For the second weekend in a row, I was glued to the screen watching the SCG Tour for any possible nugget of technology in any of the formats to help in my preparation for Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. During the finals, the Modern matchup was a Mono-Green Tron mirror:
I played Mono-Green Tron at both Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and Grand Prix Phoenix, so it's a deck I know very well. But one thing I don't know is why people hate Tron so much. I've always felt the hate was a little weird, especially when I would complete Tron on turn 3 and my Magic Online opponent would concede immediately. I imagine that that concession was either due to frustration with bad luck or possibly just a conscious decision that the following turns don't constitute fun in a game of Magic. Heck, I've seen people tweet "I won't date you if you play Tron" which deeply confuses me but hey, everyone likes what they like.
These results are from Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and, as you can see, two of the best players in the game's history, Jon Finkel and Yuuya Watanabe, both put up huge finishes with Tron. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if either of them were a single game outside a top 8 finish and if you look even closer you'll see more of the game's best played it:
- William Jensen
- Shahar Shenhar
- Seth Manfield
Personally, I find Tron to be a difficult deck to master and to the naked eye it can be hard to tell the difference between a game which was played well and a game which was played perfect. Sequencing is huge and when I play Tron I try to keep a voice in the back of my head reminding me "try to get as lucky as possible!" This alone isn't enough to help through the tough parts of the game, but it does encourage you to do everything in your power to see the maximum number of cards in the hopes that among them will be Urza's Tower, Urza's Mine, and Urza's Power Plant with whichever colorless bomb is the strongest against the strategy you're up against.
Here's a sample opening hand on the play in the blind:
This is a mulligan. Yes, this hand does have Tron, but it doesn't get to it particularly quickly and it doesn't have anything to do with it once you're there. Additionally, the nature of Modern makes it hard to predict the value of Dismember in this hand. But the biggest reason I dislike this hand that without getting lucky, you're obligated to play a Forest on turn two which takes the possibility of turn 3 Tron off the table.
When it comes to mulligan decisions, it's good to evaluate the hand overall and then each card individually. Forest is a bad card to have in a Tron opener, but alone is not enough reason to qualify a hand to be shipped back. The second Forest, however, pairs extremely poorly with the first and almost none of the good Tron opening hands want two Forests in them. The second Forest occupies space in my hand, something that is better spent on my important cards like Urza's Tower, Urza's Power Plant, Karn Liberated, or Oblivion Stone. I always slot matchups into creature-based (where I prefer Oblivion Stone) or non-creature based (where I want Karn Liberated). This hand doesn't check with of those bases.
We mulligan into this six:
This is a one-land hand on the play, but with a scry, it's a clear keep. All I need is Urza's Tower or Urza's Mine in my top three cards and I can cast a turn 3 Karn Liberated or Wurmcoil Engine and surely one of them should be good enough to win the game singlehandedly. More importantly, if neither of them can win the game, why did I choose to play Tron in the first place?
With my scry, I see a Forest.
I know this may be controversial, but I put this Forest on the bottom of my deck. I don't want to play a Forest on turn two because my objective is to get Tron onto the battlefield as quickly as possible and putting the Forest on top is almost planning for failure. By choosing to put the Forest on the bottom, I'm hoping that my draw phase and card from Chromatic Star on the second turn will show me Urza's Mine or Urza's Tower, two cards that win the game in many situations and my fallback is a similar battlefield when I draw Forest, Ghost Quarter, Sanctum of Ugin, or Ancient Stirrings.
Here's another hand on the play in the blind:
This is a hand that appears to be borderline, but I'd keep it. I have the clean start of opening on a Tron land and the ability to play a green spell turn 2 which is one of the better hands for this style of deck. Additionally, I can get really lucky and hit Urza's Tower or Urza's Power Plant in my top two cards and bank on Wurmcoil Engine or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon to dominate the game. Normally this would make me nervous to have an anti-midrange plan when my pairing might randomly be against combo or a deck with counterspells, but Modern is a low-edge format and if casting Wurmcoil Engine turn 3 isn't any good on average then, again, it's time to re-evaluate our deck choice.
It's important to keep in mind, especially when playing Modern, that some things are completely out of your control and you're already running on thin margins. I checked and my top card was Urza's Power Plant, so this was likely an easy game to win.
One final hand on the play in the blind:
This is a snap keep. Unlike the first hand I had which also could assemble Tron, that hand couldn't do so by turn 3 and with a hand like this, I see the flaw of potential flood, but I'd cross my fingers and hope for the best. If my deck provides me with only mana or cards I don't need and can't cycle away, I'd chalk it up to bad luck and a nonfunctional hand. Assembling Tron is the hardest part of the equation, and it's very hard to win a game one when you don't. I wouldn't be afraid to mulligan down to five or even four with this deck.
It can be easy to misplay with Tron and especially easy to lose focus during the playtest games with such a "dumb" deck, but I've taken it on myself to be the enemy during playtesting and I take on all comers with Tron. It's a tier one deck and nobody can deny that as it's been around forever and always puts up strong, consistent finishes. There's a lot to dislike about the deck - non-interactive gameplay isn't much fun - but if you're reading my column, you probably don't care how much fun your opponent is having. You probably just want to win.
I sometimes feel that playing Tron is a waste of my talents since it's the type of deck that gives you no room to outplay your opponent; you simply win or lose based on the strength of your draw. That said, Tron can still be a great choice depending on if the metagame is filled with Jeskai Control, Humans, and not much Hollow One, something that the finalists of SCG Philadelphia proved last weekend.
I was nervous about Damping Sphere when it was previewed, but now that the hype has settled down and people have played a ton with and against it, I think we can agree it's not the end-all be-all hoser it looked like it might be. In my eyes, Damping Sphere is roughly equal to Blood Moon, a card that can be effective or a liability depending on strength of hand and matchup.
I've played over a hundred matches on both sides of Affinity versus Mono-Green Tron, and I can say confidently that, on average, when the Affinity player casts Blood Moon, their chances of winning the game goes down, not up. There's a very real cost in Affinity turning their copies of Inkmoth Nexus and Blinkmoth Nexus into Mountains, as those are some of the toughest cards for Tron to beat. Further, Oblivion Stone is the most important card in the matchup anyway, so relying on Damping Sphere or Blood Moon, permanents that can be swept away by Oblivion Stone or killed by Nature's Claim, just isn't the best way to approach the matchup.
It's true that Oblivion Stone is harder to activate without the ability to complete Tron quickly, but Tron is a deck littered with cantrips, card selection spells, and land tutoring, so finding an Oblivion Stone and five lands to buy tempo and card advantage. I'm not saying Damping Sphere or Blood Moon are bad cards against Tron; what I am saying is subtle nuances can swing the each card's value drastically and to be very careful how you use them.
This is the list of Mono-Green Tron I recommend moving forward and, to me, it's flawless. I feel two Ugin and two Walking Ballista is fairly brutish and rather than play some random looking copies of cards and hoping the matchups align in their favor, I prefer to make room for World Breaker, which gives me more options when tutoring with Sanctum of Ugin and a third Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The first time I saw three copies of Ulamog in a Tron list was from Yuuya Watanabe, and I fell in love immediately, so it's surprising to me it hasn't caught on. On turn 3, I could take either Karn or Wurmcoil depending on the matchup, but there's no matchup where I don't want turn 4 Ulamog and it swings a lot of the combo and control matchups.
Infect is one of your worst matchups and Walking Ballista helps there, but rather than have two copies of the Construct maindeck, I believe it's optimal to have one maindeck and a Spellskite in the sideboard. You get the free value against G/W Hexproof, but it's also just the nuclear option for both matchups as those decks crumble in the face of the 0/4. Modern can often be about who got the luckiest fastest draw, but it can also be about being prepared and having the one card that shuts off their entire strategy like Grafdigger's Cage does against Dredge. Speaking of which, that's another change I've made, swapping around some numbers to include three Relic of Progenitus maindeck to pair with the sideboard Grafdigger's Cage such that I can have four anti-graveyard slots against Hollow One and Dredge.
Lastly, I feel strongly that the five Forest version of Mono-Green Tron is the best and splashing for either black or red simply hurts your consistency and makes you more vulnerable to Field of Ruin. The decklist above, something I've tuned over a hundred Magic Online matches, is only a few cards off what Kellen Pastore and Timothy Juliano played at SCG Philadelphia, but I believe with the minor tweaks I've suggested, this version of Mono-Green Tron is the best one to be bring to SCG Indianapolis this weekend.
I know there's a very real chance I either play with or play against Mono-Green Tron at the Pro Tour in a few weeks, so it's a huge part of my testing process and it should certainly be a huge part of yours if you're looking to win matches in Modern.