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The Expected Value of Iconic Masters


While I do an expected value article for every set, Iconic Masters was a unique challenge, with the main question being when I should write the article. The entire set was spoiled over a month ago, but we are still nearly a month away from release day. If we calculate things too early, there's a chance that prices will drop and make the expected value less meaningful, but if we calculate it too late, people may have already missed their chance to get in their preorders at the best price. Then, major sites like StarCityGames started putting up presales this week, and I figured that the time had come to break down the expected value of the set. 

While there is still some risk that prices drop over the next three weeks, major price swings will likely be less of an issue for Iconic Masters than a normal set, since all of the cards are reprints, which means there is much less guesswork in pricing. Plus, a lot of cards seem to have a major discount already priced in (for example, Mishra's Bauble selling for $6 rather than $40). This being said, make sure to check the weekly updates leading up to the release of the set; I'll try to include some expected value updates along the way, especially if any major changes occur. 

So, why are we calculating the expected value of Iconic Masters? "Never crack a box" is a fairly common rule of thumb, but this isn't always true, especially when it comes to limited-supply releases like Masters-series sets. Actually, it's pretty common that you can expect to make money cracking a Masters-series set, especially if you can get a box at a reasonable price. As such, the question we are looking to answer is: is it worth it to crack a box, based purely on the numbers? Basically, if I pay $X (likely around $200) for a box of Iconic Masters, should I expect to get my money back, lose money, or come out a little bit ahead?

Like usual, we will focus on the short term because unknown variables about the total supply of the set complicate the long-term view. Most often, prices from the cards in Masters sets decrease right after they release, but unless the are reprinted again, the playable ones increase back toward their pre-reprinting price over the next year or two. However, Iconic Masters specifically is complicated by the fact that Masters 25 comes out in March, only a few months down the road, and while Wizards will likely try to avoid too much overlap, it certainly isn't impossible that we see some number of cards show up in both sets, which would increase supply to the point where it would be hard for the cards to recover in the near future.

One more thing before getting into the methodology and the set itself: EV calculations only take into account the cold, hard numbers. There are many reasons why people buy a box, especially of a set like Iconic Masters. Some people buy boxes because cracking packs is fun or because they want a chance to win the foil Mana Drain lotto. Others buy boxes to play limited with their friends, and Masters sets have almost always had great limited formats. For some people, buying a box is a tradition. I'm sure there are a hundred other reasons as well. All of these are fine reasons to purchase a booster box, even a low-EV booster box. While it will not show up in my calculations, there is value in having fun, drafting with friends, and keeping traditions, so don't let a poor EV alone keep you from purchasing a box.

What Is Expected Value?

While many of you may be 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 from the cards in a booster box. To calculate EV, we first determine the odds of opening a specific card (the multiplier). 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.

TCG Market Pricing

Most EV calculations use sell prices—things like TCG 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 reasons: First, I (and most of you) can't get StarCityGames or TCG-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). We are using TCG market prices for our Iconic Masters EV, which are essentially the "completed listings" of the TCG marketplace, showing actual completed sales rather than sellers' asking prices. Basically, we are trying to get the lowest realistic price possible because in the long run, it's better to underestimate the EV of a box than to overestimate. We'll also be knocking 15% off the total because actually selling a card costs money in fees and shipping, and 15% is typically a good approximation of these costs (although if you aren't interested in selling the cards you open, we'll talk about the expected value without this deduction as well).

When it comes to making a profit by opening boxes, timing is everything, 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. By opening boxes on release day (or release weekend), we can take advantage of the fact that the freshly opened cards haven't had time to reach the market yet (lack of supply). Of course, an all-reprint set isn't the same as a normal set—the cards from Iconic Masters are already available in their older form—which means we probably won't have the crazy price swings we have with Standard-legal sets. However, it's still smart to sell or trade away the cards you don't want quickly (or plan on holding onto them for a couple of years) to beat the influx of supply that will be coming in over the next couple of months as people open the set.

Methodology Notes

  1. Most commons and uncommons are counted as bulk, which means a rate of $5 per thousand. There are a few exceptions, and these are listed along with my pricing in the appropriate sections. Since Iconic Masters boxes are smaller than normal (with only 24 packs rather than the more common 36), all of the bulk commons and uncommons don't actually add all that much value to the EV—about $1.60.
  2. One of the quirks of Iconic Masters is that you get a foil in every pack. Don't worry; we'll have a separate section on foils to calculate the value they add to a box.
  3. I expect the prices of most of these cards to decrease over the next few months. This is especially true of uncommons and commons but also rares and some mythics as well. That said, I'm not sure that Iconic Masters prices will decrease as much as those of other sets because many of the presale prices are actually pretty reasonable. The common "discount" price of a Master-series reprint is somewhere around 50% of the pre-reprinting price, and many of the cards in the set have already decreased by this amount.
  4. Another reminder: you don't actually make a profit until you sell or trade away the cards. Just cracking boxes on release weekend isn't enough; you need take the next step and actually list the cards on eBay / TCGplayer, trade them away, or sell them to a buylist.
  5. 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 on small samples. In theory (although not in practice, because box distribution isn't truly 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.

Iconic Masters: Mythics

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Iconic Masters Mythics
Card Price Multiplier Value Added
Mana Drain $84.99 0.2 $17.00
Avacyn, Angel of Hope $16.99 0.2 $3.40
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite $14.41 0.2 $2.89
Consecrated Sphinx $12.38 0.2 $2.48
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger $11.89 0.2 $2.38
Sheoldred, Whispering One $11.04 0.2 $2.21
Archangel of Thune $11.04 0.2 $2.21
Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur $7.04 0.2 $1.41
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker $6.37 0.2 $1.27
Primeval Titan $5.52 0.2 $1.10
Necropotence $5.00 0.2 $1.00
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen $5.00 0.2 $1.00
Thundermaw Hellkite $4.67 0.2 $0.93
Urabrask the Hidden $4.24 0.2 $0.84
Channel $2.54 0.2 $0.51
Totals 13.54 n/a $40.62

Let's start with the good news: there are more than just mythics in Iconic Masters, so it's possible that the lower rarities can help make up for the lacking value of the mythics from the set. Actually, having a set where most of the value is in the rares and uncommons is actually a good thing for players; it helps even out the variance, since you only get three mythics in a box but 21 rares and a ton of uncommons. Now for the bad news: Iconic Masters has the least-valuable group of mythic rares ever found in a Masters set, and it isn't particularly close:

I didn't include the original Modern Masters because it was before I started doing the expected value articles, but I'm pretty sure it would be even higher thanks to the fact that it had a bunch of high-value mythics and Tarmogoyf was over $200 at the time. As you can see, the average value of mythics in Masters sets has been steadily trending downward for as long as Wizards has been making Masters sets. For Iconic Masters specifically, part of the problem is that several of the mythics have already been reprinted, in some cases multiple times. A great example of this is Primeval Titan. It was $20 before Modern Masters 2015 (and also a Grand Prix promo printing), but now it's only $6, which means it's adding much less to the value of an Iconic Masters box than it was to a Modern Masters 2015 box. While this isn't the place to get into it, one of the challenges of Masters sets moving forward is that Wizards has already reprinted most of the low-hanging fruit, and they simply can't make expensive cards as quickly as they want to reprint them. The mythics of Iconic Masters might be the first sign of this problem really impacting a Masters set.

Back to the mythics of Iconic Masters, it's pretty much Mana Drain or bust. Discounting the chance of winning the foil lottery, approximately one in five boxes will contain the counterspell, and all of these boxes will be winners, almost regardless of what other cards you get. On the other hand, if you open a non-Mana Drain box, you're really be hoping to hit well with your rares and foils, since it's really difficult to assemble a winning box from the rest of the mythics without a lot of help. To put the weakness of the rest of the mythics in perspective, think about this: if we drop Mana Drain from the set, the average mythic value of Iconic Masters is $8.44, which is roughly the same as a good Standard set (Fate Reforged had an average mythic value of over $9, Kaladesh was at $8.35, and Magic Origins was also over $8). Only seven of the 15 mythics are currently worth more than the $10 pack they come from, and three of these are just barely over in the $11 range, which means more than half of the mythics are losers in terms of making your money back, and less than one-third really count as winners. 

Basically, the mythics from Iconic Masters (outside of Mana Drain) simply aren't very good from a value perspective, but as I mentioned before, this might not matter. The question now is whether the rares and uncommons can help make up for the lacking mythic value, so let's move one and break down the lower-rarity cards from the set.

Iconic Masters: Rares

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Iconic Masters Rares
Card Price Multiplier Value Added
Horizon Canopy $38.25 0.4 $15.30
Flusterstorm $34.00 0.4 $13.60
Cryptic Command $24.44 0.4 $9.78
Aether Vial $24.44 0.4 $9.78
Ancestral Vision $19.52 0.4 $7.81
Grove of the Burnwillows $19.52 0.4 $7.81
Thoughtseize $16.13 0.4 $6.45
Magus of the Moon $15.40 0.4 $6.16
Auriok Champion $11.90 0.4 $4.76
Bloodghast $9.89 0.4 $3.96
Serra Ascendant $9.14 0.4 $3.66
Kokusho, the Evening Star $9.14 0.4 $3.66
Oblivion Stone $7.97 0.4 $3.19
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir $6.46 0.4 $2.58
Austere Command $6.46 0.4 $2.58
Lotus Cobra $5.93 0.4 $2.37
Knight of the Reliquary $5.09 0.4 $2.04
Yosei, the Morning Star $3.78 0.4 $1.51
River of Tears $3.78 0.4 $1.51
Nimbus Maze $3.78 0.4 $1.51
Graven Cairns $3.78 0.4 $1.51
Genesis Wave $3.78 0.4 $1.51
Supreme Verdict $3.78 0.4 $1.51
Rune-Scarred Demon $3.61 0.4 $1.44
Keiga, the Tide Star $2.98 0.4 $1.19
Restoration Angel $2.55 0.4 $1.02
Night of Souls' Betrayal $2.55 0.4 $1.02
Abyssal Persecutor $1.69 0.4 $0.68
Anger of the Gods $1.69 0.4 $0.68
Serum Powder $1.69 0.4 $0.68
Blood Baron of Vizkopa $1.28 0.4 $0.51
Rampaging Baloths $1.28 0.4 $0.51
Obstinate Baloth $1.28 0.4 $0.51
10 Semi-Bulk Rares @ $0.25     $1.00
10 Bulk Rares @ $0.10     $0.40
Totals: $5.91 n/a $124.19

While the mythics from Iconic Masters are a bit sketchy and lacking in value, the rares certainly help make up for the lack of depth at the highest rarity by adding a massive $124.19 to the value of a booster box. This is even higher than Modern Masters 2017, which we lauded for solving the "put all the value at mythic" problem we had in Modern Masters 2015. So, rather than making a low-value set, it seems that Wizards intentionally put most of Iconic Masters' value in the rare slot, which is great for anyone opening sealed product, since your odds of getting at least some value if you decided to jump into a draft or sealed event is pretty high. 

The most impressive aspect of the rares in Iconic Masters is the depth. There aren't that many bulk rares in the set, with just 37.8% of rares falling into the bulk and semi-bulk categories. This means that if you sit down to a booster draft, almost two of your three packs should contain a reasonable card in the rare slot. Plus, discounting Mana Drain, all of the most valuable cards in the set—Horizon Canopy, Aether Vial, Cryptic Command, Flusterstorm, and Magus of the Moon—are in the rare slot, and opening any one of these cards will make it pretty easy for your draft to pay for itself and put you well on your way to opening a winning box. Even better, most boxes will contain four of the nine rares that are worth more than $10, which is a nice, consistent amount of value for box openers. While there is still some amount of variance involved (the total value of your box will look a lot different if your four "good" rares are $10 rather than $25 rares), it's refreshing to know that because of Wizards' focus on stuffing value into the rare slot, there should be relatively few feel-bad box openings of Iconic Masters. This is a huge change from earlier Masters sets, which often felt like Tarmogoyf of bust in terms of making your money back.

Iconic Masters: Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

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Iconic Masters Uncommons 
Card Value Multiplier Value Added
Mishra's Bauble $5.09 0.79 $4.02
Thran Dynamo $2.79 0.79 $2.20
Lightning Helix $2.54 0.79 $2.00
Mindcrank $1.89 0.79 $1.49
Bladewing the Risen $0.85 0.79 $0.66
Swords to Plowshares $0.85 0.79 $0.66
Burrenton Forge-Tender $0.85 0.79 $0.66
Monastery Swiftspear $0.85 0.79 $0.66
Sanguine Bond $0.85 0.79 $0.66
Distortion Strike $0.85 0.79 $0.66
6 Just-Above-Bulk UNC @$0.10 $1.20 0.79 $0.95
Total     $15.95

The uncommons from Iconic Masters are solid, adding a total of just under $16 to the expected value of a booster box. Mishra's Bauble, even with the massive price drop, is the highlight, but a bunch of $1 uncommons actually add even more to the expected value. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me is how exactly Iconic Masters followed the Modern Masters 2017 script: one "chase" uncommon, three "semi-chase" uncommons, and then a handful of good $1 uncommons.

When you combine this with the rares, it's starting to feel like Wizards has arrived at a formula for making good Masters sets from a value perspective, almost like they have a spreadsheet highlighting different price levels and then plug in cards until they fill out the sheet. Then, if they want to push the value of the product even more (like Eternal Masters), they can simply up the value of the mythic slot by including a couple more chase cards. 

Compared to some of the older Masters sets, which had a more haphazard feel (either with way too much value like the original Modern Masters or with an extremely high-variance breakdown of value like Modern Masters 2015), the formula of middling mythics (with one super-high-end mythic to sell the set and generate hype), tons of value in the rare slot, and some decent uncommons is a great thing for players. Hopefully, Wizards sticks to this formula for future Masters releases.

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Iconic Masters Commons and Bulk
Card Value Multiplier Value Added
Jace's Phantasm $0.84 2.37 $1.99
Wall of Roots $0.84 2.37 $1.99
Thought Scour $0.25 2.37 $0.59
Wrench Mind $0.25 2.37 $0.59
Guardian Idol $0.25 2.37 $0.59
Bulk n/a   $1.60
Totals     $7.35

Not much to see here. While a handful of commons are currently worth a little bit, it's important to remember that, even in a low-supply set like Iconic Masters, being printed at common is usually enough to drive prices down to near bulk. If you look at Modern Masters 2017, not a single common is currently worth over $0.50, and only two are even worth more than $0.25. As such, if you open any of these cards (and don't plan on using them), try to trade / sell them as soon as possible while they still have some semblance of value. 

Iconic Masters: Foils

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Calculating how much foils add to an Iconic Masters box is actually a bit tricky, partly because most places don't have foils listed for sale yet and partly because the "foil in every pack" aspect of the Masters series does strange things to prices (compared to regular pack foils). As far as I can tell, the typical box will contain 0.25 foil mythics (one per case), about 1.5 foil rares, and six or seven foil uncommons, and the rest of the foils in the box will be commons (so, approximately 15 foil commons). The strange thing about Masters foils is that they aren't worth as much as normal foils—if you look over past Masters sets, the foil multiplier for rares and mythics is usually about 1.5 (meaning a $10 non-foil would be about $15 in foil). This is because Masters-series foils are simply more common than foils from regular sets. With these numbers in mind, probably the easiest way to estimate the value that foils add to a box is by using the non-foil prices and accounting for the multiplier. We'll use the 1.5 foil multiplier for rares and mythics, while giving uncommons and commons flat-rate values of $1.00 and $0.25, respectively.

Iconic Masters Foils
Rarity # in Box Average Value (average non-foil value x 1.5 multiplier) Value Added
Mythic 0.25 $20.31 $5.08
Rare 1.5 $8.87 $13.30
Uncommon 6.5 $1.00 $6.50
Common 15.75 $0.25 $3.94
Totals 24 n/a $28.82

Putting It All Together

Iconic Masters—EV Wrap-Up
Rarity Average Value Number Per Box Value Added
Mythic $13.54 3 $40.62
Rare $5.91 21 $124.19
Uncommons     $15.95
Commons / Bulk     $7.35
Foils     $28.82
Total     $216.93

So, there you have it. If you decide to crack open a box of Iconic Masters, you should expect to get almost $217 in value, which is almost exactly the same as Modern Masters 2017. When you consider that boxes are preselling for around $190 at the moment (on eBay), this means that even if prices drop a bit over the next couple of weeks leading toward the official release of the set, you should be able to at least break even if you pick up a box for a good price. This means you should be able to experience the Iconic Masters draft format for free if you are willing to sell / trade away the cards right away.

Speaking of trading,  if we drop the 15% deduction for fees and shipping, the expected value of an Iconic Masters box jumps to $249.47, which is meaningfully above the $190 preorder price for a box. This makes it look as if buying a box is a pretty good deal if you want the cards from the set, but remember: if your plan is to hold onto the cards you open, you'll slowly lose value as prices drop. Take Eternal Masters, for example: the total value of the set is almost 25% lower today than it was when it released a year ago, and if this holds true with Iconic Masters, your $249 of cards will only be $187 of cards next fall. While this still basically amounts to a free roll if you get a box at $190, it's worth keeping in mind if you're planning on holding the cards.

All in all, Iconic Masters is a fine set to open and draft. While it's unlikely you will come out far ahead (unless you're one of the one in five who opens a Mana Drain), the typical box should just about break even, depending on how much you pay for the sealed product. Thanks to the value being concentrated at rare and uncommon, the value should be fairly consistent, even considering the smaller-than-usual sample size of 24-pack boxes. 

Iconic Masters: Magic Online Expected Value

Normally, we only focus on paper for our expected-value breakdowns, but Masters sets are unique. Since supply is limited in the paper world, Masters sets have special importance to Magic Online, since the digital world is where most Masters-set limited happens. So, what does the expected value of the set look like on Magic Online? While the following numbers are very preliminary (since prices tend to drop quickly on Magic Online and we are using older printings to calculate prices), here's how much value you can expect to open in a draft (three Iconic Masters boosters) on Magic Online.

Iconic Masters—Magic Online Draft EV
Rarity Average Value Value Added
Mythic $1.93 $0.72
Rare $1.76 $4.62
Uncommons / Commons   $1.35
Total   $6.69

On Magic Online, the current expected value of a pack of Iconic Masters is about $2.23, and while this is partially offset by the fact that packs sell for $7 rather than $10, you're still losing a ton of value cracking digital Iconic Masters boosters. If Wizards uses the same pricing for Iconic Masters that they did for Modern Masters 2017 ($25 for a draft, with six boosters for going 3-0 and two boosters for going 2-1), it's going to be very hard to break even playing Iconic Masters limited on Magic Online (at current prices, going 2-1 will lose you about $4.50 per draft). 

As such, if you are planning on using Magic Online to explore Iconic Masters limited, phantom drafts (where going 2-1 will break even) is almost certainly the way to go. The cards in Iconic Masters simply don't have enough value on Magic Online to make playing non-phantom drafts a smart move from a financial perspective unless you are really, really good at limited and expect to 3-0 with some amount of consistency. 

Conclusion

All in all, Iconic Masters is looking like a fine set to open in the paper world. While you are unlikely to come out way ahead, you should about break even and, with a bit of luck, open slightly more value in cards than you spent on the booster box. Meanwhile, on Magic Online, the expected value for the set is pretty dismal and likely to get worse (it's almost impossible that Mishra's Bauble will maintain a 10-tix price tag while the set is being drafted, and many of the other high-value cards in the set just don't have that much demand in the digital realm), which means instead of spending $25 for a real draft, for most players the smart move will be to spend $10 to play phantom drafts. 

Anyway, that's all for today. What do you think? Are you happy with Iconic Masters? Are you planning to pick up a box? Is it worth doing non-phantom drafts on Magic Online? 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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