Precon to Player #1.1 – The General

Welcome to the inaugural article series for Gamer’s Gauntlet’s Commander League: Precon to Player. Recently WotC has published the Commander 2013 product. The publication of the initial Commander product in 2011 increased interest and participation in EDH/Commander greatly and anticipation is for this set to do the same. The tension from WotCs side of it is that they simply can’t just drop beastly mean machines onto the secondary market but they don’t want to leave customers up a creek without a paddle when playing against tuned decks. As such, the five decks are balanced to play well with each other, yet have potential for development. My intention is to showcase and log the course of such development.

What skills should be brought to bear for such a task? Well it takes a little bit of everything: deck design and tuning to align the deck to a viable macro-strategy without stalling out or interruption, financial wheeling-dealing to develop the preconstructed deck into something more personal, multiplayer gameplay skill so the deck doesn’t get taken apart by the competition for being a weak link. A whole array of considerations is at play.

What’s in a budget?

The perennial complaint about a budget series is “That’s not budget!” While I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the point, its endless repetition has inured me a great deal. Playing this game is a recreation requiring a mass market luxury good. While mass market and highly accessible, it is still a market. And it can’t actually be termed a market until someone gets priced out. That’s my insensitive view.

My sensitive view is the typical player is either an older adolescent (aka, an allowance or part-time work with the aim of savings), a college student (aka, moderate part-time work with the aim of limiting long term debt), or an adult gamer (aka, you worry about your own budget, am not a dependent or your financial steward). Given that minimum wage in the state of Michigan is $7.40, I’ll assume the adolescent works 10 hours a week to the college student’s 20 and set the cap at $20-30 per week in cash expenses. Additionally I’ll set a floor for balance forward at $15. We don’t aim to exhaust our budget each week, but we want to carry forward some funds even for light weeks. This budget will be supplemented with trading.

Trading typically takes the form of speculation or value-trading. One speculates to make non-marginal amounts of cash. Speculating on Ravniva dual lands was a strong investment because the drafting of Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon’s Gate added considerable supply to the marketplace. Supply which likely exceeded demand. Now that those products are being drafted less and are no longer in print, the supply is capped. However the cards in question (‘Shock’ dual lands) still have applications in two formats (Standard and Modern) so demand still exists. Demand holds steady or increases while supply shrinks means a higher price per unit; or profit. That kind of trading we won’t do, and really can’t do as I can only presume you have the precon and willingness to spend more money.

Value-trading is a less intensive proposition. The aim is to retain the overall value of a collection while maximizing its utility for you. The collection of cards you own limits the variety of decks you can build. Cards you have no interest in using might as well not be in your collection. Trading out that dead value for cards you will actually use of similar value is the aim. Relatively simple parameters with two main qualifications: first, valuation of cards is context dependent. Thundermaw Hellkite and Thragtusk were formerly $25+. Now they are around $10. What happened? Neither one has the legs for major cross-format play. The successful strategy that makes use of them (midrange, “good stuff” decks) is configured very differently in Modern than it is in Standard. Post rotation their utility contracted leaving fringe Modern playability and demand from the casual crowd to sustain their price. Basically to be good value-traders we should be cognizant of how formats move and shift (having a pile of hidden gems that become hot is also nice).

Second, you will take a short term loss when trading in for store credit. Not that you shouldn’t favor your local card shop with your trade-ins (you really should, no brick-and-mortar store makes it very difficult to meet new people and all play groups will contract over time. Consider it a small tax for a public benefit), but they have a business to run and have to manage supply at its appropriate level of expense, i.e. closer to wholesale than retail. Luckily we can leverage the former to dampen the latter. If we are ahead of the curve, i.e metagame, we can still accommodate the LGS’s operations costs and come out ahead on value. Two caveats do not ruin a basically good proposition; more cards without substantially more investment.

Where to begin?
Basically, what preconstructed deck to develop? My preference is for the Grixis list, “Mind Seize”, because I’ve always wanted to work in the color combo and this is my foot in the door. Given that, I will turn over the selection of the Commander to my readership. Would this article series be more interesting developing a Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge list or one for Nekusar, the Mindrazer? I’ll make the case.

JelevaJeleva’s thematic resonance: the Rich Divorcee, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine”, planning to hoist the opposition on their own petard. Borrowing never felt as good as it does in the granddaddy of splashy spells format.

NekusarNekusar’s thematic resonance: Minds aflame, “just when you think you have all the answers, I change the questions”, having the solution to the problem appear then slip away, interactive combo play in a format where the combos typically involve sitting around for seven minutes before you’re told if they got there or not.

I’m alright with having either helm the ship, but I prefer to leave it to my audience. You can vote by going to GG’s Facebook page and leaving a comment on the post pinned to the top!

Until next time,

Alex Smith
@smithwits on Twitter