By Linda Mankefors 

I have wondered for months why collectors silently put up with the extremely high prices modern card products have. After all, it is one big lottery. It’s nice to have one or two super high-end products every year; something for us mortals to window shop at and for the more wealthy citizens to buy. But this year’s situation has stepped up a notch. We don’t only have The Cup and ITG Ultimate; we have Superlative, OPC Premier, Black, Masterpieces, and what not.

Take your pick, any high-end or mid-end product, and it’s all one cheap gigantic lottery. You have to go through case after case to find that $12,000 Crosby Cup rookie, the same with the aftersought 05-06 Ice /99 rookies. It is very likely you have spent as much or a lot more on the boxes once you finally find that card. In the meantime, you’re stacked up on cards that hardly have any value like regular game-used cards that don’t even sell for a dollar each. We all know this, we continue to buy into it and we know it’s incredibly stupid, but if you feel like gambling, consider this an exciting alternative instead!

Like a Gretzky rookie? Roy? Lemieux? Or you think they’re too old? Re-think. Crosby is still a young puppie far, far away from Hall of Fame. These legendary guys, they are the bread and butter of hockey, and they carry a huge value if you grade them. But who wants to take the risk of buying them online and getting a counterfeit, or buying them in mint and pay a fortune? How about buying a wax pack and pulling it yourself?

eBay is a dangerous place for old wax packs, they are easier then modern packs to open and re-seal, but there exists serious and trusted stores for that purpose. Buying older wax won’t get you any game-used or exciting inserts, but if you like the gambling, which everyone seem to do, you should consider it. Let’s do a bit of math. Raw ungraded vintage cards don’t really have shocking values, not if you count 70s and ahead (good luck finding unopened wax older then that). But the point with buying a pack or box is the possibility of getting a mint card. Untouched and un-damaged. How about a 79/80 Topps wax pack, which will cost you around $60 (less then a Ultimate pack which likely gives you new worthless fillers), get that $550 Gretzky rookie in mint condition, grade it and whoops it’s worth $2,000.

So what are the odds? About ten cards in a pack, 264 cards in the set, that makes it 26:1 to hit that Gretzky rookie. Not bad. The downside is the rest of the cards aren’t worth a lot (but are regular modern Ice rookies or jerseys worth anything?), though you can still pull the Howe or Hull and get a nice graded value.

The 79/80 OPC pack then? Higher price ($275), worse odds (396 cards in the set), and just as crappy cards in this set makes this one a bit braindead gamble, look for the wax gems where the odds are at your side instead. But sure, if you think about getting a box of 08 Ultimate, you might as well pick this one. The 79/80 OPC set was printed in 500,000 ex, but surprisingly few of these Gretzky rookies has survived in any good condition. Most of them went into spokes of bikes making that flapping cool noise for kids to enjoy. So if you do pull one undamaged from the gum, you’re one lucky star.

72/73 Topps is something I’d recommend. It costs $100 a pack. The set books at $400, doesn’t contain any earthquake shocking hot cards, but the thing is 72/73 Topps hardly ever is found in graded conditions above Nmmt. That means if you open a pack and get mint cards, you’ve hit jackpot. Send them in for grading and smile.

80/81 OPC, shell out 60 bucks for a pack and there’s plenty to pull here. A graded Messier rookie in gem mint values at $1,000. There’s several second year Gretzkys, the most valuable books graded at $800 gem mint, even mint gets you a $400 value. It’s a 396 card set, but you have several key cards to get here. Good odds for a low price.

81/82 OPC – pack for $30, cheap for the chance of getting Coffey rookie, Savard rookie, Kurri rookie, and early years of Gretzky and Messier.

It gets better, 83/84 OPC pack for $7, and you can pull Gretzky #29, hope it’s gem mint, graded it books at $500. I can go on, 84/85 OPC pack for $17, pull an Yzerman rookie and grade it, hope for high grade and get a lot thicker wallet. Buy several of those cheap packs, next time I feel like gambling I will. Want the Lemieux or Roy rookies? A 85/86 OPC pack costs $40 and a 86/87OPC pack $25. Both of the last packs have a 264 set instead of 396 cards, increasing the odds in your favor.

Of all the packs mentioned, if you’re in it for the money hunt only I’d go with the 85/86 and 86/87 packs. Despite a Lemieux rookie (that is worth plenty even in Nrmt condition) and a Roy rookie, a graded gem mint Macinnis is worth $350, there’s a second year Yzerman that’s valuable, as well as Gretzky. 1987 has Clark, Yzerman, Gretzky and Vanbiesbrouck. So the odds are good with a lesser set, the prices are right and the chance of actually pulling a hot rookie in gem mint condition is very good, which brings me to my final advice:

Buying 70s wax is exciting and tempting, but there is a risk the gum has ruined one or several cards. Buying mid 80s is a lot safer and a pretty sure bet to pull mint cards. A friend of mine just pulled a Roy rookie in perfect condition. Is it for sure you get something great? No. But the odds often are 1:10 or 1:20 to pull a really great card. If you choose the right years and packs it’s a cheap gamble compared to today’s overhyped expensive products. Good luck!

*Prices are taken from the reliable store “Baseball Card Exchange”

-Packs can be found cheaper at eBay, but beware for dishonest sellers!