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Let me start by saying that Pax Unplugged was a great time! It was the first time in a few years that I felt that I was actually part of a true “TCG Team” hanging out with Palmer, Mark, Rob, Vin, and teaching Dan (one of my old WoW teammates) to play. It was great to have a solid group of like-minded friends to bounce ideas off of and really trust in the results we were getting. It was great to travel to the event (by travel I mean training and taking Ubers, I live an hour west of downtown Philadelphia) and have meals with people, discussing not only the Transformers TCG, but just life. It felt great to have such a tight group moving in the same direction.
It was great to have Pastimes running the events, I think their “Prize Wall” concept is great for Magic and as Transformers grows and I can see them incorporating something like that in a unique and fun way. It was great to have events at 1 pm and 5 pm each day since it felt like I was constantly starting and stopping new events and what really encouraged me was that even though the events had generally the same 10-12 core players, the other 10 kept rotating as players were off playing in other (cough:Lesser:cough) games throughout the weekend. Thank you to John Temple for putting together a great week of Transformers TCG!
I know I spoke about it on the first podcast (plug: go listen to our podcast, mention #1) but the Transformers had a massive effect on my childhood. It was the second toy I seriously played with/collected and the show was the first one I can ever remember “recording” each week (it was weekly on Sunday AMs the first season) because I had commitments on Sunday AMs so I could not watch it live at the time. I remember going to see the 1984 movie to a now dead movie theater that had a drive-in section in Levittown, PA with my Dad and it was not the “Death of Optimus Prime” that struck me as a child as much as it was the deaths on the shuttle and the iconic battle between Optimus and Megatron. You then had the transformation of Megatron to Galvatron, but the “passing of the torch” from Optimus to Rodimus which I thought (even as a 7 year old) was an interesting dichotomy of passing on of power and leadership. The movie itself and the soundtrack were IMPOSSIBLE to find for reasonable prices in the 1980s and it was not until the early 1990s that I was able to secure a copy of both the movie and the soundtrack for myself. I still think both the music, animation, and story hold up to this day and I was so excited to see it again on the big screen last October with Palmer and my wife. She was thankfully not disappointed by it and was shocked by the amount of voice talent brought to the screen, and the “impressiveness” of the Stan Bush retrospective after the credits found here (only video I could find, the longer version including "Dare" and better quality is unmatched 80s excellence, but I could not find it): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8fskm5v1mk
So with that as the backdrop, the Transformers TCG has a special place in my heart and as I went to Pax Unplugged my goal was to win at least one of the uncut sheets on the weekend. I decided after we did our podcast covering Power of the Primes (podcast plug #2) that I wanted to run Optimus Prime: Battlefield Legend on the weekend. A deck based around him, with Flamewar and Shrapnel, was the first deck I built during playtesting a week after the game launched, but I shelved the Autobot Leader since then for other options. It seems that others picked up that mantle and that specific combination and others like it were all over the place last weekend. After discussing the Primes deck I realized just how broken Optimus actually is and I wanted to make sure I represented my true fandom at the events. I also felt that while many Prime lists existed, none were as focused as the one I had built for a specific purpose, which really translates to “break as many rules of the game as possible.”
With all that in mind I wanted to tell the story of my Power of the Primes deck, which I have now dubbed “The Touch” in honor of the most iconic moment in Transformers media, through a series of quotes tied to iconic battle between Prime and Megatron, and I promise it will make sense and come toegether, even if I have to bend topics a bit.
Without further ado here is the list I won the first Uncut Sheet on Friday at Pax Unplugged (a sheet of 4x of each Rare Character card) and then went on to 5-0 the “product prize” tournament a few hours later. The list then changed as the weekend went on, in anticipation of metagame changes warped around its success:
Also here is the iconic battle, if you’ve never seen it, stop reading now and go watch it.
So the story of this decklist and its build and why I decided to play it has three parts, ironically that fit into the one line that begins the battle. Although there was no dominant “Megatron” deck currently, the most powerful and popular deck in this area was Insecticons. Therefore I decided to adapt other Power of the Primes lists I saw to ensure that it had a great matchup with Insecticons, especially when playing first. So I see this as “Insecticons must be stopped, no matter the cost.”
The second thing is that I really felt that I needed to perform well at Pax Unplugged to “legitimize” myself as a content creator. See the way I create content is through theory, backed up with a lot of math and statistics, and results. The content is admittedly deeper, more thought provoking, and frankly more strategy driven than others I have seen, but if I was going to be here telling players the mistakes they make and how to improve their game, I needed to do so from a position of “authority” on tournament play. To do that you need results or internet “discussions” degenerate into a battle of opinions with no facts to back anything up. I needed facts, I needed results. I thought playing Optimus Prime: Battlefield Legend, regardless of his partner(s), since he is hands down the most powerful card in the game, would get me these results.
Third, this deck admittedly is probably one of the highest “Real Money” cost decks you can build. As of this writing the general going rate for the rare Optimus is around $30-35 and Nemesis is $55-60. It may not have the two most expensive battle cards in it (currently skewed by the aggro deck popularity) but it has the current third and fourth most expensive ones. So I guess you could say I was going to play this deck “No Matter the Cost.”
Prime: One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall
Megs: Why throw away your life so recklessly?
Prime: That’s a question you should ask yourself Megatron.
So if you pay attention to me on the weekly podcast (plug #3) you will understand my affection for the “direct damage” actions (and upgrades) in the game. Both seeing lists ahead of time and in talking with some players throughout the weekend, it amazed me how they only ran a set of Plasma Burst or no direct damage at all. The deck is quite weak if you do not run at least one of these, and mathematically inferior in certain matchups if you do not run both One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall and Plasma Burst. Let me explain.
Remember the goal of the deck was to beat Insecticons and to do this meant you need to be able to kill Kickback on the first turn when you are on the play. You could also chose to kill Shrapnel or Ransack, as the math is the same, but Kickback forces the Insecticon player to lose a major attacker and then play their game as normal (transform Shrapnel, attack) down one bot. In order to kill Kickback in one attack, you need to get to 10 damage, as most Insecticon lists will not run any blue to thwart this plan, but even if they do this again is where OSSOSF comes into play. See without any direct damage you are just a “two big dumb attackers” deck, you have two bots who are attacking for generally 8 or more damage and rely on action cards and upgrades to seal the deal. In a two character list, this means you start way behind since even if you are killing a bot (likely on your SECOND turn in lists with no direct damage, unless you get lucky and flip a Leap into Battle or The Bigger they Are..) you are still way behind on attacks. Your turns are vastly inefficient compared to your opponents with more bots to attack with, and without the ability to do damage outside of combat, the Optimus flip ability of getting back and action from the Scrap Pile just continues the “big dumb attacker” theme that is already incorrect.
Let’s look at some math. The goal here is to have a turn one “Optimus attacks, flips over a way to add 2 to the attack” for a total attack power of 10 to kill Kickback/Shrapnel/Arcee/etc. Now, this is assuming a nominal amount of Orange, which I also find my list to be running slightly more than most, so off the bat we will include 6 “orange or orange/blue” but you need 2x of them (assuming no Zap) to get to 10 and three whites (most run 2-3):
The first row is flipping 2 card containing Orange naturally in the base combat flip. The second line is taking the whites into consideration and thus in four cards total hitting 2 oranges (the overlap is if three or more oranges in four cards are flipped you are not counting them separately). The Flip action card sections line is flipping one of the ways in your deck that Optimus can use his ability to play an action card that will get you to 10 attack on the flip/or with whites. Again overlap here means more than one of these is flipped and the white section accounts for them.
This last part can be a bit deceiving and is extremely important in my build. Since some percentage of the “Overlap” of getting the multiple actions that can add can assist you later with better options by flipping Optimus back into alt mode and/or since my build has SIX ways to get to at least 11 damage instead of 10 (raising the first turn kill threat to 11 total hit points/armor exposing additional popular bots to a first turn death such as Flamewar). Also, there is an extremely small percentage of the time where you will flip a white in the first two cards, then over the next three BOTH 2 oranges and a combat ability to play. If that combat ability is specifically one of the six direct damage action cards, and thus Optimus “naturally” gets to 10 attack on his own, you have the opportunity for direct damage on ANOTHER target. Example, Optimus attacks Kickback, you flip over a white pip in the first two cards and the other three cards are 2 of Roll-Out/Treasure Hunt/Body Armor (10 attack base) and the last card is either a Plasma Burst or an OSSOSF. Against a deck like Insecticons, you can feel free to put that direct damage on another target (normally Shrapnel) but against a more defensive build (or even the mirror) it will just be additional damage you pile on the initial target.
The other reasons I love using direct damage in this deck is the powerful flip to alt mode ability on Optimus and the synergy with Data Pad. The flip ability with Optimus allows you to get back the direct damage flipped on attack or defense the next turn simply at the sacrifice of losing one power on Nemesis Prime (you will not flip him to attack and his alt mode “only” has six power vs. seven) but you can normally finish off the first target, who is likely either left with 1-3 hit points or is completely unexposed to the Nemesis attack. Frankly attacking the same target again will likely mean you lose anyway since you cannot afford to “waste” your two attacks on the same target (with the exception being if you attack a high value target like Optimus/Nemesis/Megatron/Grimlock/etc. and they CHOSE to attack back with him anyway, which can be an intelligent counter to this tactic considering you have an on board “trick” to kill the target anyway if you heavily damaged it to begin with (harder versus a defensive deck consistently).
For those that do not like One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall due to taking three damage on your own Bots, let me lay out a couple of scenarios that occurred multiple times on the weekend. You attack with Optimus into their Optimus (regardless of the build), you flip over OSSOSF/x, doing three direct to their Optimus, Nemesis takes 3. You likely are attacking for 8, they block say 5, taking six total on turn one (8 remaining). They chose NOT to expose Optimus to attack back from the Nemesis (who now can be suited up with an Energon Axe very easily, which is a main reason I added more to the deck over the weekend, I only had seven practice game with this deck prior to Friday) so they attack with someone else. You get back OSSOSF with Optimus and attack with the unflipped Nemesis and suit up Optimus somehow to keep him alive (armor or Ion Blaster) from their eventual Optimus attack (or subsequent ones from other bots). You OSSOSF on the Optimus (damage on Nemesis to 6) up to at least nine damage on him. Optimus upgraded with Ion Blaster/Axe will be 10 minimum base attack, then with a Data Pad, you’ll increase your chances of drawing into any of your combat adders for the second Optimus vs. Optimus attack to get over the opposing defense for the final five damage. If this was ONLY Plasma burst the same way it planned out you are looking at two less damage so you need to deal SEVEN on that second attack, a much harder feat (would likely NEED Ion Blaster in that scenario to likely get the kill). The TWO uses of OSSOSF in this deck equate to an additional Plasma Burst/The Bigger they Are. Not to mention, it also gives you now SIX outs (the same odds as above, 30%) to knock out annoying 11 total damage bots like Flamewar, Demolisher in Bot Mode, Snarl, or Prowl.
Access to six direct damage abilities allows you to also play the spread damage game, especially in the later turns. It allowed me to get multiple kills in one turn on Insecticons to seal the deal, especially if one of the 10 damage bugs died the first turn or I went second.
By “bare hands” I mean the lack of Orange in the deck. The version I ran on Saturday had seven total oranges, but you could never rely on them to flip during combat to really affect the combat math. You are typically attacking with your base power, plus the Optimus ability most of the time.
This deck does for “Tough” what aggro decks do for “Bold,” it allows you to turn the confines of your deckbuild itself into a serious asset during defensive flips. The combat in the deck is as such:
You can see how valuable Tough armor is in this deck. Although Forcefield will be the bane of the super aggressive decks like Bugs and Dinos, the permanent armor will be the bane of control decks like the mirror. In fact, after this event in my five remaining losses on the weekend, four of them came versus shades of the mirror (same Bots, different battle deck) and my opponent had an armor stick (Plating or Body Armor) and I did not, typically with assistance of a played Security Checkpoint the same turn they suited up their own bots with Armor. A Body Armor that sticks in the mirror match will pretty much shut down the opposing Nemesis Prime completely 29.8% of the time, he just deals zero naturally. Even the 11 attack Optimus through his ability will only deal six or less most of the time and if they manage to push it to the 14 level you can oftentimes survive the second hit.
The mirrors the rest of the days thus became out sticking an armor.
Hot Rod: I’ve got to help Prime
Kup: Stay away lad, that’s Prime’s fight
(Megatron continues to attack Prime’s weak spot)
Megatron: I’ll rip out your optics!
The key part of the battle here is the Megatron struck at a weak spot in Optimus’ side with some jagged stone (“He ain’t fightin’ fair”) and continued to hit that same location throughout the remainder of the fight. That is what I tried to do with this deck: Identify weaknesses in the metagame and exploit them. Specifically the game seemed to come down to shades of aggressive decks fighting against each other, with little ability to draw their way out of situations given the nature of how few actions you can take in one turn. This deck allows you to set up early if you draw defensively and your opponent cannot handle it (an armor that sticks for example). This is why I love Treasure Hunt and Inspiring Leadership in this deck: they both dig for the important upgrades (armor or Ion Blaster) and allow you to play them in the same turn. The deck already oftentimes plays two actions per turn due to Optimus’ ability, but it has less upgrades you actually want to play on a turn, so I wanted multiple ways to find the high value targets.
Kup: Finish him off Prime, do it now
Megatron: No more Optimus Prime, Grant me Mercy. I beg of you
(This is how I imagined some of my opponents throughout my day one matches…)
So what are the finishing touches of the deck? What are the cards I felt the deck needed that I see many eschew? The singleton Power Sword and Drill Arms changed throughout the weekend and I eventually settled on three Drill Arms (see below). I played two copies of the Ion Blaster of Optimus Prime and I do not find that to be very negotiable. I think most lists include full copies of Power Sword in that slot, to both fuel larger Optimus activations/options and to fill the Scrap Pile on both attack and defense for Nemesis to get his ability as well. I think naturally getting Prime up to either 10/3 or 8/4 depending on mode makes both the flip decisions easier, since even now in alt mode you can frequently finish off bots with assistance from all your direct damage. You also gain and armor point from the weapon slot, which I believe is not able to be duplicated for any other Transformer (in case we need more reasons to love rare Optimus right?!).
Treasure Hunt is very important in the deck and while I eventually cut it down to a singleton copy, the mirror matches come down to one thing: armor. You need more ways to find your own armor, and find ways to disrupt your opponents. I am a huge fan of this card (as said on many podcasts, plug #3) and wind up playing it in most of my decks, oftentimes in lists where the focus is certain “silver bullet” upgrades so I can simulate playing more copies of it.
Prime: You who are without mercy, now plead for it? I thought you were made of sterner stuff.
Hot Rod: No you don’t Megatron
Prime: Out of the way Hot Rod
This one became a personal anecdote for me on the weekend. I had to leave behind my faithful Cars deck (technically it was in my bag) and switch to a deck that I felt was more consistent given the one-game nature of the events all weekend. Did I switch because I just felt that “The Touch” was more powerful? Yes and No, but I felt i had to get out of my comfort zone I had been in since the game began.
I believe that hands down Optimus Prime: Battlefield Legend does the most unfair plays you do in the game: you can play an Action card on turn one (going first), he is the only bot that can score turn one hits “consistently” on the enemy with a well-tuned deck (at worst during the pre-combat phase of turn two as discussed above), and it is the best direct damage/card draw deck you can play since you essentially have two action phases throughout the turn.
Megatron: Fall, Fall..I would have waited an eternity for this..its over Prime
So my record on day one was 10-0, then day two I went a combined 7-3, and finished up Sunday 3-2. I changed cards in my deck each time and I am not sure any of my changes were wrong, but the metagame around me adjusted to the deck and frankly the players improved their game throughout the weekend. I said many times (podcast, mention #4) that play skill makes up over 50% of any match, since the way the Transformers TCG plays out leaves very little margin for error. Attacking in a wrong order, the wrong target, playing the wrong action/upgrade, can cost you a game. In a game against Joe from Wreck n’ Rule on Saturday Round 1, I went over my plays for 30 minutes with my teammate Mark over which Upgrade I SHOULD have played out, because Joe proceeded to Security Checkpoint and I lost the game from there when my hand was three other upgrades and one action card (I will cover this play in a later article).
This was the list I ran all day on Friday, well I cut the Power Sword right away for a second Energon Axe for the 5 pm event to begin with. As the weekend went on I adjusted the list for a more mirror heavy environment, which I am not surprised occurred. I am currently running three Drill Arms, one Treasure Hunt, zero Roll Outs, three Body Armors, one Disarm. The Roll Outs had very limited use outside of having both combat pips because whenever you flip Optimus to get an ability back, you already used your action for the turn. As I do not live in Magical Christmas Land I am not a fan of Brainstorm, so adding them in to “alleviate this issue” is not an option. Yes Nemesis can do two damage, but it is not direct damage, the opponent choses, and that two damage is rarely relevant (except when the game is down to one on one). It was just very rare that I wanted my action for the turn to be “Roll Out” and the times I flipped it during Optimus’ attack and played it were very rare. Body Armor is a no brainer, it is arguably the best battle card in the deck and simply wins games if it stays in play. I wanted one upgrade removal answer that was not Orange (no Ramming Speed) that was an Action, since I lost two games on the weekend straight out to basically a one-sided Security Checkpoint. I found Disarm and will continue to see how it plays out. Three Drill Arms is a must in the mirror, as even just getting an extra attack and drawing a card is a fine play when you do not have better upgrade options certain turns.
At the risk of sounding too conceited, honestly, I never had a day in my 25 years of playing trading card games where I felt like I was in a zone as I did on the way home on Friday. During our 45 minute Uber drive home I really tried to dissect why I played so well or why my deck performed so well. I think the short answer is dedication to the game and making every play correctly. I think the longer answer is understanding some mental shortcuts to take when facing off against certain matchups and being able to adapt those strategies to others. For example, my perceived strategy of attempting to one shot Kickback versus Insecticons led me to equal decisions when staring down teams featuring Arcee or Flamewar, as even with Flamewar’s 11 “effective health” she was still dead to two combat phases worth of flip possibilities into any direct damage, not to mention my straight out 6 ways to deal 11 versus 10 damage (of course if they are a defensive deck it was harder, but against the two I faced I did 11, Flamewar blocked 3, she died to Plasma Burst/OSSOSF next turn).
I said many times that Transformers TCG is a game of inches (paraphrasing one of my favorite movie moments of all time) so being prepared and understanding the fundamentals of your deck are of paramount importance. I also feel like gathering a solid group of players to bounce ideas and strategy off of, as well as grind out games with meaningful results, is key to success. I have been a part of high level TCG Teams since the term existed in the 1990s, and nothing beats the well-oiled experience of a TCG team if you are trying to take your game seriously. You are able to trust results that are posted (to an organized message board or chat for example) without having to grind the games out yourself. That time savings is so important if you live a life like I do (work, school, this site, etc.) and do not have time to just play as much as you would like. Once your team settles on actual deck options you cannot substitute actual games for theory any longer, but it is nice to know you do not have to waste actual tournament time on non-viable decks because you could trust others to test them for you.
Also just having other players to talk through plays with is amazing. Mark Kinney and I discussed one play for 30 minutes while waiting in various Reading Terminal Market lines post the 1 pm on Saturday. We also discussed the way the Insecticon mirror should play out on SUNDAY afternoon after the event was over. It was just a level of insight I could never glean on my own (never really playing the deck that often) and will help in other situations as well. I will expand on this team concept at a later date.
Thanks again to all my teammates, the Pastimes crew, and the other players I met throughout the Pax Unplugged weekend. I hope this destination trend will continue for the Transformers TCG, so I will look for a similar experience at other Pax or similar conventions in the future.
As always, feel free and email me any comments or questions, or hit us up on out Facebook page. Look for more content from myself (podcast plug #5) and the rest of the team here at VectorSigma.info later this week and in the coming weeks!
Keep your eyes on the fan Facebook group and/or Discord for when our next content goes live, and please hit me up with any comments on Facebook, email, Discord (AUStarwars#1576), or Line (austarwars).
“Till All Are One!”
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