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Karn…Kinda Cares: Adapting GR Tron for the Forthcoming Meta

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

Okay, if honesty is the best policy, I’m a hopeless romantic for the decks I pilot at the competitive level. Everyone has a friend or two that falls in love with the EDH deck they’ve built from the ground up, has a commander that no one else has thought of, or simple cannot seem to move on from the decks of yesteryear.

Admittedly, I am the exact same way with my competitive deck choices. You may think that it is quite odd that a competitive player can get so attached to a deck that he or she will play it regardless if it’s good or not in its given format. In general, I’m prone to agree with you, but, alas, some of us can’t seem to depart from a deck so quickly! We either fall in love with the deck for its flavor reasons, our success with the deck (see fan favorite Cedric Phillips and Kithkin), or a financial investment made into the deck (I’m looking at you, foiled out legacy players!). I say all of that in attempt to try and defend the actions I will be taking this next modern season. I am going to try and make a deck that is not going to be great in the current meta work. You just want to know what deck I’m talking about at this point, right? Well, you could probably infer from the title that it involves this big fella:

That’s right.  My big pet deck in the modern format is GR Tron.  I certainly love me some Urza Tron lands.  So you can have an idea where I’m coming from, and especially if you’ve never seen the deck before, here’s the list I’m running:

Now you might be saying to yourself, “But Tron is just fine, what do you mean ‘bad in the format…’?” Well honestly, before the most recent ban and restricted announcement, I believed GR Tron to be the best deck in the format! If you take an inventory of the all tier 1 decks in the format: Jund/BGx decks, Meliria Pod, Affinity, and Splinter Twin. Tron has a pretty good matchup against all but one of them, that being Splinter Twin.


Against Jund you have a billion mainboard removal effects that they have the hardest time dealing with. Relic of Progenitus laughs at Tarmogoyf and the now banned Deathrite Shaman, Pyroclasm kills every creature in their deck, and a timely Oblivion Stone obliterates their chances at success (sorry, I had to do it). You even have Ghost Quarter to deal with those seemingly pesky man-lands. This matchup is simply a free game 1 win most of the time and is also very favorable post board.

Meliria Pod

Same with Jund, there is the chance that you can just get combo’d out of the game and Meliria’d to death, but really the story is still the same – play your Pyroclasm, leave up relic for their persist fellas, and Oblivion Stone everything else that is relevant from play. Sideboard games can be a little bit more difficult, but I would consider you, if not favored, at least even in this matchup.


Yeah, we had a weird time with these decks. Notice I did not say “bad”, I said “weird.” Affinity matches were some of the oddest games of Magic: The Gathering I’ve ever played. Some of their draws are very susceptible to a Pyroclasm and you can simply just get there, while some of their draws just kill you on turn three. This matchup really depended on how quickly you could assemble the Tron combo and O-Stone their board away or Karn their important piece, i.e. Cranial Plating.

Splinter Twin

This was the true “bad matchup” that we had from the tier 1 decks of the last modern format. Their ability to consistently combo as early as turn four left us in the dust on the draw and at a 70-30 underdog on the play. Torpor Orb, Combust, and Nature’s Claim all put in work in games 2 and 3 here, but we were certainly a dead man walking game 1.

Where We Stand Now

Now if you’ve been living under a metaphorical rock for the past week, you’ve missed that Wizards has decided to add two cards to our beloved Modern format. This cute little kitty decided that it wanted to come and play this upcoming PTQ season:

Wild Nacatl, one of the most aggressive cards to ever be printed, is legal as of Friday, February 9, 2014. This legality shift opens up a wide range of possibilities for the modern format, and none of them are really good for Brother Karn and Company. Remember the old adage propagated by Cedric Phillips, “Karn doesn’t care?” Well, Karn sorta cares about Wild Nacatl decks and he (that being Karn) is going to have to be creative to stay relevant in the upcoming PTQ season and future Modern discussion.

Why? Wild Nacatl, or “Big Kitty” as I like to call her, is much faster than we can ever hope to deal with! Remember how I said the biggest problem with the Splinter Twin matchup was the decks speed and our inability to interact with it? The same is true with these Naya Zoo lists that will be appearing.

A deck that goes turn 1 Wild Nacatl, turn 2 Wild Nacatl is unbeatable for us. That means we’re taking 9 damage by turn 3 and feasibly dead next turn if the draw has any other action. Pyroclasm can’t answer a 3 toughness creature and Oblivion Stone can’t blow up the board until turn 4 at the earliest. An average draw from our Naya Zoo opponent can simply kill us before we can do anything at all. Wurmcoil becomes our only draw that’s live after a board wipe. Karn acts as a seven mana removal spell and we will never cast Emrakul in a game where we weren’t already going to win.

Alright, we’ve determined that a Naya Zoo list is going to be really bad for us. It’s faster than a Jimmy John Sub Delivery. Enough with that negative stuff! Just because a deck is bad for us doesn’t mean we shouldn’t play whatever list we’re comfortable with right? Right. That’s right, unless, the list that is our Boogeyman accounts for a large part of the metagame. Then playing our preferred list for whatever romantic or nostalgic reasons becomes incorrect from a competitive perspective. You’re probably not going to win a GP when most of the room is a bad matchup for you. And I’m going to go ahead and woefully guess that since our not-so-beloved Big Kitty just came off of the ban list, people are going to be chomping at the bit to play with it. I plan on attending GP Richmond, the modern GP in the month of March. Based on how the modern Pro Tour goes over in Valencia, I would not be surprised to see the majority of the field playing some type of zoo list that features are our new arch nemesis.

Well, I guess it’s just time to give up the ole Tron boat for the time being right?

Remember, We’re Dedicated

I’m going to contradict myself here from my last paragraph and suggest that any deck can be edited for any type of format. While a list may not be “the best deck” anymore, it can certainly be playing at the best it is capable of. What does this mean for Tron? We’re going to have to make some adjustments for the various decks in the room that are now plausible because of Wild Nacatl being legal. Like I noted above, Pyroclasm simply does not cut it anymore. I’m not saying the card is terrible, but it is certainly going to be less good than when a large percentage of tournament halls were filled with Jund decks that practically screamed “PYROCLASM ME!!” A good Tron list certainly still plays the card because BGx decks will not disappear and Meliria Pod is a great deck to Pyroclasm away, but the card simply is not as good as it was pre-bannings.

The sideboard of our list has to get crazy if it wants to deal with a new deck that the list currently cannot beat. The card I am really excited to try out is:

This card seems absolutely INSANE against the Naya Zoo list. Firespout can come down from the heavens turn three which is right at the point where you would want it on the play or the draw. Against the zoo lists, Firespout is essentially a three mana board wipe. Firespout shuts off Wild Nacatl, Goblin Guide, Kird Ape, and even a slightly pumped up Tarmogoyf. All of these creatures are x-3’s and a loss of all of these on turn 3 steals the game from your zoo opponent.

Imagine this sample turn layout. The Tron list is on the play:

Turn 1 our opponent plays Experiment One.
Turn 2 our opponent plays Burning-Tree Emissary into Kird Ape and Wild Nacatl (oh God right?)
Turn 3 – Firespout – “gg g2?”

The scary thing about the Naya Zoo lists is that, as in the example I just outlined, they can have 4 creatures that are on or above x-2 status on turn 2. 10 power on turn 2. And we can shut that off for just 2 colorless and a red.

Now I will be fair to my interlocutors who may not like the card. It is sideboard playable at best. The card hardly does anything against other decks in the format as Affinity has both flyers and non-flyers that we would want to deal with and Tron does not want two colored sources that early in the game usually. Also, Firespout suffers from the issue Pyroclasm does. It costs red mana. In the deck we have many ways to generate red mana through our eggs and the four of Grove of the Burnwillows, but the mana can still feel inconsistent more often than not. If the list moves to heavily rely on Firespout out of the sideboard, some number of your land fetches would need to go towards fetching the Groves earlier on in the matchup. While that slows down our land combo, not dying and reaching a stabilization point is obviously more important.

What about Bitterblossom?

An article on the health of GR Tron would be amiss if it did not discuss the other big unbanning that took place for the modern format – Bitterblossom. A UB Faerie list is something we certainly have to prepare for just as much as we need to prepare for the Wild Nacatl lists that will be appearing.

Many esteemed writers and players argue that the faerie enchantment’s unbanning will push a faerie tribal deck back into tier one contention. UB Faerie is a strong archetype that best embodies the meaning of “aggro control.” Bitterblossom enables the control aspect of this deck even further than Spellstutter Sprite and Vendilion Clique can already push the tribe. The ability to continually make 1/1s every single turn at the low cost of a single life point goes a long way towards shutting down slower creature based strategies (for example jund and big zoo), and Sprite/Clique are an excellent source of controlling the threats that one’s opponent is able to throw down.

What does this mean for Tron? It means we are going to have to battle through what seems like an interesting matchup. Getting remanded by the Faerie list is going to be a common place and don’t expect your off-the-top maps to resolve because they can get Sprited for just 2 mana as well. The Tron deck has a total of six 1 or 2 mana cards that can get sprited. Both of the eggs, Pyroclasm, Sylvan Scrying, Ancient Stirrings, and Expedition Map are all worthy targets for the two mana counter. Remember friends, Spellstutter is even turned on by an activated Mutavault!

What cards does the Tron player have in his/her arsenal that helps in the Faerie matchup? Firespout is an excellent card again to bring out of the board as many of the faerie creature that we will be worrying about fly and are less than four toughness. Wurmcoil Engine, another staple in the deck, can keep us gaining life despite the multiple faeries that will undoubtedly flood the board, and Defense Grid.

If the Tron player’s goal is to resolve all of the pieces necessary to establish the land combo and cast a Karn Liberated or Wurmcoil Engine, then Defense Grid will be crucial in shutting down the early Spellstutter’s for one or two. Defense Grid also makes their remands worse against the Tron deck and is easily castable without fear of spellstutter on turn two while on the play.

Obvious upside also exists in Defense Grid as it is an excellent card against Splinter Twin. No longer can a twin opponent simply EOT or upkeep a Deceiver Exarch against you. They have to actually do it on their turn if they still want to combo on turn four. This extra turn gives us an opportunity to deal with the combo piece before they can cast a Splinter Twin.

What about the mainboard?

I don’t think the main board needs touched at all. Tron is a pretty simple deck at its heart and messing with the mainboard numbers to much leaves you susceptible to making the combo less efficient or simply just dying to other random decks in the format. With the banning of Deathrite Shaman, more graveyard strategies than ever before will be playable. Main deck Relic of Progenitus is going to put in work for us. Also, Pyroclasm is going to effectively shut down all of the BW token lists that try to emerge with the oncoming of Bitterblossom. Let’s leave our mainboard untouched for now and win the games the way tron has always done, through the sideboard.

Recommended Board Plan

If GP Richmand were tomorrow and the Pro Tour hadn’t happened yet, I would play a sideboard list that looks something like this:

1 Wurmcoil Engine
3 Torpor Orb
2 Firespout
2 Defense Grid
2 Nature’s Claim
3 Spellskite
2 Combust

This sideboard is geared to beat a few things. First, it is geared to help us with the ugly Naya Zoo lists that will certainly be at the big modern GP next month. Secondly, it helps beat our arch nemesis Splinter Twin. Game one feels unbeatable, but Torpor Orb, Defense Grid, Spellskite,Nature’s Claim, and Combust out of the board will make this matchup fairer for us in the long run. I’m cutting the Mindslaver in this board plan. I don’t think they’re bad, but they were mainly in the board to deal with the Tron mirror and randomly against other combo decks, but with Tron most likely on the decline universally (but not us!), the card loses a bit of functionality.

What do you think?

Tron players and non Tron players alike, I’m curious as to your thoughts on the future of the deck heading into a metagame that may not be to favorable for it. What are ways that we can optimize the deck? Or should we simply abandon all hope and play something else? Tell me what you think!

Jordan Kennedy
Twitter: @imjorman
Website: www.atyourendstep.com

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