With the announcement a few weeks ago that Tales of Aria was going to debut at the Las Vegas Calling, we learned that the fall launch was almost certainly going to happen on schedule. And, color me surprised. Full credit to LSS for getting the logistics down to make that happen because after the Monarch delays, I was pretty sure Kingdoms would be a Q4 release at the earliest. Per the products page, the actual release of Tales of Aria will be September 24th for First Edition and the Blitz Decks. Unlimited, meanwhile, is marked as Q4 2021. That means we’re only two and a half months out from release, so it’s actually probably a good time to start talking about preorders.
Is First Edition Worth Buying?
This is the most basic starting point for discussion of the set from a financial angle. The main factor to consider is print size. I think we can safely assume that the first edition of Tales of Aria will, at a minimum, be as large as first edition Monarch was. It’s possible that it will actually be bigger. We don’t really have a lot to go on in this respect, though we do know that LSS is going to be using a US based printer for Tales, which, coupled with Japan and Belgium taking care of unlimited runs of older sets (at least initially) might mean a bigger print run for Tales. So let’s spitball on what happens at each some broad release sizes. If Tales is the same size as Monarch, I think we’ll see prices that are similar to Monarch prices once the market has settled (for reference, I believe we’re getting pretty close to settled prices for Monarch as I write this). They’ll likely be a little lower because we won’t know that TOA is the same size unless LSS tells us. With less FOMO leading into this set, I think the market would probably evaluate an identically-sized print run lower than MON simply because TOA is not going to be preordering at $500-600 unless some really weird shit happens. If the print run is modestly higher, we could see a bit of a dip, maybe boxes and singles at 65-80% of Monarch’s current prices (though I think this will disproportionately affect lower rarity cards and more common CFs). If the print run is significantly bigger, like a doubling, we could realistically see prices being pretty flat for a few months. I’m thinking at or around MSRP to MSRP +20% and prices on everything but CF Ls, Ms, Fs, and chase cards would be pretty soft.
In the first two scenarios, Aria is worth buying at MSRP, and you probably want to at least consider preorders. In the third scenario you can probably chill and just buy boxes at launch or shortly after if you want to save them long term, and you’ll be better served buying singles than cracking boxes unless you’re opening enough to have reasonable odds of hitting a Fable. My general preference on preorders is to avoid them if at all possible outside of those from sellers that don’t collect money up front. However, if TOA print run size is the same as Monarch, I would expect to see boxes selling modestly over MSRP by the time the set actually launches or climbing up shortly after.
What Did We Learn From Monarch?
Free money is over. The time where FAB prices go up 50-100 times what you paid in under a year has ended, and I highly doubt it will ever come back. It was a wild ride and I am overjoyed that I got to be a part of it. This is one of those things I’ll always remember and look back on fondly; however, the collecting/investing paradigm has shifted, and people need to reassess how they’re approaching the game. To be very blunt, some people got burnt on Monarch. If you bought boxes at MSRP, you’re doing great (a 2x profit a couple months post-release is amazing by any reasonable standard), but if you bought at $400+, you’re in a bad way, and it’s probably going to be a while until you can break even, never mind making a profit. Now, I think we’ve still got good odds of getting there in the next couple years. But if you thought you’d buy for $500 and sell for $1000 a few months later, things are looking downright grim, and I don’t really have any good news for you. You probably should have cut your loses a month ago when you could still move a case at $1500-1600 instead of the current $750-850. At this point you might as well toss the boxes in your closet and forget about them for a few years.
The take home from this is that Tales of Aria should be approached with caution. I would expect to see overall decreased demand compared to the lead up to Monarch’s launch. A lot of people are going to be very leery of rising pre-order prices after what happened with Monarch. Moreover, Monarch’s continued existence makes any TOA pre-order for equal to or more than current Monarch prices look super suss. I’ve seen stores already trying to get $250 on Tales of Aria pre-orders, and, from where I’m sitting, you’re a sucker if you give them a free $250 loan. You could easily lose $100 on that deal to say nothing of having the money tied up for 10-12 weeks. Stores want to come out high and try to capture over-MSRP preorders, and those feel like a trap. Unlike the beginning of the year where there seemed like no way to lose on FAB (aside from $1300 Kayo), there are going to be a lot of opportunities to make bad financial decision on Tales of Aria.
“Do you want to cracking boxes and/or buy singles?” is an interesting question to consider as well. For the past year, the amount of stores with actual stock of new sets has been very scant, and inventories have been cleaned out for most of that time. So, getting cold foils often meant opening them yourself or looking to ebay, TCGPlayer of Facebook. Looking at Monarch as our point of references, if you open an MSRP case, you’re still probably value positive as long as you hit one CF M or L, and there is the lottery element of hitting a Fable and making significantly over what you paid. However, with the decline of the CF C, first edition boxes aren’t really guaranteed to pay for themselves at MSRP any more. With some CF Cs selling at $50 or less, you can easily open a box that’s only worth $70 or so. Thus, if you’re buying to open, you want to open enough to balance out the CF C-only boxes. Expect to see the singles prices of TOA start high and drop off dramatically over the first month – this is how most Magic releases work, and it seems like that’s where FAB is headed as print runs begin to get closer to meeting demand. You’ll want to hold off of singles for a few weeks before buying anything unless you have a very compelling reason to do otherwise.
Another thing that Monarch taught us is that when a set releases close to its unlimited analog, non-foils are worth very little, even at the Majestic rarity. Among non-short printed Ms, there are only 2 over $10 in unlimited printings (Celestial Cataclysm and Soul Shield at $14) and the next highest (Exude Confidence) is $6. Even among the (presumably) short-printed equipment, the only stand out is Luminaris at $19. Raydn can be had for $6, with Hexagore well behind at $3.50 and Dead Scythe at a dismal $2. Moreover the first edition premium on these is pretty bad. Celestial Cataclysm carries no first edition premium at all. Soul Shield is an extra $1 for first ed, Exude is $2 more for 1st ed, Luminaris is $3 more, Raydn is $0.5, Hexagore is $0.75, and Dread Scythe is weirdly $12 more, which seems like an odd temporary market quirk unless there’s something I don’t know about that first edition printing. In any case, the premium that first edition copies carry is significantly diminished from what it was for WTR and ARC. As an aside, I suspect CRU will settle somewhere between WTR/ARC and MON when its unlimited version releases.
To summarize, I expect TOA to be a fine acquisition at MSRP, but once you exceed that things get questionable. There is a possibility that, if TOA is the same size as MON but the player base spikes in the next few months, there could be the potential to double up on TOA in the short term, but that makes a lot of assumptions, and I really don’t like the idea of buying TOA with the idea that you’re going to be flipping in the first several months. The reward just isn’t there compared to the risk.
There is one thing I want to touch on that could make pricing a little weird, particularly for singles. There are a couple high profile US constructed events coming up. Both the National Championship for the US and the Calling Orlando occur on November 5-7. This matters for Tales of Aria because players who are planning to compete in one of these events and have aspirations of winning or placing highly will need to begin working on decks pretty much as soon as Tales of Aria launches on September 24th. There are only six weeks between the first edition launch and these events, so if unlimited Tales isn’t hot on the heels of first edition, these players will likely need to secure first edition copies of new cards. Hopefully, we’ll find out when unlimited is releasing well before first edition drops, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
From here on out, I’m primarily addressing people who are new to the idea of holding sealed boxes as a way to make money or for whom FAB was the first time they’ve sold sealed product. If you’ve done this in other games, there isn’t going to be a whole lot of novel content here, and you can peace out, unless you’re just here to listen to me ramble. For the rest of you, we’re now entering an era where you’ll increasingly need to hold product for a span of a year to several years before it would be worth your effort to sell. I expect that, if LSS continues along the path we saw with Monarch, we’ll probably be at a point in the not too distant future where you can realistically get MSRP first edition boxes on the day of a new set’s launch, which means gains will be a lot more gradual than the constant spikes we saw last year. This will require a different mindset for anyone who is buying boxes to hold. Despite what the “to the moon” people will tell you, cashing out a $75 box of WTR for $4000 ten months later was a pretty awesome pay off, and while that box could be $40,000 in ten years, I don’t think taking your $3900 was necessarily a bad choice, but it’s not the sort of choice you’ll have much opportunity to make with future sets. The considerations for a sale change a lot once you’re dealing with more gradual growth. If you pay $100 for a box of Tales of Aria and its up to $130 six months later, while that amount of growth is really quite good for such a short time period, the profit you’d be able to make by attempting to cash it out is actually not that impressive after you account for shipping and fees, to say nothing of the value of your time spent finding a buyer and, making a deal, and shipping the product. If you’re interested in keeping sealed product as way to make money, you’re going to need to get used to a longer minimum period of holding before you can realize gains. You’ll have to acclimate to having money tied up for longer periods of time. This also opens up considerations like storage space, which, while it might not be a big deal if you’re only saving a couple boxes, adds up quite quickly when you’re grabbing a bunch of cases from each expansion.
I’m going to close this piece out with another appeal to readers to think about what they’d like to get out of FAB. Last year was a wild ride, but it was also not at all typical of how the hobby usually works. You can definitely see great returns from collectible card games over a span of years, the degree to which FAB went up in the past year is relatively unheard of. For those of you who have sold cards or boxes for many times what you paid a few months prior, the whole business of selling cardboard may all seem very sexy and exciting, but as we ease into a more normal cycle of growth where a product “doing well” means steady gains with occasional modest spikes, it may be worth asking if you actually want to be using collectibles as a way to make money, specifically when it comes in the form of sealed product.
I think there is a pretty sharp difference between the feel of working with sealed product versus singles, and one may be more appealing to you than the other. Collecting singles has a lot more excitement to it for most people because a binder of cold foils (which you might even play with) can feel a lot more engaging to own than a bunch of sealed cardboard cases. While some people do really enjoy having that pile of product, I think it’s a smaller demographic. I know that, as someone who does both, I’m a lot more excited about the cold foils I play with in FAB or the blinged out cards I play with in Magic than the stacks of FAB cases stored way, or the pile of Secret Lairs waiting to be sold in a couple years. There’s no shame in realizing that you’re not passionate about sealed box investing. That’s totally fine, and maybe you’ll be happier focusing on cold foils, even if the sealed margins are generally better. There is a definite benefit of being able to enjoy cards for a period of time before selling them that isn’t easily quantified on a spreadsheet. As I’ve tried to emphasize before, people often reduce everything to pure numbers when they talk about these things, but the relationships we have with collectibles are often different than those we have with things like stocks or bonds. Selling an Amazon share is a dispassionate act for me, but every time I’ve moved a WTR box to buy something else there is some amount of emotion involved because I’m passionate about FAB in a way that I’m not about being an Amazon stock owner (I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a good stock to own; but I don’t spend hours of my week thinking about my stocks). Because most of us can’t be dispassionate about collectibles, you should do yourself a favor and pause to figure out what makes you excited about the financial end of FAB and then pursue that, don’t just go for sealed product because it’s what you’re “supposed to do” unless you really are just looking at numbers on a sheet. Collectibles are actually a lot of work, and if you aren’t enjoying yourself, it might be worth considering ways of making money with a lower time commitment.
*Header Image – Chane by Federico Musetti