Chasing Platinum: Grand Prix San Diego

The next stop on GerryT’s quest for Platinum was GP San Diego. He tells you how he chose and built his version of U/W Tron, which was good for a Top 32 finish.

"When we were sitting next to each other at 5-2, both playing unplayable decks, I was a little worried for us." – Reid Duke

I left Verona for California as quickly as possible. Josh Utter-Leyton (aka Wrapter) was kind enough to pick me up from the airport, allow me to stay in his apartment, and alter his eating habits to line up with mine. We spent the weekend trying various Modern decks and mostly hating them.

"Fixing" Modern

In order to make bold claims about what’s right or wrong with a format, you should first figure out what you think WotC is attempting to accomplish with said format.

For Modern, I assume their motives are:

1) To provide a level playing field where people can choose whatever archetype they enjoy playing and still be able to succeed.

2) To make the games fun and somewhat interactive; people can’t be dying on turn 3 all the time.

3) To have it be a format that is more than just the bogeymen of Standard’s past—hence banning of key cards in Jund, Faeries, Caw-Blade, and previously Valakut.

If those are the metrics, then they have done their job. Of course, there are other complaints about the format, such as:

1) The "interaction" is limited to one-for-one trades, ultimately ending in whoever draws better in the midgame.

2) The games are mostly boring, especially any involving Eggs.

3) No one is excited about the format because there is nothing to be excited about. The decks are not polarizing and are difficult to become emotionally invested in because nothing "sweet" is happening.

4) The barrier to entry is too high.

I agree with 1 and 3, but 2 is just a matter of opinion. 4 might be true, but it’s hard to get into Standard from nothing also.

Would unbanning every sicko card make people more excited about the format? Perhaps, but is that worth losing the new players that can’t ever beat Stoneforge Mystic, Dark Depths, or Hypergenesis? If you want your format to have longevity, certainly not.

I’m all for constructive criticism, but people that shout "Unban Ancestral Vision!" from the rooftops are missing the point. Nobody likes every single spell they play to get countered. You might like to be the one drawing cards, but it’s bad for the health of the format. Your "criticism" of Modern is missing the point.

I liked Extended, but that’s because I liked locking people with Counterbalance and Enduring Ideal and killing people on turn 2 with Dark Depths. My opponents almost certainly did not like it, and the attendance of Extended tournaments proved that. Modern might not be surpassing Standard in popularity any time soon, but there are clear signs of promise.

Deck Selection

I couldn’t alter the Modern banned list before the tournament, so there was no point in complaining about it. I’ll be honest when I say that most of the time my deck selection process is inbred. As someone pointed out, I mostly just play the best blue deck. Why, then, was I testing various Jund and Junk builds? I lost constantly despite playing the "best" deck.


Thinking back on my previous forays into Modern, U/W Tron stood out as the only deck I’d ever really won with consistently. After rebuilding the deck online and winning a lot, I decided I was going to play it.

Tron does something different than any other deck out there. It has the early game interaction that you need to compete with decks like Jund/Junk and R/G Aggro, plus it has inevitability over everything. The other decks I worked on felt like more of the same grindy, attrition-based decks as Jund and Junk. I didn’t want to be doing the same things as everyone else, as that would leave me flipping coins the entire tournament.

Building the Deck

U/W Tron is neither the same deck as G/R Tron nor the same deck as U/W Control. Figuring out that it lies somewhere in the middle will go a long way toward figuring out what decisions to make.

I like to build my U/W Tron decks in such a way that I never truly need Tron active in order to win. Slipping a few Karn Liberateds or Wurmcoil Engines into the deck might seem like a good idea, but it’s important to realize that assembling Tron is a luxury you don’t always have. Instead, you should focus on assembling Tron, not what you’ll do once you get there. If you have Tron, there will be a way.

This deck has three ways to win:

1) Cast Gifts Ungiven for Unburial Rites, your fatty of choice, and nothing else. They both go to the graveyard, allowing you to put the fatty into play the next turn.

2) Mindslaver lock your opponent with thirteen mana including Academy Ruins. Note that while your opponent is Mindslavered, you can look at their sideboard.

3) Celestial Colonnade beatdown.

Previously, I used an Eldrazi package rather than the Mindslaver lock. However, Mindslaver is a better natural draw, especially in a field full of combo decks. The one downside to playing Mindslaver over Eldrazi is that Expedition Map can’t find a huge threat like Eye of Ugin. Celestial Colonnade hardly counts.

Choosing the Unburial Rites targets was difficult. Iona, Shield of Emeria and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite have been staples for a long time, but neither of them do anything against G/R Tron. Against combo, Elesh Norn and Terastodon cover most of your bases, while Terastodon does a lot of damage in the pseudo-mirrors. Going into the tournament, I thought it was a bold choice, but it was the correct one.

For the Mindslaver lock, cast Gifts Ungiven for:

Expedition Map
Academy Ruins
Crucible of Worlds
Tron piece #2
Tron piece #3

With Crucible of Worlds in the deck, you can Ghost Quarter lock some decks and fight sideboard land destruction. It also allows you to cut Tolaria West from the mana base, as Crucible takes the place of it in Gifts piles for missing Tron pieces.

Sometimes, you’ll have some of that stuff in play or in your hand, but that’s the gist of it. Occasionally, you get to be tricksy by casting Gifts Ungiven for cards you already have, like the third Tron piece, knowing they’ll refuse to give it to you. Given enough time, they will die.

My removal suite may seem rather standard. Path to Exile is the best, cheapest removal in blue or white, and you don’t care about giving them a land. Tron isn’t focused on gaining card advantage—it just wants to not die. Killing anything is extremely relevant against decks like Splinter Twin, where something like Oust or Condemn would be terrible.

Timely Reinforcements might be the best card in the deck. It gets Geist of Saint Traft off your back, at least for a little while, and functions as double Time Walk against aggressive decks. Again, we are not looking for good, clean answers. We just want to live a few more turns and make some more land drops.

For that reason, Remand is the "counterspell" of choice. Condescend is another fine option, but Remand is much better on the draw and both are good on the play. I’d also rather draw a card and choke them on mana than trade one-for-one.

Despite shunning them in the past, I included two sweepers in my maindeck: Day of Judgment and Wrath of God. Supreme Verdict would have been a welcome addition over Day of Judgment, but the mana was a little rough. Casting Gifts Ungiven for three sweepers has never been all that important either, as you can put Timely Reinforcements and Path to Exile in the pile as well.

I assumed that R/G Aggro, Junk, and Geist of Saint Traft decks would be all over the place, and I wasn’t wrong. However, you don’t need those cards against those matchups, and I would have rather had something with velocity, like Repeal. It would have bought me time against aggressive decks while also having a lot of value in post-board games when facing down Blood Moon, Stony Silence, Rest in Peace, or Liliana of the Veil.

For the sideboard, I knew I wanted more hate against combo, specifically Splinter Twin and Birthing Pod (if you want to call that a combo deck). Eggs was likely a bad matchup, but I didn’t expect much of it. Plus, the hate that was good against Birthing Pod and Twin wasn’t good against Eggs. Things like Ghostly Prison were good against Twin and aggro, while Damping Matrix was good against Twin and Pod (although it shut down some of your stuff).

The other options were Grafdigger’s Cage, Stony Silence, Rest in Peace, Suppression Field, Aven Mindcensor, Spellskite, etc.

G/R Tron could be a difficult matchup if they assembled Tron early. In order to live long enough to Unburial Rites a Terastodon, I needed to slow them down. Negate had crossover applications, but Spreading Seas was the card I wanted the most. Even though it wasn’t great against other decks, I typically boarded in some against decks with manlands, Deathrite Shaman, or shaky mana bases.

Wurmcoil Engine was brought in against decks that I thought would board out their Path to Exiles for Stony Silences and obviously for aggressive decks. Celestial Purge and Faith’s Fetters round out the sideboard as answers to Liliana of the Veil.

The question I was asked the most was, "Why no Sphinx’s Revelation?" Well, as I said earlier, I wanted my deck to function even when I don’t have fifteen mana. Sphinx’s Revelation bridges the gap between four mana spells and ten mana spells, but once you assemble Tron, you don’t need anything in that gap anyway.

The Tournament

Round 4: Jund (with Blood Moon), 2-0
Round 5: U/W/R Geist, 0-2
Round 6: Affinity, 2-1
Round 7: R/G, 1-2
Round 8: U/W Control, 2-0
Round 9: R/B Burn, 2-1
Round 10: U/W/R Control, 2-0
Round 11: Kiki Pod, 0-2
Round 12: U/W/R Geist, 0-2
Round 13: R/G, 2-1
Round 14: U/W/R Geist, 2-0
Round 15: Ajundi, 2-0

I knew U/W/R was going to be tough coming in, but the sweepers made the matchup even harder despite what you might think. Several games I sat there with expensive sorceries in hand while missing land drops. After getting Stony Silenced, I knew I wanted Repeal.

The Birthing Pod matchup was kind of a fluke. I assembled Tron and did nothing, mostly because I didn’t have Eye of Ugin / Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in my deck. Then again, that’s a corner case.

My R/G Aggro opponent had to "peel" to beat me in games 1 and 3—by that I mean draw a Ghor-Clan Rampager or Lightning Bolt in game 1 or a land in game 2. Overall, I liked the matchup, but they can kill you very quickly, so nothing is certain.

Other than that, the deck played well. A Top 32 finish leaves me with 35 Pro Points, well within striking distance of Platinum! The players who I had the best chance of passing to qualify for the World Championship were Eric Froehlich and Brian Kibler, both of whom made Top 8 of the GP. In theory, I should be rooting against those two, but when crunch time came, I found myself rooting for them—the World Championship was the furthest thing from my mind.

Going Forward

I realize that Modern PTQ season is over, but Grand Prix Portland is on the horizon and there isn’t a single deck I’d rather play. After realizing my deckbuilding mistakes and doing a little bit of soul searching, this is what I’d play:

I didn’t face any G/R Tron, Splinter Twin, or Junk decks in the tournament, but playing cards like Celestial Purge, Spreading Seas, and Torpor Orb are a necessity.

See you in Pittsburgh!


@G3RRYT on Twitter

Some other Tron articles you might enjoy:

Ninth At Hoth
Modern Tron Primer