Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'm Google-icious!

So, the exciting news is that ProStores has a system in place through which one can upload their store's inventory into Gooogle's shopping system, so that their items show up in Google shopping searches. So, naturally, I have (finally) done this, and the store's web traffic has increased as a result. I am very excited about this. I even had my first sale this way this morning, where a customer bought a $0.40 card. It's not much, but it's a start!

If you'd like to see such a search result (the one that actually lead to my sale this morning, actually), then check out this Google search.

Also, somehow when we restructured the store so that everything was through the URL, the items became more "search-friendly" as far as Google is concerned, so my items are showing up more readily in regular Google searches as well. An example can be found in this Google search.

Please note that both of these searches work as of this writing, but who knows what the results may be days/weeks/months from now, so if you're clicking these a good deal of time after January 25, 2009 then don't be surprised if they don't work.

Here's hoping increased traffic leads to increased sales as it should!

As for The Great Shift (the name I've given to the major project I have moving my singles inventory from the eBay store), I have finished the last 5 expansion sets now and just today I got Coldsnap moved over. I'll start on Alliances and Ice Age next to finish the "Ice Age Block". After that I'm not sure yet - I've decided to bounce around a bit instead of just heading backwards or forwards through the sets. A lot of hits to my store over the last couple of days have been for non-English cards, so I may get more of those listed before I do more English ones. We'll see.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Friday Night Magic and me (warning - a long one this time!)

A day earlier than promised...

So, last Friday (Jan 16 for those keeping score) my wife made sure to be home on time from work so that I could make it to Dream Wizards in Rockville by 6:30 for the beginning of my very first tournament. So, off I went, armed with pen, score pad (that I had obtained as part of someones collection - "Lot 42", I believe), life counter, small glass beads for counters and several Shards of Alara token Creature cards that I believe may come in useful.

SIDE NOTE: I decided I could "pimp" Dream Wizards even though we are (strictly speaking) competitors because they don't do a whole lot of selling online, and that's all I do - so most reading this are unlikely to go to them instead of me. And, also, they seem like very nice folk.

Anyway, I arrived about 5 minutes early and after a little confusion over where to go finally found out I needed to register at the register (cash, that is). So, I signed up, got my DCI card filled out, and paid my $21.20 (it's $20 + 6% MD sales tax). Then I proceeded to the back 40% or so of the store which is dedicated to playing tables.

The geek factor was pretty high. Being a geek myself, I can say this. Lots of long hair, unwashed bodies, pale skin, and (to put it kindly) nonathletic physiques. But, really, this is to be expected - many stereotypes exist for a reason. And, being bald, I'm probably just jealous of the long hair.

Anyway, many people there knew each other (or so it seemed). There was showing off of Magic collections, trading of Magic cards, and playing of Magic games all going on. At about 6:45 or so the 2 judges (one "in training" and running parts of the tourney for the first time) really started getting the ball rolling. The participants were shown to a select set of tables and given our "product" - one unopened Tournament Deck and 2 unopened Booster Packs of Shards of Alara (the latest expansion). We tore open our packs and took a look at what we had available to arm ourselves with for the coming battles.

In a deck you get three rares. In a booster you get 2. So, total, I had five rares to work with. Two were copies of the same card, Hell's Thunder:

Not a bad card to have in a deck, because it's quick (it has Haste so it can attack the turn it's summoned) and it has Flying - a very useful ability. At 4/4, it's fairly powerful. And, while it is sacrificed at end of turn, it also has Unearth, so you can pull it back from your graveyard for a second attack before it leaves the game. And having two in your deck means that you can, potentially, get four 4-point sneak attacks in against your opponent.

Rare #3 was Sigil of Distinction, a sneaky card that gives a nice +X/+X bonus to the Creature it Equips, and I planned to use it on the Hell's Thunder if I got a chance.

Rare #4 was Vicious Shadows, a nasty card that deals damage to your opponent whenever a Creature goes to the graveyard. Like, say, when your Hell's Thunder is sacrificed at end of turn.

Rare #5 was Invincible Hymn, a card that can potentially boost your life total if you play it early enough in the game. But as this was a sealed-deck tournament, with a minimum deck size of 40 cards, this card didn't have as much potential as it could have.

So, 3/5 of my Rares were Red cards, making me lean towards a chiefly Red deck. Also, I had more Red cards in the Uncommons & Commons than any other color, so that clinched it. I considered playing the Shard called "Jund", centered on Red, with Black and Green assisting. While I had a fair amount of Black cards, I had very little Green from Jund (I had a fair number from other shards that would have required White, and I didn't have enough White to justify that). So, instead, I decided to go "Grixis", the shard centered on Black with Blue and Red assisting. And since I had more Blue and Black than Green and White, it all made sense.

I pulled out all my Red, Black and Blue that didn't depend on White or Green (some Blue Creatures have abilities that require White mana, for example), I found I had ~34 cards. I decided to drop one, and add 17 basic Lands, for a total of 50 cards, with ~1/3 being basic land mana. I also had some non-basic Lands and artifacts that could produce mana, so I wasn't too worried about getting the dreaded "mana screw".

For the folks who REALLY want to know, here's deck configuration I entered into Round 1 with:

I was pleased with some of the possible combinations in this deck. I REALLY hoped that I would get a chance to bring in a Hell's Thunder, equip it with Sigil of Distinction to boost it up, then cast Soul's Fire on it after attacking with it. Thus doing 2x its pumped-up power in damage to my opponent in a single turn. If the Sigial had 6 counters on it, that's 20 damage, and bye-bye opponent!

A nice gentleman who was sitting next to me during deck building asked if I wanted to play a practice game before the rounds started (we were both done before time was called) so we started off. I relearned some stuff (and learned new other stuff) just in that practice, so I'm grateful to him for suggesting it.

In Round 1 I faced off against someone who hadn't played for quite some time (although not as long as me!). He came with a friend that he had, judging by their discussions, only just recently taught the game (or refreshed his memory). Said friend drew an Ajani Vengeant, one of the most popular cards in the Set - a Mythic Rare Planeswalker - then asked "what's a Planeswalker?" Oh, boy.

Anyway, my opponent and I had a die roll, which he won. He chose to play first (the first player to have a turn does not draw a card that turn, so a decision is made as to who will "play first" and who will "draw first"). He was not happy with his initial hand, and declared a "mulligan", allowing him to shuffle his deck and draw 1 less card than he had to start. Again not happy, he mulliganed. And again. Finally, with only four cards in his hand, he decided to play with what he had. He couldn't really recover from this set-back, and I was able to win - although the game did take a while. Somehow the second game went MUCH faster, as he had really bad luck with his draws, and I won that one in short order. At this point he thought we were playing best 2-of-3, and I thought we played three games, so we decided to go ahead and play a third. I won this one as well, and he took the report slip up to the judges. Whereupon it was brought back to us for correction, as my opponent had been correct and we were only supposed to play best 2-of-3. Whoops!

Round two: I noticed that I was now pitted up against another player who had 3 points (you get 3 points for a win). He was a friendly and cheerful sort (he actually reminded me quite a bit of my friend Alan - the gent who sold me "Lot 4" oh so long ago). He was also a fan of the mulligan, and started all three of our games at a deficit. I won the first game, and barely lost the second. I should have won, as I had a Fire-Field Ogre in my graveyard that had Unearth, and I forgot about it and didn't bring it into play when I could have (and should have) which would have allowed me to bash him for his last remaining 6 life (I had the Sigil in play and could have Equipped the Ogre with it). I think I was still in awe of his extremely well-played prior turn, where he zapped the two weenie 1/1 Creatures I had in play, then cast a Fleshbag Marauder that forced me to sacrifice my Ogre - which is how the Ogre got into the graveyard in the first place. The third game, however, I was able to pull out a win on, so 6 points total, and off to Round 3...

At the beginning of Round 1 there were ~33 people competing. By the beginning of Round 3 there were 22 left (you have the option to drop out, of course, which I guess if you lost two rounds in a row you may want to do). 6 of us had 6 points - and we were paired off against each other at tables 1-3. My opponent I had noticed earlier - he has a spectacular British accent. He is also, I believe, one of (if not THE) best player at the event. Not so lucky for me. He beat me soundly in two games (although, to be fair to myself, I had LOUSY luck in my draws). I had him initially in game 1, but after a shaky start he stepped up and finished me off.

I had thought that there was to be a Round 4, but at this point the tournament was called and the prizes announced. The top three people (9 points each) each got one of the fancy Foil FNM prize cards and several booster packs of Shards of Alara. Those of us in the next tier (6 point, I guess) got a single booster pack each. One random person (not me) was drawn to receive the fourth FNM foil.

So, all in all, I think it went far better than it had any right to go, given how long I've been "out of the game" as it were. Handling & selling these cards just isn't the same thing as playing the game. I had a blast though, and I'm looking forward to going back. I need to experience a "booster draft" tournament, which I think the run on FNM the first Friday of the month. Also, at the end of January is the big Pre-Release party for Conflux, which I would like to go to. There they have booster draft tournaments with packs from the new set the week before it's released, and participants get the cool foil Pre-Release card for the set.

Store update - computer woes

Last week on Monday I was advised that it might be a good idea to back up my important files off-site, and a company called Carbonite was recommended. I signed up for their free trial and started the initial backup process, which can take several days, since it runs in the background while the computer is not in use.

I decided to leave the computer on all Monday night to let the backup continue and maybe speed things up.

I then proceeded to run the computer hard all Tuesday, as I am trying to get all the single card inventory out of eBay and over to the "branch store" (as you may recall from an earlier update).

Somewhere in all of this I must have overheated something, and when a Windows update came in Tuesday night requiring the computer to be restarted, it decided that it had had enough, and died.

A man who runs an e-store, with a dead computer. This is definitely in the NOT GOOD category.

Wednesday I get by on borrowing my wife's laptop for the day. Thursday I resurrect an old Gateway PC we have lying around the basement that was still running WINDOWS 98! and used it for the day. Finally on Friday I obtained a newer, faster, nicer computer (upon which I am writing these words). I have nearly filled up the hard drive trying to get all my old files transferred over - so I'm looking at turning the hard drives from the old computer into external hard drives for this one, or just getting a nice external myself...we'll see (there's no room inside the new computer for a second drive).

On a more positive note I am on a roll with getting inventory transferred over. I have now completed all Core Sets, so everything I have available from Unlimited Edition up through 10th Edition (I don't have anything in Alpha or Beta right now) is now for sale at I have decided to work my way backwards through the expansion sets, so I have already gotten the most recent expansion, Shards of Alara, up (just finished earlier today) and will attack Eventide next.

I still haven't managed to get the kinks out of the search process, so although it looks like you can search for multiple colors you can't really just yet, unless you enter them all on one line and it happens to match the same order I entered the keywords in (in other words, searching for "Multi White Blue" does not produce the same results as searching for "Multi Blue White"). Anyone reading this a programming guru who can tell me how to overcome this problem?

Tomorrow look for my report on my first tournament - on Friday I went and signed up for my DCI membership and participated in Friday Night Magic. And if I do say so myself, I didn't do too badly for my first time out!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another bold new direction...

Or, perhaps, a foolish one?

The local comic shop where I get my weekly "fix" (come on - you already know I read comics or you haven't been paying attention!) also sells Magic: the Gathering booster packs. [Most comic stores have to also sell gaming and various sci-fi & fantasy stuff to stay afloat.] Free Plug for the gang: Beyond Comics in Gaithersburg!

I was approached by the owner, who knows I run my Magic store, to see if I would be interested in running a series of Magic tournaments at the shop. I'd be allowed to sell my singles there (but not my boosters - wouldn't want to compete with the host, now, would I?) and it would help the store by bringing in a regular clientele (theoretically, anyway).

So, I will soon be embarking on a fact-finding mission to attend a tournament at a gaming store that's a few towns south of here. They run regular Friday Night Magic tournaments, as well as more major pro-tour qualifier tourneys and even host Magic pre-release parties. I'd like to attend a FNM shindig, and also attend their Conflux pre-release party at the end of the month (Conflux is the next set to be released, to come out the first week in February - the pre-release events are the last week in January).

I've never been to any kind of official Magic event before, despite being in the business of selling cards, packs, etc for years now. Since I don't play too often any more, I've been a little nervous. But if I'm going to be running one of these things, I think I ought to see how they run at a place that's been doing it (and doing it well from what I understand) for a while now. I'm not sure yet if they are deserving of a Free Plug so I will refrain for now (especially if I find out they deal in Magic singles also - I can't advertise my competition!!!).

I will, of course, report back once more is known....

Okay - one other note. Is anyone else saying to themselves "WTH?!?! Not only is this the fourth post in one month, but it's the second in one DAY?!?!" Yeah, I know, I'm freaking myself out too......I guess I just am THAT excited about all this stuff!

I'm so excited!

And I just can't hide it!

Okay - enough of the lyrics (but now that song's stuck in your head, isn't it? Bwa-ha-ha-ha!).

This weekend we relaunched Don's Magic and Sundry.
  • The whole site got a major overhaul, with a new "Theme". I think the new layout looks MUCH more professional. There's a "Shopping Cart" button, many more cards show up per line on a search, the colors are SO much more attractive than the old look....
  • The old Abilities and Shipping pages (along with this Blog) were brought into one site [they used to be housed on a separate server from the Store itself]. This allows the Abilities & Shipping pages, for example, to have the Catalog links in the left-hand margin like every other page, making the place feel more like a cohesive unit. Also, hopefully, making it more likely that people who find the site through a Google search for a Magic Ability will then proceed to go shopping!
  • The new, stronger, Advanced Search (see last post) continues to become more useful as I get more and more inventory updated with the proper tags that the search can recognize. As of this writing I've made it through 8th Edition in the Core Sets. Once I get through 10th Edition I will start the expansion sets, and I think I'll start with the latest (Shards of Alara) and work my way backwards.

If you haven't yet, PLEASE pop over to and take a look. You won't (I assure you) be disappointed.

On a related note: My wife (who usually prefers to hide in the shadows here and will probably not be thrilled with the mention here) dedicated many hours of service in this endeavor. She is my webmistress, and while I continue to learn more and can do more myself, she is the one who worked so hard on getting the theme to work, getting the Blog moved over, setting up a new mailing list process (the old one had to be sacrificed in the move - thankfully only 8 people were registered!)...I owe here a HUMONGOUS debt of thanks, and so here, publicly, I give it. Thank you my dear, I really appreciate your time and effort (especially for what you no doubt still think is just a silly hobby. ).

Okay, enough sappy stuff. Go look at the site. Ooh, aah, buy something...

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Excitement abounds - new search at The Sundry

[Yeah - I know - two posts in one month. Can you believe it??!!!!!]

As part of the move to get the "branch store" busier, I have decided that the Advanced Search function needs to be more user-friendly, and more useful as well. Towards that end, I am, as I go along getting the eBay inventory moved over to, adding four "tags" to each inventory item. These will be searchable, and should increase the flexibility of a customer's quest to find the perfect card. You can check out the new search page at:

The four "tags" (technically called "Custom Fields" in the ProStores jargon) are:
  1. Color: This has five search fields, and a user can enter into each of the fields any of the five colors (White, Blue, Black, Red and Green) or "Colorless", plus "Multi" if the card is more than one color. So far I haven't been able to fine-tune the search process, and if you enter "White" for Color 1 and "Red" for Color 2 you get all items that are White and also all that are White and Red. What should happen is you only get the items that are White and Red. I need to work out this kink.
  2. Card Type: This has two search fields (I may add one more later) and a user can enter into each of the fields any of the eight card types (Artifact, Creature, Enchantment, Instant, Land, Planeswalker, Sorcery, and Tribal). As with color, a card may be multiple types (a "Tribal Sorcery" for example), so this should, if Tribal is entered as Type 1 and Sorcery is entered as Type 2, produce only cards that are Tribal and Sorcery, but I suspect that doesn't work right yet either.
  3. Card Sub-Type: This has three search fields and a user can enter into each of the fields a Creature type (like "Goblin" or "Elf") or several other sub-types that distinguish one card from another (some Enchantments are "Aura", and some are "World"; any type of card may be "Legendary").
  4. Rarity: This has only one search field, and a user can enter any of the five rarity types (Basic Land, Common, Uncommon, Rare, or Mythic Rare). This is a somewhat redundant search, since I include this information in the title of each inventory item (example: "Llanowar Elves - 10th Edition - Common") but just in case it's not obvious that the rarity is searchable within the name, I am including it as its own Custom Field.

What has me baffled at the moment is that searching for two different Custom Fields produces a Boolean relationship I would expect. In other words if you search for Color: White and Card Type: Creature you get all the cards that are labelled as White and Creature, but not cards labelled White that aren't labelled Creature, or Creature but not White. That's what I want if you search within a single Custom Field as well (Color: White and Color: Red yields only things that are White and Red) but I haven't gotten it licked yet. I may not be able to.

So now, in addition to moving over 3000+ items from eBay to the other store, I also need to edit the 50,000+ items already over there. I may be done before 2010. Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A New Year, a New Direction

I can't believe I'm doing this to myself....

I have decided, due to various factors including eBay's crazy changing of rules all the time, that what I need to do is take all of my single cards down off of my eBay store and move them to the "branch store" at instead.

I am staring down the barrel of another great "culling" by eBay of my inventory. As you may recall, last year (October?) I lost about half of my inventory as eBay took down any items that were listed at under $1. Well, eBay's latest policy change is that personal checks and money orders (in short, non-electronic payments) are no longer acceptable for eBay transactions.

The problem is that for the last who knows how long, my boilerplate "checkout message" has said that PayPal is preferred, but that checks & money orders would be accepted. If eBay lives up to their promise, then come January 16th any of my items with this wording will be taken down, and I'd have to relist them all at that point.

My only other option would be to edit 3000+ items one at a time, because the checkout instruction message is not one of the things you can edit by a bulk edit. And even if I could, I would be unable to edit the message on any item where even one of them had sold (you may recall me hitting that problem last year when the USPS got rid of "Air Mail Letter" and replaced it with "First Class International").

So, essentially, I have finally had it with eBay as far as having a massive inventory over there is concerned. I will still leave up my booster packs and complete common sets as they are more easily dealt with over there. But the bulk of my inventory will move to the "branch store". The big pluses include:
  • Easier to control inventory (adding/subtracting cards)
  • Easier to bulk edit if need be (I can download my inventory as a spreadsheet, do a massive "Find/Replace" and upload the file back up and there you go!)
  • I can still move selected items over to eBay, but if purchased they will be taken to my branch store's checkout, and may then go further shopping over there
  • Fees on successful sales MUCH lower through ProStores than at eBay (or as some have taken to calling it, "feeBay")

This decisions brings with it some pains in the butt, however:

  • The branch store's website needs some revamping to make it more attractive and user-friendly to encourage more people to buy there
  • I have 3000+ items that need to be moved (UGH!) - which means modifying the old photos to the "branch store" standard, typing the descriptions, etc.
  • I need to increase advertising and the like to bring customers to the branch store, because it doesn't have as many purchases as I need to justify it

All in all, I now have my work cut out for me again. And to think I was wondering what I was going to do with my free time now that I finally got all my English cards up!

I'll try to make regular updates as I can to let you loyal readers (all 2 of you!) know how things are progressing. Hopefully I can get a large number of cards moved over before the forced purge from eBay later this month.