You Shall Have Other Gods (Part 3)
- Gianluca Aicardi
The Amonkhet Gods are back, and this time they all seem able to command their share of worship. The hottest new set in recent memory has bestowed all of them (with one exception) a new incarnation worthy of play in Standard. Let's conclude our adoration by paying tribute to the mighty Rhonas.
The road to undying divinity comes here to an end. In Part 1, we looked in awe at the first two of those Gods from Amonkhet whose celestial remains were enslaved by the devious Nicol Bolas to gain the upper hand during the War of the Spark. God-Eternal Oketra ensures inevitability on the board by generating an army of vigilant 4/4s within midrange, creature-heavy decks; whereas God-Eternal Kefnet is the perfect finisher for control decks with a high count of noncreature spells to duplicate for value. Both immediately marked the territory and forged or reinforced their own archetype in Standard.
The Gods we surveyed in Part 2 were still worthwhile, if less conducive to a surefire spot in tier-one lists. God-Eternal Bontu is an excellent if not strictly necessary addition to self-sacrifice strategies; and the only non-Zombie God in the cycle, Ilharg, the Raze-Boar, manages to marry what at first glance appears as a Timmy-esque approach with a solid payoff that can steal games in a jiff, but it also requires a degree of build-around while competing with significantly safer options in the kind of deck where it would shine the most.
Now it's time to turn our gaze towards the very last of them, at least mana wheel-wise.
A Snake That Sheds His Skin Is Still a Snake
Back on Amonkhet, Rhonas was the god of strength, both of the physical and mental variety. He has several ancient Egyptian counterparts, like the cobra-headed goddesses Wadjet and Renenutet. He was a standout among the Gods from Amonkhet, effectively being the only one of those that got a new incarnation in War of the Spark that saw major play at the time of his original release (the other great success story in that first cycle was Hazoret the Fervent, who is still alive, and thus couldn't join her eternalized brethren). Rhonas the Indomitable was a superb tactical beater that fit perfectly in any Stompy strategy, dropping for three, being easily awake one turn later, and granting trampling boosts to his allies.
God-Eternal Rhonas maintains his older body and main combat ability (a not entirely, yet mostly irrelevant deathtouch), but plays in an entirely different way from his previous self. Those five mana in his casting cost place him firmly in the midrange zone, where he contributes a universal boost that reproduces the sort of Overrun-like effects we've seen in the past on more cumbersome green curve-toppers.
What this new Rhonas is clearly trying to do is set up a lethal alpha strike by doubling the total power you have on the battlefield. The comparison with the regular green template for this kind of ETB trigger reveals strengths and weaknesses in Rhonas's approach to the feat. Key among the plus points is the fact that Rhonas, being part of the God-Eternals cycle, comes equipped with the signature comeback clause – i.e. he can tuck himself third from the top instead of going to the graveyard or the exile zone, which leaves him able to boost your team again and again every so often in what's easily the most efficient way to exploit the clause, along with God-Eternal Bontu's sacrifice outlet. Also, Rhonas is relatively cheap, so you won't need to ramp to crazy amount of mana to get him online.
Hold your horses and all your other attacking beasts, though: Rhonas's strike is not without issues. One of them is the fact that Rhonas himself, unlike all of his precursors featured above, doesn't join the assault. More importantly, and also comparing unfavorably with Craterhoof Behemoth and the likes, Rhonas doesn't provide trample, nor any other means to push the damage through. Vigilance is an okay bonus that aligns Rhonas's ability with those of more recent green enablers like End-Raze Forerunners and Vivien Reid's ultimate, albeit both of those didn't forget to work trample into the equation. The idea behind this new reliance on vigilance is to free the green player from the fear of exposing themselves to a dangerous counterattack, which is especially useful once we come to accept that our Rhonas-fueled strike is not guaranteed to result in the end of the game.
One way to look at God-Eternal Rhonas is as something that lands in between the aggro support of the old Rhonas and the endgame might of Craterhoof Behemoth, which would lead to a degenerate board state even starting from a small army of mana dorks, whereas Rhonas wouldn't do much for us in that situation. On the other hand, Rhonas is a 5/5 for five with some staying power, which is on the curve, if barely.
So, what to do with him? Well, Stompy is still more or less around and may find some use for his services. Cue to something like this:
|22Forest||4Llanowar Elves||2Nissa, Who Shakes the World|
|4Pelt Collector||2Vivien Reid|
|4Steel Leaf Champion|
|3Ghalta, Primal Hunger|
Rhonas's spot in this curve seems fine. Problem is, doubling Nullhide Ferox's power doesn't make it more likely to swing past a single 1/1 chump-blocker, and monogreen Stompy can't really clear the way for its creatures to connect, their size notwithstanding. Granted, sending a double-powered Ghalta to the opponent's side of the table pretty much spells good game, but it's also probably overkill.
The thing is, aside from Ghalta, no creature in this list really benefits from Rhonas's boost, except occasionally Steel Leaf Champion. All in all, Gruul feels like the best home for the cobra god, especially if we come back to his fellow cycle member, Ilharg, the Raze-Boar. See, Ilharg is a native trampler (and so is Gruul Spellbreaker, for that matter), and an attacking Ilharg with God-Eternal Rhonas in hand instantly produces 17 points of damage, most of which are hard to block.
However, as we noted in the previous article, Ilharg's efficiency is hindered by the severe downside of having to sit on the battlefield for a whole turn before doing anything other than discouraging attacks. But what if he didn't have to? After all, Gruul offers some interesting solutions to this specific conundrum.
The list concocted by streamer LegenVD, and which you can see in action here, doesn't aspire to tier-one status anytime soon, but it's powerful, surprisingly consistent, and a whole lot of fun to play with.
Big Pig, by LegenVD
|4Stomping Ground||4Llanowar Elves||4Rhythm of the Wild|
|4Rootbound Crag||4Incubation Druid||2Domri, Anarch of Bolas|
|8Forest||4Growth-Chamber Guardian||2Domri, Chaos Bringer|
|8Mountain||4Rekindling Phoenix||2Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner|
|4Ilharg, the Raze-Boar|
The concept here is: once you're playing a Rhythm of the Wild deck to let Ilharg and Rhonas catch the opponent by surprise, you may as well take advantage of it as much as possible. Which means, for instance, Incubation Druid instantly getting the +1/+1 counter she needs to increase her mana production, and Growth-Chamber Guardian proliferating itself as a 3/3 for two mana apiece. Also, Rekindling Phoenix's evasion makes it a good target for both Gods' shticks, while the big Wurms can trample the opponent with the help of Rhonas while providing mad value as Ilharg's drops. To top it all off, the planeswalker package supplies acceleration and further card advantage, between Domri, Anarch of Bolas's removal, Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner's sheer card-draw, and Domri, Chaos Bringer's library selection.
And that's enough Worship for this miniseries. Let's keep showing our Standard Gods some love; they've earned it.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.