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The Expected Value of Shadows over Innistrad


A new set release means one important thing: it's time to figure out if it's worth cracking a box of the newest Magic set! Now, as Magic players, one of the first things we learn is to not crack sealed product outside of draft because it's a losing proposition. You are better off buying singles. Like all rules, there are exceptions. While "never open sealed product" is definitely a better motto than "always open sealed product," clinging to any rule of thumb is dangerous. Sometimes it is wise to crack sealed product, especially during release periods where supply is low.

Over the past few years there have been some sets where (assuming you opened them right after the set released) you could expect to open more value from the box than you paid for the box (e.g. Return to Ravnica, Battle for Zendikar, Khans of Tarkir). There have also been a few sets where you could expect to break even (e.g. Oath of the Gatewatch, Fate Reforged, Magic Origins). And there are a bunch of sets where cracking a box is almost guaranteed to lose you money (e.g. Dragon's Maze, Born of the Gods, Dragons of Tarkir). 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 whether buying a box is worthwhile in strictly economic terms.

There are two more things I need to clear up before delving into the methodology and EV. First off, thanks to some confusion in previous EV articles, I want to make sure it's abundantly clear that breaking down the expect value of a set is not a predictive exercise. It says nothing about what cards might spike over the coming months and what cards might crash. Likewise, the expected value of a set is not impacted by my opinion of a card. We are using cold, hard numbers, so even though I might think that Thing in the Ice is overpriced, this doesn't matter.

Second, there are many reasons why people buy a box. Some people, like me, 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, or they enjoy the lottery aspect of the potential to open a foil Arlinn Kord. These are all 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 calculations can't account for this non-monetary value. So don't let this EV calculation be the only factor in your decision of whether or not to buy a box.

What is Expected Value?

While many of you are 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 in a booster box. To calculate EV, we first determine the odds of opening a specific card in any given box (this is the "multiplier" you'll see throughout the article). 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, we 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 vendor prices like StarCityGames or ChannelFireball ask for a card. Unfortunately these numbers do not mean much 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. 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. New sets tend to decrease in value quickly. I use the higher of completed eBay listings minus 15% for fees and shipping. This qualification is why the prices listed in the charts in this article are lower than the MTGGoldfish price — I'm making deductions that takes into account the "hidden" costs of selling the cards.

When it comes to making a profit 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 overnight. Basically, by opening boxes on release day, 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 bulk, which I value at $5.00 per thousand. 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. Double-faced Rares and Mythics replace a Common, so in our expected value calculation, instead of being lumped in with the other Rares and Mythics, we will discuss them in their own section.
  4. In the past I didn't include foils in the EV for a couple reasons. First, they are fairly rare, so there is a ton of variance in what you open. On average, a booster box contains three foil Commons, two foil Uncommons, and one foil Rare. Second, foil Mythics are extremely Rare. The odds of opening a foil Olivia, Mobilized for War is so slim (one in every 3,240 packs) that it's barely worth considering when crunching the numbers. However, since Magic Origins, I include foils because getting a few bulk foil Commons/Uncommons does add guaranteed value to a box — just don't expect to open an foil Mythic.
  5. These prices won't be good for long. The idea is to determine if Shadows over Innistrad 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 the EV is a snapshot based on current prices, not a prediction of where prices will be in the future.
  6. Calculating EV is not a predictive exercise — it is a snapshot of value at a specific point in time. Sorin, Grim Nemesis could spike to $40 at the Pro Tour (or crash to $5), and it wouldn't make this EV calculation any more or less true because the one and only thing we are concerned with is the current value of the cards in the set.
  7. You don't actually make a profit until you sell the card. You need take the next step and actually trade away the cards, list them on Ebay/TCGPlayer or sell them to a buylist.
  8. Finally, be aware of variance. If you open enough packs these numbers will be accurate. But like most aspects of Magic, variance can have a huge impact in small samples. In theory (but not in practice, since boxes are only semi-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. 

Shadows over Innistrad: Mythics

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Shadows over Innistrad - Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Behold the Beyond $1.66 0.3 $0.50
Descend Upon the Sinful $2.13 0.3 $0.64
Geralf's Masterpiece $1.62 0.3 $0.48
Goldnight Castigator $3.32 0.3 $0.99
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets $16.15 0.3 $4.84
Mindwrack Demon $1.36 0.3 $0.41
Nahiri, the Harbinger $12.75 0.3 $3.83
Olivia, Mobilized for War $10.63 0.3 $3.19
Relentless Dead $12.75 0.3 $3.83
Seasons Past $2.13 0.3 $0.64
Sigarda, Heron's Grace $3.83 0.3 $1.15
Sorin, Grim Nemesis $13.60 0.3 $4.08
The Gitrog Monster $6.16 0.3 $1.85
Ulvenwald Hydra $2.55 0.3 $0.77
Wolf of Devil's Breach $1.11 0.3 $0.33
Totals      
Average Mythic Value $6.11    
Total Value Added to Box $27.51    

While Shadows over Innistrad has several chase Mythics, the overall numbers aren't all great. The average Mythic value places it near the bottom of recent sets, coming in nearly $3 less than Fate Reforged (which was on the high end), but about $1.50 more than Khans of Tarkir (which was on the low end). Probably the best comparison is Battle for Zendikar, which had a very similar Mythic value (being about $0.15 higher on average), which makes sense because both sets had value in odd places. For Battle for Zendikar it was the Zendikar Expedition, for Shadows over Innistrad the double-faced cards. 

The good news is that there are five Mythics worth more than $10. The odds are in favor of you opening at least one of these Mythics in a typical box, which makes opening Shadows over Innistrad less risky that some other sets (for example Dragon's Maze, where nearly all the Mythic value was concentrated in one card). 

Shadows over Innistrad: Rares

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Shadows over Innistrad - Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Sin Prodder $5.95 0.59 $3.51
Anguished Unmaking $4.25 0.59 $2.51
Rare Lands (x5) $3.83 (average) 0.59

$11.28 (total)

Cryptolith Rite $3.32 0.59 $1.96
Diregraf Colossus $2.55 0.59 $1.50
Asylum Visitor $2.47 0.59 $1.45
Falkenrath Gorger $2.34 0.59 $1.38
Traverse the Ulvenwald $2.13 0.59 $1.25
Prized Amalgum $2.34 0.59 $1.38
Avacyn's Judgment $1.53 0.59 $0.90
Forgotten Creation $1.68 0.59 $0.99
Declaration in Stone $1.70 0.59 $1.00
To the Slaughter $1.92 0.59 $1.13
Epiphany at the Drownyard $1.70 0.59 $1.00
Silverfur Paladin $1.28 0.59 $0.75
Fevered Visions $0.85 0.59 $0.50
Thalia's Lieutenant $1.49 0.59 $0.88
Tireless Tracker $1.06 0.59 $0.63
Invocation of Saint Traft $1.70 0.59 $1.00
Inexprable Blob $0.64 0.59 $0.38
Drownyard Temple $1.01 0.59 $0.60
Scourge Wolf $1.01 0.59 $0.60
From Under the Floorboards $0.94 0.59 $0.55
Eerie Interlude $0.81 0.59 $0.48
Deathcap Cultivator $0.81 0.59 $0.48
11 Bulk Rares $0.10 0.59*11 $0.65
13 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25 0.59*13 $1.91
Totals      
Average Rare Value $1.27    
Total Value Added $40.14    

The Rare slot in Shadows over Innistrad is interesting. While the overall value, much like the Mythic slot, is average (almost exactly the same as Battle for Zendikar), there are a ton of cards in the middle of the value range. While topping out at only $6 for Sin Plodder is disappointing, it takes quite a while for the Rares to fall off to bulk. About 13% of the time you'll open a Rare worth just about the price of the pack (or a little bit more), 25% of the time you'll open a Rare worth at least $2, and 43% of the time you'll open a Rare that will sell for at least $1. While these numbers might not sound like much, it speaks to the depth of the set, and to the fact that people haven't quite figured out what to do with these cards yet. It's likely several of the $1-$2 cards will spike into the $5 range during Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, while the others will fall to bulk.

Remember, our calculations have been complicated by the fact that double-faced cards don't count towards the Mythic or Rare slots in their packs, instead they replace Commons and are essentially free value. Making this situation especially strange is the fact that the two most expensive Mythics and the single most expensive Rare don't count towards the Rare/Mythic parts of our expected value calculation. Enough suspense, let's talk about one of the things that makes Innistrad so unique — double-faced cards!

Shadows over Innistrad: Double-Faced Cards

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Shadows over Innistrad - Double-Faced Cards
Card Value Multiplier Value Added
Arlinn Kord $22.31 0.3 $6.69
Archangel Avacyn $15.30 0.3 $4.59
Startled Awake $1.87 0.3 $0.56
Thing in the Ice $10.20 0.6 $6.12
Westvale Abby $2.98 0.6 $1.77
Geier Reach Bandit $1.28 0.6 $0.77
Hanweir Militia Captain $0.85 0.6 $0.51
Sage of Ancient Lore $0.10 0.6 $0.06
Elusive Tormenter $0.10 0.6 $0.06
Total Value Added $21.13    

 

The double-faced cards are the most interesting aspect of Shadows over Innistrad, and also the most challenging part of figuring out the expected value. We know three things about the distribution of double-faced cards: first, there will be a double-faced Common or Uncommon in every pack . Second, double-faced Rares or Mythics will replace a Common rather than a card of their own rarity, so they are essentially free value (strengthening the comparison to Expeditions). Third, there are an average of 1.125 double-faced cards per pack. The downside is that we don't know exactly how the double-faced Rares and Mythics are distributed (other than that one will show up every eight packs, based on the 1.125 average). For now, I assume they will be distributed in a manner similar to "normal" Rares and Mythics (one double-faced Mythic every 40 packs, and one of each every 120 packs, which is exactly the same as regular Mythics, where you'll open a complete set of 15 Mythics every 120 packs with the rest of the slots being filled by Rares). 

Remember how hyped up people got about Zendikar Expeditions? Well, the most interesting aspect of the double-faced cards is just how much value they add to the box. In Oath of the Gatewatch, the possibility of opening one of the ultra-Rare Expeditions added $22.95 to the expected value of a booster box. In Battle of Zendikar it added $22.88. Both of these numbers came with an asterisk because there was so much variance involved in opening an Expedition (most boxes did not contain an expedition). 

All things told, the double-faced cards add $21.13 to the expected value of a Shadows over Innistrad box, almost as much as the Expeditions added to Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch. In many ways, the double-faced cards add more value for the average player because you'll open an average of 4.5 double-faced Rares and/or Mythics each box. With Epeditions you were while you are unlikely to open one in any given box of Battle for Zendikar or Oath of the Gatewatch. With the double-faced cards you'll open an Archangel Avacyn, Arlinn Kord, 1.5 copies of Thing in the Ice, and a bunch of less-valuable cards in the same amount of boxes it would take to open a single Expedition. Instead of one $50 bill, you open a bunch of $5 bills, and a couple $20's. All said, while double-faced cards aren't as flashy as Expeditions, from the perspective of a player opening a booster box, they are even more valuable. 

Shadows over Innistrad - Uncommons/Commons/Bulk

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Shadows over Innistrad - Common/Uncomon/Bulk
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Open the Armory UNC $0.85 1.08 $0.92
Skin Invasion UNC $0.85 1.08 $0.92
Howlpack Resurgence UNC $0.60 1.08 $0.64
Haunted Cloak UNC $0.22 1.08 $0.23
Invasive Surgery UNC $0.22 1.08 $0.23
Indulgent Aristocrat UNC $0.22 1.08 $0.23
Open the Armory UNC $0.22 1.08 $0.23
BULK   $5/Thousand   $2.40
Totals        
Total C/U/B Value Added $5.80      

 

The pricing on Shadows over Innistrad Uncommons is really scattered at the moment. Take for example Skin Invasion. There aren't really enough completed listings on eBay to get a good idea of its true value, so I started looking on vendor websites. The problem is, some big name vendors are selling copies for $0.99, while other big name vendors are selling copies for $0.25. The good news is that the total value added to a Shadows over Innistrad booster box ($5.80) is in line with previous sets, so I expect that the numbers are pretty close to being right.

Foils

Shadows over Innistrad - Foils
Rarity Average # Per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythic One every six boxes (0.17 per box)

$19.55

$3.32
Rare One per box $5.06 5.06
Uncommons Two per box $0.20 $0.40
Commons Three per box $0.10 $0.30
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $9.08    

As I mentioned in the methodology, I don't really like to count foil Mythics as part of the EV just because your odds of opening one is quite slim (about one per case). This said, the possibility of opening one does exist, and since including foil Mythics doesn't actually impact the box EV in a significant way, I figured I might as well throw them in. 

More importantly, lower-rarity foils are, more or less, guaranteed value. You are very likely to open at least one foil Rare and about five foil Commons and Uncommons from any given box. I calculated the average value of a foil Rare and Mythic by using SCG retail prices and deducting a 30% spread. For Uncommons and Commons I just used a basic bulk Rare of $0.10 each, and then doubled the value of the Uncommons since it is possible you get one that is worth a bit more. 

Anyway, all together the foil slot adds another $9.08 to the value of the box, mostly thanks to the Mythics which have a ton of value thanks to the four planeswalkers. Meanwhile, there are a lot of foil Rares in the $10-$12 range, which make for some nice pulls in and of themselves. 

Putting it All Together

Shadows over Innistrad - EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythic $6.11 15 $27.51
Rare $1.27 55 $40.14
Double-Faced Rares/Mythics n/a 3 (Mythic) 6 (Rare) $21.13
Non-Bulk Uncommons $0.49 7 $3.40
Bulk $5/Thousand 480 $2.40
Foils   6 (per box) $9.08
TOTAL BOX EV $103.66    
PACK EV $2.88    
Fat Pack EV (Cards Only,  not valuing spindown, landpack or box) $25.92    

So, there you have it. If you buy a booster box of Shadows over Innistrad you can expect to open just about $104 in value. If your goal is to open boxes for a profit, you either need a way to get boxes for wholesale prices (somewhere between $70 and $80 per box) or need a better way of selling the cards you open than eBay. If you can do either of these (or both) you should make at least $25 per box or $150 per case. On the other hand, if you are just a regular Magic player who likes cracking boxes, you should expect to break even. The good news is that Shadows over Innistrad has much less variance than some other sets. The value is evenly and consistently distributed, so you should not worry too much about taking a big loss if you run bad. Prerelease and drafting should be a good value for the next couple weeks. If you play enough, you should break even just from the cards you open, and then any prize packs you win are just free value!

Conclusion

For me, breaking even is more than enough to feel comfortable opening boxes. I expect I'll do a couple box opening videos, and maybe even open a couple of boxes just for fun. While making money opening boxes of Magic cards are nice, I'm more than okay with breaking even, because I really enjoy cracking packs. Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments. You can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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