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Monday Morning QUarterbacking Dinos vs. Bugs with Wreck 'N Rule

by Scott Landis


So for a long time I wanted to write my take on a recorded match, because I think it helps all involved. It helps me get to “play” the Transformers TCG without physically “playing the game,” it helps the players involved by reviewing their plays an potential other lines of play in a real game situation they can put themselves back into, and it helps the readers/viewers because they may be thinking to themselves “was that play correct?” 

The danger of writing articles like this is potentially upsetting the players involved by saying that their plays were “wrong.” I have played competitive trading card games for 25 years, since Antiquities dropped for Magic, and I will never forget a conversation I had a pro level event in the early 2000s with a MUCH BETTER player than me, who I was staying with at the time and I grew up playing Magic with (let’s just say his name rhymes with Hinkle). We were watching the top 8 matches of the event and you could hear the match commentary but the players in the match could not. I do not remember the exact move, but the commentators said that the player made a judgement call that did not work out in their favor. Well, the player I was with said to me, paraphrased “no, there are no judgement calls, only correct or incorrect plays. If you played that out 100s of times making move A or move B you will see the games continue from there and either Move A or Move B would be correct over 51% of the time, making it the correct play. Not a choice of Move A vs. Move B, but the correct choice regardless of what seems like a judgement call.”

Now maybe you can argue this conclusion, and apparently some professional players do, but remember that Magic is a game of more unknown information compared to the Transformers TCG. I am not saying it is more complicated at all, just that the nature of resources in that game leaves it open to more base decisions on unknown commodities than Transformers. In Transformers a lot of the play is “on the table” so making mistakes to “on board tricks” is more common than making them to unknown information.

Anyway, the reason I say all this is because I want the players involved in these game play reviews (and I assume it will be the Wreck N Rule crowd of Brian and Joe most often) to know that I am not calling them bad players or ones who make mistakes often. I think overall they play the game pretty tightly and most importantly they give a lot of reasons “why” they are making the moves they are. I thank them profusely for allowing me to do this match dissection and I hope all involved find some use of it. Believe me, I am not saying I am 100% correct in this either, and I hope this sparks healthy debate. Again, I thank Wreck and Rule for allowing me to perform this dissection, I will relink the video below and make reference to certain times to stop the video, and I want all involved to know I reposted it (and wrote this) with the expressed written consent of Wreck N Rule. They are amazing content creators (and full disclosure my friends) and the last thing any content creator wants is their ideas or work taken by others and called their own. Thanks guys!

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

I chose this match because Brian is playing a version of the original Dinobot list I created in my first Bold article, which remains near and dear to my heart. Joe is playing Insecticons, which I initially considered a vastly inferior list, but I have seen many players recently playing it successfully. I feel it still has a very bad Dinobot matchup (which frankly is why I considered it to be an inferior deck to start) but I have come to enjoy some aspects of it. Now my lists of both of these decks differ, some heavier than others, but that is not that relevant to the current discussion. I am going to look at this match ONLY from the Brian perspective of the Dinobots.

I am going to try very hard to avoid the “Butterfly Effect” of the games, because if you fix one “mistake” it will cascade into more unknowns. For example, I know right away on turn one I would have attacked with a different character than Brian did, but it is impossible to thus recreate the ENTIRE game because that action has so many consequences. So where possible I will avoid going down the Butterfly Effect rabbit hole.

Also, in talking with Brian this match happened later in the night and you can hear he is not feeling well, so I am going to give him some leeway here. Love ya, Brian!

Match below

Who's the Beatdown? Transformers TCG

Now, I have to start this commentary right away because there are fundamental mistakes that seem to be made before the match officially begins. The main issues here are ones of Role Assignment and incorrect Match Specific Card Evaluation. I know that the Transformers TCG has only been out for a few weeks and there have been very few competitive events to get information on and thus there is certainly no “established metagame” or anything like that to derive information from. But, I also know that Brian is a very solid player with a great grasp of correct deckbuilding. He also played this match before this recording so he knows the fundamentals of what is in his opponents Insecticon build. 

Role Assignment is the concept of understanding which deck is the more aggressive one and thus which player has to take on the more controlling role in the match, no matter if both decks are fundamentally aggro or fundamentally control. Unless the two are an exact copy of one another, some differences will exist even in perceived “mirror matches” that these rules can be followed. It is silly of me to explain this concept without directing you to the most important TCG article ever written: “Who’s the Beatdown” by Mike Flores ( If you never read this, or have not read it in a long time and thought about how to apply it to Transformers, I implore you to follow that link. I know you may not know the cards themselves or the metagame commentary, but the fundamental concepts hold true almost 20 years later.

So Brian incorrectly identifies the Insecticon deck as the “aggro” so his Dinobot deck has to be the “control” deck in this matchup. This is the mistake in Role Assignment. As a corollary, he does not see the value of certain cards in this matchup and the importance in playing them at opportune times and situations. The most important card in each of these decks in this matchup is “I Still Function.” More importantly, the role of this card is to either keep Grimlock alive longer by using it on Sludge to heal all damage off of Grimlock, or bring back Grimlock himself to close out the game. You will see the Dinobots do not implore this strategy.


Happy Halloween! The Opening Salvo! Times reflected from Video Above!

2:20:  Brian comments “how difficult it is to deal with Shrapnel.” This leads down a difficult road and a series of misplays. I want to sympathize with the difficulty in dealing with Shrapnel, but understand that he really only has to absorb one hit. ESPECIALLY when you are playing Grimlock, he will likely die in the end from Overkill damage, but his threat level is minimized if you just “waste” one attack a turn (your most worthless) on him. He is a very good Character, but do not over extend into him or you make him a bigger threat than he already is.

2:42: Forcefield on Sludge. I understand why this move occurs, he already has damage on him so you want to save him from future damage, but you can also save him from damage by NOT ATTACKING WITH HIM. This is later compounded by attacking with him, thinking he is save under the guise of the Forcefield. If you are going to play the Forcefield here, which is likely the wrong move in general, you should put it on Grimlock. I would not have played it at all. With a four card hand there has to be a more relevant play.

2:55: Sludge to robot mode and attack. This is where the mistake is compounded. Transforming to Bot mode is correct, so you can later transform back to Alt mode to heal the other Dinobots, but attacking with him is incorrect. I understand “why” it was done, you want to get the “Heal one when you attack” trigger off of Sludge, but you leave him vulnerable to counterattack and more importantly you “turn on” Barrage’s ability. You are making the attack decisions easy for your opponent. This also wastes the Forcefield because without the Bold 2 Barrage may not even get to the five damage. 

The correct play here is to attack with Snarl in Alt mode. His attack should still do “3” damage Shrapnel can take at max and you are not presenting a target that can turn on Barrage. You will likely force Kick Back to attack, potentially one-shotting Snarl I understand, but already seeing a Power Sword in play implies that the Insecticon build is not the traditional “85% Orange build” (confirmed by Scrap Pile) so Snarl may survive the 11 damage one-shot anyway.

5:40 The Grimlock attack. Playing the Matrix on him is fine, all the Dinos get the benefit, but attacking into Barrage here is not setting up the eventual Overkill attack that would have come next turn. I am going to assume no other playing Action Cards so the Incoming Transmission is fine (remember Snarl can put that double Orange Tyranny on top through his Bot mode, you do not have to “waste” Incoming) since it likely is where the Matrix came from, but I think the play is attack with Snarl on Barrage for eventual damage. Then Grimlock can finish him off next turn and do a tremendous amount of Overkill.


Knowing your most valuable cards!

8:55: the I Still Function (ISF) play on Sludge. I do not have many words for this turn, it is played extremely poorly. Using ISF, the BEST card in this matchup for both decks, as a virtual Medic and THEN giving Snarl a double Orange upgrade into play before attacking in Alt mode. This entire turn is incorrect. I am going to assume a combination of being on “Tilt” and tiredness/not feeling well had to factor in here. The correct play is to NOT play ISF, even if you have no other playable Action card at all, Transform Snarl to Bot mode, but the double Orange on top. I don’t care if you play NO UPGRADE, NO ACTION CARD, getting in for at least 8 attack on Kickback, I would not waste the attack on the 1 damage remaining Barrage after putting the double Orange on top, to allow Grimlock Overkill to matter later (hence holding the ISF) is correct 

(Side Notes from Brian: it's because I'm thinking that he'll be able to pull the damage off Snarl and still swing to attack.  In my head, I had "I Still Function" conceptualized as "bring a character back from the dead to attack with them, then they die again."  Obviously, I know it doesn't say that, but in my own mental shorthand, I had conceptualized the card in that way.  I realized my mistake a second after Joe challenges me about it, and I'm fairly sure he's subtly offering me an opportunity to take it back.  When I say something along the lines of "I'm okay with that," it'd be more precise to say that I'm going to deal with the consequence of my misplay and not go with a rewind.)

As assumed, just a mistake, but one that ultimately costs the game.

12:20: My only issue with this turn is flipping Grimlock before playing the Supercharge. Flipping him is the right call mathematically, but say you draw an Energon Axe, it will be correct to play it on Grimlock instead of a Forcefield that will come right back to your hand from Debilitating Crystal (which happens). I do not thing even with a 9 power Grimlock I would attack into an untapped board, so flipping him is fine, I just get all my unknown information “known” before my on-board issues. The decision to attack Chop Shop is correct, since it gets rid of the Crystal, the variance was just on the Insecticon side in this attack.

14:34: Swarm. Immediately all 3 damage goes onto Snarl. This is a mistake. You need to take the time to calculate how much damage the potential attackers can do to you (given the board state) before this decision. I think the right play is to put some or all of the damage onto the target that cannot be attacked (Grimlock) even though he is the win condition, because you are so far behind the ONLY way you can now win is superpowered Grimlock attack(s) which ISF will facilitate, so even if he dies it is fine if he takes out two Insecticons. The Swarm damage winds up killing Snarl later…

Grimlock does kill two characters but is then run over.

Sad Grimlock

Game 2:

20:25: Transform Sludge. This play cannot be analyzed until I see the turns play out a bit more, but the general idea is you MUST do as much damage as possible to Shrapnel when he is in Alt mode on the first turn, within reason. I am not saying “Transform Grimlock and attack” leaving him exposed, but if you had a double Orange in hand the correct play MOST of the time should be to transform Snarl to Bot mode, put the double Orange on top, deal at least 7. If 4-5 gets through you just turned off Shrapnel.

21:08: Ready for Action. Why? This is very similar to ISF in that your goal is to swing with Grimlock as many times as possible. I understand saving Sludge from being attacked, but you can mathematically safely swing with Grimlock here, then use Ready for Action on HIM next turn. Given a full hand there had to be other options.

25:00: The Giant Snarl attack. I do not have an issue with this attack, but it highlights that you must play differently when you know your opponent runs glass cannons giant attacks with ISF. As the Dino player you MUST rely on Grimlock to Overkill two bots each attack, having ANY dead insects means a big attack..well, that’s assuming the lineup includes Ransack AND Kickback. Here, with only one of them you cannot give them the ISF target, I think the play is to not go all in, save all that for the next Grimlock attack and just kill off Shrapnel. I know it seems like you are not getting immediate value, and you are not, but you must rely on Grimlock overkill to win. The later Grimlock attack is not high enough.

Baby Grimlock

So that is my review of the match. I know some may call it Monday Morning Quaterbacking, but it is not. This was a friendly match filmed for the purpose of explicitly teaching themselves and others how to improve their games. If this was a filmed finals of some major tournament I could agree that “nerves” or “fatigue from playing” could be a factor, but not in this situation (yes, I know sickness was).

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Till All are One!