Serialized Cards Means Cheaper Singles

Cliff Daigle • April 30, 2023

A phrase that gets thrown around a lot is EV, for Expected Value. It's a concept that is applied very broadly. The idea is that there’s a chance an event will occur, and when divide that by the cost of the event, you get a dollar amount. That dollar amount tells you if something is ‘worth it’ in terms of money.

The EV of a video game would go something like this. It’s 60 dollars at base, with no DLC or anything like that. If you get 60 hours of entertainment, then you’re at 60/60 and it’s an even dollar per hour. If you get 120 hours of gameplay out of it, then you’re looking at fifty cents an hour for your entertainment. This a negative value, though, because you spent $60 at the beginning. You have $60 less than you started with, and even for negative fifty cents an hour, that’s still a loss.

EV is applicable to the concept of booster packs. If a Draft Booster is $5, we can calculate what the potential cards are in the rare/mythic slot and to the math. We can do this with Collector Boosters as well, basing our calculations on the total potential value and the average value of a given slot.

For example, right now in a Draft Booster, let’s presume there’s no foil. Just regular, non-shiny rares and mythics. I get $96.15 as the total value for all 60 rares, giving us an average value for a rare as $1.60. It’s been a long time since there were only rares in a pack, though, as now we’ve got foils and mythics and variants… lots of changes, and that’s a big reason why MTGGoldfish stopped doing their “Expected Value” series.

However, EV is important to understand when it comes to what big operations do with sealed packs/boxes/cases. If they can open the boxes, and then sell what’s inside at a profit, then that’s what they will do. If they don’t expect to get enough value from the cards they open, they will leave it sealed.

You also need to understand the distributor model. Retailers like Amazon, Target, and your LGS all buy packs from distributors, and the distributors are the ones who bought from Wizards. It’s not a direct relationship, unless you’re talking Secret Lairs.

Generally speaking, distributor cost is around half retail cost. If a box of cards is $100 at your LGS, it cost that store somewhere around $50 to buy it and put it in their store. The margins can vary based on products, time of year, location, demand, all sorts of things.

So when someone big like Card Kingdom or Star City gets ready for a new set, they buy boxes for X price and expect to open enough value in singles to make it worthwhile. If the cards are not selling for high enough prices, they won’t open the boxes.

The point of all this is to make clear that the presence of serialized cards increases the EV of a box. Just for Collector Boosters, mind you, but every bump in prices is worth addressing. If we knew exactly how many Collector Booster boxes were sold, we could figure things out really easily.

For example: we know there’s 35,000 total serialized cards out there. We are also told that you’re at less than 1% odds to open such a card per pack, meaning there’s at least 3.5 million Collector Booster packs out there. If we lock it in at 1% per pack, we can add that EV for each pack.

We need to add up the price of one of each serialized card, and divide by 70. To make the math simpler, let’s say that the average value comes out to $300. We can then add $3 to the expected value of each pack, or $36 to the value of a Collector Booster box. This number is undoubtedly too high, because there’s a lot more sub-$300 serialized cards.

Note that we’re saying the average value gets added on, because these serialized cards are a bonus. If your distributor price is $100 (Collector Booster boxes are selling for around $220 online) and then you open them, the serialized cards will add value to the average card opened. Variance means you won’t get that value every time, but if your average profit goes up, then you probably want to open more boxes.

What does it mean for the average Magic player? If one in 100 Collector Booster packs has a serialized card (Wizards has said it’s a worse chance, without being specific) then that means every eighth box ought to have a serialized card. Given the prices for the average rare and mythic, foil and special frame variant, plus the serialized prices, companies will open boxes if they can get an amount of money for the singles that accounts for the cost, both from the distributor and the company itself (time paid to employees to sort, store, and ship).

If a company feels like it’s positive EV to open a Collector Booster box, then they will. Serialized cards help with that calculation.

The company will be looking to unload the singles right away, and gain what value they can. That’s good for us as consumers, as that will drive the price down. Business don’t want to be stuck holding inventory for a long time, unless they have really efficient processes for storing and pulling for orders.

Because serialized cards add a good chunk of value to the process, I expect that an enormous amount of MOM product is being opened. This will result in prices for all the other cards coming down.

The new rule for letting cards hit their floor is six months, and I would definitely be on that timeline for cards from the main set as well as the Multiverse Legends sheet. Big vendors and companies have additional motivation to open cards from this set, and we need to let them open, sort, and sell cards so that all the prices can come down.

Generally speaking, whenever there’s a premium but very rare card in sets like this, if the price is high enough,