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deeper dive into a tournament mistake

by Jon Palmer

Here at, most of the deck advice you’re going to see is good. We’re all solid tournament players and we do a lot of testing, so the decks we churn out tend to work well in our hands and the hands of those who borrow them. However, the testing process also turns out a lot of decks that seemed good in theory but in practice were actually terrible. Here’s the story behind one of THOSE decks.

When Rise of the Combiners debuted, the combiner who instantly caught my eye was Dreadwing, Sky Destroyer. Unlike the other combiners, there’s no searching for your Enigma and waiting around for five or six Transformers to move from alt to bot mode. Instead, for the “low low price” of three cards from your hand (in a game that we’ve discussed is about action economy, not card advantage), you could combine two mediocre eight-star Decepticon planes into one huge beatstick of an Upgrade platform. Additionally, since Dreadwing comes into play untapped, he gives you an extra attack on the first turn cycle, something already abused by aggressive decks like Insecticons.

So keeping the “four attacks cycle one” in mind, I decided Dreadwing should be an aggressive, orange-heavy deck. Luckily his star cost worked out perfectly for this, as the 16 stars allotted to Blackwing and Dreadwind left us with exactly nine stars – conveniently the cost of one of the best attackers in the game, Wheeljack.


The Missing Link?

To start with, in went all of the cards that make up a standard Rise of the Combiners aggressive shell: Three each of Grenade Launcher, Mining Pick, Erratic Lightning, Improvised Shield, Peace Through Tyranny, Incoming Transmission and Reckless Charge, alongside two copies of Bashing Shield. Three Data Pads were added to recover some of the cards that would be lost to combining, and three Treasure Hunts to draw additional upgrades and help redraw my hand as well. A pair of Espionages went into the deck as a versatile card that also helps with critical hits. Since I was already taking damage from Reckless Charge, I chose to run three Plasma Bursts instead of One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall. Two copies of Ramming Speed also made it into the deck, mostly to deal with pesky Security Consoles.

This left me with four “swing” cards. I chose to go with a pair of Steamrolls, as both Dreadwing and Wheeljack can get off massive attacks that you can roll over onto another Transformer. For the final pair, I wanted two more weapons, so I went with Enforcement Batons over Flamethrower. Partly this was to test the new card, partly on the theory that breaking opposing Erratic Lightnings and Energon Axes would keep my hitters alive longer.

In looking at the field overall, I suspected the deck would be draw-dependent against other aggressive decks, but would likely dominate defensive decks due to the sheer damage output in the early game. Sadly my hopes were overly optimistic in both cases.


So what happened? In early testing, I was consistently missing killing bots by one or two damage. It turns out that unless you see Data Pad early, the card cost of combining Dreadwing is actually difficult to deal with. I attempted to run some games using Backup Plan but the circumstances of it working out were far too specific for it to alleviate the problem.

Despite this, I played the deck in the Case tournament at Top Deck Games (Collingswood, NJ) in early March. Here the second problem reared its head – I misjudged the metagame. Instead of a large number of blue decks, as was the end of the Wave One meta, the field at Top Deck was heavy on aggressive orange decks. I got matched against an orange deck in every match save my last; that last match, against King Starscream, was also my only victory of the day.

As it turned out, other aggressive decks were easily able to put out enough damage to get through my high hit point totals (and decent starting defense), and I was consistently short on damage in reply. Although Dreadwind’s ability to have twice as many Upgrades looks great on paper, you need to both draw and play those Upgrades, and the flow of play often dictated that did not happen (especially since Dreadwind and his parts are no Specialists). Wheeljack’s deck cycling was significantly less powerful when it was confined to only working on Upgrades being attached to him, rather than your entire team, and you really wanted to land some upgrades on the eventual combiner and its parts.



Looking at the deck now, we can see that while it was a good concept, in the end it simply had a rough game against far too many other decks. Testing and games played is the only real way to find this out – just do what I didn’t and get your losses in before the tournament so you can play something that works when the games count.

So is Dreadwing dead? I don't think so, but I think the hopes of getting three “big attacks” (and one extra minor one) on turn one and that being enough to win, have past. Instead, let's look at what else he does..and a key card to unlock him that wasn't available at the time this deck was developed. 


See Everyone has some Hope!



Dreadwing is unique in the game in that he can have two upgrades in each upgrade slot. This ability, as opposed to his quick combine, becomes more powerful in a longer game. So my next attempt will be to play a blue variant of the deck and attempt to keep him alive long enough to "Combiner" him into an Upgrade machine. I believe you could partner with Thrust. Slipstream or Thundercracker and have success, so we'll see which of those works out. On the card front, Work Overtime from the Devastator set is massive. Normally you're left with 1-2 cards after combining; filling back up to four (after possibly playing an upgrade you drew) is excellent. Just watch out for Espionage.

Game play in the Rise of the Combiners metagame has changed greatly and the diversity of deck strategies means you need to be prepared to fight against multiple fronts. We are no longer in a world of “one dominant aggressive strategy” and “one dominant control strategy” so you cannot build with a weakness to either side and expect to be effective. Not every shade of every deck concept is a winner, but the most important thing is to learn from the experiences and adapt your deck or style for the next time.


'Till all are one


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“Till All Are One!”