Why I Didn’t Play Tron In Boston

Cedric Phillips watches more Magic than just about anybody. At the recent Modern GP, he finally got to play again! Read about why he abandoned his traditional deck choice and what he learned about the format going into #SCGDAL!

Chad: “Why did you come to this tournament?”

Me: “To win the tournament.”

Chad: “And you think you can do that playing Tron?”

That’s my friend Chad. He finished in thirteenth place at Grand Prix Boston-Worcester after losing his win-and-in for both the top 8 and an invite to the
next Pro Tour in Honolulu. After he asked me that question, I got to thinking.

Could I really win the Grand Prix with Tron?

Let’s take a step back. Friday afternoon, I wanted to play some Magic. The reason, of course, is because I don’t ever get to do that anymore. For as much
as I’m involved with Magic, I don’t actually get to play very much. As a result, I didn’t have any byes for the Grand Prix.

You know what makes winning a Grand Prix hard? Not having any byes.

But oddly enough, most of the success I’ve had at GPs have come with zero or one bye. When I made the top 8 of GP Boston-Worcester two years ago, I had one
bye, an incredibly risky sealed deck, and a very deep understanding of the M13 limited format. This time, I had zero byes, no deck in hand yet, and a
medium understanding of the Modern format.

As I walked around the DCU Center, I ran into Ben Friedman, Michael Majors, and Anthony Lowry testing the Mono-Black Devotion mirror for Pro Tour Magic
2015. While I did get my jabs in about how much fun they looked to be having, I was in search of any deck I could possibly play in a Grand Prix Trial.
Lowry said he had a Naya Pod deck and I was instantly sold. After making a few changes, I went to battle.

I ended up losing in the semis to a Burn deck after keeping a hand of two Kitchen Finks, Restoration Angel, and the necessary lands to cast them. What did
I lose to you ask?


It was at this point that I realized I had a decision to make. I had a Tron deck coming courtesy of Ari Lax later that evening, but I was pretty wary of
playing it in the first place. My testing on Magic Online before V4 went live was not encouraging, and I didn’t want to play a deck just for the sake of
playing it. As much as I love #Karnage, it just didn’t feel like a good choice.

I thought about it all night long.

Am I really not going to play the deck I’ve been playing for the past year because I had a few discouraging results on Magic Online?

Yes. And here’s why.

I believe Tron is a very good deck. I know it gets a bad rap and people think it’s a deck that requires little to no skill to play appropriately, but
that’s blatantly false. The sequencing can be difficult, you have to keep a lot of hands that look horrible in a vacuum but are actually perfectly
acceptable in the context of your deck, and you have to know how to beat the appropriate hate cards because it can be extremely difficult if you’re unaware
of how to do so. That said, what you’re trying to accomplish when playing Tron is pretty simple honestly: cast a Karn Liberated or Wurmcoil Engine ahead of
schedule and hope the opponent can’t beat it. There are other things to keep you alive to get you to that point (Pyroclasm and Oblivion Stone), but by and
large, that’s your goal.

So that brings forth this question: What if what you’re trying to accomplish isn’t actually good in the format?

There was a time where casting Karn Liberated or Wurmcoil Engine was game over against a large percentage of the format. The reason it was game over was
because the format was so heavily occupied by Jund and Melira Pod, and they were very bad at dealing with those two cards. That, as you’re probably aware
of by now, is no longer the case as bannings have happened, and the format has become much more diverse. As such, the frequency in which your opponent
cares about the large threat that you’ve played ahead of schedule has dwindled significantly.

Have you ever cast a Karn Liberated or Wurmcoil Engine against these decks?

I can hear them laughing at me.

And that’s the problem. If what my deck is designed to do doesn’t actually matter against my opponent, what in the hell am I even doing? Chances are, in
order for me to actually win the Grand Prix, I would have to play against Splinter Twin or Scapeshift at least once. Those matchups are a bye…

For the other guy.

But there’s another thing to keep in mind. Yes, you are favored against the very popular B/G/x Rock decks. What you’re trying to do is quite good against
them, but that doesn’t mean that you will win every single time you’re paired against that matchup. Case in point, last year at Grand Prix Detroit, I lost
to two of the three Jund decks I played against during the tournament when I was playing Tron. I was frustrated beyond belief because “the matchup is so
good”, but that doesn’t mean that once my opponent plays a turn 1 Thoughtseize that he/she should also sign the slip and save me some time.

Yes, you can run disgustingly hot with Tron and destroy everyone. If you’ve ever watched a single episode of my stream ever, you’re well aware of

But guess what…

When I’m running white hot with Tron for the entire world to see, I’m well aware of that and don’t put a lot of stock into those results. It’s winning the
tough games I care about. I know that if I peel Urza’s Tower to cast Karn on turn 3 that percentages are breaking in my favor. What I really care about are
the games where I’m competing even though I’m fumbling and stumbling around or the opponent is trying to prevent me from accomplishing the goal of my deck
and I’m able to overcome it. If I’m winning those games consistently, chances are that playing the deck is correct.

When my opponent’s way of stopping me from doing my thing is “cast Splinter Twin” or “cast Scapeshift”, I can’t run the other way fast enough.

And that’s what I thought would happen all weekend long.

Was I right? Not exactly. I didn’t play against Splinter Twin or Scapeshift during the GP. In an alternate universe where I played Tron, maybe I would
have, but in the universe I currently reside in, I dodged those matchups. But that doesn’t mean everything is sunshine and roses:

If you think hearing your opponent say “cast Splinter Twin” or “cast Scapeshift” is unpleasant, wait until you hear them say “cast Glistener Elf.” Then
you’ll know what true hell is. Infect may be Tron’s worst matchup in the entire format. And while I didn’t come into the tournament thinking I would get
paired against it like I did with Twin or Scapeshift, I knew that if I did, I was dead immediately.

There’s also this problem:

Now if you know me, I actually don’t think the Affinity matchup is that bad for Tron. They need to have an explosive draw and they need me not to draw
Pyroclasm or Oblivion Stone. However, if they have an explosive draw, they use their manlands appropriately, and they get the most out of Arcbound Ravager,
winning is incredibly difficult. I’ve tested the matchup a lot against Alex Majlaton for funsies and while I do feel like it’s closer to 50/50 than people
think, it’s not something I’m eagerly awaiting on the other side of the table.

When I was playing professionally back in 09-10, I remember developing a rule: never be kold to the popular aggressive deck in the format. Back then it was
Zoo. If I cringed when my opponent played a turn 1 Wild Nacatl, I was probably playing the wrong deck. That’s how I feel about Affinity in Modern. If I’m
horrified when my opponent’s first play is Vault Skirge, I’ve done something wrong with deck selection almost assuredly. And as you will see in just a
moment, the sideboard from my Kiki Pod deck was quite happy to see artifact creatures on the other side of the table:

So I guess now is a good time to explain why I played Kiki Pod. Well, besides Lowry handing the deck to me, that was the second deck I wanted to play all
along, but I didn’t have the time to get games in. As I said many times on social media as well as during the latest episode of CEDTalks, I had basically no
experience with the deck coming into the tournament. That said, I have played with Birthing Pod decks before, and I actually won a PTQ with a sweet Bant Pod deck many moons ago that I had
very little experience with heading into that tournament.

So what’s the secret to my success with these crazy creature decks?

This thing is idiot proof

No really. Why is this card still legal? I don’t care that a non-Birthing Pod deck won the Grand Prix. This thing just shouldn’t be allowed in Modern
tournaments. It’s far too powerful, and as I found out in round 8, it enables turn 3 kills which is something that shouldn’t be possible in the format.
It’s not like a turn 3 kill with Birthing Pod is even hard to accomplish in this deck:

Turn 1 = Land + Noble Hierarch/Birds of Paradise

Turn 2 = Birthing Pod or Lotus Cobra + Fetchland into Birthing Pod

Turn 3 = Play Lotus Cobra + Fetchland or if you already have Lotus Cobra and Birthing Pod in play, simply play a fetchland and do your thing*

*Doing Your Thing

Two-drop becomes Deceiver Exarch. Untap Pod.

One-drop becomes Phantasmal Image, copy Deceiver Exarch. Untap Pod.

Image-copy becomes Restoration Angel, blinking Deceiver Exarch. Untap Pod.

Restoration Angel becomes Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.

As I made my way through fifteen rounds of Magic, I quickly realized my decision was a good one. Yes, I wasn’t playing optimally during the tournament.
Truth be told, with how out of practice I am right now, I didn’t expect to. But when you have an idiot proof card in your deck like Birthing Pod, and a nut
draw that can kill your opponent on turn 3, you’re bound to put some match wins together.

I’ve said many times on SCGLive that you have to have a pretty damn good reason not to be casting Birthing Pod in Modern, and I still feel that way after
playing with it for a weekend. It’s not that I think the other decks are bad because they certainly aren’t. It’s that I think this deck breaks the
fundamental rules of the format while also playing the best card in the format.

There’s a PTQ in Seattle on August 16, and I conveniently have the weekend off due to GenCon. I have no idea if I’m going to win or not, and it certainly
would be cool to play in another Pro Tour again, but I know for sure that I’m going to give myself the best chance to do so.

It just sucks that the best way to do that isn’t casting Karn Liberated on turn 3 anymore.