Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Card Value

A Ghost of a Collection – Building Your Collection in EDH and Magic

A while ago I wrote about the current cost of Magic and some things to watch out for.  I hate to just complain about an issue without working on a solution. So today I want to talk about building your collection, and how you can mitigate some of the costs and still play what you want. Over the past 20+ years I have learned that building your collection is really a three-part process: planning, acquisition, and liquidation.


blueprints-ss-1920This is the stage that is most important and we generally don’t spend enough time with it, and if we do spend enough time planning it we don’t adhere to it. I mean how many times have you walked into a store or started a trade and then your eye catches something and now you’re the proud new owner of a card you didn’t need. I break planning down to three parts: format, staples and decks.

First and foremost you have to decide what formats you want to play, as each format has certain cards you will want to have. On top of formats, how many decks do you want to have? I choose one Old School (93/94, because that is when I started), two Legacy, Two Modern, and eight EDH decks (down from 28!). I won’t cover Standard, because admittedly my process is not as efficient for a rotating format. Though you might change how many decks and maybe even what formats you want to play in, this step will still help you plan to get to your initial goal.

Staples is the key to being able to either switch decks or update a deck for the metagame. The perfect example of this for someone wanting to play blue and black in Modern and Legacy would be Polluted Delta. This will cover me if I am playing only one of the two colors or both, and no matter what deck I play it will have this in it. Just be careful you don’t fall into having no deck in mind, and just getting every black card possible. Still, a staple will be a card you should be able to get out of for around the cost you have put in, if not more.

Last, decks are the final part to the planning piece, but maybe the most important part of the process. If you break it down, the decks I listed above only equal 1475 cards, and quite a bit of them are lands. Here’s how I go about evaluating decks in the non-EDH formats I listed above. Start by proxying a deck and play the shit out of it. When I first got into Modern I jumped around between decks, and often lost value. All said and done I went through eight different Modern decks before deciding on the two that I wanted. (By the way, they are the decks I always lean towards.)

Don’t make the mistake I did. Find the deck you really like before you start buying. EDH is a bit more complicated but fairly similar. We change our decks a bit more, but cards like Command Tower and Sol Ring tend to find themselves in a few decks along the way. Find the color combinations you enjoy and get at least the staple lands as a base to work from. Again, create a list before you start buying cards or you will have a bunch you don’t use.


a465Acquisition has to be one of the funnest parts of the game. Between buying and trading, this is one piece that draws people in. So many people say it, not many people listen to it, but I still have to put it out there. DON’T BUY SEALED PRODUCT! Sealed product is almost always a loss, I opened a box of Modern Masters 2 (retail $240) and I average $1.58 per pack, losing $8.42 per pack. Instead, buying singles would have gotten me every card I wanted and kept a few bucks in my pocket. Buying singles ensures you get exactly the cards you need, and it eliminates a bunch of cards sitting in a box you have no intention of using.

Buying singles still takes some planning as you can easily spend more than what the card is really worth. One of the best times to purchase a single is a few weeks after a Standard rotation, although that has become quite interesting with the rotation changes lately. Watch out for buying cards the weekend of PT’s and GP’s as crads often spike and dealers often cancel orders. You can also watch for cards that are over-hyped as when they correct it’s often lower than they are worth. Presales can often be good for EDH cards as SCG proved with $.50 blade of selves presales. I look at a set as it is spoiled and determine if it is a card I would need for a deck, then buy presale if I find it under priced, or add it to my list if I feel it will be cheaper later.

Buying collections can be by far one of the best value deals you can find. I have often found that players who are leaving the game want to get rid of everything at once, and that leads to them giving up value for convenience. When I buy sets I tend not to look towards the cards I want, but instead the cards I don’t want. I evaluate cards at 30% under TCG low to make sure I can sell them to recover my expense and make money after fees to purchase the cards I want (or trade for). Anytime you are over the 30%, you will be able to get great value and really move your collection forward.

Trading can be hit or miss depending on your area and what others have as trade stock. With Internet prices so available, it’s pretty easy to get even value. That being said, you can often ask for something small thrown in that helps you to build towards your lists. There are also sites like Puca Trade or Deckbox that can help you increase the range of your trading. I personally feel like the issues with those sites make it hard to get what you are looking for without losing a lot of value. They are complex so we won’t dive in, but it’s something to at least look into.


When I talk liquidation I don’t mean selling everything and getting out of the game, I just mean liquidating cards that you won’t play again–cards that have been upgraded to something else or just don’t perform how you’d like them to. Rotating cards out can keep your collection more manageable as well as keep the cost down as you can use those as trades or funds for what you want to play with. The key to this step is to ensure you have really worked the planning step out as you don’t want to be selling cards you will need to get later. Once you know what cards you are looking to acquire, the next step is to make sure you get them at the right cycle. If you are playing EDH and you see a cool card spoiled, you can first check the pre-order price to see if it’s under valued, or you can wait until the price drops. On the flip side, if you open something sweet in a draft, you can sell out when it’s expensive in Standard and buy back in when it rotates.

Closing time

Although this game is and can be expensive, there are ways to keep it more reasonable. The key to that is careful planning and staying focused on your goals, now those can change, but the less they do the cheaper things will be. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance. Now let’s get out there and build some decks!

Until next time this is EDH.Ghost out!

Black Sheep – Life After Tuck


Read More

Black Sheep – Pinups, Pornstars and Promos

Last night in the car driving home from playing Commander, the song “Rockstar” by Nickleback started playing on the radio. My head quickly filled with thoughts as the song played through the stock sound system of my subcompact beater. If memory serves, I think that we, as a people, had already all joined together and agreed that “Rockstar” received enough radio plays and we could retire it permanently.

Read More

Three Cards Deep 2:9 – April 25, 2014 – Captain Sisay


Three Cards Deep: The Good, The Bad, and the EDH Ugly

Three things happened to make me want to talk about Captain Sisay tonight. First, she did pretty well in the GDC March Madness Tournament. Second, a certain Jud/Doug/GUDoug badmouthed tutors during a conversation on Twitter (I basically agree with him btw). Third, I was toying with a number of different builds involving the Captain. So here we go. Let’s Rad Bad Sad.

Read More

Black Sheep – Evaluating Spoilers


I enjoy spoiler season. Hope and possibility fill the air. These magical times each year bring with them a tide of deck building inspiration.

Spoiler season, however, creates an unfortunate side effect with full set reviews.

Read More

Black Sheep – Creature Feature


In my not so humble opinion, the best way to build Commander decks is with a strong set of themes. To make sure that a deck gets the most out of the cards it plays, it should learn to turn dead cards into new resources and card advantage. This is especially true of creatures.

Read More

Three Cards Deep – 12/06/2013


Three Cards Deep: The Good, The Bad, and the EDH Ugly

Three cards:

  • One is Rad: Surprisingly awesome card you’d be just as happy to see an opponent slam down as you would to rip it off the top.
  • One is Bad: It’s a bogeyman. Take a trip to frown town with these fun suckers, whether you’re casting or being tortured by them.
  • One is Sad: Often popular inclusions, these cards tend to let you down.

Have you heard this song? It’s cool to hate.

The Rad – Torpor Orb

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about #teamtorpororb and I’ll probably accidently feature it again. But basically “who you gonna call when boring value creatures run rampant and Deadeye Navigator got you down?” Seriously. Just play Torpor Orb.

I see it a lot because Ryan, a homie that I play with on the regular, runs it in Erebos. But I loved it even before that. Here’s what happens. 1. Someone plays the orb. 2. All the rest of us have to get creative to deal with this enforced “state of physical or mental inactivity.” And it hoses blink goodstuff.

Verdict: Creativity enforcer and a goodstuff slayer – What’s not to love?

The Bad – Winter Orb

Do you like casting spells? Do you prefer the subtle pressure of “I could wait for a while to untap enough and maybe by then we’ll draw an answer” or would you rather scoop to a ‘Geddon? Seriously. I get that it has strategic value – I used to run the heck out of 10 land Stompy with orbs out of the board.

But let me tell you, the one time a GAAIV player resolved this (and the other time the random Captain Sisay lockdown guy drew it) I was just bummed. It seems like it could be super cool to build a synergistic deck around non-land mana sources, but then you realize that preventing everyone from doing anything doesn’t make for a good time at most tables.

Verdict: Why not just play Stasis for better art?

The Sad – Exquisite Blood
(Honorable mention to Witchbane Orb for being weak and being an orb. Too bad it doesn’t see enough play to qualify.)

I’m not 100% committed to this verdict, but it’s worth feeling out. Here’s why I think it’s sad. Once people have played against this a few times, they realize the effect is not small or subtle. It’s a big deal. So instead of letting the Exquisite player gain life on every attack, they just gang up and attack until s/he reaches single digits land or death. I don’t generally include cards that put a target on your head by being good, but this is almost like cursing yourself. “Curse of if you attack anyone else I gain life” It is neat if you don’t care and just want to change the pace of the game, but not great if you are bad at blocking and can’t otherwise recoup the life points.

Verdict: Curse of “attacking me makes the most sense” seems bad.

Weekly Lesson: Don’t be a jerk who thinks he’s Mr. King of Knowing EDH Stuff. When a new player is generally having fun but losing, maybe don’t run the “Let’s look at your deck” move when they’re eliminated. Then you won’t have to hear your friend say “Maybe he thinks his deck is fine” and then hear your inner voice go “Yeah <expletive removed>stain. Unsolicited advice is the worst.”

The precons have new players entering the format. There is a fine line you must walk between helpfully explaining why Hysterical Blindness is really a wasted slot and flipping their deck over saying “Cut this, this, this, this, this, and this, aahahah aoh and definitely this.”


Make-Up Thursday – Expensive nostalgia, tears over Titanic, and why the Rules Committee needs to get rid of dollar-value banning criteria

…and we’re back!  Hope all is well, everyone.  I was able to do some testing last night on both Thraximundar and Sisters, so we’ll get to that soon enough.  Right now, though, I’m feeling like spending some cash…


I came to a conclusion the other day while pondering my “Sentimental Value” binder that I think is completely valid.  I believe the Rules Committee needs to get rid of their second criteria for banning cards.  Here it is for reference:

“A card’s dollar cost is prohibitive for most players and the card usually detracts from the playing experience of everyone else in the game.”

The main problem with this particular criterion is that it is effectively two separate rules put together.  Looking closely, we see that there’s a link drawn between “cost” and “detracts from playing experience” that in my opinion is misplaced.  Now, undoubtedly, the two can go hand in hand, but they certainly do not do so absolutely.  Recurring Nightmare,  for example, can currently be picked up for about $7 or $8 on the open market, and there is no question that this card is degenerate beyond reasonable doubt.  On the same token, I’d be hard-pressed to pick up a decent copy of Juzam Djinn for under $100 these days, and the card has not aged well at all in the potency category.  Money does not equal degeneracy; a card should be examined on the basis of how it stacks up against each category independently of each other.  If it breaks both, all the more reason to ban.  But it is absolutely misleading to put the two criteria together.  

This gets me to my main point-  

Dollar value should have no place in determining whether a card is ban-worthy.    


If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that Time Walk has a place very near to my heart.  I was sorting through some of my unused collection last week, thinking about piecing together a sell list for some store credit, when I mentioned off-handedly to a friend that I wanted to get my hands on a Time Walk.  

“Why?”  He asked.

“I want one for my “Sentimental” binder.”

“Uh…your what?”

“I’ve got this binder with a ton of cards that I used to love to play back in the day.  I’d love to add a Walk to it.”

“You only play EDH.  Not Vintage.”


“Why not just fold up $400 and slip it into one of the binder pockets?  Same effect.”

“Come on…you understand what I’m going for here.”

“Nope.  I get that you’re a sap.”

“Not fair.  I’m just prone to nostalgia.”

“You still tear up at the end of ‘Titanic‘?”

“…shut up.”

He does have a point, though.  There’s a difference between sliding a Revised Black Vise into a binder because I used to win tournaments with the card; coming out of pocket for a card worth Texas-$$$ that will do nothing but get older in a sleeve does seem a bit pointless.

Which is why I should be able to play with it.  

(And for the record, that ending is emotional, dammit.  Rose climbing the Grand Staircase, with all the other passengers there to welcome her, and Jack is there, and…

…ah, screw it.  I hit my thirties and became an emotional wreck.  I’m fairly sure if Budweiser put together a reasonably sappy beer commercial, I’d probably tear up.  This is probably why my wife refuses to go out to movies with me anymore.  Getting old sucks, kids…)


The conversation made me think about what makes EDH so great, and the parallels that are drawn from it to a time before there was any such thing as a “format” to begin with.  When I started playing Magic, it was an “anything goes” game.  Back then, with no internet to log on and throw together a quick Star City order or complete an EBay auction,  it was all about trying to get your hands on things that no-one else had the old fashion way – by finding other people who had these cards, and working out an epic trade.  I imagine this was exactly what Richard Garfield had in mind when he designed the game to be collectable; you’d scour the locals, build up your binder, and then head off to another town and dig in.  No one looked at cards and saw dollar signs in those days.  Every new person you came across meant a new collection of stuff no-one local had, and opening each new binder was like cracking open an untouched Egyptian tomb for the first time.  It felt truly magical.

There was an unbelievable aura that surrounded cards like Black Lotus; it really felt like you were playing with something ultra rare and amazing and powerful when you dropped it on the table.  If you had one, chances were good it was the only one in the local area code, and people would be in awe.  Other games would stop so the players could come to your table and see a Mox Pearl in person, or watch as Ali From Cairo came down and made the game absolutely unwinnable for the opposing mage.  It was utterly electric.

Simply put, these cards defined the collectible nature of the game in a way that has never and will never been replicated.

These days, a strictly-Standard player might gloss over a Mox Jet in a trade binder.  Legacy Players will skip straight past Ancestral Recall to get to Ancestral Vision.  The trade grinders will start mentally converting cardboard into incremental dollar values with all the warmth of a gynecology exam.  With the advent of the internet and the onset of formats, Magic gained a ton of popularity and lost the sheer mystique that it was born with. 


But it lives on in EDH. 

This is the place for old cards to come out of binders.  This is the place for worn-out, sixteen-year-old cards to reclaim some of that prestige and power.  EDH is all about doing big, splashy, enjoyable things that can’t happen in any other format.  It’s all about playing things that just can’t or won’t be played anywhere else.  It’s about recapturing the magic that gave this game its’ name to begin with.  We go out of our way to spend money on obscure foils and rare old cards to make our decks unique and interesting.  We love our Japanese foil Doubling Season and our Old Man Of The Sea and our Judge Foil Maze Of Ith.  If ever there were a place for the rarest of rare cards, it’s here.  To restate my point, money should simply not be an issue in card banning; it unnecessarily damages the core value of EDH.

Let me play that Time Walk, goddammit!


EDH is a broken format.  This is unquestioned.  Anyone who wants to can break it in half at any time.  With the rising popularity of EDH, there will be more and more players who shrug off the idea of the social contract so they can combo out a table of players on turn four.  This is not the point of this article, though, other than to point out that cards will always need to be evaluated when they break too far out of the mold and start ruining the game as a result.  Emrakul was a big issue; Erayo was a flat-out game warping problem.  I have no issue with cards that will unbalance EDH from a power perspective, or due to their alternate-design nature. (As is the case with the “Un-“ sets) 

I also understand that the Rules Committee decided to start with the Vintage Restricted list as a basis for the official EDH banned list; I find this to be a mistake as well for the same reasons.  I’d challenge anyone to look me in the face and tell me that EDH is a bad fit for Chaos Orb.  Simply put, if the card is broken enough that it warps the format or was designed outside the constraints of the game, then pull it, but let the rest go across the board. 

Let’s take a look at the cards that I would argue become nothing but money bannings:

The A/B/U Moxen

In a format where games regularly can go past twenty turns, the power level of the original Moxen is drastically diminished.  At its’ heart, EDH is not an early-game format at all, and the small extra boost a Mox Emerald would provide in the first few turns is no more or less equal to what we already have in Sol Ring or Mana Crypt.  And let’s face it; Moxen make terrible eighteenth-turn top-decks.

Ancestral Recall

Sure…I get it.  This card is good.  Again, applying the same logic as the Moxen get, the plus-two card advantage you get from Ancestral is not nearly that back-breaking in a format that isn’t about breaking backs and isn’t about doing it early.  It surely becomes a staple in blue decks, but it isn’t nearly as compelling in the face of a kicked Tooth And Nail or Sylvan Library/Abundance. 

Time Walk

The effect already lives in the format several times over.  Dirty Combo Players™ are less concerned with CMC in the long run anyway, and will tend to use Riku to copy Time Stretch anyway.  Again, it’s good, but not broken in EDH.

Library Of Alexandria

Again, we have a card that is judged based on the positive card advantage it gives in Vintage to control and combo decks designed to take over a game in the first few turns.  The last time I checked, most EDH players like to play their cards, not sit on them and meter them out slowly.  Again, it’s an existing effect, and besides, it has terrible synergy with ReliquaryTower, and everyone plays that anyway. 

Black Lotus

…Yeah, this one is a tough sell.  This probably would not pass muster in the face of the “power-level” criteria.  Still, while this card does provide an unbalancing acceleration to the player who plays it, it does not create a game-winning combo like Panoptic Mirror or Biorhythm, or lend itself to a non-interactive board state like Limited Resources or Upheaval.  I’d also go a step further and say that Black Lotus is and will always be the most iconic card in the history of the game.  On that flavor alone, it belongs in EDH if it belongs anywhere at all.


I realize that there is a whole other level of arguments about what happens to EDH when the best cards in the best decks are priced out of the range of the average player.  There are ways around that, however; for example, if Vintage lives and dies by the availability of proxy tournaments, and most EDH playgroups recognize the nature of a casual format and already allow them to one extent or another, then I believe this is a non-issue.  Not every player will flock to these cards anyway; there is a thriving pauper EDH scene, and there are tons of players that love to build ‘outside of the box’ and will steer clear for many reasons.  

But it leaves the door open for those of us who want to get back to the core of the magic behind Magic to spend foolishly if we want and return to a time and place that hasn’t been available in well over a decade and a half.  It allows newer players to discover the same joy us older players once did – a joy that isn’t possible in the same way in Vintage.  Resident EDH Godfather Sheldon Menery likes to say that EDH is about ‘embracing the chaos’, and that is true; I’d like to take it a step further and say that EDH is about ‘embracing the magic’ at its’ fundamental core.  It’s not about the money, it’s about the cards themselves, and the heart of an incredible game lives and breathes in them.  It’s a shame that they can’t live and breathe in EDH, and I think it’s time to change that.

For now, you’ll have to excuse me.  ‘Serendipity‘ is coming on, and I need to run out for some Kleenex…



Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén