The Quest To Defeat King Rhino

King Rhino is back on top, but Tom Ross knows that this is a healthy format that you can metagame and manipulate! See what his plans are for taking down the monster that just won’t quit winning!

Siege Rhino is back.

It took a while to come full circle. Going into #SCGINDY, as the first big event with Battle for Zendikar, it was clear that Abzan would remain
very strong. It didn’t do well at that tournament, putting no copies of Abzan Aggro into top 8 and only a single copy of Abzan Control. It kind of fell off
the map for the format’s week two tournament, #SCGATL, where Jeskai Black and G/W Megamorph completely dominated the top 8.

Why is now the time for Abzan Aggro to make a comeback? The big decks in the format have started to cannibalize themselves to beat mirror matches. G/W
Megamorph is cutting Hangarback Walker to perform better against Silkwrap. Jeskai Black cuts their Mantis Riders after sideboard, or altogether in Todd
Anderson’s case, as they are weak in the mirror. Decks that can punish the 12-15 fetchland manabase like Atarka Red and R/G Landfall are falling out of
popularity because people highly respect the deck and are showing up with sideboards fully stocked with Surge of Righteousness and Arashin Cleric. The
green Eldrazi Ramp decks even have four Jaddi Offshoot now.

I knew Abzan Aggro would be good after rotation. Everyone did. It didn’t do great week one but undeniably had enough strength to always be a top tier deck.
People just didn’t give it the respect it deserved at #SCGPHILLY. This is what I played initially at #SCGINDY.

And now this is enemy number one.

Abzan Aggro is great. The creatures are some of the best that the format has to offer in Warden of the First Tree, Hangarback Walker, Den Protector,
Anafenza, the Foremost, and Siege Rhino. Wingmate Roc and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar are great together to further press your advantage into a win. Abzan
Charm is likely the best pound-for-pound removal spell out there and comes with two other great modes: to mess up combat with two +1/+1 counters or to draw
two cards to gain some card density when the battlefield is clear of pressure.

What we didn’t value very highly early on was how important Shambling Vents is for the lategame. We played zero lands that entered the battlefield
tapped–no Shambling Vents or Sandsteppe Citadels–in favor of a manabase with lands that entered the battlefield untapped to be able to curve out. In the
end, the extra value outweighed the possible cost of stumbling in the earlygame.

Before I go into the archetypes that I feel are well-suited to beat Abzan Aggro, I want to touch on the cards that have been seeing less play for whatever
reason, be it to have a better matchup against G/W Megamorph, Jeskai Black, Eldrazi Ramp, or traditional control strategies like Esper.

Once a great complement to Soulfire Grand Master and a good sideboard option for red decks in general, Roast isn’t very good against G/W Megamorph, as
their creatures are either small or have added value like Hangarback Walker, Den Protector, or Deathmist Raptor. In the Jeskai Black mirror, it trades with
Soulfire Grand Master or Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, but trading on equal terms mana-wise isn’t where you want to be with a sideboard card. Tasigur, the Golden
Fang has been showing up in lists, but that may be too recent of a change for people to want to touch on Roast again, and still, you may be trading down on
mana for a possible one-mana 4/5 creature. With Abzan Aggro’s recent success, Jeskai Black really needs to play around three copies of Roast between their
maindeck and sideboard to survive. Red decks like Atarka Red and R/G Landfall need to dedicate sideboard slots for it as well.

Ojutai’s Command was once a four-of in the early iterations of Jeskai Black. Since then, Kolaghan’s Command and other big spells like Tasigur, the Golden
Fang or planeswalkers like Ob Nixilis Reignited have been pushing into the slots that Ojutai’s Command once held. I think the card is super strong and is
the biggest draw for me into the U/W color combination. It does suck to leave up on turn 4 and they simply slam Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but that trade
off will simply have to be dealt with. Jeskai Charm helped in that regard as a means to use your mana to kill the Gideon at a minimal loss, but the numbers
of Jeskai Charms have been dwindling as well. To fight Abzan Aggro, Jeskai Black needs to run the full four Ojutai’s Commands as well as some Jeskai
Charms, and the other control decks like Esper Dragons or Esper Planeswalkers need to find ways to get Ojutai’s Commands in their decks in high numbers as

I denounced Valorous Stance a bit in my last article, but
since then have found it a necessity and even ran a couple copies in my Bant Megamorph deck for #SCGPHILLY. Valorous Stance is the best answer to both
Anafenza, the Foremost and Siege Rhino while having good utility against stray Wingmate Rocs or tokens and keeping your creature alive against Murderous
Cut and Dromoka’s Command fights. It’s not good against Jeskai Black, Eldrazi Ramp, or Megamorph decks, but is important enough against Abzan Aggro that
decks with white really need to dedicate some slots to Valorous Stance. I’m really not a fan of conditional removal that can possibly be dead, but I’m
willing to throw in the towel on this one to shore up the Abzan Aggro matchup.

A sideboard card for black decks, I think that Self-Inflicted Wound will be key to winning Abzan Aggro mirrors. They generally can’t beat you without a
green creature on the battlefield, and the two point life loss is quite significant as the matchup comes down to racing a large percentage of the time.
It’s also pretty good against other decks, namely G/W Megamorph, heavy green Landfall decks, and some Eldrazi Ramp decks like both Jaddi Offshoot and
Rattleclaw Mystic. Dragonlord Ojutai has been a sleeping Dragon over the last few big tournaments, and it’s always nice to have a clean way to remove him.
I’d run at least three copies of Self-Inflicted Wound in my sideboard of any deck with black moving forward.

Now, onto some decks that I think are good against Abzan Aggro.

R/G Landfall was the deck that beat me the most at #SCGINDY. Once, I was killed on turn 4 on the draw through an Arashin Cleric and Abzan Charm killing my
opponent’s biggest creature. Landfall has both formulas to beat Abzan Aggro: the ability to go under them and over the top of them simultaneously. The best
way to beat the high-quality of cards from Abzan Aggro is to simply end the game faster than they can deploy all of their spells.

Snapping Gnarlid has universally been accepted as being better than Makindi Sliderunner. The extra toughness allows it to attack into larger creatures that
want to block, namely opposing 2/2 creatures with a single landfall creature, but more importantly, creatures with offset power and toughness like Wingmate
Roc and its token, Siege Rhino, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. It takes an extra fetchland or an Atarka’s Command to set up this big turn, but aligning
combat in your favor is worth it. Also, people are very much into the camp that Surge of Righteousness will solve their red-based problems, and Snapping
Gnarlid gets around that spell.

We’ve seen iterations of Esper lately in Esper Tokens and Esper Control, but not really as the once-dominant Esper Dragons build that was considered the
best deck in its prime. Silumgar’s Scorn is incredibly powerful, and it’s about time for it to make a resurgence. Board sweepers are really good against
any midrange deck, and Abzan Aggro is the perfect target to get swept under the rug by a Crux of Fate or Languish. The Jace, Vryn’s Prodigies come in after
they’ve sideboarded out their cheap removal, leaving them largely uncontested. I think I’d personally build the deck with a maindeck Dragonlord Silumgar
and another in the sideboard, as it’s really strong against opposing planeswalkers like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

Fight fire with fire. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. If you want to beat Abzan Aggro, do what they’re doing with a slight nudge towards beating the
mirror. Above are the adjusted numbers and sideboard slots that I’d be comfortable playing in a tournament expecting to play the mirror match at least

This weekend is #GPAtlanta where I’ll be taking a break from Constructed to play Battle for Zendikar Sealed. I’d never played the originalZendikar before playing in a Limited Grand Prix of the format, and things worked out great for me as I was able to top 8 at GP Tampa 2010. Battle for Zendikar can’t be much different that Zendikar, right? All pipe dream hopes aside, I’m treating #GPAtlanta as a pleasant break
from Constructed and am happy to go in winging it without delusionary high hopes.

After #GPAtlanta is #SCGKC, which will showcase how people aim to deal with the Abzan Aggro-heavy metagame. I expect that Abzan Aggro will show up in
higher numbers than ever before this season, but that someone will figure out how to beat it and that Abzan Aggro won’t end up taking home the win. The
format is a tough cookie to break, and I don’t fault anyone with sticking with what’s been winning and just jamming an Abzan Aggro deck that had legs in
the expected mirror.

I haven’t yet decided if I’ll be attending #SCGKC, but one thing is for sure: I’ll be well-prepared to take down a Siege Rhino or two… that is, if I’m
not casting Siege Rhino myself.