Over the years, a variety of Cats have seen play in Constructed.
And this is just a small sample. What I haven’t seen, however, is Cat tribal. Before Amonkhet block, there simply hadn’t been Cat lords, so there was never any incentive for building such a deck. We’ve had Zombie decks, Goblin decks, Merfolk decks, Elf decks, and so on, but never a Cat deck. With Hour of Devastation, that may change.
A good rule of thumb for a tribal deck is that you need at least 12 lords and at least 12 reasonable early drops (creatures that cost 1 or 2 mana). A Standard Zombie deck, for instance, typically has 16 lords (Metallic Mimic, Lord of the Accursed, Diregraf Colossus, and Liliana’s Mastery) and 16 early drops. A Modern Merfolk deck has access to 12 lords (Lord of Atlantis, Master of the Pearl Trident, and Merrow Reejerey) and usually contains 20 early drops. You need high numbers to get close to a critical mass.
Once Hour of Devastation is released, the Cat tribe will hit my minimum requirements. This doesn’t yet mean that it’s going to be a powerful deck, but it does warrant a closer look.
Cat tribal now has 12 lords
You could argue over whether Hour of Devastation’s Pride Sovereign should count as a lord. It doesn’t boost your other Cats, after all. But in a similar vein as Diregraf Colossus, it gets better in a deck filled with Cats, so I’ll give it a pass.
Even outside of a Cat tribal deck, Pride Sovereign would already be a reasonable threat. If you can untap with it, you get 6 power and 6 toughness spread over 3 bodies, some of which have lifelink. I could see the card in Abzan Tokens alongside Hidden Stockpile and Anointed Procession, for instance, but I’ll just leave these brews to Lars Rosengren and Sam Black.
In a deck filled with other Cats, Pride Sovereign shines. It will regularly enter the battlefield as a 3/3 or 4/4, which means that Magma Spray can’t kill it. Moreover, its tokens get a boost from the other lords.
Cat tribal now has 12 reasonable early drops
A tribal deck needs enough creatures to establish a battlefield presence on turn 1 or 2. The Cat tribe already had Sacred Cat and Metallic Mimic in Standard, but the next-best options were Scythe Leopard and Longtusk Cub, which are poor outside of landfall and energy decks. Fortunately, Hour of Devastation brings an excellent new option in Adorned Pouncer.
Adorned Pouncer is reminiscent of Fencing Ace, a card that has seen play in Bant Hexproof decks. But it comes with multiple upgrades. First, Adorned Pouncer is a Cat, so it synergizes with the Cat lords. Second, it has eternalize, which provides substantial late-game staying power. Imagine you eternalize Adorned Pouncer, follow up with Regal Caracal, and attack with the Zombie Cat. That’s a 20-point life swing right there!
The combination of double strike and lifelink will be hard to race for your opponent. I considered Adorned Pouncer for a Naya double strike deck with Electrostatic Pummeler and Samut, the Tested as well, but I ultimately decided to explore a more dedicated tribal deck.
Nissa and Gideon aren’t Cats, but their pump effects are amplified by lifelink and double strike, and there are so few Cats for 3 or 4 mana that I had to fill the curve with something else.
A speculative inclusion from Hour of Devastation is Appeal // Authority. It’s sorcery-speed, but it’s powerful on Adorned Pouncer. It’s like casting Larger than Life on Electrostatic Pummeler, except that it only costs 1 mana and that its boost can exceed +4/+4. Oh, you also get a free removal-esque aftermath with vigilance. Vigilance is particularly useful on Pride Sovereign, as it allows you to attack and activate it on the same turn.
It’s possible that other pump spells such as Prepare // Fight, Blossoming Defense, Trial of Solidarity, Oath of Ajani, or Collective Effort are superior. Perhaps the deck would be better with a creature or removal card in this slot. But I generally like to focus my main decks on quick kills, and I found this new aftermath card appealing.
After sideboard, opponents will have better removal and interaction, which means that you need cards that can stand on their own. You can’t just solely focus on quick kills anymore, which means that Sacred Cat, Metallic Mimic, and Appeal // Authority would all get worse. I filled the sideboard with alternative threats to help adjust. Shout-out to Prowling Serpopard, which is a Cat as well.
It’s nice to see that Cats are getting some support. The tribe is on the verge of pushing into competitive play, but if I honestly assess the deck I built, it’s not quite there yet. It doesn’t exceed any of the bare minimum that I laid out for a tribal deck, and it runs several underpowered cards. This makes it hard to generate a critical mass of Cats that can reliably overwhelm opponents.
I think it would take at least one and maybe two good Cats in Hour of Devastation to reach a competitive deck. I’m hoping that they bring back Loam Lion and give us a Goblin Warchief for Cats, for instance. Or perhaps a powerful Cat that triggers on life gain? I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Hour of Devastation previews in the coming week.
Meanwhile, Zombies is still the premier tribal deck in Standard, and they couldn’t be more different from Cats. After all, Zombies are trying to kill you, while Cats are cute. Although… opinions on that are still divided.