Strategy & Sideboard Guide: Tron

1+1+1=7. Right?

The math checks out if you’re a Tron player. Much like the Lion Force Voltron kid’s television show from the 80’s (from which the deck gets its name), Tron decks are looking to assemble a powerful combination to overthrow their opponent. Through the combined strength of the Urza land cycle from Antiquities (Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Power Plant, and Urza’s Tower), Tron players can potentially have access to seven colorless mana on turn three. This means a Tron player could deploy a Wurmcoil Engine or Karn Liberated before you even get a chance to play Liliana of the Veil. Each turn after that just gets scarier and scarier as the threat of an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Ugin the Spirit Dragon loom.

 Image result for assemble voltron gif

Almost all versions play green and are either mono green or splash one color. Some splash white so they can have access to cards like Path to Exile and powerful sideboard cards like Rest in Peace. Newer versions have splashed black for Fatal Push and Collective Brutality, while older versions splashed red for Pyroclasm. On the fringe of the Tron meta are Mono-Blue Tron decks looking to win via Mindslaver lock (Mindslaver+Academy Ruins). Mono-Blue Tron plays more like a control deck than a traditional ramp deck by utilizing counterspells.

It’s no secret that this is a bad match-up for Rock decks. The Tron player’s threats just come down too fast and are too large for our small “efficient removal” to handle. Fatal Push and Tarmogoyf look pretty silly when you’re staring down an Ulamog. So what’s our angle of attack, how can we steal a victory?

 torn things.png

Thankfully, in order to ensure that turn three Tron is online consistently, the deck needs to devote a very large amount of their resources into enabling their payoffs. Chromatic Sphere, Chromatic Star, Relic of Progenitus, Ancient Stirrings, Sylvan Scrying, and Expedition Map are all ways the Tron players are going to try to accomplish this. Spheres, Stars, and Relics help burn through their deck, drawing 2-3 cards a turn looking for threats or payoffs. Spheres and Stars in specific allow the Tron player to cast colored spells while only having colorless lands. Sylvan Scrying and Map are used to tutor up Tron lands while Stirrings can be used to look for Tron lands or threats.

Like most big-mana decks, there are really only a handful of cards in the deck that can come down as a payoff. Your angle of attack can be one of two things: turn off their ability to get turn three Tron while stranding large spells in their hand, or stripping them of their payoffs. I think most players will agree that keeping a Tron player off of Tron is the best mode of attack. The issue with tackling their threats, if you can’t keep them off Tron, is that even if you answer the first one, or even the second, any threat they draw off the top will be castable and difficult to deal with.

Expedition-Map-by-Franz-Vohwinkel
“Expedition Map” by Franz Vohwinkel

Cards that destroy lands are a great way to attack Tron’s gameplan. Of course all G/B decks have access to Assassin’s Trophy, a two mana instant speed Vindicate that can help keep our opponents off Tron, even in game one. After sideboarding, G/B decks get access to Fulminator Mage, a utility creature that can get in for a couple points of damage or destroy a non-basic land when needed.  K-Command and Liliana the Last Hope  can ensure you get even more miles out of your Fulminators with the ability to buy them back from the graveyard continuously. If you are playing G/B Rock, you are most likely playing some amount of Ghost Quarters or Field of Ruins, which are perfect for this match-up. You can also “build your own Crumble to Dust” by sideboarding in Surgical Extraction with your land destruction to strip Tron for good.

Since Tron also heavily relies on artifacts, sideboarding in some amount of artifact-hate can also be helpful. Abzan has access to cards like Stony Silence, which turns off 12-15 cards in the deck! Jund can sideboard in cards like Ancient Grudge to snag an Oblivion Stone before it goes off or tackle a Wurmcoil Engine. For G/B Rock, even something like Nature’s Claim can come in handy.

Lastly, if you have any extra threats in the sideboard, I would side them in as well. You have a decent amount of dead cards in this match-up: Fatal Push has almost no targets, Abrupt Decay is narrow, and Scavenging Ooze can be a pretty sad threat. Anything that can apply a little more pressure or survive an O-Stone activation to close the game out is something you should be interested in, cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Kitchen Finks.

Let’s look at an example of side boarding using this Jund list that 5-0’d a league by user DolphinBat.

jundtron

Out:

jundt tron out

In:

jundtron

 

As mentioned before, Fatal Push has almost no targets here and Scavenging Ooze doesn’t do a very good job of closing the game out. Inquisition of Kozilek can be good on the play if you can snag an Expedition Map but can be pretty mediocre on the draw. I can understand wanting to keep in all the Inquisitions on the play and perhaps taking some out on when you’re not. Lightning Bolt probably won’t be taking down any creatures in this match, but it can help close the game and can sometimes finish off a Karn after his minus ability.

Coming in we have our land destruction spells and our artifact hate with Ancient Grudge. With the land destruction coming in, you can also consider Surgical Extraction, but beware that it will be a pretty lackluster card to have in hand outside of Fulminators and Assassin’s Trophy.

There are some other noteworthy cards against Tron that could also be played in Jund that aren’t in this list.

Alpine Moon is a card that has a lot of utility when it comes to shutting down lands. In this match, it can remove the Urza subtype of all Tron lands with the same name, rendering them ineffective.

Damping Sphere is another excellent card for this match. While it doesn’t synergize well with Bloodbraid Elf, it will most certainly hurt your opponent more than you. Not only will this turn off Tron’s ability to produce copious amounts of mana, but it will also make it difficult to burn through their mana rocks since each one after the first will be taxed.

Unravel the Aether is another piece of artifact hate worth mentioning here. Unravel the Aether is a really good solution for Wurmcoil Engines if you’re a  Jund player. Abzan has clean answers to many of Tron’s sticky threats due to the efficiency of Path to Exile, while Jund struggles severely against them. Unravel the Aether gives Jund a clean answer to a Wurmcoil in the same way Abzan decks have Path to Exile.

Next, let’s take a look at an Abzan list that 5-0’d a league piloted by user djxn85.

abzantron

Out:

abzan out tron

In:

abzan in tron

Abzan tends to be a little slower than Jund with the inclusion of Lingering Souls. While I do think they tend to be pretty slow threats in this match, I still personally like them more than Scavenging Ooze. At least Lingering Souls gives you the ability to rebuild quickly after a sweeper.

Coming in we have Knight of Autumns as nice upgrades to our Scavenging Oozes, Stony Silence to turn off their rocks, Damping Sphere to keep them off Tron, and Sorcerer’s Spyglass. Knight of Autumn is a much better clock in the match and even has some utility by having relevant artifact targets to destroy when it’s not a 4/3. Spyglass is also pretty awesome tech and has a plethora of relevant cards it can hit, to include Karn, Ugin, O-Stone, Walking Ballista, Relics, and Maps (does not affect Spheres and Stars because they are mana abilities).

Note that this list has zero Fulminators in it so I think the Surgical’s tend to be a bit weaker, but are still options. Having no Fulminators is also the reason we’re not keeping Liliana, the Last Hope in; she’s really not worth much in this match outside of buying back Fulminators.

Last but not least, let’s see how G/B Rock sideboards with this 5-0 list by user KoDiamonds

gbtron

Out:

rock out tron

In:

rock in tron

G/B Rock already has a better start game one in this match with the inclusion of Field of Ruin in the main board. After sideboarding we take out the bad removal for better threats like Kitchen Finks and Nissa, trade in weak discard for Duress, and make room for our Damping Spheres .

This list also has Surgical Extraction with no Fulminators, but between the Field of Ruins and Assassin’s Trophy, there should be enough land destruction to justify siding them in if you want.

ulamog-the-ceaseless-hunger
“Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger” by Michael Komarck

Tron players already have a great match-up against us so they don’t need much help after sideboarding. You should expect them to bring in additional copies of Relic of Progenitus if they aren’t already playing the full four in the mainboard, ways of dealing with your Damping Spheres like Nature’s Claim, more sticky threats like Thragtusk, and some may even bring in ways to get back lands from their graveyard like Crucible of Worlds.

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Now that we know a little bit about Tron and how we can sculpt our game-plan to beat them, let’s look at some practical applications and possible lines of play.

Knowing what to take from a Tron player’s hand can be a difficult exercise to maneuver. Do you take the Karn? Do you take a Sylvan Scrying? Let’s take a look at an example for practice.

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Here we see a hand of Karn, Ulamog, Expedition Map, Sylvan Scrying, Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Tower, and a Forest. Our opponent’s hand is pretty good, not only do they have two ways to get the third Tron land, they also have two powerful payoffs. So what do we take?

As always, we have to consult our hand and sculpt our game plan. You can see that without another Thoughtseize, we probably aren’t taking them off their payoffs. We do however have an Abrupt Decay. This means if we take the Sylvan Scrying, and our opponent (most likely) plays a turn 1 Map, we can Decay it on our turn 2. Turn 3 we can play our Liliana and hopefully get our opponent to discard those payoffs before they draw a way to get the third Tron land.

It’s entirely possible they will draw a way to get that third Tron land anyway, or even just draw it naturally by turn three. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot we can do about that besides just playing to our outs. You have to take the line that gives you the best chance of winning; sometimes that won’t matter and other times it will pay off.

Now let’s assume the Ulamog is another Map, do you still take Sylvan Scrying?

In this situation, I’m taking Karn. It would be nearly impossible to take them off Tron at this point and so you have to take the fight elsewhere. With Tron being an inevitability this game, you have to take the threat. Your hope is that while they are ramping and cycling their “rocks” (Spheres, Stars, and Relic), they don’t draw a relevant pay off before you can kill them or Liliana ultimate to take them off Tron.

In sideboarded games you’re going to have some tricky decisions to make with your Fulminators and Trophies.

“What land should I blow up?”

“When should I pull the trigger?”

In this scenario we’ve played a turn one Shambling Vent, turn two Verdant Catacombs into Tarmogoyf, and turn three Swamp into Fulminator Mage. Our opponent has played turn one Urza’s Mine into Expedition Map, turn two Urza’s Tower and simply passed, leaving up mana to activate Map on our end step. If we’re assuming there are no other Tron pieces in hand, which land do you blow up? fum.png

Okay, so this was kind of a trick question. The answer, is actually neither, at least for now. While it can be tempting to immediately blow up a land, force them to use their map, and grow our Goyf to a 3/4 before combat (creature, artifact, land), this is actually not the best line to take. While it kind of sucks to just attack for one point of damage, patience is your friend here. By blowing up the land immediately, you are allowing your opponent to be mana efficient. When you instead, pass the turn with Fulminator on board, you put your opponent in an awkward position: they want to crack their map, but they also want to search for the Tron piece you target. Here’s why:

  • If they search for the Power Plant (the third Tron piece) on your end step and you then proceed to blow up the Mine on their upkeep, they will have a 6% chance of redrawing another Mine naturally.
  • Alternatively, let’s say you blow up the Mine immediately before combat to grow your Goyf. They, in response, crack their map and search for another Mine. Their odds of drawing the Power Plant are 8%.

For this reason, Tron will (typically) wait for you to make the first move. If they crack the map on your end step, then they are just providing you with more information about their hand before you make your decision.

I know, I know, it’s a small edge. While trading a 2% chance of top-decking the missing Tron piece doesn’t seem worth the two points of damage missed, it is. Remember that not only are you gaining that 2%, but you are also making their turns two and three mana inefficient. By passing the turn, you are forcing them to waste their turn two and most of their turn three to do one action while also taking them back a turn on lands. This is a pretty big tempo advantage. Basically their turns have gone: turn one Map, turn two do nothing, turn three crack map and miss a land drop.

It’s important to make sure that when you pass the turn to blow up a land, you’re doing it on their upkeep prior to their draw step, regardless of whether they cracked their Map on your end step or not. Unlike Path to Exile or Ghost Quarter, where we are taking actions in the draw step in the hopes they draw the basic they would’ve otherwise searched for, Fulminator Mage does not have this effect. By allowing them to go to their draw step, you are giving them more information to work with. For example, if you wait until their draw step to blow up their Mine, you risk the chance that they have drawn a second copy and can then utilize their Map to get the missing Power Plant instead of replacing the Mine they lost.

This situation can be played out very similarly with Assassin’s Trophy. You want them to crack the map before you use it to destroy a land. If they go to untap without cracking the Map, then pull the trigger on their upkeep anyway.

On the topic of Trophy, know that this card is just a band-aid on a much bigger problem. Tron will eventually get to seven mana, whether they get Tron online or not. Unlike Fulminator, Trophy is simply replacing one land with another, and this will keep the Tron player on track to play a Karn on turn seven. I got news for you, Karn is just as powerful on turn seven as he is on turn three. This is why straight land destruction is still better than effects like Trophy, Blood Moon, Damping Sphere and Field of Ruin. These cards are only good when they can be backed up by an efficient clock to close the game before their top end threats can be played.

Many people will argue that hitting the Tower is best because it taps for three mana and is therefore more powerful. Some will argue that the other pieces should be prioritized. Personally, I don’t think it matters. What does matter is that you continue to hit the same land as the game continues. Remember that 6% chance of drawing the missing tron piece naturally after one is gone? Well that decreases to 4% with 48 cards in their library and only two left. It goes down even further to 2% with 45 cards left in the library if you can eliminate three of the same Tron lands. They may try and put you into a position where you need to deviate from that and blow up a different Tron piece, and that’s okay. Better to keep them off Tron than to risk letting them have it.

 Image result for tron mtg

The match is certainly not easy and many players often leave their Tron hate at home, willing to concede any Tron match they encounter. Siding in six to eight cards for one match-up is a lot, and some players would rather use those slots to shore up other, much closer matches. It often times does feel that unwinnable. There will be games where you curve Thoughtseize into Stony Silence into Fulminator Mage and still lose. Some would argue it’s only winnable through luck, regardless of what you have in your sideboard. It’s true that a really good Tron hand may be able to trump whatever it is you’re capable of doing, but that’s no reason to ignore the match-up all together. Tron is consistently in the top of the meta and it’s worth practicing the match-up to give yourself the best possible chance of winning. Tiny edges, small advantages, and tight game play can add up to a victory.

Strategy & Sideboard Guide: Burn

“You’re at 3, right?”

It’s the last thing you want to hear from any Burn player. It’s an archetype that has been a part of Magic for as long as the game has existed, after all, Lightning Bolt was printed in Magic’s first set. Through powerful and efficient spells like Lava Spike, Lightning Bolt, and Rift Bolt, the deck’s aim is to “burn” you out, 3 points at a time. Most Burn decks in Modern today splash white for cards like Lightning Helix and Boros Charm, making them even more consistent and powerful. A burn player could very well have lethal damage in their opening hand! So how can players looking to cast Thougthseize, Tarmogoyf, and Liliana of the Veil combat this strategy?

 boros charm.jpgbolt.jpg

Unlike some other aggressive strategies such as Zoo or Affinity, Burn is very spell heavy and this can make some of our opening hands quite awkward when they can leave multiple removal spells stranded. This means that our best way to combat Burn game 1 is discard. Every time we cast an Inquisition of Kozilek or tick up a LotV to snag a Lightning Bolt, we are basically gaining three life; it’s like casting multiple Healing Salves, which against Burn is a legitimate strategy to pivot the game in your favor.

 healing-salve-2266-medium.jpgImage.jpg

Game 1 can be all about these discard spells and getting a fast efficient threat on the board as soon as possible. If you get the chance to Inquisition them on turn 1 and see a Goblin Guide, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and 3 other burn spells, don’t underestimate these creatures. Consult the hand. Do you have removal spells for these creatures? If yes, then perhaps you can take one of their more powerful burn spells. If you don’t, you may want to consider taking one of the creatures. Their creatures can represent up to 2, or 4, or even 6 damage if left unchecked! They are a repeatable sources of damage, unlike their one-shot burn spells. Ideally, you would want to leave the creatures for your multiple removal spells or to be stonewalled by a Tarmogoyf, but don’t count on drawing them if you don’t already have them.

Sometimes your removal can be quite useful against the creature-heavy draw from burn, and sometimes the game can go long enough that cards like Scavenging Ooze can gain life and turn the game around. Typically though, it will come down to holding your breath and trying to finish the game while your opponent looks to top deck last burn spell for the win. It’s not an impossible match to win game 1 but there are definitely cards we can take out and cards we can bring in from the sideboard to help. If you are playing Abzan with Siege Rhinos or G/B Rock with Courser of Kruphix, then you’re already ahead! You’ll still have cards to bring in though, I’ve definitely died once or twice against Burn with Siege Rhino in hand.

Obviously any card that can gain you life is a card that you’ll want in the match. This can include Kitchen Finks, Obstinate Baloth, and perhaps the best card against Burn, Collective Brutality.

Collective Brutality

This card does so much against burn that it’s insane! It does exactly what a Rock deck wants to do, trade one-for-one. What makes the card so powerful is the speed at which it trades cards by coming down on turn 2 and trading 3 cards for 3 effects. Every mode is powerful and relevant in this match, whether you’re killing a Goblin Guide, taking away a burn spell, or padding your own life total.

So you might be asking yourself, “If lifegain is so back breaking, then why not play something that gains you more than 2-3 life?” While it’s true that something like Life Goes On or Feed the Clan could be absolutely back breaking against Burn, we don’t want to dedicate sideboard slots to these cards. We want to stay flexible, you only get 15 sideboard slots to try and cover the entire Modern format. Therefore, we have to be careful to choose cards that can come in for multiple different matchups. Kitchen Finks can be good in games of attrition, Obstinate Baloths are good in LotV mirrors, and Collective Brutality can be good against combo when you want access to more discard.

Stream of Life

So we know we want to bring in our Kitchen Finks, our Baloths, and our Collective Brutalities, but what are we taking out?

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If you’re playing Dark Confidant, then I have to say, “Sorry buddy, but this isn’t your match to fight.” The cost for greatness is too much here. Confidant is way too much of a liability and the game won’t go long enough for the card advantage to push the game in your favor. Clunky removal spells like Maelstrom Pulse can also be easy cards to board out, as well as 1-ofs that aren’t really impactful like Liliana the Last Hope.

Thoughtseize has always been one of those controversial cards against Burn. Some people keep them in and others are totally against it. The argument for keeping it in is that discard is very important in this match, and even though it cost 2 life, you’re still taking a spell that’s looking to deal 3-4. The argument against it is that it’s a liability after the first couple of turns when discard becomes less useful. My advice is: if you have better cards to side in, take it out; if not, it’s not so bad that it absolutely needs to come out.

You’ll notice that one card I’m not suggesting you board out is LotV. I wish I had known this when I started playing Rock decks but as I’ve mentioned before, every tick up is saving you life. If she can come down on turn 3, she can definitely pull her weight in this match. When I first started playing, my thought process was to always board out Lili in aggressive matches.  I thought that since aggressive decks dump their hand so fast and go so wide, she would be irrelevant. Against Burn though, I was surprised to learn that they don’t just empty their hands like a lot of other aggressive decks. Discard being your best weapon, I would suggest always keeping her in.

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This is a pretty stock Jund list and wanted to use it as an example for what sideboarding might look like for this match. Against Burn, I’m sideboarding like this.

Out:

Untitled2.png

In:

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This is pretty straight forward. We switched out the cards that actively lose life for the ones that gain life. Because there are only four cards that we want to bring in, we don’t need to cut anything past the Dark Confidants. We’re gonna have to leave in the controversial Thoughtseize and the clunky Maelstrom Pulse because we don’t have anything better than these cards to replace them with.

Here’s another example of sideboarding using a fairly stock Abzan list.

abzan.png

Out:

TS.png

In:

        120116_200w.jpgbaloth.png

Abzan has the fortunate advantage of having room for mainboard Collective Brutalities and cards that gain life like Siege Rhino and Shambling Vent. For this reason, Abzan has a much better chance of winning game 1 than a list like Jund which has Dark Confidant working against it. Since this Abzan list isn’t playing Dark Confidant, we can instead cut the Thoughtseizes.

So what can we expect to see from the Burn player?

Typically you might see some combination or mix of these cards

 relic.jpgpath.jpg

ensnaring-bridge-11420-medium.jpgRIP.jpg

Abzan can expect the Rest in Peace more than the Jund players should because of the inclusion of Lingering Souls and possibly Grim Flayers. Ensaring Bridge can be a reason to keep Maelstrom Pulse in if you were thinking about taking it out. Overall, their sideboard plan doesn’t really affect ours, but it is good to be aware of their strategy against us. The main goal of their deck doesn’t allow them to bring in too many cards against any one match, and thankfully there really isn’t any silver bullet solution to our game plan anyway. They may try to make our Goyfs smaller, path our main clock, or keep us from attacking at all, but we can definitely work through that. One thing you should always be aware of are Skullcrack effects. Burn knows you’re bringing in life gain, so they’re gonna try and hold on to these cards so they can fire them off at the perfect moment and negate your life gain. If you dont know what’s in their hand, and are looking to cast your Kitchen Finks or Siege Rhino this turn, it’s something to keep an eye out for.

Burn has always been a Tier 1 deck, and probably always will be. You can expect to see it at almost any tournament regardless of the meta. So, be prepared! Make sure you packed your Kitchen Finks and Collective Brutalities in your sideboard and you’ll be fine!