Exciting Generals, Boring Decks

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I was really excited to talk about Commander 2016, you know. There are a lot of good cards and with approximately 300 new commanders to build around, everyone should be building new decks. We’ve already covered everything else I want to cover with the reprint guide article last week. Stuff is getting reprinted, some of it is going to recover and some of it won’t. The stuff that won’t recover is predictable because its growth heading into the reprint was slow or the card is old and only expensive on the basis of scarcity and actual demand isn’t enough to save the price. The stuff that’s going to recover won’t do so for at least another year. In fact, the price isn’t even done cratering. It’s too early to even talk about the cards being cheap enough to buy let alone poised for a recovery. We can look at the cards that are cratered right now, but I feel like we’ve talked about them incidentally over the last year already and we know what they are. Cards we identified a year ago like Black Market are just starting to show signs of rebounding and cards from two years ago like Crypt Ghast have grown too much so that buying in now doesn’t make sense. We could twiddle our thumbs, but the basis of this series was looking at new decks and deck archetypes and seeing which older cards, with established prices, we would expect to move. I fully intended to do that this week. That was, at least, until I started looking at decklists.

EDHREC is my favorite resource for this sort of thing. It aggregates the decks posted online and tells you which percentage of those decks are playing certain cards to give you an idea about the relative demand for certain cards. You can tell what’s hot at a glance and that’s good because it takes a long time to identify a truly good spec and anything that saves you time is appreciated. The first article after a set is fully spoiled, I usually look at the most popular commander. Most of the time there are only one or two like The Gitrog Monster or Leovold and the rest of the set is pretty meh, but this is Commander 2016 we’re talking about here. There are lots of commanders to choose from, the top of the heap being Atraxa. It stands to reason that the most popular and exciting card in the set should be exciting to write about. I thought that for, oh, probably 10 decklists before I started to realize today was going to SUCK. There are plenty of Atraxa lists out there. The problem? Everyone is building their Atraxa deck BASIC AS $%^&.

Superboring

People have decided the only two ways to play the deck different from the hodgepodge of counters and randomness that’s the preconstructed deck is to build either superfriends or infect. We’ve covered Superfriends builds in this article series at length. We’re aware it’s a pretty decent and fun archetype, but we’re also waiting for The Chain Veil, perhaps the best card to use as a gauge for the overall impact of the artchetype on recentish cards, to do anything. Everyone knows The Chain Veil will be worth more money later than it is right now because it does something unique and powerful for a deck archetype people want to play, but no one knows how long it’s going to take and how high it’s going to get and right now I’m not really very impressed with its growth. I have a stack of them sitting around waiting to be exchanged for diapers or horseback riding lessons or whatever you have to buy when you exchange your dreams for living vicariously through someone else.

Infect is just as bad. Sure, it’s popular, I guess, but with exactly two expensive cards most of the time (Skittles and Blightsteel) there isn’t a ton of money to be made. A lot of the business cards are common and uncommon and while it’s smart to know what they are so you can pull them out of bulk and buylist them, there isn’t much action otherwise. You can try and speculate if you want to spend $4,000 buying every Viral Drake on the internet to try and corner the market. That’s dumb, though.

I looked through about two dozen Atraxa lists before I got frustrated. Then wordpress messed up and I lost this much of the article and had to try and rewrite it and make all the points I wanted to make and it was frustrating a second time. After looking at a ton of Atraxa lists from a ton of different skill levels of deckbuilder, nothing leapt out at me. Hardened Scales and Corpsejack Menace were reprinted. Doubling Season and Glen Elendra Archmage are too expensive to make any money from at this point. Superfriends cards aren’t doing much and Planeswalkers aren’t likely to spike much because there is no consensus regarding which walkers to run in Atraxa.

What do we do in this situation? The most popular deck is not giving us anything. A lot of the cards people are brewing with right now are in the precon and the people who are eschewing that build are not including the same cards as each other. A lack of consensus in deckbuilding is interesting for a builder but it’s boring for us because a lack of consensus means a lack of financial upside. I think in this case we’re forced to look at the boring cards people are building with, including the ones in the precons, and look at what’s likely to go up next year. What choice do we have?

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This was a really promising graph. The big spike was due to adoption in Standard which was good because that got copies concentrated in store inventories right off the bat. If a rare never becomes a bulk rare, it helps the copies of it go up later because people can’t just find them in an old binder when it’s time to build the deck; they have no choice but to buy them. The reprint nipped this in the bud, but make no mistake, even with the reprinting, this is an EDH staple forever. There’s decent risk of a second reprinting before we ever get a chance to make any money from this, but this is a card that looks so much like Parallel Lives that it’s worth at least keeping an eye on. For reference, this is Parallel Lives’ graph.

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I’m not saying we’ll ever get $7 for Hardened Scales, but I will say that Parallel Lives is a good example of what a card can do in 4 years if you leave it alone. Hardened Scales is in the same class as Parallel Lives in terms of impact, although it’s probably twice as narrow. However, with all of the value in the Atraxa precon, there is very little pressure on Hardened Scales to pull any weight in terms of value. This is a card that I liked as a bulk rare once already and while it never got there, I think it can this time and I’m still a buyer, even with the extra copies we just got foisted on us.

Outlook – 1 year until it bottoms out, 18 months to 2 years until we see a return, barring a reprint.

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That’s basically all I’m excited about. At this point I was even more frustrated. Sometimes the way people choose to build as a community doesn’t leave much financial opportunity. I am reminded of a similar outcome with a very different set of circumstances. Remember Ayli?

Clerical Error

Ayli seemed perfect. While some people were excited about Tazri allowing them to play 5-color allies, I was pumped about the prospects of Ayli, a legendary black and white cleric that could finally bring cleric tribal to fruition. There were a lot of juicy foil specs, or so we thought. As predicted, Ayli was a very popular commander. The issue? Not very many clerics to be found. Instead of building a Clerics deck, people used Ayli as a generic Orzhov lifegain commander. That’s actually legitimate and there’s no reason to fault them for doing so. That doesn’t change the fact that nothing really that we predicted panned out if it wasn’t included in the deck that ended up being built. Is non-tribal “boring”? No, I was being goofy for the sake of a title to the article. But that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes the way decks get built is either hard to predict or just doesn’t give you any real avenues to make any money. That’s really the lesson we learned today, unfortunately. There’s going to be money to be made in some of the other deck archetypes as a result of Commander 2016 but we have some time on those so there’s no real rush. We’ll cover the other archetypes over the coming weeks. Why did we look at Atraxa at all? Well, basically because it was the most obvious one. It was spoiled first so people were brewing with it longer, and it was spoiled by itself so everyone who wanted to brew had to brew with it. There is more data on Atraxa than any other commander, at least for now.

There’s no getting around having to research leads the end up not panning out. When it does happen, though, you need to pivot and that’s what I want to talk about for the rest of our time today. We can look to the future next week but for now, I want to take a look about a month back at something very curious that is developing.

Conspiracy 2.0 Lives Up To Its Name

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See how the graph ends prematurely? That’s because copies disappeared. No one has foil Leovold. It’s out of stock at $150 on SCG and some eBayers are trying to get up to $300, but there are some $190 Buy it Now auctions that make those look silly – until the $190 copies are gone, I guess. So why are we seeing Leovold turn into the next Dack Fayden? We knew this price would go up eventually, especially in foil, but we didn’t expect it to take less than a month? What happened?

The simplest explanation is no one drafted Conspiracy at all. It’s sort of a tough sell to begin with but drafters, people who want cube cards and EDH players alike are all interested in the set. Whereas last time terrible core set and drafts were competing with Conspiracy and it wasn’t until a few months later that Khans came out, people got Kaladesh immediately on the heels of Conspiracy 2 and people are done buying. Stores have boxes of Conspiracy 2 just sitting around and there aren’t many foil Leovolds being added to help with the supply issues, a situation exacerbated by a lack of MODO redemption. With so many boxes out there, a world with a $300 foil Leovold is unlikely to do anything to the box price so we’re forced to conclude either every other card in the set’s price gets crushed, or it will be very efficient to buy boxes. Couple that with Christmas coming up and stores likely to both do holiday sales and cut prices further on Conspiracy boxes to make room on shelves, we could see opportunity. Either way, we need to be ready. What’s worth looking at if prices dip short-term?

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Here’s everything currently over $3. If these prices start to dip because there is literally no pressure on them to hold up ANY of the value of the set (Non-foil Leovold is sold out most places at $25ish), what do we want to pick up?

I am not super bullish on Berserk or Show and Tell right now. With Star City all but entirely abandoning Legacy, there isn’t going to be much pressure on Legacy cards with everyone panicking. It’s not a good time to be investing in volatile cards like that, so I’m staying away from those cards unless they get significantly cheaper. Elsewhere on the list, though, I’m seeing some promise.

Sanctum Prelate is going to impact EDH in a big way, but the buy-in price on this card seems very high right now and it’s largely predicated on no one having opened Conspiracy packs. If this price doesn’t start to tail off and some of the other cards that are a bit cheaper start to head up in price the farther we get from this set’s printing, I’m liking discounted boxes if we have a few solid $15-$20 targets. Prelate, Recruiter and Selvala all approaching $20 makes boxes look pretty sexy. EDH will always want a ridiculous card like prelate – look at these two graphs of cards that are getting there despite being in sets where way more packs were opened than were Conspiracy.

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Abolisher is already starting to recover from its reprinting two years ago. This and Prelate pair nicely and do a lot of work separately. I think this kind of effect, though antisocial, is powerful and efficacious in EDH.

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This was $40 at one point. This card is a dirty hoser of a card but that appeals to a lot of people. I don’t think this will ever be $40 again, but it does point to a theoretical ceiling for Prelate, especially absent a reprinting and a significant change in the amount of Conspiracy 2 packs that get opened.

Recruiter of the Guard is a card that might want some help from Legacy and probably won’t get it, but with Cube and EDH being a thing, I think the fact that so few packs are being opened means its rarity might be a non-factor. Scarce is scarce.

Expropriate is too stupid good a Magic card. I wish it had gotten cheaper and indeed if it starts to, I’m in for cash. I’m not predicting this card could go up in price and make boxes more appealing the way a card going for closer to $20 could, but this is a tempting target if prices start to tank.

Birds of Paradise, Burgeoning and Platinum Angel are surprisingly expensive. I think it’s possible those prices were predicated on a higher box price and if the box price starts to tank, these prices could theoretically see some relief. I also think if they do tank, it will be a year or less before they’re above where they are now. These cards are never not going to be EDH staples until someone prints something better. Lump Phyrexian Arena in there and you’re looking at some very cheap EDH staples. They seem bound and determined to print Phyrexian Arena into powder, however, whereas a Birds of Paradise printing is rare and a Burgeoning reprinting will probably never happen again.

It wouldn’t hurt to go back through the Leovold article also to see if there is anything there we should keep an eye on. Leovold is clearly a popular enough commander that it’s messing up the prices for the entire set, which is fine. We welcome that, frankly. This Leovold situation is something I plan to keep a close eye on, but with the excitement surrounding Commander 2016 now palpable, we’ll likely table this for now and come back once we’ve looked at opportunities predicated on this new set. There are a ton of new commanders and that’s going to give us a lot of new deck archetypes which could make some bulk rares $5 or so, which is our favorite thing. Until then, poke around online and see if you see any evidence people are poised to dump Conspiracy boxes. If you can get them under $60 or something absurd like that, it’s worth a look. If not, Commander 2016 is poised to make so many things happen we won’t even mind. Au Revoir, nerds.

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2 thoughts on “Exciting Generals, Boring Decks”

  1. Does Burgeoning being printed twice so close together kill the growth… Or are C16 or Conspiracy 2 copies worth picking up in the $2-$4 range?

    I was thinking this was a great time to stock up on these. I’d imagine these go back up to $6 easy if they don’t get a reprint for a few years. Maybe not straight up profit, but it seems like a great card to hold onto for a year and then start trading out whenever.

    As for EDHRec and what people seem to be building… I wouldn’t take it so seriously just yet. I came across a guy that had already Pre-Ordered the Atraxa deck but was playing with a Cascade deck packing Maelstrom Wanderer, Rashmi, etc… When I asked him if he was interested in Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder he didn’t even know what I was talking about at first… Then he looked it up and said he would have to pick it up. It seems A TON of people latched onto the Atraxa deck early and haven’t even bothered to look at the rest of the decks/decklists.

    I think that a few of the decks/commanders that got spoiled late might be where some of the hidden value is. Especially if all of the other “reprints” tank in price before the 4color commanders can adjust.

    Side Note… How do you feel about Tamiyo, Field Researcher Foils??? It is already versatile enough to show up in a few Standard/Modern Bant lists, but the price is still relatively cheap. Tamiyo is insane in Superfriends with Doubling Season and is quietly becoming one of the BEST emblems currently available to Magic players. I really thought this card would take off by now… But it still seems as safe and powerful as ever since it has seen no Standard play recently, meaning the prices are low.

    1. I don’t think EDH can push Tamiyo up. It’s got a cushion based on being Standard-legal and I bet it falls at rotation. By then, instead.

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