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Singles, Hobby Boxes, & the Truth About Trading Card Investing

Last Updated: November 4, 2021
The evidence doesn’t lie. Card collectors can find more value right now in the hobby buying single cards as opposed to wax.

As the sports trading card hobby continues to gain traction with broader audiences, collectors new and old looking for more. One of the biggest questions is the same as it ever was: Out of all the sets out there, which one makes for the smartest investment? And ever after that, are hobby boxes or retail boxes the better bet?

Usually, hobby boxes are bandied about as the best answer. But ultimately, the better buy is to invest in single cards. This becomes clear as soon as you gauge the likelihood of landing the highly-sought players in the sports trading card hobby in the boxes of their respective sets.

Let’s explain.

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The Hot QBs

The NFL regular season just kicked off, so you’re likely on the hunt to get your hands on the trending quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert are arguably the hottest non-rookies, with Trevor Lawrence and Mac Jones leading this season’s class of debutantes.

Patrick Mahomes Optic Rated Rookie and Panini Prizm cards boast market values of approximately $550 and $1,000, respectively, while PSA 10-graded editions of those cards go for about $1,800 and $7,500.

2017 Panini Donruss Optic Patrick Mahomes Rated Rookie card

Meanwhile, Optic BLASTER boxes (24 cards) go for $500, and hobby boxes (80 cards) for around $5,400. You would have to hit at least one Mahomes rookie in a BLASTER box to get your money’s worth, and a short-print Mahomes to make the hobby box a worthy investment.

Next, let’s take a look at Herbert, the 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. The 2020 Prizm hobby box goes for $1,700. You can get Herbert’s base rookie card right now for $80. A PSA 10 version of that card goes for $600. In order to get a third of the value of the box, you would have to not only get a Justin Herbert base card, but get one that’ll grade a PSA 10.

“But sealed wax always goes up!”
–So-called OG collectors

2021 Donruss just dropped, and even though it’s not as high-level as Prizm or Optic, our point in favor of singles still stands.

Donruss hobby boxes are selling for $480; Trevor Lawrence’s Rated Rookie goes for about $50, and Mac Jones for around $55 (huh?). Usually, a PSA 10 will give between a 4x to 7x multiplier. Even then, if you hit both of those rookies — let’s face it, you probably won’t — you’d have to get 10s to get more than your money back from buying the box.

LaMelo Ball’s Encore
2020 Panini Prizm LaMelo Ball rookie card

We’re a little over a month away from the tipoff of the NBA regular season, and a whole lot of the hype is focused on LaMelo Ball, who recently revealed his first-ever signature sneaker fresh off his 2020-21 NBA Rookie of the Year campaign. If he can continue to build himself up into an All-Star, his early investors and collectors will be buzzing.

Across the overall card market, Ball has the highest value in the 2021 rookie class. With that in mind, let’s we’ll take a look at two different Panini sets: Prizm and Select.

2020-21 Panini Prizm NBA hobby boxes sell for $1,200 and retail blasters go for around $50 on the secondary market. LaMelo Ball Prizm base sells for around $50 raw and $800 for a PSA 10.

There’s no guarantee you’ll get a LaMelo Ball out of a hobby or retail box; as an investor or collector, it’s better simply to buy his single card instead of buying one hobby box or multiple retail blasters.

Meanwhile, 2021 was the first year Select had retail product variations. The most sought-after LaMelo Ball rookie is the Courtside version. The Select Courtside LaMelo Ball sells for $130 and Select hobby boxes go for $1,000. Select hobby boxes usually have two Courtsides, but there are 100 cards on the Select Courtside checklist.

You’re better off purchasing one off of eBay or from your LCS.

What About Low-numbered Parallel Autos?

Admittedly, nothing beats the excitement of breaking a pack and hitting a huge card, and with every new release, more numbered variations become available.

This might sound crazy, but it’s better to buy those numbered variations directly as singles than to hunt for them in sealed wax. Of course, there are some exceptions, like 1-of-1s and certain low-numbered autos, but you’re almost guaranteed to spend more money over time to hit those cards via the sealed route.

No, we’re not saying you should stop ripping wax — if we were to stop ripping, then there wouldn’t be any singles to purchase. Look at it like eating sweets: It’s satisfying, but you should do it in moderation. The rest of the time, if there’s ultimately one card you want, just buy it outright.

Even if the idea of discovering it in a fresh pack is sweeter.