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The Expected Value of Eldritch Moon


The full Eldritch Moon spoiler is out and the set is stuffed full of really interesting cards. From a power level perspective, the second set of Shadows over Innistrad block looks to be off the charts. Even many of the bad cards are uniquely powerful in a way that suggests they could have applications in constructed somewhere, someday. But today we're not especially interested in power level, we're interested in prices and our goal is to figure out just how much money you should expect to make (or lose) if you decide to crack open a box of Eldritch Moon!

While "never open a box" is a popular motto, not all boxes are the same. Over the past few years there have been some sets where (assuming you opened them right after the set was released) you could expect to open more value from the box than you paid for the box (e.g. Return to Ravnica, Battle for Zendikar, Khans of Tarkir). There have also been a few sets where you could expect to break even (e.g. Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows over Innistrad, Magic Origins). And there are a bunch of sets where cracking a box is almost guaranteed to lose you money (e.g. Dragon's Maze, Born of the Gods, Dragons of Tarkir). Because of this uncertainty, I like to calculate the expected value (EV) of a booster box every time a new set comes out to figure out whether buying a box is worthwhile in strictly economic terms.

There are two more things I need to clear up before delving into methodology and EV. First off, yesterday TCGplayer announced its new "market" price, which is the average price of cards that recently sold on the site. This change is a huge upgrade over the old method, which looked at seller asking prices. In the past, I refused to use TCGplayer pricing for EV breakdowns; very few people can actually sell their cards for TCG-mid prices. For previous expected value articles I used eBay completed listings minus 15% for fees and shipping for pricing. Well, now that TCGplayer offers a pricing system that is essentially the same as eBay's completed listing, but is more accurate and offers a larger sample size, we'll be calculating the expected value of Eldritch Moon based on TCGplayer market price, minus fees of 15%. The only downside of using TCGplayer for expected value is their fee system is a little complicated because it includes a fee of between $0.30 and $0.50 per order, on top of a flat fee of 10–11%, but 15% should be a fairly safe approximation. 

Second, cracking boxes is absurdly fun and there are tons of reasons for opening a box. As a result, a less than stellar expected value is not a reason to pass on a box. I've opened plenty of boxes knowing I was likely to lose money because it's worth spending some amount of money for the amount of fun I had cracking the packs. So instead of being the only factor in whether or not you crack a box of Eldritch Moon, expected value is one of many factors in your decision making process. 

What is Expected Value?

While many of you are 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 in any given box; 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, we simply add up the total and determine how much a box is actually worth.

TCGplayer Market Pricing

We just talked about this switch, but it's worth mentioning one more time since it is a pretty major change to our expected value series. Rather than using eBay pricing, we are switching to TCGplayer market prices, minus 15% to account for fees. However, the old warning still holds true: when it comes to making a profit opening boxes, timing is everything. 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 overnight. Basically, by opening boxes on release day, we can take advantage of the excitement for the new cards (new demand) and the fact that freshly-opened cards haven't had time to reach the market yet. If you're not planning on selling the cards from your box, that's fine, but if you are planning on selling/trading some (or all) the cards from your Eldritch Moon box, the closer to release day you do it, the more money you'll make!

Methodology Notes

  1. Commons (except in very rare cases) are considered bulk, which I value at $5.00 per thousand. 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. Double-faced Rares and Mythics replace a Common, so in our expected value calculation, instead of being lumped in with the other Rares and Mythics, we will discuss them in their own section.
  4. As for foils, I do include them in the calculation (in their own section). Just be warned that your odds of opening a foil Mythic are tiny, and even the odds you get a good foil Rare in any given box are fairly low, so there's a lot of variance here. 
  5. These prices won't be good for long. The idea is to determine if Eldritch Moon 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, EV is a snapshot based on current prices, not a prediction of where prices will be in the future.
  6. Calculating EV is not a predictive exercise—it is a snapshot of value at a specific point in time. Gisela, the Broken Blade could spike to $40 at the Pro Tour (or crash to $10), and it wouldn't make this EV calculation any more or less true because the one and only thing we are concerned with is the current value of the cards in the set.
  7. You don't actually make a profit until you sell the card. If you're not planning to keep all of the cards in your box, you need take the next step and actually trade away the cards, list them on eBay/TCGplayer, or sell them to a buylist.
  8. Finally, be aware of variance. If you open enough packs these numbers will be accurate. But like most aspects of Magic, variance can have a huge impact in small sample sizes. In theory (but not in practice, since boxes are only semi-random), 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 becomes because you smooth out these outliers.

Eldritch Moon: Mythics

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Eldritch Moon - Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Tamiyo, Field Researcher $21.17 0.375 $7.94
Liliana, the Last Hope $18.26 0.375 $6.85
Emrakul, the Promised End $13.63 0.375 $5.11
Grim Flayer $10.01 0.375 $3.75
Decimator of Provinces $5.09 0.375 $1.91
Nahiri's Wrath $3.86 0.375 $1.44
Gisa and Geralf $3.83 0.375 $1.44
Tree of Perdition $3.77 0.375 $1.41
Moonwing Dragon $3.67 0.375 $1.38
Deploy the Gatewatch $2.94 0.375 $1.10
Ishkanah, Grafwidow $2.42 0.375 $0.91
Mind's Dilation $1.39 0.375 $0.52
Totals      
Average Mythic Value $7.05    
Total Value Added to Box $33.77    

The Mythics from Eldritch Moon put the set off to a surprisingly good start with the average value of a Mythic from the set coming in 13.6% higher than the Mythics from Shadows over Innistrad, and a massive 27% higher than Oath of the Gatewatch. There are two major reasons why the Eldritch Moon batch of Mythics is so much better than other recent sets. First, the chase cards are more chase than normal. If you look at Shadows over Innistrad, the average value of the three most expensive Mythics was around $13; for Oath of the Gatewatch, it was about $11. For Eldrich Moon, it jumps all the way up to $17. Second, the bad Mythics aren't as bad as normal. For example, Shadows over Innistrad had six Mythics that were worth less than Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Six! With Eldritch Moon, most of the bulk Mythics are still worth around the price of a pack, which helps drive up the average. 

So what does this mean for the total expected value of the set? Not much, yet. It could be that Eldritch Moon will have an above average expected value, but it could also be that the Rares in the set will be worth less than usual to even things out. There's only one way to find out, so let's break down the Rares! 

Eldritch Moon: Rares

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Eldritch Moon - Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Eldritch Evolution $8.04 0.75 $6.03
Spell Queller $6.98 0.75 $5.23
Thalia, Heretical Cathar $6.68 0.75

$5.01

Splendid Reclamation $5.63 0.75 $4.22
Bedlam Reveler $4.05 0.75 $3.03
Elder Deep-Fiend $3.22 0.75 $2.42
Sigarda's Aid $3.65 0.75 $2.74
Collective Effort $2.64 0.75 $1.98
Cryptbreaker $2.94 0.75 $2.21
Mausoleum Wanderer $2.68 0.75 $2.00
Imprisoned in the Moon $1.85 0.75 $1.38
Selfless Spirit $1.87 0.75 $1.40
Collective Brutality $1.85 0.75 $1.38
Collective Defiance $1.56 0.75 $1.17
Stromkirk Condemned $1.42 0.75 $1.06
Lupine Prototype $1.48 0.75 $1.11
Distended Mindbender $1.65 0.75 $1.26
Oath of Liliana $1.39 0.75 $1.03
Heron's Grace Champion $1.39 0.75 $1.03
11 Bulk Rares $0.10 0.75*11 $0.83
13 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25 0.75*13 $2.44
Totals      
Average Rare Value $1.52    
Total Value Added $47.85    

Over the last three sets, the average Rare value has been right around $1.30, meaning that, in sum, the Rares from Shadows over Innistrad, Oath of the Gatewatch, and Battle for Zendikar added about $40 to the expect value of their respective boxes. Here again, Eldritch Moon breaks the mold, upping the average Rare value by about 16% over the rest of those sets, coming in with an average value of $1.52. Particularly amazing is the fact that Eldritch Moon doesn't even have a Rare land cycle, which is often associated with a strong expected value. In fact, it only has a total of two Rare lands (and one doesn't even count as a Rare, since it's a double-face card). 

The abnormally high value of Eldritch Moon Rares is a testament to just how powerful and interesting the designs of this set are. In most sets, once you get past the first handful of obviously-pushed-for-constructed Rares, there's a bunch of jank that no one would ever play anywhere. In Eldritch Moon, the jank is so unique that it has potential. Take a card like Lupine Prototype. It's completely unplayable in most decks, but it has potential to be extremely powerful in the right build. This potential (regardless of whether it's ever actually realized) keeps the card at nearly $1.50, when a normal, boring Rare in the another set would fall into the bulk category. 

If anything, I may have underpriced the Rares from Eldritch Moon slightly. Normally I cut off the individual pricing at $1.50, with Rares between $1 and $1.49 falling into the semi-bulk group, and Rares under $1 being bulk. The thing is, in Eldritch Moon there are a bunch of cards that came in just under the $1.50 mark with Stromkirk Occultist at $1.49, Permeating Mass and Geier Reach Sanitarium at $1.42, and Harmless Offering in the mid $1.30s. While it's not a huge deal, including these cards individually rather than putting them into the bulk group would jump the amount that the Rare slot adds to the expected value of an Eldritch Moon another $4. Regardless, Eldritch Moon is off to a great start as far as expected value is concerned. 

Remember, our calculations have been complicated by the fact that double-faced cards don't count towards the Mythic or Rare slots in their packs, instead they replace Commons and are essentially free value. Making this situation especially strange is the fact that the most expensive Mythic and a couple of solid Rares don't count towards the Rare/Mythic parts of our expected value calculation. Enough suspense, let's talk about one of the things that makes Innistrad block so unique—double-faced cards!

Eldritch Moon: Double-Faced Cards

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Eldritch Moon - Double-Faced Cards
Card Value Multiplier Value Added
Gisela, the Broken Blade $21.14 0.375 $7.92
Ulritch of the Krallenhorde $3.77 0.375 $1.41
Bruna, the Fading Light $1.64 0.75 $1.23
Docent of Perfection (semi-bulk) $0.25 0.75 $0.25
Hanweir Garrison $2.83 0.75 $2.15
Hanweir Battlements $1.74 0.75 $1.30
Voldarin Pariah (bulk) $0.10 0.75 $0.10
Total Value Added $14.36    

While the Rares and Mythics from Eldritch Moon have been great, the double-faced cards are somewhat lacking compared to Shadows over Innistrad. There isn't a Thing in the Ice-level Rare pushing up the expected value. This said, double-faced cards still offer free value since they aren't eating up Rare or Mythic slots. Even though Gisela, the Broken Blade is the only true chase card, the double-faced cards still add $14.36 to the value of a box. 

Uncommons, Commons and Bulk

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Eldritch Moon - Common/Uncommon/Bulk
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Unsubstantiate UNC $0.44 1.59 $0.70
Incendiary Flow UNC $0.42 1.59
Lone Rider UNC $0.31 1.59 $0.50
Blessed Alliance UNC $0.31 1.59 $0.50
Foul Emissary UNC $0.31 1.59 $0.50
BULK   $5/Thousand   $2.40
Totals        
Total C/U/B Value Added $5.26      

Not much to see here. Unsubstantiate and Incendiary Flow stick out as the two most valuable Uncommons in the set, but neither are really all that valuable when you consider cards like Duskwatch Recruiter, Reflector Mage, or Transgress the Mind. The other cards on the list are worth just over $1/playset, but I expect that it will be difficult to find a buyer willing to pay a reasonable price for most of them. On the other hand, the bulk is pretty much guaranteed value, since you'll always be able to find a buyer if you're willing to sell it for a low enough price. Overall, the Uncommon, Common, and bulk slot adds $5.20 to the value of an Eldritch Moon box, which is roughly on par with other recent sets. 

Foils

Eldritch Moon - Foils
Rarity Average # Per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythic One every six boxes (0.17 per box)

$18.20

$3.09
Rare One per box $4.17 $4.17
Uncommons Two per box $0.20 $0.40
Commons Three per box $0.10 $0.30
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $7.96    

As I've mentioned in the past, I don't really like to count foil Mythics as part of the EV just because your odds of opening one is quite slim (about one per case). That said, the possibility of opening one does exist, so I started including it in the calculations a few sets ago.

More importantly, lower-rarity foils are guaranteed value. You are very likely to open at least one foil Rare and about five foil Commons and Uncommons from any given box. I calculated the average value of a foil Rare and Mythic by using SCG retail prices and deducting a 30% spread. For Uncommons and Commons, I just used a basic bulk Rare of $0.10 each, and then doubled the value of the Uncommons since it is possible you get one that is worth a bit more. Altogether, the foil slot adds another $7.96 to the value of the box, which is fairly average for recent sets.

The big winners are pretty much the same as non-foils, although it is interesting that Tamiyo, Field Researcher jumps over Gisela, the Broken Blade to come in as the most expensive foil in the set at $75. Meanwhile, there are a couple of random double-faced Uncommons that are more valuable than you'd think with Curious Homunculus coming in at $2.99 and Cryptolith Fragment at $1.99. 

Putting it All Together

Eldritch Moon - EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythic $7.05 12 $33.77
Rare $1.52 43 $47.85
Double-Faced Rares/Mythics n/a 2 (Mythic) 5 (Rare) $14.36
Non-Bulk Uncommons $0.49 7 $2.86
Bulk $5/Thousand 480 $2.40
Foils   6 (per box) $7.96
TOTAL BOX EV $109.20    
PACK EV $3.03    
Fat Pack EV (Cards only, not valuing spindown, land pack, or box) $27.29    

So there you have it. If you crack a box of Eldritch Moon you can expect to open about $110 worth of cards, taking into account various fees associated with selling the cards. On the other hand, what if you aren't looking to sell the cards, but to keep them to build up your collection? If we take the fees out of the equation, the value of a box of Eldritch Moon jumps all the way up to $125. 

These numbers suggest a couple of things. First, unless you're getting a really good deal on boxes, it probably isn't worth your time to crack a bunch of boxes in hopes of pulling a profit. While you'll likely come out a little bit ahead, if you're paying $100 per box, you'll only make about $10 per box, and when you consider the time and effort it takes to sell the cards, you'll be making far less than minimum wage. On the other hand, if you have a hook up where you can get boxes for $70 each, you're making closer to $40 a box, which is actually a pretty reasonable return. 

Second, if you're not looking to sell your cards but to add to your collection, Eldritch Moon is a pretty solid set to open. On average, you'll get back not only the money you put into the box, but an extra $25 (again assuming you pay $100 for the box). As a result, I can see an argument for opening a box or two rather than buying singles, but the problem is there is enough variance in box opening that you may not get the specific cards you're looking for. Basically, unless you're a big dealer, I wouldn't buy a box purely for financial purposes. However, as someone who loves to crack boxes, seeing an expected value of $110 is certainly a green light to indulge and play the booster lottery!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. I have to say, the more I look at Eldritch Moon, the more I love the set. Not only is the value a bit above average, but the power level is off the charts. There are so many unique, brew-around-me cards, tons of flavor, and a handful of cards that could be playable in eternal formats. All in all, Eldritch Moon is definitely my favorite set of the past year, and possibly my favorite since Khans of Tarkir, so I can't wait to crack some boxes!

So what do you think? Is Eldritch Moon as good as it looks? Are you going to crack a box or two? Where do you think the set ranks among other recent sets? As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffonOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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