What’s in the Box?

When the Pokémon Company prints trading cards, they pay a certain price for them. Probably no more than a handful of dollars for a few hundred cards. But then they put ten of them in a booster pack each, and they stack 36 booster packs into a display box. Suddenly, that box retails at $100, and of course, yes, the creativity in creating the Pokémon, and their attacks, and drawing the pictures, and so on, is worth something too.

If you’re trying to buy a display for a set that’s popular, however, perhaps one that was released a few years back, $100 is also not where it ends. In case of Evolving Skies, a set that’s not yet particularly rare but extremely popular, a box retails for over $400 less than two years after it was first released. Every now and then, you’ll catch someone opening one on Youtube, and besides it being thrilling to hunt for cool Pokémon, there’s usually also a question looming over the creator’s head: Will they get their money’s worth?

Almost invariably, the answer is “No.” Why? Because if you calculate the statistics after opening thousands of packs of that set (and yes, people have), you’ll instantly realize there’s only one card in the entire 200-card set that can recoup the value of the box in one fell swoop — and your chance of pulling that card is around 1 in 2000. A few others can get into the $100-range, and sure if you pulled 20 cards valued at $20 each, you’d break even too — but once again, you won’t, because there’s only a handful of “hits” in each display.

In other words, the odds of making money come close to those of a miracle. It is much cheaper to just by all the cards you want outright than to try and pull them from the boosters. And yet, people keep buying boxes and opening packs. Why? Hope. Hope is worth more than the box, and until you actually open it, every single one of them holds, at the very least, the potential to contain one of those bank-breaker cards. That’s why the displays are worth more closed than opened: The surprise, the potential, the hope is still there. As soon as you tear away the plastic, it dissipates, and reality sets in. Then, it’s back to cold, hard numbers — and who wants to return to those? How uninspiring!

Some people look at this, see a stupid game, and choose not to play. Others smell an advantage, create a spreadsheet, and assemble premium collections for half the price. Some just enjoy the occasional booster opening experience, and others make Youtube channels opening the oldest, most expensive sets for millions to watch. Whichever category you fall into when it comes to Pokémon cards, chances are, you’ll search for that same experience somewhere. It might be watching new movies at the cinema, meeting people in your industry for coffee chats, or playing the lottery, but we all want hope one way or another.

Hope is the spirit of art, joy, and connection. It brings out inspiration, optimism, and courage. That’s why no good story can make do without it, and why the box is worth so much more than the cards. For all its silly sources, remember that hope is not a trivial game we play. It’s an essential part of being alive. We need it to sustain us, and it’s one of our best tools for sustaining others. The questions are often more valuable than the answers, because questions, unlike answers, keep us going — including the one that has everyone wondering when they marvel at a $400 Pokémon-card display: “What’s in the box?