Top 16 at Gen Con with Mission Prime

Top 16 at Gen Con with Mission Prime

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to write about Gen Con. I wanted to do better than I did after spending so much time preparing for the tournament. Playing card games competitively can be exhausting because your success is tied to how well you do at a tournament and not necessarily with how well you actually prepare for that given event. I know there were tournaments I did extremely well with in the past where I prepared very little, if any at all, and other tournaments where I put in a lot of work and did not have the same result. These kind of outcomes can make one wonder “Why even bother?”

I realized though that the process itself was a cathartic experience. I played a deck I had written exhaustively about; refining and practicing with it to really understand how the deck worked. Not only that, the deck itself demanded an enormous amount of skill, which is often the kind of deck I felt like I avoided in past tournaments, and I’m glad I decided to push myself into playing a deck that required a lot of decisions to be made on every given turn. On top of that, I listened to the advice I received from others I played with and incorporated their ideas into the final decklist I registered, something I rarely did in the past.

TRANSFORMERS:

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

Arcee, Skilled Fighter (Sideboard)

UPGRADES:

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

ACTIONS:

2x One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall
3x Leap Into Battle
3x The Bigger They Are…
2x Team-Up Tactics
3x Hiding Spot
3x Security Checkpoint
3x Brainstorm
2x Marksmanship
1x Vaporize
1x Espionage
1x Work Overtime
1x Press the Advantage

SIDEBOARD:

3x Grenade Launcher
3x Swap Missions
1x Press the Advantage
1x Vaporize
1x Disruptive Entrance
1x Energon Axe

The list is quite different from the Three Wide Prime decks that did well at Origins. There is much less direct damage, no Security Consoles, no Ion Blaster of Optimus Prime, three Brainstorms and three copies of the new Wave 3 Secret Action: Hiding Spot.

Before I dive into these noticeable changes, I need to preface the reason for these changes. Games of Transformers are very rarely resource wars. You cannot outgrind your opponent with inevitable card advantage. You must establish a board advantage quickly. Because of this, blue decks are not true control decks; rather they are aggro-control decks that often start out the game behind other decks that are much faster to get off the ground with their higher attack values. The key for blue decks to win is to keep pace with the initiative the other deck has tried to seize very early on, then turn the corner on a crucial turn and reclaim that initiative for the rest of the game.

This reasoning is what led me very quickly to Hiding Spot as a way to protect Optimus Prime on a crucial turn (most often the swing turn when every character untaps). Not only that, because of the way Secret Actions work, Hiding Spot gives you the ability to dictate your opponent’s combat step far more than simply using it on your Optimus Prime. Hiding Spot is even potentially stronger when your opponent gets two character attacks before untapping. You may have all of your characters at a high enough health that your opponent will not K.O. any character with their first attack, but the second attack on the same target will K.O. the character they attacked first. With Hiding Spot, you can simply not trigger it on the first attack, then when they attack with their second character, you can trigger Hiding Spot and give the character they attacked first stealth, allowing you to untap with all of your characters still alive.

The reason for three Hiding Spots is that this ability to dictate your opponent’s attacks in some fashion was proving to be so powerful that I wanted access to it in nearly every game going into the swing turn. I started out with only one copy of the Secret Action, but was finding that I wanted to see it far more often than one copy would allow, even with Optimus Prime’s alt mode ability. Going up to three meant that it was very likely for me to see at least one copy in my scrap pile before the swing turn.

The pressure to find key cards in the very early turns of the game made me realize just how powerful green battle icons are. I kind of stumbled onto this with Mission Prime’s earlier decklists, as these lists had a wide variety of green pip cards that covered a surprisingly wide range of categories of cards:

Weapon (Noble’s Blaster)
Armor (Sparring Gear)
Pump Action (Press the Advantage)
Disruption (Espionage)

Not only did I have a wider array of options available with these green pip cards, I was often simply increasing the quality of my hand by exchanging cards that are universally bad (Handheld Blaster) or situationally bad (Brainstorm with few to no actions in hand, Security Checkpoint in the later turns when your opponent’s hand is nearly empty).

Playing more green pips, specifically Noble’s Blaster, also allowed me to get a subtle advantage in my list by playing less total upgrades. Both of the Three Wide Prime decklists that did well at Origins played 18 upgrades, while my list played 15. By playing less total upgrades, you gain three advantages:

1.) You can play Security Checkpoint early. I generally think going second is quite good for Mission Prime, and often a Security Checkpoint on your first turn when you’re going second can cripple your opponent so badly they will lose the game on the spot. By having less total upgrades in your deck, Checkpoint can be the first play of the game for you more often without losing any cards in your hand.

2.) Your Optimus Prime attacks are less likely to miss. One of the worst things that can happen is when you attack with Prime and hit only upgrades. Less upgrades in the list means more live hits on every Prime attack.

3.) You can have a bigger diversity of actions. Optimus Prime’s alt mode is quite powerful in that it gives you a myriad of options when you flip him. By playing more actions in the deck, you can increase your chances for a powerful play on the turn you do flip him. Maybe you need The Bigger They Are… to get in guaranteed damage with one of your weaker characters in a blue matchup or maybe you need a Brainstorm to get a burst of actions to put you ahead. More actions increases your choices every game with Optimus Prime.

While I play less upgrades than previous lists, I was still often able to play two cards a turn (upgrade+action) since three Noble’s Blasters meant that it was very likely I would hit one early on.

I had cut Brainstorm at one point during the testing process, but went back to it as it gives you the ability to have very strong turns. Ideally you want to K.O. a character every time you attack with Optimus Prime, and sometimes you have to try and kill a character with high effective health like Wheeljack in one shot. Brainstorm along with Noble’s Blaster and Data Pad in some combination increases your chances to be able to one shot the defending character. On top of that, you can do things like Brainstorm with Work Overtime+another action to stay even on action plays, or Brainstorm+Security Checkpoint+Espionage to tear your opponent’s hand apart. The high amount of green pips in the deck means that when Brainstorm is bad in your hand, it’s easy to exchange it for a card with some sort of impact.

The most important change I made was to ultimately cut Swap Missions from the main deck. I found that the card can very rarely be used effectively against highly aggressive orange decks, and is generally good only if you hit it off an Optimus Prime attack, and only if you don’t attack with Prime last. Hiding Spot was proving to be far more effective, and the Secret Action had a distinct advantage that you could play it with Optimus Prime in either mode. Namely, you could rebuy it with Prime’s alt mode ability then play it immediately, as opposed to Swap Missions that was generally weaker to rebuy, since you would not be able to attack with Prime in his bot mode.

However, Swap Missions was still powerful against blue defensive decks where your opponent can’t pressure your Prime early, and could be quite strong on a much later turn in the game where you have multiple characters and a Data Pad on Prime so you can set up multiple attacks with Prime in one turn. I relegated the action to the sideboard.

For the sideboard plan itself, I tried out a lot of configurations for the mirror and the Aerialbots matchup: Nemesis Prime+Photon Bomb, Nemesis Prime+no Photon Bomb, Ultra Magnus+Photon Bomb, Ultra Magnus+no Photon Bomb, and Arcee+Grenade Launchers. Arcee proved to be quite effective against Aerialbots whether they stayed locked in their combiner setup or went for the Jetfire plan. However, Arcee was terrible in the mirror. Aerialbots is about a lot of early chip damage, so it can take up a couple attacks to K.O. Arcee. The Prime matchup is about trying to establish some sort of bot advantage going into the swing turn so that you can better position your Prime attacks against theirs. The most effective strategy I was finding to pursue was one shotting the weakest bot on their side if they were in a three wide setup (Flamewar or Arcee.) Arcee has two less effective health than Flamewar, and this makes it much easier for the opposing Prime to one shot her. I had one particular advantage over the other three wide lists to one shot Flamewar: Press the Advantage. Press the Advantage+Noble’s Blaster on Prime is exactly enough attack to one shot Flamewar (assuming 3 blue flips on her defense).

The last couple of sideboard slots help to fill out the deck: a third Energon Axe for all the blue mirrors, particularly where most blue decks play Armed Hovercraft so it’s pretty easy to equip one early. A second Vaporize as a catch all when you’re playing against a particular deck where you want an additional upgrade scrap for cards like Energy Pack or opposing armor. The second Press the Advantage for blue Decepticon decks and a Disruptive Entrance for aggressive decks where you can strip a key I Still Function or One Shall Stand out of their hand on a crucial turn.

If I had to run it back I would play the same list with some minor changes to the sideboard. I still think Mission Prime is a very strong deck, it just requires you to be very well practiced to understand how to pilot it. Being able to look back on the deck from it’s initial conception in Wave 1 (which I wrote about here) to upgrading and changing the deck over time allowed me to see the deck evolve in the snapshots of my articles. Will Mission Prime still be a strong deck for the Energon Invitational? We’ll have to wait and see what Wave 4 brings the deck. More actions printed means more options for the Battlefield Legend, so I suspect Optimus Prime will still be somewhere at the top tables.

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