(Editor’s Note-
I told you Mr. P and I had some things to say here.  Please enjoy our thoughts; He’s up first, and I’ll see you all after the break.
—>Cass)
Like most Magic players (and I suppose most Americans in general) I am predisposed to complaining about things.  Part of our first-world privilege is the ability to complain about the most incidental stuff, and to respond to being given nice things by bitching about them.

That’s right – this is an article about Commander’s Arsenal.

My reaction to the initial announcement of the release of Commander’s Arsenal was fairly ambivalent.  On one hand, it is awesome that Wizards is enthusiastic about supporting EDH; the EDH Pre-Cons from last summer were great, and they certainly helped grow the format substantially.  On the other hand, as I have discussed previously and to great extent, the EDH Pre-Cons also injected an added element of homogenization to the format.  Many of the new generals introduced were somewhat-to-completely linear, and the tendency of generals like Riku and The Mimeoplasm to suggest a strategy of “run good cards!” has contributed to the proliferation of the “staples mentality” that I get endless of mileage out of complaining about.

With this in mind, the premise that Wizards would be releasing a boxed set of EDH staples both excited me and worried me.  It excited me because I like the prospect of picking up foil pieces for my decks, and I appreciate the move to make certain older cards more accessible to newer players.  It worried me because the prospect of playing against the exact same cards in every deck is already something that exists, and the potential amplification of this issue that this product suggests is frustrating.

Of course, all of these theoretical concerns were completely eclipsed the moment they announced the price and the contents. Ten oversized foils? Eighteen playable cards? Seventy five dollars? Really?

Let’s break this down.

18 Playable Foils

From a nitpicky vocabulary standpoint, 18 cards doesn’t comprise much of an “arsenal”; I’m not sure exactly what I had hoped this product would be, but based on the EDH Pre-Cons, I guess I had hoped for a comparable package deal.  (High hopes, I suppose.)

From a price standpoint, this is comparable to the From The Vault series, which has an MSRP of $35.  Now, the foil Sylvan Library is cool, although the fact that I want like fifteen of them is a bummer.  The rest of the stuff ranges from also pretty cool (Scroll Rack is nice, and Loyal Retainers seems like a great card to reprint in hopes of reducing the price from its current absurdity)…
… to pretty exciting (the alternate art Duplicant and Decree of Pain)…
…to pretty unexciting (I can finally get that Diochan, Artful Beauty I’ve been looking for!)…
…to a weird “pay 1 to draw a card” sub-theme (hey, Rhystic Study and Mind’s Eye!)…
…to pretty irritating that it wasn’t printed in foil in its initial release instead of taking up a slot here (hey, anything legendary from the EDH Pre-Cons and/or Planechase 2012!)
Speaking of which…

10 Oversize Foils

This drives me insane.  For the life of me, I cannot figure out who thinks this is a good idea.  Who wants or uses these things?  The strange conception that these stupid things are a “selling point” is insulting and absurd.  If Wizards wants to do something cool for generals, why not release some extended or alternate art versions in these slots?  Why not give us anything playable, instead of a bunch of trash that will sit in a drawer somewhere and get older?

Furthermore, the first of the eighteen playable foils that has been spoiled was The Mimeoplasm.  That’s cool, I suppose, but the need for this card to be included only exists because they elected to only print the card in foil in stupid oversize form in the first place.  The same goes for Kaalia, and Edric; the foils of these could (and should) have been printed the correct size the first time. 
Who wants to start a letter writing campaign to Wizards encouraging them to get rid of the stupid oversize foils and just print regular sized foils for next summer’s EDH release?

The oversize foils drive me insane because it suggests to me that this product, which was supposedly made for EDH players, was not made with the consultation of any actual EDH players.  From a monetary standpoint, these add no value; you can’t play them, they don’t fit in a binder so you can’t trade them, and nobody wants them anyway.  (And no, I don’t care what Mark Rosewater’s market research tells him.)

Also – did the EDH community really need more encouragement to play Azusa?

Some Sleeves

Ummmmm…ok?  I feel like I can speak to this a little, as I have a lot of decks using a variety of sleeves.  Here’s the quick version:

For my money, Dragon Shields are far and away the best sleeves for EDH.  They are durable, resistant to cracking and breakage, and (despite what it says on the package) they come in packages of 105, which means you always have a few extras.

While they are less good than Dragon Shields, I do not hate Ultra Pro sleeves.  In fact, I think they’re an entirely-acceptable option, especially since you can get 200 of them for roughly the same price as 100 Dragon Shields.  However, in my experience they are more prone to breakage and they do tend to “bind up” with each other more than Dragon Shields do, meaning you often need to buy three packs (150 total) to sleeve one deck.

The worst sleeve experiences I have had have always been with the sleeves that feature graphics printed on material that is shiny or glossy; these sleeves tend to peel or split easily, and often need to be replaced after only a few games.

It appears the sleeves in the Commander’s Arsenal are shiny.  Oh boy.

Battle Marks”

If ever there was an attempt to create something that could be described solely as “nonessential,” it would be these things.

Oh wait! My combo deck!  So first I use Dreams of the Dead to reanimate my Lightning Reaver,  equip it with Blade of the Bloodchief, play Conspiracy naming “Fungus”, use That Which Was Taken, and then sacrifice my Blood Pet to activate Thelon’s ability, resulting in a situation where I have a creature that has a Time, Charge, Divinity, +1/+1, and Spore counter on it, and then I will flip the table, punch my opponent in the face, burn my cards and drink a gallon of brandy.  Combo! Thanks for those Battle Marks, Wizards!

Life Counter

This is pretty cool.   I have nothing to complain about here, so I’m moving on.

Overall Thoughts

Suffice to say I think the final spoiled set does a nice job of establishing a level of inessentiality that will be hard to argue with.  This is very much a product for foil fetishists, rich people, and suckers.  I can only imagine those poor bastards who preordered this on eBay for $500 are now salivating at the prospect of how much complaining they can do now that they know what they’re actually buying.

The $75 price tag makes me nervous, as it suggests a possible future where the price points we have come to expect get jettisoned for substantially-higher ones.  From my point of view, this collection of foils is very comparable to the quality of any of the recent FTV sets, and the double-plus-five-dollar price tag is disappointing when one considers that the only real other thing we are getting are some stupid oversized foils.

In closing, this seems like an experiment that went poorly; the spoiling of the Sylvan Library as part of the announcement created a level of expectation for the included cards that was unrealistic, the announcement of the high price without much information allowed for rampant bitching, and waiting until the last minute to reveal the (fairly modest) contents of the set gave people an extended window to complain on the Internet (something I have never done not once…) 
I do think it is cool that Wizards is experimenting with products such as these, and hope that the next one that is rolled out goes over better.

Also, would anyone like to trade playable cards for oversized rubbish?

XO,

->Mr. P
Here’s where I’ll start – I love this product.  And that’s a big problem.
Let me explain exactly what I mean.  I was approached by the owner of my local store and asked if I wanted to purchase a copy of Commander’s Arsenal a while back.  He was getting a few copies, and there were two left over after the current pre-orders. 
I asked on price.  “MSRP, minus any ‘Frequent Buyer’ discounts.” 
So I pre-purchased a copy for 10% off retail. 
At the time, the only info was the extra crap stuff included in the box with the playable cards, and the first two spoiled cards – The Mimeoplasm and Sylvan Library.  I reasoned that if there were a fair amount of other decent playables in there, I could sell the rest of the stuff that I didn’t want to recoup some costs.
Fast-forward to today.  The final list couldn’t be better for a player like me.
Let me describe that player before going further; I’m in my 30’s, have a family and own a house.  I have a huge mortgage payment and a bigger daycare bill.  I have unsecured debt.  Nonetheless, my wife and I combine to make a pretty comfortable living, albeit one that doesn’t currently afford endless amounts of spending on hobbies. 
I’m also a strict EDH player, and I don’t typically keep a trade binder.  I like to build decks by creating them in Excel, perfecting them, and purchasing the cards online.  (I don’t have time to deal with tracking down trades.) 
This product is aimed at me directly.  And the problem is that I’m an odd-ball minority.
I can afford to come out of pocket once in a while for a product that speaks to my particular Magic slant.  I don’t mind buying into something, even if it costs a lot, if it fits into what I want to add to my collection, but I’m always looking for value.  For example, I’ve been selling off Return to Ravnica singles like they’re going out of style, and I’m up on my investment so far, while also hanging on to some cards I want to play.
The bottom line is that nothing is sacred to me if it isn’t in a deck.
So I’m now looking at a boxed set of cards that I paid mid-sixties USD for, and my “want” list looks like this:
-Sylvan Library
CommandTower
-Rhystic Study
And my “gee, that’d be cool to have” list looks like this:
-Duplicant
-Decree of Pain
-Desertion
And my “I wouldn’t kick them out of bed for eating crackers” list is roughly:
-Mirari’s Wake
-Mind’s Eye
-Scroll Rack
-That spin-down life counter thing
That leaves the “Sell this stuff as quick as I can” pile:
-The Mimeoplasm
-Dragonlair Spider
-Chaos Warp
-Loyal Retainers
-Maelstrom Wanderer
-Kaalia of the Vast
-Diaochan, Artful Beauty
-Edric, Spymaster of Trest
-Vela the Night Clad
-A box with 10 oversize foils, a bunch of sleeves, and a pile of “battle marks.”
While I’ll be keeping a few ‘money’ cards, I’m completely comfortable shipping the two most-expensive (when compared to existing original printings on the secondary market) cards in the set, and most likely, a pile of other generals that will likely be in high demand.
Now, I don’t know what the secondary market for this stuff will look like, but I think I stand a real chance of being able to recoup my investment while pocketing some decent cards – at worst.
Why is this bad?
Well, while I can identify the product as ‘made for me’, Wizards will disagree.  In a puritanical sense, the designers want it in the hands of dedicated EDH players – those of us that play like crazy, build like crazy, and like to breathe the rarified air of special products.
Ideally, also players that want the cards and won’t dish them off.
Now, the marketing department is probably another story.  They seem to want it to fall into any hands that need to drop a pile of money to free up gripping power.  This is why the addition of Loyal Retainers is pure genius; it brings the Legacy players into the picture, ensuring sales will happen even if EDH players ended up hating the final decklist.  (Mark Gottleib himself could show up at my house and swear that he was in the driver’s seat, but I’ll never believe that Marketing didn’t have a hand in the Retainers inclusion.  Ever.)
You know…players similar to me, except they play with sixty-card decks, and will sell everything except the Loyal Retainers and Scroll Rack (for the most part.)
Now, you’ll notice a glaring omission in the ranks of the target demographic –
Average EDH players.
These are the players that Patrick described here.  Imshan (over on Commandercast.com) did a great job of doing the same.  I’m talking players that might not want to spend $75 minimum on a Commander product. I’m talking about players that started with the Pre-Cons last summer.  I’m talking about players that don’t have a ton of disposable income, but love the format. 
I’d guess that I’m talking about most of the EDH player-base. 
I don’t need to re-tread reasons why Commander’s Arsenal missed the mark.  They’re out there everywhere you look.  I am concerned first and foremost in two areas-
-Alienation of the “real” EDH player base. 
Again, Imshan nailed this, and Patrick did too.  Had Wizards been up-front about the goal of the product (instead of creating a perception that this set was going to be a giant toolbox designed to provide a ton of playable EDH cards to the masses), this wouldn’t have been a problem. 
They mis-stepped again when leading off with Sylvan Library, a card that arguably has cross-format applications by absolutely has a price-tag to begin with.  Speculators now had fuel to start inflating pre-orders, and before long, the players that are most interested in buying a product designed strictly for casual play were priced out of the equation. 
Or kicked out due to availability.  The initial announcement made it seem like we were looking to get another product similar in scope (if not in development or form-factor) to the Pre-Cons.  Suddenly, the privileged few were the only ones that looked to be able to land a copy.  Casual players that buy packs at Target or WalMart might never know this product exists.
And content…this product has such a narrow scope for appeal that it blows the mind.  Extremely casual players are the ones most-excited to get sleeves and Battle Marks – not dedicated players with expendable income.  Then, the playable cards.  Casual players don’t care about foil Mind’s Eye when they can get playable normal ones for pennies on the dollar.  There are some generals in the sweet-spot, I suppose, but only a narrow few.  And the high-end will likely only attract players from other formats.  So it misses the mark on all fronts.
-And that gets us to part two, which is perceived value.  I can’t count how many posts over the past few days on various forums have said things like, “If you can get it at XXX dollars, it’s worth it.  The Loyal Retainers alone is worth $150.”
No…no it isn’t.  It’s worth the card stock it is printed on, because it’s a brand-new release that has nothing to do with the P3K version. 
But yes…it sure looks like it to the masses. 
Wizards is doing what they’ve said they wouldn’t do many times in the past here – dabble in the secondary market.  Perceived card value is what makes this set desirable here, and Marketing knows it.  Imshan had better be completely right about the bulk of the cost of putting one of these together falling on the extras like the Battle Marks, but even then, it doesn’t matter.  People are conditioned to look to the playable cards to ascertain what the set is worth; this is why From The Vaults; Legends is viewed as stale while other FTV releases are seen as strong.  Wizards had to know this.  Cards drive sales.  Without Retainers, Diaochan, Library, and Rack, we’d be looking at a pile of cards that aren’t worth anywhere near MSRP comparably, and people would really be losing their minds at the poor value here. 
The Battle Marks might be made of solid gold, but people will value them and anything that isn’t a playable card as nothing more than a throw-in. 
Wizards…I hate to say it (primarily because I feel bad over the un-rivaled beating they seem to be taking over this product), but you missed the boat here. 
And it will still sell out and look great on paper. 
CLOSING IT ALL UP – QUICK THOUGHTS

-Honestly, Wizards was doomed from the get-go due to availability and marketing.  If this was widely available, people wouldn’t be so angry now regardless of what is in it.  It could be Wasteland, Mana Drain, and Force of Will, or it could be eighteen Kobold tokens, and people would at least be able to flock to it if they wanted to.   
-In a vacuum, this isn’t a bad set of cards either.  With a few notable head-scratchers and obvious plants, the list is pretty decent – even desirable to the EDH player who likes to build and maintain several decks and likes premium product. 
-Mark Rosewater and Co. need to look heavily at their market research.  In my years of playing this format and all of my exposure to discussion, debate, Twitter, web forums, and so on, I can easily count on one hand the number of people that I’ve heard say they want oversize cards.  Wizards…please wake up here. The Pre-Cons should have just had foiled generals to begin with, and we wouldn’t be looking at a rehashing taking up un-necessary slots here.

-I’m greatly looking forward to the Commander 2013 products.  That is, assuming they return to proper form.
-The worst thing about this?  I feel dirty that I got my hands on one.  I shouldn’t feel ashamed to buy a product I want.  That speaks volumes.
-At the end of the day, though, everyone should remember that this is just another thing to buy, and it isn’t even essential.  If you don’t want it, don’t buy it.  It’s really that simple.  There’s no need to go overboard complaining about it if it’s not something you will even want to get to begin with.  Or even if it is. 
Of course, I’d hate to talk myself out of a job here, so I think that’s my queue to head for the week.  I hope you got a copy of Commander’s Arsenal if you wanted one, and I hope you paid a reasonable price for it. 
Have a good weekend, people. 

àCass