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Flip Density is a term I use to describe how often a particular character lineup wants to flip its characters compared to how able they are to flip its characters, without the use of action cards, throughout the turn cycle. In other words, how many flips do they need to spend getting them into the right modes to attack in, and does that hurt the decks ability to use its active flips, oftentimes when “flip into alt mode” abilities. While many characters have very powerful “when flipped into alt mode” triggered abilities, during the Wave One metagame you typically had to sacrifice another characters ability to attack in the correct mode if you wanted to use this ability throughout the turn cycle (I will refer to this as “round” from now on).
This “hidden statistic” of deck builds often allowed certain decks to rise to the top of the heap in Wave One, oftentimes without stating it explicitly. Other decks were able to overcome some of these deficiencies through the use of Tribal action cards or Roll-Out, but use of cards like Roll-Out came at a significant cost: your action for the turn. As the metagame matured, oftentimes decks could get around these restrictions by simply relying on more efficient characters, or changing their game plan to simulate this. The main issue with Wave One were the vast number of characters who wanted to attack in Bot Mode, but had powerful flip abilities to Alt Mode. This means you needed three flips to attack and use the ability efficiently in one round, which typically means giving up any other flips (or using action cards) on your characters during the round to maximize the ability on the character you want flipping often.
It may be easier to explain with some Wave One examples:
Seekers are the classic example of “Poor Flip Density”: Each character wants to actively attack in Bot Mode (1 flip each, 1 attack per turn) and two characters want to continuously flip from Bot to Alt mode as often as possible. This deck is constantly at odds with its flips for the turn, as you were always sacrificing a more efficient attack for guaranteed direct damage. The only true way to effectively flip Starscream or Thundercracker during the first round, and attack efficiently with the character, was to forgo all other flips. It was fine to not flip Skywarp, as his stats were the same in both modes you were only forgoing his oft-maligned damage redirection ability, but the other two EACH wanted to be doing this same flip dance. This is why Starscream: Air Commander is so invisible in competitive play: by the time you were able to use his flip ability often enough to mater, Thundercracker’s flip was its equivalent or better, as Skywarp was often dead. This was not a “round one” problem: it persisted throughout the game. Due to the lack of a Plane based “flip all to alt mode card” like Hunker Down for Tanks or Start Your Engines for Cars, the deck had to use Roll-Out, taking up three slots guaranteed in the list. It was just a model of inefficiency on all levels.
The main reason I created “All Hail Optimus” as a three wide Prime build evolution to the two-tall Optimus/Nemesis “The Touch” was this concept of Flip Density. There were so many games with “The Touch” where I wanted to flip Optimus to get back an action card or Nemesis to do two damage, but the fact that I had less turns (due to it being a two character list) meant this was difficult throughout the game. This is where the three character list excelled. While you were unable to flip Optimus: BL three times in the first round, since you flipped Flamewar on turn 1, he was free to flip dance throughout the rest of the game, since the other two never needed to flip. Optimus: AL also did not really care which mode he attacked in, and while his card draw flip was nice, it was clearly underpowered compared to Battlefield Legend’s flip. This meant you not only freed up deck slots by not playing Roll-Out, which proved to be underpowered in “The Touch” as it was, but your turns were much smoother. This meant cards like Body Armor which were only playable in OpBL’s alt mode, were not a problem to play, since you could oftentimes find ways to stay in that mode when you were required to.
The odd thing about Insecticons and Flip Density is that they had very poor flip density in round one, as each of them, minus an undamaged Ransack, wanted to attack in Bot Mode (taking up your flip each turn). The fact that you had four characters (normally 1-2 more than your opponent) meant that “lost flips” during the turn cycle as you oftentimes controlled the wheel turn. This made draws with multiple One Shall Stand, One Shall Falls and Static Laser of Ironhide very awkward, as you often had to sacrifice the flip on Ransack to get Barrage, Skrapnel, and Kickback flipped throughout the first round. After the first round, however, this deck essentially has a flip density of infinity: since you never really want to be in Alt mode.
I could give other examples, but I think you get the point: the more characters on your team that need to flip into Bot mode to attack or Alt mode for an ability, the worse Flip Density your deck will have. Decks built with more than one character who wanted to flip more than once throughout the course of the game, optimally, would facilitate the need for Action cards to assist this, or the deck generally underperformed. For example, most Tanks and Cars had powerful abilities when flipped to Alt mode, and attacked better in Bot mode. Luckily, these tribes had powerful “full transform” action cards that with powerful abilities tacked on, so playing “five to six Roll-Outs in your deck” did not feel underwhelming (now if the deck/characters were underwhelming, that is not really part of the discussion..)
What has Rise of the Combiners done to this Flip Density phenomenon? Well, overall it has greatly enhanced it. Some characters were introduced with powerful Flip effects and Bot mode attack stats/abilities, that scream “build around me” similarly to their Wave One counterparts. Which means when building around these characters, you need to understand the Flip Density dilemma may raise its head again. This seems to be important in decks with: Starscream (Decepticon King), Skywarp (Teleporting Seeker), Windblade, Megatron (Arrogant Ruler), Bumblebee (Trusted Lieutenant), and Blitzwing. The latter three have action cards and/or abilities to assist in flip density.
Luckily Rise of the Combiners goes a long way to assisting in finding teammates to assist the “build around” characters achieve the desired Flip Density: Combiner Team members. You see, one of the main traits of Combiner parts seems to be “they would rather attack in Alt mode, but you need them in Bot mode to combine,” so you do not have a perfect marriage of “Flip, Attack” in a full on Combiner deck, which gives them a slight disadvantage and forces you to play these decks differently than most decks. There are some exceptions to this rule, specifically the Predacons with their Jetfire-esque “flip into Bot mode” active abilities,the Dinobots with their virtually identical stats but relevant combat abilities in Bot mode, and a few random parts here and there such as Optimus Prime’s Sentinel flip ability (could be argued that it is not that relevant..). The rest actively want to attack/defend in Alt mode, and are oftentimes MUCH worse in Bot mode, the extreme example being the Sentinels where 5/6 of them are blank on the field in Bot mode.
So now you can realistically build around a main character who wants you to flip back and forth very often and multiple characters who do not want to flip AT ALL which means you could set up interesting situations, including but not limited to:
-Optimus Prime Battlefield Legend being able to return an action from the scrap pile on turn two, flip to bot mode on turn three to attack, increasing your hand size and quality immediately. Note: even in decks that use Flamewar and a combiner part, after the first round (turn cycle) you will be able to flip Optimus each turn as Flamewar will not need to ever flip after the first time.
-Windblade can use her ability, assuming you can set up the top of your deck effectively, on turn two, setting herself or another attacker up. Every time she is able to perform her flip to alt mode you are effectively gaining a free action phase for the turn, increasing the threat density she can create. The fact that she is already a Specialist means you have access to upgrades that mirror this plan, allowing for fast effective setups on your team.
-Starscream, Decepticon King. We talked about the need to suit him up with a Mining Pick and Security Console as soon as he attacks, if you build with at least one combiner part and are willing to forgo an attack if needed on the second character, you can flip him twice before he attacks third to get him suited up (see article here: )
-Bumblebee, Trusted Lieutenant/Megatron, Arrogant Ruler: each of their alt modes have cards built around them that can “cheat” the “flip one character” limit per turn (Start Your Engines, Hunker Down) but even with these cards, having access to their powerful alt mode flips allow to set up another attacker to giant proportions. Since they would rather attack in bot mode, for their sifting abilities, and defend in bot mode, so these flip cards allow for virtual 3 for 1s: play the additional card off the flip, gain a point of defense, and the additional effect of SYE/HD. If you use in a tribal deck featuring other Cars/Tanks, you get even larger “X for 1s”
-Thundercracker. If your opponent is using melee characters, there are few flips in the game that give you as much damage per turn per star than Thundercracker. It could be argued that since this flip does not cost you an additional action to play a card, like the various “get a card from the scrap pile” flips, or another card from hand, it is the MOST powerful flip in the game on its own regardless of outside factors. The main issue with TC is that his star cost and stats leave him as normally the support/second attacker character on the team, competing with flip density with the primary character. If the code can be cracked on pairing him with characters who will allow him to flip more often (say a fully formed Dreadwing), you will set up a powerful mid to late game.
-Shockwave. This could take an entire article by itself, but one of the main things holding Shockwave back was a misunderstanding of how powerful he was simply by staying in alt mode. Yes, his bot mode ability is what fuels the deck engine, turning discard into indirect damage, but a 6/11/3 Specialist is nothing to ignore. Since his alt mode directly influences his bot mode, oftentimes you need to flip TWICE in a turn to deny your opponent full use of the “two free cards” he will draw off of the alt mode flip. This means the Shockwave lists are often STARVING for flips, which new characters may facilitate more easily.
This is likely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to explaining and more importantly exploiting flip density. It is not a concept that is readily explained in any Transformers TCG rulebook, but I think forms one of the many “unwritten rules” of how you should approach deckbuilding. Frankly, it is also one of the ways that many decks fail to live up to their lofty potential, because when you are limited to one “free” flip a turn, it is hard to rely on multiple effects occurring throughout the course of the game. Remember these ideas when building new decks, and more importantly when revisiting old ones, as Rise of the Combiners affords us extremely effective ways of taking advantage of powerful flips on characters, it is simply up to us to find the most ideal “combinations.”
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