Tribal Cats in Modern

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
6/9/2017 11:02:00 AM
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This week we're going to take Thunder Cats for a spin in Modern. It's a tribal cat deck based around Regal Caracal and all the best cats on the Naya plane, including Wild Nacatl and Brimaz, King of Oreskos. The deck is off the charts on the fun scale and powerful enough to keep up with a lot of the big decks in Modern. If you're looking to earn style points at your next Modern tournament, this is the deck you should play.

The one card that ties everything together and is the payoff for all my creatures being members of the cat tribe is Regal Caracal. It feels a lot like Liliana's Mastery in that it comes down for five mana, immediately pumps the team while also making creatures. The big difference is that it grants lifelink, which puts the game out of reach of a lot of the opponents the turn it comes down. It's basically impossible to race once the Cat lord enters the battlefield and it can also quickly win the game on its own from an empty board.

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My favorite combo with the cat lord is Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Brimaz attacks as a 4/5 lifelink with vigilance and makes a 2/2 lifelinking, vigilant attacking cat each time he attacks. As I mentioned when Regal Caracal was first revealed, it's a puuurrrrfect match.

There are a few different directions to build a tribal cat deck. You can go the Soul Sisters route with Ajani's Pridemate or the Hatebear route with Leonin Arbiter. I chose instead to go the aggro route with Wild Nacatl, Loam Lion and Steppe Lynx. These one-drop kitties provide lots of heavy pressure just like the old Zoo decks. The difference is that instead of needing to draw a burn spell to win the game in the later turns, you have Regal Caracal to close the door.

Qasali Pridemage and Fleecemane Lion are the other two early drops in the deck. Pridemage provides strong utility against Merfolk ( Aether Vial), Lantern ( Ensnaring Bridge), Affinity ( Cranial Plating), or any deck running a problematic artifact or enchantment such as Worship or Blood Moon. The exalted bonus is also really good in a lot of scenarios. Fleecemane Lion is mostly just a giant body to fill a spot on the curve, but if you are ever a position to go monstrous, it can spell game over for the opponent.

Ajani Vengeant is mostly in the deck because you can't have a true tribal cat deck without the cat planeswalker in it, right? I chose the four-mana Boros version of Ajani because he provides some additional removal and can gain us some life. The ultimate is also a legitimate threat against midrange and control decks where the games can sometimes go long. Also what would be a Thunder Cats deck without Lion-o?

Path to Exile and Shining Shoal are the other two removal spells in the deck. Path to Exile is an easy slam dunk decision since it's the best removal spell in the format, especially in a field of Death's Shadow and Thought-Knot Seer. Shining Shoal is the more obscure choice and I went with it because it plays so well alongside Regal Caracal. When pitched, it Redirects up to five damage. That's enough to kill Reality Smasher or Thought-Knot Seer or can prevent all but one of the damage from a Searing Blaze. We basically win the game whenever the Cat lord resolves, so having a card like Shining Shoal in the deck helps to swing games where it's stuck in our hand. It's especially good against Anger of the Gods or against Burn decks in general.

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Honor of the Pure and Gavony Township are some additional anthem effects besides Regal Caracal's pump ability. These cards give the deck some reach and allow our creatures to continue to out-size the opponent's creatures as the game progresses. The other two special lands in the deck are Mutavault and Windbrisk Heights. Mutavault is technically a kitty, so we had to get that one in there somehow. Windbrisk Heights is a bit harder to activate in this deck than it is in a deck running Lingering Souls or Spectral Procession. Four copies might be a bit excessive, but it works well with Brimaz, King of Oreskos and hitting Regal Caracal is backbreaking. The fetch land mana base is because we are a three-color deck where land types matter early for Wild Nacatl and Loam Lion. The fetches also power up Steppe Lynx.

The sideboard has Stony Silence for Affinity, Tron, Lantern, etc. Also Rest in Peace as a big hate card against all the Dredge and delve decks running around as well as the Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster decks. It also is good at stopping various combo decks. Lightning Bolt is an efficient removal spell against small creature decks. Shining Shoal comes in against Anger of the Gods and burn decks. Leonin Relic-Warder might be overkill since we already have four main deck Qasali Pridemage, but meow I do what I want. Oblivion Ring is an all-purpose answer to creatures, planeswalker, artifacts, or enchantments. It's an especially good answer to Reality Smasher as long as they don't later resolve All Is Dust or Karn Liberated. Chameleon Colossus is technically a Cat and protection from black is excellent right now in a field of Death's Shadow, Gurmag Angler, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Fatal Push, Kolaghan's Command, and Terminate. Ever attack with a 10/10 lifelink cat with protection from black? If not, try pumping a Chameleon Colossus with a Regal Caracal on the battlefield.

Some other cards to consider are: Kemba, Kha Regent, Felidar Guardian, Leonin Arbiter, or Ajani's Pridemate. These cards would each take the deck in a unique direction. Kemba moves the deck toward equipment. Felidar Guardian moves it toward Saheeli Combo. Leonin Arbiter moves it toward mana denial (hate bears). Ajani's Pridemate moves it toward lifelink (Soul Sisters).

Here are some additional cards to consider that could fit into this shell:

Savannah Lions
Sacred Cat
Qasali Ambusher
Metallic Mimic
White Sun's Zenith

We could also change the mana base a little. If Windbrisk Heights doesn't quite work out, we could instead play Cavern of Souls. We could also cut a land and whichever of the one-drops underperforms the most for four Noble Hierarchs. This would accelerate us into Brimaz, King of Oreskos and then into Regal Caracal. If you move a little away from the Cat tribal theme you could also replace Ajani Vengeant, Fleecemane Lion and Honor of the Pure with Collected Company and some addition three-drops, though at that point the deck starts to lose its flavor.

This probably wouldn't be the deck I'd pick for a Grand Prix, but it would definitely be the deck I pick for Friday Night Magic!

Craig Wescoe

@Brimaz4Life




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