Formats Under Siege: On Siege Rhinos, Modern, and Standard

Posted in Top Decks on November 21, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

The loudest cards from Khans of Tarkir are those with delve, as Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time have gone on a rampage through basically all the Constructed formats (extending even to Pauper, I've been told). Blue does tend to hog the spotlight in such a manner, but it's important that we remember that the impact of Khans is not limited to just these two cards, and that there are some other pretty incredible cards running around as well.

Siege Rhino in particular has had a huge impact, and not even just on Standard. An amusing stat that I've heard said about Grand Prix Madrid a few times is that there were more Siege Rhinos in the Top 8 than Treasure Cruises, which is saying something, and I think it's worth looking at the decks that are currently harnessing the power of Siege Rhino in both Standard and Modern (plus, this gives me an excuse to talk about Birthing Pod again, which I'm a fan of).

How Does That Rhino Fit in That Pod?

As implausible as it sounds, Birthing Pod is perfectly set up to spew out Siege Rhinos, and there were four Siege Rhinos between the three different Pod lists in the Madrid Top 8 (which is more than it sounds like, given that those decks play both Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling as extra copies of every creature).

The first list is what I'd call Angel Pod, as there are no Meliras in evidence, and the deck instead plays a full four Angels in the main deck (2 Archangel of Thune; 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence; and 1 Restoration Angel).

Kevin Grove's Angel Pod

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The only truly infinite combo here is Spike Feeder + Archangel of Thune, where removing a counter from Feeder to gain 2 life replaces itself, while also giving all your other creatures +1/+1. As a result, you gain infinite life and, if anything can attack, deal infinite damage.

In practice, though, Archangel of Thune + Scavenging Ooze is essentially infinite, as it doesn't take that many activations before your opponent can't possibly win, and Archangel + Siege Rhino is already 9 power plus a huge life swing, even discounting the presence of random mana creatures. Archangel of Thune is just awesome in this list, and it's no surprise to me that Kevin Grove chose to play a bunch of Kitchen Finks and Siege Rhinos in order to crush all the non-combo decks running around Modern. Treasure Cruise Delver decks are certainly powerful, but they do not deal with these huge and resilient lifegainers very well, as Vapor Snag and Lightning Bolt match up exceedingly poorly against both of them.

I've always played Pod more as a midrange deck than a combo deck, and this list takes that to the extreme (and is very similar to the Angel Pod deck that I used to make Top 16 at Grand Prix Minneapolis earlier this year):

LSV's Angel Pod

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The biggest downside of this list compared to a more traditional Melira Pod list is that it kills much slower, which does make the Game 1 combo matchup fairly difficult. The sideboard helps, but given how well-positioned I think combo is in general, I'd be interested in making room for a couple main-deck Thoughtseizes. Cutting one Wall of Roots and one Kitchen Finks for two Thoughtseizes (and freeing up two sideboard slots) seems very doable to me, especially given how many mana creatures and Finks-like cards are already in the deck. Past that, this looks like a very solid way to approach Modern (and a good use of Siege Rhino).

José Antonio Rodriguez Pozo's Pod

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This Pod list also eschews Melira, although it's got some interesting additions that weren't present in the previous list. Most notably, it's playing an Eidolon of Countless Battles (although some part of me suspects that may really be an Eidolon of Rhetoric that was misrecorded somehow), and its collection of beaters consists of 1 Siege Rhino, 2 Kitchen Finks, 1 Thragtusk, and 2 Tarmogoyf (!?). That is a brute squad if I've ever seen one, and is further proof that there were a lot of midrange/Delver decks in the Grand Prix. These lists look pretty hostile to non-combo decks and not great against combo, so either their pilots didn't face many combo decks or their post-board games went pretty well. I've never tried Tarmogoyf in Pod before, but it doesn't sound implausible, and between the giant main deck green creatures and the Chalice of the Voids in the sideboard, I can't imagine that this deck is unhappy to see Delver of Secrets on the other side of the field.

Andrew Devine's Pod

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This is the most traditional Pod list in the Top 8, which goes to show that the deck remains good, even years after it first emerged. Siege Rhino is now a standard addition to any deck with Birthing Pod, and like in actual Standard, it does a very good job of fighting against the burn-heavy blue decks that are trying to enable delve cards. I didn't expect the Abzan against Jeskai matchup to find its way into Modern, but honestly this isn't that far apart. Of course, if you want the full Abzan experience, the next deck is really what you are looking for.

Rocking the Rhinos

Marcio Carvalho's Jund

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This deck not only accounts for half the Siege Rhinos in the Top 8, but shows that the "Jund" strategy isn't dead yet (in Modern, any black-green Abrupt Decay/Thoughtseize/Tarmogoyf is lumped under the Jund banner). Treasure Cruise definitely made this deck's job harder, and the decklists have certainly reacted appropriately, but Siege Rhino is exactly the kind of card the deck wanted, and it goes to show that all the clever cantrips and tricky blue spells in the world are of no help when you are getting charged by an enormous Rhino.

Casting Inquisitions and Thoughtseizes into a Tarmogoyf and a Siege Rhino will beat a lot of Modern decks with ease, and that's basically all this deck is trying to do. It's got lots of discard, lots of cheap removal, lots of undercosted and resilient threats, and that's about it. There are no pure card advantage cards except Liliana and the token makers (3 Lingering Souls and the miser's Bitterblossom), so this deck is looking for its threats to end the game before decks with actual card advantage start to pull ahead.

Of all the Siege Rhino decks, this is certainly the most faithful representation of the Rhino's spirit and place in Magic. This is basically just a Modern version of Abzan, and it is packed full of cards that are efficient and powerful but have little to no complicated synergy. That is a very reasonable approach, as there's something to be said for all your cards working without any help from the rest of your cards. Whereas the Pod, Scapeshift, Twin, and Affinity (plus many more) decks are playing all sorts of combos that are incredibly powerful, they are vulnerable to disruption and simply drawing the wrong combinations of cards.

All this deck cares about, meanwhile, are the casting costs, and any hand with a good cost curve and reasonable lands is going to be a fine hand (or at least is highly likely to be, some all-removal hand aside). Any of the one-drops into any of the two-drop threats into any three-drop is going to be a good opener, and that gives this deck a way more consistent game plan than many decks in Modern. Of course, that does mean that it never hits a high quite as high as the best Pod/Delver/combo draws, but consistency is important, and being very resistant to disruption is a good quality to have.

Of these Siege Rhino decks, I like Kevin Grove's the best, as I feel like it does the best job of being a legitimate midrange deck without Birthing Pod and still does all the awesome things Pod does when it draws the actual card. Marcio's deck is definitely not a bad choice, but I think Modern is a wide enough format that I'm much more comfortable when I have a combo finish available to me. Sometimes you play against Tron, or the Soul Sisters deck (one was even in this very Top 8), and having a way to kill decks you didn't expect is always nice.

Standard Rhinos

Much like the last list I just mentioned, the most popular (and effective) way to put Standard under siege is to play an Abzan deck with all good cards, all Siege Rhinos, and just count on your high card quality to carry you to victory.

Steve Rubin's Abzan Midrange

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If you made all the cards one or two mana cheaper (and didn't even change the Rhinos and Thoughtseizes), this just would be the Modern version of the deck, which is simultaneously good for the Standard deck and somewhat troubling for the Modern deck. It's great that a Standard deck is doing the same thing as a Modern deck, and a little less impressive that a Modern deck is just a more efficient Standard deck (as opposed to decks like Pod, Twin, or Scapeshift, which are wildly different from anything going on in Standard).

This is one of the higher-end Abzan decks, with six Planeswalkers and a couple Wingmate Rocs, as well as the full set of Coursers and Caryatids. As I (and many others) have talked about before, going slightly bigger is generally the best way to get an edge in a matchup. I'd expect this to be one of the better strategies against the midrange or even aggressive Abzan decks, although it suffers from being one step down from the biggest Siege Rhino deck.

Finespoo's Abzan

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I would not want to go into battle against a Whip deck with a midrange Abzan deck, as what the Whip deck has traded in terms of speed and consistency is more than made up for by power, especially in this matchup. When both players have a bunch of Coursers and Siege Rhinos, nobody is killing their opponent very quickly, and in a long game, Whip of Erebos, Rescue from the Underworld, Hornet Queen, Doomwake Giant, and Soul of Innistrad will overpower any number of Planeswalkers and Wingmate Rocs.

There's No Wrong Way to Rhino

Siege Rhino really is a foolproof card. Every deck I've talked about today is a good one, and there's almost no deck that can cast Siege Rhino easily that isn't interested in playing it. It brings such a diverse set of abilities to the table and is good in almost every matchup, which makes it pretty hard to excuse not playing it if you have the capability to do so.

Of course, that doesn't mean you have to play decks that want Siege Rhino, as they tend toward midrange more than anything, and that's not always the best strategy, but if you are midrange, you really should be Rhino'ing. I like it a lot more in Standard than I do in Modern, as Modern is home to all sorts of strategies that go over the top of Rhino, while Standard has a lower vertical leap, to put it in those terms. I do have a Modern tournament coming up, as I will be playing the MOCS on Saturday, and there's a chance I've got Rhino in my deck, although it's not a big one (the chance, not the Rhino; the Rhino is huge).


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