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Deep Tracks: Urza Tron


Hey folks, welcome back to another edition of Deep Tracks! After a bit of soul searching and some much appreciated inspiration from a close friend, I’ve decided to set aside all reservations and offer up a take on Urza Tron, Deep Tracks style! It’s time to assemble:
 
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Three lands, 7 mana. Urza Tron is a thing of beauty, and really speaks to the imagination of everyone involved with the formative years of Magic: the Gathering. The concept for these lands is brilliant on many fronts. What I find most fascinating is the way the idea of Urza Tron parallels to our real lives. Take for example going on a field trip to some kind of industrial museum; from start to finish, we absorb all of the information in a systematic way and then walk away with a certain feeling of enlightenment. Here we enter Urza's Tower with very little knowledge, but rather an innocent thirst. While visiting Urza's Power Plant we begin to realize the awe-inspiring potential that’s found within. Finally, we descend into Urza's Mine and conclude the tour equipped with the insight needed to harness the power of Urza!

Since the release of Antiquities, many Magic players have completed the tour of Urza’s dwelling, and over the years we’ve seen the "big mana" strategy wielded in all sorts of interesting ways. And still to this day, the essence of Urza runs wild throughout the multiverse. We're going to visit the realms of Legacy, Pauper, and Modern, but first, let’s begin our exploration of Urza Tron with an ultra-janky Old School combo deck from the early days of Magic:

Old School 94/95

 
From the very first moment I heard my buddy Leonard utter the words “Mudslide Combo”, my senses were peaked, and I simply needed to know more about this bizarre sounding deck. First things first; what the heck’s up with Mudslide?
 
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Mudslide is an obscure gem from the set Ice Age. It’s seeded so deeply in that annals of Magic that most people probably never even knew it existed, myself included! Considering that the deck was named after Mudslide, it must have had some significance in the strategy, right? Indeed. Simply put, Mudslide was the key piece needed to create “infinite” mana, and thus enabling the primary way the deck wins. Beyond the Mudslide combo itself, the deck actually packed a good bit of versatility... remember, we're talking 1995 here! We have a couple oddball win-cons to work with, but first, what other cards make the infinite mana combo work?
 
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Take a moment to consider what is possible if we have Mudslide, Urza's Tower (while Tron is fully assembled), and a non-summoning sick Ley Druid or Juniper Order Druid on the battlefield simultaneously. Do you see it? Here's the basic sequence to create infinite (colorless) mana: (while holding priority) Tap Urza's Tower to add three mana to the pool > Pay two mana to activate Mudslide, untapping Ley Druid > Tap Ley Druid to untap Urza's Tower... rinse and repeat! Everytime we perform this combo sequence we end up netting one mana.
 
Now, you may have noticed that Mudslide's text states that it can only be activated during our upkeep... so how do we actually make use of our unlimited mana? We can't cast spells like Fireball or Disintegrate during our upkeep because they are sorceries. Well, here's where the "magic" happens:
 
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Time Elemental. We're going to completely clear our opponents board of permanents with... Time Elemental! I absolutely love it! Thanks to Mudslide, we can untap our Time Elemental ad nauseum and continue to activate it's ability until we've cleared the battelfield of opposing objects. And, as long as our combo pieces stay intact, we can just repeat this process turn after turn, essentially locking our opponent out of the game. Now, since we're able to create infinite colorless mana, you may be wondering how we're able to pay for the double blue mana requirement for Time Elemental's activated ability. Really, it's quite simple; since we now have unlimited mana at our disposal, we can start using Mudslide in concert with Ley Druid to continually untap our color producing lands, Tropical Island and Volcanic Island! Once we've assembled the combo with Time Elemental, we can than proceed to beat down the opponent with our mana dorks. Ultra-jank achieved!
 
So, the Mudslide combo is insane. But there's much more to consider with this deck. With access to the Tron lands, Wild Growth, Mana Flare, Candelabra of Tawnos, and even Sol Ring, we're essentially a "big mana" deck from a core perspective. And we have some classic spells in Fireball and Braingeyser to cash in on the piles of mana we're able to produce in a single turn. The deck is also laced with key interactive spells like Lightning Bolt, Counterspell, and Desert Twister. The sideboard is all about versatility from top to bottom and even features one of my favorite Old School cards:
 
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... get that Serra Angel off my lawn!

Legacy

Over the years, I’ve contemplated the possibilities of using Tron as the basis for a competitive Legacy deck. However, they’ve mostly been passing thoughts that never really amounted to much. But still, I’ve always been curious as to why Tron wasn’t a thing in Legacy considering how prominent it is in other Magic formats. On this front, I found myself all the more intrigued after I decided to write a Deep Tracks article about Urza Tron. I hadn’t any solid brew ideas of my own, so I did some digging. My research didn’t provide too many ideas other than the occssional MUD style deck featuring the Tron lands. However, to my pleasant surprise, I did come across a sweet decklist that deserves some probing:
 
 
Jeff Hoogland is a well established deckbuilder and accomplished tournament player. Needless to say, the guy knows Magic! While the decklist above should be considered a fringe style brew for Legacy, I actually think it appears quite solid; on the surface, it just looks like a legit Legacy concoction. And what I really love about the deck is that Jeff didn't just throw a set a Tron lands into a pre-established MUD deck, but rather went the route of porting a shell similar to what we may find in Modern Tron decklists. For example, let’s take a glance at the creature suite from Jeff’s deck:
 
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Well, if you ever get that itch to play Kozilek, the Great Distortion, this seems like a worthwhile home for the Eldrazi titan! Fighting alongside Kozilek, we have notable Modern Tron staples Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Wurmcoil Engine. Speaking of notable cards associated with Modern Tron, most of the deck actually consists of ported material such as Ancient Stirrings, Expedition Map, Chromatic Sphere, Chromatic Star, and let's not forget about these two big fellas:
 
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As far as putting the Legacy stamp on the deck, I love the idea of Crop Rotation for added consistency and as a sneaky counter measure to opposing Wasteland decks. And in a pinch, I suppose Crop Rotation could be used to protect ourselves from being severely crippled by a Surgical Extraction targeting one of our Tron pieces. In addition to Crop Rotation, you’ll also notice some clever inclusions in the mana base:
 
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I really like Karakas in the deck. It not only provides a solid answer to problematic creatures like Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, but also allows us to reuse Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger’s ETB ability to pick apart our opponent's board. Eye of Ugin makes for a solid tutor which can fetch up any of our creatures. This is a subtle yet valuable ability that can help the deck hang in such an overpowered format like Legacy.
 
If you're interested in reading more about Legacy Tron, I’ve included a link in the Sources and related info section below which will take you to Jeff’s article for a full breakdown of the deck!

Pauper

For those of you that have been following along with my Pauper Spellbook articles, you know I have a soft spot for Urza Tron in the “Commons only” format. It’s actually kind of hard to believe these lands were ever even printed at Common rarity! Peruse this top-tier Pauper decklist built around the Tron lands:
 
 
Dinrova Tron (aka WUBRG) is currently the de facto best control deck in Pauper. As far as having access to and brewing with Urza Tron in Pauper, the bottom line is that it’s possible to start with nothing other than a playset of each Tron land and end up with a fully functional deck crafted to your own specifications! The decklist above is wonderfully complex and presents an entirely unique way to play Tron as an archetype. For a more in depth look at Dinrova Tron, check out my Pauper Spellbook: Ghostly Flicker entry in the links section!
 
As I've said time and again: Pauper is a great format and I highly recommend it to just about anyone who enjoys Magic. But when it comes to Tron, if we really want to embrace the true majesty that Urza has bestowed upon us, we need to head over to Modern!
 
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Modern

When I started formulating ideas for this Deep Tracks, I knew I wanted to present a valuable piece on Urza Tron for Modern. I know the strategy and have endured my fair share of battles against it, but truth be told, I don't have much experience operating the deck. So, I decided to enlist some help from a true master of the archetype; I found myself lucky enough to catch up with Magic tournament grinder and Modern Tron aficionado Anneliese Faustino! To her credit, Anneliese has 2 SCG Modern Open TOP 8s, 2 SCG Modern Classic TOP 8s, and 1 SCG Modern Classic TOP 16. Before we jump into our discussion, take a look at the deck Anneliese piloted to her TOP 8 finish at the recent SCG Modern Open in Baltimore:
 

Interview with Anneliese Faustino

JM: I’d like to start by saying congratulations on your recent SCG Baltimore Modern Open TOP 8 performance. You put on a display of dominance wielding Tron, highlighted by an undefeated 9-0 record on day one!
 
AF: Thank you! It feels great to put up results with my favorite deck. It feels even more special to pull it off in my hometown with all of the locals cheering me on.
 
JM: How did you discover Magic, and when did you first start playing?
 
AF: I started playing in 2010 when my cousins dropped off a few long-boxes of bulk from Unlimited through 9th Edition. I learned to play the game with Prodigal Sorcerers, Mogg Fanatics, and Muscle Slivers. My brothers and I ate up the game, and built all kinds of tribal and theme decks; the classic kitchen table brews with kitchen table. The game that we played certainly wasn’t Magic. It was more of a nightmare permutation of Yu-Gi-Oh! using Magic cards. When I started my undergrad at the University of Maryland, College Park, I joined the Terrapin Gaming Club to try to keep the connection to the game and my brothers alive. Here, I met Phil Gallagher (the DnT guru), who taught me to play the actual game with Return to Ravnica guild theme decks that he had put together with the purpose of teaching new players. The club met every Monday and Thursday from 8 pm until they kicked us out of Stamp, the UMD student union. The schedule devolved into Magic around the clock all around campus for the entirety of my undergrad. It wasn’t necessarily the healthiest relationship with the game, but I certainly improved.
 
JM: You are a well established Tron player, and your dedication to mastering the deck shows. How long have you been playing Modern Tron?
 
AF: I got my first taste of Tron in 2014, when a friend from Terrapin Gaming Club leant me the deck so that I could try out Modern for the first time. I immediately fell in love with it, despite the meta being flooded with difficult matchups (cough, cough, twin). I put down Tron for a year to play Pod, and had my world shattered immediately after I’d picked up my last Siege Rhino. I put Tron back together, and I’ve never looked back.   
 
JM: What is it about the archetype that has kept you loyal?
 
AF: I’m a Timmy at heart. When I choose a deck, I want to play something linear that goes big or goes home. Nonlinear grindy decks feel like a boring slog when I play them, but casting a Karn Liberated is really the best feeling in the world. Tron itself hasn’t always been the best deck. Around the time that Oath of the Gatewatch was released, Burn was a ridiculously high percentage of the Modern format, and I was resigned to playing 4x Wurmcoil, 2x Thragtusk main with 2x more Thragtusk, 2x Feed the Clan, and 1x Pulse of Murasa in my sideboard. I play Tron even when it’s in a difficult position in the meta because its strategy feeds that spark that makes me love Magic. Playing through the difficult metas has helped me more than anything in learning how to win through the bad matchups. 
 
JM: How do you typically prepare for a REL Magic tournament? (Do you play games on MTGO or have a playtesting group, etc?)
 
AF: I rarely play MTGO anymore. Baltimore’s Magic scene is absolutely fantastic for the paper player. I have always preferred playing in paper because of MTGO’s UI issues, but I think there’s a lot of value in playing face to face Magic. Learning to keep a strong poker face is such an important facet of playing Tron. The deck topdecks incredibly well because of its density of cantrips. The scariest Tron players will make you believe that they always have the turn three Karn, even if in reality they’re often drawing into it. A strong composure in paper is especially critical with this deck.
 
JM: Based on the current Modern metagame, what decks do you feel are the best and worst matchups for Tron?
 
AF: The best matchups are fair decks and control decks: Jund, Junk, and Jeskai. The worst matchups are fast combo: KCI, Storm, Ad Nauseam, and Infect. The fast aggro matchups (Affinity, Burn) can be scary, but playing them with a very conservative approach to your life total significantly evens the playing field.
 
JM: What are some of the finer points of playing the deck? For instance, are there any strange interactions that you’ve picked up on over the course of your experience playing Tron that someone new to archetype may overlook?
 
AF:
 
• If you get to the late game against U/W control or Jeskai, the best thing that you can do is to play multiple cards on the same turn or chain Sanctum of Ugin triggers. If you are in danger of dying, just take your draw steps and wait to cast your 14 mana worth of spells at the same time. These decks can handle the one at a time war of attrition, but can struggle with their mana against multiple spells.
 
• Against Burn, carefully time your life gain spells. Using a Nature's Claim on your own egg in response to a fetch so that they do not have enough mana to Skullcrack you can be the difference in the game.
 
• Dig deep with your eggs to maximize the value of your Ancient Stirrings.
 
• When deciding how to activate Karn, think about the match from your opponent’s position. The uptick can make your life total feel vulnerable, but often wins you the game. However, using Karn’s ultimate is nearly always incorrect. Balance your plus and minus activations.
 
• Karn is the face of the deck, but don’t be afraid to side it out in wide strategies where it doesn’t shine.
 
• It can be correct to allow an attack through when you have an active Oblivion Stone in favor of an end of turn activation. This strategy can save the day against post-combat disruptive spells, particularly Blood Moon.
 
• Blood Moon can sometimes be your friend. Affinity is perhaps the most common offender of locking themselves under a Blood Moon against you, turning off their problematic creature-lands. Always evaluate whether the Moon needs to be removed or whether you can win through it.
 
• Ghost Quarter + Surgical Extraction is a frustrating combination of cards. Using Relic of Progenitus to target yourself can protect yourself from this play. 
 
• Chromatic Sphere’s activation is a mana ability. Know when your opponents have priority when activating this card; this has implications in the Lantern Control matchup, allowing you to always be able to draw the top card of your library with no chance for a response.
 
JM: Knowing when to commit to an opening hand is a key aspect of finding success in Modern. How does Tron respond to taking mulligans? Is there a mulligan “cut-off” that you’ve established for the deck?
 
AF: The absurd power level of your cards vs. your opponent’s cards means that you can mulligan to ~5 and feel like you have a full 7. Mulligan aggressively into hands that have the ability to find tron. One land hands should be thrown back unless they have tron land + egg + Ancient Stirrings.
The most frustrating hands are ones that contain Map + one tron land on the draw. This is a trap. Throw it back unless it’s in a difficult matchup where your payoff cards are already in your hand and your only way to win is to get lucky. This hand is always a mulligan on the play.
One land Forest hands with multiple Ancient Stirrings and Sylvan Scrying are not good against your aggressive matchups, but fine against control.
Below 5, it gets a little scary only because actually finding tron becomes more improbable. I will keep a 4 card hand with a single tron piece and an egg. A 4 card hand without a tron piece isn’t passable unless it has two ways to find lands and enough lands to cast them. Below 4, I mulligan until I have any land.
 
JM: Other than the trio of Urza lands, what would you say is the single most important card in Modern Tron and why?
 
AF: The obvious answer is of course, Ancient Stirrings. There really is no replacement for a card that can find your lands as well as your threats. If KCI ends up causing Ancient Stirrings to be banned, Tron will take a massive, possibly unrecoverable hit. The next closest replacement is Oath of Nissa, which is just not deep enough of a filter. For such a seemly innocuous card, Ancient Stirrings gives Tron the consistency it needs to push it over the edge.
The more subtle answer is Walking Ballista. Tron received a huge buff with the recent printing of this card. Walking Ballista’s function as a pre-tron removal spell and a post-tron payoff that is searchable off of Sanctum of Ugin, a win condition, and a mana sink makes it a home run. 
 
JM: For someone who may be playing against Tron, what are some good sideboard options versus the strategy?
 
AF: The scariest sideboard cards are not Blood Moon, Damping Sphere, or Ghost Quarter and friends; very few decks can back these up with enough pressure to make an impact. The absolute best way to beat Tron is to shut off its artifacts or search effects. Stony Silence is Tron’s silver bullet. Playing against Stony Silence decks makes mulligans far more complicated, and improper sequencing of your first two turns can lose you the game. While not as effective as Stony Silence, Chalice of the Void is nearly as crushing. Tron plays 16-19 one drops, which is more than many legacy decks. If you can’t sneak an Expedition Map underneath the Chalice, your game becomes significantly harder as your deck’s most resilient trait, its top-decks, drop in profitability. Other scary cards include Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor. While B/W taxes isn’t a huge share of the Modern metagame, it is one of Tron’s scariest matchups with their combination of hand disruption, search disruption, artifact disruption, and pressure. 
 
JM: What type of Magic player would you recommend Tron to and why?
 
AF: Anyone who is a Timmy at heart should give the deck a try. I would also recommend it to combo players. It feels very similar to an unfair deck in that you’re playing on an alternate axis of the game. I started playing constructed Magic with legacy ANT, and Tron felt like a very natural deck shift.
 
JM: What is your opinion of the current state and health of the Modern format?
 
AF: I think Modern is great right now! Humans is certainly taking up more than its fair share of the meta, but I don’t think that it’s a problem. I love the broad nature of the format and the ability for every strategy, angle of attack, and brew to have a shot at the win. It feels more malleable than legacy, with people experimenting more deeply with their lists. I like the existence of very complex decks like KCI that reward high level gameplay. 
 
JM: Besides Tron, what other decks and / or formats do you enjoy playing?
 
AF: Baltimore has a massive legacy scene, and I play a lot of local legacy. I played ANT for about 4 years, and moved off the deck because of Chalice of the Void. Recently I’ve been playing Eldrazi and Moon Stompy. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
 
JM: What does the future hold for you in terms of your Magic career? Do you have specific goals that you’re aiming to achieve? Are there any Magic events on the horizon that you’ll be attending?
 
AF: I just started my PhD in chemistry at Johns Hopkins University, and it’s put a bit of a damper on my ability to go to tournaments. I have a ton of respect for the players with careers who manage to fly to tournaments every weekend; the grind is hard. I will be playing the Baltimore Opens in September and December, as well as the Invitational at the end of the year. StarCityGames puts on an amazing East Coast tournament series where I feel incredibly comfortable, and I hope to make a face for myself on the tour over the next few years. 
 
JM: Any last words for all the aspiring Tron players out there?
 
AF: Praise be to the Karn Father.
 
I'd like to send a huge thanks to Anneliese for dropping her impressive knowledge of Modern Tron on us! I could tell right away that she knows... the ways of Urza. It's been a blast to watch her progression on the SCG circuit and I'm certain there will be more great things to come from her!

Conclusion

Urza Tron is one of the most polarizing archetypes in competitive Magic. I personally never really gave Tron a chance until I got involved with Pauper. But I must say, I'm glad I finally did! Here's my challenge to anyone who hasn't played a version of Urza Tron themselves: build it. proxy it up. run it. even if it ends up not being your thing, you can at least say you've harnessed the power of Urza's teachings! And who knows, maybe... just maybe, you'll end up loving it as much as I do.
 
Well, that’s a wrap for this installment of Deep Tracks. Let me know what you think! Do you have any wild takes on Urza Tron? How about that crazy Old School Mudslide combo deck? As always, all comments are welcome, thank you so much for reading, and have a great one!
 
If you enjoyed this content, please help support me with a quick follow on Twitter - @WallofOmens
 
-John
 
Sources and related info:
 
 
 

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