July 20, 2018

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Modern Control: Blue Tron

Modern is a format of blistering speed and efficiency, with many different angles of attack. This makes it particularly hostile to answer-heavy control decks, where drawing the wrong interaction for a given matchup is often an immediate loss.

The recent surge in blue/white “Planeswalker” control notwithstanding, Modern control decks have generally had to adopt prison elements (Ensnaring Bridge, Blood Moon), combo elements (Through the Breach, Madcap Experiment) or some other “plan B” to quickly win a game (Bolt-Snap-Bolt) in order to be successful.

After putting in dozens of matches with Esper Draw-Go Control – a deck with no such backup plan – I started looking for something with a similar play pattern but a more legitimate “plan B” that would be effective in Modern. Enter Mono-Blue tron:

Mono-Blue Tron

Creatures (7)
Snapcaster Mage
Trinket Mage
Walking Ballista
Wurmcoil Engine
Torrential Gearhulk
Platinum Angel

Planeswalkers (1)
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Artifacts (8)
Expedition Map
Chalice of the Void
Oblivion Stone
Mindslaver

Spells (19)
Repeal
Remand
Condescend
Cyclonic Rift
Dismember
Thirst for Knowledge
Supreme Will
Commit

Lands (25)
Island
Urza’s Tower
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Power Plant
River of Tears
Academy Ruins
Field of Ruin
Tolaria West

Sideboard (15)
Spatial Contortion
Thought-Knot Seer
Spell Pierce
Spell Snare
Surgical Extraction
Crucible of Worlds
Ghost Quarter
Engineered Explosives

Blue Tron has a lot of the draw-go tactics that define Esper. The early game is generally draw a card, make a land drop, pass the turn, then counter, bounce, or draw cards depending on what your opponent does. Expedition Map is a common early game play. It isn’t instant speed, but at one mana it can come down on turn one or three without affecting access to Remand and Condescend, and then activate at the end of a turn where interaction is not needed. There is some nice synergy between the controlling early game and big-mana end game as most of the early game interaction draws cards or scries, helping find missing tron pieces or win conditions as needed.

That big mana end game is what sets Blue Tron apart from a deck like Esper control. It gets to do something fundamentally unfair by suddenly propelling itself ahead by 4+ mana at no real cost. While getting the three Urza’s lands on the battlefield generally doesn’t happen before turn four (and often happens much later), once assembled the deck can either deploy huge threats ahead of curve or deploy huge threats with counterspell backup. Should the deck hit thirteen mana it even gets a combo-kill by milling out the opponent with the hard lock of Mindslaver and Academy Ruins.

One of the important things to recognize with Blue Tron, as opposed to green based tron, is that there is no rush to assemble the three Urza’s lands. Most of the time the deck needs a blue source to interact early on, so Tron isn’t coming online before turn four anyways. In situations where tron does not get assembled (whether due to Blood Moon, Ghost Quarter, or bad luck) the deck still plays a pretty good fair game by just making land drops, interacting, and then resolving hard to stop threats like Wurmcoil Engine or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.

A few other specific card interactions are worth noting if you are unfamiliar with the deck:

Expedition Map generally grabs missing Urza’s lands first, then can be used for either Academy Ruins or Tolaria West in the late game. Academy Ruins gives the deck fantastic card selection and inevitability, allowing recursion of Oblivion Stone, Walking Ballista, or the hard lock with Mindslaver. Tolaria West can be transmuted to find a Walking Ballista which can be massive with tronlands. Either land can effectively turn an Expedition Map into a win condition in the late game.

Thirst for Knowledge is effectively the Blue Tron version of Sylvan Scrying. Instead of outright tutoring the land that we need, we draw three and hope to find something relevant (often a missing tron piece). In the early game we may be digging for lands and interaction, whereas later on we may just be digging for a win condition. The looting effect allows you to discard cards that may not be effective in the matchup anyways such as Dismember or Remand, or artifacts that can later be returned with Academy Ruins if necessary. Combined with our other cantrips and scry effects, this gives the deck the power to see a lot of cards in each match and find what it needs in time.

Chalice of the Void is another way the deck can steal wins. A chalice set to one only disables our Expedition Map, while chalice on two will disable Remand and Cyclonic Rift (and Spatial Contortion out of the board) so keep that in mind. Luckily anything we’ve disabled with our chalice can be pitched to Thirst for Knowledge. Be sure to pay attention to your Condescend and Repeal spells once you have a chalice out so that you don’t set X in such a way as to have your own chalice counter them. One unfortunate interaction is that you cannot Repeal a Chalice on one to save it from removal or change its value, since Repeal for zero has a mana cost of one and gets countered by that very Chalice.

Overall the list I’m currently using is relatively standard. The Torrential Gearhulk/Commit combo is more commonly a Karn, Scion of Urza and a Talisman of Dominance. Sometimes Platinum Angel is a Sundering Titan or Myr Battlesphere, and sometimes Thought-Knot Seer in the sideboard is Spreading Seas instead. Otherwise it’s mostly a matter of how many of each card is included and the distribution between maindeck and sideboard.

I doubt I’ll ever totally give up on the pure control offered by a deck like Esper Draw-Go. But, it is refreshing to play something like Blue Tron that scratches a lot of the draw-go control itch while also doing unfair things and flat out winning games.

Until next time, good luck taking all the turns in a way far less obnoxious than spamming Time Warps!