Discovering your mistakes

the importance of identifying your in-game play mistakes

by Scott Landis

“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” – Winston Churchill


In the podcast we did following Pax Unplugged I mentioned that I dwelled on a mistake I made round one of the 1 pm Uncut Sheet tournament in round one in my loss to Joe Baiocchi, who went on to win the event. There was a play in my second turn that turned out to be a mistake on my part that wound up costing me the match. Yes, a mistake on the second turn of the game cost me the entire game. I said it on the podcast before, but I believe success in the Transformers TCG translates into: 50% in game play, 35% deck building, 15% Mostly Controllable Random Factors (who goes first, combat flips, cards you draw in your opening/subsequent hands, etc.). With roughly 85% of these factors within your control I believe as a player you need to be constantly looking for ways to improve your game, because otherwise you are simply starting from a position of loss.

After round five when my teammate Mark Kinney and I went over to the Reading Terminal Market across from the Philadelphia hoping to scarf down some late lunch/early dinner before the 5 pm tournament started. As we were waiting in the indomitable lines for our meals I started to discuss this play with him because I truly believe the only way to learn in any endeavor, but especially in ones with as many decision trees as the Transformers TCG, is to discuss difficult plays and determine if they were either bad judgment calls made with incomplete information or whether they were flat out mistakes. Either way, you will learn. What is the difference? 


Mistake or Judgement Call?

You need to determine how and why you arrived at the decisions that you made. Did you have complete information? The answer is usually “no” as there are few abilities to see your opponents hand and their deck to calculate what they may have in hand if you are not familiar with their decks/play styles. This means you need to gather empirical evidence throughout the day/previous days for multi day events to understand what you may be facing to help you make the best decisions. If you make a decision, albeit with incomplete information, was the best you could do given these circumstances than you can feel confident that the decision you made on a certain play was the best you made considering any unknown factors and potential outcomes. I say this, but it is unrealistic in the time to play the game to calculate these different outcomes, decide on the percentage likely for the outcome to occur, and then make the best informed Expected Value decision on the fly (unless you are a sheer genius, as I have seen a couple epic TCG players make these calculations over the years). 

Due to these time constraints, I oftentimes chalk bad outcomes to outright mistakes, because you simply cannot process the information fast enough to make the correct choice in the moment. This does not mean that you need to solely go with “gut instinct,” but you need to find shortcuts to make the most intelligent decision in a fair amount of time. You can then dwell on the correct answer at a later time/date and decide if you made a mistake, hence why we discussed this play for forty-five minutes after the fact, on a play that took no time to actually make, because I did not stop to think of one of the potential outcomes.

It is so important to replay these difficult decisions in your head, but even more important to discuss them with others. Hopefully you will gain some insight as to how the Transformers TCG plays out through my cathartic recap. Enough of the setup, let me tell you the play first and you can make your own decision:


The match-up is Round 1 of the 1 pm Uncut Sheet tournament. Joe and I played the day before, where I beat him (I believe in round 4) when I won the tournament. We were both playing Power of the Primes (Optimus Prime Battlefield Legend with Nemesis Prime) but our lists were vastly different. I did not know if Joe changed his deck at all between days, but I knew some of the cards we had differently in our lists. His list was more “traditional” featuring Brainstorm, more PowerSwords and Energon Axes, Reinforced Plating, and featured a full playset (3) of Ramming Speed for Upgrade removal. I played a more direct damage heavy version (he had Plasma Burst, but no One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall as I did) with multiple Drill Arms, Ion Blaster of Optimus Prime, Treasure Hunt, and Body Armors.

I won the die roll and I went first. I sent my Optimus into his Optimus, as I am apt to do in the mirror and landed about four damage after combat. He then attacked with Nemesis, dealing 2 to my Optimus in return. It was then time for my second turn. I first played an action card, I believe a Treasure Hunt, and my hand afterwards was: Inspiring Leadership, Ion Blaster of Optimus Prime, ForceField, Handheld Blaster, Body Armor. Knowing you will be attacking with Nemesis Prime this turn, and more importantly each of your characters is vulnerable to his Optimus Prime attack, how are you spending your Flip and Upgrade play for the turn before attacking with Nemesis?


Here are your options, there are nine:

1. Play Forcefield on Optimus, Flip Nemesis and attack

2. Play Forcefield on Optimus, Flip Optimus for more defense, less attack on Nemesis

3. Play Forcefield on Nemesis, Flip Nemesis and attack

4. Play Forcefield on Nemesis, Flip Optimus for more defense, less attack on Nemesis

5. Flip Optimus, get back an Ability card, Play Body Armor on Optimus (only Melee in Alt Mode)

6. Play Body Armor on Nemesis, Flip Optimus for more defense, less attack on Nemesis

7. Play Body Armor on Nemesis, Flip Nemesis for more attack

8. Play Ion Blaster on Optimus, Flip Nemesis and attack

9. Play Ion Blaster on Optimus, Flip Optimus for more defense, less attack on Nemesis

10. Play Handheld Blaster (joking, this is not one of the true options) 

(Space for Answer, stare here as you decide)


Remember I played this incorrectly, but the first part of the decision making process was made correctly, at least the understanding of what you need to know before making the decision.

So the question you need to ask yourself is, who is the target for his Optimus likely to be? The answer SHOULD be your Optimus, but I have seen players prioritize Nemesis (I believe that is wrong especially in my build based around direct damage), so you need to protect him. So under that assumption, playing anything on Nemesis is incorrect (discount options 3,4,6,7). I also see no reason to play Ion Blaster immediately, as Optimus has already attacked (discount options 8,9). So we have three options left.

Now, you need to understand what your opponent could play to counter your play and how the game should play out from here. Knowing from the day before that Joe ran Ramming Speed x3 that was my main concern, I assumed that no matter what I played on Optimus was going to be destroyed next turn either in hand or through the Optimus combat action. I then assumed I would play one of the other options next turn (on the next round’s zero turn) and be in the same situation each turn, drawing additional Upgrades would just be dead draws. So at this point I assumed I had enough information to make a decision: my only fear was a Ramming Speed on the armor, flipping Optimus to alt mode would allow for more armor, but that part was a secondary concern.

Have you decided which of the three you would choose? Has one of your plays already been discounted as incorrect? Well, I then proceeded to make the wrong play: 2. Play Forcefield on Optimus, Flip Optimus for more defense (and got back Treasure Hunt), attack with Nemesis in Alt Mode for 6.  


The incorrect Forcefield

Here was my (incorrect) rationale at the time, and if you feel this was the correct move, here is why it is wrong: if Joe has the Ramming Speed, Forcefield is the lowest impact Upgrade I can play. I actually WANT him to destroy the Forcefield because realistically he will deal the same low amount of damage back to my Optimus as I dealt to his (less with less direct damage in his deck). If he does not play Ramming Speed on the Forcefield it either soaks the attack down to four damage, nullifying at least an Upgrade played on his Optimus and I simply play the Body Armor next turn on Optimus, flip Optimus and attack back. If he has a second Ramming Speed, so be it (Jedi). My main concern was getting value out of the Forcefield in my hand.

He flipped his Optimus, played an Energon Axe on Optimus, and played Security Checkpoint. Mind Twist. The game was over right there. The Forcefield kept my Optimus alive, coupled with a second off the regrown Treasure Hunt, but effectively the game was over on turn two because I wanted to eke out value from all the cards in my hand. 

Even with the Forcefield “surviving the play Ability card” phase it was still the incorrect play for multiple reasons. First, you need to understand that Security Checkpoint was not one of the options I considered, and understood how wrecked I would be by it. I was only concerned with the Armor staying in play. Second, how were the next two turns going to play out given optimal conditions? Ideally you block enough damage where the Forcefield remains, but likely it is gone and at the next round 0 turn I will be flipping Optimus and attacking his Optimus. This means as my Optimus is the attacker, it is the ideal turn to play the Ion Blaster, as likely a ten attack base flip, play an ability I draw, play another ability off the Optimus ability could result in an immediate (though unlikely) kill: 10 attack, versus his two defense, say he flips 2 blue total, I flip no Orange, I flip a 3 damage adder, that is nine damage on him, with the four initial, if my draw for the turn is one of my four damage abilities (OSSOSF, Plasma Burst, Leap into Battle, The Bigger they Are..) it is likely over here. Still see the problem? 


Now, Forcefield, next Ion Blaster, assuming Optimus is still alive after his Optimus hit and now the second round of Nemesis, is the play NOW to play flip him to alt mode and play Body Armor on him? 


The most important card in the Mirror Match


This next point is very important to understand: The resulting series of plays of Joe playing the Security Checkpoint have nothing to do with the correct decision being to play the Body Armor on Optimus this turn. You cannot be results oriented when doing this type of analysis, but analyzing the result allows you to open up the catalog of possibilities to make the better decision (remember, I had not thought about Security Checkpoint at all, even my own if I drew it next turn). Therefore the correct play was #5: Flip Optimus, get back an Ability card, Play Body Armor on Optimus (only Melee in Alt Mode). 

This is the correct play regardless of the Security Checkpoint, but especially in light of it. Why is this the correct play? No card in the pseudo-mirror match is more important than Body Armor, none. It forces the opponent to either answer it, or the game is essentially over. His version only had three answers to it, and if Optimus was dead, then his chances of “drawing it” over the course of the game was minimal with one card per turn. Remember, there is a non-zero chance he even has the Ramming Speed in hand currently, remember he already played a card on his Nemesis turn so he has three left in hand, plus his draw phase so he has a 48.1% chance to have Ramming Speed in hand or through Optimus’ ability (One minus (3 out of 40, plus 3 out of 39, plus 3 out of 38, plus 3 out of 37, then to 35 due to Optimus ability)). That means an almost 50% of the time your Body Armor survives the attack, allowing not only your Optimus to likely be ignored or take no damage but for three more cards (and more chances for five if a white is flipped) to activate Nemesis earlier. You are also putting more cards in the Scrap Pile for the next time Optimus flips (albeit two turns from now at the earliest). 

If your Body Armor survives (50% of the time), you will be flipping five to seven cards on defense, and assuming the ratio of 12/40 of those combat cards are flipped (30% of your deck remaining), say two are flipped leaving you with ten in the deck to draw next turn, out of 28 cards remaining in the deck, a 35.71% chance to draw one next turn. Remember, the goal next attack will be to get to a total of 14-15 attack power, starting at a minimum of 10 with the Ion Blaster, getting the additional 4-5 from your initial Ability card play and the Optimus combat flips/flip ability. At that point, with an intact Body Armor and Ion Blaster on Optimus (three starting defense in Bot Mode plus Tough 3) I see no chance of Nemesis winning the game on his own, especially given your untouched Nemesis and the aforementioned Body Armor speeding up his transformation to Super Saiyin level 2.


By playing the Security Checkpoint, it will be extremely hard for my Optimus to take out his on the next attack, giving him the option to try and draw into Ramming Speed again off of the Optimus attack or through the start of the turn, but then leaves his Optimus likely dead to my Nemesis attack, regardless of what he plays on his Optimus. Remember, I got Treasure Hunt back so I will likely see a Drill Arms if there are any left in my deck by at least the time Nemesis is ready to attack, so even his best play of Reinforced Plating is likely dead, unless all my Drill Arms are flipped in combat. He would be placed in a similar decision point as I was: can my opponent destroy this armor (albeit with only Tough 2 vs. my Tough 3) but it still may not be enough to save him from a seven to ten power attacker in Nemesis regardless, and if my Optimus survives to my now fourth turn (the second Nemesis attack) I am SURE his Optimus is dead to OSSOSF or Plasma Burst retrievable but an Optimus flip anyway, so the Reinforced Plating is ultimately a moot point (this is what eventually wound up happening by the way, he played Reinforced Plating on Nemesis instead, and my Optimus flip killed his a turn later, then my Optimus died to his next Nemesis attack and his armored Nemesis killed mine despite having more damage on it to start the cycle: Armor is the most important aspect of the mirror).


There is one final point that makes the Forcefield play incorrect: even if he has Ramming Speed it is mostly irrelevant. Of course, this was “pre-Security Checkpoint” thinking, but the only way that Ramming Speed actually matters is if his Optimus is able to take down my Optimus in one shot. In order to do that much damage he has to get to around 17 attack power since my Optimus is in Truck mode (Defense 3, figure 2 Blue Pips on average in combat to five total defense) to kill him. The only way that is possible is playing an Energon Axe, Leap into Battle, a second Leap into Battle/OSSOSF (which he does not play) highly unlikely.  Would I rather have my Optimus take “4” instead of being on the brink of death? Sure, but remember my plan is to kill his Optimus on the next attack regardless, so worrying about the Ramming Speed was not the correct line of thinking. I should have been worried about Security Checkpoint.

So why did I make this mistake? Honestly, I think it is from years of playing TCGs where concepts like “Card Advantage” are the most important factor. By trying to extract value from every card in my hand, I wanted to play the Forcefield first, then the Body Armor next, extracting value from both of them. In the Transformers TCG, however, Card Advantage is nowhere near as important as both maximizing what you can play in the limited number of “actions” you can take per turn and playing cards in the right order. Since you are limited in how many cards you can play, the number of turns your characters have on the field becomes a real race against the number of Upgrades/Actions you can realistically play in that time frame, and making sure you are maximizing these opportunities. This is the real value I needed to extract from my hand, not an expectation that each and every card can have an immediate board impact. It is simply part of the continued learning of what makes Transformers TCG unique in my 25 years of competitive gaming.


 “He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Sun Tzu is correct, you win battles by making no mistakes, and that is something to strive for. Only through intense practice in matchups and with your own deck can you try and expose yourself to various situations you may not see often so you can adapt on the fly in higher level play. Many times your plays will be straight forward, but in complex situations where you need to make an educated decision, take some time afterwards and think back “did I make the right play?” What could you have done differently? Did that mistake cost you the match? We can only learn from our mistakes and grow from them, otherwise we are doomed to repeat them.


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