Category Archives: Best Bet

Best Bet: Booster Packs vs Fat Packs?

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By James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

During the last few years, as my devotion to Magic: The Gathering as an alternate investment vehicle has grown, I’ve learned some (sometimes painful) lessons about sealed product.

If you swing by my place to check out my storage closet, you’ll find 12 sets of FTV: 20, a couple of cases of Commander 2013 decks and a half-dozen copies of the Dark Ascension Spiraling Doom Event Deck that I held onto just a bit longer than was wise. On the other hand, larger bets on  foreign boxes of Khans of Tarkir, SDCC sets and Modern Masters have paid off huge for me.

As a result of my efforts, I can now confidently share the following general guidelines on sealed MTG investing with you:

  1. Timing the market on the buying and selling of singles is more profitable than holding on to unlimited print run sealed product by a large margin, BUT you need to be good at both picking cards and timing the market.  With singles, you also need to be on top of things day to day, rather than the month to month management you can generally get away with when managing your sealed collection.
  2. Unlimited print run English booster boxes since Avacyn Restored have not shown positive returns, likely due to a dramatic stall in player growth since 2013 (see recent Hasbro investor presentations for details). This may weight against returns over the next few years, BUT a renewed period of player growth would likely reduce the trend.
  3. Limited edition sealed products like FTV sets, Commander’s Arsenal and the San Diego Comicon sets are often the exception and can yield excellent returns in short periods of time if you can source them below market cost and time your exits near the highs.
  4. Not all sets are created equal (think KTK vs. Dragon’s Maze), and choosing which sets to stash away is critical. When choosing a set, look for value spread across multiple cards, with a focus on cards that will appreciate in value due to demand from multiple formats, are hard to reprint often and were undervalued when on shelves (since this may indicate lower total products sales). Generally, fall sets are opened the most and spring sets and core sets the least, though this  may change in 2015 with the new set release schedule.
  5. The acceleration of Magic product releases, with regular fall and summer releases, additional ancillary product releases and the shortening of the Standard rotation schedule are all designed to ensure that existing MTG players spend more, and more often, eliminating the lulls between releases that once provided more opportunity for boredom to lead to the purchase of old products. (Note: This is pure theory, but I challenge you to outline other possibilities in the comments if you see reason.)

Now, all of that being said, I still generally put away a few cases of sealed product per year, choosing carefully. Recently however, it occurred to me that I had noticed some fat packs with price appreciation in excess of their corresponding booster boxes. In order to establish which product class was more likely to yield the best returns, I decided to take a look back at the last 30 sets worth of product, starting with M15, all the way back to Future Sight. To keep things simple, I limited my research to English language products.

(For the record, I’m a big believer in acquiring Russian, Korean, and Japanese boxes, in that order, especially for sets that are likely to yield relevant high end foils. This is on the basis that the foils in those languages hold multipliers in the 3-7x range, and therefore tend to contribute to sealed values down the road at levels far beyond their original cost, which can be as little as $20 more than a regular booster box.)

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I have assumed that the average cost of a booster box for our purposes is $90 USD, and that the corresponding cost of a Fat Pack is $30 USD, based on the easily accessed pricing that has been popular for years on both products via online vendors. To establish current value I looked at Ebay, TCGPlayer and StarCityGames and selected the lowest priced copy available, including shipping within the US. It’s worth noting that actual sell prices can sometimes vary due to late night Ebay sniping, but because the pricing across the three major platforms tended to cluster within 5% of each other, I felt good about using the established market pricing.

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Here’s what the research had to say about the last 30 sets worth of Booster Boxes.

Booster Box Research

    Current Price      
SetRelease DateOriginal Box PriceEbay (BIN)TCGSCGLowest AvailableRaw ReturnRaw % ReturnAnnualized ReturnCurrent Date
M157/18/2014$90.00$83.00$93.00$100.00$83.00-$7.00-7.78%-9.25%5/21/2015
Journey Into Nyx5/2/2014$90.00$84.00$88.00$100.00$84.00-$6.00-6.67%-6.34%5/21/2015
Born of the Gods2/7/2014$90.00$85.00$86.00$100.00$85.00-$5.00-5.56%-4.33%5/21/2015
Theros9/27/2013$90.00$90.00$90.00$100.00$90.00$0.000.00%0.00%5/21/2015
M147/19/2013$90.00$79.00$88.00$100.00$79.00-$11.00-12.22%-6.65%5/21/2015
Dragons Maze5/3/2013$90.00$70.00$80.00$90.00$70.00-$20.00-22.22%-10.84%5/21/2015
Gatecrash2/1/2013$90.00$80.00$90.00$100.00$80.00-$10.00-11.11%-4.83%5/21/2015
Return to Ravnica10/5/2012$90.00$98.00$102.00$110.00$98.00$8.008.89%3.39%5/21/2015
M137/13/2012$90.00$75.00$95.00$90.00$75.00-$15.00-16.67%-5.84%5/21/2015
Avacyn Restored5/4/2012$90.00$139.00$140.00$150.00$139.00$49.0054.44%17.87%5/21/2015
Dark Ascension2/3/2012$90.00$120.00$115.00$120.00$115.00$25.0027.78%8.43%5/21/2015
Innistrad9/30/2011$90.00$220.00$221.00$225.00$220.00$130.00144.44%39.67%5/21/2015
M127/15/2011$90.00$92.00$104.00$100.00$92.00$2.002.22%0.58%5/21/2015
New Phyrexia5/13/2011$90.00$345.00$350.00$350.00$345.00$255.00283.33%70.40%5/21/2015
Mirrodin Besieged2/4/2011$90.00$162.00$166.00$150.00$150.00$60.0066.67%15.53%5/21/2015
Scars of Mirrodin10/1/2010$90.00$224.00$200.00$200.00$200.00$110.00122.22%26.35%5/21/2015
M117/16/2010$90.00$120.00$141.00$140.00$120.00$30.0033.33%6.87%5/21/2015
Rise of the Eldrazi4/23/2010$90.00$600.00$606.00$600.00$600.00$510.00566.67%111.56%5/21/2015
Worldwake2/2/2010$90.00$640.00$776.00$800.00$640.00$550.00611.11%115.33%5/21/2015
Zendikar10/2/2009$90.00$515.00$547.00$600.00$515.00$425.00472.22%83.79%5/21/2015
M107/17/2009$90.00$195.00$160.00$200.00$160.00$70.0077.78%13.30%5/21/2015
Alara Reborn4/30/2009$90.00$265.00$300.00$250.00$250.00$160.00177.78%29.33%5/21/2015
Conflux2/6/2009$90.00$435.00$526.00$450.00$435.00$345.00383.33%60.97%5/21/2015
Shards of Alara10/3/2008$90.00$333.00$361.00$350.00$333.00$243.00270.00%40.71%5/21/2015
Eventide7/25/2008$90.00$327.00$377.00$400.00$327.00$237.00263.33%38.59%5/21/2015
Shadowmoor5/2/2008$90.00$500.00$490.00$600.00$490.00$400.00444.44%63.00%5/21/2015
Morningtide2/1/2008$90.00$425.00$430.00$400.00$400.00$310.00344.44%47.16%5/21/2015
Lorwyn10/12/2007$90.00$715.00$590.00$700.00$590.00$500.00555.56%72.99%5/21/2015
10th Edition7/14/2007$90.00$335.00na$300.00$300.00$210.00233.33%29.70%5/21/2015
Future Sight5/4/2007$90.00$628.00na$800.00$628.00$538.00597.78%74.24%5/21/2015

Note: If the table doesn’t look good on your mobile device, you might have better results viewing my original spreadsheets in Google Docs.

And here is the research on Fat Packs:

Fat Pack Research

    Current Value      
SetRelease DateOriginal Avg PriceEbay (BIN)TCGSCGLowest AvailableRaw ReturnRaw % ReturnAnnualized ReturnCurrent Date
M157/18/2014$30.00$48.00$40.00$40.00$40.00$10.0033.33%39.63%5/21/2015
Journey Into Nyx5/2/2014$30.00$30.00$30.00$40.00$30.00$0.000.00%0.00%5/21/2015
Born of the Gods2/7/2014$30.00$28.00$30.00$40.00$28.00-$2.00-6.67%-5.20%5/21/2015
Theros9/27/2013$30.00$45.00$40.00$50.00$40.00$10.0033.33%20.24%5/21/2015
M147/19/2013$30.00$39.00$35.00$40.00$35.00$5.0016.67%9.07%5/21/2015
Dragons Maze5/3/2013$30.00$30.00$30.00$30.00$30.00$0.000.00%0.00%5/21/2015
Gatecrash2/1/2013$30.00$37.50$40.00$45.00$37.50$7.5025.00%10.88%5/21/2015
Return to Ravnica10/5/2012$30.00$56.00$56.00$60.00$56.00$26.0086.67%33.02%5/21/2015
M137/13/2012$30.00$46.00$45.00$40.00$40.00$10.0033.33%11.68%5/21/2015
Avacyn Restored5/4/2012$30.00$83.00$76.00$100.00$76.00$46.00153.33%50.33%5/21/2015
Dark Ascension2/3/2012$30.00$48.00$50.00$60.00$48.00$18.0060.00%18.20%5/21/2015
Innistrad9/30/2011$30.00$123.00$128.00$120.00$120.00$90.00300.00%82.39%5/21/2015
M127/15/2011$30.00$54.00$50.00$40.00$40.00$10.0033.33%8.65%5/21/2015
New Phyrexia5/13/2011$30.00$93.00$91.00$99.00$91.00$61.00203.33%50.52%5/21/2015
Mirrodin Besieged2/4/2011$30.00$64.00$60.00$60.00$60.00$30.00100.00%23.29%5/21/2015
Scars of Mirrodin10/1/2010$30.00$68.00$65.00$60.00$60.00$30.00100.00%21.56%5/21/2015
M117/16/2010$30.00$49.95$47.00$50.00$47.00$17.0056.67%11.69%5/21/2015
Rise of the Eldrazi4/23/2010$30.00$280.00$175.00$250.00$175.00$145.00483.33%95.15%5/21/2015
Worldwake2/2/2010$30.00$275.00$285.00$300.00$275.00$245.00816.67%154.13%5/21/2015
Zendikar10/2/2009$30.00$300.00$300.00$300.00$300.00$270.00900.00%159.70%5/21/2015
M107/17/2009$30.00n/an/a$130.00$130.00$100.00333.33%57.01%5/21/2015
Alara Reborn4/30/2009$30.00$111.00$118.00$120.00$111.00$81.00270.00%44.55%5/21/2015
Conflux2/6/2009$30.00$120.00$150.00$130.00$120.00$90.00300.00%47.71%5/21/2015
Shards of Alara10/3/2008$30.00n/a$181.00$150.00$150.00$120.00400.00%60.31%5/21/2015
Eventide7/25/2008$30.00$105.00n/a$120.00$105.00$75.00250.00%36.63%5/21/2015
Shadowmoor5/2/2008$30.00$155.00n/a$200.00$155.00$125.00416.67%59.06%5/21/2015
Morningtide2/1/2008$30.00$134.00$138.00$150.00$134.00$104.00346.67%47.46%5/21/2015
Lorwyn10/12/2007$30.00$227.00$241.00$250.00$227.00$197.00656.67%86.28%5/21/2015
10th Edition7/14/2007$30.00$145.00n/a$120.00$120.00$90.00300.00%38.18%5/21/2015
Future Sight5/4/2007$30.00$200.00$252.00$250.00$200.00$170.00566.67%70.38%5/21/2015

Note: If the table doesn’t look good on your mobile device, you might have better results viewing my original spreadsheets in Google Docs.

So what does this info tell us? Let’s take a look at the average annualized returns (proper return on investment calculations, taking into account the discounting of returns over the time period in question).

Booster Boxes vs Fat Packs

 Annualized Gain 
SetBooster BoxFat Pack
M15-9.25%39.63%
Journey Into Nyx-6.34%0.00%
Born of the Gods-4.33%-5.20%
Theros0.00%20.24%
M14-6.65%9.07%
Dragons Maze-10.84%0.00%
Gatecrash-4.83%10.88%
Return to Ravnica3.39%33.02%
M13-5.84%11.68%
Avacyn Restored17.87%50.33%
Dark Ascension8.43%18.20%
Innistrad39.67%82.39%
M120.58%8.65%
New Phyrexia70.40%50.52%
Mirrodin Besieged15.53%23.29%
Scars of Mirrodin26.35%21.56%
M116.87%11.69%
Rise of the Eldrazi111.56%95.15%
Worldwake115.33%154.13%
Zendikar83.79%159.70%
M1013.30%57.01%
Alara Reborn29.33%44.55%
Conflux60.97%47.71%
Shards of Alara40.71%60.31%
Eventide38.59%36.63%
Shadowmoor63.00%59.06%
Morningtide47.16%47.46%
Lorwyn72.99%86.28%
10th Edition29.70%38.18%
Future Sight74.24%70.38%
Average Gain/Year30.72%44.75%
Average Gain/Year (Sets Older than 3 years)46.02%58.25%

 

So there you have it. In comparing the average returns for booster boxes vs. Fat Packs over the last thirty sets, there is no question that Fat Packs are the superior investment, beating booster boxes by 15% on average over the last 30 sets and by 12% when considering sets older than three years old.

Why might this be? Here’s my theory:

  1. Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game and Fat Packs are more collectible than regular boxes because of the inclusion of dice, set guides, card boxes and (at one point) novels.
  2. The price point on Fat Packs, both at release and down the road, is significantly below that of the booster boxes. Retail theory generally suggests that you will sell more of lower cost items than higher cost ones.
  3. As pointed out by Spencer in the comments, Fat Packs are generally thought to be printed in a single wave up front and therefore significantly more limited than Booster Boxes. This is also likely to be a key contributing factor to their increased returns.

In short, there’s more demand for Fat Packs because they’re more collectible and they cost less, leading to naturally better returns. Even when considering the low returns on recent sets, Fat Packs for KTK and M15 stand out as having appreciated earlier than their corresponding booster boxes.

Best Bet? Go for Fat Packs over Booster Boxes.

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.

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