There are two competing schools of thoughts about Secret Lairs.
The first sees Secret Lairs as a cynical cash grab. The secondary market has long eluded the grasp of Wizards of the Coast, but now they have a way to sell expensive singles directly to the consumer. Once their proof-of-concept proved successful, they began churning out as many Secret Lairs as possible, leading to record-breaking profits. This has created a culture of FOMO as hundreds of dollars of shiny new promos are printed each month, and it has become impossible to keep up.
The second school of thought sees Secret Lairs as a great way to reprint cards, make formats cheaper, and introduce exciting new art concepts to the game. If you wanted a set of the Ravnica shock lands, for example, the Secret Lair series undercut the secondary market value of those cards and provided an affordable (and cool-looking!) alternative for both Command and Modern players. Without Secret Lairs, we wouldn't have gotten product-hover id="214888", or a full set of product-hover id="242368", or product-hover id="228734". And if you don't like them, you can just ignore them and keep buying booster packs as normal.
Here's the thing: both schools of thought are correct. Secret Lairs are frustrating FOMO machines, but they're also really good at keeping prices down and introducing amazing cards with killer art to the game. My eyes roll way into the back of my head whenever I read a new Secret Lair announcement, but halfway through reading it I'm always kind of hyped to own at least one or two of the cool new promos.
Then I start looking at the price tags, and my brain freezes up. Do I want the foil or non-foil lair? The Superdrop bundle, or just the single lair that appeals to me the most? Should I even be buying these directly from WotC, or hold off for singles on the secondary market?
Last autumn, I wrote an article that took a look at every Secret Lair released to date. Back then, we learned that some Secret Lairs appreciated in value right away, but most did not. The Lairs with alternate-art lands tended to do best, followed by Commander-focused tribes. Secret Lairs focused on competitive staples (especially ones that badly needed a reprint) looked like they might have turned out to be bad buys.
Of course, the entire Secret Lair product line was less than a year old when I wrote that piece. Another nine months have gone by since then, and a lot has changed. WotC has moved away from single-day Secret Lairs and toward larger drops that are available for longer. Many Lairs are now available in multiple different forms, and of course we've had the introduction of Secret Lair: Universes Beyond. We've also had another nine months of pricing data to analyze, and another nine months for those early Secret Lair cards to gain or lose value.
Today, we're diving back in. Not only are we going to re-think a lot of the conclusions that I reached last fall—some of which have been proven wrong with the passage of time—but we're going to look at how to best approach all of our financial Secret Lair decisions.
Let's kick this shebang off by talking about Kaleidoscope Killers.
Containing promo foil versions of Reaper King, Sliver Overlord, and The Ur-Dragon for just $40 total, Kaleidoscope Killers was the must-buy Secret Lair in the original drop. Both Sliver Overlord and The Ur-Dragon sold separately for about $40 at the time, so this drop felt like WotC was giving us free money. I know several people who bought the maximum number of copies of this drop, just to flip for a profit.
If they'd tried to sell in year 1, they probably ended up losing money. Last fall, Reaper King was selling for just $3, Sliver Overlord was $15, and The Ur-Dragon was just $14.50. You had to hope for a $10+ Stained Glass Planewalker throw-in if you wanted your Kaleidoscope Killers to so much as break even.
Why was this drop a bust? Because everyone who wanted these cards had ample opportunity to buy in, as did a whole gaggle of speculators. Demand disappeared overnight, and the impatient speculators engaged in a race to the bottom. There were also a lot of people who bought the drop just for one of the three cards, which meant that the market was absolutely flooded with unwanted copies of Sliver Overlord and The Ur-Dragon from folks who just wanted to subsidize their singles purchase.
Nine months later, however, things are looking a tad different. Here's the price chart for product-hover id="205256":
And here's product-hover id="205255":
product-hover id="205254" is still worth very little, but these two cards are currently selling for $80+, making the original Lair a fine buy at $40. You just had to wait for the available supply to dry up and the market to get hot again. A year is simply not enough time to analyze the long-term value of these cards, and anyone who does pick these Lairs up as speculation targets should be patient.
These Kaleidoscope Killers aren't the only long-term winners from that first batch, either. I called the Bitterblossom Dreams drop a mediocre buy last fall, but id="Bitterblossom" variantSet="sld" has doubled in price since then:
Of course, not all Secret Lair cards have seen this much growth. Some Secret Lair cards have stagnated or even lost value since last fall. Luckily, the correlating factor in many of these cases is quite simple: it's related to the price of the regular, non-Lair version of the card. For example, here's the price of a regular, non-foil Bitterblossom over the same timeframe:
And here's the non-Lair copy of The Ur-Dragon:
I know this seems like an obvious point to make, but it's worth making anyway. These cards spiked in spite of the Secret Lair printing, not because of it. These are good cards that have a lot of demand, and eventually all the spare Lair copies dried up and the price spiked. If you see a card like Bitterblossom (or, say, Smothering Tithe, Cyclonic Rift, etc.) in a future Secret Lair, then, you can expect that it will probably be a solid long-term hold.
For some of us, the main appeal of the Secret Lair drops are the cool, unique, and occasionally bizarre art and foil treatments that these cards receive. From id="Leonin Warleader" variantSet="sld" to id="Serum Visions" variantId="205252" to art-free basic lands, Secret Lairs contain some of my favorite premium Magic cards ever printed.
Unfortunately, these cards are often a mixed bag from a financial perspective. id="Bitterblossom" variantSet="sld" and id="Sliver Overlord" variantSet="sld" spiked because the card got hot, not because people really wanted the Secret Lair version. For cards that are cheap outside of their premium drop copies, the outlook tends to be a lot more dire. For example, here's what one of the Serum Visions charts looks like since release, and the others are all pretty similar:
Here's the id="Eternal Witness" variantSet="sld":
And here's the id="Goblin Sharpshooter" variantSet="sld":
Even the Cats from product-hover id="205230", the best of the Secret Lairs when we did our last analysis and still one of the series' biggest winners, haven't budged much over the past year. id="Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist" variantSet="sld" is exactly where she was nine months ago:
And here's id="Regal Caracal" variantSet="sld", which has lost a little value:
Some of these cards were clearly good buys early on, especially OMG KITTIES!, but that advantage has gone down over time. The first round of drops was only available for 24 hours, while later drops sat on the WotC website for weeks and weeks. The truth is that very few of the funky Secret Lair cards end up holding a ton of value beyond their non-Lair counterparts. If you're buying the product-hover id="214907" or the product-hover id="237611" or the alternate-art Lightning Bolts or whatever, don't expect those cards to see a meaningful surge in demand due to their aesthetic appearance.
(Yes, there are exceptions, but we'll be covering those a touch later.)
Why is this? I suspect it has something to do with the sheer volume of promos and foils and alternate-art nonsense that WotC is churning out these days. If there are dozens of Secret Lairs a year, plus Masters sets and Collector Boosters and everything else, why overspend for any specific promo? There's always another card in your deck you can foil out, with more promos dropping each and every week. Some of these cards might eventually spike, but it will take at least another year and possibly more. I'd rather focus my energy on in-demand cards, not exciting new art. If you're going to pick up these cards, do it for yourself—not to make a profit.
There's an exception to our first two rules, and it's popular Commanders like Meren of Clan Nel Toth. Here's what the normal, non-foil version of Meren has done over the past year:
And here's id="Meren of Clan Nel Toth" variantSet="sld" from the International Women's' Day drop:
As you can see, this is a break from both of the trends we've just talked about. Meren has heated up over the past year, but throwing out the recent outlier spike-and-drop, we're talking about a card that has climbed from $6 to just $8. That means its $40 Secret Lair price tag is due to its foil treatment and alternate art—a violation of Rule #2.
Why is Meren of Clan Nel Toth an exception? Because she's one of the most popular Commanders ever printed, and this version is by far the coolest. "There's always another card in your deck that you can foil out for less money" is a reasonable rule of thumb when talking about cards that are always going to be part of the 99, but when you're talking about your commander? People are willing to pay up for the version they want.
Captain Sisay, also from the International Women's Day Lair, has also spiked for the same reason. There isn't enough data to say that this is going to happen to all the best commanders from the most recent Secret Lairs, but I strongly expect that this trend will continue into the future.
When I wrote my last Secret Lair article, I called product-hover id="205225" and product-hover id="213819" two of the only good Secret Lairs for purchase and immediate flipping. My reasoning was that anyone who wanted these promos would likely need between eight and 30 copies of the basic land they were choosing to build around, which would create a higher-than-expected demand for these cards. In addition, I expected that fewer people would buy these drops because spending $30+ on a set of five basics (or Snow-Covered basics) would be a tough sell for many.
While those two drops were definitely solid buys, Eldraine Wonderland's momentum was stalled by the prevalence of foil Snow-Covered lands in Kaldheim. The Godzilla basics have all climbed a bit over the past year, though, and I still really like the full-text basics as a long-term play. If you're going to buy Secret Lairs directly from WotC, drops like this are a solid call.
That said, I saw a lot of posts about this trend when the Bob Ross "Happy Little Gathering" lands went on sale toward the end of 2020. So far, these lands haven't moved much at all. Here's the non-foil Island, for example:
Of course, I can't blame all of this on speculation. WotC's distributor messed up when these were initially shipped, sending foil copies to the non-foil buyers and vice-versa, so they had to actually send copies of both the foil and non-foil Lair to each buyer. This doubled the number of available copies of Happy Little Gathering, which might have flooded the market. It has also been less than a year since this set was released, which isn't enough time to fully evaluate its long-term future.
Even still, I've seen a level of speculative attention placed on these basic land Lairs that gives me pause going forward. Some of them will likely still be great buys, but they won't instantly turn into free money like the first two did.
If you look at the TCGplayer prices of most of the older, still-sealed Secret Lairs, you'll see them selling for quite a bit more than their initial cost. This makes sense: most collectible items with limited sales windows increase in value over time, as more people want to own copies but are no longer able to buy them directly from the source. This obviously doesn't hold true for everything—there are plenty of "limited edition" toys that are close to worthless now because they were all bought up by speculators and/or that toy line isn't hot anymore—but since the overall Magic market is still doing fine, sealed Secret Lairs should prove a safe source of value going forward.
It's worth doing the math before you go out and buy a bunch of Lairs to flip, though. Remember: you're not just on the hook for the cost of the lair, but for shipping both ways, as well as all assorted platform fees.
Secret Lair shipping from WotC is $10.99 these days, but let's assume you're buying at least three to four copies with each order and estimate roughly $4 in shipping per Lair. Platform fees are also going to come to about 13% of your total sales price.
Outgoing shipping is going to run you between $4.20 and $10.80 depending on the weight of each Secret Lair and whether or not you use free print-at-home shipping sites like PirateShip.com instead of going to the USPS counter, but luckily most TCGplayer sales data for Secret Lairs includes extra shipping fees on top of the item cost. Since this is calculated separately, I'll be leaving outgoing shipping and handling out of my calculation and just deduct $4.00 for incoming shipping plus 13% in platform fees in order to calculate our overall gains or losses.
With that said, let's go through each Secret Lair that has shipped so far, in chronological order, from earliest to latest. This is a great chance for us to use TCGplayer's new sales history feature, because I can actually use the last sold copy as our point of comparison.
We're starting off strong with one of the best Secret Lairs ever. As we discussed, this price is almost entirely due to the price of Bitterblossom itself.
Eldraine Wonderland is another strong Lair. Even with additional foil Snow-Covered lands showing up in Kaldheim, these cards are really sought-after.
Restless in Peace is kind of a wash, in large part because demand for cards like Bloodghast and Golgari Thug hasn't been strong in 2020 or 2021.
Our first loss! Seeing Visions was my personal favorite of the original batch, but Serum Visions doesn't see that much play and this is the exact type of premium foil that has been devalued by the existence of Collector Boosters.
Most of the Secret Lairs from this first drop are worth at least $10-$20 more than their initial cost. As you'll soon see, this trend doesn't hold.
If you bought a bunch of these during the initial flurry, congratulations: you can make about $25 each after tying up your $40 for about 18 months. Whether that's good or bad depends largely on whether or not you needed that money for other investments or just life expenses over the past two years.
This is one of the few Secret Lairs that will go down in history as a massive win. We all wish we'd maxed out on these when we had the chance. Of course, if we had, they wouldn't be worth this much today.
Year of the Rat was an under-the-radar Secret Lair that was only available for a single day early in 2020. Since the people who need this one need many copies of it, it still sells super well.
Here's another Secret Lair that I didn't expect to be such a huge win. I'm not separating out these bundles since they're so similar, and most people bought the lot together, but you were definitely rewarded if you jumped on this one. It may have taken many months to hit the printer, but the profit margin is well worth it.
Nearly all the Secret Lairs released in spring of 2020 ended up being huge winners. Some of it is just that they've had longer to mature than the more recent Lairs, but I also think that the pandemic had a lot to do with it. People were being a little more conservative with their cash last spring, and I'd bet fewer people snapped these up than, say, the Summer Superdrop.
After looking at the price of The Godzilla Lands and the Eldraine Wonderland Snow-Covered basics, you can see why "just buy all the Secret Lairs with basic lands" became a convenient rule of thumb late in 2020.
Ok, let's talk about the Summer 2020 Superdrop. Some of these Lairs are worth a tiny bit more than their initial sales price, like this one, and many are worth less. This is in large part because everyone who bought them picked up the entire drop for the foil fetch land and then flooded the market with Lairs that they didn't really want. The result is a mess that wasn't really profitable for anyone.
As you can see, if you dropped $170 on this bundle last summer, you could sell it now for a whopping $10 profit. That's not great. This is one of the bigger misses in the short history of the Secret Lair franchise so far.
This is the last of the "classic" Secret Lairs. After this, most of them were released in two treatments: non-foil, and foil for $10 more. And as you can see, there's a pretty clear winner when it comes to Magic finance.
Wow. The foil version of this lair sold for $10 more, but it ended up being worth several dollars less. As we progress through the rest of these Secret Lairs, you'll see that the foil version rarely commands much of a premium over the non-foil version, and you should pretty much always be buying the non-foil version of these Lairs. WotC has devalued the idea of foils to the point where they simply don't have any additional value in most situations.
After all that anger and sadness and frustration, The Walking Dead Secret Lair is worth a whopping $13 more than it was when it was released. That doesn't mean one of these cards won't spike in the future, nor does it mean that folks should be forced to play with Walking Dead characters in their decks, but so far, the financial apocalypse that some have predicted has been averted.
Another stark example of why you should generally buy the non-foil version of these Secret Lairs. The foil would have cost you $10 more, and it's currently selling for just 24 cents more.
And here we have the exception to the "buy non-foil" rule. While the non-foil version of Happy Little Gathering is technically more profitable, the people who buy these premium basic lands really do like the foil versions and the multiplier still exists to more of an extent. You'll see this show up to a greater degree slightly later.
It's quite likely that A Box of Rocks will be the 2022 version of Kaleidoscope Killers, and a brutal loss will start to look like a clear win before long. Chromatic Lantern alone might be enough to pick it back up. A lot of people snapped these up, though, so it might take a while.
Here's a surprising winner! Party Hard, Shred Harder is riding on the back of Anguished Unmaking and especially Assassin's Trophy, both of which are seeing a lot more play these days. This is by far the coolest printing of Assassin's Trophy out there, and it is very sought-after, so this is a rare example of rule #1 superseding rule #2.
The Summer Superdrop may have been a bust, but the Secretversary Superdrop was another nice purchase. Turning $230 into $100 profit after just seven months is quite solid, though it's worth noting that none of these have sold in the past two weeks. If you really needed cash now, you'd probably only be making $60-$70. Even still, that's fine.
As I said back in the Happy Little Gathering section, you still want to be picking up foil copies of these Basic Land Secret Lairs.
Another win for foil vs. non-foil? Not so fast. There has literally only been a single sale of an unopened foil Valentine's Day Secret Lair on TCGplayer so far, so I wouldn't count on this price holding. In fact, you can pick up a copy right now for just $47.93 plus just $2 in shipping, which wouldn't cover your actual shipping fees on this product. And that one hasn't even sold!
These tepid sales are in large part because WotC forgot to include the Borderless Heliod, Sun-Crowned in both the non-foil and foil box set, and they were shipped out at a later date. Since you're not even getting one of the best cards in the box when you purchase this Lair, the sealed price is going to lag—a lot.
I'm not saying much because these Lairs are so recent that they're still more or less selling for their original price, plus or minus a couple of bucks. I'm sure I'll have more to say the next time we dip back into Secret Lair analysis.
Based on the widening trend we're seeing between foil and non-foil prices over the past few Lairs, it's possible that fewer people are buying the foil versions and the price is starting to rise. Or, perhaps, this particular Secret Lair is just very special to a lot of people who really want it in foil.
I'm not going to get into any later Secret Lairs because they haven't shipped yet. This is a pretty strong list already, though, and it gives you a pretty good idea of what you can expect when you buy one of these.
Looking back on this, there are a few other sub-lessons we can learn from this section.
First, buy the non-foil Lairs if possible, unless the foil version contains popular Commanders or premium basic lands.
Second, the Superdrops have tended to provide good value throughout. The Summer Superdrop is the only bust, in large part because of how many people bought it just for the fetchland, and you can still break even on that one if you want. If you're waffling about snagging a Superdrop and you've got the cash on hand, just pick it up and worry about it later.
Be sure to keep it sealed, though. These drops tend to lose value fast the minute you crack them open.
Looking back at these "winning" Secret Lairs, it's hard to ignore just how much more money you'd have made if you'd simply bought the best cards as singles during the initial race to the bottom.
Let's take another look at our id="Sliver Overlord" variantSet="sld" chart:
Flipping the Secret Lair Drop would have allowed you to flip $40 into $80, but simply buying a bunch of Overlords for $15 and selling them for $45 would have been a better call. For one, it's a lot easier to buy and sell single cards than unwieldy drops. For another, it's better to have less of your cash tied up, especially in bulky objects. Assuming a $200 investment in both cases (and forgetting about shipping and fees right now), my Kaleidoscope Killers buy would have doubled my money and my id="Sliver Overlord" variantSet="sld" buy would have tripled my money.
Similar stories hold true with lots of the other Lairs, too. You could have bought id="Meren of Clan Nel Toth" variantSet="sld" for just $11 the week the International Women's Day Lair shipped, and she sells for $40 now. id="Bitterblossom" variantSet="sld" bottomed out around $25, etc. etc.
I generally suggest picking up the Secret Lair drop as a whole when you think you're going to use all the cards involved, or it's something like the shock land drop where you're getting a discount for buying a bunch of cards that are all at roughly the same level of power and desirability. There are also Secret Lairs like OMG KITTIES! where there basically wasn't a good buying window because too few people snapped it up in the first place.
That is happening less and less often, though, and you can see from our journey through the sealed Lairs that most box sets are selling for roughly MSRP during the first few months after release. This gives you a nice long buying window for all the singles you need.
Going forward, then, I'll likely be picking up most of the Superdrops and sticking them in the closet for a year or two. For all of my singles needs, I'll be logging onto TCGplayer and picking them up about a week after they're shipped. Not only will this let me participate in as much Secret Lair buying as I want, but my odds of losing money at any point are incredibly low. It's a win/win!
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Last week's newsletter was all about the Modern staples that have spiked in the wake of Modern Horizons 2. That set has shaken up the metagame in a major way, and older cards like Darkslick Shores and Mishra's Bauble have suddenly become the hottest staples in the game. Curious what I think about the financial future of staples like this? You'll have to sign up for my newsletter and find out!