MTGO Acatemy Presents: Two Jesses & the Cats of MTG

Strong>Jesse K:Eldritch Moon is out in the wild now, and it marks the return of a fan favorite creature to Magic: The Gathering. No, not the Eldrazi or Kaladesh’s dwarves, you dummy: The kitty cat. In honor of Harmless Offering, Two Jesses will run down our favorite feline friends.

But this won’t just be a walk in the park. No, that is not the Two Jesses way. There are important questions to answer. Just how cute is the precious, precious kitten on harmless offering? Can any other cat stand up to the level of cattitude present? Just what is a cat anyway, by MTG standards? Will we forget your favorite cat card, therefore earning your ire and being forced to resign in disgrace like Donald Trump? Only you, reader, can decide.

Jesse T: I don’t know about you, but at the mention of Trump’s name, I just want to bury my feelings under an avalanche of cute baby animals. Let’s forget about him, and all the tenuous connections we’ve been subtly drawing between him and the Eldrazi over the past few months, and have a serious discussion about which of Magic‘s kittens are the most adorable, and why.

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Part 1: A Tautological Aside – When Is a Cat not a Cat?

T: Sometimes a cat is just a cat. Sometimes it’s an instant or sorcery. Sometimes it’s simultaneously a cat and a spell in superposition until external observation collapses the wave function. It can get complicated. That’s why we decided to lay down some ground rules about how to cat-egorize potentially ambiguous cards.

K: For the purposes of this article we aren’t going to be covering all creatures gifted with the ‘cat’ creature type. Rule #1 is no anthropomorphic cats. That means no Leonin, no Rakshasa, no Nacatls. The reason for this should be obvious: They are not cats. There are many hilarious looking cat people, by the way, as this concept tends to be very difficult to illustrate. Here are a few of my favs, just as a point of context:

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K: It also means we get to ignore cat people who seemed to have opted for elective surgery that makes them more appealing to males aged 13-25. If you want more on this topic you can check out our article on the male gaze in Magic.

T: Cats are mammals, so cat women would obviously have huge gravity-defying boobs. It’s just more realistic. The people playing Magic are very concerned with realism. Today, however, we’re escaping from reality by looking at cute little animals, not disturbing humanoid ones.

K: The other thing that isn’t a cat is a lion, a cougar, a tiger, a leopard, or a panther (although Magic illustrators seem to have a particularly hard time with those). Neither is a magical made up animal that has been determined to be ‘mostly cat-like’. Get out of here with your leotaus and your jhovalls and your maakas and whatnot. Again, the reasoning here is that if you saw one of these creatures you would not think of it as similar to a cat, unless you were a real pedant. We’re mainly interested in the Magic cards that look most similar to the popular household pet. Lynxs are currently included, since these seem to be interpreted mostly as housecats with pointier ears. Here are some terrible illustrations of ‘big cats’ to help you get over your disappointment.

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T: I like how raging cougar’s face is super detailed, but its body is just a handful of vaguely cat-shaped smears. It almost looks like motion blur, except its head is perfectly still. Also, somehow the sun is out, and the sky is dark at the same time. Maybe it’s being knocked out of the air by a fireball mid-pounce. What an abomination. Is pouncing the only thing that big cats do? I guess Seht’s Tiger might be doing a magic trick or something. Abracadabra! The background disappears!

Part 1.5: The Missing Lynx

K: Not quite a house pet, yet also not a wildcat, lynxes are the wild card of the Magic cat world. Regardless, the only coherent identity lynxes seem to have carved out for themselves is ‘very poorly drawn’. To paraphrase an old saying, these cats don’t hunt.

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T: Lynxes are great for people who want a pet that looks like Hugh Jackman. Just watch out for those retractable claws! If you want something a little classier, Glittering Lynx is literally made out of crystals. Its joints don’t move very well, but it will still look wonderful next to your collection of ceramic angels and bejeweled eggs.

Part 2: The Cat-a-log

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T: Black Cat is a classic cat. It crosses your path and causes bad luck, which is the second most common way to lose a game on MTGO after shuffler malfunctions. Black cat is a pretty cute cat, but the downside is that it’s already dead and definitely cursed. It’s a good cat if you’re trying to creep people out. Whis-score: 7/10

K: We’re starting with one of my faves. This is an old-school, top-down design that would’ve been right at home in Alpha, and it’s a flavor home run. It also gets points for being about as cute as an evil zombie cat can possibly be. Cat-egory: 8/10

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T: I like whis-score better than cat-egory, and that’s what I’m sticking with. Every cat has two, like whiskers! It makes sense. Entrails Feaster has all the downside of Black Cat with none of the upside. Its fur is all patchy, and it looks mean. I don’t want to get vampire ticks from this thing. The best thing I can say about it is that it eats entrails, so you can just feed it your leftovers from Burger King instead of buying regular cat food. Whis-score: 2/10

K: Uninvited, is that you?

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K: This is a deeply unpleasant cat, but in an appropriate and evocative way. It doesn’t just eat entrails, it feasts on them. Yikes. It even refuses to work for you if you don’t feed it an adequate amount of entrails, an obstinacy that is distinctly cat-like. This definitely fits in with my ideas about cats being inherently evil and malicious. Cat-egory: 6/10

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T: These look like mountain lions, but they’re 1/1, so they must be pretty tiny. I can see how they’re cute, but I wouldn’t want one sitting in my lap because my Magic cards and I would catch on fire. They’re good pets if you live in a building heavily insulated with asbestos. Whis-score: 4/10

K: These cats, along with those on Waiting in the Weeds, are just not threatening enough for me to believe them as combat-ready creatures (or even Magic cards, frankly). The firecats are completely out of line with the way other illustrators have interpreted this admittedly difficult concept. Fair point: Those other firecats tend to look like super-buff Rob Liefeld rejects, but at least they look like they might conceivably have some place on the battlefield. These just look like regular cats that have been set on fire, and who would do such a thing? They’re still pretty cute, so I give them a Cat-egory of 5/10.

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T: Famous cat artist Susan Van Camp is hitting on all cylinders with these weird, misshapen creatures depicted in flat, lifeless watercolor. The central figure captures “waiting” perfectly with a dead-eyed expression that seems to have lost any trace of meaning long ago. In the background, another crudely scrawled cat’s face seems to implore us: “Why are we waiting? What are we waiting for?” The only answer is the monstrous silence of an indifferent universe. Truly compelling. Whis-score: 6/10

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T: There’s a pretty normal-looking cat in the background, and that’s the one I’m looking at. It’s a good outdoor cat, and it likes people. I wouldn’t want an Uktabi Wildcat. They’re way too big (unless your deck is built incorrectly) and they have creepy humanoid hands for some reason. Whis-score: 8/10

K: Extremely good catch on that hand, Jesse T, that thing is terrifying. How big of a group of normal seeming cats would it take to get up to a decent power and toughness? Elephants and giants are established as 3/3, so how many cats would you need to take down one of those? More than 3, right? Probably more than 3. These cats look sleepy and aloof, which are traits I find believable. Cat-egory: 7/10

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T: This cat is pretty well-behaved, and look at how big it is! It’s as tall as the hem of its owner’s crotchless shorts. A cat that big could defend you against a child or small dog easily. The downside is how expensive it is to keep one festooned in gold tail bracelets. Whis-score: 9/10

K: This is a good cat, which is to say pretty much a dog in all ways. It also sort of reminds me of an anime, Tuxedo Mask version of Garfield. Neither of these things is necessarily bad, by the way. This cat is just fantastic enough to feel like it belongs in this fantasy game, without losing its catlike quality. Lifelink continues to be a mechanic without clear identity, but I’m not going to put that burden on the shoulders of this caracal. Extra points for being the only cat on this list I’d like to own. Cat-egory: 7/10

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K: I’m not sure I fully grasp whatever this flavor text is trying to say. Why not nine lives worth of hunger? Are they claiming this cat has already died, perhaps once or maybe as many as 8 times? I guess it does kind of look like a cat with nothing to lose. This is a cat I’d like to never encounter. It takes everything I don’t like about loud, 2am yowling alley cats, and combines it with a tangible threat to life and limb. It also looks a little too much like a were-cat. Cat-egory: 5/10

T: I always thought Sabertooth Alley Cat was a great fit for the city-plane of Ravnica, with its zombie street urchins and literally draconic police force. The eight lives comment makes no sense whatsoever, though, and calls into question the entire concept of a cat zombie. How many lives do Black Cat and Entrails Feaster have? Ten? Eighteen? It’s a good thing this cat is weak against walls, because I definitely wouldn’t want it getting inside my apartment. Whis-score: 7/10

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K: I’d probably be erupting, too, if I had just been standing in a river of lava like this cat seemingly was. I get that this is probably more like a mountain lion or something, but I’m still not buying it at 3/3, let alone 6/6. That is some serious combat prowess. Really this cat is only here on this list because the illustration is so ridiculous. Cat-egory: 3/10

T: Many lay-people just assume Scoria Cats live in rivers of lava, and leap out to attack unwary adventurers that get too close. This is behavior I’d expect from a Scoria Gator, or maybe some kind of Giant Scoria Frog, but cats hate swimming! Have you ever tried to give a Scoria Cat a bath? They flip out! Also, the hot lava will melt right through your bathtub and ruin your plumbing. Whis-score: 3/10

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K: Another cat trope I’m a big fan of: The laser-eyed church cat. At least if I imagine beams of magical energy erupting from his eyes, I can justify those stats. This is a really cute cat, and is good and well behaved. I would be willing to adopt sanctuary cat, as long as I’m not too allergic to him, especially since my house is overrun with devils. Imagine how much he could save me on exterminator bills! Cat-egory: 8/10

T: This is a very cute cat, and probably the most normal one on the list. It looks possessed, but I figure it must be by some kind of divine entity. Sanctuary Cat is pious and responsible. Honestly, my biggest worry about it is its moral superiority. Do I really want a cat that’s going to condescend to me all the time? Do I need to feed it organic cat food? Is it going to judge me for masturbating? I don’t need that stress in my life. Whis-score: 8/10

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K: Uh-oh, looks like somebody loves lasagna and hates Mondays a little too much. This cat is unhealthily overweight, and has an attitude problem. Combine that with the terrible habits described in the flavor text, and you have a recipe for a cat I want no part in. I don’t blame him, I blame the owners. Cat-egory: 4/10

T: Guma is another one that looks like a big cat, but it’s actually just a house cat for giants, which is completely different. It’s a fantastical variation of the puma, much like the Gerson, which is a giant regular person, but not technically a giant. I strongly agree with your evaluation of these last few cats, if not your taste in puns. Whis-score: 4/10

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K: This is a great example of just how much fun a good illustration can bring to a card, and how far a little bit of humor can go in this game. It also reinforces my belief that if cats were enormous they wouldn’t hesitate to destroy us. Cat-egory: 8/10

T: Merfolk must be under constant attack by giant cats. Maybe cats don’t hate swimming as much as I thought! Who I really feel bad for in all of this are the Scoria Merfolk. The cat itself displays textbook cuteness, and I’d be happy to give it a belly rub once it shrinks back down to normal size. Whis-score: 8/10

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K: Did you know that Magic has its very own cardboard version of the 3 wolf moon t-shirt? If you didn’t before, you do now. This is a Van Camp classic, and features her popular artistic decision to have a floating sky face. I’m not even kidding, this is a thing. I’d be happy to have this illustration on a blacklight poster or airbrushed on the side of my van or bass drum. There are minor nitpicks you could make, like the shape of the cat’s face is weird and off-putting, but really that only brings it down from an 11/10 to a purrfect Cat-egory score of 10/10.

T: That cat looks like a gelfling from The Dark Crystal, there are people doing the magic dance from Labyrinth, and there’s a woman dressed in pink with a pig’s nose like in the Muppets. This would be a perfect storm of 80s Jim Henson nostalgia if it weren’t from 1996 and painted by someone else. It’s really an excellent illustration, but the card itself is terrible. If you have enchantments like this in your deck, it’s not easy being green. Whis-score: 6/10

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K: An excellent cat and destined to be a modern exemplar of the genre. The flavor is spot on and so is the illustration of the adorable monster-fied cat. Just harmless enough, just threatening enough. The flavor text undermines things a bit by being too on-the-nose, but since when has that not been the case? Anyone who accepts this kitten has no knowledge of genre conventions, and is really bringing it on themselves. If I’ve learned anything from Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers, Stephen King’s Pet Sematery, and Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye, it’s that Stephen King really hates cats. However, if I’ve learned two things, the second would be that you should never trust a cute cat. Cat-egory: 9/10

T: There’s no such thing as a free cat. There’s always a cat-ch. In this case, it’s that the adorable baby cat is actually an adorable baby chimera. I wonder if a cat with a snake for a tail is more likely to bite you than a regular cat. Even though it loses points for being venomous, this kitten is obviously cute enough for us to write an entire article about it, so it deserves to be recognized. If you’d like to know what other cards deserve to be recognized, be sure to come back next time for the Eldritch Moon Flavor Awards. If you’d like to let us know whether whis-score or cat-egory is a better pun, comment below! Whis-score: 9/10

You can find Two Jesses on Twitter @TwoJesses.

 

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