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The Expected Value of Aether Revolt


Aether Revolt officially releases on Friday, which means it's time to take a look at just how much value you can expect to open if you decide to crack a box! You've probably noticed that I've moved the article back a week for the last couple of sets. In the past, it went up the weekend when the full set was spoiled, but by moving it to the weekend of the prerelease, we get a better view of the set's value, since card prices have a bit of time to stabilize after the hype of spoiler week.

Of course, we still have the problem of Masterpiece series cards, which add a ton of variance to box opening, because this cycle of super-rare cards eats up a comparatively large chunk of the set's value. The foundation of expected value (EV) analysis is that, while a set is in print, the value of the cards in a box has to be equal to or less than the cost of the box itself—if there a period when cracking open boxes is actually a way to make money, then people will start doing it, driving up the supply of cards and lowering prices. As a result (outside of release periods, when supply is limited), in-print sets have a hard cap on their EV at somewhere around $70 (the EV can be lower, but it can't be higher, at least for an extended period of time). This means that, getting back to the Masterpiece series cards, if the Masterpieces are eating up $20 of the $70, the rares, mythics, and uncommons (as a whole) will have $20 less EV space to work with. As such, "winning" when you open a box of Aether Revolt will most likely involve opening a Masterpiece. While it's theoretically possible to construct a "winning" box that doesn't contain a Masterpiece, it isn't all that likely. As a result, like we did last time, we'll have two expected values for Aether Revolt: one pretending that Masterpieces series cards (in this case, Kaladesh Inventions) don't exist and another including the Masterpieces. 

All in all, the question we are looking to answer is: Is it worth it to crack a box based purely on the numbers? Basically, if I pay $100 for a box of Aether Revolt, should I expect to get my money back, lose money, or come out a little bit ahead? Here, it's important to note that, over the long haul, it's never, ever worth it to crack a box. Even if the expected value is positive on release day, it won't be in a few weeks because the supply of the cards from the set will increase, driving down prices. As a result, don't expect these numbers to be good a month from now because they will be wrong, and likely very wrong.

One more thing before we get to the numbers: it's important to remember that there are many reasons why people buy a box. Some people buy boxes because cracking packs is fun. Others buy boxes to play Limited with their friends. For some people, buying a box is a tradition, or they enjoy the lottery aspect of the potential to open a foil full-art Engineered Explosives. All of these (and I'm sure there are many more) are fine reasons to purchase a booster box, even a low-EV booster box. When it comes right down to it, Magic is a game—there is value in having fun, and EV calculation can't account for this non-monetary value. So, don't let this EV calculation be the only factor in your decision of whether to buy a box.

What Is Expected Value?

While many of you are probably familiar with the concept of expected value, here's a brief refresher. Expected value tells us just how much value we can expect to open in a booster box. To calculate EV, we first determine the odds of opening a specific card (this is the "multiplier" you'll see throughout the article). Next, we calculate the value of each card. Then, we multiply the odds of opening a card by the card's value, which tells us how much value we expect that card to add to the box. Finally, after we do this for all of the cards in the set, we can simply add up the total and determine how much a box is actually worth.

TCGplayer Market Pricing

Most EV calculations use sell prices—things like TCGplayer Mid or the prices that vendors like StarCityGames or ChannelFireball ask for a card. But unfortunately, these numbers do not mean much to me for a couple of reasons: First, I (and most of you) can't get StarCityGames or TCGplayer mid prices when we sell our cards. Instead, we get things like eBay minus fees and shipping or buylist prices. As such, in calculating the value of the cards in the set, I'm trying to use the number that I realistically think I can get for the card tomorrow (this is important because new sets tend to decrease in value quickly). For this, I used the TCGplayer Market price (minus 15% for fees), which is essentially the "completed listing" of the TCGplayer market, showing the average price of cards that have actually sold and not the price that sellers are asking. This is why the prices listed in the charts in this article are lower than the MTGGoldfish price: I'm making deductions that take into account the hidden costs of selling the cards.

Timing is everything when it comes to making a profit by opening boxes, as prices drop quickly once a new set starts being opened. A set can go from positive EV to negative EV in less than a week, and sometimes even overnight. Basically, by opening boxes on release day (or release weekend), we can take advantage of the excitement for the new cards (new demand) and the fact that the freshly opened cards haven't had time to reach the market yet (lack of supply).

Methodology Notes

  1. Commons (except in very rare cases) are considered to be bulk, which I value at $5.00 per thousand. This means that an entire booster box worth of commons adds $1.80 to the expected value of the box.
  2. Most uncommons are also worthless for the purpose of calculating EV, since they cannot be reliably sold as singles. Apart from a handful of "chase" and "semi-chase" uncommons, everything else at this rarity goes into the bulk pile along with the commons.
  3. Foils get their own section, but it's important to remember that there is a ton of variance in opening valuable foils. The odds of opening a foil Heart of Kiran is somewhere around 1 in 2,592 packs; however, every box should contain some number of foils (typically a handful of commons, a couple of uncommons, and one rare), and these lower-rarity foils do represent some amount of guaranteed value.
  4. As I mentioned before, we are calculating two expected values this time around: the expected value of boxes without taking Inventions into consideration and the expected value with Inventions. Hopefully, this will help account for the increased variance brought about by the new ultra-rares.
  5. These prices won't be good for long. Remember: the idea is to determine if Aether Revolt is worth opening on release weekend. If you buy a box six weeks from now, don't blame me when these prices are wrong because I can tell you right now they will be wrong, and likely very wrong. Remember that the EV is a snapshot based on current prices and not a prediction of where prices will be in the future.
  6. Another reminder: you don't actually make a profit until you sell the card. So, just cracking boxes on release weekend isn't enough; you need take the next step and actually trade away the cards, list them on eBay / TCGplayer, or sell them to a buylist.
  7. Finally, be aware of variance. These numbers will be accurate if you open enough packs. But, like most aspects of Magic, variance can have a huge impact in small samples. In theory, a booster box could contain zero mythics and all bulk rares, or it could contain a complete set of foil mythics. The more packs you crack, the more accurate the EV will become because you smooth out these outliers.

Aether Revolt: Mythics

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Aether Revolt—Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Heart of Kiran $16.75 0.375 $6.28
Tezzeret the Schemer $9.61 0.375 $3.60
Ajani Unyielding $7.65 0.375 $2.87
Paradox Engine $5.71 0.375 $2.14
Herald of Anguish $4.00 0.375 $1.50
Mechanized Production $3.26 0.375 $1.22
Planar Bridge $3.21 0.375 $1.20
Gonti's Aether Heart $2.31 0.375 $0.87
Indomitable Creativity $1.95 0.375 $0.73
Exquisite Archangel $1.78 0.375 $0.67
Lightning Runner $1.60 0.375 $0.60
Aetherwind Basker $0.90 0.375 $0.34
Totals      
Average Mythic Value $4.89    
Total Value Added to Box $22.02    

And Aether Revolt starts off on a bit of a sour note, with the average value of an Aether Revolt mythic being almost half of the average value of a Kaladesh mythic when we did the Kaladesh EV article. Actually, the average value of an Aether Revolt mythic is the lowest since Khans of Tarkir, and at least the Khans mythics had a reasonable excuse—they were in a set with a ton of value at the rare slot thanks to the presence of the cycle of $15–$20 fetch lands (this makes the EV of Aether Revolt mythics especially scary, because there isn't a rare land cycle at all). 

So, what's the problem with Aether Revolt mythics? Well, most obviously, we're missing a true chase mythic to help drive up the average. In Kaladesh, we had a $30 Chandra, Torch of Defiance; in Eldritch Moon, we had Liliana, the Last Hope and Emrakul, the Promised End—all Aether Revolt has to offer is Heart of Kiran, which was $10 until this past week, when it nearly doubled up thanks to the Smuggler's Copter banning, but even now it isn't really a high-value mythic. The other problem with Aether Revolt is that people just aren't excited about the planeswalkers, which are usually among the highest-value cards in a set. While Tezzeret the Schemer and Ajani Unyielding are still the second and third most valuable mythics in the set, instead of being $20+, they are floating in the $10 range, which doesn't help the average. 

The good news is that this could change in the future. While we'll have to wait and see what the total EV looks like, we have seen sets in the past that are undervalued during presales (like Dragons of Tarkir) and then end up being among the more valuable sets in Standard. Many of the Aether Revolt mythics are high in potential—like Paradox Engine—but lacking an obvious home. If their potential is realized, the average value of the mythics from the set could change in a hurry, since there's really no place for it to go but up. 

Aether Revolt: Rares

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Aether Revolt—Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Yahenni's Expertise $4.40 0.86 $3.82
Baral, Chief of Compliance $4.16 0.86 $3.58
Aethersphere Harvester $3.51 0.86 $3.02
Spire of Industry $3.29 0.86 $2.83
Disallow $3.21 0.86 $2.76
Metallic Mimic $2.99 0.86 $2.67
Rishkar, Peema Renegade $2.07 0.86 $1.78
Walking Ballista $2.07 0.86 $1.78

Oath of Ajani

$2.06 0.86 $1.77
Sram's Expertise $1.92 0.86 $1.65
Greenbelt Rampager $1.92 0.86 $1.65
Hope of Ghirapur $1.34 0.86 $1.16
Sram, Senior Edificer $1.29 0.86 $1.11
Kari Zev's Expertise $1.26 0.86 $1.08
Heroic Intervention $1.21 0.86 $1.04
Whir of Invention $1.16 0.86 $1.00
Scrap Trawler $1.16 0.86 $1.00
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider $1.10 0.86 $0.95
Baral's Expertise $1.10 0.86 $0.95
Inspiring Statuary $1.07 0.86 $0.92
Glint-Sleeve Syphoner $0.94 0.86 $0.81
Semi-Bulk (7 Cards) $0.25 0.86 $1.51
Bulk Rares (14 Cards) $0.10 0.86 $1.20
Totals      
Average Rare Value $1.10    
Total Value Added $34.65    

All together, the rares of Aether Revolt add $34.65 to the expected value of a booster box. The good news is that the rares from Aether Revolt have an expected value of almost exactly the same as the rares from Kaladesh, at about $1.10. Unfortunately, here's what I wrote about the Kaladesh rares during the Kaladesh EV article: The rares from Kaladesh are an entirely different story, with the average value of $1.09 being extremely lacking . . . For comparison, when we did our Eldritch Moon expected value calculation, the average value of a rare was $1.52, 30% higher than that of Kaladesh. 

This means that, at least so far, Aether Revolt is looking pretty bad from an expected value perspective. Not only does it have the least valuable group of mythics in years, but the rares come in on the low end as well. That said, having a lacking rare value isn't unexpected, since land cycles often drive the value of the rare slot and Aether Revolt only has a single rare land in Spire of Invention.  

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of our EV discussion so far is just how many packs will be losers. Even if you buy a box for $100 (making a booster cost $2.78), only six rares will give you your money back, meaning that only 14% of "rare" packs will break even (or better). Meanwhile, half of the rares are either bulk or semi-bulk (with a retail value of $1.00 or less), so you're more than three times as likely to open a worthless bulk rare than you are to open a rare worth the price of a pack.

Aether Revolt—Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

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Kaladesh—C / U / B
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Fatal Push UNC $3.66 1.8 $6.59
Felidar Guardian UNC $0.60 1.8 $1.09
Renegade Rallier UNC $0.40 1.8 $0.72
Winding Constrictor UNC $0.33 1.8 $0.60
Treasure Keeper UNC $0.29 1.8 $0.52
Narnam Renegade UNC $0.29 1.8 $0.52
Crackdown Construct UNC $0.29 1.8 $0.52
Hidden Herbalists UNC  $0.29 1.8 $0.52
Bulk C / U   $5 / Thousand   $2.40
Totals        
Total C / U / B Value Added $13.45      

While the mythics and rares have been lacking, one thing Aether Revolt has going for it is that the uncommon slots are overloaded with value. The big news is Fatal Push, which happens to be one of the most valuable uncommons in years at nearly $5, and since Aether Revolt is a small set, you'll open—on average—1.8 copies in each booster box.  As a result, the black removal spell adds more to the box EV than any other card in the entire set, which is stunning for an uncommon. If you're in an Aether Revolt draft, there a real argument that the correct thing to do is rare draft (or, in this case, uncommon draft) a Fatal Push if you get the chance—it's that valuable.

Even beyond Fatal Push, Aether Revolt has a bunch of solid uncommons, which help increase the box EV, including Felidar Guardian, Renegade Rallier, and a couple of the green revolt cards. Thanks to these cards, the uncommon slot is worth nearly twice as much in Aether Revolt than it was in Kaladesh!

Aether Revolt—Foils

Aether Revolt—Foils
Rarity Average # per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythics One every six boxes (0.17 per box) $17.57 $2.99
Rares One per box $5.36 $5.36
Uncommons Two per box $1.33 $2.67
Commons Three per box $0.10 $0.30
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $11.32    

As far as foils, Aether Revolt comes in a bit above average, mostly thanks to Fatal Push, which is currently sold out on StarCityGames for $30. While the odds of cracking a foil Fatal Push aren't great (somewhere around one in every 30 boxes), this potential does help push up the average value of a box a little bit, especially when you consider that there are a whole bunch of foil uncommons in the $3 to $5 range. As for the other rarities, the mythics are a bit below average, while the rares are a hair above, which leaves us with the foils of Aether Revolt adding $11.32 to the value of a booster box. 

Putting It All Together

Aether Revolt—EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythics
$4.89
12 $22.02
Rares $1.10 42 $34.65
Commons / Uncommons / Bulk     $13.45
Foils   6 (per box) $11.32
TOTAL BOX EV $81.44    
PACK EV $2.26    

So, there you have it. If we pretend that Inventions don't exist, the expected value of a box of Aether Revolt comes in at $81.44, which is even lower than Kaladesh (which itself was low value from an EV perspective). Taken as a whole, Aether Revolt is a good news / bad news situation. While your odds of opening a valuable rare or mythic are lower than average, the set makes up for it, at least to some extent, by having a lot of value stuffed into the uncommon slot (and also the foil slot). For the short term, this means opening packs a bit more appealing because it won't be that hard to open a good (and at least semi-valuable) uncommon; however, over the long term, the prices of the uncommons in the set are very likely to drop as the supply of the set increases, which means this benefit will diminish over time. 

Of course, we still have one more card type to talk about. Will the Masterpiece series Inventions increase the expected value of an Aether Revolt box enough to get it to the break-even point? Let's see!

The Inventions

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Aether RevoltInventions

Card Value Multiplier Value Added
Chalice of the Void $110.05 0.01 $1.10
Ensnaring Bridge $113.90 0.01 $1.13
Arcbound Ravager $101.18 0.01 $1.01
Engineered Explosives $97.75 0.01 $0.97
Oblivion Stone $80.75 0.01 $0.81
Sword of War and Peace $72.62 0.01 $0.72
Wurmcoil Engine $72.05 0.01 $0.72
Sphere of Resistance $71.99 0.01 $0.72
Grindstone $67.15 0.01 $0.67
Staff of Domination $67.00 0.01 $0.67
Paradox Engine $59.50 0.01 $0.59
Planar Bridge $59.50 0.01 $0.59
Sword of Body and Mind $51.00 0.01 $0.51
Vedalken Shackles $51.00 0.01 $0.51
Pithing Needle $51.00 0.01 $0.51
Trinisphere $51.00 0.01 $0.51
Sundering Titan $44.00 0.01 $0.44
Ornithopter $43.50 0.01 $0.44
Platinum Angel $43.50 0.01 $0.44
Extraplanar Lens $34.00 0.01 $0.34
Meekstone $34.00 0.01 $0.34
Defense Grid $34.00 0.01 $0.34
Duplicant $34.00 0.01 $0.34
Black Vise $29.75 0.01 $0.30
       
Total Value Added $14.72    

While it might seem excessive to write out all of the Inventions individually—and in the future, I'll probably cover this section differently—I wanted to make sure that the point of just how rare these cards are comes across. In what has become the theme of our article, once again, Aether Revolt comes in a bit below average in terms of Masterpiece value. In fact, the Aether Revolt group of Masterpieces is the least valuable we've seen thus far, adding only $14.72 to the expected value of a box (when in Kaladesh it was nearly $20, Oath of the Gatewatch was over $20, and Battle for Zendikar was pushing $30). The biggest problem is the lack of chase cards. While Chalice of the Void, Ensnaring Bridge, and Arcbound Ravager are all worth over $100, this is nothing compared to the prices we saw for fetch lands during Battle for Zendikar or even just cards like Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, and Wasteland from the other Masterpiece sets. While the Masterpieces are all still valuable enough that, if you happen to open one, your box will almost assuredly be worth more than you paid for it, over the long haul, they aren't valuable enough to make cracking box after box worthwhile, especially when considering the (lacking) value of the rest of the set. 

So, what happens when we add the value of the Inventions to the rest of the box? We get a total expected value of $96.16, which is just a bit below the break-even point. As a result, there really isn't a good argument for cracking boxes for value—unless you get really lucky with the Invention lottery, it's very unlikely that's you'll crack more value in cards than what you paid for the box. Of course, the good news is that if you are playing in prerelease events or drafting, you can (more or less) expect to break even over the long run, although any individual draft or sealed pool is likely to lose you money because the odds of opening an Invention are so low. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. I'll probably be cracking open a box for an opening video (and because I love opening packs, even if it isn't a wise choice from a financial perspective), but based on the value of the cards in the set, I will likely only open one. As odd as it sounds, we're getting to the point where the Inventions are discouraging me from opening boxes. If Aether Revolt were a non-Masterpiece set with the same expected value, I'd be perfect happy opening several boxes. Let's say I decided to open four—I'll likely lose a total of $20, but I can simply chalk that up as the price of having some fun. On the other hand, with Masterpieces, opening four boxes of Aether Revolt is likely to lose me $80, unless I get lucky and hit an Invention, which is far from guaranteed. That's a much bigger cost for "fun." Plus, even if I manage to "hit" an Invention in one of my four boxes, I'll still lose money unless I happen to get the right Invention. In this scenario, more than half of the Aether Revolt Inventions are not worth enough to get me back to breaking even, so in a very real sense, even if I "win" (by getting lucky and opening an Invention), I will still lose in the long run. 

As I mentioned in the intro, there are a ton of reasons for cracking a box, so I'm all for opening Aether Revolt. Just don't do it in the hopes of selling the cards for a profit—you're very likely to be disappointing.

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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