Blake Rasmussen: Hello and welcome to the Magic Story Podcast, where we go behind the scenes with the people who create the worlds and characters of Magic: the Gathering. I’m Blake Rasmussen, and I’ll be your host, and I’m joined today as I pretty much always am by queen of the cat-dragons—as we established last episode—Alison Luhrs.
Alison Luhrs: Yes, thank you! Thank you for getting that right. Hi, Blake!
BR: How are you doing?
AL: I’m doing good!
BR: Yeah, now that you’ve got title.
AL: Yes! Cat-dragon.
BR: We’re going to be talking today about cats.
AL: I promise I’ll do my best not to break into a rendition of Memory from the musical Cats.
BR: Oh my god. I’m pretty sure we’re legally not allowed to do that.
AL: [laughs] I can’t stand that musical. Sorry, go.
BR: So, Alison, are you a cat or dog person?
AL: Dogs forever.
BR: Why is that the first question anyone ever asks when they’re talking about either cats or dogs?
AL: Probably because people have like really firm opinions on it. I’ve never met anyone who’s like “Um, I don’t know.” Most people have made up their mind by the time their over the age of six, whether they like cats or dogs.
BR: That’s true.
AL: I’m a dog person but I adore my Kemba deck so much.
BR: I’ve been a dog person my whole life, but my wife? Cat person. So now we have a dog and two cats, which means we are outnumbered.
AL: You need to even the playing field here.
BR: But I kind of really like our cats, Basil and Pepper.
AL: Your dog is the best. Just for everyone at home.
BR: My dog is the best. Stella is the sweetest.
AL: She’s so nice.
BR: Our cats our jerks but they have their moments where they are sweet and loving.
AL: They always are, right? Sweet and loving.
BR: Or when they attack my dog. The dog is not the alpha in that group. The dog has forty pounds on both of them and just has nothing going for her.
BR: Anyway, of the C17 tribes, cats are the only ones that are actually a real thing on Earth.
AL: Well that’s a very assumptive thing to say, Blake.
BR: I mean, I’ve never seen a dragon.
AL: We are Wizards, so?
BR: We are Wizards.
AL: Know thyself, Blake.
BR: No ability to return things to peoples’ hands or cost them an extra mana before countering it.
AL: I draw my own cards. Frequently.
BR: That’s fair. That’s true, we can draw cards. Wow, we’re Wizards.
BR: So wizards and cats are the only two C17 tribes that have real counterparts on Earth. So tell me about how Magic cats are different from real world cats.
AL: It depends! There are house cats, of course, but there are also cat races like the leonin. The latter are sentient while the former are not, no matter what your crazy aunt cat lady thinks.
BR: Basil talks to us.
BR: Yeah, this episode’s going to get off the rails every time.
AL: I know. Sorry, people at home! I swear it will be on topic.
BR: Back to it. So we just saw cats on Amonkhet, and I think those are the kind of house cat type ones we were talking about. How are the Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation cats different from cats in the rest of the known Multiverse?
AL: So the cats on Amonkhet are the size of Dobermans, which is the primary difference. But elsewhere cats can be more like normal cat-sized. Sometimes they are leopards or jaguars or lion-looking things, sometimes straight up Savannah Lions. But again, there are still those sentient cat races too that appear throughout the Multiverse on several different planes, and one is even a member of the Gatewatch!
BR: That would be . . . ?
BR: Ajani, he’s so great. So prior to Amonkhet, where else in Magic‘s story have we seen cats?
AL: All over the place. They’re in Kaladesh, they’re on Innistrad, Theros, Tarkir. Sometimes they are pretty, pouncy window-dressing, like they’re part of the plane but not the main focus. Other times they’re straight up main characters, like Ajani or Mirri are.
BR: Mkay. Let’s talk a little more about Ajani while we’re at it. How much of his catness goes into his character?
AL: So remember when I read those super fun facts about Nicol Bolas from the dragon episode? I went back to that same document that we made for Ajani to pull out some standard facts about him. He’s leonin, so he has some talents unique to his race. He has better night vision than any human, but a reduced perception of color. He can move silently, is easily the best sneaker in the Gatewatch. He has average strength for leonin, but has a hell of a lot more than a human’s. His sense of smell is acute, he can tell when a wound is infected just by scent alone. And his affection is more house cat than wild cat. He can sense when others need help and has a naturally comforting presence. So this plays more into his personality than his physical characteristics, but while Ajani was a warrior once, he doesn’t kill. He wants to comfort and heal and I think that’s very house cat-like of him. He’s kind of gone from being a wild cat to more “No, I want to be a part of civilization rather than at the outskirts of it.”
BR: Man, you don’t know house cats very well.
AL: Yeah? I don’t really own house cats. I tried to approach this from how someone who likes cats would talk? [laughs]
BR: Fair enough. The scratches on my arm say differently.
AL: If we were asking honest Alison “How is Ajani like a house cat?” “He’s got claws, he’s rude”—he’s not rude at all. It would be a disaster. I tried to approach this from a fair perspective.
BR: No, we appreciate that. Cats are great, we love cats. Just not at five in the morning.
AL: I love Ajani though. He’s one of my favorite characters.
BR: Ajani’s great. So let’s talk more generally about cats.
When we’re talking about cats in Magic, what mechanics do we associate with them and why are none of them mechanically invoking being lazy, pawing my face for food, or sitting in random boxes?
AL: The answer to the second part of that question is probably that it didn’t really match up with how Magic is ever played. But for mechanics that we associate with cats, it’s mostly like attacking and blocking buffs. So “this creature can’t be blocked if X,” “this creature gets Y when attacking,” etc. Not all cats, of course, but the deal with cats is to find ways to either make a lot of them or make one of them huge—or both. Shoutout to my Kemba deck.
BR: They seem to have, at least some of them, an affinity for equipment as well.
AL: Yeah, they like items which is kind of funny because real life cats also like stealing things.
BR: Yup, that is definitely true.
AL: But equipments and cats go together really, really nicely.
BR: I swear I’m going to try not to tell too many cat stories, but we’ve crossed that. But speaking of equipment, our cats have a bunch of toys scattered throughout the house. But they’ve got one thing in particular which is a stuffed carrot and it ends up all over the house. Every night the same thing happens: one of them—usually Basil but sometimes Pepper—we’ll hear them meowing as if they have something stuck in their throat, it’s like a deep meow. And they are bringing the carrot to us and presenting it to us as a gift. Like you’ll hear a lot of cats kill mice or birds and present them as gifts. They’re indoor cats, so they present us with carrot every night and it’s the same toy.
And one time, Shauna, my lovely wife, thought that—this happened during the day, so it wasn’t the nighttime presentation—she thought that it meant play. So when Basil presented the carrot, she threw it across the room. Basil just gave her this look like “I just gave you a present and you threw it across the room.” He didn’t move, he did not go after the carrot, he just stood there and stared at her. It was one of the funniest thing.
AL: Cats are so weird.
BR: They’re so weird.
AL: Now you accept it though as an offering.
BR: I know. If I had been part of the Unset team, I would have tried to get an Equipment – Carrot, stuffed carrot, into it.
AL: I’d love that. God, cats are so weird.
BR: Back to Magic: the Gathering. Okay, let’s move onto the legends of the C17 deck. Let’s start with Mirri. So we’ve had a couple versions of this Weatherlight crew member, printed from both pre and post-curse. For those of our listeners who don’t know what I mean when I say pre or post-curse, tell us a bit about Mirri’s story.
AL: Well, it’s less of a pre and post-curse and more of an alternate reality-actual reality situation. Planar Chaos was wild, y’all.
So Mirri’s backstory. She was banished from home for having two different eye colors, so that sucks. Studied under Multani and had a big ol crush on Gerrard—who didn’t, am I right? She joined the crew of the Weatherlight, went on tons of adventures, and later on there was this big final battle sort of thing and Mirri let a student named Crovax kill her so that Gerrard would save himself instead of trying to rescue her.
So, in Planar Chaos, we see the alternate reality of that situation. Mirri strikes the killing blow to their foe instead of Crovax, leaving her to be the one that is cursed. She later becomes evincar of Rath and eventually Crovax ends up killing her anyway. So, she dies of heartbreak anyway. And I have a lot of feelings about how that character was treated. Punishing unrequited love is kind of a super 90’s trope, but Mirri’s a really interesting character. She’s a lot of fun, she is pretty strong as a card, so that’s kind of her backstory.
BR: What point in time does this version of her represent?
AL: So this is a bit earlier on, before the whole dying and/or cursed thing happened.When she is alive and well and a member of the Weatherlight.
BR: Okay. Let’s move onto the face of the C17 cat deck: Arahbo.
AL: Arahbo is a snow leopard lion. You can look at all the snow leopards in the background, they’re pretty badass. So he’s a primordial being that scales the mountain of this world. Independent by nature, but has learned to tolerate the presence of other cats that have come to pay respect.
BR: I like the “independent by nature,” that’s just cats.
AL: Just remember he’s a cat. But lions are social animals and he is kind of part lion, he looks very liony, so it’s kind of a weird balance of “Well, I don’t really want to be around others, but these cats keep bringing me metaphorical stuffed carrots so fine, you can stay.”
BR: How about Nazahn?
AL: Nazahn is a leonin from Naya. Was once an ordinary blacksmith, but his life changed when the Conflux merged his home with Bant. He found fame as a weaponsmith for the knightly order on Bant and now has a hammer of invincibility that comes in handy with metalworking.
So sidebar: actually useful magical abilities are my absolute fav. Magical realism is my favorite subgenre of anything by far. I love seeing people do ordinary things in extraordinary ways. An I love that this dude has a hammer of invincibility. He could go all Thor, but he just wants to practice his metalworking. I love that!
BR: So, does Nazahn know Ajani?
AL: You know, possibly. Actually, that would be a very interesting story to see in the future.
BR: That would be a very interesting story. Hmm.
Okay, so there are only so many legendary cats in all of Magic, so I want to touch on a few of the other ones that are in C17 that are all reprints. So what can you tell us about Jareth?
AL: Jareth is from Dominaria. He fought in the Grand Coliseum which was an attraction on Otaria and run by the Cabal. He’s super buff, I’ve always loved his art.
Raksha is kha on Mirrodin. He’s got some sick metal abs, which I’ve always really loved.
And Kemba was kha regent of the remaining in the Razor Fields, relative of Raksha. She fought the Phyrexians and is my favorite Commander and I lover her.
BR: Alright, so does that answer my next question, your favorite Magic cat?
AL: It doesn’t. I think Ajani, hands down, is my favorite Magic cat. He’s one of our most emotionally complex characters and is such a great example of the kind of mentor I’d want to teach me about life. I love that not only has he suffered through terrible things, but that act of growth from that trauma has affected his character. I like that we’ve been able to see him grow as a person. Which, while we do get to see with lots of our other characters, not so firmly and clearly. So I really, really love the story that we’re telling with this character who learns to be a better mentor from his mistakes in the past.
BR: Right. My favorite Magic cat, that one’s tough. Black Cat is the first one that comes to mind.
AL: Aw yeah!
BR: It’s just kind of a cool little fun piece of Magic. It’s just a black cat. Unlucky black cat.
AL: one of the very first cards I remember playing when I first started playing Magic. I started back in the old Innistrad days and remember being like “Oh, it’s just a cat. I know what those are.”
BR: Yeah, it’s pretty easy to understand. Also the foils are amazing.
AL: Really pretty, it’s true. Super pretty.
BR: Really look good. So, have you written an Ajani story before?
AL: No, I haven’t yet. I really want to though.
BR: Okay so is that your answer to that question, which cat you’d most like to write a story about?
AL: I would love to write a story about Ajani. I’d really like to write one about Brimaz, King of Oreskos and I’d really, really, really love to write a story about the both of them together.
BR: Interesting. What do you like about Brimaz?
AL: Brimaz, I like being able to see a “king of the jungle” who’s also a lion. It’s very tropey, but I also really like how he played into the rest of the story on Theros. Learning what the leonin were up to during all the god stuff was really interesting to me. I’ve always kind of liked those sorts of “Well how does this random group deal with what’s going on in their half of the universe.” I would love to check in on what the leonin there are up to now that there’s all sorts of god nonsense that just happened.
BR: Let me ask you a question that has nothing to do with cats but has to do with your answer. Do you hope for or envision a day when we can tell more of those kind of side stories that are fun and slices of life?
AL: I would love to. Those are always my favorite stories to tell, the small ones. It’s kind of funny like in Magic Creative, there are different people with different skills for writing things. Ken Troop is the go-to guy if you want weirdness that is huge and massive and life-affecting. I’m the on you go to if you want like two people sitting in a talking about their feelings. I always love the small stories. I love things that remind me of the life that I lead in extraordinary places in extraordinary ways. So I would love to be able to tell those sorts of worldbuildy, scene-painting kinds of slice of life stories.
And I think a lot of our fans like those too. We definitely heard that feedback and since I’ve joined the team I know that I’ve made an effort to include as many of those stories as possible while still making the main plot happen. I don’t think that those are filler or a distraction. I think that they enhance the world that we are trying to build.
BR: I would agree.
Alright, so I think that’s about everything we have for today, but before we go, would you like to subscribe to cat facts?
BR: Do you have any you can share with us?
AL: Let me check my notes really quick. It’s on the other sheet. My last cat fact is dogs rule cats drool, except in Commander decks.
BR: [laughs] Okay, we’ll accept it. Because otherwise we’re going to go into more stories about my cats!
AL: [laughs] Yup.
BR: And we’re not going to do that.
AL: Be sure to tweet Blake for more cat stories.
BR: Well thank you, Alison, for all of the cat knowledge we could possibly fit into this.
AL: Thank you! Ooo, and for everyone listening be sure to tune in next week because I’m going to be talking a lot about Ixalan. Like a lot. Like a lot of new stuff.
BR: So much.
AL: A lot, so please tune in.
BR: Yeah! So we’ll be back next Wednesday to talk about that. We will talk to you then. Bye!