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by Jon Palmer

In product development at my company, one of the techniques we use is called the Six Thinking Hats. Each hat, of a different color, represents a different way of approaching the subject we’re working with. Green Hat thinking, for instance, represents creativity and new ideas; Red Hat thinking represents emotional responses to the subject.  Black Hat thinking, today’s topic, is used for pointing out negatives and reasons for caution. It’s convenient that the hat is Black because so too are the Pips under examination.

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Black pips, the fifth pip color for the Transformers TCG, were introduced in the newest set – War for Cybertron: Siege 1. When a black pip is flipped by the attacker, it adds One to the attack’s Pierce value, either allowing a small amount of damage to go through if none would otherwise, or increasing the current Pierce amount for a deck that uses onboard sources of Pierce.


Because Stephen A Smith is still speechless following Kevin Durant’s rejection of his Knicks, I’m here today with a Hot Take of my own – black pips as an overall deck archetype are a fools errand, and attempting to treat them as anything other than blank cards (absent other pips on dual-pipped cards, of course) is folly.

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Before I go into the myriad ways in which black pips are not able to be built around, let’s talk about the few ways they may see play. In constructed Transformers, there are essentially two situations in which their Pierce effect will come into play, both of which involving the player using the black pips also playing a mostly blue-pipped defensive deck. The first is a blue deck with very low attack values, the most prominent of which is Aerialbots. Aerialbots rely on Pierce, in born in the case of Alpha Bravo, along with a myriad of direct damage, for a significant portion of their pre-Superion damage. They also rely on Pierce in defensive matchups, post-combining as well. 


The second is playing a blue shell, against a highly defensive deck that can make Tough stick (such as All Hail Optimus). In this case, if your deck doesn’t have high native attack values like Optimus Prime, Battlefield Legend’s 8 or Nemesis Prime’s 7, combining black pips with the native Pierce on a card like Energon Axe will sometimes allow you to do extra damage.

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Editor's Note: A Famous Scott Landis Chart!

The problem here, of course, is that both of these decks require blue pips to flip on defense in order to perform their core function. Any card that has a black pip and not a blue pip (Steady Shot, Smoke Cloak) or white pip (none exist yet) is a blank when flipped on defense. So when constructing your deck, you have to make the decision of whether getting that Pierce 1 and the effect of the black pip card is better than the powerful blank cards that defensive decks often use, like One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall, Plasma Burst, Photon Bomb and their ilk. As we’ll see below, this is basically never the case.


The other opportunity for the black pips and their small Pierce damage to matter is in Limited play. Since the power level of your battle cards is lower anyway, and you’re likely to be playing Micro Masters with small attack values, flipping a black pip may in fact allow them to get home for small amounts of damage. But Limited is not my area of expertise so this may be a subject we explore further in the future.

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Me Grimlock no need PIERCE!

Now that we’ve talked about when black pips will be useful, let’s talk about all the times they are not. First of all, in aggressive decks, they’re near worthless. They only time any heavy-orange deck should be worried about getting through for minimal amounts of damage via Pierce is against Jazz, and if you’re building around beating Jazz you’re already on the wrong website. The game is slanted to favor orange decks always getting SOME amount of damage through (almost all native attack values are larger than defense ones), so you don’t end up with stalemates where neither side can damage each other. It’s incredibly rare that a black pip will make any difference at all.


Second, if your opponent is playing an aggressive deck, your black pips are worthless as well. They’re unlikely to ever have more than one or two higher than their base defense, and the base attacks on most Transformers, even those in defensive decks, will still get through for some damage. Maybe if Orange Tanks was actually a thing this might not be the case, but as of now there should be no trouble in getting more damage on the bots in orange-focused decks than the black pips will give you.


Third, even if you’re playing a defensive deck against another defensive deck, you’ve ALREADY taken this into account in deck construction. This is why you’re playing weapons like Energon Axe and your factional green blaster, noncombat damage like Armed Hovercraft and One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall, and cards that give large Pierce amounts like The Bigger They Are and Heavy Handed. It’s why you probably have one character with a high base attack that’s the focus of your deck. Are the black-pipped cards here going to be worth it? 

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So as we can see, including black pips for their Pierce effect is a fool’s errand. But are any of the black-pipped cards good enough to see play if their black pip is ignored?


Combat Dagger is a bad Flamethrower

Compact Shield is a bad version of basically every Armor in existence 

Device Virus I can’t see ever seeing play as the effect is too specific to be consistent

Dismantle is a worse Vaporize/Ramming Speed with a worse pip

HV Electron Breacher is Primary Laser with a worse pip

Repurpose is a bad Pep Talk

Rock Toss is a bad Zap. 

RR Disruptor Blade is a bad EM24 IR Laser Launcher. 

Smoke Cloak is a bad Reinforced Plating

Smokethrower is a Flamethrower with a worse pip

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This leaves us with a total of five black-pipped cards that may see play: Hiding Spot, Point-Defense System, Steady Shot, Calculated Strike and Erratic Energy Grenade.


I don’t personally think Point-Defense System is good, but if the environment ends up being almost mono-blue and then decks trying to Pierce each other, I could see it being a sideboard card.

Steady Shot and Calculated Strike might have a place in a blue deck that tries to use almost all of its actions for strength pumps – counting Leap into Battle, The Bigger They Are and Heavy Handed, this gives you five such actions, four of which have a Pierce aspect to them. Steady Shot is also dual-pipped for cards that care about that. The comparison of three damage from Leap into Battle and Steady Shot for “only” two is very close, and the fact that flipping Steady Shot on attack outside of playing renders them pretty equal in my mind. As Leap into Battle is falling out of favor for the combination of Heavy Handed/The Bigger they Are.. anyway, will it even matter?


Hiding Spot and Erratic Energy Grenade, I think both have niche uses. Hiding Spot allows you to swing earlier with your big hitter (or commit yours prior to your opponent if you went first) and then not open him up to retaliatory damage. I can definitely see decks using that to keep Optimus Prime, Battlefield Legend or Major Shockwave alive.


Erratic Energy Grenade gives you a weird way to Photon Bomb your opponent’s team, along with a black pip. I’m not entirely sure how much better that is than simply playing Photon Bomb, but conceptually it feels like there are probably some decks that can make use of it. It also oddly enough works in Planes to generate damage to send to your opponent via cards like Slipstream and Bombing Run.


However, even in these cases, the black pip is meaningless. These are simply cards that may be playable as though they were blank.

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In conclusion, unlike the green pip last set, the black pip feels like it simply isn’t impactful enough to make any sort of meaningful change to the competitive constructed Transformers environment. Feel free to get out there and prove me wrong.


Editor’s Note: but when you try to, back it up with math lol...but hey we've been wrong before, there are articles about it!

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Till All are One!

 

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