Commanding Your Wallet

Chas looks at developing market trends in anticipation of the release of the Commander 2013 decks, and picks his winners (and sleepers!) for the set – what potential Legacy playables should you pick up at the ground floor price?

Projecting the value of cards in boxed sets is tough. On the one hand, you’ve got the San Diego Comic Con Planeswalkers – currently retailing for $800 – and things like the Duel Decks: Elves vs. Goblins, which are worth a whopping $200 each despite containing no good cards. On the other hand, I can walk into my local store and pick up Heroes vs. Monsters for $20 and walk out with a foil copy of Polukranos (retailing for $12 on his own) along with an alt-art foil Sun Titan, Magma Jet, Winds of Rath, Anax and Cymede, Figure of Destiny, Nobilis of War, Regrowth, Troll Ascetic, and Deus of Calamity along with some cool deck boxes and tradeable alternate art commons and uncommons.

Some boxed sets cause prices to plunge – the value of both Verdant Catacombs and Inkmoth Nexus was depressed for years thanks to seeing print in event decks – while others hold singles that outpace the retail cost of the product, like Scavenging Ooze did in Commander 2011. This uncertainty has brought us to the present day, where excitement over singles from Commander 2013 has reached a fever pitch. Check out this eBay auction from last week:

What the heck is going on here, eBay?

What in the wide, wide, world of sports happened here? Do people not realize that this card is going to be available in a deck that will retail for an MSRP of $29.99? Do they assume that Wizards is going to limit the sale of these things, similar to how it was nearly impossible to get a box of Modern Masters? That must be it, right? After all, if each store only gets one or two copies of each deck, there’s no way these cards won’t shoot through the roof.

That’s a screenshot from Mark Rosewater Tumblr. It doesn’t get closer to the horse’s mouth than that, folks. These Commander decks are going to be printed and printed and printed again until everyone has a chance to buy them. Paying more than $29.99 each is foolish if you want these cards for casual play.

So why, then, did someone pay $68 for a copy of True-Name Nemesis? My first guess was that maybe the buyer wanted to play it in Legacy immediately and couldn’t wait. The listing is for a pre-order copy of the card from Israel, though, so I can’t imagine it will show up at his door anytime soon. This sale isn’t an isolated incident, either – there are a handful of other sold listings at $50 or higher for this card. Star City Games currently has them at $30, but they’re sold out. My guess is that they’ll be re-listed closer to that $50 price point. For whatever reason, there seems to be a large number of people out there willing to shell out that kind of cash for this card.

The same exact thing happened two years ago, of course. Lest we forget, Homeward Path, Chaos Warp and Edric, Spymaster of Trest were all $15-$25 cards when Commander 2011 first hit the shelves. The retail value of singles in the most valuable deck at release (Political Puppets, not even the one with Scavenging Ooze) was in the $70-$80 range. That’s pretty similar to what’s going on now – Star City Games has the current batch of them in stock from $50-$60 each, and that’s a screaming deal compared to several other places online.

Why is this happening? It’s likely the result of several factors, all of which you should ignore.

  • The biggest factor here is a major case of “first on my block” syndrome. Based on all the conversations I’ve had with retailers, the initial run of these decks will be small and will sell out fast. There will not be enough supply to meet demand… at first. This artificial scarcity means that dealers can charge more than MSRP and still have no problem selling out quick. This, in turn, raises the prices of the singles.
  • Scavenging Ooze and Flusterstorm in Commander 2011 proved that Wizards of the Coast was willing to print Legacy staples in these box sets. Much like with any product, people get excited about potential during the pre-order period and no one wants to miss out on the next big thing. Scavenging Ooze was a $50-$60 card for a few months. No one wants to miss out on that again.
  • There have been an inordinate number of limited-release products that have jumped in price over the past few months – Modern Masters, the SDCC Box, FTV:20, Commander’s Arsenal, etc. People are overreacting based on their experiences with those sets, not considering that this set will be distributed very differently.
  • The good singles from these wide-release box sets tend to balloon in price once they go out of print. All of the Commander 2011 sets are worth more than retail now. Flusterstorm is a $30 card. Shardless Agent and Baleful Strix from Planechase 2012 have gone up in price 5 or 6-fold over the past year and a half. Even casual cards like Maelstrom Wanderer and Kaalia of the Vast have seen a significant value bump. People cling to this while simultaneously forgetting the price nadir that existed when these decks were widely available on store shelves. Flusterstorm wasn’t always a $30 card, remember – it started around $30, but dropped into the $8-$10 range for quite a while before bouncing back up.

You will have a chance to buy these sets for retail or less if you want to, and while these are in print their value as singles can’t be too much higher that the MSRP of the entire box. It can be a little higher – people are willing to pay a ‘convenience tax’ for the cards they want – but True-Name Nemesis can’t be a $30 card if you can go down to your local shop and snag a Mind Seize deck that also contains Decree of Pain, Propaganda, Sol Ring, Command Tower, Thraximundar, and even a Baleful Strix.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most valuable cards in Commander 2013 and see if we can figure out which ones are most likely to maintain their current bloated prices. It’s also worth making a note of which cards are worth keeping an eye on for when they come down in price. There will be a chance to buy in big on these, after all, and it might actually be one of the best spec opportunities of the year. Just don’t buy until the end of November at least.

Marquee New Cards

True-Name Nemesis – $30

True-Name NemesisThis is the marquee card in Commander 2013, and rightfully so. I am much lower on it than many of you, but I do recognize its power. It is an auto-include in every cube save those who cut cards for being too powerful or not interactive enough. Were it in Standard, it would warp the format in a major way.

Legacy is not Standard, though, nor is every card that is good in Legacy automatically worth a trillion dollars. Terminus sees a reasonable amount of Legacy play (in a deck far better than Merfolk) and is only worth three bucks. Scavenging Ooze wasn’t merely a Legacy playable, it was a versatile threat that preyed on some of the most dominant decks in the format. Scavenging Ooze changed Legacy in a way that True-Name Nemesis probably won’t, and that’s why it was worth so much. If the Nemesis only sees play in Merfolk – even if it’s a four-of, which is certainly not guaranteed – the deck would need to make a major comeback in order for this card to maintain a price anywhere near $30-$50. I suppose it could see play in some kind of U/W Stoneforge/Equipment package, but that deck would have to materialize around it. Bottom line, this card is far from a sure thing.

Of course, this card is a true casual all-star. It plays awesomely well with equipment – a kitchen table favorite – as well as all of the sweet new auras in Theros. It helps enable devotion, too. Casual demand should keep this over $10 regardless, so if you see it drop toward $8 I’d pick up a few. Legacy or not, this is one of those cards that will likely be $30-$40 a few years from now but unless it becomes a tier-one Eternal staple – highly doubtful – expect a massive drop toward $10-$15 first.

Unexpectedly Absent – $15

Unexpectedly AbsentThis seems like an awesome tool for Legacy, though the double white in the casting cost undoubtedly hurts it. X will usually be 0 in competitive formats, and the fact that this can take out any non-land permanent as a tempo play means that this is going to be Time Walk Lite often enough. This card seems similar to Flusterstorm to me – it’s a unique utility effect, and I’m not certain where it will see play yet, but I imagine it’ll do work at some point. Much like True-Name Nemesis, I don’t expect this to do much in Legacy right away, and I’d wager it will start coming down in price fairly quickly. Unlike that card, casual player don’t like paying too much money for cards like this. It should hit $5 and probably makes a fine buy in that rage.

Toxic Deluge – $12

Toxic DelugeThis is my pick for the best Constructed card in the set. Damnation retails for $30, and Deluge is arguably a better spell for both Legacy and Cube. Not only does it cost one mana less, but it’s far more versatile. At times, it will wipe your opponents’ board while letting you hold on to your large control finisher. It’s probably better in Commander, too – the upside will come up more often, and the life loss hurts less in a format where you start with 40 to spend. I wouldn’t be shocked if this card ends up the most expensive spell in Commander 2013 when all is said and done. Buy in when it comes down in price, and it might not even be a bad long-term trade target in the $10 range.

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic – $8

Oloro, Ageless AsceticThis card is currently worth at least twice as much as the other new Mythic commanders. Does that make him the next Kaalia, destined for being worth $15 or more while the others are stuck in the $2-$3 range?

I doubt it. Kaalia is something that casual players had been asking about for years – a true champion for all of those Angel and Dragon decks that never quite had the right enabler. Oloro is going to be a fun commander to build around, but he won’t be as universally popular. He works well for people who enjoy lifegain, and he’s kind of a sweet value play even if you don’t build exclusively around him, but he isn’t the same kind of obvious powerhouse that Kaalia is. He also happens to share colors with Sharuum the Hegemon, one of the classic build-around-me tier-one Commanders. Oloro shouldn’t hold much of a premium over Jeleva and the others, and I expect he’ll come down in price soon enough.

Possible Sleepers

Primal Vigor – $5

All Doubling Seasons are worth something, even Doubling Seasons that don’t make your planeswalkers into broken demigods like Parallel Lives. This shouldn’t go much lower than $5, and if it hits $2-$3 I’d start buying in.

Sudden Demise – $4

This will likely come down from $4 and there’s just about no way this is playable in Legacy, but this is going to be a cube staple as well as a casual favorite for years to come. I’d run this over almost every other fireball in my Commander decks going forward, and it’s going to be at least a three-for-one almost every time.

Ophiomancer – $2

Every card that makes the cut in my cube should probably be considered as a possible sleeper. This one makes a snake on your turn AND your opponents’ turns, so if you have something broken to do with the snakes you can potentially lock the game down entirely. A three-mana combo enabler should not be totally overlooked, and so far I feel like Ophiomancer isn’t getting nearly enough love.

Curse of Predation – $1

This this is absolutely bananas. The first turn you attack with your team, it’s a Glorious Anthem, which is already pretty good. Every turn after that, though, it pumps your guys again. This is probably the best Anthem ever printed for casual play, though it’s ironically much better in a duel than it is in multiplayer. Token decks are going to want this for sure.

Curse of Shallow Graves – $1

This is the other enchantment from that cycle that I love. It’s kind of Bitterblossom-ish in the right deck, and while it probably won’t see play in Legacy it’s being undervalued for casual and cube play right now.

The P3K Conundrum

Commander 2013 contains a ton of cards that were previously in the $50-$80 range due entirely to scarcity – Portal Three Kingdoms has one of the lowest print runs of any Magic set, especially in English. Because they’re being widely reprinted here, most of those cards are now available for $3-$4 each. While the P3K versions of these cards will likely maintain most of their retail value, the actual market for them will collapse almost entirely. There will be some collector demand, but it won’t be much, and people looking to sell will have to take far less than retail for them.

This should be yet another huge wake-up call to anyone who owns P3K cards right now. Over the past few years, Wizards has eagerly reprinted these whenever possible to increase the number of them out there. The best ones are earmarked for judge foils while the smaller pieces will continue appearing in box sets like this. Imperial Seal, remember, is only a $500 card because of how scarce it is. If it is printed as a judge foil – and it will be, probably soon – the card will drop to about $150 overnight. If you have one of these and you’re not using it, sell it right away.

Reprints Worth Discussing

A large portion of the value of these decks is tied up in reprints: casual cards that have crept up in price over the years thanks to an increase in the casual and Commander player base. Once these decks hit the streets, the value of all of these cards is going to collapse. Remember how Woodfall Primus and Adarkar Valkyrie were $10-$12 before Modern Masters came out? It’ll be kind of like that. If you own extra copies of any of these cards, now is the time to trade or sell them. If you’ve got one or two copies tucked away in casual decks, don’t worry about it – riding out those peaks and valleys is part of owning Magic cards.

Baleful Strix – $15 – My favorite owl sees play in Legacy Shardless BUG, and I still have dreams sometimes where I am allowed to play with him in Modern as well. He’s down from $25 to $15 thanks to this reprinting, and my guess is that he’ll drop to $10 before climbing back up again. If you haven’t had a chance to play with this guy in any format, pick up this Commander deck and do it. It’s quite satisfying. The fact that this card is in the same deck as True-Name Nemesis should help bring the price down as well.

Goblin Sharpshooter – $10 – This used to be a Legacy staple, and it does still see occasional play from time to time. I’m glad this one is included here, because it’s a blast to play with and a favorite of mine from the old Onslaught days. I’d expect a $5 drop in price now, though. This product will probably come close to doubling the amount of these in circulation.

Wrath of God – $8 – This is still worth more than Day of Judgment simply because it hasn’t been printed in a while, so it’s harder to find for casual decks. (And, of course, because it’s strictly better.) I’m glad they’re helping to fix that problem, and I could see Wrath dropping into the $5 range.

Avenger of Zendikar – $6 – This is already down from $8 and should hit $3-$4 thanks to this printing.

Karmic Guide – $6 – I can’t see this going any lower than $3-$4, but it should still drop a bit.

Nevinyrral’s Disk – $6 – This has been reprinted a dozen or so times already, and it has still held its value through all of it. It probably won’t go too much lower this time either.

Thraximundar – $5 – For years, this was a great card to pick up from competitive players and flip to EDH brewers for $8-$10. I don’t see it climbing that high again for years – it should stabilize at $3-$4.

Murkfiend Liege – $5 – This card is great in the decks that want it, though not many do. Cards like that tend to tank when they’re reprinted. This one could go as low as $2.

Sol Ring – $5 – The last batch of Commander decks dropped Sol Ring from $15 to $5. This time around, the card had just crested above $10 again before coming back to earth. That rise speaks to just how many people have started playing Magic – especially casual variants – over the past two years. I could actually see Sol Ring fall to $3 this time around simply due to how many of these are out there now. I’d expect this card to continue acting as something of a bellwether for Magic’s growth, rising in value only if the player base continues to explode.

Command Tower – $4 – This was my sleeper pick last time around, and I implored people to pick them up at $3 (what they pre-ordered for) because they are must-adds to every multi-colored Commander deck no matter what. Turns out my prediction was a short term bust and a long term win – They were readily available at $2 for about a year before eventually rising to $6. This time around, expect them to hit $2 again, though I still like it as a longer term buy.

Propaganda – $4 – This casual favorite was -$2-$3 for years. I’d expect it to return there before long.

Homeward Path – $4 – This was one of the marquee cards in Commander 2011, and it’s good to see it come back for another go-round. Expect it to settle in around $2-$3.

Sphinx of the Steel Wind – $3 – Remember when this was selling for more than $10? Mythic rarity is kind of meaningless when you reprint a card three times in eight years. I don’t expect it to ever recover at this point, and it is close to a bulk mythic.

Divinity of Pride – $3 – This is another casual all-star that has now been reprinted three times – twice this year alone. It should be $1-$2 before long.

Army of the Damned – $2 – I loved this as a casual sleeper out of Innistrad, and I was touting it as a sneaky pick-up that could hit $6-$8 before long. Not anymore – you’ve got at least another year to buy in now.

Spec Portfolio – Week #10

I’ll admit it – I was getting a little bored with this project.

I hit on most of my obvious calls – the blue/white stuff, Desecration Demon, Jace – but all of my longer shots and casual stuff is just sitting there and stagnating. Lotleth Troll went up a bit. Deadbridge Chant went down a bit. Ho-hum.

Because this isn’t real money, I decided to take some risks and buy some cards on a hunch. I figured B/W would be the best counter to Mono Blue Devotion and that everyone would be on Thassas and Masters following the Pro Tour. I also figured that Skylasher might make a bit of a peep out of sideboards. I like Mistcutter Hydra a lot more to be sure, but that card was already up to $4. Skylasher was just $1.50.

With all that in mind, I made an impulse buy of ten Lilianas, ten Obzedats, ten Ereboses, and twenty Skylashers. I told my Twitter followers that I was going down a bit of a rabbit hole here and not to follow me. I just wanted to try and shake things up a bit.

So far, so… meh. Erebos was a nice pick-up, and I’m very happy I got him at the nadir of his value, but I’m not convinced that the others will make a move. We’ll see what happens!


Until next time –

– Chas Andres