Last updated on September 13, 2022
Champion of the Perished | Illustration by Daarken
Wizards is no stranger to questionable decisions when it comes to making promo cards. Whether it’s odd choices in themed sets, cards with hideous art, or canceling the coolest promo program they ever had (I miss you, FNM mail-in promos), they’ve done a lot.
But within the last decade or so, WotC made some changes to one of their longest-running promotions: the buy-a-box promo.
Realmwalker | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk
The buy-a-box promo is a promotional offer where you get a special card when you buy a booster box.
Somewhere once upon a time, Wizards of the Coast decided that they could print neat promotional cards featuring an alternate foil (sometimes with alternate art not found in the main set) that would come with any purchase of a booster box.
These cards were in every major set release from 2009 to the release of Dominaria in 2018. This set started a new trend of promo cards that were only available through the buy-a-box promo.
A lot of the buy-a-box promo cards were made in excess, which led retailers to also package them with other sets. It’s pretty common to see big-box retailers like Target and Walmart selling older, repackaged booster packs that come with a random foil card that’s generally a buy-a-box promo card.
Cards with an asterisk * are only found as a buy-a-box promo and aren’t found in packs in the set.
Promo: Honor of the Pure
Promo: Day of Judgement
Promo: Celestial Colonnade
Promo: Guul Draz Assassin
Promo: Birds of Paradise
Scars of Mirrodin
Promo: Mirran Crusader
Promo: Surgical Extraction
Promo: Chandra’s Phoenix
Promo: Devil’s Play
Promo: Silverblade Paladin
Promo: Cathedral of War
Promo: Supreme Verdict
Promo: Nightveil Specter
Promo: Render Silent
Promo: Ratchet Bomb
Promo: Sylvan Caryatid
Promo: Fated Conflagration
Promo: Eidolon of Blossoms
Promo: Goblin Rabblemaster
Promo: Rattleclaw Mystic
Promo: Shamanic Revelation
Promo: Ojutai’s Command
Promo: Relic Seeker
Promo: Ruinous Path
Promo: Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Promo: Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Promo: Skyship Stalker
Promo: Scrap Trawler
Promo: Archfiend of Ifnir
Promo: Wildfire Eternal
Promo: Burning Sun’s Avatar
Promo: Captain’s Hook
Promo: Firesong and Sunspeaker*
Promo: Nexus of Fate*
Promo: Impervious Greatwurm*
Promo: The Haunt of Hightower*
Promo: Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge*
Promo: Rienne, Angel of Rebirth*
Promo: Kenrith, the Returned King*
Theros: Beyond Death
Promo: Athreos, Shroud-Veiled plus one of the following foil Nyx lands:
Promo: Zilortha, Strength Incarnate as Godzilla, King of the Monsters*
Promo: Rin and Seri, Inseparable*
Promo: Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
Promo: Mana Confluence*
Promo: Dragonsguard Elite
Promo: Sanctum Prelate*
D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
Promo: Vorpal Sword
Promo: Champion of the Perished
Innistrad: Crimson Vow
Promo: Voldaren Estate as Castle Dracula
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
Promo: Satoru Umezawa
Streets of New Capenna
Promo: Jaxis, the Troublemaker
Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate
Promo: Elder Brain
Wizards started the buy-a-box program with Magic 2010 to increase the sale of booster boxes. The promo cards were foils with alternate art and a watermark of each mana symbol in the text box.
While we don’t have sales numbers to prove the idea worked, players didn’t mind the program and the chance at free promos. But there was a distinct shift in promos after nearly eight years.
The buy-a-box promo cards from Dominaria through Zendikar Rising couldn’t be found in packs of that card’s set, so they were only available to players who bought booster boxes. While this already sounds like a poor idea on paper, the first card we saw for this (Firesong and Sunspeaker) didn’t make an impact on the format which led to most players believing that WotC knew what they were doing.
After the oppressive nature of Nexus of Fate and Kenrith, the Returned King in their respective Standard formats (and Nexus eventually being banned in several formats because of its power), Wizards finally realized that these exclusive cards weren’t healthy for the game and reverted back to promo cards that were already in the set.
Almost every buy-a-box promo is available in its accompanying set just with the regular art.
The buy-a-box promo card was only available as a promo card if you bought a booster box for the following sets:
- Core Set 2019
- Guilds of Ravnica
- Ravnica Allegiance
- War of the Spark
- Modern Horizons
- Core Set 2020
- Throne of Eldraine
- Theros: Beyond Death
- Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths
- Core Set 2021
- Commander Legends
Availability and Controversy
Dragonsguard Elite | Illustration by Daarken
Players initially didn’t really care about these promos. They were a fun addition to buying a booster box and some of the cards saw heavy play which made them more fun to use. But the change to cards that weren’t available in the actual set left a sour taste in players’ mouths.
With the release of Core Set 2019 came Nexus of Fate, a card that would immediately warp the format thanks to its ability to not only give you an extra turn but also shuffle itself back into your library. This incentivized players to run a full playset and made Turbofog the most popular deck of that year’s Pro Tour. We wouldn’t see the card banned until July 2020 but the damage was already done.
The next few sets wouldn’t have cards anywhere near the same power level, with the closest card being Kenrith, the Returned King that saw competitive play all the way until Standard rotation. But Kenrith was nowhere the same level of oppression, though this could have been worse if in-person events had been more of a thing while players weren’t able to get the card in paper.
Wizards decided to revert to the old system in September 2020 and no longer made promo-exclusive cards from Zendikar Rising onward.
The modern iteration of box toppers started with Ultimate Masters, which gave players a foil with an alternate border in a small pack included with the box. These continued with Ikoria, Double Masters, and Zendikar Rising with different rules for each.
Unlike buy-a-box promos, box toppers were randomized from a list of cards in the set. Or, for Zendikar Rising, a Masterpiece series.
Honestly, buy-a-box promos aren’t usually worth much. Most of these cards are essentially bulk rare prices thanks to how many were printed. Some that see play in Modern, Legacy, or Commander have higher prices because they’re popular cards, but this is a very small number of them.
I’ve never felt incentivized to buy a booster box because of the buy-a-box promo. Some of my friends and people I play with valued them when they were cards that saw play, but overall they enjoyed the box toppers more. I don’t think they’re worth it, but it’s a nice addition for those who already buy booster boxes for drafts.
Yes! Wizards has confirmed that you can get a buy-a-box promo for any type of booster box you buy.
Players who bought a booster box of Kaladesh for the holiday season in 2016 got a “Bonus Holiday Pack,” which was really just a repackaged version of the Standard Showdown packs that were already out in the world. These packs had two foils of any rarity that weren’t double-faced cards and four foil rares or mythic rares.
Ixalan followed suit in 2017 with a “Treasure Chest Booster” that had two foils of any rarity cards from Standard-legal sets, four rare or mythic rare foils from Standard-legal sets, two foil basic lands, and one of ten alternate art, foil double-faced cards.
I honestly don’t even remember these being a thing. My assumption is that they didn’t perform too well and were quickly scrapped since we haven’t seen them in the last four years.
Thankfully there’s an easier way to get buy-a-box promo cards on MTG Arena. If you buy 45 packs of a set (which is a little under $50, half the price of a booster box), you also get one copy of the buy-a-box card style. You’re also able to craft them with wildcards for promos that weren’t part of the main set.
Vorpal Sword | Illustration by Alessandra Pisano
Buy-a-box promos are a neat way to incentivize players to buy sealed products, even if they weren’t always great cards. These alternate-art foils are a simple way to add to the experience of buying a booster box but didn’t really shake anything up until WotC released cards that weren’t available in the set. Now that we’ve reverted back to the old system, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this program continue for some time in the future.
What are your thoughts on buy-a-box promos? Which alternate art version is your favorite? Let me know in the comments down below, or head over to our Discord if that’s more your thing.
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