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The Expected Value of Modern Horizons


It's prerelease weekend for Modern Horizons, which means one thing: it's time to look at the set's expected value! In many ways, calculating the expected value of Modern Horizons is the same as calculating it for a Standard-legal set. A Modern Horizons box has 36 packs, there's no "foil in every pack" quirk to complicate the numbers, and the rarity breakdown of the set (with 15 mythics, 53 rares, and 80 uncommons) is exactly the same as the typical Standard-legal booster box. That said, there is one big difference: the price. Right now, booster boxes are selling on eBay for somewhere around $200, making the cost of a booster box essentially double that of a set like War of the Spark or Ravnica Allegiance. This means that we should expect the cards in the set to have a significantly higher value than if they were printed in a Standard set, just to keep the expected value on parity.

Our goal for today is simple: to break down Modern Horizons based on expected value alone. Here, it's important to remember that an expected-value calculation is a snapshot of the value of a booster box at a specific point in time. As we move forward, the prices of the cards in Modern Horizons will change and, along with them, the expected value of the box itself. Unlike a Masters set, Modern Horizons isn't a limited print run product, which in some ways makes it more like a Modern-legal Conspiracy (that costs about twice as much per box) than a Masters set. This also means that the set will be opened for a longer period of time than a typical Masters set, potentially increasing the supply of the cards in the set and having a bigger impact on prices.

Like usual, one important warning before digging into the numbers: there are a lot of 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 take into account 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 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 hundreds or thousands of boxes.

TCGplayer Market Pricing

Most EV calculations use retail 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 I sell my 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 price of completed listings on 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. Here, it's worth mentioning once again that if your goal is to build a Modern 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 Modern 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.

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, and 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 (from 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. Uncommons are often also worthless, but Modern Horizons has more semi-valuable uncommons than a typical set. While many will still fall into the "bulk" category, the good ones will be calculated individually for the purposes of our EV breakdown.
  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 Urza, Lord High Artificer are 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-ish rare), and these lower-rarity foils do represent some amount of guaranteed value. This is especially true of Modern Horizons, which has some very desirable (especially for Commander) uncommon foils.
  4. These prices won't be good for long. Remember: the idea is to determine if Modern Horizons is worth opening on release weekend (which happens to kick off next Friday, although you can pick up boxes this weekend from your local game store during prerelease events). 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 that 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 to take the next step and actually trade away the cards, list them on eBay / TCGplayer, or sell them to a buylist.
  6. Prices were calculated a couple of days ago. If something spiked in the last couple of days, it won't be reflected in the expected-value calculation.
  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.

Modern Horizons Notes

As I mentioned in the intro, calculating the expected value of Modern Horizons is exactly like calculating the expected value of a typical Standard-legal set, except with a much higher baseline price. Since a box costs around $200, we'll need to get at least $200 in value from our box just to break even. Thankfully, a couple of factors will help to up the value of a Modern Horizons box compared to a typical Standard-legal set.

First, since Modern Horizons is designed with non-rotating formats in mind and it has real foils (rather than a foil in every pack like a Masters set), the foil slot in Modern Horizons should be worth significantly more than in a typical set. Commander and eternal players love to bling out their decks, so having a set full of potential staples for older formats means that the set should have some very valuable foils. Second, unlike a typical set, where the basic land slot is worthless, thanks to the full-art snow-covered basic lands in Modern Horizons (which are worth, on average, a bit under $1 each), there's a bit of guaranteed value in each booster pack thanks to the basic lands alone! While this might not sound like a big deal, getting roughly $30 in value from the basic land slot in a Modern Horizons booster box means that the basic land slot is worth about the same as the mythic slot of many Standard-legal sets.

Modern Horizons: Mythics

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

 

Modern Horizons—Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Urza, Lord High Artificer $37.83 0.3 $11.35
The First Sliver $25.84 0.3 $7.75
Wrenn and Six $22.94 0.3 $6.88
Echo of Eons $18.65 0.3 $5.60
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician $16 0.3 $4.80
Seasoned Pyromancer $15.19 0.3 $4.56
Sword of Truth and Justice $13.59 0.3 $4.08
Morophon, the Boundless $12.34 0.3 $3.70
Sword of Sinew and Steel $12.62 0.3 $3.79
Serra the Benevolent $12.51 0.3 $3.75
Unbound Flourishing $10.32 0.3 $3.10
Mox Tantalite $9.89 0.3 $2.97
Ranger-Captain of Eos $8.29 0.3 $2.49
Hexdrinker $5.63 0.3 $1.69
Kess, Dissident Mage $5.47 0.3 $1.64
Totals      
Average Mythic Value $14.48    
Total Value Added to Box $68.15    

The value of the mythics from Modern Horizons is extremely solid, coming in with an average value of $14.48, which is somewhere between two and three times the value of a normal Standard set. More importantly, there are basically no bulk mythics. When you consider that the cost of a booster pack is $5.56 (assuming you buy a booster box for $200), essentially every mythic is at least worth the price of a booster (technically, Kess, Dissident Mage is under by about $0.10, but close enough). So as long as you open a mythic, you'll get your money's worth from the pack. Furthermore, a full 66.7% of the mythics are worth at least twice the cost of the booster it comes from, so not only is the total value of the mythics from Modern Horizons solid but the value is also distributed in a player-friendly manner.

Modern Horizons: Rares

 

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

Modern Horizons—Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Force of Negation $16.97 0.6 $10.18
Fiery Islet $16.38 0.6 $9.83
Prismatic Vista $15.08 0.6 $9.05
Nurturing Peatland $13.97 0.6 $8.38
Sunbaked Canyon $12.84 0.6 $7.70
Waterlogged Grove $11.48 0.6 $6.89
Silent Clearing $10.94 0.6 $6.56
Hall of Heliod's Generosity $6.04 0.6 $3.62
Unsettled Mariner $4.90 0.6 $2.94
Archmage's Charm $4.33 0.6 $2.60
Goblin Engineer $4.60 0.6 $2.76
Giver of Runes $4.35 0.6 $2.61

Tectonic Reformation

$2.85 0.6 $1.71
Force of Vigor $3 0.6 $1.81
Force of Despair $3.10 0.6 $1.86
Cloudshredder Sliver $2.88 0.6 $1.73
Dead of Winter $2.52 0.6 $1.51
Kaya's Guile $2.69 0.6 $1.61
Collector Ouphe $2.43 0.6 $1.46
Cabal Therapist $2 0.6 $1.12
Winds of Abandon $1.85 0.6 $1.12
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis $1.67 0.6 $1
Spiteful Sliver $1.60 0.6 $0.96
       
20 Bulk Rares $0.10   $1.20
10 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25   $1.50
Totals      
Average Rare Value $2.89    
Total Value Added $89.01    

Similar to the mythic slot, the rares from Modern Horizons are worth significantly more than the rares from a typical Standard-legal set, with an average value of $2.89. However, unlike the mythics, there are plenty of bulk-level rares in the set, with 58% of the rares from Modern Horizons being worth $1.50 or less. Of course, this is evened out by the set's top-end rares, with six of the rare lands from the set and Force of Negation all being worth between $10 and $20. 

While not relevant to our expected-value calculation, which is only concerned with current prices, it is worth mentioning that some of the rares that are currently semi-valuable will probably fall toward bulk as the set is opened. It's hard to imagine that cards like Dead of Winter and Tectonic Reformation can remain in the $2–3 price range unless they see a surprising amount of competitive play in Modern. 

However, the future of the set and its prices aren't what expected value is about, and right now, heading into prerelease weekend, the value of the rares from Modern Horizons is extremely high. If you happen to pick up a box, I'd look to trade away the cards you don't need quickly if you can find trade partners willing to give you current prices, especially for cards that are more likely to be fun build-arounds for Commander than actual tournament staples.

All in all, the rares from Modern Horizons add just under $90 in value to a booster box, and when you toss in another $68 from the mythics, we are well on our way to having an expected value that exceeds the cost of a booster box before even getting to the lower-rarity cards and foils!

Modern Horizons—Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

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

Modern Horizons—C / U / B
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Generous Gift UNC $0.76 1.35 $1.02
Scale Up UNC $0.62 1.35 $0.84
Talisman of Creativity UNC $0.40 1.35 $0.54
Undead Augur UNC $0.34 1.35 $0.46
Semi-Valuable Uncommons UNC 8 @ $0.10   $1.08
Bulk C / U   $5 / thousand   $2.40
Totals        
Total C / U / B Value Added $6.34      

So far, it's been mostly good news about Modern Horizons, but the lower-rarity cards from the set buck the trend. While a handful of uncommons are worth slightly more than bulk, there aren't really any chase uncommons, and even the "good" uncommons aren't really that valuable. As a result, the value that the commons and uncommons add to a box of Modern Horizons is actually quite low. In fact, the commons and uncommons from Modern Horizons add less to the set's expected value than the commons and uncommons from Ravnica Allegiance or War of the Spark added to their respective set's expected value. Thankfully, the rare, mythic, and basic land slots help to make up for this weakness, but if you're expecting to squeeze some additional value from your box with the help of lower-rarity cards, you're going to be disappointed. There are almost no uncommons or commons worth opening.

Snow-Covered Basic Lands

Modern Horizons - Snow-Covered Basics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Snow-Covered Island $1.03 7.2 $7.40
Snow-Covered Mountain $0.97 7.2 $6.98
Snow-Covered Swamp $0.65 7.2 $4.65
Snow-Covered Forest $0.65 7.2 $4.65
Snow-Covered Plains $0.48 7.2 $3.37
Totals      
Snow-Covered Basic Value Added $27.05    

While Modern Horizons might have bad uncommons and commons (from a value perspective), the good news is that the basic land slot is stuffed full of value. Right now, the average value of a full-art snow-covered basic land is about $0.75. And since you're getting one of these lands from each pack (36 per box), this actually adds a huge amount to the expected value of a booster box, with basic lands alone coming in at $27. To put this in perspective, we have had Standard sets recently where you shouldn't average $27 in value from your mythic rare slot, and Modern Horizons hands out this value for free in the form of unique basic lands. Here, it's also worth mentioning that the land slot is extremely low variance. While it's possible to run poorly with mythics or rares, the value of the snow-covered basics is consistent enough that even if you got unlucky and open a few extra Snow-Covered Plains and a few less Snow-Covered Islands, you're really only losing a couple of dollars in expected value. As a result, the snow-covered basics significantly up the floor on the expected value of a Modern Horizons box. No matter how luck or unlucky you might be, you'll at least get good value from your basic lands.

Modern Horizons—Foils

Modern Horizons—Foils
Rarity Average # per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythics One every six boxes (0.17 per box) $55.50 $9.44
Rares One per box $16.10 $16.10
Uncommons Three per box $1.85 $5.55
Commons Five per box $0.50 $2.50
Basic Lands One per box? $9.69 $9.69
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $43.28    

The foils of Modern Horizons are predictably insane. Almost across the board, the value of the foils from the set is off the charts, thanks to the non-rotating playables from the set. Here, it's important to remember that, unlike a Masters set, the foils from Modern Horizons are distributed normally (rather than a foil in every pack), which means foils from the set are going to be rare (and even rarer when you consider there will be no Magic Online redemption for Modern Horizons). This means that basically all of the foil mythics are pricey, along with any of the foil rares or uncommons that have the potential to see play in Legacy or Commander. Oh yeah, and the average value of a foil snow-covered basic is almost $10, which represents a nice jump in expected value compared to a typical set. Basically, make sure to check the value of the foils you open in your box because the good ones are probably worth a lot more than you'd think.

Putting It All Together

Ravnica Allegiance—EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythics
$14.48
15 $68.15
Rares $2.89 53 $89.01
Commons / Uncommons / Bulk     $6.34
Snow-Covered Basic Lands     $27.05
Foils   9 (per box) $43.28
TOTAL BOX EV $233.83    
PACK EV $6.50    

All in all, the expect value of Modern Horizons is solid, coming in at just under $234 thanks to the good mythics and rares, especially valuable foils, and some extra value in the form of snow-covered basic lands. With boxes currently selling for around $200 (and for as low as $185 if you shop around for a deal), this means the average box will give you somewhere between $30 to $50 more in value than you spent on the box, and this is including our 15% deduction. If you drop the deduction and go with retail prices, the value jumps all the way to $268.90. Either way, at current prices, Modern Horizons boxes are good value, and there's a very realistic chance that you will come out ahead with a bit of luck. 

Even better, if you pick up a box early from your local game store, you can snag a promo version of Flusterstorm for free, which will add another $15 of value, making it even more likely for your box to end up a winner in terms of value. While Flusterstorm is probably overhyped for Modern, it does see a lot of Legacy and Commander play. And when you toss in some sweet new art, the promo should be easy enough to sell or trade for a decent price.

Of course, this high expected value means something else: prices of Modern Horizons cards are currently inflated. With the set being printed to demand, it's hard to imagine that the expected value can stick at much over $150 as the set is opened, and it could end up even lower (some recent Masters sets had expected values drop into the $100–120 range). This would suggest that Modern Horizons will see a massive price decrease in coming months, with the set as a whole losing somewhere between 30% and 50% of its value. Since the uncommons and commons are already mostly worthless, a bulk of this decline will have to come from the rares and mythics in the set.

This means two things: first, even though the expected value of Modern Horizons looks great now, the cards that you open on release day are going to be worth quite a bit less by the end of the summer, which means you should focus on selling or trading away the cards you don't need while prices are high. Second, if your plan is to pick up singles rather than boxes, you should wait for prices to decline to get the best value. Don't fall prey to inflated presale prices and hype. If you want even a couple of months for the set to be opened (and for the Modern Horizons limited Grand Prix to happen), you should be able to pick up the cards you need for Modern, Commander, and Legacy at a steep discount compared to current prices. There's just no way a print-to-demand set can maintain a positive expected value because high prices mean that tons of people (and stores / vendors) will open boxes, which will increase supply and eventually drive down the prices of the individual cards in the set. 

The other plan is to play the long game. Even though most of the cards will drop in price over the next few months, in the long run, cards that are playable in non-rotating formats and Commander will likely recover. Foils specifically offer potential since they will be even more limited in supply, doubly so since there won't be any foil sets redeemed from Magic Online. While Modern Horizons cards could show up in Commander decks, for more of these cards, it's hard to imagine them being reprinted anywhere in the new future, which could mean that the best of the bunch will maintain meaningful value a couple of years from now.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Are you going to crack a box (or more) of Modern Horizons? What do you make of these expected-value numbers? Let me know in the comments! 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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