Hi there! Welcome back to your weekly dose of Magic finance on TCGplayer. I'm your host, DJ Johnson, and I'm here once again to bring my financial knowledge to the readers of this site. Some of you are aware that I recently spent a weekend at Grand Prix: Minneapolis, along with my fellow content creators. While Corbin was doing coverage and Seth and Steve were playing Standard, I was standing behind one of the vendor booths. It was my first full weekend behind a GP booth (I worked for a portion of Grand Prix: Las Vegas, but I didn't get the full experience – I was busy getting married, after all). As someone who used to be on the other side of the booth as a player, I want to share my experiences from this past weekend, and some ways I think that the average player can make the most out of their trip to a Grand Prix.
For those who have never been to a Grand Prix or convention before, it can be a pretty daunting experience. There will be thousands of people in a convention center, and a ton of things going on at once. There's the main event, artist tables, side events, vendor booths, trading areas, cosplayers, and so much more. You can only pack so much into a weekend, so let's talk first about the best way to approach buying cards at a GP.
The first and most universal piece of advice I can give for on-site shopping is to shop around. At any given event, there are usually at least 10 different vendors who are trying to compete with each other. If you walk in knowing you need a playset of Abrade, be sure to do a little bit of research by combing all of the vendors in the room for the best price. I know that there were some vendors in Minneapolis who had Abrades for $2.00 a piece, while we were selling them on Friday for $4.00. Even so, we sold out of Abrade at $4.00 by the end of the weekend! It only takes a few minutes with a calculator to cross reference prices between various booths, but it can save you a lot of money in the short term.
My next suggestion to those who are looking to drop cash on cardboard at an event, is don't be afraid to negotiate prices. While it might feel uncomfortable to ask for a lower price on something, the worst thing that can happen is that I (or whatever vendor you're dealing with) says no. That's all. There's no punishment or animosity as long as your offer was fair, and you have a solid chance of scoring a really great deal on a card you've been looking for.
What kind of cards should you be making offers on? It depends a lot on the booth you're at and the kind of cards you're asking about. Are you trying to hunt down a complete Standard deck for the main event? If you're going to ask about chase cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, you probably won't be able to cut a deal; we're going to be selling those at the listed price constantly throughout the weekend. If you just need a couple of Scavenger Grounds at $1.00 a piece, there's not a whole lot of room to negotiate, and it's better to just pay the single dollar for each. However, you'll have a lot more wiggle room on the more expensive foils, exotic foreign cards and Commander staples that may be taking up weight in the vendors' suitcases.
From my own personal experience at Grand Prix Las Vegas, I managed to buy a playset of near mint foil Restore Balance at $80.00 total, even though they were stickered in the display case for $25.00 apiece. I knew that this was an obscure Modern foil that wasn't in very high demand, but I wanted a personal playset because I really enjoy casting the card and believe it has a lot of potential for the future. While the vendor who had them initially turned me down, I stopped by once a day to see if the cards were still there. I repeated my offer each day, and managed to acquire them on the last day of the event. The vendor knew that they weren't going to find a buyer back in their home state, and that I had been the only person in the room interested enough to even make an offer.
One of the lessons in that anecdote is to learn which vendors don't want to leave home with what. Every Magic shop has their own area of expertise; some stores don't like foils, and some really have a hard time getting rid of foreign cards. There are shops that can't fire Legacy events, and those who have a harder time drawing in a Commander crowd. If you can learn which shops want to sell out of a certain kind of card on site, you'll have a lot easier time negotiating better numbers than the stickered price. On Saturday at Minneapolis, I sold several foil lightly played Unhinged Islands to a player at $65 apiece, after he silently contemplated on whether or not he wanted to spend that much cash at once. I was expecting him to provide me with a counter-offer of $60 each (to which I'm sure my manager would've agreed), but instead he took out his wallet and paid for them in full without attempting to lower the price a little bit.
When I wasn't selling foil Unhinged Islands, I was sitting down with a price mat across from some players who were looking to lighten their cardboard load. While vendors absolutely attend events to sell cards, we're also there to acquire cards for our own inventory. If you've ever been to a Grand Prix or sat down with a vendor, you've probably seen a playmat that looked something like this.
The dollar values correspond to what I'm going to price your cards at when you offer to sell them to me, to keep track of exactly how much I'm paying on what. While it might feel intimidating to sit down from someone who you think is trying to buy your entire binder, I assure you that we're just Magic players like you, trying to do our job. It's important to remember that you have complete control over what you sell or trade to us, and that we're going to try and make you as comfortable as possible and give you the best deal we can.
If you're looking to turn a bunch of cards you don't use into other cards that you're going to play, it will be important to ask each vendor if they have a trade-in bonus. Many stores will give you a 20-30% bonus on your total cash value if you want to turn it into store credit, and pick up cards from their booth while you're there. If you're a Standard player looking to get into Modern (or a Modern player dipping into Legacy), this can be an easy one-stop shop to pick up playsets of high-end cards like Noble Hierarch and Force of Will without having to drop several hundred dollars. If you're not interested in picking up cards, any vendor would be happy to give you cash in hand for those cards; there's no wait time or check involved.
Some players are afraid of selling cards to vendors because of fear of getting "bad value." If you're someone who wants to get a high percentage of a card's retail value and still work with vendors, I highly recommend checking out the various "hot lists" that will be posted throughout the room. While most vendors will buy pretty much every card that's not bulk, they will actively post their best buy prices in a visible location, making it easy to compare numbers and show you what that vendor really wants to get in stock.
As you can see, this hot list was from Grand Prix New York, an event I attended as a player a little over a year ago. In this image, ChannelFireball was paying really awesome numbers on some Commander-focused cards. Channelfireball still would've bought your Archangel Avacyns and Thing in the Ice, but these prices were practically retail at the time. If you combined some of these hot list numbers with a trade-in bonus, you could actually end up gaining value from a vendor while securing cards you want to play with.
Lastly, you can use the hotlists as a negotiating tool while selling. If you snap a picture of each vendor's hot list, it's a smart idea to try and use that information when sitting down with the vendor of your choice to unload cards. Let's say for example that Vendor A is buying most of the cards you want to sell at a fair price, but they're not paying very well on Blood Moon. If you show them a picture of Vendor B paying $13 on Blood Moon, there's a chance they could agree to match the buy price from another vendor in the room to secure the sale. You get the same amount of money, but it saves you from walking all over the center and waiting in line for multiple different vendor buylists.
In fact, many vendors will have a printed paper copy of their buylist for you to grab off the table, so you can use a pen or marker to start circling the prices and cards that appeal to you. A physical copy of the buylist combined with your phone camera can be a powerful arsenal to have the vendors work for you, and make sure you get the most out of your Grand Prix experience with only a minimal amount of effort.
Whew! There's so much to discuss about the financial aspect of attending a Grand Prix, but only so much time to do so. If there's a Grand Prix coming to a city near you, I highly recommend checking it out. Even if you have no intention of playing in the main event, there's so much to do at a Grand Prix that you'll never be bored.
Next week, I'll be back with a return to my series about Selling on TCGplayer, and it'll be the 102 course instead of the introduction. Do you have any questions about selling on the platform? Let me know in the comments below, and I'll try to address as many as I can next week!
Thanks for reading!
- DJ Johnson