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Are Secret Lairs Worth It?


One of the newest additions to the Magic product lineup is Secret Lairs, which are limited-time-only sales of small numbers of cards (so far, as few as one or as many as eight) directly from Wizards to consumers, with price tags in the $30 to $50 range. When the first series of Secret Lair drops was announced in November, it wasn't exactly clear how often they would happen. While Wizards did say they would continue through 2020, no one really knew if they would happen a couple of times a year or a couple of times a month. 

The last few weeks have made it pretty clear that Secret Lair drops will be a relatively common occurrence in 2020. So far in 2020, we've been averaging about one per month (and if you go back to the initial release in December, we've actually had 13 individual drops in three months, making the average closer to four drops per month since the series was announced), although the average is somewhat complicated by how you count themes that come with multiple drops, like the original Theros Gods during Worlds in February (technically, the Gods were five individual but related drops, although there is an argument for counting them as one big drop since buying all of the drops together was an option). Combine this with Wizards creating a Twitter account just for Secret Lairs, and it doesn't seem far-fetched to expect one or more per month for the rest of 2020 (editors note: since writing this on Thursday Wizards actually announced another Secret Lair drop going for sale in March featuring four different versions of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben). Selling cards directly through players appears to be massively profitable for Wizards and Hasbro, with their CEO Brian Goldern citing Secret Lairs as one of the reasons why paper Magic experienced 30% growth in 2019. 

Since Secret Lairs seem here to stay and like they will be an increasingly important part of Magic's lineup of products in 2020, today, we're going to delve into the drops themselves and see just how much value they are offering to players. The basic question we're looking to answer is whether you should spend your hard-earned money on Secret Lairs or if you would be better of saving your Magic budget for other products. Which drops have offered the most bang for their buck? Let's discuss!

Oh yeah, before getting into it, there's one other aspect of Secret Lairs that we need to touch on briefly: the stained-glass planeswalkers. So far, each Secret Lair drop has come with a bonus card featuring a War of the Spark planeswalker with the stained-glass art from the War of the Spark trailer. While we don't know if this will continue, these cards have added a meaningful amount of extra value to Secret Lairs so far. In fact, a good planeswalker can be worth more than the entire cost of a drop, with the best of the bunch (Teferi, Time Raveler, Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, and Liliana, Dreadhorde General) selling for $60–100, while even the cheapest are in the $5 range.

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For the sake of our analysis today, we're not going to be including the possibility of getting a valuable planeswalker for two reasons. First, there's a lot of variance. Getting a $5 Huatli, the Sun's Heart isn't going to make an otherwise not-worthwhile Secret Lair drop worth buying, while getting a $100 Liliana, Dreadhorde General would make even the least valuable Secret Lair a win. We just don't know how common it is for the more valuable planeswalkers to show up. Secondly, Wizards never actually announced the stained-glass planeswalkers (or any bonus cards) to be a part of Secret Lair. It might be that these cards are a promotion for the first batch of Secret Lair drops to generate hype and interest in the product, and then they will go away at some point in the future. As such, unless Wizards announces that Secret Lairs will always come with a valuable bonus card, it's probably best to not expect any extra value and get a happy surprise if your drop happens comes with a bonus card on the level of Liliana, Teferi, or Jace.

Secret Lair Drops

So far, we've had a total of 13 Secret Lair drops (counting the recent Theros Gods as five individual three-card drops), with another celebrating International Women's Day on the horizon at the beginning of March. How much are the cards from these drops worth today? How does this compare to the original price of the drops? Here are the first eight drops (with a note on the most recent drop—the Theros Gods—at the end) ranked in order of their current value compared to their cost.

#1: Foil Snow-Covered Basics: Cost: $30, Current Value: $66

Somewhat surprisingly, the Secret Lair drop that has offered the most excess value so far has been the foil snow-covered basic lands, with the five lands currently selling as singles for more than double the $30 price tag of the drop. This might be, at least in part, due to the nature of lands themselves. Many players want their basic lands to match, and because Secret Lair drops are limited to 10 per person, if you wanted to play a deck that has a bunch of basic lands, you'll probably need to pick up additional copies of the Secret Lair snow-covered basics to complete your deck. 

#2: Cats: Cost: $40, Current Value: $83

Much like the foil snow-covered basic land drop, the Cats Secret Lair drop is currently worth slightly more than double the cost of the drop itself. In all honesty, I can't figure out why the Cats drop should be so valuable. Its chase cards already have foil printings, and the one first-time foil in the drop is the least valuable card in the drop (Qasali Slingers, at $4.52). As strange as it sounds, it might just be that people love Cats and cute Cat art. Keep in mind that the foil Cat token is actually worth a bit of money itself, selling for $4.50 at Card Kingdom.

#3: Rats: Cost: $40, Current Value: $79

Considering that Rats joins Cats (and basic lands) as the three Secret Lair drops worth double the cost of their drop, maybe it isn't just cute Cat art that drives prices of Secret Lair cards but cute animal art in general. While the Rat drop does benefit from being one of the biggest drops we've seen so far (thanks to four copies of Rat Colony, which are currently worth almost $8 each, making just the Rat Colonies worth the $40 cost of the drop), the value of the cards in the drop is high enough that even if you cut the drop in half, it would still be on par with most of the other Secret Lairs, from a value perspective.

#4: Bitterblossom: Cost: $30, Current value: $45

Bitterblossom is one of the most unique Secret Lair drops since it is only one real card. While the price of Bitterblossom (both the Secret Lair printing and previous printings) has been slowly ticking down since the Secret Lair was released, right now, the drop still offers slightly positive value, mostly thanks to the four foil Faerie tokens. Bitterblossom itself is worth about $35, while each token retails for around $2.50. 

#5: Dredge Stuff: Cost: $30, Current Value: $41

The Dredge-centric Restless in Peace Secret Lair drop featuring Golgari Thug, Life from the Loam, and Bloodghast comes in slightly positive in value, thanks mostly to Life from the Loam and Bloodghast both being above $15. 

#6: Goblins: Cost: $30, Current Value: $35

The cartoony Goblin Secret Lair drop is another that is currently slightly positive in terms of value. Buying the five Goblins as singles would currently set you back about $35, while the drop itself was $30. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Goblin drop is that it doesn't have a single chase card, with the most expensive Goblin in the drop being Goblin Lackey at $10.73, while most of the rest are in the $4–7 range. 

#7: Five-Color Legends: Cost: $40, Current Value: $41

While the Commander-focused five-color legends drop breaks even overall, it does offer some really important information worth considering for future Secret Lair drops in regards to the value of foils. The most recent Secret Lair drop featured foil constellation versions of the original Theros Gods, and there was a bit of a debate about whether the cards should be compared to their original foil value (which is quite high) or non-foil value. Well, based on Reaper King and Sliver Overlord, the prices of foil Secret Lair cards are much closer to their original non-foil printings than to their original foil printing. Right now, the Secret Lair foil of Sliver Overlord is $19, its original non-foil is $28, and its original foil printing is $74. Meanwhile, the Secret Lair Reaper King is going for $9, while its original Shadowmoor non-foil printing is $11 and its original foil is $66. As a result, when evaluating future Secret Lair drops, don't make the mistake of considering a Secret Lair foil to be similar to the card's original foil printing. The original non-foil will give you a much better idea of its likely value.

#8: Serum Visions: Cost: $30, Current Value: $30

The psychedelic Serum Visions Secret Lair drop almost exactly breaks even at current prices. The drop itself costs $30, and if you wanted to buy one copy each of the four versions of Serum Visions right now, you'd have to spend $30. However, the prices of the four versions aren't the same, with the Lauren YS version coming in at $9.49 retail, while the rest of the bunch sell for around $7. This means that if you want four copies with matching art to play in a deck, three of the four would actually be cheaper as singles than by buying the Secret Lair drop itself. 

Gods: Cost: $40 each (or $150 total), Current Value: $280

We aren't going to go too in-depth on our most recent Secret Lair drop, the original Theros Gods, just because it is so new that supply hasn't really hit the market yet, which means the current retail price of $280 is likely inflated due to the lack of supply. However, it is worth mentioning that, similar to the five-color legends drop, even though the Secret Lair Gods are in foil, their current prices are much closer to their original non-foil price than to their original foils' price. 

Putting Everything Together

Looking over the nine Secret Lair drops we've seen so far, a couple of things immediately stick out. First, every Secret Lair drop has technically been "worth it," in the sense that the retail price of the cards you get in the drop is equal to or greater than the cost of the drop. This is a bit deceiving since it's unlikely that you'll be able to get full retail prices for your cards if you sell them, but it's still a meaningful metric. It's also  worth mentioning that many of the drops are only worth slightly more than the cost of their drop. But at least so far, none of the Secret Lair drops can really be considered a bad deal from a financial perspective (and this is without considering the possibility of getting a valuable bonus card). 

Second, discounting the Gods for the moment due to their newness, three of the eight drops are worth roughly double the cost of their drop. The snow-covered basic drop, the Cats drop, and the Rats drop are all valuable enough that they would have been good purchases even if you don't especially want the cards. Basically, you're turning $30 or $40 into $60 or $80 worth of cards, which is a solid deal from a finance perspective, without even considering gameplay. 

Putting all of this together, there are two ways to view buying Secret Lairs. One is to focus on the fact that for most Secret Lairs, you really aren't getting a big discount by buying them directly from Wizards compared to buying them on the secondary market a couple of months after they are released, so you're probably best off waiting and just picking up specific cards you want as singles, especially if you don't really care about all of the cards in a drop and just want one or two. The other is to focus on the fact that 37.5% of the Secret Lairs released so far are currently worth double their price and the rest are worth right around the price you'd pay for the drop. From this perspective, you should buy every Secret Lair drop, whether you actually want it or not, knowing that you'll basically break even most of the time, while not-that-infrequently, you'll hit an above-average drop and double your money. Over the long run the good drops will basically end up being your profit.

Which path is right for you mostly depends on your Magic budget. If you can afford Secret Lairs and every other Magic product you desire, you should probably just make it a habit to buy every Secret Lair. In the long run, this plan seem profitable, and doubly so if Secret Lairs continue to have the chance of opening a high-value promo like the stained-glass planeswalkers. Sure, most of the time, you'll roughly break even in terms of value, but by buying every drop, you guarantee that you'll end up with the drops that are worth significantly more than their cost as well.

On the other hand, if your Magic budget is limited, coming out ahead over the long run doesn't make up for the fact that you're spending a big chunk of your Magic budget on cards that you might not really want and aren't guaranteed to be able to trade or sell for an immediate profit to get the cards that you do want. Basically, if your Magic budget is limited, the opportunity cost of buying Secret Lairs outweighs the likelihood that you'll probably end up making some amount of money in the long run if you buy every drop. 

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In fact,  if your Magic budget is limited, Secret Lair might not be the best product for you to spend your limited resources on anyway. The value of Secret Lairs from a players' perspective mostly comes from the fact that they have cool new art, but Secret Lairs offer less value if all you care about is having some version of a card to play with. Take the foil snow-covered land Secret Lair drop, for example: if you are on a limited budget and all you care about is having snow-covered basics for your Commander or Modern deck, you should probably just by some non-foil Modern Horizons snow-covered basics and spend the rest of your budget on more cards you need to build decks and play games with. The snow-covered basics are an extreme example, but in general, Secret Lairs haven't offered a meaningful discount over buying the cheapest possible version of a card—the upside is you get the unique new art. 

If you want to try to pick and choose winning Secret Lair drops from a financial perspective, perhaps the most important thing to look for is the number of cards in the drop. While our sample size is small, both the Rat drop (eight cards) and the Cat drop (five cards and two tokens) contained significantly more cards than the average for a Secret Lair drop (counting the five Theros God drops, the average Secret Lair has 3.7 non-token cards). So far, our three best Secret Lair drops have all contained at least five cards, and two of the top three contained at least seven pieces of cardboard (including tokens for the Cat deck, which are surprisingly valuable), which seems to be a good starting criterion if you are trying to pick and choose the Secret Lair drops that will offer the most value. 

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So far, Wizards seems to have put a lot of effort into calculating the value of Secret Lair drops. We haven't seen a $40 drop with a $100 card or a $30 drop with $80 of value inside. Instead, it seems like Wizards adds up the prices of the cheapest version of a card and attempts to make the drop's total value close to the drop's cost (another recent example of this is the upcoming International Women's Day drop, which costs $50 and has about $48 in value based on the cheapest non-foil printing of the cards in the drop). Because of this, the way Secret Lair drops gain excess value is by having a high number of cards in an absolute sense, with some of these cards likely having inexpensive original printings but that end up having more valuable Secret Lair printings. Rat Colony is a great example, with its Dominaria printing being $2.50 (likely the value Wizards used to calculate what cards to put in the drop) and the Secret Lair version pushing $8. The same is true of the Cat drop, where Regal Caracal's Amonkhet printing is $0.47, while the Secret Lair version is $14. Meanwhile, a drop with only a few cards is much easier for Wizards to calculate, price-wise. Bitterblossom is a $40 card. The Secret Lair drop with Bitterblossom sold for $40. There's very little chance that a drop like this will have any meaningful amount of excess value. 

Finally, from a financial perspective, taking advantage of bulk deals (buying all of the drops for a discount rather than individual drops) is important. Take the initial seven drops that were released in December, for example. The total current value of the cards in the drops is $341. If you purchased all seven drops together for $200, you added $141 in value to your collection, discounting any bonus cards. On the other hand, if you purchased all of the drops individually, they would cost you $240, cutting your value added won to $100. While it's too early to really analyze the Theros Gods drop, it seems likely that the same thing is true: if you have the extra money, taking advantage of the bulk price is an easy way to increase your expected value when it comes to buying Secret Lairs.

The Next Drop

Let's try to put what we've learned about Secret Lairs to use by analyzing the upcoming International Women's Day drop. First off, the drop has five cards, which immediately puts it in the conversation for potentially having more value than it costs (although the fact that the drop costs $50 instead of $30 or $40 somewhat complicates the calculation). Second, the current non-foil value of the cards in the drop is $47, while the cheapest foil printings of the cards in the drop are worth closer to $80. In this drop, the card most likely to generate excess value is Narset, Enlightened Master, with the Khans of Tarkir non-foil printing only worth $1.40 (while the Khans of Tarkir foil printing is almost $10). It's hard to imagine that the Secret Lair version of Narset will be anywhere near $1 considering that even the least valuable Secret Lair cards are worth $4–5, and Narset, Enlightened Master has a relatively high amount of Commander demand (49th most popular Commander) and no other promos or special printings, potentially making the Secret Lair version a popular choice for Commander decks. Saskia the Unyielding might offer a bit of excess value as well, as the 82nd most popular Commander and an original printing in the $3.50 range. Based on previous Secret Lair drops, my guess is that prices will look something like this:

So, is it worth it to buy this drop? Technically, yes, at least from a strictly value-centric perspective. You're likely to get slightly more value than you pay, and as far as we know, there are still more War of the Spark planeswalkers that need to be released, so the odds of bonus cards continuing through this drop is high. That said, unless you want to play the stained-glass planeswalker lottery, there isn't so much extra value that you should purchase the drop even if you have no interest in your cards. If all you want is a Meren of Clan Nel Toth to lead your Commander deck, you're better off just waiting and picking up a copy on the secondary market a month or two from now.

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What about the Thalia, Guardian of Thraben drop that was just announced and goes for sale on March 12? I'm pretty skeptical that this drop can offer excess value for a bunch of reasons. Right now, you can buy copies of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben for $7.60, making the total cost of four copies of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben $30.40, which is almost exactly the cost of the drop (which is $30). The easiest comparison for the Thalia, Guardian of Thraben drop is the Serum Visions drop, which also continued four different art version of the same card, and the Serum Visions drop is currently the least valuable of all of the Secret Lair drops. It also only has four cards in total when the most valuable Secret Lair always (so far) have had five or more. Toss in the fact that Thalia, Guardian of Thraben already has several printings including a WMCQ Promo with unique art and I'd guess that the pricing of the different versions of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben will look much like the pricing of the different Secret Lair printings of Serum Visions with the one with the most desirable art being slightly more valuable than the rest, but the total value ending up right in the $30 or $35 range. This makes the drop a reasonable deal if you need a playset of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and want the Secret Lair art, but if you don't need a playset of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or prefer the original art you should probably pass.

The Long Term

One last consideration is the long-term value of the cards in Secret Lair drops. Even if the value is only medium today, might these cards end up being extremely valuable in the future? My guess here is no. While I do think that Secret Lair cards—especially those that are popular in Commander—can slowly increase in price, expecting Secret Lair cards to end up having values similar to Masterpieces just isn't realistic—the supply is likely to be way too high. While Wizards doesn't release hard numbers, some data mining for the recent Theros Gods drop suggested that around 40,000 of the five-drop sets were sold, which seems fairly realistic compared to the sales of some past special products like Mythic Edition, whose sales numbers were public thanks to eBay. Add in some sales of individual drops, and let's estimate that there might be somewhere around 50,000 of each individual Secret Lair God in existence. How does this compare to more traditional printings? Let's use Heliod, God of the Sun as an example. 

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Heliod, God of the Sun was originally printed in Theros. Considering that you'll open one copy of Heliod, Sun-Crowned roughly every 3.5 booster boxes, this means that the supply of the Secret Lair version of Heliod, God of the Sun (again, based on our estimate) is roughly the equivalent of 175,000 booster boxes of Theros being opened (at $100 a box, about $17.5 million dollars worth of boxes). Considering that some copies of the Theros printing of Heliod, God of the Sun entered the market through other means (single packs and fat pack openings; Magic Online redemption), it seems likely that there are slightly more copies of the original non-foil printing of Heliod, God of the Sun in existence than the Secret Lair printing, but probably not significantly more. 

On the other hand, while foil drop rates in normal Standard sets have increased recently, in the past, you'd open a foil mythic about one in every three boxes (and this might be being slightly generous), which means to open an original foil Theros printing of Heliod, God of the Sun, you'd have to open roughly 45 boxes of Theros, which means getting 50,000 copies would take 2,250,000 Theros booster boxes, which at $100 would add up to $225 million. It seems exceedingly unlikely that anywhere close to that number of boxes were opened, considering that back in 2014, the total revenue of the Magic brand was estimated to be somewhere around $250 million, which takes into account four big sets a year, supplemental products, and Magic Online, so there is no way a single set could bring in anywhere near $225 million. As such, there are almost certainly multitudes more Secret Lair Heliod, God of the Suns than there are original Theros pack foils. The math on Masterpiece cards—some of which are worth $300 or $400 today—is similar to that of foil mythics. Basically, there's almost no way that Secret Lair cards can be worth anywhere near their original foils—they just aren't scarce enough. 

As a result, it's hard to imagine that Secret Lair cards will command a huge premium in the future. The Secret Lair drops themselves are significantly increasing the supply of some of these cards (we have already seen the original printings of some Secret Lair reprints dropping in price, like Marrow-Gnawer), and even if Magic continues to grow, the supply of these reprints is high enough that, at least for most, it's unlikely they will explode in price in the near future. While it might happen for some unpopular Secret Lair drops (the foil basic lands were considered to be one of the worst of the original drops, which might help explain why it is the most valuable today—fewer copies of the foil snow-covered basics are on the market), in general, I'd expect most Secret Lair cards to mirror their original non-foil printing in terms of price. If Heliod, God of the Sun slowly increased due to Commander demand, the Secret Lair version will likely go along for the ride, but there is little reason to expect any Secret Lair card to end up being worth x5 or x10 its original printing, even in the semi-distant future—they are just too common.

Wrap-Up

So, should you buy Secret Lairs? Discounting important issues like the impact the series has on local game stores and looking at the drops purely from a financial perspective, the answer is a solid maybe. If you have a large enough Magic budget that you can buy all of the drops and still have all of the cards you need to play the game, they are a solid way to add value to your collection. On the other hand, if you have a more limited Magic budget, you'll likely get more gameplay value out of focusing on other products, mostly because you can usually pick up cheaper (although less cool-looking) versions of the cards featured in the drops. And this is doubly true since by increasing supply, Secret Lair reprints tend to reduce the value of the older, cheaper versions of the cards featured in the drops, potentially allowing you to pick up less desirable (but just as playable) versions at a discount. As a player with a limited budget, you're almost certainly better of picking up something like a Commander 2020 deck for $40 than spending $40 on a handful of cards from a Secret Lair drop.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What do you think of the Secret Lair series? which drops have you picked up so far? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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