Back in 2013, Nintendo declared it to be The Year of Luigi. Some of us Luigi fans still feel as though our pal Green Mario remains underrepresented compared to his beloved brother, but it’s undeniable that 2013 gave us quite a bit more high quality Luigi content than we’d ever seen before.
The Year of Luigi may be over, but back in early February we were informed by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) that The Year of Commander starts now. This isn’t breaking news — Gavin Verhey wrote about WotC’s push toward Commander in 2020 back in October — there was no time to fully address it back then. We were busy with Throne of Eldrane and Oko, Thief of Crowns, and exploring the brand-new Pioneer format. 2020 was still several months away and the Year of Commander could wait.
It is now March, however, and The Year of Commander officially kicks off with Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, which releases next month. You may be tempted to continue ignoring this particular bit of marketing lingo, especially because I suspect most of the folks reading this article are far more familiar with competitive formats than they are with Commander. Sometimes, it can feel safer to stick with what you know.
To me, ignorance is no excuse to avoid speculating on what might actually be Magic’s most popular Constructed format. My own personal sales numbers back up Commander’s popularity as well. My best Commander cards tend sell faster than my competitive stock, and Commander staples are the cards I’m most aggressive about buying when I make offers on private collections.
That’s why I want to talk about The Year of Commander in detail this week. What exactly will it entail, what can we do to prepare for it, and where is there money to be made? Let’s find out.
What Does “The Year of Commander” Actually Mean?
Marketing copy is one thing — I can declare it to be “The Year of Nachos” right now, if I want to — so let’s take a look at what WotC is actually doing to boost Commander demand in 2020. With all the extra copy stripped away, here’s what’s actually going on:
- Instead of the usual set of four preconstructed Commander decks that comes out in the fall, we’re getting five of them later this spring. They’ll be released alongside Ikoria, and the new cards will all be from that plane.
- There will also be a set of two preconstructed Commander decks released this fall alongside Zendikar Rising. They will be explicitly intro-style decks, so don’t expect too much complexity, though the article does hint that they might have some interesting reprints.
- At some point in 2020, we’re getting a WPN store exclusive Commander Collection featuring a total of eight key green cards — all reprints.
- One of this year’s Innovation Sets is going to be Commander Legends, a “Commander Draft” set that contains 70 brand-new legendary creatures. This set will also contain a bunch of reprints. My guess is that this will be a late fall/early winter release.
- Commander Legends will also have two preconstructed Commander decks, similar to the intro-style Commander decks from Zendikar Rising.
- WPN stores are going to be further incentivized to run Commander events over the coming weeks. Casual games of Commander will now count toward stores’ headcounts of engaged players, and there will be a new casual tournament series called Commander Nights with rotating rules and interesting incentives.
What does this all mean for our purposes? Well, I see three big takeaways:
First, we are going to see a massive number of Commander reprints this year. Between the nine(!) preconstructed decks, the Commander Collection box set, and the Commander Legends expansion, I’d expect to see over 100 financially relevant Commander cards reprinted in 2020. That doesn’t even count the Secret Lair drops, which seem to occur every couple of weeks now.
Second, the increased LGS focus on Commander coupled with all of these new sets should lead to at least a moderately sized boom in the player base. Commander is already incredibly popular, but I’d expect it to reach new heights this year.
Third, the new legendary creatures coming in Ikoria and Commander Legends are going to spawn a lot of exciting new archetypes. These archetypes will create their own secondary spikes, which could be among the most lucrative speculation opportunities of the year. Remember how all the interesting Rat-related cards spiked after the Year of the Rat Secret Lair drop happened? Imagine that, but 50 times over.
This leads us to a frustrating paradox. Commander is about to boom in popularity, and a bunch of cards will spike because of the cool new legendary creatures that are about to be printed, but how can you speculate on a format that’s about to be inundated with reprints?
How to Speculate on a Format That’s About to Be Inundated With Reprints
Speculating on Commander as a whole right now is quite risky. I’m sure there are loads of $1 Commander cards out there right now that will be $10+ by the end of the year, and there are assuredly some $10 Commander cards that will be $30+ by the start of 2021, but good luck guessing which ones will spike. The penalty for guessing wrong could be pretty severe, too. With hundreds of reprints coming, I wouldn’t be shocked if many of the most lucrative Commander staples end up seeing a serious drop at some point this year.
Luckily, there are a couple of steps we can take to mitigate our risk.
Use the Reserved List to Your Advantage
I know, I know, nobody likes the Reserved List. Believe me, I get it. But the dang thing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and that means that Reserved List cards are still the safest possible buys if you’re worried about dodging reprints.
As an index, the Reserved List seems to have peaked a couple of years ago and has slowly been dropping ever since. There are several complex reasons for this — enough to fill a whole separate article — but for our purposes, this slow drop simply means that there is once again room for many of these cards to grow. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these old staples once again hit their 2018 highs at some point in 2020.
Take Gaea’s Cradle as an extreme example. Cradle is expensive because of Legacy, of course, but it’s also one of the best cards in all of Commander and it’s definitely not going to be reprinted in 2020. StarCityGames.com currently has two HP copies of Gaea’s Cradle for sale at $299.99, which is about $100 less than they’d have sold for a couple of years ago. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that Gaea’s Cradle could gain $100 at some point this year, especially since the Commander Collection is all about high-end green cards.
If you’re looking for some more affordable speculation targets, the Reserved List is full of $10-$15 gems. Cards like Dream Halls, Treachery, and Scorched Ruins provide unique effects that can’t be found anywhere else in the game, and I can easily imagine a new Commander coming out that could cause them to spike in an awful hurry.
All three of these cards are quite a bit cheaper than they were a couple of years back, when Reserved List speculation was all the rage. That means they all have established price ceilings that are $20+ higher than they’re at now. If you want to speculate along these lines, there are several Reddit threads about the topic you can mine for ideas as well as good old EDHREC, a site that specializes in tracking the most-played cards in Commander.
Avoid Cards That Are Expensive Due to Scarcity
This rule holds especially true for cards from the previous Commander decks, as they’re the most likely cards to see reprints this year. My guess is that when WotC went to investigate which Commander cards were in the most dire need of reprinting, they started with the best exclusive cards from their previous Commander products. Because of this, I’d go so far as to say that you should be actively trying to move on from these cards as soon as possible.
What kinds of cards are at the greatest risk for reprint-related price drops? Here are my criteria:
- The card must be a Commander Deck exclusive — no reprints. Even though I suspect that many previously reprinted cards will be reprinted again in 2020, and it will hurt their value, that list is just too big and unwieldy to be useful. Also, those cards have already shown some price resiliency, so I’m less worried about dumping them in advance.
- The card must not already have a second printing in a more recent set or Commander Deck. (I’m not counting Judge Foils or Masterpieces, since the supply of those is so low.) Again, these cards have already taken at least one big hit and proven resilient, so I’m not going to worry too much about them.
- The card must not be a legendary creature. Since Commander Legends is going to have 70 brand-new legendary creatures, and the Ikoria Commander Decks are going to highlight the new plane, I don’t expect there to be too much room for cards like Kaalia of the Vast and Riku of Two Reflections to be reprinted this year. Some of them will probably show up regardless, and others will end up in Secret Lair drops, but the risk seems lower.
- The card must have a current retail value of at least $10. I’m not going to worry about cheaper cards for now.
Got it? Perfect. Here’s the list:
- Song of the Dryads – $10
- Conqueror’s Flail – $10
- Deepglow Skate – $10
- Retrofitter Foundry – $10
- Arachnogenesis – $11
- Fiery Confluence – $11
- Stranglehold – $12
- Blade of Selves – $12
- Grasp of Fate – $13
- Mizzix’s Mastery – $13
- Kindred Dominance – $13
- Traverse the Outlands – $13
- Champion’s Helm – $15
- Ophiomancer – $15
- Herald’s Horn – $15
- Hammer of Nazahn – $18
- Primal Vigor – $23
- Command Beacon – $23
- Kindred Discovery – $23
- Dockside Extortionist – $23
- Teferi’s Protection – $45
Will all of these cards be reprinted in 2020? No. In fact, I doubt we’ll see more than 40-50% of them. All of these cards will see a pretty immediate price drop as soon as they’re printed, though, because they’re expensive primarily because of low supply. It’s like Idyllic Tutor, which is currently just $3 despite being an easy $30+ before being reprinted in Theros Beyond Death. Is Idyllic Tutor good? Undeniably, yes. But it was expensive primarily because it had only been printed in Morningtide before showing up again this year. The same will happen to cards like Kindred Dominance and Ophiomancer if they are reprinted.
With hundreds of reprints coming, be careful speculating on any card that hasn’t been printed in over a decade, or has only shown up in a small set. These are the cards that will lose the most value.
Avoid Cards That Could Be in Commander Collection: Green
Nobody outside WotC knows exactly what Commander Collection: Green is going to be. We know it’ll have a total of eight green Commander staples, but will it be a $50 box with cards like Doubling Season and Sylvan Library, or a $20 box with one chase rare and seven minor staples like Eternal Witness and Kodama’s Reach? It’s too early to say.
I, for one, don’t want to get stuck holding the bag if WotC decides to go big. My guess is that it’ll be akin to the Signature Spellbook series, but the best clue we have is that this is going to be a WPN-exclusive product, which seems to hint that it could be slightly more exclusive. At the very least, I expect Commander Collection: Green to have one or two “oh wow” inclusions. Here’s my list of potential pulls:
- Worldly Tutor – $20
- Parallel Lives – $20
- Mirri’s Guile – $25
- Exploration – $30
- Oracle of Mul Daya – $33
- Mana Reflection – $35
- Craterhoof Behemoth – $40
- Sylvan Library – $40
- Food Chain – $45
- Doubling Season – $50
I don’t expect to see more than two or three of these cards show up in Commander Collection: Green — even that many would kind of surprise me — but I’d be equally surprised if the set doesn’t contain at least one of them. That doesn’t mean you have to stay away from these cards entirely, but be aware that expensive green Commander staples are high risk holds until the Commander Collection: Green list is made public.
React Quickly to the Best New Legendary Creatures
Learning how to react quickly and properly to the printing of new legendary creatures is the most important thing I want to cover today. If you only take one nugget of knowledge away from this article, let it be this.
Let’s use Arcades, the Strategist as a case study. When Arcades was printed in Core Set 2019, it was easy to see that the Elder Dragon was designed with Commander in mind. It’s a beefy tri-color card with a wonky clause that turns creatures with defender into card-drawing, damage-dealing machines as long as it’s on the battlefield. What’s not to love?
It’s easy to picture what an Arcades, the Strategist deck might look like. Just throw in a bunch of Bant-colored defenders, and bam — you’re good to go. This is exciting, because defenders tend to be relatively weak cards on their own, especially in a multiplayer format like Commander. If you’ve got a Wall of Kelp kicking around your collection, it probably didn’t have a home before. Now it does.
Compare that to a card like Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner, also from Core Set 2019. Palladia-Mors is undoubtedly powerful, but its ability doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of creative deckbuilding decisions. In most cases, it’ll end up being another beefy creature in a deck full of beefy creatures.
The EDHREC numbers back this up. Arcades, the Strategist is the most popular Commander in Core Set 2019, with 2,055 unique decklists currently registered on the site. Palladia-Mors is a distant eighth, with only 79 decklists uploaded. Price-wise, a foil Arcades will currently set you back $20, while a foil copy of Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner is just $4.
Most importantly, the printing of Arcades, the Strategist caused almost a dozen secondary spikes. None of these cards were on anyone’s radar ahead of time — who speculates on defenders? — but they were lucrative buys in the days after Arcades was previewed. When you can buy a card like Wall of Junk for ten cents one day and sell it for $4 the next, there’s a lot of profit to be made.
The good news about this sort of speculation? You don’t have to worry all that much about reprints, because the real money is in the quick-flip. The cards that spiked because of Arcades, the Strategist were never worth more than they were right after being bought out, and they’ve lost about 50% of their value over the past two years — common for spikes like this. You’re going to want to get in and get out fast if you go along this route.
How can you tell which cards are like Arcades, the Strategist and which are like Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner? EDHREC can help, but you’re usually going to have to move faster than that. When I’m evaluating new commanders, I take note of color identity (multicolored cards are more popular commanders than single-colored cards) and play-style (ramp, combo, and control cards are more popular than aggro cards), but the most important question I ask myself is this: will this new legendary creature help breathe life into a previously underserved archetype or strategy?
Sometimes, this can be a tribal card — the printing of a Squirrel commander, say, or a new five-color Sliver. Other times, it can be mechanical; Arcades, the Strategist works with defenders, while Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Toothy, Imaginary Friend are the perfect “+1/+1 counters matter” commanders. Either way, the path toward building a unique new deck is fairly obvious, but still somewhat flexible. Commanders that strongly incentivize a clear and specific theme tend to be the most popular by far. These are the cards that you’re going to want to take a second, third, and fourth look at in order to speculate on their new support pieces.
One note of caution before we end this section: watch out for flagship commanders in WotC’s preconstructed decks. If WotC reveals a legendary creature like this in advance of the full decklist, you should expect that most of the obvious inclusions will be reprinted and included within. It’s still worth taking a look at Reserved List cards to buy, but you may have to wait until after the full list goes up before figuring out which other future staples are worth snagging.
Why Is 2020 “The Year of Commander,” Anyway?
Why is WotC pushing Commander so hard in 2020, especially at the LGS level? Because Commander is the best distillation of what’s great about tabletop Magic. Arena might be the best place to fly through several dozen matches of Standard in a row, especially if you’re a competitive player and the personal interaction is less important to you, but you cannot replicate the Commander experience in a digital sphere. Not only is Commander primarily a social game, full of conversation and politicking, but the battlefield itself tends to be wildly complex and hard to render on a screen. WotC can (and probably will) add Commander to Arena, but it won’t be the same.
Think of 2020’s Year of Commander as a compliment to 2019’s Year of Arena. This initiative is WotC ensuring that tabletop Magic will survive for years to come, and that your local store will remain full of people who are engaging with the game in a way that cannot occur in any other form.
This is also why I suspect that Magic finance will be moving more toward Commander in the years to come. Tabletop tournament Magic certainly won’t disappear, but in-person Commander is on the upswing while the other formats are going to have to fight with the digital client for space. Instead of ignoring Commander and being upset about this, it’s worth acknowledging what the future is probably going to look like and embracing it as soon as possible. It’s better to get ahead of trends like this than to remain stubbornly behind.
This Week’s Trends
The biggest news of the week, unfortunately, is the cancellation of MagicFest Turin from April 3-5 due to the spread of coronavirus in Italy. I highly doubt that this will be the only major Magic event to be cancelled when all is said and done.
While it’s important not to panic about coronavirus, it’s equally irresponsible to pretend that the odds are against its continued spread around the world. There’s a reason why the US stock market just saw its biggest losses since the 2008 financial crash: the folks in power are expecting some pretty major supply chain disruptions over the coming months.
Will coronavirus affect the value of your Magic collection? Possibly, but I expect the effects to be temporary. If coronavirus does continue to spread and more tabletop events are cancelled, there will be a dip in demand for all competitive cards — after all, people aren’t going to be interested in buying cards that they can’t use. This will cause prices to drop until the quarantines end and things go back to normal.
I am not currently changing my buying practices based on fear of coronavirus, but it’s something to monitor closely as we go forward. It’s possible that the Standard and Modern bump that usually happens in March and April will be pushed off until the summer or fall this year. Regardless, the most important thing you can do is to try to stay healthy. Wash your hands, keep some canned food in the house, and avoid going into work if you have flu-like symptoms.
Let’s move back over to Magic. The Modern market had been quiet for a few weeks, but the SCG Tour Modern Classic in Indianapolis changed that in a hurry. The breakout deck of the event was Grixis Urza Breach, which Ryan Bennett piloted to a third-place finish. It’s a doozy of a list:
The key interaction here is the combination of Grinding Station and Underworld Breach, which allows Urza, Lord High Artificer to pull off even more absurd shenanigans than it usually does. The combo originated in Legacy a few weeks back, but the Modern version is one of the most powerful and redundant interactions I’ve ever seen in that format. In fact, I don’t expect it to remain legal for long.
Unsurprisingly, Grinding Station (an $8 card last week) is currently sold out at $15. When it’s restocked, I expect the price will be closer to $20 or $25. Since none of the other pieces of this deck have spiked yet, this is largely the result of an internet-wide buyout. The deck is legit, though, and loads of players are going to need to buy in until WotC bites the bullet and bans Underworld Breach. I expect we’ll see at least minor spikes for cards like Urza, Lord High Artificer; Engineered Explosives; Mishra’s Bauble; and Mox Amber over the coming weeks.
Of course, Grixis Urza Breach wasn’t the only big winner from last week’s Modern Classic. Jund ended up taking down the whole event, while Jund Death’s Shadow finished second. Both decks has a curious card in common: Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger.
Jund and Jund Death’s Shadow are incredibly different brews, but it’s telling that this Theros Beyond Death mythic saw play in both. It’s a very powerful creature, and it’s proving to be one of the better Rakdos-colored cards in all of Modern. Its price has begun to reflect that too, and it jumped almost $10 this week, settling in at a comfortable price tag of $20.
Even still, $20 seems like it might be a little low for a mythic rare that sees play in multiple top-tier Modern decks. Kroxa is certainly not at risk for getting banned right now, and most of the decks it enables are equally fair. That makes it a safe and compelling buy at current retail. Worst case, cards like this rarely stay below $15 for long. Best case, it catches on in Standard or Pioneer at some point over the next couple of years and flirts with the $40-$50 mark. If you’re in the market, snag these now.
I can’t point to a single specific reason behind this week’s Silence spike, but it’s currently sold out at $5 and should restock closer to $10. Silence is catching on as a sideboard option in Legacy’s Underworld Breach decks, which could be part of it. Legacy play rarely leads to price spikes anymore, but this card was simply too cheap regardless, especially because it sees play in both Pioneer and Modern as well. With combo on the rise across all formats, it makes sense that key answers are also rising in price as demand increases.
Moving back over to Commander, Doomsday was bought out in droves this week. It is currently sold out at $10, but its real-world price is closer to $15 or even $20 right now.
This is ostensibly due to its combo potential with Thassa’s Oracle in Commander, thought I suspect there were some buyout shenanigans afoot here as well. Regardless, this is such an old card with such low supply and such a unique effect that I’m surprised it wasn’t already a $15-$20 card. The price should start to drop again soon, but don’t expect it to drop below $10 again anytime soon.
Lastly, the next Secret Lair Drop — for International Women’s Day 2020 — was announced early last week. It will have a $49.99 price tag, and will contain foil Full-Art copies of Captain Sisay; Meren of Clan Nel Toth; Narset, Enlightened Master; Oona, Queen of the Fae; and Saskia the Unyielding.
Right now, that financial breakdown looks like this:
- Captain Sisay – $14 ($23 foil)
- Meren of Clan Nel Toth – $18 ($23 foil)
- Narset, Enlightened Master – $1.50 ($10 foil)
- Oona, Queen of the Fae – $12 ($30 foil)
- Saskia the Unyielding – $3 (No alternate printings)
That’s a total cost of $48.50 in nonfoil and $89 in foils, which makes that $49.99 price tag pretty attractive for anyone who actually wants these cards and a big old shrug emoji for folks who don’t. I wouldn’t expect this drop to affect the price of these cards very much, and like most Secret Lairs, it’s worth snagging if you want it personally and okay to ignore if you’re solely interested in its resale value.