Everybody’s on about hashtag Tiny Leaders of late. We (Alex and Dave) each independently dove into the format and then thought we’d come together to offer some thoughts on what the big deal is – discussed in question and answer form.
1. What’s the deal with this thing they call Tiny Leaders?
Dave: It’s EDH but 49 plus a commander instead of 99, you have 25 life, it has its own banned list, and every card must have a converted mana cost of three or less. Check out the full rules and banned list here.
Alex: Dave pretty much summed it up perfectly. I am not really in love with the name “Tiny Leaders.” It doesn’t tell you what the format is by its name. How about this suggestion: “Pygmy Elder Dragon Highlander?”
What do think about the Tiny Leader name Dave, would you keep it the same or change it?
D: Hah. Your point is a good one. Tiny Leaders doesn’t mean much out of context, but then again, neither does Commander. “Elder Dragon Highlander, on the other hand”… Slap a “Pygmy” on there and it’s about as perfectly descriptive as can be.
2. So what’s the big deal? Is it even fun? Why is picking up some other casual format worth my time?
D: I have played exactly six games and found it extremely fun. I got hosed by Eight-and-a-Half-Tails while playing Squee, Goblin Nabob goblins (Story Circle is a beating), and had an interesting back-and-forth against thrown-together Alesha, Who Smiles at Death piloted by East Coast Commander’s Jon Pflug, beating my Nin, the Pain Artist counterburn.
The big deal is playing with a ton of cards EDH players don’t normally sleeve up, made viable by the combination of a Legacy-esque curve and the singleton requirement. Goblin Grenade, Burst Lightning, and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in the same list? Yes please. It’s also great because if you already have decent EDH mana, your mana is fine, and being singleton means you don’t need to spring for three more Volcanic Islands.
A: I am jumping aboard of the Tiny Leaders hype train. I love playing Legacy, because of the fast pace and wide array of strategies. The problem with Legacy is the barrier to entry makes it incredibly unobtainable for most magic players. Tiny Leader is the offspring of EDH and Legacy, with faster paced games than EDH and the availability of your general at all times.
I briefly introduced the format to several members of the playgroup and it’s taken off in our local game store. We play it during downtime when a couple of us get knocked out early in a Commander game. The games are a nice change of pace and it’s refreshing to have the early game matter compared to EDH.
3. What is the gameplay experience like?
D: Games are, predictably, must closer to cube. More removal than draft, less consistency than Legacy, less variance than EDH, and more of an emphasis on tempo and resource/board control. This is chiefly because you only have to deal 25 damage to win, not whether the dealing of at least 120 damage (three opponents at a four-person EDH table). But also, lower CMC makes ramp less of a thing, so games start off right away. You do need to think about mana sinks such as good activated abilities or X spells, which makes the mid-to-late game more interesting than what you might imagine if you’re envisioning the Legacy burn mirror on turns six and later.
This piece from CommanderCast offers a more detailed look at gameplay. It’s great.
A: The games feel like playing a Brainstorm-less Legacy deck. Creature combat or direct damage is likely your main win condition. Tutors and Fetchlands can reduce variance in the games. The prime consistency factor is that you always have your general as your ace in the hole. Like multiplayer Commander, your general can be threat, an engine, or a combo piece.
I can’t stress enough that your starting hand in Tiny Leaders matters as to whether you win or lose. As Dave mentioned, Tiny Leaders is a game of managing resources and tempo advantage. Having plays in the first three turns in this format really matters more than it does in a regular game of Commander. The early game can set the course of victory, or you can flounder against your opponent’s threats if you don’t have early creatures or answers.
4. The best things about TL?
D: It’s perfect for a few games when you’re eliminated and waiting to shuffle up for more Commander; you get to play weird cards you couldn’t fit into any other casual format you like, such as Mindswipe; and the super low barrier to entry – deck: just use the low curve parts of your EDH deck plus your old Bolts and Doom Blades; play: just bring two decks and ask anyone else to shuffle up with you while waiting. It’ll only take 15 minutes – mean you can experiment a lot, quickly, to satiate a desire for variety easily.
A: I would like to highlight two cards that are dreadful in Commander, yet are some of my favorite cards in Tiny Commander. Hymn to Tourach just doesn’t offer enough value in a multiplayer commander game, but in a 1v1, focused Tiny Leaders game, it’s pure panic in the early game. Mother of Runes or Mom is a staple in the Legacy scene, but Mom usage in Commander is limited, because she is weak to board wipes. However in Tiny Leaders, Mom is nearly unkillable if you untap with her , and she offers protection to the rest of your squad.
Dave, what are some of your favorites cards in Tiny Leader so far?
Well I’m loving that Hidden Horror and Hewed Stone Retainers are big enough to be relevant, making their size-to-downside totally worthwhile. I’ve also found slinging good-ole Lightning Bolt quite fulfilled, and I don’t get to do that very often.
5. What about the format doesn’t work for you?
D: First off, all the random bounce – not coupled with good early threats – really didn’t work in my Nin deck. More importantly, as someone who rarely drafts and almost exclusively plays EDH, my TinyLeaders deck-building and tuning skills are DU-ullll. And I can imagine those growing pains being frustrating if you have to spend a lot of time getting to the card shop, or don’t have an awesome, close playgroup of friends to experiment. Also, for people who play Vintage or Legacy (or Modern) regularly, it won’t have the same scratching-a-slightly-more-competitive-pacing-itch benefit that it does for me.
A: Dave noted earlier that you have 25 starting life. In the games that I’ve played, the extra five life buffer really makes a difference for combo or control players against aggro decks. I think the five extra life might be a bit too much advantage for control and combo players as it gives them an extra turn to stabilize or set up their game ending combos. In my next games, I might consider bringing starting life down to 20 and to how games are affected.
Dave do you have any thoughts on the starting life total at 25?
I think 25 is actually great. It puts a bit of space between how Cube games play out and how Tiny Leaders games do. In the larger host of Tiny Leaders meta-games, many people talk about Ezuri, Renegade Leader aggro and Geist of Saint Traft aggro being among the best, so empirically I don’t think it unbalances the format in favor of control or combo. However, I do think building a good aggro deck is quite difficult in Tiny Leaders because it’s tough to find a good density of mana-efficient early drops in the singleton format.
6. So what would a list look like?
D: 17 to 20 lands and the rest is you. Most of my sketches are 20 to 28 creatures, and two to 12 other spells, notably including zero to one ramp spell (unless your elves), a lot more built in card advantage, and more of an emphasis on resilient threats plus answers than on reanimation and card draw. Here’s my current version of Athreos, God of Passage Value Aggro.
A: I came into Tiny Leaders with the perspective of a Legacy deck builder rather than an EDH deck builder. In general, I am a fairly competitive player at heart. Tiny Leaders allows me play with some of the most powerful cards in magic history that aren’t staples or very common in multiplayer Commander. My current Tiny Leaders deck is commanded by Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. The strategy is akin to “Death and Taxes” in Legacy, which is a mono white small creature deck with control elements. My Tiny Leaders D&T equivalent follows the same principles as the Legacy deck; you play creatures and turn them sideways with sprinkling of removal. Here’s the list.
Saturday Ninja Edit – After a few very good questions from friends, Redditors, and Twits (is that the right name?), it seemed prudent to add the following two questions and answers as well.
7. Why play TL instead of any other 60 card format, especially just playing Legacy or Modern?
Three things make TL different than a 60-card format and make it appealing to me: being singleton with a unique card pool based on being Vintage plus its own ban list makes it both cheaper than Legacy or Modern, and more open to oddball cards; you have a commander, which is an essential part of the deck’s card advantage, and character, which is fun; and your deck must have a color identity – I love restrictions.
8. Isn’t this just Legacy, aka a purely competitive format that lacks the casual joy of EDH?
The answer here is a firm “no-with-an-asterix.” The expectation for EDH is that games go longer because winning requires three or more other people losing – note that it’s not because you’re “supposed” to play expensive fatties, have no early game, or “be friendly and casual.” Those are normative misconceptions people have, which may exist in specific playgroups but are not univerally accepted, unwritten rules. This expectation means you can walk up with a middling-power EDH deck and expect to have a fun game most of the time.
That expectation is absent in Tiny Leaders. HOWEVER, and this is the MOST IMPORTANT PART, your playgroup’s preferences matter more than any of these generalizations. Tiny Leaders is only as cut-throat as everyone in your group wants it to be. Just like Commander.
I will say that if what you love about EDH and want from other formats is long, slow games, lots of ramping and not really interacting in the early and moving into the mid-game, and slinging wraths and expensive fatties until life totals whittle down to zero, plus a lot of politics thrown in, this format may not be for you.
By way of a conclusion, I (Dave) would like to share the highlights of a conversation with Cassidy, who has been trying very hard to care about Tiny Leaders for at least a week, but until this conversation didn’t really couldn’t grok it’s value.
Cass: I guess the trick for me is going to be finding a general I can use that supports a strong game plan, and hopefully that game plan can win but is also cool. Something like Ertai All Counters or Maralen Combo would remind me and everyone else really quick that we should just be playing one V1 French or legacy instead.
I think what I need is a way to make some representation of old-school Vintage keeper. Some sort of a control and removal shell with good card advantage , but with some sort of off the wall win con.
Cass: Hmmm…that’s interesting. I like those options.
Dave:The zenith’s are amazing. Blue Sun’s Zenith feels like cheating when you chain them together, like
Cass: wait, is [card]Grim Monolith">Sphinx’s Revelation[/card[ in last year’s Standard. And it’s great with Lab Maniac.
Cass: wait, is [card]Grim Monolith banned? No, right? So… Grim + Power Artifact and zenith.
And Staff of Domination is legal?
Me: YES IT IS
Cass: Oh man… 🙂 I’m stoked to build. Like right now
So yeah. Scratch a new itch.
Love Dave and Alex.
• Tiny Leaders is on Facebook
• And Reddit
• And Twitter
• MTG Salvation – Just use the search. There are a lot of good discussions there (despite Sean’s strong caveat about using strong judgment about filtering.