Mono-Blue Tron Deserves Fresh Attention In Modern

Out with the Forests, in with the Islands! Ari Lax sees untapped potential in Mono-Blue Tron, and he’s here to share the good, the bad, and the adorably uncertain in two public lists and his own build!

I spent some time testing Mono-Blue Tron in Modern this week because I believe the deck deserves a genuine fresh look in the format now. For context, things I have said about Mono-Blue Tron over the years. Or at least the ones the editor has seen fit to print:

I can see a world where this card is the one that makes me stop bashing Merfolk or Mono-Blue Tron.

I finally saw a Blue Tron list somewhere that looked remotely playable. And by that I mean someone put countermagic in Eldrazi Tron.

2007 Called, They Want Their Deck Back

Why Mono-Blue Tron Now?

The same thing that made me reconsider Eldrazi Tron is the thing that made me reconsider Mono-Blue Tron. Karn, the Great Creator is a really good card and it changes a lot about how these big-mana decks want to handle themselves.

Not only is it a relevant threat that fills in the blanks for a lot of these decks, but for Mono-Blue Tron specifically it means a world where Remand is good again. You get to beat up mirror matches with countermagic and beat up everyone else with Karn, the Great Creator.

It doesn’t hurt that the buzz coming out of the Hogaak metagame is “Urza decks have insane win rates and might also be broken.” For the first week or two, I would just show up with Karn, the Great Creator and teach them a lesson about trying to use artifacts.

List 1: Shoktroopa Classic

It would be almost criminal to not start testing Mono-Blue Tron with a Shoktroopa list. I don’t know how long Shoktroopa has been winning Magic Online events with Mono-Blue Tron, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the answer was “since Extended.”

The Good:

I was really struck by how good Thirst for Knowledge still is in 2019. The card was restricted in Vintage for years because it was really good when mana, counterspells, and artifacts were the important parts of that format, so it’s not outrageous to think the card is good when your Modern deck is mana, counterspells, and artifacts.

All the cantrip interaction was also impressive. Often an issue with Tron decks is you can get interaction-flooded, leaving you with just mana and one-for-ones, and the blue cards really helped solve that while letting you play more interactive Magic than Mono-Green Tron. They all had their specific faults: Repeal is kinda slow, there are reasons Remand isn’t a Modern staple the way it was in the Splinter Twin days, and many Modern decks have ways to boost away from non-Tron Condescends. But, overall, I think you want two to four copies of each of these cards.

As advertised, Karn, the Great Creator is really good. We knew this from every other Tron deck in the format.

The Bad:

Shoktroopa’s list felt a little dated playing against opposing Karn, the Great Creators. Cards like Oblivion Stone and Relic of Progenitus seemed to upend the actual reason to play Mono-Blue Tron. All these artifacts make you really vulnerable to resolved Karns in the Tron pseudo-mirrors, and your blue answers aren’t always good enough to keep that off the battlefield if they Tron too fast. I struggled with similar issues against Collector Ouphe. All of the stray artifacts that rely on activated abilities are probably better off as anything else.

Worth noting for other weird Tron decks: if this was an issue for Mono-Blue Tron, I would hate to think of how bad it is for Charge Tron. I would be extremely cautious showing up with that deck if you think other Tron variants are popular.

Trinket Mage for Expedition Map just isn’t a Modern-playable gameplan, and Trinket Mage for Walking Ballista may as well be a better end-game effect.

Not playing Ensnaring Bridge in your Modern Karn, the Great Creator sideboard is actually malpractice.

So hear me out. We are gonna put this sunburst card in our monocolored deck with fifteen colorless lands…

The Adorably Uncertain:

Snapcaster Mage was a fine effect in this list but requiring multiple blue mana to cast the creature and flashback the spell was fairly restrictive. I can see the single copy being good enough for a final list, but I also feel like too much of its inclusion is based on how Repealing it for value sounds too fun.

The Mindslaver lock with Academy Ruins is definitely a relic of the past now that Karn, the Great Creator exists, but I didn’t really mind drawing the actual card Mindslaver. Most Modern decks these days are good enough to kill themselves, which makes this a fine additional ten-mana play.

I actually activated Oboro, Palace in the Clouds so I could Thirst for Knowledge and discard it. I don’t know if it was really that good, but it sure made me feel good.

Trinket Mage found a fairly limited and poorly costed spread of effects, but Treasure Mage actually did something. Wurmcoil Engine and Mindslaver are distinctly powerful effects that you don’t really want to draw multiples of but would want access to additional copies of to slam when the time calls for it.

List 2: Karn for Days

Next up, a slightly different list from Trellon, who has posted the 5-0 Mono-Blue Tron decklist four times in the last couple of weeks.

The Good:

If two Karn, the Great Creator was good, four Karn, the Great Creator is very good.

Despite my prior rant about avoiding artifacts with activated abilities, Talisman of Dominance is really good. It’s the same thing as Mind Stone in Eldrazi Tron. You aren’t always going to turbo into Tron, but your deck is still mana-hungry when you aren’t doing that. Your deck is also interested in curving out Tron lands, but also wants blue mana after hitting Tron. Just filtering colorless mana to blue on a permanent basis is great.

Why Dominance over a different Talisman? There’s a slight rebate on Dismember and an outside shot of casting Leyline of the Void. It’s really marginal.

The Bad:

Expedition Map is good because it curves Turn 1 Map, Turn 2 activate, Turn 3 Tron. Or it slots in for one mana elsewhere on the curve, lets you leave up mana for instants, and then activates as needed. Tolaria West is just the opposite of all that smooth action, and it costs double blue. I cannot state this enough times – you’re playing fifteen colorless lands. Where do you think all this blue mana is coming from? The single Tolaria West in Shoktroopa’s list was inoffensive. The three Tolaria West in this deck was a mess.

Karn, Scion of Urza is not a Modern-power-level card.

Listen, so we are going to tap four mana and put a bad card into our hand. But then we get to untap and draw a reasonable card. That’s four mana and we drew two cards. Or we can make a single Construct token and….

They printed Urza, Lord High Artificer. If you want to do anything Karn, Scion of Urza could, either play that card or play a format where Ancient Tomb is legal.

Chalice of the Void was one of the reasons I was initially excited by Mono-Blue Tron (well, and every other Tron deck), but it isn’t that good in this deck.

Chalice of the Void is good in Eldrazi Tron because of the follow-up pressure. You have an actual plan of “Chalice you, Reality Smasher.” Most Modern decks feel like they have some way out of a Chalice of the Void if given time, and Mono-Blue Tron just sorta durdles around after casting it. It also hurts that many of the important one-mana spells that are cut off by a Chalice of the Void are Path to Exile and other removal that Mono-Blue Tron cuts off by presenting its deck.

I also felt like Chalice of the Void for one was a problem for my Expedition Maps, which differed from my experience with other Tron decks. Where other Tron decks tend to mulligan to a functional hand and then draw cards naturally, Mono-Blue Tron tends to keep more average hands and fit all the pieces together with Thirst for Knowledge. You want to be finding Expedition Map on Turn 5 to Tron up and cast your kill conditions, and Chalice of the Void makes threading that needle awkward.

While I think the first Ensnaring Bridge is a moral obligation, the second and third copies this list plays don’t really seem like it. Mono-Blue Tron has the traditional Tron-Ensnaring Bridge issue where you have hands full of eight-drops that keep you from going full empty, but also has a sub-issue where even your cheap cards are cantrips. You can’t Thirst for Knowledge to actually reduce your hand size. After the second time I cast Condescend just to get cards out of the way, I started to wonder where things went wrong.

The Adorably Uncertain:

I feel that by even mentioning Nimble Obstructionist in an article, I’m ruining it for everyone. Once people realize there’s a Stifle in Modern, they will think about when they activate fetchlands and what not.

But the card is stupidly sweet when it works. My current favorite Nimble Obstructionist moment is hitting the “cast this spell” suspend trigger on Search for Tomorrow despite my opponent controlling Teferi, Time Raveler. It also covers Fulminator Mage (a huge issue), Field of Ruin (a smaller issue), and is just a 3/1 flier to fight over planeswalkers with.

Is it actually good? I’m uncertain. But it certainly looked not bad, which is a start.

The second Cyclonic Rift was overkill per the point about non-cantrip interaction I made earlier, but the first copy was pretty awesome in a weird sweeper way. It isn’t an activated artifact, it does something when you don’t quite have seven mana, and that’s about all I need to be convinced to play one copy.

List 3: Putting It Together

This is the list I would present if I was playing Mono-Blue Tron today. It seems only fair to judge it in the same way as the other ones.

The Good:

One of the consistent issues I had was the tension between wanting to set up Tron in the early turns and leave up interaction. Good thing there’s a free counterspell in Modern now that is everything we wanted along with being one of the most powerful cards in the format.

Only seventeen blue cards is a bit low on the traditional “Force count,” but Force of Negation is reasonably castable. It’s just slightly less reasonably so in Mono-Blue Tron. I wish I could play three total copies, but I think that’s just stretching sources and colored card counts too thin.

I’m writing this before Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is formally banned. If Hogaak isn’t banned, stop reading immediately and play that card until they do ban it.

If Hogaak is banned, you still need Leyline of the Void in this deck. Dredge is still very powerful, and Mono-Blue Tron is vulnerable to Creeping Chill. You could stack up a bunch of Relic of Progenitus and Tormod’s Crypt, but I would rather start by sending the message that I’m not messing around.

If Faithless Looting is also banned, congrats on your free sideboard slots.

There are often spots where you can stick a Karn, the Great Creator off Tron mana, but you don’t have ten mana and need to stop some specific kill setup. Trinisphere is basically everything Ensnaring Bridge is in those spots but for noncreature decks. It’s not quite a requirement in Karn sideboards, but it gets closer to being one every time I play a list without it.

I missed having a little real removal in the deck from Shoktroopa’s list, so one Dismember seemed like exactly what I wanted. I wouldn’t want two or to Snapcaster Mage it back, as this deck’s life total is fairly fragile, but just one does the job fine.

You need some Pithing Needle effect to find with Karn, the Great Creator. In this case with less Chalice of the Void, you can go with the original one-mana option. Phyrexian Revoker is interesting, but Devoted Druid and Freed from the Real both get hit by normal Pithing Needle anyway.

The Bad

The second copy of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon has my eye. I want some amount of powerful late-game sweepers, and I’ve made my point about needing to avoid opposing Karn, the Great Creators, but Ugin basically requires Tron and isn’t an artifact for Thirst for Knowledge. One Oblivion Stone or really just anything else might be in order.

The sideboard Chalice of the Void is just kinda there right now as more of an actual sideboard card than a Karn, the Great Creator target since Trinisphere is much more powerful against combo. I can see Spellskite, another piece of graveyard hate, really a lot of cards if you have something you actively want to slide on in.

The Adorably Uncertain:

I’ve actually had Gemstone Caverns come up a lot when playing this deck. It feels great to have Turn 1 Talisman of Dominance or Condescend up, but it also feels kinda iffy to mulligan into it when this Tron deck plays a longer game and usually wants more cards. I’m usually more excited about Caverns when I have more Chalice of the Void. It’s super-low-cost, though, so I’m going to keep playing with Gemstone Caverns until something happens that makes me actively not want to.

A lot has changed for this archetype to make me honestly consider it and put work in. That means that everything about the old lists should be reexamined.

After a ton of matches where I just never used Academy Ruins, I’m starting to wonder if this is a relic of a different time. Every list has it and I still have Mindslaver in my deck so there’s some utility, but this isn’t the same Modern format where Academy Ruins was really amazing. All the control decks have Field of Ruin. All the other decks kill you really quickly and aren’t trying to grind away resources. You are actively moving away from activated abilities and things that would sacrifice to set up recursion loops.

I’m not going to claim enough expertise to just chop such a historically important card, but it has my eye as a dubious inclusion moving forward.

Echoing back to one of my first old quotes, Mono-Blue Tron seems like a prime candidate for Thought-Knot Seer somewhere in the 75, likely as an alternate threat.

The Takeaway

Mono-Blue Tron wasn’t flawless by any means, but it felt like a deck legitimately riding the line of power and interaction, which is rare for Modern. With each iteration, I felt like I was getting things closer to right, and I kept going over the top of other decks trying to exist in the same space.

Next time I write about Mono-Blue Tron, you can hold me to this quote:

In Modern right now, Mono-Blue Tron is both pretty good and really enjoyable to play.