Remember the good old days, when everyone was excited to draft the beautiful reprint set, Chronicles, eager to open those gorgeous white-bordered cards and play an exciting Limited format?
Yeah, me neither. But that hasn’t stopped the price of Chronicles booster boxes from climbing. In fact, the same trend can be said for any older sealed product. Of course the Four Horsemen sets are on the rise, as are sealed boxes from sets like Revised and Mirage. These sets all contain Reserved List cards, and many players have nostalgia for these classic sets. But that doesn’t quite explain why a reprint set like Chronicles has soaring booster box prices.
Fallen Empires and Homelands boxes are also surprisingly expensive. Yes, these sets technically do have Reserved List cards but…none of the good ones, right? What gives?
A Look at Some Data
I first wrote about investing in Magic booster boxes back on April 10th, 2012. In that article, I specifically encourage players to focus on sets with desirable cards, calling out Tarmogoyf as a reason to invest in Future Sight boxes as an example.
I also mentioned investments I had made in Unhinged booster boxes at $144 a box and Coldsnap booster boxes (no price cited, but I seem to recall a similar price point on those as well). I never pulled the trigger on a Future Sight booster box, but at the time they were sold out at Star City Games at $249.99. Let’s take a quick look at what these boxes sell for on eBay as of April 25th, 2021, just over nine years later.
Set: April 2012 Price -> April 2021 Price
Coldsnap: $150 -> $850
Future Sight: $250 -> $1500
Unhinged: $144 -> $700
Fallen Empires: $100 -> $850
The trend of older set booster boxes climbing in price is universal across the board. But in this week’s article I want to focus on the head scratching data on Fallen Empires, Homelands, and Chronicles.
As you can quickly see from the data, recently completed eBay listings put these boxes at roughly $850 for Fallen Empires and well north of $1,000 for Chronicles and Homelands. While I haven’t been following the market on sealed product in years, I’m pretty sure these sets in particular have exploded only in the past year or two. I remember buying a booster box of Fallen Empires a couple years ago for under $200. In fact, I shared a picture of a couple eBay listings for such boxes in an April 2018 article (it seems like I write about this topic only in April!). Here’s the picture from that article:
So now I have documented proof that, at least for Fallen Empires, sealed booster boxes have gone from $175 or so to over $800 in just three years. I posit that Homelands and Chronicles similarly rallied over the same time period.
Why the Higher Prices?
Here comes the crux of this week’s article: trying to understand why prices of booster boxes from some of Magic’s most underpowered sets have taken off in the past three years. I don’t have a precise answer, but I can offer a couple theories. Unfortunately, none of them alone explain everything; allow me to explain.
You could argue that, with the recent surge in Reserved List prices, booster boxes with Reserved List cards would have followed suit. This is plausible, and certainly would explain any recent surges in booster box prices for sets like Mirage, Weatherlight, and Visions—that is, sets with a bunch of Reserved List cards that recently shot up in price.
But this doesn’t really explain why Chronicles booster boxes are so expensive. The set is a reprint set, for crying out loud! There’s not a single Reserved List card in the set. What’s more, the only card worth more than $50 according to TCGplayer’s market price is Concordant Crossroads, worth around $50. Next is City of Brass worth $25 and third is Blood Moon, worth a pitiful $12. No other card from Chronicles is worth over $10.
One could make the argument that these three sets in particular are different from traditional Magic sets—their booster boxes don’t contain 36 booster packs each with 15 cards. Fallen Empires and Homelands boxes contain 60 booster packs, albeit with fewer cards per pack. Chronicles booster boxes contain 45 booster packs, also with less than 15 cards per pack. So does the larger number of booster packs increase the set EV enough to justify higher prices?
Well, according to Dawnglare the booster box EV’s for these three sets are as follows:
Fallen Empires: $174.29
Homelands: $293.52 (this surprised me, actually)
Clearly, people aren’t purchasing these booster boxes for their value in individual singles. You could probably open a Merchant Scroll in all 60 Homelands boosters and still not get your money back from purchasing the sealed booster box.
Even with the rapid climb in Reserved List prices, nearly all the “value” in Fallen Empires lies within the rares, and it would take opening 60 Rainbow Vales for you to get your money back from a booster box. The numbers just don’t add up.
Another hypothesis people throw out when advocating an investment in booster boxes is the opportunity to draft sets years after they are discontinued. This would be a compelling reason to sink money in Innistrad booster boxes, for example. I personally enjoyed original Time Spiral block (though it was very controversial due to its elevated complexity), and I could imagine a world where I’d be willing to pay up to draft that set again. It was the first set I ever drafted!
But who is out there longing for the days when they could draft Fallen Empires and Homelands? Chronicles was meant more as a reprint set, and not like the reprint sets of the past decade. New reprint sets like Modern Masters were designed to also be fun draftable sets. That was not the case with Chronicles.
I think we can confidently say these booster boxes aren’t climbing in price because people are cracking the boxes for drafts. Maybe in the Old School community, there’s a little bit of interest in drafting Fallen Empires because the set is legal with many player groups. But I still don’t think that explains such a high rise in price over the past three years.
My Take on This Trend
Looking at the data and all the factors at play, I believe the primary two factors driving the growth in these booster boxes are nostalgia and FOMO. As awful as these sets were, many players remember these as being the first sets readily available at their local game stores—many of the sets that came out prior often sold out. And I will always look back at the time period where booster packs of Mirage and Ice Age were $2.95 while Fallen Empires and Homelands were marked down to $0.50 and $1.75, respectively. Thus, I became good at dividing the money into my wallet by three (as in $3 per pack) and determining how many packs of Fallen Empires I could purchase with the remainder.
I cite FOMO as the second factor because, just like with the Reserved List market, people are acting like they’ll never have a chance to own these booster boxes again. It has little or nothing to do with the actual EV of these boxes. It all boils down to an overheated collectibles market, combined with rarity of such old sets, and you have people panic buying “while they still can.”
If you ask me, this is a silly reason to purchase booster boxes of Homelands or Chronicles but that’s just me. At least Fallen Empires has the feel of being an “old set”, as it was from 1994 and used the older packaging (you can still “search” these boosters to see what’s inside without actually opening them). But with all three sets, if you didn’t want to buy their sealed boxes for $150 to $200 three years ago, I’m not sure why there’s suddenly an urge to buy them for $1000 today, beyond the simple fear that they may not be available on the market one day.
While this is probably the case, do people really want to own a box of Homelands that badly?
My advice on the whole trend: I’d cash out on any sealed product from these sets you may be owning. And if you’re on the same side as me, wishing you had bought the boxes a few years ago and now regretting you did not. I have very simple advice: ignore this trend and move on. FOMO may drive up their prices even further, but I’d much rather spend the money on individual cards with greater potential, such as Beta cards (as I discussed in last week’s article).
Wrapping It Up
Let’s face it: very few people are buying booster boxes of old sets with the intent of re-living their favorite draft experiences. Set EV is also only a tiny factor, as these boxes are selling for a few times their estimated value.
I love to see the value of older Magic sets and products rise as it reflects a healthy market. But if you’re left scratching your head like I am, the best advice I can offer is to simply be aware of the trend but not buy into the hype. I suppose, despite their relatively large print runs, even these sets will one day be old enough to be seen as rare and valuable. Fallen Empires is already 27 years old, after all.
But there are just better places to park funds for the long-term investment, and I cannot advocate booster boxes from these sets as a justifiable place to invest. The opportunity cost at this point is too great. Obviously hindsight would suggest that these were great purchases a couple years ago. But as of today, April 2021, these don’t seem like great places to invest given their relative risk/reward profile. Chalk it up as a missed opportunity, get passed the FOMO, and find the next big trend.
After all, there’s always another area about to climb in price. Always.