Money in the Box?

Well, Shadows over Innistrad is here, and while I have been wrong about a lot of things, I want to look at one of my most cherished ideas and see if that’s even applicable this time around: Not opening packs/boxes.

There’s 59 rares and 18 mythics, and that counts the double-faced cards. There’s not any strong or official information out there regarding the relative rarity of the double-faced mythics as opposed to regular mythics, but since two of the three double-face mythics are two of the three most expensive cards in the set, maybe there’s something to that.

Shadows over Innistrad

It’s time look at some cold numbers.

Here’s all the cards currently that have a Fair Trade Price over $2.50. I’m using that as a general cutoff, that means the box price is $90. I know you can beat that price, but that is a pretty optimistic box price.

Just in case you’re curious, though, I’ll note when we pass the MSRP of $4 and when we get to $3, which puts a box at $108, a better price than stores will give yet slightly higher than TCG.

Card Name and Fair Trade Price

Archangel Avacyn $57.49

Sorin, Grim Nemesis $23.99

Arlinn Kord $23.64

Declaration in Stone $17.99

Jace, Unraveler of Secrets ">Jace, Unraveler of Secrets $13.73

Westvale Abbey $12.73

Thing in the Ice $12.35

Relentless Dead $12.05

Olivia, Mobilized for War $11.85

Nahiri, the Harbinger $11.60

The Gitrog Monster $8.23

Tireless Tracker $7.23

Thalia’s Lieutenant $6.98

Mindwrack Demon $5.64

Ulvenwald Hydra $5.64

Anguished Unmaking $5.58

Startled Awake $5.14

Foreboding Ruins ">Foreboding Ruins $4.53

Sigarda, Heron’s Grace $4.38

Traverse the Ulvenwald $4.19

Port Town $4.17

Under MSRP

Only 21 cards at $4 or more, two weeks into the set. Now let’s see what’s under MSRP in value.

Game Trail ">Game Trail $3.98

Always Watching $3.97

Fortified Village ">Fortified Village $3.97

Goldnight Castigator $3.73

Sin Prodder ">Sin Prodder $3.60

Cryptolith Rite ">Cryptolith Rite $3.59

Choked Estuary $3.51

Descend upon the Sinful $3.04


Eight more cards have the average value of a pack. So if you happen to win a cheap eBay auction or something and get your box for $90, there’s an additional pair of cards that are worth the price of a pack:

Drownyard Temple ">Drownyard Temple $2.73

To the Slaughter $2.51

At the most optimistic price, you have a 31/77 chance of making the value of a pack. That’s 40%. Ouch. Not great but not awful? Would you push all-in on a 60/40 hand?

If you get your packs at the TCG price of $108 or so, then you have a 29/77 chance, and that’s a slight decrease to 37%, and at the full MSRP on boosters, it drops further to 27%.

Further Explanation

There’s a couple of flaws with my admittedly basic methodology, and it’s worth addressing them.

First of all, I don’t have any way to account for foils. That’s a random event and a nice bonus, but nothing that can be counted on. For every box with a foil Archangel Avacyn, there’s another box with no foil rare at all. If you get it, great! If you don’t, well, better luck next time.


Second, the distribution of double-faced cards is a little wonky, and you can have a double-faced mythic and a double-face uncommon in the same pack. That’s a weird way to go about collating the boosters but hey, that’s not my job. If this is the price we pay to no longer have box mapping be a thing, I’m all in favor of it.

With that said, though, I have to say that the value is just not there for me. Opening a box is a rush, one I know well. Pack after pack of potential, of going slowly to drag out the anticipation or just tearing into it all in a flurry of Mylar. It’s a great feeling…until it’s gone.

I am obligated to point out that not all mythics are equal. Three of them (Seasons Past, Geralf’s Masterpiece, and Wolf of Devil’s Breach) don’t even make this list. That’s not a surprise in the abstract, as we all know mythics can be powerful and yet still inexpensive, but with so little time in retail stores and draft settings…that’s a lot of value gone and fast.

We have a potential spike in front of us, though, with the Pro Tour starting today.This will begin the dance of ‘who will follow through with orders?’ and ‘I can’t sell this fast enough!’ and the popular ‘oh god the card spiked and I had it on my want list…’ and that’s all an extra layer of price complexity. What cards will be popular? Who will run the table with an unforeseen and effective metagame call?
Still, the advice remains solid: Don’t buy packs. Don’t buy boxes. Don’t buy cases. At this point, you’re going to be lucky to open even equivalent value.

5 thoughts on “Money in the Box?”

  1. I don’t get how your maths works on even a basic level, as you seem to be counting every card worth more than a pack as worth a pack…

    The expected value of a box right now seems to be above a box price by most sites that track average box value…

  2. Yes, in the short term buying a box is awful. Terrible Idea. But what about when Modern turns into Legacy prices? All those bulk cards that sat and collected dust for years turn into $0.50 cards and it adds up fast. So, you all should go out, buy tons of boxes then sell me the bulk remains. I will gladly store thousands of commons and uncommons on the hope I can find the next Ancient Stirrings or Nettle Sentinel.

    1. To realize those gains, you have to be the one willing to sit on an organized (or somewhat so) collection for those years and years. Which is fine if you have the space and don’t move often. Moving boxes of Magic cards is worse than books, in my experience.

      But you’re right: If you’re patient on bulk, it can get there.

  3. There is a guy in my town who sells Gold & Silver mostly, but he sells boxes for 90$. Seriously, NINETY DOLLARS will buy you a sealed box of 36 packs. Its farkin awesome.

  4. I don’t buy boxes but I *do* buy packs in the form of Fat Packs or loose packs. Since Origins, the first set I really bought into, I have gotten close to pack value or greatly exceeded it every time. Let’s look at this:

    Origins: 6 packs in the form of pre-release kit and 12 other packs at various other times. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy FOIL (from pre-release kit, NOT the promo), Gideon, Goblin Piledriver x2

    BFZ: Fat Pack + about 36 more packs at various times: 2 Expedition Lands (sold for $130 combined), Ob Nixilis, at least three of the rare dual lands and other odds and ends.

    Oath of the Gatewatch: Fat Pack. Nothing really although one could sell the full art land pack for about $15

    SOI:Pre-release kit + 12 other boosters. Choked Estuary in pre-release kit. Other 12 packs were purchased at the same time from an LGS. 12 of the last 14 packs in an open box. Pulled Avacyn, Arlinn and Westvale Abbey

    Am I lucky? I don’t know. But if you look at the overall picture of all the sets mentioned, I am truly ahead dollar-wise.

    The key is not to buy into too many packs. With the exception of BFZ (expedition land hunting), I never bought more than 18 packs of any one set. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t buy packs to win the card lottery, I am a player so I buy to have a couple hundred cards from each set on hand to be used in decks.

    To me, this seems to make sense, even from a financial point of view.

    My 2 cents worth…

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