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The Expected Value of Ikoria


On Friday, Ikoria was finally released in paper, after a delay of about a month, making it one of the strangest set releases in the game's history. Thanks to the pandemic disrupting warehouses and shipping, the set has been in a strange purgatory of a (very) extended presale period. Over the past month, the set has been out on Magic Online and Magic Arena, which means we already have a pretty solid understanding of what is good (and isn't) from the set, despite the fact that nobody outside of the APAC region has been able to play with the set in paper. On one hand, this means that the price changes that would normally take place in the weeks after a set is released have already happened, which probably makes it less likely that any cards from the set will see huge price spikes based on seeing a surprising amount of play in tournament formats. On the other hand, Ikoria has an additional level of uncertainty because some of the cards in the set (specifically companions) are so powerful they they may not remain legal in tournament formats for long, with Lurrus of the Dream Den likely being the first domino to fall in tomorrow's Legacy and Vintage banned-and-restricted list update. 

An even more interesting question is what the delayed set release and the current general economic uncertainty brought about by the pandemic mean to the long-term price of Ikoria cards. It's very possible that these cards will end up being much lower in supply than normal as we're now only a few weeks from Core Set 2021 preview season, which limits the amount of time that players will be buying Ikoria as the newest set and because some people might choose to reduce their cardboard budget over the short-term to focus on more immediate needs thanks to the economic havoc brought about by the pandemic. In turn, this means that some of the best eternal cards from the set could end up being quite pricey down the road thanks to the limited number of copies in the wild. The big question is how much this matters. Compared to Ikoria being released normally and on schedule in a non-pandemic economy, will there be 10% less sold? 25%? 75%? Nobody really knows. However, before jumping into the numbers, it is important to mention that, assuming Magic continues to thrive and the economy eventually recovers, Ikoria cards could have much more long-term potential than cards from other recent sets do.

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. The 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 a large enough sample size.

TCGplayer Market Pricing

One of the biggest challenges of calculating the expected value of a set is figuring out what pricing should be used. TCG Mid is often the standard, along with retail prices from big vendors like ChannelFireballStarCityGames, and Card Kingdom, but in reality, most players can't get these prices for their cards. Instead, we end up getting eBay prices minus fees and shipping or even buylist prices, assuming we don't want to trade card-for-card locally. As such, we'll be using TCG Market pricing for our expected value calculation, with completed eBay listings and vendor pricing playing a secondary role. While a bit murky in terms of their exact definition, TCG Market prices are basically the completed listings of TCGplayer, showing us what copies of specific cards have actually sold for in recent days, rather than the price that vendors are asking for. To account for the hidden costs of selling cards, we'll deduct 15% for fees and shipping, which is roughly what you'd pay to eBay or TCGplayer to sell cards through their markets.

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. 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.

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 will add $1.80 to the expected value of the box.
  2. Most uncommons will also end up in the bulk pile, although chase uncommons (generally uncommons worth more than $0.25) that can be individually sold or traded away will be calculated separately.
  3. Foils get their own section. Foil mythics (typically the most valuable foils in a set) are incredibly rare, and the odds of getting one in any individual box are quite low. That said, the possibility of opening one does increase the overall expected value by a few dollars.
  4. These prices will likely not be good for long. Even though the delayed set release has already given Ikoria cards time to drop in price—the value of a complete set has gone down from $530 to $330 over the past month—a typical complete set of a Standard-legal set runs somewhere in the $200 to $250 range. So even though a big chunk of the post-set release price drop is already baked into the price of Ikoria cards, there is still a bit further to go. Basically, Ikoria prices will likely drop less post-release than a typical set would due to the long presale period brought on by the delayed release, but they will still drop some.
  5. As I mentioned before, it is possible to open alt-frame / alt-art cards in a normal booster box, but since we don't know the distribution of these cards, we can't really bake them into the expected-value calculation. These cards do make a box of Ikoria slightly more valuable than our expected-value calculation will suggest, but we have no way of knowing how much value these cards will add until we get distribution numbers (if we ever do).
  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 to take the next step and actually trade away the cards, list them on eBay or 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 will smooth out these outliers.

Ikoria Mythics

 

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

Ikoria—Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Fiend Artisan $13.91 0.3

$4.17

 

Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy $8.79 0.3 $2.63
Luminous Broodmoth $8.61 0.3 $2.58
Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast $8.61 0.3 $2.58
Vivien, Monsters' Advocate $7.96 0.3 $2.38
Rielle, the Everwise $5.01 0.3 $1.50
Narset of the Ancient Way $4.55 0.3 $1.52
Nethroi, Apex of Death $4.12 0.3 $1.10
Winota, Joiner of Forces $3.79 0.3 $1.14
General Kudro of Drannith $3.75 0.3 $1.18
Chevill, Bane of Monsters $2.57 0.3 $0.66
Illuna, Apex of Wishes $2.38 0.3 $0.72
Vadrok, Apex of Thunder $1.75 0.3 $0.53
Brokkos, Apex of Forever $1.75 0.3 $0.53
Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt $1.30 0.3 $0.39
Totals      
Average Mythic Value $5.23    
Total Value Added to Box $23.54    

Earlier this week the average value of a mythic from Ikoria was nearly $8, now it is down to almost $5 after a huge decline over the last few days as the set finally released. In the end the mythic slot adds a lacking $23.54 to the value of a box. If there is good news its that prices have already decline so much the mythics from Ikoria are unlikely to lose much more value in coming weeks. Normally the price of a set decreasing is a low, slow process that takes play in the weeks and months following the release of a set, but thanks to the release of Ikoria being delayed and the abnormally long presale period the process has been greatly sped up for Ikoria.

Ikoria Rares 

 

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

Ikoria—Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Lurrus of the Dream Den $5.75 0.6 $3.45
Ketria Triome $4.76 0.6 $3.01
Zagoth Triome $4.76 0.6

$2.70

Raugrin Triome $4.50 0.6 $2.70
The Ozolith $3.97 0.6 $2.38
Savai Triome $3.89 0.6 $2.34
Indatha Triome $3.78 0.6 $2.27
Shark Typhoon $2.70 0.6 $1.62
Gyruda, Doom of Depths $2.51 0.6 $1.50
Drannith Magistrate $2.03 0.6 $1.22
Yorion, Sky Nomad $1.47 0.6 $0.88
Zirda, the Dawnwaker $1.43 0.6 $0.86
Song of Creation $1.00 0.6 $0.60
Ruinous Ultimatum $0.98 0.6 $0.60
Sea-Dasher Octopus $0.85 0.6 $0.51
       
23 Bulk Rares $0.10 0.6 * 23 $1.38
15 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25 0.6 * 15 $2.25
Totals      
Average Rare Value $0.81    
Total Value Added

$30.43

   

The rare slot from Ikoria is rough.The bulk-rare rate is extremely high, with 38 of the 53 rares in the set falling into the bulk or semi-bulk categories, making a full 71% of the rares bulk and the average rare value is just $0.84. While this is mostly due to recent price changes (earlier this week the average rare value was a stunning $1.37), the end result is that the rare slot simply doesn't add much value to the set. All in all, the rare in an Ikoria booster box increase the expected value by just $30.43. 

Ikoria—Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

 

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

Ikoria—U / C / Bulk
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Heartless Act UNC $1.12 1.35 $1.51
Sprite Dragon UNC $0.88 1.35 $1.19
Migration Path UNC $0.48 1.35 $0.65
Parcelbeast UNC $0.48 1.35 $0.65
         
Bulk C / U   $5 / thousand   $2.40
Totals        
Total C / U / Bulk Value Added $6.40      

Not much to see here. Heartless Act and Sprite Dragon are both in the dollar range, offering a bit of value from the uncommon slot, but Ikoria doesn't really have a Fatal Push–level uncommon that greatly increases the expected value of opening a box.

 

Ikoria—Foils

Ikoria—Foils
Rarity Average # per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythics One every three boxes (0.33 per box) $17.73 $5.85
Rares Two per box $5.49 $11.10
Uncommons Two per box $0.50 $1.00
Commons Five per box $0.10 $0.50
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $18.45    

While foil prices have been on a downward trajectory with the advent of Collector Boosters, Showcase cards, and other special promo printings eating into demand, the foils from Ikoria look roughly like the foils from Theros: Beyond Death, with mythics being worth a bit less but rares (probably thanks to the eternal playability of companions and Commander demand for triomes) being worth a bit more. In the end, foils add another $18.45 to the value of a box, a solid if unspectacular number.

 

Ikoria—EV Summary

Ikoria—EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythics
$8.69
15 $23.54
Rares $0.91 53 $30.43
Commons / Uncommons / Basics /Bulk     $6.40
Foils   12 (per box) $18.45
TOTAL BOX EV $78.82    
PACK EV $2.19    

All in all, the expected value of a box of Ikoria comes in at just $78.82 - the worst expected value we've had in a long time (although this is in part because the timing of the Ikoria Expected Value article is different than most sets thanks to the delay in release, so it isn't an apples to apples comparison). From a financial perspective, you probably shouldn't open a box of Ikoria - you'll most likely lose money compared to buying singles - the set just doesn't have enough value at the moment for your $100 box to give you $100 in value without running very hot.

Conversely, if you buy into the theory that Ikoria will be an underopened set, then opening a box or two of Ikoria could be a smart move in the long-term, as prices could rise. On the other hand, companions could be banned in eternal formats, which would greatly hurt the prices of some cards (specifically Lurrus of the Dream Den and Gyruda, Doom of Depths, which are two of the most valuable rares in the set), so playing the long game isn't all upside. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Are you planning to open a box of Ikoria? 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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