Hello! This week on Fat Stacks we are going to discuss the new format that has everyone talking – Tiny Leaders. This 1v1 Commander variant attempts to make something that is more fast-paced in scope than the typical Duel / French Commander format by limiting the converted mana cost of the cards...and of course, the smaller 50 card deck size.
There are really three major differences that set this format apart from French – every card in the deck must be three CMC or less, players start at 25 life, and the deck only has 50 cards in it (49 with the commander). There is also a separate ban list that hits so many cards that I think should be banned in traditional multiplayer Commander, including Skullclamp, Survival of the Fittest, and Demonic Tutor. According to the Tiny Leaders web page, the bannings are based on empirical data, which is one of the reasons I think the French list is so interesting in the first place.
Probably my favorite part about the ban list is the Sword of Body and Mind...just let that sink in a bit. SoBaM is banned, and none of the other Swords are. I mean, I get why SoBaM is banned and all – mill is actually one the strongest archetypes in Tiny Leaders – but we are talking about OP cards like Sword of Feast and Famine / Fire and Ice, etc. Normally, there is no comparison.
|Sword of Body and Mind||
Okay, so what to think about this format? At 50 cards we are dealing with slightly new design space, especially when we are talking Commander. Limited decks are usually 40, Standard and such are 60, and we have 100 for Commander, so basically we should just kind of guess-timate our land count on the average of the two standard land counts – 17 for limited and 20-24ish in 60x4 for mid-range – or the halfsies of Commander's 40. Luckily, 50 cards is much easier to math than 40 or 60, so if we have something like 20 lands, which is roughly 2/5, we should be getting two to three lands in the starting hand, and should see land four by the third draw. Not bad.
Actually, the fourth land brings up an interesting subject – the decks don't technically need four lands. Everything can be cast by the third land drop. So hitting the fourth land really just means that we have lands to spare, or we can cast multiple spells a turn. There is also the whole commander tax idea still, so I suppose the lands will help keep tempo with the commanders themselves.
I am pretty well known for being a fan of the French Commander scene, mainly because it lead to a lot of technology and combinations that even the most try-hard of multiplayers didn't think of. I hold regular French tournaments at my stores, and I have a bunch of decks built with their ban list in mind. Though I was excited about the new deck lists, play styles, and synergies that French brings, actually playing in a French tournament was a bit of a nightmare.
At 100 cards, most decks were pretty inconsistent, especially because 100 cards is usually harder to shuffle properly. Even with the most perfect mana base possible with no expenses spared, hitting the colors needed was problematic, if you even got the mana at all. Mulligans down to two or three cards was pretty normal, and this lead to lop-sided games, some of which took way too long. I started with an hour-long round, and even then, games went to time often...the grinding Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck that I played could easily take 40 minutes on one game.
I always knew the French format needed some work, but I couldn't really think of any house rules that would speed things up, while not changing the entire format. All of my main problems with the French format come from the huge deck, and I think Tiny Leaders 50 card deck size is going to fix just about all of those problems. 50 cards should be much more consistent, as the chances of drawing the right card / land are basically doubled. I suspect games will go slightly faster, but I would require a lot of testing to make that claim. I am tempted to say that a lot of the slower strategies have high-CMC cards, but there are also not a lot of power cards to hammer home a victory, and most counter-magic is three CMC or less. I can imagine games where neither player really has any moves left, because they both have Brimaz, King of Oreskos out or something.
The three-CMC clause felt very artificial at first, but I can see how it is an easy enough concept to enforce that drastically limits the power level of the format. It is not necessarily the perfect answer, because MTG in general has not been designed with a three-CMC limit in mind. The ban list helps a lot, but cards like Abrupt Decay or Smother are just plain sick.
The hardest part to swallow of the whole CMC barrier is the fact that the choice in 'Leaders' is fairly limited. I need to pick up infinite copies of Sygg, River Cutthroat, because that is the only UB legend in the format, and everyone wants to try UB mill. Even worse, some color combinations cannot be played at all with a legitimate legend, such as Jeskai colors, Sultai, or Mardu (until Fate Reforged comes out). There are built in rules to create a sort of stand-in legend – a generic 2/2 for the three relevant mana.
When it comes down to it though, I have plenty of legends that are three or less to cast, so it is not a big deal. Actually, when I start thinking about all the interesting decks to make, my head starts to spin. Before we get to a deck, there is another musing I wanted to share on the format.
Maybe I am a total dork, but the 50-card deck is very attractive to me because you can sleeve the whole thing on a single pack of Legion / Ultra-Pro 50 counts. You almost always have to buy two to sleeve any non-Limited deck. Ultra-Pro has those 80 packs that they release alongside the new MTG releases, and they are always the worst when you want to sleeve a Commander deck. The 50 card stack will also fit into more deck boxes, and maybe the double-sleeved version will fit into a normal box. I am a huge sucker for cool sleeves and deck boxes.
Now, when it came time to settle on a legend to test the waters with, I went with old faithful – Omnath, Locus of Mana. He can win by himself, and solves the issue of wasted mana past the third land. The main problem is that a lot of the decks key cards are gone, but since I also have to cut 49 cards, it all works out.
One way to use all the mana, (and break the Tiny Leaders format), is to pack a lot of X spells. For green, this translates into Genesis Wave, and Hydras. G-Wave and Hydras are actually a non-bo together, but these options are just so strong in a small format that I can't resist. In went Lifeblood Hydra, Primordial Hydra, Hooded Hydra and of course, Genesis Hydra.
Oh, that is something I haven't even mentioned yet...there is a 10 card sideboard for Tiny Leaders! This is very interesting, considering that there are a lot of really cool color-hosers in green, like Choke, or Thelon's Chant.
I went with 18 total lands in the deck, including the Dryad Arbor. This may end up being a low number for the deck, but I am hoping that the Rofellos, Arbor / Zenith combo, Wall of Roots, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Treefolk Harbinger can fix me to three.
One byproduct of the low-mana needs of the format is that there is a lot of room for cards like Wasteland and Tectonic Edge. With Crucible of Worlds legal, I can see the entire metagame hinging around hitting Wasteland and Crucible to lockout complex mana bases. This strategy works double-time in a green deck, because although we lose access to Oracle of Mul Daya, we still have Exploration, and if we want to be greedy, Azusa, Lost but Seeking.
Speaking of the lands, I decided to scale back on the deck-thinning fetch lands. I am kind of worried about the presence of mill in the format, and in general I will be more than happy to free up copies of Verdant Catacomb / Misty Rainforest.
I had another build for today, but my laptop froze last night, and I lost the deck list. I will save it for later...I would say next week, but I think we will be wrapped up in Fate Reforged for a while. That one Mardu legend is definitely on my list of things to build...maybe a Mardu Tiny Leaders deck?
Thanks for reading!
- Cassidy Silver
FatStacksEDH (at) gmail (dot) com