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The Expected Value of War of the Spark


Normally, we have our traditional expected-value article on prerelease weekend, but thanks to the Magic gods scheduling a Mythic Championship on the same weekend as the prerelease for War of the Spark, we're a week late this set. In some ways, this is good news: an extra week means that War of the Spark prices have had more time to adjust, making the EV likely to be accurate for a somewhat longer period of time. On the other hand, being a week late means that we can't really compare War of the Spark to past sets too effectively since we won't really have an apples-to-apples comparison. These differences aside, our plan for today is simple: we're going to break down the numbers on War of the Spark and see just how much value you should expect to open from your box. How does stuffing 36 planeswalkers into a set impact the value of a box? Let's find out!

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, 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 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 Standard 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, 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 purposes of calculating EV since they cannot be reliably sold as singles or traded away for any meaningful amount of value. However, War of the Spark itself has a higher-than-usual number of valuable uncommons thanks to the uncommon planeswalkers, so this section should be longer than usual this time around.
  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 Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God 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.
  4. These prices won't be good for long. Remember: the idea is to determine if War of the Spark 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 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 on Friday. 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.

War of the Spark Notes

The main quirk of War of the Spark is that is has a planeswalker in every pack. Apparently, the rates of rare and mythic planeswalkers are basically the same as for normal rares and mythic rares, but the uncommon planeswalkers might actually be slightly more common than the average uncommon. This being said, for the purposes of our expected-value breakdown, we're going to consider all uncommons the same rarity. If anything, this might slightly undervalue the uncommon planeswalkers, but the difference should be small enough that it won't make a meaningful difference in our total expected-value calculation.

War of the Spark: Mythics

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War of the Spark—Mythics
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God $19.96 0.3 $5.99
Liliana, Dreadhorde General $18.25 0.3 $5.47
Gideon Blackblade $14.36 0.3 $4.31
God-Eternal Kefnet $12.09 0.3 $3.61
Ilharg, the Raze-Boar $7.85 0.3 $2.39
Finale of Devastation $7.20 0.3 $2.16
God-Eternal Oketra $5.94 0.3 $1.78
Finale of Promise $5.48 0.3 $1.65
God-Eternal Rhonas $4.55 0.3 $1.34
God-Eternal Bontu $3.80 0.3 $1.14
Roalesk, Apex Hybrid $2.54 0.3 $0.76
Finale of Glory $2.41 0.3 $0.72
Finale of Eternity $2.21 0.3 $0.56
Niv-Mizzet Reborn $1.59 0.3 $0.48
Finale of Revelation $0.84 0.3 $0.25
Totals      
Average Mythic Value $7.27 109.07  
Total Value Added to Box $32.71    

The mythics of War of the Spark are solid, if unspectacular, from a value perspective. While there are some solid high-end mythics in Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God and Liliana, Dreadhorde General, the bad news is that a full third of the mythics from War of the Spark are worth less than $2.55, so there are plenty of bad mythic opens to go along with the high-end planeswalkers. Regardless of the specifics, the average mythic value of $7.27 is fine. A great mythic set generally hits around $10 on average, while a poor set can be as low as $5. This puts War of the Spark solidly in the middle, which is especially impressive considering the (presumably) higher-than-normal value at the lower rarities thanks to the planeswalkers.

War of the Spark: Rares

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War of the Spark—Rares
Card Value Multiplier EV Added
Teferi, Time Raveler $8.07 0.6 $4.84
Karn, the Great Creator $6.10 0.6 $3.66
Ugin, the Ineffable $5.47 0.6 $3.28
Blast Zone $5.05 0.6 $3.03
Ral, Storm Conduit $3.48 0.6 $2.09
Feather, the Redeemed $3.36 0.6 $2.01
Karn's Bastion $3.32 0.6 $1.99
Dreadhorde Arcanist $2.92 0.6 $1.76
Bolas's Citadel $2.92 0.6 $1.76
Dreadhorde Invasion $2.92 0.6 $1.76
Nissa, Who Shakes the World $2.92 0.6 $1.76
The Elderspell $2.37 0.6 $1.42

Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord

$2.37 0.6 $1.42
Vivien's Arkbow $2.27 0.6 $1.36
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries $2.27 0.6 $1.36
Spark Double $2.11 0.6 $1.26
Vivien, Champion of the Wilds $1.97 0.6 $1.18
Tamiyo, Collector of Tales $1.79 0.6 $1.07
Chandra, Fire Artisan $1.66 0.6 $0.99
Narset's Reversal $1.52 0.06 $0.91
Dreadhorde Butcher $1.52 0.6 $0.91
Enter the God-Eternals $1.52 0.6 $0.91
Domri, Anarch of Bolas $1.23 0.6 $0.74
Sarkhan the Masterless $1.23 0.6 $0.74
Ajani, the Greathearted $1.11 0.6 $0.66
19 Bulk Rares $0.10 0.6 * 19 $1.14
9 Semi-Bulk Rares $0.25 0.6 * 9 $1.35
Totals      
Average Rare Value $1.44    
Total Value Added

$45.36

   

While not quite as high as Ravnica Allegiance or Guilds of Ravnica thanks to the lack of a rare dual-land cycle, the rare spot in War of the Spark adds surprisingly solid value, with an average rare value of $1.44, despite the fact that more than half of the rares in the set fall into the bulk or semi-bulk categories. While lacking a top-end rare in the style of Assassin's Trophy, there are four rares worth over $5, led by Teferi, Time Raveler at over $8, followed by a ton of rares in the $3 range. It seems that having planeswalkers in the rare slot, while not doing much to raise the ceiling of the rare slot, is helpful in raising the floor.

While the average rare value of $1.44 might not sound exciting, when you consider that a lot of sets with dual lands have an average value of around $1.00 or $1.10, War of the Spark is significantly above expectations, considering the lack of shock lands or another similar land cycle to increase the value. The biggest downside here is that there are a lot of bulk rares, although this might partly be a result of calculating the expected value a week later than normal, giving the less exciting cards form the set more time to decrease in price toward the end of presales. 

Most importantly, the combination of a solid but unspectacular mythic slot and a solid but unspectacular rare slot adds up to a fine start to our expected-value breakdown, with just the rares and mythics form the set adding $78.07 to the value of a War of the Spark booster box. Assuming the uncommon planeswalkers pull their weight, we might well be on our way to a box with a positive expected value.

War of the Spark—Uncommons / Commons / Bulk

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War of the Spark—U / C / Bulk
Card Rarity Value Multiplier EV Added
Ashiok, Dream Render UNC $1.62 1.35

$2.18

Saheeli, Sublime Artificer UNC $1.19 1.35 $1.60
Dovin's Veto UNC $0.69 1.35 $0.93
Liliana's Triumph UNC $0.69 1.35 $0.93
Evolution Sage UNC $0.68 1.35 $0.92
Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner UNC $0.68 1.35 $0.92
Angrath's Rampage UNC $0.55 1.35 $0.76
Narset, Parter of Veils UNC $0.55 1.35 $0.76
Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage UNC $0.43 1.35 $0.57
Dovin, Hand of Control UNC $0.43 1.35 $0.57
         
Bulk C / U   $5 / thousand   $2.40
Totals        
Total C / U / Bulk Value Added $12.54      

The uncommons from War of the Spark are, as predicted, better than normal thanks to the uncommon planeswalkers greatly increasing the number of uncommons that have some amount of value. In fact, the uncommon slot of War of the Spark represents a nearly 35% increase from Ravnica Allegiance. On the other hand, the value of the uncommon slot is low enough that even a huge value increase doesn't do that much to shift the total expected value of a box. In fact, a 35% increase represents about four extra dollars of value per box. While this certainly helps, by itself, it's unlikely that the value of the uncommon planeswalkers will be the difference between whether you should or shouldn't purchase a box. That said, the uncommon planeswalkers do make opening boxes much more fun, since you're guaranteed a cool character each pack, even if you happen to miss on a good rare or mythic. All in all, this leaves us with a lower-rarity slot that adds $12.54 to the value of a booster box.

War of the Spark—Foils

War of the Spark—Foils
Rarity Average # per Box Average Value EV Added
Mythics One every six boxes (0.17 per box) $22.15 $3.77
Rares One per box $6.38 $6.38
Uncommons Two per box $1.86 $3.46
Commons Three per box $0.10 $0.30
Totals      
Foil Value Added to Box $13.91    

The story of the foils of War of the Spark is similar to that of the rest of the set: the uncommon planeswalkers help boost the value, although since uncommon foils are normally low value and fairly rare, this increase doesn't really change the total expected value in a huge way. All in all, the foil slot in a War of the Spark box is worth just under $14, which is a couple of dollars more than normal, mostly because of the uncommon planeswalkers.

Putting It All Together

War of the Spark—EV Summary
Rarity Average Price Number Value Added
Mythics
$5.44
15 $32.71
Rares $1.73 53 $45.36
Commons / Uncommons / Bulk     $12.54
Foils   6 (per box) $13.91
TOTAL BOX EV $104.52    
PACK EV $2.90    

All in all, the expected value of War of the Spark is solid, with a box giving back an average of $104. This is especially impressive considering we're doing our expected-value calculation a week later than normal and prices have dropped over the past seven days. It's likely the EV would have been a bit higher last weekend. While $104 probably isn't enough value to actually make a profit off cracking boxes (especially if you are buying them for around $100), it is high enough that opening boxes is basically a free-roll. In general, you should get back the money you put into the box and get to have some fun cracking packs as a bonus. That said, there is one situation where cracking a box is very profitable:

Right now, the Buy-a-Box promo from War of the SparkTezzeret, Master of the Bridge—is selling for around $25. If you pick up a box soon from your local game store, you can snag one for free, and if you toss in an extra $25 of value, this means the expected value of your box will jump to around $130. This is enough that even at $100 a box, you should get more money in cards than you put into buying the box. In the worst case, getting the Buy-a-Box promo helps even out the variance—you're technically guaranteed not just a mythic but the most valuable mythic in the set. This means even if you run poorly while opening your box, if you start off with $25 in value from Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge, it should be difficult to open a box that is so bad you lose money. As such, if you are thinking about getting a box, it's more than worth it to take advantage of the Buy-a-Box program from your local game store. Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge is the most playable Buy-a-Box card since Nexus of Fate, and it's entirely possible (although probably not likely) that someone will figure out a Standard or even Modern deck to take advantage of the planeswalker, which could drive prices up even more.

Moving forward, expect the prices of most War of the Spark cards to drop. A $100+ expected value isn't sustainable while the set is being opened, and with the hype for War of the Spark, it seems likely that it will be the new most-opened set of all time. On the other hand, since we're calculating the expected value a week later than normal, prices will probably drop a bit less than normal because a week's worth of price decreases are already baked into our calculations. 

A Word on Japanese Boxes

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While not exactly relevant to our expected-value discussion, it's worth taking a quick minute to talk about Japanese boxes and the alt-art Japanese planeswalkers. Since the announcement of the alt-art planeswalkers, Japanese boxes have spiked in price to around $200 from most sources—roughly double that of an English box. The upside of paying twice as much is that about half of the planeswalkers in your box will be the alt-art anime-style planeswalkers. While pricing information on the alt-art planeswalkers is somewhat scarce, Hareruya is selling the less playable planeswalkers for roughly twice the price of their normal art English counterparts, while some of the most playable of the bunch are going for around three times the price of an English copy. Is getting roughly 2.5x the value on half of your planeswalkers worth paying double for your box (assuming you can find a Japanese box for a reasonable price)? The answer here is complicated. 

Let's consider what you're likely to get from a Japanese War of the Spark box. There are three mythic planeswalker in the set, which means the average box will contain about 0.9 mythic planeswalkers, then since only half of the planeswalkers in the box are alt-art Japanese versions the odds of getting a alt-art mythic walker drop to about 0.45% per box. Meanwhile, there are 13 rare planeswalker out of the 53 rares in the set, which means roughly one in four rares will be a planeswalker. With 31.5 rare in a box (with the other 4.5 rare slots going to mythics) you should open roughly eight rare planeswalkers per box, with four being the alt-art versions. Uncommons are a bit more complicated since the planeswalkers might have slightly different rarity, but 20 of the 80 uncommons are planeswalkers. Considering you'll open 108 uncommons in a box you should open about 1.35 copies of every uncommon each box (on average). With half of the planeswalkers being alt-art this means roughly 13.5 Japanese alt-art uncommon planeswalkers per box. So basically, the upside of buying a Japanese box is that you'll likely get about four rare alt-art planeswalkers, 13 uncommons and probably not a mythic alt-art planeswalker (unless you get lucky).

From a financial perspective, especially when you consider that it will be harder to sell or trade the planeswalkers you open, my guess is that paying double for a box isn't worth it for most players. You're essentially getting a lottery ticket in hopes of opening one of the extremely expensive mythics (Liliana, Dreadhorde General is over $100 currently, and if you happen to get a foil you should be able to move it for several hundred dollars).  

If scratching a lotto ticket sounds fun picking up a Japanese box is a fine plan, but if you're the average player, you're probably better off just picking up whatever sweet Japanese planeswalkers you need in a few months, after the promo packs come out for Core Set 2020. This will increase supply a bit, especially here in North America, and potentially give players the chance to pick up these planeswalkers at a more reasonable price. Unless you want to play your local FNM with a half-English / half-Japanese Standard deck, non-English cards are just too much of a hassle for the average player to sell to make buying a Japanese box worth it when you consider you won't really open that many alt-art planeswalker in your box and there's a very real chance you miss on the best of the bunch, especially for double the English price.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. All in all, the expected value of War of the Spark is solid in general and great if you can snag a Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge with your box. While not massively positive in terms of expected value, it's good enough that you can essentially crack boxes for free at current prices, and with a bit of luck, you might even come out ahead.

Are you going to crack a box (or more) of War of the Spark? 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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