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Tiny Leaders: Put Some Legacy in Your Commander


Between Modern, Commander, and Cube, my Magic plate is delicious, nutritious, and—I’ll admit—full. It takes time to collect the cards for these things, and it’s not always financially feasible for me to blow a bunch of money on other formats—or even additional decks in the formats I do play. So when I heard about Tiny Leaders, I was pretty intrigued.

Kemba, Kha Regent
Tiny Leaders is a Commander variant in which everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

Wait, no, that’s not right. Tiny Leaders is a singleton Legacy variant played with fifty cards and the tiniest of legendary creatures.

Okay, that’s a bit closer.

Truthfully, Tiny Leaders feels like a cross between Commander and Legacy. One of the hallmarks of the Legacy format is that most decks are at their most efficient with just 3 mana available. Tiny Leaders is similar because, well, your cards must have a converted mana cost of 3 or lower.

“Say what, Jimbo!?”

You heard me.

As in Commander, the Tiny Leaders format is singleton only, meaning you can only have one of each unique card in your deck with the exception of basic lands (or basic snow lands, if you’re into that sort of thing). And as in Commander, you are able to choose one legendary creature to be your commander, and your deck must only contain cards that match the color identity of that creature (color identity being defined by each of the different colors of mana symbols found on that legendary creature card).

Finally, a Tiny Leaders deck must have exactly fifty cards and a sideboard of ten cards. Tiny Leaders is also a one-on-one format—there’s no multiplayer mayhem here—and matches are best two out of three (but I mean, feel free to do best five out of nine or seven out of twelve—no one’s stopping you). With just fifty cards in a deck, the format is fast, and early turns are potentially deadly, hence the comparison to Legacy.

The format has its own banned list, its own rules committee, and a rapidly growing number of players. Trust me when I say that I’m excited to be writing about it.

Anafenza, the Foremost
But let’s go back to my original conundrum: I can’t really afford to buy into new formats.

Because a Tiny Leaders deck requires so few cards, and because those cards can’t be some of the bigger and flashier staples we commonly see in Commander, the format is inherently easy to get into. The day I first read about Tiny Leaders, I immediately grabbed Anafenza, the Foremost out of my binder and began sifting through my collection looking for other small soldiers for her to command. Even without cards like Stoneforge Mystic and Dark Confidant, the deck I built was reasonably competitive. More importantly, it looked like a lot of fun to play.

And that got me thinking: How many tiny legendary creatures are out there with unique abilities that don’t stand out in Commander but that could dominate in Tiny Leaders? There are plenty of commanders, too, that are quite good in Commander but that are even better in this tinier format. Ezuri, Renegade Leader, Glissa, the Traitor, Kemba, Kha Regent, and Omnath, Locus of Mana come to mind.

In the spirit of the new Commander (2014 Edition) decks, I decided to go mono-colored for this primer. In order to find and finalize the decklists, I enlisted the help of the Tiny Leaders community itself, and they did not disappoint. So, in the interest of keeping your interest piqued, here’s what I have:

Death and Thalia

Benjamin Franklin once mused that “nothing can be said to be certain except death, taxes, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben being a pain in your ass. Now play your land, sonny.”

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
And rumor has it that Thomas Jefferson promptly reanimated Iona, Shield of Emeria naming white, causing Franklin to concede in the third game of the finals of the Founding Fathers Throwdown tournament of 1779. Magic has such history, doesn’t it? Anyway . . . 

Death and Taxes is a common deck archetype in Legacy. It attacks from two angles: tiny white creatures and mana-denial. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a Death and Taxes build would be found in the Tiny Leaders format. It makes even more sense that such a strategy would come out on top of one of the first—if not the first—Tiny Leaders tournaments ever in Winnipeg, piloted by Bramwell Tackaberry (who, by the way, is one of the progenitors of the format).

Tackaberry’s Death and Thalia list is essentially a comprehensive pool of efficient and taxing creatures that are guaranteed to make your opponent pull his or her hair out (yes, Thomas Jefferson included). Along for the ride are staples the likes of Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares, but noncreature spells have been kept to a bare minimum so that Thalia can work her oppressive magic against the opponent while we remain unhindered. Ajani, Caller of the Pride is particularly powerful in a format in which a grand total of seven Planeswalkers are playable (Ajani, Jace Beleren, Liliana of the Veil, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Dack Fayden, Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded, and Domri Rade).

Kira, Not a Fish

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Now that I’m thinking about it, Mr. Franklin’s famous quote should really include Merfolk. I mean, it’s a competitive deck in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage. Those angry, sentient fish are basically everywhere. (Apologies to any real-life Merfolk who may be reading this—you can blame the content manager Adam Styborski for allowing it.)

Like its fishy predecessors, this deck relies on lords, tempo, and islandwalk shenanigans to push damage through. Replete with a few counterspells and a bit of card selection, this deck is decidedly aggressive, but with a finesse that only blue can provide. Kira, Great Glass-Spinner acts as the fairy godmother (Kamigawan spiritmother?) of our Merfolk, helping to negate any targeted removal that our opponents may have.

Two of my favorite cards in the deck are Military Intelligence and Skaab Ruinator. Military Intelligence is our kind of Bident of Thassa—if it hits the battlefield and sticks, the opponent will be drowning in our card advantage. Skaab Ruinator is a recurrable win condition in itself, and it does real work if Kira isn’t pulling her weight.

Toshiro’s Butchery Bonanza

Toshiro Umezawa
As far as I’m aware, Toshiro Umezawa is the only mono-black protagonist we’ve seen in Magic’s lore, and that’s badass. Everything about him, from his artwork to his ability, is blacker than the blackest black times infinity. His ability allows us to clear the board almost every turn by casting and recasting our suite of violent kill spells, and you earn bonus points if you yell, “Avada Kedavra!” every time you do it.

This deck is fairly straightforward in that the goal is to clear the board and attack with efficiently powerful creatures. Loxodon Warhammer mitigates some of the life-loss from Night's Whisper, Sign in Blood, Phyrexian Arena, Dismember, and Herald of Torment, while Strata Scythe provides a potentially obscene board state if you can equip it to Vampire Nighthawk (or anything really).

Like the Mono-Black Control deck from last season’s Standard format, this is essentially a control deck disguised as an aggressive creature deck. Of the five decks in this primer, this one is definitely my favorite.

Slobad’s Small Squad

Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer is one of those Commanders that seems totally innocuous until you realize that he enables all kinds of degenerate shenanigans, and the same is true in Tiny Leaders. With creatures like Goblin Welder, Junk Diver, and Myr Retriever to help him out, Slobad rarely runs out of artifacts to break.

This particular list was assembled by reddit user DaemonicBookkeeper, and it really stretches the power level with the inclusion of two Mirrodin Swords, Wasteland, and Crucible of Worlds.

Whereas the first three decks focus primarily on one or two primary routes to victory, Slobad has a whole host of toys with which to win. The combination of Hammer of Purphoros and Crucible of Worlds, for example, will quickly get out of hand, and the opponent will have very few ways—if any—to deal with an army of indestructible 3/3 Golems.

Alternatively, the deck can easily win via burn with cards like Perilous Myr, Molten Psyche, Furnace Celebration, Ashling the Pilgrim, and Shrine of Burning Rage. Finally, equipping Etched Champion or Atog with a Sword will close out most games quickly enough.

(From an aesthetic perspective, I love that this deck is essentially a tiny version of Commander (2014 Edition)’s Built from Scratch deck with Daretti, Scrap Savant.)

Azusa, Rocking and Rolling

Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Azusa, Lost but Seeking is becoming notorious in Commander as somewhat of an unfair commander. Playing up to three lands each turn is a little bonkers, and that degeneracy translates nicely into a Tiny Leaders deck.

This lands deck plays somewhat of a control game in that we’re trying to limit what our opponent can do with his or her mana while maximizing our own. The deck is shooting to win a longer game with Budoka Gardener or an intensely fast game with a 20/20 Marit Lage token. Whereas the other decks are more proactive and aggressive, this deck has inevitability: If the opponent can’t win fast enough, he or she will almost certainly lose to Marit Lage (and we’ll be laughing maniacally—there’s nothing cooler than swinging with a 20/20).

The deck has three core engines: Azusa, land-searching, and Crucible of Worlds. Expedition Map, Realms Uncharted, Sylvan Scrying, Living Wish, and Crop Rotation will find whatever lands we need, and Azusa allows us to put those lands onto the battlefield as we find them. As with the red and white decks, Crucible of Worlds allows us to potentially lock the opponent out of the game with cards like Ghost Quarter, Wasteland, and Quicksand.

By far my favorite card in the deck is Budoka Gardener. I mean, sure, the 20/20 Marit Lage token is cool, but I can also dig putting a 10/10 (or bigger!) Elemental token onto the battlefield every single turn, and they’ll only grow better. Lifeblood Hydra, Dungrove Elder, and Scute Mob are particularly dangerous in this deck, and each of them can potentially close a game in the absence of Dark Depths or the Gardener.

A Tiny Conclusion

If you have access to the cards, I highly recommend that you find some friends and start your own Tiny Leaders league. Most game shops will gladly host small tournaments for obscure formats if they have at least eight players, and Tiny Leaders has such a low bar for entry that it should be relatively simple to convince that many people to build decks.

While the format is new, I’m confident it’ll become a mainstay in game shops all over, and it only takes a few enterprising individuals to make it happen. If you love the rules of Commanders and the power and speed of Legacy, give Tiny Leaders a shot—you won’t be disappointed.

Hold me closer, tiny dancer,

Jimi Brady


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