Solving the Mysteries

Cliff Daigle • February 29, 2020

We are approximately one month away from the retail edition of Mystery Boosters hitting stores, and normally, I’d be bracing for the rush of watching prices decline left and right.

The Convention editions have been incredibly fascinating from a financial standpoint, and let’s look at what’s been going on.

First of all, go read Gavin Verhey’s article about the creation of this product. It’s entertaining as heck and contains two drop-down menus for the 1,694 reprints and 121 Playtest cards.

One of the key pieces of information is this: each slot in the pack has its own sheet. There’s no print runs, making this one of the most chaotic packs ever opened. In many ways, each card on the sheet is a mythic, as that’s the same collation. Even if it’s got the symbol of a common, it appears at mythic-level rarity within that sheet.

The effects on prices have already been clear: sell any Mystery versions immediately, before the retail editions get opened. Mana Crypt hasn’t taken a hit at all in price since November, when these were first opened up.

What you’d expect is a slow decrease of the card over time, which is what happened to the original printing of the card when this showed up in Eternal Masters:

Because the price hasn’t budged yet, I’d expect that most of the copies which are getting opened are probably being kept (It remains ridiculous that this isn’t banned in Commander) because if they were opened and sold at the normal rate there’d be some price movement.

This is after hundreds of Mystery drafts per event, plus the ancillary packs that have been picked up here and there. That’s a whole lot of packs opened, and the chase card hasn’t budged, because it’s being opened approximately once every 121 packs.

How about the #2 card in value, Bloom Tender?

That’s right, it’s gone UP since being in this set. It’s reprinted, but it’s showing up in one out of every 121 packs, just like a mythic.

See the theme? These cards are not showing up in the usual distribution, and that’s making the prices barely move.

Something else to consider from a value perspective: convention packs are among the most expensive boosters available, going for more than $20 each. Boxes are going on eBay for $450+, and the only path to acquiring this is by going to a MagicFest and getting them as prizes or off the Prize Wall. You could win packs at some of the earliest events, 2-1 in a Mystery draft got you one pack, or 3-0 and win three.

I’ll be at Reno this weekend, looking for these packs at the Prize Wall. It’s often a miserable experience, spending tickets, but if the ratio is right for these packs I’m all over it. I know for sure that every time I finish a Mystery draft, I’m going to zip over to a vendor, sell the cards, and start the cycle over again.

I can’t help but be aware of value. I’ve trained myself to spend as little cash as possible on this hobby. I’ll be rare-drafting playtest cards like a fiend at every MagicFest I get to, stopping only to Cube draft occasionally. There are 47 non-playtest cards that have a retail price of $10 or above, and drafts are only $25. It’s going to be hard to stop.

The playtest cards require a different perspective. These are not legal for tournament play, and officially, they aren’t Commander legal either. The cheapest of these 121 cards goes for $3.50 on TCGplayer. The most expensive ones are $70+, and these aren’t even in foil.

I’m the first to say house rules when it comes to Commander. Party on, and have a blast. I will happily move these out, because these packs are going to be opened at MagicFests for the next two years or so. I’m doubtful that they can hold prices like this, as collectors and unique-minded players will eventually all be sated. Cards like this, that play in a unique way, don’t have a great track record of going up.

The best examples I can think of are the Conspiracy cards that affect how a draft goes. The most fun of these, Cogwork Librarian, has only gone down in price over the past five years, even in foil:

The rare one, Lore Seeker, has much the same provenance, showing no increase even after all these years:

How about the foil mythic Conspiracy that everyone wanted to open because it was busted right in half? Same story.

My point here is that you need to be doing one of two things with the playtest cards: sell them immediately or keep your copies for fun and entertainment. They are not going to grow in price, because not enough players can/will want them enough to buy them.

In about two weeks, the retail version will hit stores, and instead of playtest cards, there’s a sheet of foils that are not in the set but are also all reprints. We don’t know what that list is going to entail, but some things are clear:

  1. The reprinted foils ought to follow the same pattern as nonfoils. Mythic rarity!
  2. There will be a drop in the value of a card when the initial rush hits, and I don’t expect those prices to stay depressed for long. The amount of cards entering circulation is just not going to be super high.
  3. Be prepared to pick up copies of cards when that drop starts to come back up. Going back to Mana Crypt, at $240 or so, if it fell under $200 you’d be thinking about it if you’ve been wanting a copy. I think the lowest it might go is $175, but I also won’t be shocked if the price barely moves.

Retail packs go on sale March 13, and there seems to be no limit to what’s being printed. It’ll be an option at MagicFests for a while, but we’ll have to wait and see how popular it is in stores. The overall value of the set is going to take a hit, but as I said, I don’t think that hit is permanent.

Boxes of 24 packs (not 36, it’s important to note!) are available online in the $100 range, and under normal circumstances, that’s a slam-dunk with this many juicy reprints...but the incredibly wide range of possible values means you could open a box where all 336 nonfoils are each worth a dime or less. There’s never any guarantees when busting packs, but with 1,694 potential cards, the odds don’t line up favorably.

I had a laugh looking it up: 449 cards have a priced listed on Scryfall, which bottoms out at a dime. So 1,245 of the possible cards are basically bulk. Definitely a product I’m not gambling on.