This is not a clickbait title, I promise! I paid absolutely zero dollars and zero cents to acquire one of each Warhammer 40k Commander decks from eBay. However, this "strategy" (if you can even call it that) is not for the faint of heart or timid of constitution. No, it's for people willing to take risks, and you cannot score a homerun if you don't strike out too.
How It All Started
Sure, it says "Collector's Edition;" anyone can see that, big deal. It's September, so this is a pre-order. What made this exceptional was the price tag: $200 plus tax and shipping. Yes, $200 for "Contents X4." A reasonable person might conclude that either they meant to sell four regular decks or they are selling one Collector's Edition deck, right? Not according to the auction! The description says I get four, and they are all Collector's Edition.
And the seller's claim? "Check our feedback and buy with confidence....99.99% feedback!" They did not realize how confident that made me. Of course, if something is "too good to be true," it probably is. Buyer beware, right? No, buyer prepare.
99.99%? Not Exactly...
Well, alright, the seller did have 99.98% positive feedback over not thousands, but tens of thousands of transactions. In all honesty, there are bound to be some issues and negative feedback over that many sales; otherwise, it's fake.
The number one complaint? Slow shipping. To save almost $800, I could wait a few extra days. None of the other problems described made me wary, and overall they painted a picture of a legitimate seller. But my due diligence did not stop there!
Who You Gonna Call? Customer Service
I called eBay customer service multiple times and ran them through the auction. Eventually, I found not one, but two different agents that had experience with Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! who were based in the US. Those agents looked through the auction and told me it was legitimate, and if I got anything other than a Collector's Edition set, eBay would hold the seller to their auction. Double confirmation! But, just in case, I took screenshots of everything and even saved the webpage contents to my PC as well. Just. In. Case.
Four Weeks Later
Full stop. The item was shipped out that day and, suddenly, the auction had a new description. Call it whatever you want. Bait and switch; obvious scam; clerical error. Not my fault, not my problem. I ordered this a month ago; I bought with confidence, remember? Changing the item description the moment it ships is obviously sketchy as all get out.
So yes, it did ship late; the negative feedback was well warranted. However, the fact that they made this alteration was far from ordinary. I informed eBay and, again, they said I would be fine and to wait for the item to be received before starting any kind of dispute. Alright, I'll wait...
Surprise! It Wasn't Fine
The mail carrier dropped off a sealed Wizard's box proudly proclaiming one set of "Regular" Warhammer 40k decks. I instantly started the dispute process with eBay and... suddenly, they changed their tune. eBay would neither hold the seller to their word nor refund my purchase. They wanted me to return the product for a refund, which did not make me whole.
After several calls back and forth, everything they had told me previously was essentially a lie. They would not hold the seller to their word and were siding with them because…? They never actually answered me, but it's obvious.
eBay Does Side with Buyers... Unless You're a Huge Seller
In this case, eBay knows who makes them a lot more money, and won't really enforce anything. However, I had not even begun to fight. PayPal to the rescue. (Or so I hoped!) Wouldn't you know it? There was more than one new instance of negative feedback describing exactly what was happening to me. What we have here is a pattern, ladies and gentlemen. A pattern of fraud. The end result? Even though it took another two weeks, I now have the decks and my money. Thanks PayPal!
What Have We Learned?
It just goes to show that you have to be extremely careful when using eBay as a platform on either end of the equation. I've been lucky to dodge scams and work with legitimate sellers who will make good on their mistakes. Unfortunately, this is the first time in a long time that I almost was had. Almost. I will keep shopping on eBay but will continue to be completely, utterly, and justifiably paranoid during the experience. But I want to talk about the seller's point of view.
Either you're a legitimate seller or you're not. Does a legitimate seller change their auction details the day they ship their pre-orders? As an aside, they actually did update their listing once more before the shipping date to clarify shipping rules; it still said Collector's Edition at that time. To not offer a full refund for your own mistake is telling. Additionally, let's say there was truly some kind of "issue" outside of their control. I'm not going to offer hypotheticals as to exactly what issue, but let's say it interferes with orders significantly. In that case, why was something (in this case the wrong something) shipped at all? Well, I have a theory.
The Airlines of the Magic World
Based on the feedback from this vendor, they sell more units of product than they own, much like the airlines potentially overselling each seat on a flight. Invariably, some people will cancel their pre-orders, return the product for a refund, etc. Furthermore, by reading some of the negative feedback, this company might purchase returned product from another source; so, they were counting on getting enough "new/open box" decks from returns to fulfill their pre-orders. This explains some of their other common negative feedback of items "damaged in shipping." Claiming to sell brand-new product while instead sending open-box returns a few days later is shady. Of course, this is just a theory.
The fact of the matter is that the seller could have worked with me to resolve the issue. Instead, they told me I had ordered a regular edition, when we all know that's simply a lie. If the vendor instead owned their mistake and approached the situation accordingly this could have been avoided. But they doubled down, which resulted in me doubling down as well.
I'll Just Shop on TCGPlayer!
Yeah, about that. Now that eBay owns TCGplayer, you sort of don't have a choice. One way or another, you are going to interact with the eBay ecosystem, so be on your guard. Unfortunately, I have already had many unlucky experiences with TCGplayer for years so it's no safe harbor in my experience.
"Free" Commander Decks!
So yes, that's all you have to do to score some free Commander decks. Step one, find a bad-faith vendor. Step two, deal with a bad-faith marketplace. Finally, over six weeks, hope and pray that the people who control the actual exchange of currency between all parties agrees with your version of reality more than any of theirs.
Of course, having evidence helps, but in the end you will deal with a human being who likely does not understand the nuances of this product. In that case, focus on the simple things, and keep trying customer service until you get the result you want. With patience, things will probably work out around 99.98% of the time.
Is Pre-Ordering a Bad Idea?
Honestly? It is somewhat more risky nowadays. Depending on just how early you pre-order, the product description might lack significant details because, well, there aren't any, and they make so much product now it's easy to get confused as either a buyer or a seller.
Prices can fluctuate, and wildly. Sometimes, vendors deliberately try to pass off one item as another. Right now I'm considering a pretty substantial pre-order for The Brothers' War. I can save $30 going with eBay, or I can shop with a massively reputable seller that has their own marketplace and reputation on the line. Put like that, a $30 insurance policy sounds like a steal!
What's the biggest issue you have had with pre-order vendors? Let me know how you handled it in the comments.