It’s tremendously risky purchasing cards on TCGplayer listed as “damaged” if the listing doesn’t include any pictures. You can receive anything ranging from a minor bend to a full-blown hole through the card. The description on TCGplayer’s site is especially wide:
The last sentence before the parenthetical note is especially vague. “…other damage that impacts the structural integrity of the card” could literally mean anything. Well, anything besides the card being covered in a foreign substance I guess.
This poses a conundrum to players who want inexpensive (or less expensive) copies for a deck—do they purchase a TCGplayer damaged copy and roll the dice? Do they pay a bit more for a heavily played copy and risk receiving one that’s on the “damaged” spectrum anyway? What are the alternatives?
Damaged Cards from Star City Games
While no other site may offer the same selection of damaged stock as TCGplayer, I have come across a few worthwhile alternatives over the past few years that are worth consideration.
First, Star City Games recently started listing heavily played, damaged, and signed cards as auctions on eBay. This is preferable to “buy it now” listings because they’re guaranteed to sell to the highest bidder, whatever that price ends up being. In other words, there may be the occasional card selling below market value!
Here’s a recent example: consider this damaged Unlimited Fork, which looks like it should be one of the cheapest copies of this card you can find online.
The card may be too damaged for some players, but other players may be looking for the cheapest copy they can find that doesn’t have inking, tears, etc. In fact, you’d be surprised at how many Old School players would actually prefer to pick up a copy just like this one. I’m speaking from firsthand experience—someone international messaged me through the Old School Discord asking me to bid on the card for them (eBay’s international shipping options are very expensive). I’m hoping we win but I’m not confident because the card already has seven unique bidders!
Here's another fun one Star City Games has listed at auction:
This Beta Helm of Chatzuk is in pretty rough shape, containing a nasty dent starting in the middle of the card and proliferating outward. Let’s face it, this may be a rare but it doesn’t see a whole lot of play. Perhaps there’s a niche home for the card in Old School or AB40 (where banding is actually quite good). Either way, this is likely to be an affordable way to pick up a copy of this card. Or, if you’re looking to acquire a Beta rare for the cheapest price possible, you have this as an option.
In total Star City Games has 64 active listings as “damaged”, most of them from sets released before 2000. They also have 58 signed cards and 39 heavily played cards. They don’t list all their HP/damaged cards at once, either. I have a saved search for Star City Games’ auctions and I see them list interesting things weekly. In addition to the price, I love how their auctions include numerous pictures painstakingly illustrating why the card is graded the way it is. There should be no surprises with what you’ll receive when purchasing cards this way.
Damaged Cards from ABUGames
Another major online retailer that sells heavily played and damaged cards on eBay is ABUGames. They have numerous buy-it-now listings, but I like to follow their auctions for the same reason that I follow Star City Games’ auctions—the opportunity to nab a card at a great price.
That said, ABUGames does things a little differently. Instead of starting all their listings at $0.99 and allowing the market to dictate the final price, ABUGames will start their listings at their desired sale price. If after five days the auction ends without bids, ABUGames will re-list the card with a slightly lower starting bid — usually, this is about 10% less than the previous price.
Despite this Swiss auction style of posting cards, the takeaway is the same: this is another way of picking up heavily played or damaged cards at a discount. As a bonus, you again see pictures to know what you’re getting in advance!
Here’s an example that caught my eye:
Yikes, that Candelabra of Tawnos has seen better days! But if you were restricting your shopping to TCGplayer alone, the cheapest listing is a damaged $725 copy without pictures. What does that copy look like? You would be paying $200 more than ABUGames’ copy, would it be worth it? It’s impossible to predict with the information available.
Notice how this particular listing still has no bids and ends about seven hours from the time this article was written. If it doesn’t receive a bid, ABUGames will wait a day or two and then relist the card with a lower starting bid. In fact, they’ve done this twice already! Here are the previous two listings for this card, which ended without a bid:
Based on the numbers above, I’d suspect this card will be relisted at around $485 if it doesn’t sell this time around.
ABUGames is always listing new HP and damaged cards at auction on eBay like this. Currently, they have 68 active listings, and new ones seem to be posted weekly if not more frequently. If you don’t want to wait for an auction, you can also shop at their site for damaged cards. Prices won’t be nearly as attractive, but if you have cards to trade in for store credit, it may be worth your while. If you’re looking for cheap copies and are unparticular about their condition, this is another attractive option.
Other Miscellaneous Options
The first two options I mentioned are my personal favorites—I have bought from Star City Games and ABUGames multiple times through their auctions. Every once in a while you get lucky, and if you exhibit some patience you can nab a sweet deal now and again.
But these are not the only options outside TCGplayer to shop for heavily played and damaged cards.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Card Kingdom. Once upon a time, they used to list damaged cards on eBay as “below good” with extremely attractive price points. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any such listings in a long time. An eBay search for “MTG Below Good” only brings up a few listings for good condition Contract from Belows.
This means the only option to obtain heavily played cards from Card Kingdom is through their website. Fortunately, some of their heavily-played Old School cards are priced reasonably well. These cards can be found on their site with the condition listed as "good." This is especially true on Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited cards, where their price reduction for “good” is the largest. In many cases, buying a “good” card from Card Kingdom is cheaper than buying a comparable heavily played copy from TCGplayer. For example, Card Kingdom’s “good” price for Beta Counterspell is $400 whereas the cheapest on TCGplayer is a damaged copy listed for $500, a full 25% higher!
Whenever I receive store credit from Card Kingdom, I do my best to spend it on “good” condition cards like these to maximize value. The only challenge is that Card Kingdom is often sold out of cards in this condition. That's because players scoop up these copies as soon as they get posted!
Outside large online vendors, you can also explore social media for your HP/Damaged fix. With social media purchases, make sure you always ask for references when working with someone new, and trust your gut (if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is), and you should be fine. I do some buying and selling in the Old School Discord—this isn’t geared specifically to damaged cards, but you’ll see them posted for sale now and again. There are also Facebook groups dedicated to this space, such as this one:
If you have access to Card Market out of Europe, it’s another option for finding heavily played and damaged cards at a discount. Some of those listings have pictures, while others do not, so it’s similar to TCGplayer in this regard. I’m sure there are even more options that I haven’t explored myself, but this should give new shoppers ample products to browse.
Buying damaged cards can be stressful, especially if you’re purchasing from a site that doesn’t include pictures in the listing! You could end up with a card that ran through the washing machine, or you could end up with a card that has a tiny pen mark but is otherwise lightly played. The range is huge, making it a gamble to buy such listings. With some vendors, a quick email to customer service can get you a couple of photos if you are patient, but you also run the risk of missing out on deals by waiting.
Wrapping It Up
Fortunately, TCGplayer isn’t the only place where you can purchase damaged cards these days. Both ABUGames and Star City Games list auctions for damaged cards on eBay. While their methods differ, there's ample opportunity for deals from both vendors. Outside eBay, you can browse vendors like Card Kingdom, and social media is always an option if you are OK with the risk of buying from someone unknown. Even with purchasing through a vendor, there's an element of risk involved in buying damaged cards. It's called the Damaged Lottery for a reason, but there are plenty of opportunities to do well if you are savvy.
At the end of the day, many heavily played and damaged cards came to be that way through decades of play (especially the Old School cards). If you’re looking for budget copies and don’t mind the wear, shopping around sites like these are an excellent way to scrounge up those hidden gems to improve your decks!