07 January 2018

On the Heels of 23 Days of Pack Breaks, a Case Against Breaking Packs

I just completed posting about 23 days of pack-busting, based mostly on Cyber Week orders I made from Blowout Cards and Topps. I pulled some good cards from the break and I had a lot of fun opening so many different products, but I couldn't help thinking about the 'value' of busting boxes versus buying singles.

From a box of 2017 Topps UFC Chrome, you can expect to pull about half a base set, 8 basic Refractors, 3-4 Refractors with print runs from 75 to 99, and one Refractor parallel with a print run of 50 or less. You also get a fair number of inserts, and generally 1-2 serially-numbered inserts with print runs of 50 or 99. A box also promises two autographs, generally a base autograph and a numbered autograph, with the most common numbered autographs having a print run of 99. You also have an outside shot at getting something pretty cool, like an autograph with a very low print run or a rare Refractor or Superfractor of a star.

That led me to do a comparison based on some eBay purchases. A base set of UFC Chrome costs about $20, and so the half-set you'd find in a box will run you about $10. I got the following cards for about $10 less than the price of a box of Chrome, along with a couple fighter lots of base and inserts that I didn't bother to photograph.

First up are the horizontal cards. The two parallels at the top are Red parallels with print runs of 8. The Nurmagomedov, Schaub, and Condit parallels after that are all # / 88. Then I've got a Carla Esparza parallel # / 227 and a nice older Brock Lesnar base card. After that I've got a relic card of Carlos Condit and a base autograph of Jared Rosholt. With just these ten cards, I feel like I'm already approaching the average value of stuff I would pull from the typical box of Chrome. All I would really need is another autograph and a nice low-numbered parallel. I've still got four photos to go.

Those three Green Refractors at the top have print runs of 99, while the Orange row on the bottom are limited to 25 copies each. Esparza and Magny are fighters I collect. Shevchenko is a pretty good card, and I was mostly chasing low print runs with the bottom guys.

That Gold Smolka card is limited to 50 copies. The Blue Wave Esparza and Magny have 75 copies each. Then I've got a bunch of unnumbered stuff, like a Hot Box Refractor of Magny, an Xfractor of Holly Holm (seeded at the same rate as the Blue Wave # / 75 cards), a couple of base Refractors, and a handful of base cards represented by the Magny in the lower right. At this point I feel like I have blown way past the value to be expected from a box of Chrome, but there's more.

The three Cris Justino cards in the upper left are all Refractor versions of the inserts, limited to 99 copies. The extra sparkly one in the upper right is a Pulsar Refractor, limited to 50 copies. I would probably only get 1 or 2 of these in a given box of Chrome, and I got all four here. Justino is one of the more popular fighters in the product at the moment, given her relatively recent entry to the UFC and her dominance in her fights to date. I also have a couple of autographs from various products, as well as a couple of nice high-end relics of Nurmagomedov from 2017 Topps UFC Knockout.

Finally, I have another Red parallel, this time one limited to 25 copies from 2017 Topps UFC Knockout. I also have a Blue Justino # / 99 and a couple of Green # / 215 parallels. There are a few more numbered parallels along the bottom, as well as a die-cut Magny insert.

There are obviously reasons other than dollars and cents to open packs and boxes instead of buying singles, but I find that it sometimes helps me to do a little exercise like this to remind me that when comparing card collecting to real life, busting wax is more like a lottery ticket while buying singles is more like buying shares in an index fund. There is a chance that the lottery ticket will pay off big, but oftentimes the more boring option gives a better long-term return.


  1. The 23 days of pack busting was awesome! Thanks... it gave me the opportunity to live vicariously though you.

    I'm torn between busting boxes and buying singles, but I definitely lean towards the latter. It's hard to go into a box break expecting to get your money back, because 90% of the time you don't. However like you mentioned there's the entertainment factor and the possibility of landing a big hit. That counts for something. On the other hand, I've done reverse box breaks where I hand picked singles using a sample box breakdown and they're always more fulfilling than most of the box breaks I've done.

    1. Buying singles makes sense for me like 80% of the time, but sometimes you just want to see if you can pull something really cool. Reverse box breaks are pretty fun, and allow you to tailor the virtual box to your personal collection.

  2. Unfortunately, the trading card companies have abandoned the collectors who just want to collect base sets and maybe a few of the ho-hum inserts. I have a hard time paying for boxes when a fair amount of the cards will take me dozens of boxes to complete a set. I'd rather buy the completed set 90% of the time...but that isn't as fun either.

    1. I wonder if a product like you described (comprehensive base set, minimal inserts) would sell? I know a lot of collectors, me included, hate sets with short prints or other gimmicks that artificially inflate the number of boxes needed to build a set, but products like Panini Complete and Topps Opening Day don't really seem to generate a lot of revenue for the card companies. I do think Topps Heritage would still sell well even if the SPs were dialed back a little. That's probably the set most favored currently by people who like set building.