As a format, #MTGPauper is in a fascinating place. The format has seen a significant transformation in the wake of one of the most intense mass bannings any format has seen.
With these ubiquitous, powerful and manaless staples extracted, a vibrant new metagame has emerged and as is the case with all metas, cream rises and silt settles.
While it’s true that Urza’s Legacy is cool an old-timey set, the true Legacy of the mage, the myth, and the legend, is Urza’s Tron cycle! With the free blue spells out of the way, Tron has emerged as top dog in Pauper (at least for the moment!).
I’ve spent the past week educating myself on the ins and outs of Tron and today I’ll be sharing the crucial information Pauper fans need in order to play and combat the format’s latest Bogeyman.
Pauper Tron Fundamentals
With a big topic like “Tron in Pauper,” it makes sense to start with the basics, and it doesn’t get more basic than asking the question of questions: “Who’s the Beatdown?”
The article is getting up there in years (1999!), but like Halle Berry, Flores’ concept somehow hasn’t aged a day in terms of beauty and elegance. If you haven’t read it yet, READ IT!
Luckily for us, UrzaTron decks are easy to place because the archetype is the Control Deck, through and through. It’s easy to understand why if you think about it: the three Tron Lands combine to produce obscenely copious amounts of mana in the mid-to-late game, which is used to overpower an opponent’s strategy.
If you’d like a simple explanation for why Tron is always the control deck, here it is: Assembling the third Tron piece is the equivalent of casting Rampant Growth four times for free.
Yes, the mana is colorless, but it’s a huge advantage in mana and virtual card advantage. Other decks need to commit four additional cards and land drops to achieve the same result.
With access to a big mana engine the question isn’t “Can Tron find a way to win?” but rather “Can Tron withstand the beatdown long enough to leverage its endgame spells?” Which means having the right build with the right tools to fight against what other people are bringing to the table is critical.
Pauper Tron is different from Modern Tron. Obviously, a different cardpool but also a different kind of strategy. Modern Tron wants to spam powerful game-ending spells on turn three.
In Pauper, turn three Tron is less important because the threats are much less impressive than Karn or Wurmcoil. The benefits of Tron show up in the mid / late game as it provides mana to overpower and overcome other decks.
A “Flicker” of Hopelessness
Tron variants are the most-represented in the Winner’s Metagame. MTGTop8 has Tron locking up 15% of Top 8 spots, roughly one in every Top 8. I’ve specified there is significant variation to the archetype, but the most popular and successful version is “Flicker” Tron.
It’s also worth noting Tron’s 15% is also somewhat suppressed by the difficulty of the deck to play, especially against the chess clock on MTGO (as it requires a TON of clicks to execute the Ghostly Flicker loops). For instance, I wouldn’t consider playing Tron for an online Challenge because I know I’m not a strong enough MTGO player to consistently beat the clock. It’s interesting that the best deck also requires a high degree of technical difficulty to execute online, but that is neither here nor there. My point is I believe we’d see even larger numbers from Tron if the clock were not a significant obstacle for winning with the deck.
Let’s start with a list from an individual, Hellsau, who clearly has no trouble beating the clock with his signature version of the archetype! Hellsau has been racking up wins in Leagues and Challenges on MTGO.
Flicker Tron, Pauper
Hellsau, 3rd MTGO Pauper Challenge
3 Ash Barrens 5 Snow-Covered Island 1 Snow-Covered Plains 4 Urza's Power Plant 4 Urza's Tower 4 Urza's Mine 2 Dinrova Horror 3 Mnemonic Wall 4 Mulldrifter 4 Stonehorn Dignitary 2 Trinket Mage 1 Compulsive Research 1 Condescend 1 Dispel 2 Ephemerate 4 Ghostly Flicker 2 Moment’s Peace 1 Mystical Teachings 1 Prohibit 1 Pulse of Murasa 4 Arcum’s Astrolabe 2 Expedition Map 4 Prophetic Prism Sideboard 1 Dinrova Horror 1 Gut Shot 4 Hydroblast 2 Lone Missionary 2 Moment’s Peace 4 Pyroblast 1 Shattering Pulse
The latest innovation is to further push the Ghostly Flicker package to include Stonehorn Dignitary to lock opposing decks out of combat.
When paired with Mnemonic Wall to loop, the trio combines to lock an opponent out of their combat step every single turn for 2U (aka tapping an Urza’s Tower and an Astrolabe!). Once into the midgame, Tron can loop Flicker + Wall several times in the same turn. Remember that Ghostly Flicker can target any permanent you control, which means it can blink out creatures, Astrolabes, Prisms, or protect your Tron pieces from Stone Rains.
I’m 100% on board with Hellsau’s take on the archetype with Dignitary. There are a lot of awkward things that can go wrong with Moment’s Peace, especially after sideboard.
Moment’s Peace is also a larger investment of mana if you intent to cast it every turn (which you always are!). I’m also a big turn of starting my turn by Flickering Dignitary and making sure the coast is clear. If an opponent is playing with cards that interact with the combo, it forces us to leave up more mana to make sure we can win the fight. Once the Dignitary is safely flickered, I can go ham tapping my mana to draw cards and dig for the next layer of insulation because I know I’m safe (at least from combat damage) for my opponent’s next turn.
Birbman (who I met doing coverage for PPL) is an innovator and Flicker Master. I’ll refer to his style of list as “Previous Level UrzaTron,” (or, PLU for nostalgia). I’m not calling it that because it’s outdated, but because it came first, and like Previous Level Blue of Extended it shares a similar dynamic where the metagame has shifted around to where the earlier version is once again well positioned! In fact, there’s debate among the Tron players at my LGS about which version is ideal!
ENTROPY263, 3rd Pauper Challenge
4 Urza's Mine 4 Urza's Tower 4 Urza's Power Plant 1 Mortuary Mire 1 Remote Isle 8 Snow-Covered Island 2 Trinket Mage 3 Mnemonic Wall 4 Mulldrifter 1 Dinrova Horror 1 Dispel 2 Ephemerate 1 Counterspell 3 Impulse 2 Moment’s Peace 1 Weather the Storm 1 Forbidden Alchemy 2 Ghostly Flicker 1 Pulse of Murasa 2 Mystical Teachings 4 Expedition Map 4 Prophetic Prism 4 Arcum’s Astrolabe Sideboard 2 Dispel 1 Electrickery 3 Hydroblast 3 Pyroblast 1 Ancient Grudge 2 Moment’s Peace 1 Serene Heart 1 Weather the Storm 1 Fangren Marauder
Both lists are similar, with the key difference being Stonehorn. Hellsau’s version also plays more Flickers, which makes sense because he has more high-impact targets. PLU, on the other hand, uses those slots on spells like additional Maps and Impulse to help smooth out potentially awkward draws.
Since Dignitary isn’t an important factor in the mirror, and having a more consistent path to the endgame via Map and Impulse is huge, PLU is favored in the head-to-head. However, Dignitary is a big game against the aggro decks that are focused on beating Tron, so how you hedge makes a difference.
I played quite a bit with the lists and there were elements of both lists.
3 Ash Barrens 5 Snow-Covered Island 1 Snow-Covered Plains 1 Mortuary Mire 4 Urza's Mine 4 Urza's Tower 4 Urza's Power Plant 2 Trinket Mage 4 Mulldrifter 3 Mnemoic Wall 4 Stonehorn Dignitary 1 Dinrova Horror 4 Prophetic Prism 4 Arcum’s Astrolabe 3 Expedition Map 3 Ghostly Flicker 1 Pulse of Murasa 2 Mystical Teachings 1 Ephemerate 1 Dispel 1 Counterspell 1 Moment’s Peace 1 Brainstorm 1 Impulse Sideboard 4 Pyroblast 4 Hydroblast 1 Gorilla Shaman 1 Disenchant 1 Electrickery 1 Moment’s Peace 1 Mystic Remora 1 Dispeller’s Capsule
Dignitary felt too good not to play with so much beatdown in the field. I was also really impressed with Brainstorm in the deck. Between Ash Barrens, Trinket Mage, Map, and Teachings, there are more than enough shuffle effects to justify a Brainstorm to help churn some of the matchup-dependent cards like Moment’s Peace and Dignitary.
The first Brainstorm felt so good that I’d consider a second after the Impulse, but I do like the split.
I can play the deck fast in person, but I’m not comfortable enough with the clicks for it to be a legitimate MTGO choice for me. My list is likely a much better paper variant than MTGO since it is maximum durdle.
Mire provides a way to never deck out, since it can be flickered to put creatures on top of the library to survive another draw step. There’s always some convoluted way to not die, if you’re willing to look for it. For instance, you can loop Pulse of Murasa so that you can add cards to your hand with an empty library and discard a creature to hand size to do the Mire trick every turn without running out of creatures in the graveyard. Decking is a real concern with these Flicker lists since they are great at not losing, but not great at actually killing an opponent.
Keep in mind that these decks play little or no actual removal. The “removal” is to lock an opponent out of combat, which means Tron only has a finite amount of time to screw around before the burden of executing a Fog Lock arrives. Not only will you need to assemble it, but also protect it.
A fast clock with tricky ways to break up the soft lock are the best ways to defeat Flicker Tron. Some burn to push through doesn’t hurt either!
Flicker is the version that has been lulling the format into submission over the past month, but there are other versions putting up results as well. A reason some of these “rogue” variants are less popular likely correlates to the fact that they are not favored in the heads-up against Flicker versions.
Potential upsides of these lists are that they are less vulnerable to the hate directed at the Flicker versions and some have better matchups against aggressive decks in general. It’s basic metagaming–if you are getting better against something, then chances are you got worse against something else!
Fangren Tron is a fan favorite:
3 Cave of Temptation 2 Haunted Fengraf 2 Rugged Highlands 4 Urza’s Mine 4 Urza’s Tower 4 Urza’s Power Plant 4 Fangren Marauder 4 Mulldrifter 3 Self-Assembler 2 Ulamog’s Crusher 3 Wretched Gryff 4 Ancient Stirrings 1 Crop Rotation 3 Flame Slash 1 Rolling Thunder 4 Chromatic Star 4 Chromatic Sphere 4 Expedition Map 4 Prophetic Prism Sideboard 3 Earth Rift 3 Electrickery 2 Leave No Trace 4 Relic of Progenitus 3 Weather the Storm
Fangren is closer to a Modern take on Tron: make a bunch of mana to cast giant Monsters!
A 5/5 Marauder isn’t easy for aggressive decks to kill, and once it sticks it spams life gain via Spheres and Stars to quickly get the life total out of reach.
Here’s a Monster / Flicker Tron Variant. Why not both?
Toshiki Wee, Pauper 3K @ Roll Play Game Lounge
1 Mortuary Mire 1 Radiant Fountain 6 Snow-Covered Island 1 Snow-Covered Swamp 4 Urza’s Mine 4 Urza’s Tower 4 Urza’s Power Plant 2 Dinrova Horror 3 Mnemonic Wall 3 Mulldrifter 2 Sea Gate Oracle 2 Stonehorn Dignitary 2 Ulamog’s Crusher 2 Evincar’s Justice 3 Ghostly Flicker 2 Mystical Teachings 4 Ob Nixilis's Cruelty 2 Power Sink 2 Spell Shrivel 3 Arcum’s Astrolabe 3 Expedition Map 4 Prophetic Prism 4 Ob Nixilis's Cruelty Sideboard 1 Capsize 2 Chittering Rats 2 Coalition Honor Guard 4 Diabolic Edict 4 Dispel 2 Tormod’s Crypt
The fact that these decks are all playing Crusher is another strong incentive to be on the Stonehorn Fog Lock, since Moment’s Peace is not great against annihilator.
I mentioned this list in my Top 20 Pauper Lists article last week, but it’s a sweet example of deckbuilding and a fresh take on a powerful strategy that earned Brian Coval a spot in the Pauper Premier League playoffs.
Snow White Tron
2 Snow-Covered Island 4 Snow-Covered Plains 3 Ash Barrens 4 Urza’s Power Plant 4 Urza’s Mine 4 Urza’s Tower 4 Glint Hawk 4 Kor Skyfisher 4 Mulldrifter 2 Palace Sentinels 3 Kaervek’s Torch 1 Weather the Storm 4 Arcum’s Astrolabe 3 Expedition Map 1 Relic of Progenitus 4 Journey to Nowhere 4 Prophetic Prism 2 Prismatic Strands 2 Deep Analysis 1 Scour from Existence Sideboard 2 Relic of Progenitus 3 Pyroblast 2 Dispel 1 Patriarch’s Scorn 3 Faultgrinder 3 Hydroblast 1 Standard Bearer
Snow White Tron foregoes the Flicker loops (although it still Fogs with Prismatic Strands) and uses the Skyfisher / Hawk package to loop Prisms and Astrolabes while also providing beatdown and blocks. Brian is using Tron to value cast Mulldrifters, but also to fuel gigantic Kaervek’s Torches to end games after getting in chip damage with fliers.
The Urza Tron Lands are an interesting facet of the Pauper Metagame. Obviously, the power level of these lands is quite high, but it’s fascinating all of the different ways they can be utilized in order to achieve success within the metagame.
It’s clear that casting Ghostly Flicker four times every turn is the most popular approach (and I can’t argue that it isn’t extremely strong!), but it’s worth noting all the lists I’ve featured have had recent success at the highest levels of Pauper Play (Challenges, 3K, and PPL). So, if you want to harness the power of Tron but flickering Stonehorn isn’t your style (or, in your range on MTGO), you’ve got options!
While I do think Tron has emerged as the Boogeyman in Pauper, I’d also like to end on the note that the metagame is still extremely diverse with plenty of non-Tron options. 15% of the Winner’s Metagame doesn’t even come close to signifying a falling sky, especially when we consider that there is a ton of variation (Flicker, PLU, Monsters, Hybrid, and Snow White) all factoring into the mix.