Hello everyone, and welcome back to Insider Trading! I hope you had a happy holiday season and a great New Year; I spent mine with family in Roanoke, and I’ve begun teaching one of my brothers-in-law to play Magic. So far, I’ve hooked him up with some 10th Edition Theme Decks (for the basics of the game) and a Jace/Chandra duel Deck (for a more comprehensive deck), plus we’ve fooled around with some of the 1999 and 2000 World Championship decks. In time, I’ll likely be getting him into Magic Online (so we can play remotely – he lives four hours away from me), but I’ll have to explain one thing to him:
“Don’t Just Crack That Pack!”
An unopened Booster Pack is a mystery. Let’s take Shards of Alara, for instance. There are sixteen cards in the pack – a basic land, a token or tip card, a Rare or Mythic Rare, three Uncommons, and ten commons. Before we even get into the variables for which exact cards might be in the pack, how about we look at the variables for what generally might be in the pack, to begin with?
1) There might be ten non-foil commons, or nine non-foil commons and a foil card
2) The Uncommons are constant; there will always be three non-foil Uncommons in a booster pack of Shards of Alara (misprinted/mispackaged packs do not count).
3) Will you end up with a token card, or a tip/trick card?
4) Will you end up with a rare, or a Mythic rare?
5) Will you have a foil common, uncommon, or rare in the pack?
On the most basic level, let’s say you get a pack that has a token card, a basic land, ten commons, and three uncommons (with no foil cards). The big variable in that case is whether you hit the 1-in-8 chance of getting a Mythic Rare versus a regular rare. I discussed the expected value of that pack of Shards in the forums of a previous article; for those who missed it, the math is this:
In a perfect world, you would have to open 121 packs to get a full set of Mythics and 2x Sets of Rares (there are 121 cards on the Rare print sheet, leaving you with 15 Mythics, and 2 copies of each of 53 rares). This would give you 363 Uncommons (121 *3), or the approximate 6 of each Uncommon you quoted. So far, so good.
Total Value of the 15 Mythics: $136
Total Value of the Rares worth > $2 (cutting out the bulk rares): $59.00
Total Value of Uncommons worth > $0.50 (cutting out bulk, again): $11.50
Mythics ($136) plus 2x Rares ($118) plus 6x Uncommons ($69) = $323
This does not include any of the “Bulk” Uncommons or Rares. It also does not take into account foils, token cards, lands, or commons.
So at $323 you’ve opened 121 packs, giving you an EV of $2.66 a pack – or slightly over $96 a box. Obviously, these numbers are stacked a little, but we’re also assuming that you’re going to sell every copy of every card that is either Mythic, a Rare worth above $2 or an Uncommon worth above $0.50, and that isn’t going to happen overnight. In fact, you’re going to have a lot of long-term inventory that will take the short-term gross down quite a bit from there.
This still means though that Shards is not a bad set to open – you are just held to a much higher variance than usual because of the double-rareness of Mythics (making a small amount opened more susceptible to luck, since you might see three of a few bad Mythics, and none of the good ones, really throwing off your margins). Over a large enough sample size though, my numbers should hold pretty steady.
What does this have to do with not opening packs? Let’s say that you’ve paid $3 for a pack of cards (which seems to be the going rate at most game shops and in-person at events). If you opened up that pack blind, you might end up with a Sarkhan Vol or you might end up with a Where Ancients Tread; but on average, not counting the commons, land or token, you’ll have about $2.66 in Expected Value from that pack, based solely on card prices.
The $2.66, though, is mainly from a store’s perspective; to the average person opening a pack of Shards, the $3 price tag is well worth it; you’ll have cards to play with over a long period of time, chances are you’ll use quite a few of those commons, and even some of the not-as-hot Rares and Uncommons (to a dealer) serve as either Johnny/Timmy/Spike tools, or as trade-bait for other players, so you can get what you do want.
EV, or Expected Value, is exactly as stated; the worth that you would reasonably get out of a given pack of Magic cards. This varies from set-to-set, depending on the value of various cards. It is easy to calculate EV in a vacuum; with just card prices at my disposal, and a large fleet of StarCityGames.com employees to open packs, I can make the numbers work over a large amount of product opened.
Where players can get additional EV is not from the card values, but from what is done with the packs before they are opened! There are three layers of value to an unopened pack of Magic cards, assuming you intend to open it (and not just resell it as a sealed pack):
1) The contents of the pack. As I stated above, the EV of a Shards pack is roughly $2.66, for the purposes of my calculation as a business. This comes to $96 a box (we sell Boxes of Shards for $79.99). You might think that the $16 difference is a lot, but when you factor in the labor involved in opening an arbitrarily large number of boxes (so that your variance is low enough that you can reliably get the $96 a box), the numbers are a lot closer. Selling a sealed box doesn’t involve opening the box, opening the packs, sorting the cards, entering the cards in our system, filing the cards, and pulling the cards for an order; with a sealed box, you just pick a box off a shelf (skip straight to “pulling the order”), and voila! Magic happens with Magic!
2) The time spent playing with the cards you opened. This mainly applies to Constructed play. Do you play Magic an hour a day on average? Five hours a day? Let’s say you play Magic ten hours a week. Let’s also say that you buy two booster boxes of every release ($160 a set, four times a year). This means that you put in $640, and play with those cards for 520 hours a year. This works out to about $1.23 an hour that you’re spending to play Magic. This is cheaper than most other forms of entertainment, such as movies ($3-$5 an hour, depending where you live and if you’re seeing a Matinee), some video games (mostly ones that don’t have multiplayer modes; Metal Gear Solid IV, for instance, probably clocks in at around $5 an hour, higher if you only count gameplay and not cut scenes).
That $1.23 an hour could be deceptive, because maybe you use some of the cards you bought over the course of years. Maybe, if you ever quit playing Magic (and trust me, nobody quits forever), you sell the cards for some amount of money. In the end, how much value did you get out of actually playing with the cards you own? I know that I’d value my time spent playing Magic at more than $1.23 an hour, just based on how much fun I have when I’m playing!
3) The method in which you open the packs. And that brings us back to this week’s article: Don’t just Crack that Pack! There are tons of draft formats (that involve bringing sealed Booster packs to play with, and then building your deck from those packs), and each of these draft formats lets you play a game-within-a-game with your sealed packs! So instead of just opening your packs to open them, open them to draft, and you add value to your cards, because you’ve just gotten more fun and enjoyment out of them.
Here are four of the more popular draft formats; some of you may be familiar with these formats, and some of you may be the type to just crack open packs and are unaware of different draft types. Never fear! I’ve provided links to the basics and instructions for each of these four formats, and listed them in order of current popularity.
Instructions for Booster Draft: Ted Knutson “Feeling a Draft: An Introduction to 40-Card Decks“(From MTG.com)
Jeff Cunningham “Strategies and Techniques for Booster Draft” (From MTG.com)
Recommended for 4-8 players, but doable with two.
Instructions for Winston Draft: Aaron’s Forsythe’s “Winston Draft” (From MTG.com). Recommended for 2 players.
Instructions for Solomon Draft: Scott Willis’s “Limited Alternatives” (From MTG.com). Recommended for 2 players.
Instructions for Rochester Draft: Jake Sticka’s “Aimless Wanderings: The Basics of Rochester Draft” (from MTGSalvation.com). Recommended for 8 players.
So when you’re considering what to do with that box of Conflux Boosters you preordered from us, remember to bookmark this article, Don’t just Crack that Pack!, call over some friends, and make a game night out of opening that box, instead of just ripping open your boosters and pulling out the cards you want for your Constructed decks. That can come later; you’re adding value first by drafting! I’m not going to put a value on your time playing Magic; but I will say that the more use you get out of your cards, the more a pack of cards is worth to you!