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The Expected Value of Rivals of Ixalan


It's prerelease weekend for Rivals of Ixalan, which means it's time for us to dig deep into the set and break down the numbers to figure out just how much value you can expect to open, should you decide to crack open a box in search of some spicy Dinosaurs, Vampires, Merfolk, and Pirates!

The basic question we are looking to answer today is pretty simple: is it worth it to crack a booster box of Rivals of Ixalan based purely on the numbers? Basically, if I pay $100 for a box, should I expect to get my money back, lose money, or come out a little bit ahead? Here, it's important to note that it's never, ever worth it to crack a box over the long haul. Even if the expected value is positive on release day, it won't be in a few weeks. Generally speaking, vendors get boxes for somewhere between $70 and $80, and over the long haul, the average amount of value you'll get from a box has to drop below this number. If the cards in a box are worth more than the sealed box, you can bet that people will be opening boxes like crazy, which in turn increases the supply of the cards in the set and brings down the prices of the cards.

One important warning before digging into the numbers: there are a lot of different 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 account for 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, on average, from a booster box. 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.

TCGplayer Market Pricing

Most EV calculations use 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 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 mostly use the TCG market price (minus 15% for fees and shipping), which is basically the completed listings of 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, although here, it's worth mentioning once again that if your goal is to build a Standard 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 just purchase singles.

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, 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 (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, since they cannot be reliably sold as singles. Apart from a handful of "chase" and "semi-chase" uncommons, everything else at this rarity goes into the bulk pile along with the commons.
  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 Rekindling Phoenix is somewhere around 1 in 2,800 packs; however, every box should contain some number of foils (typically a handful of commons, a couple of uncommons, and one rare), and these lower-rarity foils do represent some amount of guaranteed value.
  4. These prices won't be good for long. Remember: the idea is to determine if Rivals of Ixalan 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. Remember that the EV is a snapshot based on current prices and not a prediction of where prices will be in the future.
  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 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.

Rivals of Ixalan Notes

There are a few important things that make Rivals of Ixalan unique as far as prices are concerned. Most importantly, Rivals of Ixalan, like Ixalan itself, doesn't contain Masterpieces, which means that rares and mythics need to be more expensive to help make up for the value lost by not having the ultra-rares in the set. The upside of this from the perspective of people cracking boxes is that the value will be much more consistent. In Masterpiece sets, pretty much all that matters is whether or not you open a Masterpiece. If you do, you win; if you don't, you lose. In Rivals of Ixalan, things will be much less swingy. It will be impossible to open a $200 box, but it will also be much harder to open a $50 box—the range of outcomes when you open a box narrows significantly without Masterpieces in the set.

The second thing worth mentioning is that, because of the double-faced cards, the mythics from Rivals of Ixalan are slightly rarer than normal. In a typical set, you will open a specific mythic from 1 in 121 packs, while in Rivals of Ixalan, this number drops to 1 in 141 (basically, instead of opening a mythic from one in every eight packs like usual, it will be one in every nine packs in Rivals of Ixalan). While this isn't a huge difference, it does make it slightly harder to pull a chase mythic. All in all, this amounts to the total value that mythics add to a box of Rivals of Ixalan dropping by about 4%, which ends up being just about $1 in terms of the box's total expected value. 

Third, Rivals of Ixalan is a small set (the last small set, actually), which means we are dealing with slightly fewer cards, with only 13 mythics and 48 rares. This is why the multipliers throughout the article are higher than normal. In a large set, you'll open about 59% of the rares (assuming no duplicates) in a given box, but in Rivals of Ixalan, you'll open 69% of the rares in the set in a single box. Meanwhile, for mythics, the multiplier jumps from 0.255 in Ixalan to 0.31 for Rivals of Ixalan, which means it took about four boxes to open one of each mythic (again, discounting duplicates) in Ixalan, while three boxes will (almost) get the job done for Rivals of Ixalan.

Finally, thanks to the banned-and-restricted announcement that will come out tomorrow, we're dealing with more uncertainty than normal. In our current format, Rivals of Ixalan will have a hard time seeing significant play because Energy is so powerful and synergistic, which would keep the prices of Rivals of Ixalan cards in check. On the other hand, it's possible to imagine bannings that would greatly increase the demand for Rivals of Ixalan cards, and along with this demand would come higher prices. The future will be murky if just Attune with Aether is banned, but if Wizards goes all-out and bans multiple Energy cards, it's certainly not impossible that Merfolk, Pirates, Vampires, or Dinosaurs will emerge as a legitimate tier-one option in Standard, driving up the prices of cards from Rivals of Ixalan and along with them the expected value of a booster box.

Rivals of Ixalan: Mythics

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Rivals of Ixalan—Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Rekindling Phoenix $11.05 0.31 $3.43
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca $9.13 0.31 $2.83
Huatli, Radiant Champion $7.64 0.31 $2.37
The Immortal Sun $6.54 0.31 $2.29
Angrath, the Flame-Chained $5.98 0.31 $1.83
Twilight Prophet $5.93 0.31 $1.82
Azor's Gateway $5.82 0.31 $1.80
Zacama, Primal Calamity $5.19 0.31 $1.81
Azor, the Lawbringer $4.97 0.31 $1.61
Trapjaw Tyrant $4.65 0.31 $1.44
Timestream Navigator $3.74 0.31 $1.16
Elenda, the Dusk Rose $3.47 0.31 $1.07
Totals 74.09    
Average Mythic Value $5.70    
Total Value Added to Box $24.89    

Back when we were writing about the expected value of Ixalan, we discussed how the average value of an Ixalan mythic (at $5.62) was surprisingly slow, especially considering that the set didn't have any Masterpieces to eat up value. While Rivals of Ixalan managed to top Ixalan, it didn't beat Ixalan by much, with the average mythic value coming in at $5.70, which puts the set toward the low end of normal as far as mythic value is concerned. This is double concerning, since the set not only lacks Masterpieces but a rare land cycle to prop up the prices of the rare slot as well. All in all, the mythics of Rivals of Ixalan add just under $25 to the value of a booster box, and this number will put a lot of pressure on the rares and uncommons of Rivals of Ixalan to have an abnormally high value to keep the set from being low value in an absolute sense.

So, what's the problem with the Rivals of Ixalan mythics? The answer is pretty straightforward—the set doesn't have a chase mythic, with Rekindling Phoenix being the most expensive mythic in the set at just over $11. Looking back over the past year of sets, the average price of the most expensive mythic in a set on prerelease weekend has been about $18, which means Rivals of Ixalan is way below the norm with Rekindling Phoenix as its flagbearer.

However, there is some good news: the mythics of Rivals of Ixalan are incredibly consistent in value, with every single mythic in the set being worth the price of a pack, which means there isn't a single throwaway bulk mythic in the bunch. As far as I can remember, this is the first time a set hasn't had a least one (and sometimes a bunch) of bulk mythics that you really don't want to open. With Rivals of Ixalan, opening any mythic is a win from a value perspective, but no matter which mythic you open, you aren't going to win by much. This offers nice, consistent value for people opening boxes and means that—at least, as far as mythics are concerned—Rivals of Ixalan will be one of the lowest-variance boxes in recent years.

Rivals of Ixalan: Rares

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Rivals of Ixalan—Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Blood Sun $7.62 0.69 $5.26
Dire Fleet Daredevil $5.24 0.69 $3.61
Dire Fleet Poisoner $3.90 0.69 $2.69
Journey to Eternity $3.62 0.69 $2.50
Ghalta, Primal Hunger $3.57 0.69 $2.46
Jadelight Ranger $3.50 0.69 $2.40
Wayward Swordtooth $3.19 0.69 $2.20
Warkite Marauder $3.04 0.69 $2.10

Storm the Vault

$2.91 0.66 $2.00
Etali, Primal Storm $2.79 0.69 $1.93
Deeproot Elite $2.13 0.69 $1.47
Hadana's Climb $2.13 0.69 $1.47
Path of Mettle $1.60 0.69 $1.10
Tetzimoc, Primal Death $1.60 0.69 $1.10
Tendershoot Dryad $1.48 0.69 $1.02
Profane Procession $1.48 0.69 $1.02
Slaughter the Strong $1.48 0.69 $1.02
Mastermind's Acquisition $1.29 0.69 $0.89
Admiral's Order $1.20 0.69 $0.83
Zetalpa, Primal Dawn $1.20 0.69 $0.83
18 Bulk Rares $0.10 0.69*18 $1.24
10 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25 0.69*10 $1.73
Totals      
Average Rare Value $1.17    
Total Value Added 38.51    

One of the saving graces for Ixalan was that, even though the average mythic value of the set was low, the rare value was extremely high thanks to some of the flip cards. The bad news is that Rivals of Ixalan doesn't seem to get this same bump. While its average rare value of $1.17 is good and about 10% higher than most sets we've had over the past couple of years, it's also 18% lower than Ixalan itself, which means that the rares of Rivals of Ixalan add a total of $38.51 to the price of a box. Much like the mythics, the biggest problem with Rivals of Ixalan is that it doesn't have one truly chase rare. While Blood Sun comes out on top at $7.60, Ixalan had Growing Rites of Itlimoc at nearly $15 during prerelease weekend. 

Looking more deeply at the rares, 10 are currently worth the price of a pack (assuming you buy a box for about $100), while 28 fall into the bulk or semi-bulk categories. While the rate of "semi-chase" rares (ones worth more than a pack) is reasonable, the bulk-rare rate for Rivals of Ixalan is meaningfully higher than normal, with a full 58% of the rares in the set being considered some level of bulk.

Combining the value of the rares and mythics, Rivals of Ixalan is off to a rough start, with the two rarities combining to add only $63.40 to the value of a Rivals of Ixalan box. This means we're going to need the rest of the set to be way better than normal just to get to the point where we can expect to break even when opening a booster box.

Rivals of Ixalan—Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

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Rivals of Ixalan—C / U / B
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Merfolk Mistbinder UNC $1.12 1.8 $2.01
Legion Lieutenant UNC $0.68 1.8 $1.22
Silvergill Adept UNC $0.68 1.8 $1.22
Ravenous Chupacabra UNC $0.68 1.8 $1.22
Bulk C / U   $5 / Thousand   $2.60
Totals        
Total C / U / B Value Added $8.27      

Rivals of Ixalan basically has four uncommons of note in Merfolk Mistbinder, Legion Lieutenant, Ravenous Chupacabra, and Silvergill Adept, together adding just under $6 to the value of a booster box, mostly because you can expect to open nearly two copies of each uncommon in a box, since Rivals of Ixalan is a small set. Unfortunately, none of these cards are anywhere near Fatal Push in terms of value, but if the format changes and tribes like Merfolk and Vampires emerge as tier one decks, it's possible that the prices of these cards will shoot up. I'd plan on holding onto any copies I open because it's hard to imagine them dropping too much from where they are today, and they could end up being pretty expensive with a bit of luck.

Rivals of Ixalan—Foils

Rivals of Ixalan—Foils
Rarity Average # per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythics One every six boxes (0.17 per box) $24.32 $4.13
Rares One per box $6.22 $6.62
Uncommons Two per box $0.75 $1.50
Commons Three per box $0.10 $0.30
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $12.55    

The foil rares and mythics from Rivals of Ixalan are worth a bit more than usual, most likely because many of the mythics in the set are great for Commander, where foils have extra demand. Plus, it doesn't hurt that Blood Sun is a $50 foil at the moment based on potential for eternal play. The bad news is that the price of foils doesn't actually shift the expected value all that much, since opening a foil mythic is such a rarity. As such, even though the rares and mythics are strong, a weak set of foil uncommons means that the value the foil slot adds to a box of Rivals of Ixalan is only $0.20 higher than it was back in Ixalan.

Putting It All Together

Rivals of Ixalan—EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythic
$5.70
15 $24.89
Rare $1.17 53 $38.51
Commons / Uncommons / Bulk     $8.27
Foils   6 (per box) $12.55
TOTAL BOX EV $84.22    
PACK EV $2.34    

Let's start with the bad news: right now, the expected value of a Rivals of Ixalan booster box isn't great, coming in at $84.22, which means if you buy a box for $100, you're going to lose about $16. Even if you discount our 15% deduction for fees and shipping, the expected value is still only $95.85, which is almost but not quite to the break-even point. Especially considering that there aren't really any (non-foil) high-end chase cards in the set, it's going to be pretty difficult to open a booster box of Rivals of Ixalan that is worth more than you paid for it at current prices because you can't just get lucky and open a $100 Masterpiece or a $40 Liliana, the Last Hope and "win" because of one good open. 

On the other hand, there is some good news in regard to the expected value of Rivals of Ixalan. First, while $84 isn't great, it's far from the worst expected value we've seen. Second, and more importantly, it's very possible that Standard will undergo a shakeup tomorrow with the banned-and-restricted announcement, which could increase the demand for cards from Rivals of Ixalan.

The Future

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Since Rivals of Ixalan is a tribal set, if one of the tribes breaks out, it's likely that several cards from the set will increase in price. Take, for example, Merfolk. Let's say that Energy gets banned and Merfolk develop into a tier-one strategy in Standard. In a normal set, maybe one card would see a price increase, but if Merfolk succeed in Standard, a whole bunch of cards from Rivals of Ixalan will be in demand, including Merfolk Mistbinder, Silvergill Adept, Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, and perhaps something like Jadelight Ranger or Hadana's Climb as well. If Merfolk break out and all of these cards double in price, the expected value of a Rivals of Ixalan box may suddenly jump to near $100, which is pretty reasonable. The same is true of Pirates and Vampires as well. 

The point is, while normally I'd be pretty down about a set with an expected value of $84, because of how the set is constructed—with the tribal theme meaning big groups of cards either win or lose together—and because people seem to think an Energy banning is likely, it's very possible that the landscape will change quickly over the next couple of weeks, which could have a major impact on the expected value of the set. 

However, even if Energy does end up getting banned, we still have one big question: just how much of a potential Energy banning is already priced into the cards from Rivals of Ixalan? A lot of people I've talked to are running under the assumption that Energy will get banned, based mostly on the block monsters article Wizards published just over a week ago. Are vendors running on the assumption that Energy is going to be banned and pricing Rivals of Ixalan accordingly? Possibly—at least, to some extent. We've seen "bad" sets before, and their expected values were typically somewhere in the $70s, or in extreme cases, even in the high $60s, which means Rivals of Ixalan isn't being priced as if it's completely unplayable in Standard, meaning that vendors are likely including at least some consideration of what they think the format would look like with Energy being banned into the current prices.

However, the banning adds uncertainty, and there's no guarantee that the vendors are guessing correctly. Anything from no bans to four or more Energy cards being banned is a possible outcome tomorrow, so perhaps vendors are pricing Rivals of Ixalan in the middle, as if Energy will be targeted by a banning but not killed outright. This would mean that there would still be room for the set to increase in price, depending on the outcome of the banned-and-restricted announcement, but perhaps not as much as you think if you're running on the assumption that vendors are ignoring the possibility of a banning altogether, which seems unlikely.

While the banning possibility is an interesting topic for discussion, it's also worth pointing out that with the expected value of a Rivals of Ixalan box currently as $84, it would take a massive increase to get to the point where opening a box becomes profitable. Even if the set saw a price increase of 10% or 15% across the board, it would still just put the box near the break-even point, and expecting a 30% increase to get the expected value up near $110 is probably not reasonable, since the current prices don't look extremely far-fetched (like they did with Dragons of Tarkir, for example).

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All things considered, when I crack my boxes, I'll be looking to hold onto the tribal cards because the potential is there that at some point in the next year and a half of Standard, they will end up being major players and increasing significantly in price. In the worst case, if they never break out in Standard, cards like Merfolk Mistbinder and Legion Lieutenant will always have casual demand to support their price. So, rather than just cracking a box of Rivals of Ixalan and trading away everything as quickly as possible, it might be worthwhile to let some of the tribal cards marinate in your trade binder for a few months in the hopes that the format will shift and that they end up being part of the hot new tier deck in Standard. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Are you planning on cracking a box of Rivals of Ixalan? How much do you think an Energy banning would impact the price of the set? 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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