Don’t Tuck Away Your Money

While the Season One Invitational was sure to shake up some financial values this weekend, a serious change in the Commander “tuck” rule has grabbed Chas’s attention as card prices shift wildly around.

Nothing changed the Magic finance game more than the widespread adoption of Commander.

Before Commander, there was a stark divide between casual players and tournament grinders. Competitive players only wanted to trade for Standard or Legacy staples, and the kitchen table crew were generally willing to give them up in exchange for the coolest dragons and sweetest foils. Commander blurred that gap as a hybrid casual/competitive format, and suddenly you had living room mages who were interested in dual lands and tournament players who wanted foil copies of Mana Reflection. The result? Doubling Season is sold out at $30 despite being printed at rare in Modern Masters 2013.

As you can imagine, any change in an all-encompassing format like Commander is a very big deal. That’s why I’m spending an entire article discussing the financial ramifications of the rules tweak that Sheldon Menery and the Commander Rules Committee made last week. If you want the full story behind the change, check out Sheldon’s initial announcement and his follow-up article here from Thursday. All you really need to know, however, is this: if your Commander would otherwise go into your library or hand, you may now choose to put it into the command zone instead. In the past, a problematic commander could be ‘tucked’ on the bottom of a library with a card like Spin Into Myth or Hallowed Burial. That trick no longer works, and its ramifications are huge.

The rules change has proven fairly controversial so far, but I’m not here to judge it one way or the other. While some local groups will probably keep playing with the old tuck rule for a while, the vast majority of Commander games going forward will honor the rules committee’s decision. As a smart financier, that means that we’re going to treat this as a wholesale format shift. After all, how many people do you know who are still playing casual games with manaburn and damage on the stack after vowing that they would keep the old ways alive after M10 hit the shelves? Exactly.

There are a small (but loud) group of Commander players who believe that this change will be reversed at some point in the future, either by the current rules committee or by WotC asserting control over the format. Read enough of those articles and petitions and you might even start believing that it’s worth speculating on some of the better tuck cards in preparation for this shift back to normalcy. While I understand how this line of thinking can seem attractive, I very much doubt that this decision will ever be rolled back. Once you get beyond the ‘change is scary’ aspect of the update, the change is a fairly elegant and straightforward adjustment to the rules of the format. If it causes certain Commanders or strategies to become too powerful, the format will find other ways to adapt. Don’t throw your money at a pile of sinking cards just because your heart doesn’t handle change very well.

So what might the future hold for the cards whose value has changed thanks to the shake-up? Let’s find out, starting with:

Spells That Got Worse

Spell Crumple – $4.99

Before the announcement, Spell Crumple was an easy seller in the $8 range. It’s down to $5 now, and I have no doubt that the price will keep falling as players’ demand for the card continues to crumple. It is still an effective card at keeping problems out of the graveyard where they can be re-used, of course, so it hasn’t been completely relegated to the bulk box – but it used to be one of the four or five best counterspells in the entire format. At this point, can you really argue that Spell Crumple is significantly better than Forbid? Dismiss? Rewind, even? I’m not so sure.

Spell Crumple should settle in the $2-$3 retail range based on its scarcity alone. If you can get out of them at anywhere close to that number based on the card’s recent price memory, you should do so fairly quickly.

Hinder – $3.69

Hinder hasn’t dropped in price yet — it was about a $4 card before the change, and it’s still about a $4 card now. Good luck getting that price in sale or trade right now, though — Hinder is slightly more versatile than Spell Crumple, but there are far more copies of this one out there in the world and it’s not really good enough for competitive play. Like Spell Crumple, Hinder still does have some utility in fighting decks that play out of the graveyard or in countering an irrelevant spell back to the top of a library. I’d imagine that most players will upgrade to a slightly better counterspell at some point soon, though.

Hinder should drop off toward the $1.50-$2 range, but I doubt that either the foil or textless promo price will drop that much. Those versions of the card are quite scarce, and there won’t be much of a race to the bottom as people look to move them. I do think that the foil will end up closer to $10 than $15, though, and finding a buyer will start to prove difficult as the months pass and people move on. If I had a foil Hinder right now, I’d be looking to trade it away fairly soon.

Oblation – $0.49

Oblation was a bulk rare before the rules change, so no one’s spec portfolio should have been hit all that hard here. It was one of the premiere tuck effects in the format, though, and I had it written up as a huge sleeper spec last year before the Commander 2014 lists were spoiled. At this point, however, Oblation is strictly worse than dozens and dozens of other white removal spells. I doubt we’ll ever see it peak above bulk status again, though, regardless of how good it is when you hit your own Derevi with it. Corner cases like that just aren’t good enough to overcome the massive supply of these out there.

Condemn – $0.29

Even with tuck factored in, Condemn is a step below Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile. The card has also been reprinted half a dozen times since Dissension, tanking the price each time. Foil copies of Condemn were fairly easy to get between $1 and $2 before the rules change, so there can’t be much more of a drop-off now. You’ll still run this if you need a third removal spell that costs W, but it has gone from being a decent-but-slightly-underplayed removal spell to being merely a marginal choice in Mono-White Commander decks or Tiny Leaders.

Spin Into Myth – $0.49

I’m actually surprised how easy Spin Into Myth was to find for around $0.50 before the announcement — to me, it has always been one of the format’s best answers to any problematic creature. Five mana is a lot to pay for spot removal, though, and without the ability to tuck a commander Spin into Myth is barely worth considering. Foils are currently retailing for $5.99, but I’d be happy to sell mine for a buck or two each before the bottom falls out completely. Buylist yours now if you can.

Chaos Warp – $2.89

This card has been as high as $15-$20 in the past, but the price dropped below $3 after it was reprinted in Commander 2014 last autumn. Chaos Warp managed to claw its way back up to $4 before the latest rules change, but now it’s right back to its historic low price of $2.89.

Chaos Warp did lose some of its utility with the change, but I doubt that too many people will remove it from their red Commander decks. Red doesn’t have many answers to enchantments, arbitrarily large or indestructible creatures, and Chaos Warp does an awesome job of giving those decks access to a tool that they’d otherwise have to splash for. I had actually liked Chaos Warp as a spec before this happened because I’d been noticing more people embracing red in the format, and I still think that there’s some room for this card to grow over the next couple of years. If you can get a couple of copies dirt cheap from disgruntled Commander players, I’d recommend it.

Terminus – $3.59 & Hallowed Burial – $7.29

Terminus and Hallowed Burial were both significantly better before the rules change, but I still don’t plan on taking them out of my decks. While their ability to tuck a commander was nice, the biggest reason to run them is to fight against decks that like to play creatures out of the graveyard over and over again. All five colors are in on the graveyard shenanigans at this point, and it’s rare to find a deck that doesn’t somehow interact with someone’s creatures in the bin (even if it’s not their own). Terminus and Hallowed Burial are reasonable answers to reanimation and recursion regardless of their ability to tuck a Commander, and I doubt we’ll see either one drop in price much barring a reprint. Terminus is a Legacy-playable card too, so I expect it to rise in price at some point. In fact, it would have happened already if it wasn’t for the From the Vault reprint last summer.

Spells That Got Better

Song of the Dryads – $2.65

If you want to get rid of both the static and triggered ability of an overpowered Commander in our brave new world, you’re going to need a card like Song of the Dryads. The power level of a spell like this is going to be very metagame-dependent, though — it’s far better in a game where you can rely on the other people at the table to help defend your vulnerable permanent, and it’s downright stellar in a group that undervalues enchantment removal. If your local Derevi player loves Aura Shards, of course, you’re probably not going to be doing all that much with Song of the Dryads before it goes away.

Regardless, people are going to be looking for new answers to cards like Derevi, and this is one of the places they’ll look at first. I can see it hitting $5-$6 if enough hype builds up behind it, but I’d be skeptical of it maintaining those sorts of gains over the long term. It’s just too vulnerable to counter-hate.

Darksteel Mutation – $0.29

There are enough copies of Darksteel Mutation out there to keep the price low, but it is something I’m considering as an Oblation replacement in my white decks. I’m pulling these out of my bulk in case they hit $1-$1.50, but otherwise I’m staying away.

Lignify (foil) – $1.49

If you’re going to run a Song of the Dryads-type answer to an opposing commander and you need it to be foil, Lignify is your only choice. The card was reprinted in twice in duel decks, but the Lorwyn copy is the only foil available. It doesn’t take much for a foil to jump from $1.50 to the $5 range, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Lignify does exactly that at some point soon. Grab a copy now if you can.

Proteus Staff – $4.59

Unlike every other tuck card, Proteus Staff’s utility has actually improved thanks to the rules change. You can Staff your own commander, return it to the command zone instead of having to tuck it on the bottom of your library, and snag a free Polymorph trigger plus be able to take advantage of any comes-into-play ability your commander may have. Most decks won’t want to do this for value alone, of course, but a Derevi or Maelstrom Wanderer deck that has already build around these things with cards like Food Chain is going to be nuts with this little artifact. $4.59 is already kind of expensive for a fairly narrow ability, but Mirrodin is an old set and there’s some real scarcity math at play here. I could easily see Proteus Staff hit $6-$8 on hype alone.

Commanders That Got Better

The powering down of removal spells is only half the story. Now that tucking is no longer a thing, every commander in the format has become more powerful. This helps build-around-me commanders the most, and there are a few whose value has increased enough based on the rules change to merit a round of discussion:

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave – $11.99

The $11.99 (sold out) price tag on this guy is misleading — Skullbriar, the Walking Grave spiked hard, and his retail value is likely much closer to $20 than $12 right now. With the new Commander rules in place, getting the counters off of an opposing Skullbriar is going to be nearly impossible. Even so, Skullbriar is no Animar, Soul of Elements or Kaalia of the Vast. He has some sweet interactions with Forgotten Ancient, but this is not a tier one build-around-me Commander by any stretch. If you can get $20 for your copy of Skullbriar, the Walking Grave, you should do so.

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician – $1.49

One of the loudest arguments against the abolishment of tuck effects has been the fear that it will allow Derevi decks to take over the metagame. If you haven’t played against Derevi before, all you really need to know is that these decks usually end up either spending ten minutes tapping and untapping things until everyone else gets bored or lock the game down with some kind of Winter Orb/Stax shenanigans. Now that we no longer have the ability to tuck Derevi, its controller can almost always be assured that they will be able to bring it into play from the Command zone for 1WUG.

Will her newfound infamy cause Derevi’s price to rise? In the long run, perhaps. The Commander 2013 decks were printed in far greater numbers than the 2011 pre-cons, though, and they were available at retail for far longer. The Bant pre-con in particular sat on shelves for months without selling. There are a lot of Derevis out there, and she has no utility if she’s not your commander. It’s going to take a massive increase in the Commander player base for any of the cards in this set to increase in value more than incrementally, regardless of how narrow they are.

To me, the litmus test for all the Commander 2013 cards is True-Name Nemesis. If that card makes a run toward $40 without dropping off due to the market flooding with extra copies, we can start taking about Derevi and some of the other juicy long-term spec targets in Commander 2013. Until then, stay away from the cards in this overprinted set.

Maelstrom Wanderer – $14.45

Maelstrom Wanderer is on this list because of how absurd it is whenever it’s cast. A good Wanderer deck has a lot of ways to bounce and replay its commander, forcing everyone else at the table to be in constant reaction mode. Now that tuck is no longer available to stop that, people are going to have to start fighting against this deck’s mana ramp and/or bounce.

I don’t think that there’s enough upside in Maelstrom Wanderer to warrant any cash speculation, but I’m a big fan of trading for these at the current retail price. The non-foil version could easily settle around $20, and the Commander’s Arsenal foil (currently selling for $25) has Kaalia-level upside in the $40-$50 range. It’s a high-priced gamble for a card that could be reprinted in any casual set, of course, but until that happens I’d expect Maelstrom Wanderer to keep trending slowly upwards.

Narset, Enlightened Master – $1.55

You don’t need me to explain why the lack of a tuck rule makes Narset better, do you? Much like Maelstrom Wanderer, your deck is absurd when you can regularly cast and attack with Narset and mediocre when you can’t. Narset has Hexproof, so she was already immune from the targeted tuck spells, but the fact that she can’t be hit with Hinder or Terminus helps a lot.

I can’t imagine Narset dropping any lower than $1.55 — that’s a bulk mythic price — and her foil is very affordable at $9.99. This has more to do with the fact that we just came off several months of Khans drafting than any rules-related speculation, though. Regardless, I love both the foil and non-foil as solid long-term buys. I’m going to grab a few sets at some point over the next few months while the supply remains high.

Purphoros, God of the Forge – $7.35

I could keep running through powerful commanders like Zur and Kaalia whose life-span has gone up significantly due to the rules change, but Purphoros is the last one whose value I think might be significantly impacted by the rules change. While normal copies of Purphoros will probably bottom out during set rotation this summer, foil copies have been stable in the $15-$18 range for a few months now and show no signs of dropping. Purphoros was already the best aggressive mono-red commander, and the rules change helps him out significantly. All the foil Gods are a little undervalued at the moment, and I expect this to be a $30 foil at some point over the next year or two.

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