If you've ever asked about buying Yu-Gi-Oh cards, you've probably been met with this phrase before. And it's pretty sound advice. We all know Yu-Gi-Oh can get expensive, and just buying loose packs doesn't guarantee you anything. I can certainly relate. I've wanted to pull a third copy of Lightning Storm for months now to finally finish my playset, but no matter how many packs of Ignition Assault I open, the Yu-Gi-Oh powers that be clearly have different plans.
And that's where the age-old debate comes in.
Should I have just forked over the $120 price tag and bought a copy of the card from say, TCGplayer instead of hopelessly buying sealed products and hoping for a lucky draw? The answer is: yeah, probably. It would get me exactly the card I need without any hassle or suspense and I wouldn't have to end up spending potentially hundreds of dollars on packs. Knowing that information, though, I still bought the packs. In fact, I buy packs pretty frequently.
Sometimes, I pick up a stray pack here or there when I'm at the store, and other times I'll get an entire booster box when I can afford it. And as crazy as it might sound to the thrifty and enterprising Yu-Gi-Oh player, I think you should too.
Now before you decide to click away, just hear me out! Even though you can simply buy the cards you need (and it's a perfectly acceptable thing to do), I'd argue that you should still buy sealed products as well, at least sometimes, and I've got good reasons why.
Why does this feel like the introduction to a YouTube video?
It should go without saying that local shops are the lynchpin of Yu-Gi-Oh, as well as almost any other collectible game. We go to these havens every week to hang out, catch up with friends, trade cards, and play the game we all love.
While big, flashy YCS events in metropolitan cities might seem like the pinnacle of Yu-Gi-Oh, I'll always argue that the local card shop has a more integral role in the community. Most of us can't go to our favorite game stores at the moment, but that's hopefully just a small blip in the larger picture. More importantly, I notice a lot of players forget that these card shops aren't running on goodwill and pixie dust. Your local shop is a small business; they pay rent, maintenance, wages, and utility costs to cover. While many locations are more than happy to let you come in, hang out, play and trade with other players, they'd probably that you buy a thing or two while you're there.
And that's where sealed products come in. Nobody can just conjure up copies of Lightning Storm or Apollousa, Bow of the Goddess out of thin air, as awesome of a power as that would be. Sure, many card shops will buy cards off of players and put them up for sale, but ultimately most of them are looking to sell individual packs to willing and able customers. So just by coming in and buying even a single pack once a week or so, you're doing your part to help your local game store keep the lights on. It's really the least you can do to thank them for the table space and atmosphere, but it doesn't end there.
A local community needs cards. What would a Yu-Gi-Oh player be without them? Players are always looking to collect, trade, and build new decks. We need cards to do all of those things. So where do cards come from? Yu-Gi-Oh cards come from Yu-Gi-Oh packs!
You might be thinking, "Yeah, duh Paul! I'm not three years old, I know where Yu-Gi-Oh cards from!"
And I'll admit, that might sound patronizing, but stick with me. For a community to thrive, its players need access to new cards. Sure, each player can specifically purchase single cards that he or she might need, but think of the whole. Opening packs means that you have the potential not only to get the cards you need, but also the ones that somebody else needs. Which means you can trade with them!
That becomes especially important when new sets release. I remember a dark age of Yu-Gi-Oh in my community for a few years that stemmed from that. Our local community didn't have Sneak Peeks at the time and many players were very staunchly against the idea of purchasing sealed packs, from the card shop itself and even online, as a result of the "only buy singles" rhetoric. What resulted was a severe shortage of new cards, which put our collective scene months behind in both casual and competitive play. The most devout players could always get whatever they needed, but they only comprised a small fraction of the whole.
Those players might have had the advantage of playing newer strategies against everyone else, but even they found themselves discouraged when they realized that, by and large, they weren't getting exposure to the newest competitive developments because the other players simply couldn't get their hands on the new cards. It meant that when they traveled out of town for Regionals, they were still largely at a disadvantage in terms of experience.
Think about the last Sneak Peek you attended; they're being rebranded into Core Premieres now, but you know what I mean. I'll always have fond memories of Sneak Peek events because of their high turnouts. While the average size of a weekly tournament at my local card shop was around fifteen to twenty people, Sneak Peek weekends regularly saw us hitting thirty or more players, and that's excluding the faces who showed up just to open packs and trade without actually playing in the tournament.
The best part about all of the comradery was how excited everyone was just to open the new set, from casual players on a budget to the traveling competitives. Hundreds of packs were opened, shiny new foils were pulled, and trading was at an all-time high between players of all skill levels. In that way, I'll always see Sneak Peeks as some of the best experiences I've had with the game. It's a high that can only really happen when players are willing to buy and open packs. Contrast that with a community where players are much more stubborn and jaded about buying packs and trading, keeping just the cards they need and barely interacting beyond the occasional sale. It's a night and day difference.
Strictly buying Yu-Gi-Oh singles and avoiding booster packs is largely based on the idea that packs aren't "worth your money." And there's certainly some truth to that. Yu-Gi-Oh packs operate much like your favorite mobile gacha game. When you open a pack, there's a very real chance that you won't see exactly the card or cards you were looking for. Spending $3.99 on a pack and getting a handful of seemingly useless cards is no bueno, right? I certainly know that feeling. You were betting on the chance of pulling that copy of Pot of Extravagance, that Accesscode Talker, that Magicians' Souls and you got unlucky. A dud, if you will. Or was it?
I'd actually say no, at least on average. Sure, Yu-Gi-Oh packs are known for having a lot of what most of us would call filler. But different players have different needs, and you'd be surprised at how often the phrase "One man's trash is another man's treasure" holds true in this game. The cards you pulled might be exactly what somebody else in your local community was looking for. And lo and behold, they could have precisely the card you were hoping to get. Now you can make a trade and both parties win. Sure, you could have just purchased a copy online, but with this method, two local players both got cards they needed, and (assuming the packs were purchased locally) the card shop made two valuable sales.
See how it all comes together? Everybody wins here.
But maybe you're the type of player who's more interested in direct monetary value than a sentimental, feel-good story. Most of the foil cards in a set will have price tags attached to them, and plenty of players open lots of packs in the hopes of getting high-value cards that they can sell for a return on their investment. Paying $60 for a box and ending up with cards you could sell for $80 feels gratifying. I remember feeling on top of the world when I pulled a Gold Rare copy of Crush Card Virus after its first reprint in 2008, getting a roughly $300 card out of a $30 pack. That's always been a big part of Yu-Gi-Oh. I still think there's an argument here for investing in some sealed products, especially now with the changes to card rarities and ratios that Konami introduced in Eternity Code.
My friend Jason wrote about this change in-depth a few weeks ago and he does an absolutely wonderful job of explaining what these changes might mean for the pack-opening metagame. I strongly suggest you give it a look, but I'll sum it up in this way: because the new set has a wider selection of Super, Ultra, and Secret Rare cards – as well as presumably all quarterly main sets moving forward – pulling any specific one is actually a bit harder. That means the average price of foils may actually be higher as well.
While that might seem like even more reason to avoid buying packs and just grab the single cards you want, I disagree. The earlier example of buying a pack and getting a card that another player is looking for is actually much more relevant now. If I buy a pack of Eternity Code looking for a copy of Madolche Salon and pull a copy of Machina Metalcruncher that my friend needed, I've suddenly got an easy trade on my hands. But let's say I didn't trade that Machina Metalcruncher immediately and held onto it instead. While other players look to pull one and find it more difficult than anticipated, the perceived value of my copy increases slightly. So if I wanted to sell it for, let's say $5 instead of $3, I would have a bit more leverage in that department. And this is all while the price tag of an Eternity Code pack remains at $3.99.
I'll admit that this particular point is a bit of a murkier one than most of my earlier arguments. A lot comes down to how the large-scale community reacts to card scarcity and it's always a bit of a gamble, but I do believe that the rarity changes in Eternity Code do slightly favor openers of sealed product - which has a more or less static price, at least while in print - over those who buy singles.
Alright, let's swim back to the surface for this last one. I believe that opening Yu-Gi-Oh packs is fun, plain and simple. For many of us, the rush of opening a new Yu-Gi-Oh pack, especially as a kid, was downright euphoric. If you're the type of person who likes risk and suspense, then card games like this are a great hobby to have. Maybe you'll pull exactly what you wanted and then some. Maybe you'll roll a dud. For me, that gamble's part of the experience. I know that I won't always win the lottery and I don't expect to, but that's what makes it all feel so special when I do.
And let's be honest: who DOESN'T get excited when they see a bunch of shiny, brightly colored, sealed Yu-Gi-Oh packs just waiting to be ripped open? You can't tell me that you don't.
To wrap things up, I'll just say this: buy singles, yes. If you really need a specific card, it's a fast and relatively painless way to get what you're after and then finish that deck or collection. You'll probably save some money in the long run, too. There's nothing inherently wrong with that decision. However, the other side of the coin does exist. Those new cards have to come from somewhere. Buying packs, even if it's just a single one, is a great way to support your local game store and community and is just a fun thing to do. You can even do both, funnily enough! That's what I do.
At the end of the day, the answer will be a little different for everyone, but as long as you're enjoying the Yu-Gi-Oh experience and getting what you want out of the game, you really can't go wrong. Until next time!