When Odyssey first came out, the Magic world was aghast at a creature that had one power and cost one black, one blue, and one colorless mana. No, not PsychatogShadowmage Infiltrator. Ophidian had been the heart of some very powerful constructed decks. Shadowmage Infiltrator was the same card, but better! It dealt damage and had evasion!

Then, Shadowmage Infiltrator had zero impact on Standard. Why? Well, mostly because of timing. The format-defining cards in Odyssey just matched up too well with Shadowmage Infiltrator: particularly Psychatog and Wild Mongrel (a two-mana green creature with an ability that randomly allowed it to turn black). With those cards in every other deck, Shadowmage Infiltrator was just embarrassing to cast! For the same or less mana, your opponent outclassed your turn. In an era when Counterspell was already in tons of decks, and outclassed every spell that cost more than two, your three-mana sorcery-speed card couldn’t afford to also be outclassed by so many other popular cards.

Siege Rhino has exactly the opposite experience in Standard. It’s not facing off against Exclude, Counterspell, or Path to Exile. With no natural predators in the format, Siege Rhino has become Standard’s defining card. It just does so many things! The life gain makes it a great defensive card: summon a big blocker, gain some life. The life loss makes it a great aggressive creature! Deploy an efficient trampler, bolt your face. The five toughness is perfectly positioned to match up against opposing Stoke the Flames, Anafenza the Foremosts, and even Savage Knuckleblades. The card is great against token strategies because it is resistant to chump-blocking and big enough to safely block anything even with Jeskai Ascendancy in play.

For months, we’ve all been searching for ways to punish people for playing Rhino decks. The problem is that the only cards that really match up well against the Rhino aren’t the cards that you’d just be playing anyway. First, let’s look at the cards that we ARE playing anyway, and how they match up. We’ll focus on cards that deal directly with a Rhino.

Hero’s Downfall, Abzan Charm: We are ahead one mana, but down a 6-point life swing. Bad deal.
Crackling Doom: We are ahead one mana, but down a 4-point life swing and committed to playing Mardu. Better, but still not great.
Murderous Cut: We are probably ahead on mana, but still down a 6-point life swing, and can’t rely on casting multiple copies of this card efficiently. Rhinos don’t scare this easily.
Jeskai Charm: Just like Abzan Charm, except we have guaranteed our opponent will draw the best card in the form at next turn.
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion: Two turns later, we can kill the Rhino with a leftover (fragile) Planeswalker, while killing any other four power creatures in play. This will go well sometimes, but it isn’t the answer.
Siege Rhino: Finally, a fair matchup!

Basically, there are no cards that people want to play that match up with the Rhino advantageously. The Rhino is just always good, unless your opponent is playing second-rate cards on purpose! What makes it worse, most of the cards listed above are in the Rhino’s colors, meaning the best way to fight a Rhino with a good card usually leads you to playing Rhinos yourself. The best generally-good card for fighting a Rhino outside of Abzan is probably Mantis Rider: an excellent card that can get out in front of the Rhino, but doesn’t have the same collection of card-for-card matchups. I mean, it dies to Lightning Strike and Bile Blight! Two cards that people are playing anyway, cost less mana, and are Instants.

Here are some tier-two cards people have resorted to playing in order to trade advantageously with Siege Rhino:

Hushwing Gryff
Chained to the Rocks
Suspension Field

As much as I love Dissolve and Chained to the Rocks, these cards are not where most people want to be: stretching your mana base to include a dozen Mountains, adequate white mana, and then trying to build from there? It’s asking a lot. Also: Hushwing Gryff! There is no better argument for the inordinate influence of Siege Rhino on Standard than the popularity (including in main decks!) of a narrow sideboard card like Hushwing Gryff.

So, now that we all understand why Siege Rhino is such a jerk, let’s have a look at the cards that Fate Reforged might offer us to battle it. We’ll look at cards that appear to have strong constructed potential.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang — The right size, but not the kind of card you can play four of, and not exactly out-classing a Rhino regardless.
Crux of Fate — A lot of things have to go right for this to outclass a Rhino: if End Hostilities didn’t do it, this won’t.
Brutal Hordechief — Cool card, but not scaring the horned one.
Soulfire Grand Master — This card is awesome, but… not doing this job.
Valorous Stance — Ok, ok, we’re almost there! This is a lot like Reprisal but it can kill a Courser of Kruphix or save your own creature in a pinch… Still, this feels like a card that is only really made good by the prevalence of Rhino. It can’t kill Mantis Rider or Goblin Rabblemaster
Citadel Siege — In concert with End Hostilities, this could be the right idea! We’re clearly in a control strategy of some sort, but there’s promise here.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon — This card can embarrass anything, provided you can make it to eight mana. If your opponent does nothing but cast a Rhino on turn four, and you do nothing but play lands and cast Ugin on turn eight… you’ll be at one to five life, depending on who was on the play. So that’s… never mind.
Warden of the First Tree — I’m not impressed by this card. Neither is Siege Rhino.
Yasova Dragonclaw — So close! If you could use the ability on a Rhino this might help. But you can’t.
Flamewake Phoenix — See Warden of the First Tree.

That’s two cards, both in Abzan colors, that might discourage the beast a little. In conclusion, look forward to ten more weeks of Siege Rhinos.

If that sounds depressing, I suggest you work on your control decks (which get to play some good anti-Rhino cards without making sacrifices) or dust off your Mantis Riders. The insect is very under-appreciated, and fits right into tokens decks if you can find room! Try cutting Goblin Rabblemaster: he rarely looks good against big green creatures. Take a second look at Reaper of the Wilds while you’re at it: that card has never been intimidated by a Rhino.

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.