While we wait for the weekend Challenge results to post I wanted to take some time to talk about the loxodon in the room. Early reports from Double Masters season indicates that Tron has gotten stronger. Despite the fact there was a ban that specifically targeted the deck, Tron continues to be a dominant force. Today I want to discuss why these three lands cause so many problems and why, in the long run, they will need to be banned.
Pauper, like any Magic format, has cards of varying power levels. That being said the very best Pauper cards and not that much better than the worst ones. I am speaking here about cards that see play or have the potential to see play; I am not talking about Chimney Imp. This is baked into Pauper since the format restricted by rarity. Because of this, one of the best ways to get ahead is to do multiple things in a single turn cycle. Blue cantrip decks can set up their draws while leaving up mana for a counter. Stompy decks can commit multiple threats thanks to their low cost and the presence of Burning-Tree Emissary. Kor Skyfisher decks try to do this with cheap burn and recasting Prophetic Prism over and over.
Tron laughs at all of these. Thanks to the mana abundance made available by its mana engine, Tron can do far more in a single turn than any other deck. The entire point of the Expedition Map ban was to provide other decks time to beat Tron before the three lands were assembled. Regardless of whether or not the ban achieved this goal, it is vital to understand that one of the root causes was to try and level the field between decks that do things in the early game against decks that do things in the late game.
Switching Crop Rotation in for Map has largely been seen as an improvement. Crop Rotation has a real cost associated with it in that a counter is rather punishing. However the banning of Mystic Sanctuary has pushed decks that can leverage Counterspell lower in the metagame. The result is that one of Tron’s natural predators is neutered, giving the deck more room to breathe and do its thing.
I want to switch gears for a moment and talk about Arcum’s Astrolabe. Part of the problem with Arcum’s Astrolabe is that it enabled decks to ignore discrete mana costs. Astrolabe decks in Pauper (and other formats) became “good card soup” where they simply ran the most powerful options.
Tron decks are Arcum’s Astrolabe decks with access to more mana.
Between the new Thriving Lands, Prophetic Prism, Cave of Temptation, and others, Tron will always have access to the color it needs. The result is that when Tron wants to use a tool it has to sacrifice very little to do just that. Double Masters gave Pauper access to two amazing removal spells in Abrade and Cast Down. These are powerful cards and both help out Tron by giving them more early interaction. Now Tron has less to fear from early aggressive decks and Abrade has the upside of randomly wrecking Affinity.
To summarize my points so far, Tron is able to do more than other decks in the format and has access to all the best spells due to the nature of its mana base.
A common refrain about Tron bans is to hit the flicker effects: Ephemerate, Ghostly Flicker, and Displace. These would absolutely hinder the current iteration of Tron by making it harder for them to lock folks out of the combat step. Hitting these cards would leave Tron as a viable inclusion for control decks.
I think this change would be a half measure. As more cards are printed and new spells appear to take the place of older, more expensive versions, the problem with Tron’s ability to simply overwhelm every other deck thanks to an abundance of mana will persist.
I may be wrong about this. Perhaps Tron is safe or perhaps the flickers are the correct hit. I think that at some point down the road, something is going to break Tron again. I think it’s time to stop this train.