U/R Tron – Still The Best Control Deck In Standard?

With U.S. Nationals starting tomorrow, Josh looks back at an old control favorite that has dropped from the limelight… U/R Tron. It’s a strong control option, to be sure… but are the versions splashing Green for the dangerous Simic Sky Swallower strictly superior to the two-color versions? Can the plain ol’ Blue/Red take the title of Strongest Control Deck in Standard? The answers lie within…

Tomorrow is the first day of U.S. Nationals, and while Australian and French Nationals have already taken place, everyone knows an early U.S. Nationals will shape the remaining Nationals events more than, say, the English Nationals that are transpiring at the same time. Today I’m going to talk to you about a deck that could be described as “good old” in this crazy day and age of silver bullet Nagaos (with no way to search) and decks that are effectively splashing Compulsive Research and Court Hussar, but more on those later. No, this deck has none of that; this deck is merely the most powerful control deck in Standard. This deck is, of course, Blue/Red ‘Tron.

Making its debut way back at Worlds 2005 – before Steam Vents even existed – this deck was always a hit. Producing some very good records for the South Americans (if I recall), people immediately took notice. My first experience with the deck came shortly thereafter, on Magic Online, via a decklist courtesy of a man called Fob who was tearing up the scene. Fast forward to Honolulu testing, and we don’t really have a deck. One night we decide to try ‘Tron, and it’s very good — awesome, in fact – beating the predicted Black/White decks courtesy of our maindeck Electrolyzes, and obviously beating other control decks, since that’s what you do when you always have twice as much mana as your opponent. We played it, but didn’t fare so well (except for Osyp, who made Top 8). Tim Aten team also played ‘Tron, although they all played with Wildfire and Repeal, a deck which had a fair bit of influence on the current builds of the deck if you look around.

Finally, Dissension is released and Spell Snare exists. Simic Sky Swallower exists, the necessary Green/Blue mana exists, and people play this deck at Regionals. They do well.

This decklist is just one example of the countless successful iterations of ‘Tron that took the invitations that day, a great many of which splashed Green.

Ideally, the Green splash provides you with the nut draw in the mirror match, and a draw that no control deck can really deal with… something like turn 1 Power Plant; turn 2 Mine, Simic Signet; turn 3 Tower, SSS.

That’s pretty awesome. I even did it once. I also followed it up with Tidings and my opponent immediately conceded, though at the time it hadn’t dawned on me that the control matchups are hardly the ones you need to worry about. I was just testing the waters when I was playing the deck. I had heard from a friend that it was good — I think he won a premier event with it. Winning a premier event is hardly a good indicator of a good deck, but I asked what was good and he told me. Anyway, just about everyone online was playing Tron those days, so having Green in the deck didn’t really hurt, but it didn’t really help much either. No, I think Green is just a gimmick in this deck. It really isn’t good enough, helping the good and not even close to breaking even in the bad. Keiga, the Tide Star is the best dragon in Standard right now, there is no doubt about that. Simic Sky Swallower isn’t even close.

Obviously, then, the verdict was that Simic Sky Swallower was not worth playing Green for. It’s nice to make good use of your “extra” Signets, although losing Izzet Signet actually hurts a fair amount when you are holding those Electrolyzes and looking down at a Simic Signet… I’m not going to recommend you play them at all.

Right around then, when Steam Vents was going up in price and literally every deck from Kird Ape to Black/White to Vintage decks calling for Steam Vents instead of Volcanic Islands… I stopped playing Tron, focusing instead on some other decks — trying to find out what was good and what beat what. I didn’t do much winning. Well, mostly I just broke even, but I was pleased even to do that. It turns out most decks in Standard are competitive, but obviously some are better than others. ‘Tron is one of the best.

As I said before, the control matchups, for game 1 at least, are good to very good; depending on what exactly it is they’re doing (Magnivore being the hardest control deck to sit down against). After boarding, some decks have Annexes and other decks have Annexes and Copy Enchantments to break the Annex mirror; you need to have Annexes and Copy Enchantments after board, too. The main problem has, and always will be, the beatdown decks. Though some recent Japanese innovation (Weight of Spires) has broken through and made those matchups that much more manageable, you really need to have a full compliment of Keiga, the Tide Star at your disposal to have the best chance possible; the combination of Keiga and Wildfire together is a terrific and difficult combination to oppose.

Also, while I’m at it, Miren the Moaning Well: Miren is one of the best cards in Standard, and it’s a colorless nonbasic land. You can expect to see a lot of these during your six or seven rounds at whatever Nationals you might be playing in, but Miren’s best friends are all Kamigawa block legends that have commas in their names. Sacrificing Keiga to gain five life and steal Paladin En-Vec is one of the most devastating things you can do against a White-based beatdown deck. After one of those exchanges, usually killing another Paladin with Keiga – or one of their lesser guys should they have just one Paladin — makes it increasingly difficult for you to lose. While I know it is very “greedy” to run Miren in ‘Tron — this I have been told by just about everyone — I still stand firmly behind my decision to recommend it. It’s really that good.

Demonfire is another card worth talking about, before we get to actual decklists. Demonfire is an excellent card and much better than the Blaze and Invoke the Firemind that came before it, and it’s a very easy inclusion in the deck — natural seeming, even. It’s then, obviously, a difficult card to cut, but I am firmly on the fence about it. I can tell you for sure that the Japanese wouldn’t be caught dead with it in their deck, as it is exactly the type of card they don’t want (a card that is good at winning the game and nothing else; a card that is for the most part, superfluous; a card that is mediocre; and a card that takes up valuable slots in your deck while pretending to be a win condition).

My early decklists had Demonfires and Wildfires. I liked having multiple kinds of fire, but lately I am not sure if Demonfire is worthwhile, especially if you look at it like they do.

Lastly, before decklists… I mentioned Spell Snare earlier — it’s awesome. It might be the best card in the format. It counters Remand (one of the best Blue cards in a long time, and a card that is universally played), and it feels good in the process. It counters Signets and Eye of Nowhere; it’s altogether awesome in the control matchups; and it also counters Castigate, Jitte, Dark Confidant, Watchwolf, Scab-Clan Mauler, Kami of Ancient Law, Hand of Honor, Soltari Priest, Freewind Falcon, Time Walk

It’s good against aggressive decks! Ding.

As hard as this is to hear and agree with, I believe firmly that it is in fact better than Mana Leak in this deck, and probably in the format. The eight counters you are used to seeing (4 Leak and 4 Remand) just got a new coat of paint and are looking better than ever.

The first thing you’ll probably notice is that the Demonfires are present. I hate them, as I said. I had one Meloku in there for a while, and I still think the Meloku is better, but without enough Meloku testing I couldn’t really recommend it in good standing. I think Meloku is absurd and is one of the best cards you can play in a stalemated game. It’s certainly one of the best cards you can top-deck at any time after the early turns, and its non-cooperation-stance with Wildfire is negligible, since you are generally in control when you cast Wildfire… If you have Meloku going, you might not need to cast it. Unfortunately, it dies to Char; so be it.

The next thing you’ll notice is the sideboard. I’m pretty sure this is too many cards against beatdown decks, because after the Tidings get taken out, and the Demonfires, there isn’t much to take out. One Signet isn’t unreasonable, but that’s only six, so I’m not sure if you can afford to play seven in the sideboard against those decks, even if you do need all the help you can get. Maindecking Spell Snare certainly helps with those matchups, as I said.

Annexes and Copy Enchantments are here, instead of Annexes and Giant Solifuges. Overloading your curve on four-drops is not totally awesome, that much I can tell you for sure. Giant Solifuge is totally awesome. However, Copy Enchantment on Annex is still pretty good. I think it is probably simply better. In the abstract, if your opponent went first, you might never cast Annex or Giant Solifuge. Even if you do, you might be too far behind. This deck doesn’t get the best colored-mana draws, that much I can assure you — its one true downfall — but following up their turn 3 nut-draw-Annex with your turn 3 Copy Enchantment gets you right back in the game.

And so, while it might be sideboarding against sideboard cards, I’m thinking it’s the way to go.

Against control decks you can take out Repeals and Electrolyzes freely, and a Keiga and a Wildfire, I think. Both of those cards are obviously great and make up the core of your deck, but getting them stuck in your hand in the early game while fighting the “land fight” (happens often, in sideboarded games) isn’t cool.

That’s really all there is to it. I’m not sure if people forgot about ‘Tron, or if they don’t want to play it, or even if they don’t like it. It’s one of the most robust and powerful decks in the format. If people had played it at French Nationals or Australian Nationals — apparently — I don’t see how the decks that made it to the top of the field would have succeeded. Great matchups against every control deck (except Vore, which is mostly just a Magic Online phenomenon at this point, it seems), and more than a reasonable chance against creatures – thanks to Spell Snare picking up the slack – make this deck more and more enticing. Heartbeat is waning in popularity – it might even be officially dead at the moment, but my source at the coroner’s office hasn’t updated me — so without that old chestnut to worry about you really have a metagame full of good or better matchups and an empty-cabinet of reasons why you shouldn’t play this deck in your tournament, be it Nationals, Friday Night Magic, or your nearest 8-man queue.

Of course, with Nationals coming this weekend – and my playing in Nationals – I don’t think it will come as a surprise to you that I might not be able to respond fully in the forums for this article. Please don’t hate me for that.

See you all next week. Until then,

Josh Ravitz