Traderous Instinct – A Financial Review of Commander

Tunneling Down

Everyone who’s played Commander has at least one epic story.

The first one that comes to my mind happened about a year ago in a four player game. I had amassed a pretty serious board advantage and it was going to take a pretty sweet comeback for the rest of the table to take me down.

Kyle and Mike, the two players sitting to my left, each had one turn left before certain destruction.

“Tell me which card in your deck you need,” Kyle said to Mike. “And I’ll get it for you.”

Tooth and Nail,” Mike replied with confidence.

So Kyle cast Tunnel Vision on Mike naming Tooth and Nail.

At this point, the game was still relatively young and there were at least seventy cards left in Mike’s library. He began cavalierly peeling them back one at a time looking for his explosive tutor.

Panic didn’t begin to set in until there were only about ten cards left.

At this point, Mike checked his hand again, and then shuffled through the pile of cards that the Tunnel Vision had milled.

No Tooth and Nail.

Did he take it out of his deck? Did he remember to put it there in the first place? Was it the very last card in his library?

Eventually the Tooth and Nail was revealed as the third to last card in his deck. He drew for the turn and quickly realized that he only had two cards left in his library in which to search for the creatures he needed to tutor up.

I started laughing. I had the game won. It was over.

Then he played Loaming Shaman, shuffled his entire graveyard back into his library, and cast an entwined Tooth and Nail for something like Woodfall Primus and Indrik Stomphowler.

That was the end of me.

And heck, that certainly isn’t my most epic Commander tale. After all, there was the time I was involved in a five player game where not a single point of damage was dealt for over two hours. By the 1:30 mark, we were all actively trying to prevent damage to each other just to keep the streak alive.

I also know I’ve played in at least one game where copy effects ran amok and each player ended up with five or six Gilded Drakes.

Of course, you’re not here to read about my Commander stories. Luckily, the one thing I love more than playing Commander is trading with Commander cards!

Commanding Your Binder

You want to know the big secret to trading up for high value tournament staples? This is it.

Consider a trade I made last Friday. Between rounds at FNM, I attempted to trade with a local Standard player. He was interested in trading for my Joraga Warcaller and I was happy to oblige. Since the little elf has become a Standard staple, we agreed to value him around $4.

After flipping through the entirety of his binder, I ended up asking him for an Oracle of Mul Daya. The card sells for $3.99 right here on Channelfireball, and it is a perfect engine with Jace, fetches, and other fun things like Lotus Cobra. I knew I would have no problem trading it away.

My partner balked, though, because he knew just as well as I did that the Oracle is a high-velocity card.

That’s when I decided to go take a different approach and ask if he’d do the deal for his Revised copy of Nevinyrral’s Disk.

He agreed immediately.

The lesson? While Standard players usually know the values of Legacy cards and Legacy players usually know the value of Standard cards, nearly everyone misvalues Commander cards.

Heck, I didn’t know myself that Nevinyrral’s Disk is sold out at $4.99 on this very site. I figured it was still fairly easy to pick them up for right around $4. What I did know is that I could trade it VERY easily in the $4-$5 range.

Non-Commander players often have no problem trading the format’s best cards in exchange for a couple of tournament playable rares. And for a long time, my bread-and-butter trading strategy was simple: trade for $1ish Commander cards from tournament players at $0.50 and trade them to Commander players for $1.50 – $2.

Tournament players loved me because I would give them useful cards in exchange for crap they’d never use and which weren’t on most stores’ buylists. Commander players loved me because no one else took the time to stock those cards. Often the stores would be sold out and buying them online requires shipping, etc.

It was a perfect symbiosis. No one lost too much value, and I could slowly trade my casual collection up to the tournament staples I greatly desired.

Recently, though, many of the Commander cards I used to get at $0.50 and trade at $1.50 have gone up to $3 or more. While I have still won out in the long term over the sheer volume of trades I made, there are more than a few Commander trades I made that I now wish I could take back!

As the format continues to grow in popularity, it makes sense for all traders – whether they play the format or not – to appreciate that it is now a permanent part of our Magical lives. It makes sense to take some time and really learn about a format where the trading frontier is still wide open.

Commanding Value

One of the joys of Commander is how diverse the format is. This means that there are fewer true staples of Commander than there are of Legacy, Standard, Extended, or Vintage. In fact, many playgroups will go through a period of making more and more competitive decks until they get too powerful, then gradually scaling back so that more fun can be had.

If every deck has multiple reset buttons, the game is no fun. If everyone is playing Strip Mine/Crucible of Worlds, the game is no fun. If I were to re-make my Arcum Dagsson deck that all my friends told me needed to be banned from the format forever, the game would be no fun.

It’s important to maintain balance, and variety is the best way to do it.

Like any format, though, there are some cards that are more popular than others – cards that are important for any trader to know about.

Thus, what follows is part one of a seven part guide to the staple cards of Commander.

While this series is admittedly going to be long, I don’t think anyone else has done a review quite this in-depth of all the cards that make up this wild and crazy format.

I’ll be starting this week with land, and then I’ll get into each of the five colors. Artifact cards and gold cards will each get a week as well.

During this guide, I will be evaluating each card on a scale from one to ten based on three distinct categories:

Trade Appeal: How desirable is the card? Often there will be great cards with very low trade appeal because few people know about them yet. Cards with very high trade appeal are extremely sought-after Commander staples that I can’t keep in my binder to save my life. (Note that this is based solely on my own experience. Since the format is relatively new and very diverse, your experiences may vary completely as different cards will have ‘caught on’ in your area.)

Undervalued: Do I think the card will go up in value? Note that I am no talking about the immediate future, but rather the long term future of the format. Undervalued cards are usually easy to trade higher than their book value and are often cards that I will trade for at book value without missing a beat.

Likelihood of Reprint: Do I think this card will be reprinted? Since Wizards is making Commander pre-cons next year, it stands to reason that many of the best Commander cards will be reprinted in them. While the print runs should be low enough to prevent the value of a card from tanking too hard, it will nonetheless hurt the trade appeal of the card. Often, cards with a high reprint number have already been reprinted in multiple sets or duel decks.

Important note: Many of the staples of Commander have their values tied much more closely to their playability in other formats. The Revised dual lands, for example, are totally sweet Commander cards. But since they are also essential Legacy staples, I won’t be bringing them up here.

I may bring up some cards that have uses in other formats, but in those cases I will be keeping my review aimed solely at their future in Commander. These will usually be cards that are low enough in value that I think Commander playability will affect their price. (Example: the Worldwake manlands.)

I also will not be listing recent commons and uncommons that still trade at bulk prices. While it’s true that Bojuka Bog is essential in a mono-black Commander deck, I don’t think you’ll have a problem getting one out of a bulk box.

All prices are from Channel Fireball when possible. If Channel Fireball doesn’t have a price listed, I will be using prices from other large and well known singles sites.

Got it? Good!

Let’s begin our trek into the Commander world starting with the most universal format staples: lands!

Academy Ruins
Academy Ruins – Time Spiral – $3.99 ($14.99 Foil)

Academy Ruins provides an endless stream of card advantage should your game go long. The drawback of only tapping for colorless is super negligible, as any deck that plays a significant amount of blue and artifacts should be perfectly fine with it.

It is a format staple of the highest order, and a must-have for nearly any blue-based Commander deck.

Trade Appeal: 10
Undervalued: 6
Likelihood of Reprint: 6

Boseiju, Who Shelters All
Boseiju, Who Shelters All– Champions of Kamigawa – $2.49 ($5.00 Foil)

While not all metagames want Boseiju, those who play more 1 on 1 Commander matches against blue mages will want this card.

Two life wasn’t a horrible drawback back when this was used in Standard, and it is even less of one here.

Note that even though the card seems green and has a giant tree on it, you can use it in any deck. Boseiju shelters ALL, remember?

This was a $1 card until very recently, so it’s hard for me to say it’s criminally undervalued at $2.50. That said, it is a very unique effect that isn’t likely to see reprinting any time soon. I doubt it will lose any value.

Trade Appeal: 5
Undervalued: 4
Likelihood of Reprint: 2

Cabal Coffers
Cabal Coffers – Torment – $4.99 ($5.99 FNM Foil)

The engine that drove mono-black in Standard is equally good or better in Commander where doubling your mana truly is doubling your fun.

Since most two color decks won’t want Coffers, though, your pool of interested buyers is limited. However, anyone who is building a mono-black deck absolutely HAS to have this card.

At around $5, I can’t say this card is underpriced. It is, however, an easy enough one to trade.

Trade Appeal: 7
Undervalued: 3
Likelihood of Reprint: 8

Deserted Temple
Deserted Temple – Odyssey – $1.49 ($9.99 Foil)

The temple is great for anyone planning on running a ton of other broken lands. While its value is somewhat diminished by the loss of Tolarian Academy from the format, it can still do absurd things with the Ravnica bouncelands, Gaea’s Cradle, Maze of Ith, and many more.

A relatively obscure card, you probably won’t get too many people who are actively searching for this. Point it out, though, and you may have just found a buyer.

Trade Appeal: 5
Undervalued: 6
Likelihood of Reprint: 3

Emeria, the Sky Ruin
Emeria, the Sky Ruin – Zendikar – $1.49 ($2.99 Foil)

Debtor’s Knell is one of the best Commander cards there is, and it has done nothing but slowly rise in price since its release in Guildpact.

Emeria is kind of like the land version of Debtor’s Knell.

Granted Emeria can only return creatures to play from your graveyard, but the fact that the card only requires you to play a ton of plains for it to be effective makes it a spicy card in a format that rewards squeezing as many powerful effects into your deck as possible.

Pick these up now. They’re only $1.49 because Zendikar is still more or less a current set. In two years, this will be a $3-$4 card.

Trade Appeal: 4
Undervalued: 6
Likelihood of Reprint: 2

Gaeas Cradle
Gaea’s Cradle – Urza’s Saga – $34.99 ($44.99 Judge Foil)

You know who is going to want this card if you have it in your binder? Everyone.

Everyone is going to want this card.

Of course, at $35, it’s not exactly cheap or underrated.

Cards like this which have a little bit of mystique about them are great to pick up in trades at retail value or higher assuming you can move a fair amount of Standard stuff for them. While not everyone is going to want to give you $35 worth of cards for this, there will be one guy who will REALLY want to give you $35++ worth of cards for it because it represents something that they can’t get from any of the other traders out there.

In my opinion, this card would be banned in Commander if it were any color other than green. But since green is a historically a little meh, it gets to have broken crap like this.

Trade Appeal: 10
Undervalued: 2
Likelihood of Reprint: 0 (On the reserve list)

Kor Haven
Kor Haven – Nemesis – $3.99 ($19.99 Foil)

Yeah, it’s not quite Maze of Ith. But in white it’s better than the already-pretty-decent Mystifying Maze.

The problem with this card is that very few people know about it, so if you have it in your binder make sure to point it out to people building white-based Commander decks. It’s one of the few bright spots in an otherwise mediocre set so it’s flown below the radar for years now.

Trade Appeal: 3
Undervalued: 5
Likelihood of Reprint: 2

Maze of Ith
Maze of Ith – The Dark – $29.99 ($44.99 Judge Foil)

Yowza! Has this card gone up in value or what!?

Essential in Commander, Maze of Ith is pretty much at Sol Ring levels of auto-include in every deck I build. You can’t really count it in the land slot when you’re brewing, but for the low cost of zero mana and a land drop you can pretty much permanently remove the best creature on the table.

Even better, the Maze acts as a perfect ‘rattlesnake’ card for multiplayer. You can force your opponents to attack someone else other than you, or you can make powerful allies by mazing a creature that was going to deal mondo damage to another player at the table.

Trade Appeal: 10
Undervalued: 3
Likelihood of Reprint: 1 (they just did a Judge Foil)

 
[/draft]Minamo, School at Water’s Edge (And the other Champions of Kamigawa ‘Legendary Matters’ Lands) – $0.50 – $1.00 ($4.00 – $17.99 Foil)

 

These lands right now are my pick for the most undervalued non-basic lands in Commander right now.

Unlike in normal Magic, you are guaranteed to have a legendary creature available at all times. They have basically no drawback – in fact, they don’t even come into play tapped! Heck, the only danger with them is the risk of them acting as a pseudo-Wasteland if your opponent already has the same land in play.

All of their abilities are kind of relevant, especially Minamo.

Pick these up as dollar cards and trade throw-ins all day long. They will never be worth less than the $0.50 – $1.00 they go for right now.

Trade Appeal: 8
Undervalued: 10
Likelihood of Reprint: 3

Miren, the Moaning Well
Miren, the Moaning Well – Saviors of Kamigawa – $2.99 ($11.99 Foil)

Sometimes 40 life just ain’t enough.

In those cases, why not throw your Kresh down a well?

Trade Appeal: 6
Undervalued: 5
Likelihood of Reprint: 3

Mishras Factory
Mishra’s Factory – 4th Edition – $3.99 ($29.99 Judge Foil)

While you can buy a $50 winter factory from Antiquities if you want, I have included the cheapest version here, straight outta 4th edition.

Even though the Commander format mocks Mishra’s Factory by only allowing you to have one, the card is still a reasonable threat and blocker for the low, low price of a land drop.

Trade Appeal: 7
Undervalued: 2
Likelihood of Reprint: 9

Mystifying Maze
Mystifying Maze – M11 – $0.99 ($3.99 Foil)

While this is no Maze of Ith, it’s pretty effective as the temp you hire when Maze of Ith is on vacation.

This is a great long-term pickup, and you can snag mazes right now for a buck or less in trade all day long. I recommend getting them now because Wizards likes to switch up the rare non-basic spot in their core sets. The chances this will be back in M12 are small, and people are going to want this card for years to come.

Trade Appeal: 5
Undervalued: 8
Likelihood of Reprint: 6

 
The Ravnica Bouncelands – Ravnica Block – $0.25 ($1.99 Foil)

While you can still find these commons in some places for as low as a nickel, they should not be underestimated in either Commander or trading.

Providing both fixing and card advantage, the Ravnica bouncelands are pretty much auto-includes in all multicolored Commander decks. You should be able to pick them up at a quarter and trade them pretty regularly at fifty cents. Not much, but it adds up.

I would also recommend picking up the foils of these when possible. They are relatively cheap and look fantastic.

Trade Appeal: 5
Undervalued: 5
Likelihood of Reprint: 9

 
The Ravnica Shocklands – Ravnica Block – $7.99 – $8.99 ($17.99 – $29.99)

When Extended rotated, everyone panicked and sold off their shocklands immediately. After all, there was no way they would see Legacy play seeing that the eternal format has access to the real dual lands.

Then a funny thing happened. Not only did these lands not lose too much value, but the foils didn’t drop so much as a penny.

That is because these are the best lands in Commander short of the original duals. The fact that you can fetch them up as basics makes them incredibly versatile, and the life loss is negligible when you start at 40.

In fact, the slightly lower price has lead to even more people looking for them! I’ve found these lands easier to trade than ever.

Trade Appeal: 9
Undervalued: 4
Likelihood of Reprint: 3

Reliquary Tower
Reliquary Tower – Conflux – $0.79 ($2.99 Foil)

I’m pretty sure ever single deck in my playgroup has a copy of this card.

Tapping for colorless is barely a drawback in a big mana format, and all it takes is once around the table with Mind’s Eye or Rhystic Study for this card to become your best friend. Even if you don’t have any broken card draw in your deck, chances are good that someone else is going to make you draw cards for some reason. And then you’ll be sad you didn’t have a tower to put all your extra cards in.

This card will only trade at $1, but it’ll trade all day.

Trade Appeal: 8
Undervalued: 5
Likelihood of Reprint: 7

Riptide Laboratory Riptide Laboratory – Onslaught – $1.99 ($6.99 Foil)

Do you have any wizards in your deck? If so, then you’ll probably want this bad boy to save ‘em. (Wizards like to get into trouble.)

When you consider how many awesome blue Commander creatures actually are wizards, this land starts to be really appealing. Considering how useful it is and how unlikely it is to see a re-print, I would guess this card will keep steadily climbing toward $4-$5.

Of course, I wouldn’t invest too heavily. The market is niche at best.

Trade Appeal: 3
Undervalued: 7
Likelihood of Reprint: 3

Scrying Sheets
Scrying Sheets – Coldsnap – $0.79 ($8.99 Foil)

Scrying Sheets requires a major commitment – running all snow lands – but the rewards are pretty massive. And heck, you might be running snow lands anyway in order to play tricks with Extraplanar Lens. In that case, this card is an auto-include.

Along with snow lands in general, this card is really undervalued right. Running the snow package in Commander is pretty sweet, and I can imagine this card going to $1.99 if the gambit becomes more popular. After all, the number of Coldsnap packs actually opened was frightfully small.

Trade Appeal: 4
Undervalued: 7
Likelihood of Reprint: 1 (I doubt Wizards is eager to associate themselves with anything Ice Age/Coldsnap related at this point.)

Serras Sanctum Serra’s Sanctum – Urza’s Saga – $14.99

For a very long time, Academy Ruins and Tolarian Academy were $20 cards while Serra’s Sanctum bumbled along behind them like a one-legged puppy.

As more and more people began building around enchantments, though, the card began to slowly gain in value. As it sits, it is less of a broken mana enabler than the other two, but it can still easily be snapped in half by the right deck builder.

I see no reason for this card to go down in price unless Magic as a whole takes a hit. This is a powerful, unique effect, and since it’s on the reserve list its value should hold.

Trade Appeal: 8
Undervalued: 7
Likelihood of Reprint: 0 (On the reserve list.)

Strip Mine
Strip Mine – 4th Edition – $2.69 – ($4.99 FTV: Exiled Foil)

Pardon the pun, it feels like such a waste to play Wasteland in a Commander deck. The card goes for an easy $30, people are scrabbling to get their sets for Legacy, and Commander actually has a better option available: Strip Mine.

This card is way too good for Legacy, but it’s reasonably fair here, providing important defense against dozens of super powerful non-basic lands.

If you recur it every turn with Crucible, though, you are a bad, bad man.

This card isn’t legal in Legacy, and it has been re-printed a ton. I don’t see it going up too much in value, but it’s always in demand.

Trade Appeal: 7
Undervalued: 4
Likelihood of Reprint: 2

Temple of the False God Temple of the False God – Scourge – $0.49 ($2.49 Foil)

Is Sol Ring still good if it costs your land drop and you can only use it if you have four other lands?

Yes.

In a big mana format like Commander, the Temple is a really underrated card. Yeah, it sucks if it’s in your opening hand, but at any other point in the game it is an all-star.

Granted, it’s not an auto-include in all decks, but if you’re ramping up to monsters you’ll want this bad boy.

I’ve never had much interest in this card when it has been in my binder, but I’ve had such great luck with it in Commander that I’m including it on this list. Put some in your decks and after beating your friends with it the interest for the copies in your binder might be a little higher.

Trade Appeal: 2
Undervalued: 2
Likelihood of Reprint: 8

Thawing Glaciers
Thawing Glaciers – Alliances – $4.99 ($14.99 Judge Foil)

Thaw out your Ravnica duals, folks, because it’s rare to get repeatable land tutoring available in all five colors. Due to the judge foil being printed, a whole new generation of players are learning how awesome this card is.

That said, this isn’t a strong buy. I expect the judge version to also keep the price of this one steady for many months to come.

Trade Appeal: 6
Undervalued: 2
Likelihood of Reprint: 0 (On the reserve list)

Tolaria West
Tolaria West – Future Sight – $0.79 ($6.99 Foil)

At its worst, Tolaria West is a CIPT Island. At its best, it is a three-mana tutor for any other land in your deck. Running Academy Ruins? This is recursion. Running Mystifying Maze? This is removal. Running Mutavault? It’s a threat. Miren? It’s life gain. Wasteland? Land destruction.

With the right package, Tolaria West is close to Demonic Tutor.

At $0.79, this card is undervalued and should be an easy $1-$2 in trade.

Trade Appeal: 6
Undervalued: 7
Likelihood of Reprint: 6

Tower of the Magistrate
Tower of the Magistrate – Mercadian Masques – $0.49 ($14.99 Foil)

One of the more obscure choices for Commander, the Tower doesn’t seem like much at first. It is, however, a potent tool in the fight against equipment.

While I wouldn’t include this in every metagame, it sure has wrecked me a couple times by de-equipping my Kaldra pieces every turn and causing me an absurd amount of tempo loss. Do you know how much those things cost to equip!? Answer: a lot.

Pick these up as bulk rares and talk them up next time you’re in a 5-man game and someone has Rafiq out with Sword of Fire and Ice equipped. I guarantee you’ll get someone to give you at least 50 cents in trade after that beating.

Trade Appeal: 2
Undervalued: 6
Likelihood of Reprint: 2

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth – Planar Chaos – $8.49 ($19.99 Foil)

When Urborg wasn’t making Dark Depths tap for black in the old Extended, it was providing amazing mana fixing for two-colored decks in Commander.

Fetch this up with Tolaria West in U/B, or snag it along with Cabal Coffers, Volrath’s Stronghold, and Gaea’s Cradle with your Realms Uncharted in G/B. Or just play it in any B/X deck.

The card’s value was largely predicated on tournament success, but it is a powerful casual tool as well. Even if it falls out of tournament play completely, I doubt it will fall below its current price due to large Commander appeal.

Trade Appeal: 8
Undervalued: 5
Likelihood of Reprint: 4

Volraths Stronghold
Volrath’s Stronghold – Stronghold – $13.99

Oh my god, are you kidding me? Academy Ruins for CREATURES!?

Yeah, this card is a stone cold beating in Commander. If you’ve ever tried to play against an active one with no answers, well, you better hope you’ve got a ton of tempo or card draw.

This card has done nothing but rise in value for years despite seeing only fringe play in Legacy. Oh – and it’s on the reserve list.

This card is a near-lock for being worth $20 or more in two years or less.

Trade Appeal: 10
Undervalued: 8
Likelihood of Reprint: 0 (On the reserve list)

Winding Canyons
Winding Canyons – Weatherlight – $0.99

Another great card to dissuade attackers, Winding Canyons basically gives one of your guys flash every turn for two additional mana. (well, three if you count the fact that you can’t tap the Winding Canyons to pay for its own ability.)

This card isn’t super powerful, but it does give a ton of trickiness to, say, a mono-green deck.

At a buck, it’s really undervalued. Considering it’s on the reserve list, I don’t think its price will ever go down.

Trade Appeal: 4
Undervalued: 8
Likelihood of Reprint: 0 (On the reserve list)

 
The Worldwake Manlands – Worldwake – $1.49 – $4.99 ($5.99 – $7.99 Foil)

These lands are auto-includes for any decks that run their respective colors and are stupidly cheap thanks to the fact that they’re in the same set as The Jace Lottery.

While most cards lose value once they leave Standard, I don’t see these falling too far below their current prices because they have massive casual appeal. If you pick a few of your favorites up now for $2-$4 in trade, I doubt you’ll regret it.

Trade Appeal: 7
Undervalued: 6
Likelihood of Reprint: 2

Yavimaya Hollow
Yavimaya Hollow – Urza’s Destiny – $4.49 ($14.99 Foil)

Regeneration is a really underrated mechanic in casual magic, as it not only saves your guy from most spot removal and combat, but it dissuades people from attacking you in the first place.

This card is on the reserve list, so they can’t re-print this or a functional copy again ever.

While this sort of card has almost no tournament value, it would probably go in any green Commander deck that had access to it. If Commander cards do shoot up in value, this one will be right there at the top of the heap.

Trade Appeal: 8
Undervalued: 8
Likelihood of Reprint: 0 (On the reserve list)

Conclusions

Whew, this was long! Almost 5,000 words, and I could have kept going. There were tons of useful lands I didn’t get to, including Krosan Verge, Tectonic Edge, Dust Bowl, and Ancient Tomb just to name a few.

Through the next six weeks, I am going to tackle all five colors, the artifacts, and the gold cards. And most of those colors will have a larger pool of awesome playables than the lands did!

A question for the comment section: would you like me to skip the analysis of why the card is fun in Commander in order to provide my financial take on more cards, or would you like me to limit the analysis just to the best, most interesting Commander playables?

I’d love to know what you think, and I’ll be glad to tailor my article next week to whatever you guys want.

No pick of the week this week. If you’re going to invest in some cards, I’d pick up some sweet Commander lands. Start with Minamo and go from there.

And if you can’t wait for next time, check out this thread on the MTG Salvation forums:

http://forums.mtgsalvation.com/showthread.php?t=252037

This link includes is an aggregate list of MTG Salvation’s picks for the best Commander cards in each color. It provided an excellent jumping-off point for this article, and is an amazing reference for Commander-buildings everywhere.

Until next time –

– Chas Andres (@ChasAndres on Twitter)

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