So toward my collection goal I bought a full set of Aberrations and War Drums this weekend…I paid $220 for the Aberrations set (a touch high) and just $160 for the War Drums set (a great value). The War Drums set pricing made me think about the relationship between Booster Cases and set-building. As War Drums was the set I bought (and sold) the most of when I was originally playing (5 cases+) I hope I have some insight into the out-of-print marketplace.
When DDM was an ongoing concern with new sets being released regularly, there was a very steady relationship between the price of a case (If I remember, I paid about $110-$120) and the price of a set (one of each individual mini and card). War Drums sets for most of my time playing in 2006-2009 averaged $140 or so, with most of the other sets similarly priced. It is interesting that almost 10 years later I can still acquire multiple War Drums sets (if I choose) at a very similar price ($160-180; with 2 sets selling on eBay before I started to play again in December for $150)…at the same time it is almost impossible to even acquire a War Drums booster case. There have been no sales in the most recent 90 days on eBay, and no websites carry it at any price; the only one on eBay is at $449, which is impossible to justify from other than a pure scarcity perspective (more on that later). At the same time, what the set pricing tells us is that there are actually plenty of War Drums minis still around, but very few unopened War Drums cases…potentially fewer than even the older sets like Dragoneye or Giants of Legend.
From an admittedly non-economist standpoint, I posit the main cause is that War Drums is a victim of its own success. DDM hit its stride with War Drums, and the commons and uncommons are what drove the booster cases to extinction. For most of its active lifecycle, Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures has been driven by the secondary market, with D&D and other fantasy RPG players purchasing more product than actual DDM game players. War Drums simply offered that market more and better minis than other DDM sets. Arguably, the Hill Giant Barbarian is the best uncommon miniature Wizards of the Coast ever made, and it could easily have been a rare. Add that to Orc Mauler, War Horde Zombie, Arcanix Guard, Warpriest of Moradin, Skeleton Legionnaire and several others, and War Drums not only had the single best uncommon ever made, it had the best common/uncommon sets overall. Tiefling Blademaster and Hill Giant Barbarian are selling (completed listings) for more than fully a third of the rares in the set.
Due to the popularity of these figures, LOTS of War Drums were cracked just for the singles market, more than any previous set. Looking at Desert of Desolation pricing (which I didn’t play and never bought), it seems similar, although I personally don’t like the glossy look of much of that set and don’t think the quality is as high.
One reason the booster and case prices seem incredibly out-of-whack with the rest of the market is that even opening the ‘optimum booster’, I could never sell (or buy) those individual pieces for what I paid for the booster. For example, even if I opened a Chimera, Hill Giant Chieftan, Teifling Blademaster, and the 4 best commons, I could still buy those 8 figures at the numerous sites selling singles or eBay for less than $40. So why on earth would I ever buy a booster, except perhaps as a gift for a friend? For the price of the case on eBay, I could buy 2 complete sets and have enough cash left over for 2-3 more sets of commons and uncommons. And if you look on eBay and Amazon, you’ll find LOTS of boosters (across all sets) priced at $40 or more, though the number actually selling at that price approaches 0, because while the market acts rationally, individual actors (all the sellers and the very few buyers who shell out that price once in a while) do not. In the old days when a booster was $15, anyone could potentially open a booster that net someone profit (and this is what the entire collectible model is premised on).
This raises the question…does the case pricing drive single pricing, or vice versa? Before you answer, that’s a trick question, and at this moment the two are acting as distinct products. In a world where cases are plentiful, there are a host of factors that determine the singles price (quality of the piece, quality of its DDM values, competition from other similar minis) and a set and singles prices will quickly become apparent through many sales. Now, even today those factors still exist, and is why the singles and set price remain similar (though with a certain premium as well due to scarcity). The marketplace is fluid but fairly consistent because there is a constant flux as minis change hands, people quit and sell, people start and buy. However, due to the number of cases cracked to sell singles, there are very few cases left, and so those holding one can put it out there at any price and hope someone buys it not for the value of the minis inside, but the scarcity of the case. The hope is that someone who doesn’t do their homework in the marketplace will buy the case, because again, I could almost get 3 of every figure in the set (180) for the same price as the case currently on eBay. (A case at that time had 96 miniatures)
This is the reason I bought the set…there is no other way for me to easily acquire an entire set of War Drums at a good price. I found it takes at least 3 cases of War Drums to make a set. Sure, if I did crack 3 cases I’d have a bunch left over to resell or trade, however 3 cases could be in the $1200 range, assuming there are even any to buy…so no. That means it’s either buying a set, trading, or slowly building it by buying collections. I’m definitely willing to trade, but as the lowest priced set available, I figured it’d be easier that way. I only bought the Aberrations set to go with it as a sweetener for the seller.
One other note to this very long post…when sellers put up a real auction of a booster case or a full set starting at .99, they almost always sell in a particular range…in the last week I picked up 2 lower popularity cases at $204 and $210, and recent auctions indicate this is pretty standard. Plus, 2 slightly more popular cases went for about $250 each (I was the last seller who dropped out just before the winning bid); again, definitely within the average of those cases. This means that the price of cases (based on the value of the minis inside) remains fairly constant, regardless of what the outlying sellers are doing.
As a side note, even though I generally consider myself a rational actor, I’m one of the crazy outliers on occasion. I picked up a case of Blood Wars at $289 from a website store…the reason for that is just for the blog. It’s my favorite set and it was the only case available online anywhere…the price is probably a little high for the value of the minis…but because I want to use it for sealed to entertain folks, I felt paying a premium worth it.
Anyhow, this post is way too long, so I’ll sign off! Next time, I’ll add up my total costs so far…I’ll have to start trading or selling soon or I’ll be burning the girls college fund!