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By: one million words, Pete Jahn
Nov 26 2007 11:16pm
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The Value of Classic Sets
 
Wizards has made a number of announcements concerning Classic sets recently. Masters Edition Two will happen. Weatherlight will release sometime next month. The Duel Decks are available online. Master Edition One will stop being sold in January. All of this raises one question – is it worthwhile buying these sets.
 
Of course, if you really like drafting these sets, then the answer is “yes, it is worth it.” I’m looking at this from the perspective of constructed play. Specifically, is it worth cracking these packs, or playing in release events, just to get cards from these sets, or is it better to simply buy whatever singles you need?
 
The main reason that this question arises is that Weatherlight and MED are only playable in Classic. Classic is a big format, with a ton of available cards.    Bigger formats mean that fewer cards are actually playable.  
 
I did some research for an article over on StarCityGames.com, in which I looked at the cards actually being played in Tier One decks in various formats, and compared them to the total number of cards available in those formats. Head over to StarCity for the full description, but this table should give you the idea.    
 

Format
Cards Played
Cards in Format
Percent Seeing Play
TS Block
125
747
16.73%
Standard
205
1539
13.32%
Extended
183
5450
3.36%
Vintage
144
9100
1.582%

 
In short, the number of cards that actually see play in Tier One decks in a mature, large format is really small.   Recently, StarCity Games held a paper Vintage tournament in Chicago. On Saturday, the players were playing for thousands of dollars in prizes and 126 players, and 92 players playing on Sunday for almost as good a prize pool.   A total of 144 unique cards were played – 149 if you include basic lands. 
 
All of Mirage, Visions and Weatherlight were legal in the format. The following cards from those sets were actually played.
 
Flash
Phyrexian Dreadnought
Lions Eye Diamond
Vampiric Tutor
Mystical Tutor
Seeds of Innocence
 
 
For that matter, all of the Master’s Edition cards were also legal. Here’s what saw play in the top 16 decks:
 
Force of Will
Mishra’s Factory
Lightning Bolt
Pyroblast
 
Just for completeness, here’s the list of cards played in the top 16 decks. I should link them all, but I’m too lazy. Those that are online can be found easily with the MTGOTrader’s search box – which you will need to do to order them.   On second thought, here they are:
 
Academy RuinsAEther SpellbombAEther VialAncient GrudgeBloodstained MireBottled CloisterBrainstormCabal RitualChain of VaporChalice of the VoidCrucible Of WorldsDark ConfidantDark RitualDarkblastDarksteel ColossusDimir CutpurseDuplicantDuressEchoing TruthEmpty the WarrensEngineered ExplosivesFact or Fiction, (Fire / Ice), Flooded StrandForce of WillGaddock TeegGifts UngivenHurkyl's RecallIngot ChewerJester's CapJuggernautKird ApeLeyline of the VoidLife from the LoamLightning Bolt, (Lions Eye Diamond), Magus of the MoonMeloku the Clouded MirrorMind's DesireMishra’s FactoryMogg FanaticMystical TutorOxidizePact of NegationPhyrexian DreadnoughtPithing NeedlePlatinum AngelPolluted DeltaPonderPsychatogPyroblastPyroclasmPyrostatic PillarQuirion DryadRay of RevelationRazormane MasticoreRepealSeal of FireSeeds of InnocenceSensei's Divining TopSimian Spirit GuideSkullclampSlaughter Pact,  SmotherSolemn SimulacrumSquee, Goblin NabobStifleStingscourgerSundering TitanSword of Fire and IceSwords to PlowsharesTarmogoyfTendrils of AgonyThirst for KnowledgeThorn of AmethystThoughtseizeThreads of DisloyaltyTin Street HooliganTolaria WestTormod's CryptTrickbindTrinisphereTrinket MageTriskelionTrygon PredatorVampiric TutorWindswept HeathWooded FoothillsYixlid Jailer, and Zombie Infestation
 
The cards that are not available online, yet, include: 
 
Ancestral Recall, Ancient Tomb, Badlands, Balance, Bayou, Bazaar of Baghdad, Black Lotus, City of Traitors, Demonic Tutor, Energy Flux, Fastbond, Goblin Welder, Grim Tutor, Gush, Imperial Seal, Karn Silver Golem, Library of Alexandria, Lotus Petal, Mana Drain, Mana Vault, Memory Jar, Metalworker, Misdirection, Mishra's Workshop, Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire, Necropotence, Rack and Ruin, Red Elemental Blast, Regrowth, Scrubland, Skyshroud Elite, Smokestack, Sol Ring, Sphere of Resistance, Strip Mine, Taiga, Tangle Wire, Time Walk, Timetwister, Tinker, Tolarian Academy, Tropical Island, Underground Sea, Viashino Heretic, Volcanic Island, Wasteland, Wheel of Fortune, Wirecat, Yawgmoth's Bargain and Yawgmoth's Will
 
If you need wordings, pictures or links, the best source for these cards is Wizards own Gatherer, which allows you to search for any card ever printed. The Gatherer can show you the card, plus provides current Oracle wordings and relevant rulings.
 
You can also use Gatherer to identify the sets in which each of the above cards were printed. If you were to do so, you would find that each expansion set provided somewhere between one and six cards for Vintage decks.   In short, once the format becomes big enough, nearly all the cards in any given block will never see play.
 
What this means is that only a very few cards in any given block have any value. The rest are filler. It also means that it may be cheaper to buy singles than to try to collect the set by drafting or playing sealed. Let’s look at a few old sets.
 
Masters Edition has sixty rares, sixty uncommons and sixty commons. I pulled the prices of the entire set into a spreadsheet recently – here are the results, using the prices as of that date.
 
The rares ran from a low of $0.19 each to a high of $16.38 for Force of Will. More importantly, over half the rares are worth less than half a TIX, and only four – Armageddon, Ball Lightning, Berserk and Force – are worth more than three TIX.   The average price for an MED rare is $1.17, but that is when Force of Will is included. Without Force of Will, the average (mean) price for the other 59 rares is $0.90.
 
With the uncommons, over half are worth a nickel or less, and only two - Mishra’s Factory and Hymn to Tourach - are worth more than $0.50. The average price for an uncommon is $0.16.
 
The commons are even cheaper. Most retail for just $0.02. The lands – one per pack, retail for up to $0.05. The only commons of any value are Lightning Bolt, Pyroblast and maybe Hydroblast
 
Another way to calculate an “average” is to look at the most common value in the range. In statistics, that is known as the mode. For commons, that value is $0.02. For uncommons, the mode is $0.04, and for rares the mode is $0.29.  
 
What all that means is that, if you open a single pack, the most likely value for the cards you open is $0.29 plus three uncommons at $0.04, plus ten commons at $0.02 and a land at maybe $0.05 – which makes a total of $0.66. Not much of a return for an investment of $3.99 plus tax. 
 
If you open a lot of packs, the value per pack should move closer to the mean, or about $1.87. In other words, you are losing over $2.00 for every pack you open.   Sure, if you open foils, that can up the value a little bit, but not much. I don’t know the exact distribution of foils, but I doubt it adds much value. For simplicity, let’s assume it just balances out the taxes.
 
Ever wonder why so few people are playing in MED leagues, or in drafts? Let’s look at the numbers. 
 
A draft costs about 14 TIX – three times $3.99, plus two TIX entry fee. On average, the cards you get will be worth about $5.70. In order to break even, you would need – assuming you don’t open a Force of Will, to win at least $8.30 worth of packs.   At the WOTC retail store, that would be less than three packs, but if you use the bust-open value, that’s 4.9 packs. In other words, to break even on MED, you need to at leastsplit in the finals of an 8-4 draft of five out of six drafts you play in.
 
Ever wonder why so few MED drafts fire? It’s because people cannot get their investment back, even if they win an above-average number of packs.   People who like to draft a lot rely on selling their singles, and the prices are so low on MED that they cannot sell them for enough. 
 
Note – the prices I used are all retail; what a major dealer can charge. If you are selling the cards to the dealer, you are going to get paid a lot less. 
 
In short, for MED, the best option is probably just to buy the singles you need. In my estimation, the cards that will, for sure, see play in future Classic formats are
 
Force of Will
Lightning Bolt
Berserk
Ball Lightning – when the format is young, not later.
Pyroblast – until Red Elemental Blast appears, then maybe as REB 5-8.
 
That’s about it. May be played cards include:
 
Hymn to Tourach
Lim-Dul’s Vault
Armageddon
Ankh of Mishra
Nevinyrral’s Disk
Mishra’s Factory
Su-Chi - very much a maybe, but was played in Workshop aggro a few years back.
Winter Orb
Animate Dead – maybe, more so if we ever get macros for repeating combos
Goblin Grenade
 
Let’s look at Mirage block, too. Mirage and Visions have been online for a while, and Weatherlight is in beta. Are these sets worth buying in packs, or just in singles?
 
Well, here are the numbers for Mirage:
 

 
Mean Value
Most Likely Value
Rare
$1.27
$0.67
Uncommon
$0.20
$0.05
Common
$0.10
$0.03

 
Mirage has basically four chase cards in paper Vintage: Flash, Phyrexian Dreadnought, Lions Eye Diamond and Mystical Tutor. A few uncommons, like Crystal Vein and the Mirage fetchlands have a little value, as do some of the Mirage cards that are reprinted in the current Standard (e.g. Incinerate, Stupor and Wall of Roots.) Dark Ritual is the one true chase commons that is not Standard legal.
 
The expected value of the cards in a Mirage pack, if you just bust one, is $1.15, unless you get really lucky and open a Lions Eye Diamond. If you bust a lot of packs, the average value per pack should approach $2.97.
 
The only Mirage cards you can open that are worth more than the price of the pack are Flash, Dreadnought, Mystical Tutor, Cadaverous Bloom and Early HarvestEnlightened Tutor, Shallow Grave and Sacred Mesa come close, and opening a foil can help. Otherwise, it is not worth it.
 
Visions:
 

 
Mean Value
Most Likely Value
Rare
$2.14
$0.97
Uncommon
$0.24
$0.05
Common
$0.09
$0.03

 
Visions has one chase card: Vampiric Tutor. It has a number of valuable cards, including Squandered Resources, Undiscovered Paradise, Tithe and Helm of Awakening.  Goblin Recruiter is a really good goblin – good enough to be banned in Extended in seasons past. Visions even has a dozen valuable commons, starting with Fireblast. Even so, the set is just not that valuable, and the average value of the rares drops a lot if you exclude Vampiric Tutor. A playset of Tutors would cost more buying one copy of every other rare in the set.
 
The expected value of the cards in a Visions pack, if you just bust one, is $1.45, unless you get super lucky and open a Tutor. If you bust a lot of packs, the average value per pack should approach $3.85.
 
With foils and some luck, you might even break even.
 
Drafting to break even is easier in Mirage block, but the format is not really all that exciting. More importantly, people are waiting for Weatherlight to draft the block.   Right now, drafting Lorwyn is more interesting than Mirage drafts. Once Weatherlight enters the mix, drafting may pick up – but drafting Weatherlight has it’s own problems. I’ll write about that in the release survival guide.
 
MTGO has another Classic product now available:   Duel Wars – Elves versus Goblins. Let’s look at the value of that set, too. The decklists and product information is here. Basically, these are glorified theme decks, packaged together. 
 
If you were to buy the cards – non-foil versions - at retail, the total retail price of all the cards would be $30.39 – and that is without putting any value to the Mountains and Forests. The decks includes eight rares – two of which are supposed to be alternative art foils. If you get the alternative art Siege-Gang Commander you will probably do quite well. Either way, the store retail price of $19.99 is considerably below the retail price of the cards bought separately.   However, let’s look at the decks. 
 

1
1
1
1
1
2
3
1
1
3
1
2
3
1
1
2
1
3
1
2
1
1
1
1
1
1
2
1
2
2
2
1
1
1
2
2
1
1
1
1
1
2
1
1
2
1
1
3
3
1
22
Mountain
19
Forest
1
2
1
1

 
These decks look pretty interesting, and the paper versions could be a nice way to introduce new players to the game, or to play casual games with a friend.   The decks are balanced and interesting.
 
They are also not Standard legal. The decks are Extended legal – but I really doubt they would be competitive in any serious Extended matches. That means that, if you buy these sets, you are either paying twenty tickets for a pair of casual play decks, or you want some of the component cards. Are these cards worth it?
 
Well, first off I dismissed most of the commons from recent sets. I have playsets of those already. I am short a few of the Lorwyn uncommons, like Bogart Shenanigans and Wren’s Run Vanquisher.   It would be nice to complete the playset – but I still have a bunch of packs I haven’t drafted, yet. 
 
[shameless self-promotion mode on]   
I highly recommend winning or going 4-1 in 2X leagues and PEs. I bought four Lorwyn tournament packs and ten boosters, have played in three leagues, two PEs and five drafts – and I still have fourteen boosters left. I did get credit for one PE that crashed, and used the credit to buy two more tourney packs, but even so. Woot! Go, me.!
[shameless self-promotion mode off]
 
What that means is that I am likely to get another Shenanigans or a Vanquisher at some point. The question is whether I will need a playset soon, for a particular deck, or whether I can wait. Glancing over the list, I can wait (although I would like the Vanquisher.)   Overall, thought, the newer set commons and uncommons are of little potential value at the moment. 
 
I also skimmed the commons and uncommons from older sets. With one or two notable exceptions, I don’t see anything I would actually play in Extended decks. That means that the value of the set is purely in what you have, and what you need.
 
Here are the cards that have some value – meaning that I arbitrarily selected those that retail for more than one TIX.
 
Goblin Ringleader
Siege-Gang Commander
Mogg Fanatic
Ambush Commander
Harmonize
Voice of the Woods
Goblin Warchief
Allosaurus Rider
 
I have playsets of the Fanatics, Harmonizes and Riders. The rare elves are cute, but I do not see myself ever playing these online. I would play them in casual, multiplayer games at home, but online – probably not.
 
The two cards that are quite appealing are the Recruiter and the Siege-Gang Commander.   Goblin Recruiters are a card advantage engine in Goblin decks, which is the reason that they are a five ticket uncommon. The only downside is that they really only work in Goblin-heavy decks, which require are looking for three to four Recruiters, four Warchiefs and so forth. The Duel Decks would give me one copy of each. 
 
When I clip out all the cards I already own, I still get a value of more than twenty two tickets for the set. It is almost worth buying. I probably will not, however. The Duel Decks is a great way to begin building a powerful, probably tournament-worthy Goblins deck for Extended and/or Classic. However, to do Goblins correctly, I would be investing a lot more. Personally, I prefer playing mid-range control, control and combo far more than Goblins, so I can’t see myself investing in the little red guys. Even if I did, I still think I would be more likely to buy the singles.
 
If the little red guys float your boat, however, and you need many of the creatures in this set, then I could see how Duel Decks could be a worthwhile investment. 
 
As I’m writing this, I have been debating the package. I really need a Siege-Gang Commander, and I am not drafting Tenth anymore. (I have playsets of over half the rares, and most of the uncommons. The cards I still need are never passed: Wrath of God, Treetop Village, Quirion Dryad, SGC. The SGC is five to six tixkets by himself, and the Recruiter is six tickets (and I could use one.) That makes the rest of the package around eight tickets – almost worth it. While thinking about the purchase, I got to wondering if I could make a Singleton deck out of the Goblins.   Singleton is Classic, meaning I could play my one Goblin Recruiter as well as the black goblins in Lorwyn. 
 
Hmmm...
 
While I think about that, I’ll finish with a quick word on the value of Weatherlight: minimal. Weatherlight has one good rare: Null Rod.   Null Rod completely hoses Affinity, and has been played in Vintage at times.   Beyond that, Weatherlight has a couple solid cards in Abeyance (a sort of Orim’s Chant lite) and Firestorm. It also has original copies of a lot of reprinted cards (starting with Gemstone Mine), and a fair number of cards that are just cool, but probably not tournament worthy.   (Someday I’ll describe my Viashino Heretics / Thran Forge deck – but almost none of that build is online legal, other than the Isochron Scepter / Terminate combo.)
 
Later – I have to decide whether to get a copy of Duel Decks, and then head to MTGOTraders.com to fill in my Masters Edition collection. 
 
PRJ
 
“one million words” on MTGO
 
 

0 Comments

Great Article by tusker at Thu, 11/29/2007 - 10:23
tusker's picture

Thanks for the great article.  I wish I'd have read something like this 3-4 years ago ... I'd probably be several hundred dollars richer!

 

by urzishra (Unregistered) 74.214.249.213 (not verified) at Wed, 11/28/2007 - 20:06
urzishra (Unregistered) 74.214.249.213's picture

the point i was trying to make was that sometimes cards are junk until something comes along (which if I recall Academy Rector was a pretty broken card in a lot of decks, anyways).. still rector was printed 2 and a half years after flash.. I got another example.. Food Chain.. pretty crappy card.. then later when good goblins were printed and then it became a really good deck.. I'm not so sure its great now, but for a while it was a pretty good deck. all i was trying to say was, sometimes a "junk rare" now.. turns into the best card of the format later.

Flash history by one million words at Wed, 11/28/2007 - 10:51
one million words's picture

I have a long history with Flash.  Back when the Sixth edition rules came out, I wrote a long post to the Wizards listserve about Flash under Sixth.  To sum up, I objected to blue getting an instant-speed Stone Rain (Flash Avalanche Riders), Terror (Flash Nekretaal), Enchantment Tinker (Flash Rector), etc., etc.  I don't know how much my original post had to do with the eratta, but it did ignite a firestorm of comments, and the eratta followed shortly thereafter. 

Flash is a method of cheating creatures into play for a much lower mana cost.  Other spells that have allowed cheating of mana costs have included Academy Rector, Tinker, Oath of Druids, Animate Dead, Replenish and more.  All of them have been banned or restricted in various formats.

Wizards has been increasing the mana cost of cards tat put creatures directly into play.  Originally, B plus some life was considered "reasonable."  Now these cards are nin mana sorceries (Dragonstorm, Tooth and Nail), and they are still close to broken.  A two mana instant is too good.   

True, the Flash / Protean Hulk combo kill did not originate years before Hulk was printed, but I had a Flash combo kill (just not a very good one) back before the original eratta.  Flash also powered out some broken CIP effects starting with 6th Edition rules.  (Prior to sixth edition, the way interactions like this were handled is that the netrep made a ruling.  Bethmo had said Flash didn't work the way it now does, so it didn't.  With Sixth Edition, that all changed.)

 

by Anonymous (Unregistered) 70.113.1.32 (not verified) at Wed, 11/28/2007 - 01:38
Anonymous (Unregistered) 70.113.1.32's picture

*Ringleader*! :P But yeah, those goblin/elf cards will start dropping right away due to these being released, not a ton, but definately enough so that it won't be worth it to buy the decks.

GP Columbus by iceage4life at Wed, 11/28/2007 - 01:50
iceage4life's picture

GP Columbus didn't need pacts to get Flash banned.

 

Yeah for those wondering the story of Flash it goes something like this:  Printed in Mirage, who cares.  Academy Rector comes out, before this Wizards knew that this could mean bad things with flash.  Flash's wording changed so that creature doesn't go into play unless you pay full cost.  Last spring: WOTC stealth-unerratas Flash.  Future Sight prerelease/spoilers show the U and G pacts.  GP Columbus happens just before pacts are legal to play.  Flash does very well and wins the GP.  Flash is banned in Legacy.

 

Sure I missed some points there but that's the bulk of it. 

by urzishra (Unregistered) 74.214.249.213 (not verified) at Tue, 11/27/2007 - 22:58
urzishra (Unregistered) 74.214.249.213's picture

so protean hulk has been around since Mirage? same with the disciple win condition? since mirage?

by theauthenticsimpsonian (Unregistered) 24.2.188.53 (not verified) at Wed, 11/28/2007 - 00:04
theauthenticsimpsonian (Unregistered) 24.2.188.53's picture

No, but Academy Rector could be used to get a powerful enchantment like Yawgmoth's Bargain into play so you could win the game very quickly. Since having an extra 10+ cards in your hand should be able to get you something good.

Many thanks by Necropotent at Tue, 11/27/2007 - 14:28
Necropotent's picture

Just wanted to say thanks so much for writing this article. I always feel like I'm in the dark when it comes to these only-Classic legal sets. The way you broke down each set and ran the numbers was practical and helpful. When I read the article, I was initally surprised that there were so few chase cards in each set. I had noticed the recent drop in a lot of the MED rare prices but couldn't understand why. Now I understand.

I have one question: Do you think Force of Will will drop in price? I've been considering making "the purchase" to complete my playset but I'd be willing to wait if the prices fall. I know we have to consider that it's going out of print early next year and most people are done drafting the set. Now might be the best time. What do you think?

Again, thanks for putting all that information in one place and making it understandable. I'm sure I'll be referring to it again in the future.

by one million words at Tue, 11/27/2007 - 15:19
one million words's picture

I was just looking at the value of Classic packs. I have done the same thing with Lorwyn and TSP in the past. 

by one million words at Tue, 11/27/2007 - 15:20
one million words's picture

I doubt Force of Will is ever going to fall much, and it should go up once MED leaves the stores. 

Flash by iceage4life at Tue, 11/27/2007 - 16:53
iceage4life's picture

Flash's sudden spike in price had nothing to do with new cards being printed.  It had every thing to do with it being unerrated back to its orginal wording.

by dangerlinto at Tue, 11/27/2007 - 17:35
dangerlinto's picture

It didn't hurt that Pact of Negation and Summoner's Pact were printed at practically the same time though...

by Kaxon (Unregistered) 69.17.49.26 (not verified) at Tue, 11/27/2007 - 04:05
Kaxon (Unregistered) 69.17.49.26's picture

The main problem with your article is that you don't bother to look at how much cracked packs of Standard legal sets are worth.  Before Lorwyn was released I believe it was around $2.  The frequency of different draft queues firing has almost nothing to do with the value of the cards in the pack, and everything to do with the fact that most people want to play the newest format.

by urzishra (Unregistered) 74.214.249.213 (not verified) at Tue, 11/27/2007 - 00:16
urzishra (Unregistered) 74.214.249.213's picture

I don't agree.. everyone on MTGO pretty much plays all formats.

Let's take the Flash example. It was a junk rare pretty much for 10 years then all of a sudden its what it is because of newer cards that get printed and all of a sudden they are powerhouses.

I think for the Ringleader alone the duel decks are worth it. and in MED there are plenty of cards that could see play eventually. the majority though are there just for fun. and when it comes down to it you got to have fun. while I love the effort on this. I just think you are over analyzing the sets. To me.. Mirage/Visions/Weatherlight brings me to a time where I rode my bike across town with my 2.67 to pick up a pack of Weatherlight-Stronghold.. it brings me to a time where I played fun decks because thats all i had.

Weatherlight was a weak set, but there are a lot of cool cards for not only PDC, but multiplayer, singleton, even prismatic gets some good commons and uncommons..

i guess what i'm trying to say is.. we all know that ripping packs isn't worth it.. but its fun.. and if nobody ripped packs the price of cards would skyrocket... and because of chase cards and the "gamble" its why people still do it.. . I do.. but i also think I spend a lot on cards in general.