During the first week of February, I’ll be in Bilbao with the rest of Team Coverage as we bring the live stream of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan to the world. For those new to Modern, getting across the huge scope of viable decks is quite intimidating. To bring everyone up to speed for the Pro Tour, Level 1 Modern is a column that seeks to explain the game plan, strengths, and weaknesses of the format’s major archetypes. This week, I’m looking at Traditional Tron.
What Traditional Tron Does
Traditional Tron—as opposed to Eldrazi Tron—seeks to put three extremely synergistic lands into play as quickly and as consistently as possible. When Urza’s Tower, Urza’s Power Plant, and Urza’s Mine are all on the battlefield together (referred to as “assembling Tron”), they tap for extra mana. This means that Tron decks can make 7 colorless mana as early as turn 3, and deploy overwhelmingly powerful threats, such as Karn Liberated, way before an opponent is prepared to deal with them.
More or less every card within a Tron deck is either seeking to find and play these lands, or a massive threat to cast off them. Tron does run some colored spells: Green cards such as Ancient Stirrings are cast off of cycling “eggs”—for example, Chromatic Sphere—and some recent lists have begun to play black as a way to interact, with Fatal Push in the main and cards like Collective Brutality in the board.
Traditional B/G Tron
Seth Manfield, 4th place at GP Oklahoma City 2017
This deck helps Magic players say those three little words that no opponent ever wants to hear: “turn-3 Karn?” This deck is, for all intents and purposes, a ramp deck—merely one that is more or less restricted to colorless threats. That’s not a problem, as there are plenty of them: Wurmcoil Engine, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, or even a massive Walking Ballista will wrap things up quickly when deployed in the opening turns of the game. The speed with which this deck can play game-ending threats is its greatest strength, and the fundamental reason it sees so much play.
Additionally, due to the fact that the threats they play are so potent, Tron lists are able to “cheat” on threat density. Tron lists generally don’t run very many business cards, as they simply don’t need to—generally speaking, a single threat will be able to win the game (and usually will when it comes down on turn 3 or 4). This, of course, frees up extra space for cards that improve the overall consistency of the deck. And make no mistake—this deck is very consistent.
The traditional weakness of any ramp deck is drawing all enablers and no payoff (or vice-versa), but Tron decks ameliorate this with the sheer number of search and cantrip effects they play. Cards such as Chromatic Star and Ancient Stirrings keep the cards flowing, while Expedition Map and Sylvan Scrying can pluck out the remaining required Tron piece. Tron decks transition smoothly from setup to payoff thanks to this extra consistency offered by enabler cards.
With the obvious exception of the dreaded turn-3 Karn situation, Tron decks offer very little in the way of pressure. Not every draw is perfect, and Tron pilots sometimes need to spend time fiddling around, spinning their wheels as they search for the final Tron piece they need or dig for some action to close out the game. This lack of pressure means that getting on the board early and offering some pressure of your own is an excellent way to swing the matchup in your favor.
Additionally, Tron decks aren’t equipped to disrupt an opposing game plan with much meaningful interaction. While Relic of Progenitus will sometimes combat graveyards and the recent innovation of Fatal Push can contest creatures, generally speaking Tron decks don’t fare too well against linear decks that, when left to their own devices, will end the game even faster than Tron decks can. The classic examples are decks like Storm or Infect—Tron simply isn’t equipped to interact with lists like these, and as a result will lose to their linear game plan very swiftly.
Finally, and very importantly in today’s Modern format, Tron (rather obviously) relies on nonbasic lands to function. Between the Tron lands, Scapeshift’s Valakut, and then various creaturelands out of everything from Affinity to White-Blue Control, the format is very well set up to deal with decks that rely on nonbasics to execute a game plan. Cards such as Spreading Seas, Fulminator Mage, and of course Blood Moon are all played in great numbers, and Tron players are in dire straits when such efficient land disruption is played against them.
How to Beat Traditional Tron
The primary way to tussle with Tron is, naturally, to go after their mana. There is a wealth of cards that can disrupt the Tron lands both before and after Tron is assembled—just remember to take out a Tron piece before the third one is played, as it’ll be too late to activate your Ghost Quarter (for example) to prevent them from deploying a threat.
Early pressure is the best way to back up this sort of interaction, and it doesn’t have to be anything particularly fancy. Threats like Goblin Guide are the very best way to punish a Tron player who hasn’t been fortunate enough to have the perfect draw, and once on the back foot Tron players can find it hard to hold things together and stabilize.
Another extremely effective angle of attack is to be faster than they are. As discussed, Tron decks don’t deal well with non-interactive, linear strategies, and so a “goldfish” deck—a deck that doesn’t take into account what an opponent is doing—will be extremely effective in taking down Tron.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Tron decks tend to have very polarized matchups. That is to say, decks are generally either very good or very bad against them. Some players choose to sacrifice the matchup altogether and hope to receive favorable pairings. While that doesn’t exactly help you beat Tron, it’s still a way to approach succeeding at a tournament.
Tron has enjoyed a lot of success in recent weeks and months, despite the strong suite of hate cards that many decks are equipped with. Given the swingy matchups this deck has in conjunction with the overall high power level of some of the cards it plays, Tron decks may be an excellent choice for those doing battle at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.