Gold Capped: How to reach the gold cap

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Gold Capped, in which Basil "Euripides" Berntsen aims to show you how to make money on the auction house. Email Basil with your questions, comments, or hate mail!

Don't mind the intrusion, folks. It's me, Fox Van Allen. I'm filling in for Basil this week while he deals with the parasite that recently burst from his wife's stomach. (That's what those baby things are, right? Am I recalling seventh grade health class correctly?)

If any of you have been following me on Twitter (and if you haven't, for shame), you may already know that back in March, Heartbourne of Lore Hound challenged me to a race to the 999,999g 99s 99c gold cap. I immediately accepted. After coming up with some basic rules (no gold buying, no server transfers, no "borrowing," no interfering with each other's auctions), the race to a million was on.

During the contest, I was quiet about my gold-making activities -- I didn't want to tip off the competition. But now that the contest officially ended this past week, I'm free to talk about what happened. And so, my friends, what follows is the tale of how someone with virtually no gold-making knowledge went from next to nothing at the start of Cataclysm to, as of June 10, over one million gold.

The background

I'm hardly a gold-making expert. When Cataclysm launched, I had 20,000 gold to my name, and that's largely because I hadn't bought anything major in Wrath. I played around on the auction house, but only when I was lucky enough to find a bind-on-equip item or needed to make room in my bags. In other words, I was a casual.

To start my trek to a million gold, I didn't have much besides a large stable of alts. Days after Cataclysm launched, I had a max-level tailor, enchanter, alchemist, and herbalist. A few months later, I added a max-level scribe and jewelcrafter to the list.

Getting started

I'm a shadow priest by trade. And it's a desire to be a better shadow priest that led me down the path to becoming a World of Warcraft millionaire.

In patch 4.0.6, the mechanics of Darkmoon Card: Volcano were changed such that the trinket would proc off of DOT ticks. Since I play a DOT-heavy class, the change meant that the trinket would be, hands down, best-in-slot for me. I had to have it, and I started camping the auction house trying to get it. But man, was it expensive. I immediately started wondering to myself whether it'd be cheaper to just make the deck myself.

After a little bit of research, I found out that yes, it likely would be cheaper to make my own. So, long story short, I started to make Darkmoon Cards. More often than not, I'd get useless cards while trying to assemble my Volcanic Deck -- a Three of the Winds here; a Six of Waves there. I got very few cards of the Ember suit, which were the ones I needed for my trinket.

I started to sell my non-Ember cards on the auction house, and that's when it occurred to me: "Holy crap, I'm making money hand over fist doing this." Some cards weren't very valuable, so I didn't sell them immediately. Some were worth thousands of gold each, selling for five to ten times more than it cost to make them. It was completely random which ones were valued at what price point; a function of RNG and server supply. The ones that were cheap now were expensive later; the ones that were expensive now wound up being cheap later.

"This stupid market is a damned goldmine."

From cards to decks

Creating Darkmoon cards became absolutely addicting. It was like gambling -- I'd spend somewhere around 1,500 gold creating a card that would sell for anywhere between 500 and 6,000 gold. But if it was gambling, the odds were definitely stacked against the house. I was making an average of 1,000 gold a card, and that wasn't even counting the low-selling "garbage" cards that I just kept and held on to.

The money was good, and it was steady. But I was greedy. I wanted more. So I started buying Darkmoon Cards off the auction house when they were below my cost. Between the cards I was making and the cards I was buying, I wound up with multiples of every card.

At this point I thought, "if individual cards sell pretty well, I wonder if the completed decks sell even better?" Since the Darkmoon Faire was about to start up, I made a bunch of decks and decided to test the theory out.

Becoming a Darkmoon mogul

Each Darkmoon Faire lasts for about a week, so I spent the entire week making and buying cards when it was profitable to do so. I put together decks, and on the last day of the Faire, I turned them all in for their respective trinkets. As the carnival packed up and left town, I was rifling through my bags counting my haul. A full 16 bind-on-equip trinkets in total. I was pretty pleased with myself.

Once the Darkmoon Faire was a memory, I started to sell my completed decks. That first month was incredible -- Darkmoon Card: Tsunami was selling for 30,000g; Darkmoon Card: Volcano was selling for 20,000g; Darkmoon Card: Hurricane (and its sister plus-strength card) were selling for 15,000g; and Darkmoon Card: Earthquake was selling for 5,000g. I had a moderate amount of competition at first, but once the other sellers sold out of decks, they couldn't make more until the next Faire. And even as they sold out, demand for the trinkets remained pretty strong. I wound up selling out in less than two weeks, making 250,000 gold from the sales. A good part of that went to offset my costs, of course. Still, even after deducting expenses, it was a six-digit net haul.

In which I ruin the markets

Taking in a few hundred thousand gold over the course of a week was a weird feeling to say the least. It felt like a mistake; like it shouldn't be this easy; like I just typed in the old Sim City 2000 infinite money cheat code. I felt like I broke the damn game.

Considering the stakes of my bet, I decided to take a gamble. I took every copper I made in that last Darkmoon Faire and started buying up Whiptail and Twilight Jasmine I could find. I turned my poor druid alt into an ink factory, using the Panda addon to mill hundreds of stacks of herbs a night. When I headed off to the gym, I'd leave my computer running, AFK creating hundreds of inks in my absence.

I was limited only by the speed at which farmers could pull the herbs from the ground. Some nights I bought, quite literally, tens of thousands of herbs. On other nights, I didn't buy any. Some nights I was lucky enough to find someone in [2. Trade] selling his freshly picked lot, and if I was especially lucky, they'd be willing to sell me even more the next day.

I was always careful, though, to set a price ceiling; a price which I would never pay more than. If I logged on to find Whiptail selling at 4 gold a piece, I'd buy as many stacks as I could find up to, say, the 6 gold a piece line. As I milled over the next day or two, the price would slowly reset itself back down towards 4 gold. My presence in the market pushed the cost of herbs up by 20 or 25%, and that's only because I wasn't willing to force the costs even higher.

Gambling on Mysterious Fortune Cards

While milling my stacks of Whiptail, Twilight Jasmine, and (when economical) Cinderbloom, I found myself being innundated with an awful lot of Blackfallow Ink. The first month, I went back and forth to the ink trader, exchanging them for Inferno Inks to make more Darkmoon cards.

After a while, though, I started wondering whether or not there was a better use for my Blackfallow Ink. I was burning through a lot of money in my herb-buying stints, and a good hedge to lower my risk would certainly be welcome. Mysterious Fortune Cards, at a cost of one Blackfallow Ink each, seemed like a good way to diversify my Darkmoon-heavy portfolio. So I made a few stacks and tested the market.

For the uninitiated, Mysterious Fortune Cards were a huge money maker in the early days of Cataclysm -- you needed to work hard to not make a profit selling them. Prices have fallen significantly since then (down by as much as 90%), but interestingly enough, demand is still strong. People don't use them to gamble as much as they used to, but now that their price has come down, people use them more and more often for their ability to be turned into Fortune Cookies. It's the easiest and often most cost-effective way for spell casters to get their +90 intellect food buff.

Despite competition in the market, my cards still sold surprisingly well. Some nights I'd sell 40 or 60 cards in total, but the occasional night where I'd sell 1,000 at once (often to the same customer stocking up his guild bank with Fortune Cookies) more than made up for it.

By the time month three of the contest rolled around, prices for herbs had fallen so ridiculously low that I could make back my investment in herbs by selling Mysterious Fortune Cards alone. Making Darkmoon Decks became, essentially, a no-lose proposition. Momentum was building. The next time the Darkmoon Faire arrived, my profits had increased even though trinket prices had fallen. I cleared an easy 200,000 in profit.

Rinse; repeat

During the course of my 4 month competition with Heartbourne, I played around in a small handful of markets. I made some cloth PVP gear when I had the excess cloth. I took advantage of every Dreamcloth and Transmute: Living Elements cooldown I could. I rolled all my excess valor points into bind-on-equip boots. (Fading Violet Sandals seemed to sell especially well.) I made and sold some high-value enchants at decent markups.

But all together, that stuff provided me only a "small" bump -- no more than 100,000 gold in profit based on my post-contest calculations. Almost every single cent I made came from the Darkmoon Faire. I found one small opening, tested the water, and exploited it to the tune of one million gold.

Lessons Learned

I learned a number of lessons on my way to a million gold. I can't share all of them in the space I'm allotted here today, but I have to share some -- after all, Gold Capped is about you making money, not me.

  • Addons matter. This should be a no brainer, but it's important to note: I'd have never even come close to 1,000,000 gold without using addons. There are two in particular that I found the most valuable -- Auctionator and Panda. The former helped me purchase a hundred of stacks of herbs in as much time as it took me to click a mouse button a hundred times. The latter helped me mill herbs with a single button press, no matter what herbs they were or where they were in my bags. They're not full automation, but they're about as close as you can get without breaking the Terms of Service.

  • From one market; many. I wasn't the only person who was participating in the Mysterious Fortune Card market on my server, but I was the only one doing it smartly. Instead of listing 100 stacks of 20 cards at a time, I listed 2,000 cards total in varying stack sizes. By creating stacks of 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200, I was essentially creating five different markets out of one. When the competition undercut me on the 10-card stacks, the other four sizes would continue to sell. People are willing to pay for convenience. Which leads me to the next point:

  • Don't sell large amounts of stuff in quantities of 1. First off, it annoys people. It annoys people so much, in fact, that buyers are willing to pay a significant premium just to avoid buying your auctions.

  • 99% of raw mats are bought by 1% of the shoppers. It didn't take long playing the auction house to identify my key competition. I noticed posting patterns. I noticed people barking in trade with different names but identical speech patterns. And we were all doing the same thing -- buying as much raw materials (cheaply) as we could. What this means for you, dear reader, is the following, final point:

  • When selling raw materials, there's no need to undercut. The people who are buying your Whiptail are likely going to be buying a lot of Whiptail. Bulk purchasers buy so rapidly and with such little thought that you need only put a compelling price on your stack for it to get purchased. If prices on your server seem unusually low on a given day, don't feel compelled to drive prices even lower. List your stack at a fair price you're comfortable with. It might not sell in 20 seconds, but don't worry -- it'll sell.

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