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COMMANDER: BUILDING AROUND TINYBONES

There are many things I’ve come to appreciate more as a result of the Corona Pandemic, but near the top of the list of “things I miss most” is hanging out with friends and playing cardboard Magic at the LGS or a Magic Convention. As fun as online Magic can be, I’m a firm believer there is simply no substitute for shuffling up and sharing some in person games with fellow gamers. The true value Magic the Gathering as a game brings to my life is through the experiences I share with other people. 

When I was looking through the Jumpstart Spoilers, one card immediately jumped off the screen and smacked me in the face. 

 

Tinybones, Trinket Thief

Based on name and artwork alone, and before I even read the game text, I was 100% committed to making this adorable undead creature the leader of my multiplayer army of darkness. 

 

It actually turns out that in addition to being fluffy and flavorful, Tinybones is actually a pretty darn good Magic card (bonus!) as well as a distinctly unique “build around” experience (BONUS, BONUS!). To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never seen what I’d consider to be a good multiplayer discard Commander, which is exactly the implied strategy to put around Tinybones.

Today, I’ll be focusing on my multiplayer build of Commander Tinybones, but it is worth noting the card is likely an even stronger 1v1 choice since it synergizes so well with 1 mana targeted discard spells like Duress, Thoughtseize, and Inquisition of Kozilek that we wouldn’t typically want to use in multiplayer. I’m not sure how many players still enjoy Tiny Leaders, but Tinybones would also be a great build around in that format as well. 

MY TINYBONES CONCEPT 

A couple of things before I get the decklist. First, I wanted to explore a build of Tinybones that plays to the natural flavor and synergy of the card. I didn’t want to turn tinybones into “combo soup,” but instead wanted to focus on teasing out how to play Discard in multiplayer. 

My goal wasn’t to build the most powerful Commander deck ever, but rather to build optimally and flavorfully around my Commander’s theme. 

The second thing that is conceptually important to me is to have a sense of who you’ll be playing with and how to build a deck that brings value to the game. How competitive and powerful are the decks I’m likely to play against? The Commander crowd at my LGS tend to be committed to building great decks, but also make some concessions on power level in lieu of creating fun and friendly games. 

As a rule of thumb, when I build a Commander deck I never want to have the most broken deck at the table, but I also don’t want to have the weakest deck at the table either. 

One aspect of Tinybones as a multiplayer Commander I really like is that the card is relatively self-limiting with regard to how good it can actually be. For instance, if discard were inherently good (which it isn’t!) we’d have seen more of it. Secondly, the color identity of Tiny Bones, Mono Black, is also a significant limitation in and of itself. While Mono Black has the edge on style points, it’s clearly outmatched in raw power and depth of strategic options by Blue and Green which simply have better options for doing the things that matter most in multiplayer: Ramp, Extra Turns, Combos, and Counterspells (to protect against combos and force through combos). 

Building around Tinybones creates enough inherent design constraint that I didn’t feel much of a need to “hold back” in terms of optimizing my list around the strategy. 

TINYBONES

The reason we want to build around Discard is that both of Tinybones abilities synergize with various elements of discarding. The first ability is the most important, “At the beginning of each end step if an opponent discarded a card this turn, you draw a card and lose 1 life.” 

The true power of this Commander is pairing it with cards that cause each opponent to discard during their turn in order to generate the most possible extra draws from Tinybones. 

The second ability of Tinybones, is a useful way to actually finish off players outside of the combat step, provided we are able to eventually get them Hellbent. 

Earlier in the article I mentioned that a Mono Black is at a strategic disadvantage in relation to other color combinations, specifically Blue and Green. Not having access to Counter Magic or Extra Turns is pretty rough in multiplayer, considering these are extremely awesome types of cards. The other strategic blindspot of a Mono Black deck is the ability to efficiently deal with opposing Artifacts and Enchantments. 

TINYBONES COMMANDER

By BRIAN DEMARS

 

22 Swamp (339)
1 Strip Mine
1 Wasteland
1 Blast Zone
1 Scavenger Grounds
1 Buried Ruin
1 Volrath’s Stronghold
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Cabal Coffers
1 Thespain’s Stage
1 Castle Lochwain
1 Ancient Tomb
1 Cabal Stronghold
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Crypt - Book Promos
1 Mana Vault
1 Expendition Map
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Wayfarer’s Bauble
1 Jet Medallion
1 Anvil of Bogardan
1 Arcane Signet
1 Treasure Map/Treasure Cove
1 Mindstone
1 Mind Crank
1 Reito Lantern
1 Charcal Diamond
1 Thought Vessel
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Oblivion Stone
1 Geth’s Grimoire
1 Helm of Obedience
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Nevinyrral’s Disk
1 Mindslaver
1 Karn Liberated
1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
1 Emrkaul, the Promised End
1 Possessed Portal
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Bubbling Muck
1 Dark Ritual
1 Bloodchief Ascension
1 Imperial Seal
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Waste Not
1 Argul’s Blood Fast
1 Smallpox
1 Night’s Whisper
1 Sign in Blood
1 Burgler Rat
1 Gate to Phyrexia
1 Oppression
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Necropotence
1 Pox
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Plague Crafter
1 Words of Waste
1 Necrogen Mists
1 Bottomless Pit
1 Grim Tutor
1 Beseech the Queen
1 Crypt Rats
1 Damnation
1 Crypt Ghast
1 Syphon Mind
1 Cunning Lethmancer
1 Leyline of the Void
1 Necrotic Ooze
1 Magus of the Coffers
1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Awaken the Erstwald
1 Decree of Pain
1 Exsanguinate
1 Myojin of Night’s Reach
1 Liliana's Elite

A couple of quick notes about my list:

  1. I tried to make this deck as powerful and consistent within the flavor constraint of being a focused Tinybones discard-centric deck. I do have some infinite combos in here. 
  2. I was expressly focused on the financial cost of cards when I put the deck together and focused on trying to make the best possible card choices. An Imperial Seal isn’t a necessity, but it certainly makes the deck better than not having one! 

I’m going to break the deck down into its various parts and talk about how it works. 

MANA ENGINE

I’m playing 34 land and roughly 15 cheap spells that insulate my mana base which equates to exactly half of my deck. Developing Mana is in my opinion the most fundamentally important part of a multiplayer game, because in order to do things that are powerful enough to defeat 4+ players it’s going to require a lot of mana! 

While black isn’t known for it’s ubiquitous ability to ramp, like Green, it does have one extremely powerful mana engine: 

Cabal Coffers

 

The endgame of any Mono Black deck will ideally run through Cabal Coffers / Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to set up large high impact endgame plays. We have ways to copy it, as well as recur it, if it is destroyed. With that said, Cabal Coffers is the single best and most important card in the Mono Black deck. 

THE DISCARD ENGINE 

 

Anvil of BogardanWaste NotSmallpoxOppressionPoxLiliana of the VeilPlaguecrafterNecrogen MistsBottomless PitPossessed PortalSyphon MindBurglar RatCunning LethemancerGeth's GrimoireAwaken The ErstwhileMyojin of Night's Reach

While 16 discard spells might feel a little bit skimpy, it’s important to think about ratios. One half of our 99 card deck is devoted to mana production. 16 of the remaining 49 slots equates to nearly one third of our total action! It’s A LOT especially considering discard isn’t traditionally very good. 

I drew a hard line in the sand with regard to what I chose to include. It had to be a legitimately good discard spell and not just fluff for fluff’s sake. An important play pattern of the deck is turn two Tinybones into a turn three permanent that forces each player to discard during their turn. When you set up this sequence, it allows you to tax each player a card while netting yourself a free draw each time. 

Rhystic Study

 

I consider Rhystic Study to be one of the inherently best multiplayer spells of all time in terms of investment to upside. Essentially, the strategy of my Tinybones Commander deck is to play with a lot of opportunities to build very good Rhystic Studies. 

TUTORS AND DRAW 

 

Vampiric TutorExpedition MapImperial SealDemonic TutorGrim TutorBeseech the QueenSyphon MindSign in BloodPhyrexian ArenaNecropotenceSensei's Divining TopGeth's GrimoireArguel's Blood Fast // Temple of AclazotzNight's Whisper

There’s not as much space devoted to card draw and tutoring as I would typically play, but it’s important to remember that our Commander, Tinybones, is a part of our draw engine that is always available to us in the Command Zone. 

Grim Tutor

I’m really happy to see a Core Set 2021 reprint on Grim Tutor which makes it more accessible and affordable in Commander. 

RECURSION ENGINE 

 

Buried RuinCrucible of WorldsReito LanternVolrath's StrongholdYawgmoth's Will

Having a way to get back important cards is important in a multiplayer game and the Mono Black recursion engine essentially runs through its lands. 

 

Crucible of WorldsBuried Ruin

Artifacts are important to the core Mono Black engine and Crucible + Buried Ruin gives us a way to bring them back. I think having access to recursion is so important that I’m willing to go an entire level deeper to insulate my engine by including a Reito Lantern

Reito Lantern

The Lantern also doubles as graveyard hate that can be used during the opponent’s turn, which is nice but the true value of the card lies in the ability to restock our deck and ensuring important cards that find their way into our graveyard are protected from being exiled. It’s also a great way to ensure we don’t get milled out. 

WIN CONDITIONS AND COMBOS 

I have two combos: 

Leyline of the VoidHelm of Obedience

These two cards team up to exile a player’s library. 

Bloodchief AscensionMindcrank

These cards form a combo as well. I like that this combo is cheap to assemble and will work through a Null Rod or Stony Silence which makes it a useful tutor option in games where our mana is badly constrained or denied. 

In addition to these straightforward “kill people” combos, I also have:

 

Gray Merchant of AsphodelExsanguinateNecrotic OozeMindslaverEmrakul, the Promised EndUlamog, the Ceaseless HungerCrypt Rats

I did a fair amount of research on various Mono Black Commander decks to see how other people had built them as well as for inspiration and card ideas. I can see the virtue of playing a threat dense deck, but I tend to see a lot of value in identifying the most efficient and powerful ways to win and simply tutoring for and recurring theme. 

If there is anything that is more powerful than taking an extra turn, it’s stealing somebody else’s turn. I’m clearly biased in favor of loving Mindslaver from my Vintage days but I’m perfectly content to use other people’s win conditions to do my dirty work for me! 

I also believe cards that deal large chunks of potentially lethal damage to everybody are disproportionately powerful in multiplayer: Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Crypt Rats are both great examples and can be recurred with Volrath’s Stronghold. Exsanguinate is also a very straightforward one card combo endgame when teamed up with Cabal Coffers

Necrotic Ooze

I don’t have any specific combos with Ooze but it’s kind of just a combo all by itself! With a bunch of graveyards to pool from there’s often a way to make it win the game without including an actual “Necrotic Ooze Package.” I’ve always found Ooze carries its weight in a deck and can provide some interesting interactions, so it’s well worth the include. 

REMOVAL 

The irony of Mono Black in Commander is that in a color known for great removal, it actually lacks good options for multiplayer. The reason for this is that Black lacks versatility at killing noncreature permanents, and noncreature permanents (Lands, Enchantments, and Artifacts) are typically the most important things to be dealing with!

 

SmallpoxPoxChoice of DamnationsDecree of PainCrypt RatsLiliana of the VeilOblivion StoneGate to PhyrexiaKarn LiberatedBlast ZonePlaguecrafterNevinyrral's DiskUlamog, the Ceaseless HungerLiliana's Elite

I have quite a few edict effects that impact all players as well as a handful of Black Wraths, but most of my best removal spells tend to be colorless cards that can deal with diverse typings that Black spells cannot. 

It may seem counterintuitive to play with hardcore sweepers like Disk or O-Stone in a deck that built on Artifacts and Enchantments but they are kind of just too good not to play (especially in a color identity that simply struggles to interact with opposing Enchantments). It’s also pretty sick that these board wipes allow us to part ways with Necropotence (a high priority tutor target) after we’ve gotten value out of it. 

Gate to Phyrexia

I’m also a huge fan of Gate to Phyrexia because it gives us a very good answer to problematic Artifacts and Null Rod locks. 

We have a lot of ways to deal with “a land,” but not a lot of options to deal with players who are ramping out a lot of land. Disk and Oblivion Stone are awesome against players who rely heavily on mana rocks and artifact mana, but there’s not much I can do against decks that Kodama’s Reach and Oracle of Mul-Daya

THE POLITICS OF MONO BLACK IN MULTIPLAYER 

Perhaps the most underrated playskill of multiplayer is playing the political game at the table. It has nothing to do with whether a player is Democrat or Republican, but rather who you work with and to accomplish which specific objectives. 

Multiplayer has significant social dynamics that inform who will win or lose the game. It’s similar, in a sense, to games like Survivor or Big Brother in that who you take to the end with you informs your chance of actually being the champion or runner up. 

As a Mono Black Mage, it’s important to never take a Simic Mage to the end with you because you’ll typically lose in the heads up to their combos and counterspells. Rather, it makes a ton of sense to work together with other players to take out the Blue Mages out early. The good news, it’s typically not too hard to get other players on board with taking out Blue Mages with great decks since they are always such a threat to win the game. 

I include A LOT of graveyard removal in my deck and that is my primary way of trying to beat Blue decks in an endgame situation. If you’re forcing them to discard and take away their ability to recur cards for value, you’ve got a shot. But, you’re always going to be an underdog to a huge draw spell off the top and counterspells that prevent you from winning. Emrkaul, the Promised End earns its spot in the deck because it’s extremely strong in these tricky endgame scenarios. Possessed Portal is another great endgame tutor target that can be used to lock up the game and has terrific synergy with Tinybones from the Command Zone. 

All things considered, I’m extremely excited for the chance to finish off my Tinybones deck and play it in some multiplayer games. I’m certainly not in a rush to start hanging out in public before it’s safe, but one of the luxuries I’m looking forward to most when things do go back to normal is taking this spicy brew into battle at my LGS. 

I also really appreciate the design and flavor of Tinybones and look forward to owning a copy and playing with it. I love the fact that it’s good, but in sort of a new and wacky way, and the fact that it inspired me to try a different approach to building a multiplayer deck that has traditionally not been a great strategy. 

Plus, I look forward to referencing this everytime I trigger Tinybones

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