From Late to Lame: Assessing the Latest Secret Lair Commander Deck

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Secret Lair is no stranger to controversy, but that has not stopped Wizards from continuing to offer piles of product... and sometimes, product that are piles. The latest Commander-specific offering, From Cute to Brute, is an entire deck full of double-faced reprints. Does this deck make sense to buy? Is it strong? Is it worth it from a financial perspective? Let's take a look.

The Inevitable Comparison

The first full Commander deck offered via Secret Lair was Heads I Win, Tails You Lose. Debuting at a cool $99.99, I've now played against it numerous times... once it had finally got into the hands of players, that is. Absurd delays aside, the deck was reasonable in terms of value, playability, and theme. Also, by value, I don't mean solely the price of the singles in the deck; I mean the entire package, which came with a bunch of swag. Besides the deck, you also got the following:

  • 1x Super Special Coin 
  • 2x Display Commanders 
  • 10x Double-Faced Tokens 
  • 1x Deck box 
  • 1x Life Wheel 
  • 1x Strategy Insert 
  • 1x Reference Card 
  • MTG Arena Sleeves

From Cute to Brute, on the other hand, gives you almost none of these add-ons, but you do get five more double-faced tokens and three more Display Cards. What are "Display Cards?" They are the very thick shiny cardboard cards you get in every Commander pre-con.

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For an additional $50, this change certainly seems like a bad deal for you and a great deal for Wizards. One thing they did improve upon was getting the product completed, printed, and ready to ship on time. That being said, it seems like there are some issues that maybe could have been avoided with a little more time and care.

Financial Value

As always, there is a bit of stickiness to predictive analysis. Furthermore, I have covered Secret Lair product before and the same broad generalities apply, so I will truncate my points. The question at hand: is Brute worth your hard-earned cash?

If you took the entire deck right now and purchased it as singles, it would cost about $300. For $149.99 plus tax, that seems like a good deal. Problem is, that's the price of the cards now. There are always plenty of vendors who break their boxes for singles, so the supply of reprints goes straight into the secondary market, depressing prices quickly. In the meantime, the price of every card in this deck will tank upon release. If you like some of the artwork, but not all, then buying the one or two singles you may want a month or two later is a move with solid historical pedigree.

However, there may be a perverse incentive to buy and hold sealed product in this exact case. Overall, there is a fairly weak initial reception to From Cute to Brute, and decks have not immediately sold out like many other SL products have in the past. If nobody buys it, sealed product may end up being a bit rare... in several years. Unopened, unique, shiny, artwork that is somewhat limited tends to appreciate in value.

But realistically, who wants to tie up money for that long in this kind of product? I think there are plenty of other financial plays that would generate more value now, whether in Magic or the world at large. Still, it's something to consider for the gamblers and sealed aficionados out there, and if it's unexciting, it is safe. There are sure to be a select few stowing away one or more copies of this deck, and those copies are all but guaranteed to be worth more in a decade than they are today.

Deckbuilding Disaster

"I want to make a five-color double-faced deck!" Sure, that's a deck building prompt. At least the deck clearly has inspiration behind it. But does it work or make sense?

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Unfortunately, I feel like this deck fails on several levels. The first of which is the inconvenience of having to constantly re-sleeve cards. Since they do not give you cool, customized checklist cards, you basically need to double sleeve. Plus, playing against this deck presents a nightmare for players that do not know every card. Have fun de-sleeving multiple times per card as your novice table gets a good look at both sides before choosing targets for their removal spells.

Next, the deck is five colors, but how many lands are? A generous interpretation is five. Consider thatVivid Grove fix colors twice, and Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds fix once, and there is only one Farseek. If Wizards had at least included Sylvan Scrying and Expedition Map, then maybe you could convince me that you could regularly tutor up The World Tree, but the deck has neither.

The fact that the double-faced lands only tap for one color of mana seems like a big mistake. Over half the deck is made up of double-mana symbols and multi-colored cards, so the land base makes casting difficult, and many hands awkward.

No-brainer auto-includes like Growing Rites of Itlimoc // Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun, Golden Guardian // Gold-Forged Garrison, and The Restoration of Eiganjo // Architect of Restoration are somehow absent. There's little sense of a "game plan" except for dumping stuff into play, and very limited removal as well.

Well, Pongify is here! Why? Because their deck-building algorithm showed they needed to reprint a blue instant? Recent Commander pre-cons include EDREC Top 100 cards. Having Cultivate, Kodama's Reach, or any signet over Altar of the Pantheon would just be better in every way.

Buy In-Print DFCs to Fix This Mess!

The real reason this deck has no synergy, no battles, is missing obvious includes and is five colors? To get you to buy more MOM, of course! In the least "Secret" move ever, Wizards had an obvious game plan going in:

1) Make a DFC Commander deck right in time for MOM
2) Re-print some older, value DFCs with no real synergy
3) Jam them into a pile and call it a deck
4) ???

Step four is profit, of course. This is where Wizards messed up, in my opinion. If you start looking at building a DFC-based Commander deck as your main focus, it's very likely you don't want most of the cards in From Cute to Brute. Unless you're absolutely married to the art style of the new deck, you'll build something entirely different, less expensive, or simply way better in terms of flavor and power.

So there you have it: Wizards made a product for a very limited audience and is charging them through the nose for it. This is the goal of Secret Lair, right? I'm all for releasing cards as cool art pieces. However, throwing a pile together and calling it a deck while simultaneously reducing value to the consumer and raising prices is, frankly, outrageous.

What They Should Have Done

Including any of the DFC Transformers with deck-defining abilities, mythic DFC lands, a slew of great options from among the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Sagas, and more five-color lands with better mana fixing would go a long way to turning From Cute to Brute into a deck.

The fact that Heads I Win, Tails You Lose is a completely functional Commander deck that does not require alteration, offers value in every way to the consumer, and showcases new art proves that Wizards can make good Secret Lair Commander decks. Besides being late to shelves, Heads was a great and beloved product. This time, though, Wizards has instead completely over-compensated and sacrificed everything from value to playability to make sure the deck released and shipped punctually.

Oh, and they also charged 50% more.

I Wouldn't Buy This With Your Money... Let Alone Mine

This is a hard pass for me on multiple levels. While it doesn't feel like a great investment, it could be an okay one. The deck looks difficult to play and not powerful at all, while also not looking very fun. There are definitely vastly more powerful Bridge-based decks that effectively cascade anything you want into play, and that is not this deck. But if you're in love with the art style then, by all means, buy!

One thing I do like about From Cute to Brute, though, is that it makes me want to build a DFC Commander deck. So thanks go to Wizards for all of the inspiration with none of the $150 charge. It seems like a two- or three-color deck will work harmoniously while containing sub-themes besides merely being double-faced. I'll get to brewing, see if I can match up with someone that has the deck on SpellTable, and report back.

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