My name is Andrew Elenbogen, and in Boston two weeks ago I qualified for my first Pro Tour.
This has not been a good season for me magic wise. In Minneapolis I tested more than I have ever prepared for an event in my life. I then 3-3’d it. In Chicago, I played Esper for months, had an excellent MTGO win rate, then promptly scrubbed out. I played two PTQs, and was dead in a few rounds of both them. All the while, I watched every one of my friends attain new heights and win the successes I so desperately wanted.
I was feeling burned out. I could not honestly figure out what I was doing wrong, and was considering taking a break from competitive magic. It was in this state of mind that I decided to drive 14 hours to a GP. Sometimes, you have to go big or go home.
For this event, my preparation process was radically different. I played ZERO test games. This did two things: it relieved the enormous amount of pressure I had put on myself and it let me sit down and just think about the format.
Twin seemed horrible given that I expected BGx to be among the top two most popular decks. Even if you try to play fair against them, Jund just plays fair better than every deck in Modern. Both Pod decks were similarly eliminated as I feel they are slight to substantial dogs against Jund (depending on lists) and cannot win a game against UWR. I expected UWR to be the 4th most popular deck. Affinity is powerful, but very susceptible to both hate and UWR. UWR itself I considered, but I think the format is just too diverse to be reactive, and the more proactive lists struggle to beat BGx because discard is better the more different your cards are and wrath cannot easily be boarded in to kill Thrun if you have creatures of your own.
This left me with two choices: Tron or BGx. Both decks lost HARD to the round 1 menace: Burn, and both had unfavorable but winnable affinity matchups. However, they seemed good versus the rest of the field. The reason I picked Tron is two-fold:
1. It is the deck I have the most experience.
2. There is no deck in modern that has no bad matchups.
Even the supposed 50-50 decks like Jund and UWR have shockingly horrible matchups versus small portions of the field, and bad matchups versus large portions. UWR, for example, can never win a game against Boggles. Since every deck in the format has bad matchups, it makes sense to play one that’s good matchups are VERY good. Tron absolutely obliterates anyone trying to play fair, with an 80-20 Melira Matchup and a 70-30 Jund matchup. UWR is closer, but favorable, depending on how many Tectonic Edges and Stony Silences they draw.
Contrary to popular belief, the current breed of Twin decks are also an actively favorable matchup for Tron. They simply don’t have it on turn three enough of the time, and you can usually stall them with [card]Oblivion Stone[card]s and sideboard hate until Emrakul shows up.
Additionally, any random fair decks you happen to run into such as Soul Sisters, BW Tokens, and Delver are just randomly favorable also. Any deck that is not doing something fundamentally broken just loses to Tron.
With regards to playing the deck, the number one rule of Tron is always draw natural Tron. That’s important, write that down! The second rule is that you are always the control deck. In the long run, nobody stops Emrakul. Accordingly, it is usually better to answer their threats then present your own, and you should leave your Wurmcoil Engine at home if it is close. Racing is almost never where you want to be with Tron.
Here is the decklist I printed out before the event:
Grand Prix Tron
As far as the list goes, most of the cards I’m including are fairly standard and obvious, but I will talk about a few notable exclusions. Some people play some combination of Sundering Titan and Cavern of Souls. This is pretty terrible in my opinion. It is only good in matchups like Jund and UWR that were already favorable, while Sundering Titan is MUCH worse against Affinity and Burn both of which are unfavorable. Cavern also does nothing unless you have exactly Titan, as Wurmcoil Engine is easily pathed.
The one place my list is different than past lists is the board. You see, I came to the conclusion that since modern twin lists played such a fair game, less slots needed to be devoted to them. Similarly, over boarding in that matchup could lead to losing to mediocre beats. Therefore, I opted to include less Twin hate and play both the Chalices and the Slaughter Games. In the past I have played one or the other. Chalice obliterates storm, gives you a chance against Burn, crushes Boggles and can even be set to 4 against Scapeshift. Slaughter Games just singlehandedly makes Scapeshift favorable. It does come in against Storm and the Mirror, but we all know why it is really there.
In round 1 of the event I am informed that since I passed the 400 point threshold on Thursday instead of Wednesday, I actually have zero byes. Luckily, there is justice as DCI Reporter puts me up against Soul Sisters: A virtually unloseable matchup.
Round 2 of the event was one my closest matches of the entire event. I was paired against Burn. Burn is a horrific matchup for tron. They are able to ignore your Karns and Skullcrack your Wurmcoils. Usually, you need a Wurmcoil on turn 3 to win on the play, and a Wurmcoil on 3 with interaction before that to win on the draw. Sometimes, even those draws aren’t good enough. To make matters worse, I had scrubbed out of my last event with Tron to this very deck and seriously considered playing something else just to improve the matchup.
In game 1, I kept a hand with turn 3 Tron and a Karn on the play. I promptly drew a Wurmcoil on 3. Easy game, easy life.
In game 2, I mull to 5 and find a hand that has a shot at turn 3 Wurmcoil. I rip a tron piece to get there, then my opponent Skullcracks me and I die anyway.
Game 3 sees me employ some early interaction to fend off his beats, then play a Karn and +4 him due to his abundant lands. I also slip in an Oblivion Stone since I have tron plus a tower. He exiles a card and bolts me to 5, then untaps and bolts me to 2 leaving him hell bent. I untap, play the Eye of Ugin from my hand and go into the tank. I cannot exile enough of his 4 lands in time to make a difference. Searching out Wurmcoil Engine is almost certainly too slow, even though it does leave up Oblivion Stone for a haste creature. This means my only viable option is to restart the game. I could just +4 myself for a tron land and hold up Oblivion Stone in case of a haste creature, but then I might easily lose the restarted game even if he bricks. Therefore, I tap out to activate Eye of Ugin, find Emrakul the Aeon’s Torn, and plus +4 Karn targeting myself, putting Emrakul under it. I look my opponent in the eye and say “Let’s play a game: it’s called I’m dead or you’re dead”. He agrees and slams the top card of his library into play face up!
It was a mountain. 2-0.
I told my car mates after the match that it could only get easier from there.
4-0 Splinter Twin
In round 5, I faced affinity. Affinity is an unfavorable matchup, but by no means an unwinnable one. It is also absurdly difficult to play on the affinity side as you must play around both Pyroclasm and Oblivion Stone all while presenting a fast clock. Often, playing around one means playing into the other, and being too conservative will result in the affinity player being buried under a pile of life backed by my Karns exiling Nexi.
In game 2, I made one my worst plays of the entire event. The situation was that my opponent casts a turn 1 Steel Overseer, and on turn 2 I Nature’s Claim it. But I am on the play with Oblivion Stone in hand, there is no way the overseer will be fast enough to kill me. My logic was: if he has nexi, those nexi will get pumped by the overseer and survive the stone. He could then employ them in concert with burn spells to finish me off. However, I could simply hold the Nature’s Claim and use it on the aforementioned nexi! What actually occurs is that my opponent casts a turn 3 plating and hits me to 2, then finished me off with a Blinkmoth. Justice indeed.
5-1 (10-4) Jund
6-1 (11-4) Jund
7-1 (12-4) Kiki-Pod
8-1 (13-5) UWR
From this point on, I crushed a bunch of favorable matchups, and the close Kiki-Pod Matchup. I will take a moment here though to talk about a hand I kept against one of the Jund decks. In game 2 on the draw, I kept the following: Urza’s Tower, Urza’s Tower, Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Mine, Karn Liberated, Wurmcoil Engine, Wurmcoil Engine. This hand might not look great, but it’s actually insane. Against Jund, you need to ask three questions:
- How resilient is my hand to discard?
- How resilient is my hand to land destruction?
- How resilient is my hand to Tectonic Edge?
This hand has duplicates of both the first two tron pieces it plays. This ensures that no turn 3 Fulminator will be able to break up tron for good. Because the hand has exclusively natural tron pieces, the opponents discard will be very weak, with Inquisition doing nothing and Thoughtsieze just taking one of many different expensive threats. Finally, the hand has no need to play any non-tron lands, and therefore can easily play around Tectonic Edge. Because of their resiliency to discard and fulminator, natural tron pieces are MUCH better than land searchers against Jund so I keep a variety of weak hands if they have 2 non-identical tron pieces. Anyway, in the game in question my opponent had Inquistion on 1, taking nothing, Thoughtsieze on 2 and a Liliana on 3. Suffice to say, he lost miserably.
Day 2 begins with me playing against a RUG Delver deck. This matchup is pretty easy, just play your spells around leak, respect Remand when you can, and never let them stick a threat. In g1, I demolish my opponent, and then I board in only the Combusts as per usual. In g2, my opponent slams Blood Moon into play on turn 3. People seem to think that Blood Moon beats Tron, but this is flagrantly false. Blood Moon does shut down the ludicrous mana production of Tron lands, but because of Stars, Spheres and abundant ways to find the basic Forest, it never actually color screws Tron. Additionally, Tron plays 4 maindeck Oblivion Stone and can easily activate it off non-basic mountains. Unless the cards you are boarding out are stone cold blanks, I am not convinced that Blood Moon should come in versus Tron even assuming it is in your sideboard for other matchups. In this particular match, I had Oblivion Stone on 3. However, the Blood Moon was keeping my opponent off Cryptic Mana, and therefore it was actively helping me. So, I simply untapped after turn 5 and cast Wurmcoil Engine the old fashioned way. My opponent was ultimately forced to 2-for-1 himself on the stone losing both Ancient Grudge and his Blood Moon for my Stone. By that point, it was too late, and Emrakul finished the job.
In round 10 I faced another RUG deck piloted by Lucas Siow. I won game 1 handily, but the weird part was that I only saw Cantrips, Goyfs, a Vendilion Clique and counters out of him. This made RUG Twin as likely as RUG Delver, which put me in an awkward spot in sideboarding. The Combusts would come in either way, and the Torbor Orbs were okay since they at least blanked Snapcasters and Cliques if he was Delver. Nature’s Claim seemed pretty horrible, especially since RUG Twin was unlikely to be able to support Blood Moon. Therefore, I did the following:
It turned out he was RUG Delver, but I won game 2 easily regardless.
Round 11 pitted me against the eventual winner of the tournament: Robin Dolar. He was playing Junk, but I mulled to 5 all three games. Game 1 was an incredibly tense back and forth game that ended with Robin winning from around 5 life, with me having 12 mana and Emrakul in hand. Game 2, I cast 2 Wurmcoil Engines by turn 4. Who says Tron doesn’t mulligan well? In game 3, he had Stony Silence on 2, and I had neglected to bring in Nature’s Claim as most Junk lists play few or no copies of the card and it does nothing other than kill silence. My hand is all artifacts, and I die horribly.
In round 12, I play against a deck I described earlier as “the round 1 menace”. Awkward that I face it in the 10-2 bracket. In game 1, my opponent has an extremely creature heavy draw featuring Goblin Guide, multiple Mogg Fanatics and multiple Grim Lavamancers. I have a slow draw, and don’t assemble tron until turn 4. However, my turn 4 Oblivion Stone leaves me sitting around 9 life to his 3 cards in hand. When he simply passes the turn without playing a land, I go into the tank. I have both Karn and Wurmcoil Engine in my hand. He has a Keldon Megaliths in play, so it makes no sense for him to hold back lands. If his hand is 3 burn spells, then my line is to play Karn and +4 him, take one and hope he doesn’t draw another long enough for me to hit with Wurmcoil. I +4 him with the Karn, and he pitches a Searing Blaze and untaps. He plays a land and passes back, casting no spells on my end step or his main phase. I +4 the Karn, hitting another Searing Blaze, and then cast my Wurmcoil when he has one card. When he had 3 cards they were all Searing Blaze, and I win a close one.
Game 2 is perfectly on script for my deck, as I have early removal for his creatures, Chalice of the Void set to 1, and a turn 4 Wurmcoil Engine to play clean-up. It didn’t hurt that his ultra-consistent deck went to 6.
At this point, I knew I was effectively in a PTQ top 4. I was extremely excited, so I walked the event site to calm down. Then, I anti-climatically played my easiest two rounds of the entire event. I can’t tell you what my round 14 opponent was playing, but I can tell you that it contained Ashiok, Treasure Mage, Far // Away, Pack Rat, Snapcaster Mage, Hero’s Downfall and almost no counter magic. He was never in either game.
(Editor’s Note: I was curious about this deck, and decided to do a bit of research in to what Andrew was playing against. As luck would have it, his opponent posted his decklist here. I figured I would share, because well, Ashiok in Modern!)
In Round 15, I was paired down against my friend Alexander Neufeldt. He was X-1-2 and graciously conceded me to 13-2 and a blue envelope!
While this was going on, my car mate Matt McCullough lost playing for t8 on the same Tron 75. The deck performed extremely well for both of us all weekend, and I would not change a single card if I had to play the event again. I faced 11 very favorable matchups, 2 close matchups, one slightly favorable and one slightly unfavorable and only 2 bad matchups. That’s absurd! Tron qualified me for my first Pro Tour, and it can do the same for you. I highly recommend this deck at your next PTQ. But bear in mind the first rule of playing Tron: ALWAYS. HAVE. NATURAL. TRON.
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