Buying Magic The Gathering cards and grading guide

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Hello fellow Ebayers!, this guide is designed to provide some basic info about buying Magic The Gathering  (MTG) cards and what grading means (or represents) on Ebay.

I want to note here there are a lot of fakes on ebay nowadays as  opposed to when I originally posted this guide - this is something to be VERY aware of..:(
There are many series of Magic the gathering cards, From Alpha, the original and usually most expensive, through to the latest edition Edition, which is the latest release of the Core set (Core sets are 3rd, 4th 5th...and so on). In between there are numerous "expansions" like Antiquities, Ice Age (not to be confused with Ice Age block), Mirage, Urza's Saga, Mirrodin and many more.
MTG started in 1993 and is by far the largest Collectable Card Game (CCG) on the planet! Its has also turned into a new form in MTGO, the O for Online. There is also a series of real play tournaments worldwide for prizes exceeding 1 million dollars for some events!
When buying online, it is important to consider some things about the cards themselves. These are; popularity, rarity and condition.
Since there are many price/grading guides available, you should use these (a current version!) as a reference, but the aforementioned considerations will modify this in various ways. For example, very popular cards will be worth more generally, since demand will be higher. This also applies to rare cards. Note also that even though a card may be listed as a "rare", it does not automatically mean it is expensive, as some rares are not popular, therefore do not appreciate significantly. Thus, some rares can be quite cheap.
This has changed a little now with a lot of pro graded cards about eg BGS etc
Popular cards usually go up and down a lot in price, as supply and demand are met. Newer cards that are popular often jump up in price quickly then drop back down after a while, as newer or different cards gain popularity. Popular rare cards, usually go up then down somewhat and stay around a certain amount eg Dual lands like Tropical Island from the early sets. Other cards like the Black Lotus however are almost an investment as they continue to be very popular, and are very highly sought after.
Its good to note some old rares that might have been say $5 back in the day are now have asking prices of $150 + (2014)
These will be the best of the rares, not any rare J
Rarity also does affect the price of cards, this does not always mean a "Rare" as per the print sheet (Cards are rated as Rare, Uncommon and Common by how many are on each sheet when printed), this means that some cards for whatever reason are hard to come by, so players and collectors alike, usually will pay more for these hard to find cards eg "Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale" from the Legends expansion (I can attest to this myself trying to find a Mint version *admittedly*). Some other cards are at very high prices and are not Rares at all, for example Mana Drain, is an excellent counter spell, and gives a player an advantage next turn as well, so is highly sought after, but is listed as a mere uncommon, but will sell for around US$125 or more!
Condition is also a factor to consider when looking at prices. Mint cards (or similar condition) have high appeal to collectors and they will be willing to pay more as a result. Becketts (a collectors guide) rates cards in Mint conditon to have a value of 100 - 125% of its "listed" value. EG that would make the Black Lotus I mentioned earlier worth around US$2500! Players on the other hand often are not as fussy about condition, so will not pay premium prices for cards.
When buying or selling MTG cards, condition is important to note (in yours or the listing) or if not mentioned, it will pay you to find out. Most sellers give some sort of condition, but often this can be misleading, for example, a seller might say they are in very good condition, which to them means exactly that. However to someone who looks at that description as a grading will think they are in just average condition, since as a grading, that what 'very good' means. Very good as a grading by Becketts means: 'A card that has been handled but not abused; slightly worn corners with slight layering, slight notching on edges, a significant amount of gloss lost from the surface but no scuffing and moderate discoloration of borders. The card may have a few light creases.'
 The seller in our example may really mean - they are nearly perfect (or near mint), which, again by Becketts means: 'A card with 1 minor flaw. Which is 1 of; slight touch of wear on 1 corner, barely noticeable print spots, color or focus imperfection. 60/40 or better centering in both directions, original gloss, smooth edges and original color borders.'
As you can see, this is highly different from 1 to the other! However many people use different grading guides eg Becketts, Scrye etc which are "official" guides or their own opinion, which varies greatly from person to person, naturally! Also, the official guides are also different, some are more general in description of what each grade means eg Becketts is fairly detailed whereas Scrye is a bit more general and allows more faults. This must be considered if you're after high quality cards. As a rule of thumb, it is always best to ask what guide they are using (if any) or get more detailed photo's or scans and make up your own mind. If that doesn't work, ask them to give a rating by one the the official guides, especially if they can't give more pictures etc for some reason. Also note many of the pictures used in listing are not of the card you're looking at buying, and are usually from the Net somewhere and used as a representation.
Card grading is usually as follows:
Mint - Perfect, as new, GEM, also see PSA/BSA rated cards;
Near Mint - some very minor flaw, not obvious;
Excellent - some obvious flaws, but minor ones;
Very Fine (or Good) - Some obvious flaws, but card not severely damaged, played;
Good (or Fine) -  card has been played a lot, wear everywhere, bent corners etc basically a well worn card.
Below this the card is basically trashed, bent, torn or otherwise abused. Note tournament legal cards must not be indistinguishable from one another and generally have to be in Excellent or better condition.
As a side note, proxy cards (Copies/reproductions) are sometimes allowed in tournaments, either to let you not damage valuable cars or since many are so expensive, the average person can't afford them. You can buy proxies on Ebay, but in reality they have no real value since they are just an imitation, despite what a seller may be asking, IMHO...:)
Also note the Set (Core or expansion) the card is from. A card from the Alpha Set is usually going to be worth more than the same card from a newer Set, since the Alpha Set is the original and most sought after and most expensive Set at this time, as Mint Alpha Sets are worth around US$28000! Compared to 9th Edition which is a mere US$200....
The first 3 Sets, Alpha, Beta and Unlimited have very valuable cards, including the Black Lotus, Moxes, and Time Twister (these are not in any other Set) and Ancestral Recall these are also know as Power 9 cards (P9) and Dual Lands (Only up to Revised <3rd Edition, the 1st Core Set>, then no more). These cards and others from early Sets, are also banned or restricted in most modern tournaments, since many of them, due to their power, are considered to unbalancing for the game as a whole.
There are also Collectors Edition (CE) which is non tournament legal, and is a reprint of the Beta Set, but gold bordered. The cards in it are no where near as valuable as the originals from the Bets Set, but a complete Mint set still has significant value. Also foreign language (other than English) are not as valuable either it should be noted as their English equivalents.
There are also FOIL cards, which are the same as normal cards, but are "reflective', which gives them a shiny look, which can be popular to some collectors. Also, there are special edition cards like the Portal Sets, which generally are not that valuable, as well as Unglued and Unhinged, which are also not considered part of the core game. Finally there are promo cards, which are usually meant to promote something about a new Expansion/Set but are not considered legal or part of the core game EG Arena.
Lastly, there are PSA and BGS graded cards. These are cards that have been professionally graded as to their condition and accuracy, right down to how well the picture is centred on the card. They also may be DNA(?) imprinted to prove authenticity and that they have been professionally graded and re normally in a plastic case with its rating on the case. Those cards are usually more expensive (since the grading is not free..:)) as they are considered to be in premium condition and quality (print, clarity of color etc), so you can expect to pay more than the same card in similar condition. The highest rating for BSA is Pristine (BSA 10) and down eg BSA 9,8.. etc and PSA is GEM MT (PSA 10) and down eg PS 9, 8..etc, these are considered perfect cards in all aspects. As a collector, these are the ones you want, but will pay more than list prices!..:) Players are not usually after these cards.
Something I didn’t mention before was factory packs where you can buy a set from factory complete. This is the optimal way to get a complete set in mint condition. These are/can be  excellent investment opportunities if the block goes big – or if you are patient :D
Thanks for reading my guide! Hopefully this has given Buyers and Sellers some insight to the nuances of MTG cards on Ebay.:)

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