Collecting Competitive Cards For cEDH

Harvey McGuinness • July 7, 2023

Magic can be expensive, and fully-fledged cEDH decks definitely so, with most quickly racking up price tags in the thousands of dollars, but for those among us seeking to break into the format and start de-proxying some of our lists, there is a way to add some order to this market madness. Not every staple is big expense, and not every card is worth its cost, so let's get into assembling a collection, shall we?

Basic Principles

Before we get into the cards themselves, let's talk about the three big principles underlying how I like to order my collection purchases, something which has proven to be very helpful when it comes to maximizing utility while minimizing cost. First off, ubiquity.

Ubiquity is fairly straightforward. Essentially, ubiquity is the answer to the question "What percentage of my decks are going to play this card?" While this question immediately has implications regarding color identity (even putting aside power level, chances are that your colorless cards will have a greater deal of ubiquity than your colored cards), it is important to look beyond just the percentage of decks that can play a card.  Not every player necessarily wants to play every color, so taking a moment to think about what decks make you happy is actually a really important step in being financially savvy. Don't buy an Ad Nauseam just because every black deck plays Ad Nauseam, but do buy an Ad Nauseam if you have identified black as a color you are likely to play at some point. "Buy cards you want" may seem like advice that doesn't need to be said, but that's only half the point: "Buy cards you want, not cards you think you'll need."

Now, the keen-eyed among you may have noticed that there is a temporal component to my definition of ubiquity. By shifting the emphasis away from simply objective ubiquity (percentage of the meta) to personal ubiquity (likelihood of inclusion in favorited strategy), we necessarily come up against the problem of shifting desires. If you asked me two years ago what cEDH decks I would have in my repertoire, I certainly wouldn't have thought I'd have Korvold, Fae-Cursed King built. But, like everything else, people change and so do their desires. This element of time brings us to the next key principle, which is arguably the most complicated of the three: price trajectory.

Like I said at the outset, Magic is expensive, but beyond that it is also dynamic. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was once a $140 card, and now it's barely $30. While it took many reprints, shifting meta games, and multiple years for that price change to happen, it is nonetheless representative of a very real quality of Magic's marketplace: prices change, and they can change significantly. With this in mind, it is important to check the data of a card's price trajectory before you buy it. If something's on the rise, then you can try and jump in or wait it out and hope for a retrace. Similarly, if something is plummeting, then each day you pause is a dollar (or potentially more) you save. Timing the market is hard, there is no doubt about that, but being blind to it can be even worse.

Finally, we've come to the last one: bang for your buck. The name says it all. In essence, cheaper cards need to do less in order to be worth the money, and expensive cards need to do more. Sol Ring, Red Elemental Blast, and Mystic Remora all blow this qualifier out of the water. You'll be happy to include them in nearly any list that can run them, they lead to significant and impactful moments in the game, and they don't cost an arm and a leg. On the other end of the spectrum, cards like Mana Crypt, Force of Will, and Rhystic Study are quite the investment but each reward you handsomely for their inclusion.

When you start mixing and matching these principles, some important considerations emerge. Jeweled Lotus may be incredibly ubiquitous and give you quite the bang for your buck, but it costs a good deal too and is on a bit of a decline in anticipation of Commander Masters. How long can you hold off? On the other end, Null Rod might not be a staple of every cEDH deck, but it is absurdly useful in the decks which want it, and it is a Reserved List card, so chances are that its price tag will just keep going up. Ticking off the cheapest cards at the outset of building your collection is a smart way to go, for certain, but when it comes to filling out the heavy hitters, things get a little more complicated.

Collecting by Function

Now that we've identified how we are going to pick cards to buy, it's important for us to talk about our strategy for purchases, something which rests primarily with sequencing. In this case, that means grouping cards by function and prioritizing certain functions over others. By now, you should have already picked up the more affordable parts of cEDH, your Swords to Plowshares and whatnot. From here on, we're looking at the expensive slots.

First, mana. Magic's all about casting spells, and it takes mana to do that, so it's only right that we start of here. First - and I cannot stress this enough - dual lands should not be where you enter cEDH. While they make great investments with solid price trajectories and ubiquity scores, the bang for your buck is so lackluster that they simply aren't worth considering (at least, not at the beginning). Instead, a full slot of the ten shock lands and ten fetch lands is an excellent way to break in. You'll be able to assemble the foundations for any deck you'd like to play, cEDH or otherwise.

Next is the nonland mana. While it is true that Mana Crypt will be the best single card to pick up in this category, there is an argument to be made here for quantity over quality. Grabbing a Chrome Mox and a Mana Vault will leave you with money to spare (relative to Mana Crypt), and it helps you fill out your deck. Mana Crypt should be high on your list, but we've seen from its reprint history that it will likely be cheaper in the future.

After mana, we begin to enter the realm of strategy-dependent pickups. Sure, every list will have some sort of interaction, but what exactly that package looks like - and consequently, your priorities for expenses - will vary from list to list. One thing is for certain, though: if you're in blue you will be playing counterspells.

Of the three big counterspells - Force of Will, Force of Negation, and Fierce Guardianship - I tend to favor picking them up in that order, i.e., Force of Will first, etc. Fierce Guardianship has the weakest price trajectory at the moment, while the ever-increasingly creature-heavy meta seems to place the greatest bang for your buck with Force of Will. If you aren't in blue then there is little question that you'll be playing Deflecting Swat if you can, and from there on out the financial cost of interaction decreases dramatically.

After interaction comes tutors. Thanks to the recent release of Dominaria Remastered, these don't cost nearly as much as they did a while ago, but if you're saving up to spend money elsewhere then this is another excellent opportunity to lean in the "quantity over quality" arena, and by that I mean skip out on some of the black tutors for other options. If your deck can afford it, pick up tutors from other colors instead; they won't fill the same roll, but you'll be saving a good chunk of change. You can buy one of each other tutor - Worldly Tutor, Enlightened Tutor, Mystical Tutor, and Gamble - for nearly than the cost of a single Vampiric Tutor. Now that's quite the bang for your buck.

Finally, we come to win conditions, something which can vary wildly in cost between cEDH lists, so let's go over some of the more common ones.

  • Witherbloom Apprentice and Chain of Smog: We've already covered the primary support pieces for this (i.e. tutors), so congratulations! You're all good to go.
  • Dockside Extortionist and...anything (Temur Sabertooth, Emiel the Blessed, etc.): Dockside Extortionist, while a bit costly, hits every quality we discussed earlier out of the park. It packs a wallop, has already been reprinted recently so there doesn't seem to be much information pointing towards when to buy a copy, and it is everywhere. Even if Dockside isn't your win condition, this is an expense worth picking up.
  • Thassa's Oracle and Demonic Consultation/Tainted Pact: Each of these cards individually is a reasonable enough expense, and putting the whole set together presents one of the most efficient wins in the format. $35 well spent.
  • Lion's Eye Diamond and Underworld Breach: This is one of our trickier categories, especially considering it usually is accompanied by another expensive card, Intuition. Overall, while I wouldn't say that LED is the first card to deproxy in your cEDH list, it being a Reserved List icon means that - similar to Null Rod - you're going to want to pick one up sooner rather than later.

Wrapping Up

Before jumping in to snag a card at a discount, or even picking up something incredibly powerful for a deck you might play someday, the first thing anyone buying into cEDH needs to think about is "When will I play this card?" After you've sorted that out, sequencing your purchases by function will aid tremendously in constructing a considerable Commander collection. As we've seen with some of the example cards in each category, prioritizing ubiquity and impact while considering price trajectory can save us a good deal of money, precious resources to be spent on other Magic cards down the line.

Harvey McGuinness is a student at Johns Hopkins University who has been playing Magic since the release of Return to Ravnica. After spending a few years in the Legacy arena bouncing between Miracles and other blue-white control shells, he now spends his time enjoying Magic through cEDH games and understanding the finance perspective.