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Insider: The Magic of Sealed Product

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Today's article stems from an interesting phenomenon I've noticed recently regarding a lot of sealed product (specifically from older sets). Many older sealed boxes are worth considerably more than the best card one could pull from them, and more than the estimated expected value of all the packs combined. This difference is often by a pretty large margin.

As I'm a data-driven person, let's look at some actual numbers.

saga

Set Name Box EV (According to Dawnglare) Box Price (most recent on eBay) Ratio
Innistrad $68.00 $285.00 0.239
Dark Ascension $29.00 $115.00 0.252
Avacyn Restored $58.00 $164.00 0.354
Scars of Mirrodin $96.00 $200.00 0.480
Mirrodin Besieged $71.00 $190.00 0.374
New Phyrexia $158.00 $320.00 0.494
Mirrodin $98.00 $245.00 0.400
Darksteel $175.00 $411.50 0.425
Fifth Dawn $178.00 $250.00 0.712
Fallen Empires $3.00 $136.50 0.022
Urza's Saga $175.00 $2,000.00 0.088
Zendikar $178.00 $515.00 0.346
Worldwake $121.00 $654.00 0.185
Rise of the Eldrazi $114.00 $436.00 0.261
Time Spiral $103.00 $392.00 0.263
Planar Chaos $89.00 $377.00 0.236
Future Sight $305.00 $721.00 0.423
Champions of Kamigawa $187.00 $400.00 0.468
Betrayers of Kamigawa $115.00 $249.00 0.462
Saviors of Kamigawa $100.00 $158.50 0.631
Onslaught $98.00 $351.50 0.279
Legions $54.00 $185.00 0.292
Scourge $81.00 $173.00 0.468
Ravnica: City of Guilds $169.00 $415.00 0.407
Guildpact $86.00 $204.50 0.421
Dissension $142.00 $285.00 0.498

This table compares the expected value (EV) of sealed boxes with the most recent eBay sold listing (including shipping). Prices in the first category are taken from TCGPlayer Low, because that's the price you'd likely need to sell the cards at in order to move them quickly.

The numbers are all over the place, but the trend is pretty clear. Not a single set comes close to recouping your investment, with only two (Fifth Dawn and Saviors of Kamigawa) cracking the 50% mark. Overall the average EV of an out-of-print box is around 36.5% of its current selling price. If we remove the two big outliers (Urza's Saga and Fallen Empires), it moves up towards 39%.

Drafting

BoosterBox_Ravnica

This means if you are buying older boxes to draft, you really need to place a high value on the drafting part of it—because you're likely losing a significant amount of money to do so.

It's interesting to see how the numbers break down for the most popular formats. Here's a sampling of some of the "funnest" draft formats of all time, according to Channel Fireball:

  • Ravnica: City of Guilds-Guildpact-Dissension - Box prices of this block are 100% or more of MSRP. It's interesting that all three sets have an EV-to-price ratio above 0.4.
  • Mirrodin-Mirrodin-Darksteel - What is interesting in this draft format is that the set not included (Fifth Dawn) has the highest EV-to-price ratio on our list, whereas Mirrodin (0.4) and Darksteel (0.425) are at a similar ratio to our previous RGD draft set.
  • Time Spiral-Time Spiral-Planar Chaos - Again we have only the first two sets in a three-set block, but more interestingly this draft set has a very low ratio (in the 0.25 range).
  • Champions-Champions-Betrayers - This draft set has an EV-to-price ratio close to 0.46.
  • Triple Innistrad - This draft format has terrible EV-to-price ratio, but as someone who played during this time, I can say it was a fun set to draft (good mechanics and solid synergy).
  • Triple Rise of the Eldrazi - Again another 0.26 ratio, but a fun format (I know I really enjoyed triple Rise drafts).

This not a definitive list or anything (fun is very subjective, after all). But the key takeaway is that the supposed funnest draft formats tended to have a relatively low EV-to-price ratio. So again, before you decide to buy and crack old boxes in draft you need to accept that you are very likely going to lose money.

Lottery Tickets

mtgfuturesightbx2

Another reason people might want to buy these boxes is because there's always a chance (largely thanks to foils) of cracking something very valuable. For the data below, I searched TCG Player for the most valuable card in each set—which for everything post-foil era is the foil version—and then compared that to the box price.

Set Name Most Valuable Card Price Box Price (most recent on eBay) Lottery Ratio
Innistrad $171.85 $285.00 0.603
Dark Ascension $41.87 $115.00 0.364
Avacyn Restored $116.21 $164.00 0.709
Scars of Mirrodin $78.19 $200.00 0.391
Mirrodin Besieged $48.57 $190.00 0.256
New Phyrexia $88.21 $320.00 0.276
Mirrodin $85.84 $245.00 0.350
Darksteel $65.14 $411.50 0.158
Fifth Dawn $85.27 $250.00 0.341
Fallen Empires $2.00 $136.50 0.015
Urza's Saga $192.62 $2,000.00 0.096
Zendikar $154.61 $515.00 0.300
Worldwake $314.84 $654.00 0.481
Rise of the Eldrazi $124.90 $436.00 0.286
Time Spiral $194.47 $392.00 0.496
Planar Chaos $97.14 $377.00 0.258
Future Sight $684.90 $721.00 0.950
Champions of Kamigawa $79.54 $400.00 0.199
Betrayers of Kamigawa $166.74 $249.00 0.670
Saviors of Kamigawa $79.84 $158.50 0.504
Onslaught $252.00 $351.50 0.717
Legions $49.30 $185.00 0.266
Scourge $27.84 $173.00 0.161
Ravnica: City of Guilds $126.40 $415.00 0.305
Guildpact $100.00 $204.50 0.489
Dissension $116.50 $285.00 0.409

The average lottery ratio is right around 0.38. Again the two worst sets are Fallen Empires and Urza's Saga, and if we eliminate them it's closer to 0.41. So the lottery ratio is actually close to the box EV-to-retail price ratio (which makes sense as the box EV likely incorporates this lottery aspect somewhat).

This gives us the "lottery ratio," or what you'll get in return if you're lucky enough to open the most valuable card. Notice not a single box listed has a ratio exceeding 1.0 (the closest is Future Sight with foil Tarmogoyf). So even in the best-case scenario (barring extremely unlikely boxes with multiple high-value foils), you're losing money! Some lottery.


"Reserved List" Investment

The last reason I can see people purchasing these boxes is as a sort of "Reserved List" investment. What I mean by this is that it's unlikely that Wizards will print more of these boxes directly, which means they carry some of the same benefits as the Reserved List. Though it is critical to understand that WotC could reprint a set if they so chose to, even if they haven't yet.

It also makes sense that the older sets (which likely had a smaller print run and less unopened product in the market) command higher prices, even when their "lottery card" and their box EV aren't particularly high (as with Darksteel, for example).

Recently we've seen more people invest in sealed product after seeing the very high prices that some older sets command. Now that it's a "known" potential investment, we will likely see box prices muted as more people put away extra sealed boxes of newer sets. As WoTC prints to demand, this will result in more sealed product being created, and thus lower prices.

Conclusion

While there are a multitude of reasons behind the current values of some sealed product, it's important to consider the likelihood that the "lottery card" and the draftability of said product play a role. There are obvious exceptions for very old product like Urza's Saga, which has very low ratios on both fronts but sells for far more than any of the other boxes on this list.

That being said, if one wants to move into speculating on sealed product, all these factors should be considered. Especially relevant to watch out for are reprints that would hurt both the "lottery card" value and the box EV.

An example of this final note is Innistrad sealed product. It dropped in value with the reprinting of both Liliana of the Veil and Snapcaster Mage as RPTQ promos, and now with their inclusion in MM3. In fact, if you look at the eBay sold listings for Innistrad booster boxes before MM3 spoilers started going up, you'll see several that hit or broke $300 a box. In light of the reprints, the box EV will likely continue to trend downward.


3 thoughts on “Insider: The Magic of Sealed Product

  1. Don’t forget about Fat Packs. I sold two Shards of Alara fat packs in the past couple months on TCG Player for $170.98 each. EACH. I picked both up from a local game store for $35 combined. Apparently there are collectors in the Fat Pack market too. 🙂

    1. Thanks. Definitely another thing to consider. I’d imagine the fat pack collectors might have some overlap (though I doubt many people would buy the fatpacks to crack them for drafting purposes). It’s also important to remember that Fatpacks are supposedly a 1 and done printing…so they are likely “rarer” than regular booster boxes.

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