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Insider: To Crack or Not to Crack (Sealed Product)

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Welcome back readers! As promised in my article, "To Crack or Not to Crack (Specialty Product)", today I'm breaking down the values of various sealed products. I will use eBay to determine sealed box prices as that's how most of us would sell it.

It's important to look at the rate of return per year, as typically you invest in sealed product for a longer term investment (several years). It's also important to keep in mind that sealed product has many factors that help determine its value. If there is a chase card in the set the product will tend to be more valuable. If the set was fun to draft it will also be more valuable.

For those curious how I determined the Rate of Return Per Year, the equation is:

Rate of Return = ((Current Value / Purchase Price) ^ (1 / # of years)) - 1

Set Name Set Release Date MSRP @ Release ($) Current eBay Price ($) # of Years Between Release and Now Average eBay Price ($) Rate of Return Per Year(%)
Arabian Nights December 1993[23] 87  $458 per pack ($27480) 20 27480 33.3%
Antiquities March 1994[24] 87  $90 per pack ($3240+) 19 3240 21.0%
Legends June 1994[25] 88.2  $125.88 per pack ($4531.68) 19 4531 23.0%
The Dark August 1994[26] 87  $569 19 569 10.4%
Fallen Empires November 1994[27] 87  $85-$100 19 95 0.5%
Homelands[IX] October 1995[28] 105  $85-93 18 95 -0.6%
Ice Age June 1995[29] 106.2  $220-$250 18 235 4.5%
Alliances June 10, 1996[11] 101.25  $510-$600 17 555 10.5%
Coldsnap[IX] July 21, 2006[32] 90  $140-$180 7 160 8.6%
Mirage October 7, 1996[11] 90  $280-$290 17 285 7.0%
Visions February 3, 1997[35] 90  $230-$235 16 232 6.1%
Weatherlight June 9, 1997[11] 90  $177-$250 16 207 5.3%
Tempest October 13, 1997[11] 90  $550-$600 16 575 12.3%
Stronghold March 2, 1998[11] 90  $280-$315 15 297 8.3%
Exodus June 15, 1998[11] 90  $250-$340 15 295 8.2%
Urza's Saga October 12, 1998[41] 90 $600-$700 15 650 14.1%
Urza's Legacy February 15, 1999[11] 90 $300-$380 14 340 10.0%
Urza's Destiny June 7, 1999[43] 90 330-400 14 365 10.5%
Mercadian Masques October 4, 1999[45] 90 233-250 14 242 7.3%
Nemesis February 14, 2000[47] 90 130-140 13 135 3.2%
Prophecy June 5, 2000[48] 90 105-140 13 122 2.4%
Invasion October 2, 2000[49] 90 160-200 13 180 5.5%
Planeshift February 5, 2001[50] 90 102-150 12 126 2.8%
Apocalypse June 4, 2001[60] 90 242 12 242 8.6%
Odyssey October 1, 2001 90 190-235 12 212 7.4%
Torment February 4, 2002[52] 90 130-170 11 150 4.8%
Judgment May 27, 2002[53] 90 160-170 11 165 5.7%
Onslaught October 7, 2002[54] 90 285-320 11 302 11.6%
Legions February 3, 2003 90 171-187 10 179 7.1%
Scourge May 26, 2003[56] 90 160-170 10 165 6.2%
Mirrodin October 3, 2003[57] 90 175-180 10 177 7.0%
Darksteel February 6, 2004[58] 90 200-230 9 215 10.2%
Fifth Dawn June 4, 2004[60] 90 185-195 9 190 8.7%
Champions of Kamigawa October 1, 2004[62] 90 260-290 9 275 13.2%
Betrayers of Kamigawa February 4, 2005[62] 95 200 8 200 9.8%
Saviors of Kamigawa June 3, 2005[62] 95 120-130 8 125 3.5%
Ravnica: City of Guilds October 7, 2005[67] 95 360-365 8 362 18.2%
Guildpact February 3, 2006[68] 95 255-270 7 262 15.6%
Dissension May 5, 2006[69] 95 250-300 7 275 16.4%
Time Spiral October 6, 2006[70] 95 220-230 7 225 13.1%
Planar Chaos February 2, 2007[71] 95 200-250 6 225 15.5%
Future Sight May 4, 2007[72] 95 350-450 6 400 27.1%
Lorwyn October 12, 2007[74] 95 345-450 6 373 25.6%
Morningtide February 1, 2008[75] 95 200-230 5 215 17.7%
Shadowmoor May 2, 2008[77] 95 250-320 5 285 24.6%
Eventide July 25, 2008[78] 95 180-200 5 190 14.9%
Shards of Alara October 3, 2008[81] 95 160-250 5 205 16.6%
Conflux February 6, 2009[82] 95 220-300 4 260 28.6%
Alara Reborn April 30, 2009[83] 95 175-225 4 200 20.5%
Zendikar October 2, 2009[84] 95 325 4 325 36.0%
Worldwake February 5, 2010[85] 95 410-475 3 443 67.1%
Rise of the Eldrazi April 23, 2010[86] 95 220-230 3 225 33.3%
Scars of Mirrodin October 1, 2010[88] 95 105-115 3 110 5.0%
Mirrodin Besieged February 4, 2011[89] 95 100-120 2 110 7.6%
New Phyrexia May 13, 2011[90][91] 95 100-104 2 102 3.6%
Innistrad September 30, 2011[94] 95 140-150 2 145 23.5%
Dark Ascension February 3, 2012[96] 95 80-100 1 90 -5.3%
Avacyn Restored May 4, 2012[97] 95 100-115 1 107.5 13.2%

Now let's review the data.

It's good to see that for the most part your rate of return for sealed product beats normal inflation (3%). However, given an average inflation of 3% you would have actually lost money had you invested in (Fallen Empires, Homelands, or Prophecy).

It's also important to note that as MSRP data was not available for some of the early sets, I had to take the known pack price and multiply by the number of packs per box. Thus, the "box" price does not include the usual cost reduction for purchasing a full box.

It's interesting that Homelands and Dark Ascension are currently the only sets with negative rates of return (i.e. they are worth less now then the original MSRP price). However, I expect Dark Ascension will go up over time as it was an under-opened set.

What's more impressive is that it appears Wizards was on a roll with creating highly desirable sets as they have all had impressive rates of return from 2005-2010.

This data reflects the current value of the sealed product compared to their previous MSRP. However, one should not look at these recent rates of return and assume they will continue to grow at that rate.

What is far more likely is that with the explosion in the player base the demand for some older product caused prices to spike to the threshold people will pay for out-of-print boxes. Thus, boxes are likely reaching their threshold faster, which also means that as more years pass the price per box will not rise as rapidly as it has recently.

This data indicates that when an obvious multi-format all-star is printed it is wise to purchase boxes of that product and not open them--the price of a current Worldwake box is enough to purchase a playset of the very card that drives the box price up that much (Jace, the Mind Sculptor).

I only did expansion sets because with the exception of the original printings and 7th Edition, core sets tend to have a lot of reprints and fewer valuable cards. Given their aim is to pull new players into the game they are also designed for a less experienced player, thus making them less desirable for retro-drafters.

The data also proves that sets with rare mana-fixing lands tend to gain in value at a higher rate compared to other sets (Onslaught at 11.6% compared to Legions at 7.1%, Zendikar at 36% compared to Alara Reborn at 20.5%).

I didn't look at data on in-print sets (Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, Dragon's Maze) because these can still be picked up at MSRP. However, it's important to note that Return to Ravnica possess two multi-format all stars (Abrupt Decay, Deathrite Shaman) as well as shocklands, important for mana bases in Modern. If I were to guess which of the current in-print sets would have the highest rate of return it would definitely be Return to Ravnica.

Lastly, when deciding whether to crack your sealed product it's important to include some factors not directly related to rate of return on your investment.

These include, tradeability and liquidity (if you're big on trading you want lots of new stuff to trade to people building new decks); playability (MTG is a game first and foremost and if you don't play with your cards you lose a large portion of the reason to buy them); and of course the overall joy you get from opening packs.

11 thoughts on “Insider: To Crack or Not to Crack (Sealed Product)

  1. Great calculations, thanks for the analysis. This goes to show why I love sealed product so much. Risk of losing $ is so low if you wait long enough!

    1. True…but in many instances you’re rate of return isn’t that spectacular. In more recent sets the rate is still pretty high, but had you held onto Invasion/Planeshift/Apocalypse (an awesome draft format by the way), you would have barely beat inflation.

  2. Very interesting…thanks for the data and analysis. Any chance of getting special sets like Modern Masters added to this list just for the sake of comparison? Thanks!

  3. Thanks David, excellent article and I love the research you’ve done. Very valuable information for anyone who loves speculating on sealed product.

    The next step would be to add some more attributes alongside each set – perhaps present EV and draftability would be two of the more obvious ones…

    1. I like the idea of present EV to couple with it as that will ultimately let you know if it’s worth opening the product. ‘Draftability’ would be challenging because there’s no way to quantitatively analyze that….people enjoy different formats and as far as I know there isn’t a “collection” of data collected for how fun various formats are to draft….

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