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Gold Capped: How do I make money from alchemy?

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Gold Capped, in which Fox Van Allen and Basil "Euripides" Berntsen aim to show you how to make money on the auction house. Email Fox with your questions, or complain to him via the twetbox @foxvanallen social networking facepage web-point-oh!

Hello again. It's shadow priest extraordinaire Fox Van Allen, filling in once more for Basil Berntsen. I guess that baby thing of his is still a baby. Hurry the hell up already, baby. Go out and get a damn job already, baby. Start pulling your damned weight around here!

When I last Mind Controlled Basil and took over his Gold Capped column, I retold my story of reaching the gold cap. Though I played around in a bunch of different markets, I made the bulk of my money through inscription. That's not the only profession that made me money, however. One of the more fun markets I participated in was alchemy. There are hundreds of ways to play the alchemy market and plenty of opportunities to profit.

The basics of alchemy

Simply put, there are three ways alchemists make money: crafting and selling potions, crafting and selling flasks, and transmuting objects of low value into objects of higher value. There are a few low-level alchemy items that still sell thanks to their "fun" value, such as the Elixir of Giant Growth and Pygmy Oil, but for the most part, the alchemy market centers around Cataclysm-level wares.

Master of your (alchemy) domain

Though it's certainly not required, the key to making money through alchemy is to pick a specialization. By choosing one of the three options -- Potion Master, Elixir Master, or Transmute master -- you give yourself the ability to make proc extra copies of whatever alchemy item you're trying to craft.

To choose a specialization, you need to go on one of three quests:
Once you complete a specialization quest, you can change to any other specialization by spending 150 gold -- no quest required. Just visit the person you originally trained with (either Lauranna, Lorokeem, or Zarevhi), talk to and pay him or her, and drop your specialization. You can then visit the alchemist you want to train with -- again, Lauranna, Lorokeem, or Zarevhi -- and just accept your new specialization. Simple.

In general, it's the most cost-effective to choose the Master of Potions quest no matter what you want to specialize in, and then pay the 150 gold fee to switch. It's a simple matter of economics. The four Primal Might required to become a Transmutation Master often sell for 1,000 gold or more; the potions (or herbs required to make them) to complete the Master of Potions quest are far cheaper. If you're near level 70, just queue up for The Botanica via the Dungeon Finder after grabbing the quest. If you're level 80 or better, skip the group -- soloing The Botanica is a snap.

Which specialization should you choose? Let's take a look at the risks and benefits of each.

How does a Potion Master make money?

Not to be totally obvious, but Potion Masters make their money selling potions. (You don't say, Fox! You don't say.)

Every time you make a potion as a Potion Master, you have a ~20% chance to proc extra potions -- usually one extra, though rarely as many as four extra.

By becoming a potion master, you can effectively compete in your server's potion market more efficiently than any alchemist who is not a Potion Master. If it costs your competition 10 gold to make a potion, it only costs you about 8 gold, 33 silver on average. A skilled Potion Master can easily price a Flask Master or Transmute Master out of the potion market by listing auctions at or near the cost of materials. If you're not facing substantial competition, then those extra potions you proc merely pad your profits even more.

More so than any other alchemist, Potion Masters make their money off volume. Each potion may bring in only 1 or 2 gold in profit (though often more), but you can often sell 5 or 20 at a time. Your top customers will always be hardcore raiders -- these folks will frequently go through two potions per encounter. That's not to say casual players don't buy potions, too; Deepstone Oil and Potion of Illusion remain decent sellers on my server thanks to their "fun factor," and plenty of 5-man instance runners buy mana and health potions if they're priced attractively.

Demand for DPS potions (e.g., Volcanic Potion) typically spikes on Tuesdays, the most popular day for raiding. Mythical Healing Potions and Mythical Mana Potions seem to be the most popular on weekends, though they sell fairly consistently all week long.

How does a Elixir Master make money?

In Cataclysm, they largely don't. Sad, but true!

There are a number of reasons why this could be the case. Some guilds continue to flood the market with unneeded flasks (elixirs) made while chasing after the Mix Master achievement. Further, with more guilds offering their raiders Cauldrons of Battle, fewer raiders are required to buy their flasks on the open market. Whatever the actual reason, the consequence is this: Flasks often sell for less than the cost of the materials that go into making them.

That's not to say it's impossible to make money as a Elixir Master. Each server is different, and of all the servers out there, I'm sure at least a couple have profitable flask markets.

Like Potion Masters, Elixir Masters get 20% more flasks through their procs. In many markets, these procs are the only difference between turning a profit and selling at a loss. The Flask of the Draconic Mind often flirts with profitability because it's the flask that's in the highest demand; you may be able to make money by exploring that route.

How does a Transmute Master make money?

Transmute Masters make money in three different ways: bonus Truegold procs, bonus Living Elements procs, and bonus gem procs.

  • Making money off Truegold is like playing a slot machine. Because of the high selling price of one bar of Truegold, when the proc happens, it pays off big. If Truegold is selling at an average of 500g each on your server, you'll average an extra 100g or so per day thanks to being a Transmute Master. With a lot of the new-for-4.2 blacksmithing recipes calling for Truegold, prices could be soon heading through the roof.
  • Living Elements shares a cooldown with your Truegold proc, but it's much less of a gamble. Transmute Masters seem to be guaranteed about five free volatiles every time they use their Living Elements cooldown. It's like free money every day, though the payoff is never as grand as when you hit that "Truegold x 5" proc jackpot. Demand for volatiles is always strong.
  • As of this current point in Cataclysm, making money by transmuting gems seems to be entirely limited to the act of making Shadowspirit Diamonds. There's no daily cooldown on making these, and with tons of new head pieces getting thrown into the mix for patch 4.2, these should see a nice bump in price over the following few weeks. Transmute: Inferno Ruby may also wind up being profitable if the demand for rare gems spikes with the new patch. Keep a close eye on your server's market.

Regardless of whether or not you choose to be a Transmute Master or not, your daily transmutation cooldown is one of the easiest sources of money you have as an alchemist. If the price of Truegold is far above the cost of mats on your server, any alchemist can score by creating bars. If Truegold isn't profitable, you should still be able to do well taking Volatile Life, often the cheapest of all the volatiles, and transmuting it into something more expensive like Volatile Air (do your Living Elements transmute in Uldum to guarantee an Air transmute), Volatile Water (do your transmute in Vashj'ir), or Volatile Fire (Hyjal).

The Undermine Journal: Key to alchemy profits

The secret to making money under any alchemy specialization is knowing how to leverage information. You should only craft and sell that which earns you a profit, and figuring out profit margins is beautifully simple with The Undermine Journal website: Simply visit, choose your server and faction, and click on "alchemy" under the "consumables" tab.

As an example, take a look at the Alliance restorative potion market for my server, Proudmoore (US):

The "mats" column shows your cost to make one of each item by pulling the herbs directly off the auction house; the "price" column shows you how much each potion is currently selling for. Here, green means profitable, and as you can see, almost all potions are currently turning a profit in this market (especially the Mythical Mana Potion, with its 189% profit margin). The "95% CI" column shows you a general idea as to whether or not prices are unusually low (L) or high (H) compared to the mean (average) price of each over the last two weeks.

The fact that all of these potions are selling at strong profits even when priced below the mean suggests that this particular market is ripe to participate in. Indeed, in my past experience, the potion market on this server has been a goldmine, even with moderate competition.

On the other hand, take a look at this at-a-glance view of the Horde-side flask market on the Madoran server:

As you can see by the swath of red, most of these potions are being sold at a net loss. There are a number of reasons why this is possible. Guilds may be making unusual quantities of flasks to unlock their Big Cauldron of Battle. Elixir Master alchemists may be trying to force competition out of the market. Or herbalist/alchemists may just be making flasks, unaware that they could be selling the raw materials for more.

Whatever the reason, the market is ugly. Things are currently selling under the two-week average. The only flask currently selling at a profit is the Flask of the Winds, but that's a dangerous market as the two-week average price is actually below the cost of raw materials. If you're a Horde alchemist on the Madoran server, I'd advise you to explore becoming a Potion Master or Transmute Master:

As you can see, the Truegold proc is a relatively valuable one on the Madoran server right now. Shadowspirit Diamond procs are quite valuable as well, and there's no daily limit. Just be sure not to glut the market.

Know your market

The final note I have for a would-be alchemist mogul: Know your server's market. This goes beyond the pricing data in The Undermine Journal -- you need to know how much demand for potions, flasks, and Truegold/gems is out there and how that demand responds to fluctuations in price.

Why is this important? It's because there's an unusually high deposit required to list a stack of potions or gems on the auction house. Start by listing very few stacks at the start, see how they sell, and then start increasing the quantity you list if they sell out. Keep increasing your quantity until you find the point at which your presence in the market saturates it. If you're seeing 90% of your auctions come back unsold, you've either got a very aggressive competitor or you're listing too many items. Either way, it's time to adjust your strategy to avoid having all your profits eaten up by lost deposits.

Maximize your profits with more advice from Gold Capped as well as the author's Call to Auction podcast. Do you have questions about selling, reselling and building your financial empire on the auction house? Basil is taking your questions at basil@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Economy, Gold Capped

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