I remember my first mini-score on eBay, a playset of 4x Blazing Archon for $2.71 shipped. Way back then they were selling for around $4 each shipped so I was shocked when I won the auction. Deals like that still exist on eBay every single day and I am going to share my approach to getting great savings while avoiding potential mishaps.
But First, Buyer Beware!
While eBay has great potential there are also pitfalls. This is extremely important to understand and is why some are reluctant to use the site. If time is a factor you may regret how long it takes to dig to avoid potential problems and find deals. In this case, I suggest sourcing cards elsewhere. However, if you are willing to search, research, and bide your time, you can find some phenomenal deals. How do you determine risky ventures versus steals? Feedback is step number one.
Deep Dive The Feedback
I know what you're thinking: of course check the feedback! But outside of briefly looking at their overall score, do you really check? I like to break down seller feedback by month and see what their recent sales are like, then go back through the year. It's easy to have zero negative feedback for a reasonable seller with a notable caveat. If a seller is making thousands of sales per year, they're a vendor. Over the course of that many sales, they're bound to have an issue or two come up at some point.
It's a lot less likely you as a buyer are going to get much of a deal from a vendor like that. In general, the best deals are going to come not from Magic vendors but from general sellers or private parties who have one set of cards to sell, ever. Ideally, they have zero feedback regarding Magic at all. I'll talk a little more about this later.
Low Or No Feedback With Great Cards
What if a seller has very little feedback or it's a new account? In my experience, avoid. Again, this is why feedback is so important. While it is possible that someone makes a brand new eBay account in 2022 and lists their Power 9 or dual lands with zero feedback, it's extremely unlikely. My advice here is to only purchase high-end cards from massively reputable sellers. There are too many fake cards and fake accounts to do otherwise. Things that look too good to be true are exactly that. If you are interested in high-end cards only do business in person where you can physically inspect them before you buy. eBay is just not that place.
For Deals Avoid Stores
Too many sellers today operate as "stores". That means the price they have listed is the price they are willing to accept and not one penny less. Unless I have a tournament coming up and need a physical card in my hands I am unwilling to pay anywhere near the market price for a single card. In terms of speculation, if I can buy singles for 15% off TCGlow that is the price point that makes me interested. Due to the auction nature of many sales on eBay, it's possible to get these low prices all the time. The more "store like" a seller is, though, the less likely they will have auctions. Checking the feedback, however, can give you clues to how often a seller accepts best offers and what their general pricing looks like. If sellers are accepting best offers all the time, I'm also interested because it shows they are willing to negotiate.
Quantity Is A Quality All Its Own
Don't forget to check the volume of their sales. I've talked to sellers who have not adjusted prices on their cards from when they posted them months ago and are merely relisting them automatically. If you can connect the dots for them as to why their sales have tanked sometimes they will re-evaluate their position.
So What Should I Target?
As mentioned, high-end cards are way too risky. I primarily look for underpriced playables and entire collections or lots. Ideally, you are either placing low bids on large numbers of auction listings or you are scooping up discount collections from sellers that are not primarily Magic vendors.
Differentiating Legitimate Intact Collections Vs Bulk
Here is where we come back to scrutinizing the feedback of a seller who has some Magic product listed. Let's say they have dozens of sales for clothing, DVDs, maybe some action figures, but zero Magic feedback. Great! They are either selling their personal collection or they picked up cards at a yard sale etc. They see the cards as potential money but not hard dollars. This can be hugely advantageous.
Even if they are not a Magic vendor you still need to scrutinize their feedback though. What you do NOT want to see is a history of a bunch of recent Magic singles. In most cases, these were all the valuable cards which means whatever is leftover tends to be bulk. If the price is way too high, I like to watch the listing anyways and when it doesn't sell I message the seller and let them know I'm interested in buying. If we cannot agree on a price, well, on to the next seller.
I've purchased a ton of Magic collections and written about it too. Every collection that made its way to me through eBay turned out to be an organic set of cards rather than bulk because of the rules I follow. It's easy to pay too much chasing value from collections that simply does not exist. The most important eBay-centric rules for buying collections are not buying from Magic vendors and not paying too much more than bulk rates. For me, collection buying has been the highest ROI of any venture and I encourage it as a primary way of building either a personal collection or sales inventory.
Everything Is Negotiable
I've mentioned it already, but use the messaging feature on eBay! About half of the sellers I have talked to agreed to some form of discount when I bought in quantity. Even if they do not agree with my opening offer I get counter-offered all the time. There's little disadvantage to sending a message with an offer. The classic phrase "the worst they can say is no," is true. Once you hear "No," move on to another listing. Very few sellers ever change their minds and it is a waste of time to continue pursuing a non-opportunity. I have wasted time doing so, and you don't have to. I've followed listings from sellers for up to a year to see them not move cards they have listed at 500% of market value. Read that again. Five hundred percent of market. No amount of pleading, price comparison, or analysis can reach certain sellers. People that want to sell, will sell. It's that simple.
Bid Often But Don't Bid Early
I follow a lot of auctions for cards I want. If my schedule allows I will throw down my best offer when the countdown hits about ten seconds or so. Give your highest and best offer and you might be pleasantly surprised. This takes a fair amount of time if you're following dozens of auctions so your best time-saving method is to find someone with a large number of auctions that are all closing one after another so you can bid on several in a row. If time is more of a factor you can check out auctions that are closing soon and bid on anything that strikes your fancy. In both cases, if I do win I'm often getting huge discounts.
There is almost no purpose to bidding early on an auction. In thousands of auctions, I have won exactly three with an "early" bid. The reason I put in these early bids was that I knew I would not be able to watch the auction close in real-time. The time it takes to click and put in a bid would have been better spent checking another opportunity most of the time. Bidding early also has a human element regarding sunk costs and it encourages human beings to chase after an auction when they see a "you have been outbid" message. Resist this urge, there are plenty of other opportunities out there!
Revised vs Unlimited vs Fourth Edition
I'm giving away a "secret" here. I have scored many Unlimited cards for Revised card prices or used Fourth Edition to get a lower price. It's surprising how often Magic vendors mistake these three editions. I am not claiming malice or deception at all here. Much of the time they are listing "down" instead of listing "up". If I had one Unlimited Swords to Plowshares for every time I paid for a Revised one, well, I'd have exactly three. Get familiar with these three editions, and recognize the differences between them. Then use that knowledge to your advantage! Remember, non-Magic sellers have no idea what they are listing a lot of the time. They are not trying to charge Unlimited prices for their 4th Edition cards, they just do not know any better. If you can diplomatically help them understand the mistake a lot of the time a seller will work with you on price.
Want Free Shipping? Here's One Way
Obviously, you can save on shipping by bundling your purchases but there's a way to pay $0 for shipping. Search for auctions that allow local pickup! When you pick up the cards yourself you get to see them firsthand to accurately account for condition, and maybe even get a sneak peek at inventory that's not yet listed. eBay Terms of Service remind you to be careful meeting people outside of eBay, but that has more to do with not stiffing eBay out of their fees. I'm not suggesting you break the ToS, far from it. They offer this search methodology and I will never feel bad for using it. Purchasing additional items from a seller that are not listed on eBay is perfectly fine. Primarily this is useful for buying collections or lots where the savings in shipping can be worth the cost in gas and time. I've found some pretty cool stuff that isn't even Magic-related this way as well.
Is eBay For Everyone?
No, eBay is absolutely not for everyone. You can get scammed on eBay if you're not careful. You can also waste piles of time and money for no gain. Fortunately, I have had more good experiences than bad by being careful and investing a lot of time into my purchases. Also, most sellers on eBay are friendly and willing to fix issues. I have received numerous discounts after purchasing cards that came to me in the wrong condition, wrong edition, or missing one card out of twenty. In almost every case the seller made it right, and I got an even better deal! To me, the occasional minor inconvenience has been well worth the savings.
How has your experience with purchasing Magic on eBay gone? What's the best score? Let me know in the comments.