Chris’s Commander Corner: 2019 Edition

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Editor's note: In our zealous bid to respond to spoiler season quickly, we posted Chris's articles this week somewhat out of order. Today's article lays out his new "conviction rating" scale for evaluating Commander specs. You can see the scale in action is his article from yesterday as well.

Hello, again, and welcome to 2019! For me, 2018 was a cool year filled with firsts and certainly one I'll remember for a long time.

My highlights:

  • My wife and I found out we are expecting our first baby (due April 2019)
  • I traveled to Europe (July), GenCon (August), and a Grand Prix (October) for the first time
  • I started my MTG side-business (technically founded it after Christmas 2017) and began writing for QS (in August)

As I look back at 2018, I realize my life changed significantly. I learned so much from all of the above-mentioned experiences (and more), and I think most importantly I developed a renewed attention and appreciation for the concept of "setting expectations." Writing for QS has contributed to this appreciation the most as it opened my eyes to the importance of setting expectations when discussing MTG finance and speculation.

We have a tendency to use the New Year as a time to reflect on our life. We attempt to change ourselves (e.g. the classic gym-membership increase in January), and generally use the flipping to a new calendar as a motivator to make ourselves a better person. While I try to reflect more frequently than just New Years Day, there's something special about closing the book on a year that makes reflection clearer.

When I reflect on the past five months writing for QS and my 2018 initiative to carve out a small place in the MTG community, I see two major opportunities where I can improve.

Conviction Rating

The first, and maybe the most important, is to embrace consistency. I have developed a few formats for my articles which received positive feedback so far (notably, Chris's Commander Corner and the Investment Plan section). This year I'd like to bring more consistency to the way I evaluate and write about cards. When I reread my articles to date, I realize that I came off too ambitious in certain cases and not excited enough in others.

For example, the two calls which have been my biggest percent gainers since August were Overlaid Terrain foils and Arjun, the Shifting Flame. I mentioned these cards at the top of the article, but failed to communicate my conviction that they were definitely going up in value (because of Lord Windgrace and Niv-Mizzet, Parun, respectively). As a result, many of you may have missed out on the spec.

Conversely, a card that hasn't moved an inch but which I called out as "Pick of the Week" in my very first article was Storm the Vault foils. I highlighted it as a must-get card—and personally picked up two playsets—severely overestimated the popularity of Izzet artifacts from Commander 2018.

In retrospect, while Storm the Vault is an auto-include in Izzet artifact decks for EDH, there is little else to help absorb an otherwise large supply of this card. If I could have a do-over on this one, I'd have put it on a "watch-list" category of confidence rather than highlighting it as a "must buy now" card.

To correct this gap moving forward, I'll be introducing a conviction rating for all targets while also adding an estimated time-frame for maturity. The conviction rating will be defined below in Chris's Commander Corner and included as a sub-line on all future articles for easy reference.

Reactionary Specs and Early Entry

The second area I plan to focus on improving in future articles is to specify why I'm targeting a card. This usually breaks down into two categories: because it pairs well with a new card (for example, Arjun, the Shifting Flame above) or purely because of its future potential.

The former case, speccing because of a new EDH card coming into the fold, is generally going to be quicker to mature. These will depend heavily on my confidence in seeing/hearing the popularity of the new card in the EDH community. In the case of Niv-Mizzet, Parun, I was hearing players talk about it in my local EDH group and at GP Milwaukee. This immediately told me that supply would be tested on certain auto-includes, Arjun, the Shifting Flame being a no-brainer example.

In the latter scenario—speccing on a card with immense on-paper potential—these are likely to take longer to mature (6-12 months) and have far more risk involved. When this approach works, I call it being an "early-mover," because I am trying to call these targets well before their popularity is realized and corresponding supply is tested. But the obvious risk is being stuck with cards for extended periods, or cards never realizing their potential.

Here is a quick list of my previously mentioned cards (all in foil) that would be considered "early-entry" calls moving forward. (Note: all five of these have maintained or slightly increased in value since first being mentioned, and I am giving them six more months to mature before I'll look to buylist.)

  1. As Foretold
  2. Second Harvest
  3. Ever After
  4. Manglehorn
  5. Rashmi, Eternities Crafter

Conviction Ratings Defined

When evaluating cards for speculation, I generally look at them using a moving scale ranging from "this could be good in the future," to "this is a slam-dunk buy-now," with varies degrees of certainty in-between. For consistency's sake, let's use the following scale:

1. Cards just making it onto my radar. These cards are just entering the "early-entry" phase. Upside is present due to a combination of uniqueness and rarity (including Reserved List), but it might take 6-12 months for supply to drain organically or for a spoiler to really move the needle.

Recent examples: Halls of MistSecond Harvest.

2. Early movers. These cards are firmly on my radar, with clear upside due to uniqueness and rarity. However, the card has not found a consistent home in any format yet, and lacks the "auto-include" conviction to rank higher in confidence.

Recent examples: As Foretold, Mox Amber.

3. Cards with newfound momentum. These cards have an existing home in EDH or another format, but are getting hype due to a spoiler, discovered combo, or rekindled interest in their deck(s). The tipping point is likely already near, and the newfound demand will force a price correction.

Recent examples: Jace's ArchivistSpirebluff Canal.

4. Budding EDH all-stars. These are cards that will only get better over time. They may have cross-format playability, or low supply due to smaller print runs. They may also be experiencing demand for more than one reason, such as a new spoiler synergy, relevance in another format, or EDH player base growth.

In this category growth can be continuous or exponential, while the downside is minimal.

Recent examples: Anointed Procession, Planar Bridge, The Immortal Sun.

5. Must-buys. These cards could exponentially increase within a few days or weeks from the time they are mentioned. Generally, 5's will be very rare, and will often hinge on a new card creating synergy worth building around in EDH.

Recent examples: Arjun, the Shifting FlameOverlaid Terrain, Phyrexian Dreadnought.

Chris's Commander Corner

Conviction Rating: 4

Whir of Invention feels like it is one Modern Top 8 away from exploding. EDHREC shows it in more than 6,000 decks, which is nothing to scoff at, and foils are in low supply already. Because Whir is run as a four-of in almost every Modern deck it shows up in, it won't take many more players to buy before a price-correction occurs.

I actually like non-foils as an investment, too, simply because I see this as being more of a $5-7 rare than its current $2-3 range.

Investment Plan

I grabbed a playset of LP foils for an average of $6.50, and I am looking at grabbing another couple playsets of non-foils just under $2. Given the Modern GPs around the corner and its blossoming popularity in EDH, Whir of Invention may take just a few months to realize returns on.

At a minimum, if you think you'll need a copy or two of this in the future, I would grab it now as the price trend does not look to be reversing (barring a reprint, of course).

Conviction Rating: 3

Worm Harvest foils from Eventide are surprisingly cheap given the tiny print run and sleek look. Lord Windgrace has been in the top 5 "Weekly Commander" list on EDHREC for a while now, and is the clear-cut #1 choice coming from Commander 2018 so far. As popularity continues to grow, players may look to foil their Windgrace decks out and Worm Harvest would likely fit into that 99. Near mint foil copies are exceedingly difficult to find, but the played copies are still out there under $4 in many cases.

Investment Plan

I grabbed two NM Worm Harvest foils for $4 each, and may actually grab one of the cheaper (sub-$3) played copies for personal use. Eventide foils are pretty rare given the popularity of the set (and of Magic when Eventide was in print), and they look very sharp.

There is downside presented by the budget foil counterpart in Modern Masters (where Worm Harvest was printed at uncommon), but I think the Eventide foil will command a significant premium. I'm targeting an out around $10 for the aforementioned two NM copies, and hoping to achieve this in the next 3-6 months.

Conviction Rating: 3

Darksteel Reactor is the type of older single-print foil that is worth looking at if "counters matter" gains momentum due to Ravnica Allegiance. It acts as an indestructible wincon which, when paired with Simic Ascendancy, creates redundancy in a full 99 (having access to two of the same ability is always better than one in EDH).

Investment Plan

Near mint Darksteel Reactor foils are very hard to find. I picked up two at $9 each. I also grabbed one LP foil at $7, which I plan to use for my own Muldrotha, the Gravetide counters-matter brew. I will likely target an out around $20 for the two NM foils in the next six months, and lean on buylisting as a backup plan if more counters-matter support doesn’t materialize.

Conviction Rating: 2

Detection Tower doesn't see play in Modern, but it is seeing play in Golgari decks for Standard and is a strong utility land for EDH. Arcane Lighthouse comes to mind as a comparison. According to EDHREC, Lighthouse sees play in just shy of 20,000 decks, while Detection Tower is currently listed in less than 800.

Given that comparison the room for growth in EDH is tremendous. I can imagine Detection Tower foils eventually being $5+ rather than their current sub-$4 price tag.

Investment Plan

I am focused on foils for Detection Tower primarily because they are priced reasonably enough for EDH players to immediately buy in foil rather than needing to upgrade later. Furthermore, I think most of the growth for this card will be due to EDH, and I could envision it being reprinted in a future Commander set as a non-foil version only.

I picked up five NM foils for an average of $2.70 (with one as low as $2.25) about three weeks ago. (Note: they've already gone up about $1 since then.) I plan on using one of them in my Niv-Mizzet, Parun EDH deck, but the other four I hope to flip at $6 for a double-up in the next 3-6 months.

Conviction Rating = 1

While Pillar of Origins only gets a "1" from me in conviction, I think this is a fantastic budget option to know about for your EDH creature type decks.

I don't think the price on foils will move significantly in the next few months. But this is the type of card that gets reprinted in the Commander series as a non-foil only, and people run out to get the foil counterpart after they see how good it is. Mana-rocks are mana-rocks, and generally rocks that cost two CMC or less should demand attention.

Investment Plan

I grabbed eight NM foils for $0.50 per, and plan to actually use two of them immediately. Interestingly enough, one of them will actually slot into my Niv-Mizzet, Parun deck because of how many Wizards there are, and the other is immediately slotting into my Gishath, Sun's Avatar deck. I think Pillar of Origins foils could be $3+ within 12 months, and if nothing else I am happy to use my copies in the meantime.

Wrapping Up

All in all, 2018 was an amazing year, and I am excited for all the big changes that will be happening in my life in 2019. I hope you all have a great 2019 filled with joy and happiness! May the next 365 be the best yet!

Don't forget: you can find me on Twitter (@ChiStyleGaming) or on Discord (Chris Martin #5133). Cheers!

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