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Tiny Leaders: Introduction


Although Tiny Leaders has been around for a couple years now, in the past few months the buzz surrounding the format has been growing. Just in the past week, in addition to the constant rumblings on Twitter, I've seen it mentioned in a Star City Games article, on Chris Van Meter's stream, and several other places. What exactly this means, I still don't know. On one hand,  I'm sure you all remember the Commander explosion, which made formerly worthless casual cards into staples of a growing format and increased their prices exponentially, while also creating the most overused, and my most hated phrase of spoiler season: "It's good in Commander." Personally I don't play Commander, and there is a very short list of people (headed by Jason Alt) who I really pay attention to regarding Commander finance. In a format where every overpriced, over-costed fatty is "good," I have a hard time tuning out the noise and picking out cards that truly matter. On the other hand, unless you've been around for a while, you've probably never heard of Rochester Draft (a Pro Tour format at one time). Whether Tiny Leaders is a Rochester Draft or a Commander, only time will tell. 

What is Tiny Leaders

Anyway, Tiny Leaders is an offshoot of Commander that feels a lot like Legacy and sprouted from the Manitoba MTG Community a couple years back. Like EDH, Tiny Leaders is a singleton format with a legendary creature as a "general" (or "commander", or "tiny leader"), however there are some important differences including the fact players start with 25 life instead of 40, decks are 50 cards rather than 100, combat damage dealt by a commander doesn't matter, and you get a 10 card sideboard. Oh, and every card in the deck must have a converted mana cost of three or lessThere is also an extensive banned list (which is looks a lot like the combined Legacy and EDH banned list, and Vintage restricted list) that can be found at the link above. 

The three-cmc or less restriction is the defining feature of the format, and this seems like a natural place to start when breaking down the the format. If you look over the list of most played commanders in EDH, you'll see that it's dominated by fatties. If Tiny Leaders catches on, this means a bunch of cheap and efficient legendary creatures could suddenly see an increase in demand. If the format comes anywhere close to the popularity of Commander (and remember, this is still a big "if"), undervalued foils could be on the move. Some already have in the past few days. As such, today I wanted to go over some three-cmc-or-less legendary creatures that already are, or could be major players in the Tiny Leaders format.

One more time, please remember, while the hype has been growing in the past few months, Tiny Leaders is still in its infancy as a format and there is a very real possibility that instead of being a heavily played, long lasting format, it remains on the fringe, or worse yet, is "solved" and becomes stale. So think of this article as more of a 10 day weather report which says there is a chance of a big storm developing in the future rather than a warning that's telling you to buy these cards now. 

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, the only card I've purchased specifically for Tiny Leaders is Varolz, the Scar-Striped, which I think was underpriced anyway considering his unique effect and hard-to-reprint scavenge ability. Otherwise, I'm taking a wait-and-see stance while I test the format and try to figure it out. 

Tiny Leaders: Financial Criteria

There are around 150 creatures that fit the criteria to be a Tiny Leader ranging from Legends all the way to Fate Reforged. Obviously, I can't talk about all of them in this article, so I'm going to focus on a few that currently see a lot of play. Right now, the metagame for Tiny Leaders is regional and there are no nationally covered tournaments. You can however try to parse the metagame from user submitted decks on MTGGoldfish (and be sure to submit your deck!). Anyway, here is what I'm looking for in financially relevant Leaders. 

  1. Powerful in a 3-cmc or less format. Example: Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, Geist of Saint Traft
  2. Sets matter, mostly because of supply. Example: While Anax and Cymede may be the nuts in the format, it's less financially relevant that Rayne, Academy Chancellor because there are many more Theros cards in circulation than Urza's Destiny cards. 
  3. Reprintings really matter. Example: The one-printing Kami of the Crescent Moon has a big advantage over the three-printing Squee, Goblin Nabob. It's going to take a much larger increase in demand to move the financial needle on a card with multiple printings. 
  4. Foils matter (for cards that have foil printings). What two formats are most strongly associated with foil demand? Legacy and Commander. What two formats is Tiny Leaders a mixture of? Legacy and Commander. 
  5. Fun/uniqueness/iconic status matters, but so does efficiency and tempo. The basic rating system for Tiny Leaders (all credit to Mr. Goldfish and podcast co-host Richard) is: "Is this card a Legacy staple?" If yes, put it in your deck. If no, proceed to next question. "Is this card a Modern staple?" If yes, put it in your deck. If no, proceed to next question. "Is this card playable in some other format?" If yes, use it to fill out the remaining slots in your deck. If no, start over. I tried to play an Anafenza, the Foremost deck against Richard's Geist of Saint Traft build, and while it was fun, it really felt like I was playing a Standard deck against a Legacy deck. The format is far more competitive than I thought at first, so keep this in mind while building your decks.

Note: The following cards are excluded from our discussion because they are banned, either from the format in general or as Leaders: Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, and Edric, Spymaster of Trest. Also, all price charts are for foils. 

The Most Popular Leaders

Geist of Saint Traft (foil)

1. Power in the format: 10 of 10. While it might not be obvious on its face, Geist of Saint Traft benefits a ton from only fighting other little creatures. While in EDH he can get stonewalled by some random "playable in Commander" fatties, this doesn't happen in Tiny Leaders very often. Plus, everyone runs things like Smother, Swords to Plowshares, and Disfigure which are blanks against the hexproof spirit. 

2. Supply and printings: Medium. Innistrad was right in the middle of the Magic boom and grabbed the title of "most opened set ever" at that point in time. At the same time, Geist of Saint Traft is a mythic, which means supply is comparatively low. As for printings, there is a World Magic Cup Qualifier Foil Promo which came out last year. 

3. Likelihood of reprinting in next year: Very low. The promo just came out this past summer, it's past the cutoff for Modern Masters 2015, and they aren't letting this dude back in Standard. He seems pretty safe, especially in foil, which are still going for around $40. 

4. Richard's Criteria: Legacy: Fringe. Modern: Staple. Standard: Busted. 

Geist of Saint Traft is — far and away — the most popular Tiny Leader according to my research. As I mentioned before, at this point Tiny Leaders is a conglomerate of local/regional metagames rather than an international format like Standard or even Commander, so you can't just head over to a "top decks" page and crunch the numbers (yet). However, reports from various areas seem in agreement that Geist of Saint Traft is the most played Leader in their meta, in some cases representing Caw-Blade-esque 50 percent of decks. Plus, Geist of Saint Traft is just a busted card. It kills an opponent faster than any other leader, and is very difficult to deal with.

A typical Geist of Saint Traft deck plays a handful of creatures, a bunch of permission and tempo spells, and maybe a Stoneforge Mystic/Sword of Fire and Ice/Sword of Feast and Famine package. It plays out a little bit like a Legacy Stoneblade deck, except you don't get BatterskullForce of Will, or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Here's an example Eric Lavine posted on ChannelFireball a few weeks ago. 

While the recent price bump is related more to the Modern bannings than Tiny Leaders, the popularity of the spirit in the format certainly doesn't hurt. The scary part is, if the format ever organizes, a Tiny Leader taking up 50 percent of a meta would be first on the list for a potential banning. The good news is that Geist of Saint Traft is already in a good place because of Modern. It can't be reprinted in Modern Masters 2015 and has a realistic chance of dodging a reprinting for the next year or two. Foils in specific have some appeal at $40. Innistrad redemption recently came to an end and the foil promo is already out there, so more foil Geist of Saint Traft entering the market seems unlikely before the next Modern Masters (most likely in 2017), which means there is plenty of time for growth. 

Doran, the Siege Tower and Anafenza, the Foremost (foils)

 

1. Power in Format: 7/10. Both of these cards are undercosted for their power and toughness, and are leaders that you don't mind actually casting. 

2. Supply and printings: Anafenza, the Foremost is still being opened and redeemed along with the rest of Khans of Tarkir, so the supply is high and increasing (although she does have a very attractive foil multiplier and is making big strides in Modern). Doran, the Siege Tower is from an older set, but also has a From the Vault foil printing along with an extremely rare textless promo.

3. Likelihood of Reprinting: Since Anafenza, the Foremost is currently in print, it does not really matter — more copies are entering the market daily. Doran, the Siege Tower has a reasonable chance of being included in Modern Masters 2015 or some other supplemental product, but this is far from guaranteed. 

4. Richard's Criteria: Anafenza, the Foremost: Legacy: Not really. Modern: Playable — future staple? Standard: Staple. Doran, the Siege Tower: Legacy: Nope. Modern: Fringe/Archetype staple. Standard: Staple. 

Doran, the Siege Tower and Anafenza, the Foremost are the two most popular Abzan Leaders, and like most junk decks, they feature the best removal in the format, efficient beaters, and some extremely powerful card-advantage generating threats like Phyrexian Arena, Liliana of the Veil, and Bitterblossom. Plus, Abzan gets the two best mass removal in the format: Black Sun's Zenith is very strong, and Toxic Deluge is pretty much the nuts. While red can do something similar with Mizzium Mortars and Earthquake, neither of these cards come close in power level to the black sweepers.

I like Anafenza, the Foremost a lot, and not just because of Tiny Leaders. I've been talking about the card since she showed up in several GP Omaha lists. Her foils are just too cheap at $10. My feeling on Doran, the Siege Tower are not as strong, although it has seen a bit of a bump since the banned and restricted announcement freed up midrange and aggro in Modern.  

Ezuri, Renegade Leader (foil)

(note: in the last day, since I started this article, someone bough out foil Ezuri, Renegade Leaders, bringing the price from $6 to $20. 

1. Power in Format: 7/10. Along with Eladamri, Lord of Leaves, he's the best option for a Mono-Green Elves deck. His ability is also strong with a bunch of cheap creatures. 

2. Supply and Printings: Non-foils were reprinted in Commander 2014, foils have mid-to-low supply from a Rise of the Eldrazi-only printing.

3. Likelihood of Reprinting: Low, but only because he was just reprinted. 

4. Richard's Criteria: Legacy: Nope. Modern: Very fringe. Standard: Archetype staple.

Non-foil Ezuria, Renegade Leaders are not very appealing because he was just reprinted in Commander 2014, so it's going to take more than Tiny Leaders to make him take off. Foil copies have more appeal. Elves are already a very popular casual tribe, and Ezuri, Renegade Leader is the go-to choice for people looking to play Mono-Green Elves in Tiny Leaders. While I haven't gotten a chance to play the deck yet, many of the builds I've found look a lot like singleton Legacy Elves, without the potential of Natural Ordering into a Craterhoof Behemoth. Here's an example from Disturbed185 on the Wizards Forum. 

 

Notice the sweet $36 online price tag? Well, unfortunately that doesn't matter because Magic Online doesn't have a way to play the format. If you're listening Mr. Worth, please change this. It's as simple as allowing Commander decks to play less than 100 cards in the freeform room. I realize there is a lot going on with Magic Online, so officially supporting the format might be out of the question at this point, but at least give us a way to play it on the client!

I think Ezuri, Renegade Leader provides a good test for Tiny Leaders finance. Will anyone actually buy foil Ezuri's at $20? Is there real demand here, or is some misguided speculator going to be sitting on a stack of high-price/low-demand Ezuri's for the next year, trying to sell them off one by one? Only time will tell for sure, but I tend to lean towards the latter at this point.

Merieke Ri Berit (foil)

1. Power in Format: 2/10 based on the card itself. 10/10 because it lets you play Esper, and Esper is very strong. 

2. Supply and Printings: Low. Non-foils copies come from Ice Age and Timeshifted. Foils, only from Timeshifted. 

3. Likelihood of Reprinting: I have no idea how to answer this one. It's not on the reserved list, but the formating of the card (never untapping) is pretty archaic for Standard. Maybe in a Commander deck I guess?

Richard's Criteria: Legacy: lol, Modern: Nope. Standard: I was a small child. 

Currently, Merieke Ri Berit is my favorite Tiny Leader. Judging by the buyout (which might not be saying much, considering the low supply of Timeshifted foils), someone else also agrees. The thing is, Merieke Ri Berit isn't actually very good. The following chart shows all of the wedge Leaders available in the format:

Jund Adun Oakenshield, Xira Arien
Abzan Anafenza, the Foremost, Doran, the Siege Tower
Bant Angus Mackenzie, Jenara, Asura of War
Temur Animar, Soul of Elements, Yasova Dragonclaw
Esper Lady Evangela, Merieke Ri Berit, Sydri, Galvanic Genius
Naya Marth, Will of the Wild, Mayael the Anima
Grixis Tetsuo Umezawa
Sultai n/a
Jeskai Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest
Mardu Alesha, who Smiles at Death.

The point is, especially for wedge colors, you don't chose a leader because it's great for your deck, you chose it because you really want to play those colors and your choices are limited. There is even a special rule for Sidisi, (and before Fate Reforged released, Jeskai, and Mardu as well): you can play an imaginary commander that costs BUG and is a vinilla 2/2. 

I play Merieke Ri Berit because I want to play Esper; I don't play Esper because I really want to run Merieke Ri Berit and this might be one of financial weaknesses of leaders. If a leader can be replaced by a basic land with BUG scribbled in the corner with a sharpie, is it really worth paying $45 for a foil Merieke Ri Berit that you don't really want to cast anyway? I don't know the answer, but here is my latest list:

This deck has just about everything I want, and it seems in-line with Richard's theory of building Tiny Leaders: 

1. Pick a Tiny Leader. Check.

2. Put all the Legacy staples from your leader's colors into your deck. Check (by my count, 20 of my 29 non-land cards are played in Legacy to some degree). 

3. Put all the Modern staples from your leader's colors in your deck. Check (of the remaining 9 non-land cards, three or four see a bit of Modern play). 

4. If you don't have 50 cards, move on to Standard and do the same thing. Check (pretty much the only Standard cards are utility spells like Dromar's Charm, Dimir Charm, and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.)

5. (I just added this one) Build a real manabase. One thing I've noticed about Tiny Leaders is that pretty much every manabase in every deck I've stumbled across is just awful. Now, I realize that budget comes into play, so I'm not going to bash people who run Watery Grave over Underground Sea; I get this sort of non-optimization. What I don't get are three-color double-mana requirement builds that are trying to play all basic lands. You don't have to spend $200 on Tundra, but at least find yourself an Azorious Guildgate or a Tranquil Cove. I guess what I'm trying to say is if your three-color deck has worse fixing than a typical Khans of Tarkir draft deck, something is wrong.

At the same time, my Merieke Ri Berit has its own weakness as far as mana is concerned. While I rarely have problems hitting my colors on time, some of the most powerful land hate cards in existence, including Blood Moon, Back to Basics, and Choke are printed at 3cmc. So far this hasn't been a major problem, but I think that's more a product of my playgroup more than anything else. Richard loves two and three color blue decks more than I do (and that's saying something, since 16 of my past 16 cube drafts have been U/WorB/x) and Chaz is not above playing Scroll Rack into Meekstone into Ghostly Prison into Propaganda

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (foil)

1. Power in Format: 8/10. Varolz, the Scar-Striped looks to be one of the best "build around me" Leaders in the format. 

2. Supply and Printings: Only one printing from the much maligned Dragon's Maze, but still part of the modern era, so supply is relatively high. Plus, it's a rare rather than a mythic.

3. Likelihood of Reprinting: Low in Standard due to scavenge, medium for a supplemental product, although past the cutoff for Modern Masters 2015 (not that he would be a likely include anyway). 

4. Richard's Criteria: Legacy: Someone probably tried it once. Modern: Sometimes in Dredgevine. Standard: Fringe. 

I haven't gotten a chance to play Varolz, the Scar-Striped yet, but it's near the top of my list for decks to try next. The following build has pretty much everything I'm looking for, especially the Death's Shadow/Phyrexian Dreadnought combo. 

 

Although missing blue, this deck looks so sweet, even if it does play Circling Vultures. I'm also not sure about the infect sub-theme. I understand the free-win potential of dumping a bunch of counters on an Inkmoth Nexus or Glistener Elf, but I'm not sure that's even necessary. Otherwise, you get great answers, sweepers, and strange but synergistic creatures. 

Ambassador Laquatis (foil)

1. Power in Format: 0/10 in most decks. 10/10 in Mill (and you know how players love mill). 

2. Supply and Printings: Ambassador Laquatis has two printings, both with foils: Torment and 10th Edition. Both of these sets are pre-boom, so even with two printings, I would guess there may be less foil Ambassador Laquatiss in circulation than foil Varolz, the Scar-Stripped

3. Likelihood of Reprinting: Um, sure. I guess. Maybe in a supplemental product. It's not exactly screaming for a reprint though. 

4. Richard's Criteria: Not played in any format.

Mill isn't my thing, but I know some players love it. If you're going to play a mill deck in Tiny Leaders, Ambassador Laquatis is pretty much the default Leader. Here's an example:

 

The future of decks like this one really depends on whether the future of Tiny Leaders is as a casual or competitive format. If it ends up being Legacy-light played mostly by spikes, then this deck is probably pretty awful, and Ambassador Laquatus will probably not be played. If the format shifts towards EDH, I could see mill being a popular strategy, especially considering that milling 49 cards is way easier than milling 99.

Other Popular Leaders (foils)

Bonus: Phyrexian Dreadnought

While I'm only focusing on leaders today, Phyrexian Dreadnought has the makings of a good target. Even beyond Tiny Leaders, Legacy players have been brewing with Phyrexian Dreadnought and Manifest, which gives you a 13/13 for one mana when you flip it. It's near its all-time low, and while I wouldn't recommend buying the card based on Tiny Leaders alone, the potential mixture of increased Legacy demand and some Tiny Leaders demand could send the card back towards $25. 

Phyrexian Dreadnought illustrates what I think is an important aspect of Tiny Leaders finance. Since the format has just as much (if not more) in common with Legacy as it does with EDH, buying Legacy staples that could get a bump in demand from Tiny Leaders is probably the way to go. Reserved list cards are generally a good place to be anyway, and you're rarely sorry to own things like dual lands. 

Conclusion

Once more, please don't take this discussion as an endorsement to buy in on any of these cards — I'm still trying to figure out the format, both in how it plays and financially. I do know that it's fun, but its staying power remains to be seen. If the metagame devolves into Geist of Saint Traft vs Liliana of the Veil decks, the appeal could wear off quickly. 

Let me know if you're interested in reading more about the format because there is a lot more to talk about beyond the leaders themselves. A part two and three covering other emerging format staples is definitly doable if there is interest. 

Anyway, that's all for today. Have you played the format? If so, how do you like it? Is the Legacy or EDH comparison more apt? Who is your favorite leader? If you haven't, do you intend to? As always, leave me your thoughts in the comments, or on twitter @SaffronOlive.

 

Editors Note:

We have a budding Tiny Leaders section here on MTGGoldfish. It's a collection of user submitted decks. Please submit your deck and help build up our deck database!

Chaz, SaffronOlive (Seth), and Richard discuss more Tiny Leaders in this week's MTGGoldfish podcast! Be sure to check it out.


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