Last week, I talked a bit about the burn deck for a player new to the Extended format, laying out the basics of what I thought players needed to know about the strategy. This week, I will round out my thoughts on the Extended burn strategy before moving onto a new Extended topic.
You can read last weeks’ article here. It lays the groundwork. Go catch up.
Now that we’ve done our homework, let’s see where it takes us. For an Extended Red deck, here’s is what I would start for testing:
Red Deck Wins
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Magma Jet
4 Flames of the Blood Hand
2 Shard Volley
2 Sufuric Vortex
4 Great Furnace
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
2 Darksteel Citadel
Why is this good, and what makes it so strong in the upcoming season? In short, why should you play this deck?
The burn deck is one of the cheapest decks to build money-wise. The version I have above only has six rares in the main deck, sixteen uncommon, and twenty four commons along with ten basic Mountains. Compare that to Zoo, Doran, or Swans, all of which are decks that have a manabase that’s more expensive than the entire burn deck. This makes it an easy deck to put together, and “easy” means there’s more time to practice with a full deck.
#2: Rotation Woes
The burn deck is relatively unscathed by the rotation of Invasion and Odyssey blocks from Extended. Some decks ran things like Firebolt or Flaring Pain either main deck or sideboard, which amounts to very little in the grand scheme of things. The only relatively big loss is Barbarian Ring, which, in addition to being a colorless way to off a Forge-tender, Glowrider, or True Believer (or some such nonsense), allowed the burn deck an uncounterable source of damage should the deck need one. However, with many of the other decks in the format taking much bigger hits to the chin from the rotation, the burn deck remains relatively intact.
#3: Top Got The Axe
The banning of Sensei’s Divining Top happened for a variety of reasons. At least a one-of Top was nearly ubiquitous in every deck, rounds were taking too long, Patrick Chapin was winning too many sanctioned matches, etc. Thus Top was banned. This lead to a few things, but for the sake of this article I will just say this: Counterbalance is no longer a threat in the format, and thus the burn deck got better. And by that I mean it got a lot better. You see, the Counterbalance-Top engine is a machine designed to counter one-, two-, and three-cost spells. As you can see, the burn deck has only one-, two-, and three-cost spells. Suffice it to say that the Next Level matchup was pretty frustrating for the burn player. Now with Top gone, the burn player doesn’t have to worry about getting each and every spell it plays countered. Rather, it only has to worry about getting 12-16 spells countered over the course of the game (and many of them could be just Remanded). Basically, everyone who played Next Level has to move into Previous Level or jump ship to something else. Previous Level is a good matchup for burn because you play at instant speed and make Previous Level play at sorcery speed, not to mention the fact that they play Shock/Fetchlands, play irrelevant cards (to us) maindeck like Vedalken Shackles and Repeal… I could go on, but I’ll let you figure it out for yourself. To summarize: with the loss of one of its worst matchups, the burn deck gains a lot of popularity in the eyes of players.
#4: Burn, Baby, Burn
Let’s face it: some people don’t want to think too hard. They don’t want to try to figure out what the optimal play is every ten seconds. They don’t want to have to second-guess themselves as to what is the right call in a given situation is. They just want to do some damage. What I’m trying to say is that this is the deck that The Hulk would likely play, and who doesn’t want to be The Hulk?
If you are feeling more adventurous with your burn deck, then I have a deck list that is pretty cute you might like to see…
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Dark Confidant
2 Chrome Mox
4 Magma Jet
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Flames of the Blood Hand
2 Shard Volley
4 Lava Spike
4 Spark Elemental
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Great Furnace
4 Blood Crypt
2 Bloodstained Mire
This strange brew allows you to run exciting sideboard options like Smother for troublesome Dorans, Extirpate for graveyard shenanigans, or discard spells like Thoughtseize for combo and control decks. True, this change makes you vulnerable to creature kill… but man, a little Bob makes everything better, don’t you think?
For the rest of this week’s article, I have another tried and true strategy to discuss with you, one that is near and dear to many of my friends in the Magic community if for no other reason than you get to play with Blue card draw and permission alongside gigantic (and mostly unfair) colorless spells.
This is a classic. Allow me to elaborate on this simple decklist and explain what you are trying to do when you come into battle with a U/G Tron deck.
This is a combo deck disguised as a control deck. Basically, the plan is to disrupt and contain the opponent’s plan with counterspells and Moment’s Peace until you can cast Gifts Ungiven in the clear. At that point, you do one of two things: either you assemble your Tron (in which case you likely get the missing Tron piece du jour, Life from the Loam, Tolaria West, and more often than not Moment’s Peace) or you assemble the combo pieces (which are Academy Ruins, Mindslaver, and whichever pieces are missing from the above Gifts).
With an Academy Ruins in play, Mindslaver in hand, and 12 mana (one of which is Blue) you can begin the combo with Mindslaver. With ten colorless mana (readily available with a few Tron pieces) you cast Minslaver and activate it, taking control of your opponent’s next turn. For those of you who haven’t played with Mindslaver before, this can be an awkward experience, but with enough practice and guidance from knowledgeable friends, you can do it. Once you have passed the turn back to yourself (another awkward experience the first time you do it), you pay 1U and place the recently sacrificed Mindslaver back on top of your library with Academy Ruins. Play the Mindslaver again, sacrifice it, rinse and repeat. Basically, you will deck your opponent because you keep replacing the top card of your library with Mindslaver.
If, for some reason, the combo is unwieldy and hard to get online in a certain game, then don’t worry your little head. You have some other unfair colorless spells, like Sundering Titan, Triskelion, or Platinum Angel.
The main reason to play the U/G Tron deck is access to powerhouses Life from the Loam and Moment’s Peace, both cards that can be played (in a sense) from the graveyard, so putting them in the grave with a Gifts isn’t a disaster.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that another version of Tron popped up towards the end of last Extended season.
- 3 Wrath of God
- 2 Decree of Justice
- 4 Thirst for Knowledge
- 2 Mindslaver
- 4 Condescend
- 3 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Tormod's Crypt
- 2 Chrome Mox
- 1 Engineered Explosives
- 4 Remand
- 4 Azorius Signet
- 3 Oblivion Ring
Remember when I said that U/G Tron was a combo deck disguised as a control deck? Well, U/W Tron is a control deck disguised as a combo deck disguised as a control deck. If that was too convoluted for you, let me explain; without the graveyard-riffic Life from the Loam and Moment’s Peace, this version of Tron instead tried to stabilize the board and beat opponents on simple card advantage, mainly with Fact or Fiction to power through the owner’s library for the spells rather than pick them out specifically with Gifts Ungiven.
This version of Tron, lovingly called â€˜Next Level Tron’ on Adam’s decklist at GP: Philly, hearkens back to the old U/W Tron decks from days of yore, when… I dunno, um… Assembly Workers roamed the land or something. This deck chose not to run the Gifts Ungiven package, and instead ran an obscene amount of card draw, allowing the pilot to look at a similar amount of cards to a player with Sensei’s Divining Top and shuffle effects… but instead of just looking at them, the Tron pilot got to actually draw the cards. Typically, after the pilot had drawn about a hundred thousand cards they assembled the combo or played some other obscenely large, nigh unanswerable spell like Sundering Titan, Triskelion, or Platinum Angel… perhaps you have heard this somewhere before.
So now that we have a few examples of Tron from yesteryear, let’s take a look at the pieces that make this thing comes together.
Whereas I put the burn deck in terms of mana curve, I will be talking about Tron in slightly different terms. Tron doesn’t operate on a â€˜curve’ in the traditional sense of the word, so instead I will just highlight each piece of the Tron puzzle individually or in a small group.
Urza’s Tower, Urza’s Power Plant, Urza’s Mine
Obviously, you can’t really run Tron without the Tron-lands. In the past, big mana Extended decks have tried to run the Cloudpost–Vesuva combo or Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Cabal Coffers to varying degrees of success, but none have stood the test of time quite like the Tron lands. The fact that you can run twelve Tron lands (as opposed to the four-and-four combination for Cloudpost and Vesuva or Urborg-Coffers), making more than half of your lands part of the plan as opposed to just about a third or so. Just something I noticed.
Hallowed Fountain/Breeding Pool
It’s been pretty established that the Shock Lands are the way to go here, able to get you the color of mana you need off of just one source. It seems basic, but the ability to tap your lands in more different configurations than if, say, you just had an equivalent amount of basics is very useful.
A little basic land never hurt nobody. In the Blue-White version, typically I see a pair of Islands and a single Plains, whereas in the Blue-Green versions I just see two or three Islands with no Forests. More often than not, of the two Islands one will be Snow-Covered and one won’t, on the off-chance that you need to cast Gifts Ungiven for some basic lands.
A single Fetch Land is nearly universal in the Tron decks I have looked at. The most likely reason for this is the fact that some smart person somewhere in the Magic community figured out that you actually want to be running five duals and an additional Island, but you don’t have room for both. The Strand fits the bill perfectly for this issue. Unfortunately there is no Blue-Green fetch, so a singleton Forest is not suggested.
Rather than use a Fetch to fill the last spot or two of the necessary colored mana, some opt for painlands instead. I haven’t ever tried this, but from how good painlands can be for Standard I don’t see any reason why a painland or two wouldn’t be fine.
Ah, now we’re talking. These days, lands can’t just tap for mana. In Extended, you have Blinkmoth Nexus; Shizo, Death’s Storehouse; Miren, the Moaning Well; and Treetop Village, just to name a few. In this deck, the most important piece to the puzzle that is Tron is definitely Academy Ruins. It allows the Tron pilot to get back its giant spells from the grave, and specifically allows the possibility of the combo with recursive Mindslaver every turn. Typically a one-of, but sometimes a two-of
The two to three Tolaria Wests in most Tron lists serve double duty. First, they are uncounterable tutors able to fetch a missing Tron piece, Academy Ruins, or whatever else you happen to need that has a converted casting cost of zero. Second, it allows the Tron pilot to put their opponent in some very awkward situations with Gifts Ungiven and Fact or Fiction piles, since it is essentially a proxy for many cards in the Tron deck for the low low uncounterable cost of 1UU. Did I mention you can’t counter it?
This is an interesting choice I have seen in a few decks, mostly for the Tron mirror, but it can also be better than decent against Zoo and decks running Treetop Village. In combination with Life from the Loam (or Crucible of Worlds), it can be devastating.
A full set of Signets is clearly what you want in a deck like this one, with all the colorless mana you have lying around. In all actuality, you probably want six signets, so running another mana producer to compliment the signets like Prismatic Lens or Coalition Relic is a likely scenario.
With so much card draw and library manipulation, it’s pretty easy to recover from the tempo lost by imprinting a spell on a Chrome Mox. The speed gained from it, either by setting up first-turn Remand or Signet mana or accelerating into an early threat in more dire situations, is one of the best parts of having a Chrome Mox handy.
Sure, an early Signet or Chrome Mox is good, but what about late game? What are you going to do with all those extra pieces of scrap metal? Usually, tossing them to a Thirst is what ends up happening. Both styles of Tron utilize Thirst and the inherent synergy with the Tron deck. Always a four-of in any Tron build I’ve ever seen.
The counterspells of choice for most Tron decks because they have an added bonus; they let even your countermagic sift through your library. The fact that they are both two-mana counterspells (at least most of the time, particularly early in the game) with only a single Blue mana requirement makes them ideal for Tron’s mana-hungry needs. In addition, one of these spells is on the front line against Tron’s biggest worry: Gaddock Teeg.
There is no more turmoil in the Tron community than over the over/underuse of Repeal. Some swear by it, others hate it. One thing’s for sure: it is a… spell. Yep, that’s for sure. And a cantrip at that. It’s worth considering even if you’ve dismissed it before.
The main win condition for Tron decks has varied over the years, but perhaps the most devastating is the current incarnation, Mindslaver, a card which I believe to be the least fun in all of Magic. In combination with Academy Ruins (as described above) it can lock an opponent entirely out of the game, but even without the combo in place a single activation can have a dramatic impact.
Another spell that can simply win the game by itself, Sundering Titan can come down as early as turn 3 (if you are so lucky as to get the â€˜natural Tron’ and a Signet or a Mox) but is more likely to hit play around the midgame. Decks that run Shock Lands have very few hopes left if a sundering Titan hits play. Even killing it doesn’t solve the problem either, as it will have the same drastic effect when it leaves play as well.
You could probably get away with Sundering Titan’s textbox to simply read, “When this creature comes into play, you win the game.” Platinum Angel doesn’t beat around the bush. Against many decks, a resolved Plat spells doom not only because of the text box, but because many decks can’t efficiently handle a 4/4 flier.
Both sundering Titan and Platinum Angel get around Gaddock Teeg because they are creatures but Triskelion actually deals with the wise old Kithkin permanently. This is part of the reason why the Trike is so popular as a secondary or tertiary win condition in Tron. The fact that it is recursive direct damage is an upside too.
Another big colorless animal that can take out Mr. Teeg in a pinch. Less popular because of the unfortunate regular discard that comes with it but it is a particularly good performer against aggressive decks in the blue-green lists where a Sunlance every turn is certainly worth it since there is no access to a Wrath-style effect.
I have seen Explosives as a one-of Tolaria West target (because its converted mana cost is 0 when anywhere but the stack, including your library) in both colors of Tron. While I’m not entirely sure I agree, it is nice to have another way to blow up a bunch of Empty the Warrens tokens or some amount of one-mana troublesome permanents.
Another one-of Tolaria West target. Without the specter of Dredge, this is probably unnecessary. Or so we all think… (menacing cackle, crash of thunder, etc.)
I have seen Chalice in many Tron decks to shut down the weakness that many decks have to being unable to win the game while all of its one casting cost spells cannot be played, particularly when it can be played first turn thanks to a Mox. Specifically, Storm combo, Zoo and the burn deck all suffer greatly without access to 1-cc spells. While not my personal favorite, it is certainly an option.
This is where the two decks, the white version and the green version diverge. While they share most of the strategy in common, what makes them different can be just as important to note as what makes them similar. The next few cards are color specific, starting out with the Blue-Green version.
The Gifts engine has traditionally been used in the blue-green versions because the cards in the blue-white version don’t flashback or have dredge. The awkward situations posed to opponents with Gifts on their hands makes it better for the green version.
The main reason to play the version that splashes Green is for the opportunity to play Life from the Loam, a card that thoroughly breaks the Tron combo in half. Since it has Dredge, you can get it into your hand even when it gets into your graveyard from a discard spell, Gifts, Fact or what have you. This in turn means that any lands that you should happen to need, from the innocent Fetch Land or Ghost Quarter to the back breaking last Tron piece or Academy Ruins (not to mention reappearing Tolaria West activations). Better than Crucible of Worlds in nearly every aspect, especially with the rotation of Petrified Field.
With the loss of Moment’s Peace, the Blue-Green Tron deck will have to try to fill the void left in its defense. While definitely not the â€˜Time Walk with flashback’ that Peace was, Wall of Roots provides a few other options to the Tron arsenal. First, it provides early defense at no further cost to the pilot. Second, the Wall of Roots act as signets 5-8 that I mentioned earlier, allowing the combo to get activated sooner. Certainly no replacement for Moment’s Peace, but a decent addition nonetheless.
I know they look dumb, but they are the best answers I have heard of in this archetype to answer Gaddock Teeg. Not only does Lignify shut off Teeg’s annoying abilities by turning it into a decorative armoire but it also prevents that Teeg’s controller from playing another one because the â€˜legend rule’ still applies. Also good at dealing with random dudes. It’s basically mono-Green Terror… but not really. You get my point. Pongify isn’t as great, as you just hand them a Hill Giant to beat you up with, but it’s still better than not being able to cast your spells at all.
While the Green splash has a lot of pizzazz and style, the White splash has its own set of qualities that set it out from the pack. While the Green version loses the irreplaceable Moment’s Peace, the White version suffers an arguably bigger hit in the form of Fact or Fiction.
I would guess that the main attraction of the White splash is the opportunity to blow up all the little creatures that inhabited the plane before you so rudely blew them all to hell for four mana, sort of a â€˜double Time Walk’ all its own except that instead of still having to deal with some amount of Zoo animals or an army of robots with Affinity after you have taken two extra turns, you now have a few crispy critters and a steaming pile of iron shavings.
If Wrath isn’t the best reason to play white in Tron then certainly Decree is. Ignore the casting cost and what the spell actually does. They’re not important. What you should really be looking at is everything after the word â€˜Cycling.’ Basically, you can pay X2W at instant speed to get X 1/1 Soldiers and draw a card. Oh, and by the way, it’s uncounterable. So unless your opponent is packing Voidslime or something along those lines then you’re in the clear. With a whole mess of Tron lands in play, you can usually get more than five or so Soldiers at end of turn without even really trying.
White’s answer to Teeg… or whatever other troublesome permanent happens to come your way. Pithing Needle set to Academy Ruins got you down? A big bad Doran threatening to kill you on sight? Garruk Wildspeaker needs answering before he tears your arms off? Oblivion Ring is the Aspirin for whatever ails you.
White sounds a whole lot better than green in many aspects, but the fact that Gifts Ungiven is downright awkward in the White iteration is not one of them. Believe me, I’ve tried. The card Gifts Ungiven is pretty bad in the White version of Tron for this season unless you add some very strange cards to your maindeck to make the combo work. Honestly, I think you’re better off with something like Careful Consideration.
Crucible of Worlds/Mine Excavation
See? I told you that you’d have to play some strange cards to play Gifts. If you absolutely positively must play Gifts in your Blue-White Tron deck then I’m sorry but you’re going to have to play one of each of these two cards. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. After all, if you want to build a Tron omelet you have to break a few Skycloud Eggs. On the plus side, at least you can conspire two of your Decree tokens to get double action out of your Mine Excavation if need be. Hey, just pointing out the obvious.
Now that we have gone over the main deck, let’s take a look at what sideboard options are available to us. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.
Tormod’s Crypt/Engineered Explosives/Chalice of the Void
All good cards discussed above. Additional copies in the sideboard are for that purpose. In addition, I have occasionally seen a brave should sideboard into a Trinket Mage package that can also include some amount of Pithing Needles, Sunbeam Spellbombs or even an Orochi Hatchery. All can be recurred ad infinitum by Academy Ruins as well.
One of the perks of the white deck is that you also get access to a 4/5 lifelinking flier in your sideboard. You know, just in case.
A catch-all answer to many of life’s little problems. The ability to take a Goyf or something similar can be too much for some decks to handle.
And if you’re going to be stealing them anyway, why not board in your own? It seems like so long ago we were talking about how Tarmogoyf ruined Magic Agent Smith-style, infiltrating every deck to the point where even the controlliest of control decks, Tron, was even running it in the side board. Today, we have all but forgotten poor Goyf in a wake of Cryptic Commands and Bitterblossom tokens. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. The fact remains that Tarmogoyf is still a solid sideboard option.
My love for the card â€˜Shock’ knows no bounds, to the point where I suggest Moonglove Extract at every step and turn. In Tron, Moonglove Extract is a Gaddock Teeg pesticide first and foremost. Again, recurrable with Ruins.
Defeats even the most stubborn artifacts and enchantments, such as opposing Oblivion Rings, Arcbound Ravagers, or Umezawa’s Jittes without a second thought to counterspells or activations.
This is all well and good, but I know what 30-40% of you are thinking: why should I play Tron to begin with? Here are a few good reasons:
#1: You Get To Play Blue Spells
Blue is, and has been for a long time, the most powerful color in Magic. In Standard right now, not only is Blue the best color for spells with Cryptic Command, Rune Snag and Careful Consideration… but it’s also arguably the best color for creatures too, sending out Mulldrifter, Venser, and a whole host of Faeries. Heck, I would even count Reveillark as a fellow Blue creature at this point, since that’s all it seems to bring back from the graveyard anymore. Extended Blue, while not quite on top of the creature heap, is still quite potent in the spell department. Tron lets you play some of the biggest and baddest of these spells.
#2: You Get To Play Big Mana
I’m not saying that if Red-Green Big Mana is the deck you have the most success with in Standard that you should play Tron. In fact, I’d say that something more like Death Cloud is more for you. But if you liked playing Eight-Post, or if Spell Burst and/or Pickles were pretty good to you in years past, then maybe you should give Tron a try.
#3: You Get To Play Unfair
When you put Blue spells in the same deck as some giant spells, then typically you get to do some pretty unfair things. First off, the Mindslaver combo. Once you reach twelve mana and get a Mindslaver and an Academy Ruins in hand, then it’s very tough to lose, as illustrated above. On top of that, you have Sundering Titan, which may be the most unfair creature ever, not only because of its ginormous ten toughness and near impossibility of killing it through damage, but also because of its ability to Global Ruin as a comes-into-play and leaves play ability. Pretty sick. These are just a few examples of the unfairness this deck lets you get away with.
So what do we make of all of this? Here is what I would play if I were to play a version of Tron, plus a bonus list that’s a little out of left field, using Black instead of either White or Green.
I hope that this article has taught you a little bit about the upcoming Extended season and what to expect come round 1 of a PTQ. Thanks for reading.
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