By now, most of you out there have had some exposure to the new sub-sub-format that is Tiny Leaders. It has seen major exposure on the bigger sites, lots of blog lip service, and plenty of forum/Twitter/Reddit exposure.

It’s a thing. Whether it sticks around for the long haul is up for discussion, but for now, be prepared to see plenty of it around.

Now, two disclaimers before we get started here:

 

  1. My actual hands-on experience is pretty limited. By that, I mean roughly between two and three games. No side boarding.
  2. I don’t actually dislike the format, despite how this thing is probably going to end up coming off.

 

With that in place, I may as well offer up my thesis statement on what I do thing of the format:

Tiny Leaders is a nice but flawed distraction that is going to confuse lots of its expected audience, bore lots of its secondary audience, and honestly appeal to yet a third smaller subset.

Here’s hoping you’re waiting behind door number three, right?

 

DEBUNKING SOME MYTHS

Myth #1 – “TL is just Commander with a few different rules.”

This is the big one. It is flat-out wrong. Tiny Leaders is not Commander in any way, and needs to be viewed separately. It has about as much in common with Commander as it does Legacy or Vintage.

People will point to the fact that it retains many of the same rules as Commander, such as highlander (singleton) deck construction, and the use of a commander and the command zone. This is akin to claiming that a front-end loader and a top-fuel dragster are basically the same because they each have four wheels, an engine, a transmission, and a steering wheel.

If the argument were for similarities between 1v1 (“French Rules”), I might be willing to concede that point. The problem is that I bet there are very few overlapping players between those two formats, since they take up roughly the same creative and competitive space. The flip side is that I believe the majority of the people finding Tiny Leaders are coming from Commander proper, because the two are inextricably tied together everywhere you look.

You people doing that need to stop. You’re in the process of tricking tons of unsuspecting players into something other than what they’re expecting, and that’s a format-killer in waiting.

Here’s the deal- the closest tie between the formats is the singleton nature. It creates the same illusion of randomness that exists in Commander, and the creators of the format have gone a long way towards protecting this ideal, banning cards that de-randomize like Demonic and Vampiric Tutor. It works to an extent, but the fact that decks are built with half as many cards (49 versus 99) also effectively halves the randomness.

Simply put, it wasn’t hard to find the effect you wanted out of 100-card decks, and it’s even easier now.

The use of Commanders is a big point of defense here, but it’s roughly a red herring at best, and the inherent design constraints and competitive nature of the format are the reason why. In Commander proper, the commander itself offers the deck an identity and (usually) a theme. In a competitive format, a commander offers a color identity and (possibly) a reusable resource.

If these sound similar, go ahead and build a cool goblins tribal deck, and then sit down against your buddy with the net-decked Geist of Saint Traft deck. You’ll see what I mean.

We’ll come back to this point in a bit. Right now, I want to hit the other myth I often hear.

Myth #2 – “TL is basically Legacy-lite.”

No. The two formats share the word ‘competitive’, and that’s it.

The hallmark of Legacy is not the raw power (that’s Vintage), but the consistency. Brainstorm is legal as a four-of; this should be all you need to know if you know nothing else. Tiny Leaders has no consistency in comparison, other than what you can build into a deck through similar card effects.

Sorry, folks. It is certainly uprated in power in a lot of ways – again, we’ll come back to this as well – but Legacy it isn’t.

Strangely enough, this might be a saving grace. The combination of the limitation in casting cost and singleton deck construction means that it is still pretty random, and also that you can’t raw-dog single-card solutions like “Tinker-into-game-winner.” (And yes…Tinker is legal! Sadly, there’s not much to Tinker for under four mana, and good luck with the tempo loss if you do.)

What this does mean is that Legacy players are going to feel really put off by a slower, more limited and not-remotely more powerful format, and they won’t ‘get it.’ For those of you singing the praises of the format, I’d probably stop using this comparison too.

Let’s go back to “competitive” for a second. As I said above, this *isn’t* Commander, and ‘competitive’ is exactly why. This is the exact wrong format for the dedicated EDH fan, for reasons we all know. It’s not a quirky miniature version of the game we know and love. It’s a format where deck identity goes out the window, and people revert to playing what wins. And this is exactly as it should be, for the record; that’s what you do when you play competitively – “win.”

I won’t say that’s the polar opposite of what you should be doing when you play EDH, but…well, you’re here, and you know what GeneralDamageControl stands for. True Commander is about the journey, not the destination. Tiny Leaders is all destination.

So…what is it then, and who’s playing it?

 

MY (SHORT) JOURNEY INTO TINY LEADERS

I was very skeptical of trying this format out. As a dedicated Commander player, I simply don’t tend to get involved with sub-formats that, to my eyes, kind of take a swing at both sides of the river without committing to either.

However, the crazy hype I was hearing – some from other members of the GDC family – got me looking at it. This is approximately where my past life took over.

I took a break from Magic in general right around the time I got married, back in 2005. (Give or take a few years in either direction.) I was living with my wife and concentrating on wife-type things. Also, she isn’t a gamer, so in order to spend time with her, something had to go.

And prior to that, the “something” was straight competitive bloodlust. I was an FNM regular during Kamigawa block, playing everything from Emminent Domain to Yosei/Greater Good lock decks to U/R Tron. Before *that*, I was a dedicated Legacy combo player; Trix, Belcher, Storm…you name it, and if it was designed to be non-interactive and quick, I was all over it.

Before *that*, I played Vintage. I’ve owned two different playsets of Power in my life, and when the local scene was winding down, it was right about the time I was crushing people with Long.dec.

I even won a local tournament way back in the day with the infamous “Black Lotus, Channel, Fireball, 20 to the face before you get to draw your first card!” play. (It was a little kid playing a random pile of dragons. I’m not ashamed.)

In recent years, I’ve come back around to playing Legacy again, and I keep a few decks together and go to the odd event to scratch the competitive itch. I’ve managed to proxy Power to put together a few Vintage decks as well. The shop I play at has several players who enjoy both formats. So, when Dave brought up Tiny Leaders, and made it very clear it was a competitive format, I went with the first thing that came to mind.

[Deck title=Sydri, Galvanic Genius]

[Spells]
Spell Crumple
Muddle the Mixture
Dromar’s Charm
Cancel
Counterspell
Hinder
Thirst for Knowledge
Frantic Search
Sensei’s Divining Top
Sphinx’s Revelation
Brainstorm
Ponder
Lim-Dul’s Vault
Blue Sun’s Zenith
Elixir of Immortality
Expedition Map
Black Sun’s Zenith
Toxic Deluge
Engineered Explosives
Swords to Plowshares
Dismember
Chainer’s Edict
Thopter Foundry
Sword of the Meek
Staff of Domination
Grim Monolith
Power Artifact[/Spells]

[Creatures]
Trinket Mage
Snapcaster Mage
Baleful Strix[/Creatures]

[Lands]
Reflecting Pool
Command Tower
Arcane Sanctum
Tundra
Underground Sea
Hallowed Fountain
Watery Grave
Flooded Strand
Bloodstained Mire
Polluted Delta
Academy Ruins
Maze of Ith
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Swamp
2 Plains
2 Island[/Lands][/Deck]

I went deep into the three best control colors in the format, grabbing the best counter magic and removal I could find. I added a ton of draw and card filtering, and a Trinket Mage package that can find a little bit of everything. It has the strongest spot removal, plenty of board wipes to manage Hexproof creatures (Geist!) and armies of elves, and an artifact recursion package to take advantage of things like repeated EE activations, and recurring Baleful Strix.

On top of that, it goes straight for combo to win. In the main deck, it has the venerable Thopter/Sword combo (both pieces can be found with Muddle the Mixture), and it runs Grim Monolith and Power Artifact to fuel an infinite Blue Sun’s Zenith. (Laboratory Maniac can come in from the board.)

It’s not necessarily the best build, but it’s pretty strong, and pretty competitive. One point of contention that has the EDH player in me sad and illustrates my point above is that it could care less if Sydri ever sees play.

 

AND THEN IT BROKE MR P…

I was able to play two games with it last week at EDH Night. Tons of people came out of the woodwork with Tiny Leaders decks, which speaks to the buzz. I got to the shop early, and sat down immediately with Asa and his new Alesha, Who Smiles at Death deck.

Now, I don’t in any way mean this as a slight to Asa or his deck at all, but I felt like I was in the driver’s seat the whole game. I let him table minor creatures, but killed or countered Alesha on sight. I was able to naturally put together Thopter/Sword by about turn seven, and he never got through my defenses again. I went from zero to four to eight to sixteen thopters over four turns, and that was game.

Next up, I played Mr. P with his Doran, the Siege Tower deck. I think this game turned out to be responsible for him immediately quitting the format.

Again, I was able to play the control role, letting him stick equipment but not Doran. I countered it once, hit it with Swords to Plowshares once, and flashed Swords back again with Snapcaster Mage. I got half the Thopter/Sword combo out, and he scooped in disgust.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I know, I know. That’s a small subset of games to base an entire opinion around. And I agree…but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels relatively ‘solved’ to me at this point. I don’t fear Geist or Ezuri; both games and numerous goldfishes have proven to me that I can have a board wipe in hand or enough additional removal and counters to manage anything until I can find a combo. This takes me back to the old days of Vintage ‘Keeper’ – play the control role, overload on card advantage, find the quick win package.

And therein lies the problem for me. Mr. P is the best example of a dedicated, pure EDH player I know, and he soured on the format in five minutes. He would readily admit that the Doran deck he showed up with was built with a Commander mindset, and I think a lot of players will do the same thing.

Those players will not fare well in the face of a dedicated competitive build.

And since we’re talking competitive games, there are no excuses or apologies. I built a monster to answer the format in the best way that I know how, and the rules support me. This gets back to what I said waaaaaaaaay up top – it isn’t Commander, and it isn’t really aimed at Commander players.

To complicate things, after Mr. P and I got done, we played a game of Legacy. My Miracles deck went toe to toe with his freshly-unbanned Worldgorger Dragon Reanimator deck, losing a very close game after keeping Counterbalance/Sensei’s Divining Top on the table for a while, trading Brainstorms and Force of Wills, Terminus-ing a Snapcaster Mage, going on the offensive with my own, and using Top and multiple fetchland activations to counter Dig Through Time with a Counterbalance trigger revealing my one singleton Dig. It was awesome, epic, and filled with power plays and streamlined builds that did a great job of trading threats and answers.

It was precise and powerful, which is the exact opposite of the competitive spectrum from Tiny Leaders, which feels more like a pairing between two really strong draft decks – just random enough that it seems interesting, but redundant enough that patterns will emerge and certain things will be solvable.

 

So…who is this format for?

 

It’s not Commander players. Not dedicated ones anyway. 50 additional cards is a lot of space for awesome things, and there’s a whole world of stuff out there that costs four or greater. Plus, who wants to end games in a hurry, anyway?

It’s not Legacy players. Sure, no-one needs playsets of dual lands or Liliana or Jace or Force of Will, so it is cheaper…but don’t confuse that for something that will provide a similar feel. It’s far too random and limited to capture true Eternal players.

I guess the perfect demographic is somewhere past that. Maybe it’s Modern or Standard players who want something different once in a while, but aren’t really into building 100-card decks. Maybe it’s the fringe Commander players; people coming down from 1v1 competitive French rules, or growing tired of EDH as it stands.

Maybe it’s casual players. Dunno.

As for me? I’ll keep Sydri together. I may tweak the list from time to time. But I’m just down to play games, and if I have a deck that matches a challenge, I’m in. If I’m making the decision, though, this thing stays in the bag until Commander is done and I’ve had a fill of Legacy and Vintage.

Cass
@GDCCommander