Commander is arguably one of the most popular magic formats of all time and when you crack open the Commander 2019 pre-cons you’ll see an advert card reinforcing just how popular the format is:

 

Las Vegas and Commander Weekend

Irreverent takes about Modern aside, this weekend held a lot to be excited about as a Commander fan. MagicFest Vegas saw over 1,000 people descend to play, and that was just for the main event—it’s easy to imagine at least half of that number again played around the halls and hotels outside of the exclusive play area, a first of its kind for Magic events. Vegas was also arguably the biggest meetup of content creators, fans, and Commander luminaries of its kind to date, and the passion for the format was clear to see.

Creativity was on display, with hundreds of hours of dedication to be seen in not only the cosplay and pet decks, but the exciting twists on the now mainstay format. From Commander Sealed to Rotisserie draft, and the emergence of Oathbreaker as a standout format there was something on offer for even the pickiest of players.

There is a world beyond the heady delights of Vegas, though, and whilst the luckier of us managed to soak up some sun in Nevada, the rest of the world made its passion known by turning out to Commander Weekend, an event put on by Wizards to celebrate the release of Commander 2019. Much like the Ravnica Weekend and Store Championships before it, Commander Weekend is a themed event in which stores can offer promo cards and prizes for participation in games of Commander. Scenarios ranged from pre-con only games, to challenging an Archenemy, playing Planechase, or the simple joy of achievement hunting.

I checked in to my local games store this weekend and saw a lot of enthusiasm around the latest release—many of the newer standard players had picked up a new deck, and there were always games happening throughout the day. The store sold a good amount of product, and in general things looked good. I’m also impressed with how the decks play, and in particular how they play with each other—there were some great moments of interplay and it felt pretty balanced, so props to the design team on that one.

Commander seems to be firing on all cylinders right now, and should be shoring up a strong quarter for Wizards. There are a number of things that make me uneasy, though, and it makes me wonder what the plan is.

Early rumors abound that suppliers don’t have a restock for Commander 2019. It’s pretty baffling, especially given the popularity of the product on a huge weekend—the last thing struggling game stores need is to run out of product around launch. Whether the rumors are true or not is hard to say, but what I do know is that I’ve seen a lot of quality control issues with the latest offering. My own foils came scratched and faded, and between missing/extra cards to an entire misprint deck, there’s something amiss. It’s reasonable to guess that this is what’s delaying restocks, but who really knows.

Brawl

With Brawl on the horizon, it seems to me that it’s an interesting time to market what many would say is a competitor to Commander as a format. Quality and enjoyment of the gameplay aside, it’s hard to see casual players investing more into another format at this time, particularly after the product fatigue many are suffering from the perpetual spoiler season this last…half a year?

Most of the Brawl pre-cons are likely to be snapped up by Commander die-hards for the new cards like Arcane Signet, and the rest? Between speculators and those who will try Brawl and ultimately fall in with the Commander crowd, I don’t think that we’ll be able to get any meaningful data from the sales of these products.

Addressing Card Availability

While we’re on the topic of finance, I think it’s safe to say that Commander is now a leading influencer of the secondary market. Card prices for Commander cards see a huge amount of fluctuation and speculation, and it’s this that is contributing to Commander’s bubble—we’re going to burst at some point, and I just hope it’s not too late.

Most popular community finance figures have latched on to Commander now (and their devotees behind them), and the availability of staples at a reasonable price is starting to encroach on the growth of the format. New players will come and go, but repeat customers (even in a casual format) will only stick around if it’s reasonable to buy in. The budget argument doesn’t tend to apply here, either—budget decks are fun, sure, but the players who will put money into the game for Wizards are the ones that want to buy staple cards. They’re the ones with disposable income.

So, how do we stop the growth of the format leveling out? How do we cater to the massive influx of players?

The approach is multi-faceted, but to be a little more elaborate than merely suggesting reprints, I’d like to turn to an existing product for inspiration. Signature Spellbooks are Wizard’s way of getting a couple of interesting reprints into the market with a unique selling point —new card frames. The main market for these are obviously Commander players, but I want Wizards to go one step further and actually deliver a Commander focused product. Expensive and splashy reprints like Oracle of Mul Daya will likely remain in a different product—maybe a supplementary style set, like Battlebond—but what I’d like to see is a successor to the Commander’s Arsenal.

If we take the Spellbooks for inspiration, this should be a smaller product with around 10 cards. These would be formed up of two types of cards: low value cards that are useful in a game (Sword of the Animist, Skullclamp, Mask of Memory, Mana Confluence), or cards that are a little pricier and could do with a reprint due to scarcity (Scroll Rack, Mana Echoes, Massacre Wurm). It’s unlikely that Wizards will print a lot of value into any made-for-Commander product, but, at the least, it’s possible to produce a great product full of useful budget cards with the chance at getting something more spicy too. This would work to help upgrade decks in an easy way, and keep people happy with some needed reprints.

Maybe the new Collector’s boosters announced for Throne of Eldraine will be a better product to base from, but either way, we need a way to get upgrades out to new and seasoned players alike. We can’t keep up the growth of the format—a format in which rarer, more expensive cards in need of reprints are showcased every day by content creators the world around—without reprints.

We also can’t keep it up without continued support from Wizards, and for that at least, we seem to have an answer. Gavin Verhey has confirmed that due to the success of the Command Zone at Magic Fest Vegas, we will see similar exclusive play areas at future events.

Ultimately, it’s a great time to be a Commander player. It’s my favorite format aside from Draft, and I can’t wait to upgrade my Mystic Intellect deck, but I can’t say I’m also not a little bit anxious. We’re on the cusp of a bubble of growth, and if the secondary market doesn’t level out, it might start to tax new players too much. All we can do is to keep our feedback visible and constructive, and ensure that it spreads to the right places. Wizards listens a lot these days, so let’s hope they listen here—even if they can’t acknowledge it.

In Gavin we trust.

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