I've been building a Modern control deck based around the Gifts reanimator engine. The general gameplan is to slow your opponent using counters and removal until you can reanimate a big creature for massive advantage, hopefully negating a bunch of your opponent's cards.

Based on playtesting, my worst matchup by far is green-based ("mono-brown") Tron. I can barely win about one match out of ten against the deck.

Compared to blue-based Tron decks (UR with Through the Breach and UW with Unburial Rites combo), green-based Tron has fewer critical spells and a higher density of threats, making it more resistant to counters and disruption. They also have a broader variety of angles of attack, thanks to the easier inclusion of cards like Karn and Mindslaver. I've had games where I've Needled Karn, Extracted all four Mindslavers and Urza's Towers, only to still lose to an Emrakul hardcast the hard way.

The deck is practically all colorless once it gets past the first few turns, so Iona isn't nearly as strong as she is against the Gifts-based Tron deck.

  • Which creatures (i.e. reanimation targets) are most advantageous against Tron decks?
  • What general strategies can a blue-based control deck employ against green Tron decks?

For reference, this is my current decklist.

3 Answers 3


General Strategies:

It is a terrible matchup indeed. Your deck wins on the late game (except for possible reanimation auto-wins with Iona and Elesh) and the inevitability of Emrakul makes that impossible.

Anything that invalidates one of the threats of the deck will just be wasting time until Emrakul comes down, so I would try to attack the core of the deck: the lands!

From the two obvious land destruction lands I believe you are running the right one in Ghost Quarter. Tectonic Edge is probably terrible, since the deck can actually function with only 3 lands. Crucible of Worlds can make a powerful combo with Ghost Quarter and that would force the Tron to bring in anti-hate from the sideboard.

Reanimation Targets:

I can only think of one: Terastodon, targeting his Tron pieces. If you can counter his threats and get that online on turn 5 he'll probably be in pretty bad shape.

  • +1 Some good ideas here, definitely. The brilliant thing about Terastadon is that it passes the Karn test. By blowing just blowing up Karn with its ETB.
    – Alex P
    Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 16:38
  • I disagree on one notable point: Emrakul isn't the end of the line, thanks to Mindbreak Trap. This means you can try to grind out a win if needed. I think the bigger challenge is just playing around Karn (and Relic of Progenitus).
    – Alex P
    Commented Apr 21, 2012 at 11:19
  • 1
    This answer gets the bounty: Crucible of Worlds (supported by Ghost Quarter, Tectonic Edge, Surgical Extraction) was enough to bring the matchup from nightmarish to around 50-50.
    – Alex P
    Commented Apr 28, 2012 at 13:04

General Strategies

This is, as people have mentioned, not a great matchup for you. Karn Liberated in particular is pretty much going to sit there exiling things all willy-nilly. The artifacts, really, aren't what you need to worry about, so the counters you're running aren't going to be nearly as relevant. The only spells you're likely to counter at all would be All is Dust, Wurmcoil Engine, Mindslaver, and Karn Liberated (and possibly some of the SB cards), so save your counters for them. I wouldn't cut too many counters (remembering that you're going to be seeing Ancient Grudge, Seal of Primordium, Combust, and Pyroclasm second game), but you'll need some deck-specific hate after the first game.

Specific Hate

Land Hate

Playing permanent destruction cards (Saltblast, Necrotic Sliver, etc.) and exiles (Extirpate, Surgical Extraction, etc.) get you the opportunity to take out their key lands. Some goofy things to deal with Tron include Herald of Leshrac and Helldozer, though I wouldn't say either are competitive enough for you to actually run. A third option and decent reanimation target (though fairly outside your mana base) is Realm Razer, though if he's already got some mana rocks out he's not as helpful.

Karn Hate

Along with the permanent destruction strategies mentioned above, Scourglass can take care of Karn Liberated (and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, but only for a little while). There's also Mangara of Corondor, which could make for a good reanimation target.

Artifact Hate

Stony Silence, while goofy, does seem like it would work surprisingly well - Mindslaver and all their mana rocks are dead in the water for CMC 2 sounds really nice. There's also Kataki, War's Wage - it could definitely slow them down a bit (and can be a reanimation target).

Search Hate

Aven Mindcensor does a particularly good job keeping them from using Eye of Ugin and Expedition Map properly, and makes your Ghost Quarters even better, so it seems like a prime reanimation target. Some alternatives include Leonin Arbiter, Mindlock Orb, and Shadow of Doubt (though Shadow doesn't have any real lasting power).

Emrakul Hate

Unfortunately, Extract isn't Modern-legal. There is the idea of pre-Emrakul'ing them, though - something like Gather Specimens, Telemin Performance, or Bribery could work surprisingly well. You could also steal it by reanimating something like Conquering Manticore, Dominus of Fealty, or the new Zealous Conscripts (which could be interesting with Karn Liberated). Lastly, there's always Oblivion Ring and Journey to Nowhere, and Mangara of Corondor mentioned above could also work well.

Hand Hate

Shimian Specter could actually be a very viable threat as a reanimation target here - if you can get him out and swinging, you can do some healthy damage to his deck. Yanking out those Urza lands (or if you're lucky, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Wurmcoil Engine) could be pretty rough for your opponent.

Final Recommendations

For everything I've already mentioned here, it still seems worth mentioning that only one Pithing Needle and two Mindbreak Traps seem a little low, and both of those cards seem like much better options than anything I've mentioned (except maybe Aven Mindcensor and Stony Silence). Needle Karn Liberated, and wait for a hard-cast Emrakul that you can trap it - they'll be running maybe four anti-artifact cards, so you running another Pithing Needle or two be smart. As for Mindbreak Traps, I'd say three might be the magic number, especially considering Snapcaster Mage.

Depending on what you can fit in, I'd say running Ghost Quarter and Aven Mindcensor or Stony Silence can also be a very good idea - play around with what feels best. Consider also that third game (if not second) you'll be seeing the Combusts and Pyroclasms, so that will cause some trouble for your Mindcensors.

  • 1
    'Mortify, 1WB, Instant: destroy target creature or enchantment'. Perhaps you're thinking of the non-Modern-legal Vindicate? Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 22:02
  • Steven darnit, you'd be correct in thinking that. I'll see if I can find another alternative (I suspect there's a reason Necrotic Sliver got played...). Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 3:04
  • +1 There are some good ideas here, too -- I've actually found examples of Realm Razer used for this purpose in G/R decks.
    – Alex P
    Commented Apr 28, 2012 at 12:45
  • @AlexP I don't think Realm Razer is that good unless you can kill it before the ETB trigger resolves. A simple Pyroclasm will bring all lands back to the battlefield.
    – rahzark
    Commented Apr 28, 2012 at 22:59

Based on testing, here are the strategies that worked for me, specific to the Gifts reanimator deck.

Attack their mana base

Ghost Quarter Surgical Extraction Crucible of Worlds

As Rahzark mentioned, the green Tron deck's greatest weakness is the UrzaTron combo itself. Forcing Tron to play with lands that tap for 1 mana each turns it into a deck that can barely ever cast anything relevant. With the massive quantity of land-tutors in the deck, however, just destroying one land is unlikely to keep them off of UrzaTron for more than one turn.

Because Tron can cast cards like Karn Liberated and Wurmcoil Engine using just three lands, Ghost Quarter is better land destruction than Tectonic Edge. Playing some of both makes it much easier to construct powerful Gifts piles.

The best way to buy a lot of time against the deck is to follow up land destruction with Surgical Extraction or Extirpate (the latter is much stronger for playing around cards like Relic of Progenitus), which will prevent your opponent from simply reassembling the Tron combo next turn.

Crucible of Worlds allows you to use Ghost Quarter or Tectonic Edge as repeatable land destruction. Your Ghost Quarters will essentially become Strip Mines once you run your opponent out of basics; Tectonic Edge does have one advantage, though: because your opponent isn't shuffling every turn, a tournament match is less likely to go to time.

Answer their threats

Path to Exile Negate Pithing Needle

A Tron deck doesn't actually have that many threats to throw at you: six to ten in the whole deck, probably. You can win on resource attrition if you can answer an opponent's threats in a way that makes it difficult to recur them. The Tron player has a lot of ways to dig for a threat, though, so you don't have much breathing room if you run out of answers.

For instance, Tron decks can easily recycle Eldrazi that are sent to the graveyard, but Path to Exile will efficiently remove Ulamog once and for all; it's also an easy answer to Wurmcoil Engine. Dealing with Emrakul requires permanent-based removal or Mindbreak Trap. Sundering Titan should likewise be dealt with on the stack.

Karn Liberated and Mindslaver can be hated out with Pithing Needle or counterspells (especially Negate).

The big thing here is to sideboard in more appropriate counters, because format staples like Spell Peirce or Spell Snare can be used to fight the early tutor cards but tend to come up short against actual threats.

A reanimation target with shroud or hexproof (e.g. Inkwell Leviathan can also help answer Karn more easily.

  • Glad to see you took the time to write a definitive answer, I hate unanswered questions :D
    – rahzark
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 13:06
  • @rahzark Couldn't have done it without you. :)
    – Alex P
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 13:49
  • For the record, my own way-too-cute suggestion is Azorius Guildmage.
    – Alex P
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 14:29

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