I have a long history with the game. I've been playing since The Dark came out and even made it to a few Pro Tours. (Yes, I am that lucky Lightning Helix guy.) I don't play as much nowadays, but I still like to collect and play (terrible) Commander decks. On the collecting side I mainly focus on foil cards and have over 50 complete sets going all the way back to Urza's Legacy. So, as an inveterate magpie for shiny cardboard rectangles, I thought I'd bring my perspectives as a collector on buying Magic cards in the UK.
In my experience, the UK tends to be a little more expensive on just about everything (except buying drinks in Scandinavia, where an average night out might bankrupt you!) and this is true for Magic as well. The UK seller section for booster boxes is fairly small, and I suspect this might be because it probably isn't feasible for the bigger retailers to compete with continental sellers on sealed product. There's also the lingering aftereffects of the pandemic. The best budget-conscious option for buying booster boxes used to be from players or tournament staff who'd picked them up as prizes or payment. With no tabletop tournaments, there's less of that product floating around, but I expect it will pick up again as we start to see big tournaments return.
The other weird quirk of the UK is what I like to call the "Do they know Cardmarket exists?" question. If they do, they can be pretty competitive on price. If they don't, then expect to roll your eyes at someone trying to sell cards at three or four times their going rate.
Before going in depth on the various sources I like to buy from, I briefly want to mention "the collector's easy mode" also known as Magic Online redemption. This feature from the old digital client is still around. Pick up a full set of digital cards, pay a redemption fee ($25) and shipping ($30), and Wizards will mail you a full set in a plain box that looks like this:
This is the easiest and laziest way to put a full set together, although I don't think it's cost-effective for non-foil unless you're picking up multiple sets at once. (The shipping is a flat fee.) I've gone back and forth multiple times on whether Cardmarket or redemption is the cheapest way to pick up a complete foil set. It's normally fairly close, but I tend to find there's always that one mythic (The Meathook Massacre, Goldspan Dragon) where the price ends up running away.
Onto more traditional sellers, there is the Local Game Store or LGS. I think most of the bigger towns in the UK have one. They're usually not the most cost-effective for buying cards but offer other benefits. Being an open venue where you can play is a major one. If you have a good LGS, it's often worth spending a little extra to put money in their till. But money is money, and they're still a business, not a charity. If there's a big price difference, I don't feel guilty for picking something up elsewhere.
Then there are the bigger stores. These are the people you'll see running trade stands at big events. Some have a reputation for being expensive, and they can be, especially for new cards. Balanced against that, they often have large inventories and are normally reliable and quick to deliver. They can also be pretty economical for things like accessories and postage. If you're a collector after the more obscure older cards, you can often get good deals as these cards tend to sit in inventory at the same price for years while the overall market price gradually increases, to the point the "expensive" store now becomes the cheapest option. I like to periodically put in big orders to fill in the gaps of some older sets, so don't dismiss these places out of hand because you've heard they're "too expensive."
While a valid source, eBay – especially UK eBay – can be a real mixed bag. It really suffers from the "Do they know Cardmarket exists?" problem. That means an awful lot of listings try to flog trash cards at several times what they're actually worth. The two major strengths are auctions and buyer protection. The company nearly always siding with the buyer is reassuring for those times when that £100+ card fails to arrive or is a counterfeit, but it can be a double-edged sword. I've heard a few horror stories from sellers shipping out expensive old cards and then having disreputable buyers claim it never arrived or switch it for a counterfeit version.
On the subject of counterfeits on eBay. They're rare, but some are scarily good nowadays, even the foils. I'd recommend investing in a jeweller's loupe and knowing what "The Green Dot Test" is at the bare minimum. I've winced in the past at returning a counterfeit card and then seeing positive feedback on the same seller from someone forking over a grand for an obviously fake Tabernacle. Stay safe out there!
Magic card prices tend to rise quickly and retrace slowly. This means some old or scarce cards get stuck with a price no one is willing to pay. Auctions generally get right to what the "real" market price is, so long as the seller starts the auction off at a sensible price. The regular Buy-it-Nows can also have some good deals if you find a seller wanting to make a quick sale. While pretty much useless for the cheap stuff, I tend to find eBay pretty good for single cards in the £15–20 range.
As for below that price range, that's where we come to Cardmarket, and Cardmarket truly excels here. I doubt I'd be able to put foil sets together at all, especially from the years I wasn't playing the game, without Cardmarket. Cardmarket is eBay, but specialised in TCGs, and people here obviously "do know Cardmarket exists." What it means from a collector's perspective is that you'll find (nearly) everything here at very competitive prices. However, this massive inventory is spread across a lot of different sellers, so there are some things to be aware of.
The main thing is postage. Buy 50 cards at the cheapest listed price from 50 different sellers and you'll likely find the combined postage cost to be the same or even more than the whole order. I usually keep multiple wants lists, so that whenever I want to buy a particular card, I can check to see if the seller has anything else that can be added to the order. It's also worth bearing in mind that there are specific boundaries for price and number of cards that will bump the postage up to the next level, and these vary from country to country. I like to keep orders low enough to qualify for the cheapest postage option. Yes, there's a risk the shipment might get lost in the post, but I find it's more economical to just eat a loss rather than pay triple postage for tracking with every order. Postage losses have been fairly rare in my experience and in the majority of the cases the seller has been good about it and stepped in with a refund.
In the post-Brexit world VAT is a consideration if you're a UK buyer buying from outside the UK, but it's only a minor consideration. Cardmarket will indicate if it's a seller where it applies, so mentally adjust those prices up by 20%.
One myth I'd like to address is some countries being "sketchy" or having bad postal systems. When I first started using Cardmarket, the advice floating around was to avoid Italy or Spain because of unreliable post or iffy grading. After a few years and hundreds and hundreds of cards from these countries, I can feel reasonably confident in saying they're absolutely fine (and in a lot of cases have fantastic prices, especially for newer cards). Personally, I love to see envelopes come in from all across Europe. Time can be a consideration though. Sometimes it can take three weeks for a shipment to arrive. That isn't a big deal for a collector, but it might be an issue for someone needing cards urgently for a tournament next weekend.
You can also adjust the filter settings on any card to show only offers from sellers in the UK. This allows UK buyers to avoid both import and higher postage fees.
Finally there are quite a few Facebook markets for Magic cards. Some of these are highly specialised – misprints, Old School, Summer Magic, et cetera. If you're looking to buy or sell the really rare or high-end cards, most recommend searching out the relevant group that specialises in it. There is also a general UK group. I haven't been on that one for quite a while. Unfortunately it comes attached to a discussion group and discussion groups tend to have the same problems all across the internet.
On the actual side of buying and selling cards, I found the group to be pretty well run and moderated. I was able to pick up some nice shiny cards for my collection at pretty good prices. However, in the end I decided the occasional good deal wasn't worth the drama it brought to my Facebook feed. Experiences may vary there.
Overall, for my collecting, I tend to split my purchases between Cardmarket, eBay, Magic Online redemption, and the occasional big order from one of the large UK stores. They tend to have different advantages and disadvantages, with Cardmarket being the one I use most frequently. (I may be biased. After all, you're reading this on Cardmarket. It's true nonetheless.)
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, not of Cardmarket.