Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne talks about the recent decline of TCG sales at the retail level, and looks at a few new things Wizards of the Coast has tried.

Our store hosted three prerelease events for Lost Caverns of Ixalan this past weekend, and while our turnout was pretty abysmal, I was glad to see other stores in the area had solid turnouts.  I've noticed, and have seen confirming comments from other stores, a drop-off in preorders of booster boxes, especially draft boosters.  Our preorders on draft boxes have dropped to zero, and our preorders on set and collector boosters of new sets of Magic: The Gathering have dropped by 80%.

I'm not sure how much making prerelease weekend into a faux-release weekend has to do with this decline, but it does not appear to have helped the situation.  Online sellers have cut the price on booster boxes to $10 to $20 over cost, which does not help.  However, most online sellers appear to adhere to the restriction that they cannot sell until the official release date, which does give brick and mortar stores a bit of a leg up.  I'm not sure if a week’s delay in receiving product outweighs the extra $40 to $80 the customer pays in-store for a booster box.

I've read of some stores eschewing the sale of booster boxes altogether, preferring to sell Magic by the pack, which offers a better margin (albeit with a bit more labor and smaller sales).  A few stores have even said they opted to drop Magic (see "Backs Off on 'Magic: The Gathering'") and other TCGs altogether, preferring to shift their focus to other non-collectible games that generally require much less effort to sell.  If you are going to sell TCGs, and make that your focus, you must invest in a decent singles selection, play space, and organized play (all of which cost extra money).  Magic has gone through a slump like this before.  Of course, there were not so many variations of Magic for retailers to consider.

I have noticed similar drops in booster box sales of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon TCGs.  Pokemon customers no longer swarm over our new releases when they hit the shelf as they did a year or two back.  We have found Yu-Gi-Oh! players tend to come in heavily for premiere events, purchase everything they can get that weekend.  Then, when the set officially releases, crickets.  Booster boxes of Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG can readily be found online the date of release below cost or a few percentage points above.  After the premiere event, due to its publishing model, interest in Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG generally shifts from packs to buying single cards.  Much like Magic, we've seen slumps in both games in the past so expect them to turn around, just hope it is soon.

I do applaud Wizards of the Coast trying new things like Universes Beyond and The Lord of the Rings Scene Boxes.  The Unverses Beyond Commander Decks move extremely quickly, and we regularly get customers coming in looking for older decks, (of which we, unfortunately, have none).  I didn't expect much in the way of sales from the Warhammer 40,000 and Doctor Who Commander Decks, so I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they sold out.  Unfortunately, the second trip to the well with the LotR Collector Boosters and Scene Boxes have sold poorly, and I have read some complaints about quality of the foil cards.  I remember recommending the Scene Boxes as a good item for holiday sales, so I want to see how prescient I was (see "The Gifting Season will Soon Be Upon Us").

Comments? Are booster boxes selling better in your store?  Email

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of