With so many people talking about the new Brawl format, I thought I should take a look at another Commander-like format that surged in popularity not that long ago: Tiny Leaders.
Some of you may remember Tiny Leaders from a few years ago; it only lasted a few months in the spotlight, but it still has a small following. The basic idea behind the format was effectively a smaller version of Commander; you could only use low-cost cards, and decks were smaller. Here are the basics:
Tiny Leaders follows the rules for Commander (it is a singleton, colour identity format) with the following exceptions:
– Decks are exactly 50 cards, including the Commander.
– No card may have a converted mana cost (CMC) higher than 3.
– Your starting life total is 25.
– Commander Damage is not tracked.
Tiny Leaders also has its own banned list that can be found here. Cards like Sol Ring and Counterbalance proved too good for the format, so were banned almost as soon as the format was created. Over the years a few other cards have been added to the list, like Edric, Spymaster of Trest, and Sword of Body and Mind, but while testing still happens, there haven’t been a lot of big changes to the banned list.
What the Format Tries To Do
Tiny Leaders set out to be a competitive 1v1 format, like a lighter version of Legacy. By cutting off access to any spell with a converted mana cost of 4 or more it removes a lot of the “nonsense” that comes up in Commander games and slows everything down. As a result, Tiny Leaders games are much faster to play, with the action starting as early as turn 1. There is a lot less build-up during the early turns, unlike Commander games that often start with several rounds of “land, go” or a string of mana rocks and nothing else. That said, because Tiny Leaders uses the Command Zone and colour-identity rules from Commander, it still had a lot of the flavorful gameplay elements of its parent format.
Big Variety in Small Decks
Building a Tiny Leaders deck is a remarkably unique challenge. Despite the reduced card pool compared to Legacy or Commander, there are still a wide variety of viable strategies. Faster aggro decks, like Soldiers and Goblins, do quite well, but they are by no means the only options. Combo and Control decks all have strong showings, even if the format lacks a lot of the typical big finishers and board sweepers players have come to expect for these sorts of decks. Cards like Toxic Deluge and Anger of the Gods give control decks a lot of ways of clearing the board, and spells like Blue Sun’s Zenith and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver are great payoffs for these decks. Control decks might have to be a bit more creative with what they include compared to aggro strategies (which usually run a lot of low-cost cards anyway), but there is no shortage of options. Each archetype has enough tools to function, which might seem a bit surprising at first.
My First Tiny Leaders Deck:
Fighting for the Same Audience
One of the challenges Tiny Leaders faced was that it was trying to fill a niche shared by a lot of other formats. 1v1 Commander, Pauper, and Canadian Highlander all have a similar “Legacy-but-with-limitations” gameplay to them, and Tiny Leaders didn’t already have an established audience.
Not everyone was convinced that the casting cost restriction of Tiny Leaders was a good idea. Some players I knew weren’t interested in even trying the format because their favourite cards cost 4 or more mana, which was really too bad. I can’t help but feel that they would have enjoyed themselves if they had only given it a try. With its truly unique card pool, Tiny Leaders plays very differently from any other format, yet still retains the feel of formats like Pauper, Legacy and Commander.
I still love to build Tiny Leaders decks. Brewing a new deck for this format is so different; not only do I only have to look at low-cost cards to include, which makes the process much faster, but knowing that the threats I will face are similarly costed means I need to seriously reevaluate cards that I might have otherwise dismissed.
Because most of what you face are 1- or 2-cost spells in Tiny Leaders, you need to keep that in mind when building your own deck. Your removal needs to be efficient, and your deck needs to have early answers. You learn quickly in this format just how slow a deck full of 3-cost cards is, and how valuable 1-mana spells can be. Finding other uses for your mana is also very handy, since it isn’t unreasonable to play out your entire hand in the first few turns. This all takes quite a bit of getting used to after building so many Commander decks, which often get bloated with big spells. With only a 50 card deck you also have to be very particular with what cards you include; there is very little room for useless cards, so versatile answers are also worth considering.
Recently, I decided to build a Hope of Ghirapur deck for Tiny Leaders. When putting it together I came across the card Ramroller, an unimpressive 2/3 for 3 that has to attack each turn. It does becomes a 4/3 if you have another artifact, which is why I considered it in the first place. Ramroller wasn’t great in the Magic Origins Limited environment, and it never saw Standard play. It’s not good enough for Modern, and it’s too small for Commander, so it seems like an unlikely addition to any deck. All that said, for Tiny Leaders it is a surprisingly large creature. There aren’t many 4/3 creatures at 3 mana or less, especially outside of green, so even with its drawbacks this little Juggernaut has some potential. It’s not a great card by any means, but in Tiny Leaders it gets to be a big fish in a little pond.
My Latest Tiny Leaders Deck:
A Small Hope
Better Than Ever
When Tiny Leaders was created, there were a lot of legendary creatures to choose from. In the years since, countless more 1-, 2- and 3-cost legends have seen print, plus we have several new Planeswalkers and impactful cards to boot. Cards like Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Bontu’s Last Reckoning are well worth considering, not to mention Fatal Push and Baffling End, which seem almost made for the format. The release of Dominaria is only adding more great things to an already diverse card pool. Steel Leaf Champion and Benalish Marshal are nothing to scoff at, and the handful of new low-cost legendary creatures in the set will provide the backbone for a number of new decks. It’s a great time to be brewing, especially for Tiny Leaders.
What About Brawl?
One of the big appeals of Tiny Leaders is how quick it is; building decks takes less time, and games are also relatively short. Brawl is looking to be similar in that respect; putting together a Brawl deck doesn’t take long at all, and by all accounts Brawl games play quickly, too.
I have a few misgivings about Brawl, mostly because I prefer formats that don’t rotate, but it reminds me enough of Tiny Leaders that I’m willing to give it a shot. Both formats present themselves as “Commander without the nonsense,” and both strive to be formats that encourage players to use cards they would otherwise dismiss. Tiny Leaders is especially good at both of these things, and it looks like Brawl might be decent at it, too. It certainly has the simplified-Commander aspect down, but it remains to be seen just how diverse the format will end up being. Cards that are popular in Standard will naturally see play in Brawl, and while the Singleton rule means players will include some less-used cards, I fear we’ll see more Scarab Gods and Rekindling Phoenixes than I would like.
It’s hard to say how it will ultimately play out, but I am cautiously optimistic for Brawl. Because it has official support from Wizards of the Coast it will probably have more staying power than Tiny Leaders, but only time will tell.
So, full disclosure, one of the big reasons Tiny Leaders is so close my my heart is that I knew Bram and Steven, the people who came up with the format. They did an excellent job, and I highly encourage everyone to build a deck or two and try it out. My Nin, the Pain Artist mill deck was one of the first decks ever built for Tiny Leaders, and I keep it in my collection with pride. It’s gone through a few changes to keep it up to date, but it’s still the same basic deck I started with all those years ago.
Until next time, I hope you keep Tiny Leaders in mind when you see a spell that costs 3 or less. I think you’d be surprised at how many sweet cards are legal in this great little format!