Cats! The best pets there are, despite the lies and propaganda tirelessly churned out by dog people every day. Everyone knows cats are the superior animal on every conceivable metric, except for perhaps smelling bad or amount-of-slobber-produced-per-minute. Happily, there are a lot of cats in Magic – more than twice as many as there are dogs, so there – and today we’re going to get across the best cats the game has to offer.
Gather ’round, young ones, and I’ll tell you a tale of a time that Wild Nacatl, a one-mana 1/1 that is sometimes a 3/3 and that’s it, was banned in Modern. That’s right, Modern – the format of one-mana 3/3s with flying, never mind one-mana 2/1s that get you ahead on cards and mana. Years and years ago, Wild Nacatl was seen as too good, because the idea of opening with a Forest and then fetching a Sacred Foundry to have a vanilla 3/3 attacking on turn two was too good.
Times have changed, obviously. Even when it was unbanned, Wild Nacatl hardly touched the format, to be honest – it was a very early ban in Modern’s history, and between August 2011 and its unbanning three years later in 2014, the format had already moved on to the point that it was… fine? I guess? Some people played it in Naya Zoo, but it never dominated the format. Not so wild, after all – maybe people should have played with German copies instead.
Speaking of Cats that have been banned – and, in this case, remain banned – Felidar Guardian was, very briefly, a big part of competitive Standard after being printed in Aether Revolt. Why? Because of the marquee mythic of the previous set, Kaladesh: Saheeli Rai’s -2, in conjunction with Felidar Guardian, can go infinite and create an arbitrarily large number of hasty 1/4s, much like Splinter Twin.
Wizards missed the interaction with Saheeli (they said later it should have read “creature or artifact”, not “permanent”) and Copycat quickly spiraled out of control, making up a huge part of the Standard metagame (and some brave souls even tried to make it work in Modern, although without huge success). Ultimately, Felidar Guardian lasted only a few months in Standard before being hit with a ban.
But that wasn’t all – when Pioneer was established, the combo was once again made available to people. It took awhile (Felidar Guardian lasted longer in Pioneer than Standard), but the Saheeli/Felidar Guardian combo proved too good for another format, and so it bit the dust in Pioneer as well. Poor Felidar Guardian – being banned for the sins of Saheeli.
Leonin Arbiter is one of those cruelly “fair” cards that so often see play in Hatebears or Death and Taxes-style decks, ruthlessly punishing anyone who forgets its static ability. That’s right – it’s not a triggered ability! With most things like this, usually you’d expect a trigger to remind you to pay your way around an effect like this (“counter unless they pay X”) – but if you crack a fetch into Leonin Arbiter, bad luck mate. There’s no getting around it.
In a format like Modern, where so much of the format is based around searching your library, Leonin Arbiter is absolutely brutal. Most multicolored decks play fetches, and that’s just where it starts. In EDH, too, Leonin Arbiter is there to punish forgetful players hoping to tutor something up, offering their controllers the chance to smugly tap this nasty little 2/2 whenever they go to pick up their deck.
It gets worse, though – as you may be aware, there are ways to force your opponent to try to search their libraries, and punish them when they can’t. Leonin Arbiter is often paired with things like Ghost Quarter – Ghost Quarter makes up for the land destruction effect by giving your opponent a free basic. Not so with Leonin Arbiter, as if your opponents can’t pay the two, it turns Ghost Quarter into Strip Mine. Gross.
Wow, there really are a lot of very powerful Cats in Magic, aren’t there? Yet another cat that has been banned in Standard, Cauldron Familiar ended up being too good when used in conjunction with Witch’s Oven, as most readers will remember. It was also absolutely interminable to play against on MTGA, with each Cat/Oven loop taking about ten thousand clicks to get through (and sometimes they have multiple Ovens, too).
As long as your opponent kept an Oven activation ready, you could never really deal with the Familiar, and even if you dealt with the Oven, the cat would sit there and wait for the next one. Sacrifice decks ground you out, little by little, with Cauldron Familiar, Priest of Forgotten Gods and of course Mayhem Devil, and it was all too much. Cauldron Familiar had to go, and was banned along with more or less half of the entire Eldraine set.
Well, we may have got across some famous bans so far today, but how about this one: it’s not very often a card gets banned – banned, not restricted – in Vintage, but that’s just what happened with Lurrus of the Dream-Den. Usually, when cards are too good for Vintage, they’ll be restricted (that is, you can only play one copy, not four), but obviously that’s a pointless restriction when the card in question is a companion. Last year, therefore, Lurrus became the first card banned in Vintage for power level reasons since 1996.
The most powerful Cat ever printed in Magic hardly even really looks like a Cat – but its second creature type is very well-chosen, as this card is an absolute nightmare in many of the decks it’s played. Having a way to recur cheap permanents so easily bred a whole new category of deck across multiple formats – in Modern, people were cutting all the three-drops from Jund just to play Lurrus!
The companion rule change helped to calm things down, but all the same, this card remains one of the if not the most powerful companion (particularly outside of Standard), and is almost certainly the most powerful cat ever printed. There aren’t many cards that can brag about being banned from Vintage on power level – but Lurrus of the Dream-Den is one of them.
Cats, then, have played a big (sometimes too big) impact on constructed Magic over the years. Bans seem to follow Cat cards around like a bad smell – like the bad smell you might associate with, for instance, a dog. Incidentally, have any dog cards ever been so powerful they’ve had to be banned? Not that it’s a competition, of course – although if it were, Cats would be winning.