An archetype stampedes back into the Modern limelight, and Michael Rapp is here to break down the strengths and weaknesses of Rhinos!
Great news! The crash is back! It would seem that over the last couple of weeks the Rhinos population has skyrocketed from the endangered state it was in before the Lurrus ban. The question is, why? The deck hasn’t fundamentally changed, but the metagame around it has! Let’s take a look at what exactly changed.
Rhinos plays a different game than Living End and Glimpse of Tomorrow, despite also being a cascade deck. Those two decks are much more combo-oriented; Rhinos plays a more tempo-oriented game. Cascading into Crashing Footfalls is still certainly the A-plan, but Brazen Borrower, Bonecrusher Giant, and Fury make for a robust backup plan. Having a backup plan for a soft combo-style of deck is important, because if your opponent sticks a Teferi, Time Raveler, or a Chalice of the Void on 0, life gets awfully hard without one. Extra creatures also insulate the Rhinos deck from Engineered Explosives, which is another common sideboard card.
Cascade doesn’t explicitly say that you can’t play cards that cost two or less, but to make sure that you only cascade into Crashing Footfalls, that is the deck building restriction. This restriction makes the adventure creatures uniquely valuable. If Rhinos could only play spells that cost three or more, opponents would easily run them over. Thanks to the high mana value of adventure and split cards, Petty Theft, Stomp, Fire//Ice, and Dead//Gone are all able to protect the Rhinos player early in the game. In addition to the “cheap” spells, Fury and Force of Negation gives the Rhinos player more free defense early!
The sideboard for Rhinos tends to be extremely clean, often consisting of 4 Mystical Dispute, 4 Force of Vigor, 4 Endurance, and 3 Blood Moon. Some of that is being limited in what sideboard cards you have access to because of mana cost, some of it is Rhinos knowing what beats it. Expect a lot of counterspells? Mystical Dispute. Expect a lot of graveyard decks? Endurance is what you’re looking for. Hammer or other artifact decks beating you up? Force of Vigor is an easy call. Big mana decks like Amulet or Tron causing problems? Blood Moon will fix that! This deck has Blood Moon in the main deck which opens things up for some additional anti-control tech with Chandra, Awakened Inferno, and Narset, Parter of Veils.
Where Have All the Good Rhinos Gone?
Life started to get hard for Rhinos players once decks like Azorius Control adopted a bunch of Chalices of the Void in the main deck. Similarly, thanks to the popularity of Hammer Time, the stock in Engineered Explosives went way up; bad news for our horned friends. When Grixis Death’s Shadow kept climbing the ranks of Modern, things got worse and worse for Rhinos. Discard spells backed up with counterspells plus a fast clock is the nightmare for Rhinos. Rhinos can play a fair game, but its fair game just can’t stand up to the brand of disruption that Death’s Shadow has.
Azorius Control is traditionally a deck that Rhinos is fine against, because they can choke blue players on mana with end step Violent Outburst into a Shardless Agent on the Following turn, but Chalice of the Void on 0 and Teferi, Time Raveler can both shut down multiple cascade spells while paying the mana ahead of time. However, Azorius Control can battle through with cheap counterspells.
Izzet Murktide was on the decline due to the popularity of Hammer Time and Four-Color Yorion. Murktide is traditionally a favorable matchup for Rhinos, because similar to Azorius Control Rhinos can choke the Murktide player’s mana, but they don’t have the upside of Chalice of the Void or Teferi, Time Raveler to shut down the cascade. Brazen Borrower and Gone are both powerful options against Murktide Regent, which is their best way to close the game. It is a lot that adds up to make Rhinos a slightly less attractive option.
Rhinos are Back!..But Why?
Once Lurrus got banned, Shadow and Hammer both took a hit in popularity. Shadow taking a step back for the last few weeks is great news for Rhinos. With one of their worst matchups on the decline, many of those players moved to either Izzet Murktide as it is similar in style to Shadow, or Four-Color Yorion as it is likely the best deck following the ban. While Four-Color Yorion has access to Teferi, Time Raveler, they struggle to defend themselves against multiple 4/4s at the same time.
Azorius Control has also become slightly easier, and the newer versions have cut way back on Chalice of the Void, especially in the main deck.
Force of Negation is a main deck staple of Rhinos which is well positioned at the moment. With Izzet Murktide and Azorius Control as some of the premier interactive decks, most of their interaction costs two or three mana, which means a turn three Violent Outburst backed up by a Force of Negation is going to put quite a lot of pressure on the opponent, as it both eats their turn and pushes through eight power on the opponent’s end step. Untapping with something like Mystical Dispute the following turn will often lock up a game against any of the blue decks.
Blood Moon is excellent at the moment as there are tons of exploitable manabases. Amulet Titan struggles with Blood Moon, especially in game one when they may not expect it. Four-Color Yorion is another deck that is somewhat vulnerable to Blood Moons, especially when backed up by rhinos. Urza’s Saga decks often don’t want to see Blood Moon either, partially because it destroys Urza’s Saga, but to support Saga, the decks that play it are often low on basic lands to be able to cast their spells, which means an early Blood Moon can lock them out.
Rhinos has certainly burst back onto the Modern scene, and has definitely been putting up a volume of results to back up that claim. You can’t throw a rock on MTGO without hitting a Rhinos deck. The question in coming weeks is, does Rhinos have the staying power to hang with an adjusting Modern metagame, or will it regress back to the herd? If I had to guess, Rhinos will continue to be a solid and respectable option for any upcoming Modern tournaments, but I do think players will start to respect the cascade strategies again in coming weeks. As always you can find me on Twitter at @RappaciousOne for any questions or comments. I’ll catch everyone back here next week with more Modern content!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.