Tiny Leaders, Big Fun

Posted in Reconstructed on February 17, 2015

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Welcome to Kings, Presidents, and Khans week!

Across the Multiverse, there have been many different kinds of leaders. Khans led the clans of Tarkir. Praetors led the sections of New Phyrexia. Konda led the armies of Kamigawa. But lately, there have been new, very popular kinds of leader. And they look something like this:

Geist of Saint Traft; Ezuri, Renegade Leader; Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer; and Sygg, River Cutthroat

Yes, those are all legends—but don't think this is just Commander. No, the Tiny Leaders format is a new variant of Commander, and something that is quickly exploding in popularity.

Welcome to the Tiny Leaders format!

Geist of Saint Traft | Art by Igor Kieryluk

Whether you've heard of the format before or this is your first time discovering it, you're in the right place. Today, I'm going over the format's rules and history, and then jump right into to some of the decks you can build in it!

It's a format that's sort of a mix between Commander and Legacy—and it's incredibly fun.

You might remember that I briefly touched on the format a few months ago and it was really well received—so much so that I wanted to write about it again!

Ready to catch the Tiny Leaders fever? Let's dive right in!

Tiny Rules, Big Game

Popularized up in frosty Manitoba by Bramwell Tackaberry and Steven Hamonic, the format is a spinoff of Commander with a few twists. The biggest one encompasses the "tiny" nature of the name: none of your cards (including your commander!) can have a converted mana cost of more than 3!

This makes for an interesting deck-building challenge. First, find a commander that fits the restriction that you want to build around. Then, figure out how to make it work with only cards that cost three mana or less.

Let me lay out the base rules here:

Notably, another departure from Commander is that there is no commander damage.

You can see the full rules here. But, to shortcut in your head, if you think one-on-one Commander with 50-card decks and only cards that cost three mana or less, you're there. (And, while we won't be getting into the intricacies of sideboarding in a new format today, you're also allowed a ten-card sideboard.)

Now that the rules out of the way, here are some general things to consider about the format:

  • The format is fast and powerful. It's all about cheap, efficient plays that lead to you overtaking that game—unless your deck also has a combo finish. Think more Legacy than Commander.
  • Since you don't have a lot of haymakers that come out at five and six mana and drastically change the game's landscape, a lot of the creatures you'll be dealing with are smaller. You won't encounter many big creatures.
  • A lot of classic board sweepers are out of the question. You don't need to worry about cards like Wrath of God. Instead, you should be thinking about how to fight something like Firespout or Pyroclasm.
  • Unlike Commander, which tends to feature a lot of slower decks, this format puts an emphasis on cheap creatures—which often lends itself to beatdown decks.
  • You can skirt some of these generalities thanks to X spells. (Since X equals 0 in mana costs.) For example, Martial Coup is a way to get a big haymaker into your deck.

Tiny Elves

For an example of something you might see in a Tiny Leaders format game, let's take a look at a finished deck I featured last time to illustrate these principles—Elves!

Gavin Verhey's Tiny Elves

COMMANDER: Ezuri, Renegade Leader

This isn't something you'd see in Commander very often. But as a Tiny Leaders deck, it excels! There aren't a lot of sweepers available in the format—and Ezuri helps regenerate all of your Elves in a pinch even if your opponent does have one.

But, moreover, note how mana efficient something like this is. It is full of cheap cards that quickly build up and play toward the Commander. It also has a combo kill in it by being able to Glimpse of Nature out your opponent in some cases. In other games, you can just build up your Elven army and then use Ezuri. Either way, the games are fast and brutal—if the game has lasted longer than seven turns or so, this deck probably isn't winning.

This is a very powerful Tiny Leaders deck. Let's keep this in our head going forward.

With those in mind, let's move into some other decks, shall we?

Tiny Goblins

Elves is one part of the tribal spectrum. But another well-known tribe full of history and cheap spells is their mortal enemy: Goblins!

Arguably, the three best Commanders for Goblins are Tuktuk the Explorer; Zo-Zu the Punisher; and Grenzo, Dungeon Warden.

Zo-Zu would normally catch my eye in something like Commander—but since you don't really curve as high in the Tiny Leaders format, he actually isn't nearly as powerful as you might expect.

The card I'm really excited about here is Grenzo. For one, it's scalable, meaning you can have a huge creature later on if you need to. Second of all, its ability is quite relevant in a deck full of tiny Goblins! And finally, being black in addition to red unlocks a few solid black Goblins and spells.

So, we want to go for Goblins, eh? Well, let's beat down!

Gavin Verhey's Tiny Goblins

COMMANDER: Grenzo, Dungeon Warden

This deck hits hard and fast. Capable of some of the starts Legacy Goblins is famous for thanks to a slew of lords and cards like Goblin Lackey, this deck can really punish anybody who doesn't get off the ground quickly. It also has a host of cards that completely crush other popular creature decks. A card like Sudden Demise, Fire Covenant, or Goblin Sharpshooter is something that a deck like Elves is going to be hard pressed to beat!

This deck can even combo out a bit. While nothing goes infinite, Ashnod's Altar alongside Grenzo is a powerful combination—if any if your Goblins would die, you have a pretty good chance of turning it into a different one!

If hitting hard with little red creatures is what you're up for, then Goblins is right up your alley!

Tiny Control

Now, don't take this format's emphasis on cheap cards to presume that this is a creatures-only format. While those are perhaps the most obvious strategies, they're far from the only ones sitting at the top.

There are quite a few different control builds you can look at. There's Geist of Saint Traft, of course, pairing blue and white control elements with an incredible finisher. You can also go mono-blue for the powerhouse Vendilion Clique and play tons of countermagic. There's even Esper with Merieke Ri Beret, giving you access to some of the top discard and pinpoint removal as well.

However, one direction I like a lot is blue-red. The trouble with mono-blue is that you don't have a lot of answers to creatures if you start falling behind. Red actually has some of the best sweepers in the format—normally that mantle would belong to white, but with wraths out of the picture because they cost too much, and Pyroclasm, Anger of the Gods, Sudden Demise, and more available, red's support as a control color is felt more strongly here.

And who's the commander for the job? Well, how about Nin, the Pain Artist! Not only can she kill creatures in pinch, but she can also reload you on cards when there's a break in the action.

So, what could a blue-red Nin control deck look like in the Tiny Leaders format? Let's take a look!

Gavin Verhey's Tiny Nin

COMMANDER: Nin, the Pain Artist

Full of cheap interaction and ways to wrangle control of the game early and never let go, this Nin deck looks to counter up the curve and remove anything that might slip through.

While, traditionally, commanders make countermagic less effective, Hinder, Spell Crumple, and Chaos Warp all do a good job of tucking commanders. Alternatively, you can always just blow up your opponent's commander over and over again until he or she can't really cast it anymore; many Tiny Leaders decks tend to skimp a little on lands.

Speaking of lands, there are so many choices in this format! With needing fewer land slots, you really have to compress. This mana base didn't even have room for Command Tower because of fitting in all the shuffle effects to support Brainstorm and Sensei's Divining Top!

Tiny Ramp

I'm not the only person in Magic R&D with Tiny Leaders fever. Newer recruit Glenn Jones has also been playing the format and exploring the wide range of what you can do—and has come up with quite the ramp deck.

Ramping in the Tiny Leaders format might seem like a bit of a silly thing to do—after all, the format's mana cost constraint means you don't want tons of mana lying around.

But not always.

When describing the deck, Glenn refers to it as, "Scapeshift…minus the Scapeshift." Take a look!

Glenn Jones's Tiny Ramp

COMMANDER: Radha, Heir to Keld

Good 'ol Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.

Although you might not be able to play with Scapeshift, there are plenty of ways to find your single Valakut. Gamble, Crop Rotation, Sylvan Scrying, and Expedition Map all can go search up the well-known land.

Once you have it, you can either just ramp into Mountains…or go the fancy way and use either Collective Voyage or New Frontiers to find a bunch of Mountains and kill off your opponent. Oh, and if that fails, you can always just use Thespian's Stage and Dark Depths to win with a Merit Lage!

It's decks like this that really highlight the unique nature of the Tiny Leaders format. Is it Legacy? Is it Commander?

Now, Valakut is just one way to go for this. But you could easily push a little more down the Legacy route and end up somewhere that's a bit more like a Legacy Lands deck.

Pennsylvanian native Brian Durkin and his group have been playing plenty of the Tiny Leaders format and are looking to take the format to the next level. Mental Misstep and Glacial Chasm have quickly both proved powerful pieces of the format—and a natural fit for Glacial Chasm is in Lands! Check out what he put together:

Brian Durkin's Tiny Lands

COMMANDER: Yasova Dragonclaw

It turns out that playing tons of lands in a format all about cheap spells isn't so bad after all! There's plenty you can do.

Aggro. Combo. Control. No matter what you're looking for, you can find it here—and add your own individual spin onto it.

Leading On

So what will you build? There are so many options floating through my head right now of decks to build.

Could I turn Commander staple Animar, Soul of Elements into a powerhouse Temur deck? Is there a sweet White Weenie deck with Pianna, Nomad Captain? Are there enough Barbarians to give Balthor the Stout a try?!

Now I turn the reins over to you. What will you build? This link shows all the legendary creatures eligible to be commanders in this format. Start your engines now!

There's no official deck-building challenge for this week, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go out and build decks anyway. My mission to you is to go out and give the Tiny Leaders format a try in your local group! See what you can come up with. Feel free to send me a tweet or a message on Tumblr with what you're playing—it would be excellent to see what you're finding fun in the format!

The reason there's no deck-building challenge this week? Well, it's crazy to say, but in just two weeks I'll be back with the first week of Dragons of Tarkir previews! We just revived Ugin, and it's time to hop in our TARDIS and head back to present-day Tarkir to see what's up with Dragons of Tarkir! There might be some Dragons to see that week.

In the meantime, I'll be back next week with a look at Temur in Standard for Temur Week. Until then, may you be appropriately regal—and become a Tiny Leader of your own!

Talk with you then!

Gavin

@GavinVerhey

GavInsight

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