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Commander Release Analysis (Part 1)

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To all my North American readers, Canadian and American alike, I hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend. Beer probably flowed more freely this weekend, but as long as you were all responsible drinkers I am glad you had a great time!

Thanks everyone for the great feedback I received for my last article. I plan to keep it up by providing you the tools on managing a casual collection that will keep your wallet happy. This week I ask you to join me on a 5 day in-depth look at what the new Commander cards can do for your wallet. I hope you'll continue to keep the feedback flowing through the comments section below!

Some Caveats

The reception of the Commander cards has been resoundingly positive. When the previews started, Twitter and Facebook were rampant with great feedback for the product and cards. This is a very positive indicator for the future potential of the product and the format itself. As I said in my last article, I believe the Commander products will bring existing players, new and old alike, into the format for years to come.

One of the greatest strengths the Commander product has is that it is hands down the best “game in a box” product Wizards has ever produced. It is simple, elegant, and most importantly easily accessible for new players. In contrast, Archenemy and Planechase made Magic more complicated. Don't get me wrong; they are both great products, perfect for established players looking for a little bit of spice. However, making an already complicated game even more complicated hindered those products abilities' to acquire new customers. The Duel Deck series is a little better at providing a “game in a box,” but they are narrowly one-on-one focused against the open-ended Commander product. The fact that Commander sets are produced and marketed as multiplayer-focused items enables them to be bought in multiples. By their nature, it exposes the product to more players. This multiplayer-focused acquisition web that Wizards has created should work to continually grow the player base, which is pretty much the best thing any gaming community can ask for.

There is still a lot of information about the commander decks to clarify before I talk about specific cards in the set. Here's the break down what we do and don’t know about the product, and how that affects it's financial viability.

1. It is not a limited print run. Aron Forsythe, and other Wizards staff,  stated through Twitter that they will be printing more of the decks to meet the demand.

What isn't clear here is how quickly they will be able to meet with demand, and when they will stop printing this product. Will it be evergreen and printed for years to come, or will they meet the current demand for a limited time, similar to how regular sets are produced? What if they create new Commander sets every year?

Regardless of what they choose to do, we can only look to the past and speculate the future. If history is any indicator, Wizards would rather under-produce than over-produce. See Zendikar and Magic 2010 for proof. Both sets were nearly impossible to get for the first few waves. Regardless of the reasons why they were hard to obtain, the fact is they did not produce enough for the initial demand, and only near the end of their life expectancy were they readily available. Hopefully this trend continues for Commander’s lifetime to keep this semi-collectible.

Another consideration is if only one box set becomes popular for singles. The Political Puppets deck is top dog so far, and I doubt they will continue to produce cases if only one or two sets out of every case is selling. You can see this in action figures like Transformers. Some items are packed 1 per box and sell out, but Wal-Mart will not restock until a significant part of the whole box is sold. This could mean great things for the financial value of some cards if only 1-2 sets end up being widely desirable.

2. They are sold at "mass market" stores like Wal-Mart and Target. This means you will be able to find them at their suggested MSRP of $29.99, possibly even cheaper if they go on sale at these mass market stores.

What this could mean is that they may get over-produced due to Wal-Mart selling out multiple times, then asking Wizards for larger reorders each time. Or they could just sell out of one box and the rest could gather dust on the shelves until the end of time. I believe what will really happen is somewhere in between.

I am also pretty sure scalpers will be buying out the best box sets as quickly as they are put on the shelves. The rest of the products will sell out eventually, but Wal-Mart won’t order some outrageous amounts on their reorders like they do with other products in their stores. They have too many shelf warmers as it is and don’t know enough about the product to know any better. So if you are looking to get them from Wal-Mart I would ask around, find out when they get their major shipments in, and when their restocks happen.

3. There is not enough product to meet the initial demand. StarCityGames (SCG) sold through all or almost all of their product, and sales manager Ben Bleiweiss stated they would have ordered five times more if they had been able. They were confident in saying they would have had no trouble selling it all.

Ben is a straight shooter, and is as open with information as he is allowed to be. This shows that even the largest online retailer for Magic is having trouble keeping this product in stock. This obviously does not bode well for your local game store. Ben likens it to the Zendikar shortage, and I really think it will be very similar. From what I have seen with stores around my area as well as talk around the internet forums, most stores are sold out or have very little stock left. Some stores even went as far as limiting the amount of product one customer could purchase. The printer and distribution chain will just not be able to keep up with the initial demand. Eventually, demand will decrease and supply will increase and everything will stabilize, but before then there will be a window where prices of singles and boxed product will be really out of whack.

4. This is the only way to obtain the 51 new cards. They have not stated anything about any of the cards being reprinted in constructed sets.

I do not know the exact print runs of sets, but these cards could end up being some of the rarest, if not the rarest, cards printed in a commercial Magic product. If any one of the cards are Legacy playable it’s price will most certainly go through the roof. Watch out though, the rest of the cards in the respective Commander box set will have their value drained out of them due to all the boxes being cracked for the new hotness. The popular cards viable in Legacy/Overextended/Modern will always trade for a premium.

It will still be cheaper for someone to buy a single they want instead of buying a whole deck. However, most of the sets will be worth more than their MSRP if pieced out entirely, for a few months at least. Don’t think that every card will be worthless because they can just be bought at Wal-Mart for $30. Some people just don’t want to go through the trouble of piecing out each set. [Editor's Note: Or the card is required as a four-of for a deck. You only get one copy in any given deck!]

With all that said there is no doubt in my mind there is plenty to be gained here. Whether you get rid of the cards right away while their prices are high or if you keep a good stock of the staples, you should do well investing in Commander. They will be some of the easiest cards to get rid of at trading tables as no one will have large quantities of them, and everyone will want at least a few of each of the staples.

For my analysis, I mercifully won’t be bringing you an analysis of all the cards because some of them are just casual filler. I want to focus more on the cards that you should know a little more about, as well as all of the new potential Commanders.

(A disclaimer before we move forward: all prices quoted are subject to change. They were all taken at the time of writing the article. Also, Black Lotus Project was not updated with Commander cards as of writing either.)

WHITE

Archangel of Strife
Box - Heavenly Inferno
SCG - Out of stock $3.99
Apathy House - $4.03

Any Angel is worth a second look in magic, especially big, splashy, unique ones. Archangel of Strife does almost everything casual players would enjoy, so this should be easy to trade away from your set. Don’t worry too much about it gaining tons of value over time.

Celestial Force
Box - Counterpunch
SCG - $1.99
AH - $2.18

This card, along with another new card from the Commander set, completes the Naya end of a possible "Force" cycle. Verdant Force does not see as much play anymore because of being outclassed by Mycoloth in most decks, and Dragon Broodmother in decks that can run her, but there is still a nostalgia factor there which helps when players are looking for cards for a 100 card deck. Celestial Force seems underpowered, but when you realize it's every upkeep (not just yours) that you are gaining life it changes the card's power drastically. However, I only think this will be played in life based decks for Felidar Sovereign alternate win conditions. Do not hold onto these as their power is not great enough to make them appealing forever, but if you look hard enough I am sure there are people out there looking for this card.

Crescendo of War
Box - Political Puppets
SCG - $1.99
AH - $1.88

I almost left this off this list, but casual players love their mass buff cards. The problem I see with this card is that it doesn't give your creatures a toughness boost. It is very aggressive and get's better over time, but I personally would rather something simpler like Glorious Anthem, Eldrazi Monument if the deck can support it, or Beastmaster Ascension, which is probably better in almost all realistic scenarios. I think people will realize that this is one of the weaker or slower mass buff cards and will eventually fall out of favor. Get rid of these as soon as you can.

Martyr's Bond
Box - Political Puppets
SCG - OOS at $4.99
AH - $4.56

This card is pretty nasty in Commander. However, just like Grave Pact, this card puts a huge target on your head so watch out for the reactions people have to you when they drop this card. On the positive side, just like Grave Pact as well, this card will hold it's value for a long time. The only thing hurting this card's value is that it's in Political Puppets, which contains two potential Legacy playable cards. If either proves itself to be a staple, everything in Political Puppets may plummet in price due to boxes being opened and parted out simply for the Legacy cards. Regardless, I still think this card will have decent value for a very long time.

Soul Snare
Box - Heavenly Inferno, Counterpunch, Political Puppets
SCG - $1.99
AH - $2.29

This is another possibly legacy card, although it is very limited in its uses. All it does for the format is provide another removal piece for Enchantress decks. I don't see this becoming a high demand card so try to hunt down that Enchantress player you know and sell them the fact that it won't be the easiest card to find in the future.

BLUE

Flusterstorm
Box - Political Puppets
SCG - OOS $19.99
AH - $15.84

This is one of the big cards to come out of Commander. I personally think it is just as good Mindbreak Trap in Legacy, and will see just about the same amount of play. Both cards fill similar roles, but operate slightly different. I also don’t think it should be $20 as it currently is being sold at on SCG, but blue players will pay what they have to if the card is essential to their deck. With Political Puppets holding another possible $20 card, I don’t see Flusterstorm holding it’s price tag. My advice is to trade away Flusterstorm if you can find a buyer at $15-$20.

Minds Aglow
Box - Devour for Power
SCG - $2.99
AH - $2.43

I wanted to talk about this card because it introduces a new and Commander-specific mechanic, join forces. This card, as well as the rest of the Bant-aligned join forces spells will be big for "Group Hug" style Commander decks.

If you are not up to date on Commander lingo here is a small crash course: Group Hug decks play spells that benefit everyone most of the time. This helps them set up their win which usually happens later on in the game while the other players are fighting each other because they don’t want to lose out on the benefits of having the Group Hug player around. There are a few other Commander archetypes, but I will talk about those when relevant.

The white and green join forces are good for that archetype as well, but I think the blue version is the most important one. Compare drawing cards against making creatures and getting lands, and drawing cards should win out every time. That being said I don’t see this card holding much value. Group Hug decks are a subset of a subset format so the market will be very small for this and all other join forces cards, except possibly the red one. Trade these away if you can find a buyer.

Spell Crumple
Box - Mirror Mastery, Political Puppets, Devour for Power
SCG - $0.99
AH - $1.76

This is the other counterspell Commander has brought to the world of Magic. It is pretty much constructed unplayable as there are numerous better options out there, but for Commander it is a whole other type of card. Getting your general Crumpled will be one of the most annoying plays to look forward to in the months to come. For some decks it could be game ending if they rely on their general too much. This should be in every blue Commander deck from now on, and it should hold it’s value or possibly go up a few bucks. Get them as throw ins, then trade them later on once the Commander supply dries up as there isn’t much value you are missing out on at the moment.

Join me tomorrow for our look at black and red. It’s going to be full of scary Demons, even scarier Dragons, and the scariest line of my writing career!

Follow me on Twitter @RyeAbc

6 thoughts on “Commander Release Analysis (Part 1)

  1. Interesting article. Thanks for the info and I look forward to reading the rest of these pieces this week. I don't play EDH but I did purchase Heavenly Inferno and have debated opening it and giving it a go. I would love to invest in these if I can pick them up at retail prices and if they are worth it. At the same time I am curious if the cards would be legal in a possible Modern/Overextended format if it occurs. Do you have an opinion on that matter???

  2. Wizards has mentioned several times that any one of these cards could see print in the future. I'm sure some of them have less chances than others (Join Forces just doesn't seem to flow well in other sets). Cards like Soul Snare, Spell Crumple, and maybe even Chaos Warp, would fit in with Core Sets. I hope so, I'd love to get a Chaos Warp.

  3. Thanks everyone for the comments. Very much appreciated.

    @Wade: Welcome to the world of Commander! I personally would open up the Heavenly Inferno deck, try and trade off what you don't need and build a Kaalia deck. She is pretty easy to build a deck around and seems pretty strong but fun at the same time. A great first general to play around with. Depending on if you own any of the reprints I would really just keep Kaalia, Tariel and Angel of Despair and build a deck around them. That does take a big chunk of worth out of the box but you should be able to recoup most, if not all of your purchase price if you piece the rest of it out. The decks are fine out of the box, but are no where near complete decks. Playing any of the decks would be like playing a theme deck at FNM. However, they do work well with each other because the power level is pretty close across all 5.

    As for legalities in Modern/Overextended. I think they would be legal because those formats are not rotating formats like standard, they are eternal formats like legacy. On the other hand, the commander cards probably wont be legal in Extended.

    @Allinson: I used to love playing planechase, but it sometimes made the game more about the planechase deck than about your deck or even the game state itself. Still a fun product but I just wont be playing it all the time. Archenemy on the other hand never really appealed to me. I actually don't know of many people who have actually played it.

    @sarroth: Thanks for the info. I was not aware WotC actually took a stance on reprints from Commander. I think a lot of the cards are easy core set reprints and if you check out Part 3 of my series which should be out today, I even talk about it for one card.

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