By Guo Heng Chin
Four weeks ago I wrote an article about Tiny Leaders potentially being the next big thing in Magic. What I did not expect was Tiny Leaders to undergo a sort of Cambrian explosion within just a couple of weeks.
In Malaysia, we had our first Tiny Leaders tournament at the end of January, with a whooping 15 players in attendance.
For the past few weeks, whenever I popped by a local game store, I would overhear players discussing Tiny Leaders or witness Tiny Leaders games taking place. And I have visited at least three different stores catering to starkly different player bases.
It was a pleasant surprise to see some of the local PPTQ grinders getting into Tiny Leaders too. The format’s appeal to the casuals and spikes alike is important for the Tiny Leaders to be considered sufficiently differentiated from existing formats so as to warrant a niche of its own. Without a defined niche, Wizards would have little reason to adopt Tiny Leaders as an official format, together with annual product releases.
Elsewhere around the world, the enthusiasm for Tiny Leaders hit fever pitch. The first streamed Tiny Leaders league began three weeks ago, organised by /u/SaintOmerville and his playgroup at Maryland (Check them out at /r/TinyLeaders, they stream weekly).
Dark Sphere, the awesome LGS I used to frequent when I lived in London ran their first Tiny Leaders FNM a few days ago, to a pretty good turnout of 14 players. Kyle Lopez, the guest on last week’s Brainstorm Brewery pointed out that the Tiny Leaders craze hit his local game store as well.
Those were just drop in the wave of Tiny Leaders hype that swept through the Magic community in the past month and I am sure there are plenty of other Tiny Leaders stories elsewhere.
Last but not least, we saw a spate of Tiny Leaders foils spiking over the previous month. Foils of Ezuri, Renegade Leader, Varolz, the Scar-Striped and Ambassador Laquatus, three popular tier one leaders, doubled in price together with cards like Leonin Shikari which are playable in both Commander and Tiny Leaders.
An Empirical Opinion on the Format
Last weekend, I participated in my second Tiny Leaders tournament. It was an eight-person tournament, featuring a diverse field comprising of the following leaders:
- 1 x Anafenza, the Foremost (me)
- 2 x Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
- 1 x Merieke Ri Berit
- 1 x Ezuri, Renegade Leader
- 1 x Grenzo, Dungeon Master
- 1 x Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 1 x Selvala, Explorer Returned
I went 2-0, beating Ezuri and Grenzo and splitting with Alesha in the finals to ensure that we both secure a 5x multiplier for our entry fee in store credit as prize. Anafenza turned out to be an unintentionally good meta call as two out of the three decks I faced (Grenzo and Alesha) relied on graveyard mechanics and Anafenza’s second, less conspicuous ability swung a wrecking ball to their game plan.
I’ve used the store credit to buy myself a playmat tube for the Ugin Game Day playmat I won last weekend and two Tiny Leaders foils which I would discuss in a bit.
A few thoughts about the format after two tournaments (hooray):
Removals are efficient but sparse in Tiny Leaders due to the singleton restriction. In most of the games I’ve played, my Dark Confidant stuck around longer than he would have in other formats. His value in the format was comparatively higher than in say, Modern, due to his reduced fragility. I suspect there are quite a number of other cards which could be evaluated differently for the same reason.
The limited removals mean that creature-based combos are easier to pull off. I shall get to this in a bit.
The second observation was that the threat of Geist of Saint Traft and Ezuri, Renegade Leader was overblown. Well, at least from the small sample size of matches I have played against them.
Geist lacks removals and the deck struggle with board control. I’ve found it relatively easy to brute force your way through their counterspells and removals and develop a board position that makes it difficult for Geist to attack or race them. Tempo is the key to beat Geist.
Ezuri Elfball is explosive but well-timed removal of their key components is a big set back for their game plan. Ezuri’s ability to regenerate another elven brethren was not as incessant as I thought it to be, but that could be attributed to the fact that Abzan removals – Swords to Plowshares, Smother and Dismember from the mainboard; Zealous Persecution, Drown in Sorrow and Golgari Charm from the sideboard – leave no room for regeneration shenanigans.
The health of the format is a controversial topic. There are segments of players complaining about the lack of diversity among tier one leaders and the repetitiveness of the format.
From my very statistically significant sample size of 7 matches across two tournaments, I’ve found the diversity to be pretty good. As the optimal build for the majority of the leaders have yet to be discovered, perhaps it is too early to claim that there are too few tier one decks. I suspect there are plenty of yet-to-be-recognised tier one decks out there, and the current playes
Yes, Tiny Leaders feels repetitive if you compare it to Commander, but it is no more repetitive than Modern in my opinion. Which is a good thing as Tiny Leaders was designed to be a duel format. I would consider Tiny Leaders to be less repetitive compared with Standard, offering a similar level of game play diversity as Modern (I have not played enough Legacy to compare Tiny Leaders with it).
This Week’s Tiny Pick Ups
Initially my plan for the Tiny Leaders finance series was to make my way down the color pie with every installment of the series à la the undervalued Commander foils series I embarked on a while back.
That schedule may work for undervalued Commander foils as cards in the format have largely settled in price with Commander being a relatively mature format. Tiny Leaders is a young format and as such brewers and players are still in the process of exploring new deckbuilding spaces and discovering new interactions.
Doing a series of article about undervalued Tiny Leaders cards by color would probably miss the boat on a lot of…well, undervalued cards which I imagine would spike once word about a new tech gets out.
So I am going to give this series a bit of a shake-up; I will be looking a few cards in each installment, but they would be in no particular order. I will write about undervalued cards as I encounter them; it would do you readers no justice if I were to hold back on discussing a card I think is sorely undervalued just to follow a self-imposed order. We’re going to introduce a little bit of anarchy.
The first two cards we are looking at today are the two foils I’ve bought with the store credit I won at last weekend’s Tiny Leaders tournament. They are two cheap foils (the playmat tube took up the bulk of the store credit) with plenty of room to grow.
I am convinced that Cartel Aristocrat foils at $2 are good pick ups. She functions as an engine in a couple of Tiny Leaders archetypes: she is a powerful gear in the Athreos, God of Passage machine and is a token factory in Teysa, Orzhov Scion decks.
Cartel Aristocrat is also one of the best engine for the Melira combo, which was by far the most impressive aspect of my Anafenza deck and is a combo that I am confident should be a mainstay in the format.
I threw in the Melira combo when I was constructing my Anafenza list as a plan B to give the deck an extra angle of attack (decks that attack on multiple axes are good, said a certain Gerry Thompson). It was supposed to be the gear I shift to after I’ve exhausted my opponent’s removals, or when my opponent inadvertently taps out.
Turns out not only did I leaned on the combo more than I had imagined, I won half my games with it. While Anafenza has access to some of the best removals in the format, those removals are often 1-for-1 removals and the struggles if an opponent gets too far ahead in tempo or overwhelms the board with cheap minions. Anafenza is a fair deck after all.
The Melira combo stole me countless games where I was not supposed to win. It won me a game when I was staring down an unblockable Geist of Saint Traft with lethal the next turn. It won me a couple of game ones against Ezuri when I do not have access to board wipes. Gaining infinite life was the only way I can snatch the upper hand against Alesha’s recurring horde.
I eschewed Blood Artist as an enabler to close the game once I’ve achieved the infinite loop as he is a bad card outside the combo. Plus, with a Green Sun’s Zenith in my deck, I would not deck out.
In the end, Anafenza – my list at least – played out like Patrick Dickmann’s Tempo Twin. Neither plan of efficient beatdown or Melira combo is the main plan; it depends on the matchup and my opening hand. Although when I find myself losing grip of the board, I often switch to defensive mode and attempt to stall the game until I rip the combo pieces. With three tutors, it was relatively easy to assemble the pieces.
Another reason the Melira plan worked better than I had envisioned during deckbuilding was the fact that removals are limited in Tiny Leaders, as I’ve mentioned.
The combo complements Anafenza strategies because every creature in the deck demands an answer or it would out-card advantage the opponent out of the game, grow out of proportion with Anafenza’s ability and Gavony Township, or even by itself as Scavenging Ooze scavenges, Knight of the Reliquary with every fetchland and Varolz, the Scar-Striped… well scavenges. Even a lowly 1/1 spirit token could evolve into a formidable threat if left untouched.
My opponents’ removals were often spread thin and it was relatively easy to execute the Melira combo.
That was a bit of a detour. Back to Cartel Aristocrat. She is a perfect fit in Anafenza decks sporting the Melira combo because she is both hard to remove and useful regardless of the combo. The deck has so many ways to plop on +1/+1 counters on Cartel Aristocrat she often becomes a formidable threat by herself.
Besides Varolz and noncreature options like Recurring Nightmare, Viscera Seer is the only other free-to-activate sac outlet in Abzan colors but Seer is a waste of space without the combo as we already have access to plenty of library manipulation.
To sum it up, Cartel Aristocrat has the potential to be a staple in three Tiny Leaders archetypes, two of which are tier one archetypes. Foils at $2 are enticing, especially when the card is in no risk of reprint within the next few years.
The second foil I bought with my store credit was Anax and Cymede. Chaz Volpe from BoltSnapBolt mentioned a week ago that he picked up a few foil copies of Anax and Cymede and I thought that was a fantastic pick up.
Anax and Cymede is (or are? Grammar gets complicated when there are more than one person in a card but the creature type denotes a singular entity. I shall resort to ‘is’ here and consider Anax and Cymede so inseparable they form a single entity) reputedly a tier one leader and more importantly, looks to be a budget tier one leader. Foil copies could be found for a mere $1.50 and really only have room to grow as Theros supply dries up and Tiny Leaders demand kicks in.
On the other hand, an optimal Anax and Cymede list could be assembled on a budget and there are multiple build options to choose from; either the hyper-aggressive swarm build, or the good stuffs build as the color grants access to some of the best removals and board wipes in the format and Blood Moon.
Speaking of board wipes, the next card we are going to look at is a Modern staple with Tiny Leaders application and foils are cheap right now.
Anger of the Gods was a Modern sideboard staple when Birthing Pod was legal, but has dipped in popularity since. Which is a good thing financially as it means that foil Anger of the Gods would not spike yet. The Modern meta is cyclical and there would be a time again when Anger of the Gods will once again be a sideboard staple.
In the mean time, Anger of the Gods is one of the best board wipes in Tiny Leaders. Its exile clause hoses popular graveyard-abusing leaders like Alesha and Varolz, while serving as an efficient answer to swarm decks (Anger of the Gods deals the most damage at three mana compared with other sweepers in the format).
Ironically, red is the control color in Tiny Leaders courtesy of the number of board wipes under four casting cost in the color (red has access to a plethora of X-casting cost board wipes). At $8, Anger of the Gods foils look like a surefire pick up.
Though more shops are jumping on the Tiny Leaders bandwagon (at least in Kuala Lumpur and London), one of the major drawbacks of Tiny Leaders is that the format can’t be enjoyed on Magic Online.
Which is a shame because Tiny Leader also appeals to the demographic of players that would play Magic Online on a regular basis.
Plus Tiny Leaders is well-suited for Magic Online play, unlike Commander where playing online strips off the social camaraderie aspect of it (and Commander is a social game, isn’t it). Players would not lose any of the fun, nor have to suffer a compromised user interface playing Tiny Leaders online.
Thanks to Modern Masters and Vintage Masters, a lot of Tiny Leaders staples are much cheaper on Magic Online compared with their physical counterparts. Which makes it even more of a shame that we are not able to jam Tiny Leaders on Magic Online!
It is true that Commander was only made available on Magic Online after the release of the first official Commander products. That does not mean we have to wait until the format is officially picked up by Wizards before we can sling Tiny Leaders online.
The infrastructure is already present. All it requires is a the removal of Commander damage, reduction of the number of cards required in the mainboard to 49, decreasing the starting life to 25, adding a sideboard and tweaking the ban list a little. Having little technical knowledge, I would not claim to be privy the difficulty of implementing those changes, but one could reasonably assume that it would be less difficult than enabling Commander on Magic Online. The addition of a ten-card sideboard may be a complication as I believe your Commander resides in your sideboard in the current implementation of Commander on Magic Online.
Getting Magic Online to support Tiny Leaders would allow more players to get into the format, and enable competitive players to practice online. Magic Online support would be a huge driver for the growth of the format.
Wizards has a history of being responsive to the Magic community’s wishes, an extremely rare trait in a large corporation, and is one of the main reason why Magic is flourishing at the heights it is at today.
If you would like to see Tiny Leaders on Magic Online, do make your desire known to the various powers above at Wizards through social media. Most of the management at Wizards are highly engaged with the Magic community, especially on Twitter and anyone with a Twitter account could get in touch with them there.
Those I would recommend are Magic Online’s official account: @MagicOnline; Magic Online’s Director of Products, Worth Wolpert’s account: @mtgworth and possibly some the other directors that deal with paper Magic like Helene Bergeot, the Director of Global Organized Play: @HeleneBergeot and Aaron Forsythe, the Director of R & D: @mtgaaron to let them know that there are a lot of enthusiasm for Tiny Leaders.
Let’s start a little social media campaign. Use the hashtag #MtgoTinyLeaders so we all have one cohesive platform to push for Tiny Leaders on Magic Online.
Leave your comments below, or find me on Twitter @theguoheng.
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