Unlocked Pro trader: Docked and Loaded


Commander 2020 is fully spoiled and the search is on for this year’s “one card to bother speculating on” because the last two years of commander precons have been so bad, people just assume that’s how this works, now. People seem to have entirely lost confidence in WotC’s ability to make precons we care about, and based on the last two years, it’s sort of easy to see why.

Here is everything worth more than $2 from Commander 2019.

Here is the list from Commander 2018.

These are both pretty short lists. Both times, the second-most-expensive card is a generic Green staple with multiple other printings. Both times the list is roughly half reprints despite each deck containing 15 new cards. Obviously, the sets have been opened to death and they’re very available so it would be difficult to have another situation like in the past. Commander 2017 has 7 cards worth more than $10 and the Commander 2016 Atraxa precon sells for $150, even if it’s just the shrinkwrapped deck from the Commander Anthology set. Is it just a matter of time for Commander 2018 and 2019 or do those decks just suck so bad that no amount of waiting will improve things? I have a feeling that it’s more the latter than the former.

Let’s figure out if that hypothesis is correct before we move on to Commander 2020, though. We need to figure out if there is an appreciable supply difference between Commander 2017 and Commander 2018 that could explain the price discrepancies. One limitation to EDHREC in its current form is that we only go back 2 years in our data. The reason for this is to make it more useful as a deck recommendation website – if you don’t want every card in an Oloro or Meren deck (or Atraxa at this point) deck to throw off every metric and bury some useful signal in all the noise, it’s nice to chop off some of the older decks at a certain point. That reduces its usefulness in cases where I want to compare 2017 to 2018, but it does help me prove certain points very conclusively. If we’re getting more use of Commander 2017 cards, that means more people built with cards from Commander 2017 IN THE YEAR 2018 than they did with cards from Commander 2018. That’s pretty significant. Also, EDHREC goes back to April 2018 when Commander 2017 had only been out for 7 months, which means people were still building decks with the cards, especially since new, relevant cards were printed in sets that came out in early 2018 and that was the newest Commander set at that point (Commander 2018 didn’t come out until August of 2018). I guess what I’m saying is that we can’t compare apples to oranges, but if we go in expecting apples to be smaller because they’re a year older and they end up being the same size as the oranges, that means the apples are overperforming, and that’s all we really needed to know. We don’t have quantitative data but we do have qualitative data, in other words. That will do fine.

Just taking a rough look at usage metrics, we’re seeing the story of Dockside Extortionist pan out. Extortionist is played more than twice as much as the next-most-played card from Commander 2019 whereas the most expensive card from Commander 2018, Arixmethes, is the 14thj-most-played card. The most-played card is played twice as much as the second-most played deck, but it’s in 8% of decks rather than 17%. The distribution is much flatter – there are 5 cards in more than 2,000 decks in the Top 16 of Commander 2019 whereas there are 8 in Commander 2018 and 13 for Commander 2017. Commander 2017 had tribal staples that got played in following years, Commander 2018 had good removal, Planeswalkers and good cards like Estrid’s Invocation and Commander 2019 had creatures that were good in very specific archetypes built around bad abilities like Morph, generic Naya beaters and only 4 non-creatures in the Top 16, none of which were removal spells.

Commander 2017 cards are played more because they go in decks built in 2017, 2018, 2019 and probably 2020 (Teferi’s Protection, Herald’s Horn, Path of Ancestry, Kindred Dominance, Disrupt Decorum, Fractured Identity and even Mathas seem good with cards from Commander 2020) but also, they’re better cards.

The second thing we need to try and ferret out is whether the price is dilluted by a higher supply in Commander 2019. If a card in Commander 2018 has a relatively flat price graph over the last 2 years, is in as many decks as a card from Commander 2017 and costs a tenth as much, you can reasonably conclude there are just more copies of that card out there. Commander 2019 sold incredibly well despite being really bad, and so did Commander 2018 despite being better than 2019 but so much worse than 2017 that everyone complained and WotC vowed to make the decks better (then didn’t). I suspect the prices in Commander 2019 will be lower than 2018 for cards played a similar amount despite equal play and less time for the price to go up. Let’s compare some apples to some slightly older apples.

For the cards in the 3,000 or so deck range, we aren’t seeing a huge difference between Commander 2018 and Commander 2019. Compare that to a card in the same number of decks that’s more restricted due to color identity.

The only question is whether Fractured Identity was $2 in 2017, $3 in 2018 and $5 in 2019.

Basically, it was. It seems like cards just sort of trend up over time from these decks. How about cards in more decks?

It’s tough to find cards to compare because nothing from Commander 2018 was in 10,000 decks, nothing from Commander 2019 was in 10,000 decks and nothing from either was in 20,000 decks.

Here is one year from Commander 2017 to Commander 2018. Wrath of Goad was in most popular deck, which should bring its price down but didn’t. Estrid’s Invocation was in the deck with 2 of the most expensive cards but there is no clear “buy this” deck yet so it’s hard to tell which was the most popular. Could Estrid’s Invocation be $8 in a year? Are we seeing peculiarites associated with TCG Player taking their stores offline for the ‘Rona since these cards are basically the same price on Card Kingdom, the site where EDH player buy their cards? Hard to say. It sure makes me think Estrid’s Invocation could be a buy if you sell on TCG Player, though.

From what I have seen, it doesn’t appear that prices from 2019 are depressed due to a ton of supply but are likely subject to the same growth curve as older cards.

I even found some odd cases where the Commander 2019 cards was worth more than a Commander 2018 card played roughly as much.

Is it possible Commander 2020 will sell a ton more than Commander 2019 did because it’s much better? Maybe, but Commander 2019 mostly sucked and only had one card anyone cares about and it sold the most ever, so I think it’s more likely we’ll see depressed sales from the virus situation, people’s unstable financial situation and the coming recession about to slam into us than we’ll see lower prices from too much supply. This set is dropping at a terrible time for it to sell more than Commander 2019 did.

So, what’s this set’s Dockside Extortionist?

Well, if you ask me, there isn’t one.

This set is quite good and there are bound to be multiple cards that spread the love out. Furthermore, despite there being fairly strong themes like an entire deck devoted to cycling, we’re seeing a lot of cards that will be EDH staples for years to come rather than deck-specific cards. Compare an artifact from Commander 2019 to one from Commander 2020.

One of them is a durdle card for a durdle deck, the other is insanely powerful and is bound to get played forever. So what’s stopping Manascape Refractor, in all of its insane glory, from being the Dockside Extortionist of the set? Simple – the rest of the set.

This is too much money for all of these and none of them will be above $10 in a year.

This was barely $15 before the reprinting and as good as it is, and not just in Commander, it’s in a precon and it’s going to be one that is bought a lot, if you ask me. Xyris is nutty, the deck has a 0 mana Deflect, Etali, Lightning Greaves, Chaos Warp and Dualcaster Mage. It’s not the best deck in terms of reprint value but we won’t expect Locust God to soak up almost a third of the deck’s value on its own.

Xyris is nutty, but commanders don’t tend to stay above $10. Since 2017, only Edgar Markov has gone above $15 and that took a decent amount of time.

Signet seems good here. It’s going to be a Sol Ring or better card since it has fewer printings. Refractor at $8 is high but not overly high – I don’t expect it to end up in the $3, especially since it’s a card that goes in decks going forward but also retroactively goes in decks already built, meaning people need more than one copy. You only need your one Scroll of Fate to put in your own Kadena deck you’ll play 3 times and tear apart but every tribal deck you built before Commander 2017 needed a Path of Ancestry all of a sudden, and future ones would need one, too. Refractor and Signet aren’t tribal but they are that ubiquitous. Nothing in Commander 2019 compares to the utility of either one of these cards.

The only card that seems underpriced for the near- and medium-term is Fierce Guardianship. It’s getting a lot more hype than Deflecting Swat and it’s in the Jeskai deck with The Locust God and Trilobite which already has reasons to buy it. The cycling theme means that the cards in the deck are likely to be played with each other so people buying the deck to put the cards in other decks seems less likely which means the market will have fewer loose copies of Guardianship and it could be a situation where this is the most-bought precon at first. I don’t expect Atraxa-esque levels, though and the value seems spread better than last year.

The Top 10 most played cards in Commander 2019 not named Dockside Extortionist are Marisi, Chainer, Ohran Frostfang, Pramkikon, Eisha, Bone Miser, Atla Palani, K’rrik and Apex Altisaur. Verge Rangers is better than all 10 of those cards except maybe Frostfang. White desperately needs what Rangers does and it’s going to go in a lot of decks. Altar is pretty narrow but it lets people with dumb decks like Phage try to build that dumb deck again, which is fun. If this were Commander 2019, where the second-most-expensive card was a $6 reprinted Seedborn Muse, you might not think that any of these cards were worth preordering at $5, but I think we’ve established that this isn’t the case. I think even with as popular as each deck will be since they’re basically all better than all of the decks last year, we’ll still potentially see between 2 and 5 cards above $7 next year. Ruthless Regiment is basically DLC for the Mardu Knights Brawl deck but even it has Verge Rangers, Flawless Maneuver (underpriced at $0.50 presale, imo), Shared Animosity, Magus of the Wheel (not in the wheel deck why?) and a ton of cards that will go bulkish but bounce back like Knight of the White Orchid, Thalia’s Lieutenant, Zulaport Cutthroat and Crackling Doom. Oh, AND it has a Skullclamp? I’d say all of these decks have a lot of value spread out. Will it make every card $1 instead of $2 in a year? Hard to say.

I mentioned I thought as many as 5 cards could be above $5 in a year, which is ballsy when you look at even Commander 2018’s numbers – 2 years later, Commander 2018 has 4 and 1 year later Commander 2019 has 2. The cards that have a shot, though, are, in my view the following.

Verge Rangers. The deck has a lot of cards that are going to drop a lot due to their multiple printings and a lot of the cards are pretty cheap already. I think Verge Rangers could be the most expensive card in its deck. This is the least likely of my 5 picks but it’s a stupid good card.

Arcane Signet. I realize it’s in every deck and the Brawl decks, but people need these for every deck they’ve ever built, so unless they’re buying a Commander precon just for the Signet and not building a new deck with the cards in the precon, they didn’t actually help any of their old decks and will need to snag copies from elsewhere for their other decks.

The Locust God. I think this could halve in price, which is fine, and will likely recover some of its value.

Manascape Refractor. This card, if it’s as powerful as I think it is, will be pretty expensive. If it’s as durdly and situational as I fear it may be, we’re looking at the $2.50ish territory Treasure Nabber is at. Which red Goblin that gives you artifacts is this, Nabber or Extortionist? Or somewhere in between? We’ll see when people start to play with it. I’m not buying a ton at $8 since I think it’s a maybe whether it will be $8 in a year, but I like it.

Fierce Guardianship. This is basically a Force of Will for the important spells in Commander. Even not having your commander and paying 2U for Negate is fine, really. I think this could end up being pretty expensive and we could all be saying “Well duh” in hindsight.

Here are a few cards I really like but don’t know about whether they could hit $7.

Dismantling Wave. If you just play this as a 3 mana Sorcery, you basically Windgrace’s Judgment. You can’t get creatures, but you can’t get creatures with Return to Dust and that’s $2 after 5 printings.

Xyris. Arixmethes is like $8 right now, but Xyris is far from the only good Commander in this set. Commander 2018 was a mess and it’s really tough to try to figure out what any of its prices mean.

Slippery Bogbonder. People are really excited about this card. Granting Hexproof at instant speed and moving counters can make for some really dirty moves, and cards like Hardened Scales and Doubling Season love when you move counters because it grows the number again.

Cartographer’s Hawk. People are really polarized by this card. Some call it trash some are calling it a workhorse. I’m not sure which it is but anytime people argue this much, I take notice.

I think Commander 2020 is the best Commander set since Commander 2017 and the value will be spread out much more. I also think there will be more of it. I’ll be back with Xyris specs next week because I cannot WAIT to brew with this deck, but here’s a free one just for Pro Traders – Forced Fruition.

Until next time!