header mtg2

Imagine if you bought your first boost­er pack of Magic the Gathering only to be told you nev­er even had a chance to pull that cool chase rare (a rare card that sells for a mint in the after­mar­ket) you want­ed or to even get a foil card. You would feel cheat­ed and would want to demand your mon­ey back. You might not feel like ever open­ing packs again. That is the real­i­ty for many play­ers who buy sin­gle boost­ers the­se days, only they have no knowl­edge of how bad­ly they are being tak­en advan­tage of.

As many of you prob­a­bly know, buy­ing boost­er packs of Magic the Gathering cards is gen­er­al not a good way of get­ting val­ue for mon­ey. Wizards of the Coast (WotC) makes a good prof­it and the after­mar­ket is able to exist because, over­all, the price of a boost­er will not be the same as the aver­age val­ue of cards in a pack. That’s just the way Magic pric­ing works. If the aver­age val­ue of a set is more than the MSRP of a boost­er, then they will be sold for above MSRP, as we saw with the orig­i­nal Modern Masters (it’s basic mar­ket eco­nom­ics). So buy­ing boost­ers always has the caveat that you are most like­ly not going to get all of your mon­ey back, it’s just for fun.

But there are many extra pit­falls involved with buy­ing loose boost­ers, espe­cial­ly online or from unknown sources. Here is what you need to be wary of:


Let’s address the lat­est pack­ag­ing con­tro­ver­sy first.  This video of a pack of Modern Masters 2015 being opened and re-sealed with ease has been caus­ing quite the stir online late­ly.

It’s con­firmed from mul­ti­ple sources that the­se boost­ers are quite sim­ple and quick to open, search, and reseal packs, with Wizard’s new paper pack­ag­ing method intro­duced in this set. These are pre­mi­um boost­er packs priced at $10 apiece — not cheap — and have a high vari­ance in the val­ue of each pack, as we dis­cussed in my pre­vi­ous arti­cle. With boost­er box­es cost­ing $240 and above, the only way many con­sumers can hope to get their hands on sealed pro­duct is with indi­vid­u­al boost­er packs. The preva­lence of dol­lar rares makes pack search­ing all the more mis­er­able; all an unscrupu­lous deal­er has to do is search out and remove the three or four high val­ue cards in each box, which gives you any hope of return on your invest­ment nil.  With easy repack­ing, one can take every­thing of worth; they could even buy a bunch of bulk rares and com­mons from the set and re-insert low val­ue cards in the packs where they found valu­able cards, thus being able to sell every sin­gle pack at a high prof­it.  Assume every loose boost­er of Modern Masters 2015 list­ed for sale online has the words *REPACK* in big flash­ing let­ters next to it, because that is the prob­a­ble truth.

This issue is cou­pled with the over­all dis­sat­is­fac­tion that basic pack­ag­ing errors and qual­i­ty in Modern mas­ters 2015 has brought. Issues such as poor card con­di­tion fresh from the boost­er, mis­prints, and miss­ing rares and foils makes buy­ing loose packs of Modern Masters 2015 a com­plete waste of time and mon­ey and will like­ly leave you feel­ing cheat­ed and sus­pi­cious. Buy the set to draft if you are going to buy it at all. Wizards of the Coast has real­ly mis­han­dled this launch in a mul­ti­tude of ways and I think more than just a short sin­gle para­graph state­ment is need­ed to calm fears and rebuild com­mu­ni­ty trust.

Traditional boost­er packs take a lot more effort to repack and are much eas­ier to spot. If you can prove a boost­er has been re-sealed, then make sure to let oth­ers know a deal­er is mis­la­bel­ing their prod­ucts and being decep­tive. As always, a fac­to­ry sealed boost­er box is the only cast iron guar­an­tee your packs have not been tam­pered with.

Box Mapping

This is a prac­tice more Magic play­ers need to be aware of. The con­tents of a Magic the Gathering Booster Box are not 100% ran­dom. To reduce vari­ance and ensure bet­ter val­ue, Wizards of the Coast has sys­tems in place that struc­ture what packs go into a box. This helps cut down on a frus­trat­ing amount of mul­ti­ples rares from com­ing up and also helps more even­ly dis­trib­ute Mythic rare cards — gen­er­al­ly 3 – 4 per box. Imagine get­ting a box with no Mythics, or a box where you got ten of the same junk rare. The upside is high­er for a small num­ber of play­ers but the down­side is mis­er­able. You can see the ben­e­fits of hav­ing more even pack dis­tri­b­u­tion, though. That’s why they do it.

But with this struc­ture comes some oppor­tu­ni­ty for pat­tern recog­ni­tion. Box map­ping main­ly effects new­er sets where a large amount of infor­ma­tion about booster-box struc­ture is avail­able online. Bytrack­ing what Rares get opened in which column/row of a box, and with which pack the pat­tern used by Wizards in pro­duc­tion emerges, an algo­rithm can be pro­duced that attempts to pre­dict what rares will appear when the con­tents of a box is laid out in a cer­tain order.  This has been turned into soft­ware, with a cou­ple of peo­ple charg­ing mon­ey for apps with the abil­i­ty to eas­i­ly map box­es. Wizards of the Coast has been fight­ing box map­ping with extra ran­dom­iza­tion with­in a box, mak­ing it hard­er to reli­ably pre­dict what rare will appear at what loca­tion, although WotC has nev­er pub­licly com­ment­ed on box map­ping con­cerns.

Box map­pers pre­tend that the excess packs are being used for “casu­al draft­ing” but let’s cut the bull­shit: the main appli­ca­tion for this kind of box map­ping based on val­ue is to ensure you are sell­ing junk cards to peo­ple.  It’s entire­ly uneth­i­cal and if you sell mapped packs then you are a scam artist that is active­ly work­ing again­st the Magic com­mu­ni­ty and are erod­ing trust in the game. At the very least, label your packs as mapped. Box map­ping dis­cus­sions are now banned on most MTG forums and the prac­tice has been shunned by the wider com­mu­ni­ty. With box map­ping being under attack from both WotC and the com­mu­ni­ty, the box map­pers have been dri­ven under­ground. But they still claim to have mapped the lat­est sets of Magic (although the vorac­i­ty of the­se claims is not yet known). If you plan to make mon­ey from sell­ing Magic cards, then why wouldn’t you map your box­es? We know this facil­i­ty exists, so I think it is pru­dent to treat all packs from untrust­ed sources like they have prob­a­bly been mapped and are of low­er than aver­age val­ue.

This is one of the main rea­sons you shouldn’t buy loose packs of recent sets, espe­cial­ly any­thing from Magic 2013 through to the Return to Ravnica block, as soft­ware is read­i­ly avail­able that can reli­ably map those sets. There is noth­ing stop­ping unscrupu­lous local game stores, or even larg­er online stores, from map­ping box­es when sell­ing sin­gle packs. Bigger online stores are far less like­ly to, but the temp­ta­tion is always there. Do not trust loose boost­ers.

Pack Weighing

Foil cards are heav­ier than their non-foil coun­ter­parts, so packs that con­tain foils cards are heav­ier than reg­u­lar packs — in many cas­es enough to be mea­sur­able. This trick has been known about since Wizards intro­duced foils. Someone I know per­son­al­ly says that a num­ber of years ago a (thank­ful­ly now defunct) local store used to weigh all their loose packs in the hopes of open­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly valu­able foils. This is less reli­able than box map­ping and is sup­pos­ed­ly less jumped on with new­er sets. But from what I’m told, with old­er sets that include foils and a decent set of dig­i­tal scales, this is a pret­ty reli­able way to pick out packs that con­tain foils. Foils are no indi­ca­tor of val­ue and this prac­tice seems like need­less penny-pinching to me, but peo­ple are still greedy enough to do it. Just anoth­er lay­er of risk in buy­ing loose packs.

Transparent Packaging

In sets dat­ing from before Fallen Empires, boost­er packs came in a white plas­tic pack­ag­ing that was slight­ly trans­par­ent.  If you push a card up again­st the top of a pack, you could read what the Rare was and even the entire pack by shift­ing them up one by one. This will crease the wrap­per of the boost­er but it will remain sealed. As old­er loose boost­ers have an expect­ed lev­el of wear and tear, it is impos­si­ble to know if your pack has been searched. Due to the nature of the after­mar­ket, some of the­se are hard to mit­i­gate — even when buy­ing from trust­ed sources. Even if you are buy­ing from a rep­utable deal­er that you 100% trust, boost­ers this old will have been through sev­er­al sets of hands. So you have no guar­an­tees.

Older sets also tend to be very expen­sive sealed (well except poor old lone­ly Homelands) and have a very few chase cards of ludi­crous val­ue, with the rest being unplayable bulk. With the poten­tial finan­cial loss­es and high incen­tive to search packs, I would strong­ly cau­tion again­st buy­ing any old­er loose boost­ers unless you are com­fort­able know­ing they may well have been searched. As always, a box sealed in wizards-logo wrap­ping makes it much more like­ly you are get­ting unsearched packs and have a fair shot at open­ing cards worth mon­ey.

As always, the solu­tion to all the­se prob­lems is sim­ple: when­ev­er pos­si­ble buy a WotC fac­to­ry sealed pro­duct from a rep­utable deal­er when ever you can. Any store that runs Friday Night Magic and holds a Wizards licence is part of the Wizards Play Network and there­fore a much bet­ter source of MTG prod­ucts. Supporting your local game store isn’t just good for them; it’s also good for you. Shady store man­agers do exist, but pay­ing the cou­ple of extra dol­lars at a store great­ly cuts down your risk of falling vic­tim to many of the­se scams. Simply know­ing about the­se prac­tices makes it less like­ly you will fall vic­tim to them. The major­i­ty of main­stream Magic play­ers don’t know about the­se risks and that’s why I want to share what I know with as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.

Don’t buy loose boost­ers online. Just don’t.

Josh BrayTrading Card GamesTraditional GamesMagic The Gathering,Modern MastersImagine if you bought your first boost­er pack of Magic the Gathering only to be told you nev­er even had a chance to pull that cool chase rare (a rare card that sells for a mint in the after­mar­ket) you want­ed or to even get a foil card. You would feel…
The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a focus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­pher with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Leader of the crazy exper­i­ment called SuperNerdLand
Josh Bray

Latest posts by Josh Bray (see all)