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Insider: Statistical Analysis of Commander Decks

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Every weekend I visit the local Meijer to shop for groceries. For those unfamiliar, Meijer is akin to a Super Walmart in that they have groceries alongside an array of other goods such as clothes, electronics, and toys. Sometimes when I’m shopping there I make a point to venture down the aisle that contains the CCGs. I don’t check every time, primarily because they charge roughly 5 to 10 percent above MSRP relative to stores like Walmart and Target. But once in a while you can find something special.

A couple months ago, I came upon a Commander 2016: Breed Lethality deck. This is the famously expensive one, featuring the hottest general in the format, Atraxa, Praetors' Voice.


At the time, these were selling for in the $70s, so the purchase at MSRP could be flipped on eBay for a modest profit with virtually no risk.

One week later, I was at that same Meijer and they had another Breed Lethality deck in stock! I proceeded to flip that one as well. I was loving the free money, and I made a mental note that I needed to walk down this aisle every single time I was in the store.

All Good Things…

After hits two weeks in a row, I must have exhausted my big-box-store karma. Every week since for the past six or so, there have been the same exact three Commander decks on Meijer’s shelf. It came to the point that I had them committed to memory because I saw them so many times. The three decks are listed below along with their TCGplayer market price:

  • Commander 2016: Open Hostility ($29.04)
  • Commander 2015: Seize Control ($29.26)
  • Commander 2015: Plunder the Graves ($41.42)

This past weekend I had a few spare minutes, so I decided to look these up online to see what they sold for while I was standing in the aisle. As it turns out, Plunder the Graves sold for above Meijer’s price. While this was no Breed Lethality situation where I could flip the deck for profit immediately, I was intrigued by a favorable price ($38.99…sadly, $4 more than MSRP).

It was at this point that the lightbulb turned on. I double checked EDH REC’s list of most popular commanders when I saw a familiar face: Meren of Clan Nel Toth.


The card itself won’t break the bank, but Meren has been the fourth or fifth most popular commanders on EDH REC consistently now for quite some time.

EDH REC

In fact, when I view the most popular commanders of all time on EDH REC, I see that Meren is number three, behind only Atraxa and Breya. I hadn’t realized this was such a popular general! The deciding factor for me became the low stock on TCGplayer. Across the 14 sellers, there are only 23 Plunder the Graves decks for sale. The low inventory, high popularity and favorable price were enough to push me over the edge: I threw the deck in my cart and was on my way.

Valuable Insights

This shopping experience got me thinking…are there other decks from the Commander series that I should be keeping an eye out for? Are there possibly any opportunities online to pick up a popular deck with low stock as an investment? How could I determine the decks that may have upside, such as the one containing Meren? I had to investigate this further. Perhaps by breaking down the numbers, I could uncover some sort of opportunity to profit.

To start, I created a graph relating the number of TCGplayer sellers (should be roughly proportional to the amount in stock) against the TCG low price for each Commander deck dating back to 2013. (I left the first set of decks out due to their rarity from being the first ones printed). The result is a pretty compelling curve. I tried an exponential fit using Excel, but in reality the curve should be hyperbolic. There is an unofficial “minimum price” that sellers would be willing to sell a deck at, and there’s limitless price on the upside.

Sellers vs. Price

Now we’ve established the relationship between price and supply. None of this is news, but it’s still good to double check that looking at stock on TCG Player can indicate price/demand for a product.

Next, I wanted to see if there was a relationship between the popularity of a general and the price of the preconstructed deck they came from. We already know Atraxa is the most popular general and comes from the most expensive Commander deck since 2013. Breya is also up there on both measures. So is there a trend?

EDH Rec vs. Price

Not exactly. The plot looks a bit scattered and the statistical relevance of this relationship is virtually absent. But hold on a second. While the set of data above doesn’t follow a singular trend, doesn’t it look like there are possibly three separate trends here?  Let’s try looking at this graph a little differently.

EDH Rec vs. Price 2

When we pull out the outliers as separate data sets, there suddenly becomes a very strong statistical correlation between commander popularity and price! Of the 20 decks studied, 14 follow a fairly linear trend (blue data points). What are the six outliers? All five of the mono-colored EDH decks from 2014 were outliers because they were more expensive than their popularity would indicate. But this makes sense because single-colored commanders aren’t that popular. The reason these are more expensive than the norm is due to the fact they contain so many EDH-playable cards. In fact, when I look at the EV of the decks’ contents, Commander 2014 decks are higher than Commander 2013 and Commander 2015 decks!

C13

C141516

No wonder the Commander 2014 decks sell for more! The above data also reveals the sixth and final outlier: the Mind Seize deck from Commander 2013. Why is this one an outlier? One reason:


There’s a huge Legacy staple in the set! That’s why the deck is not so popular amongst Commander players while the deck itself is expensive!

Thus, we can conclude that popularity of a commander does have a direct impact on the cost of that commander’s preconstructed deck. Outliers do exist, and they are driven by utility of the individual singles within the deck. These standouts have a tendency to make a deck more expensive, not less. There were no outliers where a deck was cheaper.

What does it all mean? It means we can speculate on different Commander decks by purchasing those with low stock and high EDH REC popularity. This data strongly supports my purchase of the Meren deck: it’s an extremely popular general and stock is relatively low. To me, this screams long-term upside.

Wrapping It Up

I want to conclude this week’s article by looking at the graph above and flagging decks that are below trend: that is, the decks that are cheaper than what their popularity would indicate. Perhaps these offer the best upside for long-term speculation.

The number one outlier is indeed Plunder the Graves, Meren’s deck. If I shift the deck’s price to the right to make it line up with the linear trend, its price should be roughly $60 versus the $41 price tag it currently has.

Last plot

The next best opportunities are admittedly far less exciting. The Breya deck,Invent Superiority, will probably increase in price by a few bucks, but this doesn’t really present much chance for profit. A lower-cost option may be Swell the Host. The Ezuri deck is fairly popular on EDH REC and can still be purchased for under $30. Perhaps as the deck ages, it will gradually climb in price toward the mid-$30s.

Other than that, I think the only way these decks will move in price is if: a) the headlining general increases in popularity, b) their contents increase in value, or c) they become naturally more expensive due to passing of time. This starts to get into the Commander metagame, which is beyond my areas of expertise – there are others in the MTG finance community who would be far more adept at predicting such trends. For me, I’ll stick to the numbers.

And the numbers do indeed point out a couple compelling trends! The supply / price curve is fairly compelling, indicating a deck with low stock will trend towards higher prices. And we see that once outliers are removed, there’s also a strong relationship between commander popularity and deck price. With this trend established, we can start to parse out some opportunities. In this case, the Meren deck was coincidentally the most compelling. This is certainly the low hanging fruit of the bunch. But EDH REC can be used as a guide in helping determine the trend.

This trend can also be applied going forward. When a new set of Commander decks come out, we can look to EDH REC to help us pinpoint the ones to purchase most aggressively. We can also use the data to examine other preconstructed products with legendary creatures inside. Perhaps there are some Archenemy or Planechase generals popular in Commander – this would drive up prices of those particular products.

All in all, this data-based approach can be a useful way of studying market trends with emotions completely removed. I almost didn’t purchase that Meren Commander deck because it had some cosmetic damage on the box. I also wasn’t thrilled with committing $40 to more sealed product. But with looking strictly at the data, I see that the investment was a great one that offered plenty of upside with virtually no downside. These are my favorite types of investments to make, and I hope to leverage data to find more opportunities like these in the future!

Sigbits

  • One of the reasons Commander 2014: Sworn to Darkness is a pricing outlier is the attractive list of singles within. Ghoulcaller Gisa is probably the most interesting, and it is sold out at Star City Games with a price tag of $11.99. The resurgence of Zombies interest from recent sets is likely a catalyst.
  • With the banning of Sensei's Divining Top in Legacy, True-Name Nemesis got a significant bump. Star City is sold out of these too at $37.99. Considering Mind Seize, the deck that contains True-Name Nemesis, can be bought for just $41.99, the deck may be an interesting pick-up. You basically get 99 cards for a few bucks after selling the one card.
  • By the way, the Mind Seize deck also has Baleful Strix (sold out at $2.99), Propaganda (modest stock at $3.99) and, of course, Sol Ring. I’m almost convincing myself to buy a few of these! If you’re willing to put in some work selling singles, it’s definitely an opportunity to acquire a nearly-complete Commander deck for next-to nothing.

6 thoughts on “Insider: Statistical Analysis of Commander Decks

    1. Good question. I had not realized this was in Anthology, thanks for raising the point.

      How large is that print run and how available with product be at MSRP? It won’t help, and could explain why it’s trending cheaper than others.

      1. Ok did some quick research. MSRP is $164.99 and the set comes with 4 decks. That means each one will be roughly $41.25, which is coincidentally right where Plunder the Graves is listed for on TCG Players. So I’d bet this slows down growth a little bit, while at the same time re-kindling interest in Meren as a general. This probably reduces her ceiling in the short term, while making her a fine long-term hold.

  1. For the commander 2016 prices did you just sum up all the cards in them or did you set a minimum price and only sum cards that exceeded it? I ask because the summation prices for those decks seems insanely high…implying that if you can sell a majority if the singles you might as well buy them at your local big box stores and sell the singles out of them…yet I don’t think that would be wise. What does it look like if you exclude all cards under $1?

    1. Prices I used were TCG Low, shipped. Essentially it’s the lowest price on TCG Player in order to acquire the sealed product.

      For the table of EV’s, I listed the source in the article. Here are some details from the site, below. Hope this answers your question but if not just let me know!

      – Values are calculated assuming cards worth <$1 are worthless

      – Shocklands add $14.49 to Dragon's Maze and Fetchlands add $28.39 to Fate Reforged (these ARE included in EV)

      – Values don't take into account foils, Expeditions, or Masterpieces

      – Expeditions would add $21.75 to BFZ and $12.82 to OotG set EV

      – Masterpieces would add $15.58 to Kaladesh, $12.88 to Aether Revolt, and $10.80 to Amonkhet

      – Most set values (boxes) are assumed to have 36 packs (Modern Masters each have 24, Fallen Empires has 60, Alliances has 45, Homelands has 60, Chronicles has 45)

      – Switching to tcgLow can reveal interesting information about sets (like Homelands)

      1. Gotcha you used dawnglare. Those numbers still come off odd though…(not blaming you for that), but it implies that most of the new Commander decks are worth over twice retail price..if that were the case stores would crack open decks to sell singles as they crack boxes to sell singles and the typical box EV is far less than 2x cost.

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