Judging Myself, Harshly

Written by Corbin Hosler on . Posted in Finance

Judging Myself, Harshly

Corbin Hosler

Corbin Hosler is a journalist living in the hotbed of Magic that is Oklahoma. He started playing in Shadowmoor and chased the Pro Tour dream for a few years, culminating in a Star City Games Legacy Open finals appearance in 2011 before deciding to turn to trading and speculation full-time. He writes weekly at QuietSpeculation.com and biweekly for LegitMTG. He also cohosts Brainstorm Brewery, the only financial podcast on the net.

A few weeks ago I talked about how important evaluation is when it comes to your exploits in Magic finance. It’s a concept I take very seriously, so today I’m going to look back at some of my recent financial moves and evaluate myself. I told you to judge yourself harshly a few weeks ago. It’s only right that I apply the same standard to myself, and lay it out there on the line for you to see.

In the last 12-18 months, I’ve made some significant moves, and have made money on some of these, while others have come up blank. For instance, I did very well on Zendikar fetchlands, stocking up on them before the price spikes. Likewise, I did very poorly on (so far) on my Splinterfrights, of which I own 94.

But “very well” and “very poorly” mean absolutely nothing without numbers to back them up. For instance, I know that I own somewhere between 55-50 Blue Zendikar Fetchlands, all of which came in trade at less than $14. I also know that I paid $.47 apiece on my Splinterfrights, and haven’t gotten anything back yet.

I also do this meticulously with every collection I buy, and I even track my hours spent working on flipping it. The last collection I bought cost me $1400, and I ended up clearing a $350 profit while keeping to myself a Bayou, around 10 Unhinged and 40 Zendikar lands. I spent 16 hours working on the collection, so I came out to right around $20/hour, which is a pretty decent rate for me.

I know the one area I need to improve on is recording all of this for a much later review. On the $1400 collection I kept a running tally on my phone calculator, and when I received payment for the final cards, I was up $350 and called it good. Because I was simply using a calculator, I knew exactly where I was at, but I didn’t have detailed records of how I got there.

That bothered me. I wanted to correct this the next chance I got, which turned out to be GenCon. Last time I covered how my trip at GenCon was, (LINK) but I didn’t get much into the finance aspects of it. I think it’s important to see this concept in action, so that’s what I’m here to talk about today.

Running the numbers

I’ll start with my base list of expenses, from the moment I left my house to the moment I returned six days later.

-          $7 snacks at the gas station

-          $5 for lunch on Wednesday.

-          $3 on snacks (it was a 13-hour drive, cut me a break on the junk food).

-          $25 lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings on Thursday.

-          $4 drink on-site

-          $22 parking on Thursday

-          $3 water bottle

-          $40 cash I spent buying someone’s bulk.

-          $105 for my share of the room.

-          $12 for lunch on Friday and a drink

-          $9 on food Saturday

-          $31 dollar on dinner Sunday.

-          $9 on food Monday

-          $75 on a collection I brought with me

-          $75 on gas, my one-third share of the $225 gas tab.

Total: $415

After trading and a raid on Troll & Toad, that I’ll get to in a moment, here’s my revenue list

-          $25 from selling a Mutavault to a private buyer

-          $162 from selling cards on Friday.

-          $374 selling cards on Saturday.

-          $207 from the final sell on Sunday.

-          $120 from selling the bulk once I got home.

Total: $888

Net Profit: $473

Considering I left the event with my binders nearly as full as when I attended, that’s a very tidy profit for the trip, especially considering I spent most of it hanging out or doing video coverage (which you can find here [LINK]).

I went to a big event, had a great time, did some profitable trading, did some cool coverage, and between that and the small collection I had, I made nearly $500 on the weekend.

So now that we have our numbers established, let’s get into how I went about making that money.

Let’s start with the Mutavault sale. I sold this to an individual player, not a dealer. I’m not sure how many of you have experience with this, but it is something you have to make sure is done the right way.

I’ve been a part of shops where the owner doesn’t mind if I buy or sell cards in the store, but this is a small minority. Most store owners have a policy against this, and you can’t blame them. It’s the same at nearly every convention or GP or SCG event, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make deals. Now, you should go around undercutting every dealer, but in this case the guy wanted one Mutavault from me and he hadn’t found one at the price he wanted from a dealer. We arranged to meet off-site and I sold him the card.

I imagine this is something that could be controversial, and that’s why I want to address it. You should never go around a room at a big event soliciting players to buy your cards, but if someone approaches you and wants to talk off-site about it, you are within your rights to do so. The $25 I got from it is a very good price for me as a non-dealer, and it’s a very good price for him as a buyer. We both won.

Next, on to the selling. One of the biggest cards I picked up on the weekend was City of Traitors, which certain dealers were paying $22 cash on. People were trading these at $20-25 on the floor, and I picked up a handful that way. “Trading for cash” in this way is essentially selling whatever you traded away at retail prices, and it’s bar none the easiest way to turn quick profits at events. It’s hard to find these sleepers (Omniscience was also one), but it’s definitely worth it when you do.

The other sales were the typical outcomes of trade grinding. I made my money in every trade and cashed it out later. Now, let’s look at some of the more interesting sources of revenue from the weekend.

The collection

From the collection I brought, I made a deal with the original owner. I would give him the money from the Rares he had sorted out, and I had access to the 7,000 C/U to pick as I wanted. It wasn’t worth his time since he didn’t know what was worth money (and he had inherited the collection for free), but I was able to get through it all pretty quick.

The results were outstanding. A bunch of Imperious Perfects and other goodies of that era later. I was able to get a few hundred for the stuff I picked, and got to keep some cool textless cards like Lightning Helix for myself. He was happy with the $75 from the Rares, since he didn’t have to do any work for them, and I was definitely happy on my end.

What did I learn?

When you have friends or acquaintances looking to cash out, offering to sell their stuff for them for a cut of it can be very profitable and eliminate the risk of overpaying. I suspect that in many cases the “let me have the C/U” is something that would appeal to a lot of sellers. It’s something I’ll have to try again in the future.

The Bulk

Basically, I’ve found a gold mine in Oklahoma. There’s a store here that pays $.20 on bulk rares or gives a quarter in store credit, which I then use to pick through their unpicked boxes. It’s become a go-to maneuver for me.

I’ll trade for bulk rares if I can at big events now, something I used to avoid. If you haven’t heard the story of the Bulk Bot, here’s the short version. There was a guy named Peter Yong who used to be a fixture at big events and would pester people to trade him their bulk rares at $.10. He would then pick the cards (since most people don’t understand true bulk), and sell the true bulk to a dealer for the $.12-14 you can actually get. He then got kicked out of the community and banned from most events after several incidents where he was caught stealing.

Scum is scum, and I don’t hide my feelings on the practice. So why do I now try to find bulk? For starters, I’ll help people distinguish true bulk from real cards like Proclamation of Rebirth, and I’ll also give $.15 per rare, which beats anything a dealer will pay. This makes it a great deal for the player bulking out cards, and a really sweet deal for me, since I have a line at home to sell at $.20.

This is why I had no problem buying the bulk off a guy in our hotel for $.15 a card. It was a great deal for him, and between the bulk I got from him and the bulk I got from the collection, I made over $100 off of it back home. A win for everyone all around.

What did I learn?

The practice of bulking isn’t evil, and in some cases it can be used to benefit both players.

Troll and Toad’s Foreign Box

This is probably the most interesting story here. On Thursday the dealer hall opened at 10 a.m., though some lucky people (myself included) were able to enter at 9. I wandered around the hall looking to pick up buylists and finally found the T&T booth around 9:45.

I, then, see a guy digging furiously through a huge foreign box they had set up, and the stuff he was pulling out was no joke. At $.50 per card, I also began digging. An hour and a half later, I had come out with a ton of goodies, including a playset of Foil Chinese Sanguine Bonds and some sweet Japanese cards like Stonehewer Giant.

I still have no idea why T&T didn’t pick the box themselves before throwing it all on display, but I’m sure it was just a question of the man-hours it would have taken. If they were selling it all at fifty cents apiece it means they took it much cheaper than that, and were happy to take the profit they could rather than spend time picking it.

On the other hand, I definitely didn’t mind picking it, and came out $60-70 ahead for my trouble.

What did I learn?

It’s almost cliché at this point, but you really do need to be at big events the minute the doors open. It’s how you’ll find goodies like the T&T deal or where you’ll find one dealer selling a card for less than another is buying it at. These things actually do exist, but only if you put in the work and put yourself in the right situation.

Wrapping up

Looking back on the event, there are a few things I wish I had done better. First off, I probably should have traded more. There were a number of other trade grinders on the floor and I had other stuff going on, but there were definitely some times where I just sat around instead of grinding trades. You have to have fun, but every minute out on the floor counts.

Another thing I need to do is be stricter on condition. I’m already pretty much a Nazi on this, but I sometimes slip. Because I anticipate selling whatever I pick up to a dealer, condition matters. I have a beat-up Wyden, the Biting Gale sitting in my binder to remind of this. I got it at the time because I knew it was an EDH card, but I didn’t pay much attention to the condition and now no dealer will touch it and no one wants to trade for it.

At GenCon, I did a pretty good job but there are some things I picked up that aren’t in as good of condition as I assumed. You should always check this when you first pull out a card, because having to go back and readjust after already agreeing on a price is really off-putting to your trade partners.

There’s one other thing this event really instilled in me that I’m taking to heart. With the $1400 collection, I kept a number in my phone until I figured out what I profited. Then it was gone. That makes it really difficult to look back months later and see how I did. I need to record all of this stuff in a master spreadsheet that only holds final numbers so I have a more complete picture. I’ve decided to make this a goal for 2013 so I can see how I do for an entire year, rather than a case-by-case evaluation.

As always, thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

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