27, Jan, 24

MTG Common is a Powerful Upgrade for Upcoming Cat/Dog Secret Lair Deck!

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There was a lot of anticipation for the new Secret Lair: Raining Cats and Dogs deck. If you were lucky enough to get your hands on one, then congratulations! However, even if you did not get one, you still could build a relatively effective version from already printed cards. That being said, let’s look at design decisions and where they could be altered. Our aim is either a more flavorful or functionally powerful Dog and Cat based deck. (For the record, Cats rule, Dogs drool. I digress.)

The Obvious Non-Includes

At a downright affordable $2, Felidar Sovereign seems like the kind of card a deck that wants to play Cats would include. It comes in at 3% of all decks registered on EDHrec, which means it sees piles of play. On a card level, it threatens to win the game as soon as it is out. That said, Six mana and an upkeep trigger is not “game over” – far from it! Your opponents see it coming! They have a turn to stop it, either with removal or dealing even one point of damage.

There are other cards you might expect to see in the deck as well that simply did not make it. What are some of the more powerful and played Cats throughout Magic that are missing? Leonin Arbiter appears in many stax decks. Felidar Guardian is banned in Pioneer, part of loads of infinite combos, and is a nice value piece for decks with lots of enters the battlefield effects, something Raining Cats & Dogs, or RCAD does quite a bit.

Qasali Pridemage has made it into many Commander decks merely as a Disenchant on an Exalted 2/2 Cat, but is missing here. Raining Cats & Dogs is drastically low on removal of all types, so why would you not include more removal on a Cat body like Enlightened Ascetic?

That’s just part of the Cat commentary. What about Dogs?

Did Wizards Forget Hounds?

Let’s play a game! This is a matching game. Tell me which two mana card is a Dog, Ainok Guide or Farseek? It’s not a trick question as all Hounds are now Dogs.

Obviously, these two cards are not identical in power. Farseek ramps you out a land and fixes your mana. If you want a tool that functions as both a threat and fixing, however, Ainok Guide is legitimate and a Dog. Raining Cats & Dogs wants a large number of creatures in general and keys off numbers of Dogs and Cats. It behooves you to stuff the deck full of them.

Goldhound is not a very exciting card, but in a deck that needs more mana while also needing as many creatures as possible, it is simply worth a slot over one of the numerous six mana creatures you can’t manage to cast before the game is ending.

Why is Selfless Savior not in the deck? There are no protection effects or anti-boardwipe tech in the entire deck. None. At best, there are some flash creatures that bounce one of your creatures. Bouncing your own creature as a save is a massive tempo loss. The answer to someone removing your creature? You remove it for them. Yeah, not very efficient.

This is very unusual considering the high standard many of the new pre-cons have achieved. Could it instead be…because Selfless Savior has a Secret Lair print already? That is an obvious potential answer. Luckily, in this case, an ordinary copy of the card is very inexpensive, but there is zero legitimate reason not to include this card to protect your commander or high value creatures.

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Absolutely Zero Vintage Cards

We talked about functionality and where the base deck is coming up a little short. How about on the flavor end? Many players do enjoy tapping mana and casting spells without a need for the best, most optimal cards. For some, the novel inclusion of a suite of flavorful full-art basic lands do a lot to swing the flavor assessment in Raining Cats & Dogs in its favor. The nostalgia factor with this deck, however, is lackluster.

How the mighty (30 years ago) have fallen! Savannah Lions used to be the marquee card for white weenie and zoo decks many years ago. A 2/1 for one mana and a rare at that. Now in Dominaria: Remastered it has been reprinted at common. At least it’s pauper legal! This card has no business being in a deck today, right? Maybe in a purely Cat deck you could make some kind of case. But once you also introduce another theme, Dogs, and yet another theme, tokens, you don’t have room for everything.

The same goes for one of my favorite “Dogs” of all time and also a well known card from Magic’s history Wild Mongrel. A picture is worth 1000 words here.

The Secret Lair print of Wild Mongrel has the type set to Dog. All other versions have the original type, Hound. Unfortunately there is zero synergy in the pre-con. It would be a monumental undertaking to try and warp the entire deck to legitimize its inclusion. C’est la vie. There certainly are valid reasons to not include some classic but not very playable cards.

The Disclaimer, Gameplay Scenarios Imagined

I do not own the deck. I have not played with the deck. However, it is a safe assumption to imagine how the deck can play out.

If there is a board wipe on turn four, five or six, you probably lose. That could not have been very fun. Playing three or four things, losing them all and recasting your commander for six.

In an alternate game without any wipes, the story is different. You played four highly synergistic token generating effects. Then made a gazillion tokens, and finally proceeded to delete everyone else at the table turn six or seven. That may have been a fun game for you but the rest of the table probably felt pretty powerless. It seems like a weak formula. There’s no “give and take” or “back and forth” – you’re either completely overpowering the table or doing nothing.

Furthermore, can this deck compete with many of the pre-cons made in the last two years? It’s mid level at best as it lacks board wipes, protection effects and interaction. Certainly it is a very greedy deck. It will try to generate a huge amount of tokens. But this only works if your opponents don’t have any wipes or interaction. That being said, other pre-cons do the same thing but faster. This deck is slow all else being equal. So how do we fix this going forward?

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The Best Upgrade

It’s hard to beat Changelings for value in a large number of decks and in terms of Rin and Seri, Inseparable they give you quadruple value. When we’re talking about power and utility, you cannot turn down that much value. In combination with Temur Sabertooth you can very cheaply bounce and recast Universal Automaton as your best play every single turn. Consider the interaction with Herald’s Horn because that makes casting and recasting the Automaton free.

For the lowest mana possible, it’s hard to beat this. Compare this to a six or eight mana card sitting in your hand, and there is no choice. This logic would replace Dogs and Cats with Changelings, but that will likely damage the flavor of the deck. Use your judgement here.

Remove Fleetfoot Panther but make sure you keep Whitemane Lion. Simply put, the Panther is way too much mana and has targeting restrictions which make it less than ideal.

On the other hand, Whitemane Lion can easily get into a value situation. Bouncing itself and recasting at end of turn for white mana is incredibly valuable in Raining Cats & Dogs. That’s one of the possible reasons why there are so many basic Plains in the deck, and is something to keep in mind while ramping and fetching. Whitemane Lion with Herald’s Horn, Rin and Seri and Impact Tremors is pretty close to peak efficiency for this deck. Effectively, it’s pay white mana to win. Keep in mind that this builds up Bloodline Pretender and triggers Vanquisher’s Banner, Qasali Slingers and Oketra’s Monument. Whitemane Lion is practically the hidden commander for this deck, as it stands.

A Slow Engine

For a very value oriented deck, consider Snow Hound. It can protect your green creatures, quite a few considering multicolored creatures, and provide you triggers. Since it is only one white mana, and two generic, it can be reduced down to just one white. Furthermore, with Haste enabled, you can do this multiple times per turn late game. It is not a fast option, but opens the deck to other strategies as a worse Whitemane Lion.

Finally, there’s The Lost Caverns of Ixalan as a very timely set to fix things. It’s got Cats like Kuzil, Malamet Exemplar and the incredible Sovereign Okinec Ahau that offer great bodies that draw you cards and end the game while also being very low mana. It’s also got “Robot Cat” Roaming Throne that makes the deck even crazier. These are auto includes on every level and hopefully you pulled them from packs!

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Cards to Remove

Ditch Nacatl-War-Pride, Jazal Goldmane, Jinnie Fay, Jetmir’s Second and Phabine, Boss’s Confidant. Hard to cast, expensive and “win more” are all terms I would use to describe these cards.

Also take out Showdown of the Skalds. It’s not a Dog or Cat or token generator and four mana is too much for that.

Consider removing Lurking Predators. It’s a decent card and the deck does have a critical mass of creature cards, but six mana is a lot. If it gets removed before it did enough, Lurking Predators was a bad include. In slower pods it can work, but the faster and more powerful the group, the worse it is.

Warp World is the same basic idea. Eight mana is a ton of mana. Casting Whitemane Lion four times is probably better. Sometimes, though, you Warp into a scenario that wins the game from an unwinnable pre-Warp position.

The Usual Commander Staples

Enlightened Tutor and Worldly Tutor are going to be hard to pass up. The only reason not to play them is if you want to keep the power level of the deck low. The same can be said about playing a more expensive, and functional, mana base. Furthermore, any creature deck in the colors is always going to run Rhythm of the Wild or Fires of Yavimaya and Concordant Crossroads. Other staples that are even more important are Boros Charm, Heroic Intervention, Teferi’s Protection and other similar effects. You’re playing a creature deck and need some level of safety from board wipes and removal, this is not optional!

Do you, yourself, need to include board wipes? It’s a strategic move to utilize the wipes at the table for your own benefit while not running any. When it works, it’s great. When you need a board wipe, you just need one. Blasphemous Act is probably your best bet if you want to include one. Everything Comes to Dust is an interesting option if you’re trying to go for a one sided wipe, but it can be pretty bad with too many Changelings.

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Wrapping up

Wizards did this Secret Lair differently, starting with changing the way they are producing and selling the product. Rather than paying over retail price for the deck on the secondary market, consider making your own version. It will be less expensive, have the exact cards you want, and play with a specific goal in mind. It won’t have those new art cards though. If that is what you want, and you missed it, you’re out of luck.

Furthermore, the look of the RCAD is not quite a token deck, a Dog deck or a Cat deck. It’s too much of a mix of all the components and has way too many wincons. Simultaneously it’s missing enough early game setup to get to the win. Because it lacks tutors and draw power, you have to hope you draw the right mixture of cards. Luckily there are simple adjustments using inexpensive cards that make for a more consistent game plan while keeping theme.

While I am not considering acquiring RCAD, I do look forward to a potential future product. Secret Lair Duel Deck: Cats Vs Dogs when Wizards?

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