In previous articles I often cite sealed MTG product as one of the safest investments one could make within Magic finance. It’s fairly straightforward to identify a set with upside potential, and there are always ample boxes available in the $85-$90 price range even for those of us with no retailer connections. Sit on a few such boxes for a couple years and BAM! You make money.
I continue to stand by the above statement. If I had to put my entire life savings into one asset right now and I didn’t want to lose any sleep, it would be difficult for me to decide between an S&P 500 Index Fund and Return to Ravnica Booster boxes. The latter will never go down in price unless the game of Magic collapses (and even then casuals will want to draft this set… maybe Magic dying would be good for sealed boxes?).
“If you’re so confident, why don’t you buy dozens of RTR boxes?”
Believe me, I ask myself this question frequently. But recent developments and observations has caused me to question the booster box investment strategy as a whole. Allow me to explain.
Stop the Madness!
Newer QS Insiders may not be aware that I’ve gone through this mental exercise before. Over a year ago I decided there was no way to lose money investing in Innistrad Booster Boxes. After reading up on a gambling concept called “Kelly Betting”, I was inspired to make a large wager on the fan-favorite set. Nineteen booster boxes later I had myself a sizable position.
You may have noticed that I said “over a year ago” and not “over two years ago” – I got in on the Innistrad Booster Box investment a little late. Actually, it was more than a little late. My average buy price was probably around $150 per box. Still, better late than never right? Oh and hey, look, boxes are now selling on eBay for over $200. I should be singing and dancing to the bank right?
Not quite. A bit of math will quickly reveal that this sell price includes almost no profit for me. A $200 sale price on eBay equates to $20 in eBay fees, $6.10 in PayPal fees, and $12.35 for Priority Flat Rate shipping. Thus total proceeds from selling a $200 booster box on eBay equates to about $161.55 of net proceeds. With a $150 entry price this means my profit is a measly $10 and change, or 6.7% return.
Let’s compare that to some key cards from the Innistrad set itself:
Snapcaster Mage could have been purchased for about $20 less than two years ago and now they readily sell for $27. What’s even more interesting is the recent peak in price, where the Human Wizard buylisted for $27 and retailed for nearly $40. By selling at the peak one could have netted 30% in gains while also paying no PayPal fees and no eBay fees by simply buylisting their copies.
The price trajectory on Liliana of the Veil is even more impressive! A $20 investment could be netting you well over $50 now – a 200% gain! Foils have also jumped nicely.
Numbers Don’t Lie
I was so attracted to Innistrad Booster Boxes because of their safety. As a risk-averse investor, I didn’t want to roll the dice on a possible Liliana of the Veil reprint in M15 (no matter how unlikely) or Snapcaster Mage reprint in a Modern Event Deck (which didn’t happen). While individual cards from Innistrad could be reprinted at any time, Wizards of the Coast will never print new booster boxes of Innistrad. With a fixed supply, I figure boxes will gradually dry up buoying prices higher and higher.
While this is still 100% true, I am now realizing the shortcomings of my investment decision. Because of fees and shipping I can barely eek out a profit on these boxes even after nearly two years of holding. Meanwhile, Eternal staples from the set itself have risen much more significantly. Let’s face it – it’s not like we didn’t know which cards in Innistrad are the Eternal staples. I could have just as easily put that same money into foil Lilianas and Snapcasters to earn a much healthier profit.
Even More Bad News
But wait, there’s more, unfortunately. I love surfing buylists to see what I can unload for profit with minimal effort. Sometimes Twitter followers will criticize me for buylisting so much to vendors at GP’s because I’m leaving money on the table. I see GP’s as opportunities to sell cards for immediate profit with no fees, shipping or questions about condition.
As recently as GP Cincinnati I happily buylisted Snapcaster Mages at $27 + 25% trade-in credit for some played Dual Lands. The decision has paid off nicely.
Guess how many stores listed Innistrad Booster Boxes on their buy list? When I specifically asked about selling Innistrad Boxes, the number offered would be below what I’d net from eBay after fees and shipping. Ouch.
So then I take to the interwebs! Surely between the QS forums, Twitter, MOTL, and Facebook groups I can find buyers for my sealed boxes right? Well, let me check my QS thread right now to see if anyone’s expressed interest in my Modern Masters and Innistrad Boxes... nope.
Turns out it’s difficult to move booster boxes – especially older boxes which have gone up in price significantly since they were printed. I had not anticipated this at all. A few years ago I discovered the Booster Box investment by moving funds into a smattering of older sets – two Unhinged Boxes, one Onslaught Box, one Zendikar Box, two Coldsnap Boxes, and a couple others. These all sold without much effort believe it or not, and this gave me the confidence to go even deeper on the newer sets.
I believe the flaw in my logic here is that older boxes were all printed before Magic’s recent surge in popularity. Naturally older sets would be much rarer, meaning I had a lot less competition when selling. Also key cards from the above sets (well, maybe not Coldsnap… that was just a severely underprinted set) drove demand for Booster Boxes. And while there are plenty of key cards in Innistrad worth opening, the number of sellers of these is much greater and the set is much newer. These factors have made selling for sizable gains fiercely competitive.
It’s even more difficult to sell Modern Masters Booster Boxes right now. For some reason everyone’s deciding that now is the time to unload these, and prices have been dropping notably on eBay. During the recent peak in Modern prices, I saw Booster Boxes selling in under 24 hours with a price tag of $410. Now I see $375 boxes sitting on eBay indefinitely. While these should pick up again come Modern season, there has been a gigantic opportunity cost to sitting on these boxes. Just three boxes ties up over a grand – a grand which could have been put to work elsewhere in better, more liquid investments.
If I wasn’t sitting on Modern Masters Booster Boxes, I could have made a sizable purchase of Tropical Islands the week after Underground Sea and Volcanic Island spiked. This was one of the safest bets in recent MTG history, and any investment in $100 Trops would have netted significant gains. As it stands I managed to acquire a total of two copies before they spiked. I’m severely disappointed in this missed opportunity because guaranteed profit with minimal time horizon occurs less frequently than you’d think in MTG finance.
And yet again, selling Tropical Islands has to be easier than selling water to a dehydrated wanderer in the desert. Price it right and it sells with the snap of two fingers. Meanwhile, Modern Masters Booster Boxes continue to rot in people’s closets as buyers hide their head in the sand. It pains me to even think about the lost opportunity.
Life is all about the accumulation of experiences. Fortunately I can be a fast learner when I make poor investing choices with my resources. I can guarantee you that after I finally move some of these booster boxes, they will never dominate my portfolio ever again. Even though they can yield safe, easy profit, I have been severely burned by their slow growth.
I shouldn’t beat myself up too much though. I certainly did not predict Magic’s sudden growth spurt and I’m not sure who did. I saw the game increasing in popularity, but I hadn’t considered the impending, profound impact on the singles market. Even investments in Power could have yielded me much greater gains while maintaining better liquidity. The lessons learned here are invaluable, and at a minimum I can share my experiences with the broader community to help others make better-informed decisions than I made.
While buying Zendikar booster boxes three years ago could have been a home run, getting a series of bunt singles with Innistrad Booster Boxes has been a slow, grueling process. And it’s not even over yet – eventually I’ll need to actually move these boxes and this will take significant time and effort. And the longer I wait, the more opportunities pass me by.
Rest assured, this is not a mistake I will make again.
- If you think for two seconds that Vintage isn’t growing in popularity in paper, let me direct your attention to Nether Shadow.
Outside of Vintage Dredge I’m not sure who plays this card, yet Star City Games has exactly 4 tournament-legal copies in stock across all printings.
- We are largely in a lull right now with many cards drifting downward in price. This is especially true with Modern staples, which have largely pulled back from their peak a couple months ago. This isn’t the case with Linvala, Keeper of Silence, however. The Legendary Angel is climbing higher and higher, and SCG has just 1 SP and 1 MP copy in stock at $37.49 and $34.99. This is below TCG Mid, however, and I see SCG restocking their NM copies at a higher price point.
- Nick Becvar recently alerted his followers to the sudden movement SCG has made on Sword of Fire and Ice. The world’s largest MTG retailer now has NM copies from both sets listed at $49.99 with a $30 buy price. Any other swords not reprinted soon will surely be going higher in the future (looking at you Sword of Light and Shadow and Sword of War and Peace)!