Strategy Spotlight: Rise of the Combiners Draft

Strategy Spotlight: Rise of the Combiners Draft

With a handful of drafts under my belt with Rise of the Combiners, I wanted to weigh in with my general impressions of Transformers limited on the whole and Rise of the Combiners specifically.  I vastly prefer the advanced draft format to Turbo mode, as Turbo feels like whoever opens the highest stat bots just wins.  Draft though gives you some interesting strategic opportunities even if you open several weak characters in your packs.  The rules for both Draft and Turbo mode can be found here.

There are are two parts to a Transformers booster draft: drafting the bots then drafting the battle cards.  Drafting the bots is the more unique part of the process, as drafting the battle cards is essentially the same as a conventional booster draft for Magic or a lot of other trading card games, with even less strategic choices than a Magic draft (which I’ll explain later).

Drafting Characters

Drafting the bots is a sort of twist on a Rochester draft, a much older, now defunct limited Magic format.  A Rochester draft is one in which all the contents of a booster pack are laid out, and then players take turns picking their cards in order much like a normal booster draft.  The key difference between a Rochester draft and a normal draft is that everyone at the table knows what everyone else is drafting.  Rochester drafts led to some very interesting strategic options for players, and the textures of these drafts were quite distinct from normal drafts.  By the way, if you play Magic and haven’t ever done a Rochester draft, I’d recommend trying one if you have the chance to.  Even better if you can do a Team Rochester draft.

So where does that leave a new Transformers player hopping into a draft?  When you open your four packs, you set aside the battle cards, then have a decision to make with the characters you opened.  You can keep any number of these characters you want, and then the rest are put into the pool of characters to be drafted by the entire table.  Drafting for the pool of characters then begins with the player with the lowest number of remaining stars.  At this point you have some options available to you, and while I haven’t tried every strategy so far, I’ll lay out the implications for each strategy.

1.) Keep your best characters

This is the easiest strategy, and the one I would recommend if you are new to drafting Transformers, or even just drafting any card game in general.  This strategy is also very safe as well, as what you have is what you get.  Keeping your best characters is a little luck dependent like Turbo mode, but you generally only need two decent bots out of four packs, as opposed to needing two strong bots out of two packs.

2.) Keep one good character

This is a bit of a variation on the first strat, as you still have a good bot for your lineup, the difference is that you will be able to pick a bot (or possibly two!) of your choice from the pool before anyone that kept more stars than you.  You can even do something like pick a low star bot as your second bot, and get another pick immediately after.

3.) Dump all your characters

This strategy is likely the most dangerous (and one I personally haven’t tried or seen attempted yet), but I think yields some interesting possibilities.  The obvious advantage is that you should (barring anyone else at the table having zero characters), be guaranteed the first pick out of the pool.  The problem is that the quality of the characters available will likely be lower than the characters everyone else at the table kept.  This strat is likely preferable if you open say four combiner characters, even more so if they are all different teams/factions.  I wouldn’t recommend trying to go for making one of the complete combiner teams, even if they are available at the table, as all it takes is one savvy opponent to pick up the one character you need to make the combiner team and wreck your draft.  But, keep an eye on the table’s kept stars.  If everyone is at 21 stars or higher (not likely, but possible), then you could have the possibility to simply swoop up five five-star characters of your choice, and with Aerialbots and Stunticons at common, you could end up with a full blown combiner team.  Again, I want to stress that this is not likely, but something to keep in mind.  Otherwise, I’d be content just picking up the two best characters available in the pool and continuing from there.

Things to keep in mind when drafting characters

1.) Stats are king

Limited decks in Transformers are going to be mish mashes of upgrades and actions, and synergies just don’t exist like they do in constructed.  Characters with good stats overall are your best bet for winning.  Characters like Ruckus and Novastar may just sit idle in your collection, but in draft they can dominate the game.  Because of this, most combiner bots are pretty weak (outside of Sentinels).  Combiners generally end up just being a roleplayer in your lineup.

2.) Faction can matter

Confidence and Swindled are commons, and decent cards to play in limited, allowing you to churn through your deck, getting you closer to your more powerful cards and allowing you to dump your stinkers (trust me, you will very likely have some stinkers in your deck).  Also Noble’s Blaster and Scoundrel’s Blaster are two strong uncommons, and having one faction means you can snap these up early and know they will never be dead.

3.) Type can matter, but less than faction

Cards like Field Communicator are decent, but ultimately there’s not enough payoff for type mattering that I would be less concerned with the types of characters you have as opposed to faction.  If you end up with a specialist and see a Field Communicator, then the card is a perfectly reasonable pickup.

Drafting Battle Cards

Once you’ve got all your bots in front of you, it’s time to draft battle cards.  As I said before, I think drafting battle cards is much simpler in Transformers than drafting Magic.  In a Magic draft, it’s of vital importance to be able to read the packs and pick up on signals that those on your right and left are sending you (and what signals you are sending.)  The best drafters can often deduce quickly what colors are available and move into those colors to give them access to the best deck possible.  In Transformers, you don’t need to read the table as much, because the signals aren’t as important.  This is because there are no colors in Transformers.  In a Magic draft, you usually need to be in a two color deck, so if you are trying to draft the same two colors as a player to your right, it is very likely you will end up with a pretty weak deck.  The one spot you could try and get a leg up here is by trying to deduce if your neighbors prefer to draft blue or orange pips.  If one of your neighbors is prioritizing a heavy orange strategy, you could focus on picking up blue pips, giving you access to more blue pip cards as the draft progresses.  Ultimately though, you are going to be drafting the most powerful card for your deck more often than not.  With that in mind, here’s a general outline of the types of card I prefer to draft.  Keep in mind that this is an outline, and these aren’t hard and fast rules.

1.) Star Cards

In draft, you usually won’t end up with exactly 25 stars in characters, meaning you can fill out your deck with some number of Star cards.  These will be taken early at the table, so you need to prioritize these if you don’t have any.  Once you have enough star cards to fill out your team and deck, you can start taking other cards.  But the first of these are so valuable you need to be taking them high.  This is my general pick order for these cards (if you’re in the enviable position of having to pick between two):

  1. Bolt of Lightning
  2. Mounted Missiles
  3. Leap of Faith
  4. Vandalize
  5. Universal Network Access
  6. Recon System


2.) Double Pips

There’s only two cards with double pips in the set: Improvised Shield and Handheld Blaster.  They’re common though, so odds are you will see some number of these in a draft.  While this won’t be true for every draft format, in Rise of the Combiners, the abundance of green pip cards means that if you end up with these in your hand, you can easily swap them out for a card that actually does something in play.

3.) Static Attack Pumps

There’s a few weapons floating around in Rise of the Combiners draft, and a lot of them do give you a flat bump to your attack such as Primary Laser, Erratic Lightning, Noble’s Blaster and Scoundrel’s Blaster.  These give you guaranteed damage, as your flipped battle icons will not always grant you more damage (or defense).  Reckless Charge is a very strong action, as playing this along with a weapon in the same turn often means lights out for the bot you are attacking.

4.) Bold and Tough cards

Bold and tough cards are going to be much more reliant on the pips in your deck, and can be a bit more unreliable than a static pump.  However, if you have a lot of Improvised Shields or Handheld Blasters, these get much better.  A focused deck with a high number of orange or blue icons also make these strong pickups.  I would also include Superior Cannon and Superior Plating in this tier, as you can take these early and keep an eye out for later Tech Researches to go with them.  I think the games go long enough that these cards are perfectly acceptable in the appropriate deck.

5.) Battle Icons

The next thing you want to keep in mind while you are drafting is what color pips you want to be primarily focused on.  Your characters will generally inform this, as there are quite a few bold and tough characters.  While you can’t have as focused a deck as you do in constructed, you can still skew your picks towards the battle icons that will best benefit your bold or tough bots.  You may never intend on actually playing Testify in your aggressive deck, but as I said above, green pips give you access to better cards when needed.  Also, try to keep in mind how many total white pips you have.  You want some number of these, but too many and a lot of your battle flips will be pretty anemic.

6.) Utility Cards

Rise of the Combiners has quite a few of these at common, most notably Bashing Shield and Enforcement Batons.  I actually think Batons is the better of these two because of how many weapons are running around, and how strong weapons are.  There are some number of armor cards, but these are weaker overall, and you’ll be less interested in needing an answer to opposing armor.  Smelt is another decent card, but can be pretty weak in the middle to late stages of the game, as I’ve seen plenty of boards where there’s four plus upgrades in play on both sides of the table, meaning Smelt is going to be pretty weak at that point.

7.) Card Drawing

Card drawing is welcome, if not particularly exciting.  Generally combat is more important than any sort of card advantage, but drawing extra cards does increase the chances of you seeing your most powerful cards in any given game.  One card I will make an exception for at the moment is Confidence, as if I’m all Autobots I’m pretty happy to have some number of these in my deck, particularly if I’m going for the bold strat.  If you are a bold based all Autobot deck, I would move Confidence up in my pick order to just underneath static attack pumps and good bold cards.

8.) The Dregs

At this point, you’re just taking cards that give you the best pips possible, and when you can’t even do that, you’ll end up with things like Dinobot Enigma which might as well be an entirely blank card.  While you’ll be able to cut 3 cards from your deck, you’ll still end up with some pretty weak cards (as an aside, I wonder if a twenty card draft deck would be better, or if one more pack for each player should be added to the draft, mostly so players have more choices when it comes to deck construction).  Fortunately, with enough solid green cards in your deck, you’ll be able to cycle these cards away to get a better card throughout your games.  Hold on to these cards when you draw them rather than haphazardly playing them, as they are worth far more as a means to get a Noble’s Blaster or Enforcement Batons later than whatever minuscule effect they will have on the game.

I’m going to be doing more drafts in the future, and be able to flesh out and adjust my strategies as I do.  I’ll provide my insights, and continue trying different ideas and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

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