The first thing I want to make very clear is this -
I am making absolutely no accusations directed at ANY organization, ANY retailer, Wizards of the Coast, or ANY members of the Magic community. The purpose of this article is to bring this topic out in the open so that a public dialogue can begin and hopefully a reasonable solution can be reached.
With that said …
It all began with boredom. When bored, I scroll through Twitter looking for a thread or a topic to jump out at me. Lately I’ve been checking out the hash tag #mtgfinance because I love laughing at what qualifies for a “tip” regarding Magic prices these days. I stumbled upon this video:
I was mesmerized. This couldn’t possibly be real. As the video progressed I kept expecting him to say there should be “a mythic here” or “a foil there” but after inputting a couple packs … he was literally opening SPECIFIC CARDS. “Well that’s something” I said and returned to work from my lunch break. As I got home I watched another video, this time for Gatecrash. Again after a few packs opened he was calling shots Obzedat in this pack, Sacred Foundry in that pack, Blind Obedience there until he opened the packs containing cards he wanted. Had to be a scam … there’s no F@$%ing way this is real right?
For as long as I’ve been playing Magic, players have been trying to figure out a way to determine what’s inside a booster pack before opening it. Back in the old days up through Fallen Empires you could see through the wrapper if you had just the right light … to this day I’ll never even consider buying a pack of anything in the old plastic wrappers because of it.
One time we found a box of Fourth Edition that had twelve rares and three uncommons in some of the packs … we swore the packs that had Brass Man on the outside had a higher percentage of twelve-rare packs, who knows how true that was. I’ve heard people tell me statistics like “if you open an Avenger of Zendikar and count down six packs, it will have a 25% chance of being a Jace, the Mind Sculptor” or some other such nonsense. I’ve seen “buckets o’ boosters” and my friend’s warned me not to buy the old Ravnica / Guildpact / Dissension boosters because the packs could be “mapped for the shocklands” … no such case, we drafted them and opened a Dark Confidant AND a Stomping Ground among a seemingly regular distribution of perfectly average rares.
But these videos SEEMED legitimate. The guy made no outrageous claims, he even explained that sometimes the app wouldn’t work because the packs were mixed up in an atypical way. I checked the Google Play Store … the apps were $3.99 each and there was one for each set: Innistrad through Gatecrash. I’d been itching to open my box of Innistrad anyway, after all they’re just filled to the brim with Lilianas and Snapcasters right? … so I downloaded the first app.
It worked. After opening the first couple of “tracer” packs I was shown which packs contained each of the four “tracks” … pack B7 had shown a 25% each chance for Olivia Voldaren, Liliana of the Veil, Geist of Saint Traft, and some other card. Opened it – Olivia Voldaren! This locked in where the Mythics for the rest of the box were located and which Mythics they were – bad news, no Liliana OR Geists to be had … Skaab Ruinator, Tree of Redemption, and Reaper from the Abyss were all available … no thanks. Cliftop Retreat, Woodland Cemetery, and Sulfur Falls were all opened with laser precision after I mapped track B. And the rest of the box … was nothing I wanted. Well, that was neat!
Might as well do … Dark Ascension.
Same thing. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad … Hellrider … Mikaeus, the Unhallowed … Thalia … no Aristocrats … and apparently not enough data to track flip cards, so hypothetically there could be Huntmaster of the Fells still hiding in there somewhere …
Obviously at this point I was had to download the Avacyn Restored version.
A couple packs in and I knew that other than Cavern of Souls and Craterhoof Behemoth that this box was pretty mostly crap! I happily opened a Vexing Devil and unhappily opened a Bruna (was a 50% chance to be Sigarda), but then I clicked over to the FOIL tab, apparently a new feature with this edition and it game me a couple possible locations for the FOIL rare … Slayer’s Stronghold … but then it determined 100% slot C3 was ANOTHER foil rare … Dark Imposter!
I sat looking at three boxes that I had just cherry picked and it struck me, I had bottled lightning. I thought: “I can buy boxes, skim the good stuff and sell the remaining packs, buy more boxes, repeat and make BANK!” I can buy that set of Power Nine! I could buy all the FOILs for my Ravnica Cube! I could replace the car I just drove into a tree!
But there was one question: who the hell could I sell these to? Ebay? Trade them in at the local store for boxes of a different set? Trade them / sell them to players? I couldn’t really do any of that in good conscience … nobody wants Deranged Outcast. Nobody.
I felt sick. The implications of this simple app were HUGE. I immediately texted my friend Phil. I had to talk to someone about this … “Haha, nice troll,” he replied.
Eventually we talked and weighed out the implications. My options were simple: never tell another soul and profit, or blow it wide open for the world to see and let the chips fall where they may … I REALLY wanted to take the easy road. I REALLY wanted to open my binder to a set of Moxen and a Black Lotus. But the simple fact that I had doubts was proof enough that this was not right.
Above all else, one thing was important to me: the integrity of the booster pack. I love opening packs. I love that second right before you see the rare and it could literally be ANYTHING (within the set) … when a new set comes out, I chew through boxes like they are 36 Christmases. Each pack for me is Magical and I could not allow that to be tainted. This has to stop.
So, how do you know I’m not making this up? Well … I filmed myself opening one more … poorly filmed on my cell phone I might add, but you’ll get the point.
I opened fifteen boosters, so roughly $45 worth of my box, and obtained: Overgrown Tomb, Blood Crypt, Temple Garden, Abrupt Decay, Armada Wurm, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, Rakdos’s Return, Lotleth Troll and seven “bad rares” that’s not to mention the foil rare, two foil uncommons, and two foil commons … that’s seven bad packs instead of TWENTY SEVEN to get the same “good stuff.”
How it works:
From what I can devise from the videos and through using the application rares are printed and distributed on four “tracks.” All Mythics will be on one track with a couple other rares, all Deathrite Shamans will appear on the same track every time, and so on. These four tracks are then packaged in a manner that is seemingly random, but computerized random is not truly random and if Jeff Goldbloom was here … he would explain chaos theory far better than I could – basically every set of numbers has a pattern if you get enough information.
The packaging marks the “randomization”pattern … lets say five cards come down track A … one will be in wrapper 1, one in wrapper 2, 3, 4, and wrapper 5, five cards come down track B, same thing with tracks C and D. People tried mapping boxes before, someone told me that they inputed a couple hundred boxes of Zendikar data and found no pattern … but the key was in the order they were packaged and placed in the boxes.
Whoever this guy is, he figured out a way to track it … in one of his videos he says he can begin tracking after inputting roughly thirty boxes. Does he crack thirty boxes for this information? Nah … he watches videos people upload to YouTube of themselves cracking boxes at release.
REINFORCING THE DISCLAIMER
I want to reiterate before going forward, I am not accusing any person, business, or organization of doing ANYTHING that follows. I’m simply laying out possibilities. Thoughts that people will have. Conclusions that people will draw, regardless of their validity. Seriously.
The simple and obvious implications:
You can never trust a stray booster pack again. Friend have packs for sale/trade? Booster packs for sale at a tournament? Even at your local game store … you can’t be sure unless you saw the box opened. This is terrible for local game stores.
Booster drafts and sealed decks can be “cheated” risk free. Sure people could cheat before, but there is no “getting caught” when you can literally sit at the end of a table and open double Pack Rat, double Mizzium Mortars, Carnival Hellstead, and Chaos Imps in your sealed pool with witnesses over your shoulder watching you crack them.
Feeding the rumors:
Ever heard someone make the claim “fatpacks have better stuff in them” … what about deckbuilder’s toolkits? What if it was true? What if there was simply no “D track” cards distributed into fatpacks and deckbuilder’s toolkits? That would bump up the percentage of Mythics / better rares in the box … and any business would much rather you buy $40 units than $4 units right?
What about the rumor that the first print runs have better cards in them? It’s possible … the “D” tracks in all four sets I’ve seen are pretty much 100% bad cards … with most desirable cards falling solely in the “A” and “B” tracks, why is that? Why are there tracks that consistently spit out crappy rares? Why aren’t the obviously desirable rares dispersed amongst all four tracks?
The what ifs:
What if a high profile tournament organizer wanted compelling story lines for coverage? Wouldn’t exceptional sealed pools in the hands of exceptional players accomplish this?
What if someone was friends with a judge?
What if those three round bye guys all got “leg up” sealed pools? A three round bye plus a a few synergistic rares would make it a lot easier to reach the top tables.
What if that money draft you and your friends did at the last big tournament (in clear violation of the DCI’s anti-gambling rules, shame on you) and lost was because your opponents’ team had mapped packs?
What if online retailers pull the good rares out of the packs and sell the “searched packs” to individuals buying individual packs.
The yeah buts:
Yeah, but what if I just draft the remaining packs for practice with my friends? Well theoretically in a real tournament you’re still going to have to play against cards that are worth money, so this isn’t “real” practice. Also, did you tell your friends you’re using sorted packs?
Yeah, but its my box … I can do whatever I want to with it. True, but what are you going to do with those other packs? Technically you haven’t done anything wrong, until those bad packs migrate elsewhere.
Yeah, but how do I REALLY KNOW what’s in those other packs … it could still be something good! If you’ve been paying attention, then you know this isn’t true at all.
Who this hurts:
Anyone with a sealed booster pack – boosters are inherently suspicious now.
Anyone who receives a sealed booster pack – could have been searched
Local game stores – you know where the packs aren’t mappable? Individual booster packs at big box retailers hanging on a shelf peg.
Tournament organizers – accusations and suspicions fly … because they obviously GAVE you this terrible pool on purpose right? And they obviously GAVE Random_Pro_06 that awesome pool.
Players – “I bet he had a mapped pool”
Wizards of the Coast – ultimately their success depends on the integrity of their products, compromising that integrity compromises the game.
Why don’t they just add a shuffler at the factory?
What happens to the condition of cards when they’re shuffled? Oh right … I’d prefer that not happen BEFORE we open them.
What’s the solution? The obvious answer is to add additional layers of randomization at the packaging level … but that creates other problems … what if you bought a box that contained ZERO mythic rares? True randomization would create that possibility. What about no FOILS? Maybe you’re at a small shop that only gets in a couple cases … what if nobody in your play community opened a Sphinx’s Revelation?
How can we fix this problem without adding too much variance to a booster box? Part of the reason I open boxes in the first place is that the semi-random nature smooths out variance … on average most boxes are going to be worth at least the $100-110 you payed for them at release.
Maybe me and the two people I’ve discussed this with are in the minority. MAYBE THIS ISN’T A BIG DEAL. I honestly don’t think that is the case. But if this just turns out to be “how things are now” … don’t you deserve to be in the know? I genuinely hope this will change going forward, it’s likely already too late for Dragon’s Maze (fortunately all of the cards look awesome so far so you won’t need to sort) … but with Modern Masters around the corner … it would be better if this was addressed.
LONG STORY SHORT: I have booster packs for sale – Innistrad / Dark Ascension / Avacyn / and Return to Ravnica available … send message for details!
Please comment below or respond via twitter: @goingmadlem, share this with your friends, your local game store, and tournament organizers … this is something that MUST be acknowledged and talked about by the community and everyone deserves to know about it.
I started playing Magic the first time during Ice Age and played through Invasion. The second time I started playing Magic was in Shards of Alara, and haven't looked back since.