Raging Levine – Brewing for Tiny Leaders

Hey folks! I’m out of preconstructed decks to reconstruct, so this episode we’ll be stepping away from Magic Online and back into the real world. I’ve been wanting to talk about this subject for a while, and a timely message from fellow Level 3 Judge Jess Dunks reminded me that I had not actually written this article yet.

At least a year ago, I incidentally heard about a Commander variant format called “Tiny Leaders.” At the time, I thought it was a cool idea, and apparently other people thought so as well—the format has a Facebook page with about 600 likes and a subreddit with nearly 500 subscribers. So, not exactly an overnight success, but hopefully I can help give its popularity a little boost since it looks like fun to me!

The name gives you a little bit of an idea of what Tiny Leaders is all about—it’s a 1v1 format with 50-card singleton decks (the 50 including a Commander, 25 life per player, 3-game matches, and 10-card sideboards). The format doesn’t use the Commander damage rule, so no winning that way…

Oh—and each card in your deck has to have a converted mana cost of 3 or less.

That’s sort of the big bombshell here, in my opinion. The format has its own banned list that you can look at on the blog that serves as its official website—cards you’d expect to be banned in a format like this generally are, though a few cards have worked their way through that might surprise you.

The rules have a couple of interesting quirks. First, the mulligan variant used is definitely not what I’d expect. No free mulligans are allowed—players can either shuffle their hands in and draw one card fewer or exile their hands, draw one card fewer, and shuffle the exiled cards back. The second mulligan rule definitely seems to lend itself to abuse by combo decks.

Second, three-color combinations (Mardu, Sultai, and Jeskai) don’t have legal Commanders for this format, so the creators have helpfully provided placeholder commanders to do the job. Each one costs one mana of each color in the combination and is simply a legendary 2/2 with no abilities. (This seems pretty low—Anafenza is a 4/4 with other abilities, so can’t we just make these 4/4s, or even 3/3s?) Hopefully we get commanders that address this soon, though since Fate Reforged isn’t a wedge set, I’m not holding my breath.

So what can we do in this format? Well, there are plenty of Commanders available—there are 113 legendary creatures with CMC under 4. I know the number in the link is a bit different, but that doesn’t take into account the doubling of the legendary flip creatures, the inclusion of the ones that aren’t legendary when they’re cast initially, the banned creatures, the placeholders, and the hilarious appearance of Withengar Unbound. A few Commanders stick out at first glance as obviously powerful:

I’m also surprised that Bazaar of Baghdad and Brain Freeze are legal. However, I know there are tons of people who have explored this format more than I have, and so I’ll be excited to see what deck lists you link to and post in the comments. After all, I haven’t had the opportunity to play a single game of this format yet!

Nevertheless, I’m obviously interested in building a few decks so we can see what this format is all about. Let’s start with a deck where we can use one of the cards I think might be broken: Dredge! So who can we use as a Commander?

I was pretty sure that this would be “the Dredge Commander,” and some cursory research leads me to believe I might be right. Ordinarily I’d say this should be a Sultai deck, but the lack of a viable Commander that isn’t just a tough-to-cast 2/2 makes me a bit leery. As far as Varolz goes, I’m just going to create a list (no sideboard, of course, since I don’t know the format terribly well) and see how things go. Based on the cost restrictions, I’d guess decks play 16-20 lands, with 20 being a good upper limit for control decks with many X-spells. (Maybe there’s even a Lands deck!) So let’s see…

Commander: Varolz, the Scar-Striped

The game plan is to Buried Alive some of the big stuff into the ‘yard (Hunted Horror, Death’s Shadow, Phyrexian Dreadnought) and then go to town. We have a few ways to sneak through damage—Rogue’s Passage is great, and scavenging onto Tormented Soul or Dauthi Horror should work well. If we can sneak a hit through with enough power, Tainted Strike also does the job. It seems somewhat fragile, and I’m not sure there’s quite enough dredge to make things happen the way we want, but I like the idea of the deck overall. On to another concept: Storm!

Commander: Animar, Soul of Elements

I like the idea of Storm using Animar—it lets us go pretty crazy with Grinning Ignus, and it means we can go back and forth with Crookshank Kobolds/Cloud of Faeries to generate infinite mana using Cloudstone Curio. (That already gives us infinite storm, but I digress.) The board could easily house some Wish targets along with a few carefully-chosen actual sideboard cards. I don’t know if using Animar is being too cute here—it might be more interesting than straight UR, a Grixis build, or even a Tiny Solidarity list. (You go buy a Candelabra and try it out. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

What would a format like this be without some sort of Delver-type deck? Geist of Saint Traft seems like a good start:

Commander: Geist of Saint Traft

Definitely an interesting aggro/control concept here. I wonder if not including StP is a mistake, but I really don’t want to give our opponents more life—I’d rather focus on protecting Geist with cards like Stave Off and Gods Willing. I almost put in Aqueous Form, but then I remembered I’m not Tom Ross and this isn’t Standard. Maybe I’m missing out.

Other cards I’d love to explore casting:
Lingering Souls
Dark Confidant/Dark Tutelage
Anything with delve
Villainous Wealth
Mind Grind/Glimpse the Unthinkable/mill cards in general
Mentor of the Meek
Goblins (always Goblins)

Overall I think this could be a really fun format. Of course, it is closer to Duel Commander than what I usually talk about as “Commander,” but that’s not a bad thing—it’s simply an effect of the 1v1 nature of this format. When every game action is just about tipping the scales against your single opponent, we get further from a casual format and closer to singleton Legacy with restrictions. With Commander damage removed, the Commander serves only to set color restrictions while also giving each player a creature they can count on seeing every game. I’m not sure if 25 life is right in a 50-card singleton format—I don’t know if purely aggressive decks can survive—but I suppose the best way for me to learn is to actually play!

I doubt I’ll have time to throw a Tiny Leaders deck together before GP Denver, but hopefully you can battle me when I’m off shift at GP San Jose at the end of the month. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!


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