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Insider Trader: Beat the RNG making Darkmoon cards

Insider Trader is a column about professions by Basil "Euripides" Berntsen, who also writes Gold Capped about how to make money using the auction house. Email Basil your questions.

We've all heard someone say something to the effect of "I don't make Darkmoon cards because I don't have enough gold to beat the random number generator." What do they mean? Here's the situation: Darkmoon Cards of Destruction are craftable by maximum-skill scribes, and they award a completely random card. There are 32 possible cards they can give you in four different "suits" of eight, and if you match up a whole suit, you can create one of four Darkmoon decks. These decks start a quest that, when turned in at the Darkmoon Faire, provide one of the best trinkets in the game.

The Darkmoon greatness decks last expansion "outlived their iLvl" in the sense that since they were so perfectly itemized for quite a few classes that they would reward their owners with better performance than later-tier trinkets, especially token-bought trinkets. Looking at the new decks, they are almost as perfectly itemized, so I suspect that they will provide their owners many months of use before they get overshadowed by some new drop. What this means is that everyone wants one of these, and they're very expensive to make and thus very rare.

Expensive to make

Each random card is generated when a scribe spends 10 Inferno Ink and 30 Volatile Life. That amount of ink can be gotten by milling about 10 stacks of Cinderbloom and trading all the Blackfallow Ink in for Inferno Ink. How expensive the deck is is going to be directly related to how many spare cards you end up with. Anyone can tell you how many cards on average you need to make in order to get one deck, but that number goes down significantly when you make your second deck because of all the extras you have left over.

I checked, and there's no clean way to derive a formula for this, apparently. I know when I'm outclassed, so I asked OutDPS addon writer Pherra for help. He came up with a very simple python script (which I can share via email but is beyond the scope of this post) that would that would get me some experimental results:
  • On average, you'll need to make 52 cards to get your first deck, assuming you aren't trading.
  • To make your second deck, you'll need to make 18 more cards.
  • Every deck you make takes fewer new cards than the one before, because you are more likely to have a mostly complete deck (your third deck takes 15 more cards, and your ninth deck is 12 cards more than the one before it).
Finished Decks Average Cards Created % of Cards Used New Cards Made for This Deck
1 52 15% 52
2 70 23% 18
3 86 28% 15
4 100 32% 14
5 113 35% 14
6 126 38% 13
7 138 40% 12
8 151 42% 12
9 163 44% 12
10 174 46% 12

I have the numbers for unrealistically large numbers of cards created, but while they're mathematically interesting, they're not relevant because there just aren't that many herbalists. The most important part of all this is that yes, as you make more cards, you get a higher efficiency. Most people who can only make 50ish cards will have one deck and a lot of spares. Most people who can make 200ish cards will have 13 decks and a much smaller percentage of spare cards (although a higher overall number).

Trading

Another way to increase your efficiency is to trade with other scribes. Every time you can choose a card, you're eliminating the randomness of this system. Heck, there were days in Wrath of the Lich King when I was able to buy a complete set of greatness cards off the auction house for less than the decks were selling. That's rare, of course, but it goes to illustrate the point: The most expensive part of this system is that you can't choose your cards.

There are two types of trading: one for one cards and money.
  • One-for-one cards are usually preferred by those still trying to make decks. It takes a waste byproduct (spare cards) and gives them a valuable card that may finish a deck for them. All cards are be default valued equally.
  • Money trades are preferred by people exiting the market (who have their card or their profits) and just want to recoup their expenses. This is also something long-term traders do to keep their odd, high stacks of cards in check. The price of a card is usually much higher than it cost to make, probably because the seller reasons that someone might need just this card to finish a deck and be willing to pay for it.
The effect of trading is that you get a higher number of decks from the same cards. Or looking at it another way, it takes you fewer cards to make the same number of decks. The more you trade, the better your ratios will get and the lower your (and your trading partners') cost per deck will be. I haven't gotten as far as quantifying how much trading helps, but anecdotally, it's a fair bit.

That said, the number of potentially mutual beneficial matches among the trading community is finite. It changes every time someone makes a deck or a card, but at any given time, there's a finite number of trades that could be done. As you trade more, you'll come up against this wall. The more efficient the market is, however, the more decks will be created. This may drive down the price per deck, especially this far between Darkmoon Faires.

There are some who argue that if you can afford to make a lot of cards, you should only ever trade money for cards. Their reasoning is that preventing your competition from benefiting from your production will help keep the supply of finished decks lower. This is a valid way of approaching the trading question; however, you have to compare the increased price of the decks to the money you spend on cards. You also have to be very careful not to spend too much on buying a card that finishes a deck.

The advantage is that in theory, you've created a higher barrier to entry to other scribes. They will not benefit from the increased efficiency that trading with you would offer, and their costs will be higher. The disadvantage is that if they trade with someone else, they will be benefiting more than you. Even if you've made 200 cards, someone who has made 100 will potentially be able to get a lower cost per deck by trading with another scribe who has made 100 cards. I'm rarely willing to spend money (or lose profits) to hinder my competition, especially when they can just go around me and trade with someone else.

Assuming you want to trade, your best bet is to advertise in trade and your realm forums that you're looking for other card makers. Other techniques I've been using include sending tells to people I see creating cards in the Dalaran scribe shop or listing cards on the AH.

Casuals

A huge factor in this market is the number of people who make 10 to 20 cards and try to trade their way to a deck they want. These people are usually just trying to avoid a 50,000g price tag for an already-completed deck and are very much subject to the RNG. If they're lucky, they get a deck for cheaper than they could buy, but if they're very unlucky, they end up with a bunch of common cards. They will often sell their cards on the AH for close to what the raw mats are worth and use the money to buy the specific cards they need, sometimes at a huge premium. It's worth scanning through the cards on the AH once in a while to see if you can pick up some needed cards on the cheap.
Insider Trader takes you behind the scenes of the bustling subculture of professional craftsmen, examining the profitable, the tragically lacking and the methods behind the madness.

Filed under: Economy, Insider Trader (Professions), Cataclysm

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