I haven't been to a major Magic: the Gathering event since Magic Fest Atlanta 2019 where I purchased a Japanese Tolarian Academy for $20 and an Earthcraft for $25. Times certainly have changed since then.
Recently, I've had the opportunity to attend SCGCon Charlotte, and doing so got me thinking about just who the event is for... and whether going was worth it for me! Today, we'll assess the EV (estimated value) of attending this type of event for players, buylisters, and traders in the hopes of seeing just how much major Magic gatherings offer the game's many fans.
But First, Some Background...
I haven't been to a large event since September 2019. This was before the Pandemic and before my son was born so I was really looking forward to going to this event.
I used to love going to Grand Prix and SCG Opens to trade, but that began to die out a few years prior. I then switched over to using these events as opportunities to buylist cards I had acquired in collection buys that were often found digging through bulk. I wrote several articles on my experiences back in 2017 and 2016.
In July 2019, TCGPlayer changed their minimum free shipping to orders of $5 or more, and it suddenly became very profitable to sell cheap cards. This meant I no longer spent all my free time leading up to an event pre-pricing cheap cards by the highest buylist price. Instead, I could play in Win-a-Box events, typically Legacy ones. By this time, my beloved UW Miracles deck had been neutered with the loss of Sensei's Divining Top, so I spiked such events with Sneak and Show.
Having attended major events as a trader, a buylister, and as a player, I was able to critically assess SCGCon Charlotte while I was there, and put together a sort of guide to figuring out whether to spend resources attending such events. Hopefully, my own minimum requirements as each type of attendee will prove helpful for others weighing the costs of time and travel next time around.
Attending as a Player
As a player, I want to have fun playing the game and feel like I get decent value for my entry fee. Obviously, much of the fun aspect is outside of the Tournament Organizer's (TO) control, but there are some parts they do decide:
- Do events fire?
- Are there enough judges to operate the events?
- Are there lots of different types of events to play in?
- Is the play area clean and well-maintained?
Next, I'll ask if there's decent value on the table for my entry fee, which admittedly also may have some "gray area" to it, as the value of playing one's favorite format/deck/etc. varies from person to person. There is also a cost to the TO to have judges and other staff members running these events.
My baseline is that for years, you could enter an 8-man pod for $15 and the winner walked away with a booster box (36 packs). Interestingly, there were no 8-man pod-type events at SCGCon save for Booster Draft, and all events had a set schedule.
The side events were now $20 to enter, and tickets were rewarded as prizes with the following breakdown:
- 3-0: 400 Prize Wall Tickets
- 2-1: 120 Prize Wall Tickets
- 1-2: 80 Prize Wall Tickets
- 0-3: 40 Prize Wall Tickets
This should mean that for every 8 players, each event paid out a total of 1,040 Prize Wall Tickets. It used to be that 10 tickets could be converted into any standard legal pack. However, now it appears that these packs are 40 tickets each, making the payout in packs as follows:
- 3-0: 10 Packs
- 2-1: 3 Packs
- 1-2: 2 Packs
- 0-3: 1 Pack
Currently, each event costs $5 more, and the total number of packs given out is 26. This payout was so bad that none of us actually bothered to play in any side events, but I don't necessarily think it's bad that they flattened out the prize support a little, as getting an unlucky draw after going 2-0 and walking away with nothing definitely feels bad too. This way, everyone wins a bit, instead of one person winning a lot.
I will give SCG credit in regards to the space, which was clean and well-maintained; there were a fair number of events to play in; and there didn't seem to be a lack of judges. Still, attending for side events in this climate would have to be based on the thrill of playing face-to-face Eternal Magic with light stakes, as going in to spike and make a killing for entry free is no longer in the cards.
Attending as a Buylister
As I mentioned above, I don't buylist like I used to, as I've found TCGPlayer to be far more profitable even though a sale is never guaranteed. That being said, several of my friends were intending to buylist cards to various vendors at SCGCon. I was open to buylisting any cards that had aggressive buy prices, but would use Trader Tools to compare against on-site buy prices.
Admittedly, there was sure to be some give-and-take on this, as more often than not Card Kingdom has the highest buy prices. However, I have to ship them cards, and there is always the potential for downgrades. To account for this, I feel that any buy price within 90% of the highest Trader Tools buy price is "aggressive" and should count towards this evaluation.
As my willingness to buylist was less than my friends', I helped them gather buy price information so they could compare with what vendors were offering. They also gave me first crack at their lists.
As seen above, many buy prices were very good. I even pulled some Show and Tells out of my trade binder because Cardmonster Games was paying $24 each on them and TCGLow was $30, though I should mention that Cardmonster Games' hotlist was a QR code on their sign, which to me is pretty brilliant as they can adjust it as needed. Still, the code it also requires people to scan it and then scroll through it, which may have deterred some potential buylisters.
My friends all did way better than they expected, with one netting $3200 in random cards he had just been sitting on and another making $1250 by downgrading some of his Commander decks.
I do want to bring up an issue that I would like other people's opinions on. The Strikezone hotlist had Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes listed for $14, but when my friend went to sell them one, they offered $7. He showed them a picture of their own sign which they then erased and wrote $7. I personally found that very scummy and have already had a dislike for them since GP DC years ago when they refused to match their own online buylist price on site. I hope others have had better experiences with them, but I will refuse to do business with them moving forward.
Attending as a Trader
Last but not least is the trading evaluation. I felt the best way to evaluate this event as a trader was to establish a trade "want list" and then see how well I could fill it. I also tracked the number of actual trades I participated in as well as any I happened to see, just to get a general gauge of trading activity.
My trade list was decently sized, but my approach to trading and speculating ever since Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths has been to focus more on the rarer variants of cards as opposed to any old copy. These include extended art, extended art foils, retro frame, and borderless variants. As these versions are rarer, it would likely be difficult to find traders with lots, unless they were stores who opened a lot of product (which I have seen typically means "value trader"). Here is my list, with the regular version of a card in bold:
- Kaldra Compleat - MH2
- Minsc & Boo Timeless Heros - CLB
- Grim Tutor (Borderless) - M14
- Panharmonicon (Borderless) - 2X2
- Oracle of Mul Daya (Borderless) - 2X2
- Vedalkan Orrery (Borderless) -2X2
- Bloom Tender (Borderless) - 2X2
- Kolaghans Command (Borderless)- 2X2
- As Foretold -2X2
- Glimpse the Unthinkable (Borderless) -2X2
- Dragonlord Dromoka -2X2
- Concordant Crossroads -2X2
- Luxury Suite (EA) - CLB
- Morphic Pool (EA) - CLB
- Bountiful Promenade (EA) - CLB
- Sea of Clouds (EA) - CLB
- Spire Garden (EA) - CLB
- Spara's Headquarters - SNC
- Ziatora's Proving Grounds -SNC
- Jetmir's Garden - SNC
- Time Stretch (Retro) - DMR
- Lyra Dawnbringer (Retro) - DMR
- Gauntlet of Power (Retro) - DMR
- Stroke of Genius (Retro Foil) - DMR
- Seachrome Coast (Borderless) - ONE
- Copperline Gorge (Borderless) - ONE
- Blackcleave Cliffs (Borderless) - ONE
- Razorverge Thicket (Borderless) - ONE
- Darkslick Shores (Borderless) - ONE
29 Cards wasn't a huge list, but it was large enough that I figured I should be able to find at least 20% of the cards on it in trade binders.
This was the most disappointing of all; while walking around, I saw nobody trading. I remember a few years ago it was common practice to have a few empty tables available so people could sit down for a second, work on a deck, play some casual Commander, or trade.
These tables no longer appear to exist, which means that to trade with anyone, you must find someone who wants to trade and then hopefully find a table that isn't being used for the main event or a side event. There's no more walking over to a buzzing trade table and peering through each other's binders, making the activity much more challenging.
I should be 100% honest and mention that I didn't spend a lot of time looking for potential traders. TOAMagic had a bunch of long boxes with cards in sleeves set at a specific price, and I spent a fair amount of time digging through them looking for underpriced Commander gems. I thought I had found a nice haul, but smartly looked up the cards before buying only to find most were the same price as I could get them on TCGPlayer in English.
I am sure many are aware, but for those who aren't, foreign Commander cards are usually very difficult to get rid of unless they are very high-dollar reserved list cards and you're selling them a good bit below the English equivalent.
My friends and I will likely go to the next SCGCon within driving range, but mainly to sell cards to vendors. I will not waste any of my "preparation time" on building up trade binders, but will instead focus solely on pre-pricing cards for vendors, like I used to do. I also plan on pulling some of my own store inventory that hasn't moved in 6 months or more and seeing what I can get for those cards.
Large SCG events have certainly changed quite a bit over the last few years. I hope the above gives prospective attendees a better idea of whether this kind of event is for them. Would you attend an SCGCon within driving range? How about outside of tha range? Let me know in the comments.