History, Restapled - Un- For the Money

20 Jul
by Steve Heisler

Welcome back for another History, Restapled, a Commander-focused column which attempts to validate a newer card’s status as a staple by looking at how cards that are similar, synergistic, or competing have fared in the past financially.

After a holiday break, I’m happy to be back presenting staples for your consideration. The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth continues to solidify itself in the hearts and minds of Commander players, yet they were, all of them, un-ceived… for another three staples were made, in the land of Nor-dor…

Champions of Minas Tirith

There are plenty of cards that introduce the Monarchy into a game of Commander, but only a few that include protecting you from losing the Monarchy itself. Emberwilde Captain threatens to deal serious damage to any opponent attempting the throne, Protector of the Crown prevents the combat damage itself, and Thorn of the Black Rose presents a deathtouch body ready to die for the cause. The effect is plentiful and, therefore, cheap. Outside of Lord of the Rings, the most expensive Monarch card is Regal Behemoth, at $10 - mana doubling effects are notoriously in high demand - and the second, Queen Marchesa, is less than half that [both of these cards are about to be a lot cheaper, due to upcoming reprints in Commander Masters - .ed]. Most of the rest are pennies.

Champions of Minas Tirith, from Commander: The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, remains equally inexpensive despite its very recent printing, and might be the most impenetrable of the bunch. It requires your opponents to spend mana to attack you when you’re the Monarch, and the amount is equal to the number of cards in their hand, not yours. The vast majority of Commander players want to maintain a good grip of cards, so this amount is never going to be trivial. Even Windborn Muse, which requires only two mana, can be a major hindrance for opponents.

At six mana, Champions of Minas Tirith isn’t the cheapest of the bunch, but that’s a low cost to pay considering how much your opponents will need to spend to keep you from drawing cards - and it’s pittance compared to the number of cards you’re likely to draw unopposed.

STATUS: A staple with a Minas touch

Exchange of Words, Strength-Testing Hammer, and Starlight Spectacular

The three Un- sets - Unhinged, Unglued, and the recent Unfinity - are composed of novelty cards with only a minuscule shred of format legality and, therefore, little financial value. To wit, the original cards carrying the highest prices are the cheekily named Blacker Lotus ($18), Mox Lotus ($18), and City of Ass ($21), plus an elusive full art Squirrel Token ($12). Most everything else can be considered bulk, aka a double digit price but only if you consider the two digits after the decimal point.

Unfinity stands out from the rest in that it introduced a handful of cards designed to be legal in some eternal formats, like Commander. None of them have really taken off; the priciest one, Saw in Half, is at $5 and holds only niche playability. Instead, the set’s value lies with special reprints of the Shocklands, and that’s not likely to change if Unfinity behaves like its predecessors and lies mostly unopened after its release window.

Of the legal Unfinity cards, three hold decent potential in Commander. Starlight Spectacular requires a bit of deliberation, a smidge of mathematics, and a fair amount of creatures, but can act as redundancy for similar white finishers Cathars' Crusade ($10) and Archangel of Thune ($30). Strength-Testing Hammer isn’t the strongest Equipment but holds some potential that others currently don’t. It can come down early, provides an average of 3-4 power, and draws you a card - an effect you can hedge for by equipping Hammer to an already beefy body. In any deck looking for a critical mass of Equipment, the card slots in nicely once the list of usual suspects is exhausted.

Exchange of Words is the most bizarre of the bunch: an enchantment (a type which remains hard to destroy for some colors) that swaps the text boxes of two creatures on the battlefield while it remains in play. What reads like a novelty holds tremendous power in Commander, as it allows you to steal what’s usually the most relevant part of someone’s actual commander for yourself in exchange for the text box of a miscellaneous creature token or lowly mana dork, effectively locking their Commander out of the game for the moment. Killing one’s commander doesn’t end the effect, either, meaning you’ll keep Chulane, Teller of Tales on your Soul Warden long after Chulane’s gone. As a bonus, you can target two players’ commanders to ensure zero pieces of synergy for both opponents at once. It’s highly unlikely we’ll see this effect again.

By design, supply of Unfinity will remain limited, leaving demand as the only dynamic variable. For now, the opportunity cost, and financial cost, of adding these three cards to a large TCGplayer order remains low.

STATUS: Un- reasonable staple

Champions of Minas Tirith
Exchange of Words
Strength-Testing Hammer
Starlight Spectacular

All That is Sold Does Not Glitter

As Tales of Middle-earth cards make their way into Commander pods, which are the ones you’ve seen as overperformers? Which have severely underperformed despite the hype? I’ll be digging into these questions in my next column, but if you have a hot take to share, I’m here for it!

Check out these other articles:

New Horizons - Secret Lair Summer Superdrop 2023 by Matt Grzechnik

Crunch Time by Jason Alt

Over and Under - July 2023 by Harvey McGuinness

Steve Heisler
Steve Heisler

Steve Heisler is a writer and pop culture journalist covering comedy, games, television, film and the tech industry. His work has been published in Rolling Stone, GQ, Variety, The AV Club, Fast Company and the Chicago Sun-Times. He began collecting Magic cards during Fourth Edition and plays Commander and Modern primarily. He also enjoys tennis, the Dark Souls family of video games and supporting live comedy. He lives in Chicago with his cat, Rosie.

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