundquist ran more creatures and Michael Hetrick looked like he wanted to win a lot more through milling. The basic shell is the same, but there is room for personal updates, which is interesting. Honestly, there was only one real beatdown deck in the top eight, piloted by Ross Merriam to the surprise of no one, given his tendency to play beatdown.

Shaheen and Hetrick must really like Esper...

SCG Invitational Top 8 Legacy

...because they both ran Esper in Legacy, too. Whatever works, I guess. Esper Stoneblade is an old go-to deck that continues to pop up every once in a while. Great. Whatever.

Worth discussing at length are the updates Brian Bruan-Duin made to the deck. A little bit of splashed green makes great use of Deathrite Shaman in all his capacities (the closest thing to a one-mana planeswalker we'll ever get). Gaining a bit of life makes Dark Confidant less of a liability, makes it easier to potentially shrink Tarmogoyf and hurt Reanimator and Dredge decks, and just help extend your life total a bit to keep you in the game. Deathrite Shaman's tendency to be a player-specific Grim Lavamancer never hurt, either. Running eight fetches that can grab Tropical Island is more than enough for the splash. I feel like this is the better deck in the mirror.

Corbin will be excited that Ben Lundquist opted to run Merfolk instead of doubling down on Esper. The deck is a thing. As much grief as I like to give Corbin, I have played Merfolk builds to some pretty decent finishes, including a version Kenta Hiroki turned me onto that ran Lavamancer and Lightning Bolt. The deck is solid, but I feel like it has zero ways to deal with Supreme Verdict.

I don't know whether Gerry T's Shardless BUG deck is the best deck in Legacy, but I feel like it certainly has a ton of power. Shardless Agent is going to cascade into something very good; there is a 100% chance of that. It's not always the thing you need, but on turn three, everything you hit is good. Hymn to Tourach? Solid, eat a Hymn, opponent. Goyf? Seems fine, it's beatface o'clock. Ancestral Vision? Feels like cheating. I like when my Form of the Mulldrifters cost three mana and draw three cards. Even a late Agent is going to get some value to mitigate how durdly a Gray Ogre is on turn ten. Gerry has been playing BUG decks in Legacy for a long time, and I don't expect the printing of Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay to make him want to stop. This deck is solid, albeit tougher than you'd think to pilot.


Despite not attracting many more players than a Grand Rapids convention in a strip mall where the likes of yours truly was taken seriously for an entire 48-hour period, there was a 5K in Indianapolis and Standard was played. Let's see how surprised by the results we aren't. I haven't clicked the link yet, but I'm predicting Junk Rites won, and there were between four and six Naya decks in the top sixteen.

TCG 5K Indianapolis

Oh, man. I was way off. There were actually seven Naya decks in the top sixteen.

I'm puzzled by the RUG Flash deck. [card Yeva, Natures Herald]Yeva[/card] is an OK 4/4 for four that grants the flash ability to a whopping one creature in the deck that didn't already have it. Sure, surprise [card Huntmaster of the Fells]Huntmaster[/card] when they attack is hilarious, but Yeva seems durdly otherwise. However, four toughness gets there in a format littered with three-power dudes and Searing Spear, so maybe a 4/4 for four is what this format needs. I personally miss Loxodon Hierarch, but Restoration Angel probably needs to rotate before that could ever come back.

It was good to see the Aristocrats not only top-eight, but also finally jam A-Blood Artist. I am a big fan of decks with Blood Artist and Gravecrawler. I feel like if that combination is good enough for Legacy, you should bother to try it out in Standard. One Thragtusk followed by Restoration Angel can undo lots of turns of hard work, but I feel like you have a certain degree of inevitability. I advocate the inclusion of Assemble the Legion, but this build seems fine. I'm going to miss Blood Artist when it rotates, but not too much since it's not leaving Legacy and also I never play tournaments.

The players in Indianapolis did not qualify for the Invitational, and I wonder if that event had a bit of a draining effect on the player base for Indianapolis. While the top eight in Atlanta had three Esper Control decks, the top sixteen in Indianapolis had only one. I think the meta was much different, and being set up to win through milling wouldn't have helped much in nine rounds of Naya Blitz matchups, but the Esper deck may also just be much, much tougher to pilot. Take this into account when picking a deck for your next event.

That said, expect to see more and more Esper in every event as the metagame sorts itself out. I saw roughly zero things that surprised me in the top sixteen in Indy and I hope Dragon's Maze really shakes things up. With new split cards and a decent planeswalker already spoiled, expect the answer to that question to be a resounding "yes."

12 thoughts on “Jason’s Archives: The Other Side of the Table

    1. Personally, I think that image is way sweeter than a mere decklist. Crazy piles like that merit a little cache in their presentation.

    1. I had a paper copy of Strikezone\’s buylist. Since Strikezone pays the most and only takes NM, I shaved a few bucks to not pay too much but still be competitive and shaved more if the cards weren\’t NM. Push comes to shove I can sell stuff I can\’t eBay to Strikezone for a small profit that way. No one complained about my numbers all weekend so I think it was fair.

  1. It was a great weekend overall, its very hard to find the right balance of paying enough to keep business coming back, and paying enough to make money and grow the business, and Jason did a great job of that. Thank you Jason it was a pleasure working with you.

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