Last updated on October 19, 2023
Spellbook Vendor | Illustration by Scott Murphy
Singles. It’s the only way to guarantee you get every card you need for a deck. While supporting your local game store and purchasing singles over-the-counter is always an option, sometimes they just won’t have what you’re looking for. So, you’ve turned to online retailers in an attempt to snag that specific variant of the Commander Masters Sol Ring you’ve been pining for.
You’ve got a few options for purchasing individual Magic cards online. One of the biggest and most reputable retailers is TCGplayer, an online marketplace connecting Magic buyers and sellers and one of the determining factors in the average market value of any given card.
With so much sway in the Magic singles marketplace, is TCGplayer worth it? Can they really keep an inventory of over 20,000 different sellers in check? How can they guarantee card conditions across such a vast operation?
I bit the bullet and did the unthinkable (ordered some Magic cards) for the purposes of conducting a scientific inquiry into these questions.
Stadium Vendors | Illustration by Sidharth Chaturvedi
TCGplayer.com, formerly Brainburst.com, is an online marketplace connecting Magic: The Gathering buyers and sellers across the world. The site was acquired by eBay in August 2022 but is allowed to operate as a separate entity as part of the agreement. TCGplayer lets you build a cart with singles purchased from multiple sellers (similar to eBay’s whole thing), then helps you optimize your cart to save the most on shipping, receive the fewest packages, or get you the best price-per-single. Once you send an order, the sellers send off the cards either directly to you or via the TCGplayer Authentication Center.
Purchasing from TCGplayer over other online singles retailers has a few distinct advantages. The aggregate nature of its marketplace ensures you get a wide range of options when considering the price point and condition of a card you’re purchasing. With so many individual sellers, the huge supply lowers the overall price of any card.
Secondly, TCGplayer has a much lower floor for the price of singles than any other company. This is where you’ll find all those $0.01 cards your favorite deck builder site is pricing for you. Compare that to other online retailers like Card Kingdom: the lowest price on a NM single at CK bottoms out at $0.25. Both of these cards are less than a dollar, so it might not feel like much, but those quarters add up much faster than those pennies (25 times faster, technically).
TCGplayer also typically has a faster turnaround time than other online retailers. Your experience may vary; shipping mishaps are unpredictable and any number of factors can contribute to why your package hasn’t shipped. On average, though, your cards should be on the way quicker than they would at any other online retailer.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Is it really worth ordering from TCGplayer, or should I just wait for my LGS to stock up on the cards I need? Is it worth the effort of navigating their site, and can I trust their graded conditions? I sent an order to TCGplayer this week, and here are my results.
For this order, I went in knowing I wanted to get some fancy variants to pimp out my current Commander decks plus a few pet cards I’ve been meaning to fill out playsets of. I had a friend whose birthday I missed, so I thought I’d pick up the Double Masters 2022 Richard Kane-Ferguson variant artwork Elenda, the Dusk rose for them, too. I planned to pick up copies of these cards across multiple conditions and from multiple sellers to get the best range of products I could.
The first thing I did when ordering from TCGplayer was to open my browser and plug their address in the address bar. TCGplayer’s homepage has a search bar across the top to get started on your cart and several drop-down menus to let you browse by game. Featured cards are aligned in a column on the left side, with a featured article right smack-dab in the center of the page. The main page here is mostly just a bunch of links on images, but you don’t really need a whole lot more than that from an online retailer.
I can use the search bar at the top of the page to start searching for specific cards, sets, or sealed products, and a drop down menu appears to let me filter by game type. It also tries to auto-complete whatever you enter, which I can find useful or distracting depending on my mood.
I was looking for a fancy foil for my Yisan, the Wanderer Bard Commander deck, so I searched it up and browsed the results. I’m not a fan of that Secret Lair art, but the Commander Masters foil-etched copy looked like a good option. I selected that version, and the site took me to that Yisan’s product page. On the right-hand side, opposite the image of the Yisan card, is the option to order this card “Direct by TCGplayer,” which is the site's recommended purchase option. Scrolling down, however, reveals several other purchasing options.
Besides showing us the price history of the foil-etched Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, TCGplayer shows us all 36 listings currently available on their marketplace. Each seller has a customer rating, plus some other identifiers under their name noting whether they’re a Direct seller or a certified Hobby Shop, and whether they’re a Gold Star Seller. You can filter the sellers using the options on the left-hand side.
Once you’ve found a seller and a price you like, you can add the number of copies you have selected to your cart. Then, simply search up the next title you need and repeat!
Now that I’ve got my cart filled out, it’s time to check out. Initially, I had added cards to my cart from four different sellers. Before checkout, TCGplayer gives you the option to Optimize Your Cart. The Cart Optimizer always finds the lowest price cards that match your search filters, consolidating your cards into the fewest total packages, the highest rated sellers, or the lowest overall prices.
Selecting the Optimize option takes you to a screen with three different options for optimization. You can purchase your cards Direct by TCGplayer, from only Verified Sellers, or Any Seller (typically this leaves your cart unchanged).
The Direct by TCGplayer option automatically consolidates the order into as few packages as possible from the top-rated sellers and includes a condition double-check at the authentication center. It also includes the Buyer Safeguard protection, basically a guarantee that TCGplayer’s customer service will get involved should you have any issues with your order. This option is best for buyers looking to receive their cards all at once in the exact conditions they specified, but it usually increases the total price of your cart.
The Verified Sellers option also includes the Buyer Safeguard and optimizes your cart to include only packages from consistent sellers. This choice is a great middle ground between the Direct and standard options since it’s easy enough to get a good price from a verified seller.
Alternatively, you can opt for the Any Seller option. This option finds you the lowest price on the quantity and conditions of the cards in your cart, by any means necessary. That makes it sound worse than it is, but the Any Seller option still comes with the Buyer Safeguard. Still, you may receive multiple packages across several days rather than all at once.
For my order, I selected the Verified Sellers option after switching a few printings around (I realized I wanted the Mystery Booster/The List printings of Urza's Armor instead of 8th Edition). My total was unchanged between that and the Any Sellers choice, and I didn’t want to pay another $8 just to get it all as a single package.
It’s worth noting that even with the additional charge for ordering Direct, this cart is still cheaper than the same order from Card Kingdom (roughly $36 before shipping, at time of writing).
With my cart fully optimized, it’s time to check out. This is as easy as selecting “Check Out” or “PayPal” underneath your cart. The checkout process is easy, and even quicker if you use PayPal to auto-complete your billing and shipping information. TCGplayer offers both standard (12-15 business days) and expedited (4 business days) shipping. The bottom of your check-out screen summarizes how many packages you’ll be receiving, as well as which cards will be in which package. From here, you simply hit Submit Order and you’re done! Check for a confirmation email that your order has processed, and you’re set.
Once your order’s in, you have several options to track or modify it before it arrives. You can monitor whether your order has been processed via the Order History (linked in your receipt or accessible via your account on TCGplayer’s website). You can also contact the sellers should an issue arise with your order.
You should receive an email once a package has shipped. My packages were all shipped without tracking, sadly, so I was unable to watch them journey across the country to my mailbox here in Seattle. However, the shipping notification emails did include estimated delivery datesand a link to follow should one of my orders run late. With TCGplayer’s Buyer Safeguard, I was confident that I could get another copy shipped out to me or a refund should anything happen.
To get the best range of conditions and grades, I ordered variants and regular cards across the conditions available on TCGplayer’s marketplace. I’ve got a fair bit of experience in grading cards for sale, so I felt confident I could confirm the conditions of the cards upon their arrival.
All of my packages arrived within 10 days of the day I placed the order, too, beating each of their estimated 12-15 day delivery times.
I was most excited for the variant Elenda, the Dusk Rose I ordered. I selected a Moderately Played copy (don’t tell my friend) because I expected the imperfections to be obvious on a borderless card. What I got surprised me; this Elenda is hardly played. I can see why it’s not graded at Near Mint (the scuffing on the bottom has left the edges a little white) but this is hardly enough in my book to call it heavy. Elenda arrived double-sleeved in a hard plastic toploader sealed inside an envelope.
Next is the lightly-played foil-etched Yisan, the Wanderer Bard I ordered. Foil cards have a reputation for scuffing easily these days, so I expected to see some light scratches on the face of this card. What I got was another surprise: Yisan came packaged in a soft pennysleeve sandwiched between a pair of LTR basic Forests. I assume the Forests were there for protection, or maybe they were just off loading some chaff on me. Probably both. To the point: Yisan arrived relatively undamaged. As far as Lightly Played is concerned, there’s the smallest discoloration between the name and the mana value, but basically no scratches on the front or the back of the card.
Next, I wanted to order a pair of cards graded at the same condition to see if there was any noticeable difference in quality. My two copies of Near Mint Urza's Armor arrived last, and they’re virtually indistinguishable. This seller’s definition of “Near Mint” might be a little lackluster, as there are some minute chips in the top edge of one of the cards, but I’m not actually going to be that picky. At $0.04 per card, these can afford to be ever-so-lightly dinged.
The rest of my cards (a Lightly Played Borderless Commander Masters Sol Ring, a Lightly Played Commander 2017 Crosis, the Purger, and a Heavily Played Dominaria Remastered Sulfuric Vortex) followed the same trend. Each arrived in much better condition than I expected, with the worst offender being some light damage to the edges of Crosis.
All in all, these sellers knocked it out of the park. I don’t know if I’m too much of a pessimist about what “played” means, but each of these cards arrived in better condition than I anticipated and were packaged securely in hard plastic or braced with cardboard in their letters.
I had such a good experience with my order, it’s only natural I should leave positive feedback on the seller pages.
To do this, I navigate back to the Order History page. From here, I can see that each package has its own Rate Transaction button. Selecting this opens the Rate Transaction pop-up, where you can leave a comment, rate the seller out of five stars, and provide additional information before submitting your response. Each of my sellers killed it, so I’m giving them all five stars.
If you’re a US customer, you have the option of subscribing to TCGplayer Pro when you make your account. TCGplayer Pro is a subscription service for $6.99/month for earning store credit on your purchases, free shipping on orders of $35 or more, and access to Channel Fireball’s Pro articles. The free shipping and tracking only applies to TCGplayer Direct orders, but you’ll earn store credit on all purchases.
Ultimately, this subscription is only worth it if you find yourself spending $7 or more per month on shipping from TCGplayer Direct. Estimated shipping on my order, if it was Direct ordered, worked out to about $7 anyways, so if you see yourself making two or more orders per month from TCGplayer, the subscription should pay for itself easily.
Direct by TCGplayer is a cart optimization option that minimizes the number of packages you’ll receive and includes a ton of extra guarantees for customer satisfaction. Direct packages get free shipping on orders of $50 or more (lowered to $35 if you have the Pro subscription) and are condition-checked at TCGplayer’s authentication center in Syracuse.
There are two ways to sell cards on TCGplayer: Scan to Sell or Trade-In. Both use the TCGplayer app to scan cards with your phone camera. Scan to Sell lets you list the card on the marketplace at the market price, while Trade-In lets you sell it directly to TCGplayer’s buylist. Trade-In is the fastest way to get a deal for your cards. The prices may not be as good as what you’d get on the marketplace, but you’ll be able to send them all at once directly to TCGplayer rather than waiting for a third party to purchase them. Also, Trade-In lets you skip registering as a Seller Account on their website.
My packages from TCGplayer shipped out anywhere from the day I placed the order up to three days later (technically still within their guarantee of two business days). They all arrived before their expected delivery date of 12-15 days, with the latest arriving 10 days after I placed the order.
TCGplayer ships their cards through the good ol’ United States Postal Service.
Curio Vendor | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk
TCGplayer might be legit, y’all! It should come as no surprise that one of the most established online MTG singles retailers is actually one of the most trustworthy, but you never know. Placing an order was easy, and the cart optimization gives you options for how exactly you want to receive your order. My cards all shipped on time and arrived ahead of schedule, and were in great condition! To top it all off, $20 at TCGplayer goes a lot farther than it does at Card Kingdom. I definitely recommend ordering from TCGplayer, and will make it my go-to for Magic singles from here on.
How have your experiences been with TCGplayer? Is the subscription worth it to read some of Channel Fireball’s paywalled content? Let me know in the comments, or join the discussion on Draftsim’s Discord.
Thanks for reading!
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