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The Box Paradox


Snapcaster Mage
One of the most common things I see when players want to change from collecting Magic to investing in Magic is approaching the “investment” portion the wrong way. A lot of old and outdated ideas still permeate the less experienced and, in turn, lead to a lot of lost money. This week I want to talk about some of the biggest assumptions people make when trying to make money on Magic.

The biggest problem I see these days is the booster box problem. There are a lot of factors as to why buying booster boxes is generally a poor idea, but the idea that throwing them in a closet for a few years for free money is definitely the worst. The last booster box that this was true for was released 5 years ago and there is a sharp decline immediately after that set. What do I mean?

Right now you can buy Ixalan booster boxes for about $90. The cost to ship a booster box is between $5 (in a large bubble mailer) and $16 (a flat rate box) depending on how secure you want to make it. If we say on average it costs $10 to ship, you would need to sell the box for $113 before you break even after fees (assuming about 12% in fees). How many years do you think it will take to go up $23? Well Return to Ravnica is 5 years old (released September 2012). Guess how much a booster box of that sells for. CoolstuffInc.com has them in stock for $89.99. You could have likely made more money leaving that investment in your bank account and passively accruing interest. The reason people have this idea that you can make tons of money on booster boxes is that it used to be true. Avacyn Restored was released April 2012, only 5 months before Return to Ravnica. The booster boxes are sold out with a price point of $180 on the same website. What’s the big deal? Well, when Return to Ravnica was released, the amount of booster boxes produced by Wizards of the Coast went up enormously. The player base had seen a huge swell after the success of Innistrad block and people were extremely excited to see the reprint of shocklands. People opened a ton of this and also bought a ton expecting it to mature in value as time went on. Obviously that is not the case.

Masters sets have thrown a big wrench into the long term value of boxes. The theoretical long term value of boxes has had something to do with the contents of the box. As those cards get older and gain value, people want the booster packs more. The release of constant Masters sets has infused a new supply of those cards into the market and created an alternative to getting the pricey rare you want. If you want a Snapcaster Mage you can buy a booster box of Innistrad for $350 (where Snapcaster Mage is a 2/121 chance of being in a booster pack) or a Modern Masters 2017 booster box for $240 (where Snapcaster Mage is 1/121 chance of being in a booster pack) but you also have the option of opening (on average) much better rares of mythics. At those rates, a booster pack of Innistrad is $9.73. A booster pack of Modern Masters 2017 is $10. How many booster packs do you think you will open with $10 worth of cards in an Innistrad box? The cards worth approximately a booster pack or more from Innistrad are Bloodline Keeper(R), Parallel Lives(R), Balefire Dragon(M), Liliana of the Veil(M), and Snapcaster Mage(R). In a box of Modern Masters 2017 you can open Cavern of Souls(M), Craterhoof Behemoth(M), Liliana of the Veil(M), Linvala, Keeper of Silence(M), Snapcaster Mage(M), Tarmogoyf(M), Voice of Resurgence(M), Arid Mesa(R), Blood Moon(R), Goblin Guide(R), Marsh Flats(R), Misty Rainforest(R), Scalding Tarn(R), Verdant Catacombs(R), Death's Shadow(R). There are 5 cards in ISD and 15 in MM17. Now you can see the problem with booster boxes getting more expensive. Reprint sets are more readily available and often have a higher concentration of “hits” even if it’s not necessarily what you wanted.

Newer booster boxes are also not impervious from reprint. Eternal Masters, despite being a limited run Masters set was re-released for Christmas and caused the price of those cards and boxes to crater. Tarmogoyf is on its third masters set printing and has fallen over $200 from its peak and continues to kill the value of unopened Modern Masters 2015 packs. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s a good idea to buy booster boxes unless you personally want to draft them or you enjoy opening boosters. It’s not financially sound to buy them for any other reason. There are just too many for their rarity to be a factor and the cards inside are constantly threatened by a reprint.

If you want to invest your money somewhere in Magic, make sure it’s in cards you will play. It takes a lot of luck, time, and energy to make money speculating, and you are guaranteed to get value out of cards you play with. I always suggest to people to get cards they want to play because, even if they go down in price, you still got to play with them and that’s worth a lot.

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