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Deck Evolutions: Modern Tron

Today Tron is one of the defining decks of Modern. In fact, it is currently the most played deck in the format. It's also one of the most soul crushing decks to play against. Unless you have a specific set of answers, a large percentage of games will end with you watching hopelessly as your opponent goes Urza's Tower into Urza's Mine into Urza's Power Plant into Karn Liberated. The game will go on for several more turns as you delude yourself into thinking you still have a chance to win, but in reality the game is over. 

What you might be surprised to learn is that in the earliest days of Modern, Tron was completely unplayable. I make this statement not because casting Wurmcoil Engine on turn three or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on turn six was bad, but because Tron was thoroughly outclassed. If you were not around for the first few months of Modern, you may not realize that a little card named Cloudpost was legal. While it might not look like much on its own, when you consider the "Twelve Post" package, you'll see why Tron was outclassed. 

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With Tron you need to get three different, specific lands on the battlefield. At which point they combine to add seven mana. Even in the best case scenario it takes six Tron lands to produce the 15 mana necessary to cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Meanwhile, three Cloudposts can tap for nine mana and it only takes four lands on the battlefield to hard cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Basically, Twelve Post was more consistent and powerful than Tron. If your plan was to go big in Modern circa 2011, you were going big with Cloudposts. 

UW Tron, August 2011

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Just to reiterate, in the very first months of Modern there was little reason to play Tron because Cloudpost was legal in the format. That said, Tsukuno's list placed second at the TCGPlayer $2K, all while Cloudpost was still legal. 

Strangely, the deck didn't seem very concerned with putting together Tron. There wasn't a single Expedition Map or Sylvan Scrying to be found. Instead, this early version of Tron was basically a UW Gifts Ungiven Control deck which looked to put together the Mindslaver / Academy Ruins lock. The only creature in the deck is Sundering Titan, despite the fact that the Eldrazi package of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Eye of Ugin was available in the format. 

Why early Tron decks decided to play the control role, rather than ramping, is a mystery to me. While we have seen similar Gifts Tron lists make an reappearance in today's Modern, back in the day these builds were not just the most popular version of Tron in Modern, they were the only version of Tron in Modern.

Unburial Gifts Tron - February 2012

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During the last quarter of 2011, two things happened that forever changed the future of Tron in Modern. First, on the heels of the first Modern Pro Tour, Cloudpost was banned in Modern. Wizards decided 15 mana on turn four was too much. This decision pushed Tron into the spotlight as a 12-Post substitute. The attention of the pro community, previously focused on breaking Cloudpost, shifted to Urza Tron. Second, Innistrad was released. Along with it came the two-card combo of Gift's Ungiven for Unburial Rites

In LSV's Grand Prix list you can see the beginnings of a more focused version of the archetype. Instead of just hoping and praying to draw Tron, Expedition Map increased your chances dramatically. We also see the now-standard package of a single Eye of Ugin and a single Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. And of course we have the Gifts Ungiven package of Unburial Rites, Iona, Shield of Emeria, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. It's notable that the Mindslaver package is missing from the deck.   

The problem with Unburial Gifts Tron is that the deck was still lacking in direction. It has one foot in the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn ramp plan and one foot in the Gift's Ungiven / Unburial Rites plan. Over the coming years players began to realize that sticking to one plan was better for the deck's long term success. 

Green Tron - March 2012

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Here's where the history of Modern Tron gets interesting. On March 16, 2012 an unknown Magic Online player by the name of black_generation 4-0'ed a Daily Event with a new take on Tron. The very next day the deck won a Magic Online PTQ in the hands of Charles Gindy (thekid on Magic Online), while black_generation placed fourth in the same event. While black_generation deserves the credit for innovating the deck, it was likely Gindy who turned the new build into the go-to Tron deck for Modern.

Green Red Tron is important for a number of reasons. Instead of durdling around with Blue cards and playing the control game, this build is focused on putting together Tron as fast as possible. It has twelves ways to find the right Tron land (Sylvan Scrying, Ancient Stirrings, and Expedition Map) and eight "eggs" (Chromatic Sphere and Chromatic Star) to maintain consistency. Older builds were only lukewarm on putting together Tron. This progression turned Tron from a control deck to a combo-ramp deck. The game plan now became cantripping (with 26 cards that either cantripped or replace themselves with a land) into Tron as soon as possible. 

Perhaps more importantly, Gindy and black_generation were the first players to realize what the number seven (the amount of mana Tron generates) means in Modern: Karn Liberated. While older Tron builds played a single copy of the colorless planeswalker, GR Tron played the full four copies. While there was still a singleton Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, that was Plan B. Plan A was playing Karn Liberated as early as possible. 

The deck also ran the full four copies of Mindslaver, making it one of the most depressing decks to play against. If you're not getting your second land exiled by Karn Liberated on turn three, your opponent is stealing your third turn. GR Tron was the first Modern deck dedicated to unleashing the power of Tron. Black_generation and Charles Gindy created a monster. 

Mono-U Tron - February 2013

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From 2012, GR Tron was the only Tron deck in Modern. The changes made to the black_generation build were minimal, most notably the inclusion of several copies of Oblivion Stone. As such, it wasn't until 2013 that we saw a truly different take on Tron. Created by Magic Online user shoktroopa, Mono-Blue Tron is basically a midrange version of Tron that dumps expensive cards like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn for an endless stream of Wurmcoil Engines backed by countermagic and the Mindslaver lock. 

While lacking the inevitability of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Mono-Blue Tron eliminates the lack of focus that was a problem with earlier builds. This deck knows what it wants to do (cast Wurmcoil Engine) and because it's looking to win the game with six-drops instead of fifteen-drops, it has a legitimate path to winning games where it doesn't put together Tron. 

One thing I don't have a good explanation for is the complete and utter lack of Karn Liberated. Since the deck's creator is an active streamer under the name kharniverious, I'm not going to make a fool of myself trying to explain the intricacies of his build. You can head over to his Twitch stream and ask him yourself. For our purposes, shoktroopa did two important things to the deck. First, he made it about Wurmcoil Engine, rather than Karn Liberated. Second, he brought back the control focus of the original UW Gifts Tron lists, and he did so without employing a clunky mish-mash of cards and combos. In his words, Mono-U Tron is a "well-oiled machine." While Mono-Blue Tron never managed to unseat RG Tron as top dog in the Tron family, it did offer players another extremely competitive way to build around the Tron shell.

All-In Karn Tron, October 2013

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Through the remainder of 2013 and most of 2014, the Tron world remained calm. GR Tron was the most played of the Tron decks. Mono-Blue Tron appeared occasionally. Every once in a great while someone would bust out old school UW Gifts Tron. What did change during this time were the finishers played by GR Tron. The one constant is four copies of Karn Liberated. Beyond that everything is up for grabs. Most decks play a single Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, but as Anteri's deck shows, some do not. Many opt for a copy or two of Wurmcoil Engine as insurance against aggro decks. Others run main deck Spellskites, Platinum Angel, Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, Sundering Titan, or Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. Pretty much any big, colorless creature will do. The point is, once you play a Karn Liberated on turn three, it really doesn't matter what you have to finish the game. 

Ugin Tron - June, 2015

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The last major evolution in Modern Tron came with the release of Fate Reforged in February 2015. The second set in the Khans block brought with it the second coming of Karn Liberated — Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. While Tron is undoubtedly a Karn Liberated deck, adding a couple copies of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon not only increases the deck's consistency, it also adds another layer of protection against fast aggro decks, functioning much like an All is Dust

Maybe the most interesting aspect of the deck is the lack of lands. Early Tron decks like Gifts Tron often played 24 or 25 lands. Mono-U Tron cut this number down to 23. All-in-Karn Tron had 21. Now Antrazi's Ugin Tron is all the way down to 20. Think about this for a minute. This number is less lands than all midrange decks in Modern and even some aggro decks. Yet it's coming from a deck looking to cast 15-mana creatures and eight-mana planeswalkers. To me this provides a testament of just how streamlined and efficient the deck has become. 

The Future

Assuming that nothing gets banned (which seems unlikely), it's hard to imagine Tron changing too much in the near future. While any big, colorless spell could work its way into the deck, it's hard to imagine Wurmcoil Engine, Karn Liberated, or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn being outclassed by a new card. The foundation of Tron lands, a bunch of ways to put together Tron, and those finishers seem set in stone. However, it is possible that cards on the level of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger could show up as one-of's depending on the metagame. 

It also seems unlikely that any of the fringe builds of Tron like Gifts Tron or Mono-Blue Tron will be able to dethrone RG Tron. While there are some arguments for playing these other builds, they just can't match the consistency of the RG Tron build. 

As such, I imagine that Tron, a year from now or five years from now, will look much the same as it does today. Its playability will obviously wax and wane based on the makeup for the Modern format, but the deck seems to have reached its final evolution. The days of major innovations are likely in the past, and Tron is what it is: the premier big-mana Emrakul, the Aeons Torn combo deck in Modern. 


Anyway, that's all for today. Leave your thoughts, ideas, and opinions in the comments. You can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive.

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