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The Expected Value of Masters 25


Masters 25 has been contentious. Things started off well, with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Imperial Recruiter, but by the end of spoiler week, as bulk rare after bulk rare and Akroma after Akroma was previewed, the mood shifted from one of celebration to one of disappointment. Whether or not the set deserves all of the hate it has been getting remains to be seen, so today, we're going to take a stab at seeing if the freak-out over Masters 25 was justified from one very narrow perspective: the amount of value you should expect find in a booster box of the set.

Before getting to the numbers, and based partly on the discussion over the past week, I wanted to take a minute to talk about why expected value matters to a set like Masters 25. While it is true that how much value is in a booster box matters to people involved in the finance side of the game, the part that is sometimes missed is how much it matters to the rest of the community as well. When a Masters set has a high expected value, it's a lot easier to justify spending $45 on a booster draft or $200 on a booster box because even though the up-front cost is high, you know that you'll get some of that money back in the form of cards you can use to build decks or, if you don't get the specific cards you need, trade or sell to get the cards you do need for your decks. On the other hand, when the expected value of a set is low, it's really, really difficult to justify the expense of enjoying the product—spending $45 on a draft when you have a reasonable expectation of getting $40 of Magic cards means the draft only really cost you $5 and you had a ton of fun along the way, while spend $45 on a draft when you'll probably only get $10 of cards is a fairly expensive evening out. All this is to say that while expected value might sound like something that's primarily of interest to finance types, it actually has a huge impact on most people who are thinking about spending their money on the set.

So, why are we calculating the expected value of Masters 25? The bottom line is we are trying to figure out just how worthwhile it is to crack open a box, purely from a financial perspective. Once we know the expected value of a box, it's easy to figure out other things, like how much value you should expect to open in a draft or sealed event for Masters 25. While it's fairly rare, there are some cases where, especially right when a set is released, you can actually make money by opening a box and immediately selling or trading away the cards. The conventional wisdom is that, if given the choice between opening a box and buying singles, you should always choose to buy singles, and while this is often true, there are some exceptions to this long-held rule. 

Like usual, we will focus on the short-term because unknown variables about the total supply of the set complicate the long-term view. As such, the expected value number we'll arrive at today only tells us one thing: how much value you should expect to open from a box of Masters 25 if you cracked it today (it should be close to the same on Friday when the set is officially released). We're not trying to predict what the future holds for the prices of the cards in the set but instead taking a snapshot based on today's value. The expected value of a box of Masters 25 is likely to fall over the coming weeks, and it will probably drop quite a bit. Back when we calculated the expected value of Iconic Masters a few months ago, the expected value of a box was around $220 leading up to the official release of the set, but a few months later, it fell down to somewhere between $100 and $120, which is a huge drop in a short amount of time. While we don't know for sure exactly how much the cards from Masters 25 will drop, we do know that as supply of the reprinted cards enters the market, prices will come down, so keep this in mind as we calculate the numbers today.

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 Masters 25. Some people buy boxes because cracking packs is fun or because they want a chance to win the foil Jace, the Mind Sculptor 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 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 more than normal for Masters 25, which has a very strong suite of uncommons), and these are listed along with my pricing in the appropriate sections. Since Masters 25 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 Masters 25 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. As I mentioned before, 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. Traditionally, the common "discount" price of a Masters-series reprint is somewhere around 50% of the pre-reprinting price, although the amount that cards drop seems to have grown since Iconic Masters, thanks to the extra supply from the sets being sold at big box stores like Walmart and Target.
  4. 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.

Masters 25: Mythics

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Masters 25 Mythics
Card Price Multiplier Value Added
Jace, the Mind Sculptor $75.69 0.2 $15.14
Imperial Recruiter $51.00 0.2 $10.20
Chalice of the Void $42.50 0.2 $8.50
Ensnaring Bridge $28.05 0.2 $5.61
Vendilion Clique $18.17 0.2 $3.74
Phyrexian Obliterator $14.45 0.2 $2.89
Animar, Soul of Elements $12.75 0.2 $2.55
Gisela, Blade of Goldnight $3.82 0.2 $0.76
Master of the Wild Hunt $3.82 0.2 $0.76
Doomsday $2.97 0.2 $0.59
Armageddon $2.79 0.2 $0.56
Akroma, Angel of Wrath $2.29 0.2 $0.46
Akroma, Angel of Fury $2.00 0.2 $0.40
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher $1.18 0.2 $0.24
Tree of Redemption $1.18 0.2 $0.24
Totals $17.41 n/a $52.64

Overall, the value of the mythics from Masters 25 is solid. In fact, the average mythic value of $17.41 is about 25% higher than Iconic Masters and almost exactly the same as Modern Masters 2017, which was considered to be one of the best Masters sets of all time. So, from the big-picture perspective of someone who opens box after box after box, the value of the mythics from the set is reasonable. 

On the other hand, the value of the mythics from Masters 25 is distributed in a really frustrating way for anyone who is doing a draft or two, or even cracking a box, because there's very little in the middle. Seven of the 15 mythics in the set are worth more than the $10 MSRP of the pack they come from, and the high end is doing just fine with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Imperial Recruiter, Ensnaring Bridge, and Chalice of the Void, but after the seven good mythics, there's a massive drop off from Animar, Soul of Elements at around $13 to Gisela, Blade of Goldnight at under $4. The bottom half of the mythics from Masters 25 are horrible from a value perspective, and it's hard to imaging too many players happily cracking Tree of Redemption or Prossh, Skyraider of Kher.

If you're opening case upon case of Masters 25, this doesn't really matter. For every Tree of Redemption or Akroma you open, you'll also get a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and an Imperial Recruiter sooner or later, and it all works out in the end. On the other hand, if you're a regular player doing a draft or opening a box, the amount of variance in the set is going to be absurdly high. The fact that you can "win" by getting lucky enough to open a mythic but that even when you get lucky, you'll still lose more than 50% of the time by getting a mythic that's worth less than $4 feels really bad. While you opening a Tree of Redemption in your $10 pack does mean that someone, somewhere is happily opening a Jace, the Mind Sculptor in their pack, this doesn't really do much to soften the blow of the bad boxes and packs that will be fairly common with Masters 25

So, the bottom line for the mythics is this: the value is good, probably better than most people expect, putting the set on par with Modern Masters 2017 in terms of average mythic value, but the variance is going to be problematic for people only opening a small amount of the set.

Masters 25: Rares

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Masters 25 Rares
Card Price Multiplier Value Added
Rishadan Port $33.98 0.4 $13.59
Blood Moon $15.71 0.4 $6.29
Azusa, Lost but Seeking $14.44 0.4 $5.79
Pact of Negation $12.66 0.4 $5.06
Twilight Mire $12.32 0.4 $4.93
Fetid Heath $11.90 0.4 $4.76
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben $9.34 0.4 $3.74
Flooded Grove $8.50 0.4 $3.40
Rugged Prairie $8.50 0.4 $3.40
Cascade Bluffs $8.50 0.4 $3.40
Summoner's Pact $8.32 0.4 $3.33
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea $4.58 0.4 $1.83
Coalition Relic $4.25 0.4 $1.70
Eidolon of the Great Revel $4.25 0.4 $1.70
Eladamri's Call $3.31 0.4 $1.26
Protean Hulk $2.88 0.4 $1.15
Magus of the Wheel $2.63 0.4 $1.04
Vindicate $2.63 0.4 $1.04
Elvish Piper $2.63 0.4 $1.04
Pendelhaven $2.63 0.4 $1.04
Rest in Peace $2.63 0.4 $1.04
Luminarch Ascension $2.34 0.4 $0.93
Darien, King of Kjeldor $2.34 0.4 $0.93
Strionic Resonator $2.34 0.4 $0.93
Living Death $2.34 0.4 $0.93
Pernicious Deed $2.34 0.4 $0.93
Sundering Titan $2.13 0.4 $0.85
Nicol Bolas $1.91 0.4 $0.77
Courser of Kruphix $1.91 0.4 $0.77
Flash $1.60 0.4 $0.64
Ball Lightning $1.60 0.4 $0.64
Hell's Caretaker $1.44 0.4 $0.57
10 Semi-Bulk Rares @ $0.25     $1.00
12 Bulk Rares @ $0.10     $0.48
Totals: $3.82 n/a $80.90

The rare slot in Masters 25 is rough, coming in with about 35% less value than the rare slot in Iconic Masters and only adding a total of $80.90 to the value of a booster box. The biggest problem here is that many of the cards have already crashed in price. Take, for example, the filter lands. All of the filter lands were between $20 and $30 when they were first previewed for Masters 25, but now they are all down in the $10-to-$15 range and still dropping. The same is true with a lot of the other low-demand, low-supply reprints in the set. All this is to say, the expected value of the rare slot likely looked a lot better on paper before the set was spoiled than it does now. 

As far as opening a box of the set, the biggest problem is that lack of high-end rares. While there are a handful of rares that are worth more than the $10 pack, apart from Rishadan Port, most of these rares just sneak past the $10 mark, which means the packs where you open a "good" rare won't typically be enough to cover for the packs where you open a bad rare. Technically, 22 rares fall into the bulk and semi-bulk categories, but this is somewhat deceiving because another 22 rares are worth less than $5, which means a massive 44 of the 53 rares in the set (83%) are bad opens from a value perspective, considering the MSRP of a Masters 25 pack is $10. 

Masters 25: Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

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Masters 25 Uncommons
Card Value Multiplier Value Added
Street Wraith $3.39 0.9 $3.05
Cursecatcher $2.97 0.9 $2.67
Simian Spirit Guide $2.37 0.9 $2.13
Boros Charm $2.11 0.9 $1.90
Ash Barrens $1.91 0.9 $1.72
Utopia Sprawl $1.91 0.9 $1.72
Lightning Bolt $1.78 0.9 $1.60
Ancient Stirrings $1.27 0.9 $1.14
Regrowth $0.77 0.9 $0.69
Swords to Plowshares $0.77 0.9 $0.69
Rancor $0.77 0.9 $0.69
Myriad Landscape $0.77 0.9 $0.69
Red Elemental Blast $0.59 0.9 $0.53
Ravenous Chupacabra $0.59 0.9 $0.53
Total     $19.75

While lacking one super-chase uncommon in the vein of Mishra's Bauble, if you look at the uncommon slot of Masters 25 as a whole, it is very likely the best group of uncommons we've seen in a Masters set, at least since the original Modern Masters. Altogether, the uncommons of Masters 25 add just under $20 to the value of a booster box, and while the most expensive uncommons are in the $3-to-$4 range, having some value in the lower rarities will help smooth out pack openings for players. While the upper rarities will still have a ton of variance, cracking a worthwhile uncommon with some amount of consistency will be a nice consolation prize for players who miss out on Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Rishadan Port and instead find Tree of Redemption in their rare slot. 

This being said, good uncommons have a comparatively small impact on the expected value of a box. While the slot saw a 25% bump in value compared to Iconic Masters (which had a reasonable amount of uncommon value itself) in absolute terms, this 25% increase only amounts to a $5 jump in box value, from around $15 to just under $20 of uncommon value per box. This means all of the good uncommons in a box have about the same impact to the total value of a set as one good rare or mythic.

One other thing before we move on to the commons and bulk. There's a conspiracy theory floating around that good uncommons and commons are more rare than bad uncommons and commons. As you open your Masters 25 boxes, keep in mind that, on average, you'll open less than one of each uncommon in your box. As such, while missing out on a Street Wraith or Cursecatcher might be frustrating, by the numbers, the odds of this happening are fairly high.

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Masters 25 Commons and Bulk
Card Value Multiplier Value Added
Relentless Rats $1.27 2.37 $3.00
Nettle Sentinel $0.93 2.37 $2.19
Brainstorm $0.72 2.37 $1.69
Counterspell $0.59 2.37 $1.39
Dark Ritual $0.40 2.37 $0.95
Arcane Denial $0.40 2.37 $0.95
Unearth $0.40 2.37 $0.95
Nihil Spellbomb $0.25 2.37 $0.59
Diabolic Edict $0.25 2.37 $0.59
Bulk n/a   $1.60
Totals     $13.90

Much like the uncommons, the uncommons of Masters 25 are overloaded with value, coming in at almost double the value of Iconic Masters. Also like the uncommons, this doesn't actually do all that much to shift the expected value of a booster box of the set. This being said, opening Counterspells, Brainstorms, and Relentless Rats at a rate of more than two per box (on average) is a nice bonus for players and helps make sure you come away with a little something even when your rares and mythics are poor. While this little something isn't enough to make your pack, draft, or box a win from a value perspective, coming away with a little bit of value is certainly better than coming away with no value at all.

Masters 25: Foils

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Calculating how much foils add to an Masters 25 box is actually a bit tricky, mostly 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). Generally, the foils from Masters sets tend to be worth less than foils from other sets, but Masters 25 seems to be an exception. In fact, the average value of a foil mythic from the set is just over $47, which is significantly higher than the 1.5x or 2x modifier that we typically use. 

The reason for the higher-than-normal foil price is twofold. First, there are some extremely high-end foil mythics in Imperial Recruiter, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Ensnaring Bridge, all of which are in the $100-to-$200 range. Second, some of the cheap mythics (like Prossh, Skyraider of Kher) are actually pretty valuable in foil, since Masters 25 is their first foil printing and the primary demand for these cards is from Commander, and Commander players love their foils. 

As such, rather than just using the non-foil price with a multiplier, we're going to use SCG preorder prices for foils, with the standard 15% deduction. For uncommons, we'll be counting all cards worth less than $1.99 as valueless, and we'll count commons at bulk prices as normal. While this method might give a high-end value for foils, we don't really have any better options, since most other places aren't preselling Masters 25 foils. Just keep in mind that while in theory, foil mythics and rares add to the expected value of the set, your odds of actually opening a valuable foil in any specific box is pretty low, since they are quite rare.

Masters 25 Foils
Rarity # in Box Average Value (average non-foil value x 1.5 multiplier) Value Added
Mythic 0.25 $47.09 $11.77
Rare 1.5 $14.62 $21.93
Uncommon 6.5 $2.57 $16.71
Common 15.75 $0.25 $3.94
Totals 24 n/a $54.35

 

Putting It All Together

Iconic Masters—EV Wrap-Up
Rarity Average Value Number Per Box Value Added
Mythic $17.41 3 $52.64
Rare $3.81 21 $80.90
Uncommons     $19.75
Commons / Bulk     $13.90
Foils     $54.35
Total     $216.93

So, there you have it. All in all, the expected value of Masters 25 is pretty reasonable, coming in at $216.93 per box, which is solid, if unspectacular. Of course, this number comes with a few big questions. First, without foils, the expected value is only $167.19, and the value of the foils from Masters 25 is probably inflated in our calculation, at least a little, since it's based on SCG presale prices. This being said, even if you cut the value of the foils in half to around $26 (which would put the number more in line with past Masters sets), the EV of a box would still be about $190, which is right around the cost of buying a booster box.

Second, as I mentioned in the intro, the expected value of Iconic Masters was over $210 leading up to the set's release and quickly tumbled to down near $100, and it's very possible that Masters 25 will follow a similar trajectory. While this doesn't means anything in terms of the expected value right now, which is admittedly pretty good, if your plan is to crack a box or two and hold on to the cards, keep in mind that their prices will likely be dropping over the coming month, which means buying singles is still probably the way to go for building a collection. 

Third, perhaps the biggest problem with the set is the variance. The primary reason that the set's expected value is looking reasonable right now is that the foils and some of the mythics from the set are extremely high in value. Unfortunately, opening chase foils and good mythics is fairly rare, which means the expected value of the box is somewhat deceptive for players who are playing a draft or cracking just a single box. Since the value of the set is so top-heavy, more than 80% of booster packs will be losers from a value perspective, which means it will be very possible (and even common) that you open your three packs in a draft and end up with very little value (perhaps a couple of decent uncommons). The same thing can even happen with boxes; if you miss out on the handful of good mythics and get bad foil rares, your Masters 25 box might only have $100 in value, despite the $217 EV. This isn't to discourage you from opening a box, just to make sure your expectations are reasonable. It's easy to look at the expected value of a box and assume that it means you'll get roughly that amount of value from your box, but this isn't necessarily true for Masters 25. Odds are you'll lose a decent amount on your box, but maybe one in every four or five boxes will be a huge winner thanks to good mythics and expensive foils. 

These rates actually make Masters 25 very similar to Masterpiece sets. Most of the Masterpiece sets had good expected values when you considered the set as a whole and took into account the high value of Masterpieces, but most individual boxes of Masterpiece sets were losers from a value perspective, because only about one in four boxes had a Masterpiece. Masters 25 is almost exactly the same, with foils and high-end mythics being the Masterpieces, which means if you are cracking box after box, the value is reasonable at the moment, but you shouldn't take this expected-value number to mean that your one box will post a positive result, since the variance of the set is so high.

Conclusion

So, where does this leave us in terms of the expected value of Masters 25? In an absolute sense, the expected value is solid at the moment, probably significantly better than most people think, although declining prices and the variance of the set mean that opening the set is certainly a risk, since most of the set's value is concentrated in a few extremely expensive (and rare) cards. Having solid uncommons and commons helps even things out a bit, but even if you open way above average in terms of lower-rarity cards, it won't really make up for missing out on good mythics or foils because the good lower-rarity cards just aren't as valuable as the mythics and foils. 

Personally, I'll probably crack a box for the YouTube channel. Otherwise, I'll be waiting to see how far box prices drop. Iconic Masters is down to around $125 a box. If Masters 25 drops down to $150 or less, then opening some boxes will be a lot more appealing, since the lower buy-in will help make up for some of the variance issues we've been talking about. While it's certainly possible to get lucky and double your money with a box of Masters 25—even at current box prices, which are around $180–$190—if your goal is to build a Modern collection, you're probably better off spending your money on newly cheap Thalias, Eidolon of the Great Revels, Blood Moons, Utopia Sprawls, and the like. This being said, the expected value is probably better than you think, so if you are feeling a bit lucky, opening a box of Masters 25 isn't a wholly losing proposition from a financial perspective.

Anyway, that's all for today. 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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