Commander Secret Lair: From Cute to Brute Financial Review and Upgrades

Finding the secret value of alternative art.

Secret Lairs can often be hit or miss, but it’s impossible to deny just how cool some of the alternative art treatments and unique cards in these bundles are. The newest Secret Lair, From Cute to Brute, is a stellar example of this, including five double-faced alternative cards (so netting you 10 new pieces of art when you get down to it), plus a full Commander’s deck worth of solid reprints.

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager

Secret Lair Drop Series

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager - Secret Lair Drop Series - Magic: The Gathering

This is the second time we’ve gotten a complete Commander deck from the Secret Lair team, with the first being the controversial Heads I Win, Tails You Lose. That first Commander Secret Lair earned its controversy almost exclusively on the back of how poorly its shipping was managed, with the print-to-order list getting into people’s hands much later than estimated. From Cute to Brute is aiming to avoid that pitfall, but is it worth picking up?

The Cutest Value or a Brutal Hit to Your Wallet?

Let’s talk value first. If you’re dropping $150 on the Secret Lair itself, you really want to feel as though you are getting your money’s worth. So, let’s look at the stock deck list as a whole to start:


From Cute to Brute

Market Price:$271.19

Maindeck, 99 cards

Sortsort deckCommander (1)

  • 1Esika, God of the Tree

Creature (33)

  • 1Archangel Avacyn
  • 1Beast Whisperer
  • 1Bloodline Keeper
  • 1Butcher of Malakir
  • 1Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
  • 1Cosima, God of the Voyage
  • 1Dennick, Pious Apprentice
  • 1Diluvian Primordial
  • 1Emmara, Soul of the Accord
  • 1Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
  • 1Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse
  • 1Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy
  • 1Kolvori, God of Kinship
  • 1Kytheon, Hero of Akros
  • 1Liliana, Heretical Healer
  • 1Ludevic, Necrogenius
  • 1Meteor Golem
  • 1Mila, Crafty Companion
  • 1Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
  • 1Nissa, Vastwood Seer
  • 1Plargg, Dean of Chaos
  • 1Rhys the Redeemed
  • 1Sandstone Oracle
  • 1Shaile, Dean of Radiance
  • 1Sisay, Weatherlight Captain
  • 1Sphinx of the Second Sun
  • 1Tireless Provisioner
  • 1Tovolar’s Huntmaster
  • 1Triplicate Titan
  • 1Valentin, Dean of the Vein
  • 1Valki, God of Lies
  • 1Voldaren Pariah
  • 1Zetalpa, Primal Dawn

Planeswalker (3)

  • 1Arlinn Kord
  • 1Arlinn, the Pack’s Hope
  • 1Garruk Relentless

Sorcery (6)

  • 1Bala Ged Recovery
  • 1Farseek
  • 1Harmonize
  • 1Ondu Inversion
  • 1Time Wipe
  • 1Urza’s Ruinous Blast

Instant (6)

  • 1Beast Within
  • 1Hagra Mauling
  • 1Pongify
  • 1Putrefy
  • 1Utter End
  • 1Valakut Awakening

Artifact (11)

  • 1Altar of the Pantheon
  • 1Arcane Signet
  • 1Azor’s Gateway
  • 1Chromatic Lantern
  • 1Commander’s Sphere
  • 1Dowsing Dagger
  • 1Elbrus, the Binding Blade
  • 1Fellwar Stone
  • 1Sol Ring
  • 1Thaumatic Compass
  • 1Treasure Map

Enchantment (5)

  • 1Guardian Project
  • 1Hadana’s Climb
  • 1Journey to Eternity
  • 1Legion’s Landing
  • 1Search for Azcanta

Land (35)

  • 1Barkchannel Pathway
  • 1Blightstep Pathway
  • 1Branchloft Pathway
  • 1Brightclimb Pathway
  • 1Clearwater Pathway
  • 1Command Tower
  • 1Cragcrown Pathway
  • 1Darkbore Pathway
  • 1Evolving Wilds
  • 1Exotic Orchard
  • 3Forest
  • 1Frontier Bivouac
  • 1Hengegate Pathway
  • 1Island
  • 1Jungle Shrine
  • 1Mountain
  • 1Needleverge Pathway
  • 1Opulent Palace
  • 1Path of Ancestry
  • 1Plains
  • 1Rimewood Falls
  • 1Riverglide Pathway
  • 1Sandsteppe Citadel
  • 1Savage Lands
  • 1Scattered Groves
  • 1Seaside Citadel
  • 1Sheltered Thicket
  • 1Swamp
  • 1Terramorphic Expanse
  • 1The World Tree
  • 1Vivid Grove
  • 1Westvale Abbey
  • 1Woodland Chasm

That’s an interesting deck, looking like it’s already fairly well equipped out of the box. It’s not going to compete at a cEDH table, but it’ll do just fine against a medium power-level pod and would more than compete against the majority of precons. Admittedly, the strength of Esika, God of the Tree is a big part of that, powering out all kinds of power plays turn after turn.

But that’s not the real question. Are you getting $150 worth? In short, I believe so! Without speculating on the alternative art cards themselves (yet, we’ll get to that soon), the reprint value here is solid.  At time of writing, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is priced over $20, with the same being true of the base printing for Nicol Bolas, the Ravager (again saying nothing about the other alternative versions of that card).

Similarly, Bloodline Keeper has been sneaking up over time, and Guardian Project has been in dire need of a reprint. Both have climbed to around $15. A handful of other cards have hit $5 or more, with the most notable being the Pathway cycle. The Pathways vary between roughly $5 and $10 each, but even lowballing them at $5 per, you’re getting $50 worth with the full set of 10 (and you’re definitely getting more than that!).

Doing the math, that’s roughly $120 of value, and that’s with undervaluing the lands, not evaluating the rest of the “bulk” in the deck (many of which, as I said, are $5 or more), and not considering what you’re getting out of the alternative art treatments. So, how much of a value add are they?

Cutely Brutal Profit

Archangel Avacyn

Market Price: $19.56

Bloodline Keeper

Market Price: $15.67

Esika, God of the Tree

Market Price: $25.11

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager

Market Price: $46.35

Westvale Abbey

Market Price: $13.52

The answer is, to put it bluntly (or brutally), a lot.  Cards with limited print runs tend to hold their value, and this deck has been noted to be exactly that. At time of writing they are still on sale, so the print run is probably not small, but once these have been distributed that’s it.

Relatedly, popular commander cards that see alternative printings retain a healthy value, and all but Westvale Abbey see consistent play in the format. Among the cards given the alternate art treatment, Nicol Bolas, The Ravager is the largest value add. The prerelease version of the card is worth no less than $50, with the Judge promo approaching around $70. Bolas then reasonably edges the value over the asking price of $150 on his own.

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager

Market Price: $56.07

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager

Market Price: $49.53

Prerelease Esika approaches $30, while Archangel Avacyn flags behind at roughly $10, but I would be entirely surprised to find the alternative Cute to Brute variants of any of these cards (again, perhaps excluding the less in-demand Abbey) going for less than $50. People who will be willing to part ways with these special variants are likely going to be doing so only if they can make bank in the process, they’re all just that cute.

Esika, God of the Tree

Market Price: $28.78

Archangel Avacyn

Market Price: $12.12

Upgrading From Cute to Brute

Now that we’ve confirmed that this is a safe enough buy, let’s talk about the deck. It’s a solid value pile with all kinds of dual faced cards, already designed to get cool things off of The Prismatic Bridge, and with enough of a legendary subtheme to make the alternative Sisay, Weatherlight Captain a fine option for the command zone.

It isn’t particularly synergistic, but for a five-color goodstuff list it has a lot of potential. Now, personally, I recommend just taking the list apart and using all the cool pieces in other decks. I know my Edgar Markov list is itching for the shiny Bloodline Keeper, for example, and you can find a home for just about everything here. However, if you don’t have a pile of Commander decks waiting for upgrades, how can you improve From Cute to Brute?

The first thing has to be the mana base. The pile of Pathways and Trilands are more than serviceable, but you should cut Rimewood Falls, Woodland Chasm, and Vivid Grove immediately for better options — your choice of Triomes, Fetches, or Shocks. Almost every land can be similarly swapped out for these upgrades, but those three jump out as the worst.

Zagoth Triome

Market Price: $14.14

Bloodstained Mire

Market Price: $30.15

Overgrown Tomb

Market Price: $10.39

Next, you want to be flipping a few more cool things off of your Commander, so that means some more haymaker plays. Since there is a legendary subtheme to the deck, I also recommend those punchier plays be legendary. Atraxa 2.0, Etali 2.0, and Djeru and Hazoret all spring to mind from recent sets. Cut Voldaren Pariah and a couple of planeswalkers of your choice to fit them in.

Atraxa, Grand Unifier

Market Price: $13.01

Etali, Primal Conqueror

Market Price: $12.65

Djeru and Hazoret

Finally, you should consider further feeding that Legendary theme to make Sisay an even more attractive Commander option, and make the deck a little more synergistic and a little less of “just” a goodstuff pile.

This includes yet another potential Commander option, a stellar draw engine, and a recursion spell that serves as a potential win condition in the long game. I recommend axing Legion’s Landing, Sandstone Oracle, and Meteor Golem for the following:

Jodah, the Unifier
Shanid, Sleepers' Scourge
Primevals' Glorious Rebirth

There are a few other potential cuts, as people tend to scoff a bit at the eternally reprinted Butcher of Malakir and Zetalpa, Primal Dawn, but a lot of the cards I might normally consider cutting for their inefficiency are fun flips off of Esika. If you want to move away from The Prismatic Bridge strategies, then I have plenty more cuts for you, but as it stands those nine swaps will more than get the job done.