Cweaver's picture
By: Cweaver, Christopher S. Weaver
Aug 11 2020 11:00am

The Bans Did Nothing to Slow Tron Down 

Expedition Map was banned to slow down Tron. The problem is that Tron never particularly cared about assembling Tron quickly, although sometimes it was a nice benefit. However, in banning Expedition Map, Tron has had to resort to a different approach in deckbuilding that often assembles Tron more quickly. As a side bonus, the deck is actually even more powerful in the late game. 

“That doesn’t make any sense!” I hear you say. Allow me to explain. Expedition Map has by and large been replaced by Crop Rotation, Preordain, or Impulse. All 3 of these cards were not previously run in many Tron decks, as assembling Tron was seen as more important, and then utilizing the extra mana with cards like Forbidden Alchemy, Rain of Revelation, etc. was more important. Once Tron was assembled, Expedition Map became a dead card, so you needed to make up for those dead draws with raw card advantage, and by running some number of Remote Isles to allow you to do something if you drew a late game Map. 

Let’s talk about Crop Rotation first, as I believe it’s sorely underrated right now. Crop Rotation is often better than Expedition Map, and certainly better at assembling Tron on turn 3. Previously, the only way to assemble turn 3 Tron was to have an opening hand containing Map and a Tron land. However, with Crop Rotation, you need a green producing land or Prism on or before turn 2, 2 Urza lands, and Crop Rotation. This gives you outs and another draw step that you didn’t previously have before. Crop Rotation can be cast at instant speed as well, which means that opponents may not even see Tron incoming and be able to prepare for it. For example, I’m playing against UR Faeries, I have a Thornwood Falls and an Urza's Mine in play. On their turn, they have a choice to play Augur of Bolas or leave up Counterspell. They choose to play Augur of Bolas, because they know I can’t play Mulldrifter next turn. However, in response, I Crop Rotate the Thornwood Falls, fetching Power Plant. Now I can play Tower, Prism, Mulldrifter

Before Map was banned, that play didn’t really apply. Most players would leave up a Counterspell if you had Map in play with 2 Urza Lands, because they could see Tron incoming. Now, not so much.

That’s not even speaking of the fact that the Mystic Sanctuary ban did a number on Counterspell decks in general, which were often a predator of Tron. Tron players were adapting with the introduction of Bonder's Ornament, and were getting better win rates because of it, but I would still certainly say it was not a great matchup. 

Preordain and Impulse serve as slightly worse replacements in the early game than Map, however are obviously far more powerful in the late game than Expedition Map. Card selection in a deck full of “bombs” with effectively infinite mana is far more powerful than a 5 mana cantrip that Expedition Map gave us. 

So how did we get here? How did banning a source of consistency in the deck did little, if anything, to stop the menace of Tron?

The Fundamentals of Tron

Tron is a 5-color control deck, with access to the best universal answers in Pauper. This is largely thanks to Prophetic Prism, Bonder's Ornament, and most recently, Thriving Isle. Normally, these cards have significant drawbacks in that they cost a lot of tempo to fix your mana, however, Tron is uniquely situated to make up for that lost tempo. 

With the 3 Tron lands assembled, you get to make up for the tempo loss of playing those fixing cards by playing far more powerful cards every turn after Tron is assembled. The Tron lands get to produce 7 mana for 3 lands, whereas opponents only get access to 3 mana for their 3 lands. You get to cast Mulldrifter and have backup Counterspell mana, and the opponent can only Evoke their Mulldrifter. You get to cast Mystical Teachings and flash it back with 4 lands, for opponents that play costs them 10 lands worth of mana. In this way, the Tron lands themselves are an incredible source of card advantage. You’ve effectively drawn 6 extra cards in the above scenario just by making land drops and assembling Tron.

It only gets worse for the opponent. Every land drop on average is worth 2 of your opponent’s land drops. When you get to turn 5 or 6, you don’t even have to tap out to make big plays like Mnemonic Wall or Mulldrifter. You get to play them, then have Counterspell backup, and have Teachings mana as well to get even further ahead during their turn. 

Other big mana or ramp decks could theoretically do this, however come at a cost of cards. You don’t need to play Utopia Sprawl, Rampant Growth, Sunscape Familiar, Axebane Guardian, or anything else. You just play lands. Your lands cannot get Lightning Bolted or counterspelled, you just play them. 

Recent and Future Downshifts and New Cards

Bonder's Ornament changed Tron in a big way. It not only provides additional color fixing and ramp, it also provides flood protection. Draw too many lands? Just draw an extra card with Ornament. Ornament also provides an additional way to pull off the “nut draw” of Tron - Turn 3 Mulldrifter. Now you can have 3 Tron lands, play Ornament or Prophetic Prism, and play Mulldrifter off of that. Additionally, Ornament is often better than the Monarchy - you can have multiple Bonder's Ornaments in play drawing multiple cards, and the mana cost barely matters because your lands produce so much excess mana. 

Thriving Isle is also a new addition to Tron, making the splash and off-colors even easier to run. Formerly, opponents could attempt to target your artifacts for destruction if they needed to keep you off of Red mana for example, because your land base was fairly restricted. Now, Thriving Isle can name Red on turn 1, and you can have Pyroblast protection on turn 2. That was sometimes possible with Cave of Temptation as well, but Cave was a filter rather than a mana producer.

Cave of Temptation is often overlooked. It’s a recently printed card that helps turn your Mulldrifters into clocks when you no longer need the mana filtering.

With Double Masters, Cast Down has found its way into Tron sideboards. This answers every problematic creature for Tron - Axebane Guardian, Gurmag Angler, Sunscape Familiar, Delver of Secrets, Ulamog's Crusher, Okiba-Gang Shinobi, etc. Previously, Tron had to make a choice on which removal spell to run in the sideboard. Doom Blade didn’t hit Okiba Gang. Lightning Bolt couldn’t kill an Ulamog's Crusher. Now we don’t even have to worry about targeting a specific matchup, it’s just a universal answer.

In my opinion, this will continue to happen. Every good downshift, every good common card, every good artifact, or high casting cast card will find its way into Tron because it doesn’t cost Tron anything to run them, or sideboard them. Tron will find a way to abuse even the most innocuous of cards such as Weather the Storm.

The Complete Dominance of Midrange

Midrange decks in general are weak to hard control decks, and this has been true throughout Magic’s history. However, in Pauper this is particularly true. Midrange decks in Pauper usually cannot put down a reasonable clock on Tron and provide enough disruption to seal the deal. A well placed Pyroblast or Counterspell can do this post-sideboard, however, the opponent will also need to provide pressure to capitalize on that disruption. With Cast Down and all of the various Fog effects, the pressure will be harder to come by. Barring specific instances of the cards aligning completely perfectly for the opponent and not-so-well for the Tron player, the Tron player will inevitably leverage the massive card advantage to overwhelm the midrange player, and eventually establish an “infinite” lock. 

Graveyard disruption doesn’t work either. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Relic of Progenitus on the other side of the table post-sideboard and smiled, but it’s probably about as many matches as I’ve won because of it. You would think that a deck relying on it’s Flashback spells and Mnemonic Wall would be weak to graveyard disruption, but in utilizing a card in your deck to disrupt Tron’s graveyard, you’ve given up a slot that could be used to pressure the Tron player. If I see a Relic on the other side of the table, sometimes I consider it annoying, but it’s far better that you spent 1 mana to do that (and another mana to pop it when I inevitably force your hand) than to actually pressure me with another creature or Lightning Bolt or Dispel, even

Additionally, Ephemerate is inherently strong against graveyard disruption. If you threaten to exile a card I care about, then I can simply Ephemerate my Mnemonic Wall and get it back. Ephemerate itself doesn’t get exiled, and I got back the spell I cared about anyway. Combine Ephemerate with Ghostly Flicker and I can react at instant speed to Relic and get back multiple spells, while you spent 2 mana to draw a card instead of pressuring me. 

Furthermore, I tend to bring in Ancient Grudge if I suspect Relics from opponents, and I can usually find an opening to Grudge the Relic when you can’t pop it in response. And then I can flashback that Grudge for the next Relic.

Midrange decks at their core are board control decks. Tron doesn’t particularly care about the creatures it has on board, because the creatures resolving have already provided most of their value. Because midrange decks focus on board control, some number of their cards are effectively dead against us. Boros decks must play Prismatic Strands to have a chance against linear aggro, for example. Our anti-aggro tools are also not the best against them, but we have a far more powerful late game than they do. Midrange doesn’t have the raw card advantage of Mulldrifter. Kor Skyfisher is 3W - draw a card. Mulldrifter is 4U, draw 2 cards. What’s more, I only had to tap 2 lands for Mulldrifter, and Boros had to tap 4 lands for Skyfisher. I have the mana advantage and the card advantage win here. 

Mystical Teachings provides an additional source of advantage that other decks can’t really abuse. Opponent tries to cast Palace Sentinels? Grab an Exclude or Prohibit. Opponent tries to Lightning Bolt you for lethal? Grab a Weather the Storm. Rally the Peasants? Moment's Peace

Pulse of Murasa and Mnemonic Wall effectively negate their removal spells as well. I have an infinite blocker with Mnemonic Wall, and my opponent can never remove it without me gaining another 6 life and repeating the cycle anyway.

Let’s look at a hypothetical, if not extreme scenario. On turn 12, each player has 10 lands on board. Mine include Tron of course, and the proper fixing. Theirs are let’s say 4 Mountains and some number of other lands. I need to resolve a Mnemonic Wall to establish an Ephemerate lock. They have 4 Pyroblasts in hand, thinking there’s no way I can get through that. I have a Teachings and a Prohibit in hand. I cast Teachings, which they Pyro. I flashback Teachings, which they let resolve. Fetch another Teachings. Cast Teachings again, fetching a Dispel. On my turn, I flashback Teachings, fetching another Dispel. I cast Mnemonic Wall, we get into a counterwar, and I win. The reason I won here is that I got to cast Teachings with Flashback, and an additional Teachings on their endstep thanks to my extra mana. Then, I’m able to flashback Teachings again on my turn, cast Wall, and still be able to win a counterwar because I had the extra mana. My lands produced more mana and therefore I won through a theoretically perfect hand from my opponent. More often than not, opponents will not have 4 Pyroblasts even that late into the game.

What About Aggro?

Aggro decks typically have good matchups against control decks. While this is still somewhat true in Pauper for Tron vs. aggro, aggro is not a slam dunk or much better than a 50% chance to win, if even that high. 

Long ago, Tron was a board control deck with a big endgame. It used Lightning Bolts and Flame Slashes and other removal spells to control the board long enough to start chaining Mulldrifters and big Rolling Thunders. Burning-Tree Emissary changed that, however. Tron could no longer keep up with turn 2 staring down 3x 2/2s, so Tron adapted and just started completely ignoring what aggro decks were doing. Tron adopted Moment's Peace

Moment's Peace in Pauper is effectively a Time Walk with flashback against aggro decks. Most aggro decks cannot provide enough alternate ways to win through combat lock to secure the win before Tron establishes the end game. If I start chaining Moment's Peace early at 16 life, it’s pretty unlikely that opponents will be able to beat that - barring drawing burn spells worth that much life or a card with only 2-3 copies of in their deck such as Fling or Ram Through  (which I can play around by not playing a creature until I have Prohibit up too). 

Stonehorn Dignitary provides an alternate Fog effect that can be recurred via Ephemerate and Ghostly Flicker. Stonehorn also bypasses a possible answer to Moment's Peace from red-based decks that might run Flaring Pain

As a final answer to aggro, Tron decks have started running Weather the Storm. Weather the Storm hoses Burn and can often act as multiple Fogs and ways to remove all possible ways for opponents to win via Goblin Grenades or Fireblasts or Viridian Longbow

Bonder's Ornament has helped Tron against the aggro matchups as well. Previously, aggro decks could attack the artifacts and attempt to remove Tron’s colored mana, but Bonder's Ornament provides additional redundancy from artifact destruction. It also provides a one-sided Monarchy effect when both players are in “topdeck” mode - Tron gets to draw an additional card each turn and find answers sooner than aggro can find additional threats to close out the game. Before Ornament, if Tron missed any top decks, aggro could very reasonably just draw another threat, because their deck is packed with threats that outnumber Tron’s answers.

Pulse of Murasa is another tool that helps Tron against aggro, not only gaining life but also providing Tron with an infinite blocker in Mnemonic Wall, or a way to draw more resources with Mulldrifter.

The final piece is Thriving Isle, which adds yet another layer of redundancy to colored mana. You can name green if your hand has Moment's Peace, or white if your hand has Stonehorn Dignitary

So What Can We Do? 

The only real answer here is to get rid of the lands. Every other answer is a half-measure or not applicable to some build or variant of the deck. 

Tron is redundant to an extreme, as I’ve shown above. The deck synergizes in its build solely because you have access to the entire card pool of Pauper to make that synergy happen.

Ban Ephemerate? This turns off one way to recur the lock in the end game, and would certainly be a reasonable ban in general. This card does way too much in Pauper and will almost certainly be problematic in the future, but that’s another conversation for another day. Tron only runs one of them anyway and doesn’t need it to win.

Ghostly Flicker? Well, Tron would just run Displace. While Displace certainly isn’t as good as Ghostly Flicker, it wouldn’t hurt Tron too much to make that trade-off. 

Ban Ephemerate, Ghostly Flicker, and Displace? I could certainly see this as a viable option, and perhaps even a reasonable one. However, the Flicker effects are interesting and fun, and I’d hate to see all of them removed as a work-around to just getting rid of the enabler for their abuse. Many archetypes would die for Tron’s sins. It doesn’t even necessarily work to stop Tron decks from running over midrange anyway - look no further than the various Skyfisher Tron decks that have started to appear.

Mystical Teachings? This card is only really run by Tron decks. I’ve ran Deep Analysis in place of Mystical Teachings just to prove Tron doesn’t need Teachings, and it performed quite well. 

Stonehorn Dignitary? This would probably be a blow to Tron, and require an additional step in the process of establishing combat lock, but ultimately would only truly benefit decks running Flaring Pain.

Moment's Peace? Well, there are other Fogs that are quite effective at 2-for-1ing combat, such as Tangle or Respite.

Expedition Map was already replaced by Crop Rotation, Impulse, and Preordain, so that didn’t help. I guess you could ban all 3 of those and every other cantrip in Pauper, but why do that when you can just ban the lands

Every common card printed or downshifted will add new layers of redundancy to Tron. Abrade can now be Ancient Grudge AND Lightning Bolt. Cast Down removes everything. Suffocating Fumes has been run as a better Cower in Fear. Conclave Naturalists is a sweet card, and while not included yet, it very well could be run in Tron decks. Blowing up a Myr Enforcer on entry and then being able to block another Myr Enforcer seems good. This will continue to happen - Tron will get the best cards for it because every card has a home in Tron. This is insanity, and we need to stop beating around the bush.


The Expedition Map ban did nothing to stop Tron or slow it down, and probably just made it better. Mystic Sanctuary ban reduced the metagame share of its natural predators. 

On a fundamental level, this deck gets better with every card printed at common. This deck gets better every time more mana fixing is added to the format. 

Midrange can never really compete because they’re at a fundamental disadvantage and the nature of common card design means they can never have a one-card threat such as a planeswalker to make Tron act.

Aggro is also similarly not well positioned to answer Tron effectively. Common card design means that good disruption is not likely to be printed for aggro to interact.

Bans aimed at specific cards that are not the lands are easily replaced, and eventually you’ll run out of cards to ban without banning half of the format. 

For all of these reasons, and probably a lot more I’ve missed entirely, the solution is simple:

Ban the Tron lands.