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Budget Magic: $95 (15 tix) GW Cat Tribal (Standard)

Ola, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time again! Yesterday, for Much Abrew, we played this weird Approach of the Second Sun / Cat mash-up. While the deck functioned pretty well, I mostly came away impressed with the power of the Cats. When you combine this with the fact that Ixalan is supposed to be about tribes and Ixalan Standard is essentially devoid of tribal decks, the time has finally come to play Cat tribal. The basic idea of the deck is simple: we play Cats—lots and lots of Cats—along with a handful of support cards to power up the tribe even further. The good news is that the best Cats in the deck are extremely powerful standalone threats. The question is whether the lesser Cats will be good enough to compete in a pretty powerful Standard format. Can Cat Tribal actually work? Let's get to the videos and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck.

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GW Cat Tribal (Deck Tech)

Budget Magic: Cat Tribal vs. Mardu Midrange (Match 1)

Budget Magic: Cat Tribal vs. Ramunap Red (Match 2)

Budget Magic: Cat Tribal vs. UB Control (Match 3)

Budget Magic: Cat Tribal vs. Esper Gifts (Match 4)

Budget Magic: Cat Tribal vs. UB Midrange (Match 5)

The Deck

GW Cat Tribal is a pretty straightforward tribal deck. We have 24 Cats along with three Vanquisher's Banners, which are honorary Cats in our deck. Probably the easiest way to break down the deck is to start by looking at our Cat payoffs, which are the primary reason why the Cat tribe is powerful in Standard, before following up by talking about our filler or support Cats and finally the utility cards that round out the deck.

Cat Payoffs

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Regal Caracal is the best Cat in Standard and the best Cat in our deck. The power of Regal Caracal is that it's a good threat all by itself, offering seven power and toughness across three bodies for just five mana along with a bit of life gain, while being even better in a deck full of Cats. Since Regal Caracal makes lifelink tokens, it's easy to forget that it gives all of our Cats lifelink, which means when we play our Cat lord with a bunch of Cats already on the battlefield, we can usually gain a huge chunk of life immediately, swinging the race in our favor against other aggressive decks. Plus, Regal Caracal also pumps our Cats, which is pretty helpful because a lot of the Cats in Standard are a bit underpowered on their own. Basically, Regal Caracal is our best card when we have a board full of Cats and also the best card we can draw off the top of our deck with an empty board. It pushes through extra damage when we are ahead and trying to close out the game and helps us stabilize and stay alive when we are behind. It's just an all-around good card and one of the biggest reasons to play Cat Tribal in Ixalan Standard. 

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Pride Sovereign is absurd in our deck and a bit of a sleeper, since unlike Regal Caracal, it doesn't really see play in Standard. The reason we don't see more of Pride Sovereign in non-Cat decks in Standard is that it really needs other cards to make it powerful. While in theory we can play it on an empty board and slowly make it into a real threat by exerting to make some Cats, Pride Sovereign is scariest when we curve out with Cats, play a Regal Caracal, and then suddenly attack with a 10/10 lifelinker. 

Much like Regal Caracal, Pride Sovereign is great in our deck, since it's good in almost all situations. When it's small and can't attack, we can use it to make lifelink Cat tokens with the exert ability, and then as the game goes along and we play more Cats, it almost always becomes the biggest creature on either side of the table, often attacking through Dinosaurs, Verdurous Gearhulks, and The Scarab God. Most importantly, it doesn't take much to make Pride Sovereign way above the curve. If we play a one-drop Cat into a two-drop Cat into a Pride Sovereign, it's already a Loxodon Smiter with the upside of getting even bigger in coming turns, either from other Cats we play from our hand or with the help of its exert ability. While Regal Caracal is the best Cat in Standard, Pride Sovereign isn't far behind, and when we just need a huge undercosted creature, there's nothing we want to draw more than Pride Sovereign

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While not technically a Cat, Vanquisher's Banner is our last big tribal payoff. On level one, the artifact comes down and pump our Cats, almost like a backup Regal Caracal, which gives us a total of seven Cat lords in our deck. On level two, Vanquisher's Banner is an insane card-advantage engine and one of our best ways to stay in the game against removal-heavy control and midrange decks, drawing us a card every time we cast a Cat, which usually finds us more Cats and draws us more cards; rinse and repeat. It's also not legendary, and things get really crazy when we happen to get multiples on the battlefield. As strange as it sounds for a GW tribal deck, we can occasionally just draw through our entire deck. The downside is that Vanquisher's Banner does die to Abrade since it's an artifact, and it looks pretty bad when we don't have any Cats on the battlefield to pump or in our hand to draw us more cards, but the ability to not just be a Cat lord but a card-advantage engine makes Vanquisher's Banner more than worth a few slots in our deck.

Filler Cats

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As I mentioned in the intro, the biggest challenge of Cat tribal is finding enough playable cards to fill out the curve. While our payoffs are great, the support Cats are a bit lacking. As a 1/1 for one, Sacred Cat isn't exactly a major threat, although it does give us another Cat on the battlefield to pump Pride Sovereign and benefit from Regal Caracal. Meanwhile, Adorned Pouncer is pretty underpowered (basically a weird Grizzly Bears) until it comes back from the graveyard. Speaking of the graveyard, the ability to eternalize / embalm is biggest upside of both Sacred Cat and Adorned Pouncer, giving our deck some natural resilience to removal. While Fatal Push is annoying, Adorned Pouncer is actually a really strong threat when it comes back as a 4/4 with double strike, especially with Regal Caracal giving it lifelink, allowing us to gain a massive eight points of life each attack, which makes it nearly impossible for other aggro and midrange decks to race our Cats.

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Prowling Serpopard is one of our highest-variance Cats. It's amazing against control decks, invalidating all of our opponent's Essence Scatters and Disallows. On the other hand, even though a 4/3 for three seems like a good deal, it's pretty bad against red decks, since it dies to Abrade and Lightning Strike, which is less than ideal. In a perfect world, Prowling Serpopard would probably be a two-of in the main deck, with another copy or two in the sideboard for the control matchup, but there simply aren't that many playable Cats in Standard, which means Prowling Serpopard is the second-best three-drop (behind Pride Sovereign), making it an important part of our Cat curve.

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While Longtusk Cub can be one of the scariest cards in energy decks, often growing as big as a Tarmogoyf in short order, in our deck it's just a Grizzly Bears with some slight upside if we happen to get in some combat damage, since we don't have any other sources of energy. The good news is that Standard players have been trained to be very scared of Longtusk Cub, and they don't know that we don't have any other sources of energy in our deck, so we get some strange value where people make sub-optimal blocks or waste removal spells because they are afraid of Longtusk Cub getting out of hand. Much like Prowling Serpopard, Longtusk Cub is basically a curve-filler—while Grizzly Bears aren't exactly Standard playable, we need Cat bodies to pump Pride Sovereign, get lifelink from Regal Caracal, and draw cards with Vanquisher's Banner, and the grizzly cat is the best that we've got. 

Utility Spells

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As far as utility spells, we start with a handful of cards to help protect our Cats. Blossoming Defense is pretty simple, giving a Regal Caracal or Pride Sovereign hexproof to fizzle a removal spell while also allowing us to push through a bit of extra damage thanks to the +2/+2. Heroic Intervention is basically Fumigate / Bontu's Last Reckoning protection, while we can also use it like a Blossoming Defense to fizzle an Abrade or Vraska's Contempt (and remember, it gives all of our permanents hexproof and indestructible, so we can use it to protect things like Vanquisher's Banner as well). Finally, Shapers' Sanctuary punishes our opponent for targeting our stuff, making it so if our opponent Fatal Pushes our Longtusk Cub, we at least get a replacement card to keep the Cats flowing. Altogether, these cards do a pretty good job of helping out Cats fight through most of the common removal and sweepers that see play in Standard. 

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Lifecrafter's Bestiary is almost like a mini-Vanquisher's Banner. While it doesn't pump our team and we have to spend mana on it, it does allow us to draw a card whenever we cast a Cat while also scrying useless lands to the bottom to make sure we are finding action. It's amazing against midrange and control decks, helping us keep up with the card advantage they offer, although it can be a bit slow when we run into decks like Ramunap Red. When you combine it with Shapers' Sanctuary and Vanquisher's Banner, it gives our deck an absolutely absurd amount of card advantage for a green-white tribal deck, which helps make up for the fact that some of our lesser Cats are pretty underpowered by overwhelming our opponent by going wide in situations where we can beat them with raw power.

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Last but not least, we have Cast Out as our removal spell. Since we need to dedicate a lot of the slots in our deck to Cats to power up our tribal synergies, we don't have that many slots for removal spells. This makes Cast Out great, since it hits everything at instant speed for a reasonable cost. Plus, if it's ever bad, we can just cycle it away to find some more Cats. 


All in all, we finished our video matches 3-2 while also dropping a match to Abzan Tokens, where we had some video issues, dropping the total record to 3-3. Heading into the matches, I figured we'd have a reasonable shot against aggro decks, since we have a lot of lifegain and do a good job of gumming up the board with Cat tokens, but we pretty much got crushed against Ramunap Red. On the other hand, we performed extremely well against control and midrange. Maybe the best example of this was against UB Control, where our opponent flipped a Search for Azcanta early in the game and had a copy of The Scarab God on the battlefield for several turns, and we still overwhelmed them with Cat value thanks to Vanquisher's Banner and Lifecrafter's Bestiary (in fact, we almost milled ourselves out thanks to all the cards we drew). 

Part of the reason our midrange and control matchups felt so good was our utility cards, which were focused on card advantage and fighting through removal. It's possible that we should skew a bit more toward beating aggro (with some additional early-game removal) to have a better shot at beating Ramunap Red, although this would make the deck a bit less fun to play. One of the reasons I don't generally like tribal aggro decks is that it often feels like you just spew your hand onto the battlefield and hope the opponent doesn't have a wrath, and if they do, you scoop up the game. This build of GW Cat Tribal, on the other hand, has so much card advantage that this was never a problem. We always had a ton of action and didn't especially care about our opponent's removal at all. Apart from changing up the utility spell mix depending on if you want to fight against aggro or control, I don't think there are really any significant changes I'd make to the budget build of the deck.

All in all, I had a lot of fun playing with the Cats. I constantly found myself shocked by how many cards our GW tribal deck was drawing, and I was very impressed with all of our Cat payoffs. While some of the support Cats are a bit weaker than I'd like, they aren't horrible, and the curve is actually pretty solid, if not extremely powerful. As weird as it sounds, Cats might be the most playable tribe in Ixalan Standard, even though there wasn't a single Cat in Ixalan itself. While I don't think Cats will break the format or anything like that, if you are looking for a fun tribal deck with a ton of card advantage and the ability to keep up with a lot of the big decks in Standard, it just might be the budget deck for you!

First off, if you're playing Cats on Magic Online, you might as well just played the budget build from the videos because it's already amazingly cheap. As such, our ultra-budget version this week is paper only. Downgrading GW Cat Tribal into the ultra-budget range is actually a bit tricky, since our most expensive cards are also our best cards (Regal Caracal, Vanquisher's Banner, Pride Sovereign), so we can't really cut them. Instead, we trim back on the mana as much as possible and cut down on Prowling Serpopard, which makes the deck a bit worse against control but doesn't really hurt in other matchups. Otherwise, we cut the strangely expensive Heroic Intervention in both the main deck and sideboard and rely on Blossoming Defense to protect our creatures, while also changing Longtusk Cub into Scrounging Bandar (which isn't really a significant downgrade). All around, the ultra-budget build of the deck will occasionally struggle thanks to the worse mana but otherwise should play like the build from the videos. While a mana upgrade is necessary for tournament play, it's a fine, cheap option for the kitchen table. 

Since there aren't really that many Cats available in Standard, there really aren't too many changes to make to the non-budget build. This being said, we do get one massive addition with Metallic Mimic in the two-drop slot over Longtusk Cub. Metallic Mimic is the one Cat that we simply couldn't fit under the budget (it's weirdly expensive at $50 a playset, even without seeing much play since rotation), and it's amazing in our deck, upping our lord count and helping to fill out a weak spot on our curve. Otherwise, we get Authority of the Consuls in the sideboard to deal with Ramunap Red along with more copies of Heroic Intervention to help fight sweepers and other removal. Overall, the non-budget build represents a pretty major upgrade, just because Metallic Mimic is such a perfect card for our deck (being especially crazy with our token-producing payoff—a single Regal Caracal with a Metallic Mimic out adds a massive 10 power and toughness to the battlefield for just five mana).


Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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