EDH - A plan for the New Year

Orren Mckay • December 10, 2019

One of the major complaints about Magic: the Gathering is the cost.  With Commander/EDH being an eternal format, it can be somewhat less expensive than chasing rotating Standard, but with the depth of the card pool and playability of costly reserved list cards, price can still be a major factor.  With the start of the new year coming up it seems like an ideal time to discuss some methods for improving your EDH decks (and collections).  In this post we will be taking look at the two things you need to do to make this happen:  a budget and a plan.

The Budget

When you are putting together a budget you first want to look at how much disposable income you have to dedicate to your cause.  More money will almost universally make this task easier, but even a small amount each month can allow you to make noticeable progress.   Say for example you can dedicate $20 per month to your EDH deck building.  After a year this works out to $240.  Going up to something like $50 will give you $600 worth of decks and upgrades by 2021.

Figuring out how much disposable income you can allocate is the easy first step. Next you want to look at places where you are spending money that would serve you better if spent on EDH.  When you go to your local game shop, do you buy a booster pack or two for the heck of it?  How many times a month do you do this?  If you buy two packs a week, you are looking at $30ish per month.  Stop doing this.  Do not buy booster packs.  Don't do it.  It's a completely unproductive waste of money.  At this point you may be thinking, "But I like opening packs" or "I just opened a $50 foil".  Opening packs is gambling and not the profitable kind like casinos do.  The problem with remembering that time when you opened the $50 foil is you have forgotten about 20 times when you opened almost worthless bulk rares.  If you take what you would have casually wasted on packs you could pick up a couple of $10-20 cards that you know will improve your deck.

I hadn't intended this discussion on budgeting to be a rant about booster packs, but while I am at it, if you are the kind of player that buys a booster box when a new set comes out, you shouldn't do this either.  A single booster box is a more expensive lottery ticket with a slightly lower downside than booster packs.  Booster packs (and booster boxes) have what is referred to as an EV (Expected Value).  This value is the average value of a booster pack or box based on the values of the cards in the set and the rarity/distribution of these cards.  The EV is calculated assuming a large sample size.  A small sample size like a few booster packs or a single booster box can give you values way above or below this average EV.  This makes the whole process effectively gambling.  If you open a relatively large number of packs (measured in cases) you can expect to see the distribution of the cards start to flatten and the overall value of the cards you open to approach the EV for the packs.  Any plan for a budget should never have gambling as a factor.

Buying packs or boxes is an even worse proposition if you are looking for specific cards to upgrade a deck.  You should never open up packs or boxes to get "that card I need".  Go out and buy the single.  It is a better use of your money and you are guaranteed to actually get that card.

If you are still stuck with the "I like to open packs" issue, I understand completely.  The cure for this is to help a local card shop do pre-sales for sets and bust 20-30 cases worth of cards for a few sets.  This will cure you from ever wanting to open up a pack again.  The only use I can really see for buying packs is if you like to draft.  If this is the case, it's kind of unavoidable.  You can write off the cost of those specific packs (and only those packs) as more of an entertainment cost than a waste of money.

Beyond booster pack buying, examine what you spend on Magic (and other random things) and see if there are any that are unnecessary or that you can cut back on.  Do you get a Starbucks coffee every day?  Do you spend a bunch on Arena when you want to focus on paper magic?  Look for small things you can cut out or limit to add to your Magic budget.  Some things like FNM entry fees are unavoidable, but look at all the places you spend money and figure out if any can be cut.  If you originally allocate $20 a month from disposable income, cut out buying your two booster packs a week ($30/month), remove one coffee a week ($12/month) and then skip buying that booster box every time a set comes out (probably about $25/month) you now have a monthly magic budget of $85-90.  That works out to more than $1000/year.  A very non-trivial amount of money.  As with everything people will have very different budgets and different places they can make cuts and adjustments, but the important part is to be aware of the money and make sure it goes toward what you want.  This leads us into the second part:

The Plan

Once you know where the money will be coming from and have a rough idea of how much to expect, next you need to figure out how to spend it.  You need a plan.  What do you want to do with your money to improve your EDH decks or collection?  Are you upgrading existing decks or building a new deck?  Are you blinging out an existing deck with hot new foils?  Your specific desires will determine exactly how you make your plans, but I do have some general advice.  Make the smaller, less expensive upgrades first.  More small upgrades will (usually) have a bigger impact than one big upgrade.  If you are going for bling, foiling out all of the non-lands in a deck will have a much bigger impact than getting one foil Gaea's Cradle.  The same applies to more functional, less shiny upgrades.  Which upgrade will improve the playability of your deck more, one Gaea's Cradle or $300 worth of Oracle of Mul Daya, Craterhoof Behemoth, etc.?

Plan your purchases based upon what will give you the most improvement for cost.  There's nothing wrong with having a Cradle in your plan, just put it farther down on your list than Seedborn Muse.

Take the deck list below as an example.  It's the list for a $20 Tatyova, Benthic Druid deck I built a while back.  Let's assume I have the $85 monthly budget mentioned above and see how I could go about upgrading it.  Your upgrades will, of course, depend on your deck, but the general ideas can be applied to any deck or even a precon if you wanted to use that as a starting point.

1 Acidic Slime
1 Aethersnatch
1 Altered Ego
1 Arbor Elf
1 Bant Panorama
1 Beast Within
1 Blatant Thievery
1 Blighted Woodland
1 Body Double
1 Chancellor of the Spires
1 Clone
1 Confiscate
1 Control Magic
1 Corrupted Conscience
1 Crystal Shard
1 Cultivate
1 Dawn's Reflection
1 Disdainful Stroke
1 Dissipate
1 Dominate
1 Dream Leash
1 Envelop
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Explore
1 Explosive Vegetation
1 Far Wanderings
1 Farhaven Elf
1 Fertile Ground
1 Fertilid
16 Forest
1 Genesis Hydra
1 Gigantoplasm
1 Greenwarden of Murasa
1 In Bolas's Clutches
1 Insidious Will
16 Island
1 Khalni Heart Expedition
1 Kiora's Follower
1 Market Festival
1 Moss Diamond
1 Mystic Snake
1 Overgrowth
1 Plasm Capture
1 Rampaging Baloths
1 Reality Shift
1 Repulse
1 Retreat to Coralhelm
1 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
1 Sea Gate Oracle
1 Seasons Past
1 Shefet Monitor
1 Simic Growth Chamber
1 Simic Signet
1 Sky Diamond
1 Spelltwine
1 Spitting Image
1 Stone-Seeder Hierophant
1 Stunt Double
1 Summary Dismissal
1 Take Possession
1 Tatyova, Benthic Druid
1 Temur Sabertooth
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Tishana, Voice of Thunder
1 Trygon Predator
1 Void Shatter
1 Wall of Blossoms
1 Wayfarer's Bauble
1 Wild Growth
1 Wood Elves

Deck on Tappedout.com

When upgrading you want to make as many of the inexpensive changes as early as possible.  For my first month, I think Avenger of Zendikar, Cyclonic Rift, Oracle of Mul Daya, Eternal Witness, Solemn Simulacrum and Seedborn Muse would be my upgrades.  These have the additional advantage of being EDH staples on their own.

The following month it could be time for Craterhoof Behemoth, Ulvenwald Hydra, Breeding Pool and Alchemist's Refuge and maybe save a few bucks to add to the shopping for next month.

One thing to consider when making any of these upgrades is to shop around a little.  If instead of the Breeding Pool above I wanted a Hallowed Fountain, it might be worth it if I could find one of the Wild Bounty Throne of Eldraine Brawl decks and get the land with that (assuming you can find the deck at retail).  For about $10 extra you'd get an Arcane Signet and the assorted other random cards in the deck.  An ok deal for just that.  Much better if you have more of the cards on your upgrades list (like Circuitous Route, Beanstalk Giant, Growth Spiral, etc.).

As your upgrades progress, you can move on to the higher dollar cards.  Maybe next you swap out Repulse for that Mana Drain you've had your eye on.  Yet another fairly potent upgrade while also adding a solid blue staple to your collection.  The main point of all of this is to try and upgrade as wisely possible to improve your deck while also adding EDH staples to your collection.

I know this may sound like a great deal of effort and planning to put into playing EDH but if you try out this plan it isn't unreasonable for you to have a brand new Cradle in your deck by the end of next year.

Sorry.  I just always liked the flavor text.  I hope everyone has a Happy Holiday and a productive EDH filled New Year.