Can you have too much of a good thing?
Wizards of the Coast released 24 Commander preconstructed decks in 2022, which is a significant departure from the first decade of Commander precons. From 2011 to 2019 we got 4 or 5 decks each year, so the increase has certainly been dramatic.
Based on the release calendar for 2023, it’s safe to assume that we’ll be continuing on the precon trend that began in 2020. But with player fatigue and problems with the secondary market and oversupply, we’re starting to see signs that maybe Wizards is overdoing it.
So today we’re asking the question Are Commander precons with every set a good thing? We’re going to look at all the pros and cons of having this many decks, and see if we can decide if the pros outweigh the cons.
But first, a quick history lesson.
2011 - First Commander preconstructed decks were released. These five decks were printed to capitalize on the growing popularity of the format, known as Elder Dragon Highlander or EDH by its fans. The first set contained 51 brand new cards, in addition to the reprints that filled out each 100-card deck.
2012 - 2019 - No decks in 2012. From 2013 to 2019 they stayed on an annual schedule and were a heavily-anticipated release, with four to five decks each year.
2020 - Commander set release was moved to coincide with the date and planar setting of the spring set, Ikoria. Wizards announced that precons would be released with each Standard set going forward, and all would be themed with the set. Only the spring set would get the full release, with other sets having only two decks, and fewer new cards. Nine decks released this year, including two with Commander Legends.
2021 - 2022 - Annual decks for 2021 were released with Strixhaven, then in 2022 with Streets of New Capenna, with the notable change that the 2022 product no longer held the title of “Commander Year.” This product was just called New Capenna Commander. 15 decks released in 2021 (16 if you count the Secret Lair deck “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose”). 24 decks released in 2022, with five decks from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, four from Warhammer 40K, and the five Starter decks.
In 2023 we’re looking at even more precons, with decks for Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, and the newly announced Commander Masters, with the possible addition of other sets that haven’t been announced.
Okay, maybe that history lesson wasn’t so quick.
Take the Good, Take the Bad
There are a lot of factors to consider when determining if saturating the market with dozens of precons every year is good or bad. We have to take into account that different people have different perspectives on this issue, and what may be seen as good for one person can have a serious negative impact for others.
I ran a poll on Twitter to see if I could get a general idea of where people were at - keep in mind, my Twitter followers are a very narrow demographic, and so this poll shouldn’t be taken as conclusive. I asked the question “Are precons with every set a good thing or bad thing?” The response was 58% positive and 42% negative. While not overwhelmingly positive, it still seems that most people are into it.
Let’s go over the reasons why people are for or against it.
Pro - constant reprints keep singles prices down
It’s true that having these decks constantly coming out has been great for dropping the price on some cards that were once possibly out of reach for some players. In the last year we’ve seen cards like
Fellwar Stone, and
Swords to Plowshares, previously a few dollars each, dropping under a dollar due to frequent precon inclusions. Even occasional reprints for cards like
Reliquary Tower, and
Skullclamp, can do a lot to keep the prices down for these cards that always seem to climb back up.
Con - constant reprints keep singles prices down
Lower prices on staples is great for players. But it’s really bad for the secondary market shops who are sitting on bins full of cards that are now worth less than what they paid for them. The health of the secondary market is crucial to the game, so weakening that market could have serious side effects that we haven’t seen yet. This is all part of a bigger problem relating to too much Magic product being released. Recently Bank of America released a report about Hasbro, Wizards’ parent company, in which they stated, “card prices are falling, game stores are losing money, collectors are liquidating, and large retailers are cutting orders.” Lower profits for game stores means fewer game stores. Which leaves a lot of people buying cards from Amazon. And that’s bad.
Pro - more places for new players to jump in
Before 2020, there was only the annual release of Commander decks. This meant that after a few months you’d have a hard time finding the last precons, so people wanting to get into the game would have to find other ways (e.g. borrowing a deck or trying to build their own). Now, with new decks coming out every couple of months, you’ll never step into the TCG section of a big box store like Wal-Mart or Target without seeing several options for Commander decks. This means so many more opportunities for new players to get into the game.
Con - product fatigue for established players
Fully entrenched players like to keep on top of all the new stuff. We like to build new decks, and we like to update our existing decks with the best new cards. With so many new precons, as well as additional Magic sets, coming out constantly, it’s nearly impossible to keep on top of the new stuff. This is doubly impactful, and tiring, for content creators like myself who have to constantly talk about new product. Product fatigue is very real, and also a contributing factor in consumers losing their faith in Wizards, and their interest in the game. As one response to my Twitter poll stated, “I just want a break.” I have several friends, including some content creators, who felt too overwhelmed with all the new cards and just gave up on the game because of it.
While this list isn’t fully exhaustive, I think it’s enough to get to the heart of answering our question. Are precons with every set a good thing?
Depends on Who You Ask
Yes, it’s great for new players to have access to many jumping-in points, and for budget-minded players who want to play powerful cards on the cheap. And it’s great for Wizards’ short-term profits (this is not exactly a “pro,” as it doesn’t benefit anybody but Wizards and their stockholders). But it’s bad for the secondary market and for overwhelmed established players.
So while I’ve listed as many pros as I did cons, an important thing to note is that the pros are good for right now, while the cons are bad for long-term effects on the game. As the Bank of America report states, Wizards has “been overproducing Magic cards which has propped up Hasbro's recent earnings results but is destroying the long-term value of the brand." This isn’t strictly a precon issue, as it also encompasses the frequent reprint sets like Double Masters 2022, Dominaria Remastered, Jumpstart, and the direct-to-consumer Secret Lair releases. Wizards is sacrificing long-term player loyalty for short-term profits, and the massive glut of precon releases are only a small part of this.
What’s the solution?
Less Is More
Wizards printing as much product as they are is unsustainable. Eventually the bubble will burst, and the game will suffer because of it.
I don’t have a
Crystal Ball, and I can’t tell you what the best solution will be. But here are a few ideas.
- Fewer Commander decks. This seems like an obvious solution. We still want those new players, so going back to the pre-2020 model is not a good idea. Let’s start with keeping the annual release in the spring, plus two other releases. These can be with a summer non-Standard set, like Commander Legends, and a fall special set, like Warhammer 40K.
- For other sets, include smaller preconstructed products for other formats, like Standard and Pioneer.
- Stop doing Jumpstart with each set. Seriously, no one needs or wants it.
- Only one reprint set per year, with no preconstructed decks. This is your Masters, or Remastered, or full Jumpstart set.
With these solutions, you still have plenty of product to sell, and plenty of opportunities to bring in new players, without overwhelming the established fan base. Will anyone at Wizards take this advice? No. Do I think these steps will be better for the health of the game? Yes.
I love Commander as much as the next person, and I love the Commander precons as well. But you absolutely can have too much of a good thing, and the current rate of production is definitely too much. The supply is exceeding demand, and the secondary market is suffering because of it. While Wizards can’t legally acknowledge the secondary market, because to do so would implicate themselves with regards to gambling laws (yes, cracking packs is a form of gambling if some cards are worth more than others), they can do more to show respect to the game stores that have been selling their products for 30 years. And that includes not tanking the value of their product by printing so damn much of it.
What do you think? Should Wizards keep printing more and more Commander decks and other extra products, or do they need to take a breather and give the fanbase a minute to catch its collective breath? Come find me on Twitter and hit me with your thoughts.
Looking to read more? Check out my last article where I talked about a way to cheaply and efficiently lose less in casual Commander games. You can also find some of my most recent deck techs here and here.
Don’t forget to check back every couple of weeks here on Cardsphere for more Commander contemplations and reflections from yours truly. Until next time, take care. And play lots of games!