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Tribal warfare, know your neutrals

Identifying the powerful neutral cards for your tribal decks

by Scott Landis

I know I was delayed a bit in writing this article, Halloween is a busy time for a lot of my “gatcha games” and at work our year end is Oct. 31 so real life/other gaming delayed this a bit. I was still able to record a podcast which you will find on the Articles and Podcasts page, so make sure you follow VectorSigma.Info on Facebook and keep coming back here for all types of Transformers Trading Card Game strategy multi-media!

I wanted to break from the article series I was doing on scripting out your turns and the idea from this came from a combination of seeing a lot of exploratory decklists posted on the various Facebook group and my safari trip last summer. Those that know me personally know that I went on an African Safari to Tanzania over the Summer. I was quite an experience, but besides seeing all the awesome animals (think Lion King), it was really interesting to understand how ancient tribal politics affected the various borders in modern day Africa. Stay with me on this one, but thinking back on all of this had me thinking of the various Tribal relationships in the Transformers TCG! 


Actual photo of Cubs in the Wild! Too cute!

Tribes in the TF TCG are your various sub-teams of the game: Insecticons, Dinobots, Autobot Cars, etc. With only one set and a limited amount of cards to work with, along with the game only being out a month, most deck lists I see being worked on tend to fall along these tribal lines. The tribal themes tend to favor a homogenous build, but much like the former Tribal nation members I met in Tanzania, the tribal divisions were enhanced by introducing former “conflicting views.” 

What I find most interesting of the decks I see posted is not the internal synergy that these tribes have with certain cards, but how various Neutral cards that any deck can use are actually BETTER used by certain tribes as well.

Let me explain:  It is very easy to say “you should play Swarm in an Insecticon deck Jaws of Steel in a Dinobot deck, or Start Your Engines in car lists.” It is another thing to say “Dinobots and Insecticons are the best I Still Function decks.” In other words, I try to find the cards that any deck can play, but excel in these tribes, making these universally powerful neutral cards as simulated tribal cards. For me it is this synergy with cards that any deck can use, that are not specifically “Tribal stamped” that sets these decks apart, yet it amazes me how often I see decklists not even include these cards, when I consider them the lynchpins of the decks!     

Here are some cards I see as having powerful synergy with certain tribes and you should seriously be asking yourself “why am I not playing these” in your lists. You can also look at this as an “underrated card” list as you should see more of these pop up, some universally:

Energon Axe Transformers TCG

Energon Axe

Tribal Synergy: Cars, Dinobots

I already wrote at length why Energon Axe is good in Dinobots (you can find it here: , the first article on the site) and I actually believe it has even MORE synergy now than it had in my original take on my prehistoric friends. This is a larger topic, but I believe the all-in, all-orange, take on Dinobots is incorrect. Over the past month the Insecticon “Plague of Orange” has proven to be the superior all-in aggro deck. The issue I see a lot of Orange based Bold Dinobot decks having are they are trying to beat the bugs at their own game, playing a similar all-in style. Thus this becomes an issue of role assignment mistakes I spoke about at length in my match review of a Dinobot/Insecticon match play by Wreck ‘N Rule here:

I believe the problem has been compounded as the Insecticon deck has improved over time and gone even more of a concise aggressive deck, so it is time for the Dinobots to play the more controlling role, likely transforming to a more aggro-control shell. Having more Blue pips in the deck and facilitating damage through action cards/upgrades that are less all-in Bold based will assist this, cementing Energon Axe as a great card in this deck.

The other tribe that truly benefits from the greatness that is Energon Axe (which I have called “the best weapon in the game” on my weekly podcast) is Cars. The main purpose of the Cars deck (call it what you will, I have no loyalty to deck names, given a choice I prefer Tokyo Drift myself) is to untap your characters and attack with them multiple times in a turn. You are controlling the flow of combat through your ability to not keep one character tapped too long on the battlefield where it can be attacked multiple times by the opponent. You achieve mastery over who can be attacked and how often you attack.  

Since you are able to use your attackers multiple times in a combat round, you oftentimes force your opponent to leave their weaker character vulnerable to your heavy hitters when they assumed they were protected (not to mention none of them are safe to SR Bumblebee anyway). Since you are attacking more than once in a round with your characters, they oftentimes take one hit early and are uncontested later. This means they have damage on them after that hit to be able to equip Energon Axe and use it for the second attack (or more) during the round. This combines with the fact that if you go second in a game you can always attach it to the first target your opponent chooses, and the “downside” of the Axe is greatly mitigated. In many games I play the wielder of the Energon Axe can attack up to three times with it before my opponent’s characters even got to attack a second time!

So while Grenade Launcher may give you that one time burst of +4 attack, the static consistent +3 of Energon Axe, pretty much guaranteeing multiple uses, makes it the primary weapon of choice for the Autobot patrol.


Peace Through Tyranny

Tribal Synergy: Insecticons, Cars, (Dinobots)

When I talk about Peace Through Tyranny, I mean the playing of the card for its effects, not the double orange battle icons, which is what it is mostly used for.  I cannot tell you how many decklists I see that gloss over the power level of this card for its effect, not simply its double orange use when attacking. See the Transformers TCG has some internal balancing rules that I find extremely well made to counteract the possibility of the game snowballing out of control too quickly. One mechanic is when you have more untapped characters than your opponent you only game one pre-combat phase (playing an action, upgrading a character, transforming) before you have to attack with all your characters. Your opponent then gets to take their turn, with their pick of who to attack next, since both sides will be untapped. What a well-played PTT allows you to do is take BOTH of these turns, the “all-in” final turn of the round and the coveted “attack whomever you want” start of the next round, with full action phases each time. Keep in mind, there is a steep price.

You will normally set up PTT to sacrifice a tapped character in order to have two uninterrupted attacks with your remaining 1-3 characters. You are basically trading attacking with the weaker ‘bot a second time for the stronger one to attack again. Now, this seems like a steep price to pay for what is essentially a Ready for Action on your best character. Well, if that character is over 10 stars this is a moot point, but also Ready for Action does not come with the coveted double Orange attached to it. 

This is normally how the turns play out. You spend the first few turns suiting up the “Chosen One” with combat upgrades, preferably ones that will stick around for the two turns, or you will replace each turn. You then upgrade the character one last time, sacrificing the lamb and then for the second turn when you untap, you play a combat ability (or direct damage) to supplement another amazing upgrade and get in for the kill. This is a great series of plays when your opponent thinks they are safe hidden behind a Forcefield holding off your heavy attacker. Although you typically will end a game with PTT, you do not actually have to close it out, just make sure the biggest threat(s) are taken care of. 

One note: I have seen people saying “you can also just I Still Function” the sacrificial lamb next turn. That makes absolutely no sense. The goal of PTT is to attack with the BEST character(s) twice, not attack “again” with the guy you sacrificed. If you do that, all you did was trade PTT for the ability to attack with the weaker character again and play an extra upgrade? If that is how you plan to get around the “downside” of PTT, just play New Designs, it will have a similar effect. You are not playing PTT to enable ISF!

Assuming no untapping shenanigans, Insecticons will normally have more characters in play than their opponents, giving them the last “all-in” turn, but leaving them very vulnerable in that start of round turn. Since there can be awkward situations like Ransack does not have enough damage on him to make an effective attacker, or you are simply playing with Chop Shop in your deck at all (super awkward I know), you often have a sacrificial lamb for PTT. This will allow you to start round 2 with Shrapnel tapped (especially important if he only has three damage on him) or allow Barrage to attack a wounded target with efficiency. 

For Cars, you typically are looking to set yourself up for that final all-in turn, oftentimes assisted by a timely “Bold 2” to your team from Prowl, but it is not without a cost. Oftentimes your entire team is wounded to the point of potentially not surviving another hit, so the ability to use PTT to set up that double turn is oftentimes snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. I have won games where I was able to attack simply with Wheeljack twice in a row, setting it up where he was lightly damaged even when tapped after that second turn. As long as you are taking a few opposing bots with you, the Autobot Scientist can often carry the day.

I have yet to actually be in a situation where I was able to PTT in Dinobots, but theoretically attacking with Grimlock twice in a row, the second time with the aid of a weapon like Grenade Launcher or Energon Axe combined with a Dino Chomp! Seems VERY appealing. This is actually one situation where I can you using ISF on the character you sacrificed, as long as Sludge was the target. So in the end you can use Sludge to heal Grimlock to full, while still attacking with him twice in a row. You will not be getting the true benefit of ISF, but you will be using it in the Dino Way, paying the Dino Price.


One Shall STand, one shall fall (Ossosf)

Tribal Synergy: Insecticons, Rare Optimus Prime based decks


I love OSSOSF, probably more than any other player I have seen in the game. Honestly I pretty much play it in all my decks!  The ability to do three damage out of combat for the low price of putting three damage on your character, that you chose, is amazing. In my long history of playing TCGs, cards that allow you to trade your “Hit Points” for positive value (cards, damage, etc) are oftentimes the most powerful and least understood in the game. While this effect may be more symmetrical in Transformers, you oftentimes have one character on the team who you can afford to sacrifice for the cause, if it even comes to that. Remember, direct damage like OSSOSF avoids defense and is not tied to combat, so although many compare this effect to something like Leap into Battle, it is vastly more powerful.

Ransack and Barrage of the Insecticons have a natural synergy with OSSOSF. It allows you to proactively put damage onto Ransack (along with the next card below), damaging him before you opponent, and essentially getting a second attack out of the deal through three damage. Barrage always wants to be attacking a damaged character, and OSSOSF allows you to always have a viable target no matter when he attacks during the round. Even if you are losing a character to OSSOSF, Insecticons double as the best I Still Function deck, but this time you are getting multiple proactive uses out of the character’s death. In fact, using OSSSF on a tapped character like Kickback to then ISF him back the next turn can create a large tempo shift in the game.

The only downside to OSSOSF in Insecticons is the lack of a combat icon, especially when using Swarm. I feel the synergy it offers with multiple characters on the team more than makes up for it, and if you have not tried it with the bugs, I suggest you try it.

With rare Optimus Prime builds, whether they are three character or two character based, you are looking to flip OSSOSF during the combat phase with Prime’s ability. This way you can either guarantee a much larger kill by adding to his already massive eight attack, or giving you the ability to essentially attack two bots “at once” through the use of direct damage. In the three wide builds, the other characters are frequently used as blocking fodder for Prime already, so adding to that job is easy to simulate through OSSOSF. In two character lists, especially with Nemesis Prime, you need to be able to simulate extra attacks, and large direct damage like OSSOSF allows for that.


Static laser of ironhide (SLI)

Tribal Synergy: Insecticons, Planes

I already talked about the synergy that Slipstream has with SLI here:  but Insecticons is where this upgrade really shines. I would argue that many decks could make use of this powerful upgrade, especially ones that find it difficult to use Energon Axe, but these decks use it as an enabler. See Insecticons are a team of glass cannons, and them taking two damage to deal out three has a natural synergy with what they are trying to accomplish: kill fast and efficiently with no room for retaliation. Similar to OSSOSF above, the SLI has synergy with Ransack, allowing a fully healthy bot mode to go from zero to five attack right away just by equipping it. Three power weapons always come with a cost to upgrade with them, and while many players are scared of their characters taking two damage, the addition of three on your attacker is gigantic compared to other options, especially with an orange pip.


I Still Function!

Tribal Synergy: Insecticons, Dinobots


I want to start by saying that ISF is NOT an every deck card. Bringing back random 4-6 cost characters to get one attack that cannot protect the rest of your team is NOT a good use of ISF. If that is all you can do, you are better off using various direct damage or even Ready for Action most of the time. I understand the appeal of attacking with a dead character one last time (or three more times even) but in reality ISF does not belong in every deck out there, an often overused phrase I see uttered often.

Insecticons makes great use of ISF since similar to cards discussed earlier, their characters often find themselves dead after attacking. The other important synergy with the bugs is that their power level is oftentimes based on the characters themselves, not in concert with other ability cards or upgrades. An ISF fueled Kickback attack is still going to be “Bold 6” essentially, and an ISF fueled Ransack attack has now downside at all. The bugs love returning from the dead, and this amazing synergy with ISF is part of what keeps them on top as the number one aggressive deck at the moment.

DInobots also find themselves with a lot to gain from ISF. There is the automatic synergy with Sludge, who can use ISF to heal your entire team. You also have the ability to bring Grimlock back with ISF, which is rare that such a key character can be targeted to such great effect by ISF. This allows you to script out your turns to take advantage of ISF, oftentimes seemingly making odd sacrifices or aggressively attacking with Grimlock early to secure easy kills, only to later bring the character back for rounds 2 through a lot more. ISF can also be used to delay attacks coming Grimlock’s way, if you are setting him up for large attacks later on, by adding “another attacker” to the field and delaying him from being a tapped target. Depending on the other cards you draw, either strategy has merit, but do not be afraid to rely on ISF as a way of recycling Grimlock if you want to use him early and often.


Which Neutrals do you use?

Which neutral cards did I miss that are powerful with certain Tribes? It is important to find these synergies throughout the game that are seemingly random, but are very important to putting your decks above the competition. 

Keep your eyes on the fan Facebook group and/or Discord for when it goes live, and please hit me up with any comments on Facebook, email, Discord (AUStarwars#1576), or Line (austarwars). 

“Till All Are One!”