Red-Green Tron Primer (Part 1): Guys, we need to form Voltron

In this three part series, resident Tron expert James O'Rourke will be giving an in-depth primer on a classic Modern archetype, Tron. Part one provides an overview of the Tron deck. Part two will give an analysis of Tron's gameplan and how to navigate different match ups. Part three will provide an outline of Tron's key weaknesses, sideboarding tech and tips on mastering Tron.


Overview

What is “Tron”?

Tron, also known as the UrzaTron, is a Modern archetype that uses the lands Urza’s Tower, Urza’s Mine and Urza’s Power Plant to cast expensive colourless spells way ahead of schedule.

Urza Tower Urza's Mine Urza's Powerplant

While these lands only tap for a colourless mana on their own, they tap for a combined seven mana once you have all three. Using these powerful lands, Tron aims to repeatedly play large colourless threats from as early as turn three. Tron is extremely resilient – its many redundant pieces makes it a very consistent deck.

Red-Green Tron is the most common variant of this strategy in the modern format. Other Tron variants are:

  • Mono blue Tron which plays like more of a control deck (typically winning with a Mindslaver and Academy Ruins lock). This is the second most common variant of Tron. 
  • Blue/White Tron, using the card Gifts Ungiven to reanimate a game ending threat, while leveraging the large amount of mana available from the UrzaTron to play a control game.
  • Mono Green Tron which uses Tooth and Nail to search up two enormous threats ahead of curve.

These Tron variants are broadly less competitive, but still see some fringe play.

This series of articles will focus exclusively on the more popular and competitively viable Red-Green Tron.

Why play Tron?

Tron is an unconventional aggro deck with an element of combo; it is fun to play, fast and incredibly powerful. Tron’s matchups are extremely polarised. Any fair deck is an excellent matchup, while most spell based combo decks are dreadful matchups. So if spell based combo is uncommon in your area, Tron may be a good choice.

Is Tron for You?

If you enjoy ramping out objectively powerful cards (and can handle losing to narrow sideboard hate cards and most combo matchups), then Tron just might be for you. Beware, many players dislike playing against Tron, since it seems unfair to be consistently casting seven drops on turn three and ten drops on turn four.

Core Cards

Grove of the Burnwillows Ghost Quarter Sanctum of Ugin

These are the cards that you will see in every Red-Green Tron deck.

The Lands

The manabase is the most important part of any Magic deck, this one more than most. Despite its focus on its lands, Red-Green Tron plays a mere 20 lands (sometimes even as low as 19). Its redundant card selection and cantrips compensate for this by drawing you into them and increases the deck’s velocity.

Urza’s Tower – The most iconic Tron land and the one your opponents will dread the most. It provides 3 mana, rather than 2 like the other pieces.

Urza’s Mine – Part of the Tron land package.

Urza’s Power Plant – Part of the Tron land package.

Grove of the Burnwillows – Essentially Taiga, since your opponent’s life total isn’t the most pressing obstacle to Tron’s massive creatures and planeswalkers.

Forest – Nice to have against Path to Exile and Ghost Quarter. Basic Forest also provides you with green mana through a Blood Moon effect.

Ghost Quarter – A fantastic utility land to keep you safe from marauding Inkmoth Nexus or Celestial Colonnades. It’s not pretty, but sometimes Ghost Quarter will be able to protect one of your Tron lands from Crumble to Dust/Sowing Salt. An even less pretty use for Ghost Quarter is to destroy one of your own lands to fix your green mana woes.

Sanctum of Ugin – This land does a very poor imitation of the banned Eye of Ugin, but it’s enough to guarantee you another turn of gas after you cast a threat.

The Card Selection

Ancient Stirrings Expedition Map Sylvan Scrying

Tron uses some of the most powerful colourless spells in Magic’s history, but it also uses some of the most unassuming. These cards help you to find the lands you need, and after that they can be used to find your business spells. Some of these cards are so good with Tron’s strategy that they’re the reason to play green.

Sylvan Scrying – This is one of the most reliable ways to search for your Tron pieces. In addition, you can use it to find utility lands later in the game.

Ancient Stirrings – Perhaps the most powerful cantrip effect available in modern. This can find your Tron pieces in the early turns, and your threats later on.

Expedition Map – The best way to search for a Tron land using only colourless mana.

Chromatic Sphere – A cheap way to draw cards, helping you hit land drops and get closer to threats. This card is also key to meeting your coloured mana requirements.

Chromatic Star – Almost identical to the Chromatic Sphere with one key difference –a triggered ability. When Chromatic Star is put into the graveyard from the battlefield for any reason, the draw a card ability triggers, a common cause of this is detonating an Oblivion Stone. This also means that if a Rest in Peace (or similar effect) is in play, you will not draw a card when you sacrifice your Chromatic Star. The same is not true for Chromatic Sphere.

The Threats

Karn Liberated Ugin, the Spirit Dragon Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

You’ve gotta win somehow. These are the best things to cast with the enormous amounts of colourless mana you can generate–from a time-travelling robot planeswalker to an enormous, ravenous Eldrazi titan–Tron (always) has it all.

Karn Liberated – The Karnfather himself. Turn 3 Karn will usually spell GG.

Wurmcoil Engine – An incredible threat against Aggro and Midrange decks, particularly those lacking Path to Exile.

Ulamog, The Ceaseless Hunger – An indestructible 10/10 that kills in 3 attacks regardless of blockers or life totals. It also exiles 2 permanents when you put it on the stack, something that’s likely to happen around turn 4 or 5 if everything is going to plan.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon – One of the better turn 4 plays in Modern. Ugin has excellent utility–either removing x/3s, clearing the board of coloured permanents, doming your opponent or putting ridiculous amounts of permanents into play.

The Sweepers

Oblivion Stone Pyroclasm Kozilek's Return

Tron is pretty vulnerable in the early stages of the game, so you need to play some ways to clean up the board and deter your opponent’s aggressive start.

Oblivion Stone – A colourless way to defend yourself from an army of creatures or other troublesome permanents, with the added bonus of being one sided if you get enough time to place Fate counters on your own permanents.  

The main advantage of Oblivion Stone over a common budget alternative, All is Dust, is that Oblivion Stone can be used at instant speed. This is highly relevant in any matchup that revolves around creatures. Another advantage is that it is cheaper in instalments–even when you don’t have all of your Tron lands (you can cast it for three mana and activate for five.) This will give you a much better chance of beating disruptive elements like Blood Moon or simply a board of attackers when you’re not drawing so well, and only a single turn slower than if you had Tron available.

Pyroclasm OR Firespout OR Kozilek’s Return  – These sweepers all serve similar purposes, but which one to use depends on your metagame. When Zoo is popular, Firespout is important for dealing with Wild Nacatl and friends. Pyroclasm is good when you need to sweep the board as fast as possible, typically against decks like Infect or Affinity. Kozilek’s Return is an instant and can be found with Ancient Stirrings (also bypasses Protection from Red), but since it only deals 2 damage it toes the line between being too late and not doing enough. Nevertheless, in some games, the ability to exile it when you cast a big threat to clear the board is exactly what you want out of a sweeper.

Flex Slots & Tech

World Breaker Lightning Bolt Urza's factory

You might have seen these cards while reading through Tron decklists and wondered "why are these here?" Or maybe they're cards that seem really good and you’re wondering why they aren’t in the section above? Hopefully this will give you an idea of what cards are conditionally good in the deck, when they’re good, and why.

Urza’s Factory  – My personal favourite spice. This land gives you something to spend your mana on whenever you’re out of gas and can be searched up by a Sylvan Scrying or Expedition Map. However, it is rather low impact, so it may be better suited as a sideboard option or tech for control or midrange heavy metagames. Factory often competes with the second Ghost Quarter slot so it comes down to personal preference as to which one you play, or of course, your analysis of your expected metagame.

Karplusan Forest – The budget version of Grove of the Burnwillows is definitely not a bad substitute if you cannot afford Groves, but the life points you lose are particularly punishing against Burn, Zoo or Affinity.

Sea Gate Wreckage – Another way of finding more gas that you can search for with Sylvan Scrying or Expedition Map. Sea Gate Wreckage is at its best against discard spells, but even then it can be hard to use if you draw too many lands or find yourself choked on coloured mana. Unless you’re very confident you’ll be facing a lot of Thoughtseizes, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Lightning Bolt – A Joe Lossett Special that was used to better position Tron against Infect, Affinity and Death’s Shadow Zoo, but is very out of place in most other matchups. I would not play it unless those are very prominent in your meta.

Relic of Progenitus – Older builds of the Tron deck would play these just to cycle, while incidentally hating out graveyard based strategies. Relic still sees play to combat these graveyard based strategies but is no longer considered essential to the deck, so if you expect those strategies this can be a high impact, low cost way to combat them.

Spellskite – Another concession to Infect and Affinity (with bonus maindeck value against bogles), but it often gets sided out and sometimes not included in the main at all.

Sundering Titan – It’s basically a one sided Armageddon. Sundering Titan is used to overpower midrange and control strategies, putting those games drastically in your favour if it ever enters play. But since those strategies are already good matchups, it usually surrenders its spot to some of the other, more versatile threats.

World Breaker – 6G is hard to get on turn 3, but it’s certainly possible with Spheres and Stars. If you’re playing Kozilek’s Return, World Breaker can trigger and survive the flashback, which normally would only be done by Ulamog. Even though it is tricky to cast, World Breaker is definitely worth considering–being able to blow up a troublesome artifact/enchantment or just a land to set your opponent back when cast is invaluable. The 5/7 body combined with reach will protect you from almost any creature in the format. And as icing on the cake, you can get it back from the graveyard by sacrificing a land, which isn’t ideal given how valuable Tron’s lands are but that recursion can give you the inevitability you need to pull off a win.

Kozilek, the Great Distortion – He’s big, he draws cards and he can do something never before seen in this deck – counter spells. Generally, Kozilek is better suited to a combo heavy metagame where interacting with the stack can give you a fighting chance. Otherwise almost any other threat is more effective and better suited to your game plan.

Mindslaver – Rarely seen in Red-Green Tron lists as it is more at home in Blue Tron where Academy Ruins can assemble the hard lock. Even though it seems like a powerful option, Mindslaver doesn’t really advance the RG Tron game plan in most matchups, neither stabilising the board nor threatening to end the game. Mindslaver’s greatest utility is in the mirror, where taking control of their Karns and Ulamogs can completely cripple their mana development and expend their threats.

All is Dust – Generally a worse Oblivion Stone. It can be cast on turn 3, which is helpful in aggressive matchups but considering the popularity of Affinity, it is significantly less impressive than it would otherwise be.

Sample Decklists

My List

If you're sitting across from me at one of the Paragon Games modern Opens, I’ll likely be playing something very similar to this list. It has served me very well in my time playing Tron and shows no signs of letting up.

This list has been tailored for a metagame that is light on Tron’s bad matchups, with special consideration given to dredge. This build has very little chance at beating Infect, Storm or Suicide Zoo but is very well positioned against the large number of fair decks that I expect to play against. I’ve made some recent changes in light of the rising popularity of dredge and the growing unpopularity of Bogles, Affinity and Infect. These include moving 2 Spellskites from the mainboard to the Sideboard in place of 2 additional Wurmcoil Engine. I found they were invaluable in most matchups that I regularly played against but decided I still would like access to Spellskite if needed.

Creatures (8)
Wurmcoil Engine
World Breaker
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Planeswalkers (6)
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Karn Liberated

Instants and Sorceries (11)
Pyroclasm
Ancient Stirrings
Sylvan Scrying

Artifacts (15)
Oblivion Stone
Expedition Map
Chromatic Star
Chromatic Sphere
Lands (20)
Urza’s Power Plant
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Tower
Grove of the Burnwillows
Forest
Urza’s Factory
Sanctum of Ugin
Ghost Quarter

Sideboard (15)
Nature’s Claim
Vandalblast
Relic of Progenitus
Grafdigger’s Cage
Warping Wail
Spellskite
Crumble to Dust
Thragtusk

Joe’s List

Joe Lossett is one of the most popular and well known Red-Green Tron players. He streams semi-regularly at www.twitch.tv/oarsman79 – I would highly recommend watching this stream even if you have no interest in playing Tron. This list comes from the Top 8 of Grand Prix Los Angeles 2016 in May. Joe has opted to not play red sweepers and instead play Lightning Bolts as his removal. This vastly improves his matchup against Infect (along with the Sudden Shocks in the sideboard) and some builds of Zoo, while not completely tanking his Affinity matchup.

Creatures (8)
Spellskite
Wurmcoil Engine
World Breaker
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Planeswalkers (6)
Karn Liberated
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Instants and Sorceries (4)
Lightning Bolt

Artifacts (23)
Ancient Stirrings
Sylvan Scrying
Expedition Map
Chromatic Star
Chromatic Sphere
Oblivion Stone
Lands (19)
Forest
Sanctum of Ugin
Grove of the Burnwillows
Urza's Power Plant
Urza's Mine
Urza's Tower

Sideboard (15)
Forest
Sudden Shock
Crumble to Dust
Grafdigger's Cage
Nature's Claim
Warping Wail
Thragtusk

MTGO Grinder List

This list comes from MTGO player SIN and is quite different to most Tron lists seeing play.  The inclusion of Talisman of Impulse is interesting, providing a small amount of extra mana and the ability to create coloured mana without spending land drops. It also allows for 8 mana on turn 3 with the perfect hand. My main concern with playing non-land permanent based acceleration is that it makes the deck more susceptible to artifact hate, as well as your own Oblivion Stones. Another card choice worth noting is the inclusion of Emrakul the Promised End. Emrakul is well positioned for the MTGO metagame due to many popular decks being weak to a Mindslaver effect, such as Jund, Affinity, Infect, Burn and Suicide Zoo.

Creatures (6)
Emrakul, the Promised End
Spellskite
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Wurmcoil Engine

Planeswalkers (6)
Karn Liberated
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Instants and Sorceries (12)
Ancient Stirrings
Sylvan Scrying
Lightning Bolt

Artifacts (17)
Chromatic Sphere
Chromatic Star
Expedition Map
Oblivion Stone
Talisman of Impulse
Lands (19)
Forest
Grove of the Burnwillows
Sanctum of Ugin
Urza's Mine
Urza's Power Plant
Urza's Tower

Sideboard (15)
Crumble to Dust
Firespout
Grafdigger's Cage
Nature's Claim
Thought-Knot Seer
Thragtusk
Warping Wail

Wrapping Up

So that’s an intro to the Red-Green Tron archetype – Ramp out huge threats and overpower your opponent.

The next part in this series of articles will cover Tron’s matchups and sideboard.


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2 thoughts on “Red-Green Tron Primer (Part 1): Guys, we need to form Voltron

  1. Hélio Harano Reply

    Great primer!

    The only mistake I saw was about World Breaker’s interaction with Kozilek’s Return – you don’t have to worry about your CMC 7 or more Eldrazis surviving Return’s trigger, because it triggers when you cast them, and therefore it goes on the stack, and resolves, before said Eldrazis even hit the battlefield.

  2. Pingback: Red-Green Tron Primer (Part 3): Tron vs The World – Paragon Games

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