The Wave 2 Previews have given us a ton of new Transformers, many of them part of various Combiner teams. While these teams obviously work in concert, the fact that the vast majority are five stars also means they can fit into existing lineups and possibly unlock some new tricks. Today I am going to talk about a few of the Combiner parts who are still effective in those situations: when your goal is not to combine them with their brethren.
As a note, I’m not discussing the Constructicons here. Their 4 star cost gives you more versatility, but they are standalone similar to Metroplex rather than technically Wave 2, so we have more time to digest them. Also, for some reason Long Haul isn’t a truck. WTF.
Fireflight and Headstrong,: the brothers Brave: I’m counting these together as they fill the same function – 5 cost characters with Brave. Fireflight has an extra point of health plus armor (9 total), but Headstrong sports the strong starting shell with his 3 armor in alt mode. I lean toward Fireflight being better in general due to the prevalence of direct damage and big one-shot attacks from big single characters like the various Primes, but Headstrong is great at forcing your opponent to attack with a big attacker earlier on turn 1, exposing them to your counterattack (since a smaller attacker might do zero damage). Each of these characters benefit from Armor, with Headstrong able to sport the more consistent Body Armor, in blue based decks, so as long as they survive the first hit (or you go first and chose not to expose them on turn one in anticipation of playing the armor on your second turn) you will gain supreme control over where you opponent is able to attack each turn.
Razorclaw: Dollar Store Super-Rare Bumblebee is definitely an option for decks that either want to double up the Bee ability, or would like a cheap ability to attack an untapped bot once you gear him up. The fact that the ability only requires one flip, as opposed to Bee’s requiring two (or an effect), can also bring it online earlier for you. His super low cost allows him to be paired with high base attackers (five or more) right away. In an orange based attack deck this would likely net you five to six damage, between a third and a half of most characters base health. If you are the first player to act, with a hand that allows you to suit up Razorclaw on your second turn (say a Grenade Launcher plus Reckless Charge shenanigans for an 11 base attack pre-flips) it is very likely you will be able to kill, or very seriously continue to wound that same target.
Since he only requires the one flip to bot mode, your opponent will have to then make a difficult call on their turn: If they have armor do they place it on the already damaged character knowing it can simply be attacked again? Do they then make a worse counterattack because they are forced to spend their one action/upgrade play they could make on their first turn that would typically assist their attacker on an unexposed defender? Can they even effectively defend the character? Do they attack with the character right away negating your ability to “steal” the attack from them from Razorclaw on turn two?
That is a lot of thought that the opponent of a five drop character has to go through!
Dinobot Swoop, Bombardier: He has solid stats for 7 stars, and gives you the ability to get green cards back into your hand without discarding a card for them. If your deck plays 9 or so green cards, that card economy might make him worth more than Barrage’s extra attack. Instead of pure blind card draw off the top as many characters allow, Swoop forces you to get back one type as a free draw, thus it is a more targeted ability. He is also a Specialist which has a lot of utility. We have only seen thus far the extremely powerful Field Communicator keying off this in RotC along with the multi-upgrades in Wave 1, but I would hope we see at least one more battle card that makes use of this keyword.
Dinobot Sludge, Dino Demolitions: A bit low on the attack for an 8 star bot, but if your deck is going to be starved for cards in hand (if you’re playing Brainstorm, Specialist combo cards, etc) his card draw is very strong and he’s a tough kill. Also, “Dino Demolitions” rules. He also sports the most powerful keyword currently for combat in Melee, able to wield both Power Sword and/or Body Armor effectively, unlike his previous Specialist incarnation.
Decepticon Drag Strip: A cheap car with pretty easily accessible card draw, especially if you’re running Roll Out, the Matrix, Recon System, or anything other orange/blue cards that might be printed. Will compete with Flamewar and Arcee for a deck slot depending on exactly what the deck is trying to do and it’s composition but drawing two cards is a hard ability to ignore. You also do not have to “waste” one or more flips on him, since you want to be attacking as a Car anyway, which means unlike many current Cars that want to attack in bot mode, you do not have to flip to bot mode, attack, flip to alt mode, attach Turbo Boosters, you prefer to do that entire sequence without the flips, thus gaining you more “flip economy.” His 3/7/2 body is also fine for such a low star cost character who sports the melee keyword in his preferred mode.
Offroad: I don’t think he’s playable right now, but if a really good Truck-only battle card is printed, he’s a 5 star truck with three base defense to finish out, say, an OPBL/New Ironhide team. To continue the broken record, he can wear Body Armor.
Motormaster: A meta answer to a problem I don’t think exists yet – although non-combat damage is good, it’s neither ubiquitous nor so broken that you absolutely need to use 5 stars to answer it. Also a Truck if you like him more than Offroad. If you can afford to spend ten stars to pair him with a second Stunticon (again not taking up a huge chunk of Star real estate), his attack deflection ability in bot mode allows you to again have a lot of control over where you opponent attacks. Now his low defense is not a burden, as you simply redirect the attack to Offroad or Drag Strip, preferably with Body Armor on them, to take little to no damage.
Breakdown: If your deck is straight blue, he’s 4 attack for 5 stars. I still don’t see why you’d ever use him over Flamewar, but maybe you want to use 10 of your stars to play both? Maybe there’s a Breakdown/Drag Strip/Cliffjumper/Hot Rod deck that works, I dunno.
Autobot Hot Rod: Speaking of which, this is arguably the best of all the Combiner parts for other decks, specifically control shells that want the game to drag out. 4/10/2 with Tough 1 in car mode for 7 stars is great, and you never need to flip him - important if you have a deck where you’re trying to flip a different Transformer frequently (cough:OPBL:cough:Cliffjumper:cough). Then once he dies, he becomes a Zap if you don’t have something else to flip on a turn, which will add up the damage if the game goes long.
Ironhide, Steadfast Brawler: Pretty good stats on his own as well (10 health is bulky in a truck) and a better platform for Static Laser of Ironhide than his Wave 1 starter version. If Kup is a Sergeant this guy is like a Major, maybe a Colonel. The Static Laser was almost playable on its own throughout Wave 1, even outside the obvious synergy with many Insecticons where it exclusively saw play (since Ironhide 1.0 never did..), and if you can pair him with other characters that could afford to wield it also in a pinch to allow for redundant draws of them, it will be hard to find such a beefy attacker with so little downside at seven stars.
Prowl, Strategic Mastermind: A slightly worse attacker than Barrage, but he doesn’t need to flip and has synergy with more usable cards as a car. Reread that: “slightly worse than BARRAGE,” who is arguably the best attack power to star cost ratio in the game! Is he better than the 6 star version for Car builds? Not sure! Might you want to play both of them, Wheeljack, and three 1 star battle cards? Maybe!
Silverbolt: He has a couple of solid abilities, and a cheap cost for fitting into Plane decks that want to run the awkward 11/12s along with either Thundercracker or Slipstream. Sure he is -1/-1/-1 compared to Skywarp but does that even matter when he has free built in direct damage? Should we call him Tim?
Skydive: 3/8/1 Tough 2 Specialist. Tough 2, the only character to sport in a built Tough 2. Combine him with a Flamewar flip on your first turn and you have a built in Body Armor on the first turn, before you suit him up. As mentioned earlier with Swoop, Specialists get AT LEAST one huge boost in this set in Field Communicator, so how much help does this defensive monster need to see universal play, especially in control decks?
So from each Combiner team, two to three characters should see universal play, with a maximum star cost mentioned of eight, with most coming in at only five. So many teams nowadays find room to fit in Flamewar and Arcee that these new characters will simply give you more options at such low costs. Not to mention, you may find use for multiple of these characters outside the team, as 10-15 stars is still not a huge investment for a team of support characters to help the lone high cost team star. I think a lot of these characters, especially the five star ones, are being overlooked as options outside the Combiner team for two main reasons: Flamewar is insanely powerful at five stars and they seem to have very weak stat lines. Their stat lines are no worse than their five star cost counterparts now, again with the exception of Ms. Insane (Flamewar) who sports ten hit points, higher than these Combiner parts, but they often add as much utility as she does. I think the key to understand is that they will not replace Flamewar, they will instead supplement her, especially the Decepticon Specialists since you gain keyword synergy with her.
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