Tronscending Modern Expectations

In our life, there are certain things we just know we’re never going to do because they hold no appeal to us. For example, I just know I’m never going to eat tripe, I know I’m never going to a Blake Shelton concert, I know I’m never going to watch a Fast and Furious movie, and I know I will never eat a muffin top-down like Matt Nass does. Until a couple of weeks before Mythic Championship London, I certainly felt like I was a person who would never play Tron in a tournament—it was as much a core part of me as everything else on this list. So, what happened to make me take such radical action? How did I go from being such a reasonable human being to a person that chants Tron, Tron, Tron during the Top 8 announcement?

Two things: First, the mulligan rule. The new mulligan rule really, really matters in Modern. It means that if you’re willing to give up material advantage, then you’re much more likely to find a specific card or a combination of cards. For more resource intensive decks, like Burn or traditional Scapeshift, the rule isn’t that helpful—you need an amount of cards rather than specific cards.

For decks like Tron, it’s a game-changer. Tron needs to find four specific cards: Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Power Plant, Urza’s Tower, and something to do with all your mana, be that a Karn, a Wurmcoil, an Ulamog, or an Ugin, depending on the matchup. Past that, you might need a secondary threat sometimes, but it’s very realistic that you win the game by only playing one of these cards. In theory, you could keep a one-card hand and effectively close up the game on turn 3. Almost no other deck can do this. In fact, I’d say that other than Dredge, Tron is the deck that benefits the most from the new mulligan rule.

The second thing was the timing of the tournament: old Modern + new Limited. Normally, we test draft a lot by ourselves, on Magic Arena or Magic Online, before we meet in person to figure out Constructed. This is especially helpful when the Constructed format is brand new, so we get a lot of mileage out of trying new things. With MC London, we couldn’t do that because War of the Spark wasn’t available before we met. As such, I figured the best use of my time was to just pick one of the many proven Modern decks and to dedicate almost all of my efforts in learning War of the Spark Limited. At some point late in testing, for example, I thought that Hardened Scales might be a better deck to play than Tron, but I would have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to play Hardened Scales optimally (it’s quite hard and I’ve never played decks like it competitively, so I had a lot to learn), and I thought dedicating that time to the Limited format (which was, again, brand new) would be more valuable than the difference in win percentage I’d have with Scales over Tron (which is a relatively much simpler deck to play and one I was more used to, having tested it online before the tournament).

In the end, it seems my efforts were a bit misplaced—I only went 3-3 in Draft, which is not a good result and doesn’t in any way justify all the time I committed to the format, and Hardened Scales did quite a bit better than Tron (rather than marginally better, as I expected, though Hardened Scales pilots were overall better), so it probably would have been better to dedicate more time to Modern, but I think my decision made sense with the information I was working with at the time.

Here’s the list that I played to a stellar 6-4 record in the Modern portion of the tournament:


5 Forest
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Sanctum of Ugin
4 Urza's Mine
4 Urza's Power Plant
4 Urza's Tower
2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
2 Walking Ballista
4 Wurmcoil Engine
4 Karn Liberated
2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
4 Ancient Stirrings
4 Sylvan Scrying
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Chromatic Star
4 Expedition Map
4 Oblivion Stone
3 Relic of Progenitus

2 Ghost Quarter
2 Dismember
2 Nature's Claim
2 Spatial Contortion
3 Surgical Extraction
3 Thragtusk
1 Unravel the AEther

The list is super standard, and there isn’t much you can do to a Tron deck. The biggest difference I’ve seen is some people play three Wurmcoil Engines, and I think that’s a mistake. Once your plan is to mulligan any hand that doesn’t have something great going on for it, then you really want to maximize on threats, and Wurmcoil is the best threat in several matchups, even if it’s dead in others. Some people also play a Dismember in place of the third Relic of Progenitus. I chose the Relic because I wanted more high impact cards due to the mulligan rule.

The sideboarding is also very straightforward. I’m not going to list all of the decks because Modern has 5 billion of them, but rather I’m going to try to give you a general idea of what each card is good for:

Surgical Extraction - Buy-a-Box Promo

Surgical Extraction is good versus graveyard decks, the mirror, and Valakut, where Ghost Quarter + Surgical becomes a real plan (though versus Valakut it’s not always easy to execute). In the mirror, Surgical also works as a “Mental Misstep” of sorts, countering their own Surgical on your cards. The Ghost Quarter + Surgical interaction is so important that you keep in Relic of Progenitus to stop it, but if you know they don’t have their Surgicals then you don’t need to do that. At some point, we even had a Vesuva for the mirror, since it’d give you the ability to get Tron even if they Surgicaled one of your Tron lands, but we decided that Ghost Quarter had enough other applications that it was the better choice.

Ghost Quarter is mainly there for the mirror, but it’s also good versus Amulet, Valakut, Hardened Scales, Affinity, and Infect (all Nexus decks, basically). It’s also good versus U/W, since it kills Colonnade but also lets you cast your spells if they stop you from getting Tron.

Nature's Claim

Nature’s Claim is the most versatile sideboard card, and it comes in against any artifact deck, U/W, and any deck you suspect might have Damping Sphere (as well as Burn). At the Pro Tour we actually knew, since we had deck lists, but in the dark I’d bring them in versus Humans and Phoenix as well (for Sphere and Blood Moon). They’re also OK in the mirror—not great, but I bring them in, as you can destroy their Relic of Progenitus so you can cast Surgical, snipe a turn-1 Expedition Map or, in rare situations, a Chromatic Sphere.

Unravel the AEther

Unravel the Aether is a worse Nature’s Claim, but it dodges Chalice on 1 and Welding Jar. If you expect very little Hardened Scales and Prison, then it can become a third Nature’s Claim, but I liked the 2-1 split.

DismemberSpatial Contortion

Dismember and Spatial Contortion are against mostly the same decks: Humans, Hardened Scales, Company, Spirits, and so on. Dismember is also great versus Eldrazi, whereas Contortion is better against Burn, but Dismember is taxing in multiples and you want a mix because of Meddling Mage (plus, Contortion can be grabbed by Ancient Stirrings).


Thragtusk is another versatile card. Its main application is against U/W (it’s very good at combating their planeswalkers), and it also obviously comes in versus Burn, but it’s also a way to bridge to the late game against any deck that attacks your mana. Against decks like Jund, for example, it’s not uncommon to win by simply playing Thragtusk into Wurmcoil Engine. Your expensive cards are still good even if they cost 6-8 the hard way, and Thragtusk gives you time to play them even if your Tron prospects are disrupted. It’s also good versus Humans.

As for what to side out:

Ghost Quarter

Ghost Quarter comes out against any deck where it doesn’t have an immediate application. For example, I take it out against both Humans and U/R Phoenix. You don’t really need the land against them.

Wurmcoil Engine

Wurmcoil Engine comes out versus the mirror and U/W.

Karn comes out versus very fast creature decks that you expect to overwhelm you.

Ugin comes out versus Eldrazi decks and some combo decks that don’t rely on creatures.

One Ulamog comes out against anyone who can’t beat one Ulamog and who isn’t a big mana deck. Usually against anyone with counterspells, I keep in both.

Walking Ballista

Walking Ballista can come out versus the big mana decks and people without creatures (but it’s actually good versus U/W as it kills Vendilion Clique and planeswalkers).

You can trim Sylvan Scrying on the draw in some matchups that have Thalia. I cut one against Humans.

You can trim some artifacts with activated abilities against decks with Stony Silence (Oblivion Stone and/or Chromatic Sphere).

Tips to Playing Tron

Mulligan very aggressively, especially game 1 (game 1 is all about goldfishing. For games 2 and 3 you can grind a bit, so you should expand your keep range). I played games online where people kept six- or seven-cards and then led with Forest on turn 1, and that’s just unacceptable. Here are the things I will keep on 7:

• Tron
• 2 Tron lands + Map
• 2 Tron lands + Star/Sphere + Sylvan Scrying
• 2 Tron lands + Star/Sphere + Ancient Stirrings
• 2 Tron lands + 2 of Star/Sphere + Payoff (Wurmcoil/Karn in their respective matchups)

And that’s basically it. There are some hands I would keep that don’t fit this criteria (for example, a worse hand with Relic versus Dredge, or a hand with Ballista and O-Stone versus Humans), and there are some hands with this criteria I would not keep (naked Tron in the mirror, for example, especially on the draw), but as a general rule I would recommend basically mulliganing every hand that is not self-sufficient for producing turn-3 Tron if you count Stirrings as a piece.

This might seem like you aren’t going to keep a lot of opening hands if you follow these rules, and that’s absolutely true. With the new mulligan rule, Tron is capable of winning a lot of games on 5 or 4 cards, because a few of your cards are worth so many of everyone else’s cards. If I play a turn-3 Wurmcoil Engine against Death’s Shadow, for example, it doesn’t matter that I have 0 cards in hand after that. It’s usually enough to win.

At the Mythic Championship, I was playing versus Humans and I ended up going down to three cards. My three-card hand was an assortment of Thragtusks and Nature’s Claims, and Sylvan Scryings and Forests. It contained zero Tron pieces. So I mulliganed to two. I kept an opening hand of two Tron pieces, drew into the third, and then drew into a Wurmcoil Engine.

Unfortunately, my opponent blind Meddling Maged Wurmcoil the turn before and I lost, but I think if they hadn’t done that I would have won the game on a mulligan to two. Obviously that’s not ideal, and you shouldn’t aim to mulligan as much as you can as if that’s a good thing, but you should be acutely aware that you can win the game on five cards very easily and that you should never settle for a mediocre hand on seven or six cards. This is by far the biggest piece of advice I can give anyone who’s playing Tron.

When your opponent in the mirror goes Karn -3 and then immediately -3s again, that gives you an opportunity to Surgical Extraction Karn. You should almost always do this, because that’s a play that people make when they have more Karns in hand. If you’re the person with the Karns, consider not going -3, then -3. Instead, go up.

Oblivion Stone

Oblivion Stone can add counters to your opponent’s cards too. This is useful when they have Phantasmal Image because it kills them outright, and there are rare cases where you want to protect their Wurmcoils (for example, if you Karn their Wurmcoil and in response they use Oblivion Stone, you want to use your own Stone to add a counter to their Wurmcoil so it won’t die but will be Karned).

If you ever reset the game with Karn (it’s not very common—I did it 0 times at the MC), creatures you have underneath it can attack on turn 1 since they were in play when your turn started.

Moving Forward

The way I see it, there are two possible futures for Tron. The first one is the one where we don’t adopt the London mulligan rule. I expect this to be a very unlikely development, but it’s possible. In that case, I would simply not play Tron. I believe the deck is not consistent enough if you aren’t capable of aggressively mulliganing to five and four.

The other future is the one where we keep the London mulligan, and in that world Tron is a very good deck. It did not do well at the Mythic Championship, but it was heavily targeted. It was the most popular deck but it was still only 15%, and I expect this number to be lower for less high profile tournaments (which are usually more diverse than the Mythic Championships). If that’s the case, then Tron should still be pretty good. Basically, I feel that if everyone is gunning for you, then your deck is decent but not spectacular, but if people aren’t gunning for you, then your deck is very good. It’s also a very easy deck to play, as long as you’re willing to mulligan aggressively. You can pick it up, take it to a tournament, and perform just fine.

Karn, the Great Creator

As for new cards, I think the one that might see play in the deck is Karn, the Great Creator. Karn is a 10-mana lock piece versus certain decks, and all it requires is Mycosynth Lattice in your sideboard. In the mirror, for example, if your opponent doesn’t already have a threat in play, they cannot beat it. Not even Ulamog beats it! This, combined with the fact that the static ability can be very relevant (versus, for example, Hardened Scales), means I certainly want to try it as a sideboard card. It might not be good enough, but right now there’s no real mirror breaker so if it can play that role, then I’m interested. Past that, I don’t think anything should change much for the deck.

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