Hello everyone and welcome to another week at Hipsters of the Coast with me, Ryan Sainio! Normally I break down under-appreciated generals in Commander, but this week I had a few things come up that really took me out of that space.

  1. I had the birth of my first child on Friday, and a mix of countless hours at the hospital keeping my wife from discovering that she’d married far below her level and wanting to just be there to see the little guy really distracted me from writing.
  2. I’ve probably slept about 12 hours between Friday and Monday.
  3. There is a massive Grand Prix this week in Vegas and you’re all too distracted by Announcement Week, the new New World Order and those bannings—plus the yet-to-be-released story at the time of this writing—to really notice the lack of a single Commander article.

I was going to write about Isamaru, Hound of Konda or Child of Alara—you know, something kind of thematic—and build something that was less about being a real deck and more as something to celebrate my life event and highlight things that a two year old would find exciting in Magic. But in all my researching of Isamaru—I abandoned Child of Alara pretty quick—I eventually decided I just wanted to muse on an interesting part of Magic History. So, that’s what we’re doing this week and maybe I will return to rant about this kind of topic again in the future.

So, the history of Savannah Lions!

King of the Format

At the dawn of the game, Alpha introduced the Savannah Lion. It lay the groundwork for what a top-tier white creature could be. But in recent years the once-powerful rare has lost its crown as the king, and the design has been leveraged more at uncommon and with upside. Today I would like to examine the history of the Savannah Lions template, which I define as a one-mana creature with base power and toughness of 2/1.

Did You Know : Alpha

At the beginning of Magic’s history the best you could do a single white mana was get yourself a 1/1 with Banding at common or a vanilla 2/1 at rare. And this trend continued on for the first few years of Magic. In Arabian Nights (as an example), both of the one-mana white creatures were 0/1: Abu Jafar and Camel respectively. Of course, it should also be pointed out that this was during an era where creatures were not considered to be the powerful or evocative part of the game, which was reserved for spells like Dark Ritual.

What (W) Gets You…

And for all those people who aren’t history buffs out there, that was it for the power level of creatures for the first 16 years of Magic’s history. Think about that. From 1993 to 2009 Savannah Lions was the gold standard for aggressive white creatures with no drawbacks, besides the one example of Isamaru, Hound of Konda. That’s insane. And yet, I never noticed as a young kid opening packs and building 75-card casual decks to play with during lunch.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t see other 2/1 creatures for one across the game’s history. Some of them were even tournament worthy in their prime, but they always came with some kind of drawback.

Embrace Change…

Then, in 2009 something happened. It was a gloomy day. Suddenly the clouds parted. We looked to the sky as the heavens sent us a message from above. Squinting toward the heavenly glow, and we could finally make out what the message said.

This blew my mind when it happened. I don’t even know that I really fully understood what the release of a Core Set every year even meant at the time. But the idea that a product that normally acted as a list of cards that were legal in Standard was going to have new cards and good cards, did not compute.

I should also say, I didn’t play during Lorwyn and Alara block, so when I got pulled back in, I had no idea the power of planeswalkers. And I think that is the fundamental shift that will open the flood gates for some of the cards I am about to outline. That and the choice by Wizards of the Coast to make the gameplay of Magic happen far more often on the battlefield than the stack.

So while many people were drooling over Baneslayer Angel, an uncommon was about to start a new trend for what White Weenie could look like in Standard (and I guess the other formats, if that’s what you’re into).

2/1 Dude, Seriously?

Through Elite Vanguard we were given our old friend Savannah Lions (who had been out of Standard for one whole rotation) but at a lower rarity and with relevant creature typing. Like often important and overlooked Blade of the Sixth Pride, this was going to set a bar that would easily be beaten in the coming years.

Once again, I don’t think this being the precedent for a solid white creature and it being upgraded several more times between 2009 and now is a bad thing. It was a subtle sign that the times were changing. Planeswalkers were now the face of every set and that meant that they were going to be format defining it many cases, Shock and Fireball weren’t going to cut it.

War Falcon was the next dip into the Savannah Lions template and I will admit, I only have this on my radar because it works well for my Knights Tribal archetype for my Commons Cube. This does come with a drawback for sure, but since it can naturally block with no set-up, I see it having some value.

Rarity Matters

In Theros block we were given two new creatures out of the Savannah Lions mold in Loyal Pegasus (a less better War Falcon) and Soldier of the Pantheon. Both of these rarity shift away from Elite Vanguard in each direction and it shows, the Pegasus is well suited as an opening play in a decent W/R draft deck and really nothing else. Soldier on the other hand, well now we’re playing with fire. This really shows what W can buy you in the New World Order and as a seed for Return to Ravnica block, it served its purpose.

What I really like here is the that the mold is being pulled in different directions to let the template play with different power levels in a condensed period of time. Honestly, Soldier might not be seeing play in Modern, but it’s a card I have slotted into at least two of my Commander decks.

Elite, but Better

As we move one step away from current day, we get two creatures from back-to-back sets that really spit on Elite Vanguard, finally making it become old news. Dragon Hunter and Mardu Woe-Reaper are 2/1′s with no drawback and conditional upsides. Once again – as uncommons – they’re probably not at the top of anyone’s list of best cards from either set, but they are role players and good in the Limited formats they populated.

And finally, we’ve reached the current crop of Savannah Lions; Kytheon, Hero of Akros and some Ally. I think the choice to make Gideon’s early years be in the form of a 2/1 is a nod to the history of Magic in a fun way; it shows how far the game has come and on a story card. Granted, this time we see the template being used on a mythic rare and it has an ability and another face, but whatever.

Expedition Envoy, I see, as just a planeshifted Elite Vanguard; almost the same card, but with a flavorful creature type for the block. I’ve used it in Commander and drafted it at least once for a good White Weenie deck, but obviously its not making huge waves. Heck, it’s currently still in Standard—how I wish Allies was a thing in right now.

And that is my time for the week, I hope that this minor detour away from the regular grind was at least a little interesting and I hope that I will be back to the regular grind starting again next week, I may even get that Hound of Konda article mapped out!

You can find me on Twitter via @RyanSainio or yelling at Hipsters directly through the e-mail system at the bottom of the page.Until next time, I am off to try to grab a few minutes of sleep before the big guy throws his weight around again. Thanks everyone!

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH, the story of Magic and the EDH community in his down time. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks.

Pet Deck – Shattergang Eldrazi

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