Red-Green Tron Primer (Part 2): Enemy Detected

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.


The Modern format is jammed full of unique and powerful strategies. All of these strategies have their own tools to interact (or not) with Tron. As a Tron player, it’s important to know the impactful cards each deck is capable of playing against you and what you can do to combat them.

Part 2 will give you an overview of the major decks in the format as well as some more esoteric ones that you may run into, and how to combat them.

wurmcoil_engine

What is our ideal starting hand?

An ideal Tron opener consists of:

The first few turns with this hand will play out as follows:

Turn 1: Play the first Tron land and cast the Expedition Map/Chromatic Sphere or Star.

Turn 2: Play your second Tron land, activate the Map to search for your third Tron piece or activate your Chromatic Sphere or Star to make Green and cast Sylvan Scrying to search for your third Tron piece.

Turn 3: Play your Karn Liberated or Wurmcoil Engine. Begin winning the game.

Most decks in the format will have very little chance to compete with a start as powerful as this.

Due to the nature of Tron, the curve is a bit convoluted. It ideally follows the plan of 1, 2, 7 drop but happily settling for 1, 2, 6 drop.

Reddit users u/mpaw975 and u/Azgurath have done some excellent work calculating the probabilities of assembling Tron on turn 3, and even playing Karn on turn 3 as well. The Reddit post can be found here. (This includes links to the original and updated code used to calculate these probabilities)

u/Azgurath concluded that the chance of a turn 3 Tron is over 52.1% on the draw and 44.2% on the play. Despite this fairly consistent rate, you will still find many opponents surprised or upset at a turn 3 Tron. Further calculations estimated the chances of a turn 3 Karn at 23.5% on the draw and 17.9% on the play.

Matchups

Favourable

Jund

Tarmogoyf Dark Confidant

Known to every Jund and Tron player, the advantage for Tron isn’t quite as large as some people would have you believe but it’s certainly good. Jund’s removal suite of Terminate, Lightning Bolt, Kolaghan’s Command, Abrupt Decay and Maelstrom Pulse are not effective against your threats of Wurmcoil Engine and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. If you opt to play it, World Breaker is bigger than most Tarmogoyfs and will also hurt their manabase on the way in. Also, its ability to keep coming back gives you power on the board early game and inevitability late game.

Jund is particularly soft to Oblivion Stone, since their entire game plan revolves around high impact creatures and planeswalkers that you can sweep away. However, be aware that their Abrupt Decays and Kolaghan’s Commands can destroy it when you do not have the mana available to crack it which can be a devastating swing in their favour.

Abzan

Lingering Souls Grim Flayer

This matchup is similar to Jund and other GBx strategies, but plays Path to Exile which allows them to overcome our Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Wurmcoil Engine. However, if you aggressively exile white lands with Karn Liberated, World Breaker and Ulamog, they will have a very hard time keeping up with your monsters. I feel this matchup is more positive than Jund since Abzan players have less access to land and artifact destruction after sideboarding.

Grixis Control

Ancestral Vision Kolaghan's Command

The dream matchup. Grixis can rarely apply enough pressure to stop you from overwhelming them and their removal suite is ineffective against your threats. Normally you can take your time and play an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to finish up the game in short order. After sideboarding, they might have a few tools to fight against Tron’s gameplan, such as Crumble to dust or Fulminator Mage assisted with recursion from Kolaghan’s Command or Liliana, the Last Hope, but they’re still very much behind.

Nahiri Control

Nahiri, the Harbinger Serum Visions

Nahiri is significantly better against the Tron plan than most UWx control decks as it has a way to apply quite a lot of pressure and assemble a fast clock. Fortunately, this clock involves a 4 mana planeswalker, Nahiri, the Harbinger. Due to Nahiri’s place on the curve, you will usually be able to make a powerful counter play immediately, such as a Karn Liberated, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to exile the Nahiri or an Oblivion Stone to destroy it (and anything else in play). Counterspells can be an issue if used in concert with Nahiri as you may find yourself unable to answer her before Nahiri can fetch her buddy Emrakul to ruin your day. Ulamog is exceptional in this matchup as counterspells will do nothing to stop his on cast trigger, even if he will often take a path to exile instantly. A high threat density is necessary in this matchup and lands that function as threats really excel, especially Sanctum of Ugin.

UWx Control

Wall of Omens Celestial Colonnade

This matchup is just fantastic. There is very little a slow control deck can do to disrupt you or pressure you in any meaningful way. Some lists might be playing a large amount of Ghost Quarters for disruption, but with Tron’s multitude of ways to search for lands, you should be able to outpace any land destruction plan which rely on drawing Ghost Quarters naturally. Other lists might try to be more aggressive with cards like Dragonlord Ojutai and Kitchen Finks, but this leads to your otherwise low impact boardwipes like Oblivion Stone and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon being much more effective in the matchup, as well as making Wurmcoil Engine even more punishing for your opponent.

Living End

Living End Violent Outburst

This matchup is very strange. If you opt to play Relic of Progenitus in your mainboard, it can be quite favourable as it’s very powerful against their graveyard-based strategy. A quick Wurmcoil Engine can also put the game massively in your favour, as it leaves behind two threats even after a Living End resolves and outclasses all their creatures. Wurmcoil Engine is so good in the matchup that it opens up an esoteric line you can take while on the draw against Living End. This involves on turn 1, drawing up to 8 cards and discarding to hand size pitching a Wurmcoil Engine. This will ensure you will get it back if they ever cast their namesake card. I do not recommend this unless your hand is set up to recover from the lost tempo of skipping the first turn of the game.

Abzan Company

Melira, Sylvok Outcast Murderous Redcap

This is when Tron shines. All of your cards are excellent especially: the red sweepers, Karns, Oblivion Stones and most importantly Ugins. The only things to watch out for are the infinite damage combos with: Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Murderous Redcap (making arbitrarily large creatures and killing you in a single swing) OR Melira, Sylvok Outcast/Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, Murderous Redcap and Viscera Seer (shooting you in the face for infinite damage). These combos usually require quite a bit of set up, and you can interrupt them with an Oblivion Stone mid-combo in both scenarios. Just make sure you wait until your opponent is attempting to go off before you crack it. In the case of the Viscera Seer combo, failing to do this allows your opponent to go off in response, making you feel very silly and very dead. With the addition of Eldritch Moon to the modern format, Abzan Company has gained a very impactful sideboard card against Tron ­– Distended Mindbender. Distended Mindbender is something every Tron player should keep an eye out for, but it isn’t enough to make this matchup favourable for the Company player. The best way to play around Mindbender is to try and keep your opponent off double black mana so they can’t cast it for its emerge cost.

Delver

Delver of Secrets Remand

Delver has a difficult time dealing with Wurmcoil Engine in play and all of your red sweepers are excellent in this matchup. There is really only an issue when they enact the classic Delver plan of deploying a quick Insectile Aberration and then keeping you off balance with their cheap counters. Tron is good at throwing haymakers, which can play right into their Remands, Mana Leaks and quick clock. That said, Delver’s other threats aren’t usually fast enough and are easily dealt with using Oblivion Stone, Karn Liberated, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. World Breaker is also fantastic in the matchup (having reach and crippling their fragile manabase).

Faeries

Spellstutter Sprite Mistbind Clique

Once dominant but now forgotten, a faeries deck full of small fliers and cheap disruption is largely ineffective against Tron, especially if you’re playing World Breaker. Wurmcoil Engine is of course excellent since their removal is not particularly good at dealing with itracing it is an uphill battle and mustering the Faeries to counter it with Spellstutter Sprite is a challenge. One thing to worry about in this matchup is Mistbind Clique, but it’s not much more of an issue when playing Tron than it is for other decks. Your opponent’s Mana Leaks and Spell Snares are likely to be stuck in their hands with very few good targets. This is a matchup where I would prefer Firespout to Pyroclasm, as you can cast it off basic Forest for full effect, as well as being harder to counter with Spellstutter Sprite.

Soul Sisters

Soul Warden Ajani's Pridemate

The only thing you really need to worry about is an Ajani’s Pridemate getting out of control very quickly. Their life total is irrelevant to your game plan. You’ll overcome their big numbers eventually, or simply restart the game. Oblivion Stone, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and World Breaker are fantastic, providing board sweepers and a large defensive body. You will not have many issues against this strategy.

RUG Scapeshift

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle Scapeshift

In this matchup you want to be really aggressive with your land destructionnot much else matters besides establishing a quick clock with a Wurmcoil Engine or World Breaker. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is ideal in this matchup, but if he is your only piece of land destruction and you miss casting him on turn four (with Tron plus a second Tower), the big Eldrazi might be too late to the party.

Bant Eldrazi

Thought-Knot Seer Noble Hierarch

This creature based deck attempts to go over the top but it simply does not go as big as Tron. Wurmcoil Engine is great if it can connect, but they have plentiful ways to dodge it with Drowner of Hope, Eldrazi Displacer and Path to Exile. Land destruction is strong in this matchuptargetting your Karns and World Breakers at Eldrazi Temples will very rarely go wrong for you. Oblivion Stone is also fantastic as they have basically no game against it. Thought-Knot Seer is their best card as it can come down on turn 2 at the earliest (Noble Hierarch into Eldrazi Temple) and take away your ability to finish off Tron (or whatever big threat you planned to stabilised with), and then beating down as a 4/4. Ugin is atrocious in this matchup as all of the deck’s threats are colourless, and should be sided out for games 2 and 3.

Blue Moon

Blood Moon Mana Leak

This matchup is very similar to the Grixis Control matchup, but with even less pressure. Obviously you need to worry about their Blood Moon which turns off your Tron lands, but even that isn’t game over. Luckily, you rarely need coloured mana, so you can play your large colourless threats off 6,7, 8 or 10 lands. This can be difficult in your 20 land deck, so I would advise keeping land heavy hands, but most of the time, a hand that can cast a big threat on turn 3 on the play should be enough to win the game. Karn Liberated is particularly excellent in this matchup.

Elves
 

Ezuri, Renegade Leader Elvish Archdruid

Elves players lament the Tron matchup due to the mainboard red sweepers and Oblivion Stones but it’s not nearly as bad as they say. These sweepers are of course fantastic, but the elves deck is blisteringly fast. If you stumble on your Tron pieces or fail to find a sweeper quickly, you’re probably dead. Be sure not to forget about Collected Company, since it is a common response after one of your sweepers have resolved, and goes a long way towards rebuilding their board.

Bant Spirits

Drogskol Captain Rattlechains

A new innovation thanks to the heavy support for the spirit tribe from Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon. This deck is incapable of beating a resolved Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and has a hard time against a red sweeper or Oblivion Stone if they don’t have a Selfless Spirit to save their board.

50/50

Zoo

Wild Nacatl Kird Ape

Much like the Burn matchup, but slightly better due to the reliance on attacking to close out the game which makes Wurmcoil Engine much more impactful. The main issue with Zoo is how stupidly fast and consistently they can kill you on turn 4, which only really gives you time to play a Wurmcoil Engine on turn 3 and block an attacker, and even that sometimes isn’t enough to stabilise if they have an Atarka’s Command or Path to Exile. If you stumble when finding Tron, you’ll probably die.

Affinity

Arcbound Ravager Signal Pest

This matchup is very swingy. Due to the nature of the affinity strategy, an early red sweeper will go a long way towards you winning that game. Oblivion Stone is strong in the matchup but does little to combat the threat of animated Nexi. Unfortunately, your other sweeper, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is next to useless in this matchup as most of the robots are colourless, although he can target singular threats (even Etched Champion) with his {+2} ability which is something. World Breaker is one of your best cards in the matchup as it can exile creature lands or any artifact – including artifact creatures. This fantastic ability combined with a huge body and reach makes it very difficult to beat from the affinity side.

Hatebears

Thalia, Heretic Cathar Leonin Arbiter

The hatebears matchup would be immensely favourable if not for the existence of Leonin Arbiter and Ghost Quarter which will often disrupt your efforts to assemble Tron. However, the vast majority of the creatures in this deck die to whichever red sweeper you choose to play, so an early sweeper can usually swing the game into your favour.

Merfolk

Master of the Pearl Trident Lord of Atlantis

This somewhat fringe deck sometimes has draws that will just murder your best efforts to play Magic. The whole matchup basically revolves around the card Spreading Seas which, when enchanting a Tron piece, causes that land to stop contributing to the UrzaTron. If they manage to use this disruptive enchantment alongside the fast clock that a bunch of unblockable lords provides, Merfolk has enough pressure to take you out. But the matchup is far from unwinnable. Spreading Seas is not played in large numbers in most Merfolk decks and all of your sweepers are fantastic in the matchup, even if the 2 damage red sweepers are sometimes ineffective with two lords in play. Keep in mind that if you can remove an opposing Spreading Seas, you’ll be able to block islandwalking creatures. This can be done with Ugin, Karn, Oblivion Stone, Ulamog and World Breaker.

Unfavourable

Burn

Lava Spike Goblin Guide

The blisteringly fast clock of this deck matches up very well against the “do nothing until turn 3” plan that Tron employs, but a resolved Wurmcoil Engine is often game over for the burn player, especially with a creature heavy draw. But if you don’t find Wurmcoil Engine, things can look very grim.

Storm

Pyromancer Ascension Goblin Electromancer

There is very little that you can do to win this matchup besides hoping the storm player is inexperienced or unlucky. Exiling lands is one of the best things you can do in this matchup as the storm deck runs very few lands to begin with to maximise their spell density. A turn 3 Karn followed by a turn 4 Ulamog can hamper them enough to win the game. Another troublesome permanent to worry about is Pyromancer Ascension – highly prioritise removing this.

Dredge

Cathartic Reunion Golgari Grave-Troll

The new bully on the playground. Thanks to some support from Shadows of Innistrad in the form of Insolent Neonate and Prized Amalgam, this matchup is terrifying, but far from unwinnable. Your best card in this matchup is Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as he can exile all the Bloodghasts and Prized Amalgams in play, whereas Oblivion Stone isn’t much more than an 8 mana fog due to the resiliency of all of the creatures in Dredge. Wurmcoil Engine is a great card for stabilising the board and gaining you a boat load of life, but even that isn’t always enough if they have a Rally the Peasants. Due to the recurrent nature of the threats, World Breaker is quite bad in this matchup, as keeping it back to defend only saves you 2 or 3 life a turn. Be wary of the amount of cards in your opponent’s hand and the flashback spells in their graveyard. Conflagrate can remove a blocker or planeswalker, or sometimes just kill you if you have a low enough life total.

Ad Nauseam

Ange's Grace Ad Nauseam

Another uninteractive combo matchup, but this one is quite a bit slower than most. Use this time to exile as many lands as possible. Inexperienced players can make mistakes that you can quite easily capitalise on. If your opponent is trying to win the game with Laboratory Maniac, keep an Oblivion Stone activation up to stop the opponent from winning the game with it (and if they’re going off with Phyrexian Unlife, you can use Oblivion Stone to destroy it while Ad Nauseam is on the stack). If your opponent is planning to kill you with Lightning Storm, keeping a Spellkite in play and sandbagging a bunch of lands can let you start a fight over redirecting the target of their lethal spell. This can be quite effective if you’ve exiled a bunch of their lands throughout the game since your opponent might not have enough to redirect the Lightning Storm back at you. Conflagrate is the hardest kill to avoid if your opponent is switched on, since the only interaction you have is with Spellskite to redirect the Conflagrate away from you. But if your opponent knows how Spellskite works, you are probably just dead since they can cast Conflagrate targeting both you and Spellskite preventing you from redirecting it.

RG Valakut

Primeval Titan Sakura-Tribe Elder

This more aggressive take on Valakut is incredibly scary with Primeval Titan being an immense threat that can take the game very quickly even when you are not immediately dead to the combo. Like RUG Scapeshift, your best bet to stop them is to destroy their lands, but this build can easily outpace your ability to Stone Rain them.

Bogles

Slippery Bogle Daybreak Coronet

Most of your deck won’t be able to interact with Bogles in any meaningful way, with the major exceptions of Oblivion Stone and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon that can swing the game drastically in your favour. In addition, as long as your opponent has a slower draw, your large creatures may be able to outclass the enchanted hexproof creature and win combat (or at least buy time until you are able to find that Oblivion Stone or Ugin). But, like Zoo, if you stumble or can’t find those cards, there’s nothing you can really do to stop them killing you.

Infect

Blighted Agent Become Immense

This is one of the most well-known bad matchups for Tron. The only way there is to interact with it is to cast an early red sweeper, or hope their draw is sufficiently slow to allow you to get an Oblivion Stone in play (which will give you some insurance against a bunch of pump spells, unless they’re targeting an Inkmoth Nexus). Karn Liberated and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are good in this matchup. Karn because he can always remove an infect threat – even Inkmoth Nexus, and Ugin can take out all of their Blighted Agents, Glistener Elves and Noble Hierarchs at once. Once you have control of the game, you can defeat your opponent at your leisure, but the speed of the Infect strategy is enough to make this a very bad matchup indeed.

Grishoalbrand

Goryo's Vengeance Griselbrand

I believe this to be the worst matchup imaginable for Tron. Since the combo can come out as quickly as turn 2, you have almost no chance to win against their faster starts. If they have a non-Goryo’s Vengeance draw and take a few turns to assemble a winning hand, you may be able to land some form of disruption in the sideboarded games. Pithing Needle should name Griselbrand first and then Borborygmos Enraged. If they really stumble and you have a hand capable of capitalising on it, you can attempt to exile their manabase to prevent them from casting their game winning spells at all, but this is a bit of a pipe dream.

Closing thoughts

That covers the vast majority of the strategies in the current format. If you have any insight on any of the matchups that I may have missed or not considered I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts either in the comments below, or you could reach me on Twitter @AggrMedian.

The final article in this series will cover Tron’s sideboard as well as how to sideboard against Tron.


The Paragon Games Tournament Series 2016 season is running in Canberra from 17 September to 26 November. Register now for your chance to share in $1750 in cash prizes and player rewards!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *