The Expected Value of Modern Masters 2015
by SaffronOlive // May 11, 2015
As I'm sure you've realized by now, I do one of these expected value article every time a new set comes out. Sometimes the results are good, other times they are bad, but regardless of the results, this one is special. The boxes are smaller, the packs are more expensive, and foils are everywhere. That's right, today we are talking Modern Masters 2015. Specifically we are attempting to answer the question "how much value can I expect to open if I crack a box of MM2?" I know the common knowledge is that we should never, ever crack sealed product outside of limited events, while this is often true, it isn't always the case.
In the past few years, discounting supplemental products like Commander decks, there have been two sets where if you opened them right after the set release 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 were a bunch of sets where cracking a box is almost guaranteed to lose you money. The original Modern Masters was a strange case. Unlike most sets which are printed to demand causing box prices to stay steady in the $100 range, MMA was a limited release. Combined with the high EV of the set, this caused boxes to sell for significantly above the $168 MSRP. If you managed to get a box below $200 you would expect to make money, but once you got into the $250-$300 range things got a little bit sketchy. 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; 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. 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. 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 our MM2 EV I used the lower of eBay prices minus 15 percent for shipping and fees or StarCityGames preorder prices minus the same percent. Oddly enough, these two prices were actually pretty comparable, and in some cases SCG had cards listed lower than the cheapest buy-it-now on eBay.
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 MM2 are already available in their older form. However, by selling quickly you can beat the massive influx of supply that is yet to come with the three GP weekend and all the local drafting and box openings.
- Most commons and uncommons are counted as bulk, which means a rate of $5/per thousand. There are a few exceptions and these are listed along with my pricing in the appropriate sections. Since MM2 boxes are smaller than normal, all the bulk commons and uncommons don't actually add all that much value to the EV — about $1.60.
- One of the quirks of Modern Masters is that you get a foil in every pack. For our purposes, foil commons and uncommons are counted as bulk at a rate of $0.10 each. While this might seem like too little, especially considering the demand for foil bouncelands, in my experience, MMA foils are not that easy to move for good prices and your odds of opening a valuable foil common or uncommon isn't all that high.
- I expect the price on most of these cards to decrease over the summer. This is especially true of uncommons and commons, but also rares and some mythics as well. This means the prices used in my EV calculation might not be good next week, let alone next month.
- Another reminder: You don't actually make a profit until you sell the card. Just cracking boxes on release weekend isn't enough; you need take the next step and actually list the cards on Ebay/TCGPlayer or sell them to a buylist.
- Finally, be aware of variance (we'll talk about this more later). If you open enough packs, these numbers will be accurate. But like most aspects of Magic, variance can have a huge impact on 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.
|Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite||$17||0.2||$3.20|
|Emrakul, the Aeons Torn||$25.50||0.2||$5.10|
|Iona, Shield of Emeria||$18.70||0.2||$3.74|
|Kozilek, Butcher of Truth||$30.60||0.2||$6.12|
|Tezzeret the Seeker||$9.35||0.2||$1.87|
|Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre||$24.65||0.2||$4.93|
At the same time, the unofficial spoiling of 13 mythics two weeks ago is, at least in part, responsible for the massive amount of hype surrounding the set. Sure, the spoiler wasn't 100% correct, but that doesn't really matter. It was taken as the truth by a large portion of the community and ramped the excitement into high gear. Everyone saw a bunch of $50 mythic, figured out that you open an average of three per box which added $150 to the box EV and thought that MM2 was a slam-dunk value wise. This is the danger of making purchases with incomplete information.
As it sits, the mythics add an average of $88.86 to a box. If you drop Comet Storm and Tarmogoyf, you end up with $73.16 value added so it really isn't all about one super expensive card. 14 of the 15 mythic are worth the price of a pack, so generally, you'll feel like a winner no matter which one you open (although this magnifies the bad feelings associated with opening a Comet Storm).
|All Is Dust||$8.49||0.4||$3.40|
|Eye of Ugin||$4.24||0.4||$1.70|
|Leyline of Sanctity||$16.99||0.4||$6.80|
|Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind||$2.11||0.4||$0.84|
|13 Bulk Rares @ $0.25||$3.25|
|16 Bulk Rares @$0.10||$1.60|
Unlike the mythics which are pretty much all valuable, there are only 10 Rares that can really be considered winners either paying for the pack, or at least coming close enough that you can break even with a decent foil or uncommon. This ratio actually isn't that bad. The bigger problem is the lack of mid-tier rares. There are only six rares in the $3 through $7 range, and all of these are much closer to $3 than to $7.
This means that 20 percent of the time you'll open something sweet, 10 percent of the time you'll open something middling, and 70 percent of the time you'll open a rare worth $2 or less. For every Noble Hierarch you'll open four Long-Forgotten Gohei. Compare this to the original Modern Masters, which had 17 rares in the "more than a pack" catergory (32 percent), another 14 in the $3 through $5 range (26 percent), and about 40 percent in the bulk range. This is a stark and significant difference.
And this is not to mention the high number of literal bulk rares. In researching this article I stumbled across the fact that Modern Masters 2015, a set that has a MSRP of $10 per pack (2.5 times the cost of a "regular" pack), has more bulk rares than Dragons of Tarkir. And it was only a couple months back I was writing about how DTK had an absurdly low EV during the prerelease period.
Think about that for a minute. Modern Masters 2015 has more bulk rares than a set that had the worst presale EV since Dragon's Maze.
Back on the first day of spoiler MM2 spoilers, someone mocked up a Magmaw and posted it on Reddit. Everyone was all up on arms for a minute, dreading the idea of opening such a horrible card in a $10 pack. Wizards quickly came out and squelched the rumor. The problem is they then proceeded to spoil an entire set of Magmaws. All Sun's Dawn, Ant Queen, Argent Sphinx, Chimeric Mass, Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, Etched Monstrosity, Horde of Notions, Inexorable Tide, Long-Forgotten Gohei, Nobilis of War, Precursor Golem, Surrakar Spellblade, Wildfire, and Wolfbriar Elemental.
How many of these are significantly better than Magmaw? Sure, some have purposes in limited, but you can argue just has hard that most would not look out of place as uncommons.
Now I understand that Wizards can't put every valuable card in Modern Masters 2015. They have Modern Masters 2017, 2019, and 2021 to think about, along with endless supplemental products and Standard-legal sets. You can only reprint a card so many times until it loses its luster. The first couple printings of Noble Hierarch will help sell a set, the third and four will sell supplemental, the fifth and six? Then you're Birds of Paradise. At the same time, filling a premium set with more bulk rares than a Standard-legal set is an embarrassment.
I'm not suggesting we need 53 Cryptic Commands, but is turning Ant Queen into Obstinate Baloth, Long-Forgotten Gohei into Coat of Arms, Wildfire into Siege-Gang Commander, and Argent Sphinx into Master of Etherium really too much to ask? Hopefully I'm not coming across too harsh. I still plan on drafting a ton of this set. It looks super fun, but based on the rares, I expect my wallet will be a bit lighter for the experience.
|Artisan of Kozilek||$0.25||0.9||$0.23|
|Bouncelands (x10)||$0.10 each, $1.00 total||0.9||$0.90|
The uncommons are — by far — the biggest disappointment in the set and the biggest drag on the EV. The originally MMA had Spell Snare which started at $4, Kitchen Finks at $5, Path to Exile at $5, Lightning Helix at $3.20, Mind Funeral at $3, Eternal Witness at $2.50, Manamorphose at $2.10, Paradise Mantle at $2, Electrolyze at $1.60 and Relic of Progenitus at $1.40,
This time around we get Remand, which is retailing for $10 at the moment, and a bunch of nothing. The second most valuable card is Lightning Bolt which has been printed a million time,s Electrolyze which is doing its best to catch up with Bolt as far as number of reprintings, and Eldrazi Temple; a casual-only card that should drop in price now that it has been downgraded in rarity.
With MMA you could open a bulk rare but still come out ahead by hitting a good uncommon or two; this won't happen in MM2. This means that you really need to open a valuable rare/mythic or you are going to lose a ton of value. There will definitely be drafts where you pay $40 to play, open a Comet Storm, Ant Queen, and Chimeric Mass, and end up with $4 worth of cards. Of course, you can also crack a Tarmogoyf, Cryptic Command, and Noble Hierarch and be buying a round for the bar, but in this set, the former is far more likely than the latter.
|Vines of Vastwood||$0.50||2.37||$1.19|
Foil are tricky; I've been having quite the time finding solid numbers about distribution. The best I can figure is that you'll get maybe 2 (actually closer to 1.5) rares (which could be replaced by a mythic), 6 or 7 uncommons, and 14 or 15 commons. This means your odds of hitting a foil common or uncommon that actually has value isn't too high. Around one out of every four boxes will contain one of the non-bulk c/u from our list. As a result, most boxes won't contain a foil bounceland, Vines of Vastwood, or Mana Leak. So for the purposes of our EV, let's assume that altogether your 22 foils commons and uncommons will be worth about $6 (just under $0.30 each). But be warned: there will be boxes where you open even less.
As for rares and mythics, let's try to do this the easiest way possible. We'll take average prices of a rare ($4.31) multiply it by two (the low-end normal foil multiplier). This gives us the average foil rare price of $8.62. Then we'll take the average mythic price ($28.40), multiply it by two for the foil multiplier, and end up with an average mythic price of $56.80. Typically you get one mythic for every seven rares, so we can multiply the rare average by 0.875 and the mythic average by 0.125, which gives us a price of $7.54 for rares and $7.10 for mythics. Add these together and we end up with $14.64. Multiply by 1.5 (for the number in a box) and we end up with the foil rares/mythics adding $21.96 to the price of a box. Throw in the $6 from commons and uncommons and we end up with a total foil value of $27.96.
The total expected value of a box, at eBay prices (which at the moment are pretty close to SCG presale prices) minus 15 percent for shipping, fees, and incidentals is $219.89. Before you start railing about the EV being too low, let's forget the fees/shipping deduction for a moment. Assuming you can sell rares and mythic with no fees for the same prices as StarCityGames (which you can't), the EV jumps up to $252.87 — slightly more than the $240 MSRP and almost exactly the $250(ish) eBay box price.
It's not worth cracking boxes for profit because there isn't any real profit to be made. The good new is, at current prices, despite the bulk rares, lackluster uncommons and non-existent common value, you can expect to lose less than $1 per pack if you pay MSRP. This will likely change as supply increases, but for the immediate future, drafting isn't an absolute killer for your bank account.
The bigger issue with MM2 is variance. While on average, a box will net you slightly less than MSRP, the way the value is distributed is scary. Take a look at these charts put together by Matt, one of the moderators at /r/mtgmarketwatch.
We talked about this a bit before in the rare section, but these graphs provide a fairly stunning visual of how value is distributed. You can pretty much ignore the mythics; they are about the same. But see how many red dots (rares) in the MM2 chart are bouncing around the $1 mark?
With MMA you were almost guaranteed value. Opening a truly worthless pack was very, very unlikely. Instead of opening bulk rares, in the worst case you were opening a $3ish rare — a rare worth almost half a pack. And when you consider all the $2-$5 uncommons, hitting the $7 pack prices isn't all that difficult. Over the course of time, if you opened enough packs, odds are you would come out ahead.
With MM2, unless you open a mythic or a small handful of rares, you are almost guaranteed to lose value. Unless you are willing to spend $100,000 on sealed product, there is no way of evening out the variance. Sure, you'll come close to breaking even in the long run, but most boxes and maybe 80 percent of packs you will lose money.
Basically, with MMA you were almost assured of opening $4 in value, and more than half of the time you'd open $10+ in value. With MM2 you are assured of opening $1 in value; most of the time you'll open $3 in value, and a small portion of the time you'll open $30 in value.
I mentioned in my last article that I simulated some box openings and had times when I opened an entire case and ended up with four Comet Storm and zero Tarmogoyfs. With little consistent lower-rarity value to prop up the price, these type of cases are losers — big losers — and they will happen, more often than you'd think. So let's finish up today by looking at one of these simulated box openings. I've left out the commons and uncommons which have such little value they wouldn't change much anyway, but here are what the rares and mythics of a box will look like.
*Box simulated by assigning each rare/mythic a number than randomly generating numbers based on the distribution of a typical box. Not quite perfect because it does not take into account correlation and other quirks of the packaging process, but it tends to yield fairly realistic results.
Anyway, that's all for today. What do you think? How happy would you be if you opened our simulated box after spending $240? What is your overall opinion of the set? Has your excitement for the set increased or decreased since the whole thing was spoiled on Friday? Can you think of any creative ways of destroying the Comet Storm you'll open while sitting next to your buddy who opens a Tarmogoyf? As always, leave your thoughts in the comments, or you can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive.