If the WoW economy operates according to the simple principles of supply and demand, then it should really be no surprise that new patches provide one of the most compelling opportunities for players to make a lot of money quickly. New patches bring previously inactive players back to the game and increase the activity of the rest of us. They increase demand. And increased demand is going to mean an opportunity to rake in cash -- so long as we, as auctioneers, are prepared to meet that demand.
The news for patch 4.3 is coming at a fast and furious pace now, which means the actual launch of the patch can't be too far behind. It also means we're at the ideal time to start preparing for the patch 4.3 market -- far out enough that materials are readily (and cheaply) available, but close enough that you won't have to wait forever to get that money back.
What should be on your shopping list?
The basics of post-patch demand
So, we talked a little bit about the fact that demand increases after a patch comes out. But for what items, and why?
Now obviously, when Blizzard releases new content, most players are going to rush to participate in it. That can mean different things based on the type of patch, but this upcoming 4.3 is going to be pretty standard. Mainly, though, the increased demand will center around new 5-man instances and the new Deathwing raid.
Specifically, these players are going to be getting a lot of new epic gear. And new epic gear is going to require gems. And new enchants, too.
Gems in patch 4.3
We already know that epic gems are coming in patch 4.3, but their supply is going to be terribly limited. Raiders are going to be the ones craving these gems, and raiders are going to be the only folks awarded gems by the game. These epic gems will be expensive but available on a very limited basis. (For more, read Basil's recent column on the topic.)
If you're a money-hungry raider, you'll probably be far better off selling any epic gems you acquire ASAP than hoarding them until you eventually need them. If you're a more casual player, you probably won't find it's worth breaking the bank for a tiny increase in stats. Demand will still be there for blue-quality gems like Inferno Rubies. Don't think that the advent of epic gems means that the rare gem market won't exist post-patch -- quite the opposite. It will likely thrive.
When patch 4.1 (the last patch with new 5-man content) landed, prices of gems sharply spiked. The price increase wasn't permanent, of course; it was simply the result of a short-term supply issue. But one might reasonably expect a similar price increase when patch 4.3 hits, as well.
Enchants in patch 4.3
All that new gear that requires gems is going to require enchanting, too. The calculus here is a bit more simple -- we're not expecting any new enchants, just an increase in demand for existing ones.
If you're an enchanter yourself, the best way to play this market is to stock up on the raw enchanting materials rather than the finished scrolls. This gives you the ability to be somewhat more agile, creating only those enchants that offer the maximum amount of profit. You won't need giant quantities of every mat (more on that later), just of those you're expecting to be in short supply.
What are the top enchants going to be in patch 4.3? That's hard to say for sure. Player who lived through Wrath might reasonably expect that the best enchants will be the top sellers, even to more casual players. But this assumes ready availability of the materials required for those enchants, which may or may not be the case.
The last time we got new 5-man instances (patch 4.1), prices of certain enchanting mats were still relatively high. That meant that certain low-level enchants sold far better than their top-level counterparts. Specifically, I made a small fortune selling Enchant Chest - Mighty Stats; those things would sell at 50 to 100 gold a pop all day long. It was a minor player in my four-month run to 1 million gold simply because there was so much raw profit involved.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that the same enchant will be a home run come patch 4.3. I'm merely suggesting that you should look through all your options, and look through them regularly -- there's bound to be a highly profitable market sitting in there somewhere that your competition simply missed (or underestimated).
A note about supply
Part of why things get so expensive during patch time isn't just because demand (obviously) increases; it's because supply often decreases. Any server's economy depends on farmers of raw materials (like herbs) to keep it going. Unlike a lot of other gold making activities, farming requires a high time investment. It's something a lot of people do during their downtime. Now, when there's a new patch -- especially a patch with new content for casual players (like a new 5-man instances) -- time that your farmers regularly devoted to farming goes to other activities in WoW. More time in instances and in new 25-man Raid Finder raids will mean less time out in the field farming. Supply will dip, meaning prices of raw materials will rise. That means prices of everything have the potential to go up, regardless of whether the new patch increases their demand.
We're likely to see painful price increases in Heavenly Shards. After all, the only place people get these things, generally, is in regular, non-Troll heroics. And with new 5-man heroics in the mix, none of which are likely to award Heavenly Shards, you've got a situation where there's not going to be any new, reliable source of supply.
Making matters worse: A new tier of gear means that players will need to spend even less time grinding the instances that launched with Cataclysm. The shortage of Heavenly Shards is likely to be even more severe in 4.3 than it was in 4.1, especially when you consider that there aren't casual players sitting around on massive supplies of the things they accumulated pre-4.1.
At the same time, supply of other items is going to increase as a result of the new-for-4.3 content. More players are going to be running raids, and more players are going to be running the new 5-man instances. This almost certainly means that the supply of Maelstrom Crystals will far outpace their demand, since all the gear players don't want will get disenchanted. It's generally not the type of mat you'll want to have a massive supply of on hand for 4.3; you shouldn't have any trouble finding them at a competitive (or lower) price post-patch.
A game of chess
New patches always involve a large amount of strategy. After all, you're not the only player hoping to capitalize on the new patch.
This may mean that supply is hard to estimate. A lot of players are stockpiling different things, and what they're stockpiling is going to be a mystery. Some guy on your server may be sitting on 2,000 stacks of ore, and he may wind up getting into a price war with someone who stocked up on 4,000 stacks. (Those numbers may seem high, but there are a lot of people sitting on Pyrite Ore out there.) That might suppress prices locally and leave you holding the bag -- a bag filled with gems you assumed would be worth way more.
Need an example? Patch 4.2 brought with it a small handful of new patterns for tailors, including the Luxurious Silk Gem Bag. A lot of tailors stocked up on Dreamcloth to cash in. The problem: Too many tailors expected to cash in. Prices of the first wave of Luxurious Silk Gem Bags were so terrible that a buyer could get one well under cost.
The best opportunities for profit will always be those markets that go unnoticed by the competition. That's not to say you can't make money by following the crowd. But the really successful auctioneers will be those who are a few steps ahead.
And if you don't participate in the AH game?
Not everyone out there who reads this column is a big player in their server's economy. I get that. A lot of folks read this column for curiosity's sake. A lot of people read this column to distract them while at work (which is technically stealing from the company, and your boss and some dude from HR would like to have a meeting with you to discuss it). And, of course, a lot of people read this column because it's written by the incomparable Fox Van Allen, whom they dream of meeting at the BlizzCon 2011 WoW Insider Meetup, co-hosted by Wowhead! (Sorry, that was shameless, but someone's gotta do it.)
Still, for all of you casual readers, you should prepare for patch 4.3 the way you would prepare for a hurricane or other natural disaster -- buying up a small stock of what you're pretty sure you'll need once it hits. You'll probably be getting a whole bunch of new gear, so head to the Auction House and buy a handful of Inferno Rubies (for jewelcrafters; everyone else should buy their gems precut) and smaller quantities of Ember Topaz and Demonseye or whatever gems your class will need. Grab a Shadowspirit Diamond meta gem, too. Don't forget to buy the enchants you'll need for the new gear or at least some Heavenly Shards. And if you want a few potions or flasks, you'd better buy a small supply of them ahead of time, too. Prices are seldom lower than in the final days of a patch. (Just don't wait for the last minute.)
These are all items you'll need eventually, and even if prices don't increase sharply, you'll still be well situated. And if you buy too much? You can just list them on the AH yourself and make a quick buck.
Maximize your profits with more advice from Gold Capped. Do you have questions about selling, reselling, and building your financial empire on the auction house? Fox and Basil are taking your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.