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?

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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.

tron ex.png

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.

Origin Story

Every great super hero has an origin story. Peter Parker had his radioactive spider bite, Captain America and the “Super Soldier Serum,” Barry Allen’s freak lightning strike. So what’s our origin story? What’s the origin of Abzan and Jund style decks? Did the deck exist before Liliana of the Veil, before Tarmogoyf?! What would a Rock deck even look like without these cards? Perhaps it was the product of an unfortunate accident, or the product of a mad genius, or maybe the evil combo decks of the format forced some unlikely cards to come together and create the ultimate team.

Marvel_heroes_banner.jpg

Most decks in Magic today have names that can be pretty telling of what’s actually in the deck. If someone says they’re playing Sneak and Show, you know that some of the key cards are probably Sneak Attack and Show and Tell. If someone says they’re playing Storm, you can assume the deck contains cards with the Storm mechanic like Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens. So what does it mean to be a Rock deck? If you ask anyone in Magic what a “rock” is, they’ll tell you it’s an artifact that taps for mana. Wait a second. If a rock is an artifact that taps for mana, and Rock decks don’t play those artifacts, then why is it called that?

 rock3.gif

That’s right. Our deck’s name comes from this guy, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Still confused? Don’t worry, so am I. Let’s continue…

While this is the nickname for our deck, it started as a nickname for this card: Deranged Hermit.

Deranged Hermit

During Urza’s Block, it would be Sol Malka who would be credited for not only a really sweet brew, but the birth of an entire archetype.  The combo, was Phyrexian Plaguelord (The Undertaker) using Deranged Hermit (The Rock) and “his millions” (referring to his tokens and possibly the relationship between Dwayne and his fans) to clear the board. The combo was brutally powerful. The early game involved ramping and discard with cards like Birds of Paradise and Duress. In the mid to late game, the attrition value of the creature combination and recursion of those creatures was incredibly powerful and overwhelming. His deck looked something like this:

rock again.png

Notice anything similar in this list to today’s decks? You can really see the shell of how this deck evolved into the decks we play today. Turn 1 discard, creature lands, big threats, removal, it’s all there. You can see there are some narrow 1-ofs that can be searched up using Vampiric Tutor, giving the deck versatility against anything in the field. Today we do the same thing by playing cards that have wide applications so that we can be prepared for any match; cards like Maelstrom Pulse and Abrupt Decay.

As time went on the deck played less and less Plaguelords and Hermits while still keeping the heart of the strategy alive by remaining a G/B attrition mid-range deck. It started to trade these cards for more efficient threats like Spiritmongers and removal like Pernicious Deed. Deranged Hermits stopped showing up all together and Phyrexian Plaguelord got one more shot at glory by winning first place in Grand Prix Las Vegas in the hands of Michael Pustilnik in 2001.

 putsilnik.png

Phyrexian Plaguelord and Deranged Hermit were history, but the archetype held on, picking up strong inclusions like Eternal Witness, Ravenous Baloth, and Cabal Therapy. Then, when Ravnica block was introduced, Extended (A rotating format that existed before Modern) was gifted with extremely good mana fixing by the addition of shock lands. Rock decks started to splash white for cards like Loxodon Hierarch or red for Flame Tongue Kavu. Your first Abzan and Jund decks! Slowly over time the different variations began to hold their own. Abzan adopted Doran the Siege Tower as it’s build around until Khans of Tarkir gave the deck access to Siege Rhino. Jund adopted cards like Bloodbraid Elf, Blightning, and the Punishing Fire+Grove of the Burnwillows combo.

Today’s decks have much more efficient creatures and removal than the original “Rock and his millions,” but we have a lot of thanks to give to Sol and his design. His idea laid the groundwork for the archetype we enjoy and love today. It’s possible all the cards we play now would have come together anyway, but the rich history and lineage of these decks makes them all the more fascinating and enjoyable to play. You’re extending that lineage with every adaptation you make to your deck, adding to its pedigree.

In a world of superheros, I’d like to think we’re the Rorschach of Modern. With format full of linear and powerful decks, we don’t have any crazy “super powers.” We have to rely on our wit and perfect timing to maneuver our way to victory. We fight a fair fight, through brawn and brains, and that’s all we need.

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