Last weekend I played G/W Tron at the Modern Open in Columbus. I had two byes.
I walked into the venue and saw the massive crowd of over 800 seated and playing in Round 2. I knew my deck was of the exact category that I love: Not the best deck. Capable of finishing first or dead last.
In Modern, not being the “best” deck is beneficial. I'm a firm believer that Modern is a format where you want to be doing the most degenerate thing that people aren't prepared for. Once it was Infect. Once it was Dredge. Now things had gone full circle and I didn't think people would have the requisite land-destructive hate cards for a Tron deck.
Dredge has put enormous pressure on people's sideboards. Stony Silence has become Rest in Peace. Crumble to Dust has become Anger of the Gods. Everyone is making room to slip in Grafdigger's Cage and Ravenous Trap. Tron is a fringe deck that no one plays and isn't worth dedicating sideboard slots to.
Strike when they're least prepared.
Don't play scared.
Playing G/W Tron feels like playing Infect where every hand has one land, four Gitaxian Probe, and no Infect creature. I snap-keep that every time.
The optimal hand will have Urza's Tower, Urza's Power Plant, Urza's Mine, and a Karn Liberated in your opening seven cards. Obviously, you can't mulligan to find this hand. However, the fact that such a hand exists means that Tron is a very powerful deck with a high ceiling of luck that's possible.
Most realistically optimal hands will contain one or two Tron pieces and one or two ways to find the other piece(s). A payoff card like the Karn Liberated is nice to have as well, though making functional mana is your first priority.
White Over Red
G/R Tron has been the go-to mainstay for the last few years. It began with running a full set of Pyroclasm with red sideboard options like Ancient Grudge. The red slot then altered based on preference from Lightning Bolt to Firespout to Kozilek's Return. Eventually the metagame became less vulnerable to small red sweepers.
Path to Exile is better against Infect, Dredge, and Affinity. Beating Infect though pump spells is key, as is permanently removing a Bloodghast or Prized Amalgam. Affinity can grow an important creature out of Lightning Bolt range with Arcbound Ravager. Path also gets big creatures like Primeval Titan, Tarmogoyf, or Tasigur, the Golden Fang.
Path to Exile is also good with Ghost Quarter to run them out of basics. Not that you especially care about how many lands they have on the battlefield anyway; it's just sweet that you're compounding your opponent's woes on that axis.
In general, Oblivion Stone and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are enough sweepers. Pyroclasm, Kozilek's Return, and Firespout are all medium against Dredge and Infect, the two biggest decks in Modern right now.
The manabase does suffer from the switch to white from red. Grove of the Burnwillows is tailor-made for the style that Tron plays: not caring about its opponent's life total in exchange for perfect mana. Razorverge Thicket can be annoying when it's your fourth land, but those experiences have been mostly just that: annoying but not game-losing. Overall, the switch to white for Path to Exile and the heavy-hitting sideboard has been worth the cost of occasional awkward mana.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon doesn't do much against Affinity, but Oblivion Stone sure does. World Breaker is at its best here to remove any artifact or creature-land while stopping flyers with its secret reach keyword. Path to Exile is slightly better than Lightning Bolt here, since it can stop you from dying to an Inkmoth or Blinkmoth Nexus that got some counters snuck onto it with Arcbound Ravager. Play the control role, don't die in the early turns, and win incidentally with whatever... usually a Wurmcoil Engine.
Last week I played Todd Anderson in a Modern VS Video. I played G/W Tron against Jacob Baugh's Dredge deck. At the end of the video, I was heavily impressed and said I was likely to play G/W Tron in Columbus.
Todd: I'm going to win Columbus.
Me: Yeah, man, whatever.
I ended up beating Jacob Baugh on Dredge in Round 6 of Columbus. Then I beat Todd in the quarterfinals. Then I beat Dredge in the finals. I couldn't have drawn it up better if I tried.
I played G/W Tron for two reasons: to beat Dredge and to beat whatever Kiki Chord variant that Jeff Hoogland would bring. If I wanted to win the tournament, I would likely have to go through him, and I wanted to bring a deck with a favorable matchup.
I've played the Dredge vs. Tron matchup a lot from the Dredge side. While I won most of the time playing Dredge, the matchup didn't feel very good and I thought that Tron ought to be favored, especially if they played Relic of Progenitus maindeck. A few Relics and a sideboard to put the nail in their coffin is exactly what I was looking for going into Columbus.
Dredge throws a ton of power on the battlefield early and is very resilient to damage-based removal. Dredge isn't great at killing turn 3 or 4 on the usual draws. An Ugin, the Spirit Dragon on turn 4 will be good enough quite often.
Once I beat Infect on Day 1 of Columbus, I knew I was onto something. Tron has always been the best matchup for Infect. The sideboard cards of G/W Tron are supposed to shore up this bad matchup. They do exactly that.
This is another historically poor matchup that the white cards help out with. If you expect a ton of Burn in any given metagame, then perhaps Timely Reinforcements is a worthy sideboard option. Overall I don't like the narrowness of Timely Reinforcements and believe that Thragtusk and Blessed Alliance are enough to beat Burn.
Jund is one of your best matchups and a big reason to play Tron. Both Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Oblivion Stone sweep up their battlefield quite nicely. Jund players have toned down on land destruction elements like Fulminator Mage and Crumble to Dust to make room for more Dredge hate like Anger of the Gods, Scavenging Ooze, and Grafdigger's Cage.
You probably want some number of Warping Wail in the dark in case they have Crumble to Dust. It's also acceptable as a counter to various discard spells and Maelstrom Pulse, as removal for Dark Confidant, or as a quick Eldrazi Scion token to either accelerate, block, or sacrifice to a Liliana of the Veil -2, protecting something big like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
This camp includes Grixis Control, Blue Moon, and Jeskai Control: decks featuring Snapcaster Mage and some number of counterspells like Remand, Mana Leak, and Cryptic Command to stop your big threats.
These decks have access to Crumble to Dust and Ancestral Vision, so Warping Wail is a safety net against those cards. You could also get Blood Mooned, so upping the land count to twenty with Ghost Quarter helps naturally cast Oblivion Stone to remove it. Thragtusk is also a castable threat with a Forest and four other lands that plays well into targeted removal.
This is one of the tougher matchups for G/W Tron. Relic of Progenitus doesn't do anything and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon won't affect the battlefield much outside of sweeping Noble Hierarchs and shooting Eldrazi Displacer. Though-Knot Seer comes down fat to take out key cards and Reality Smasher hits hard against a deck that mostly sorcery-speed. Blessed Alliance is hard to count on when it can be noticed with Thought-Knot Seer or be counterfeited with a large attack including Eldrazi Scions and/or Matter Reshaper.
I've heard that Lantern players hate playing against Tron. My Round 14 opponent in Columbus was on Lantern Control and said that I was the one deck he didn't want to face.
From the G/W Tron side, we do have a lot of positive things going on. The cantripping Stars allow G/W Tron to decide when cards are drawn, even through a Lantern of Insight and milling artifacts. They're weak against Karn Liberated and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon without Pithing Needle. Eventually Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger will come down and ruin their day if it ever hits your hand.
Relic of Progenitus should be used to protect your key cards from getting hit by Surgical Extraction. If they're milling you and hit an Urza's land, target yourself with the Relic to exile it. Otherwise it's useful for keeping their options low with Academy Ruins and Codex Shredder.
It feels like a Horizon Canopy should be somewhere in the mix.
You don't want to take excessive damage from your lands, which is one of the main draws to Tron. It'd be nice to be able to convert a late-game Expedition Map or Sylvan Scrying into a different card, even at the cost of a land drop. Moving forward, I'd replace a Razorverge Thicket with a Horizon Canopy.
If Affinity is big, I can see Grim Poppet being an option, as it's the biggest knockout possible on turn 3.
Otherwise I liked the G/W Tron deck and would play it again practically card-for-card. If the metagame is slow to change, I can see myself playing it again at the SCG Invitational in Atlanta.
Looking Forward to the Invitational
I unfortunately have to skip this weekend's Open in Knoxville. I'll be playing in the Epic World Championship in Boston. I've been putting a lot of work into the game and hope that it pays off. Part of the reason I chose to play G/W Tron last weekend was because it seemed like a powerful deck that's forgiving of minor technical mistakes. I did indeed sequence incorrectly here and there and forgot to tap my Relic of Progenitus from time to time. Thankfully the deck was strong enough to pull off a win.
I currently have an eighteen-point lead in the SCG Player of the Year Race. It will all come down to the Invitational in Atlanta. Here's to hoping I can pull off again what I do best.