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The Expected Value of Core Set 2020


It's prerelease weekend for Core Set 2020, which means it's time to delve into the financial nuts and bolts of the set by breaking down its expected value. Core sets are strange. Since they are the last set added to a Standard format, they often have somewhat minimal impact immediately but then take on increased importance after rotation in the fall. A good example of this was last year's Core Set 2019, which was released, dropped in price throughout the summer, and then increased after the fall rotation. A similar trajectory is likely for Core Set 2020, which means a couple of things. First, if you decide to open some boxes, your best bet is to either try to sell or trade away most of the cards immediately while prices are still inflated thanks to the low supply of the set or to hold onto the cards you open up through rotation this fall, in the hopes that the prices of at least some chase cards will increase. Second, if you're looking for singles rather than boxes, your best bet is to pick them up toward the end of August or through September before rotation, rather than waiting until after rotation, when some Core Set 2020 cards will likely spike in demand thanks to our new Standard format. Anyway, long-term financial advice aside, let's break down the current expected value of Core Set 2020!

Like usual, one important warning before digging into the numbers: there are a lot of reasons why people buy booster boxes. For some people, it's a tradition; for others, they enjoy the lottery-like thrill of hoping to open a high-value foil mythic. Others pick up boxes to grow their collection (although this is usually an inefficient way of going about it) or to draft with their friends. All of these and 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 take into account 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?

At this point, most of you probably know how this works, but for those of you who don't, here's a quick breakdown. The expected value basically refers to the amount of value (in US dollars) you can expect to open from a booster box, on average. We calculate the odds of opening each individual card in a box (which are the multipliers you'll see throughout the article), which in turn allows us to calculate how much value the potential of opening each card adds to a booster box. Then, we add everything together, which gives us the total expected value for the box. Of course, since we are working with averages, no individual box is guaranteed to hit the expected value number—you could run well and get more value or run poorly and get less—but the number should be pretty accurate over the course of a large enough sample size.

TCGplayer Market Pricing

One of the biggest challenges of calculating the expected value of a set is figuring out what pricing should be used. TCG Mid is often the standard, along with retail prices from big vendors like ChannelFireball, StarCityGames, and Card Kingdom, but in reality, most players can't get these prices for their cards. Instead, we end up getting eBay prices minus fees and shipping or even buylist prices, assuming we don't want to trade card-for-card locally. As such, we'll be using TCG Market pricing for our expected value calculation, with completed eBay listings and vendor pricing playing a secondary role. TCG Market prices, while a bit murky in terms of their exact definition, are basically the completed listings of TCGplayer, showing us what copies of specific cards have actually sold for in recent days rather than the price that vendors are asking for. To account for the hidden costs of selling cards, we'll deduct 15% for fees and shipping, which is roughly what you'd pay to eBay or TCGplayer to sell cards through their markets.

Of course, not everyone is interested in selling cards, so we'll also talk about the expected value without taking into account fees and shipping. Here, it's worth mentioning once again that if your goal is to build a Standard collection, it's usually smarter (from a financial perspective) to wait a month or two for prices to decrease as supply enters the market and then just purchase singles rather than buying a box. While opening booster boxes is a ton of fun and sealed product is essentially for drafting, if your goal is to put together a specific Standard deck or simply grow your collection, there is much less variance if you simply buy the individual cards you need rather than hoping to beat the odds and open them from a booster box.

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 also end up in the bulk pile, although chase uncommons (generally uncommons worth more than $0.25) that can be sold or traded away individually will be calculated separately.
  3. Foils get their own section, which is especially important for Core Set 2020 since the number of foils per box is increasing dramatically to one in every three packs, which means the typical Core Set 2020 box should have about 12 foils. That said, even with this increased frequency, foil mythics (typically the most valuable foils in a set) are still incredibly rare, and the odds of getting one in any individual box is quite low.
  4. These prices won't be good for long. Remember: the idea is to determine if Core Set 2020 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 that 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.
  5. 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 to take the next step and actually trade away the cards, list them on eBay / TCGplayer or sell them to a buylist.
  6. Prices were calculated on Friday. If something spiked in the last couple of days, it won't be reflected in the expected value calculation.
  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 (although not in practice), 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 will smooth out these outliers.

Core Set 2020 Notes

Core Set 2020 is a pretty straightforward set for calculating expected value, with the exception of the new increased frequency of foils, which we'll talk about more in the foil sections. The set does have a buy-a-box promo in Rienne, Angel of Rebirth, which is going for about $10 on eBay, offering a bit of extra value to players who snag a box early from their local game store. But otherwise, there are no flip cards, special rarities, Masterpieces, or anything else to complicate our calculations.

Core Set 2020: Mythics

 

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Core Set 2020 —Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Chandra, Awakened Inferno $14.33 0.3 $4.30
Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord $12.10 0.3 $3.63
Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer $10.16 0.3 $3.05
Vivien, Arkbow Ranger $8.33 0.3 $2.50
Omnath, Locus of the Roil $7.93 0.3 $2.38
Ajani, Strength of the Pride $7.32 0.3 $2.20
Kethis, the Hidden Hand $6.33 0.3 $1.90
Yarok, the Desecrated $6.33 0.3 $1.90
Kykar, Wind's Fury $5.62 0.3 $1.69
Cavalier of Thorns $5.51 0.3 $1.65
Kaalia, Zenith Seeker $4.87 0.3 $1.46
Cavalier of Night $4.45 0.3 $1.34
Cavalier of Flame $4.25 0.3 $1.28
Cavalier of Gales $4.25 0.3 $1.28
Cavalier of Dawn $2.26 0.3 $0.67
Totals      
Average Mythic Value $6.94    
Total Value Added to Box $31.23    

The mythics from Core Set 2020 are interesting. They are lacking in high-end chase mythics, topping out at Chandra, Awakened Inferno in the $15 range, but there is also only a single mythic worth less than a pack in the white Cavalier, Cavalier of Dawn. As a result, you'll always be happy to see a mythic in your pack, but there aren't any mythics that are equivalent to winning the lottery or good enough to swing the expected value of a box all by themselves if you are lucky enough to crack them. In the end, this gives us an average mythic value of $6.94 and a total of $31.23 added to the expected value of a box. This actually means the value of the mythics from Core Set 2020 is almost exactly the same as the mythics of War of the Spark and roughly right in the middle of the historic norm, which ranges from as low as an average mythic value of $5 to as high as $10. Basically, the mythics from Core Set 2020 are solid but unspectacular, although the low range of values in the mythic slot will make opening boxes fairly consistent. You're unlikely to get a good or bad box based on how you run in mythics alone.

Core Set 2020: Rares

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Core Set 2020 —Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Leyline of the Void $14.97 0.6 $8.98
Lotus Field $10.09 0.6 $6.05
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame $6.18 0.6 $3.71
Leyline of Sanctity $5.24 0.6 $3.15
Leyline of Anticipation $4.25 0.6 $2.55
Scheming Symmetry $4.25 0.6 $2.55
Leyline of Abundance $4.25 0.6 $2.55
Rotting Regisaur $3.31 0.6 $1.98
Brought Back $2.51 0.6 $1.50
Steel Overseer $2.51 0.6 $1.50
Embodiment of Agonies $2.18 0.6 $1.31
Grafdigger's Cage $2.00 0.6 $1.20
Shifting Ceratops $2.00 0.6 $1.20

Icon of Ancestry

$2.00 0.6 $1.20
Knight of the Ebon Legion $1.70 0.6 $1.02
Elvish Reclaimer $1.70 0.6 $1.02
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim $1.65 0.6 $0.99
Dread Presence $1.62 0.6 $0.97
Marauding Raptor $1.62 0.6 $0.97
Sephara, Sky's Blade $1.62 0.6 $0.97
Temple of Epiphany $1.39 0.6 $0.83
Temple of Malady $1.39 0.6 $0.83
Thunderkin Awakener $1.39 0.6 $0.83
Mystic Forge $1.37 0.6 $0.82
Vilis, Broker of Blood $1.23 0.6 $0.74
Temple of Silence $1.23 0.6 $0.74
Temple of Mystery $1.13 0.6 $0.68
Temple of Triumph $1.13 0.6 $0.68
       
17 Bulk Rares $0.10 0.6 * 17 $1.02
8 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25 0.6 * 8 $1.20
Totals      
Average Rare Value $1.69    
Total Value Added

$53.25

   

Heading into our expected-value article, I was expecting the rares from the set to be low in value. Normally, Standard sets live and die based on the value of their rare land cycle, and while Core Set 2020 does have a cycle of rare lands, the Temples are currently only about $1.50 each—a far cry from $20 fetch lands, $15 shock lands, or even $6 fast lands. As a result, a very high average rare value of $1.69 is a pleasant surprise, which means the rare slot adds a massive $53.25 to the value of a Core Set 2020 box. 

How did Core Set 2020 overcome a weak (value-wise) land cycle? The answer here is mostly some solid reprints. Leyline of the Void is a legitimate chase rare thanks to its Modern usage, and while it isn't $50 anymore, at $15, it's still a very solid pull from our Core Set 2020 box. Follow that up with Lotus Field (currently around $10 but dropping) and a nice group of $4–5 rares, including several additional Leylines, and Core Set 2020 more than makes up for its cheap land cycle.

The only downside of the rares from Core Set 2020 is the fairly quick drop toward bulk. Eight rares in the set are worth more than a pack, which means a full 85% of the rares are worth $2.51 or less. This means variance will be an issue. On average, you'll open a Leyline of the Void slightly more than once every two boxes, so if you open just a single box and miss on Leyline of the Void and Lotus Field, it's going to be hard for the box to make up this value (outside of running well with foils) thanks to the flat value of the mythic slot. Still, despite the high variance, the rare slot of Core Set 2020 is surprisingly strong and adds a massive $53.25 to the value of a booster box.

Core Set 2020—Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

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Core Set 2020—U / C / Bulk$
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Risen Reef UNC $2.50 1.35 $3.37
Veil of Summer UNC $0.67 1.35

$0.90

Colossus Hammer UNC $0.43 1.35 $0.57
         
Bulk C / U   $5 / thousand   $2.40
Totals        
Total C / U / Bulk Value Added $7.24      

When I first started working on the expected-value article in the middle of the week, the common and uncommons slots looked horrible, but then people realized that Risen Reef is a broken Magic card and demand for the Elemental caused the price to increase from bulk to nearly $3 in just a couple of days. Now, the lower-rarity slot from Core Set 2020 is just normal bad rather than a complete failure. Basically, when it comes to commons and uncommons, three are currently worth pulling out from the bulk, with Veil of Summer and Colossus Hammer joining Risen Reef in the good pile. As a result, the slot adds $7.24 to the value of a box, which is a far cry from War of the Spark's $12 but still in the normal range for a Standard set.

Core Set 2020—Foils

Core Set 2020—Foils
Rarity Average # per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythics One every three boxes (0.33 per box) $21.93 $7.23
Rares Two per box $7.31 $14.63
Uncommons Two per box $0.79 $3.19
Commons Six per box $0.10 $0.60
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $25.65    

As we talked about in the intro, one of the unique aspects of Core Set 2020 is that foils are getting less rare. Ten years ago, when StarCityGames broke down the rarity of foils, the average was about six per box. Fast forward to Core Set 2020, and the rares have doubled, with the average box yielding 12 foils. This means that a typical box should give an average of six foil commons, four foil uncommons, two foil rares, and about 0.33 foil mythics. While this might not seem like a huge change, when you consider that foils are—by far—the most valuable cards you can open, even slight changes like opening an average of two foil mythics per case instead of one can cause a meaningful shift in expected value. 

Of course, over the long term, this might mean that foils will be less valuable since there will be more supply, although it's also true that the supply of foils has been lower over the past couple of years since Wizards shortened the redemption window on Magic Online, and redeeming foils sets is one of the easiest ways for foils to enter the market. As such, this change—with foils being more common in the paper world—might actually just be making up for the supply lost from Magic Online redemptions.

Interestingly, being more common hasn't decreased the price of foils at all so far—the foils from Core Set 2020 are worth basically the exact same as they were in past sets, except we're getting significantly more of them in the box. The end result is that the foil slot in Core Set 2020 is way more valuable than it was in past sets, adding a massive $25.65 to the expected value of a box—roughly double the average for past Standard sets. While the market might eventually adjust to this increased supply, for now, the increased frequency of foils is a boon to box openers, greatly increasing the expected value of a box of Core Set 2020.

Core Set 2020—EV Summary

 

Core Set 2020—EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythics
$6.94
15 $31.23
Rares $1.69 53 $53.25
Commons / Uncommons / Bulk     $7.24
Foils   12 (per box) $25.65
TOTAL BOX EV $117.37    
PACK EV $3.26    

All in all, the expected value of Core Set 2020 is shockingly strong. Even with our 15% discount on retail prices to account for fees and shipping, the average box will yield $117 in value. When you consider boxes are selling for around $95 with free shipping on eBay, this means that you'll come out more than $20 ahead (on average) by cracking a box at current prices. This high expected value is driven primarily by two things: solid reprints in the rare slot, especially Leyline of the Void and Leyline of Sanctity, along with the increased frequency of foils adding some extra value to Core Set 2020. If you drop the 15% discount, the expected value rises all the way up to $135—meaning the average box is +$40 in value at current prices. 

The other consideration is the buy-a-box promo Rienne, Angel of Rebirth. Sadly for box openers, it's one of the weaker buy-a-box promos we've had, and it's dropping fairly quickly in price, from $10 down to closer to $8. While $8 of free value is $8 of free value, Rienne, Angel of Rebirth isn't valuable enough to necessitate picking up a box early from your local game store. While it's still the best value, assuming your local game store sells boxes for a competitive price and knowing you should take advantage of the buy-a-box program if possible, it's less of a concern for Core Set 2020 than it has been for some past sets where the buy-a-box promo was one of the most expensive cards in the entire set. 

Over the mid-term, the high expected value means that the prices of cards in Core Set 2020 need to drop quite a bit. War of the Spark started off at a lower price point (with an EV of about $104 / box) and is currently down about 28% since prerelease weekend. Core Set 2020 will need to lose even more value over the summer. That said, the set is a pretty good bet to recover in the future. The short release window between Modern Horizons and Core Set 2020 is taxing players' finances, and when you toss in the fact that the summer months are traditionally the slowest months on the Magic calendar, it's possible that Core Set 2020 will end up comparatively under-opened. So if some cards from the set break out in post-rotation Standard this fall or winter, or find a home in competitive Modern decks, they could end up being quite expensive once the set is out of print. Remember, we're only 80-ish days away from the unnamed fall set and rotation, Commander 2019 is being released in a little over a month, and then fall set spoilers should start around the beginning of September. While the community is (somewhat) focused on Core Set 2020 now, things move so fast in the Magic world these days that we'll have moved on to the latest, greatest set before long. While selling or trading away high-priced cards is still likely the smartest move considering the high expected value of Core Set 2020, it's tempting to hold onto Modern playables and possible post-rotating Standard staples in the hopes that they will spike sometime in the next year or so.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. The expected value of Core Set 2020 is great! If you can pick up a box (for a reasonable price) at your local game store this weekend, it's basically a free roll at current prices. While the long-term future is a bit murkier, for the time being, cracking a box is a solid deal. Are you planning on cracking some Core Set 2020 boxes? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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