Coming Close at U.S. Nationals – U/R Tron Examined

Ben, the recent second-place finisher in the 2006 U.S. Nationals, takes us through the design of his successful U/R Tron deck. With strong matchups across the board, these Blue/Red mana-mad decks are proving to be a powerful force in the metagame. Ben, in his first article, shares the card choices and sideboard strategies that almost propelled him to the top!

My name is Ben Lundquist. Some of you may know me as Ben, Lenny B., Leo, The Lion, or the King of the Jungle. Allow me to introduce myself properly…

I am 19 years old from upstate NY, and I have been playing Magic since around the release of Torment. My First Pro Tour was PT: Honolulu, making this my rookie year, and I am on my way to try and claim the title of Rookie of the Year. I would also like to mention that, despite what Osyp says about players from upstate NY, I am not going to be good at Magic for only three months out of the year; I am almost on five!

This is my first article.

I would also like to mention here that I am not the innovator. It was not my call to put Wildfire in Tron… I am just the most successful player with the deck so far. All the credit should go to Ray Tautic and Tim Aten (who has also done very well with the deck every time he has played it). Thanks guys!

I have not been a big fan of the deck names given to Tron with Wildfire since its debut at PT: Honolulu. The deck has been named such things as “Izzetron,” “Sizzetron,” “Wildfire,” “Tronfire,” and “Wildtron,” but none of these names quite fit this deck’s sleeves. I am going to settle on calling this deck U/R Tron – and the other version U/R/g Tron – because this categorizes them well without resorting to dumb names… but you can go ahead and call it whatever you want.

Since Regionals and earlier, people have asked whether or not I think Simic Sky Swallower should be added to my decklist from Grand Prix: Madison, simply replacing Dimir Signet with Simic Signet and playing a couple of Breeding Pools over basic Islands. I toyed with the idea for a while, before giving my deck to a friend to play at the CT Regionals. I finally decided not to change the list, because I was confident in straight U/R Tron. My friend finished 6-0-2 with the deck, winning a slot to Nationals.

After having great success with U/R Tron at PT: Honolulu and GP: Madison, and with my friend going undefeated at Regionals, I decided early on that I would probably be playing Tron at U.S. Nationals. Still, I wanted to keep my options open.

Here’s the decklist I settled on at U.S. Nationals, which I played to a second place finish.

I am very happy with the deck’s performance. Even after starting off the tournament 1-2 in the Constructed portion, I knew I would have a great finish because the deck is very powerful. I was pretty unlucky in the games that I lost.

I will now give you a rundown of my card choices, even the obvious ones, just so we are all on the same page.

The Maindeck

Six was the perfect number from the beginning. The best draws with this deck come from early Signets, and six simply “feels” like the correct number. I chose to play two Simic Signets in place of my old Dimir Signets, because I wanted the opportunity to trick people into thinking I had Simic Sky Swallower. It worked on more than one occasion during the tournament.

This is always the first card I want to cut every time I try to update my decklist, but I feel it’s a necessary evil. They are the only permanent answer the deck has to a resolved Umezawa’s Jitte, they are great against opposing dragons and angels, and after sideboarding you can even take Simic Sky Swallower (with Copy Enchantment) in the mirror match.

Remand and Mana Leak
You want these in every opening hand. The more you have of each, the better your opening hand is in general (obviously). Surviving to the late game is exactly what this deck wants, and these are the cards that get the job done.

Spell Snare
Gerry Thompson recommended playing four of these maindeck when we chatted about Nationals online, and also at GP: St Louis the week before the tournament. I tried them for a while and didn’t like them, but I also didn’t like Pyroclasm in a metagame where Tron, Heartbeat, and Solar Flare were going to be popular. In the end, I scrapped the Pyroclasms and went with the Snares.

Another card that buys you turns and digs into your deck, looking for missing Urza lands and powerful spells. I wouldn’t leave home without them.

Compulsive Research
Obvious comment alert: Everyone likes to draw extra cards. These are even more important in Tron than in any other deck, because they help you dig for the missing Urza lands. They pull you back in the game after devastating Persecutes. Someone, before Nationals, tried to justify cutting some of these in favor of Telling Time. Personally, I would cut my wrists before cutting Compulsive Researches.

Similar to Compulsive Research, but a little less spectacular against fast decks and decks with Remand. I feel two is the right number, but I absolutely loved playing three at PT: Honolulu.

This card is your reset button. If you are getting kicked by little men, then just push them out of the way and keep them from playing any more threats – for a few turns, at least. Pull yourself back in the game with the powerful card drawing spells like Compulsive Research, Remand, and Repeal. In Control matchups, if you think their hand is better than yours in the early game, cast a Wildfire and keep them from doing anything relevant. Wildfire also makes your Mana Leaks more powerful later in the game.

The X damage spells have always been my favorite part of the Tron deck. It seems pointless to build a deck that can create so much mana to only use it on spells that have specific mana costs. I like to maximize my mana, and this card fits that role very well. Demonfiring the opponent out of the game almost feels like cheating… but, I assure you, it’s not.

Keiga, the Tide Star
The dragon legends are very powerful – everyone has known this for a long time. They are very easy to cast, and when you play them against most decks you probably are only turns from winning the game. Keiga untaps with Minamo, School at Water’s Edge… and it takes control of your opponent’s best creature if it dies. It is also very good at fighting a resolved Jitte. Of course, this is second nature by now.

The Sideboard

Meloku the Clouded Mirror
This was the last card I added to my decklist, and I was very happy with it throughout the tournament. I was afraid of Shining Shoal, and this is the perfect answer to that card. I also found myself bringing in Meloku against decks with Condemn (and those with Cranial Extraction).

Volcanic Hammer
Ken Krouner told me that he really liked this card in the deck, and that I should try it out over the Spell Snares. I felt it didn’t do enough maindeck, just like Pyroclasm… but it does more in the Sea Stompy matchup than Pyroclasm, and almost as much in the B/W matchups. It is also a little better at beating the opponent’s Shining Shoals, and it can obviously go to the face when racing the aggro decks with a Keiga, The Tide Star. I went with these over Pyroclasm for all those reasons.

This is probably the best card you can have in the mirror match. It’s also very good against other control decks.

Copy Enchantment
This card is Annex numbers five and six, but it can also take creatures when tag-teamed with Confiscate. It also copies enchantments like Debtors’ Knell, enchantments that would otherwise be a bigger problem. However, I usually only like the card against the mirror match, where I know my opponent is also bringing in Annex. This gives me the upper hand in the mana war.

I would have liked to fit three of these in the sideboard, but I also wanted to fit Copy Enchantment. Hinder is the best card to fight control decks such as Solar Flare and Tron in the late game.

Pithing Needle
This card does just about everything you could want, but it also feels like I’m taking a mulligan whenever I draw one. It helped me a lot against Alex Kudlick (by naming Okiba-Gang Shinobi and Umezawa’s Jitte). It is also very good against Heartbeat and other decks with Sensei’s Divining Top, but I’m sure that’s no new news to you.

I am still very happy with my decklist and I feel that both the way I built it and the way I played it helped me to get to second place at Nationals. However, there are cards that other people like to include in “their” Tron decks, so let me give a brief summary on each such choice.

Telling Time
I have heard good things about this card, such as it being instant speed and helping you get Tron faster. I know what the card does, and I don’t think the deck has any room for this. All the other cards in the deck are more powerful, or they perform the same function in a stronger way. Once again, it’s no Compulsive Research.

Simic Sky Swallower
This card is very powerful, and it can win the game on its own. However, it does not untap with Minamo, does not deal with two monsters on the other side of the board like Keiga, and is a lot harder to cast. Getting this spell Remanded late game is also like getting Time Walked – because the deck produces a minimal amount of Green mana, chances are you won’t be able to cast it twice in the same turn (if at all). Ghost Quarter wrecks the URg version of the deck a lot more than the U/R version.

A few nights before the tournament, I think I convinced Tim Aten to play Tron at Nats. He didn’t seem to happy playing BW. We discussed a lot of different cards, and this was one of them. We decided to play one Blaze and one Demonfire, because Demonfire’s abilities don’t actually come up often enough to make a difference. However, being able to play around Cranial Extraction without diluting the power of the deck (like Invoke the Firemind does) seemed like a good idea. I ended up deciding neither scenario was very important at all, and stuck with two of the more powerful Demonfire. Tim played one and one. I would also like to add here that both arrangements worked out for us in the Top 8. Tim’s first round opponent had Cranial Extraction, while mine had Promise of Bunrei. Maise.

The deck is fine both with and without them. However, I wanted to have a maindeck that was good against everything, thus Spell Snare seemed like a better choice.

This card has always looked really good to me, and I always wanted to play it in my deck. I feel that it is the worst option between Pyroclasm, Volcanic Hammer, and Spell Snare, as it just doesn’t do enough where you want it.

Giant Solifuge
This card is very powerful when the opponent is not expecting it. The only problems I have with it are that Court Hussar blocks it every time, and that Hinder seems better against these decks. It’s very good in the mirror match, but not so much versus the other control decks. A card that can get it for four or eight damage is not really what I am looking for. Any damage a card deals that isn’t twenty only lets you Demonfire them out for less mana, and that is not something the deck needs.

My thoughts on Tron are that it does not have any bad matchups, and some of its draws are so powerful that it doesn’t even feel like you and your opponent are playing the same game. I will now give you some sideboarding advice, and the thoughts I have on each matchup.

This matchup has got a lot better with the inclusion of Spell Snare maindeck. If they try to combo you out, just sit back until you can Remand a Maga, Traitor to Mortals. As they Muddle the Mixture, just Spell Snare them back.

-2 Tidings, -2 Confiscate, -1 Wildfire, -3 Repeal
+2 Pithing Needle, +4 Annex, +2 Hinder

I knew this matchup very well, ever since PT: Honolulu. I knew I was in for trouble game 1. After Taka asked me to play him roughly about seven thousand times, I gave in. After repeatedly losing game 1, I suggested we play some sideboarded games… and I don’t think I lost another game from that point. When arguing about the matchup with SWK weeks before, he said all that Heartbeat has to do is Gigadrowse you and then go off. I feel this is hard to do when I’m countering their mana development, Annexing their lands, and Wildfiring what’s left. Game 1 is in their favor, but after sideboard you are definitely the one in control. I like to take out the Simic Signet even though it seems powerful to Annex them asap. I don’t like playing into Remand, and it will seem like you are getting flooded during the game because of all the Annexes and Copy Enchantments. It seems better to cut a Signet because I want more business spells.

Solar Flare
This matchup is a dream in game 1, and gets harder after sideboarding. In a best two-out-of-three format I would say this is a good matchup, but when it goes to best of five, things start to get a little unfavorable. I have been told to leave in Wildfires against this deck, but with all the Signets they play, you don’t actually get enough out of the 4RR sorcery to warrant its game 2 inclusion.

-3 Wildfire, -1 Keiga, the Tide Star, -3 Repeal
+4 Annex, +1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror, +2 Hinder

I played against this deck quite a few times throughout Nationals, and in 8-man queues online. Going into the tournament I felt it was a very good matchup for me, but after losing two matches to it I think it’s a little worse than I originally suspected. One of my losses came in round 2. I mulliganed to six on the draw, with a double Signet and one-land hand. I discarded twice before getting the second land. The other loss was in the finals. I still have never lost a game 1 to this deck, but after sideboard it is truly in their favor. As a side note, I would like to talk about the finals with Paul Cheon. Yes, it was disheartening to lose the match after being up 2-0, and yes I wish I had won, but I am very happy with the way things turned out. I am very happy to be joined with two good friends, as I feel we will cooperate very well, and the team is very solid. Besides that, it looks like I may have thrown game 4 when reading the coverage, as I have been told many times. Playing Keiga and getting my hand dumped seems like I may have gotten a little greedy or aggressive, but it was the only play. I only had one Blue source, and if I sat back I would lose both my Keiga and the other six, as Remand plus Persecute would get me at the point too. I decided to play out the Keiga and hope he had to use some card draw in order to find the Persecute. Much to my dismay, he already had it. In hindsight, the misplay I may have made that game was discarding an Island to my turn 3 Compulsive Research, instead of two Blue cards. This would allow me to come back from a Persecute faster as I would have more mana available, and it was also possible for me to sit on my countermagic this way, with another Blue source. What happened is what happened though, and there is nothing I can do about it now.

The assortment of BW aggro decks
These can vary from very good matchups to very bad, depending on how they have set up their deck. There are so many good cards in the BW cardpool that no two decks are ever the same.

The night before the top 8 playoffs, I was testing my matchup against Ghost Husk, and I have to say that I was shaken up. Game 1 was essentially a walk in the park, as cards like Orzhov Pontiff, Plagued Rusalka, and even Promise of the Bunz, were just terrible. I don’t remember losing a single game 1 to that deck, and I was very confident in my chances at advancing to the semis. That was until we started trying out the sideboard options. Basically, the matchup could go either way… me playing a fast Keiga, protecting it and winning the race, or him getting an a fast Okiba-Gang Shinobi, and me not having a great answer to it before discarding a couple of cards. I went to bed that night thinking I had my work cut out for me for the following day. That night I was behind the idea that I needed to keep in Tidings to handle the opposing Okiba-Gang Shinobis, even though I knew that Tidings was bad against the aggro decks in general. Joe Crosby and John Pelcak, along with the rest of the house that helped out (sorry if I didn’t mention your name and you helped out that night too, I was asleep and these are the only two that really told me anything about my matchup the following morning) told me that as much sense as it made to keep in Tidings to fight Okiba-Gang Shinobi, it wasn’t good enough in the matchup stil,l and they gave me my new sideboard advice. Here is what they came up with…

-1 Remand (on the draw) -1 Spell snare (on the play), -2 Confiscate, -2 Tidings, -1 Keiga, -1 Wildfire
+2 Pithing Needle, +2 Meloku the Clouded Mirror, +3 Volcanic Hammer

When watching the games live, and as I was part of them, they seemed very close, and I was always in danger of losing. I feel that Ghost Husk has too many awful cards in this matchup, and that even if they draw very well, the power level just isn’t there. But then again, I think Tron beats everything.

Sea Stompy, Zoo, Gruul
Sea Stompy is the hardest matchup of the three, but with Melokus and Hammers in the board, it isn’t actually that bad at all.

-1 Keiga, the Tide Star, -2 Confiscate, -2 Tidings
+2 Meloku the Clouded Mirror, +3 Volcanic Hammer

I didn’t play against any of these during the tournament, but I played it a few times the night before in online 8-mans. Almost all of my wins came on the back of Meloku the Clouded Mirror, as they did not expect it after sideboard.

This matchup is probably 50/50 because, well… it’s the mirror match. Most people will probably be playing Copy Enchantments now, and/or Giant Solifuge, because they don’t think you will be expecting it. Don’t run into an early Remand or Mana Leak so you can get wrecked by an opposing Annex or Solifuge, and you can probably bait them into making that bad move first.

-3 Repeal, -3 Wildfire, -1 Simic Signet, -1 Spell Snare
+4 Annex, +2 Copy Enchantment, +2 Hinder

Once again, I did not play against any of these during the tournament, so my Copy Enchantments stayed in the sideboard. I don’t know if it is safe to cut them from the deck, as there may be a resurgence of Tron decks. But you can take the gamble and hope you don’t run into the mirror match if you want, and try out something like +1 Hinder, +1 Blaze to make the Solar Flare matchup a lot better after board.

That’s the advice I have to offer on the most fun and most powerful deck in Standard! Take it as you will, and good luck in your own tournaments, whether they be your local store’s FNM, a Magic Online 8-man queue, or an Online Premiere event. Thanks for taking the time to read my article, and please respond in the forums if you have any further questions… I will be checking back.

Ben Lundquist

PS: I’m not the kind of guy to say, “I told you so,” but…