Commander 2016 Financial Set Review!

Commander sets always mess with the Magic markets in a big way! So what’s the story this time around? Chas explains why this edition will have big ramifications for both players and speculators! Read on!

Commander 2016 is here, and the value present in the set’s five new preconstructed decks is without precedent. Seriously: I went back and checked my Commander 2015 review, and the retail price for all the financially relevant cards in that set (prior to release) was between $55 and $80 per deck. By contrast, even the least interesting Commander 2016 deck is currently clocking in close to $100 retail. And these numbers aren’t being goosed by overpriced new cards—in fact, the new cards in Commander 2016 are priced significantly cheaper than comparable cards from previous sets. No—most of the value in Commander 2016 comes from a dizzying array of exciting reprints.

Financially, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s in line with WotC’s recent push toward heavy reprinting, as seen in Conspiracy: Take the Crown and the Masterpiece Series. This policy is great for Commander players with small collections, but it’s tough on anyone whose approach to Magic finance heavily involves the “throw a bunch of cards in a box and forget about them for half a decade” theory of long-term investment that I’ve been following for most of my adult life.

This begs a couple of interesting questions that I’d like to discuss this week. Do sets like Commander 2016 signal the end of passive, casual-demand-driven Magic speculation? Is it worth buying up a bunch of Commander 2016 decks since the value inside is so high? Which of the Commander 2016 decks have the most value? And are there any additional cards that you should be picking up because they play nicely will some of the new Commanders? Let’s find out.

A Change in Philosophy?

We should probably talk about the big picture first. Is it still worth putting cards away for the long-term now that the Commander sets, the Masterpiece Series, the Modern/Eternal Masters sets, and (possibly) Conspiracy sets are being released on a yearly basis? I think it depends on your investment philosophy.

The argument for “no” is pretty simple. Investment capital is limited, and the more of it you sock away, the less of it you have for quick flips and other short-term financial moves. This wasn’t as much of a problem when putting casual cards in your closet for three to four years was a guaranteed win, but it’s a lot less attractive now that there are so many staples being reprinted.

The argument for “yes” is pretty decent too, though. Long-term casual speculation is still very low-risk, it doesn’t require much effort, and the reward can still be massive. Casual cards still spike all the time—take a look at what’s happened to Intervention Pact and Pact of the Titan the past few weeks, for example. Just because it’s gotten harder to make money this way doesn’t mean that you should abandon the strategy entirely.

Here’s where I come out on this right now: if you have limited investment capital, a good amount of free time, and a track record of quick-flip success, you should think about scaling back your long-term holds. If you’re a more casual Magic financier and you either have plenty of capital or an aversion to quick-flip speculation, keep doing what you’re doing. Just don’t expect your returns to be as great as they were a couple of years ago.

Everyone does need to adjust to our new reality at least somewhat, though. Selling into hype is now even more important, because every non-Reserved-List card should be considered at moderate risk for a reprint. Diversification is more important, too—you don’t want to be left holding the bag on several hundred copies of Hushwing Gryff or Waste Not once that spoiler rolls around. Casual cards that are only expensive due to serious supply shortage (as opposed to relentless demand) are also a worse long-term hold these days, but if you’ve been reading this column for a while, you know that I’ve long been adverse to these sorts of cards.

Investing in Commander 2016

Since the value in Commander 2016 is so high, I’ve had a bunch of people messaging me to ask if they should stock up on these decks as soon as they go on sale. After all, paying $30-$40 (StarCityGames.com has four of these five decks below the $35 MSRP) for $100+ in value shouldn’t be ignored. Is there a chance that some of these Commander 2016 decks will end up skyrocketing in value like their some of their counterparts?

There is some precedent for a spike like that. The Commander 2011 decks are worth $100+ each, and the Commander 2014 (single-colored) decks sell above retail as a set. On the other hand, the Commander 2013 and Commander 2015 sets are still easily available for less than MSRP.

I don’t think you can compare any current release to Commander 2011, though. It was the first year of the product, and those decks were massively under-printed compared to the sets released from 2013 to now. The chance that Commander 2016 will reach those highs is minuscule.

That said, the Commander 2016 decks do pack more value than any of the other sets since the very first. And we do have a precedent for a recent run of Commander decks increasing in price several years after release: Commander 2014. I would bet that, three to four years from now, the five Commander 2016 decks will be easy to move as a lot for $200+.

There is some risk involved, however. If Wizards of the Coast keeps upping the reprint value of these sets, Commander 2016 might not feel all that special a year or two from now. It’s possible that many of these specific cards will be printed two to three times over the next few years and they will never recover their value. There is also the very real potential that Commander 2016 will have such a massive print run that it will be many years before these decks become difficult to get at MSRP.

What is my plan? Well, I love Commander, so I’ve already placed my pre-order with StarCityGames.com for the five decks at $150. Quite frankly, it wasn’t a difficult decision—I know I’ll get an absurd amount of value out of playing with the cards regardless of what they’re worth. After that, I’ll probably wait for six to seven months and see what the supply looks like. If it’s still reasonably high, I might pick up a few extra sets for long-term speculation; oftentimes you can snipe a good deal on eBay once the hype has worn off a bit. I don’t think the return will be absurd or anything, but I have a very hard time believing that these decks will stay below MSRP for long once WotC stops printing them.

Breaking Down the Decks

Whether you’re planning on buying the Commander decks or not, it’s worth knowing about their contents. Before we begin, though, I just want to say that I might have missed a few of the notable new cards. Not all of them have been officially spoiled as of this writing, and StarCityGames.com has not priced every single card in the set yet. [Copy Editor’s Note: Check out more Commander 2016 cards here!] I’ve done my best with the information available to me, and I figured it was better to go to print with 95% of the information than wait a week for those last few cards.

Entropic Uprising

  • Current value of reprints (only cards worth $1 or more): $74
  • Current value of new cards (only cards worth $1 or more): $22
  • Total current value: $96

Reprints of note:

Entropic Uprising is one of the less exciting Commander 2016 decks, but it still has plenty of cards worth talking about. Past in Flames had been one of my favorite long-term spec targets for a while, but I assumed it was going to see a reprint in Modern Masters 2017 regardless. I still feel like that may happen, much to everyone’s chagrin. Burgeoning was just reprinted in Conspiracy, so no great loss there, but I had really liked both Waste Not and Chromatic Lantern as long-term targets. I honestly think that Lantern is still a deal at $4—demand for that card is seemingly endless, and one reprinting in one Commander deck won’t affect that.

New cards of note:

I doubt any of these cards will find much of a home outside Commander, and anyone who wants to play with Yidris will probably just buy the deck. Vial Smasher the Fierce is at least marginally good in Cube, though. If you’re going to spec on any of these cards, that would be my primary target.

Open Hostility

  • Current value of reprints (only cards worth $1 or more): $80.50
  • Current value of new cards (only cards worth $1 or more): $22
  • Total current value: $102.50

Reprints of note:

The reprint value in Open Hostility is higher than in Entropic Uprising, but the list of notable cards is less exciting. Karplusan Forest had gained value thanks to Modern Eldrazi, and I expect it’ll drop a bit now. Iroas, God of Victory was always one of the least-exciting Gods. Mycoloth, Boros Charm, Skullclamp, and the M10 lands have all been reprinted many times before. It’s nice to get another Lightning Greaves reprint, though—the card is quite resilient, probably because it’s good in literally every Commander deck ever made. Dauntless Escort is a bit of a bummer, but it was looking like a Modern Masters 2017 inclusion anyway. I had really liked Den Protector as a long-term casual buy as well, but I’m more bearish on the card now.

New cards of note:

I don’t love Saskia at $4—as with all the four-color Commanders, people will just buy the full deck if they want to play with her. Ravos, Soultender has a lot more utility, and B/W Tokens enablers tend to do well long-term. Conqueror’s Flail is the best of the three, though—it’s not good enough for Cube or Legacy, but even two-color Equipment-based Commander decks have to at least think about running this for the second ability.

Stalwart Unity

  • Current value of reprints (only cards worth $1 or more): $116
  • Current value of new cards (only cards worth $1 or more): $13
  • Total current value: $129
  • Reprints of note:

    Wow, what a list. Collective Voyage was mostly expensive thanks to how under-printed Commander 2011 was, and I expect the price to drop significantly now. Same with Lurking Predators and Magic 2010. Ghostly Prison and Propaganda have proven incredibly resilient, though; I doubt they’ll ever go to much lower than $3-$4. Ditto Swords to Plowshares. I had liked Progenitor Mimic, Howling Mine, and Swan Song as long-term holds, but they’re much worse off now. I also doubt that Forbidden Orchard has enough actual demand to sustain $9 long-term—I expect that one to end up under $5 before long.

    New cards of note:

    If only Prismatic Geoscope entered the battlefield untapped! As is, I’d rather have Gilded Lotus most of the time. Selfless Squire is probably the most flexible of these cards, but I can’t imagine any of them have a lot of untapped potential value.

    Invent Superiority

    • Current value of reprints (only cards worth $1 or more): $78
    • Current value of new cards (only cards worth $1 or more): $28
    • Total current value: $106

    Reprints of note:

    Baleful Strix and Solemn Simulacrum have been printed quite a lot, but both cards have proven reasonably resilient—everybody needs a sad robot in their life, after all. Master of Etherium would be a fantastic reprint if it saw play in the current top builds of Modern Affinity, but these days it seems like it’s a little more on the outs—I’d expect this one to end up closer to $5 once Invent Superiority hits store shelves. Hellkite Tyrant and Daretti, Scrap Savant both had really nice long-term price trajectories ahead of them, but alas, this is the nature of reprints. Both will probably end up in the $2-$3 range.

    New cards of note:

    At $10, Magus of the Will is currently the most expensive of the new cards in Commander 2016. But is it any good? I’ll certainly run it in Commander, and my combo-centric Cube is getting a copy (I doubt most Cubes will run it), but I doubt it’s strong enough for Legacy Storm. The consensus take on the Legacy subreddit seems to be, “Eh, I might sideboard a few copies in certain matches,” and I tend to agree. The card might stay over $5 simply because it’s incredibly cool, but I doubt it’ll become the True-Name Nemesis of Commander 2016.

    At $2, I kind of love Faerie Artisans. Most Commander games I play tend to devolve into fights between cards with game-breaking enters-the-battlefield abilities, and Faerie Artisans is an absolute pest in those situations. Look for this to be one of the set’s breakout casual cards with some serious long-term potential.

    Breed Lethality

    • Current value of reprints (only cards worth $1 or more): $80
    • Current value of new cards (only cards worth $1 or more): $24
    • Total current value: $104

    Reprints of note:

    Well, I guess now I know why Scavenging Ooze never spiked—darn you, time travelers! The Ooze is one of the most important creatures in Modern, and I doubt it’ll end up below $5. Hardened Scales is another blow to many spec portfolios, I’m sure—the card still looks like long-term gold, but it might take another dip first thanks to this. I expect Kalonian Hydra and Reveillark to drop off a bit as well, but both cards should be fairly resilient. The Odyssey filter lands are pretty mediocre, though, and I suspect they’ll end up back in the $2 range.

    New cards of note:

    While all the other Commander 2016 decks are still available for $30, Breed Resilience is currently sold out at $40. Why? It’s certainly not reprint value; Stalwart Unity wins that battle hands down. No, it’s excitement over this batch of new cards.

    Even though Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice has exacting color requirements, I expect it to be fairly stable at $5 with a very good long-term trajectory. This is the commander that seems to be exciting the causal crowd more than any of the others, and sometimes you just have to shut off the analytics and listen to the will of the people. If you play a lot of Commander, you’re going to see quite a few Atraxa decks over the next few years.

    Deepglow Skate has a nice long-term profile as well. “Double the number of each kind of counter” is an absolutely golden Commander ability, and many different decks are going to want this. It’s not a bad buy at $4 as long as you’re willing to wait a while for your returns (and hope WotC doesn’t instantly reprint this card!).

    Besides the new common land Ash Barrens, Crystalline Crawler looks like it’s going to be the only slam-dunk Cube staple in Commander 2016. Because of that, it’s probably a bit underpriced at $2. I’ll likely grab a few of these for my long-term stash.

    Potential Commander Spec Targets

    These decklists have only been out for a few days, so there isn’t a lot of discussion out there about how to improve them yet. Since Commander isn’t a competitive format, most deckbuilders aren’t going to start tinkering with Commander 2016 lists until they hit shelves. I’m going to speculate a little, but when it comes to buys like this, I like to visit different Commander forums and talk to Commander players at my local game store to see what they’re hoping to brew up.

    That said, here are a few of my ideas:

    Hypergenesis: You can cast this off a one-drop (that gains cascade) as long as Yidris gives it cascade. Seems like a pretty brutal sequence that shouldn’t be hard to assemble.

    Maelstrom Wanderer: It might not combo directly with Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder, but isn’t everyone who buys this deck going to want one?

    Yore-Tiller Nephilim, Dune-Brood Nephilim, Witch-Maw Nephilim, Ink-Treader Nephilim: Only Glint-Eye Nephilim made the cut for Commander 2016, so people are going to want the only other four-color cards WotC has printed.

    Inexorable Tide: This has to be an auto-include in Atraxa, right?

    Gilder Bairn: Another card that works perfectly with whatever you want proliferated.

    Mostly, I’d suggest camping out on EDHREC for the next couple of weeks and seeing what bubbles up to the surface.

    This Week’s Trends

    The Standard market is down this week, in part due to the increase in supply thanks to Pro Tour speculators flipping their purchases. Aetherworks Marvel, Torrential Gearhulk and Verdurous Gearhulk have all dropped from their post-PT highs. Saffron Olive wunderkinds Panharmonicon and Metallurgic Summonings also continue to drop, as do PT no-shows Nissa, Vital Force and Chandra, Torch of Defiance.

    The format’s lone riser? Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which continues to over-perform on the Standard circuit. It’s also worth noting that many of Kaladesh’s better cards have proven more resilient to the post-PT drop than they have in recent years—Smuggler’s Copter, for example, has shown no signs of losing value. Increased market confidence thanks to the set rotation changes, perhaps?

    There hasn’t been much action in the Modern markets this week. Pact of the Titan is up a bit, but I think it’s just cheeky buyout behavior—if the other four are going to be worth something, why not Zoidberg? I’d stay away. Otherwise, it’s all just minor fluctuations—Through the Breach, Ensnaring Bridge, and Scalding Tarn are up a bit, while recent format staples like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Collected Company continue to drop.

    Most interestingly, the Platinum Emperion truthers seem like they’re finally giving up. If you’ve been hoarding copies of this card, I’d suggest getting out ASAP.

    Looking for an interesting Vintage spec? Try foil copies of Paradoxical Outcome. Reid Duke was doing crazy things with the card on the Eternal Weekend stream, and I suspect most Vintage mages will be looking to grab a few copies of this in the coming days.

    MTGO prices have begun to rebound with some Modern staples gaining 10-30% of their overall value back last week. The online market is still depressed, though, and players haven’t taken to the treasure chests as WotC had hoped. They seem to acknowledge this, albeit only on tucked-away Tumblr posts, and it looks like changes may come to treasure chests along with the November 16 MTGO update. We shall see! In the meantime, I still suggest buying MTGO staples if you need them.

    The promos for RPTQs and GPs in 2017 were announced last week: for RPTQs, you get Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (yay!). For Grand Prix, you get Progenitus (uhhhh…). There isn’t a lot to do here if you already own these cards. The RPTQ promos don’t really affect the prices for non-promos, and Progenitus isn’t really worth all that much to begin with. Even still, this news means that neither card is an especially exciting long-term hold now. Feel free to sell any copies you aren’t currently using.

    Comments from Last Week

    I’m a judge and I often get booster boxes from judging PPTQs and GPs. Is there a general rule to maximize value from sealed boxes? How do I know when to sell or hold long-term?

    – Joni Windsor Bailey

    Great question, Joni. It not only applies to judges but also to people who win booster boxes at large events. I often run into players who have dozens of these things kicking around their house. Must be nice…

    First off, there is less urgency with booster boxes than, say, Standard staples. If you throw a couple of decent Standard decks in your closet for a year or two, your cards will probably lose 70-80% of their value. That’s why I recommend aggressively trading and selling the cards you aren’t using. Booster boxes don’t have that problem. Even the worst set in recent memory—Dragon’s Maze—still has a retail price of $90. You aren’t likely to get that price for your spare box, mind you, but the overall depreciation over time is still quite minimal.

    In general, box prices tend to start high (everyone wants packs from the new set), dip a bit once another set is released, dip again after rotation, and then slowly climb thanks to nostalgia and the increasing scarcity of the cards. If you don’t need the money and the space isn’t an issue, holding them for five or six years is almost always going to provide the best chance of a great return with almost no risk of losing your shirt—as I said earlier, even boxes from bad sets are still fairly valuable. This isn’t viable for most people, though, and your next-best option is to sell your boxes ASAP. You’ll have a lot more buyers if you’re selling a box from the current draft format, and liquidity is always a nice thing.

    If you’re debating which boxes to keep in long-term storage and which to move on from, here are the criteria I like to use:

    1. Is this box from a standalone draft set?

    2. Is the draft format considered excellent?

    3. Does the set have a high number of mythics or chase rares that see significant play in Legacy or Modern?

    4. Does the set have multiple commons or uncommons that see significant play in Legacy or Modern?

    The more times you can answer “yes,” the more your box is likely to hold value. This is why Khans of Tarkir booster boxes are sold out at $120 while Oath of the Gatewatch boxes are just $90.

    How long should I wait before buying Chandra, Torch of Defiance? Has she reached her floor, or should I hold off until early December?

    – Bjorn Schultz

    While Chandra’s price drop has slowed a bit—in fact, her price on MTGO has ticked up a little over the past few days—I still don’t think we’ve hit the bottom. Kaladesh is a powerful set and Chandra just isn’t seeing all that much play right now. And it’s not like there’s a Pro Tour coming up that might correct that—the metagame has been established, and it isn’t all that conducive to her particular set of skills. Right now, Chandra’s price is mostly being buoyed by price memory (which will continue to fade) and casual demand. Unless a deck running three or four maindeck copies of Chandra starts dominating the standings soon, she’ll be a $10 card by Christmas. I’d wait.