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By: nmc, Alex KK
Oct 07 2019 12:00pm
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Pauper Tron has been a fundamental part of the metagame in the last 5 years. Although in articles and discussions it has been treated as a unified approach, it actually spans different incarcerations. In anticipation of the B&R announcement next Monday and a possible - but unlikely - Tron ban, I'll try to showcase how Tron in Pauper actually spans four different archetypes, with each one having several, more or less successful, decklists.

I'll base the rest of the article on the decklists that WOTC has made public since 2014 and do a bit of number crunching.  Turns out that decks playing the Tron lands have placed no less than 1500 times in the past 5 years!  I'll also use the axes analysis that describes the different possible strategies.

All the Tron decks do have one thing is common; they aim for inevitability. They try to survive the early turns and then take over the game once the namesake lands are assembled. This is a natural property of the deck, since the first few turns are about finding Tron and the middle to late game is about leveraging the mana advantage that the Tron lands offer. It just doesn't make sense to make an Aggro Tron deck!

So let's delve deeper into the past, analyze the MTGO decklists that are available online, determine and analyze the unique archetypes.

The Control-Aggro version:
The first instances of Tron to place were these RUG Tron lists from May 2014:

This is essentially a control-aggro deck that aims to play defense on the first few turns with Sea Gate Oracle and Flame Slash until is assembles the namesake card combination. Its beefier threats (Fangren Marauder, Ulamog's Crusher) allow it to take over the game and Rolling Thunder either buys a few turns by sweeping the board or seals the deal in the late game.

This deck has waxed and waned in popularity. It was always poor against Mono Blue Delver but sported a very good Affinity and Burn matchup. There are few things in pauper that feel as silly as landing a Gorilla Shaman and a Fangren Marauder against the Affinity player. It also trumped most if not all midrange strategies.

Notice how the deck is full of redundancy. There are various ways to find the Tron lands (Ancient Stirrings, Expedition Map), various ways to get colored mana (Chromatic Sphere, Chromatic Star) and various threats.

The Combo version:

The combo versions aim to cheat on mana either with Cloud of Faeries or Peregrine Drake combined with Ghostly Flicker and Mnemonic Wall. Funneling the mana in a big bomby Kaervek's Torch wins the game. Another win condition is found in Sage's Row Denizen for the infinite mill. Seems that we don't currently have a legal Combo Tron deck in Pauper, since both enablers were banned long ago.

The loop with Cloud of Faeries produces 1 mana: you cast Ghostly Flicker on Cloud of Faeries and Mnemonic Wall, get Ghostly Flicker back from the Mnemonic Wall trigger, untap Urza's Tower and an Island with the Cloud of Faeries trigger. Then tap the two lands for 3U, use 2U to cast Ghostly Flicker again, and net 1 colorless. The loop with Peregrine Drake should be similar but produces mana faster.

Notice how these decks are playing threats which are however essential to winning the game. Playing one of the two banned cards demonstrates proactiveness, but if all of them were to be exiled, the primary plan of the deck is canceled.

The Control version:
What about a version that plays less creatures and more removal? As with all the archetypes, this was already tried back in 2014.

It's a precursor to the UR control lists, like this one:

These play out like a classic draw - go deck. You need to squint hard to find the win condition - but it's there in the form of Capsize, Rolling Thunder and in some lists Ulamog's Crusher.

Notice how the deck is basically full or redundant answers in the form of counterspells and red removal. Because of the form of removal, this deck did tend to be weak to strategies like Bogles. People have tried time and time again to make a UB Control Tron deck but have come up short. Gaining access to edict effects is great, but the targeted removal in black is less strong (think Disfigure vs Lightning Bolt) and requires more colored mana (for example Evincar's Justice).

The Prison version:

This is the earliest prison variety that I could find. Rhystic Circle forms the basis of this strategy. This card might as well read "prevent all damage from a source of your choice if and only if you have the mana advantage".

Once all Tron lands and a Rhystic Circle are in the battlefield, you may carry on playing Magic. It's just that nothing you do against this deck actually matters.

If you haven't played against this flavor or haven't heard of it before, you are excused. With just 43 finishes, it represents less than 3 percent of the published winning Tron decklists.

Notice how the deck tries to answer what the opponent is doing with removal, counterspells and the damage prevention enchantment. However Rhystic Circle is essential.

Of course the now popular Flicker Tron deck is also a prison deck.

The latest and perhaps greatest iteration of the deck is here. It can lock the game out with Stonehorn Dignitary or Moment's Peace. It can kill with damage through the Mulldrifter. It can deck the opponent with Compulsive Research and two Mnemonic Walls. It can bounce all enemy creatures with Dinrova Horror and close the game fast with the 4/4. It can do it all through hate because of the mana fixing and card drawing engines that are Ash Barrens and Arcum's Astrolabe, the redundancy between Ephemerate and Ghostly Flicker, the access to the graveyard that Pulse of Murasa has brought to the format, the incredible tutor that Mystical Teachings is.

Pauper Tron Trivia:

  • The most played non-land card is Prophetic Prism. Only 6 decks don't include it - all of them are of the Rhystic Circle variety, from 2015.
  • No one has ever played Ancient Stirrings and not included Expedition Map. The reverse is certainly true.
  • The deck plays, on average, around 21 to 22 lands, but there are interesting outliers:

     

This list from November 2016 sporting just 16 lands

and this one played the max, 25 (when examining the 60 card decks).