Yo! It’s Darrel, seemingly back from the dead (when it comes to writing for the website). It has been a while since I have had some time to write a good article for you all due to a ton of good stuff happening in my life: I am on the eve of moving with the love of my life, getting married in a few months, and adjusting to becoming a parent to her kids, so competitive MTG and traveling for events has taken a bit of a back seat, although I do still skate down to my local weekly tournaments to play some Modern or EDH every once in awhile. I will have to say though, the recent sets have certainly provided a lot of new toys for me to continue to try to improve a deck that I have been playing since 2012. Today I bring you a primer for my Modern labor of love: UW Gifts Tron!
UW Gifts Tron is a UW control deck at heart, but instead of surviving to the end-game via counterspells and removal in order to cast things like Gideon Jura, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and, most recently, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, this is a deck whose end game can go way over the top of that, using everyone’s favorite lands, Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Tower, and Urza’s Power Plant, to provide a mana bump that allows you to play some of the strongest spells printed and gives you the grindiest end-game in the business. This deck used Gifts Ungiven to create a card advantage engine that is very difficult to beat once Tron is assembled.
Imagine a pile of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Gifts Ungiven, Mindslaver, and Academy ruins, that might allow you to acquire a Gifts Ungiven to continue the card advantage train (because your opponent can’t give you the finishers), as well as reloading your deck with your eldrazi titan’s shuffle ability. You can eventually finish the game with a Mindslaver lock, which, when paired with Academy Ruins and a ton of mana, will not allow your opponent to have another turn, alongside getting to peruse your opponent’s sideboard for extra information before the rules changed. That was until you were given a brand new and amazingly powerful plan with the printing of a simple Innistrad uncommon; Unburial Rites. This allowed you to use a known, but hard-to-discern function of Gifts Ungiven and library searching. Since you are looking through a hidden zone, it is allowed for you to say that you only found two cards that met the criteria of Gifts Ungiven (which is requesting you find cards with different names) even though we know that isn’t possible.
Both of these cards would go to the graveyard, allowing you to untap and cast the four-mana sorcery for its flashback cost, and either kill all of you opponents small creatures (strong against aggro), or prevent your opponent from playing whole swaths of spells from their deck (and sometimes their whole deck in the case of Burn and, sometimes, Elves). This gave you a powerful plan which then could allow the deck to function like a UW Combo/Control deck, with a Tron finish, and the ability to put your combo into play on turn three, which matches the speed of some of the fastest decks in the format.
Here is an example list, on that I played to a Top 16 Finish in a Star City Games Classic Event after the unbanning of Sword of the Meek!
Darrel’s UW Gifts Tron (April 2016)
Before we get into the exact components of what these lists can contain, let’s talk about new toys that these decks have gotten…
Search for Azcanta
This card was the single-handedly responsible for the resurgence of control decks in Modern as it can do everything a control deck wants to do over the course of a game. It gives us an early way to control our draws, which rewards us for playing the game. As we cast more and more spells and break our fetches, it will eventually flip into a powerful mana sink that control decks need to end game. Because you will be leaving up mana on your opponent’s turns to be able to interact, you can accrue card advantage and put the sleeper hold on your opponent. This card has an extra bonus in the Tron deck of being able to only be activated for the cost of two lands in the late game instead of three, which provides you more colored sources and the ability to continue casting the cards acquired from it. Unlike Jeskai Control decks that typically run two copies, UW Tronlikley doesn’t play enough fetch lands and cheap instants and sorceries to allow Azcanta to flip quickly over the natural progression of the game, so for my current version it has made its way to the sideline.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Teferi, like Search for Azcanta, has significantly contributed to the resurgence of Modern control. This five-mana planewalker can allow you to protect it with untapped mana as it gains you advantage. It also can take the place of your Detention Spheres as removal for hard-to-beat permanents and has an unbeatable ultimate. The appeal for this card in the Tron deck is the amount of mana you can untap with it. With two Urza’s Tower in play, Teferi can free up six colorless mana, allowing you to do something like play a Mindslaver, interact with your opponent, then have the mana to activate it on the end step. I am currently testing Teferi in the deck and giving it a lot of shine but I am currently unsure of exactly how I am being helped by its presence in the deck. I could see it replacing the mainboard Detention Sphere just to give you another threat that is only filling a removal role. If I find the secret of why I want to be untapping Tron lands with this guy, it could create its own deck.
Urza’s Ruinous Blast
This card is very exciting! Unfortunately, its also quite difficult to cast. Purely by cost, four and W is an appealing cost for this deck since you have lands that make a boatload of colorless and only need one colored mana source. Its drawback, however, is needing a legendary creature or planeswalker and, sadly, this will keep it on the bench behind Oblivion Stone and All is Dust. If you are able to keep a planeswalker or legendary creature in play, you are already winning!
Champion of Wits
Here is a card that seems very innocuous on the surface, but may change the whole face of the deck. In fact, it inspired the version of the deck I am going to share with you today and will inspire its own discussion a little later. I just wanted to note that this is a new addition that is surprising for what it initially appeared to be.
Darrel’s UW Gifts Tron (June 2018)
Without further ado, the list that stoked my fire, brought back the passion to build and test, and will hopefully be a renaissance for UW Tron:
Okay, the secret is out. I’ve replaced Thirst for Knowledge with Champion of Wits. The thing I have learned from playing this deck is that we look like a counter-heavy, instant speed control deck. The truth is, while we do play at instant speed if the opportunity allows us to, we truthfully don’t have very many reasons to hold up mana on our opponents’ turns. Therefore, turns where we have to cast Thirst for Knowledge to hit our land drop are just much worse than turns where you are doing it with Champion of Wits. Both have similar function, but their roles are much different. Both allow you to dig deeper into your deck, see some fresh cards, and make your way through the trash (which you will inevitably find a couple of pieces of based on your matchup-Path to Exile against Ad Nauseam). The big differences are in the ways they provide advantage. Thirst for Knowledge is better at digging and allowing you to net a card if you are playing a large collection of artifacts. Otherwise it looks like a three mana enabler/cantrip that keeps you even in material. The issue with this is that even in doing that, you didn’t do anything to either be proactive or stem the bleeding from your opponent’s aggression.
The champ, Mr. Cena himself, Champion of Wits is very good in situations where you need to tick the boxes on either need. It can be a three mana beatdown creature against combo decks, allowing you to sculpt, find one of your few counters preboard, and put a small clock on your opponent. Where this card shines, however, is once you hit Tron. You open yourself up to using the eternalize function of your Champion which makes it a three card advantage at that point (a 4/4 is a relevant magic card, one that will require an answer from your opponent), and, beyond that, it is a Thoughtflare, giving you two more cards and truly letting you filter through the trash. Also, the Champ allows you to can shuffle with Emrakul when you have exhausted all of your other routes to victory or protection. In match-ups where your opponent is on Control and doesn’t draw Path to Exile, getting the extra cards from you opponent killing your Champions over and over will help you pull ahead very well. This is what gives me hope for the future. It used to be that your “cantrip” couldn’t play defense, but in the face of creatures that aren’t Thalia out of Humans (or Tarmogoyf, for that matter), this thing soaks up damage, and can sometimes trade for a whole card out of your opponent, allowing you to pull further ahead if you can extend the game and giving you the advantage late! This late game advantage also removes the necessity of having to potentially use slots on big refill cards like Sphinx’s Revelation or Pull from Tomorrow, as it draws just as many cards as those at the exact mana slots.
As for the other card choices, I will go through them (some in abbreviated versions, some in more elaborate versions):
Plan A: The Combo Package
The combo (which was explained prior) is one of the main draws to the deck. Gifts Ungiven does some funny things with how we go about building and selecting the rest of the cards for the deck (opting for one-of packages so that we can locate cards with different names), instead of playing the maximum number of copies of the the best cards in the deck.
As you can see here, Crucible of Worlds and Academy Ruins are redundant fail-safes in this deck, allowing you to play hard-to-break-up grind engines. They aren’t infinite combos like the Mindslaver lock, but they provide you enough fuel that your opponent is going to be hard-pressed to break up all of these synergies. For those of you that haven’t seen this before, there are essentially two “infinites” here. Academy Ruins + Crucible of Worlds back each other up (so if your opponent kills the Ruins you can replay it with the Crucible, and if they kill the Crucible, then you can put it on top with Ruins. This allows you to always have both in play unless both are killed in the correct order in the same turn (kill the Ruins first, then the Crucible.). With these two active, you have Batterskull, which goes from a very difficult to cast equipment to being able to cast it by tapping 2 lands, and being able to bounce and protect it with a single Urza’s Tower. If your opponent can grind you low enough on mana to actually kill this threat, you can re-buy it with Ruins, making your opponent want to rip their hair out as they have to figure out how to get rid of it again.
The second infinite here is infinite Ugins. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon can be rebought with Haven of the Spirit Dragon for a single Urza’s Mine or Power Plant to pay the activation cost on Haven of the Spirit Dragon. You can then replay the Haven with Crucible in play, always threatening the ability to get back the Ugin. This is especially backbreaking against fair decks like Jund and go-wide creature decks that are weak to Ugin. Ugin also has the utility to gun down Etched Champion in the Affinity match-up, even though you would love to get it out of your deck against Affinity, makes it worth keeping in here. The rest of our win conditions are very powerful and difficult-to-break-through finishers that punish the fair decks for letting us get to the mana advantage our deck is built to achieve. There will be a section later about finishers that will provide more information on the variety of choices that have been played in this deck in the past, as well as how I feel they stack up.
Interaction with Creatures
Alongside the Elesh Norn combo locking out small creature decks, you have to be readily able to interact with creature decks in Modern, otherwise you are toast. We are playing the premier white removal spell, Path, alongside a singleton Spatial Contortion as our 5th spot removal spell. Three wraths with different names for Gifts Ungiven (and helpful against Meddling Mage) round out the interaction with creatures suite.
Interaction with Spells
This section is kind of weak and we lean on our sideboard to keep pace with the combo decks. The previous versions of this deck played Thought-Knot Seer mainboard (instead of sideboard) to have a large-bodied Vendillion Clique effect to be able to interact more with Combo during game one (outside of trying to lock them with Iona). This deck can play a maximum of six mainboard counters but you can tweak your deck if combos are rampant by running different counters, or simply, more of them. I selected Condescend because of the fact that you will “out-X” most of the decks in the format once Tron is online and the ability to get Counterspell plus Scry 2 most games (because people are playing tight on mana) is huge upside. One Spell Snare rounds out the counters so that I had something that can interact with both creatures and spells that is a hard counter and doesn’t require UU.
I have explained Champion of Wits in detail above but here we have just a couple more cards that can eek out some minor advantage for us. Teferi doubling as spot removal in a pinch, and potentially as a finisher if left unchecked is appealing to this deck.
These two cards aren’t flashy but they are necessary to get the deck to go. You have a lot of colorless lands and you need mana-fixing for your colored spells. Playing a fourth Azorius Signet isn’t out of the question but I have stuck with three and haven’t had much in the way of mana troubles. Expedition Map helps you assemble Tron, which is usually enough, but sometimes you have to get a Celestial Colonnade to finish the game or fix your mana with a Hallowed Fountain to play your spells on curve.
You need multiple basics with different names so that you can find them with Gifts Ungiven and you need a broad swath of colored lands in general to account for the colored symbols on your cards. Colonnade is very good here as Signet plus two Tron lands is enough to animate it and attack, and this is our best out against Liliana of the Veil which is a tough card for this deck to deal with.
The first question I usually get is “Why 10 tron lands? why not 12?” The answer is that you are a control deck first and a Tron deck second. You aren’t trying to go one, two, seven like G Tron decks. You are trying to leverage the mana advantage that Tron gives you to play a bigger game than the midrange and control decks in the format and prey on them.
The Haven and Ruins were covered in the finisher section. Field of Ruin is just a nice clean answer to manlands that you can recur. It also helps against Tron sometimes as you can tutor it up and go after their Tower (or similar). Its just a very nice bullet to have.
1 Field of Ruin
We have basically surrendered the Tron match-up but this is for control and midrange to give us another out to the manlands and Azcanta. It comes in against Tron too, and we hope to pair it with 1 of out two Surgicals for the old blowout but I’m not terribly hopeful in these games (beating Tron involves “giftsing” for Unburial Rites and either Realm Razer or Terastadon before they can assemble their lands…good luck!)
We are weak to combo decks game one so having a good old-fashioned “no” to most things a combo deck is doing is important.
This is useful against most combos as they have many relevant instant speed pieces (ie. everything in Storm, Chord of Calling, Ad Nauseam).
3 Thought-Knot Seer
This is this deck’s Vendilion Clique. Often times, it dies in response to its ETB trigger and you get the best of the best choices. Against combos with no removal, it takes their best card AND clocks the hell out of them. If they have double redundancy for their combo when you tap out for it, you “get got” some times but that is a risk I am willing to take.
You have to have outs to a Blood Moon that you can Gifts for. That is all. Futile against Affinity and whatever layabout things your opponent can cook up.
1 Celestial Purge
Blood moon out, Liliana out, Gurmag Angler out. Deal.
1 Detention Sphere
This should be an Oblivion Ring if you are playing it for an answer to Blood Moon. If that is your aim, it has added benefit in the Mardu Pyromancer match-up as it can also deal with Young Pyromancer and Lingering Souls effectively.
1 Timely Reinforcements
Burn and aggro decks can sometimes go faster than you still and having access to this card for the life gain and blockers is nice.
1 Ceremonious Rejection
Rejection is an additional card to bring in against Tron that also works against Affinity. I wouldn’t be playing this if it didn’t do double duty.
2 Surgical Extraction
Good in the combo match-ups, best graveyard hate this deck can play, and helps with our Tron “plan”. Good deal.
With this deck, you’ve got a lot of options for finishers. I have a tiering system for finishers based on how I have felt they have performed throughout the life of this deck. Let’s consider the possibilities…
Please Note: The finishers being discussed below do not include the Unburial Rites package
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
This card is the reason you can actually beat Jeskai or any of the other control decks. It is the ultimate end-game, provides you a reload if you have to discard it, and can’t be targeted or countered. This card is how you win the long game
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
This doubles down as a Wrath, is literally unbeatable for the mid-range section of the meta, and is just challenging to deal with. Advise to run as a two card pair with Haven of the Spirit Dragon to continue recurring.
Life gain is good. This also protects itself well with the bounce and can play defense. It is amazing all around. I suggest to back it up with Academy Ruins and Crucible for infinite Skulls!
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
This card ends the game in three turns, protects itself well, and beats the hell out of Eldrazi, Hollow One, and other big creatures.
Drawing 7-10 cards and gaining that much life is backbreaking. I have left it out of this build because Champion of Wits is trying to help pull the load on the card advantage end.
Emrakul, The Promised End
Being able to Mindslaver your opponent for seven or eight mana is good and it eats their best guy. Its also huge.
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Exiling two permanents is backbreaking but Ulamog is easier to kill than its titan counterparts. Sometimes you reanimate this thing and attack twice into a chump blocker but they have no deck left. It is respectable to play, but not on my preference list.
This is an alternative to Batterskull but is weaker to Path to Exile. It is good against burn as a possible reanimator target, and when combined with Ruins, beats the hell out of Jund.
This is a relic from times past. I am fond of it, but the mana cost and speed of this is just too slow. Maybe if the format slows down a bit, or has more combos that you can kill your opponent with, I’d go back.
Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek
This is hyper-powered lifegain engine when you “Tron up” and it blocks all day but Sword of the Meek does literal nothing on its own and is only good to discard to Champion or Thirst. I don’t want to play the clunker to make this go.
This guy is a big body and can beat down. He doesn’t look like traditional finishers but you can ride one or two of these to victory. It definitely warrants maindeck slots in a more combo-centric meta.
Karn Liberated, Sundering Titan, Platinum Angel/ Platinum Emperion
These are all finishers from other Tron decks. They’re not at their best here, but if you are in the market for something different based on your meta, these are definitely not embarrassing.
There are a boatload of other cards that one can include in the deck, I will list some of the ones that have rotated in and out of my list at different times below
When you are playing like a more combo-centric deck, or just really crave extra cantrips, you can cut on Condescends for Remand. It can also protect your big spells from counters by putting them back in your hand and cantripping. Its not the worst place to be, but I prefer to actually deal with problems nowadays. Other playable counters mainboard include Negate and Supreme Will.
This card is amazing when you are playing in aggro-heavy metas. Making them sacrifice a creature while you gain four are both modes you are interested in and the ability to kill Death’s Shadows by making your opponent gain four is nontrivial. Other removal spells you can play are Oust, Condemn, and Porphyry Nodes.
In metas where the aggro presence of one and two-drop creatures is stifling, you can jam this card. It pairs nicely with Academy Ruins but does require you to hit colored mana. Its good to stem the early bleeding, and can mostly be used as a sweeper. Other sweepers that can be considered based on meta include All is Dust, Oblivion Stone, Terminus, and Cyclonic Rift.
Wall of Omens
This is for extreme aggro metas only. If it is the case that everyone is “Goblin Guide-ing” though, this is a nice speed bump that also draws you a card.
Sometimes you need a mainboard playable answer to anything. Its not a permanent answer, but it powers you through the deck and X is easy to hit with Tron.
Chalice of the Void
Approach this with extreme caution as it does force you to make funny choices for the rest of your deck building experience. There are often times that the decks that are chock full of one-drops can just run you over because they can “double spell” faster than you. This can level the playing field but it does make it harder to pick good removal. You would still play Expedition Map. That is an all or nothing choice.
This is one that hasn’t been tested, but I could see it as a port over from other Tron decks as a blocker that can kill Dark Confidant early and will murder your opponent late.
Here, we’ll go through the way I would suggest sideboarding for the top ten match-ups in the meta.
Here we are getting rid of the Iona since Humans is a multi-colored deck. We’ll also cut the slower win conditions, the worst land, and a Condescend (bad against the Cavern of Souls deck). We will opt for big blockers (in TKS) that can interact with their hand, extra removal, and some life gain.
Here we just want to get rid of all the bad cards. The Wraths are horrible, the Unburial Rites package is low-impact, and Path to Exile is getting trimmed to one so that we maintain three answers to the four Colonnades. All of the adds are pretty obvious. If they have something like Geist, bring in Wraths. If they have higher impact creatures, don’t bring in Surgical and keep in Paths. This match-up sideboard is pretty fluid, but there are definitely cards that are available to help based on the situation.
Mono Green Tron (LOLOLOLOL)
This is the match-up where you want to throw your deck in the garbage and enjoy lunch. But for real, we have an outside chance with something like this:
Spell Snare only has four targets, so it is out. I cut the whole Unburial Rites package here because it doesn’t do anything. Keep the Rites in if you play Terastadon. The Wraths, Ugin, Haven, and Contortion are all bad so bring in your beaters, some land hate, and some counters instead. Then hope to get really lucky. That is all you can do here.
Bring in some extra removal, a hard counter, and an anti-manland card. Get rid of the bad cards-Iona and Haven are the worst. Sometimes I like cutting all of the Condescends (on the draw) and sometimes I like keeping one in and cutting the Ugin instead (on the play). This match-up is decent, but this is where I wish I had access to a second Spatial Contortion.
This mid-range matchup is right where this deck likes to be. You do need to kill Young Pyromancer early and often into the exile pile so it doesn’t get Kolaghan’s Command ed back to their hand. If you land an Elesh Norn, you reduce them down to just Bedlam Reveler, which you can easily run over. There are not many changes to make as your maindeck already lines up well with theirs. You will lose some games to getting infinite discarded and not top decking well. That is life.
BR Hollow One
This matchup is strange. Sometimes you will just get casinoed, either by losing your lands or them just getting all the Hollow Ones. Elesh Norn shuts down their small creatures involved in the aggro plan and nerfs the big creatures as well. Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you. You have the longevity though with Ugin, Elspeth and Emrakul on your side.
You want to try and get all of you clunky cards out of your deck so you should shy away from trying to assemble Tron and go to a dangerously low land count. You can’t afford these horrible lands in your deck that aren’t pushing you towards your endgame. You are truly racing towards Iona in this matchup and can keep whatever finisher configuration you would like. I fear cutting them all, otherwise I would and top out with just Batterskull and TKS as my main racing tools.
I like to cut the Unburial Rites package against Jund (because it is only good if you get Iona down before they land Liliana of the Veil). Instead, I hope to just ride the Emrakul plan to victory as both the reshuffling ability as well as the impact of actually casting this spaghetti monster are relevant here.
UR Gifts Storm
Again, you just have to get the “clunk” out of your deck here. They will have more Grapeshots and Empty the Warrens game two so leave in a Supreme Verdict and bring in the Detention Sphere, otherwise to cut them off of relevant cards, try Surgical Extraction. The best targets are Past in Flames, Gifts Ungiven, and any other possible win-conditions.
Grixis Death’s Shadow
Iona on black still plays so Unburial Rites can stay in. This is another good midrange match-up, so board minimally, get the bad creatures out, cut the awkward counter, and bring in some more removal. Keep it clean and forward-moving.
5000+ Words later, that is all I have for you. As I complete more testing, get to play more games, and get my hands around the meta, I will be able to come back with some follow-up data but for now, I hope this has been a helpful starter guide to the U/W Gifts Tron deck and I look forward to seeing mortal enemies everywhere come together in a spot where Celestial Colonnade and Urza’s Tower rule the horizon. Peace!