Hey folks, my name is Joel Grizzelle. You’ve probably never heard of me because I wasn’t at Origins or Gen Con. I am not a member of Team Vector Sigma.info, but Scott was gracious enough to allow me to tell you all my story about how I became the first person to qualify in Texas for the Energon Invitational at a constructed store qualifier. Since I traveled about 250 miles to participate in the qualifier I wasn’t completely sure what to expect but I did have the results from Gen Con to go on. It is only one event and five rounds of single elimination which isn’t much of a litmus test, so I wanted to take a deck that I had been running for a while and was super comfortable playing.
My very good friend and playtest partner Kent Summerour (Top 8 at Origins) and I have been using the card advantage engine from Cliffjumper since the Wave One metagame. We took identical aggressive Orange Cliffjumper / Wheeljack / Prowl decks to PAX South last year and played in every constructed event that they ran. We won every match that we played except when we played each other. It had a strong game against the main decks in the meta at that time, Double Primes and All Hail Optimus, but would sometimes lose the damage race against Insecticons.
Rise of the Combiners did little to help the deck and it sat dormant during that meta but obviously has returned with a vengeance. When Kent and I first tried out Private Firedrive we knew that the perfect setup to abuse his weapon side was to saddle him up to Cliffjumper. We also knew that we wanted to move toward a Blue base because a Blue slant can make the game longer. The longer the game the more decisions that have to be made and the more decisions that have to be made by each player the more chances that we have to make more correct ones than our opponents.
What makes this deck different from the other aggressive cars decks (and other aggressive decks like Dinobots, Blaster, Insecticons, etc.) is that it is not base Orange. How can a deck be considered aggressive if it is based on Blue pips rather than Orange? Massive card draw plus Private Firedrive and the ability to stand up to your opponent’s big attacks and survive to hit back. Leap into Battle, and to a lesser extent The Bigger They Are, effectively replicate the attack bonuses generated in Orange decks from cards like Supercharge and Reckless Charge while Private Firedrive basically serves as a nearly never dying Grenade Launcher.
Raider Road Hugger also pushes the damage over the top when necessary with his tap ability. Cliffjumper equipped with Private Firedrive and pumped with Raider Road Hugger’s ability is delivering eleven damage without the assistance of discarding, any actions to pump damage, or any random Orange pips that may flip (there are nine Orange pip cards). That is a pretty big number all by itself and he can withstand most counter attacks with his twelve health plus two defense and Blue flips. Unless a counter attack of fifteen to seventeen is incoming he is not going to go down on the first swing and even that may not be enough to KO him.
The deck isn’t all about Cliffjumper, though. I only mention him first because he has the largest static attack and the most health to withstand a counter attack. If he is KO’d then the remaining Decepticons can pack quite a punch with Private Firedrive equipped as well.
If given the choice I always choose to go second with this deck. Regardless of the matchup, your opponent is very unlikely to make a big damage attack on turn one and expose their most important character. They cannot attack Raider Road Hugger because he has Stealth. They probably won’t attack Private Firedrive because they don’t want you to equip him post death. Dead End has Tough One, so he is unlikely to be the target. That leaves Cliffjumper and his two defense to absorb what will be at the most around eight damage and likely a much smaller attack that is probably going to be reduced to zero. Now that your opponent has basically attacked for little impact you draw a card, transform Dead End and draw a card for his effect AND draw a card for Cliffjumper’s effect. Now with SIX cards in your hand you likely have many options from equipping a Scoundrel’s Blaster, equipping Energon Axe to whoever was attacked (if they even took damage), an attack pump action, Marksmanship, or nothing at all because you’ll have more cards later to discard for bigger and more relevant attacks once you have Private Firedrive equipped.
You go ahead and attack with Private Firedrive and draw yet another card. Then on your opponent’s turn they likely make another ineffective attack trying not to kill Private Firedrive and let you equip him. Now it is your turn and you draw your eighth card, transform Raider Road Hugger, draw your NINTH card from Cliffjumper’s effect and you have so many options available to you.
Thus far you have dictated the action by forcing them to go first and basically waste an attack, draw several cards on your turn, then force them to make another poor attack into Private Firedrive on their second turn, and with so many cards drawn it’s pretty much impossible not to have a big turn here. Peace Through Tyranny is a real possibility (more than 50% chance that you have drawn it) with almost ¼ of your deck in your hand. Sacrifice Private Firedrive, equip him to Cliffjumper, and pump Cliffjumper using Raider Road Hugger’s ability if you need it to KO an opposing bot this turn. On your free turn draw another card, and then untap Cliffjumper either with Turbo Boosters or (preferred) Start Your Engines. If it was Start Your Engines go ahead and draw two more cards by transforming Dead End then KO another character by discarding cards and attacking for basically as much as you want. It is very hard for your opponent to recover from this AND they likely cannot KO Cliffjumper with their first attack afterward.
Even when your second turn can’t be quite as explosive, by not drawing Peace Through Tyranny, you can still have a huge attack by equipping a weapon like Energon Axe (probably) to Cliffjumper, using Raider Road Hugger’s ability, and then untapping Raider Road Hugger with Start Your Engines making sure that he is protected and can’t be attacked by your opponent. The untap abilities dictate to your opponent who they can attack. You are in many ways in control of their turn as well as your own. The Start your Engines/Raider Road Hugger synergy allows for a lot of flexabiliy: you to use his ability to make one larger single attack againt a Blue based deck, or later attack with himself against a poorly defending Orange build (with lower starting defense).
Two of the most key cards in the battle deck (outside of the untaps and Peace Through Tyranny) are Dampening Field and Quartermaster. With the current meta being so aggressive and full of bold effects, Dampening Field is extremely strong. It limits the effectiveness of Private Lionizer, Kickback, Grimlock, and Wheeljack as well as battle cards like Supercharge and Power Punch. When you play it, your opponent’s attack is either stifled (in the case of Kickback for example) or they try to play around it by once again making an ineffective attack to make you “waste” the Dampening Field.
Quartermaster, which seems to be a card many players regard as an easy cut if they even included it in their aggressive decks, is a safety net in this deck. Much of the deck’s strength comes from Private Firedrive being a weapon so you have to make sure that he stays equipped. With three copies in the deck and all of the card draw you will often have one if your opponent were to destroy your precious upgrade.
The Pierce suite of weapons and The Bigger They Are… is currently largely irrelevant, due to most matchups being against Orange-based decks, but you never know what can happen in a larger event and they have little down side overall compared to other options. The Scoundrel’s Blasters having Green pips do give you the option of getting poor cards from your hand like Handheld Blaster back into your battle deck and go a long way to making attacks from characters like Dead End more threatening. Scoundrel’s Blaster equipped to Dead End plus Leap Into Battle and Raider Road Hugger’s tap ability bring his attack total to eleven before any random Orange flips which is quite formidable from a lowly five star character.
In the situations when you do actually face defensive Blue-based decks even their largest characters like Optimus Prime Battlefield Legend will be hard pressed to survive back to back attacks from a character like Cliffjumper attacking for fifteen or sixteen damage followed by a pierce six from Dead End holding a Scoundrel’s Blaster plus The Bigger They Are. In other words, this deck is situated very well to handle any current known strategy be it very aggressive or very defensive.
Before I wrap this up I’d like to spotlight one card in the sideboard. Most of the battle deck is centered around stopping aggressive Orange builds, but Heroism was in the sideboard to try to push the matchup over the top. After playing the tournament this weekend I determined that Heroism was a card that I always wanted even in the matchup I played against Blue. Disregarded by most, Heroism is in many ways an upgraded Bravery: forcing your opponent to attack Private Firedrive is good for this deck, but forcing them to deal damage to him is even better. Most people are unfamiliar with Heroism and try to play around it by attacking a different character. The damage still gets dealt to Private Firedrive. In fact, less damage is dealt to him if they attack a different character because all of the other characters have a higher defense and thus transfer less damage. In one match that I played this weekend after my opponent wasted two attacks trying to not deal damage he looked at me and shrugged, “I’m just going to have to kill that guy.” At that point having used three attacks to KO Private Firedrive he was so far behind it was virtually too late for him to win.
I hope that you found this deck explanation helpful and insightful. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you at PAX Unplugged!
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