Insider: Buying Into a New Set

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Today's article was inspired by a forum post by QS's own Wes. He wanted to know if it was worth it to buy a box (or boxes) for trading purposes. A special thanks goes out to QS's WeQu for continually calculating and updating the Theros EV (estimated value) (his data is shown in italics). I will be using a lot of his data for this article. It's also important to note that for these calculations the value of commons was ignored, simply because it's hard to get value on most commons you'll pull from packs.

Let's start with a baseline (it's important to take notice of the date stamp for this information).

Sept 17, 2013

THS >>> 3.94 <<< THS
BOOSTER ( 1/8*AVG[10.59;12.69] + 7/8*AVG[2.07;2.65] + 3*0.14 ) = 3.94
BOX ( 36*[3.94] )= 145.44
Set Total = L=286.11;M=364.21;H=564.41
Mythics (15x)
TOT : L=158.87;M=190.36;H=279.30
AVG : L=10.59;M=12.69;H=18.62
Rares (53x)
TOT : L=109.61;M=140.47;H=205.25
AVG : L=2.07;M=2.65;H=3.87
Uncommons (60x)
TOT : L=8.56;M=16.76;H=34.25
AVG : L=0.14;M=0.28;H=0.57
Commons (101x)
TOT : L=9.07;M=16.62;H=45.61
AVG : L=0.09;M=0.16;H=0.45

This is basically the preorder average price. Theros's official release date was September 27th and the prerelease was September 20.

Sept 21, 2013

THS >>> 3.91 <<< THS
BOOSTER ( 1/8*AVG[11.58;13.74] + 7/8*AVG[2.06;2.70] + 3*0.08 ) = 3.91
BOX ( 36*[3.91] )= 142.92
Set Total = L=292.68;M=379.39;H=573.39
Mythics (15x)
TOT : L=173.76;M=206.15;H=274.73
AVG : L=11.58;M=13.74;H=18.32
Rares (53x)
TOT : L=109.22;M=143.14;H=211.76
AVG : L=2.06;M=2.70;H=4.00
Uncommons (60x)
TOT : L=4.63;M=16.71;H=36.92
AVG : L=0.08;M=0.28;H=0.62
Commons (101x)
TOT : L=5.07;M=13.39;H=49.98
AVG : L=0.05;M=0.13;H=0.49

This is the next important date we have. Here we see a very slight drop in overall EV, but 3 cents could easily be distributed to minor price drops for some of the lower end stuff. Not a lot to concern ourselves with.

Sept 30, 2013

THS >>> 3.59 <<< THS
BOOSTER ( 1/8*AVG[10.42;14.04] + 7/8*AVG[1.60;2.63] + 3*0.07 ) = 3.59
BOX ( 36*[3.59] )= 131.04
Set Total = L=249.13;M=383.38;H=799.85
Mythics (15x)
TOT : L=156.30;M=210.59;H=373.34
AVG : L=10.42;M=14.04;H=24.89
Rares (53x)
TOT : L=84.62;M=139.19;H=286.01
AVG : L=1.60;M=2.63;H=5.40
Uncommons (60x)
TOT : L=4.24;M=17.65;H=62.09
AVG : L=0.07;M=0.29;H=1.03
Commons (101x)
TOT : L=3.97;M=15.95;H=78.41
AVG : L=0.04;M=0.16;H=0.78

By now Theros has been officially released (for a couple days) and we start to see the expected price dropping. The overall EV dropped about 9% (which isn't that bad).

Oct 4, 2013

THS >>> 3.42 <<< THS
BOOSTER ( 1/8*AVG[9.99;13.33] + 7/8*AVG[1.52;2.49] + 3*0.07 ) = 3.42
BOX ( 36*[3.42] )= 124.92
Set Total = L=238.84;M=364.4;H=747.6
Mythics (15x)
TOT : L=149.78;M=199.97;H=311.70
AVG : L=9.99;M=13.33;H=20.78
Rares (53x)
TOT : L=80.60;M=131.98;H=282.11
AVG : L=1.52;M=2.49;H=5.32
Uncommons (60x)
TOT : L=4.39;M=16.94;H=76.64
AVG : L=0.07;M=0.28;H=1.28
Commons (101x)
TOT : L=4.07;M=15.51;H=77.15
AVG : L=0.04;M=0.15;H=0.76

This is well into October and the EV has dropped a bit more, about a 13% drop since release day. Still not that bad.

Analyzing the Data

Now that we have some solid data, we can get into the analysis.


  1. You couldn't get the boxes at dealer cost ($77 - 80 here in the US) so you paid $95 for your pre-order.
  2. You're only planning to buy one box, not enough to pre-sell cards (you'd have to buy a lot of boxes for the odds to be good enough).

Investment: -$95

EV @ Release Date: $3.59 per pack

Difference = (EV * # of Packs) - Investment = (3.59 * 36) - 95 = $34.24

The good news is if you were able to unload all your rares, mythics and uncommons at cost you'd have made $34.24, but that's rather unrealistic.

The important thing to keep in mind with EV is that it's the average value of all the cards divided out. This means that the more packs you open the closer to the EV you'll get, but with only one box it's unlikely that you'll actually get anywhere near the EV (either higher or lower depending on luck). Thus the original EV calculation of $129.24 per box is misleading because the basis of the EV calculation was on a large sample size.

There are 15 mythics in Theros, nine of which lie below the average mythic price (13.33), which means that 9/15 or 60% of your mythics will cause the EV (per pack) of your box to be lower. With an average of four mythics per box, this means that you're likely to get two mythics below 13.33, one above, and one that's either above or below. This implies that with a small sample size, the average mythic price you pull would be considerably lower than 13.33 (which is buoying the total EV). So let's weigh our Mythic EV and multiply it by 60% (to make it more realistic of a small sample size).

Average Mythic EV of 1 box = $8

Secondly, it is unlikely that you'll be able to trade or sell many of the rares you pull. For every Fleecemane Lion or Thoughtseize there are usually five to six Hundred-Handed Ones. In other words the average rare value is also often buoyed by a small percent of the total rares, of which you'll often only get a few per box. There are 53 rares in Theros, 32 of which are below the average price, again about 60%. So we'll recalculate our average rare value as well.

Average Rare EV of 1 box = $1.50

We'll use the same calculation as before with weighted numbers (we don't have a low to average with the high, like WeQu did, but we'll be okay since they are already weighted downward):

Booster Pack EV from 1 Box (1/8 * 8 + 7/8 * 1.5 + 3 * 0.07) = $2.52

Now let's recalculate your booster box value with the weighted pack EV.

($2.52 * 36) - 95 = $-4.28

Thus, we prove that it is not worthwhile to purchase a box of Theros for the sole purpose of trading. To make matters worse the set is still new and a lot of the cards will continue to drop in value as more packs get opened. We can look at sets that have been out a while to see where our expected EV (large population) will likely end up.

  • RTR Booster: (1/8 * AVG[4.38;6.06] + 7/8 * AVG[1.68;2.45] + 3 * 0.07) = 2.67
  • GTC Booster: (1/8 * AVG[3.50;4.84] + 7/8 * AVG[1.40;2.05] + 3 * 0.09) = 2.30
  • DGM Booster: (1/8 * AVG[6.36;8.42] + 7/8 * AVG[0.37;0.80] + 3 * 0.06) = 1.62 + 0.41 (for the land slot) = 2.03
  • M14 Booster: (1/8 * AVG[6.74;8.96] + 7/8 * AVG[1.06;1.82] + 3 * 0.08) = 2.48

I actually like Theros as a set and feel it's more likely to mimic RTR than any of the others, as what it lacks in Eternal-playables (no Deathrite Shamans or Abrupt Decays) it makes up for in casual staples (gods, god weapons and Prophet of Kruphix). Thus, we can expect about a 30% drop in EV from release date for the long term.

I also want to remind you that this analysis is from a purely profit standpoint. I enjoy opening packs of the new set, having the cards so I can trade what I want, and having a play set of commons and uncommons (which typically takes two boxes worth of product).

I personally purchased two boxes of Theros (1x Korean and 1x Japanese) because the cost addition per box (21% and 10.5% respectively) is less than the typical "multiplier" you can get for the higher end cards (Korean 1.75 - 2x, Japanese 1.5x) and foil versions are often 4 - 8x (depending heavily on demand).

Looking over the analysis it seems if you really enjoy trading, you're stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Preordering is typically considered a bad investment as there are usually only one or two "break-out" cards in a set compared to a vast majority that go down from their original pre-order price. This is why many more stores and people are jumping on the "preorder" band wagon. You get to sell all the bad cards at considerably higher prices than they'll be worth shortly after release and you only "lose" money on the few breakout cards that you sold below market price.

However, it's important to keep in mind that the one final aspect to consider is that when demand is incredibly high (i.e. right after release when people are trying to build decks) you can trade the new cards into better speculation targets that people are often less willing to trade.

Case in point, I traded three Soldier of the Pantheons and a couple Precinct Captains for a Snapcaster Mage this past Friday because the guy needed them for his FNM deck. Even thought he would have preferred not to trade his Snapcaster, he did anyway.

So in the end it's still on you (the speculator slash trader) to determine how much risk you want to take on this endeavor. The math shows that for the most part you're likely to lose out, but if you feel that cracking packs is worth the slight loss (it's not terrible and all it takes is a slightly above average box to make it profitable) you're welcome to go for it.

9 thoughts on “Insider: Buying Into a New Set

  1. I love this kind of analysis when a new set comes out. Really nice breakdown and well thought out explanations for the numbers- and math-focused among us. Thanks again to WeQu and Dave!

    1. Glad you liked it. I prefer to do analytical articles because that’s how I think and it provides a nice logic path for people to follow and use as a baseline for their own decisions.

  2. I only do it for fun, to get some cards I need for EDH and to get some trade. Not for profit.

    I try to use profits to finance this sinful joy.

    1. Ya…I’m kind of in the same boat…I don’t really use the money I make selling spec targets to do anything but buy more spec targets…and the occasional legacy staple I want for my collection.

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