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The Expected Value of Magic Origins

As Magic players, one of the first things we learn is a motto that is subsequently beaten into our heads over and over again: don't open sealed product! As a rule of thumb this is good advice because more often than not you can expect to lose money by cracking packs. However, there are certain times when buying and opening booster boxes is not only acceptable, but also profitable. One of these situations is when a new set releases. 

Now this does not hold true for every set or even most sets. Over the past few years, discounting supplemental products like Commander decks, there have been two sets where (assuming you opened them right after the set released) you could expect to open more value from the box than you paid for the box (Return to Ravnica and Khans of Tarkir). There have also been a few sets where you could expect to (more or less) break even (Gatecrash, Fate Reforged, Theros). And there are a bunch of sets where cracking a box is almost guaranteed to lose you money (Dragon's Maze, Born of the Gods, Dragons of Tarkir). Because of this uncertainty, I like to calculate the expected value (EV) of a booster box every time a new set comes out to figure out for myself whether or not buying a box is worthwhile in strictly economic terms.

One more thing before getting into the methodology and the set itself: EV calculations only take into account the cold, hard numbers, and 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 the potential to open an expensive foil mythic. 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 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 or not 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 (in cards) we can expect to open in a booster box. To calculate EV, we first determine the odds of opening a specific card. 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 the cards in the set, we can simply add up the total and determine how much a box is actually worth.

Buylist/Ebay Pricing

Most EV calculations use sell prices, things like TCG-mid or the prices 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 (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 use the higher of completed Ebay listings minus 15 percent for fees and shipping or the best buylist prices (when available). This is why the prices listed in the charts in this article are lower than the MTGGoldfish price — I'm making deductions that takes into account the "hidden" costs of selling the cards.

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. 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 a 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. If you can't expect to sell an uncommon playset for at least $1, it goes into the bulk pile along with the commons.
  3. Foils are not listed individually two reasons. First, you just won't open very many of them. On average, a booster box contains three foil commons, two foil uncommons and one foil rare. Second, foil mythics (typically the most valuable foils) are extremely rare. The odds of opening a foil Liliana, Heretical Healer is so slim (one in every 3,456 packs) that it's just not worth considering when crunching the numbers. I consider the possibility of opening a valuable foil like a bonus lottery ticket you get for free with the purchase of a box; when it happens, it's great, but don't count on it
  4. These prices won't be good for long. Remember, the idea is to determine if Magic Origins 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. Again, we are trying to take advantage of the hype fueled demand created by the new set (and the subsequent Pro Tour) and the lack of supply.
  5. Based on some confusion in the comments to past EV articles, let me make sure this is clear: calculating EV is not a predictive exercise (if you want my predictions, check out the three-part set review for Magic Origins) — it is a snapshot of value at a specific point in time. Nissa, Vastwood Seer could spike to $40 at the Pro Tour (or crash to $10) and it wouldn't make this EV calculation any more or less true because the one and only thing we are concerned with is the current value of the cards in the set. 
  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. If you open enough packs, these numbers will be accurate. But like most aspects of Magic, variance can have a huge impact in small samples. In theory 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.

Magic Origins: Mythics

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Magic Origins - Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Alhammarret's Archive $3.93 0.28 $1.10
Archangel of Tithes $11.90 0.28 $3.33
Avaricious Dragon $5.10 0.28 $1.43
Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh $8.50 0.28 $2.38
Day's Undoing $14.08 0.28 $3.94
Demonic Pact $2.54 0.28 $0.71
Disciple of the Ring $4.25 0.28 $1.19
Erebos's Titan $7.23 0.28 $2.02
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy $11.90 0.28 $3.33
Kytheon, Hero of Akros $14.88 0.28 $4.17
Liliana, Heretical Healer $16.16 0.28 $4.52
Nissa, Vastwood Seer $18.06 0.28 $5.06
Pyromancer's Goggles $3.40 0.28 $0.95
Starfield of Nyx $3.40 0.28 $0.95
The Greater Aurora $1.11 0.28 $0.31
Woodland Bellower $5.78 0.28 $1.62
Average Mythic Value $8.26    
Median Mythic Value $7.87    
Total Value Added to Box $37.01    

First off, one of the quirks of Magic Origins is that we actually have 16 mythics (instead of the typical 15 for a large set). This is the result of the printing method used for double-faced cards. While this doesn't affect the overall box EV, it does mean you are slightly less likely to open a Day's Undoing (or any individual mythic) from a Magic Origins box than you are to open Dragonlord Ojutai (or any individual mythic) from a box of Dragons of Tarkir. As a result, the multiplier drops from 0.30 to 0.28. 

The average value of a Magic Origins mythic is solid, although not quite spectacular. Over the past year, Fate Reforged had the highest average mythic value at $9.50, while Khans of Tarkir had the lowest at an average of $4.41. Magic Origins comes in at an average of $8.26 — a number which is aided by the fact the set not only has five planeswalkers, but five brand new, never seen before planeswalkers. As a result, unlike Modern Masters 2015, the value of the mythics is evenly distributed so it will be much more difficult to open a truly bad box. In fact, you could argue that currently, one-third of the mythics qualify as "chase." You'd have to get unlucky to not open at least one mythic worth $14.00 or more, so there is much less of a lottery feeling here than with some sets. 

Magic Origins: Rares

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Magic Origins - Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Abbot of Keral Keep $2.55 0.57 $1.45
Animist's Awakening $3.83 0.57 $2.18
Battlefield Forge $1.83 0.57 $1.04
Caves of Koilos $0.85 0.57 $0.48
Dark Petition $1.96 0.57 $1.11
Despoiler of Souls $1.06 0.57 $0.61
Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen $1.53 0.57 $0.87
Evolutionary Leap $6.12 0.57 $3.49
Exquisite Firecraft $2.55 0.57 $1.45
Flameshadow Conjuring $0.64 0.57 $0.36
Gilt-Leaf Winnower $1.70 0.57 $0.97
Goblin Piledriver $11.05 0.57 $6.30
Hallowed Moonlight $2.98 0.57 $1.70
Hangarback Walker $1.48 0.57 $0.84
Harbinger of the Tides $2.98 0.57 $1.70
Herald of the Pantheon $2.81 0.57 $1.60
Honored Hierarch $2.13 0.57 $1.21
Infinite Obliteration $2.55 0.57 $1.45
Knight of the White Orchid $1.36 0.57 $0.78
Languish $5.10 0.57 $2.91
Llanowar Wastes $1.62 0.57 $0.92
Managorger Hydra $1.79 0.57 $1.02
Mizzium Meddler $1.45 0.57 $0.82
Molten Vortex $1.28 0.57 $0.73
Pia and Karan Nalaar $1.06 0.57 $0.61
Relic Seeker $1.53 0.57 $0.87
Scab-Clan Berserker $1.87 0.57 $1.07
Shivan Reef $1.57 0.57 $0.90
Sigil of the Empty Throne $1.70 0.57 $0.97
Sword of the Animist $4.42 0.57 $2.52
Talent of the Telepath $1.15 0.57 $0.65
Vryn Wingmare $0.94 0.57 $0.53
Yavimaya Coast $1.53 0.57 $0.87
10 Bulk Rares $0.10 0.57*10 $0.57
12 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25 0.57*12 $1.71
Average Rare Value $1.51    
Total Value Added $47.59    

The average value of a Magic Origins rare is $1.51, which is far above the curve for sets without a valuable rare land cycles. For perspective, Khans of Tarkir had a rare value of $2.40 thanks to the fetchlands, which is pretty much off-the-charts, while the average Dragons of Tarkir rare was worth $1.02 and Fate Reforged came in a less than a dollar. 

The reason that Magic Origins manages an above-average rare price without having an expensive land cycle is that it has an abnormally high number of rares that are above-bulk — the bulk/semi-bulk rare ratio is 0.4, which means six out of every ten rares you open will be worth $1 or more. FRF had a bulk rare ratio of 0.51 and DTK has a ratio of 0.49. In cracking a Magic Origins box, you are not likely to hit many high end cards (only Goblin Piledriver is truly a chase rare, with Evolutionary Leap, Languish and Sword of the Animist making up the second tier), but you are likely to open a card worth between $1.50 and $4.00 more often than not. Again, this speaks to the consistency in value and the lack of variance in opening Magic Origins; this set is not nearly as much of a lottery as most other sets.


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Magic Origins c/u/b
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Bounding Krasis UNC $0.43 1.35 $0.57
Chief of the Foundry UNC $0.64 1.35 $0.76
Clash of Wills UNC $0.43 1.35 $0.57
Dwynen's Elite UNC $0.64 1.35 $0.76
Gnarlroot Trapper UNC $0.43 1.35 $0.57
Magmatic Insight UNC $0.85 1.35 $1.15
Ravaging Blaze UNC $0.43 1.35 $0.57
Shaman of the Pack UNC $1.28 1.35 $1.72
Swift Reckoning UNC $0.43 1.35 $0.57
Sylvan Messenger UNC $0.43 1.35 $0.57
Fiery Impulse COM $0.10 3.46 $0.35
Nissa's Pilgrimage COM $0.10 3.46 $0.35
Smash to Smithereens COM $0.10 3.46 $0.35
BULK C/U/Basics   $5/Thousand   $2.40
Total C/U/B Value Added $11.26      

There are actually a reasonable amount of above-bulk uncommons in Magic Origins; one out of every 2.667 packs will contain an uncommon that is currently retailing for at least $0.50. Unfortunately the set is lacking a premium uncommon in the vein of Stoke the Flames or Path to Exile. As a result, there is no chance of opening an uncommon that will pay for the pack on its own, but this doesn't really matter from an EV perspective. As far as the amount of value added to a box, having ten uncommons worth $0.50 is just as good as having one Stoke the Flames worth $5.00, and in some ways it may actually be better because having the value spread out over multiple cards increases the odds that one of your two foil uncommons will have real value.


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Magic Origins - Foils
Rarity Average # Per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythic One every six boxes (0.17 per box) $16.35 $2.78
Rare One per box $4.30 $4.30
Uncommons Two per box $0.20 $0.40
Commons Three per box $0.10 $0.30
Foil Value Added to Box $7.78    

As I mentioned in the methodology, I don't really like to count foil mythics as part of the EV just because your odds of opening one is quite slim (one per case). This said, the possibility of opening one does exist, and since including foil mythics doesn't actually impact the box EV in a significant way (in this instance, adding foil mythics increases the box EV by less than 3 percent), I figure I might as well throw them in. 

More importantly, lower-rarity foils are, more or less, guaranteed value. You are very likely to open at least one foil rare, and about five foil commons and uncommons from any given box. I calculated the average value of a foil rare by using SCG retail prices and deducting a 30 percent spread. For uncommon and common foils, the average value is an approximation of bulk prices with uncommons getting a slight bump because of the potential of opening one of the ten semi-valuable uncommons. 

Adding It Up

Magic Origins - EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythic $8.26 16 $37.01
Rare $1.51 55 $47.55
Valuable Uncommons $0.60 10 $7.81
Valuable Uncommons $0.10 3 $1.05
Bulk $5/Thousand 480 $2.40
Foils   6 (per box) $7.78
TOTAL BOX EV $103.60    
PACK EV $2.88    

There you have it, if you crack a booster box of Magic Origins you can expect to open $103.60 worth of cards assuming you sell them on eBay/TCGPlayer with a 15 percent deduction for shipping and fees. While this isn't super exciting, it does mean that an average Magic Origins box will give you slightly more value in cards than the box cost you (assuming you buy a box for between $95 and $100). While it is hard to recommend cracking boxes for profit at this price point (selling all the cards will take quite a bit of work for a $3-$8 potential profit), these numbers do suggest that if you enjoy opening boxes, Magic Origins is pretty much a free-roll at current prices. 

Now let's say you're not planning on selling the cards from your box. Instead you are going to trade them away locally thereby avoiding the 15 percent fee. Assuming you can find trade partners quickly (before prices drop), this method is even more profitable. Using this method, the EV of a Magic Origins box rises all the way up to $119.14, representing a 20% gain in your investment.

Over the long-term, having a relatively high EV means that, overall, the set has a significant amount of value to lose. Within six months of release, the typical Magic expansion will have a box EV of somewhere between $60 and $70. While this decline might not happen in earnest until after the Pro Tour in just under a month, over the course of time, Magic Origins as a whole will lose between 30 and 40 percent of its total value. 

Verdict and Conclusion

If your only purpose in buying a Magic Origins box is to make a profit, I would probably pass. Yes, you will likely come out slightly ahead even including shipping and fees, but with the amount of work and time it will take to sell the cards, you'll end up making something like $2/hr for your troubles. The one exception would be if you expect to be able to trade away your cards locally (avoiding fees/shipping) within a week of the set's release; however, this will require even more work which means the hourly rate isn't significantly better. 

This said, I plan on opening a couple boxes simply because I enjoy cracking packs. While this isn't a MTG finance pro tip, I'm perfectly fine with breaking even because I'm gaining value in enjoyment that isn't accounted for in the EV. For me, given the choice of paying $15 to spend a couple hours going to the theater to watch a movie or paying $15 to spend a couple hours cracking packs, I'll take the pack-cracking more times than not. 

Anyway, that's all for today. Leave your thoughts in the comments, or you can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive.

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