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The Expected Value of Guilds of Ravnica


It's prerelease weekend for Guilds of Ravnica, which makes this weekend one of the most exciting of the entire year. Not only do we get to start exploring a sweet new set and enjoy the prerelease events themselves, but the old guard of Standard rotates, giving us a fresh new format! However, our goal today is a bit different. Rather than discussing what new decks and cards might break out in Standard, we're breaking down the value of a Guilds of Ravnica booster box. The idea is simple: if you crack a box of Guilds of Ravnica, how much value should you expect to open? Will you break even? Come out ahead? Behind? Let's find out!

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 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. 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 hundreds or thousands of boxes.

TCGplayer Market Pricing

Most EV calculations use retail 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 price of completed listings on 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 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.

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 or traded away for any meaningful amount of value. 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 Vraska, Golgari Queen are 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-ish 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 Guilds of Ravnica 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.

Guilds of Ravnica Notes

Generally speaking, Guilds of Ravnica is a pretty straightforward set when it comes to calculating expected value, but there are two small notes. First, Guilds of Ravnica packs don't contain any basic lands; instead, each pack will contain a Guildgate in the land slot. However, since Guildgates and basic lands are equally worthless, this doesn't really change the expected value calculation at all. Second, Wizards is continuing the buy-a-box promotion for Guilds of Ravnica, so if you pick up a box early from your local game store, you can grab a free copy of Impervious Greatwurm. Right now, the Wurm is selling for somewhere between $8 and $15 on eBay, which is a nice bonus for picking up a box as soon as possible from your local game store.

Guilds of Ravnica: Mythics

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

Guilds of Ravnica—Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Doom Whisperer $15.07 0.3 $4.52
Vraska, Golgari Queen $10.98 0.3 $3.29
Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice $8.99 0.3 $2.70
Ral, Izzet Viceroy $8.36 0.3 $2.51
Nullhide Ferox $6.58 0.3 $1.97
Divine Visitation $5.57 0.3 $1.57
Lazav, the Multifarious $5.06 0.3 $1.52
March of the Multitudes $4.44 0.3 $1.33
Underrealm Lich $3.88 0.3 $1.17
Mnemonic Betrayal $2.41 0.3 $0.72
Dream Eater $2.41 0.3 $0.72
Trostani Discordant $2.25 0.3 $0.68
Thousand-Year Storm $2.25 0.3 $0.68
Chance for Glory $1.76 0.3 $0.54
Arclight Phoenix $1.56 0.3 $0.47
Totals      
Average Mythic Value $5.44    
Total Value Added to Box $24.39    

The mythics of Guilds of Ravnica aren't especially valuable. In fact, the average value of $5.44 is almost half of M19's average of $9.48. While this might sound like bad news, it's actually very normal. There's only so much value to go around in a box, and Guilds of Ravnica has a ton of value in the rare slot thanks to the shock lands, which helps push down the value of the mythics in the set. The other reason that Guilds of Ravnica has a relatively low mythic value is that there isn't really a chase mythic in the set. The closest we have at the moment is Doom Whisperer at about $15, which is a lot different than some past sets, where we had $40 Teferi, Hero of Dominarias and Nicol Bolas, the Ravagers during prerelease weekend. All in all, the mythics from the set add just $24.39 to the value of a Guilds of Ravnica box, which is fine, if unexciting. This being said, thanks to the shock lands, the value of the set (and the expected value of the box) is going to be tied mostly to the rare slot.

Guilds of Ravnica: Rares

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

 

Guilds of Ravnica—Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Assassin's Trophy $20.43 0.6 $12.46
Watery Grave $6.86 0.6 $4.11
Mission Briefing $6.80 0.6 $4.08
Steam Vents $6.72 0.6 $4.03
Sacred Foundry $6.24 0.6 $3.74
Overgrown Tomb $5.60 0.6 $3.34
Temple Garden $4.82 0.6 $2.89
Knight of Autumn $3.62 0.6 $2.17
Chromatic Lantern $3.62 0.6 $2.17
Legion Warboss $2.72 0.6 $1.63

Tajic, Legion's Edge

$2.55 0.6 $1.53
Runaway Steam-Kin $2.55 0.6 $1.53
Pelt Collector $2.23 0.6 $1.34
Risk Factor $2.13 0.6 $1.28
Ionize $2.13 0.6 $1.28
Mausoleum Secrets $1.90 0.6 $1.14
Unmoored Ego $1.67 0.6 $1.00
Swiftblade Vindicator $1.56 0.6 $0.93
Thief of Sanity $1.46 0.6 $0.88
Niv-Mizzet, Parun $1.23 0.6 $0.74
22 Bulk Rares $0.10 0.6*22 $1.32
11 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25 0.6*11 $1.65
Totals      
Average Rare Value $1.73    
Total Value Added $55.24    

The rares from Guilds of Ravnica are absurd, adding a total of $55.24 to the value of a box and holding an average value of $1.73, which is off the charts. To put this in perspective, just Assassin's Trophy and a single shock land add more to the value of a Guilds of Ravnica booster box than all of the rares from Core Set 2019 added to the value of a M19 box, allowing Guilds of Ravnica to have the most valuable rares since Khans of Tarkir brought back the fetch lands. 

From the perspective of a player opening a box, having most of the set's value concentrated in the rare slot is great. In the past, we've had some sets with fine overall value but with nearly all of the money cards at mythic. Since your odds of opening any individual mythic in any specific box is only 30%, there's a very good chance that if you open just a box or two, you could get hit by variance and miss out on the highest-value cards in the set. On the other hand, your chances of opening any specific rare in a box is 60%, which means you actually get slightly unlucky to miss out on Assassin's Trophy, even if you open just a single box. You should also open about three shock lands, on average, which offers a nice floor on the value of your box.

If there's any bad news, it's that there are still a lot of bulk and semi-bulk rares in the set, with 60% of the rares from Guilds of Ravnica falling into that category; however, the plethora of high-value rares makes up for this weakness. Assassin's Trophy is the most valuable card in the set, and since it's a rare, your box is twice as likely to contain a copy than if it were a mythic. The shock lands are all great opens, and this doesn't even including Mission Briefing, Knight of Autumn, and Chromatic Lantern, all of which are worth more than the price of a pack. Really, there isn't much more to say here. While the mythics from Guilds of Ravnica are low value, the rare slot more than makes up for it, which will make the boxes a joy to open, since rares offer much more consistent value for players.

Guilds of Ravnica —Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

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

Guilds of Ravnica—C / U / B
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Sinister Sabotage UNC $0.20 1.35 $0.27
Thought Erasure UNC $0.20 1.35 $0.27
Plaguecrafter UNC $0.20 1.35 $0.27
Bulk C / U   $5 / thousand   $2.40
Totals        
Total C / U / B Value Added $3.21      

Much like the mythics, the high value of the rares makes it difficult for good uncommons to maintain much value. In a set like Core Set 2019, cards like Thought Erasure and Sinister Sabotage would likely be worth close to a dollar, but in Guilds of Ravnica, these cards are more like a dollar for an entire playset. While this is good for playing Standard, making the staple uncommons dirt cheap and easily accessible, it's not great for opening boxes. Don't expect much value outside of the rare and mythic slot in your packs.

Guilds of Ravnica—Foils

 

Guilds of Ravnica—Foils
Rarity Average # per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythics One every six boxes (0.17 per box) $19.66 $3.34
Rares One per box $7.00 $7.00
Uncommons Two per box $1.00 $2.00
Commons Three per box $0.10 $0.30
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $12.64    

The foils from Guilds of Ravnica follow the pattern of the rest of the set, with the mythics lagging behind the norm but the rares having an absurd amount of value, thanks to the solid rares from the set. The end result is a slight uptick in the value of the foils from the set compared to Core Set 2019, but this difference isn't much. Foils tend to fall into a very small range every set, and Guilds of Ravnica is very much within the norm, with all the foils in the set adding $12.64 to the value of the box.

Putting It All Together

Core Set 2019—EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythic
$5.44
15 $24.39
Rare $1.73 53 $55.24
Commons / Uncommons / Bulk     $3.21
Foils   6 (per box) $12.64
TOTAL BOX EV $95.48    
PACK EV $2.65    

So, there you have it: if you crack a box of Guilds of Ravnica, you should expect to open about $95.50 in value, including our 15% discount for fees and shipping. If you drop the discount based on the assumption you are keeping all of the cards, the expected value increases to almost $110. When you consider that Wizards is now selling boxes directly on Amazon for about $95, you should about break even from opening a box, and with a bit of luck (or by discounting the discount), you'll come out a bit ahead. 

While this expected value makes it hard to crack boxes for a profit, assuming you have to pay full retail for a box, it's good enough that you can have fun opening boxes "for free," so to speak, by getting your money back in cards. It also means that prerelease events should be essentially free, since the packs you open should pay for your entry free, and if you do well enough to win some prize packs, you'll not only have a blast playing Guilds of Ravnica but also might come out ahead financially!

Another piece of the puzzle is Impervious Greatwurm. As we talked about back in the intro, you should be able to get somewhere between $8 and $15 for your copy, which means the odds of opening a winning box increase significantly if you pick up a box from your local game store. While an extra $10 might not sound like a lot, that's basically the same as opening two additional shock lands for free, so if you are planning on opening a box, you should certainly look at taking advantage of the buy-a-box promo if you have a good local game store. Not only will it help you financially, but it will also help the store in the brave new world of Wizards selling sealed product directly to players over the Internet. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. All in all, Guilds of Ravnica looks like a solid set to open. The expected value is high enough that, even in the worst case, you should about break even, and if you can take advantage of the buy-a-box promo, you'll probably come out a bit ahead! Are you planning to pick up a box? 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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