Let's face it: Times are crazy.
We enter the 2022 holiday season in a period of high inflation and rising interest. Christmas can be financially difficult on its own, but add a hectic economy, and things get even more complicated. On top of that, Magic the Gathering appears to be getting increasingly expensive as more special releases and Secret Lairs roll out. It's hard enough to keep up with all the new product ourselves, much less gauge what our fellow Magic-warrior friends and family might be interested in.
So how best to save money alongside all that cardboard gift-giving?
Show us the way, Santa-Gluntch
A silver-lining to the cloud of copious product releases is how easily individual cards can be overlooked or swiftly forgotten about. When a new set starts its preview season on the same day the previous set releases for purchase, you can bet attention spans will quickly shift. While this certainly speaks to a bigger problem with the current Magic product load, it means the savings-conscious buyer can find ample opportunity for good deals. These can be vital for Christmas shopping without a heavy hit to the wallet.
Our money-saving mission will focus on the Commander Format for a few reasons. For one, as an eternal format, cards remain ever-relevant, barring any sort of banning. And typically, bans don't happen often or are made obvious from the get-go (Lutri, the Spellchaser). Secondly, as a singleton format, Commander doesn't demand you purchase full playsets. Your lone Misty Rainforest can be swapped in and out of multiple Commander decks, as opposed to you needing three additional copies for a Modern deck to tick. Finally, Commander is a casual format at heart, with focus far more on fun game play and creative deck-building than pure efficiency. Yes, cEDH is a thing, but the vast majority of Commander decks run on whimsy rather than win rate. As such, there is a far greater library of cards to consider in Commander than more competitive formats. Fighter Class will seldom get chosen over Stoneforge Mystic in Modern, but in Commander, it's routinely sought-after for Equipment decks.
The majority of cards discussed today will be under $20, with the exception of shiny lands and promotional cards. Even among the pricier cards on today's list, many are at historic lows (Morphic Pool, Arid Mesa), so if you were considering picking up a copy for yourself or a friend, now would be the time.
Bear in mind: For the vast majority of the cards we'll be discussing, the most price-effective copy is likely the most recently-printed. There's a profound price difference in a Thorn of Amethyst from Lorwyn and the same card from The Brother's War.
So, grab a cup of freshly-mulled wine and let's dive in to some holiday Christmas shopping on a budget!
Decorated Knight by Zoltan Boros
Pieces of flair encouraged but not required
Lands: Magic's Real Estate
Let's start things off with our mana base, as its cards are fundamental for casting spells on-curve and thus tend to rack up the highest price tags. It's not unusual to have a deck's lands be its most expensive cards. Fortunately, quite a few staple territories currently stand at record low prices.
Of key importance are lands that can fix multiple colors, but enter play untapped. Some of the most famous of these are the Fetch Lands (Arid Mesa, Scalding Tarn, etc.). These are excellent for grabbing lands of the appropriate types, often opening up additional color options (Savai Triome, Jetmir's Garden, etc). When it comes to the Allied-color fetches like Polluted Delta and Bloodstained Mire, their most recent mass-printing in Khans of Tarkir means each is among the most expensive Rares in that set. That's not to say all is lost, for while the allied-fetch lands are pricey, the enemy-color fetch lands are at some of the lowest prices they've ever been.
Modern Horizons 2 has been out of print for a while now, but that has yet to impact cards like Arid Mesa, Marsh Flats, and Verdant Catacombs, all of which fall under $20 in price. Bring Blue-contenders Scalding Tarn and Misty Rainforest into the mix, and you're still paying only around $25. Considering the insane price tag on these lands prior to Modern Horizon 2, and how staple they are across formats, now might be the best time to buy or gift them. Up the bling-factor to include Retro Frames, Foiling, and/or Expanded Art, and most still fall below the $40 range. Gifting someone a fancy Fetch-land is always a surefire bet, as they're a card you can never have too many of.
Another set of Commander-staple are the Multiplayer-Cycle of dual lands. These lack the land typing of Fetch Lands, but otherwise have incredibly few drawbacks. Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate may not have been the most popular set, but its reprinting of the Allied-Multiplayer lands (Bountiful Promenade, Sea of Clouds, Spire Garden) has brought the price tag down for each. They range from roughly $5 (Spire Garden) up to $8 (Morphic Pool) and are excellent pickups/gifts. It's unlikely we'll see another printing of these in the near future, and seeing how much of a shoe-in they are for on-color decks, now may be the best time to jump aboard.
Leap a few years back to the original Commander Legends and you'll find the enemy multiplayer lands all starting to rise in price, but still in the $10 or less range. Without another reprint soon, I expect the prices of both Allied- and Enemy-Multiplayer lands to continue their climbs.
Quite a few recent sets have provided key land reprints. Dominaria United and The Brother's War have reduced the price of the entire Painland cycle (Adarkar Wastes, Llanowar Wastes, etc.) to only $3.5 or less. The Enemy-color Filter lands (Rugged Prairie, Cascade Bluffs) saw printing in the Streets of New Capenna Commander decks, reducing each to under $5. Among the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Channel-lands (Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire, etc.), the White, Black, and Red members of the cycle will all set you back $5 or less. We already saw the original Triome-cycle in Ikoria grow in price, so I'd expect the same for Streets of New Capenna's equivalents, all of which can still be found under $10. One odd note to both the Ikoria and Streets of New Capenna Triome-cycles are how they reference Plane-specific locations, something Wizards of the Coast often tries to avoid with powerful lands, as it makes reprints more difficult. While that's not to say these Triomes couldn't show up in a future Commander deck or some other product where the lore is flexible, it does vastly reduce the odds of them being reprinted in a Standard-legal set. Bear that in mind, as it could affect the price via reduced supply.
Other inexpensive (less than $10) lands include Double Masters 2022's Forbidden Orchard and Pillar of the Paruns, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate Reflecting Pool and Baldur' s Gate, and Adventure in the Forgotten Realms Man-Lands, of which cards like Hall of Storm Giants and Lair of the Hydra can serve as late-game finishers.
Bog Humbugs by Kieran Yanner
Celebration via infestation!
Creatures: Santa's Helpers
You can't build a Commander deck without a Commander, so to start off our Creature-section, let's review some popular Legendary creatures made inexpensive by recent reprints. Some of these are format classics who've been around awhile. Others benefit from recent Standard-rotations. But all go easy on the wallet without sacrificing power, playability, or most importantly, fun!
Double Masters 2022 cut the price of cards like Emiel the Blessed, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, Muldrotha, the Gravetide, Ezuri, Claw of Progress, and Ghave, Guru of Spores in half (or more) from their earlier printings. Each can now be found for under $5. All the Mythic Legendary dragons from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (Ex. Ebondeath, Dracolich), with the exception of the Green wyrm, can similarly be found for $5 or less. Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate sees Karlach, Fury of Avernus on a quick price ascend. The combat-happy general is now roughly $8, more than double its price back in October of 2022. And it seems to be growing. The slew of new artifacts from The Brother's War and likely upcoming Phyrexia-centric sets has also seen mechanically-inclined Commanders like Oswald Fiddlebender begin climbing in price, though the Gnome can still be found for $2 or less.
Jumping over to Streets of New Capenna, and we find all the Mythic 'mob bosses' (Jetmir, Nexus of Revels, Raffine, Scheming Seer, Falco Spara, Pactweaver, Lord Xander, the Collector, and Ziatora, the Incinerator) are all under $4. Giada, Font of Hope, a go-to Legend for any on-color Angel deck, will run you less than $3.
Moving onto the supporting players, Magic's venture into Dungeons and Dragons territory has provided a bounty of strong effects at inexpensive prices. Whether in the market for Treasure synergy (Xorn), token production (Bramble Sovereign), or intense mana generation (Circle of Dreams Druid), tools abound for roughly $5 or less. Balor punishes multiple opponents upon death. Guardian of Faith acts as a budget-friendly substitute for Teferi's Protection that can pick up an Equipment. Increase the budget to $10 or less, and the much-hyped Displacer Kitten, Deep Gnome Terramancer, and Archivist of Oghma enter the fray, alongside heavy-hitters Ancient Gold Dragon and Ancient Bronze Dragon).
Enchantments: Merry and Bright
Modern Horizons 2 saw a Karametra-approved cornucopia of Enchantments and accompanying synergy. Sythis, Harvest Hand is an incredibly powerful, yet inexpensive Enchantress Commander. Sanctum Weaver can provide an explosion of mana as Enchantments build up in number, or you could simply drop a Mirari's Wake to double-up your existing mana base. Make sure to lead with Enchantress's Presence to further card advantage. Once cards and mana abound, throw up the shields with Solitary Confinement and until you're in a winning spot. Powerful alone, but even more powerful brought together, each of these cards can be found for $1-$4.
The Background mechanic is an interesting one that suffered from the poor reception Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate. An interesting way to bring another color to one's Commander deck, with the added flavor of teaching your general a skill, we've likely not seen the last of Backgrounds. Currently, all Rare Background Enchantments can be found for under $1, and even Mythic examples like Folk Hero, Clan Crafter, Haunted One, and Passionate Archaeologist are all $2.5 or less.
Plenty of other role-playing enchantments from recent sets make solid pickups. At the $1-$5 range, you'll find Fighter Class, Hardened Scales, Dawn of Hope, Splendid Reclamation, Kindred Discovery, and Out of the Tombs. Jump up to the $5-$10 range and you'll discover tools like Divine Visitation, Legion Loyalty, Mechanized Production, Oversold Cemetery, and the aforementioned Bootlegger's Stash.
Finally, while the card is by no-means budget, keep an eye on Rhystic Study, as its printing in Jumpstart 2 may cause a slight downturn in price. It's a format staple, so I'm not expecting miracles, but as packs of Jumpstart 2 get opened and more copies of the card enter the market, I wouldn't be surprised to see the price adjust a bit.
Artifacts: Tinker Toys
Open the armory, and plenty of newly-discounted weaponry falls into your hands. Adventures in the Forgotten Relams brought the excellent ramp of Sword of the Animist back below $10. The similarly-priced Sword of Hearth and Home is also great for finding lands, and brings a Blink-effect as a bonus. Double Masters 2022 reprinted many once-pricey Equipment like Nim Deathmantle, Basilisk Collar, Conqueror's Flail, and Bloodforged Battle-Axe, now all within the $2-$4 range. Blade of Selves is now only $3, thanks to a Battle for Baldur's Gate reprint. Even mighty Equipment like Kaldra Compleat, Darksteel Plate, and Halvar, God of Battle // Sword of the Realms can be found for $5-$6. Retro-styled artifacts from The Brother's War have also gone a long way toward reducing prices, as Helm of the Host is once again under $10.
Speaking of The Brother's War, the positive impact retro-styled artifacts extend far past Equipment. Powerful artifacts like Mystic Forge, Unwinding Clock, Aetherflux Reservoir, Defense Grid, Cloud Key, Caged Sun, Thorn of Amethyst, and Chromatic Lantern can all be found for $2-$7, even in some cases even when special schematic artwork or foiling is taken into account. These are great discounts for many older cards that haven't had reprints in a while and were thusly quite expensive (Ex. Defense Grid was >$20 prior to The Brother's War).
Wrapping up Artifacts, you'll also find the following useful gadgets in the $3-$10 range, many of which are at historic lows: Vedalken Orrery and Aether Vial for Instant-speed shenanigans, Panharmonicon and Herald's Horn for extra value whilst casting spells, Hangerback Walker and Canoptek Scarab Swarm to build armies of tokens, and sought-after mana rocks like Talisman of Dominance, Talisman of Progress, and Talisman of Indulgence.
Goblin Sleigh Ride by Mark Zug
Good to see that Doran is doing well.
Promotional Cards: Happy Holidays
To close things out in festive fashion, let's imagine you felt the need to splurge on the most Christmas-infused promo for friend or family member. While none of the official Magic the Gathering Holiday Promo cards fall anywhere near budget prices, some are less expensive than you might think. Many older cards like Fruitcake Elemental and Snow Mercy are ridiculously expensive, but more-recent entries are far more manageable as gifts to a fellow Magic player. Some Disassembly Required is the least pricey of these, coming in around $30. The next tier up sees Bog Humbugs, Decorated Knight, Goblin Sleigh Ride, and Thopter Pie Network in the $35-$40 range. Don't get me wrong: None of these cards are cheap. But they are a unique and memorable bunch that provide more affordable options than I had originally assumed, so I figured I'd spread the word.
In any case, I hope this guide was helpful in your quest to holiday shop on a budget. Magic: the Gathering is an increasingly expensive game, so it helps to spot deals and discounts when they arrive. May you, your families, and your Commander pods all have a fantastic holiday season. May the battlefield be packed and spirits merry.
Thanks for reading, and may you always wind up on the "Nice" List.