The first time I heard “Siege Rhino is the best card in Modern” this morning, I brushed it off. People say crazy things all the time (remember Christian Calcano saying Titan’s Strength is the best red card in Theros? C’mon, Calc.) But the second and third time I heard it, independent of the first, I had to take notice. How could a four-cost, dies-to-Doom Blade–style creature be the best card in Modern?
Well, first off, it doesn’t die to Doom Blade. That was a test; I hope you passed.
Next, as Grand Prix New Jersey winner Brian Braun-Duin said, “It gives you the best leverage in the format right now.” He continued, “It provides the largest pressure to the unfair decks, and the fair decks can’t really attack through it or kill it.”
This is one of the keys to why it’s so good right now. Grand Prix Orlando Champion Eugene Hwang said, “No removal in the format beats it, except Dismember.” Though not literally true, it’s functionally true. Modern is a format of cheap answers, and things like Lightning Bolt or Abrupt Decay just don’t do the trick. Hell, it even dodges a Smother—if that were your fancy.
Todd Anderson said on the subject, “and even with Dismember, if they’re not playing black, that’s still seven life.” He continued, “If the other delve cards didn’t already put so much pressure on the graveyard, Murderous Cut would be everywhere. But nobody’s playing it.” Braun-Duin and Patrick Dickmann added that “some people are playing Combust in the sideboard, but that’s not really enough.”
So the current removal crop doesn’t nab it, but so what? What about the combo decks? Doesn’t Modern have tons of decks that can just circumvent a fair creature like Siege Rhino?
As Pro Tour Hall of Fame Member, No. 17 Ben Stark says, not really; and it’s all because of Blue-Red Delver. “Delver is the best deck in the format, and it keeps the format in check,” he said. Because Delver preys on the unfair decks (that are traditionally Siege Rhino decks’ worst match-ups), and Siege Rhino decks are good against fair decks like Delver, then Siege Rhino has a sweet spot in the metagame. As long as Delver is good, Rhino will feed off that success and ride coattails into the win columns.
Right now, there are two established archetypes that play Siege Rhino: “Junk”-style Abzan decks, like the one Willy Edel played at the World Championship, and Birthing Pod. Though there are many variations of the Pod deck, they seem to have all-but universally adopted the Rhino. In fact, some people, but not all, have gone as far as to cut the combo (Archangel of Thune + Spike Weaver) from the maindeck entirely.
As far as which to play, it’s elementary for Braun-Duin. “Why wouldn’t you play the Rhino deck that also plays Pod?” That seems to be a choice of many players here; there are far more Pod-ers than straight Abzan-ers. Probably because the Pod deck is awesome.
This is the other reason Rhino is so good: Birthing Pod is also so good. I asked Nathan Holiday about the deck while he was playing a practice game against Joe Demestrio, and he simply said, “Just look at it!” I did. He was right. He was gaining nine life out of nowhere against Burn, while still maintaining strong pressure. He was just doing whatever he wanted. “It’s a really adaptable deck. The toolbox is awesome.” He started naming all the different lines of play he could at the current board state. “I could just beat with a second Rhino, or I could wipe away all his Monastery Swiftspears with Orzhov Pontiff.” He said he just had to decide which of the plays was the best—but they were all really good. The “toolbox” allows you to play out of almost every circumstance.
Holiday thinks the 4/5 is so good right now, he said that even if Birthing Pod left the format, “I’d still probably play Siege Rhino.” Demestrio, getting rofl-stomped in the match added, “Literal Ancestral Recall [Treasure Cruise] can’t beat Siege Rhino.” He then shook his head in disgust.
There are many pros on the Rhino plan, but their builds vary greatly. Some play the combo main, some don’t. One of the unnamed source said, “Spike Weaver is just awful. It’s not worth it. I’d rather just be Rhino-ing.” Some are playing big gamers in the top end like Obzedat, Ghost Council. “It lets you turn your Rhino into a bigger Rhino,” the proponents say. And some people are going so far as to play sideboard cards like, literal big game, Big Game Hunter. Another unnamed source playing that card said, “Yeah. Kill the opponent’s Rhino, then Pod it away and get your Rhino. Seems good.”
Something about the choice of the toolbox attracts people to the Pod deck. Or maybe it’s just the “freedom.” “Americans love Pod for some reason,” said Patrick Dickmann. “Whenever I play a Modern Grand Prix in North America, I expect a lot of Pod.” And if we know one thing about Americans, they love “freedom”—whatever we think that means. So maybe Siege Rhino is really good because freedom?
Whatever the reason, whether it’s perfectly positioned thanks to Delver, or because it’s just that efficient a creature, very few people here are not expecting the Rhino in some form. If you haven’t accounted for it in some way, good luck getting to Day 2.
It’s possible Fate Reforged will drastically change something, but there’s a good chance the Rhino has charged through Standard, and will continue to crush Modern underfoot.