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Insider: Shotgun Speculation on Commander

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Up until recently Commander speculation evolved at a glacial pace, taking weeks, months, or even years for a well placed bet to come to maturity. Even speculation on Commander-driven hype from Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons unfolded after the general showed up on EDH REC’s list of most-played for the week. This gave analysts and well trained speculators plenty of time to browse lists on EDH REC and identify popular cards on which to speculate.

It was only until mainstream coverage was achieved on major podcasts that we saw spikes in the likes of Blowfly Infestation, Harbinger of Night, and Necroskitter.


In the graph above you can see Harbinger of Night spike the week of May 22nd, 2017. Amonkhet was released nearly a month earlier, on April 28th, 2017. Players were brewing with Hapatra for weeks before people started going deep on -1/-1 counter themed cards—a bet that made perfect sense in hindsight.

The same sort of delay (or often an even larger one) existed with other Commander speculation of the past as well. Atraxa cards spiked well after the Commander 2016 decks were released.

It would appear that starting with Commander 2017, this has changed drastically…

Shotgun Approach

Before Commander 2017 spoilers began, we had leaks and rumors about the varying themes of the set. Dragons was the first creature type identified, and on-theme foils immediately reacted. A key card like Dragonspeaker Shaman jumped from $6 to over $11 in the early part of June. And who could forget the notorious spike on Reserved List Dragon Zirilan of the Claw? He jumped from a low of $3 to a peak of $12 in just two weeks based strictly on Dragon speculation.


Meanwhile, Wizards hadn’t even confirmed the leak yet.

Then we had the next creature type for Commander 2017 spoiled: Cats! Once this news broke, buyers pounced on every relevant Cat foil they could! There was always a lingering fear of reprints, but sticking to foils was largely a risk-free endeavor. We saw immediate jumps in foil Raksha Golden Cubs, White Sun's Zeniths, and other Cat cards.


Unlike previous Commander launches, it felt like speculators were jumping all over every possible relevant card immediately. They weren’t waiting for decks to be built, for EDH REC to update, or for true Commander finance experts to share their opinions. It became a game of “buy first, ask questions later.” I call this the shotgun approach because it’s imprecise. But with a wide enough spray, you’re bound to find a hit and profit.

I myself did this, although on a very small scale. I grabbed a few Cat foils here and there, and ended up selling every single one for breakeven or profit. Overall the endeavor paid off.

Since the initial leaks, Wizards has now revealed the complete Commander 2017 set. We know definitively what’s in, what’s out, and where the synergies lie. This would be the best time to review lists and determine what each deck needs most to improve, as these would likely be the best targets. But there’s one major issue with this strategy…

What’s Left?

All the obvious targets have already jumped! First, we had foils spike when people found out the themes of each deck. And then once complete lists came out, absent nonfoils also jumped—hence we have $20 Riptide Laboratory and $20 Patron Wizards.


Chances are some of these spikes will come all the way back down. To this day I don’t think Zirilan of the Claw is all that good in Dragon Commander decks. But the problem is, all of the targets that do fit well all jumped as well. There’s nothing left for the podcaster to recommend or the Commander writer to discuss. They can certainly identify what will jump, but everything already jumped! Speculators were ready and waiting to make their purchases and they did so with the slightest bit of news.

So where do we go from here? Well for one, I wouldn’t recommend chasing anything that has already spiked. You’ll be buying into peak hype, and I have to imagine many cards will come back down over the coming weeks. I sold everything I could into these rampant buyouts, and I won’t regret a single sale. But I am left wondering where I should put new cash to work in the field of Commander.

This is now the sandbox where Commander experts need to play. No longer are we in a world where they can browse EDH REC and make their “pick of the week” based on what cards are most played in the hottest Commander decks that week. Instead, people will have to reach deeper and deeper into the barrel to try and find some unturned stone with a prime speculation target.

This is not my expertise. I rarely play Commander these days and I’m more inclined to listen to the experts than to make recommendations on my own. That said, I do have a couple worthy ideas that fit within my wheelhouse.

Ideas: Research Before Buying

Naturally, my inclination is to look at older cards to see what has a chance to gain more attention. Usually with cards from Magic’s earliest sets, supply on the open market is much thinner. This means key targets are more like coiled springs ready to jump. If a card is on the Reserved List as well, it’s icing on the cake.

For the Wizards deck, a couple cards caught my eye. First, there’s the obvious: Ertai, Wizard Adept.


He’s a Reserved List Wizard with a relevant ability, and therefore worth keeping an eye on. However he has barely moved in price post-announcement. This is either because people are neglecting this card or because it’s not very good. My guess is it’s the latter. This could be the Zirilan of the Claw of the Wizards, but for some reason speculators held back on this one as opposed to Zirilan. In any event, I prefer a different Reserved List target.


This synergistic card has been gradually rising nonstop over the past few years. I can see players trying it out in their newly purchased Wizard Commander decks. With under 50 sellers on TCGplayer, it won’t take much for this one to pop.

Looking at the list of popular Vampire cards on EDH REC, I don’t really see any exciting, older cards listed. My heart goes immediately to Baron Sengir and the entire Sengir family from Homelands. But if you think any of these cards make a Vampires list, I have bad news for you. Only Old School aficionados like myself would have an appreciation for these suboptimal cards.

Shifting gears to the Dragon deck, the one card that has my attention is the original Nicol Bolas. I am referring specifically to the Legends printing, which also happens to be the most collectible version.


He’s the original king of the dragons, and he even shows up as one of the key creatures in themed Dragons decks on EDH REC. But really, it’s his rarity and collectability that make this card a worthwhile consideration. I doubt he makes a ton of lists once these Commander 2017 decks are released.

Lastly, let’s take one last look at the Cats tribal deck in Commander to see if there are any unturned stones. This was the theme I put the most money into, and as I mentioned before I’ve already sold out of most of what I bought. But are there any classic cards worth another look?

Well, I always liked Mirri, Cat Warrior due to her involvement in some of Magic’s early stories. But the card itself isn’t all that good and she’s not on the Reserved List. That said, she is certainly on-theme and does show up in some of the EDH REC Cat lists. Maybe buying foil Tenth Edition copies is the way to go? They haven’t really moved yet.

The original cat warrior, Jedit Ojanen, can’t even be played in the new Cat deck because he’s white-blue instead of white-green, for whatever reason. Otherwise I would have recommended him from a nostalgia standpoint.

Alas, there’s not much else that has my eye. I was tempted by Nacatl War-Pride being from Future Sight, but it looks like I’m a week too late. Foils already popped. There aren’t a ton of non-foils on TCGplayer, so maybe it’s worth grabbing a few? I have to imagine there aren’t a ton of copies out there given Future Sight was printed a long time ago. If nothing else, make sure you dig through your bulk to pull these out.

Wrapping It Up

Speculators have been all over Commander 2017 this spoiler season. Their eagerness and shotgun approach has really reduced the number of strategic acquisitions based on strategy and synergy. Instead, every card with the word “Cat” or “Wizard” on it seems to have spiked.

The cards that belong in the new decks will hold their higher prices. Those that don’t belong will eventually drift back down again. But in either case, there’s no way I’d recommend buying anything that has already shot up in price. That doesn’t leave much, but I have two suggestions.

First, pay attention to the experts who specialize in Commander. They’ll be thinking next-level and are far more qualified to recommend under-the-radar targets than I am.

Second, keep print run and supply in mind when you reach deeper into the spec pool. Cards from Magic’s older sets—especially those on the Reserved List like Mind Over Matter—could be solid targets with very low risk. If they don’t hit, they won't be dropping in price anytime soon at least. And if they do, you have the most potential for profit.

This is how I’m going to play the rest of my Commander 2017 speculation. Unless something inspirational shows up in the QS Discord channels, I won’t be buying much else this time around. Even though I missed out on many opportunities, one thing is for certain: there will be plenty more opportunities each and every week. There always are!

Sigbits

  • When In the Eye of Chaos spiked, speculators forgot about ABU Games, who still had over a dozen copies of the card in stock. I managed to grab two myself. Now everyone’s price is much higher: ABU Games and Star City Games both updated their price to $79.99, though SCG still has zero English copies in stock. This new price is very likely to stick from here on out.
  • I’ve noticed Lake of the Dead peaking its head on MTG Stocks Interests now and again. It never makes a huge move, but it has certainly been rising steadily in price. Star City Games is sold out of the Alliances card with a $12.99 price tag. Being on the Reserved List, I can certainly see this continue to climb higher.
  • I noticed Beta Rock Hydra “spiked” on MTG Stocks over the weekend, probably because one copy sold and the next cheapest was overpriced. But it led me to look up Star City’s pricing. Turns out they are sold out at $79.99. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a small bump in this one’s price in the next few months. It’s not as popular as something like Elvish Archers in Old School MTG, but it is on the Reserved List and carries a bit of nostalgia for older players.

4 thoughts on “Insider: Shotgun Speculation on Commander

  1. Great article, Sig!

    My personal note on this: All points are valid, but points that are for basically everyone else that doesn’t frequent QS and the Discord Channel mainly. Our discussions and purchasing may have overall been a shotgun buy on many cards – they were not haphazard choices and were fully discussed.

    The main cards that were acquired (as you did go on to discuss) were mainly foils of *good* cards in those archetypes or RL cards that fit the theme and, again, also solid RL cards in their own right. In this instance I can understand many folks not waiting around to finish in last place – and put forth some great discussions/evaluations. Overall the endeavor mostly paid off (as you stated) and happened well before anyone else (including experts) was ready to discuss or make recommendations.

    How could you forget Barrin!

  2. Very astute observation, Chaz. I almost wonder if the power of a like-minded community engaging regularly on the Discord is more valuable than a single expert’s written word, at least when it comes to Commander?

  3. Also I would believe the themed tribal nature of this years decks made it easier for speculators (such as myself) to search for and buy a basket of cards. When there is more thought required to find synergy with new commanders and decks it will be harder to pick the cards ahead of time.

    That isn’t to say that next year’s Commander product won’t have the same issue but it may be due to greater discussion of individual cards from a larger group.

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