Play Patterns: Playing on a Budget

You’ve just finished watching Reid Duke make the Top 8 at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan with Abzan. It was awesome. You start looking up YouTube videos of other players crushing the competition with Abzan, Jund, and G/B Rock; players like Willy Edel, Yuyu Watanabe, and Jadine Klomparens. You decide,

“This is it! This is the deck I’m going to play in Modern!”

You go online to look up the most recent list and find something a bit discouraging.

 meta.png

Notice anything about Jund compared to the other decks in the meta? It’s nearly $1,000 more than any other deck among the top most played decks in Modern. G/B decks are notorious for being expensive. Tarmogoyfs have only recently dipped below $100 this past year. With Bloodbraid Elf’s unbanning and the resurgence of Jund, almost every staple has doubled in price. Cards like Liliana of the Veil have shot up from $70 to $130 and Dark Confidants have gone from $40 to $80. Why is the deck so expensive?

The deck has a very low synergy with itself. All of the cards are capable of standing on their own as powerful and strong. They don’t require other cards to make them good and don’t need any kind of set up to be effective. Compare this to a card like Thalia’s Lieutenant:

Thalia's Lieutenant

The card is very powerful, but only under certain circumstances and in certain decks. The card requires you to play a decent amount of Humans in your deck to fully take advantage of its enter the battlefield trigger. On a board full of humans, this card could add a lot of damage to that turn’s attack. By itself though, on an empty board, it’s just a two mana 1/1. Yes, it can grow from there, but again, your deck needs to have humans in it for that to happen.

These kinds of cards have narrow applications,  therefore their price tends to stay fairly low even though they’re considered very strong cards. Other examples of cards like this are Prized Amalgam, Baral, Chief of Compliance, and Cranial Plating.

 Prized AmalgamBaral, Chief of ComplianceCranial Plating

Now let’s look at a card like Dark Confidant, and why it’s so expensive compared to other Modern staples. A two mana 2/1 is a fine rate, it’s easy to cast with its only restriction being that you play black-producing lands, and it doesn’t require other specific cards to be good. It can come down on turn 2 by itself, or be similarly just as powerful on a complicated board turn 7. It’s only downside is its life loss, which means it has a small deck building restriction when it comes to the CMC of your cards. In any deck it’s played, it’s a threat poised to take over the game. Nothing feels quite as powerful as keeping your opponent’s hand empty with Liliana of the Veil while drawing two cards a turn with Dark Confidant.

Dark Confidant

Not only is Dark Confidant incredibly good but he’s also leaps and bounds ahead of his imitators. Wizards of the Coast has tried for years to make Dark Confidant look-a-likes but in the end, nothing sticks. They just can’t seem to make a card similar to Dark Confidant’s power without falling miserably short.

 Pain SeerBlood ScrivenerDark Tutelage

Most of these imitators have the same CMC as Dark Confidant, have a similar power and toughness, and may give you a sense of familiarity, but none of them come close. Their restrictions and clauses are too much to make them reliable. Confidant’s ability is essentially free and nothing beats that. In the case of Dark Tutelage, you’re not even getting the option to attack and block.

Because Dark Confidant is so unique and efficient at what it’s trying to do, it demands a big price tag. The same thing could be said about most of the cards in Rock decks. What can replace Tarmogoyfs? Sylvan Advocate? Lotleth Troll? Grim Flayer being perhaps the best option, and yet still not as good. Don’t even get me started on Liliana of the Veil; the card encompasses multiple different cards every turn.

Powerful, unique, and impossible to replace; its no wonder these cards come with a hefty price tag. So to create  a budget deck in these colors, where do we begin? When building a deck without Dark Confidant, but with Dark Confidant in mind, the best questions to avoid here are –

“What looks like Dark Confidant?”

“What cost the same as Dark Confidant?”

“What other cards reveal the top card of my library, put the card in my hand, and make me lose life equal to it’s CMC?”

Instead we should look at what role Dark Confidant is playing in these decks. What’s its purpose? Why are we playing it? When you realize that the answer to that question is recurring card draw, you can begin to look at a broader range of good options.

Tireless Tracker

The best example of this is Tireless Tracker. If you ask someone what card most closely resembles Dark Confidant, I would bet next to no one would guess Tireless Tracker. One is green and the other is black, one is larger than the other, and one generates card advantage on your upkeep while the other does it via land drops. That’s okay though, remember: we’re not directly substituting for Dark Confidant but rather playing a different card for the role. A deck playing Dark Confidant probably can’t swap one for one with Tracker. Confidant decks play a low curve and has been heralded as an early tempo play as much as it card advantage. Conversely, a Tracker list probably wouldn’t want to swap one for one with Confidant. Tracker lists tend to play a more painful manabase with more fetches and have a higher curve making Confidant too painful. It’s important to understand that the cards are very different even though they are filling similar roles. To further prove the point that they are as wildly different as they are similar, some decks even opt to play both; Dark Confidant as early tempo card advantage and Tracker as an end game finisher. Of course another big advantage of Tracker, and what we’re focusing on in this article, is that it’s 1/8th the cost of Confidant right now.

Let’s look at another example with Tarmogoyf. What questions should we be asking ourselves?

Tarmogoyf

“What other creatures have */* in their power and toughness?”

“What other creatures cost two mana?”

“What other creature’s power and toughness are based on graveyards?”

Nope. Like with the Dark Confidant, instead of trying to find the cheap knock-off, we want to figure out what role the Goyf fills. What’s its purpose? Tarmogoyf’s role is simple: to be a big stupid idiot that hits your opponent hard. The card doesn’t have any cool abilities and doesn’t even have any key words like Trample. It’s expensive because it’s the best big stupid idiot in the game, and that’s all.

A two mana 4/5 or 5/6 is an incredible rate of efficiency. When looking at your own deck, if Tarmogoyf is a card you don’t have access to, you’ll need to find your own efficient beater. Remember that it doesn’t have to resemble Tarmogoyf at all to be good. An example of this could be Tasigur the Golden Fang. The card can be cast for very cheap with a graveyard full of cards, hits hard with a 4/5 body, and even has the ability to generate some card advantage. It can be a very powerful finisher and dodges a lot of popular removal in the format like Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay, and Lightning Bolt. Like Confidant and Tracker, comparing Tasigur and Goyf is like comparing apples and oranges. The cards are very different but they can both fulfill the same role as a strong finisher.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Now, repeat this process for other cards you may need. What’s your choice in discard spells? Removal spells? Hard-to-handle threats like planeswalkers and creature lands?

Once you have all your spells, you’ll want to evaluate your mana base. This is where budget decks get hit the hardest. Lands are expensive, especially fetch-shock mana bases. Since most Rock decks are 3 colors, it can be difficult to deviate from this at times. Modern has a very large card pool though, and every block has a land cycle that you can evaluate for your own deck. Some of the more budget friendly cycles of lands that are under $10 are Battle for Zendikar creature lands, check lands, cycle lands, Kaladesh fast lands, battle lands, and pain lands.

Shambling VentIsolated ChapelSheltered Thicket

 Blooming MarshSmoldering MarshLlanowar Wastes

Preferably, I would say you should prioritize lands with the ability to enter the battlefield untapped so you can use the mana right away. Generally you want to stay away from lands that enter the battlefield tapped unless they do something very powerful beyond mana fixing. Creature lands or cycle lands that turn late game draws into relevant spells can be worth the slight delay. If you can, try to avoid the land cycles that include Jungle Hollow, Sandsteppe Citadel, Forgotten Sanctuary, and Rakdos Guildgate. These lands will slow down your game-plan and don’t balance the downside of coming into play tapped with any relevant advantages.

So let’s put these techniques to use and look at some possible budget lists. Here are two separate Jund lists, the first one’s budget is $550 and the second one is $100.

Jund 550.png

This list looks pretty similar to a lot of optimal Jund list. We even get to squeeze in two Lilianas! Many of the cards are popular and powerful, including Thoughtseize, Bloodbraid Elf, and Fatal Push. The mana base takes the biggest hit here to preserve some of the more powerful cards in the mainboard. In the end, we still get to have a playset of fastlands and 5 creature lands despite the budget restrictions. I should clarify that the mana base should absolutely be the first thing you upgrade, even over more Lilis or Tarmogoyfs. Modern is built on the fetch-shock mana base and G/B decks are no exception. Once you start assembling those pieces, it becomes much easier to build decks in the future.

Jund 100.png

This list is ultra budget, sitting at around 5% of the cost of an optimal Jund list. If you have next to zero cards in Modern, this may be the place to start. Bloodbraid Elf is the most expensive card in the list but I wanted to prioritize it because it’s such a fun card to cast and play with. Blightning makes for a great budget cascade, and creatures like Skinshifter can be fun threats to interact with. Garruk Relentless is in here because I think it’s important to keep a planeswalker slot. It’s good practice for anyone new to Magic or just new to Modern, and maintains the threat diversity that Rock decks employ. Players should get used to having one on the field and the strategical implications they bring with them. We’re still trying to keep the heart of the strategy alive here with discard, removal, creature lands, and other big threats.

Here’s a look at some possible Abzan lists with the same budget restrictions.

abzan 550.png

Again we can see a lot of heavy hitters in this list despite our budget and again the mana base takes the brunt of the cuts. While I believe most would say that buying Modern mana bases is the first and biggest step when getting into Modern, I understand that players don’t want to play Verdant Catacombs and Overgrown Tomb just so they can cast their Lotleth Troll or Putrid Leech. I get it, people want to be casting powerful spells and would rather do that than fetch for shock lands. I just want to emphasize that it really needs to be the first upgrade for these lists before switching out threats for more powerful ones.

Abzan 100.png

This list is going a little bigger on the curve than the $100 Jund list with Smiters, Lieges, and Siege Rhinos. Sorin, Solemn Visitor is the Planeswalker of choice here and pairs very nicely with Lingering Souls. I gave up some of the more powerful interactive spells to hold on to Path to Exile as I think its a good card to buy that can go towards all future builds and iterations of the deck.

Lastly we’ll look at G/B Rock with all the same budget restrictions.

GB 550.png

Two things were important to keep here for me: one, to ensure I could fit four Tireless Trackers in with the Field of Ruin and Ramunap Excavator package and two, to make sure the full four Fatal Pushs are included since it’s the best removal spell for the deck. Like the other lists at $550 we get to play two Lilianas, a good diversity of threats, a good discard package, and good removal spells. Compared to all the other lists, this one requires the least amount of upgrades to the mana base. By swapping out the Cemeteries, a Swamp, and the Ghost Quarters, you only need two Overgrown Tombs and four Verdant Catacombs for an optimal mana base.

GB 100.png

This ultra budget G/B Rock deck maintains the Tracker package even while on a $100 budget. This deck also gets to play an awesome grindy combination of Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor with Whisperwood Elemental to tie it all together. Deathmist Raptor can be nearly impossible to get rid of for good and Den Protector gives the deck a lot of late game play. The removal spells suffer here a bit without Fatal Push, but other budget options could include Hero’s Downfall, Smother, and Victim of Night.

 Victim of NightSmother

Depending on what cards you already have and how much money you can invest, these lists may prove to be fairly decent places to start. I tried to include as many cards as I could that can go towards the final iterations of these decks. It’s important you’re not wasting money on expensive cards that won’t be in the final versions. If you can invest more, you can take the $550 lists and start improving the mana base. If you can’t afford the $100 list, you can take the shell of it and eliminate some of the more expensive cards.

The point I want to make with these lists is that regardless of budget you can still play a Rock deck with threats, removal, and discard without playing the most popular or optimal versions. Everyone has to start somewhere and not everyone can dish out $2,000 before next week’s FNM. I find that most people, including myself when I started, were more than happy to throw something together that had a resemblance of tier 1 Jund or Abzan. I remember I just wanted to grind games and out maneuver my opponent, regardless of which cards I could do it with at the time.

bloodbraid-elf
“Bloodbraid Elf” by Steve Argyle

It can be disheartening when newcomers trying to join the community, looking for a place to start, prefacing that they do not have the money for tier 1 versions, are being turned away. Often times, you’ll see people say things like this:

“Just play Tron or affinity, those decks are cheaper.”

“If you can’t afford Goyfs or Lilianas then you shouldn’t play this deck.”

It’s hard to see someone who is trying to play a Rock deck, a strategy we all love and enjoy, be given the advice to play something else.

Could you play a different tier 1 deck for a 1/3 of the price of Jund? Yes.

Does this help you take steps toward playing the deck you want to be playing? No.

What this suggests is that somebody on a budget spend $600-$800 in the opposite direction of Rock decks. One of the biggest mistakes I made when getting into Modern was buying decks and playing them because they were cheaper than the ones I actually wanted to play. I enjoyed playing sub-optimal versions of Abzan ten times more than when I was playing cheaper, more linear decks. The advice to play other decks with no crossover cards is just not helpful. If someone wants to play a Rock strategy,  we as a community should welcome them and help them do just that, even if it means playing it for $50.

Not everyone is trying to play in a Grand Prix or a Pro Tour and if they are, it’s possible they may just need a place to start. When helping someone with their deck,  it shouldn’t be assumed that it’s always at the top tier of competitive play.  Some people just want to play with their friends at the kitchen table, and why shouldn’t they be able to call their decks Jund or Abzan just because they don’t have Tarmogoyfs in them?

Regardless of which direction you choose to take your deck or whether it ever evolves into the tier 1 versions, the most important thing, is that you enjoy what you play.

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.

 t sib.png

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.