Should You Be Buying Booster Boxes?

Buying and holding booster boxes used to be one of the most reliable ways to make money in Magic finance. What changed? Are there still opportunities? Magic finance guru Chas Andres shares his insights!

In the early days of Magic finance, socking away booster boxes for a couple of years was the easiest way to make a safe and profitable long-term investment. Remember all that stuff I said last week about low-risk buys? This was as low-risk as it got. Worst-case, you could always get your money back. Best-case…well, a Rise of the Eldrazi booster box will set you back north of $500, and 36 packs of Future Sight are worth more than $700. Yowza!

It’s been a while since we’ve looked at booster box prices, though, and the market has changed considerably. Newer boxes haven’t come close to reaching those lofty heights, and it’s unclear if these sets will ever start their climb. Whenever I win a box at a tournament these days, I’m left with a frustrating sort of ambivalence: should I draft the packs now, or should I hold onto them for the long haul? The same thing happens to me whenever there’s an SCG sale on their sealed product. I like keeping most of my investment capital accessible, but will I regret not buying in a couple of years from now? There have to be some boxes that are still worth hoarding, right?

This week, I’ll be taking a look at current sealed box prices in order to see if I can make sense of the recent trends in sealed product prices. Is it still worth buying into and holding onto sealed product? Which boxes might gain value, and what’s better left on the sidelines? Is there any money to be made by buying and flipping older boxes? We’ll get to the bottom of these questions and more, 36 packs at a time.

Standard-Legal Boxes

Let’s start by looking at the current retail prices for every Standard-legal booster box. Here’s the current SCG retail value for each of them, in reverse order of release date:

  • Amonkhet – $90
  • Aether Revolt – $90
  • Kaladesh – $90
  • Eldritch Moon – $95
  • Shadows Over Innistrad – $90
  • Oath of the Gatewatch – $90
  • Battle for Zendikar – $100

No real surprises here. All the Standard-legal boxes are worth between $90 and $100, which makes sense because all of these sets are still in print and easy to find down at your local game shop. Eldritch Moon is worth a few dollars more than the sets around it, probably because the most expensive card in Standard right now—Liliana, the Last Hope—can be found inside.

Why is Battle for Zendikar $100 instead of $90? I count three reasons:

  • The Zendikar Expeditions are still the best cycle of Masterpieces, and there are full-art foil fetchlands with amazing art hiding in these boxes.
  • Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar have been two of the better Standard mythics during most of the set’s run.
  • Full-art lands (and foil full-art lands!)

I’d like Battle for Zendikar more as a long-term spec if the set had any merits beyond those points. It was a forgettable draft environment, and there aren’t a lot of casual or Modern favorites that will help keep the box value high for years to come. The Expeditions still make it one of the better holds, but I don’t think we’ll see Battle for Zendikar boxes skyrocket in price anytime soon.

Recently Rotated Boxes

Let’s look back another couple of years and see what’s happened to every set that has rotated out of Standard since M13. Have any sets broke out of that $90-$100 range? Have any dropped below it? Are there any trends we can explore or exploit?

  • Magic Origins – $100
  • Dragons of Tarkir – $100
  • Fate Reforged – $100
  • Khans of Tarkir – $130
  • Magic 2015 – $100
  • Journey into Nyx – $90
  • Born of the Gods – $100
  • Theros – $90
  • Magic 2014 – $100
  • Dragon’s Maze – $90
  • Gatecrash – $100
  • Return to Ravnica – $100
  • Magic 2013 – $100

Interesting. $100 per box seems to be the default for these sets, with Theros, Journey into Nyx, and Dragon’s Maze acting as the low-side outliers. Theros block was one of the least popular in the history of the game, though I suspect that neither of those two sets will remain at $90 for much longer. Theros has Thoughtseize in it, after all, and the Gods in both sets are slowly trending up thanks to increased casual interest.

I’m not expecting sealed Theros block product to shoot up in price or anything, but I’d certainly rather crack packs from those sets than the eternally disappointing Dragon’s Maze.

On the other side of things, Khans of Tarkir represents something pretty close to a best-case scenario. Not only was triple-Khans a beloved Draft format, but the set has five Tier 1 Modern staples at rare: the allied fetchlands.

I’ll be watching Khans of Tarkir boxes pretty closely going forward, because they should help provide evidence for whether or not it makes sense to invest in future sealed boxes. Assuming you bought in at $90 and are losing $20 to shipping and assorted fees, each Khans box is worth $20 to you in theoretical profit…assuming you have a way to sell them at SCG retail, of course. Unless you were able to get in on boxes in the $70-$75 range, then, your long-term Khans investment hasn’t made you a significant profit yet. And remember: this is the best set in recent years! If Khans of Tarkir boxes end up hitting $200 at some point, I’ll be a lot more bullish on buying and holding recent boxes. Right now, though, it doesn’t seem worth the hassle.

Other Mythic-Era Boxes

I cut off the last section at Magic 2013 because it really does seem to denote a major shift in booster box prices. Everything since that point has held firm in the ~$100 range, but there’s a lot more variation in the prices before that point. Take a look at this list:

  • Avacyn Restored – $175
  • Dark Ascension – $125
  • Innistrad – $375
  • Magic 2012 – $100
  • New Phyrexia – $350
  • Mirrodin Besieged – $200
  • Scars of Mirrodin – $200
  • Magic 2011 – $140
  • Rise of the Eldrazi – $550
  • Worldwake – $700
  • Zendikar – $600
  • Magic 2010 – $200
  • Alara Reborn – $300
  • Conflux – $425
  • Shards of Alara – $325

What caused this massive change? I’m pretty sure it’s some combination of the following factors:

1. The player base grew at ludicrous rates between Shards of Alara and Return to Ravnica, at which point things started to slow down. As a result, sets from Return to Ravnica through today were printed in numbers that are probably still in line with current demand. By contrast, the print run for something like Conflux is probably closer to that of a current Masters set.

2. Wizards of the Coast either began printing sets for longer or started printing them to meet demand. Regardless, some store owners weren’t able to get more Worldwake boxes past the twelve- or fifteen-month mark, but they had no problems getting Gatecrash all the way up to the point when the set rotated out of Standard.

3. Magic players and speculators began noticing what a good investment sealed boxes had become and started hoarding them for the future. (Thanks, past self!) Now, whenever the price goes up enough, a bunch of booster boxes flood the market and drive the price back down.

At this point, then, it’s uncertain whether any information we can glean from these pre-M13 sets is all that relevant when it comes to speculating on current and future boxes. As long as WotC continues printing to demand, speculators keep hoarding boxes, and the player base doesn’t see a major surge, we’re not going to see $300+ boxes. They just won’t be scarce enough.

I do want to take a look at the factors affecting these prices regardless, though. Even if we’re not going to go out and drop several grand on current booster boxes, it’s worth knowing what makes some sets more valuable than others. These are the factors that I can see affecting the prices of these older boxes:

When was the set printed? Even on this list, you can see a difference between a reasonably unpopular set in Shards block (Alara Reborn, $300) and a reasonably unpopular set in Innistrad Block (Dark Ascension, $125). The supply increase wasn’t completely sudden—it was a shift over time that just happened to hit equilibrium around the start of M13.

Was the set fun to draft? Zendikar, Rise of the Eldrazi, and Innistrad are beloved Limited formats, and their price tags are bolstered by it.

Does the set have any expensive Modern chase rares? Worldwake has Jace, the Mind Sculptor and the creature-lands. Zendikar has the off-color fetchlands. Innistrad has Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil. Magic 2012 has…Sorin Markov? No wonder it’s the cheapest box on this list. Stinkers are always gonna stink.

Does the set have any expensive commons and uncommons? For years, Lorwyn block boxes had their prices pumped up due to their high rate of good commons and uncommons. Devoted Druid is a $15 common, and a booster box of Shadowmoor just sold for $450 on eBay. The value of lower-rarity cards is helping New Phyrexia right now as well. Might Aether Revolt—home of Fatal Push—have the same trajectory someday? It’s possible, but I expect that card to end up with roughly a billion promos over the next few years.

It is worth noting that while expected value does correlate to sealed box prices, you cannot equate the two. A sealed box from a high-EV set will cost more than a sealed box from a low-EV set, but the sealed box will almost always be worth a lot more than the average potential value of the cards inside. This tells me that most people value boxes—at least from this era—as collectors’ items. The more valuable the set, the more impressive the box.

This is also why the retail price for a Worldwake box didn’t drop when Jace, the Mind Sculptor was reprinted in From the Vault: Twenty, nor did the price of an Innistrad box drop when its two chase rares were reprinted in Modern Masters 2017. With these older boxes, prices have either gone up or stayed stagnant. This makes them all solid long-term holds, despite the fact that current box prices aren’t rising. Heck, I wouldn’t be shocked if original Innistrad boxes hit $500 before Khans of Tarkir breaks $200. People will always love that set, and there can’t be too many sealed boxes still kicking around.

Before we finish up, I’d like to take a look at one more category of sealed boxes. We’ve talked about all the Standard-legal and recently-rotated sets, but what about expansions like Conspiracy and Modern Masters? Let’s take a look:

Supplemental Sets

  • Modern Masters 2017 – $200
  • Conspiracy: Take The Crown – $100
  • Eternal Masters – $200
  • Modern Masters 2015 – $300
  • Conspiracy – $100
  • Modern Masters 2013 – $400
  • I actually think there are some pretty good buys on this list, though I imagine I’ll have a hard time selling you on any of them. Problem is, a lot of players went deep on Eternal Masters boxes after the initial print run and were shocked when an unexpected second run flooded the market.

    A similar thing happened to Conspiracy, which looked like it was going to have a very limited print run. Instead, boxes were readily available from distributors more than a year after the set’s release.

    I like Modern Masters 2017 boxes more than Eternal Masters for the simple reason that Modern is many, many times more popular than Legacy. The set had a bunch of format staples, and they’re likely to start increasing in value the further they get from being in print. It might not be fair to compare the set with Modern Masters 2013, a set with a much smaller print run, but even Modern Masters 2015 boxes are up to $300 now. At just $200, there’s a lot of upside here.

    I also really, really like Conspiracy: Take the Crown boxes. Based on anecdotal data, the print run was significantly smaller than for the first Conspiracy set. It’s also packed with the best kind of value: incredibly popular casual and Eternal cards at all rarity levels. Oh, and it’s a blast to draft. I’ve noticed fellow Magic financiers buying boxes of this set and immediately cracking the booster packs for a profit, which tells me that it’s being underpriced at the moment.

    In general, I’d focus on sealed boxes for sets like Conspiracy and Modern Masters going forward. They’re not all going to be winners, and you have to be careful about not getting blown out like with Eternal Masters, but these sets are much more likely to be full of staples at all rarity levels, feature beloved Draft environments, and end up being under-printed. I’m not sure when this sort of perfect storm will occur next for a normal expansion, but for a supplemental set like Conspiracy: Take the Crown? Maybe the era of slam-dunk sealed box specs hasn’t totally disappeared.

    This Week’s Trends

    Things were pretty quiet last week, but that’s all about to change. This is Announcement Week on Daily MTG, and we’re getting some changes in terms of how sets are released (today), a new Banned and Restricted announcement (tomorrow), news about “upcoming digital offerings” (also tomorrow), and a bunch of new products (Wednesday). Things are going to be nuts, and I expect a lot of significant changes.

    It’s not worth speculating too much on Monday’s changes, because that article goes live at the same time as this one does. I’ve heard some speculation about a return to three-set blocks, but it might involve some new way of adding cards to Standard that allows WotC to be a bit more nimble in terms of delivering answers and shaking up the format. Whatever the change is, I suspect that the end result will be aimed at preventing format stagnation.

    Considering the fact that WotC moved the B&R announcement up a day and are talking about it so vocally, I expect that it will actually contain something of substance. Modern and Legacy are both fine to decent (depending on who you ask), but Standard is still kind of a mess. Will Aetherworks Marvel or Ulamog be banned?

    At this point, I feel like it’s the most likely outcome. If it happens, people will immediately turn to the format’s second- and third-tier decks, which means that we might see some quick spikes for staples in G/B Energy, Mardu Vehicles, U/R Control, and even Mono-Black Zombies. If you’re thinking about buying any of these staples over the coming days, get them today.

    The digital announcements could just be about the MMORPG we learned about earlier this week, or they could involve some actual information about Magic Digital Next. If it’s Digital Next, I expect MTGO prices to drop—even if the announcement is positive. Change always seems to be interpreted negatively in the world of MTGO prices, and the important thing is to avoid overreacting to whatever we learn. Remember when [insert upwards of 50 different changes] was going to kill MTGO? Exactly.

    I’m not sure what I’m hoping for in terms of new sets. In addition to Iconic Masters, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some other retrospective set planned for next year instead of a second Eternal Masters expansion. I’m also wondering if we’ll finally see the end of the outdated From the Vault series. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

    Standard prices were down across the board, a reaction to the format’s continued stagnation. Relentless Dead, Torrential Gearhulk, Gideon of the Trials, and even Aetherworks Marvel have lost value since the end of last week. These trends will change on a dime if Marvel is banned or something else from Announcement Week flips the script, so pay attention. It’s possible that some of these cards are approaching their cheapest points.

    One card I’m buying for sure: Baral, Chief of Compliance. Its price has been inching up for weeks now, and it’s a four-of in Modern U/R Gifts Storm. This is enough to give the card a decent long-term price floor as well as some tantalizing upside, especially if it finds a Standard deck before it rotates out of the format. I’m in for a couple of sets.

    Thoughtseize and Street Wraith continue to lead the Modern surge, thanks to their place in both Jund and Grixis Death’s Shadow. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the format’s other cards see gains as well, including Death’s Shadow, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Mishra’s Bauble. All of these cards have spiked before (some multiple times), but they’re necessary in the hottest format’s best deck. I’m expecting at least modest gains in the near future.

    The biggest gain in Legacy this week belonged to…Portent? Yup. The innocuous Ice Age common is finally having its day in the sun, showing up as yet another Sensei’s Divining Top replacement in the new version of Miracles. I’ve been bearish on this whole idea for weeks, but the newer versions of the deck are continuing to put up results, so I might have to eat some crow. Portent was printed in both Ice Age and Fifth Edition, so there are plenty of copies to go around—even if the new version of Miracles takes off. Pull these out of your bulk, but don’t expect them to break $3.