Guild Wars 2: Is it worth it to buy a Black Lion key? (Updated)

by manylaughs on January 24, 2013


Black Lion Trading Post

Black Lion Trading Post

Black Lion chests are fairly common drops in Guild Wars 2. While the drop rate has been reduced a little, you still probably get one for every few of hours of game play. Unfortunately, you need a Black Lion key to open a chest, and those keys are extremely rare drops.

Over time, you end up with a lot of unopened BL chests. You start asking yourself what wonders await you inside those chests, and you start thinking about buying keys off the trading post.

Should you? Should you spend your real-life cash on gems so you can buy some Black Lion keys?

Back in August of 2012, shortly after the gamer released, it was much easier to answer that question. What you got out of a Black Lion chest was easier to predict, so the question was a bit easier to answer. Back then a BL chest contained a booster, a consumable and a tonic that transformed you into a Guild Wars 2 NPC. If you didn’t mind the randomness of what you got and you liked getting the transformation tonics, then buying a BL key was probably worth it.

All of that has changed. ArenaNet has updated the contents of the Black Lion chest several times since the game was released, so it’s time to ask the question, again: Is it worth it to buy a Black Lion key?

Getting Black Lion keys in-game

You can get Black Lion keys for free in the game.

  • You get a key for doing parts of your storyline. According to the GW2 wiki, keys are awarded for completing levels 10, 31 and 50 of your story.
  • You can get a key for completing a zone. It’s not guaranteed, though. You get either transmutation stones or a BL key.
  • On rare occasions you’ll get a key for doing your daily.
  • On very rare occasions keys drop from kills (In over 850 hours of game play, I’ve had only three Black Lion keys drop from mobs.).
  • Lionguard Lyns used to sell Black Lion keys, but she was disabled. As of the January 28th game update, Lionguard Lyns was reenable, but she no longer carries Black Lion keys.

If you wait to get Black Lion keys through these means, Black Lion chests will start piling up in your bank or bag. Eventually, you’re going to want to scratch that itch and start thinking about buying keys through the only other means of getting them – buying them with real life cash from the Black Lion Trading Company’s Gem Store.

What’s a Black Lion key cost?

Black Lion keys are available from the Gem Store for 125 gems each or in packs of 5 keys for 450 gems. Gems can be purchased for in-game gold or real life money.

The preferred way to get gems is to just trade in gold, of course, but at current exchange rates a BL key will cost you about 2 gold 25 silver and about 8 g for the pack of 5 keys. Exchange rates vary a lot, so check in-game for the current exchange rate. However, they’ve stayed around this range for about 2 months, now, give or take 50s. Obviously it’s going to cost you a bit of gold to get a 5 pack of keys and if you’re like a lot of players, you might not have it.

The other way to get a Black Lion key is just to buy it. There are no on-going subscription fees with Guild Wars 2, so a lot of players just look at this kind of expense as a cost of playing the game.

If you buy your key with real life cash, don’t lose sight of how much they’re costing you. You currently get 800 gems for $10, so 100 gems costs $1.25.

  • One Black Lion key costs 125 gems or about $1.56
  • A 5 pack of keys costs 450 gems or about $5.63.

What’s in a Black Lion chest?

If you want to know whether it’s worth it to get buy a Black Lion key with real cash, you need to know what you can get from the Black Lion chest. According to the tool tip for a Black Lion chest, it “[c]ontains a random prize, a random buff, and mystery tonics”. This is not accurate. There’s a 25% chance you’ll will get a mystery tonic. If you don’t, you’ll get a bag of coins, a random dye or a guild influence item.

This tool tip is wrong.

This tool tip is wrong. You don’t always get a tonic.

Here’s what’s really in a Black Lion chest:

  • A random prize
  • A mystery tonic, a Heavy Bag of Coins containing between 80 copper and 1 gold 50s, a random dye or a guild influence item worth 50, 100 or 300 guild influence.
  • A random buff
  • 1 copper coin (Who knows why? Some programming idiocy, probably.)
Buffs you can get from a Black Lion chest.

Buffs you can get from a Black Lion chest.

A random buff is one of these boosters:

So what’s a random prize? That can mean so many things. According to the Guild Wars 2 wiki, here’s what a random prize is (Regrouped according to rarity.):

Common random prizes

Rare random prizes

Extremely rare random prizes

In opening over 100 Black Lion chests none of the rare or extremely rare prizes were rewarded. And here’s the rub, as you open more and more chests you realize a lot of what’s coming out isn’t especially useful or worse feels like a rip-off. For instance, the Black Lion gathering tools might get you another yield out of a gathering node and maybe give you a better chance of getting something special, but they don’t appear to yield significantly better results than the orichalchum tools.

So here’s another list.

Black Lion chest items that suck:

  • Killstreak Experience Booster – Universally hated
  • PvP Glory Booster – Pointless if you don’t PvP. Even if you do PvP, you get one for doing the PvP daily, so it’s not worth that much.
  • Black Lion Harvesting Sickle
  • Black Lion Logging Axe
  • Black Lion Mining Pick
  • Black Lion Trader Express – It’s pretty rare there’s something on the trading post that can’t wait to be picked up until the next time you’re in Lion’s Arch or one of the many outposts or cities that has a BLTC branch.
  • Unidentified Dye – They’re about 18 silver on the trading post. Your money would’ve been better spent converting your dollars to gold and buying dyes off the BLTC, if you wanted dyes. If they were Master or better dyes they’d be worthwhile. (Hello, ArenaNet. Are you listening?)
  • All the guild discoveries. More paltry rewards. You can buy influence for your guild in-game, if you really want to do this. It’s 20 silver for 100 influence. So, at best with the Large Guild Discovery, you’ve realized 60 silver worth of influence. Yeah, that was worth the price of a key, wasn’t it?
  • Heavy Bag of Coins – The “Heavy” Bag of Coins always feels like a rip-off. You’ll usually end up with 10-30 silver. Even if you scored 1 gold 50 silver, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough for the money you spent on the key.

That means at least 2 of the boosters are useless and nearly two thirds of the common random prizes suck, suck, suck.

Don’t forget, when you open your Black Lion chest, you’re guaranteed:

  • A random prize
  • A mystery tonic, a Heavy Bag of Coins, a random dye or a guild influence item
  • A random buff

The second item – mystery tonic, etc. – is a guaranteed bust, if you don’t care about tonics. So that will leave you with a random prize, two thirds of which are also a bust, and a booster you can probably use. So what you’ll probably end up with when you open your Black Lion chest is a booster you can use and 2 items that blow. That’s not a good return for real life dollars.

Basically, you’re paying for a chance to get one of the rare or extremely rare prizes and a booster. If you really want one of those rare items, such as the Self-Style Hair Kit, just buy it. If you’re shooting for one of the extremely rare items, such as the Permanent Bank Access Contract, convert your in-game gold to gems and buy them that way, or get your keys through dailies and the personal story.

Is it worth it to buy a Black Lion key? No, not with real-life money.




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