Tiny and Heroic

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Ever since Theros Limited, I’ve wanted to play a constructed Heroic deck. I don’t play Standard, though, and Heroic is underwhelming in Modern and Legacy. It’s especially weak in Commander, and most people (rightfully) don’t want to dedicate slots in their cubes for it.

I had dreams of being Heroic: dreams of sick blowouts with Gods Willing; dreams of gigantic Fabled Heroes sweeping aside ranks of creatures like Sauron in Lord of the Rings. Alas, these dreams languished…

…Until Tiny Leaders came along.

When my brother sent me a link to the Tiny Leaders ruleset a few months ago, the gears started turning. Perhaps my Heroic deck could be a thing now! Who needs blue when an honest red-white deck can represent a blow-out AND massive amounts of damage?

I’m still quite green to the format, but I’ve learned a few things so far:

This format is Mini-Legacy: you can start off with casual builds, but the strongest decks I’ve encountered are not to be trifled with. Despite its innocuous name, Tiny Leaders is a competitive format.

Don’t underestimate the speed of the format: Some decks can cast their Leader, no mere threat, on turn 2 (Geist of Saint Traft, Ezuri, Renegade Leader, Anafenza, the Foremost). You have to be able to keep up.

Don’t underestimate the sideboard: 10 cards is a very small pool to work with. Every card counts, especially when your deck is only 49 cards.

I knew I wanted to play an aggressive, proactive game, so I built my Tiny Leaders deck around Anax and Cymede: the Jay-Z-Queen B of Theros.

This was the decklist I ran at my first Tiny Leaders 8-man event:

Mainboard:

I’ve seen a few other lists floating around, but they either played sub-par creatures, or tried to be too cute with Heroic, or both. That said, I believe there are other viable builds, but this is the one I’ve been comfortable playing with.

The deck’s strategy is to pressure the opponent from turn 1 with resilient, consistent threats supported by haste enablers. It’s hard to deal 25 damage if all your creatures are 1 toughness. Combat tricks are the glue that holds this deck together, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

At some point, the opponent will begin to stabilize and our early creatures won’t cut it anymore. That’s where our 3-drops come in. There are two ways to exploit A&C’s Heroic trigger: with high-damage creatures or tokens. The 3-drops in the deck provide both. They are also a generally a pain to get rid of, and they are worth keeping alive with our protection spells.

A few standouts:

  • Imposing Sovereign makes your opponent’s blockers irrelevant the turn they come down, letting you push through more damage.
  • Heliod’s Pilgrim pulls her weight by offering utility. You can tutor and cast a removal spell (Chained to the Rocks), grab a falter effect (Hammerhand) to get in extra points of damage, or tutor up a Flickering Ward to combo with a Heroic creature.
  • Hammerhand looks weak on paper, but a) triggers heroic with a slight power boost, b) removes a blocker, screwing with your opponent’s math, and c) costs only one mana.

Notable exclusions:

  • Monastery Swiftspear: Tay-Sway works best with blue cantrips, which we don’t have. In testing she just attacked for a few points of damage and became irrelevant.
  • Favored Hoplite/Phalanx Leader/etc.: Although on-theme, I don’t have enough Heroic enablers to spend them on smaller bodies when I could be spending them on A&C or Fabled Hero.

Speaking of combat tricks: I didn’t want to run too many for fear of dead draws, and I wanted the ones I used to generally cost 1 mana. The costlier auras and instants can arguably be more impacting, but having most tricks cost 1 mana gives you more bandwidth in a turn, and everything costing the same leaves your opponent guessing as to what you’re representing.

The sideboard was geared toward the less interactive decks, like Elfball, burn and blue decks in general. I wanted ways to deal with Geist and True-Name Nemesis. The Eidolon and Aegis were hedges against both Storm and Burn. Return to the Ranks seemed like a neat idea on paper but I never wanted to side it in.

I ended up going 2-1 in the 8-man event. Some match highlights:

R1: Shu Yun (W 2-1) – I saw the Isochron Scepter-Orim’s Chant combo in game 1, but I was able to burn him out with a topdecked Boros Charm in response to the activation. The combo locked me out game 2, but a steady stream of threats in game 3 helped me seal the match. Seeing a turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic in game 2 made me realize I need more sideboard answers to artifacts.

Out:
War-Name Aspirant Brute Force Flickering Ward

In:
Pyroblast Red Elemental Blast Council’s Judgment

R2: Ezuri (L/D 1-1) – The pilot seemed new to the deck so the match went to time. I lost the first game to a Strength of the Tajuru blowout while alpha striking. I won the second game through two Genesis Waves (the first hit an Eternal Witness) when he blocked too conservatively against my alpha strike, letting me trigger A&C for lethal trample damage. I let him take the win to save time and avoid pairings hell. The Ezuri matchup is definitely a challenge because you have to keep the board clear every turn or risk being overrun. With a little more experience, my opponent would have rolled over me.

Out:
Young Pyromancer Dragon Mantle

In:
Earthquake Pithing Needle

R3: Anafenza (W 2-1) – The Junk deck excels at presenting large threats early, but at a certain point my 3-drops, combined with combat tricks, become much bigger. Like in other formats, the fear of Junk decks comes from their proactive threats and versatile answers.

Out:
Flickering Ward

In:
Council’s Judgment

After this initial run, these would be the next changes I’d make to the list:

Mainboard:

-Young Pyromancer +Hallowed Spiritkeeper

-Dragon Mantle +Mikaeus, the Lunarch

-Hyena Umbra +Knight of Glory

-Apostle’s Blessing +Emerge Unscathed

-Brute Force +Reckless Charge

Sideboard:

-Return to the Ranks +Wear // Tear

-Aegis of the Gods +Blood Moon

-Red Elemental Blast +Magus of the Moon

-Timely Reinforcements +Kor Firewalker

I’m not sure if this deck is necessarily tier 1, but it’s helluva lot of fun to play. I still need more format experience and there are many more decks I have yet to face (such as Merieke Control and Jund lands), but that’s basically a summary of my first foray into Tiny Leaders! If you think this deck is up your alley, I encourage you to give it a shot and try out your own build. Be Heroic!

Dave
Email: mtgderfington@gmail.com
Twitter: @derfington

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