When you give players access to an abundance of mana they are going to try to exploit it. That is the concept behind Tron decks. Utilizing Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Power Plant, and Urza’s Tower—the so called UrzaTron—these decks attempt to leverage their resource advantage over their opponents to either cast game-breaking spells ahead of schedule or multiple spells in a single turn to get ahead.
Pauper is home to various Tron decks that all operate in slightly different ways but all hinge on the same concept: I have more mana than you. Much like I did for Delver decks last time, I want to give a brief overview of the many varieties of Tron decks, how to recognize them, and some tips and tricks for when you face them.
I wrote a more detailed article on Murasa Tron a few months ago and not much has changed. Murasa Tron uses the mana engine to assume the role of a control deck. It spends the first few turns of a game setting up its resources and defenses, often using Sea Gate Oracle to fill both roles. Swiftwater Cliffs into Urza’s Mine into Prophetic Prism is usually a good signal you’re up against this build.
Murasa Tron has fewer game-breaking expensive spells as it usually runs single copies of Rolling Thunder and Capsize—Ulamog’s Crusher in the sideboard is also common—and instead tries to use multiple spells to impact a single turn. For my money, Murasa Tron is currently the deck best positioned to cast Mulldrifter.
Mulldrifter is an obscenely powerful card in Pauper. The body is relevant and when you pay full price you go up two cards as a 2/2 flyer is a real threat in the format. It sees relatively minimal play thanks to the price tag. Tron decks can mitigate this and it can be said that Murasa Tron is built on the back of the flying fish. Being able to evoke Mulldrifter early and get it back later allows the control build to go up on cards and buff the life total. Later on, paying the full 5 with mana to spare means that the deck can follow up a threat with a card like Flame Slash or Lightning Bolt, and still leave up mana for Impulse or Mystical Teachings.
Murasa Tron is also flexible. Some versions drift towards Ghostly Flicker Tron variants using Mnemonic Wall as a value engine. Others go deeper and include a Dinrova Horror endgame. The differences between Dinrova focused Tron decks and Murasa Tron decks featuring Dinrova Horror often comes down to removal. If the deck is running Flame Slash it is likely Murasa Tron. If, instead, the deck leans on Moment’s Peace and features Crop Rotation, it is probably Dinrova Tron. While both decks have some of the same choke points, attacking them is completely different so be prepared.
Murasa Tron’s biggest enemy might be the amount of time it takes to get going. Unlike some other decks I will be looking at today, Murasa Tron relies heavily on its backup plan of being a control deck. Because of this it places less of an emphasis on getting the triumvirate of lands online as quickly as possible. The result is that it is possible to beat Murasa Tron before it comes fully online. Stompy and Hexproof have draws that can overwhelm the control position. While this version is somewhat advantaged against the midrange decks of the format, it is possible for Murasa Tron to falter to a perfect curve. Going Foundry Inspector into Kor Skyfisher into Inspector and Prophetic Prism and then slamming Palace Sentinels can be enough to seal the deal.
The control version of Tron can falter to nut draws. Having access to nigh-unbeatable draw is something many Pauper decks can claim. Murasa Tron, being fundamentally reactive, is not one of those decks. A chain of Burning-Tree Emissary, a perfect burn draw, blind flipped Delver of Secrets—all of these are ways to leave the Tron player with their head in their hands wondering what happened.
Murasa Tron is also a deck that thrives in a known metagame. Because it has to run the right answers for a given field it can suffer if it packs the wrong removal spells. While going rogue may not be the best way to beat Murasa Tron, it can give you an advantage.
FloyFreak, Top 8 in May 6th Pauper Challenge
Hellsau, 1st place at May 13 Pauper Challenge
There are a variety of decks that seek to use the natural mana advantage of Tron to perform numerous Ghostly Flicker and Mnemonic Wall loops. The most popular of these uses Dinrova Horror to Recoil away an opponent’s board. More recent versions featuring Stonehorn Dignitary have surged thanks to their ability to shut off the combat step entirely. Flickering Dignitary stacks so that each iteration is another turn your life total will stay relatively untouched.
Dinrova Tron was first on the scene after Modern Masters 2017. It took the shell of Murasa Tron but stripped away removal in favor of preventative measures like Moment’s Peace. It is more focused on finding the three pieces of Tron quickly and as such runs Expedition Map and a copy of Crop Rotation. It leans harder on Forbidden Alchemy and Impulse to acquire key pieces. Dinrova Tron is a ramp deck with a prison-like endgame. Eventually the opponent will be left hellbent and have an empty board while a team of 4/4s go to town.
As of late Stonehorn Tron has taken off. A metagame response to the surge of both Tribe Combo and aggressive green decks, this deck wants to shut down combat. While it lacks beefy beaters for combat it can still win with Mulldrifter in the air. It has another win condition that requires a bit more of the clock and a sufficient lock on the game. Stonehorn Tron runs extra copies of Compulsive Research. Not only is the standout sorcery a great way to find key cards, it also can go to the dome. That’s right—Stonehorn Tron can get the game to a point where it will use Ghostly Flicker on two Mnemonic Walls to get back Flicker and Compulsive Research. Then it points the draw spell at the opponent. Once the combat phase has been sufficiently erased there isn’t much that the extra card draw can do for many decks.
Flicker Tron decks are interesting in that they are some combination of combo and prison strategies. The early game is all about acquiring the abundance of mana needed to facilitate the lock. Unlike high profile prison decks, the lockout does not begin on the first or second turn of the game. In addition to the mentioned Expedition Maps and Crop Rotations, these decks often feature Simic Signet as a way to get ahead even faster. If you see a Thornwood Falls followed up by a Tron piece, chances are that you are up against a Flicker Tron deck.
Racing Flicker Tron decks is fairly hard. While they lack removal spells they lean hard on cards like Moment’s Peace to stay alive. They are also adept at coming online quickly. These builds tend to skimp on removal spells as a result so an early threat could do work, but it would take a perfect confluence for a turn one blind flipped Delver to go all the way.
The best way to attack Flicker Tron is to constrain its resources. While land destruction is not a viable long term strategy it can buy you time before a Flicker lock comes online. Crop Rotation is a huge pinch point and being able to counter the tutor can net you a turn or two. Stone Rain effects are only so effective here since it can be hard to follow up removing the land with a threat to apply pressure. In the late game Ghostly Flicker can save lands while Pulse of Murasa can get back a key piece.
The better way to remove resources is to go after the graveyard. Relic of Progenitus is the gold standard here as it comes down early and can be popped at the proper point. Bojuka Bog is useful as it cannot be countered and Faerie Macabre is in the same boat. Macabre is nice since it can snag a Moment’s Peace and a Ghostly Flicker all for the low low price of free. Without access to the graveyard Flicker Tron decks lose their engine so being able to hit that yard is one of the best ways to attack the deck and leave them dead in their tracks.
decx100, 5-0 in a Pauper League
Big Annie, Top 32 at the May 13 Pauper Challenge
The original Tron deck in Pauper was a blue-red-green deck that ran Mulldrifter, Fangren Marauder, and Firebolt. Leaning on Prophetic Prism and the pair of Chromatic Sphere and Chromatic Star to fix mana, it made exceptional use of Ancient Stirrings as a way to find lands but also to dig for an Ulamog’s Crusher or a way to fix mana. These decks want to use the mana advantage not to cast multiple spells in a turn and not to facilitate a combo—they just want to invalidate whatever the opponent does by casting a larger threat. As the number of cards in Pauper has grown, so too has the ability to move away from a multicolor build. Mono-green and green-red versions have emerged that operate along a similar premise: Have the biggest threat. In place of blue cards they run spells that replace themselves like Wretched Gryff or Self-Assembler. Adaptive Automaton and Ulamog’s Crusher are regular inclusions as well.
Big Mana Tron decks need the eponymous mana engine online to do anything. While the same could be said for Flicker Tron decks, the Big Mana variety are full of 5 and 6 mana spells that will languish in a hand if the three proper lands are not on the battlefield. These decks almost require Ancient Stirrings and Expedition Map to achieve mana abundance. Chromatic Sphere and Chromatic Star also play an important role and help to turn Fangren Marauder into a fantastic card. Marauder has this annoying way of letting the Tron player start at 35 life and the body is large enough that it can deter ground assaults.
There are two key ways to combat this version of Tron. The first is to go over their mana rocks. These builds tend to skip on lands that can produce the correct color of mana and aiming hate at Prophetic Prism can often render key spells uncastable. While it might feel bad, taking out Chromatic pieces may be correct as a way to choke off access to green or red mana. While some of these decks can mitigate this by hoarding pieces or relying on colorless cards, it still helps to disrupt their game plan.
The other best way to stop this deck is to run Counterspell. Big Mana Tron decks tend to have lots of pieces that see other cards or dig for lands but very few actual business cards. The theory behind the construction is that the threats present are good enough to end the game in short order. A single stopper can be enough to create a long enough buffer to win the game in the interim.
Tron decks are not going anywhere. While not the best decks in Pauper they are strong enough to be a constant presence. With a flexibility borne out of abundance, knowing which build you are up against can go a long way to getting an edge in a given matchup. Which Tron deck is your favorite and which gives you nightmares?