By Linda Mankefors

While card manufacturers step away from card design or set building, and instead concentrate on “big hits”, it is hard not to concentrate on the real value of the cards you get out of a box.

Five to eight years ago, at a time when I bought boxes for sheer joy and the chance to start/finish a set, a box contained a whole lot of interesting base cards or exciting inserts to get your hands on. Rare inserts, autographs or game used that weren’t of any interest ended up being sold, and thus I got all or almost all my money back so I could buy a new box.

That’s how it should be, buy a box, get a few items for your pc or set, sell/trade the rest so you can either buy a new box or trade for more pc/set cards. That’s the proper and fun way to buy and break boxes. Now and then, you might get a case hit; jump up and down in joy because it means you can afford to buy a monster card, or a whole case of boxes.

But it isn’t. Today in many cases, getting a case hit means you maybe, I repeat, *maybe* get the money you’ve spent for the box back. You need a little more luck than that, you have to hit the right player too, a case hit with Eric Staal or Lidstrom, no matter how truly great stars they are, won’t get you much.

What does it mean buying a box today? It’s a gamble. And it’s always fun and always will be. If you got plenty of budget you really have no problem with it, you buy your boxes or even a case, get plenty of hits, and have a good time. You likely lose a lot of money on it (meaning the sale value of the cards you get won’t be even close to what you pay for the boxes), but since your budget is so big you don’t even think about it.

So what does it mean for collectors whose budget is tight? Again it’s a gamble and it’s always fun. But boy does it sting. Boxes today burst with hits of three or four game used, maybe an autograph on top of that. Or even a game used/autograph per pack. The big problem is it doesn’t mean anything in the current hobby. When the common game used/autograph ends up at $5 book value (BV), and in reality is hard to sell for 99 cents, or trade for that matter (be honest now, how many of you manage to trade away your BV $5 Recchi jersey cards?), it’s a sad affair. Especially if luck isn’t with you and you basically get the average break.

Note that I won’t count any book values in this article. (Raise up your hand, anyone who has lately traded a Carey Price patch against a Heatley patch even if BV is the same? Thought not). The words “sale value” are becoming increasingly used in trading situations, making trading messier than usual, but then when Beckett decided to upgrade their Online Price Guide daily it made Beckett value comparisons pretty messy too.

Take your pick, but whether admitted or not the majority compares eBay sale values. Thus it’s not only in resale terms that it’s important to find out what a box gets you, it’s also important in trading terms. Counting by BV, it’s easy to get full value and more, as each base card is worth something according to the guides. We all know better.

The average break means you get the average rookies, game used and autos. Even in a product like Trilogy or SP Game Used, two products that should be fantastic to break, the average break will get you a bunch of game used cards, rookies and autos that together, if all of them were sold, would get you what exactly?

Let’s take a look at it. Here’s a bit of shocker for you, I’ve searched through in different forum archives around 20 box breaks of each of these products:

07-08 Trilogy –(retail price approximately $160)

07-08 SP Game Used –(retail price approximately $180)

07-08 SP Authentic –(retail price approximately $80)

08-09 O-Pee-Chee (OPC) –(retail price approximately $50)

07-08 Fleer Ultra –(retail price approximately $35)

08-09 Victory –(retail price approximately $20)

20 random box breaks are in no way a scientifical research, but they could be a pointer on how much true resale value there is in these products. Remember that choosing 20 boxes is to each and every brands advantage as one or two case hits are bound to be found. The normal average box break may yield even less then what is concluded here.

The first three being regarded as thrilling high-end products, the last three being low-end products which most people find unexciting.

Now to the numbers. If the 20 Trilogy box breaks were to be sold on eBay the total sale price would be $1198, a 40% payback of the price originally paid for the boxes ($3000). (It should be noted one box contained a Sidney Crosby Personal Script auto which pushed up the percentage a whole 10 %.)

40% is not acceptable, disregard Crosby and we get a measly 30%. Quite a surprise, how can it go wrong with 3 rookies, 3 autos and 3 game used in one box? We can flip the view of angle and also say you have to buy 20 Trilogy boxes to get enough stuff to trade for a Carey Price rookie. Only problem is you could have bought three if you hadn’t bought boxes.

The 20 SP Game Used box breaks would bring in $1490 (noted that 3 letter marks and a Carey Price RC were pulled, which could be considered normal), a 41% payback of the price paid for the boxes ($3600).

41% on normal pulls is better than Trilogy, but still a disgrace on a product that brags about its game used galore and hot hits.

The 20 SPA box breaks would sell for $940 which gets back 58% of the money originally invested ($1600). (It should be noted this box brand was more hit and miss then the other mentioned, 15 of the boxes only yielded a 30% payback even while including a few patch hits, while the other five contained Price, Kane, Toews rookies, an Ovechkin rookie review and Perron auto patch)

58% is clearly better, and state a pattern that will soon appear.

The 20 boxes of OPC would generate $720, 72% of the buying price ($1000).

No spectacular cards were pulled so it’s safe to say this is a statistically correct number.

The 20 boxes of Ultra gathered $240, 30% of the investment ($800). Considerably below average pulls.

A poor result, perhaps there were pulls below average, or it’s just a poor product with very low market interest.

The 20 boxes of Victory would sell for $302 which is 75% of the money initially paid ($400). (It should be noted that an Ericsson RC Black parallel was pulled which beats the odds).

-Even without the Ericsson card, the payback is clearly better, but it also demands you sell each and every base card and insert which is quite some work. Good luck trading any of these cards unless they’re gold or black parallels.

Sensing a pattern that low-end cheap boxes mean more value for money, but not having enough statistics for it, I decided to look further. A further look on a few dozen of box breaks of 07/08 OPC, Upper Deck Mini jersey, UD MVP, Heroes & Prospect and O Canada, reveals that the payback lands between 50-80%.

For the average collector with a low monthly budget, there’s no question on what kind of box to buy. Get a low-end brand and odds are you will at least get half of your money back, and keep a few of the base or insert cards, thus getting ahead with your collecting. Some of the brands have extra attention from set collectors so there’s room for trading as well. It is still not acceptable with a 50-80% payback, but it should be noted some of the cheap boxes reached 100% without any huge pulls.

As for the medium to high-end boxes this from our investigation can be said in their favor. Choosing 20 boxes, it’s granted you get a few big hits. But even with them included the percentage payback was far less. Keep in mind a considerable amount of the expensive boxes only got a poor 15-25%, despite being considered average pulls. If you’re buying these boxes, go for a case, at least you get something nice then. One or single boxes of these are often dreadful value wise.

I’ve avoided the ultra high-end brands. Frankly, when one single pack consisting of 2-5 cards sets you back in 3 digits numbers, it’s not meant for normal working people. It would surprise me to see a higher payback on these, but on the other hand my personal experience of the few packs (ITG Ultimate, OPC Premier and such) I’ve bought is indeed that you do get a quite high payback. At least you always get very fancy and well made cards in thick cardboard.

So what’s my advice and conclusion? Either buy really cheap or save up for something super high-end. The normal medium or high-end brands like SP Game Used, Spx/Artifacts/Upper Deck etc (yes I’ve just taken a look at them too with similar results, the more expensive receiving the worse results), will most likely disappoint you and have you pull your hair out. Then you have to wait another 3 months until you afford something else, and you sit with cards hardly anyone wants to trade for. Be smart, use the ultra cheap alternative, or go for those ultra luxury immortal cards. Don’t buy into the propaganda of game used/auto/rookie galore.