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by Team

Day one of Rise of the Combiners almost all of (and Friends) got together for a case opening / testing day. Now aside from playing the Green pip mechanic slightly wrong (we assumed defender chose first) many mistakes were made, some compounded throughout the day and the weeks to follow it. We think it is important to look back and decide “how and why” mistakes were made so that we can try and correct the mistakes going forward when looking at the metagame, and shore up the process even more for the next set, soon to be arriving!

We sat down as a team and compiled some of our most glaring mistakes in the first month of the RotC metagame. Some of these were game play related, a lot of card evaluation/deck building errors, and some just general approach mistakes. Hopefully all our faithful readers can learn from our mistakes and improve your own process, mentally and game play wise, through learning from our errors.

In part I, we asked each team member for a couple of mistakes they made and got varied results.


Scott Landis:

My biggest error with Rise of the Combiners was misevaluating the Combiner mechanic. Even though at the first two major events I was able to play in during RotC I played with different Combiner teams (top four with Aerialbots once, fifth with Predacons), I did not have the practice I needed with the decks to truly succeed. While normally a tournament setting is not my testing ground, it simply had to be as the nuances of playing such a different style of deck forced me to adapt on the fly throughout the events. The reasons for that were my inherent bias against them before and when the set was released. I thought they were a gimmick, a way to hook us lore nerds and TF loyalists. I was wrong. Specifically about the “Scramble City” combiners..Note: I am counting the Predacons here as Scramble City, I know they are “technically not a Scramble City Combiner,” so I basically mean “not Sentinels, Dinobots, or Dreadwing.”


As a control player for the past 25 years in TCGs, you would think I would understand the whole “stay alive in the early game to win in the late game with one win condition” by now, but apparently this very old dog can still learn new tricks.

See I was stuck comparing each individual character to existing five drops, and that is simply incorrect. Very few of the individual pieces hold a candle to Flamewar, or even Arcee (and I am not counting Kickback who is amazing in his one starring role but requires that specific archetype to shine), and that is ok. Not only is the whole greater than the sum of the parts, a lot of times the parts do not even matter outside of “less hit points on the eventual whole.” Most pieces have an effective health of eight to nine, which seems low, but oftentimes it is hard for ALL of an opponent’s characters to do that much damage each attack without using a card or two. That is exactly what you want them to do: waste early resources on relatively insignificant donks so they have less ways of dealing with the final boss. 

This was compounded when playing with Blue based combiners. Here your characters had vastly improved effective health totals, and while I am not saying they are each on the level of typical control deck large characters (Optimus, Nemesis, even Flamewar, etc.) you are able to use them as incremental advantage pieces. Their individual abilities also grew to impress me more than I expected: almost every single one of them have a significant flip ability, or some worthwhile combat effect (like the Tough 2 on Skydive, Offroad’s three defense, or the Brave on Fireflight for example). I was looking at them all as pieces for other builds, but you start to notice a lot of smaller interactions as the full team. For example, Air Raid is always protected so his ability should connect each game at least once.  Same with Razorclaw, who you can wait to pump up to ridiculous levels, like a 10-11 base pre-flip normally through actions and upgrades, before attacking where you want. 

Each team also plays out differently, with different options, but I think playing to their strengths was the way to go (Aerialbots: Blue, Predacons: Orange, Stunticons: Blue). Even in aggro builds you are playing for the long game, and combining with two hits remaining, considering you get one giant one often first, can be enough to take the game.

The key was getting out of the mentality that your individual characters actually matter and you are able to protect the important ones through various mechanics and simply having a five character team (where your guys are bit better than awful Metroplex mini-bots). The “five-wide” dynamic adds so much to the gameplay alone it was one of the biggest things I underestimated about the Combiner mechanic. 

I could go on, but others have their own early mistakes, so suffice to say: Combiners, they are not just for Fanboys.


Dan Arnold:


For me it started with being unprepared; what I mean by that is I did not have the time leading up to that day to build any ideas of my own, so I mostly piggy-backed off my teammates. While this is mostly a good thing when it comes to new sets, as everyone will always have different opinions of cards etc, I did not get to test any of the battle cards/ Characters I specifically may have wanted to on my own. Now I did plenty of testing the day and I was able to help others come to their conclusions, but I still should have made more of an effort on my end to some of the cards and characters I wanted to play into decks.

My second failure came during game play. I may have had two successful events this pass month, with a top four finish with Starscream and a top two with Aerialbots, but I still made many misplays that could have been avoided during the month. While playing ‘Scream I did not initially understand what the deck needed to do to get into the end-state you needed to be in with him. So when we first tested the deck we had cut cards like Backup beam because it did not help The King himself, and that was very false. Eventually after understanding the utility the other characters can provide, deck fixing occurred because play like putting a Backup Beam on Dragstrip was a great when going second. This allowed you to see more cards when flipped (more Greens for example), higher potential to draw cards with his ability, and help dig for your Plan cards you could later return to hand with Starcream (Editor’s Note: This is an error I see many players make with the deck, they do not use the Starscream flip to alt ability in the first turn cycle being wholly inadequately set up for the mid to late game). The same can be said for Barrage, as placing it on him can give you Bold 4 against a damaged character, which meant flipping six cards over to help you fund Decepticon Crown and other key pieces.  

Also, just playing against Characters for the first time I made mistakes. Forgetting the Divebomb can remove and Action card, or that Razorclaw can attack anyone like SR Bumblebee could in Wave One.  Just not taking the time to make sure I made the correct plays against unfamiliar foes cost me games. So be sure you know what your opponent is capable of at all times; it’s very easy to misplay when new cards come out because different situations occur, and you forget all the abilities etc.


Vince DeGulis:

Biggest mistake after the initial stages of Rise of the Combiners? How much time you got? If I'm forced to single out a specific thing it likely ends up being Combiners.

Don't get me wrong I expected them to work in some capacity, but in this case I'm thinking specifically about Sentinels. The amount of pressure they can apply in conjunction with disruption surprised me. In retrospect it is painfully obvious, we even discussed it. That's what makes it feel even stranger really. I knew it was coming and it still opened my eyes. Ultimately I didn't give them enough respect, even though I had thought they would be a thing. They are warping what decks I want to play and try to build in more ways than initially anticipated.


Jon Palmer:

Here are some bad calls on my part in the first month of RotC:

 1. Other than Insecticons, no orange deck will be able to beat the “Blue stall decks”: This has been proven incorrect, as orange Sentinels and Constructicons have already had tournament success with orange based builds.

2. Green pips will be good when they're on good cards like Espionage or Press the Advantage, but that's about it: In fact Green pips have proved vital to the playability of off-color effects like Sparring Gear and Backup Beam, and turned "Primary Laser with Green" into a great card (Scoundrel's/Noble's Blaster) for blue based decks.

3. Planes will have a tournament viable build via Dreadwing: If it's there, I haven't found it yet.


Mark Kinney:

One my errors in the first month of RotC? Ignoring my strengths.

When a new set is released in any TCG, people always gravitate back to aggression. There are so many new things to play with. And everyone either “forgets” or refuses to acknowledge the power of aggro decks. While people are stumbling around with first and second drafts of decks, the aggressive decks just brutalize anyone who stumbles or is inefficient. 

It's no secret that my favorite card is Peace Through Tyranny. So why didn't I play to my strength? Truthfully, I wanted to try other things. And most decks that I built that did not contain Grenade Launcher were piles. The meta has reverted back to it’s Wave 1 roots and extremely aggressive decks. If there’s one thing I'm confident in, it's my ability to build and navigate orange mirrors. If you are good at something, stick to it. Don't deviate just because you want to be new and shiny. You need to update, but you do not need to wholesale change a deck and yourself as a pilot.

What mistakes have you made in the first month of RotC (besides not treating all of’s daily content like your Bible!)? Next time we will discuss other mistakes we made!


'Till All are one


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“Till All Are One!”