Insider: Top 10 Tiny Leaders

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You may have heard about Tiny Leaders and all the hype, but perhaps you're skeptical about this being just another fad. I definitely felt the same way before I played any games in the format. A dozen decks later, I remembered why I love this game so much and found myself knowing quite a bit about the format.

The most frequent question I get asked, besides what the rules of the format are, is what is the nearest comparison. A lot of players think that Tiny Leaders is like singleton Legacy. The comparison is somewhat accurate because most of the cards that see frequent play are staples in Legacy. For me, I don’t think it really compares well to Legacy though.

When I think about Tiny Leaders, it reminds me of Cube Draft. The good cards in Tiny Leaders are almost all Cube Draft all-stars and the archetypes frequently match up with what players draft in Cube. The difference is that this is a constructed format and you have a general that you can cast anytime you want.

That’s sweet because whichever general you choose can be central to your strategy. If you want to have a one-drop every game you play, you can choose a general that costs one mana. The fact that you can make your build-around card automatically be castable once you reach the required mana is a very interesting deck building concept.

If you like Modern, Legacy, Cube Draft, or just interesting new formats, you will likely be drawn into this format. Let me take you on a journey through the best format you aren't playing yet.

Honorable Mention

[cardimage cardname='Zurgo Bellstriker' a=5]

First up we have everyone’s favorite deck to play, Burn! Wait, this isn’t on the top 10 list? Maybe I made a mistake. Hold on let me check.

After further inspection, it appears that players start with 25 life in this format. Trying to burn someone out with an extra quarter of their health seems rather difficult.

Players will still try to play burn decks in this format, but from my experience the extra five starting life allows the defender to get set up and stabilize more easily than in other formats. Burn spells are great and will still be played, but making that your whole deck concept isn’t a good idea.

With all that being said, creating an aggressive red deck around Zurgo Bellstriker is still a decent idea. If done well, this type of deck can be pretty brutal. Make sure to include some X spells in your list for maximum efficiency.

[cardimage cardname='Grenzo, Dungeon Warden' a=5]

If you’re interested in playing an aggressive red deck, you should most likely stick to Goblins and Grenzo is the best general for your horde. The main issue with playing a tribal deck is that the removal is so efficient in this format, and it’s hard to assemble your synergies. Every time I have played with or against a tribal strategy a couple well timed removal spells have broken the advantage the tribal player had in the game.

Goblins can be brutally fast though and is a good aggressive archetype in the format. It may be somewhat easy to disrupt, but it’s a blast to play.

I’ve considered playing Grenzo as the general for a non-Goblin based deck as well. His ability doesn’t have a creature type restriction. It will trigger for any creature with power less than or equal to his own, which can be any creature in your deck. Regardless of your build, you can always use sweet cards like Reito Lantern to combine with Grenzo’s ability.

[cardimage cardname='Varolz, the Scar-Striped' a=5]

Lastly on our honorable mention list is Varolz, the Scar-Striped. When you start thinking about this niche general, you probably are drawn quickly to cards like Death's Shadow and Phyrexian Dreadnought. Once you proceed past voltroning Varolz or doing something fun like putting a pile of counters on Champion of Lambholt, you move quickly into super villain territory by using infect creatures. Once you reach this point, you’ve started building more of an aggro-combo deck.

This deck is quite strong, but the reason it’s not on the top 10 list is because it’s not that popular. It takes a certain type of player to want to jump through a bunch of hoops in order to create a giant infectious monster with which to kill your opponent. The deck can definitely be a bit flimsy as well because there will be plenty of times when you draw the wrong half of your deck.

If this is your type of deck, make sure to balance out the number of creatures you are playing just to scavenge with the number of creatures to scavenge onto, and the spells to support your strategy. It’s a delicate balance, but if you make it as consistent as possible, you are on your way with a recipe for success.

10. Xira Arien

[cardimage cardname='Xira Arien' a=5]

Jund Control

Number ten on the list is my favorite Tiny Leaders deck and the one I play most often, Xira Arien. In this deck we have hand hate, removal, combos, card advantage and strong threats. What more could you ask for? This seems to not be a popular commander among much of the community due to the age of the card, but once you’ve looked over the list and seen the deck play, you will change your mind.

When I first started brewing for this format, my thought process started with Inquisition of Kozilek, Abrupt Decay and Rug of Smothering. All three of those cards hit every card in the format. Anytime the power level of competitive level cards increases dramatically like this, take note and take advantage.

It seemed like everyone I talked to initially was trying to do the same type of broken things they do in Legacy and I saw these cards as an avenue to halt those efforts. Additionally, the almost-always banned combo of Grove of the Burnwillows in combination with Punishing Fire is legal in this format and that seemed too good not to take advantage of.

So, I was left trying to explore Jund. For this combination we have two options, both of which are from Legends. One returns creatures from my graveyard to play and one draws a card. Obviously drawing cards is better, especially for this controlling strategy I was developing, so my choice was made. Xira Arien would be my first Tiny Leader.

At first glance, she seems underwhelming even on a good day. I will tell you though, I’ve won lots of games by casting her as my last card and riding her card advantage to victory. She is much better than she seems and when you are facing down another similar strategy to your own, her power will become immediately evident.

9. Sygg, River Cutthroat

[cardimage cardname='Sygg, River Cutthroat' a=5]

Mill Deck Wins

Next up, we have a popular general for a number of reasons. First and foremost is this general represents the best strategy for milling. In a 50-card format like this one, milling is actually a viable strategy. For example, there’s a reason that Sword of Body and Mind is banned. Some players might want a mono-blue general like Kami of the Crescent Moon or Ambassador Laquatus, but the black mana is important for some of the most powerful aspects of this strategy.

Not many competitive players want to jam a mill deck over and over, but this strategy should be taken into consideration when you are sideboarding. Gaea's Blessing, for instance, goes into almost all of my sideboards that it can fit in.

Sygg doesn’t just mill though. I’ve seen storm decks, Merfolk decks, and U/B Control decks built around him. He’s versatile because he has to be. Since he’s the only Dimir commander, you will need to use him if those are the only colors you want in your deck. Rarely do players have him as their general in order to utilize his card drawing ability, but playing an aggro-control deck with cards like Vendilion Clique or even Dauthi Marauder seems like it would be great fun.

No matter which route you choose to go with Sygg, he can be a potent threat.

8. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

[cardimage cardname='Thalia, Guardian of Thraben' a=5]

Death and Taxes

Turn two Thalia every game. I think I could stop there with my explanation and everyone would be content, but I’ll go on. I love this deck because the creatures are so disruptive to opposing strategies.

Sometimes Thalia can nearly shut down your opponent all on her own, but if not, there are a lot of other hate bears in this deck too. I’ve found this to be one of, if not the best, aggressive strategy. Not only is it a blast to play, but your creatures are all so impactful, even when you aren’t attacking. I would really like to fit in Spirit of the Labyrinth in this deck somewhere also.

When constructing your deck, you should have a plan for Thalia. If you let her make all your spells overcosted, the game won’t go well for you. So Angel of Condemnation her, Hinder her or at least have some one-mana removal spells to get rid of her quickly.

All of the spells in this deck are tremendously good, but I’m not sure they all belong there. Ten spells isn’t a ton, but Thalia works against you as well, so cutting down on that number could be more efficient. Stoneforge Mystic does help with this as well as Aether Vial, but trying to hardcast a Sword and equip is extremely difficult with your general in play.

7. Sydri, Galvanic Genius

[cardimage cardname='Sydri, Galvanic Genius' a=5]

Zenith Control

Sidri takes the number seven spot on the list due to her Affinity for artifacts. While many players with this general will have Arcbound Ravager style decks similar to those played in Modern, my friend and I have been perfecting a completely different take.

The goal here is to create a ramp deck that builds up to powerful X spells and controls the game along the way. Additionally, I thought it would be cool to attack with your mana accelerants and utilize them as a pseudo-Rude Awakening to kill your opponent late in the game.

The Zeniths may seem underwhelming, but once you try them out, you will immediately see their power level. Green Sun's Zenith is also amazing, but everyone knows that card is strong. The verdict is still out about Red Sun's Zenith though, but based on how good the other four are, I need to try it out in more decks to get a feel for its power level.

Many of these spells show up in decks throughout the format. As you will see below, there can be some overlap between decks. Playing strong competitive level spells is never a bad thing though.

6. Yasova Dragonclaw

[cardimage cardname='Yasova Dragonclaw' a=5]


First up on our Standard tri-color generals is Yasova Dragonclaw. Some of the Khans block legends are the most versatile generals in the format. With Yasova, for example, you can play any combination of the available colors. You don’t have to include all three colors in your deck. A lot of decks with this general are composed similarly to that of RUG Delver, but the build above is a perfect example of how eclectic the format can be.

This version is of course modeled after the Legacy deck Lands. While the Lands deck doesn’t typically play any X spells, I think this deck could be served well by including some. This deck’s engine is quite good and runs smoothly. Not many players will bring this to battle, but when they do, it can be difficult to play through.

There is another version of this strategy that utilizes Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. I think I would prefer to Valakut people rather than assembling and recurring a large assortment of random lands.

5. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death

[cardimage cardname='Alesha, Who Smiles at Death' a=5]

Mardu Aristocrats

Creatures with enters the battlefield abilities, check. Creatures with leaves the battlefield abilities, check. A commander that brings them all back from the graveyard, double check!

Alesha is not only as versatile as Yasova, she is also the most popular commander in the format. I’ve talked to countless players whose first Tiny Leaders deck was employing this general.

This particular version is built based on the previous Standard deck as a template. There are lots of flavors of this deck though and you likely won't play against the same one twice. She clocks in at number three on the list because she is the most played commander, but there are a lot of potent strategies you can use within her color pie.

4. Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest

[cardimage cardname='Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest' a=5]

Jeskai Delver

As the only Jeskai general you can imagine how popular this one will be in your metagame. Players love their Jeskai decks. Most versions you come across will share many cards in common with this build. This color combination has some of the best answers available in the format, so it makes sense players would try to jam them all in one deck. My version here focuses a bit more on exploiting the token theme, while others may exclude those cards for other Legacy and Cube staples.

One thing you’ll notice with all of these decks is the strength of the money manabase. Additionally, even with the smaller card pool, you don’t need to sacrifice any spots to chaff. The fifty-card deck size leads to strong builds like this through every color combination.

3. Anafenza, the Foremost

[cardimage cardname='Anafenza, the Foremost' a=5]

Yesterday Ryan wrote up his take on Anafenza. Check that out here.

As with the other generals, there are many ways to build Anafenza, but most of them tend to look similar to what Ryan posted. Some players choose to use Doran, the Siege Tower instead of Anafenza, but both of them are hard hitters. Anafenza’s graveyard hating ability can be particularly relevant in this format and getting that effect anytime you want is definitely a strong block on which to build your deck.

2. Ezuri, Renegade Leader

[cardimage cardname='Ezuri, Renegade Leader' a=5]

Number two on our Top 10 is a brutal one, Ezuri, Renegade Leader. Unlike most of the other generals on the list, there are not going to be many different versions of this deck running around. They will all be within a couple cards of each other. The reason is because the strategy is one of the best available.

When I was first getting into the format, I suspected that this strategy would not be very good because you can only have one copy of each of your important elf combo pieces. I couldn’t have been more wrong. If anything, the archetype in Tiny Leaders is more consistent than any of the constructed versions ever were.

The sickest part is that your general is also your win condition. Generate ridiculous amounts of mana, then play your general and pump your team. This deck wins consistently on turn three or four so your choices are be prepared to face it or lose quickly.

Your best bet is to kill the first mana accelerant. If you can do that, it will slow them down tremendously, allowing you to find the answers you need to continually break up their game plan.

1. Geist of Saint Traft

[cardimage cardname='Geist of Saint Traft' a=5]


Finally, the pinnacle of the format is the terrifying Geist of Saint Traft. Not only is it the only general with hexproof, it’s also the one set up to kill you all on its own. Bring your Liliana of the Veil and even Glaring Spotlight so you can defeat this juggernaut.

In a typical protect-the-queen strategy, this deck will not only halt every effort you make to progress your own board, but also present its potent strategy for winning the game. By now you have seen most, if not all, of these cards in the other decks in the Top 10, but in combination with the best general, they form an extremely difficult-to-defeat combination.

Some might say this deck is easy mode, but it does enough winning that it doesn’t really matter. I wasn’t kidding about Glaring Spotlight either. Go look back in my Jund sideboard. It’s there.

Quick Finance

I hope you enjoyed this look into an amazing format. Before I go for the week, I have a couple quick financial tips.

Price Corrections:

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is $5 again.
Dragonlord Dromoka should be up to $10 based on eBay numbers.
Narset Transcendent is down to $25 and dropping.
Fetches starting to increase again, so get them while they are low. They won’t ever be any lower.

These four things are notes I wrote to myself this week while I was updating my store's inventory. Some of them you might know already, but others you might be able to take advantage of at the trade tables this weekend. That’s all I have for this week. Thanks for reading.

As always,
Until next time,
Unleash the Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

2 thoughts on “Insider: Top 10 Tiny Leaders

  1. Marath deserves at least an honorable mention. The guy was purpose-built as a commander, after all. There’s the option to simply shove him into a pile of Naya good stuff, which is a strong option in its own right, but you can build the deck to take far more advantage of his ability to distribute counters as well, which is what I did: (can’t afford duals & such in my landbase right now)

    They tend to be “fair” decks the same way that Anafenza is “fair”, but that hardly means weak.

    1. I definitely agree marath is sweet. I have my own build as well and it’s tons of fun. I’m not sure it’s one of the best archetypes in the format though. Maybe I’ll write another article about some sweet decks and include that General.

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