Rants of Valakut: A Flash in the Pan

Of all the cool cards in Amonkhet the one that I’m really excited about is a common 3/2 with flash. For some reason Pouncing Cheetah has captured my imagination and won’t let it go.

What’s worse is that it’s not even that great of a card.

Looking at the Pouncing Cheetah, this creature could probably fit into a decent green-white cat tribal deck alongside Regal Caracal and Regal Caracal, though it’s still not that impressive when compared to other cat cards like Prowling Serpopard. A 3/2 creature for 3 mana isn’t that terrible on the whole, but when compared to other green creatures at that cost it’s actually on the smaller side. So what does the Cheetah have going for it?

Is flash really that worthwhile?

Don’t get me wrong, flash can be a powerful ability; it keeps your opponents guessing and lets you surprise them with a spell at the last possible moment. The catch is that if you have 3 unspent mana at the end of your turn most opponents will be suspicious. How often will a player attack you when you have that much mana available? Cautious players will know that you are up to something and will play around your trap, either by having a combat trick available or by simply not attacking. At the end of their turn, if you haven’t surprised them with your cat in combat, it feels like a bit of a waste to cast it. It doesn’t seem like casting it at the end of your opponent’s turn made that much of a difference over doing so during your own main phase. Ideally, you would spend your mana doing something else instead, like cycling a card or casting another spell, but it seems like you would have been just as well off spending your turn casting a bigger creature.

I suppose one of the reasons this Cheetah intrigues me is that I’m imagining all of the various abilities it could trigger. Abilities that say “whenever you cast a creature spell” or “whenever a creature enters the battlefield under your control” can often be quite powerful, especially since they usually only trigger during a player’s main phase. Being able to trigger them at any time can really change the dynamic of a game. It’s a bit like casting a sorcery versus casting an instant: sorcery spells usually cost less mana for the same effect, but because you can’t cast them in response to anything your opponent is doing they lose some utility. Instants are smaller effects but can be devastating if cast at just the right time.

Waiting until the last possible moment to spend your mana denies your opponents’ opportunities to react to you, while also denying them information as they try to decide what to do during their main phase. By contrast, you get to see exactly what your opponents do before making any decisions. When this imbalance of information extends to abilities that normally only trigger during a main phase, it makes your opponents’ lives that much more difficult, especially during combat; that 3 mana you have unspent could result in any number of things!

Unfortunately, like I said earlier, most players will be much more cautious when they see a lot of mana available across from them, and will be less likely to make a reckless attack. All is not lost for the little flash cat, however; with Essence Scatter being reprinted in Amonkhet there may be a control-style deck you could build in Amonkhet Limited (either Draft or Sealed). This reactive deck could make good use of Pouncing Cheetah. Being able to pair a flash creature with powerful counter spells sounds good to me; if your opponent tries to cast something you can counter it, and if they pass the turn back to you without doing anything you can still spend your mana on your creature spell. Blue decks flashing in creatures like this usually have to resort to very small ones or ones that cost a great deal of mana; green creatures are typically much larger for their cost, which puts greater pressure on your opponents in the early-to-mid game. This style of deck certainly isn’t what you would traditionally want to build in a limited format, but it sounds interesting; I’d be willing to try and make it work.

Sadly, outside of this oddball Limited deck, things don’t look all that promising for the flash cat. As I already mentioned, there are a lot of bigger creatures for 3 mana, and in older formats like Modern it will never displace flash staples like Vendilion Clique or Snapcaster Mage. Even if we only look at green creatures in Standard that have flash there are better choices than the poor Pouncing Cheetah:

Vile Redeemer has the same mana cost as the flash cat but is a 3/3 instead of a 3/2. Having a third point of toughness opens up a lot of options; not only will it survive a Shock or Magma Spray, but it can also block creatures with 2 power without dying. Vile Redeemer even has a triggered ability that can put Eldrazi Scion tokens into play if something dies; this may not come up that often, but it is a nice bonus feature. The only downside to the Eldrazi is that it is vulnerable to Ceremonious Rejection; depending on how popular artifacts prove to be in this new Standard environment, that particular counter spell may see a fair bit of use. That is certainly something to consider when using a spell with Devoid.

Spirit of the Hunt is also a 3/3, and while it is a harder to cast than the other flash creatures because of its second green mana symbol in its cost, it has its own advantages. When it enters the battlefield it can protect other wolves and werewolves by improving their toughness, which could be very relevant against a card like Sweltering Suns. The Spirit of the Hunt also has more relevant creature types than Pouncing Cheetah; we saw that there are plenty of cats you could use, but in Standard there are a lot more synergies with spirits and with wolves. Working well with cards like Rattlechains, Mausoleum Wanderer and Nebelgast Herald as well as cards like Duskwatch Recruiter, Lambholt Pacifist and Silverfur Partisan makes that extra green mana symbol in the cost of Spirit of the Hunt seem worth the extra hassle.

With all of this in mind, here’s a deck I’m considering for Standard:

The plan for the deck is to keep up mana for counter spells as much as possible, casting Anticipate or a creature spell whenever there is an opportune moment. Most of the creatures are spirits, so I can protect them from a removal spell with Rattlechains or use them to tap down my opponent’s creatures with Nebelgast Herald.

I seriously considered Vile Redeemer for the deck as another 3/3 body but ultimately decided that Nebelgast Herald would serve the deck better. The Herald can slow down more aggressive decks as well as open up opportunities for me to attack, something the Redeemer just couldn’t do.

I could have included the Redeemer instead of Pack Guardian, but the big spirit wolf provides both a large 4/3 body and the potential for a second creature if I have a spare land card in hand. By being both a spirit and a wolf it benefits from Nebelgast Herald, Rattlechains and Spirit of the Hunt. It just fits better into the deck than the Eldrazi.

As for the counter spells in the deck, it may be worth replacing Revolutionary Rebuff with Censor, but I’ll have to play with it a bit to see. I like the option to cycle Censor and the fact that it can stop artifact spells, but only having to pay 1 mana more for a spell instead of 2 is relatively easy for my opponents to play around. My blue-white Awaken deck, which readers may recall, has a few copies of Revolutionary Rebuff in it, and I’ve been pretty happy with how the spell has performed in that deck. Both counter spells have their advantages, so it’s hard to say which will work better here.

As for the sideboard…. well, I’ll fully admit that I’m bad at making them. This was the best I could come up with. I’ve rounded out the situational counter spells Essence Scatter and Negate to have a total of 4 each. I’ve added in a few other counter spells that I thought would be useful in certain matches, like Ceremonious Rejection for artifact decks and Dispel for other control decks. Natural Obsolescence is largely to deal with Scrapheap Scrounger but is useful for any artifact troubles I may run into. As for Void Grafter, it can help protect my creatures from removal but is primarily in the deck to deal with 3-power creatures on the ground. Being a 2/4 means that it should be able to block aggressive threats fairly well, keeping me alive long enough to play my own creatures. My only concern is that I might not have enough ways to draw cards for longer, more attrition-based matches, but what I have will hopefully be enough.

I have to say, I’m excited to try this deck. It’s true that it doesn’t include any copies of Pouncing Cheetah, which is a bit disappointing, but if that card was never printed I might not have been inspired to make this list.

I still like the design of the Cheetah, even if there are better cards out there; a creature with flash that is both a decent size and a reasonable mana cost doesn’t come along that often, especially at common, and I feel that having it in Amonkhet will make this Limited format a bit more interesting. You really will have to ask yourself if it is worth the risk to attack when your opponent has 3 mana open; do they have a cat, a combat trick, or are they just waiting to cycle a card…?

Plus, who knows? If my new Standard deck proves to be as entertaining as I’m hoping it will be I might have to make a Pauper version of it that actually uses the Cheetah. I’ve already got some ideas for that deck, and the flash cat should fit in perfectly.

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