It's Commander (2017 Edition) Preview Week! This preview week is going to be working a bit different than other preview weeks. Commander 2017 has four different decks each with its own tribal (aka caring about a specific creature type) theme. Each day, Monday through Thursday this week, we're going to be focusing on a different tribe aligning with one of the four Commander 2017 decks. Today is Cat Day, celebrating the first Commander 2017 deck: "Feline Ferocity."
As a Magic historian, I thought I would use this opportunity to write a column about the history of Cats in the game. I promise before I'm done, I'll show off two new multicolor legendary Cat cards. Sound good? Well then, let's get started.
A Brief History of Cats
Limited Edition (Alpha)
The game began with a single Cat. This Cat:
Savannah Lions. In fact, it wasn't even a Cat. It had the creature type of Lion. The idea of consolidating creature types to enable tribal decks hadn't happened yet. A lion was a Lion. Savannah Lion wouldn't become a Cat until twelve years later in Ninth Edition. It would get reprinted four different times still as a Lion.
The next appearance of a Cat wouldn't happen until a year later with Magic's first large expansion. The set did introduce the concept of a humanoid cat person to Magic, though. Cat people had pre-existed in fantasy. I'm not sure of their origin, but they at least went back to the pulp comics of the early 20th century, showing up, for example, in the Flash Gordon comic strips.
Legends had these two cards:
Cat Warriors was the first Magic card to technically have the Cat creature type, but it was mostly because the creature type matched its name than any larger thought of labeling jungle cats as Cats. Jedit Ojanen wasn't a Cat because it was a legendary creature (Legends introduced the concept), and all legendary creatures at the time were creature type Legend and nothing else. I assume Jedit officially became a Cat during the Grand Creature Type Update in 2007.
This set had the fourth Cat in Magic, Sabretooth Tiger, but it was listed as a Tiger rather than a Cat. No real innovations here. For those that like obscure trivia, note that the word "Sabretooth" in Sabretooth Tiger is not the same spelling as it appears on the six other cards currently in Magic with the word "sabertooth" (Sabertooth Alley Cat, Sabertooth Cobra, Sabertooth Nishoba, Sabertooth Outrider, Sabertooth Wyvern, and Temur Sabertooth). While it's not the only word spelled differently on different cards (I'm looking at you "sylex"), such occurrences are infrequent.
From here on out, I'm going to start talking about whole blocks rather than single sets, as Mirage was the first set to introduce the larger concept of a block. (We retroactively made Alliances part of Ice Age, but it wasn't designed to go together like Mirage and Visions were.)
Here's all the Cats of the block: (eight creatures and one Cat-token maker)
Leave it to the African-inspired block to be the first one to do Cats in any volume. We still hadn't latched onto the idea of a general Cat creature type yet. Uktabi Wildcats were Wildcats and Panther Warriors was Cat Warrior, so you could see us starting to drift in that direction. Purraj of Urborg was the second legendary Cat (again, printed as just a Legend and later errataed to be a Cat). Although she played a small part, she did have a role in the Mirage story, making her the first Cat character in story and also the first to also appear on a card.
A few important design tidbits: King Cheetah was one of the earliest cards, and the first green card, to have flash (keyword status wouldn't come until Time Spiral). Stalking Tiger introduced the "stalking" ability ("can't be blocked by more than one creature"), an ability we haven't keyworded but use often. And Urborg Panther was one of the earliest cards to reference another card title in its rules text. (Not the first—that honor belongs to a few cards in Legends.) Waiting in the Weeds was supposed to make Squirrel tokens, but when the artist misunderstood the art description it ended up coming back with Cats in the illustration, so the card was changed to make Cat tokens.
Portal was our first attempt at an introductory booster product. As such, it was simplified in many ways, including not having creature types listed on the card. The set introduced three new Cat cards (Elite Cat Warrior, Jungle Lion, and Raging Cougar) and repeated two others (Panther Warriors and Stalking Tiger) with new art. The three non-repeats officially became Cats when Portal was made Eternal-legal.
My first block as a designer didn't have many Cats—just Canyon Wildcat in Tempest and Mirri, Cat Warrior in Exodus. Both, though, were important historically. Canyon Wildcat was where we decided to make the change to label all jungle cats as just Cat. Mirri was the first time we made a Cat creature that was a major character in the story. Mirri was part of the Weatherlight crew and best friend of main character Gerrard Capashen. She would be killed by Crovax in the Exodus story. Mirri, by the way, was technically a Cat Warrior even though her type line just said Legend because she had rules text stating she was a Cat Warrior. This was a trick we used with creature types at the time.
Portal Second Age
The second Portal set had just one Cat, Lynx, but it did have the creature type Cat.
Urza's Saga Block
Only Urza's Saga of the three sets in the block had any Cats, and it only had four (Cave Tiger, Guma, Pouncing Jaguar, and Wirecat). Pouncing Jaguar would end up being a popular tournament card in a mono-green deck called Stompy. Wirecat would be the first artifact creature to be a Cat. Note that it wasn't listed as a Cat at the time because, back in the day, artifact creatures didn't get creature types. It would later get errataed into a Cat.
Portal Three Kingdoms
The third and final Portal set had four new Cats (Hunting Cheetah, Slashing Tiger, Trained Cheetah, and Zodiac Tiger) and one reprint (Stalking Tiger). Oddly, even though normal Magic had started adopting the labeling of jungle cats as Cats, this product uses Cheetah and Tiger accordingly. I'm not sure why this was so. The cards all got errataed to Cats when the Portal cards were made Eternal-legal.
If you like obscure trivia, what is the one Cat released originally in a non-booster introductory product? The answer is Pride of Lions, which was one of a handful of new, and simple, cards released with Starter 1999. Yet another attempt at an introductory product, this Starter 1999 was non-randomized. (All the cards came in a box along with a booklet teaching how to play.)
Mercadian Masques Block
Mercadian Masques block introduced just five new Cats to Magic. Jhovall Queen and Wild Jhovall in Mercadian Masques and Glittering Lion, Glittering Lynx, and Scoria Cat in Prophecy. All five Cats were made up types of Cats. Jhovall Queen interestingly wasn't a Cat creature type because it was a Rebel needed for the Rebel mechanic (it could search the deck for Rebels) and, at the time, we limited ourselves to just one creature type per creature. It would get errataed during the Grand Creature Type Update.
Invasion block introduced eight new Cats:
Planeshift: Fleetfoot Panther (Cat)
Invasion would introduce the Nishobas, a new type of Cat humanoid. The two Nishobas on cards, Armored Guardian and Sabertooth Nishoba, weren't originally listed as Cats but rather as Guardian and Beast, respectively. We would later decide that all Cat humanoids should also be listed as Cats.
Odyssey block introduced six new Cats, all but one of which were actually labeled as Cats.
Torment: Crazed Firecat (Cat)
Three of them were Firecats, cats literally made out of fire. The Firecats would later be errataed into Elemental Cats. You can see we're starting to experiment with Cats crossing with other types of creatures creatively. The Phantom creatures were Spirits plus whatever creature type they were before they became Spirits. As with Invasion, the Nishobas were later errataed to be Cats.
Onslaught block had just five new Cats, but had a couple Cat firsts:
Legions: Krosan Vorine (Cat Beast)
Scourge: Chartooth Cougar (Cat Beast)
Entrails Feaster is the first Zombie Cat as well as being the first house cat (a non-jungle cat). Okay, Magic's first normal cat was undead, but you have to start somewhere. Krosan Vorine and Chartooth Cougar were the first cards printed as Cat Beasts. And the popularity of pit fighter Jareth led the way, I believe, to Planeswalker Ajani Goldmane.
Mirrodin block was a great one for Cats. Not only did it have thirteen new Cats, but it also introduced the Leonin, Magic's take on the cat warrior:
Mirrodin: Leonin Abunas (Cat Cleric), Leonin Den-Guard (Cat Soldier), Leonin Elder (Cat Cleric), Leonin Skyhunter (Cat Knight), Skyhunter Cub (Cat Knight), Skyhunter Patrol (Cat Knight), and Taj-Nar Swordsmith (Cat Soldier)
The introduction of the Leonin plus the race/class creature type structure, both of which premiered in Mirrodin, allowed us to start using Cat as a race combined with various class types. For the first time, we got Cat Clerics, Cat Knights, Cat Soldiers, and Cat Wizards. Fifth Dawn also had Raksha Golden Cub, the first Cat tribal lord, a legendary one no less. It wasn't the simplest of tribal cards, as it required Raksha being equipped, but it did help enable a Cat tribal deck.
Ravnica block only added two new cats: Sabertooth Alley Cat in Ravnica: City of Guilds and Pride of the Clouds in Dissension. I believe Pride of the Clouds was the first Elemental Cat to be listed as such on the card itself.
Coldsnap had just one Cat: another Nishoba, Arctic Nishoba, the first one labeled at the time as a Cat, I believe.
Time Spiral Block
Time Spiral block introduced seven new Cats:
Time Spiral: Jedit's Dragoons (Cat Soldier)
Two of the Cats were re-imagined versions of legendary characters. Jedit Ojanen of Efrava imagines what would have happened if he hadn't "forsook the forests of his tribe." Mirri, on the other hand, explores what if Crovax had turned her into a Vampire instead of killing her. This lead to the first ever Cat Vampire. Blade of the Sixth Pride is the first card printed as Cat Rebel. Nacatl War-Pride was well known for being a busted card in full Time Spiral block draft.
The Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block was pretty dismal for Cat lovers, introducing just a single new Cat—Spirit of the Hearth in Eventide. It redeems itself though by being the block that first introduces Ajani Goldmane (his first planeswalker card was in Lorwyn). While not technically a Cat from a gameplay perspective, Ajani is the first, and so far only, Cat Planeswalker.
Shards of Alara Block
Shards of Alara block makes up for Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block's stinginess by introducing eleven new Cats and another version of Ajani:
Shards of Alara block introduces Naya, Ajani's home world. (Remember, at the time, Alara was split into five distinct shards, Naya being one of them.) We meet the Nactal, the tribe that Ajani comes from, as well as the Leotau, a wilder type of Cat.
Zendikar block only introduced five new Cats to the game:
Worldwake: Loam Lion (Cat)
Not too much advancement of the Cat cause, but Steppe Lynx was a tournament-viable creature.
Scars of Mirrodin Block
A return to Mirrodin meant a return of the Leonin. That led to nine new Cats (one of which was an artifact creature and not a Leonin).
The biggest addition from the block for Cat lovers was Kemba, Kha Regent, a new option for a Cat commander. While she didn't enhance Cats like Raksha, she was good at creating Cat creature tokens. Also, the fact that both she and Raksha require Equipment support made them play well together.
Just one new Cat addition—Pride Guardian, the first Cat Monk, I believe.
The Innistrad block only had two Cats—Black Cat and Sanctuary Cat, both in Dark Ascension—but they introduced something important: normal, living, house cats. Magic had done a lot with jungle Cats and Cat Warriors over the years, but other than one Zombie Cat in Onslaught, it had never just done simple cats. The audience loved it. Neither Black Cat nor Sanctuary Cat were particularly strong, but they were much beloved.
The set introduced a new Ajani with Caller of the Pride whose ultimate was to make a lot of Cats (he made a number of 2/2 white Cat creature tokens equal to your life total). It also introduced three new Cats with Ajani's Sunstriker, Guardian Lions, and Healer of the Pride that were made to thematically work with Ajani.
Return to Ravnica Block
Each set in the block introduced one new Cat: Trained Caracal (Return to Ravnica), Zarichi Tiger (Gatecrash), and Rubblebelt Maaka (Dragon's Maze). All were jungle Cats and none particularly memorable.
Magic 2014 introduced two new Cats: one, Ajani's Chosen, to make tokens like Ajani, Caller of the Pride, and the other an Elemental Cat giving a peek at the world of Regatha in Regathan Firecat. (In Magic Origins, we learn that Regatha is the first world Chandra visits when she sparks.)
Holiday Card 2013
Every December, we release a silver-bordered holiday card. In 2013, we released our first, and so far only, Cat holiday card. The card is a parody of Stalking Tiger from Mirage (see above) combined with a mechanic from Unhinged's Booster Tutor.
The creative team wanted Ajani to be part of the Theros story, so they decided to include a race of Leonin on the world to help him blend in. The block introduces nine new Cats and a new Ajani:
Nylea's Emissary was the first ever Enchantment Cat. Brimaz is yet another legendary Cat, another one good at making Cat creature tokens.
Commander (2014 Edition)
This product only had one Cat, but it was a splashy one—Jazal Goldmane, Ajani's dead brother. Jazal was obviously designed to be a strong commander and one that played well with many of the white Cat cards.
Khans of Tarkir Block
Khans of Tarkir block only introduced five new Cats.
Fate Reforged: Temur Sabertooth (Cat)
It did introduce a new kind of Cat, the Rakshasa, which had the creature types of Cat Demon.
This set introduced just one new Cat to Magic—Enlightened Ascetic.
Battle for Zendikar Block
Commander (2015 Edition)
Conspiracy: Take the Crown
Pyretic Hunter was the only new Cat added in this product.
This block introduced six new Cats and two new Ajanis.
Aether Revolt: Ajani Unyielding (planeswalker); Ajani, Valiant Protector (planeswalker, in the Planeswalker Deck); Aetherstream Leopard (Cat); Felidar Guardian (Cat Beast); Scrounging Bandar (Cat Monkey)
Kaladesh introduced Bandars, creature type Cat Monkeys. It also had Felidar Guardian, the first Cat ever to get banned in any format.
Amonkhet introduces ten new Cats to Magic:
Amonkhet: Graceful Cat (Cat), Initiate's Companion (Cat), Pouncing Cheetah (Cat), Prowling Serpopard (Cat Snake), Regal Caracal (Cat), Sacred Cat (Cat), and Watchers of the Dead (Artifact Creature – Cat)
More importantly, though, it adds the second-ever Cat lord (Regal Caracal) and the first one to boost your Cats without first having to jump through a hoop. It also creates a bunch more ordinary Cats for players to play with. We had seen the popularity of the house cats in Innistrad block and had been waiting for a place where more normal cats made sense. As we delved into our studies of Egyptian flavor, we realized that Cats were a perfect fit. The ancient Egyptians adored Cats. Egyptian flavor also let us introduce the Serpopard, a Cat Snake.
This push of Cat tribal resulted in an outpouring of requests for a green-white legendary Cat.
Commander (2017 Edition)
Which gets us to my preview cards for today. I'm not allowed to show you all the new Cat cards (I know there's double digits), but I can show you two green-white legendary Cats.
The first is a character near and dear to my heart.
Next is a Cat-tribal legendary Cat.
The Cat's Out of the Bag
That's all the time I have for today. I hope you enjoyed my history of Magic Cats as well as my two preview cards. I'm interested in hearing feedback on both this column (Is this type of history column something you'd like to see more or less of?) and of the Commander (2017 Edition) product. You can email me or talk to me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).
Join me next week when you can find out if you got it.
Until then, may herding Cats not be too difficult.
In this podcast, I talk about the biggest constant of Magic—change.