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The Expected Value of Dominaria


It's prerelease weekend for Dominaria, a set that is being widely hailed as one of the best in recent years and perhaps of all time. While there is no doubt the set will be amazing from a game play perspective—overflowing with legends, spicy mythics, and some powerful Modern-playable uncommons—we're going to examine Dominaria today in light of cold, hard numbers by calculating the expected value of the set. The basic question we are looking to answer today is pretty simple: is it worth it to crack a booster box of Dominaria based purely on the numbers? The question is, if I pay $100 for a box, should I expect to get my money back, lose money, or come out a little bit ahead? Of course, over the long haul, the law of supply and demand means that it's never worth it to crack a booster box—as the set is opened and supply increases, the value of the cards in the set will drop until the cards inside the box are, on average, worth less than the sealed box. Generally speaking, vendors get boxes for somewhere between $70 and $80, and over the long haul, the average amount of value you'll get from a box has to drop below this number. This being said, the low supply of cards from a new set on release day sometimes creates a short-term exception to the "never open a box" (outside of limited) rule. If the cards in a box are worth more than the sealed box, you can bet that people will be opening boxes like crazy, which in turn will increase the supply of the cards in the set and bring down the prices of the cards.

Like usual, one important warning before digging into the numbers: there are a lot of different reasons why people buy booster boxes. For some people, it's 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 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?

At this point, most of you probably know how this works, but for those of you who don't, here's a quick breakdown. Expected value basically refers to the amount of value (in US dollars) you can expect to open, on average, from a booster box. 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.

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 I sell my cards (wouldn't that be nice?). 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 mostly use the TCG market price (minus 15% for fees and shipping), which is basically the completed listings of the TCG Marketplace and shows the actual prices that cards have sold for, and not just what people are asking for their cards. 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.

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, although 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.

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, 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 Karn, Scion of Urza is somewhere around 1 in 3,500 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. These prices won't be good for long. Remember: the idea is to determine if Dominaria is worth opening on release weekend (which happens to kick off next Friday, although you can pick up boxes this weekend from your local game store). 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. 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.

Dominaria Notes

Calculating the expected value of Dominaria comes with one big challenge: Wizards promised there would be a legend in every pack but hasn't really specified what this means. While it seems unlikely that legends will be like flip-cards in some past sets (essentially not being a part of the normal set and only coming in a special bonus slot), it's possible that in Dominaria, legends will come like normal in packs and you get a special bonus legend, just to make sure that every pack has one. The rumor going around from prereleases is that most packs contain two uncommons, a rare or mythic, and then after the rare or mythic, an uncommon legend, although there seems to be some situations where the legend can be upgraded to a rare legendary creature (but apparently not non-creature legends), but this information is just being pieced together from prerelease events and Blogatog posts, since it hasn't been officially released. As such, for the sake of our expected value breakdown, we're going to calculate the value like we would a normal set. In theory, the wacky distribution of legends shifts the value of the set slightly by making certain cards more or less common, but in the end, the difference should be minimal in terms of the overall value of the set.

Dominaria: Mythics

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Dominaria—Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Karn, Scion of Urza $29.70 0.3 $8.91
Mox Amber $23.55 0.3 $7.07
History of Benalia $12.10 0.3 $3.63
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria $11.49 0.3 $3.45
Lyra Dawnbringer $9.80 0.3 $2.94
Muldrotha, the Gravetide $6.40 0.3 $1.92
Jaya Ballard $4.76 0.3 $1.42
Phyrexian Scriptures $4.08 0.3 $1.22
Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain $3.61 0.3 $1.08
Naru Meha, Master Wizard $2.72 0.3 $0.82
Darigaaz Reincarnated $2.72 0.3 $0.82
Demonlord Belzenlok $2.72 0.3 $0.82
Weatherlight $2.72 0.3 $0.82
Verix Bladewing $2.47 0.3 $0.74
Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar $2.20 0.3 $0.66
Totals      
Average Mythic Value $8.06    
Total Value Added to Box $36.32    

Normally, this is where we complain about at least some aspect of the mythic rare slot, but there really isn't much to complain about in Dominaria. The average mythic value of $8.06 is very, very high, which means the value that the mythics add to the box—$36.32—is almost double that of Ixalan and more than pretty much every set printed over the last several years. 

A deeper look at the mythics of Dominaria shows just why they are so strong. First, we have two chase mythics at nearly $30 in Karn, Scion of Urza and Mox Amber. In some recent sets, we haven't had a single mythic worth over $20, and Dominaria has two that are worth close to $30! Second, the set doesn't really have bulk mythics, with even the worst mythics in the set being worth at least a couple of dollars. In most sets, by the time you get to the bottom of the mythic pile, you're looking at cards worth $1; in Dominaria, the worst mythics in the set are worth more than $2. Third, most of the mythics in the set are worth more than the cost of a booster pack (with nine of the 15 mythics worth $3.61 or more), which means even if you don't get lucky enough to open a $10 or $30 mythic, you'll still come out a winner by opening most of the mythics in the set. This leaves us with a very strong set of mythics and pretty much nothing to complain about. 

Dominaria: Rares

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Dominaria—Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Shalai, Voice of Plenty $5.74 0.6 $3.44
Steel Leaf Champion $4.29 0.6 $2.56
Sulfur Falls $3.73 0.6 $2.24
Gilded Lotus $3.31 0.6 $1.99
Traxos, Scourge of Kroog $3.18 0.6 $1.90
Thran Temporal Gateway $3.18 0.6 $1.90
Cabal Stronghold $3.15 0.6 $1.89
Woodland Cemetery $2.80 0.6 $1.68

Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle

$2.68 0.6 $1.61
Isolated Chapel $2.46 0.6 $1.47
Hinterland Harbor $2.46 0.6 $1.47
Clifftop Retreat $2.27 0.6 $1.36
Goblin Chainwhirler $2.00 0.6 $1.20
Helm of the Host $1.90 0.6 $1.14
Torgaar, Famine Incarnate $1.65 0.6 $0.99
The Antiquities War $1.55 0.6 $0.93
Naban, Dean of Iteration $1.55 0.6 $0.93
Josu Vess, Lich Knight $1.51 0.6 $0.90
Benalish Marshal $1.26 0.6 $0.76
Marwyn, the Nurturer $1.18 0.6 $0.71
Jaya's Immolating Inferno $1.18 0.6 $0.71
Karn's Temporal Sundering $1.18 0.6 $0.71
The Mending of Dominaria $1.18 0.6 $0.71
Blackblade Reforged $1.11 0.6 $0.66
Dread Shade $1.11 0.6 $0.66
Urza's Ruinous Blast $1.11 0.6 $0.66
19 Bulk Rares $0.10 0.6*19 $1.14
8 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25 0.6*8 $1.20
Totals      
Average Rare Value $1.18    
Total Value Added $37.17    

As for the rare slot in Dominaria, the value is solid, although not nearly as strong as the mythics. Still, an average rare value of $1.18 is essentially the same as other recent sets—higher than some, lower than others—which is fine, especially considering that the mythics are significantly above average. While the set is lacking in high-end rares, it makes up for this in part by having fewer bulk rares than most sets, which is likely part of the benefit of having so many legends—cards that would just be considered unplayable if they were not legendary have some strange demand from Commander and Brawl in legendary form. 

Having a relatively flat value is probably a good thing overall. While opening a chase rare feels good—and that won't ever happen in Dominaria, with the value topping out at about $6 with Shalai, Voice of Plenty—a total of 13 rares are worth more than $2, which means about one in four packs will contain a solid rare. As such, while few Dominaria packs will be considered big winners, there will be relatively few losers as well. A bunch of $2 rares combined with a good mythic or two is a recipe for cracking a solid box, and these boxes will be fairly common in Dominaria.

Dominaria—Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Dominaria—C / U / B
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Damping Sphere UNC $3.56 1.35 $4.80
Cast Down UNC $0.71 1.35 $0.92
Seal Away UNC $0.53 1.35 $0.72
Rat Colony COM $0.50 3.5 $1.76
Bulk C / U   $5 / thousand   $2.40
Totals        
Total C / U / B Value Added $10.60      

The commons and uncommons of Dominaria are pretty simple: it's Damping Sphere or bust. Thankfully, Damping Sphere all by itself is enough to keep the expected value of the commons and uncommons on par with other recent sets. In theory, you'll open an average of 1.35 copies of Damping Sphere per box, but remember that variance is a thing. If you open a box and don't get a Damping Sphere, it's not a sign of a conspiracy or a "mythic uncommon"—it's more likely that you simply got unlucky, while someone else opened two or three copies of Damping Sphere.

Dominaria—Foils

Dominaria—Foils
Rarity Average # per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythics One every six boxes (0.17 per box) $32.01 $5.44
Rares One per box $6.48 $6.48
Uncommons Two per box $1.29 $2.58
Commons Three per box $0.10 $0.30
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $14.80    

Thanks to having a ton of Commander playables and potential staples, the foil value of Dominaria is significantly higher than normal. mostly thanks to the extremely high value of the foil mythics in the set. The average value of a foil mythic is over $30, which is more than double the average mythic value of our last set, Rivals of Ixalan. Even though foil mythics are quite rare (about one per case), having double the usual value does increase the expected value of the box slightly. While the rare, uncommon, and common foils aren't as exciting as the mythics, coming at average to a bit below, all in all, the foils from Dominaria add a massive $14.80 to the value of the box, which represents about a 20% increase over both Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan.

Putting It All Together

Dominaria—EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythic
$8.06
15 $36.32
Rare $1.18 53 $37.17
Commons / Uncommons / Bulk     $10.60
Foils   6 (per box) $14.80
TOTAL BOX EV $98.89    
PACK EV $2.75    

So, there you have it: the expected value of Dominaria comes in at essentially $99, even counting our 15% discount off TCG market price to account for shipping and fees. If you drop the 15% discount (because you're keeping the cards or trading them away for full retail price)m the value jumps to $114. This means that Dominaria is not only (arguably) the best set we've had in years in terms of game play but the best set in terms of expected value as well. If you can pick up a box for around $90 (which seems to be about the going rate on eBay), at current prices, you should expect to come out ahead by nearly $10, and even more if you are trading away the cards for full value rather than eating fees and shipping.

This means that, discounting variance, things like prerelease events and drafts are essentially freerolls at current prices. Of course, this doesn't mean that you'll come out ahead on any individual draft or sealed pool, but over the long haul, you'll at worst break even and at best come out a bit ahead, and this doesn't even include the fact that you can get the in-demand Firesong and Sunspeaker buy-a-box promo if you pick up your boxes early from your local game store, which adds a few more dollars to the expected value.

The TLDR is that Dominaria is awesome, both from the perspective of game play and from a value perspective, which reconfirms the idea that the set is one of the best that Wizards has made in a long, long time. I already preordered a couple of boxes, and after crunching the numbers, I'm tempted to pick up a couple more, especially if I can get the Firesong and Sunspeaker promo. Opening boxes is fun. Dominaria has a ton of sweet cards and good value. Worst case, it should be a freeroll; best case, you get lucky, open a foil mythic, and come out ahead. After some rough sets over the past couple of years, there's really nothing bad to say about Dominaria. Well done, Wizards, well done.

Conclusion

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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