I went to Target last night for beans and gummi bears (don't judge me). Of course the sports card aisle is near the entrance, so I thought I'd go by and see what was there. Actually, I knew full well what would be there, I just wanted to see what I could justify buying to myself. Anyway, there was a man there searching the Topps Series 1 and 2 rack packs. He'd grab all 15 or so off the hanger, then, one at a time, push all the cards toward the top of the pack, and slowly slide them down and peek at them though the too-thin plastic. I assume he was just looking for a card of extra thickness for a relic. Though, I guess anything non-white would indicate an insert of some sort. He's probably got the edges of the backs for each insert set memorized.
He was making me uncomfortable, and also kind of in my way, so I trekked back to the food aisles. I stopped and pondered at the reach extender in the As-Seen-On-TV section, as my wife's parents have a few very high light bulbs I'm probably going to wind up changing one of these days. But I digress. All through the store and on the drive home, I was thinking about the ethics of what he was doing on a grand scale, as well as how it could personally affect me.
First, the easy and selfish part: How does this affect me? Well, I probably won't be buying rack packs anymore. They'll always feel like they've been searched for the "Good Stuff". Even though my main goal is completing the base set when I buy these packs, I still think I'm entitled to my fair shot at a 1:1000 autograph or relic or extra shiny Chrome Refractor Die-Cut or whatever. But I thought about it, and I've really already moved to buying boxes. For 2011 I did pick up some Rack Packs of series 1, but once I saw the 72ct boxes, I stuck to those, and they seem relatively unsearchable with the shrink wrap on them. I've bought Heritage blasters as well, which again are shrink-wrapped. I have been buying Opening Day in 24-card packs since that's the cheapest per-card price vs. the 7 cards for 99 cents, but hopefully that lower-end set won't attract too many scoundrels.
Now the bigger question: Is it ethical? Like I said before, I usually just want to complete the base set. But, it's a cool surprise to get a relic, and that can often be parlayed into something else even better in a trade to a fan of that player. I'll admit when I've gotten close to finishing a set, I've taken a checklist with me and peeked at the back base card of the rack packs to find one I needed. But I think that's a little different, in that anyone who's even partially paying attention can see who's on the front and back of the pack. And even if I take the pack with the Darren Ford base card on the back, there's a fair chance there's another pack on that same hanger with the same card somewhere in the middle. At that point I feel like I'm beating "The System" which would have me buy more packs to get all the cards. I feel like this guy was beating the rest of us, taking the few packs with Relics or whatever he was searching for.
Thus is written Tenet of Wilson #1: Pack Searching, for anything but non-SP base cards, is forbidden.