Unlocked Pro Trader: Commander 2018 First Impressions

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Readers,

I wrote… too much, frankly, last week. I’m going to take it easy on you this week, which probably means I’ll do 2,000 words instead of 4,000. I’m not going to go too in-depth on any cards yet but I do have some impressions based on preliminary EDHREC data. Let’s rank every commander by popularity based on the first little bits of data that are trickling in and then see if there’s anything in the most popular deck that everyone else missed, although people have been pretty thorough (they spiked Enchanted Evening to $35 today, for example, and who knows where it ends up? Could stabilize north of $30 – that’s what happens when things don’t get reprinted.) and the decks are sort of obvious, at least some of them. Estrid is probably a bit more obvious than Tawnos, for example.

Let’s see how many of each deck has been registered on EDHREC and see if that tells us anything.

Lord Windgrace – 64 decks (4 as part of 99) JUND
Aminatou, the Fateshifter – 63 decks (16 as part of 99) ESPER
Estrid, the Masked – 60 decks (16 as part of 99) BANT
Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow – 49 decks (27 as part of 99) ESPER
Saheeli, the Gifted – 35 decks (25 as part of 99) IZZET
Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer – 33 decks (28 as part of 99) IZZET
Tuvasa, the Sunlit – 29 decks (50 as part of 99)* BANT
Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle – 16 decks (31 as part of 99)* BANT
Xantcha, Sleeper Agent – 16 decks (22 as part of 99)* JUND
Varina, the Lich Queen – 16 decks (10 as part of 99) ESPER
Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign – 13 decks (33 as part of 99)* ESPER
Kestia, the Cultivator – 10 decks (36 as part of 99)* BANT
Thantis, The Warweaver – 8 decks (15 as part of 99)* JUND
Gyrus, Walker of Corpses – 5 decks (10 as part of 99)* JUND
Tawnos, Urza’s Assistant – 3 decks (21 as part of 99)* IZZET
Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor – 1 deck (23 as part of 99)* IZZET

This tells us quite a few things, I think. I am going to do a little bit of analysis and there will be supposition involved, but if you all didn’t trust my expertise in the field of EDH finance using this data, I’m not sure why you’re reading a whole article about it so I’m just going to state my opinion as fact and if I’m wrong, that’s because I’m bound to be some of the time.

Conclusions

The “Precon Effect” Is Alive And Well

A while back in an article on EDHREC, Sam Alpert talked about what he called “Precon Syndrome” and we later changed to “The Precon Effect” because it was pithier. What he was describing was a tendency for deckbuilders who start with the precon to include stuff that shouldn’t be in the deck. WotC put it in there for beginners and when you start with 100 cards, you cut everything obviously bad and keep the rest and replace the bad cards you cut. That means stuff that is just good enough to include stays in even though they are cards you would never consider jamming if you started from scratch. I would never think to put Ninja of Deep Hours in an Aminatou deck in a million years if you locked me in a room and made me generate list after list and wouldn’t let me out until I included it. 22% of the people who registered an Aminatou list on EDHREC included Ninja, though, because it’s in the precon. Early on people over-include bad precon cards which reduces the number of good cards they run, and they’ll add more good cards later as they jam games.

I put an asterisk by the cards that were in more decks as inclusions than they were as commanders and the list is nearly divided in half. With the exception of Varina toward the bottom of the list, every deck that’s popular out of the gate is in more command zones than 99s and the reverse is true for unpopular commanders. I would venture a guess that a lot of Tawnos’ current play is people thinking he’s too good to take out of their Saheeli deck. Also, the fact that the bottom 2 decks are Izzet but both have much higher inclusion ranks than build ranks, I think there is more synergy in the Izzet deck. Loose copies of Tawnos and Varchild will be hard to come by because people are inclined to leave them in rather than sell them when they build Saheeli and Brudiclad whereas no one is keeping their copies of Lord Windgrace if they build Thantis.

Lord Windgrace Is Most Popular?

I was pretty surprised. I thought it would go Estrid, Aminatou, Saheeli, Windgrace. In fact, Saheeli was below Yuriko, a ninja commander with 9 ninjas to build with. OK? Saheeli has competition from other artifact builds whereas Windgrace (likely with 99 new cards) is the first “lands matter” Jund Commanderand will unite The Gitrog Monster and Angry Omnath, both obvious possible inclusions that spiked hard after they weren’t in the deck.

Also, if you look at the total number between the precons, the numbers may tell us more.

Jund – 93 decks

Esper – 141 decks

Bant – 115 decks

Izzet – 72 decks

Jund was the 2nd least popular deck and Windgrace represents 69% of all Jund decks registered whereas Saheeli is 49%, Estrid is 52% and Aminatou is 45%. Windgrace seems like the most popular but he just has the lion’s (or… panther’s? I’m not Vorthos, someone tell me what he is) share of the second least popular deck whereas the other Planeswalkers had to compete more with interesting commanders in the decks that Jund forgot to include.

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Varina Is An Outlier

I suspect that Varina is not included in the rest of the decks because she has 0 synergy with them and seems like a very glaring inclusion whereas the Precon Effect kept stuff like Xantcha and Tawnos in the decks. A 0 synergy inclusion is useful to look at because they tend to spawn disparate archetypes because they need 99 cards that aren’t in the precon. I think Varina is a lot like UW Taigam from last year – practically no synergy with the deck it’s in and basically included because it was a cool design and they needed somewhere to throw it.

Given Varina’s outlier status, I will select Varina to discuss this week because it’s likely the cards for this deck won’t have spiked yet because, like Tawnos, it’s not obvious how to build the deck to people who don’t play EDH the way Serra’s Sanctum was so obvious my 2 year old bought a copy of it on the iPad half by mistake when I mentioned in a conversation to someone else that Enchantress was the new archetype.

Varina The Queena’ Mean…a

I think Varina is secretly very good and could create some really unbeatable card advantage once left unchecked for a minute. The problem is, attacking with creatures is for casual EDH players and drawing cards and knowing that discarding isn’t a disadvantage is for more competitive players. Varina may be a card that exists in a very small Venn diagram overlap area. The mere 16 decks generated so far (though that’s more than 6 other commanders) make me think people just haven’t figured her out yet. The problem is, a lot of people will be turned on by seeing Varina demonstrated and if the card is taken out of every Aminatou deck due to lack of synergy and discarded, how will that happen?

Varina is currently like $3-$4 which isn’t bulk and is a bit more than a lot of the other new commanders, even ones in decks that aren’t worth as much. The Esper deck is easily the most expensive and it’s the most-built currently. It’s the “good” deck this year and while the “bad” deck is almost always the one to buy for finance reasons in two years, it’s still interesting that a deck with $4 Magus, $17 Yuriko, $3 Golemn, $8 Aminatou, $4 Entreat the Dead and $3 Entreat the Angels can maintain $4ish for Varina, which isn’t getting built that much compared to the other cards. UW Taigam started at $4, too and quickly plummeted to $2 and belowish and it’s currently doing nothing.

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Taigam currently helms 227 decks compared to 896 Ur-Dragon decks, so it’s in a third as many decks as the precon-suggested commander (and 297 of the 755 decks it’s in as a card are Ur-Dragon, which seems weird given its lack of synergy – Precon Effect indeed). Meanwhile, Varina is in 16 compared to the 63 for Aminatou. If that proportion holds, I don’t like Varina as a pickup but I think it will spawn 1/4 as many decks as Aminatou but with all new cards which means older cards that didn’t get reprinted have a chance to go up. Anecdotally, Varina is performing better for people than Taigam did and I think enough casuals will get onboard with having access to White Zombies (the cards, not that godawful band) and cards like Swords to Plowshares and Teferi’s Protection. One thing Varina has going for it that Taigam didn’t – there are decks ready to upgrade to it.

Varina is a better Scarab God than The Scarab God (I think) and you can jam The Scarab God in the 99 of Varina, which is cool. You’re going to draw a ton more cards and have access to white cards which makes Varina a great choice. I think people who don’t port over The Scarab God decks will make Varina decks from scratch. All of these factors make me think that things are going to go up because all of this info isn’t that trivial or obvious – you saw we had to dig to find it. Leave Replenish for the kitty cat collectors, let’s delve into what makes Varina tick.

This card is showing up in 1/3 of the Varina decks and I think that number may increase the more it’s built. I don’t know if this is a spec, but I think you can pull these out of bulk, people don’t know this is $0.50 and people REALLY don’t know foils are over $10. This does so much work but has a decent reprint risk. It’s easier to reprint out of core set than into it. If you see these in draft chaff, $0.10 card boxes at the LGS or in bulk, stash these. I think this is a $2 card in a year with no reprint and everyone is going to act surprised.

Unfortunately, I think this card has hit its floor or is just about to. Market Price is like $3.50 on these, and as briskly as Card Kingdom is outing them at $6, I think TCG Player is the ripe for a correction. Death Baron is a zombie staple and it’s demonstrated an ability to hit $20 if left unchecked. I don’t think it hits $20 again but I don’t think it goes below $3.50 ever. You can’t lose here. Would they jam this right back in M20? I doubt it.

I don’t get this card’s deal but it’s got to go up sometime. It’s a mythic in a set with a bunch of stupid dragons and no one is opening the boxes. Sure, there is no pressure on this card to take up more of the box price but as the box price goes up, why doesn’t this? Its reprint risk is low given how amenable WotC seems to be to printing new Zombie lord and while the glut of Zombie lords means some don’t make the cut, this should.

Then again, it’s in fewer decks than a worthless card like Zombie Master, so who knows?

With moderate reprint risk, I don’t advise paying cash, here. However, with rotation approaching, I would advise taking everything that is propped up by Standard play and won’t see play outside of it and trying to trade for cards like this. Even with reprint risk, this stands a better chance of holding value than something like Glorybringer.  This is an absolute shoo-in for the deck and it’s one of the reasons you switch to a version that can run white, honestly.

I think if you check out the page for Varina,  you can find other cards that maybe aren’t as sexy but which will for sure get jammed. Zombie decks never got to run Necromancer’s Covenant, Anointed Procession, Wayward Servant or Tidehollow Sculler in the past. Is this an improvement? I hope so! If not, at least we know the reasons for looking at Varina in the first place was sound.

As an aside, anecdotally, people are more excited about Varina than they were about Taigam. I think that Yuriko is going to tank soon and when it does, something needs to step up and take some value. Could it be Varina? The parallels to Taigam right now prevent me from saying yes, but if the cards begin to diverge, I think we could have a good buy under $4. We’ll talk more next week. Until next time!

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