3 Top Buying Tips from a Serious Magic Collector

3 lifelong tips when buying magic cards for collection or playing

3 Top Buying Tips from a Serious Magic Collector

As a player and collector with 25 years of experience, buying cards is nothing new to me. I am a bargain hunter at heart, so much so that my wife calls me “penny” when I’m being extra cheap, so this has been a real test of my frugality.

I’ve spent many hours over the years researching prices, waiting for buying opportunities, and trading cards to gain incremental value. I’m no local game store (LGS) owner, and I’m no Magic day trader, so I’m not claiming I have all the answers. If anything, this decades-long quest has humbled me many times.

I’ve learned quite a few new tricks, and I’d like to share my 3 major card buying tips that anyone, especially those new to the world of collecting cards, can benefit from. Let’s find out what makes the most sense in today’s modern market:

Research Current Prices From Multiple Sources

This is the first big rule that I’ve always clung to, and it has always paid off. You need to educate yourself about what the current prices for certain cards are. Thankfully, this is really pretty easy with all the apps, websites, and internet access we now have. Back in the 90s you had to reference printed Scrye, InQuest, or Duelist magazines, and those could easily become out of date after a major tournament or development had taken place.

It was pretty cool if you had the inside scoop, because I remember picking up some cards for ridiculously good prices when the seller wasn’t up to snuff on the current prices. I managed to pick up a Force of Will once for a Force of Nature trade-in offer. The Force of Nature was popular with the local players, and Force of Will gave up too much life and too many cards to justify playing (how times have changed)!

In today’s market it is much more difficult to find deals like these, but they do pop up now and again. I was at a flea market a few years ago, and I managed to pick up Alurens, Food Chains, and even a foil Arcbound Ravager for fifty cents each. They were in the unsorted bulk bins, and I pulled them out and stall owner didn’t even bat an eye as I forked over a few hundred in cash for the hundreds of cards I had pulled out.

In today’s fast-paced market, I often find myself visiting MTGStocks to see if there’s a current pricing trend for a card or even to see if I’m buying a card at its current peak price. This research assures that you don’t end up over-paying for the cards you want. Also, it helps you realise when someone is offering a deal that needs to be snapped up.

I have overpaid a couple of times, but not by more than a dollar or two, and these are rare occurrences. The times I ended up over-paying were a direct result of me not doing prior research and hurrying up to buy my card for the day. So, when you are ready to buy a couple cards or maybe even 99 cards, I highly suggest you research current prices to get a good idea of what these cards are currently worth.

2. Share Your Buying Journey

I have found that dealing with people is different from dealing with computers and video games. Games and computers have hard and fast rules, only respond to logical inputs, and often leave me feeling unfulfilled and annoyed. Meanwhile, talking with a fellow player or store owner is usually much more rewarding.

Sharing your story about why you’re hunting cards down is often fun for others to hear. I love hearing about what plans people have for particular cards they are buying. These types of human interactions have been woefully absent from far too many of our lives for far too long. It is sad that we haven’t been able to gather for Magic – Covid has temporarily crushed the gathering aspect, but I stress temporary.

However, if you have the chance to chat with the dealer you’re working with, then they just might cut you a deal. Not everyone has the innate ability to haggle, I’m not really much of one myself. My father-in-law loves to give salesmen a hard time, whereas I like to give them a good time. I guess I just figure that if we all enjoy one another’s time, then perhaps the seller will offer me their best price.

Going to your LGS, chatting about cards, sets, and ideas is great for everyone involved. This often leads to all of us building human capital. We appreciate each other more, and as a result we respect one another a bit more. In mutual respect comes mutual acknowledgement of each other’s needs. We know our store needs to make money, and our store knows we only have so much to spend. When these two things meet in the middle it is a beautiful thing. I’ve even found this helpful when placing orders through online dealers by making contact with my store through email.

Humans have always told stories, and it is our stories that connect us. I know we don’t all have the gift of gab, but perhaps gifting a little gab about our passion will get us all farther in the end. Talking about what joys we anticipate and what cards bring us fond memories is a great way to begin our face to face transactions. Tell your story, and you may end up with another good deal to share with the rest of us.

Ask Yourself: Is it Too Good to be True?

I’ll be honest that there are days I can’t get to my LGS to make my purchase. There are days that I don’t find what I need on my LGS’s website, and so I’ve turned to eBay and TCG player to find the cards I want. Now, I remember using eBay when it was normal to buy from non-power sellers. I often bought from other people, because that’s who was selling cards. It would take up to a month to get cards, but they almost always came. I only ever had to file 2 complaints during the first decade I used Ebay.

When I began collecting, I thought I’d have no mailing or delivery issues. I had high faith in the systems. I was proven wrong. I saw a seller with no reviews, but several cards posted for sale. The cards were all very cheap, and the pictures were all original. They were blurry, likely taken with a cell phone, and all had the same hand holding the card. This told me this was probably just a regular person trying to sell extra cards for a little extra cash. The cheap prices probably just meant they wanted the money now.

So, I took the bait and bought four cards. I waited, and waited, and waited. I kept wondering if it was too good to be true. Could I be getting ripped off? Man, I really wanted to play with those cards. I had to play games without the cards I had planned on having. I had decks ready to go and couldn’t run them because the Commander wasn’t here yet.

Finally, I contacted the seller and then shortly afterwards filed a claim. It stunk. I felt bad about it, but realized that I shouldn’t be the one who feels bad. I’m not the one scamming someone. I got my money back eventually, and then set off to re-purchase the cards I had originally bought. Thankfully, I was able to replace all of the cards for even less than I had initially paid.

The lesson here is that if it seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t. A simple lesson, and I had to learn it the hard way. I will say that I’ve never had this problem when I go to my LGS, pick out a card, pay for it, and then sleeve up within a few minutes of arriving home. The consistency, safety, and convenience of buying in-person should never be underestimated. Once you factor shipping and the hidden time cost of buying online, it can be easy to see the advantages of picking up your cards locally.

End Step

In this digital age people often believe that nothing tops the convenience of online ordering. I can actually imagine a world where people pay for MTG “Prime” and have cards shipped in one day to their homes. It sounds awful to me, as it destroys the very things that keep our gaming traditions and our gaming cultures alive and developing.

We don’t evolve when we isolate. Like any species that is isolated we turn to specialization in order to thrive. Yet, when our specialisation turns us away from the foundational elements of success, how are we to ever continue to evolve.

I just find that the play group I’ve developed over the years has been a result of people I’ve met through Magic, and so I know that without those stores, that story and that cycle of players and friends developing life-long connections from Magic will cease to exist. I can say that Magic: the Gathering has made my life better, and that any way to help support this subculture (supporting a local store whenever possible) is more than worth doing. In a world where we vote with our money, I choose to vote locally, and I choose to keep this game alive and running.

Keeping your research current, sharing your stories, and avoiding crazy good deals are the top 3 tips I have to offer at this time. I’ve learned plenty of other lessons from buying a card every single day, but for now I’ll leave you with these three. These tips can help anyone out there get the best bang for their buck. I have more tips and tricks to share, but for now these should be enough to keep your collections growing without pillaging your wallets. Until next time, I hope Magic brings you as much joy as it keeps brining to me. 

Mikeal bought his first Magic cards at a garage sale in 1995 – he's still playing with the Vesuvan Doppleganger he opened that day. Magic has given him a collection, memories, and many great friendships. You can find more of his articles at magictations.com.

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