Last updated on November 29, 2023
Alesha, Who Smiles at Death | Illustration by Anastasia Ovchinnikova
Commander is a beloved format for many casual and competitive players worldwide. They can share their experiences and playstyles with others using their favorite strategies.
The first commander I wanted to build with was Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. I'd liked it since my constructed days and didn’t want to spend tons of money on other commanders that needed more colors. Still, I quickly learned one sad truth about Thalia: it’s a 1v1 commander, not a multiplayer one. I had to switch from Thalia to Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite since it was more suited for the field.
But I still didn't want to drop Thalia and kept using it in 1v1 games. WotC eventually introduced another way to play with your commanders. While it’s more restrictive, it’s also funnier in some ways. You know what that way to play is?
Let's dig in and discover all the secrets of Tiny Leaders!
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit | Illustration by Ryan Yee
Tiny Leaders is a format with the main premise that it’s a copy of Commander, with a few differences:
- All cards, including your commander, must have a mana value of three or less.
- Players start with 25 life and commander damage is not a win condition.
- Each deck must have 50 cards including its commander.
- This is a 2-player format.
- Sideboards can’t have more than 10 cards.
- No free mulligan at the beginning of the game.
This format was created and is currently run by Matthew Turnbull, a level 2 judge, and Steven Hamonic.
This is a format aimed at players that prefer 1v1 but also like the Commander mechanics around generals. Tiny Leaders is also famous for limiting your pool to only cards with three mana value or less. Players will experience a fairer play environment, and it’s ideal for players looking for deckbuilding challenges.
Tiny Leaders is also known as an aggro format and decks tend to end a bit faster than regular 1v1 Commander games.
Geist of Saint Traft | Illustration by Daarken
As far as set legality, Tiny Leaders is an eternal format. This means every 3-mana value card that's been printed can be played, aside from banned cards of course. I’ll go over that in a few.
- Each deck is led by a legendary creature or planeswalker designated as it's commander.
- This is a 2-player format. It could also use multiplayer rules, in which case the default format is multiplayer free-for-all
- “Commander” isn’t characteristic of a card, it’s an attribute. Your commander is still your commander even if it’s a copy of another card, and a card copying your commander doesn't copy being your commander. Your commander also determines which cards can be played in the deck.
- Tiny Leaders uses the concept of color identity. In short, a card’s color identity is the color of each mana symbol on that card, any color granted by an ability on that card, and any color indicators on the card. A Tiny Leaders commander or partner pair can have up to three colors in their color identity.
- Each deck must have exactly 50 cards including its commander(s).
- Each card must have a converted mana cost of three or less. Cards with in their mana cost count X as zero for this purpose. Split cards are legal only if both halves’ combined converted mana cost is three or less.
- Other than basic lands, each card in a Tiny Leaders deck must have a different English name (i.e. singleton format).
- A card can be included in a Tiny Leaders deck only if every color in its color identity is also found in the commander’s color identity.
- A card with a basic land type can be included in a Tiny Leaders deck only if every color of mana it can produce is also found in the commander’s color identity.
- Each player may also have a sideboard with no more than 10 cards. The singleton rule applies to both the main deck and the sideboard.
- The starting life total is 25
- Each player draws a hand of eight minus the number of cards in their command zone (usually one).
Yes, planeswalkers can be your commander in Tiny Leaders. In fact, one of the most dominating decks out there has Dakkon, Shadow Slayer as one of its commanders.
Counterbalance | Illustration by Joseph Meehan
- Black Lotus
- Black Vise
- Ancestral Recall
- Chaos Orb
- Chrome Mox
- Court of Cunning
- Deflecting Swat
- Demonic Tutor
- Edric, Spymaster of Trest
- Falling Star
- Fierce Guardianship
- Gaea's Cradle
- Goblin Recruiter
- Hermit Druid
- High Tide
- Imperial Seal
- Jeweled Lotus
- Library of Alexandria
- Liliana, Heretical Healer
- Lion's Eye Diamond
- Maddening Hex
- Mana Crypt
- Mana Drain
- Mana Vault
- Mind Twist
- Mishra's Workshop
- Mox Amber
- Mox Diamond
- Mox Emerald
- Mox Jet
- Mox Opal
- Mox Pearl
- Mox Ruby
- Mox Sapphire
- Sol Ring
- Strip Mine
- Survival of the Fittest
- Sword of Body and Mind
- The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
- Time Vault
- Time Walk
- Tolarian Academy
- True-Name Nemesis
- Umezawa's Jitte
- Vampiric Tutor
- Wheel of Fortune
- Yawgmoth's Will
- Oko, Thief of Crowns
- Tasha's Hideous Laughter
- Thassa's Oracle
On top of this, some cards aren’t banned from the main deck or sideboard but they are banned from being your commander. Those cards are:
- Ashiok, Dream Render
- Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
- Edric, Spymaster of Trest
- Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
- Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
- Oko, Thief of Crowns
- Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
- Wrenn and Six
Animar, Soul of Elements | Illustration Peter Mohrbacher
While Tiny Leaders isn’t supported by WotC as a sanctioned format, it’s still not dead. There are a lot of communities and local game stores that still run tournaments and games pretty regularly.
The format didn’t stick because it was easy to resolve with the limited card pool available. Players quickly realized which were the best decks and most were sick of being beaten all the time by Geist of Saint Traft other oppressive strategies.
Another complaint was that Tiny Leaders was announced with such hype that players just decided to drop it as soon as they realized that regular changes weren’t happening. There were also no support sets with the format’s release or any announcements that any were coming. Some players saw Tiny Leaders as a forced format.
Finally, the format was heavily compared to EDH, and players just re-migrated to EDH after realizing all of the issues mentioned.
Selvala, Explorer Returned | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson
Tiny Leaders used to be available on Magic Online, but WotC removed it when they decided not to support the format anymore. With that in mind, the only options to play Tiny Leaders now are your own kitchen table or LGS games and online. Let’s go over some of your options if you decide to play online.
The first two options have something in common: you have to manually tap and play your cards and phases while the latter is the closest thing to actually playing with others without being in the same room.
Untap.in is an online simulator where you can create decks for free and playtest with other players.
Another online simulator, you can use Cockatrice to create your Tiny Leaders decks and playtest with others. Cockatrice also runs tournaments that are regularly announced on their official Discord server.
SpellTable allows you to virtually play with other players using physical cards. You need a camera to capture your cards and field.
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger | Illustration by Vincent Proce
Laelia, the Blade Reforged
Dragon's Rage Channeler
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Starting strong with a very aggressive deck you have this Rakdos () list with none other than Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger as its commander. The build is packed with multiple cheap spells (even for tiny leaders) with a good mix of aggressive early drops, removal, and hand-hate.
If you’re familiar with the Historic Rakdos Arcanist deck and enjoyed playing it, you’ll have tons of fun with this list.
Leovold, Emissary of Trest | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve
Creeping Tar Pit
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Remember when I told you that Tiny Leaders is an aggressive format? I wasn’t joking and you’ll see exactly when I mean after looking at Kroxa’s build. But this deck is one of the few control strategies in the format. Leovold, Emissary of Trest provides tons of value in this list, particularly with its fair share of spot removal.
Dakkon, Shadow Slayer | Illustration by Richard Kane Ferguson
Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Drown in the Loch
White Sun's Zenith
Blue Sun's Zenith
Creeping Tar Pit
Path of Ancestry
I couldn’t go over Tiny Leaders decks without featuring the one with a planeswalker as its commander. Not to mention that this color combination is probably the most powerful.
There are times when this list can run smoothly without even casting Dakkon, Shadow Slayer, but that doesn't mean it isn’t a powerhouse on its own once it resolves.
Pithing Needle | Illustration by Ovidio Cartagena
One of the best ways to get into Tiny Leaders is to start by choosing a mono-colored commander like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and building around it. You don't need to spend tons of money on your deck and there are plenty of aggro creatures in all colors that you can choose from. Starting aggressive is the best way to approach this format.
Get your hands on precons featuring Daxos the Returned like No products found.. Not only will it give you a playable commander for the format, you also get some Commander staples like Phyrexian Arena that you can use in Tiny Leaders.
You should prioritize artifacts since they can be run in any deck. Sensei's Divining Top is the first one that comes to mind. It’s a great example of a good card that can fit into any deck, even if it’s a bit expensive.
Remember that sideboards are also a thing in Tiny Leaders, and some decks fall apart with a single Pithing Needle post-sideboard, like those using planeswalkers as their commanders. You should get your hands on cards like this.
Evolving Wilds | Illustration by Alayna Danner
Land counts in Tiny Leaders can be tricky. It depends on whether your deck is a control or aggressive strategy.
An aggressive deck with mostly 1- and 2-drops can run reasonably well with 16 lands at a minimum. A midrange deck usually uses 18 lands since its density of 2- and 3-drops is higher. A control deck with multiple X cost spells tend to use at least 20 lands along with mana rocks.
Pauper Tiny Leaders is another way to play the format. As its name suggests, it only consists of cards that have a common rarity aside from your commander.
Your commander can be of any rarity, or it might be limited to uncommon depending on your playgroup.
Let’s go over the main communities and resources you want if you’re looking to get your hands dirty in the format. Not only can you look for brews and inspiration, some of these groups also schedule play sessions and start discussions about the format.
- Tiny Leaders Facebook page
- Official Tiny Leaders Facebook group
- Tiny Leaders Discord server
- Tiny Leaders Reborn Discord server
- Tiny Leaders Reborn official website
Apocalypse Hydra | Illustration by Jason Chan
Tiny Leaders is a fun format that puts your deckbuilding skills to the test by limiting your card pool. The format allows for faster gameplay, and it's because of that that I enjoyed playing and writing about it. There are definitely some oppressive strategies like Geist of Saint Traft, but even the mighty cleric has fallen from grace nowadays and players have learned to deal with it.
What do you think? Has this format caught your attention? Are you ready to start brewing? Let us know in the comments down below or head over to the official Draftsim Discord.
As always, take care and I’ll see you in the next one!
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