Casual Magicking - The Grand UnOpening

By Irvan Adinata - 15 February 2021 (08:02)

#Magic #MtG #TCG #Innistrad #Trading #Packs

saudade – noun : a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for and/or loves

It’s a rather simple thought experiment that I run on occasion (and then regret revisiting): what do I do with my 28 unopened booster packs of original Innistrad?

Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing?

My choices, as I see them, are as follows:

  1. Open them
  2. Sell them
  3. Hold them

I’m doing #3, though I don’t feel as if that’s by choice. I can’t bring myself to choose either of the first two options, which means I’m doing #3 by default. I suppose, as my beloved Rush once opined, “if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.”

I’m going to dedicate a column to each of those three possible choices and why all of them generate an unhealthy amount of internal conflict within me. Today’s entry: how the once joyous action of opening a booster pack has turned into aggravation and anxiety.

Whenever I would walk into the “cat room” in our house, I would feel ill at ease. Aside from being the room where we keep the litter boxes and food dishes for our four cats, the “cat room” is also where my Magic collection lives – set-specific binders filled with cards from most sets from Ice Age through Zendikar Rising, my decks, and all my sealed product (booster boxes, bundles, decks, etc.)

When Magic returned to my life in 2017, a large Ikea shelf was assembled in the “cat room” and decorated with my collection: a mix of boxes, binders, and loose piles of cards that filled most of the shelves. As I starting filling up the bottom rows with set-specific binders, sealed products got progressively moved up until they were stacked on top of the unit. And prominently displayed out front was my open-but-mostly-full booster box of original Innistrad. Having never played with any Innistrad cards (outside of a couple sealed deck games) I didn’t have any real notion what might be in those packs, but they were kind of old and I’d noticed people discussing the set in the most reverent of tones. Surely these were special packs, to be prominently displayed.

“Joy and sorrow are inseparable…together they come and when one sits alone with you…remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”

Eventually I got around to looking up the actual cards in the set, to get an idea of what I might find when I opened the packs. I was…surprised. And not in a good way. Innistrad as a whole had decent value. But where that value lay was startling (to ignorant me, at least.)

While things have changed in the past few years, at the time I first dug into what was in the set (probably sometime in 2018), there were two cards responsible for a huge amount of the full set’s value: Liliana of the Veil (at one point hitting $133 in value) and Snapcaster Mage (topping out at $85.) I don’t recall a single other card being worth more than $20 at the time, and there were shockingly few cards worth more than the retail price of a pack – $4. And those packs hadn’t been $4 in years.

The set’s total value (the total price for one of each card) peaked at about $420 in the spring of 2018, and has largely been in decline since then, mostly due to significant drops in the values of Liliana and Snapcaster (current values are about $60 and $40 respectively.) While a few other cards have seen their values climb over the past few years, there are still only 9 cards that are currently worth more than $5 – a pretty paltry sum considering the set’s age and reputation as among the greatest sets ever released.

That reputation appears built almost entirely on its beloved limited environment and dark horror-world flavor. While the set wasn’t printed in the kind of quantities modern sets are, Magic was hardly flailing in 2011. Innistrad followed the Zendikar and Scars of Mirrodin blocks, both of which have sterling reputations and more financial value overall. Clearly Innistrad was far more influential when it was released than it has been in the years since. There’s just not many cards in the set that people are still playing or paying for.

I don’t recall what an individual pack of Innistrad would run you a few years ago, but I believe it was in the $15 neighborhood. Today a loose pack will cost you closer to $20. And were you to buy one and crack it, you’d be desperately hoping for one of the 3-4 cards worth more than that $20 bill you laid out for the privilege. And lest you believe there might be value beyond the rare slot, keep in mind that only 3 uncommons in the set are worth more than 50 cents (and all still worth less than $1), while just a single common will fetch more than 30 cents (the pauper-popular Delver of Secrets, which can be had for a little more than a buck.)

Learning all of this, the notion of opening any of those Innistrad packs to add to my collection seemed…pathological. Why open a fairly valuable old pack from a bygone era if it’s quite likely to contain a rare worth less than a dollar?

But that’s the logical take, and I think we all know most players who like to open packs are well aware of the rather illogical gamble they take every time they tear a booster pack wrapper. Until that box of Innistrad, I’d never NOT just opened every pack I’d ever had. Oh, I once tried to spread out the opening of a box of Urza’s Saga, cracking just one pack a day. I don’t think I lasted a week. Out of furious frustration at opening nothing but bobo rares, I caved and opened the rest one evening, sure as I was that the good stuff was hiding in the remaining packs (it wasn’t.)

To be fair, before about 2018 I’d never explored the financial side of Magic – I didn’t have the income to buy cases of booster boxes or $10+ cards. But even learning the likely financial bath I would take were I to open these Innistrad packs, that still wasn’t what kept my hands off them.

It was the atelophobia.

I don’t know that there’s a fancy medical word for the fear of regret, but atelophobia comes close – it’s the fear of failure. And like many people with anxiety, I have that to some degree – I’d rather do nothing than do something that might be a mistake.

Opening the Innistrad packs would undoubtedly be a massive mistake.

I will never own any more original Innistrad packs. I don’t have the stomach to buy $20 booster packs that likely contain, at most, a few bucks worth of cards. I don’t have any nostalgic love for the set. And I don’t have the disposable income – or emotional desire – to pony up $720+ for a sealed booster box. Those 28 Innistrad packs are it, for the rest of my life. If I open them, even just a few of them, that leaves me ever closer to having none. And what if someday I wish I had some – to play sealed deck, or give to my son or grandchild, or just open in some wild frenzy of pack-cracking joy that seems impossible to comprehend right now but could someday be attainable?

Because I gotta tell you – I really, REALLY regret not keeping some of the old packs from my early days of Magic. Not even considering the financial value of some of them, how awesome would it be to have kept a handful of packs from every set I bought over the years – Tempest and Urza’s Saga and Future Sight and on and on – that I could pass down to someone someday, or just have to open in 10 or 20 or 40 years? Or to include in a sealed pack collection stretching back to Magic’s early days?

That regret doesn’t sit well with me. The vast majority of those old packs were opened and the cards filed into binders shortly thereafter. Only a handful ever saw real play. Even fewer were sold or traded. So many packs, for so little purpose.

Thanks to my newfound knowledge about what I had in those 28 packs, every time I walked into the “cat room” and saw that box of Innistrad boosters I was bothered by their mere presence. It was as if that box of cardboard and foil was taunting me, daring me to open them and then immediately regret the decision to do so.

And I eventually could no longer handle how that box made me feel when I saw it, and I hid it behind other sealed product that elicited no such angst.

Except…now almost all of my sealed product evokes the same deep-seated anxiety within me. Even something as inconsequential as my partially-opened box of Zendikar Rising set boosters bothers me. I bought it with all intention of opening the whole damn thing. And the kid and I used some of those packs to build sealed decks that we battled with for just a handful of games. So why not just open the rest?

The fear of regret – of failure – of making a mistake.

Sure, I can buy more ZNR (without overspending) for at least a few more years. But I know that a year or two from now what disposable income I have to put towards Magic will be earmarked for some other product. If I open those packs now, will I even use the cards in them? In 5 or 10 or 20 years from now, will I wish I had kept them sealed? One could argue that it’d be best to make that a problem for Future Me, but Present Me refuses to be such an ass to Future Me.

Back in December I powered my way through a box of Commander Legends collector boosters, opening one a day in the 12 days leading up to Christmas. I hoped the experience would help me learn to better handle the anxiety that grips me each time I open a pack. And you know what? It did help me. Though difficult, I made it through each pack, opened a pretty sweet collection of cards, and finished the experiment convinced of its worthiness and sure that progress had been made.

“Everybody got mixed feelings about the function and the form.
Everybody got to deviate from the norm.”

Except…now I am wracked with guilt about it. For weeks I’ve mentally kicked myself for blowing through the only Commander Legends collector boosters I will ever own, now that their prices have become exorbitant and no more are going to be printed. I should have saved some…should have saved ALL of them! How cool would it be to have them to open years from now, when those packs will be wonderful artifacts of a different time in my life, in Magic’s life?

These are not normal or healthy thought processes. You know it, I know it, but I can’t figure out how to alter them. Opening those collector boosters was supposed to be step one in a (now clearly misguided) “healing journey.” And just a few weeks after taking that step, I’m consumed with the notion that it was all a stupid mistake.

Anything I did with those boosters would have been better than opening them.

Anything I do with my Innistrad boosters will be better than opening them.

For me opening a pack, any pack, regardless of what’s inside, is to lose a little.

Next time: to sell or not to sell?