You Sunk My Battleship

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I talk a lot about rising tides lifting boats, but we cannot ignore what has just happened. Commander 2015 is out, and while the new cards’ prices are obviously in flux, starting at arbitrary preorder numbers guessed at by individuals and stores like Star City Games (and not always good guesses as the $1 they wanted for Blade of Selves can attest) and being buffeted by the waves of supply and demand until the stormy seas  calm down and the prices find their equilibrium, wherever that may be.

It doesn’t do us a ton of good right now to even talk about new singles, because the most efficient way to get the cards is still to crack precons, something I recommend. It’s roughly $120ish to get a full set of the 5 decks, which is basically a buy-four-get-one-free deal at MSRP, and it’s worth it for all of the deckbuilding stock, if that’s what you’re into.

Forget Deckbuilding, Where’s the Money?

If you aren’t into that and are more interested in investing, I’m going to advise we stay away from new cards for a while. The one real good buy-in opportunity for preorder cards was the $1 Blade, and when I saw on Saturday that was its  price, I wrote my weekly article a few days early. By the time it was published Tuesday, a day earlier than normal, the price had quintupled. I think that ship has sailed, but there is opportunity to buy cheaply if we know where to look.

Remember how I keep harping on Wurmcoil Engine? There’s a very good reason for that. We can learn quite a bit from Wurmcoil Engine about the future of singles prices, and the past Commander sets are going to be an excellent guide. Let’s spend some time looking at the prices of cards that are down, but not down for the count.

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Can you tell when Commander 2014 was announced? That’s when prices started to really tail off. What’s interesting about this graph isn’t just that it recovered, but you can actually see the exact day the sets were released. Can you guess where November 7 is? That’s right.

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So the set came out and the price immediately stopped falling. Dealers lost confidence entirely, taking their buylist price lower and lower, but the retail price of Wurmcoil stopped declining. Now, this is likely due to people not buying any copies of old Wurmcoil because they can get a new one for $30 along with the Dualcaster Mage that Wizards was so confident would be the new Snapcaster that they made a judge foil out of it and a ton of other great cards. The red deck was stacked, and while speculators were all-in on the white deck to get Containment Priest and throw the other 99 cards in the trash, the red one was mostly bought by players because Daretti is a cheater of a commander.

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But even though people stopped buying the old Wurmcoil as much because they could get the new one, look at the price of the new one. This graph starts on November 12, a few short days after the set hit. Despite supply hitting a new high, demand hit a new high as well and an MSRP of $30 for the entire deck wasn’t enough to keep Wurmcoil under $20.

There are other cards like this that saw a reprint and whose prices rebounded nicely. Looking at a few older examples can help us pick out some cards that are going to tick back up, albeit slower than Wurmcoil (which is a bit of an anomaly but which also demonstrates the power EDH has to influence prices).

A Lesson in Tools

A useful thing to know how to do on MTGPrice is to search for cards by set. At the top of the main, non-blog page, there are a few tabs, one of which is “Browse sets” which brings up a page where the sets are listed chronologically with the newest set on top. You can sort the cards in each set by price and see which cards are surprisingly expensive.

When Commander first debuted, Scavenging Ooze was the slam-dunk of the set, retailing for around $50. Currently, twenty cards in Commander are more expensive than the now-heavily reprinted Scavenging Ooze (and good for Wizards for reprinting it so it could be played in Modern), and only twelve of those cards were new in that set. Eight reprints surged or maintained while Ooze plummeted. Of those eight reprints, three of them surged or were propped up by Modern. That leaves five cards with enough EDH playability to have made them good investments. Was there any money to be made buying at the right time? What time was that?

MTG Price’s data on Commander sets starts in 2013, but we can still learn a bit about how time has a way of making initial investments look good a few years down the road.

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While Wizards hasn’t reprinted this card since, it has taken some of the pressure off with cards like Dictate of Erebos and Butcher of Malakir, a card the company will never stop printing every three months. Buying  even two years after the set was released, you would have made money on Grave Pact, turning a $5 initial buy-in into an opportunity to sell at retail for $15.  Grave Pact is never not going to be good in EDH, but I invested in Dictate of Erebos instead—and barring a reprint, I’m looking forward to that card hitting the $5 mark before I sell my hundreds of copies all purchased at bulk rare price.

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Some of this growth could be due to Modern, but this is a planeswalker and it’s hard to keep an original-five planeswalker down. Despite ten different versions of the guy floating around out there, all are worth roughly the same $8 right now.  I like almost any non-Tibalt planeswalker at around $4, and Daretti’s price is making me salivate.

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It’s hard to keep a good Wrath down, and this may be the best EDH Wrath ever with modes that you can play around or be entirely unaffected by. The price is flat now, but you could have turned $4 into $10 just by recognizing this card was perhaps the best white Wrath effect in EDH. Not bad.

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And these don’t even give the creature hexproof!

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Commander 2013 has a few attractive targets, but even this far back, we haven’t quite seen how things are going to play out for a lot of them. Commander 2013 was bought to such an extent that there are only three cards that retail for over $5 in the whole set, new cards and reprints combined.

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It seems like they’re printing new chase utility lands rather than reprinting, so we may be safe from Homeward Path reprints for a while, giving the price a chance to grow a bit. It’s demonstrated the ability to hit $6 and I think it can again and more. The card is very good, and while Commander 2013 pushed out way more copies than the original Commander set, Homeward Path is in the Naya deck, easily the worst-selling of the five. If it doesn’t get reprinted, this is likely an $8 to $10 card in two years. However, I’m not buying in too heavily at $4.

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Utility uncommons can turn into powder if they get reprinted, but Deceiver Exarch surged due to a Modern-predicated buyout. You could have gotten these for practically nothing for a whole year and a half and ridden the wave. Are there any good Modern cards hiding in other Commander sets? Yep! And a recent printing in Commander 2015 is going to crush their prices, giving you a very good buy-in opportunity. We’ll be on the lookout for cards that have a place in EDH but are also Modern staples. I can think of one in particular.

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This card is going to shrug off a lot of reprints. Will this ever settle under $5? I don’t think so. EDH players rarely take decks apart, so every time they build a new deck with green in it, they’re going to want another copy of this. Modern players rediscover this card every once in a while and buy them by the playset. Commander 2015 just reprinted it and threatens to smash the price a bit, but if we ever see the days of $3 Eternal Witness again, it’s a snap buy. Can this card see $7 again? I am actually fairly confident that it can. The reprint risk is high, but I think how far you buy below $6 is all guaranteed profit when it pops back up to its previous high.

Not all cards can shrug off repeated reprints, however. Some are starting to show signs of fatigue.

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Back-to-back reprintings in Commander 2014 and Commander 2015 have probably cooked this goose completely. It doesn’t help that Solemn was in Built from Scratch, the same deck as Wurmcoil Engine, meaning the deck needed no help from a card like Sad Robot to bring up the value.

I expect the Ezuri deck, where it’s reprinted this time, to be a little different. With a lot of the value spread over $5 cards, it’s a totally different situation. That could be enough to prop the value up a bit, but I don’t see potential. I imagine Solemn will be in Commander 2016, as well. I don’t think they need to do these every year, but the cards that are only appropriate to be reprinted in one of the decks, or not at all, stand to gain a lot from people building new decks. Remember, Commander doesn’t need to grow that much as a format, it just needs to not shrink—because every new deck is a new excuse to build a bunch of decks.

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It’s clear this wasn’t price growth as much as price correction. The blue Commander 2014 precon was garbage: hot, greasy garbage. The white precon got Containment Priest and the blue one got Dulcet Sirens. The price fell way too far predicated on the reprinting being the pin in its price’s balloon that would keep it from surging out of control. Here’s the problem: it’s in a terrible deck and the card is just too good. Any card that is too good for the bad deck it’s in could see a price correction like this saw. Rift isn’t done going up, either, and should settle a little below its pre-drop price of $6 to $7. If you bought these at $1, you’re feeling good right now, especially since the RTR versions never dipped below $2. Next week, I’ll be trying to find cards analogous to this and a few others from this piece.

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Did anyone not see this coming? Yet how aggressively was anyone really buying at $2? And why not? This is a stupid elf that makes other stupid elves. It’s perhaps the best elf lord ever printed. Did we not expect it to double in a year’s time and climb higher if it’s not printed again? There are insanely popular tribes out there and their staples shrug off reprints because it’s s fun to have multiple elf decks. My Ezuri elf deck and my Nath elf deck aren’t going to have the same color sleeves so I can switch a bunch of cards between them. I’m going to buy another Imperious Perfect because I’m not a poor. Everyone else will, too, and the increased supply is going to create increased demand.

What happens isn’t always easy to predict, though.

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Sometimes the card doesn’t correct like you expect it to. There are a few things going on here, and the first is that it was reprinted in another deck so that’s going to curb its price growth potential quite a bit. The second hiccup is that the new “tuck” rule means this card isn’t quite the “suck it, nerd, your commander is gone forever” card that it used to be. But what people lamenting the fact that you can’t short a card are forgetting is that this is still practically the only way to remove a troublesome permanent in mono-red, and mono-red is really fun in EDH sometimes. I mean, it’s the worst color and it isn’t mitigated by other colors, but you can still do some fun and annoying stuff and if you want your commander to be Daretti or Godo or Kiki-Jiki or whomever, you’re going to have to have a way to remove permanents that isn’t Nevinyrral’s Disk. This is that. I expected this to go up already, so I’m a little puzzled. The Commander 2014 version is a whole dollar cheaper, probably because Wurmcoil is picking up so much slack that the rest of the cards in that deck are practically chaff, which is odd because almost every card in the red deck is better than almost every card in the blue one. Sometimes it’s not a meritocracy out there, folks.

What’s Happening Next Time?

I am looking forward to coming back hard next week and giving you my picks for cards that are soon to reverse the dip they took after their reprintings.  There is opportunity—just look at how much money you could have made buying Cyclonic Rift, Austere Command, Exarch, or a few dozen other real “growers.” Fortunately, the growers aren’t always show-ers, and if we can root them out, we could have as much as a year to get the copies we want before the prices start to soar.

Check in with me next week and we’ll take a look at some of my picks. As always, leave it in the comments and let’s make some money.

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