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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:

Repacks

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.

Magic The Gathering on a Budget: Pauper
Magic The Gathering: Modern Masters 2015 — The Worst of Both Worlds
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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. Editor‐in‐Chief and do‐er of tech things at SuperNerdLand