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The Expected Value of Ixalan


It's prerelease weekend for Ixalan, and the set is looking pretty exciting. Although it's too early to tell which of its four tribes will shine and which will flop in Standard (although, based on prices, people seem to be betting on Dinosaurs), this world teeming with Pirates, Vampire, Merfolk, and Dinosaurs is generating a ton of hype in the community. While the set looks like a blast to play with and will (hopefully) bring some stability to Standard, today our focus is on the world of finance.

The basic question we are looking to answer today is pretty simple: is it worth it to crack a booster box of Ixalan based purely on the numbers? Basically, if I pay $100 for a box, 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 somewhere between $70 and $80, and over the long haul, the average amount of value you'll get from a box has to drop below this number. 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 important warning before digging into the numbers: there are a lot of different 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 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?

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, on average, from a booster box. 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.

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 (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 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.

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 just purchase singles. 

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 Carnage Tyrant is 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 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 Ixalan 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.
  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 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.

Ixalan Notes

There are two important things that make Ixalan unique as far as prices are concerned. Most importantly, Ixalan is the first set since Eldritch Moon that doesn't have Masterpiece-series cards. As far as Standard players are concerned, this is probably a bad thing, since the lack of Masterpieces will mean that Ixalan mythics (and even some chase rares) will be more expensive than they have been for the past year. The best way to think about expected value is as a pie of value, and in Masterpiece sets, the Masterpieces end up being a fairly big slice of the pie, which makes the mythic and rare slices a bit smaller. Without Masterpieces, the mythic and rare slices grow, which means these cards will be more expensive. On the other hand, no Masterpieces is a great thing for box openers because it means more consistent value. In Masterpiece sets, the only real question was whether or not you were lucky enough to open a Masterpiece. If you did, you'd end up with a good box; if you didn't, you'd end up with a bad box. Considering that somewhere around 30% of boxes have Masterpieces, this means that two out of every three boxes were losers from a value perspective. In Ixalan, value will be much more consistent. While you'll still be hoping to open some of the chase rares and mythics, the boom-or-bust lottery aspect of the Masterpieces sets is on hiatus. 

The second thing worth mentioning is that, because of the double-faced cards, mythics from Ixalan are slightly rarer than normal. In a typical set, you will open a specific mythic 1 in 121 packs, while in Ixalan, this number drops to 1 in 141 (basically, instead of opening a mythic one in every eight packs like usual, it will be one in every nine packs in Ixalan). While this isn't a huge difference, it does make it slightly harder to pull a chase mythic. For example, if Carnage Tyrant were in Amonkhet, you'd have a 30% chance of opening it in any given box; in Ixalan, you only have a 25.5% chance of hitting a Carnage Tyrant. While this likely won't have a huge impact on the box EV, especially since some of the double-faced cards are the most expensive rares in the set, it will decrease the overall EV slightly.

Ixalan: Mythics

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Ixalan—Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Carnage Tyrant $21.25 0.255 $5.42
Jace, Cunning Castaway $13.12 0.255 $3.35
Vraska, Relic Seeker $12.20 0.255 $3.11
Huatli, Warrior Poet $10.20 0.255 $2.60
Gishath, Sun's Avatar $4.93 0.255 $1.25
Vona, Butcher of Magan $4.79 0.255 $1.22
Dire Fleet Ravager $3.73 0.255 $0.96
Rowdy Crew $2.50 0.255 $0.63
Tishana, Voice of Thunder $2.30 0.255 $0.59
Admiral Beckett Brass $2.30 0.255 $0.59
Axis of Mortality $1.91 0.255 $0.49
Wakening Sun's Avatar $1.50 0.255 $0.38
Star of Extinction $1.36 0.255 $0.35
Overflowing Insight $1.36 0.255 $0.35
Boneyard Parley $0.78 0.255 $0.30
Totals 84.23    
Average Mythic Value $5.62 $7.05  
Total Value Added to Box $21.48 $31.73 21.59

The value of the mythics from Ixalan is oddly pedestrian, especially considering the set doesn't have any Masterpieces. While the average value of $5.62 is higher than that of Hour of Devastation (which had the lowest average mythic value ever since I started calculating expected value back in Return to Ravnica), it's actually lower than a lot of Masterpiece sets and significantly lower than Shadows over Innistrad block, which was the last time we had a non-Masterpiece set. The biggest problem seems to be a lack of depth. Carnage Tyrant gives the set a chase mythic, while all of the planeswalkers are worth a good bit of money at between $10 and $15, but things fall off quickly after that, with five mythics being worth less than $2 and three more worth less than $3, which means more than half of the mythics in the set are worth less than a pack. Compare this to a set like Amonkhet, which has a similar number of high-end mythics but only had two mythics worth less than $3. Basically, the value of the mythics from Ixalan is low for any set but doubly low for a set without Masterpieces eating up a chunk of the value. 

From the perspective of box openers, the low average mythic value is compounded by the fact that mythics are rarer in Ixalan than in other sets thanks to the flip cards. Right now, the mythics add $21.48 to the value of an Ixalan booster box, which is quite low. If these same mythics were distributed at the normal rarity, the expected value of the mythic slot would jump to $25.27—not a huge increase, but every little bit helps. 

Of course, this might not matter in the long run if the rares from the set make up for the low value of the mythics. Actually, it could be a good thing, since rares offer the most consistent value for people opening packs and boxes, since you get one every pack. So before we talk too much about the low value of the mythics in the set, let's take a look at the rares.

Ixalan: Rares

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Ixalan—Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Growing Rites of Itlimoc $13.39 0.508 $6.80
Ripjaw Raptor $8.19 0.508 $4.16
Regisaur Alpha $6.45 0.508 $3.23
Dowsing Dagger $3.60 0.508 $1.83
Search for Azcanta $3.15 0.508 $1.60
Hostage Taker $2.85 0.508 $1.45
Drowned Catacomb $2.65 0.508 $1.34
Shapers' Sanctuary $2.58 0.508 $1.31

Vance's Blasting Cannons

$2.58 0.508 $1.31
Vraska's Contempt $2.48 0.508 $1.26
Rampaging Ferocidon $2.48 0.508 $1.26
Glacial Fortress $2.39 0.508 $1.21
Legion's Landing $2.30 0.508 $1.17
Fleet Swallower $2.23 0.508 $1.13
Sorcerous Spyglass $2.23 0.508 $1.13
Dragonskull Summit $2.05 0.508 $1.04
Kopala, Warden of Waves $2.05 0.508 $1.04
Thaumatic Compass $1.91 0.508 $0.97
Rootbound Crag $1.85 0.508 $0.94
Sunpetal Grove $1.85 0.508 $0.94
Ruin Raider $1.79 0.508 $0.91
Primal Amulet $1.73 0.508 $0.99
Settle the Wreckage $1.73 0.508 $0.88
Vanquisher's Banner $1.60 0.508 $0.81
Deathgorge Scavenger $1.60 0.508 $0.81
Repeating Barrage $1.50 0.508 $0.76
Treasure Map $1.45 0.508 $0.74
Arguel's Blood Fast $1.38 0.508 $0.70
Tocatli Honor Guard $1.38 0.508 $0.70
Deadeye Tracker $1.23 0.508 $0.62
Captain Lannery Storm $1.23 0.508 $0.62
Sword-Point Diplomacy $1.20 0.508 $0.61
21 Bulk Rares $0.10 0.508*21 $1.07
10 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25 0.508*10 $1.27
Totals      
Average Rare Value $1.42    
Total Value Added $45.53    

While the mythic slot in Ixalan might be a bit disappointing, the rare slot is stuffed with value. In fact, the average rare value of $1.42 is the highest we've had since Eldritch Moon and represents a nearly 50% increase in value over Hour of Devastation (which had an average rare value of just $0.97). Because of this, the rare slot in Ixalan adds a massive $45.53 to the value of the box, which is especially impressive considering that the rare land cycle (which is often the driver of a high average value of rares in a set) isn't all that valuable, since it has been reprinted multiple times. 

So, why are the rares of Ixalan so strong in terms of value? There are a few reasons. First, Growing Rites of Itlimoc is the most expensive rare we've seen in a long time, and while we'll have to wait and see if it can hold this price over the long haul, it's an amazing open for the immediate future, and you'll get one (on average) about every other box. Even beyond the top end, the set has a lot of depth in the rare slot. Ixalan has a massive 17 rares currently worth at least $2, which is nearly double the number we've seen in recent large sets (Amonkhet had 10, and Kaladesh had just eight), meaning that just over 25% of packs will have a fairly exciting rare, which is great for box openers and limited players. Finally, the bulk rare rate is lower than normal. Thanks to the flip cards, Ixalan has 63 rares, of which 31 fall into the bulk or semi-bulk categories. Compare this to Amonkhet, which has just 53 rares but actually has more bulk and semi-bulk rares, with 32.

All in all, the rare slot speaks to the overall consistency of the set. Unlike other recent sets, where opening a box was playing the Masterpiece lottery, which led to a ton of variance (either you get lucky, open a Masterpiece, and come out way ahead in value or you miss on a Masterpiece and lose money, no matter how well you open), Ixalan is far less swingy. While you don't have the chance of opening a $100 Masterpiece, it will also be much, much harder to open a truly bad box where you pay $100 and end up with $40 in value. 

Ixalan—Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

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Ixalan—C / U / B
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Unclaimed Territory UNC $1.81 1.35 $2.46
Siren Stormtamer UNC $0.93 1.35 $1.25
Field of Ruin UNC $0.85 1.35 $1.15
Walk the Plank UNC $0.75 1.35 $1.01
Merfolk Branchwalker UNC $0.43 1.35 $0.57
Fiery Cannonade UNC $0.43 1.35 $0.57
Opt COM $0.85 3.5 $2.98
Bulk C / U   $5 / Thousand   $2.40
Totals        
Total C / U / B Value Added $11.87      

While no single uncommon or common is quite on the level of Fatal Push, Ixalan has a ton of depth at the lower rarities. Having Opt at common is a huge boon for the set, considering you'll open an average of 3.5 copies per box, which means Opt, at about $1 a copy retail, actually increases the value of an Ixalan box by more than all but three mythics and three rares. Plus, there's a solid group of uncommons headlined by Unclaimed Territory, with Siren Stormtamer, Field of Ruin, and Walk the Plank all being worth about $1 a copy as well. Combine this with a bunch of bulk, and you have the highest-value group of commons and uncommons since the Fatal Push-driven Aether Revolt, with the total value of the commons, uncommons, and bulk slot being nearly double that of a typical set, at $11.87.

Ixalan—Foils

Ixalan—Foils
Rarity Average # per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythics One every six boxes (0.17 per box) $15.35 $2.61
Rares One per box $6.22 $6.22
Uncommons Two per box $1.50 $3.00
Commons Three per box $0.10 $0.30
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $12.31    

Much like the non-foils from the set, the foil mythics from Ixalan are super low in value, while the rares are above average. Most impressive are the uncommons, which are overloaded with a ton of sneaky value. Chart a Course, Field of Ruin, and Unclaimed Territory are all about $10 in foil, while Deeproot Waters, Ixalan's Binding, Kumena's Speaker, Lightning Strike, Otepec Huntmaster, Ranging Raptors, Sentinel Totem, Siren Stormtamer, and Walk the Plank are all in the $4 to $6 range. Plus Opt is a $10 foil common. As such, the foil slot from Ixalan comes in at a bit above average, so make sure to check the prices of your foils if you crack a box; you might end up with a nice bit of extra value!

Putting It All Together

Ixalan—EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythic
$5.62
15 $21.48
Rare $1.42 53 $45.53
Commons / Uncommons / Bulk     $11.87
Foils   6 (per box) $12.31
TOTAL BOX EV $91.19    
PACK EV $2.53    

So, there you have it. When you add everything together, you can expect to get just over $91 from your Ixalan box, which means you'll essentially break even, assuming you pick up a box for about $90 (which seems to be the going rate). If you take away the 15% deduction (let's say you're planning on keeping all of the cards you open), the expected value jumps to $104, which means you'll come out ahead on average (although please remember that this is at retail prices and you can't control the cards you open, which means you might not get the ones you want for the deck you are trying to build).

This $90 EV is actually very similar to what we've seen for past sets like Amonkhet, but there's one huge difference: the expected value for Amonkhet was including Masterpieces, and while these ultra-rares technically increase the average value of a box, they aren't all that helpful to the typical Magic player opening a bundle or a booster box because the odds are heavily weighted against opening one. 

One of the biggest problems with Masterpieces is that they made opening packs a lot less fun. Rather than hoping for a good rare or mythic, you just flipped to the back of the pack to see if you got lucky enough to open a Masterpiece, because that's all that really mattered. As such, with Masterpieces, it was very common that you would sit down to open your prerelease sealed pool and find zero dollars in value looking back at you. Ixalan solves this problem in a significant way. In fact, the set is almost the direct opposite of the lottery-esque Masterpiece sets, since the value is mostly concentrated in the rare and even uncommon slots. This means there will be a lot more feel-good packs to be opened. Of course, gaining lots of good packs means we give up the chance for one great pack, but by the end of the "Masterpieces in every set" plan, the "great packs" weren't really that great. Come to think of it, the Masterpieces I opened weren't worth much more than a Carnage Tyrant or Liliana, the Last Hope anyway, which means we really aren't losing that much by not having a shot at opening a Masterpiece. 

Oddly, there's a pretty strong argument that Ixalan is the best set to open from the past year. While Kaladesh and Aether Revolt both have higher overall expected values, they're not that much higher than Ixalan, especially when you consider that only one out of every three or four boxes will have a Masterpiece. If you're not one of the lucky few to hit a Masterpiece, you'll get more value out of Ixalan. Even more impressive, Ixalan's expected value is higher than that of either Amonkhet block set, even including Masterpieces, which speaks not only to the depth of Ixalan but also to how badly the Masterpiece series stumbled near the end of its run. 

In sum, you should mostly break even at current prices if you decide to crack some Ixalan, and thanks to the value being distributed through the lower rarities, it's much less likely that you'll open a truly horrible box, since most of the set's value is in a huge group of $2 to $3 rares. This means prerelease is basically a free roll, and you'll come out ahead if you get a little lucky and hit a high-end mythic, even if you don't win many games. 

From a more meta perspective, it's hard to say much about the future of the set from a financial perspective. Ixalan isn't clearly underpriced like Dragon's Maze or Hour of Devastation, and it isn't clearly overpriced like Khans of Tarkir or Return to Ravnica. While most of the cards from the set will tick down as supply hits the market over the next couple months, having a massive crash is unlikely. Instead, we'll likely see some lower- and mid-tier cards jump in price as players realize how good they are, while some of the current chase cards will drop as everyone realizes they are overrated. Regardless of the future, Ixalan feels like a fine set to open. While it's unlikely you'll come out ahead, you probably won't lose much either, which means there's little reason not to have some fun if you enjoy cracking packs!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. 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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