Commander players generally operate very differently compared to what you would expect from a player that plays competitively. These players may not go to their local game store every Friday FNM or even attend a Grand Prix in their lifetime. They're players that typically have a large amount of money to spend on cards but are still cost-conscious.
Commander 2017, the newest set geared towards this crowd, is sure to have its own financial impacts. If you're planning to speculate around this product, or just want to understand what may be affected, it's important to understand how these players' buying habits differ from competitive players.
Today I'll cover the basics of Commander demand—when players are buying in, what they're excited about, and why Commander cards change in price. Let's go.
If you play Standard, you know the big spikes happen right after a Pro Tour, right? Deck finishes well, people spend money to buy the cards, shops raise prices. It's a common cycle. Rotation is the same way. When you're six months from a fall set you know cards that will rotate are going to start to dip. It's like clockwork—it just happens every year the same way. What you don't know is which cards will do well, and that's the trick to buying in early.
Commander doesn't work on that same cycle. First of all, Commander players don't sell their cards. They're kind of a black hole for staples. That's the main reason that Sol Ring is still $3 despite them reprinting it every year for the past four years. There is no real time to buy in when it "rotates" like you would with Standard cards.
That being said, Commander players also generally shy away from things that are already propped up by Standard play. Maybe they wanted a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar for their Trostani, Selesnya's Voice tokens deck but won't buy him when he's $20, and will when he's $8. With these cards you can wait until they rotate from Standard and then pick them up, and they'll slowly climb as Commander players gradually buy them for their decks.
The biggest difference from a lot of other format staples is that Commander staples don't typically spike during the pre-order period. These types of players are more methodical and will wait for the new cards to arrive (in the case of Commander decks) before going out and purchasing new cards. When a new, unique commander everyone's excited to build around comes out, you won't see the staples for that deck start to climb naturally for a few weeks after the card is released. As we can see right now, not many cards have moved that much since the entire Commander spoiler has been released.
Standard players are known for their reluctance to buy foils. The most premium copies of cards aren't in as much demand as they should be due to their rarity. It's not uncommon for foil multipliers on strictly Standard cards to be 1.1x or worse. Commander doesn't really work the same way. We can see this very clearly on a recent card, The Scarab God.
The Scarab God non-foil versions average about $15 but it's basically impossible to find Masterpiece versions for less than $85. Comparing this to a similar Standard-legal mythic, Torrential Gearhulk is about $18 for a non-foil version but the Masterpiece is only $60.
Generally speaking the Masterpieces that are also in the set are the worst value-wise, but The Scarab God bucks that trend. In fact, all of the Masterpiece legendary gods from Hour of Devastation are quite high compared to their non-foil (The Locust God is $10/$55, The Scorpion God is $5/35).
Outside of this, you can also see the recent foil spikes where there is a clear intersection. The most expensive and most abrupt Reserved List spikes have been in foil cards that are very popular in Commander and also cube. Metalworker, Palinchron, Grim Monolith, and Treachery, for example, are cards that appeal immensely to cube and Commander players who are much more likely to purchase a foil version.
This is significantly different from Standard powerhouses where the foils look criminally underpriced but the reality is there is no real demand for them.
The most important reason that Commander cards change in price is because a new card was printed. A lot of times these players like the newest things and we will see cards go up in response to new legendary creatures but also see old legendary creatures go up when new synergies are discovered with new cards.
If you take a look at the most popular Commanders in the most recent month on EDHREC you will see that almost all of the commanders are either new, have a new card that shows up in a large percentage of the decks, or were recently reprinted (in Commander Anthology). If you take a look at the page for Hour of Devastation, you can see that a lot of the cards I outlined in my HOU set review are some of the most played ones in the set.
While it's not always the case, the biggest spikes come with the release of new cards. Other times, cards will just creep up over time as they dodge reprint after reprint.
Doubling Season is a card that Commander players absolutely love and which continues not to get reprinted. For years it climbed slowly and silently and then had a huge spike when Atraxa, Praetors' Voice got released.
Those are basically the two sides of the coin. It can happen slowly over time if the card is popular and stock disappears, or it can happen very quickly as there is a rush to get it. It's hard to predict which one most specs will end up being but it's easy to cash out almost all of the time when you're successful.
This year's Commander product looks to be very popular and there are bound to be cards coming out of it that will be good long-term holds. I would keep an eye on the EDHREC weekly pages to see what has players excited. If you look into the best sellers page on TCGplayer you can already see that "Draconic Dominance" is the most popular deck despite having some of the worst value out of the four.
I'm going to keep an especially close eye on the contents of these decks, because Ixalan has already been shown to have more tribal cards to get players excited for more Commander in the future!