Strategy Spotlight: Down the Petro-Rabbit Hole

Strategy Spotlight: Down the Petro-Rabbit Hole

I still think there’s a lot of room for deckbuilding exploration in the Transformers TCG.  While many strong decks have risen to the top, most of these are simply the strongest tribal decks: Sentinels, Aerialbots, Insecticons, Dinobots, Cars and Tanks.  Most of these teams have some sort of strong payoff card, rewarding you for sticking to the tribe.  While this has helped with guiding players to most of the strongest decks, there’s a lot of other permutations of characters that exist in the game at the moment, and once you start adding battle decks in with certain character lineups, the possibilities are dizzying.

The Swap Parts deck certainly took me by surprise.  I had not expected such a fast, consistent combo deck from the game, especially so early.  Fortunately, the developers took prompt action and Swap Parts was banned, as it should have been.  That deck was far too fast and consistent, and only one other lineup could actually beat it.  I’m not writing about the Swap Parts deck today though, but rather how that particular deck made me begin stretching my ideas outside of conventional lineups and philosophies to what was possible in the game.

 

The first card I wanted to really start exploring outside of the combo deck was Leap of Faith.  I’ll admit, I was initially skeptical of Leap of Faith.  The community seems absolutely convinced about the card, but I was less certain.  One thing to keep in mind in TCGs is that cards that give the player a maximum amount of choice are generally much more powerful than cards that are random or give your opponent the choice.  Leap of Faith is the kind of card that has a very high ceiling but just as low a floor.  For everytime you flip a bunch of pump actions or upgrades, there’s also the times you’ll flip a Handheld Blaster or an Improvised Shield.  Or a Security Checkpoint you won’t play because your hand is full of upgrades.  Still, I had seen what the card could do in a shell that pushed it to the limit.  Was there something that didn’t take infinite turns that could still make Leap of Faith as powerful as the community claimed it was?

What’s old is new again.  What better character is there for Leap of Faith other than the legend himself, Optimus Prime?  Of course the first deckbuilding concession for playing Leap is the star cost.  And with Optimus we’re already looking at 15 stars minimum, restricting my options for other characters by quite a bit, particularly because I wanted to play Swap Missions, meaning I would need two other characters besides Prime.  Flamewar seemed like another obvious choice, now the question was what other character could I add?  Skydive was one possibility, as his stats are basically the same as Sergeant Kup, the first character I had paired with Prime and Flamewar back in Wave 1.  But I was interested to see just how much a brave character could allow me to set up board states that would force my opponent to attack the wrong character at the right time for me, so I added Fireflight as the last character.

The key to this deck was maximizing Optimus flips and Leap of Faith.  I decided to try completely ditching Handheld Blaster.  The conventional wisdom is that double pips are so strong when flipped in combat that you’re willing to play essentially blank cards in your deck to give you more double pips.  Optimus and Leap, however, very much care about what your cards do when they are played.  My thought process was that timing my attacks with Fireflight+Optimus would make high defense flips from the top of my deck less relevant, and allow me to have more powerful plays throughout the game.  The decklist at this point looked like this:

Optimus Prime, Battlefield Legend
Flamewar, Veteran Decepticon
Fireflight, Sky High Recon

UPGRADES:

3x Ion Blaster of Optimus Prime
3x Reinforced Plating
3x Data Pad
2x Energon Axe
1x Noble’s Blaster
1x Sparring Gear

ACTIONS:

3x One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall
3x Leap into Battle
3x The Bigger They Are…
3x Inspiring Leadership
3x Swap Missions
3x Security Checkpoint
3x Brainstorm
2x Leap of Faith
2x Pep Talk
1x Espionage
1x Work Overtime

There were three things I liked about this list: 1.) The sheer momentum present in the deck 2.) Utilizing Fireflight at the right time did indeed absolutely wreck my opponent’s attacks 3.) The focus on it’s overarching strategy.

Let’s start at the top and talk about momentum.  The term is a bit nebulous, but the best way to think about momentum is your ability to impact the game through your decisions.  Momentum isn’t necessarily concerned with card advantage or tempo, but it cares that the plays you make are generating the maximum impact you can every turn.  So how does the above list have so much momentum?  The answer should be readily apparent: Prime himself grants immediate access to the actions we need on demand.  In his bot mode he can be an absolute beast, but the secret power to Prime is his ability to give you access to almost any action you need at the right time.  Have a glut of actions you need to burn through to set up a favorable position?  Return Brainstorm.  Need to stop your Starscream opponent dead in his tracks before he can get his Decepticon Crown fueled attack off?  Return Security Checkpoint.  Need a guaranteed four damage to finish off that high defense character?  Return The Bigger They Are…  Nearly out of cards and need to gas back up?  Return Work Overtime.

 

The second reason I liked the deck at this point flows a bit from the first point: namely that I could utilize Fireflight in a way that could cripple a key turn for my opponent.  One interesting line with Fireflight is that you could attack with your other two characters first (or Prime twice with Swap Missions), leaving Fireflight untapped the whole time, allowing Prime and Flamewar to soak some attacks.  Then, when the time came for your opponent to try and keep hammering Prime, you would then use Swap Missions or attack with Fireflight, leaving him as the last tapped character, meaning that your opponent often had to attack Fireflight twice, leaving Prime free to finish the game.

As much as I liked the deck for the above reasons, what I found was the most compelling about the list was just how focused it was.  Every card was there for a reason, and that reason was to try and push Prime to his limit.  The best game states I found were ones where Prime had one of each upgrade type equipped, so I always wanted to push the game to that point the best I could.  Data Pad not only allows me to see more cards and gives me better decisions with Prime’s attacks, it is an upgrade with a white battle icon.  The subtle importance for this is particularly when you’re doing a blind flip with Prime, as hitting two upgrades off the attack wastes Prime’s bot mode ability.  Upgrades with white pips significantly reduce the chance of this happening, since hitting a Data Pad off the flip means I get to look at two more cards and gives me another chance to hit an action.  The power of Data Pad meant that I always wanted to see at least one every game, so I upped the count to three copies.  The Inspiring Leadership/Pep Talk split is also deliberate here: I wanted to see more cards, not necessarily have more cards.  The Prime deck is less concerned with raw card advantage and more with seeing the right card at the right time.

 

The deck performed pretty well, and Fireflight was doing a good job at disrupting my opponent’s attacks.  But I wanted to see more cards still, as there were games where Prime was being exposed for a little too long on account of not seeing a Swap Missions.  The deck was at a point where Prime had to do all the heavy lifting, as my characters had very anemic attack values.  Since the deck was less reliant on high defense flips as it’s primary means of defense, as I was using Fireflight as a means to soak key attacks, I began thinking I didn’t even need Flamewar or Reinforced Plating, and could instead rely mostly on Fireflight as my primary means of defense.  Remember that you don’t need your characters to live forever against an opposing deck, they just need to live long enough.

One card I’ve been impressed with every time I’ve played it any deck that can support it is Confidence.  The ability to smooth out your draws without costing you an actual card play for your turn allowed you to set up your turns more effectively.  Flipping it off Prime on his first attack would not only let me see more cards, it would also let me play an action immediately out of my hand.  Of course, to get that action play off Confidence, your entire team needs to be Autobots.  Fortunately there’s a five star Autobot that had some interesting applications in the deck: Arcee.  While the deck was still focused around Prime, Arcee could offer a little bit of pressure in blue matchups.  The deck now looked like this:

Optimus Prime, Battlefield Legend
Arcee, Skilled Fighter
Fireflight, Sky High Recon

UPGRADES:

3x Ion Blaster of Optimus Prime
3x Data Pad
2x Reinforced Plating
2x Energon Axe
1x Noble’s Blaster
1x Sparring Gear

ACTIONS:

3x One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall
3x Confidence
3x Leap into Battle
3x The Bigger they Are…
3x Inspiring Leadership
3x Swap Missions
3x Security Checkpoint
3x Brainstorm
2x Leap of Faith
1x Espionage
1x Work Overtime

On paper I thought I had pushed the deck to where it needed to be to really maximize my ability to get multiple high value attacks with Prime and utilize Fireflight.  I played a few games with the deck against Sentinels, and boy, the deck was a wreck.  Prime was still getting hammered far too often, and Fireflight and Arcee are basically no threats at all against an aggressive orange based deck.  What was once a strong deck had morphed into a pet deck.

What went wrong?  I had strayed too far from what was originally so strong about older Optimus Prime lists, and what had attracted me to the archetype in the first place in Wave 1: namely a robust defense coupled with high pressure from Prime.  I instead focused on how far I could push the Swap Missions part of the deck by trying to get multiple attacks in every game, when really Swap works much better as a tool rather than the focus of the deck.  You can still use Swap Missions as a means to provide pressure against heavy defensive decks like Aerialbots, or as a way to sneak in a big attack in the midgame with Data Pad plus Swap Missions.  Ultimately though, the power of Prime isn’t just in his attack as I said earlier, it’s in his ability to provide an incredible amount of selection for the player, giving you access to the right tool for the right job at the right time.

I certainly don’t consider the time I spent working on the above decks as wasted.  I learned a few things as I played and experimented.  I learned just how good Data Pad is in this deck, so much so that you want three copies.  I learned that I still want Inspiring Leadership because of it’s increased selection, even though I could play Pep Talk or Team-Up Tactics in that slot.  I learned that I don’t need to devote slots to high defense decks, as the deck incidentally contains plenty of pierce and direct damage that can be leveraged properly throughout a long, grindy game.  I also learned that unless you are doing something abysmally unfair, that stats on your characters still matter.  Having to spend stars on cards in your deck is a very real cost, and not one that should be taken too lightly.

I went back to an Optimus Prime decklist very similar to one I posted on the site a month ago, and found myself back on a positive win rate against Sentinels as well as most decks I was throwing against it.  We have our first major tournament in Utah this Saturday, the Omega Event, and I’m pretty sure the list I plan on playing will be very close to this:

Optimus Prime, Battlefield Legend
Autobot Hot Rod, Impulsive Fighter
Flamewar, Veteran Decepticon

UPGRADES:

3x Reinforced Plating
3x Data Pad
3x Handheld Blaster
2x Ion Blaster of Optimus Prime
2x Energon Axe
2x Noble’s Blaster
1x Sparring Gear

ACTIONS:

3x One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall
3x Leap Into Battle
3x The Bigger They Are…
3x Inspiring Leadership
3x Swap Missions
3x Security Checkpoint
3x Brainstorm
1x Vaporize
1x Espionage
1x Work Overtime

I’ll be writing a detailed report next week on my tournament experience, about the things that went right with the deck and what can be improved on.  Thanks again for reading, and I’m looking forward to the Omega Event this weekend.  If you’re playing, make sure to say hi!

 

 

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