Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Go Tiny or Go Home


     Do you sense that fluster on the horizon? There's a sudden chill in the air and a crackle in the distance. I sense we're about to be swept up in the middle of a perfect storm. What the heck am I talking about? Tiny Leaders™, of course! Welcome back to another installment of Casual Corner, brought to you by the fine folks at Fanatix. Today, as we examine the latest craze in the Magic community, I use the term "casual" in the sense that we're discussing a non-sanctioned format, but make no mistake, Tiny Leaders™ can be very high-octane and lends itself very well to Spikey players, particularly those that like to brew. If you're not yet familiar with Tiny Leaders™, let's take a quick look at the ins and outs of the format, examine some of the interesting deck building implications, and, of course, look at a few decks.

                First of all, Tiny Leaders™ is a EDH/Commander variant, which means that many of the core tenants of EDH are still present. Namely, you still construct singleton decks that fit within your commander's color identity. What's different? The most impactful rule is that all of your cards, including your commander, must have a converted mana cost of less than 4. Whoa. Did your mind lurch as you envision exactly what that does to your card choices? This rules especially places a considerable constraint on the players, but I've found the process of mining the card pool for format gems to be extremely interesting. Additionally, the deck size is set at 50 (forty-nine plus your commander) and the life totals begin at 25. As you may have guessed based on these criteria, the format is meant to be played in a duel (1v1) setting. The format also has a banned list in place to address cards that are considered format warping or lead to degenerate deck construction. The format's creator, Bram Tackaberry, along with other invested colleagues of his, maintain the official rules and banned list at the Tiny Leaders™ home page. I'd recommend giving it a visit to check out the FAQ, the Banned List, and just to stay on top of the latest news.

                Alright, maybe you're skeptical. I mean EDH is great. Really great. EDH allows you to do obscene things to lots of opponents. I'd never advocate ditching EDH. I would, however, recommend a little shake up every now and again and I've found the compact and efficient Tiny Leaders™ scuffles to be the perfect partner to complement the mighty EDH haymaker brawls. Here, I'd like to take a second to explain why I think Tiny Leaders™ is so sweet.


                Despite the ceiling on the mana cost, the cards swimming around in the Tiny Leaders™ card pool are packed with a lot of power. As you might expect, many of the best cards in the format are Legacy staples. Legacy is known for its highly-efficient cards, with entire decks composed of one and two mana spells. However, when you mix in the singleton nature of the format, you're forced to diversify your cards and go hunting for other options that allow you to maintain your core strategy. While this facet does increase the variance quite a bit, I think it serves as a benefit rather than a hindrance, as many of the decks are reminiscent of decks you might assemble during a Cube draft. Cube is an entirely different topic on its own, but it's an amazing format that allows you to explore the best of Magic's history. So, when you take some of the best ingredients from both Legacy and Cube and stir them together in a cauldron, throw in a pinch of ingenuity, you cook up the spicy dish that is Tiny Leaders™.


                Just as I said above, Tiny Leaders™ sometimes offers a Cube-esque experience, which is great. If you enjoy the intricacies of Limited Magic, I think you'll immediately latch on to Tiny Leaders™. The efficiency of the creatures spurs the games into motion quickly with tactical and strategic decisions having to be made very early. Aggressive, creature-based strategies are common, but they don't dominate completely. There are some very potent ones available though, to be sure. Even if you look no further than tribal decks there are some powerful options just among some of the classic tribes like Goblins, Merfolk, and Elves. Looking past the tribal options all manner of powerful aggressive strategies open up when commanders like Lyzolda, the Blood Witch, Isamaru, Hound of Konda, and Radha, Heir to Keld. Whichever color(s) you prefer to battle with, there's assuredly a compelling aggressive deck waiting to be built.

                Control decks appear to be quite viable too, but the brewers have to get creative if they are looking for mass creature removal. Rather than packing some of the tried and true "wrath" effects so common in EDH, control players in Tiny Leaders™ lean more heavily on damage-inflicting or -N/-N effects like those from Anger of the Gods or Drown in Sorrow. Luckily, those effects scale well with the average toughness of the available creatures, so the tensions among archetypes still strike a nice balance. To assist the control mage in their exploits, the spot removal in the format is unparalleled. With access to all of Magic's most efficient targeted removal, the options are varied and potent. Some of these reactionary spells are instilled with some extra effectiveness simply by virtue of the format's guiding criteria. Cards like Smother, Abrupt Decay, and Spell Snare were already plenty good, but in the arsenal of a Tiny Leader, they can spell one-for-one doom with unprecedented potency. If control strategies appeal to you, you'll find several commanders waiting readily for you. Toshiro Umezawa, Vendilion Clique, Sygg, River Cutthroat, and Geist of Saint Traft are all waiting for you to brew them up a home.

                I'm still pondering what exactly a mid-range deck looks like in Tiny Leaders™. I imagine it's one that relies more on early blocking and card advantage to stabilize and get ahead in the game, but whereas classic mid-range strategies have a powerful closer at the top of their curve (something akin to Broodmate Dragon or Elspeth, Sun's Champion), a mid-range deck in this format will have to be inventive in spotting just the right card(s) to reliably serve as a finisher. My hunch is that the format provides plenty of space to explore more "grindy" strategies. When I consider some of these possibilities, my mind immediately considers graveyard recursion. Traditionally, generating card advantage from the graveyard has been one of the hallmarks of mid-range decks and I suspect that will hold true in Tiny Leaders™ as well. With that strategic bent, I can see commanders like Varolz, the Scar-Striped, Hua Tuo, Honored Physician, or Feldon of the Third Path being a solid place to start.
                Combo decks don't get left out either. The Tiny Leaders™ Banned List does eliminate some of the most egregious enablers of combos like Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, and Hermit Druid, but there is no doubt room in the format for highly powerful synergies. Thanks to the variance presented by the singleton nature of the format, combinations deemed too strong for Modern like Sword of the Meek/Thopter Foundry, Vampire Hexmage/Dark Depths, and Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows are all fair game in Tiny Leader. These are just the tip of the iceberg, I'm sure. There are still some insanely powerful enablers and tutors available that I'm sure will be sure to assemble all manner of infinite shenanigans. Ezuri, Renegade Leader, along with some other Elf pieces, is among the combo commander options that can provide extremely resilient and redundant options for "comboing off." As the community begins collectively crunching down the permutations available in Tiny Leaders™, I really look forward to seeing what comes out of this camp of decks.

                One other interesting note about strategies: this format may serve as one of the most conducive for a mill deck to thrive. With a little extra padding on the life total and a slightly smaller library size, the ratios are ripe to rattle the format with this very popular alternate win condition. With cards like Glimpse the Unthinkable, Mind Grind, Windfall, and Prosperity legal, there may be a niche in the format for the strategy to catch some opponent's decks off guard.

Deck Design

                Perhaps my favorite function of Tiny Leaders™ is the way it unlocks cards that didn't previously have a place to shine. Much like EDH gives seven and eight mana spells an arena to dominate, Tiny Leaders™ provides the perfect setting for really cool and powerful cards that get edged out of other four-of Constructed formats and that aren't splashy enough to contend in EDH. It's been remarkably easy to construct decks for the format, too. A quick stroll through your binder and you're bound to find some cards that you've always thought would be awesome to play with, but just didn't quite serve the right role. Now they do. Grin wide as you sleeve up that Kor Outfitter, Ambassador Laquatus, Master of the Feast, Ghitu Slinger , and Scute Mob. They're the first among many of your cards that will now have a new home. On top of that, you also get to view cards in a new light. Certain classes of cards get an extra boost in the format, particularly X spells or cards with mechanics that let you grow the spell's effect to be larger than a three-mana spell would be. Cards that make use of kicker, or kicker variants like entwine, overload, and strive, get some extra mileage in Tiny Leaders™ because they allow you to cheat big effects under the CMC restriction. Sure, you can't pay 2BB for Damnation, but you can pay 3BBB to have Forced March do the same job. Finding new tools like this is among what makes exploring the card pool and the history of Magic so interesting. Speaking of the history of the game, I'd like to return back to my storm analogy from the introduction. It really did take a perfect storm for this format to exist. It required that Magic thrive for over 20 years, churning out interesting cards and reaching a critical mass of legendary creatures with CMC less than four. I don't know of other games with this kind of depth and longevity. I'm not sure there is another. It took a long time to get to the point where a format like Tiny Leaders™ can exist, let alone thrive, so I intend to enjoy it.

                Of course, it wouldn't be a Magic post without a few deck lists. I rounded up a few lists from some of the locals that have already embraced the format. Hopefully, these will give you a sense of the format's depth and diversity.

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden
by Jeremy Norsworthy
1 Akoum Refuge
1 Adaptive Automaton
1 AEther Vial
SB:  1 Aggravated Assault
1 Auntie's Hovel
1 Frenzied Goblin
1 Dragon Fodder
SB:  1 Blood Moon
1 Blood Crypt
1 Frogtosser Banneret
1 Dralnu's Crusade
SB:  1 Cover of Darkness
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Goblin Bushwhacker
1 Goblin Bombardment
SB:  1 Dreadbore
1 Dragonskull Summit
1 Goblin Chieftain
1 Krenko's Command
SB:  1 Engineered Plague
1 Graven Cairns
1 Goblin Deathraiders
1 Living End
SB:  1 Knucklebone Witch
6 Mountain
1 Goblin Guide
1 Quest for the Goblin Lord
SB:  1 Perish
1 Mutavault
1 Goblin King
1 Warren Weirding
SB:  1 Rain of Gore
3 Swamp
1 Goblin Matron
SB:  1 Shattering Spree
1 Tresserhorn Sinks
1 Goblin Rabblemaster
SB:  1 Spikeshot Elder
1 Urborg Volcano
1 Goblin Ruinblaster
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
1 Goblin Warchief
1 Legion Loyalist
1 Mad Auntie
1 Sensation Gorger
1 Skirk Drill Sergeant
1 Skirk Prospector
1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
1 Stingscourger
1 Tuktuk the Explorer
1 Warren Instigator
1 Weirding Shaman

I love how deep Jeremy goes on this deck, really exploring some of the lesser-known black Goblins that Lorwyn block had to offer and finding some awesomely obscure cards like Dralnu's Crusade. Plus, Grenzo is just ridiculous as a Tiny Leader, scaling beyond the CMC cap and providing a rather absurd source of card advantage with his "dungeon raid" ability. 

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave
by David Sirkis

3 Snow Covered Swamp
1 Deathrite Shaman
1 Duress
SB: 1 Autumn's Veil
3 Snow Covered Forest
1 Birds of Paradise
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
SB: 1 Carpet of Flowers
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Elves of Deep Shadow
1 Thoughtsieze
SB: 1 Deglamer
1 Polluted Delta
1 Diregraf Ghoul
1 Rancor
SB: 1 Chainer's Edict
1 Verdant Catacomb
1 Carnophage
1 Sylvan Library
SB: 1 Krosan Grip
1 Treetop Village
1 Gravecrawler
1 Smallpox
SB: 1 Sudden Death
1 Mutavault
1 Dark Confidant
1 Smother
SB: 1 Engineered Plague
1 Bayou
1 Lotleth Troll
1 Abrupt Decay
SB: 1 Triumph of Ferosity
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Bloodghast
1 Victim of Night
SB: 1 Toxic Deluge
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Hymn to Tourach
SB: 1 Pernicious Deed
1 Command Tower
1 Putrid Leech
1 Dark Tutelage
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Varolz, the Scar-Striped
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Wasteland
1 Terravore
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Eternal Witness
1 Putrefy
1 Courser of Kruphix
1 Lilianna of the Veil

David's take on Skullbriar very likely qualifies as mid-range in this format. His list reads like the Hall of Fame of Black and/or Green cards with so many cards looking to generate tremendous value either through raw power or recursion. This deck looks extremely resilient to me and I'm guessing it has pretty good game in most matchups. 

Brimaz, King of Oreskos
by Garret Darley

1 Windbrisk Heights
1 Mirran Crusader
1 Brave the Elements
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Kor Sanctifiers
1 Mobilization
1 Eiganjo Castle
1 Elite Vanguard
1 Spear of Heliod
1 Kjeldoran Outpost
1 Precinct Captain
1 Path to Exile
1 Secluded Steppe
1 War Priest of Thune
1 Mana Tithe
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
1 Banisher Priest
1 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
13 Plains
1 Soldier of the Pantheon
1 Glorious Anthem
1 Boros Elite
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Containment Priest
1 Midnight Haunting
1 Knight of the White Orchid
1 Crusade
1 Flickerwisp
1 Sunlance
1 Spirit of the Labyrinth
1 Honor of the Pure
1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
1 Champion of the Parish
1 Kor Skyfisher
1 Samurai of the Pale Curtain
1 Silverblade Paladin
1 Imposing Sovereign

Garrett is jamming a really powerful looking White Weenie build. These decks are sure to shine, as White for decades has dominated Constructed Magic with efficient and/or disruptive threats. I like his commitment to the "anthem plan" here, too. By packing all four of the best white anthem effects (granting +1/+1 to your creatures), this deck is assuring that the tokens produced by Brimaz are a legitimate threat. This deck came to tussle. 

Feldon of the Third Path
by Eric Peel

1 Darksteel Citadel
1 Etched Champion
1 Ichor Wellspring
1 Great Furnace
1 Epochrasite
1 Mycosynth Wellspring
1 Forgotten Cave
1 Arcbound Worker
1 Galvanic Blast
1 Smoldering Crater
1 Arcbound Ravager
1 Shrapnel Blast
10 Mountain
1 Arcbound Slith
1 Mox Opal
1 Phyrexia's Core
1 Arcbound Stinger
1 Hammer of Purphoros
1 Blinkmoth Nexus
1 Burnished Hart
1 Whipflare
1 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Signal Pest
1 Chaos Warp
1 Stingscourger
1 Starstorm
1 Ghitu Slinger
1 Mind Stone
1 Steel Overseer
1 Swiftfoot Boots
1 Ornithopter
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Vexing Devil
1 Kuldotha Rebirth
1 Goblin Welder
1 Chimeric Mass
1 Myr Retriever
1 Burst Lightning
1 Perilous Myr
1 Harness by Force

This is a fun list that I've been experimenting with. It utilizes many of the popular elements from many Affinity (aka Robots) lists that have made their way in and out of Modern and Legacy. In a stalemate, the backup plan for the deck is to use Feldon in conjunction with creatures like Vexing Devil, Ghitu Slinger, Stingscourger, and Burnished Hart to generate some edges on the opponent and eventually "out value" them.

                It's about time to wrap up these ramblings. In short, try Tiny Leaders™....it's really sweet. My hunch is that it will prove to be a long-lasting format with lots of room for exploration and will provide a stage for all of the psychographics to play on.

Thanks for reading. I'll see you on the battlefield!

No comments:

Post a Comment