Who remembers Starter Magic?
Given the success of the Commander format, it's obvious that a product should exist for brand-new players. The Starter Commander Decks are Wizards's attempt at providing this product. That being said, do they make sense to buy? Let's find out!
Talk About Simple...
Mix a generous amount of EDREC Top 10 cards with a completely formulaic ratio of card types, like one planeswalker per deck; choose exactly two colors; shuffle thoroughly; and... you have the Starter Commander Decks. Unimaginative is one term, bog standard another. Deliberately simple, because... that is the point! On the other hand...
The Baldur's Gate Commander Decks are excellent. Each deck contains dozens of different keywords spanning the history of Magic, powerful new cards, and some intricate play mechanics. For example, Exit From Exile has three "different" exile zones. Another example is Draconic Dissent's powerful multiplayer schtick of goading which, to a new player, may not immediately make sense. Finally, even a deck like Party Time has cards like Black Market Connections. It can be a challenge to convince a new player that the way to get the most out of it is to deliberately lose six life every turn. In short, for an absolutely new player to Magic, I can see these decks being a little unfriendly.
What About Value?
Again, this is where someone who owns zero Magic cards is going to benefit greatly. For the price, they will have a functional Commander deck, and can start playing immediately! While it's definitely possible to pick up other decks for a great deal, they may be more complicated to play, partially upgraded, or missing cards. A veteran player can manage, but it's less than ideal for someone new.
Next, we'll look at the decks themselves and see if they're worth the price tag. My metrics are threefold: automated pricing, cards of value, and after reprints.
By using the deck pricing tool at MTGGoldfish and doing a quick copy-paste with minor editing, I got an "automated" figure based on prices researched by the tool. This is a good estimator, and it's helpful to find cards of value. Essentially, anything $1 or more counts towards this figure, which lets us quickly check which cards have basic value.
Finally, based on other Commander decks I've purchased in the past, I can get a sense for how strong a long-term outlook is for a deck's value. Most Commander decks settle at $30-$40. However, while a few increase in value from there, many end up heavily discounted and can be picked up for $10-$20 just a few months later. Hence the "after reprints" value of what a deck will likely be worth once prices have cooled.
Cards of value: $38.22
After reprints: $10
Grave Danger Values
Cards of value: $20.85
After reprints: $5
A lone Liliana, Untouched by Death is not enough to give this deck significant dollar value. Too many of the cards are reprints of reprints and practically all bulk. The absolute least valuable deck of the five.
Chaos Incarnate Values
Cards of value: $33.04
After reprints: $10
Lightning Greaves is the top value card. This deck is full of solid, playable Commander cards that have been reprinted dozens of times and have little value.
Draconic Destruction Values
Cards of value: $54.25
After reprints: $20
While pretty much all of the Dragons in this deck will plummet to extra bulk rare status, enough of them should still be about a dollar even after a reprint. Obviously Dragon Tempest is the card that gives the deck a little boost in value but, again, the reprint will severely reduce it. Still, this deck has enough to be worth around break-even, making it the most valuable of the five.
Token Triumph Values
Cards of value: $38.32
After reprints: $10
The only card of much note is Citanul Hierophants. This card was printed in Urza's Saga, and that printing is now under $6 near mint. Reprinting this card has consequently lowered the value on the original, and the reprint is certainly not worth the same price.
First, I entered the deck lists into different pricing sites to come up with raw dollar figures. Then, I checked only cards worth $1 or more. Finally, I compared that value to the rest of the Commander market. Overall, these are not valuable decks, nor are they intended to be. However, I really do wonder if they are even a deal at all, especially because I buy deals all the time.
I'm no stranger to buying cheap Commander decks. I've purchased numerous open-box, used, or custom Commander decks at very affordable prices. There are budget Commander decks readily available, so why even look at these? This brings us full circle to who really will benefit from these Starter Decks.
Completely, Brand-New to Magic Players
If this is you, then you're going to be pretty happy. Not only will you get a variety of cards that would be costly to purchase individually, but you will also not be getting too many complicated cards. This is a great thing for beginners, although I wonder why two-color decks and not mono? Still, a very decent deal, all told.
No, heavens no! Avoid! No, really, don't buy. Sure, right now the decks break down into more than they cost. But the second these things hit the market, every card in them is going to tank. Furthermore, there are not many valuable ones here to start.
Make no mistake: these are terrible long-term investments that will eat up capital and shelf space for meagre returns. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other attractive Magic products. The 30th Anniversary Count Down Secret Lair looks amazing, especially as a sealed product. Even so, if these Starters get marked down, I might buy some as gifts, maybe.
Competitive/Casual Commander Players
How about for competitive Commander players? Again, no. There's nothing here you want or don't already have. Maybe if there were new cards to chase, that would be one thing. But there is nothing new here.
Competitive is the opposite of casual; therefore, these must be good for casual, right? I argue that these decks offer pretty low value to casual players as well. Someone who already plays Commander probably has the staple cards included in these decks. There are tons of other precons that offer a great experience right out of the box. Virtually all of them are going to be stronger, and offer either a better depth of gameplay, new cards, or something more than the basic minimum needed to play.
So, That's the Point
Wizards has succeeded in making a product that isn't for you or me, but for everyone else. And that is a wonderful thing! Magic has always at least tried to make beginner-friendly products, and Commander itself is a relatively complicated format. This is a step in the right direction, and I do applaud Wizards for having this ready for the holiday season, even if I'm not going to buy it. There are definitely future Commander players whose very first deck will be one of these Starter Decks, and I hope to play Magic with them soon.
Do you want a Starter Deck for the holidays? Let me know which one in the comments... and why!