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The Resource Paradigm Shift of Rise of the Combiners

by Scott Landis

Every Trading Card Game (TCG) has a resource system. Some are obvious: you need to pay a certain cost to play cards such as “mana” or “resources” that are either provided by other card types (“lands”, “locations”, etc.)  or you simply accumulate by the rules of the game. The Transformers TCG does not have such an obvious resource system, because cards do not have a “resource cost” to play them. Instead, you are limited by the number of actions you can take each turn: play one upgrade, play one action card, flip one character, attack. 


Note: Throughout this article and other media I am going to use the term “phase” to represent the part of the turn in which you are able to take certain actions. This is not a technical game term, as there are no “phases” where you can only play certain types of cards, I am just using the term universally to mean “when you can take that action,” and it helps explain “taking an action” versus “playing an action card.”

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Action Phases, not "Action" cards

  

Throughout the Wave One metagame there was a constant struggle to establish an efficiency advantage in these areas. I am on record as saying that many ways you were able to take MORE actions in a turn were simply not efficient in this first set. There were exceptions, but overall if you were looking to gain an advantage in one of these areas, you were generally better off changing the focus of one of your options into another. The struggle was not to play “more” of something in a turn, but instead to make sure each action you were taking was the most efficient way of doing so. You always wanted to be “your best self” in every aspect of the game. Let me give you some examples:

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Classic trading one phase for another

  

-I am not a fan of Brainstorm outside of dedicated combo decks or with Thundercracker. The card forces you to have a full hand of action cards, or at least an efficient card drawing card to start the chain, ultimately to play one additional action for the turn. The card is a dead draw later in the game and is a classic trade of power for consistency. Everyone remembers the plays they make that are spectacular with Brainstorm (“Brainstorm, double Leap into Battle, hit you for 15!”) and not the times it simply sat in your hand doing nothing. 


-I am a fan of a card like Treasure Hunt, which essentially trades your “play an action card” step in the turn for a more efficient “play an upgrade” phase, and oftentimes allows you to set up multiple turns worth of the “play an upgrade” phase through the use of one action card. Inspiring Leadership has a similar function. 


-Multi-Mission Gear allows you to essentially trade your “play an upgrade” phase for an additional “play an action” phase. The single armor point from the upgrade is not really worth your upgrade for the turn, as it has a virtual play limitation (on a Specialist) for maximum effect. If you are able to play the additional action card (note: one less in total to Brainstorm) you basically traded “half an upgrade phase” for an additional “play an action card phase.” As most played armor, such as Reinforced Plating in blue based decks, prevent two damage per attack. A single defense point was below the curve. I actually do feel this card was a bit underplayed in Wave 1, in decks like Dinobots and Cars, and should see more play with RotC.


-Drill Arms is another “under powered” upgrade that you are playing more for its “Ramming Speed” clone effect than its +1 attack stat. Even if you are simply drawing a card, with no armor target in play, you are using it to facilitate a more efficient “play an action card” phase and the +1 on attack is an extremely minor benefit, sure to be replaced at first opportunity. 


-Direct damage cards such as One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall or Plasma Burst are trading your 

“play an action card” phase for small, efficient “attack phases.” I spoke about this at length last article, so take a look here: https://vectorsigma.info/wave-1


  

The point of all of these examples is not to take a trip down memory lane, but to explain the current resource paradigm that exists in the game. I believe this efficiency curve changes quite significantly in Rise of the Combiners, as we are given much more efficient ways to “cheat the resource system” instead of simply additional ways of using one phase to create more efficient secondary ones. It is these cards that I want to focus my attention on as I start to build new decks with Rise of the Combiners. Let’s look at some examples:

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Confidence/Swindled

  

Might as well start with the ones I am most excited to be trying out on March 2 (the team is opening our cases of product that day and starting to build decks, look for coverage of that extended playtesting session in March on our YouTube page!). If these cards are as powerful as I believe they are, they will have the most influence on team deckbuilding than any other cards in the set, as they force your team to be one faction or other to get their effects. 


The main question to answer here is “what is drawing two cards and discarding two cards worth” in terms of action card efficiency? I would argue that Wave One set the bar for these types of card sifting with the aforementioned Treasure Hunt and Inspiring Leadership, as well as Incoming Transmission, and the first half of the abilities on Confidence and Swindled is on par with most of them, trading being net down one card (the card itself) for a more powerful or playable hand. 

Each allows you to play a better Upgrade for the turn, since you can use the draw 2/discard 2 to smooth out the Upgrade play for the turn, “hunting” for the one you want play as the other sifters do, and the kicker ability of playing an additional action or upgrade means you are not losing any tempo by smoothing out your hand. 


This is a stark difference to how their Wave One predecessors operated: for example, even if you were smoothing out your combat step with Incoming Transmission, or digging one card deeper (with one less discard) in Inspiring Leadership, that was your “Play an Action card” phase for the turn. Confidence gets around this by allowing another Action card to be played, and Swindled will simply act like a New Designs (a pure example of trading one “phase” for another in Wave One) at worst case, while again improving the overall quality of your hand. 


I truly believe these are some of the most important cards in the set, as they allow you to simply have more efficient turns and changes deckbuilding to warp teams around their power levels. Any fully sided team should start with these cards in the Battle deck and established multi-factioned teams may need to change to accommodate them if they are as powerful as I believe they will be.

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Field Communicator/Leap of Faith

Each of these cards are vast improvements over their Wave One counterparts: Multi-Mission Gear for Field Communicator and Brainstorm/New Designs for Leap of Faith. Clearly each of these have their deck building constraints, Specialists for the Communicator and extra stars for Leap, but once they are in the Battle deck, you are gaining a considerable advantage over the Wave One options: the cards you play come from the top of your deck, not from your hand. This means that while you have less control over what you are playing off of them, the phase advantage you are gaining is absolute. Yes, they take up your Upgrade or Action card phase for the turn, but you are guaranteed to gain at least one of these phases back, per se, and you may even have control over that through various effects. 


Field Communicator is the more interesting option for me, as it will fit in more teams ubiquitously throughout the format, until optimal builds at less than 25 stars can be found. The “cost” of playing a Specialist is minimal, and Rise of the Combiners added a plethora of playable Specialists (for universal play, the Combiners themselves open up other options, but worse than currently playable ones) to supplement the frequently played Wave One specialists:


Wave One:    Flamewar, Arceee, Wheeljack, Prowl, Sludge, Swoop, Shockwave

RoTC:              Windblade, Skywarp, Skydive, Sunstreaker, Swoop, Bombshell


The main question with Field Communicator, to a lesser extent with Leap of Faith, is do you want to set up the top of your deck with an effect before playing it? The answer is not as simple as you would think: for example, if you were to use an effect to put an additional upgrade on top, outside of the potential advantage the original ability you used to do so gave you, you are treating the Field Communicator as a +1 attack on top of the “free upgrade” you will play from the top. Is that worth the play considering you simply could have just played the “sure to be better upgrade” (now on top of your deck) itself for the turn? Well, that depends on how the card got there to begin with. Right now the only ways to manipulate the top of the deck outside of combat are Incoming Transmission, Field Repair, Master Plan, Secret Dealings, and Torox’ flip.


So let’s take the best example of those, Incoming Transmission, and here is how the turn plays out: Play Incoming Transmission, draw two, put Upgrade on top you wish to play, play Field Communicator, Play the Upgrade. In this situation, you were able to turn Incoming Transmission into a “Draw two cards” Action card (the new Pep Talk) with no downside, as the card you put on top was then played off of the Communicator. Here the +1 attack from the Communicator was just icing on the cake because the main purpose was to mitigate the “downside” of Incoming Transmission, from the standpoint of cards in hand. You may be losing the combat advantage that Incoming Transmission provides, say by putting a double orange card on top to attack with, so it again depends on how your deck is made up using Field Communicator to begin with (I believe Incoming Transmission with thus serve a different purpose in decks with Field Communicator than the typical aggressive decks it was in during Wave One, regardless of its orange pip).


The other examples are less clear cut, as the effect of the original action is not as powerful as drawing two cards before “planning out the turn”: Field Repair means your action card for the turn is repairing one damage; Master Plan turns Field Communicator into a virtual New Designs/Brianstorm; Secret Dealings is close to Incoming Transmission in that you gain “some” incremental value but I am not sure “draw a card” is worth the ultimate effort to go along with +1 attack. 


I do not want to sound like I am painting a bleak picture of using Field Communicator, I just wanted to show that the current options to turn it into a guaranteed card you want to play from your hand to the top of the deck requires serious effort..so expect to be playing a random card from the top more often than not. This is not a bad thing at all

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Faith: don't let your love turn to hate..Right now we got to...Keep the faith

Leap of Faith is clearer cut. As an Action card the above choices are harder to pull off without a way to play additional Action Cards for the turn, and in the end probably not worth the effort. Playing two random cards off the top of the deck is akin to getting an entire turn’s worth of action phases. I think that is worth a Star!


Depending on how you build your deck, you could also include Scrounge with this category of cards, but the non-universal playability of the cards on top of your deck hurts their consistency. Plan effects/Incoming Transmission would help this, but in the case of a card like Scrounge these effects are oftentimes taking up your “Play an Action card” for the turn, and even if you chose to play it off of any of the aforementioned ways of gaining additional “Play an Action” phases, it seems like a lot of work for a virtual New Designs.  


There are characters that will gain you this type of action phase advantage as well, often in concert with the battle cards mentioned. Time will tell how efficient any or all of these options turn out to be.

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Windblade

I admit I am more excited than most for Windblade. RotC brings 19 mulit-colored pip cards to the game, of varying levels of playability, supplementing the two in Wave One. As her ability is simply a flip, the most minor of the action phases in the turn, it is not a huge cost to “miss” on it, if that should occur. 


That being said she combines favorably with the various top of deck manipulating options mentioned earlier, and her ability can be seen as a renewable Brainstorm/New Designs. 

I think the cards you want to pair with her include: The Matrix, Noble’s Blaster, Bashing Shield, Backup Beam, Enforcement Batons, Espionage, Press the Advantage, Secret Dealings, and Sparring Gear. I love that they contain Green Pips, so if you play a deck with Incoming Transmission and Secret Dealings you can turn your combat flips into effective extensions of your hand. Bashing Shield and Enforcement Batons would be really interesting “Silver Bullets” from the deck, giving you virtual on demand Drill Arms/Scrapper Gauntlet replacements specifically for the City Speaker. 


I believe the sequencing of plays for Windblade through every phase of the game, including every single combat since you are likely flipping Green each time, will be extremely important in optimizing decks that contain her. She will not be “easy to use” for these reasons, and not an obvious deck to build that will iterate over time, so she may not appear immediately in the new meta, but I will personally be testing out builds with her from Day one onward.


The key for Windblade is finding suitable partners. Likely it will depend on the final call on the power level of Confidence and if she needs to be run with additional Autobots.  She also will take up a lot of the “flip density” in the build, as she will want to be doing most of it, so she may need to be paired with characters unlikely to flip often as well. Decks with her will be built around incremental advantage, so finding a home with these conditions may be difficult, time will tell.

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Megatron 3.0/Bumblebee 4.0

  

These two are mirror images of each other, with radically different deck usage, that will each see tremendous play in the upcoming metagame. They are both card advantage machines, giving you the ability to discard various double blue/double orange cards that you often do not want to actually play, or the built in combinations like “attack with Megatron, pitch an armor, Hunker Down.” 


For the low cost of a flip, and each of these characters should show up in lineups that feature cards like Roll Out and Hunker Down/Start Your Engines, you gain an additional Upgrade or Action phase play. In fact, defensively you want to be in alt mode for each of these characters, since their defense is higher in that mode for each of them. They both sport 14 Hit Points, extremely high for 10 star characters who sport more than one starting defense (the 10 cost planes have 14 or more, but abysmally low defenses, new Skywarp being the exception if you set him up correctly). 



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Who needs Super Rare Bee when you have a common?

I feel the extra phase advantage each of these characters give players will make them mainstays of well-built competitive decks and their built in abilities to regain the cards you are blowing through using these flips only assists in the tempo you are gaining. I believe each of these characters will be mainstays in both new builds and updates to existing ones.


I am really only scratching the surface of Rise of the Combiners, but these cards initially stood out to me as causing a paradigm shift in the axiom of playing one action card and one upgrade per turn. There are domino effects of potential over use of these abilities, such as an increased strain on your hand size (which then may allow for typically inefficient opposing discard to have a more pronounced effect on the metagame) so you may need to look to include some additional efficient card draw into decks as well..but that is a topic for another day! 

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'Till all are one

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Reach out with any questions on the event or anything to do with VectorSigma..and look for more exciting content this week and beyond!


“Till All Are One!”