Planning OUt your turns: Part I, Understanding attack value

by Scott Landis

Welcome back to VectorSigma.info! After my BOLD series, which was pretty easy to write given the small amount of actual keywords in the Transformers TCG thus far, I had so many ideas in my head to expand on! In order to expand upon some of them we have to start basic with a simple premise: How much damage does each of your characters do per attack given the dynamics of your deck at their base? Understanding this very important number, per character, allows you to know not only the proper way to play your upgrades and action cards but the proper targets for your attacks (and other effects) as well.


See, while proper target selection is its own topic, it really begins with understanding how many “actions” in a turn it will take you to kill your target (Note: I will often use the term “action” to mean the steps you can take in a turn, but I will call the playing of action cards as “action cards” where I remember to make the distinction). This is turn allows you to understand the value you are getting from your upgrades and actions, because while it may seem advantageous to pile all these numbers for an attack, oftentimes you are wasting both time and available actions to accomplish what you already were able to achieve playing the turn out a different way.


Before I get into “the value you need to get out of playing an upgrade or action card” it is very important to understand two fundamental concepts of the Transformers TCG that will seem different compared too many other TCGs (at least compared to other TCGs I have played over the last 25 years competitively). See in most games your “resources” involve both actual resources (lands, resource points, etc.) and cards in hand/cards you have access to (since some abilities allow you to play cards from other sources, such as the scrap pile in other games for example, you can see this as a pseudo extension of your hand in some circumstances). In the Transformers TCG while you can see the cards in your hand as a limiting resource, in reality the true resource is the NUMBER of your four per turn actions you can perform adequately each turn to advance your board state. In other words, the most efficient way of playing this game may not be traditional terms like “Card Advantage” or “Tempo” but instead making sure you are able to fit plays into the four action steps each turn: Transforming a Character, Playing an Action Card, Playing an Upgrade, and Attacking. 

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See, drawing extra cards ultimately only allows you to make sure you are having these efficient turns, as even drawing perfectly you will run out of “things to do” by the third full turn, assuming you draw an even spread of both action cards and upgrades. This does not, however, always mean that you should take off one of your actions in the turn (typically the “play an action card” action) to set up future turns, given the quick nature of the games. You also need to make sure you have a balance of achieving more options (i.e. more cards in hand) with the power of these options. This is hard to explain (and I hope it is making some moniker of sense), but the TLDR version of all this is “Drawing cards is not the most important part of the Transformers TCG, taking advantage of your actions is.” 


The most important action each turn is your attack, and that is why you need to start with “how much damage should my next attack deal to my preferred target.” The calculation I see most players make is:


Attackers (Base Attack plus Upgrades plus Action Card played plus [flipped Oranges]) minus Targets (Printed Defense plus Defense additions plus [Flipped Blues])


The reason I put the flipped cards in brackets is because a lot of players see them as generally “random.” Now they may understand that they built their battle deck to slant one way or another, but the truth is that given the build of the deck you can approximate what that number SHOULD be every single attack. Therefore, you can determine the probable outcome for combat, given the known and slightly unknown flip quantities of your opponents’ battle deck. Even this seemingly unknown quantity of what your opponent flips will start to crystalize as you understand proper deck building or a meta starts to form giving an understanding how decks “should” be built properly and thus their battle icon makeup. Understanding this calculation at each stage is very important because it allows you make the right plays given the mixture of known and unknown, but quantitative assumptions based on deck construction.

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So here are the steps you should take on your turns in order immediately after drawing your card, and I will expand upon each afterwards:


1. Determine your attack target 


2. Determine their known Defense plus potential combat flips


3. Calculate your current known attack plus potential combat flips


4. Calculate how off your attack total minus their defense total (potentials) is from defeating the target


5. See if the Upgrades and/or Actions will get you to ZERO (this is important, you do NOT want to go severely negative or as I will refer to it “deal too much Overkill damage”)


6. Calculations is Negative (Overkill Damage)


6a. If this calculation is negative (i.e. you are doing Overkill damage) and you are able to switch attackers/targets? 


6b. Can damaging the “fresher” target now allow for your next attack to thus kill a different target?


6c. If you do not want to shift targets/attackers can you play less immediate Upgrades/Actions to set up for future turns since you do not “need” them to do the job now? 


7. Calculation is Positive (Not Dealing enough damage)


7a. Can you play Upgrades/Actions from hand to get it to Zero?


8. Proceed with turn


  

I know this seems like a very simple list of “how to play out a turn” but the difference with this list is the order of operations. I see most players determine combat calculations AFTER playing cards, or at least after choosing which card to play, and oftentimes this results in an Overkill situation when another course of action would have better served them in the long run if they had calculated a lot of these potentials ahead of time. For example, I see many players simply slam “Leap into Battle” and some weapon on their attacker immediately and then tap to attack, oftentimes dealing vastly more damage than necessary to kill the target. Even if they change targets and manage to kill the new one, chances are that a better course of action would have been to play something like Inspiring Leadership, Treasure Hunt, Team-Up Tactics, etc. to set up for next turn and continue to take out the original target. As long as your character is not going to die in retaliation it may still be fine to play the weapon, but the Action Card choice can be made differently. 


“But Scott you gave the option of switching targets, now you are saying that may not be correct?” Yes, given the nature of target selection in the Transformers TCG.  See, oftentimes you can only attack tapped enemies, so unless your opponent is playing cards to untap their characters, taking out any target can have as much of an advantage as a higher value one, since likely either one can be a threat. This is not the case versus all opponents, as certain decks present you with a very obvious “must kill at all costs target” (hi, rare Optimus Prime, talking about you), but if your opponent is not allowing that easily by tapping them, oftentimes the periphery targets are much closer in threat level. My point is, given the choice of setting up later plays versus the higher value targets instead of wasting resources on a choice of disparate lower ones, I will often take the former course of action.

So today I am going to focus on Steps 2-5

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Steps 2-5: Understanding your Attack Strength to calculate damage you will deal in advance

  

Calculating your attack buffs is pretty simple, especially with some tools, you just need to know the combat icon makeup of your deck. Lets take the “typical aggressive” deck with the following combat icons, 40 cards total:


6 Double Orange

16 Single Orange

3 Orange/Blue

6 Single Blue

3 Blank

6 White


After running the combat simulator 250 times, the average you are adding without any instances of Bold is 2.09 with Bold assisting as below: 

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Be Careful of Averages (Mean)!

  

(The top line is the total “oranges” selected in all 250 simulations, the line below that is divided by 250 to get the average. The “Bold Effect” basically shows you how much more than the base attack that level of Bold is gaining you and finally the “% Change by Bold” is the above number comparison expressed as a percentage)


Averages are nice, but this is what the spread of combat results actually looks like:

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So yes, you add an average of 2.09, but in reality there is an almost equal chance of adding ONE to your combat total as THREE, and adding TWO will really only occur 15-20% more than the others. The chances of adding FOUR is only 6%, so I would probably avoid any “Hail Mary” situations unless you can manipulate your combat draw. The point of this math lesson is to beware relying too much on averages because there is an equal chance you will wind up with slightly more or slightly less than this average of Two. 


Of course, not all decks are created equal. At one extreme you have the “typical” Insecticon deck with normally a spread similar to:


6 Double Orange

26 Single Orange

5 Blank

3 White


After running the combat simulator 250 times, the average you are adding without any instances of Bold is 2.11 with Bold assisting as below (I went out to “Bold 8” since you will often see a Flamethrower on Kickback, which will ben an average of 10.544 damage total off the base zero!): 

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So I think it is important to compare these two charted results. Remember, the first one is your “typical aggro deck” and the second is the proto-typical “Big Orange Insecticon” deck. The averages are virtually the same, but the SPREAD of results is much more less varied for the Insecticon list. The first list mirrors your typical “Bell Curve” but the Insecticon build is very concentrated around the mean. For those more mathematically inclined this means the Standard Deviation of the first deck is much higher than the second. In layman’s terms this means you can be more confident that the mean result of adding 2 attack to your starting attack is much more likely, and can thus be depended on, in the latter deck. 

Note: I am not making a value judgement on the composition of the builds, just explaining how the composition of the deck has a massive effect on variance of combat pips drawn


Knowledge of these general numbers is great, but it is important to think about them for your specific build. For example, say you have a Car based deck featuring Wheeljack and his bot mode “Bold 3 when you have a weapon in the scrap pile” is active. The deck follows our “normal deck” combat icon example above. This is what his damage spread looks like, with his starting 5 attack

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Scientist or Assassin?!

  

Again, unsurprisingly we see a Bell Curve around out mean of ten, but the lesson here is that you can reliably assume at least nine damage to start your calculation, as almost 80% of results are nine or more. If you are looking to deal more than the ten average (which only occurs a little under a quarter of the time) you have a 32% chance, not exactly the worst odds!


Just one more example of Kickback since we talked about him earlier:

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What a BUG!

Due to the nature of his virtual “Bold 6” the spread of Kickback’s actual attack strength resembles more of a bell curve, given the uncertain nature of Bold even in a mostly orange deck.  Remember, you still have some non-orange, and all the double oranges, so you cannot truly just say “oh each instance of Bold is equal to one attack power.” In fact, over 56% of the time it is BETTER than a 1:1 ratio!

So now you should be able to proceed with confidence with the amount of damage your characters can deal: Take their base, any upgrades or action cards played, and add in your expected amounts. Since these calculations look at the deck as a whole, and do not take into consideration cards in hand, scrap pile, or in play, you can take stock of easy to spot things like “count the outstanding double combat icons” or “count the outstanding white combat icons” to help decide if you want to air on the side of above or below the averages.


What about your opponent’s characters? Well, you need to decide what type of deck they are playing. If they are playing an aggressive deck you can make a general assumption of our “general aggro deck” spread above, this time looking defensively:

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There's a reason they are called "Aggressive Decks"

So you can reliably assume basically a 50% chance of adding a whole ONE to the defenders defense.


I will not give you a bunch of similar charts for the “average defensive deck” and “all-in defensive deck” since they would just mirror the attack value charts you already saw above for the two decks (average aggro and insecticons of course).  The key thing to remember is that MOST Characters have much lower starting defenses than attack so these modifiers will not have as big of an effect on combat compared to the attacking counterparts. The only issue not addressed is Tough, because it normally only shows up heavily in defensive decks, but the calculation is exactly the same as Bold (just in reverse of course). 

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So what does all this mean? I hope this does not seem like a very long introduction to an eventual payoff, but you need to understand that this initial combat calculation forms the basis for every decision you need for the turn. Comparing your expected attack to the expected defense will give you an idea of expected hit point damage on your target, and leave you will knowledge of whether you need to play cards on your attacker to potentially get the necessary knock out. It all begins with knowing how your combat flips will go, and that begins with proper deck construction, or at least understanding that the construction you have is the determining factor. 


If you would like a calculation for your deck archetype which may help you make decisions on whether you need to adjust it, email me at vectorsigma.info@gmail.com I believe it will be difficult to put my simulator up online, but if you email me the contents of your deck, especially by combat icon, I will email you how this looks. Let me know what you are looking to determine, or at least email me and we can start a conversation on it.


Next time I will expand upon this subject and talk about the right way to approach your decisions on playing cards each turn to understand the value you need to derive from your Action Cards and Upgrades as it relates to the key numbers we calculated today!


"Till All are One!"

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