With over 25,000 auctions for Magic the Gathering items each day, ebay has become a valuable resource for players and collectors alike. Unless you are strictly a collector, your main goal will probably be to construct a deck and defeat your friends, neighbors, and others. So how do we determine which cards to buy here on ebay? Simple, we take an writer's approach to deck building. The writer's approach looks like this:
1.) Determine the format you'll be playing. Type 1, Legacy, Extended, and Type II are all common formats. In order to properly build a deck you'll need to know the format your playing, the cards that are legal and illegal, as well as the rules for play.
2.) Determine a budget for your deck. There's no shame in having the budget to build a magic deck, whether it's your first or 500th. Once you determine how much you can spend on the deck, then you cans tart thinking about the cards you'll include. Keep in mind when budgeting to be reasonable. If you only have $50, but you want to play type 1, then you might find yourself losing an awful lot, or not being able to play. Instead, spend $50 to make a great type 2 deck and be competetive.
3.) Choose which colors you'd like to play. Choosing the color combination for your deck is going to depend on a couple of things. Most importantly is your mana source, or lands. If your budget is small, then finding lands that are going to enable you to play 3 or 4 colors is going to be difficult. Instead, choose one or two colors that you're familiar with and that compliment eachother. For example, Red and Green are a potent combination, as are Black and Blue or White and Blue.
4.) After choosing our format, colors, and budget, we can now start to develop a deck strategy. The most effective way of doing this is to grab a pen or pencil and a blank sheet of paper. Divide the sheet into 4 equal blocks and write damage, defense, card drawing, and mana production. An effective deck will have varying amounts of each of these 4 categories. Some decks will be very balanced, while others will have biases towards certain areas. Your goal should be to develop a game plan for how your deck will deal 20 damage to your opponent without your opponent dealing 20 damage to you. Let's use a blue and white deck, made for type 2, with a budget of $75 for example.
Defense: Defense can be creatures that defend or spells that defend. Since most players use a great deal of creatures, a solid defense should begin with creature removal. In this deck we can use 4x Condemn and 3x devouring light. We can also use a blue spell like remove soul or boomerang to get rid of pesky creatures. We'll also need to defend against actual spells that our opponent might cast, like burn spells or discard. Counterspells are an effective way of dealing with such spells, and can also keep creatures off the board if need be. Mana Leak is a cheap and useful counter that can keep the board clear early in the game, and we can use Remand to help keep a card advantage. 4x mana leak and 3x remand looks good. Now we've got our defense shored up and based on current market value we've only spent about $10.
Card Drawing: White isn't going to be very effective in this category, since it's strengths are healing, defense, and damage. However, blue provides a strong card drawing mechanism. In this deck we can use something like slight of hand, telling time, compulsive research, or even train of though. It's important to keep in mind when you'll want to be drawing cards. If you're playing expensive spells, then you'll need to draw cards late in the game. If you're playing cheap spells, then you'll need early card drawing to offset the cards leaving your hand. For this deck lets use 2x train of thought and 2x compulsive research to draw cards, and we'll through in 2 slight of hand as well. That's 6 card drawing cards for only $4.
Damage: Since we want to deal damage to our opponent quickly and efficiently, it's important to choose creatures that fit in your mana curve. The mana curve describes the cost of each of your spells. So far we've used 6 spells that cost 1 mana, 9 cards that cost 2 mana, and 5 cards that cost 3 mana. It's a good thing we chose alot of card drawing, since we'll be using cards early in the game. Our creatures should follow a curve also. Cheap creatures serve to block or deal damage early, while big expensive creatures can be used to seal the game. It's also good to use creatures in combination whenever possible. For this deck we can get an early creature out by using 4x savannah lions. We can also use court hussar to allow us to draw more cards and also attack and block by using vigilance. In order to get the win, we'll need something a little more potent than these guys, so a good idea is to add a strong late game creature. We could use Yosei, the morning star as a game finisher, while using something like serra angel or adarkar valkyrie to rule the skies. As a follow up, Plaxmanta will allow you to keep creatures on the board, and can get you some quick damage right away. We'll use 4x Plaxmanta. For this deck, let's also go with 3x yosei, 3x court hussar, 3x serra angel, and 4x savannah lions. That's a solid set of attackers for $45.
Mana: Blue and White aren't really known to speed up the game, since they are control colors. We could use a couple of signets here to speed up the game, but other than that we'll rely on a couple of double lands from the ravnica block, like azorious chancery. To speed this deck up, we'll only spend about $4.
So that deck will run you about $75 and you've planned it out, so what's next? The playtest. Since you don't own all the cards yet, you should run a proxy playtest. You can do this in two ways. First, you could write out the card and its effects and abilities on a piece of paper, then slide that over an exisiting car. Another method is to draw on a basic land car. Either way, this will give you an opportunity to test out the deck before shelling out your hard earned money to buy the deck. Once you've play tested the deck against several opponents, you'll have the option to do one of three things. 1.) You can keep the deck as is, and started buying cards. 2.) You can make some subtle changes to the deck based on what you've learned while playing it, or 3.) You can scrap the deck all together and start over. The nice thing about this method is that you haven't spent any money yet, so starting over doesn't require a whole new budget.
There are some other great resources for finding out more about cards and formats. Some websites offer users an advanced search option to look for cards that are certain colors for certain formats, etc. It will also show you a list of cards that can be used effectively with the cards you've chosen. The wizards main page can provide you with information about new sets, rules changes, banned cards, etc. and is the official site of Magic:the Gathering. Other sites exist that are dedicated soley to deck building and strategies. A simple search will turn up hundreds of results.
After you've finished taking the complete writer's approach to building a deck, your last task is to find the cards. There are a couple of tricks you can use to build that great deck on a budget.
1.) Look for auctions that end at odd hours of the day. Auctions that end in the wee hours of the morning, or the middle of a work day don't get as much attention as auctions that end in prime time.
2.) Buy multiple cards from the same seller to avoid shipping charges. Many sellers combine shipping charges for multiple auctions.
3.) Be patient. The absolute newest cards are always in demand. After a few weeks or months they'll be available at a much lower price.
4.) Bid late. For auctions that you can wait on, make your absolute max bid as late as possible in the auction. If you can make your max bid with one minute left, it gives you a great chance to steal a cheap auction.
5.) Look for the buy it now. Sometimes bidding on an item can actually drive the price way up. If you see a playset of cards consistantly selling for $45, then look around for someone who wants to sell now for $40. You'll be surprised how often you can save some hard earned cash.
As always, the main goal is to have fun. However, now you know its possible to put together a killer deck and not break the piggy bank. Just remember to take writer's approach to building a deck.