Where Have All the Good Buys Gone?

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I'm sure some of you read the title and got this song stuck in your head. You're welcome. Every morning I check the Interests page on MTGStocks to see what cards are moving. For as long as I can remember, before any big set release, there are usually a number of cards trending upward in price and often a couple of major spikes for cards that play particularly well with something from that set.

The fact that Wizards of the Coast seemed to go big with its The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth promotions and considered it a premium set, I expected some powerful "Build Around Me" type cards. I am honestly pretty disappointed by the lack of such cards. The absence of significant price movement seems to indicate I am not alone.

All hope is not lost though. We have seen a few cards move with this set and I think there are some that have potential, though we need to be methodical in our thinking before buying in.

What Makes a Good Buy?

There are a few things I tend to look for in speculation targets. The first is to get an idea of potential demand:

  • What formats will want this card?
  • Will it be a sideboard staple or a maindeck card?
  • Does it create a new deck or archetype?
  • How many copies will a deck want to run?

Second I look to see how "reprintable" it is.

  • Does the card have a specific mechanic that might prevent it from being easily reprinted?
  • Does the card include any specific names of either characters or places that would make it awkward to include in other products?
  • Does the card's casting cost make it difficult to reprint, for example, hybrid mana or Phyrexian mana?

Lastly, I look at the actual buy-in price. The lower it is, the less potential loss there is should it fail, and the more copies I can get without breaking the bank. On the opposite hand, the higher the buy-in, the more actual current demand there likely is for a card which means its price floor is higher. Admittedly, I care far more about the former than the latter.

With all these considerations in mind, here are two new commanders from The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth, and some buys for each deck potentially worth speculating on.

Shelob, Child of Ungoliant

It looks like Shelob, Child of Ungoliant has caused a few spider-themed cards to jump up in price. The most noticeable being Arachnogenesis which is up around 30%. This isn't that surprising given that it's a Commander all-star to begin with.

It's important to understand what kind of Commander player will want to build a Shelob, Child of Ungoliant deck. While Shelob, Child of Ungoliant looks to be a unique creature with a "build around me" ability, it doesn't seem like the ability itself is powerful enough to become a top-tier deck. This means that the player who wants to build this deck is more likely to go in the direction of thematic, i.e. spider-centric, than raw power. This mindset leads us to our first potential speculation target.

A card that hasn't seemed to move yet is Lolth, Spider Queen.

This potential speculation target has a few things going for it and a few going against it. Thanks to her static ability it isn't that hard to play her and get an emblem in the same turn. She also provides card advantage and can protect herself. The biggest strike against playing her is that her emblem while flavorful, is underwhelming. Still, someone focused on flavor over power will want to include Lolth, Spider Queen in their deck list.

Next up on my list is Blex, Vexing Pest // Search for Blex. While Blex isn't a spider itself, it does serve as a spider lord of which it stands alone on that front. It also happens to be a mythic from a set that was released during the Pandemic, so far less was drafted. While it isn't quite a bulk mythic by most standards, given copies are under $2 it is, at the very least, likely near its floor. It even serves as a way to get actual card advantage in colors that often lack a lot of card draw. As this is the only actual spider lord in Magic, it again will likely make these decks thanks to fitting the theme.

Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant

Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant definitely feels like a casual build-around-me card. However, activating his ability should win you the game on the spot. To do so though, our whole deck has to be designed to get to the 111-life threshold. Once there, we throw in a Crashing Drawbridge and Craterhoof Behemoth and call it a day, though we must keep in mind thatCrashing Drawbridge does not have haste itself.

Unlike Shelob, Child of Ungoliant, Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant's ability is powerful enough to be a Commander deck with some teeth. This means that demand for the "auto-include" cards for this deck have a higher likelihood of popping in price and a higher price ceiling. The question then becomes will any price spikes actually stick or will more competitive players build the deck and realize that the 111-life threshold is a lot harder to reach than they anticipated and sell off the cards? Unfortunately, only time will tell on that one. Given Wizards of the Coast's penchant for reprinting cards, I tend to air on the side of selling out once I have reached my target profit and I keep the sell price ceiling lower than I did before Secret Lairs. This doesn't maximize profit, but it does minimize risk.

A while back I wrote an article about an Abzan life gain deck I built that renewed some of my passion for speculation. My first choice of spec target in that article was Blossoming Bogbeast, a card which was under $1 at the time and is now selling for $10+ in large part due to Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant.

Veinwitch Coven, another card, I called out in that article has since doubled up in value and also seems like a no-brainer for a Bilbo deck. I actually think the card still has some room to grow and I have a personal sell price for my copies at $5.99.

Decks that don't play blue often struggle to find extra card draw, in the olden days one might even resort to cards like Howling Mine in Commander. Thankfully, we have much better options now. The fact that Well of Lost Dreams triggers any time we gain life means that cards can be drawn on multiple opponents' turns. Now we did just get a reprint of this card in Commander: The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth, so copies are still entering the supply and we already have 7 printings. I would specifically target the Schematic version though. It's likely rarer than any of the others, and copies are still sitting well under $1. The card has had enough reprints that the price ceiling is likely $3 at most.

This card seems bonkers in this style of deck. One is likely to be running multiple Soul Wardens and the fact that this card triggers on each end step allows one's team to grow big in a hurry. It also has "splash" demand as it's a good card for any deck that focuses on counters and can serve as a commander for a Unicorn creature type deck. Original Commanders Legends copies are bulk rares. The most expensive version is the Halo Foil version from March of the Machine: Multiverse Legends sitting right under $6 and featuring different artwork. One must ask oneself if people prefer this new artwork enough to pay significantly more for it.

I honestly didn't even know this card existed before working on this article. It's exactly the type of card I like to find when digging for speculation targets. It has only 2 actual printings and both are much rarer than a typical rare. It was in the original Jumpstart set which quickly fell out of favor for many players as a lot of the rares were bulk rare reprints and, in my opinion, the games just didn't come off as all that fun. Its only other printing is on The List, which is Wizards of the Coast's current way to introduce even more reprints into the overall supply. Neither of these versions is all that common. Its current $4 price tag could very easily double with a small uptick in demand thanks to this scarcity.

Good Buy

Good Buys seem to be getting harder and harder to come by these days, but they aren't all gone. Normally, we see a lot more cards spike when a heavily anticipated new set releases. This is especially true of a set with a lot of legends in it. Perhaps the lack of these spikes indicates that the player base's wallets have finally been stretched to the breaking point. If that's the case, then we need to be a lot more meticulous when analyzing spec potential as there are going to be fewer big hits. We also need to keep in mind that the risk of a reprint is higher now than it has ever been.

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