Insider: Intentional Savagery – The Subtle Art of Cracking Boxes

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Confession: I'm a box cracking man. For me, each sealed booster box is like a self-contained Christmas.

For me, every new expansion means that I'm going to drop $200-500 on booster boxes just to rip open and fill out playsets. I'm a savage.

I'm often asked, "Why don't you save them to draft?" And I have an answer: because they're my packs and I don't want a bunch of barnacles taking away my Christmas morning.

Also - I'm an adult and I can afford to buy three boosters on the rare occasion that a bunch of people want to get together to draft.

Sure, every booster box is going to have those crappy gifts that you don't really want, like socks and underwear. Thanks Mom. But somewhere in that booster box is going to be a foil rare... maybe two. And there's likely to be plenty of other spice in the mix.

Strike While the Iron's Hot

Don't get me wrong.I'm not always in the business of lighting money on fire.

In general, there are only two times when I condone intentionally buying booster boxes: at a set's release, and one year after release.

Obviously I'll make exceptions for cheap booster boxes that judges are offloading from working events, as it's hard to pass up any booster box with an $80 price tag.

When a set's first released, the cards are always worth more. You can look up the historical data and you'll find that virtually every set released has had an "average value" greater than the price of a box at release.

I have a general life rule to never pay $100 for something I can get for $80. Over time, as more and more cards are opened, the average price of the cards contained within is going to go down and the expected value of a box is going to dip below the $100 retail we've all grown accustomed to.

This is why I can never condone cracking boxes more than a week or so after release.

At roughly a year after a set's release, the sets go out of print and the supply starts to dry up. I'm fine picking up a couple boxes at this point to throw in the closet - but never to crack.

Expected Value

The expected value of a box is usually just the average value of all rares and mythic rares contained within. So, at this point we need some additional information to make an informed decision. You can typically expect four mythic rares and 32 rares per box. I usually don't include uncommon price data because it's typically harder to capitalize on uncommons at release than rares.

Using Star City Games as a reference point for preorder prices, I've calculated the average rare and mythic rare value:

  • Rares = $1.40
  • Mythics = $13.04

Assuming 32 rares at $1.40 and four mythics at $13.04, we can expect the rares in any given box to be worth $96.96. Unfortunately, Fate Reforged is not full of valuable uncommons like we saw in Khans of Tarkir, so I'm not going to throw much "value" into the calculation for this set.

As a player, I always like to have a playset of commons and uncommons, so I'll add $5 to the first two boxes opened. But beyond that, commons and uncommons have little to no value to add to this set.

That brings our EV to $101.96 per box for the first two boxes, slightly above retail.

But wait! There's more!

Fate Reforged is following the model we first saw involving the shock lands in Dragon's Maze--randomly inserted in the basic land slot are the Khans of Tarkir fetch lands. Based on the expectation of one fetch land per box, and the average price being $15.65, we can bump that expected value to increase to $117.61.

While this expected value  is certainly not the best we've ever seen, it is enough to justify opening boxes rather than just buying the singles you need. You can even throw a couple "entertainment value" dollars onto the box if you just enjoy cracking packs as much as I do.

Shamanistic Revelation

If you're able to get your local shop early enough, there's a good chance you'll be given one of these as well. These promos are usually good for adding $3-5 to the expected value of your box, with breakouts like Goblin Rabblemaster returning much, much more. You can also figure in that you're going to get at least one foil rare, but it's value can range from barely a dollar to as high as $80.

Pulling the Trigger

At this point, you know that you can expect to get your money back out of a box of Fate Reforged, but should you pull the trigger?

That's ultimately comes down to what type of player you are. For example, right now I have very little interest in playing most of the decks in Standard, so I don't need the Ugin, the Spirit Dragons and the Monastery Mentors of the set.

I do find myself wanting to playing with Soulflayer and Tasigur, the Golden Fang, but neither of those cards will break the bank. Is it still worth it for me to buy in?

The biggest factor in making this decision is the liquidity of my collection, or how easily I'm able to move these cards.

I'm not a TCG user and I'm not big on using eBay, so I find myself primarily being a trader.

Being able to trade away the new cards at set release is critical to recouping my investment. 90% of these cards will never be higher in price, and they will never be in as much demand as that first FNM.

Hitting the trade tables release weekend is a great way to trade your volatile wares into something more stable. Deciding what your long-term collection goals are and trading into any eternal format staple is often a good direction to move. But just trading into the previous set's "hot rares" is also a good way to preserve value, as those cards have already taken most of their price hit.

FNM is a great place to unload many of the terrible rares in a set because you get a good cross section of players, and one man's trash is another man's treasure. Many players want to try out the bad cards at FNM, so feel free to indulge them.

I'll be looking to trade Fate Reforged rares at release into fetch lands, Siege Rhino, Wingmate Roc, Anafenza, the Foremost and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. With a new set released, the influx of these Khans cards will slow and their prices are likely to be stabilized with the possibility of climbing.

The other main channel I use to move rares upon set release is Pucatrade. Being a true junkie, I'm usually at the local game store when the doors open and immediately return home to list and ship out as many of these cards as possible.

Doing it this way I miss out on many of the price spikes you typically see the weekend of the Pro Tour, but I also lock in my profits (shoutout to Sigmund) so that I don't have to spend time messing with the cards at a later date. As a player that has intermittent contact with the day to day changes in card prices, I prefer to leave my collection with as few "volatile stocks" as possible.

Fate Reforged is on the cusp of what I would consider a "safe bet" when it comes to box cracking. Next week I'll give the Wheel of Fortune a spin and rip open a couple boxes and share my results here.

3 thoughts on “Insider: Intentional Savagery – The Subtle Art of Cracking Boxes

  1. I hope you include what you trade your high valued fate cards for in the next article. That’s something I’m definitely curious about. Hopefully this article is better received than when I wrote a similar piece a couple of years ago. I think you did a great job and I support plans like this. I’ve been doing it successfully for years so I know it works. Much easier now that I own my own shop though. I still open boxes for myself in addition to what we open for the shop though.

    What I used to do was buylist the high priced mythics for bonus store credit and either flip that into more boxes or stockpile it for future boxes. You can always rebuy the cards you sold for much less in a month or two at most.

  2. You need to include the c/u you get because playsets are worth roughly $30 ( $22.50 after ebay fees) and that adds a lot of value. I have 10 cases coming and I have already made back over 10% of my costs based on just selling off the c/u playsets

    1. I normally like to operate under the assumption that most readers aren’t cracking boxes on an industrial level, but if I were going to do more than 2-3 boxes, making playsets of commons / uncommons is a great way to recoup a portion of your investment

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