The not-so-secret sauce for a successful Secret Lair

We’re getting a new superdrop on May 13, just about a week away. We know two of the drops, and there’s presumably more coming. This is right on the heels of the Fallout drop, which was right after Sheldon’s drop and the one before that, and the one before that…

The core idea is that these Lairs are going to keep coming, especially with most of them being limited in quantities. We have a lot of historical data for Secret Lairs at this point, and I want to solidify what we know and see if there’s trends we can identify. With that information, perhaps we can figure out if we want to buy the upcoming Lairs.

Let’s start off with a big thing: We don’t know exactly how many of each Secret Lair get sold. Wizards knows, but they don’t want to tell us. Foil versions tend to appreciate faster, because Commander players and collectors like shiny things, but there’s more than a few lairs where the nonfoils grew faster in price because less people bought them. I think this concept comes into play a lot with Secret Lairs: If they aren’t immediately/obviously popular, then vendors and speculators (like us) won’t buy it. That means as players discover the cards, there’s less in circulation. 

A great example of this is City Styles. None of these cards by themselves are rare, and they were not bought in large quantities (apparently). But as time passed, thee value kept creeping up, and we all wish we’d bought more of these.

Secret Lair Drop: City Styles - Traditional Foil Edition-1

Another trait that might push prices is exclusivity. Being Magic-Con only hasn’t pushed up the price of the Li’l Giri Saves The Day edition, but Burning Revelations is pricey for the sealed edition. Likewise, there’s some three-days-only editions, like Extra Life, that have flamed out pretty badly.

There are some traits that don’t guarantee a high price, and chief among those is age. Reaper King was from the first batch of Secret Lairs released, and it’s still $5 even though the other two cards, The Ur-Dragon and The First Sliver, have gone up-up-up. Just being old, without being popular, isn’t enough to guarantee a raise in prices.

Another category that has generally not done well is lands. There are a few exceptions, but the drops that are ‘here’s a set of basics with sweet art’ usually aren’t big gainers. The pixel snow lands are probably the biggest growth in value, but there’s lots of dropped lands that just landed like a rock and stayed there. 

Some of the Artist Series has gone up in price, but the majority hasn’t. Much depends on which cards they were asked to highlight. Also, the Artist Series has almost always been in the regular frame, and that’s just a travesty. The Fallout drop was the first time that every drop had at least a borderless frame going on. Likewise, a fun theme won’t save lackluster cards, as we saw in the LOTR drops that featured the Bakshi film images. 

The collaboration drops have been a mixed bag. The first one, with The Walking Dead, has taken a very long time to grow in price, even with Rick, Steadfast Leader being a ridiculous boon and an expensive card for Human decks of any flavor. Street Fighter is still at $60 plus shipping, despite a great IP, unique and interesting cards, and being several years old. Stranger Things has had much more success, but there’s been seasons released after the drop came out and every time, that tends to trigger a spike. Hang on for the final season, it might get wild. I’m waiting to see if the new Dr. Who episodes with the Fifteenth Doctor cause that card (only available in a Drop, not a Commander deck or Collector Booster) to jump. 

Unique frames tend to get there. We’ve had some amazing frames that have gone nowhere immediately, but over time, and even with reprints they get to be among the most expensive versions of a card. For example, the Dreadbore that is in the ‘Party Hard, Shred Harder’ drop is $4, when regular versions are under a quarter. The MSCHF drop is a great example of this, though the sealed drop is still available under $70 for having very unique looks. Almost all of the ‘movie poster’ themes did well too, as an example of things that they will likely go back to. 

One of the traits that, amazingly, does guarantee a high price is having cute animals. Every drop with adorable pets on it has performed well, including the full 100-card deck. Special lands, reprint versions, you name it. This applies even to cards that have a low price in the regular version. Qasali Slingers, for example, has two versions under $4 but the Secret Lair version is over $20. 

Unsurprisingly, a drop full of staples tends to do well. Through the Wormhole has nearly tripled since it was available in December, and that’s a drop with Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Command Tower, Thought Vessel, and Lightning Greaves. Mega-Staples, but with sweet art and an even sweeter Galaxy Foil treatment. 

Secret Lair Drop: Through the Wormhole - Galaxy Foil Edition-1

Finally, let’s talk for a moment about what was probably the best-selling Drop (until, I’m wagering, Sheldon’s Spellbook, but I have no data on that): the Phyrexian Praetors. We found out quickly that these had the mirror-image, serialized Viscera Seer in them, and demand went nuts early, then settled down when everyone got theirs, then bumped up a bit around March of the Machine, and after that, has done nothing but slide downwards. Even now, almost three years later, there’s still around 150 copies of the drop, sealed, available on TCGPlayer and oodles of the singles available from when people went nuts trying to find Seers. All kinds of cautionary tales in those cards, people.

So…what’s the tl:dr here?

I want to buy Secret Lairs that have one or more (preferably a lot!) of the following traits:

  1. Other people aren’t buying
  2. Does neat things with the frame, borderless at least
  3. Has a unique foiling look
  4. Includes super-popular Commander staples
  5. Art has cute cats/dogs

Conversely, I want to avoid:

  1. Overly niche cards (kindred drops like Creepshow or Calling all Hydra Heads)
  2. Land sets
  3. Terrible art choices (Extra Life 2021 has TWO Craterhoof Behemoths and yet sealed is under $60)
  4. Regular Frame cards

This list isn’t comprehensive, and you’ll find exceptions to these rules, but it’s a good summary of where I am and what I’m doing. For disclosure’s sake, my last two Secret Lair purchases were 10x of Sheldon’s Spellbook (#2 and #4 above) and 3x of the full Foil bundle, plus an extra 4x of Rovina Cai in foil (#2, #3, #4). Hope that helps!

Cliff (@WordOfCommander) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2013, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. A high school science teacher by day, he’s also the official substitute teacher of the MTG Fast Finance podcast. If you’re ever at a GP and you see a giant flashing ‘CUBE DRAFT’ sign, go over, say hi, and be ready to draft.