Green-White Tron in the New Modern

Hello, my name is Nelson, and I’m not afraid to admit it: sometimes, I’m kind of a hipster.

I’m that guy who wears the weird t-shirt with an obscure joke no one gets. I’m that guy who listens to bands you’ve never heard of.

Also, I was playing green-white Urzatron in Modern before it was cool.

Based on the premise that [card]Path to Exile[/card] is superior to [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] or [card]Firespout[/card] against decks such as Infect, Bant Eldrazi and [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] aggro, while also offering multiple interesting sideboard options, white has become, lately, the secondary color of choice for Tron players. The variant was most notably popularized by Tom Ross, who won a Star City Games Open with it. This color shift, while providing the deck with many powerful options that are better positioned right now than the ones offered by the color red, comes at the cost of a slightly less efficient manabase, as the awesome [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card] is replaced by [card]Razorverge Thicket[/card], [card]Brushland[/card] or [card]Horizon Canopy[/card], which all come with small but sometimes annoying drawbacks. Nonetheless, the power upgrade against the expected Modern metagame warrants slightly downgrading the manabase.

GW Tron – Tom Ross
StarCityGames.com Players’ Championship on 12/17/2016

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Forest
1 Gemstone Caverns
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Razorverge Thicket
1 Sanctum of Ugin
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Ancient Stirrings
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Chromatic Star
4 Expedition Map
4 Karn Liberated
2 Oblivion Stone
3 Path to Exile
3 Relic of Progenitus
4 Sylvan Scrying
1 Talisman of Unity
3 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
1 Spellskite
2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
1 World Breaker
1 Wurmcoil Engine
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
2 Blessed Alliance
2 Warping Wail
1 Rest in Peace
2 Thragtusk
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
3 Nature’s Claim
1 Path to Exile
1 Gemstone Caverns
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Oblivion Stone
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Months before Ross made a splash with the deck, I was already playing it in various PPTQs, losing in the finals of one of them, and missing on tiebreakers in another. My losses were against expected difficult matchups, [card]Ad Nauseam[/card], Burn and [card]Death’s Shadow[/card]; but overall, I feel the deck performed very well.

With the recent bannings of [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] and [card]Golgari Grave-Troll[/card], which should slow down the format somewhat, and with more and more decks gravitating towards new Modern darling [card]Fatal Push[/card], Tron appears to be a great deck choice going forward. Here is my take on this archetype, which features another recently banned card (in Standard, anyway).

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Forest
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Plains
2 Razorverge Thicket
1 Sanctum of Ugin
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Ancient Stirrings
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Chromatic Star
4 Expedition Map
4 Karn Liberated
3 Oblivion Stone
4 Path to Exile
4 Sylvan Scrying
2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
1 Emrakul, the Promised End
1 Spellskite
2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
1 Walking Ballista
1 World Breaker
2 Wurmcoil Engine
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
2 Nature’s Claim
1 Warping Wail
1 Blessed Alliance
2 Engineered Explosives
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Emrakul, the Promised End
1 Rest in Peace
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Thragtusk
2 Thought-Knot Seer
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Of course, when you’ve seen a Tron deck, you’ve kind of seen them all: the core of the deck is mostly industry standard at this point. But the devil is in the details, and beyond the usual engine cards, beyond the obvious Karns, Ugins, [card]Oblivion Stone[/card]s and Ulamogs, the flex slots and sideboard strategy can make a significant difference over a long tournament, especially when you can search for them. In the case of Tron, a few choice singleton colorless creatures and lands goes a long way. For instance, [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] can help against the mirror, and more importantly, against [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] out of Infect decks; [card]Horizon Canopy[/card] can turn [card]Expedition Map[/card] into a cycling card when the game goes long; [card]World Breaker[/card] has an awkward spot in the deck’s mana curve (the full Urzatron gives you seven colorless mana, so unless you use a [card]Chromatic Sphere[/card] or Star, you often find yourself casting that thing with mana floating), but can deal with all sorts of problem permanents, and the reach ability is surprisingly useful against some decks.

Keeping Promises

Let’s talk about the giant brain-warping spaghetti monster in the room. To put it simply: I have never lost a game of Modern in which I cast Emrakul. It promises the end, and keeps its promise. It’s every bit as game breaking as it was in Standard, if not moreso. Modern decks having more powerful and efficient spells often means you can not only sabotage them, but downright cripple them. Sometimes, just tutoring for it is enough to trigger a concession. Just for the heck of it, here are a few boneheaded plays Emrakul’s bad influence can entice you into making with your Modern deck:

– cast [card]Path to Exile[/card] on your own [card]Spellskite[/card], then activate the [card]Spellskite[/card] over and over in response;
– cast [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] and “forget” to cast [card]Angel’s Grace[/card];
– sacrifice your board state to an [card]Arcbound Ravager[/card], [card]Viscera Seer[/card], or [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] ultimate;
– cast [card]Scapeshift[/card], sacrifice all your lands, then find nothing;
– make your Karn exile itself;
– cast [card]Spoils of the Vault[/card] naming [card]Hot Soup[/card].

Of course, the [card]Mindslaver[/card] effect is the primary reason to play Emrakul. There are games, especially against combo opponents, where no other card could save you, but Emrakul wins on the spot. However, it’s way better than [card]Mindslaver[/card] in this deck. After all, it’s a 13/13 flying and trampling threat that can be searched for with [card]Sanctum of Ugin[/card], and that’s impervious to most removal spells commonly played in Modern. This is why I like replacing the usual third Ulamog by Emrakul, with a second in the sideboard for combo matchups.

The issue, then, becomes casting that thing. Fortunately, this deck is already able to cast Ulamog reliably, so you don’t have to reduce Emrakul’s cost too much. You usually have at least an artifact and a sorcery in your graveyard in the early turns; from there, you just have to put a third type in the graveyard by the time you get to ten mana: sometimes it’s [card]Path to Exile[/card], sometimes it’s Walking Ballista, sometimes it’s using Karn’s minus 3 ability twice to take out two permanents, sometimes it’s sacrificing [card]Sanctum of Ugin[/card], [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] or [card]Horizon Canopy[/card]. A combination of those can speed the process even further.

This comes at the cost of not playing maindeck [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card], which may not be as important going forward. Ugin, [card]Oblivion Stone[/card], Ulamog and [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] can still give you some percentage points against Dredge, especially now that it’s a bit slower. Mind you, you still want some graveyard removal out of the sideboard, often in matchups where you want to sideboard out Emrakul anyway.

The New Toy

I have been toying around with Walking Ballista, and I really like what it adds to the deck. It does everything you want out of a secondary Tron threat: it can be cast before you assemble the Tron and buy you some time; it can trigger [card]Sanctum of Ugin[/card] or be found with it; it scales in the late game and can be a mana sink when you have nothing else to do with all the mana; it helps with Emrakul’s delirium; it can interact at all stages of the game with infect creatures, elves, [card]Dark Confidant[/card]s, [card]Vault Skirge[/card]s and Memnites, planeswalkers, opponents and all sorts of other annoying things. Against the right opponent, it can take over a game on its own, which is pretty awesome for a scalable two-drop. I like it enough at this point that I’m considering playing a second in place of the maindeck [card]Spellskite[/card], which I don’t find to be all that great anyway these days. Sure, it has a lot of interesting applications, but all decks that would in theory be weak to it have a plan to get rid of it or simply ignore it.

Sideboard Notes

As is the case with the maindeck, many of the sideboard cards in Urzatron decks are widely adopted at this point, but there is still room for exploration. Of course, sideboards need to be constantly adjusted for the metagame you expect to face, so please take the list I proposed with a grain of salt.

Blessed Alliance: While this can be a great card against decks like Infect, [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] aggro and Boggles, the cat is out of the bag at this point, and every competent player knows to play around it if at all possible, attacking with Noble Hierarches and [card]Dryad Arbor[/card]s to invalidate it. It also doubles as defense against burn, which is not a bad thing, but you still have to get lucky against that deck. I like having one to keep opponents honest, but I’m not super enthusiastic about this card right now.
[card]Warping Wail[/card]: another very versatile, but very situational card. At its best against Jund (where it can exile [card]Dark Confidant[/card], or counter [card]Thoughtseize[/card], [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card] and sideboarded [card]Crumble to Dust[/card]) and serviceable to take out an elf, a small robot or counter a [card]Bring to Light[/card] or a [card]Scapeshift[/card], it can sometimes rot in your hand if it doesn’t line up with what your opponent is doing.

Rest in Peace, [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] and [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card]: This split illustrates how I usually build my Modern sideboards, especially when it comes to cards like these that are often bad in multiples, but can fill different roles in different matchups. Of course they’re all good against Dredge, but the singleton [card]Rest in Peace[/card] can really shine against [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] decks, especially those that also run [card]Grim Flayer[/card] and [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], while the Cage comes in against the Collected Company/Chord of Calling decks.

[card]Thought-Knot Seer[/card]: Comes in for the mirror match, against control and combo decks, and against burn, where it can block everything, takes a spell away and usually requires two cards to get rid of. I’m still unsure about this one, but it may have been bad variance on my end (take a combo piece, opponent draws it again 2 turns later) and may prove its worth in the long run. Needs further testing.

The second [card]Emrakul, the Promised End[/card]: Usually replaces an Ulamog in matchups where Emrakul is better, to increase the chances of drawing it naturally or finding it with [card]Ancient Stirrings[/card]. Spell-based decks such as [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] and many versions of Burn will usually manage to still win through an Ulamog, but if they can’t kill you right away, they will often get crushed by a resolved Emrakul (you’re still a dog against nut-draws from these decks, but it at least improves your chances and puts pressure on them to kill you quickly).

Engineered Explosives: Without access to red, the deck loses access to small board sweepers such as [card]Pyroclasm[/card], [card]Firespout[/card] or [card]Kozilek’s Return[/card]. Explosives fill that gap, and add a lot of versatility. An excellent card against Elves and Affinity, it also helps a lot against decks like Merfolk, Black-White tokens, and Hatebears (where it can be cast with X=1 against [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card], and if you use a second color to pay for Thalia’s tax, you still get the two sunburst counters). Also good against [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] and its many one-drops, that the red sweepers can’t hit reliably. In a pinch, it can be cast for 7 to trigger [card]Sanctum of Ugin[/card].

Conclusion

Some people are hesitant to play Urzatron when Modern is too fast. I find that this is not quite accurate. In my opinion, the only kind of metagame where you should avoid playing it is one where there are spell-based combo decks all over the place. Any deck that relies on permanents staying on the battlefield can be beaten with the right setup. Of course, the best time to play it is when everyone is on midrange and control decks with lots of removal. This is, without question, the deck with the most powerful late game in the format. If you can get to that magical moment when the Tower, the Mine and the Power Plant interconnect and start producing giant colorless tools of mass destruction, you can crush almost anyone in your path. The trick is just getting there. The rest will take care of itself. Urza doesn’t know what he’s done. But as long as I’m allowed to, I will keep building soul-crushing war machines upon his unbalanced real estate.

Unless, you know, it becomes too mainstream or something.