Mad Mill Tiny Leaders
About two years ago, back when Hour of Devastation was the new set in Standard, I was opening a few packs for fun and pulled a card called Fraying Sanity. Now I’ve always been a sucker for mill decks, so I was understandably pretty happy. Then one of my friends chimed in, telling me that card would be great in a format they play called Tiny Leaders.
Now if you're like me you might need a refresher on what exactly Tiny Leaders is. It’s a format similar to EDH where decks have a commander and can only contain single copies of non-basic land cards that fall within the colour identity of that commander. Unlike EDH, it's a 1v1 format where the starting life totals are 25, the games are best-of-three, the decks can only contain 49 cards plus your commander and a 10 card sideboard, and most importantly (and what gives the format its name), you can only play cards with converted mana cost three or less. On top of that, and perhaps one of the biggest distinctions from EDH, players can use Planeswalkers as their tiny leader.
Tiny Leaders has since fallen off the radar for a lot of players, but there’s still a small but active group that loves this format, at least within the Ottawa community.
One of the things I often hear from other players is that they like the format but stopped playing because they thought there was nobody around to play with. Hopefully, this series of articles will inspire those among you who are in a similar spot to start playing again and breathe some life back into this format.
Being a 1v1 format with a mana cost restriction allows the format to be some of the things that I enjoy the most about Magic. While you can’t play all the flashy eight-mana haymakers that come with Commander, Tiny Leaders brings with it the efficient, powerful spells players will recognize from more competitive formats like Legacy and Modern, something that got my attention right away. With that I give you the deck that started it all, from the card that started it all (with a few updates from modern sets, of course).
This deck’s main focus, as you might have guessed, is to put your opponent’s library into their graveyard as fast as humanly possible. We'll accomplish that by playing efficient one-off mill spells such as Glimpse the Unthinkable, Mind Funeral, and Ipnu Rivulet in combination with repeatable mill sources like Hedron Crab, Mesmeric Orb and Sphinx’s Tutelage.
Of course, you still have to stay alive long enough to get your opponent to zero cards in library. For this, we play cards that help us to control the board and therefore the game. Cards like Baleful Strix, Toxic Deluge, and Tyrant's Scorn to make sure we don’t immediately die to creatures turning sideways. We also have cards that fill both roles.
Dimir Charm is a perfect example. It functions as removal and counterspell, and if neither of those are needed it can mill for two and effectively force your opponent to skip their next draw step more often than not. Thief of Sanity is another amazing addition to the deck, and one of the cards I’m most excited to play in this deck. Not only does it mill your opponent for three every time it connects, but if left unchecked it almost immediately begins to rack up a near insurmountable advantage.
Riddlekeeper acts as a sort of Propaganda effect, discouraging your opponent from attacking lest they lose their library faster. Plus it has a 1/4 body to block with. Ashiok, Dream Render is another great new addition to the deck. This Planeswalker is both a mill spell and graveyard hate, and it shuts off your opponent’s fetch lands and tutors to boot. And speaking of, we have our most important card: Our commander, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.
As a three-mana Planeswalker that can immediately tick up to five loyalty, it's almost guaranteed to stick around the turn that you play it, and after that it serves as one of the best mill spells you can have. Exiling three cards from their deck every turn means you get to shrink your opponent’s library, side-step graveyard strategies, and the -X ability also provides protection and possible win conditions you would not otherwise have access to.
Looking at our sideboard, you will likely not be surprised to see that it is mostly dedicated to graveyard hate cards. One of the best cards against us in the format is Gaea’s Blessing after all. Sadly the classic favourite [Leyline of the Void] is not legal in this format, but we still have a lot of interesting cards to choose from. To replace the missing leyline we have Planar Void, as well as several other cards that deal with graveyard shenanigans, namely Faerie Macabre, Nihil Spellbomb, Relic of Progenitus, and Tormod’s Crypt.
Yixlid Jailer is an interesting one, stopping strategies involving flashback and dredge, among other things. Dismember, Search for Azcanta, and Hurkyl’s Recall are all fairly self-explanatory. Dismember is great at killing large creatures or just when you need that extra piece of removal. Search for Azcanta provides amazing early game and late game selection and card advantage that makes it a slam dunk against the grindy matchups, and Hurkyl’s Recall is great at crippling artifact based strategies, such as a Sai, Master Thopterist deck.
Finally we come to one of my favourite pieces of sideboard tech, Metamorphose. Inspired by Set Adrift in Modern, the play pattern here is to put a problem permanent that a dimir deck would traditionally have problems dealing with (Wheel of Sun and Moon perhaps?) on top of its owner’s library, then use one of your many mill spells to put it directly into the graveyard. Of course, with converted mana restrictions of the format, sometimes you have to get a bit creative with your card choices and the downside of Metamorphose is very real. So make sure you really need that permanent gone before you use it!
That’s all for today’s deck tech. Be sure to check back soon for another dose of tiny leaders!