Today, we'll be discussing the ins and outs of sealed booster boxes, and whether stocking up on those boxes is a good investment to make in the long-term.
But First, Baseball
I mentioned in first Life Lessons Article that my first foray into collectibles was baseball cards. I got into them because my older cousins were into them, and what else was a young boy supposed to spend his money on?
Unfortunately, most of the joy of collecting baseball cards came from the rush of the unknown when opening a pack of cards. When I started, there were no "chase" cards or rarities. The most valuable cards were of the best players, and the most valuable of those were their rookie cards, or cards from their first year of playing. Within a few years of my collecting, they started making "chase" cards, which were some variant or subset within the set. Finding one of these peaking out of your pack was cause for immense excitement, followed by grabbing your most recent copy of Beckett to see what it was worth. This made packs feel more like lottery tickets than anything.
I fell out of love with collecting these types of cards because 1) it cost too much to complete sets when you have a meager allowance and 2) they had no utility other than as display pieces or trade fodder. I think this last point is why the hobby itself seems to have fallen out of favor with youth, as those in my generation all collected sports cards.
And Now, There Is Magic
A kid on my class named Ricky was the first person to introduce me to Magic: The Gathering. I was in 5th grade, and he was looking through some cards before class started. I asked him about them, and after he explained that you could play with them, I became interested. I saved up a few allowances and bought a Fifth Edition tournament pack. I remember one of the rares was Inferno, though rarity was not color-coded like it is now, so I only found that out after looking it up.
Now, each pack I bought brought joy and excitement from opening as well as continued joy from utilizing my cards. This was a game changer.
Why Bring All This Up?
The reason for this trip down memory lane was to hopefully emphasize that while Magic is certainly a collectable, the value in individual card utility is where the real value is.
This is the reason I do not invest in sealed product as a long term investment. I understand that every year, it likely becomes more and more scarce; however, as a sealed package, it is only a collectable, and not a game piece. If you buy a sealed box of Lorwyn for $1700, the most valuable card you could possibly pull is a $325 foil Thoughtseize. If you were to crack that box, you would likely lose a lot of money. The only people who can crack these types of boxes and come out ahead are those who make money via streaming it, or can pass the losses onto others via box breaks.
And Yet, Nostalgia
One of the more common arguments I have heard is the "nostalgia factor." I understand that people value things differently, and that some might say that paying $215 to play in a Lorwyn draft is worth it. I would ask, why not remake packs yourself if the experience is what you truly value? (I definitely do not mean to focus solely on Lorwyn; this argument holds for all boxes. )
I will say I had a lot of fun drafting original Zendikar and original Innistrad. In both formats, the draft archetypes had a lot of play and skill to them, and one was rewarded for knowledge of the format. That being said, boxes of Zendikar currently go for $1200, while boxes of Innistrad go for $690. Even cracking the most valuable card in either box still puts you at a massive loss in value. This is true for all boxes, which makes sense as the "unknown lottery ticket" is baked into the price of the boxes.
That isn't to say you may not find opportunities. Back in 2011, I found that Troll and Toad had original Ravnica: City of Guilds Tournament Packs for $12.99, so I bought all 23 they had in stock because at the time a single foil shockland or Dark Confidant would have covered a majority of the cost.
Sadly, I did crack them and pulled no foil shocks nor any foil Dark Confidants. I still broke even with just shocklands, though, and given I wasn't playing during this time period, it was a fun experience.
I realize that this may sound counter to my argument against buying sealed product as an investment, but as I mentioned, you can sometimes find very underpriced items. In this case, I could have simply resold those same Tournament Packs at the time and doubled my money; however, I was less into Magic finance and more into pack cracking at that time.
No Supply? No Problem
I have heard a lot of people argue that sealed boxes are a good investment because once Wizards stops printing it, the supply is always eroding. Thus it becomes more scarce as time goes on. This is definitely a logical assumption to make, and we have seen many streamers turn pack cracking into a money generating stream instead of the usual money losing venture everyone else experiences. In fact, this type of stream and its popularity with viewers led to an explosion in value for boxes of many old sets of cards, Magic and otherwise.
However, the dangerous assumption here is that Wizards of the Coast will never reprint the same sealed product. Ten years ago, I would have agreed with that assumption. But now, I think it is well within the realm of possibility that Wizards of the Coast simply reprints a fan favorite set in its entirety. I can find no evidence of them ever closing the door on this if they wanted to. Outside of sets with Reserved List cards in them, they don't have to do anything to the print run at all. There is no design effort nor playtesting required. The only change they would likely make is to adjust the Copyright date at the bottom of each card to the current year, and perhaps modify the frame or printed rules text to fit with modern standards.
I realize that this may sound like I am wearing a tin foil hat, but I simply ask that you take a step back and look at it from Wizards of the Coast's point of view. It also doesn't hurt to remind yourself of their goal to grow profit by 50% in the next three years.
I would argue that the "Remastered" sets are the first iteration of this concept, and while it is definitely possible that this is where Wizards settles, I could see them taking it to the next level if they thought it profitable. It's crucial to note that Magic recently broke the $1 billion valuation for Hasbro, and it is very common for larger umbrella corporations to lean on their divisions that make the most money when times get tough.
Not All Sealed Is Equal
The other issue with the assumption that sealed product is a good investment is that it goes up in value because the supply decreases over time. Sets like Strixhaven: School of Mages currently sit at the same price they did when they were in Standard, whereas boxes of Amonkhet now hold 2.5x their original value. The reason for this discrepancy is that Amonkhet had Masterpieces included in it, while Strixhaven: School of Mages only had Mystical Archives; the most valuable cards are respectively $310 vs. $60. Even if you find sealed product to be an investment, the set itself can greatly affect that price potential.
Looking for Risk Where Others Don't
I don't mean to be the "doom and gloom" writer here on Quiet Speculation, but I am a risk-averse person, which tends to bleed into all facets of my life. I'll also admit that there is no way to know what kind of time frame, if any, that Wizards might consider going down this road. My point was simply to emphasize that investments that are considered "safe" are either low-growth or less safe than people think.
Are you sitting on any sealed product or interested in stocking up on some? Or have you recently cashed in your booster boxes? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.