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The Expected Value of Hour of Devastation


Hour of Devastation officially releases next Friday, which means it's time for our traditional expected value article. At a glance, Hour of Devastation looks like a low-value set, but what do the numbers have to say? That's what we're going to be looking at today. Then, after breaking down the numbers, we'll talk about what the expected value of Hour of Devastation actually means over the long haul, along with what challenges and opportunities it presents. 

The basic question we are looking to answer is pretty simple: is it worth it to crack a box of Hour of Devastation, based purely on the numbers? Basically, if I pay $100 for a box of Hour of Devastation, should I expect to get my money back, lose money, or come out a little bit ahead? Here, it's important to note that it's never, ever worth it to crack a box over the long haul. Even if the expected value is positive on release day, it won't be in a few weeks. Generally speaking, vendors get boxes for 70-something dollars, and over the long haul, the amount of value you'll get from a box has to drop below this number (on average). 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 increases the supply of the cards in the set and brings down the prices of the cards.

One more thing before getting into the meat of the article: 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 opening a Masterpiece edition of Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh. 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 our 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 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.

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 The Scarab God 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. Like the last few sets, Hour of Devastation has its own edition of the Masterpiece Series in Invocations. Considering just how rare it is to open one of these cards, they will be going in their own special section, and we'll essentially be calculating two different expected values: one without the Invocations and one with the extra value of the Invocations added.
  5. These prices won't be good for long. Remember: the idea is to determine if Hour of Devastation 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 (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 smooth out these outliers.

Hour of Devastation: Mythics

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Hour of Devastation—Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh $15.72 0.375 $5.89
The Scarab God $7.22 0.375 $2.70
Razaketh, the Foulblooded $5.86 0.375 $2.20
The Locust God $5.24 0.375 $1.97
The Scorpion God $3.96 0.375 $1.49
Samut, the Tested $3.38 0.375 $1.27
Uncage the Menagerie $2.98 0.375 $1.12
Crested Sunmare $2.98 0.375 $1.12
Majestic Myriarch $2.43 0.375 $0.91
Overwhelming Splendor $2.13 0.375 $0.80
Neheb, the Eternal $1.54 0.375 $0.58
Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign $0.85 0.375 $0.32
Totals      
Average Mythic Value $4.52    
Total Value Added to Box $20.30    

How can I put this softly? The mythics of Hour of Devastation are horrible from a value perspective, with an average value of just $4.52. To put this in context, Aether Revolt was the previous record holder for least valuable mythics (at least, since I started calculating expected value, back in Khans block) and Hour of Devastation mythics are worth nearly 10% less than Aether Revolt mythics. 

There really isn't any saving grace here. There's only one "chase" mythic in Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, and calling the new planeswalker "chase" is using the term lightly: $15.72 isn't quite the same as some past chase mythics in the $30 to $50 range. Even more depressing, a full half of the mythics are worth less than $3, meaning that even if you manage to crack a mythic in your booster pack, you only have a coin-flip chance at making your money back. Finally, Hour of Devastation doesn't have a rare land cycle, which is often the reason some good sets in the past (like Khans of Tarkir or Return to Ravnica) have low mythic values—the fetch lands and shock lands were eating up a lot of the value—but this isn't the case with Hour of Devastation.

All things considered, the mythics only add about $20 to the value of a box, which is rough. This means that the rares, uncommons, and Masterpiece-series cards will have to be worth significantly more than average for Hour of Devastation to have even a normal value. So, let's move on and see if the rares can save the set from having a historically low expected value. 

Hour of Devastation: Rares

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Hour of Devastation—Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Ramunap Excavator $4.52 0.75 $3.39
Solemnity $4.03 0.75 $3.02
Nimble Obstructionist $2.93 0.75 $2.20
Bontu's Last Reckoning $2.28 0.75 $1.71
Hour of Devastation $2.28 0.75 $1.71
Hollow One $1.94 0.75 $1.45
Mirage Mirror $1.79 0.75 $1.34
Ammit Eternal $1.59 0.75 $1.19

Torment of Hailfire

$1.58 0.75 $1.19
Rhonas's Last Stand $1.54 0.75 $1.15
Pride Sovereign $1.06 0.75 $0.80
Hour of Promise $0.93 0.75 $0.73
20 Bulk Rares $0.10 0.75 * 20 $1.5
9 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25 0.75 * 9 $1.69
Totals      
Average Rare Value $0.72    
Total Value Added $22.67    

Take every bad thing I said about the mythics of Hour of Devastation and double it for the rares. The average rare value of $0.72 is the lowest I've ever seen. A typical set has an average rare value of maybe $1.10, and even the disappointing rares of Amonkhet had a value nearly 25% higher than those from Hour of Devastation

While there are a ton of different factors going into this record low price, the biggest issue is the number of bulk rares in the set. Of the 42 rares in Hour of Devastation, 31 are worth less than $1, making a full 75% of the rares bulk. While this would already complicate box openings (since most packs will be losers, from a value perspective), the high bulk-rare rate could be redeemed if the rest of the slots were filled with really solid, high-end rares. 

Unfortunately, Hour of Devastation is lacking on the top end as well. When you include the 15% deduction for fees and shipping, not a single rare is worth over $5, and even without this deduction, only a single card would fall into this range. More depressingly, only two cards are worth more than $3, which is just over the cost of a booster, assuming you are buying an entire box for around $100. When you combine this with the mythics, the picture is pretty shocking: in the typical booster box, only four of the 36 (11%) booster packs will contain a card worth more than the booster itself.

Hour of Devastation—Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

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Hour of Devastation—C / U / B
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Claim // Fame UNC $1.27 1.8 $2.28
Dunes of the Dead UNC $0.81 1.8 $1.45
Riddleform UNC $0.37 1.8 $0.66
Abrade UNC $0.29 1.8 $0.52
Supreme Will UNC $0.29 1.8 $0.52
Bulk C / U   $5 / Thousand   $2.40
Totals        
Total C / U / B Value Added $7.83      

With a few rare exceptions (like Fatal Push in Aether Revolt), the uncommon and common slots are mostly a throwaway in modern Magic sets, and Hour of Devastation is no different. Claim // Fame is the best of the bunch and does add a bit of value to a box, but even opening an average of 1.8 copies per box only adds $2.28 to the box value. Otherwise, there are a handful of cards that might be worth $1 / playset, at least for right now. All things told, the "other" category adds $7.83 to the value of an Hour of Devastation box, which is roughly average. 

While on the topic of "others," back in Amonkhet, one question we had was whether the embalm tokens would add any value to the box, and since we have more of these unique tokens coming in Hour of Devastation, it's worth mentioning them briefly. The answer is mostly no. While some have a bit of value, there isn't really a good way to sell any of them, since the major buylists don't seem to be interested. You can probably move them very slowly on eBay if you are willing to do a lot of work and eat a lot of fees and shipping to sell low-value cards, but otherwise, even if big vendors can sell the Angel of Sanctions embalm token for $0.49, they are worthless for most of us.

Hour of Devastation—Foils

Hour of Devastation—Foils
Rarity Average # per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythics One every six boxes (0.17 per box) $20.50 $3.49
Rares One per box $5.95 $5.95
Uncommons Two per box $0.30 $0.60
Commons Three per box $0.10 $0.30
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $10.34    

Foils are mostly like uncommons, in the sense that their value doesn't change much from set to set. For Hour of Devastation, the mythics are a bit under Amonkhet, while the rares are a bit above Amonkhet, which basically evens itself out and gives us a total of $10.34 added to the value of a box. 

Putting It All Together

Hour of Devastation—EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number in Set Number in Box Value Added
Mythic
$4.52
12 4.5 $20.30
Rare $0.72 42 31.5 $22.67
Commons / Uncommons / Bulk       $7.83
Foils   6 (per box)   $10.34
TOTAL BOX EV $61.14      
PACK EV $1.70      

So, there you have it. If we pretend that Invocations don't exist, the expected value of a box of Hour of Devastation comes in at an amazingly low $61.14. This pre-Masterpiece EV is the lowest I've ever seen. When you consider that you only get a Masterpiece about one in every three or four boxes, this means most of the time you'll spend about $100 on a box of Hour of Devastation and end up losing nearly half of your money, getting back only $61. Of course, we should probably talk about the Masterpieces as well, and after we have the whole picture, we'll take a minute to talk about what this expected value means for the set.

The Invocations

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When we broke down the expected value of Amonkhet, we talked about how the average value of the Masterpiece series cards were steadily dropping set by set, and Hour of Devastation continues the trend, with the average price dropping all the way down to $36.59. This is compared to an average value of $44 in Amonkhet, $77 in Kaladesh block, and nearly $100 in Battle for Zendikar. Considering the one in every three or four box rate of Masterpiece-series cards, this means that the Invocations add about $10.60 to the expected value of an Hour of Devastation box. 

Maybe an even more shocking stat is that, taking into account the low value of the rest of the set, most of the time when you open an Invocation, you'll still end up losing value, or at the very best breaking even. In fact, by my count, only about 25% of the Invocations are worth enough to make an Hour of Devastation box a winner, even if you are lucky enough to beat the odds and open one.

All in all, if we add the Invocations to the rest of the cards in the set, we have a total expected value of $72, which is far below the norm (if you drop the 15% deduction because you aren't planning on selling any of the cards, the value increases to $82.80, which is still quite low). Generally speaking, over the past few years, a low-EV set has had an expected value of between $85 and $90, an average set between $90 and $100, and a great set in the range of $110 or even $120. This means Hour of Devastation is off-the-charts low—the lowest we've seen since Dragons of Tarkir

The Dragons of Tarkir Paradox

The last time we had a set with this low of an expected value during presales was way back in Dragons of Tarkir, which had an expected value of $73—almost exactly the same as Hour of Devastation does today. At the time, there was a lot of debate about the future of Dragons of Tarkir. People were divided over whether it was just a bad set or if it was actually underpriced during presales. In the end, Dragons of Tarkir actually increased in value to the point where it was above average, as people figured out that a lot of the casual-looking mythics (like the Dragonlord cycle) were actually very strong in constructed.

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While history isn't a perfect predictor of the future, it's worth pointing out that there are a lot of similarities between Hour of Devastation and Dragons of Tarkir, even beyond the sets' expected values. Both have a lot of mythics that were hyped for casual and Commander play but not obviously great for Standard (these are the Gods for Hour of Devastation and the Dragonlords for Dragons of Tarkir), both are sets without a rare land cycle, and both are the final sets in their respective blocks. As such, it wouldn't be a bit surprising to find that Hour of Devastation has a similar financial trajectory, starting out underpriced during presales and then increasing as people figure out which cards from the set are Standard staples. 

On the other hand, the parasitic power of Kaladesh and Aether Revolt is a big barrier and provides a counterargument. It's possible that Hour of Devastation prices are low because the set simply isn't that powerful for Standard and most cards from the set are unlikely to find homes in tier decks, since Energy and Vehicles are still dominating Standard, and Hour of Devastation doesn't interact particularly well with either mechanic. 

One thing is clear: Hour of Devastation isn't likely to lose as much as a typical set. It can't, because the value is already so low, which means that preordering singles might actually be a good idea for once (although it's still important to be selective; some of the most expensive cards in the set like Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh might still be overpriced). 

If I were to make a guess at the future of Hour of Devastation, I'd say that it will react like Dragons of Tarkir, with some cards increasing in price from presales as people figure out what cards are good for Standard (the fact that fewer people will crack boxes thanks to the low expected value makes this even more likely to happen), but not to the same extreme. Dragons of Tarkir went from a record low expected value during presales to an above average set; Hour of Devastation is more likely to go from a record low set to an average or a bit below average set. 

Conclusion

As I mentioned in the intro, I'd never discourage anyone from buying a box if they want to open it for fun, draft with it, or any other reason, but it's clear that Hour of Devastation is one of the worst sets from the past decade to open for value. The average box will lose you a lot of money, and even most lucky boxes (where you get a Masterpiece) will still lose you money. On the other hand, it's possible that this low expected value actually makes preordering singles a good call. In the worst case, you shouldn't lose much ordering early because prices are already so low, and at best, you choose wisely and end up getting a good deal on the next Dragonlord Ojutai or Deathmist Raptor

Anyway, that's all for today. What do you plan to do about Hour of Devastation? Are you going to crack a box or just buy singles? Do you expect the set to act like Dragons of Tarkir and increase in value, or is Kaladesh block too big of a hurdle for the set to overcome? 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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