After Nationals I found myself in an awkward situation. I had played both my last sanctioned draft of RGD and my last (and first) sanctioned draft of Coldsnap. Standard was also left behind, as the next major tournaments are Time Spiral Limited, so I lost interest in those formats, and decided to take a break until Time Spiral. I was hoping for a fresh new start, both for Standard and Limited.
However, there is one competitive format that doesn't change that much when a new set is added: Extended. During PTQ seasons, this format is played everywhere, but afterwards it's relegated to casual games between Extended lovers or some smaller premier events on MTGO. Being tired of the common formats, now that they didn't matter to me, I turned to Extended for nothing more than the pleasure of playing Magic.
The last time I played, like many other competitive players, was during the Extended PTQ season, culminating in the Extended portion of Worlds. At the time, the top decks were CAL, Scepter-Chant, Aggro-Rock, Boros, and Affinity. I do remember that an Ichorid deck appeared all of a sudden and took some trophies home, but back then, just like now, I was tired of playing the same format and turned my attention elsewhere.
My first step was to watch replays of the Extended Premiers on MTGO to catch up with the format, as it hasn't remained static. I would give this advice to anyone trying to catch up with the Extended metagame. Rather than look only at the metagame of the last Extended season on paper Magic, examine the Online metagame to see how it evolved away from the eyes of players at “paper card” tournaments.
Right now, I would say the top decks are Aggro-Loam and Gifts-Rock. Back in the Extended season, Aggro-Loam was nowhere to be found and Gifts-Rock wasn't relevant in the metagame (although I do remember many top Spanish players playing the deck at GP: Bilbao, and Javier Dominguez playing it at Worlds for a 6-0 finish). The other decks that were making a splash were Psychatog versions - Blue/Black or with Red - Red/Green aggro; Tooth and Nail; and Affinity. While these decks have been around for ages, they were not representative of the metagame back then.
The first deck I chose to play was Blue/Red Urzatron. I received some advice from friends about the deck, and decided to give a try. I made Top 8 of the first premier event I played, and since then I haven't played with another deck. A friend and I keep posting good results with it. I'm going to show you the list that I'm currently set on, but first I'll guide you through the process on how I got there. If you happen to play a lot of Constructed on MTGO, you know that decklists are never final as you're switching back and forth cards all the time (most of the time in the sideboard due to the frenetic online metagame).
The obvious starting point is the twelve Urza Lands. Since you're playing a two-color deck, Steam Vents and Shivan Reef are a welcome addition. The rest of the lands are basic Islands, as you'll need them to compensate for the colorless mana from the Urza Lands. Just like the Standard version of the deck, I'm running Signets. They provide more colored mana, acceleration, and have the extra benefit of being pitched to Thirst for Knowledge.
There is a joke that never gets old among “Control” players here in Portugal. They say, “any good deck starts with at least ten counterspells.”
Counterspell - the original - is the best piece of two-mana countermagic that will ever exist... but the color requirements prevent us from playing with four copies. Sometimes you'll have the two Islands in your hand, but you'd rather play one and then play Urza lands in order to try and complete the Tron as soon as possible. Also, Counterspell can't be cast from a Signet, so the common play of turn 3 Signet leaving two mana open for Counter can't be used to bluff a Counterspell. In one of my first matches, I made this bad play: I had an opening hand with double Island, Urza Land, Signet, Remand, Counterspell and something. I countered his turn 2 play with a Remand. If I then wanted to follow with the Signet, I couldn't leave two Blue to pay for Counterspell. Two copies is a good number.
On the flip side… due to their casting costs, Remand and Memory Lapse are the best counters for this deck, leaving out Mana Leak. Unlike Mana Leak, the counters are temporary solutions, but hopefully they will buy you enough time to develop your manabase. One can have a discussion between Remand versus Memory Lapse - both cards are very good and similar in style, and we're playing with the maximum copies of each.
This deck looks a lot more like last year's Blue-Tron than this year's U/R-Tron or Wildfire-Tron, as I think the most powerful cards available for this deck are artifacts. These were a lot more powerful and prevalent with Mirrodin Block in Standard. If you remember the Blue-Tron back then, it played with multiple copies of Mindslaver, Memnarch, Triskelion and Meloku, while the current Standard version has Keigas and Confiscate. Triskelion and Melokus are still very good (and not too expensive). Both can easily be played without access to the Tron Set, though if you play them early on with mana for counter backup or just any other spell, I like your chances of winning that game.
Sundering Titan replaces Memnarch at the high end of the mana curve. The Memnarch ability was awesome but very expensive, while the Titan effect is immediate. With so many dual lands from Ravnica now available, it is very likely that he's going to cripple your opponent's manabase. Also, his body is a lot bigger than Memnarch, which makes him much more resistant to damage and puts a bigger clock on your opponent. If you happen to have the full Tron, then this is the card you want to see on your side.
Fact or Fiction and Thirst for Knowledge are your card drawers. They're instant speed, and they dig you many cards further in your deck. Sometimes you may not care about card advantage - taking a smaller pile, or discarding two cards instead of an artifact - if you find the final Tron piece or have some demolishing plays for the next turn or turns.
At first, I had more copies of Burning Wish in the deck, with a sideboard built accordingly. This meant it was full of “crap” sorceries that I rarely fetched… but when I did, they had a huge impact. The more I played, the more I realized the Wishes were too slow, but I left two of them for a reason. In the Blue/Red Tron deck, I want to play Demonfire - it wins a really high percentage of games. Those two Burning Wishes are the Demonfire in disguise. More often than not you are still grabbing a Demonfire to end the game, but they can be other spell if you wish. Although right now there aren't many other choices in the sideboard, maybe there's room for a Deep Analysis or a Pyroclasm. But you are well served with Demonfire.
The two Repeal are there to give you answers against a card type you can't destroy with Blue and Red: Enchantments (such as Seismic Assault). Even some cheap creatures that are hard to kill with damage are good targets for the Repeal - like Kird Ape or Wild Mongrel - and since it draws a card it not only gains you more time to find the Tron, but it also puts you one card closer to it.
The lone Mindslaver can be classified as a winning condition card, but it doesn't do much against certain decks. It's still another threat when you have plenty of mana, and it can be devastating in the right moment, therefore having one in your deck can modify your game plan against control decks (like when the Heartbeat plays Gigadrowse maindeck).
This leaves us with possible Wish targets, the most common being Demonfire for the kill. Wildfire is the closest thing to a reset button. Other options included Thoughts of Ruin, Decree of Annihilation, Upheaval, and Obliterate. When I had more Wishes in the deck, I had multiple options, but when I cut on the Wishes I left a single Wildfire. This can clean some messed-up situations, or give you a great advantage in others.
Here is the decklist after the pieces are put together:
Before advancing to some brief explanations on the matchups and current sideboard plans, I'd like to recount some things I learnt in the last Extended season concerning matchups and opening hands: “In Extended, there are no such things as good matchups and bad matchups. There are good draws and bad draws.” There are, of course, some matchups where you'll lose almost all of the time… but those matchups in which players claim to have a 65-35 advantage (or similar) are all about opening hands. The best opening hand - or the best draws - will win the game, even if a matchup is not favorable.
This is one of the worst matchups, just like it was for Psychatog. If they have a strong opening hand is almost impossible to win. Everyone knows how potentially fast the Affinity deck can deal twenty damage. It has explosive draws and Cranial Plating. The good news is that I have a winning record when I played against this matchup in tournaments, though I admit the matchup is very favorable for Affinity. You need a strong draw, and your opponent needs a slower one. After sideboard Shattering Spree is a good answer to Arcbound Ravager, destroying it and other modular targets, or hitting some artifact lands. Usually you will copy it once - that's still as good as a sorcery Rack and Ruin.
One of the reasons why U/R Tron is a good choice is the strong matchup against Aggro-Loam. Affinity is perhaps the only matchup where it doesn't matter if you complete the Tron. In every other matchup, your expected winning percentage depends on the status of your Tron. If you don't have it, this is still a good matchup; if you do, then it only gets better. Their major threat might be the Life from the Loam engine, which provides card advantage, but as long as you keep Seismic Assault away from the table you should have no problem dealing with the creatures. Most of the time they take around eight damage from their own lands, so it's easy to set up a win via Demonfire when you have the full Tron.
3 Flametongue Kavu
Sideboarding here is pretty simple - you just replace the Repeals for Mindslavers. Resolving a Mindslaver or a Sundering Titan is huge in this matchup. Their best chance is Plow Under, recovered Eternally with Witness. Watch out for Gifts Ungiven when you tap out for Fact or Fiction. This is a matchup I'm not unhappy to play against, as usually there will be plenty of interaction which means you have the opportunity to resolve your spells (which have a bigger impact in the game). Practice is your best help here, as you'll develop a feeling about the best play in each situation.
This matchup has the same game plan as against Gifts-Rock - you have to resolve one of your threats, the best being Mindslaver and Sundering Titan. But instead of trying to protect your spells from disruption, it's more like you're playing the mirror as both decks have a lot in common. You will gain the edge when you have the Tron on the table, as the mana advantage is too huge and you'll be able to play your threats with mana available to protect them. Watch out for Psychatog, as you have very few ways to deal with it, but it is unlikely that your opponent will play a Psychatog on turn 3 against your two untapped lands.
This matchup is tough because as soon as they resolve a Tooth and Nail you will probably lose. They also have many ways to search for the Tron pieces, unlike our deck, and they even have Boseiju to force spells through the wall of countermagic. My plan is try to be as fast as possible. For example, counter any turn 2 spell if you have a Thirst of Knowledge for your third turn. They have better threats, and in theory they will have the Tron before you. After sideboard, you will have more Mindslavers. If you resolve one, with some luck it might be the game.
Once again, the sideboard against control decks:
There are many different Red/Green versions. I think the best and most popular is running Kird Ape and Basking Rootwalla and no mana accelerators. This is bad news for Tron, which can't deal with a turn 1 Kird Ape unless they are Repealing it. Your best chance is to assemble the Tron quickly, but there's still the possibility of being burned by Char and other spells. Of course, you can always win the roll and go first and have a great start. Your main concerns are thus: prevent creatures from arriving/staying at the table, and watch out for life totals. After sideboard it gets better with the four Flametongue Kavu, as you now have a way to deal with problematic creatures, like Kird Ape, Wild Mongrel, and Burning-Tree Shaman. They also provide a clock of your own. Replace the Burning Wishes, as they are too slow, and consider removing other expensive spells.
4 Flametongue Kavu
2 Burning Wish
1 Fact or Fiction
2 Sundering Titan
When I'm playing second after sideboard, I take out two Counterspells as they become too slow and clunky. I then leave the Titans, hoping to get the Tron quickly (or I can discard them to Thirst for Knowledge).
This matchup is not so popular right now online, but it was the top beatdown deck at the last Extended season and there is the possibility you might see one occasionally. Just like the R/G matchup, you are playing a control deck against a fast beatdown deck. Compared to the R/G matchup there is good and bad news. The good news is that Boros creatures are much easier to kill, as all of them have a toughness of two or less. They die to Fire / Ice and your sideboard Pyroclasms. The bad news is that some versions have up to eight land destruction spells, making it very hard to have the full Tron in play. They also put you behind in tempo, delaying the Triskelion or Meloku for a precious turn. Some versions also have Silver Knight and even Mystic Crusader after sideboard, immune to Pyroclasms and Flametongue Kavus.
4 Flametongue Kavu
2 Burning Wish
2 Sundering Titan
1 Fact or Fiction
These are the most common decks you are likely to face right now. Against other decks I've not mentioned, the plan is very similar. Sideboarding against control decks is pretty straightforward; for example, against Astral Slide, you still want to resolve Sundering Titan, but you have a lot more room to breath. Against beatdown decks, take out the Burning Wishes, one Fact or Fiction, Mindslaver, and slower cards, for the Flametongue Kavus, and Pyroclasms, depending on the match. For example, you don't want Pyroclasms against Red/Green with Kird Apes, Rootwallas, and Burning-Tree Shamans, but you want them versus Red/Green with Birds, Elves, and Call of the Herd. (If you see Call of the Herd, there's a good chance the deck has mana-elves).
Why is Tron a good deck?
If you want to play some Extended tournaments without making a huge investment, this is a relatively inexpensive deck. Many of the cards are uncommons, and they're played in Standard (or have been played until recently), making them easier to find online and in reality.
In an open Extended metagame there is no best deck to play. The correct decision is to play the deck that you're comfortable with, or one that fits your style. Tron players in Standard will have no problem making the switch to Extended, and players who like to play with control or countermagic decks have in Tron another very solid choice, together with Tog and Scepter-Chant.
If the metagame keeps evolving toward slower decks that keep the beatdown decks away - like Aggro-Loam, Astral Slide, and Rock – then we're happy, as U/R Tron has a very good game against other slower decks because the late game cards are more powerful.
Speaking of raw power, I mentioned about ignoring the idea of the “good” and “bad” matchup, and focusing more in good draws and bad draws. If you're lucky and have an early Tron, you will have a good draw and can probably out-power a bad matchup for you. This doesn't mean it will happen all the time, but it can potentially happen.
My friend Tiago Fonseca and I are currently successful with the deck. Remember that, when you sign in for an Online Premier Event, you can afford one loss on your way to the Top 8. Even though there are rough games, more often than not we end up making it to the Top 8.
On the other hand, if budget isn't a problem to you, if control decks don't exactly fit your style, if your metagame is full of aggressive decks, or if you dislike playing with Tron because you never draw it… you can also give it a try. I was very sceptical at the beginning, but ever since I tried it and settled on a list I'm satisfied with, I have rarely played with another deck.
Enjoy rediscovering an old format with new decks!
Thank you for reading,