Responding to Constructed Resources

The seventh episode of Constructed Resources discussed how to beat control decks. I encourage you all to give it a listen as it provides valuable insight and, being real, it’s on a website where I write. In the episode, Luis Scott-Vargas and Andrew Baeckstrom discuss methods for disrupting and defeating control decks. Given that the current best deck in Pauper falls into this camp, I think it’s important to take a look at their methods and see how they apply to attacking Flicker Tron. 

Spoiler alert: they don’t translate especially well. 

Here are the four points summarized:

  1. Be faster than the control deck
  2. Present an unsolvable threat or an unexpected angle of attack
  3. Overload their mana on a given turn 
  4. Present a card that “must be dealt with” 

These points tend to hold true when looking at the wider Magic ecosystem. While not every deck will be able to tick every box, being able to do one or two of these is often enough to at least pressure a control deck. I often talk about trying to put a control deck on the defense – this is shorthand for forcing them to use their mana inefficiently. In fact, breaking these points down the best way to attack a control deck is to be more efficient in mana use either by lowering your curve or rendering their spells less potent.

Be faster than a control deck

Traditionally control decks take the first few turns to set up their mid and late game. Playing two-power one drops is a better use of mana early and can force the control deck to delay their set up in order to handle threats. 

Present an unsolvable threat or an unexpected angle of attack

How good is Lightning Bolt against Slippery Bogle? What about Cast Down and Guardian of the Guildpact? While the two spells listed are cheap they do nothing against the intended target, rendering the mana spent mana wasted. You can even sidestep creatures entirely and go for a Curse of the Bloody Tome or Pestilence plan.

Overload their mana on a given turn

A tale as old as time. If your threats are cheaper than their answers you will have an easier time resolving a spell. At the end of the exchange you should have a board presence staring down their depleted resources.

Present a card that “must be dealt with”

More of a corollary to the second point but this pertains more to high powered formats. The cards LSV and BK describe in the episode are Planeswalkers as they have a profound effect on how the game plays out. In Pauper, this can be something like a Thorn of the Black Rose, a Bonder’s Ornament, or my personal favorite – Dimir Guildmage.

Before going further, I think it’s important to break down the many styles of control decks that Tron encompasses. Part of the deck’s dominance is due to how much it can pack into its 75.

Big Mana

The Tron mana engine lends itself to a big mana strategy. Tron cares less about mana efficiency than about the raw power of its cards. Thanks to its abundant resources Tron has access to effects that are off limits to decks that play fair. More than that, it can cast the curve toppers of other decks earlier in the game. So where a “fair” deck has to wait until turn four to Mulldrifter and Ephemerate, Tron can do this a full turn earlier. 

Mnemonic Wall

There is a subset of control decks in Pauper that lean on the Ghostly Flicker engine to generate a persistent advantage. Before the advent of Ephemerate and Flicker Tron one could argue that the Chittering Rats lock was the go to version in this camp, despite not running Wall. Dimir Flicker played a “fair” midrange-control game that would eventually assemble its lock. It could stumble in the early game and had far more pinch points than Tron.

Teachings Control

Mystical Teachings is a powerful tutor that is limited by its mana cost. Teachings decks can run high variance-high impact cards since the deck can simply find the right tool for the job when the need arises. Teaching decks are among the most traditional control decks in Pauper in that they are vulnerable to each of the four points presented in Constructed Resources.

Tron is each of these decks layered on top of one another. In doing so, Tron has managed to cover a control deck’s traditional weaknesses to create a metagame monster. 

Be faster than a control deck

It is incredibly hard to be faster than Tron. The very best aggressive decks in Pauper are turn four kill decks with an outside shot at killing turn three. By turn four it is highly likely that Tron has established the defenses necessary to blunt assaults. Whether that is Moment’s Peace, Stonehorn Dignitary, or Weather the Storm, it is incredibly hard to “go under” Tron on a temporal scale. The banning of Expedition Map did not slow Tron down as intended. Rather, Tron shifted to Crop Rotation which gave Tron outs to be even faster at assembling its mana engine.

Present an unsolvable threat or an unexpected angle of attack

Nothing really fits here. Yes, you can try to resolve a Pestilence or a Curse of the Bloody Tome or several Fireblasts. But as stated, Tron can cast Weather the Storm and undo a ton of damage. Tron can also run Dinrova Horror and handle any permanent. Even a Slippery Bogle is vulnerable, or rather that Ancestral Mask it’s wearing is a prime target.

Overload their mana on a given turn

I mean…technically it’s possible. Technically you can overload Tron’s mana early but once the engine comes online it is nigh impossible to break it up. It is a fool’s errand to try and be more mana efficient than Tron and even if you exhaust their resources, they are only a few turns away from reloading on key cards thanks to Mnemonic Wall and Ephemerate.

Let’s take another look at the theory of overloading Tron’s mana. A “fair” blue deck wants to win stack battles in post-board games. They decide that Dispel is their best option given a limited number of sideboard slots. The Tron deck determines their best option for additional stack control is Prohibit. Both cards cost one land in their respective decks but Prohibit is far more flexible.

What happens if the blue deck decides it wants to run Prohibit as well? It’s going to lose on mana efficiency there as well. Kicked, Prohibit will cost a traditional blue deck at best four land drops (since bounce lands take up two land drops regardless). Tron can kick a Prohibit on two land drops. 

It also is difficult to force Tron to overextend their resources. Even if you are able to empty the Tron player’s hand, the nature of Mnemonic Wall and Ephemerate make it trivial to reload. Access to Wall, a Flicker, and mana means that a single Dispel or Prohibit could win an entire counter war. 

Note: One of my Patron’s, Jacob, who plays a ton of Azorius Familiars, has pointed out that it is possible to overload Tron’s discrete mana. While true, Tron can sidestep this with Ghostly Flicker on Prophetic Prism.

Present a card that “must be dealt with”

Let’s be real: there is no card in Pauper that Tron views as a “must answer”, not in the way described in the episode. Rather, Tron faces down inconveniences and annoyances.

Earlier I described beating a control deck as trying to force them to spend their resources in an inefficient manner. The reality is that there is no way to do this to Tron. The deck can reuse spent resources with ease and rarely has to worry about running out of mana. It is a metagame monster.

Published by Alex Ullman

Alex Ullman has been playing Magic since 1994 (he thinks). Since 2005, he's spent most of his time playing and exploring Pauper. One of his proudest accomplishments was being on the winnings side of the 2009 Community Cup. He makes his home in Brooklyn, New York, where he was born and raised.

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