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The Expected Value of Modern Masters 2017


At a glance, Modern Masters 2017 (which we'll call MM3 for the rest of this article) looks to be the best Masters series set of all time. The original Modern Masters (MM1) had a ton of good cards but was in such small supply that you couldn't find a box for anywhere near MSRP. This problem was somewhat solved by Modern Masters 2015 (MM2) which had a much more reasonable supply but was a pretty lacking set overall, with little value outside of the top handful of rares and mythics. As such, MM3 seems like the perfect Masters series set, with enough supply to go around but overloaded with value, especially at lower rarities, which means your odds of opening a playable and valuable card in any individual pack are pretty high. 

While "it's never worth it to open a box" is a fairly common rule of thumb, this isn't always true, especially when it comes to limited-supply releases (and it appears that MM3 is still limited in supply, even though the cap seems to be meaningfully higher than with past Masters series sets). All in all, the question we are looking to answer is: is it worth it to crack a box based purely on the numbers? Basically, if I pay $X (likely around $200) for a box of Modern Masters 2017, should I expect to get my money back, lose money, or come out a little bit ahead? 

Like usual, we will focus on the short term because unknown variables about the total supply of the set complicate the long-term view. Like other releases, prices will likely drop as MM3 is opened and the supply of the reprinted cards hit the market, which means our EV calculation will only be good for a short period of time. While it doesn't seem all that likely, since pre-order prices are surprisingly reasonable this time around, it's possible that some prices will drop more even before the set releases.

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 MM3. Some people buy boxes because cracking packs is fun or because they want a chance to win the foil Goyf (or foil fetch) lotto. Others buy boxes to play limited with their friends (and MM3 limited looks insane!) 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 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 MM3 EV, which are essentially the "completed listings" of the TCG marketplace, showing actual, completed sales from recent days. In some rare instances (since prices move quickly), TCG low may be lower than TCG market, and when this happens, we'll go with the low price instead. Finally, if the presale price on StarCityGames is lower than either of the TCG prices, we'll go with that. 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. Regardless of which price we use for an individual card, we'll 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. 

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 MM3 are already available in their older form. However, by selling quickly, you can beat the massive influx of supply that is yet to come.

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 these are listed along with my pricing in the appropriate sections. Since MM3 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 Modern Masters 2017 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. 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. That said, I'm not sure that MM3 prices will decrease as much as those of other sets because many of the presale prices are actually pretty reasonable. The common "discount" price of a Master-series reprint is somewhere around 50% of the pre-reprinting price, and many of the cards in the set have already decreased by this amount.
  4. 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, trade them away, or sell them to a buylist.
  5. 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.

Mythics

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

MM3 Mythics
Card Price Multiplier Value Added
Tarmogoyf $70.05 0.2 $14.01
Liliana of the Veil $59.49 0.2 $11.90
Snapcaster Mage $30.06 0.2 $6.12
Cavern of Souls $29.99 0.2 $6.00
Linvala, Keeper of Silence $17.00 0.2 $3.40
Craterhoof Behemoth $12.74 0.2 $2.55
Voice of Resurgence $12.74 0.2 $2.55
Griselbrand $8.92 0.2 $1.78
Entreat the Angels $5.09 0.2 $1.02
Temporal Mastery $4.49 0.2 $0.90
Domri Rade $3.89 0.2 $0.78
Sphinx's Revelation $3.31 0.2 $0.66
Olivia Voldaren $2.99 0.2 $0.60
Bonfire of the Damned $2.24 0.2 $0.45
Past in Flames $1.95 0.2 $0.39
Totals $17.66 (average) n/a $52.99

At first glance, it might seem that the mythic rares in Modern Masters 2017 are a disappointment. After all, the average value of a mythic in MM3 is only $17.66, compared to a massive $28.40 in MM2. However, it's important to look at the context of the entire set—assuming the average values of the rares and uncommons are solid, having lower-value mythics may actually end up being a good thing, as odd as it sounds.

One of the biggest problems with MM2 was the variance. Since nearly all of the value of the set was concentrated in the mythic rare slot, and because the average box only has three mythic rares, if you end up with a Comet Storm as one of your mythics (or miss on Tarmogoyf), you suddenly have a horrible box, no matter how good your rares and uncommons happened to be (because even the best rares and uncommons couldn't make up for the value lost on the mythic—they just weren't valuable enough). This led to a lot of feel-bad situations where you'd open three packs for draft and end up with quite literally zero dollars in value, which is especially painful when packs are $10. 

Lowering the value of the mythics (while also increasing the value of rares and uncommons) is likely Wizards' attempt to fix this problem, and it actually makes for a much smoother, better-to-open set in general, even if seeing a huge decrease in the average mythic value is a bit jarring. While there are still several high-end mythics, the biggest reason that MM3 mythics are worth less on average than MM2 mythics is because there's a big drop off after the first seven, with more than half of the mythics from MM3 being worth less than $10 and seven being worth $5 or less. Regardless, the mythics of MM3 add $52.99 to the value of a box, which is a reasonable if unexciting start. 

Fun Facts

  • According to hypergeometric distribution, you have a 37.14% chance to open one of the two chase mythics (Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil) in any individual box. Your chances of opening both in the same box? Just 2.86%. 
  • Meanwhile, if you expand out to the top four mythics (including Cavern of Souls and Snapcaster Mage), odds are in favor of you hitting one or more, with the percent being 63.73%. 
  • On the other hand, there are seven mythics on our chart in the $5-or-less range (including Entreat the Angels, even though it's technically just over $5), which means you'll open one or more of them 87.69% of the time and get two or more 44.6% of the time!
  • Finally, what are the chances that you get the exact mythic you're dreaming off our of your MM3 box? Exactly 20% (which is why 0.2 is our multiplier for MM3 mythics). 

Rares

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

MM3 Rares
Card Price Multiplier Value Added
Verdant Catacombs $42.49 0.4 $17.00
Scalding Tarn $42.49 0.4 $17.00
Damnation $31.66 0.4 $12.66
Misty Rainforest $31.44 0.4 $12.57
Arid Mesa $31.23 0.4 $12.49
Marsh Flats $27.19 0.4 $10.87
Blood Moon $25.49 0.4 $10.20
Goblin Guide $15.29 0.4 $6.11
Venser, Shaper Savant $7.49 0.4 $3.00
Death's Shadow $5.99 0.4 $2.40
Basilisk Collar $5.24 0.4 $2.17
Abrupt Decay $3.74 0.4 $1.50
Restoration Angel $3.22 0.4 $1.29
Phantasmal Image $2.99 0.4 $1.20
Gifts Ungiven $2.99 0.4 $1.20
Stony Silence $2.99 0.4 $1.20
Grafdigger's Cage $2.99 0.4 $1.20
Cyclonic Rift $2.76 0.4 $1.11
Zur the Enchanter $2.24 0.4 $0.90
Ranger of Eos $2.24 0.4 $0.90
Scavenging Ooze $2.24 0.4 $0.90
Pyromancer Ascension $2.12 0.4 $0.85
Terminus $1.69 0.4 $0.68
Thragtusk $1.50 0.4 $0.60
Obzedat, Ghost Council $1.27 0.4 $0.51
Summoning Trap $1.27 0.4 $0.51
11 Semi-Bulk Rares @ $0.25     $1.10
16 Bulk Rares @ $0.10     $0.64
Totals: $5.78 (average) n/a $121.75

Even with a big dump of bulk and semi-bulk rares to finish up MM3 previews, the rare slot in MM3 is golden, adding $121.75 to the value of a booster box. The average value of a rare in MM3 is $5.78. This is a significant increase (about 25%) from MM2, which had an average rare value of just $4.31. 

Even better, the bulk rares from Modern Masters 2017 aren't bulk in the traditional sense. While there are some sinkers, many of the cheapest rares are powerful, playable (and previously expensive) cards that have crashed thanks to all of the value stuffed into MM3. In Modern Masters 2015, "bulk rare" meant cards like  All Suns' Dawn, Ant Queen, Argent Sphinx, Chimeric Mass, Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, Etched Monstrosity, [Long-Forgotten Gohei]], Nobilis of WarSurrakar Spellblade, and Wolfbriar Elemental that no one has ever even thought of putting into a Modern deck. In Modern Masters 2017, it means cards like Summoning Trap, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Desecration Demon, Zealous Conscripts, Obzedat, Ghost Council, Simic Sky Swallower, and Hellrider. While these cards might not hold much value thanks to the MM3 reprinting, if you happen to open some of these in your MM3 box, at least you can actually play most of them in Modern, which wasn't the case for many of the low-end rares in MM2.

From a value perspective, one of the biggest problems with the set is that the prices of many of the rares in the set have already crashed. Instead of waiting a month or two for cards to bottom, many of the rares from MM3 are already 50% (or more) off their pre-reprint price. In the long run, this is a great thing because it allows players to get really powerful and playable cards at a huge discount, but from a box-cracking perspective, getting $2 for a Ranger of Eos rather than $10 takes some getting used to.  

Finally, it's worth noting that as of right now (counting just rares and mythics), the expected value of MM3 is roughly the same as MM2; however, the boxes will be significantly better to open and there will be far fewer feel-bad boxes, since most of the value of Modern Masters 2017 is in the rare slot, while nearly all of the value in Modern Masters 2015 was concentrated in the mythics. 

Fun Facts

  • Obviously, the best opens in the set are the Zendikar fetch lands, so just how likely are you to open one (or more) in your box? You're actually super unlucky if you don't get at least one fetch (93% of boxes will have one or more), and odds are actually in favor of getting at least two (66.67% of boxes). 
  • Including the fetch lands, there are eight rares currently worth $15 or more (about 15% of the rares in the set). Most boxes will contain three or four of these chase rares. Better yet, there will be more boxes where you get five of the eight (11% of boxes) than just one of the eight (only 7% of boxes). 
  • Last but not least, what about the nightmare scenario? There are 31 rares in the set worth $2 or less—what are the odds that all of the rares in your box will be bulk? Don't worry—they are actually tiny at 0.000014%. On the other hand, about 1/4 of boxes will contain 14 or more bulk rares (out of 21 total rares in a box, since the typical box will have three mythics).

Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

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

MM3 Uncommons / Commons
Card Value Multiplier Value Added
Path to Exile $5.09 0.79 $4.02
Inquisition of Kozilek $4.25 0.79 $3.35
Might of Old Krosa $2.54 0.79 $2.00
Serum Visions $1.69 0.79 $1.18
Flickerwisp $1.13 0.79 $1.01
Terminate $0.85 0.79 $0.66
Wall of Denial $0.85 0.79 $0.66
Dimir Signet $0.85 0.79 $0.66
Gaea's Anthem $0.85 0.79 $0.66
12 Just-Above-Bulk UNC @$0.10 $1.20 0.79 $0.95
Total     $15.15

Much like the rares, the uncommons from MM3 put the last edition of Modern Masters to shame, adding $15.15 to the expected value of a box. Part of the challenge is figuring out how to price things like the Signets and the tri-lands. While SCG is selling them for $0.49 each, I'm not sure you'll get anywhere near that amount on the open market, so I ended up lumping them all together at $0.10, which is probably conservative, but you should be able to buylist them for that price. Thankfully, even if they are worth two or three times as much, it doesn't really matter too much, potentially increasing the overall box EV by only a dollar or two. 

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

MM3 Commons and Bulk
Card Value Multiplier Value Added
Spell Pierce $0.84 2.37 $1.99
Burning-Tree Emissary $0.25 2.37 $0.59
Soul Warden $0.25 2.37 $0.59
Bulk n/a   $1.60
Totals     $4.77

Meanwhile, commons and bulk add another $4.77 to the expected value of an MM3 box, highlighted by Spell Pierce, which is clearly the chase common in the set. While none of these cards are that valuable individually, since you open an average of 2.37 of each common per box, every little bit adds up. 

Foils

Calculating how much foils add to an MM3 box is actually a bit tricky, partly because most places don't have foils listed for sale yet and partly 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 6 or 7 foil uncommons, and the rest of the foils in the box will be commons (so, approximately 15 foil commons). The strange thing about Masters foils is that they aren't worth as much as normal foils—if you look over past Masters sets, the foil multiplier for rares and mythics is usually about 1.5 (meaning a $10 non-foil would be about $15 in foil). This is because Masters-series foils are simply more common than foils from regular sets. With these numbers in mind, probably the easiest way to estimate the value that foils add to a box is by using the non-foil prices and accounting for the multiplier. 

MM3 Foils
Rarity # in Box Average Value (average non-foil value x 1.5 multiplier) Value Added
Mythic 0.25 $26.49 $6.62
Rare 1.5 $8.67 $13.01
Uncommon 6.5 $0.50 $3.25
Common 15.75 $0.15 $2.36
Totals 24 n/a $25.24

Putting It All Together

Wrap-Up
Rarity Value Added
Mythic $52.99
Rare $121.75
Uncommons $15.15
Commons / Bulk $4.77
Foils $25.24
Total $219.90

So, there you have it. If you decide to crack open a box of Modern Masters 2017, you should expect to get right about $220 in value. On one hand, this is a little bit disappointing—a lot of the numbers floating around earlier in the week suggested that a box might have an EV of $300 or more, and instead of being off-the-charts in EV, MM3 is solid but not absurd. On the other hand, the two reasons the EV of MM3 isn't insanely high are two of the best things about the entire set. 

Firstly, the fact that the EV of MM3 is right around MSRP suggests that the vendors who are selling the set think that the set is going to be fairly high in supply. If vendors were expecting an MM1 level of supply (if you weren't around for MM1, it was impossible to get a box for anywhere near MSRP, if you could get one at all), I expect that the prices of the singles in the set would reflect this level of scarcity. Basically, vendors expect that a lot of MM3 will be opened, so they are feeling comfortable pricing rares that were $10 a week ago at $2 and rares that were $80 at $50 or less. Because of this, you shouldn't have any trouble picking up boxes of MM3 for at (or below) MSRP if you want to open some packs or do some drafting. 

Secondly, the EV of MM3 isn't super high because the set has already done its job by decreasing the price of reprinted cards and increasing accessibility. Last week, I wrote about Modern on Sale and mentioned how, historically, chase cards from Modern Masters sets normally hit a low of about half of their pre-reprint price a month or two after the set is released. Well, with MM3, there's so much value stuffed into the set that many chase cards are already half off their previous price, and we are still right in the middle of pre-sales! 

Finally, it's also worth noting that the increase in value at rare and uncommon (even with a decrease in mythic value) is a good thing for players who are planning on opening a box. While there is always some amount of variance involved in cracking sealed product, having value at lower rarities means that MM3 is missing the lotto aspect of MM2 (and even many of the Masterpiece Standard sets). Most boxes will have a couple of fetch lands, which goes a long way toward paying for the box, and then you're likely to have one or two more chase rares, along with steady value from Path to Exile, Inquisition of Kozilek, and the every-pack foil. Because of this, the floor on an MM3 box is pretty high, which take some of the risk away from opening a box. 

Conclusion

So, let's wrap things up. The bottom line is that if you ordered a booster box when they were $170–$180, you'll likely make about $50 just for cracking it open, which is obviously a great deal. Meanwhile, if you are buying in a little bit later (for around $200), you're still likely to come out ahead but only by a little. However, if you are buying a box today (somewhere between $210 and $230 seems to be the going rate at the moment), you're likely to break even, which means you get to draft for free (plus, you never know when you'll get lucky and find out your foil rare is a fetch land). All things told, Modern Masters 2017 boxes look like a solid deal, but some of the early estimates of $300 or even $400 in value from a box are far from reality. And remember, technically the set doesn't release until the 17th of March, and while it seems unlikely that prices will crash during this time, since they are already pretty low, it's more likely that cards will continue to tick down slightly than it is that they suddenly increase in price.

Anyway, that's all for today. I expect I'll be cracking a box or two on video for all of you, and I might pick up some extras just for fun. Even though the EV itself is only average, I really do believe that MM3 is the best Masters series set of all time. I'm hopeful that we'll see more like it in the future, and probably the easiest way I can send a message to Wizards that I like a product is by buying it. While I probably won't come out ahead in terms of real dollars, breaking even and supporting a product I believe in sounds like a pretty good deal to me! If you decide to pick up a box, awesome; if not, make sure to take advantage of the super-low prices on Modern staples over the next few months while the format is on sale. 

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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