Insider: Experiences at GP Cincinnati

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Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending my seventh Grand Prix, in Cincinnati, OH. If the format was anything but Standard I may have participated in the main event. But since the format was Standard and this particular Standard format bores me to oblivion, I decided to focus on selling to dealers, trading and networking.

Mission accomplished. Well, sort of. While I had some specific cash goals in mind for the GP I ended up falling a little short. Allow me to explain.

Star City Games Does It Again

Star City Games strives to maintain sufficient stock of all relevant Magic cards. When they struggle to keep certain cards in stock they will increase their buy and sell prices to reflect these market changes. Sometimes they can be a bit more…dramatic with their price hikes.

Some recent developments triggered by Star City Games influenced me towards trading into a few specific cards due to their recent price increases. For those unaware, SCG just increased their buy and sell prices on three dual lands: Volcanic Island, Underground Sea and Kabira Takedown // Kabira Plateau.


What possessed the world’s largest MTG retailer to make this price adjustment? When I spoke with the buyers last weekend, they told me it was simply due to the fact that they couldn’t keep these duals in stock for long. So they resorted to price adjustments.

This seemed reasonable to me, but it did alter my strategy some. Instead of taking cash on a few buylist sales to Star City Games (I’ll come back to this) I went with the trade-in option.

This netted me an additional 25% in value from my sales, and enabled me to purchase a few dual lands which haven’t spiked yet. But if you think these are the only three dual lands that will receive the price bump treatment you would be a bit too narrow-minded. Other duals will follow soon enough, and I wanted a position in these to capitalize on the recent growth.

Other Bumps From SCG

While I can fully appreciate SCG’s motivation for bumping dual lands, I still question two other price adjustments they made recently: Ancient Tomb and promo Gitaxian Probe.


By increasing their buy and sell prices on Ancient Tomb to $15 and $29.99, respectively, Star City Games has strong-armed a 100% spike in value of this Tempest uncommon. Our very own Jason Alt has been on this spec for months now and I followed suit when I read his rationale. But neither of us expected this behavior. When I asked the SCG vendor their rationale for doubling this card’s price so suddenly when dozens of cheaper copies were available online, I simply received a shrug in reply.

In any event when I saw this price hike (thanks to Nick Becvar @Becvar) I went to Card Shark, placed an order for six copies at about $11 each, and then simply sold SCG all copies in my possession for $15. Free money? Sure, why not?

There is one other SCG price hike of which the MTG finance community is aware: promo Gitaxian Probe.


By increasing their buy price to $10 and sell price to $19.99 they single-handedly orchestrated a rampant buy-out of the blue sorcery. If they had trouble keeping these in stock before, they sure won’t anymore.

Other Buylisting Notes

As I mentioned before, I was delighted to sell Star City Games my Ancient Tombs at their newly profitable buy price. I also shipped them my Temporal Manipulation, which they insist is a $120 card.

After buying this one on for $65 I was more than happy to trade it to SCG for $100 in store credit, which bought me a “Heavily Played” (read: Moderately Played) Scrubland and Taiga. Trading them my Ancient Tombs bought me a similarly conditioned Tundra. Money well spent.

Oh, and I also traded them my two foil Little Girls for another $50 in credit to obtain another HP Scrubland simply because no one else in the entire room wanted them for this much.

My observations of other dealers’ buylists were fairly mixed. I was eager to sell some recently spiked Modern staples to some vendors, but not all Modern cards were looked upon favorably. Despite recent buyout attempts, the best I could get on my Birthing Pods was $11. This is about the proceeds one would obtain from selling them on eBay after fees and shipping so I accepted.

Spellskite buy prices were actually a little higher, which was favorable. On the other hand the best I could get on my Blinkmoth Nexus was $7.25ish. I still sold most of mine, again because the amount I’d make selling on eBay would be only marginally higher.

Other sales I gladly made were my Snapcaster Mages at $27, Defense Grids at $5, Torpor Orbs at $2 and white-bordered Chokes at $1. All of these sales led to ample profit.

What I Didn’t Sell

The number one card I refused to let go of was Restoration Angel. The best buy price I received on this versatile angel was $6 but I know they will climb higher. After all, some announcers claim she sees more play than Tarmogoyf in Modern now. While the statement may be a bit hyperbolic, I still believe there’s merit to the sentiment. I’m holding.

Restoration Angel

I also refused to sell any shocklands or Scars of Mirrodin fast lands. The only buylist that was remotely tempting was a $4 offer on Razorverge Thicket. Being the most played fast land in all of Magic, I know this number will inevitably go higher. I decided to wait.


What I (Tried to) Acquire

On the other end of the spectrum there were a number of cards I actively acquired throughout the day. Dual lands were the biggest target after the recent price bumps. But I also pursued a few Modern cards.

I managed to find a set of SP Gemstone Mine at $4 each. This land has been on a tear of late, and I see it hitting $10 before too long. Unfortunately most dealers had zero in stock so this was all I could obtain.


I also traded for another Cavern of Souls and Arcbound Ravager. I like both of these heading into Modern PTQ season and even beyond. I don’t expect Ravager to see another reprint after appearing in Modern Masters and it may be a bit too soon for a Cavern reprint. Hopefully this pays off.

Refocusing for the Future

After a GP I like to take a step back, reorganize my binder and identify my MTG finance strategy for the future. It’s important that I assess where I succeeded in speculating (Torpor Orb, Snapcaster Mage) and where I didn’t do so well (Geist of Saint Traft, Azusa, Lost but Seeking). By learning from my past decisions I can become a more capable MTG investor going forward.

This time around I solidified my MTG finance mission statement: “My goal is not to make the most money possible. It’s just to make money.” I could have held out on some of my sales in anticipation of reaping larger profits. But the ease of selling to vendors at a Grand Prix for immediate cash is just too advantageous to pass up. By turning over inventory I am enabled to refocus my resources into better planned, more focused positions.

And while I did sell a few things I perhaps should have held onto longer, I don’t regret a single sale. Cards I felt had significantly more room to run I kept or even acquired. And I’m confident I’ll make smarter investment decisions moving forward.

This is a priceless benefit of attending a major event like a Grand Prix. The experiences, knowledge acquired, connections made, and vendor relationships established are extremely valuable going forward. The fact that I can reap all of these non-monetary benefits while also making some cash is an underlying motivator for MTG finance.


  • I didn’t realize how expensive Gitaxian Probe has become. It’s difficult to find many copies under $2 on the internet, and Star City Games has theirs stocked at $2.49. What’s most impressive, however, are their foil prices. $34.99 (and out of stock of NM) is quite the jump!
  • While Volcanic Island and Underground Sea got most of the love with recent price hikes, I don’t think Tundra will lag behind much. At $199.99 for NM and $174.99 for SP, Star City Games has just two each in stock. If they struggle to keep many of these in inventory, the next price tier for the white-blue dual land is $249.99. And with Tropical Island being completely sold out at $149.99, I can almost guarantee these will be restocked at a $199.99 price point.
  • Up for a gamble? While the recent price hikes in blue dual lands are getting all the attention, many have overlooked the hike in Kabira Takedown // Kabira Plateau. This card is retailing at $79.99 and SCG is sold out of NM copies. Their buy price is $50, and there are a number of “Near Mint” copies under this price on TCG Player and Card Shark. Buy at your own risk.

12 thoughts on “Insider: Experiences at GP Cincinnati

  1. Awesome article sig. This is exactly the type of info I need after a Grand Prix I’m unable to attend. I knew many of these things to be true but your detailed analysis from the floor is invaluable.

    1. Mike,

      Thanks for the kind words! Other than the SCG price hikes (Dual Lands, Ancient Tomb, Gitaxian Probe Promo) I didn’t really uncover anything too shocking. But it’s great validation to know that my mind is in the right place when I talk to all the vendors at a GP. I kept the cards I liked the most for further upside and unloaded the stuff that has jumped significantly already. Trading into Dual Lands felt like a great way to get some additional exposure to these cards while also taking advantage of 25% trade-in bonuses. And with SCG’s HP cards being perfectly acceptable for sleeve-play in many cases, this was a perfect match.

  2. Good article, I wish I noticed the upcoming price increase for FNM gitaxian probe before reading, was planing on buying some this week but I guess I was too late. You win some you lose some.

  3. I was also at GP Cincy. I buylisted a bunch of fetch lands and a few cards you listed as well, Defense Grid, Restoration Angel, etc.

    Like you, I also don’t like standard so I pretty much hung out at vendors like SCG and CF to just pick the brains of retailers and met up with some of my buddies who were trade grinding.

    Since you highlighted many of the amazing things that happened, one thing I was disappointed in was the lack of certain collectors cards. I picked up every Arena and APAC/European Land at the event and only filled 2 pages in my collection binder. Major Letdown.

    This was my first GP Event and overall it was a really good time! Wonderful article too 🙂

    1. Thanks, Chris! Glad you had a great time.

      There were probably more pieces of power in the dealer display cases than APAC/European Lands. My guess is that retailers only have a limited amount of display space at these events and so they try to show off cards that are higher in demand. That’s why you saw mostly format staples and a bit less of the obscure. Glad you enjoyed the GP and hope you will attend more in the future. It’s a great way to learn!

  4. Cedric Phillips said yesterday during the finals about probe “This is the card, in a year we will be saying, I can’t believe every deck doesn’t run this” I do like the card a lot going forward, and I believe its steady increase in play combined with its steady increase in price, for several months, is why they bumped it. Plus look at other modern played promos like Bolt. I think the pimpyness of this format is just beginning to set in.

    1. They sell at that price. They pay $80 for NM and with the 25% trade in bonus it was $100 in credit. I used that credit to buy a HP Scrubland and HP Taiga. Not bad for $65 spent. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. Gitaxian Probes at 2 $ is head shakingly high imo. I routinly buylist these. Commons are the money part of collection buying. It is easy when buying smaller collections to know if they’ve a large amount of block x or y.

    1. Is there a reason foil Gitaxian Probes should be higher than foil Delver of Secrets? I am wondering if foil Delvers are (relatively) underpriced…

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