Why You Should Care About Tiny Leaders
Formats are important in Magic. Unlike other card games, formats in Magic serve as individual ecosystems with dedicated ban lists, rotations, and metagames. I’ve talked on formats a few times, but those have mostly been just discussions about the formats themselves or suggested cards for them. Instead, I want to talk about formats themselves, and why the formats of Magic that keep this game alive.
Tiny Leaders is most comparable to Commander: both feature the command zone and singleton (or Highlander) decks. Now, slash the deck size by half to fifty, start at 25 life, and only bring cards with CMC three or less. Tiny Leaders existed in the public eye for a brief lifespan from 2013 to 2016, before dying out and disappearing in the wake of Commander and other formats. Tiny Leaders was a joke, a punchline stapled onto a bit. I never played Tiny Leaders, but in 2020 and 2021, the format was reborn during the pandemic era. I’m sure nostalgia played a significant part of it, but now there’s active moderation of the format. Defining factors like ban lists, and centralized rules hubs having been established, the shambling corpse of Tiny Leaders sloughs on again.
The story of Tiny Leaders is only really interesting to those who have nostalgia for it (or Magic nerds like me and presumably you) but it showcases what I believe is the most interesting thing about how we play Magic. The format you play in your groups creates a unique experience that is special to your playgroup or LGS. The format you spend the most time crafting decks for and the formats you play the most often will usually vary when you speak to other Magic players from outside your local groups. It’s that difference that makes Magic unlike any other TCG out there. I think that in the current online focused era of MTG, something about that was lost. When we load up Arena to grind the ladder or play a round of draft, our experiences are homogenized. Everyone has to be on the same page, simply because there’s so many people playing in one place.
Contrast this to your more personal playgroups, who delve into a new format and begin to develop their own independent meta. Commander groups have their own unique metagames that can vary widely from group to group, and when that group shifts to a new format, everything can change. You’ll find and construct decks that cater to your style of play and what’s ‘fun’ to you, but it’s going to be so different due to new deck building rules and new ban lists. Changing formats keeps things interesting, and can warp your group's meta into new and different directions. When your meta feels solved or stale, you can find something new in a different format: The longer your group stays together, the greater the chance that you’ll want something new. Magic offers such diverse and different formats with the same core game pieces ensures the game lives on so much longer than its contemporaries.
Tiny Leaders was the format I suggested when my play group noticed the staleness in our commander games. We wanted faster, different, more interesting matches. We’ve grown tired of our EDH decks, and Tiny was similar enough to keep the learning curve from being too steep for most of us. As we were building our decks for that week’s game time, the spoilers for Dominaria United were just coming out. I remember checking the CMC of each legendary, and when we found a new legal card for Tiny Leaders, we were ecstatic about finding what shells that card could fit into. That’s when something clicked to me that I was aware of, but struggled to put into words. Different cards are made for different formats, as any commander player would tell you. Finding cards that fit perfectly in the decks for new or different formats is a great experience, not unlike the early days of deck building as a hobby. Just like those first days, the discovery of new and interesting build-arounds or format staples creates an excitement that can’t be matched when revisiting those cards for the hundredth time. Think back to your first time browsing Scryfall or Gatherer, and finding a brilliant card to think about. New formats train you to think about cards in new ways, and ignites the deck building spark.
Surprisingly, this isn’t me telling everyone to go try Tiny Leaders. Far from it, the format may not be for everyone. Just like how Standard, Explorer, or Modern may not be for everyone. But, we should experiment outside our regular formats more. Magic’s greatest strength is the ability for the same game pieces and core rules to be applied to in different ways to yield unique experiences. Cards in Magic can have so much more meaning and nuance than cards from other games, and this extends past just Constructed versus Limited. If you’re starting to feel distant and bored with Magic, maybe all you need is a new perspective on the game.