Before getting to the main body of this article I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Usama Sajjad, I was born in Venice, and I started to play Magic back in Born of the Gods. I moved to Manchester in 2014 for University and since then have mostly played Magic in the United Kingdom. I recently joined the Axion Now team and am excited to improve my game with some of the players I respect the most in the country.
Modern has always been the Constructed format I have most enjoyed playing, maybe because it was the format I was first introduced to back in Italy. Since the Splinter Twin ban it has become extremely difficult to accurately predict the metagame in Modern. At this point there are an unreasonable number of viable decks that people could decide to play at any given tournament and still achieve respectable results.
Previously I’ve had a preference for control decks in Modern, likely due to the influence of Rob Catton who convinced me that these strategies were not only very powerful but even fun to play! After Mattia Rizzi’s convincing performance at PT25th Anniversary with UW Miracles, the deck placed itself in the top tier of the format, and this has been reinforced by its popularity at the recent GP Prague.
On the other hand, I have always had a hard time playing control decks in a vast format like Modern, crossing my fingers and hoping to avoid certain matchups. Unfortunately, we only have 15 sideboard cards available, and therefore cannot expect to have cards for all potential strategies we might play against - bad matchups in modern are inevitable. While preparing as the Modern player at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, my team and I decided we would prefer being proactive rather than reactive. We wanted to have a solid plan, posing questions to our opponents no matter the matchup we faced instead of trying to have answers to all the threats we’d face. These were the 5 decks we identified would likely represent most of the format:
- Krark Clan Ironworks
- Celestial Colonnade/Teferi control
- Hollow One
Bridgevine at this point was not as popular as it is currently, even though I did personally play against it multiple times during my preparation going into the Pro Tour.
This is what I ended up submitting at the tournament.
4x Urza’s Tower
4x Urza’s Mine
4x Urza’s Power Plant
1x Urza’s Factory
1x Sanctum of Ugin
1x Ghost Quarter
4x Chromatic Sphere
4x Chromatic Star
4x Expedition Map
4x Oblivion Stone
4x Sylvan Scrying
4x Ancient Stirrings
3x Relic of Progenitus
3x Wurmcoil Engine
3x Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
1x Walking Ballista
1x World Breaker
2x Ugin, The Spirit Dragon
4x Karn Liberated
3x Nature’s Claim
3x Surgical Extraction
1x Life from the Loam
1x Emrakul, the Promised End
1x Ghost Quarter
3x Thought-Knot Seer
Before talking about some of the card choices, let me explain how the deck functions. The whole purpose of the deck is to put together the three different Urza lands; Mine, Tower and Power Plant so to achieve “Tron” as fast as possible.
Most of the cards in the deck, are working towards this end goal.
Once you have assembled Tron, ideally on turn 3, the deck has access to some overpowered colourless cards which are cheated into play because of the huge boost to available mana provided by the lands in combination. These cards often end the game by themselves, and they include: Wurmcoil Engine, an aggro matchup ender, as well as Karn Liberated, a midrange and control matchup ender. These are the two threats most commonly deployed on turn 3 by the deck. Tron has also access to 6 wrath effects in Oblivion Stone and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, in order to control the board and not fall too far behind in the turns, lost while assembling Tron.
Ugin is especially powerful because of the asymmetrical nature of the minus ability. Finally the card that, in my opinion, really pushed the deck over the top: Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Ulamog, like most of the deck’s threats, is a must answer permanent and on top of that it deals with two of the most problematic permanents on the opponent’s side of the board.
The maindeck I submitted, is mostly stock. The addition of Walking Ballista gives the deck a powerful mana sink which can potentially take over the game by itself if left unanswered and can trigger the Sanctum of Ugin to find an extra threat. Ballista is clearly at its best against creature-based decks where it can machine-gun down lower toughness creature and act as a blocker when needed. Similarly, World Breaker helps the deck to deal with some annoying permanents such as Hollow One, Stony Silence, Aether Vial, Damping Sphere, KCI etc. or any creature lands on the other side of the table. It also provides an almost unkillable blocker both on the ground and in the air. The main new addition to the deck was Urza’s Factory.
This land is no Eye of Ugin, but it does provide a further mana sink, and gives the deck a utility land to fetch when you are flooding on Expedition Maps and Sylvan Scryings. The land is at its best against Colonnade decks, since all of the field of ruins are targeting your Tron lands and the game will eventually go long to the point where you just start creating a stream of constructs to win the game. Lastly, the three copies of Relic of Progenitus main were to hedge against KCI, Hollow One and any other annoying graveyard-based deck.
The sideboard we came up with is very simple. Nature’s Claim is a necessary inclusion in the deck to deal with troublesome sideboard cards such as Stony Silence and sometimes Damping Sphere as well as Blood Moon. Do not forget that the card can also help as incidental lifegain against faster decks by targeting your own permanents, Chromatic Star being the best target for it. Nature’s Claim now also gains more value with the increased presence of KCI in the format. Thought-Knot Seer is a valuable card against combo decks and control decks, serving as an additional threat as well as disrupting their game plan. Thragtusk helps against more aggressive strategies and in matchups where Wurmcoil Engine is weaker due to cards like Path to Exile or Reflector Mage. Three copies of Surgical Extraction were included mainly because of our game plan to beat KCI with the Tron deck, which involves destroying a key piece such as KCI or Scrap Trawler and then extracting it. In addition, with the second copy of Ghost Quarter in our deck, it was also our plan for the mirror match, instead of rolling a die to see who would cast Karn first. Emrakul, the Promised End’s purpose was to end the game vs combo decks and provide us with another card for the control matchup. Finally, Life from the Loam is for Field of Ruin decks or where Ghost Quarters are an important card in the matchup, such as the mirror match. An important thing to remember is that Life from the Loam can also help you get Tron by dredging lands into the graveyard, so casting it with no targets on turn 2 in order to dredge it later can be beneficial.
The general opinion of Tron is that it is an auto-pilot deck, which requires little skill to play. However, I have learned during my experience with the deck how important mulliganing decisions are in order to get pilot it optimally. Tron cantrips a lot, and this is one of the reasons why it so consistently hits its ‘Voltron’ by turn 3. On the other hand, you should always be mulliganing your hands which do not have a high percentage chance of getting to Tron on turn 3, especially in game one, where you will need a strong linear draw against some of the decks you could be facing. Yes, mulligan aggressively. I will not be going into further details about the importance of mulliganing in this article, but I would strongly recommend Owen Turtenwald’s recent article about Tron in Modern.
Another aspect of the deck I would like to share with you is how Tron often takes the control role in a match-up. In many games, especially after sideboarding, getting to Tron on turn 3 is not important anymore; what is important, is drawing the right cards for the matchup, and hitting your land drops. For example, against KCI, it is important to have access to green mana for your Nature’s Claim, and at least one piece of graveyard interaction in the form of Relic or Surgical. Against control, hitting land drops every turn matters most, it is not necessarily about hitting Tron as fast as possible, although this is obviously preferable. A hand with no coloured mana, a number of artifacts and threats may match very poorly against Stony Silence and a counterspell. You do not want to be falling behind in the early turns by missing land drops.
My personal preference for Tron moving forward is predominantly due to its linear nature. The deck is not particularly easy to ‘hate out’ compared to other decks like KCI or Hollow One. Land destruction effects have lost popularity, and Blood Moon is not as common as it has been in the past. Stony Silence is, at the moment, the most effective sideboard card against Tron that is heavily played. It is also important, to understand that the same hate card has varying impact depending on the deck which plays it. For example, some control decks have been playing Damping Sphere in the sideboard against Tron, I have done so myself in the past. In my mind, the card’s purpose in the matchup is to avoid a turn 3 Karn, or Turn 5-6 Ulamog. Damping Sphere out of a control deck is very beatable however, and often more problematic for the control player because of their Snapcasters. Often, casting turn 7 Karn, or turn 10 Ulamog against control decks can be enough to win. On the other hand, when a Humans deck is running Damping Sphere against you, it will have a much larger impact since it naturally slows you down, but at the same time your opponent’s deck is putting a very fast clock on you. They are not giving you the time to naturally play something like a Thragtusk, Wurmcoil or to sacrifice an Oblivion Stone, which is a reason to bring Nature’s Claim in the Humans matchup. The same is true for Stony Silence; the card is more problematic when played by Abzan than when played by Colonnade control. To beat Tron, a few sideboard cards are not enough; you also need to apply pressure.
Furthermore, as stated earlier, Modern has many matchups that different decks cannot do anything about, which is another reason why I like Tron. Due to its proactive nature the deck is able to win through a turn three Tron into a powerful threat like Karn or Wurmcoil, even in bad matchups. Burn for example is known not to be a great matchup for Tron, but despite this, a turn three Wurmcoil Engine alone can be enough to run away with the game. Storm is also not a great matchup, but in similar fashion a turn three Karn can steal some games. Similar to the Humans deck, Tron is a deck which progresses its own game plan that if left undisturbed or not beaten quickly enough will just win you the game. Tron is most likely going to be the deck I will be running at GP Stockholm, and is a deck I am expecting will perform well.
About Usama Sajjad:
Usama started playing Magic during Born of the Gods and hasn’t stopped since then. His favourite format is Modern due to its diverse nature and how it rewards practice and knowledge of the metagame. On the other hand his biggest accomplishment so far is winning Team Limited Grand Prix Bologna 2018. He thoroughly enjoys the complexity of the 40-card format where there’s always room for improvement. His aim as a Magic player is to stay on the Pro Tour train. His other accomplishments include: a Grand Prix top 16, a Pro Tour Top 64, three GP Top 64s, a team Grand Prix Top 24, two Magic Online PTQ Top 4s and two RPTQ Top8s.