The Eldrazi winter is over! As of April 8th, 2016, the Eldrazi decks that have been menacing the Modern format will have their power level checked. That is the day the updated banned list goes into effect, unbanning Sword of the Meek and Ancestral Vision while banning Eye of Ugin.
This news is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. As a RG Tron player, I have become accustomed to relying on Eye of Ugin to produce the most inevitable end game in all of Modern. Recent RG Tron decks were built to be light on threats and heavy on land tutors, which helped assemble the Urza lands early on and found Eye of Ugin late in the game.
Tron is not dead. We’ve lost a powerful tool, and now we must adapt. Adapt or die.
We’ll look at possible directions the deck could head in, and what Tron players have been trying out.
The Current Pre-Ban Deck
The deck plays 20 lands, 20 engine pieces (Star, Sphere, Map, Scrying, Stirrings), and 20 business pieces.
Option 1. Replace Eye with another powerful land.
The easiest — and laziest — thing to do would be to replace Eye of Ugin with a single powerful land. Ideally it should be a tutor, be repeatable, provide inevitability, turn the game around, and play well with our game plan. The potential list is short, since Eye of Ugin was so powerful.
This is the most obvious replacement since it looks so similar to Eye of Ugin (and even has Ugin in the name!). The major flaw is that this already requires us to have a threat in order to get the tutor effect. Chaining Ulamogs is great, but getting the first one into your hand is more important.
People are definitely going to try this, but my instinct tells me it won’t last.
Think of the flavour! The Tron lands combine to make 7 mana and this needs 7 mana. While this is repeatable, it doesn’t provide enough inevitability or ability to turn the game around. The 2/2 tokens are small and require a lot of repeated mana investment. They also don’t play well with our Pyroclasms and Oblivion Stones (although they do play nicely with Ugin since they are colourless.)
I highly doubt anyone will actually put this in a Tron deck; it just isn’t a powerful enough effect.
This card has been played in Tron decks before. It is often paired with Sundering Titan, completely devastating many decks. Sundering Titan has a big body and punishes your opponent for removing him. This package is a good choice if the meta has a lot of blue or three-colour decks, and will see play if the meta becomes very blue.
A couple activations of this should be enough to completely swing the game. Our opponent will be drawing Lilianas, Path to Exiles, and Lightning Bolts while Tron will be drawing Karns, Wurmcoils and Oblivion Stones. Once Tron’s mana is online, its topdecks are better than almost any other deck’s.
I think people will be too scared to play Mikokoro. Letting your opponent draw a card is something many players simply will not do. Sea Gate Wreckage is an intriguing alternative, but Tron’s hand is rarely empty.
Here is a card to get excited about. Eye of Ugin was often the source of endless Wurmcoil Engines, and Academy Ruins provides Tron with endless Wurmcoils, Oblivion Stones, and Expedition Maps. I suspect that some decks will just scoop to recurring Oblivion Stones. We don’t even need to add Mindslaver.
I like that Academy Ruins is repeatable, powerful, plays nicely with our strategy, and produces mana! The big concern is that Tron will need to add blue. Do we give up red for Pyroclasm? Do we try to splash both red and blue? Buried Ruins is a similar effect that doesn’t require blue, but it doesn’t provide enough inevitability.
My enthusiasm for Academy Ruins is tempered by the fact that with the Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry combo now Modern-legal I expect more artifact and graveyard hate.
Academy Ruins is the card we will see people trying the most. If it doesn’t work, then “RG” Tron will not be a tier 1 deck.
Option 2. Add more threats.
One common change you’ll see in Tron decks is increasing the number of Ulamogs and Wurmcoils. The standard-issue RG Tron deck used to run 1-2 Ulamogs and 3 Wurmcoils, but now those numbers will go up to 2-3 and 4, respectively. As mentioned above, Sundering Titan might also make a reappearance if blue decks really take off.
This comes at the cost of our Spellskites. We used to run one (or in extreme cases two) in the main deck to be fetched with Eye of Ugin, but without Eye of Ugin that doesn’t really make sense.
A style of RG Tron called Conduit Tron has existed since Conduit of Ruin was printed in Battle for Zendikar. This deck plays upwards of three Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and uses Conduits to find them. The goal is to quickly overwhelm the opponent with scary monsters. This version isn’t very popular, but it is promising.
Option 3. Add more cantrips.
Part of the beauty and elegance of Eye of Ugin is that it turned late draws of Expedition Map or Sylvan Scrying into game-ending threats by searching up the Eye and then Eldrazi. One possibility is to diversify our land tutors with less powerful but more flexible cards. Ancient Stirrings (which we already play) is a great example of this, trading the ability to get /exactly/ the land we need for a very good late draw.
Two cards stick out in my mind as being potential choices for Tron.
It looks for Land, Creature, and Planeswalker cards, which is good, but it doesn’t get artifacts or sorceries. That’s a bit annoying when we run at least 16 noncreature artifacts, 12 sorceries, and potentially 4 copies of this. Almost half our deck isn’t eligible for this Oath. In contrast, Ancient Stirrings digs 5 cards deep and only misses 12 cards in the deck.
A new Shadows over Innistrad card, this could see play as a one- or two-of. We don’t want it early, since Delirium only comes on later in the game for us (usually Artifact, Sorcery, and Creature, plus Land or Planeswalker). This can help us fight through land destruction or search up a creature later in the game. I like the flexibility it offers.
Option 4. Non-land inevitability.
Here’s where we start getting into dicey territory. All of these have been discussed among Tron players, but we’ve ultimately rejected them. Here are ways of powering through inevitability though repeatable tutors. Sadly, these all die to our Oblivion Stones. This shows you how powerful Eye of Ugin was!
This key story card from Invasion lets us tutor up anything for the price of 12 mana. It’s hard to get to that in one turn, so Planar Portal usually sits around for a whole turn, then eats up our next turn for its activation cost before we finally get to cast the thing we want. Tron makes a lot of mana, but this still seems like too much.
A Planar Portal that costs 1 less to cast and activate. If we’ve tutored three times and haven’t won, then something has gone terribly wrong. Getting 10 mana in one turn is much more plausible than 12. I still don’t think this is the answer.
Um. Very slow, but not very mana-intensive, so I guess that’s a plus? Flavour-wise, using Tamiyo’s Journal to tutor up Emrakul is an A+.
What I’ll be playing for Wednesday night Modern
With all that being said, this is the main deck I would bring to my first Modern event with the new banned list. This seems like a good place to start.
Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think; I’d love to hear from you. Are you happy that Tron loses Eye of Ugin? Ever been Mindslavered?
Catch me at the Face to Face Games in Toronto commentating on the Sunday Showdowns, send me a message on reddit /u/mpaw975, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org