Unlocked Pro Trader: Back to Basics

Man, “Back to Basics” would have been a sweet title for an article where I talked about lands, wouldn’t it? Maybe a bunch of the many lands and spells that search for basic lands in EDH, perhaps? Or maybe a focus on Back to Basics, Blood Moon and other land-lock enchantments like it to highlight the fact that Mana Vortex and Land Equilibrium are both spiking. Instead, I am wasting this title on an article about how last week’s tirade (I give all of you enough credit to notice how sarcastic it was) led to a lot of feedback from readers on Twitter, Facebook, Discord and in the comments section of the piece itself telling me to stick with my formula. That was gratifying. I sometimes worry that I do a disservice by pointing out that potential cards are terrible because people seem to have no trouble selling the terrible cards in the the hype surrounding events in EDH. I’m not going to tell you not to buy cards anymore, but I will continue to suggest cards I think have upside based on the same analysis and logic I have been using.

Commander 2017 Is Unique

Not everyone plays EDH or understands it and years ago when the format wasn’t as popular or understood as it is now, this article was breaking off a lot of great advice for people. I still think the advice is very good, but in 2017 specifically, I think this article felt less necessary. Commander 2017 gave us tribes and people who don’t understand EDH can at least grok that you want to buy tribal stuff. The average armchair speculator doesn’t need to read analysis to tell them to buy kittycats before the kittycat deck comes out. The average armchair speculator isn’t necessarily going to identify Squandered Resources as a card with upside when The Gitrog Monster gets printed, though, and that’s why I think the method I’ve developed over the past few years is still very valuable to readers and I plan to stick with it.

Things aren’t going to be as obvious moving forward. While it was obvious to people to buy cats for the cat deck (they were about 20% right, also, which is impressive for a crowd of complete lunatics with no discernible strategy) it isn’t quite as obvious what to buy for the Wizards decks now that we’ve actually seen the cards. How’s that stack of Patron Wizard look now that we have one deck where you copy the activated abilities of creatures and artifacts, one deck where you have a Mega Snapcaster and one deck where you can temporarily make a copy of a Wizard? Maybe it still looks good because you want to live the dream of having a huge pile of Wizards on the board and you can use Inalla to kill them and keep Patron Wizard up to counter the deluge of board wipes that are coming. But for the most part, we’re going to have to start looking at what the decks actually play. Patron Wizard isn’t in Kess or Mairsil decks and since those are the majority of decks being built from the Commander 2017 precon, it makes sense to see what’s going to sell on merit rather than hype in the coming months. In some ways, 2017 isn’t so different since we’re doing what we did last year – looking at what people actually build and buying before those cards go up, something we have weeks or even months to do safely. There were a lot of distractions but when the dust clears, if you have any money left, you can buy cards that are being granted upside by how the new decks are actually being built.

What We Would Have Done Anyway

So let’s pretend this year wasn’t ridiculous, a bunch of Reserved List cards didn’t spike because the people on the YouTube or a podcast told us to buy them, cards didn’t go up slightly based on leaked cards that indicated that Planeswalkers would be Legendary and then spike again later by a lot based on the exact same information and that everyone didn’t become an EDH deckbuilding expert based on learning that there would be a cat deck. Let’s look instead at what people are actually jamming in Mairsil, the Pretender.

I wish I could jam like 100 references to The Pretenders songs in this article, but I did that bit yesterday in my Gathering Magic article. This is a serious times article full of serious finance picks. Go elsewhere if you want tomfoolery and shenanigans.

Here are my totally serious financial picks based on Mairsil, a card I realize I might as well post here in case some of you don’t know what it does.

To make this card good, we want to maximize the number of times he enters the battlefield, maximize the number of effects we get, mitigate the “only once each turn” requirement and try to double any and all triggers. This is standard EDH stuff for a lot of it. There are two different ways to build Mairsil in my opinion and the way the deck builds are diverging shows that other people agree.

Shilling Time, Unwillingly Mine*

It’s shill o’clock now because I’m going to teach you about a new feature on EDHREC because it is going to be very helpful at deciphering the different card choices and the predominance of each. You may not want to target cards for an artifact-based combo build if you know it’s only 20% of total Mairsil builds and we finally have an algorithm to help us determine that. This is stuff you want to know, trust me.

First, access the page for a commander and make sure you’re displaying “view as commander” rather than “view as card”

Once you’re on the correct screen (I mean, I linked it but I’m trying to teach you nerds to fish so I’m trying to anticipate any mistakes that might throw you off so you know how to fix them without having to ask) scroll or glance over to the right.

The “theme selection” menu is new and it does some of the analytical work that can be very difficult otherwise. If it’s clear that certain builds are emerging, you can separate just the cards from those builds specifically. If you click on of those links, it takes you to a new page. Clicking “Artifact” takes you to a brand new page. Open both the general Mairsil page and also open the “artifact build” page and compare how the top and signature cards are different. Some of those artifact-based cards got buried because there was too much noise and not enough signal, but if you begin to isolate the cards that are specific to that build, a deck takes shape a lot better. This is more useful as a builder than as a financier, but it’s not entirely useless as a financier because Artifact combo-based builds (you generate infinite mana with Basalt Monolith and Staff of Domination after you use Quicksilver Elemental to give Mairsil the ability to have all of the activated abilities of itself to circumvent the “once per turn” clause of his own ability) are still a minority and therefore are less likely to spike card values than the basic, meat-and-potatoes “card advantage from lots of abilities” build. Also, any cards in common between both builds have as much upside as all Mairsil decks so you can invest like you did before when you just assumed that was the case for any card listed on the page ( we assumed that because we had to and now we don’t, so that’s better).

That said, I’m not going to isolate any particular build since the Artifact builds are currently so much in the minority that their signal gets lost in the noise already and any overlap cards won’t be missed. I think overlap cards are the most important, so let’s look at those in particular.

Quicksilver Elemental

This is pretty key in Mairsil builds because it allows you to circumvent the “only once per turn” clause on using abilities of cards with Cage counters on them. You give Mairsil all of the abilities he himself has and then he can use them with impunity. This doesn’t have much appeal outside of Mairsil decks but this will be in nearly every competent Mairsil build and I expect that to be a lot of decks. If the conventional wisdom is true that there are so many new EDH players that every foil Yomiji and White Sun’s Zenith is going to get snapped up, surely there are enough new EDH players to push a 14-year-old, pre-mythic rare above bulk. This is going to get played more than Patron Wizard and is just about as old. But, hey, this is going up based on what EDH players are actually playing and not what people who don’t play EDH think EDH players are going to play, so don’t expect this to hit the $18 Patron Wizard is at. I still think you scoop these at bulk, and do it soon since supply is beginning to quietly disappear. I bet this is $5 in a month or two, if not more. It’s actually good and actually super necessary.

Chainer, Dementia Master

I think other than Quicksilver Elemental, Shauku, Endbringer is the best thing to copy with Mairsil, but Shauku already went from 50 pennies to 50 dimes this week so that ship has already sailed and transformed into a treasure map or whatever stupid crap ships do these days. Chainer, though, is no slouch and you want your Mairsil to have this ability for sure. If something happens to Mairsil, you keep the Nightmares, which is pretty amazing. This is old enough that I think the increased use and the fact that Chainer is a pretty solid general in his own right that there is upside here. This has demonstrated an ability to flirt with the idea of $5 and a second spike could make that price stick, making people glad they bought in at $1.


This is a Reserved List card that must have gotten missed. If this goes up, I can’t wait for a bunch of tweets about how RL cards are going up for no reason despite this likely to go up due to being good in a deck that is good and also being pretty near a historic low. It’s trending back up anyway and I think of the three “lings” this is the only one I like. Aetherling and Torchling have lower buy-ins but I think there is too much supply for the demand from Mairsil to soak. This, meanwhile, is a reasonably-priced, playable, iconic Reserved List card. Iconic Masters wants to print this so bad and can’t. I think buy this and stay away from the cheaper ones that look like better targets and probably aren’t.

Wait, I said I wasn’t going to talk people out of cards so I don’t look dumb later when they get bought out anyway. Umm, OK. Here’s my new paragraph.

Jeepers! Morphling sure is expensive!!!1 That’s why you should buy Aetherling instead! It’s the same card almost but way cheaper! Buy foils because foils can’t get reprinted or something. Plus it’s good in Atraxa decks.

Tree of Perdition

This is about to rotate which means it could go down. Since rotation (September 28th) comes sooner than “Mairsil pushes playable cards up” (months from now) I would say to wait and see how much this falls at rotation, if at all. It’s a casual favorite and is pretty unfair as far as cards go so I expect this to regain value. Mairsil alone won’t be enough to push this back up if it falls at rotation, but casual appeal, its relative rarity, the fact that 60 card casual soaks up more than one copy and similar factors make this a good candidate for maintaining value and climbing over time. This isn’t quite a “dectuple overnight” like Shauku, but this was a good stand-in card for me to talk about rotation and you can use our logic here to apply to any card from Mairsil about to rotate, provided it’s a good casual card and at mythic. $3-$5 means this has room to fall but it has room to grow, also.

That does it for me. I think Mairsil is a great commander, good decks will be built with it and I think EDHREC’s commitment to continuing to make the data easier to parse will be a big help to us in the future. If you’re sick of hearing about EDHREC, include in the comments where you go to get EDH data and let us know how you analyze that data – if there are alternatives, it would be good to know that. Until then, keep selling into hype and buying into organic growth. I’m proud of you nerds. See you next week.





*if you can’t fill your article with The Pretenders references, at least reference Echo and the Bunnymen to make people born after 1990 feel cool if they get it

4 thoughts on “Unlocked Pro Trader: Back to Basics”

  1. Good article I’m glad you’re gonna keep doing what you do.

    Though in seriousness wouldn’t aetherling foils be strictly better playability wise since aetherling can flicker itself

    1. “Better” only matters in 60 card decks. You won’t play Lightning Bolt and Lightning Strike in Modern, but you’ll play Aetherling, Morphling and Torchling in this deck in the same amounts so playability isn’t a factor, only supply.

  2. I was thinking about your Morphling pick. You mentioned the RL as a factor in your pick of it, but I am more interested in your playability reasons. I’m guessing that you like the untapping ability on both the morph and the torch, but morphling’s ability to give itself shroud pushes it ahead of the competition of the other 2?

    1. “Better” only matters in 60 card decks. You won’t play Lightning Bolt and Lightning Strike in Modern, but you’ll play Aetherling, Morphling and Torchling in this deck in the same amounts so playability isn’t a factor, only supply.

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