Welcome back ladies and gentlemen, ‘bots and ‘cons! I have another anecdote that sorta spiraled into an article. Again, it is “less hard strategy”, but hopefully you find value in it!
Before we get into the rundown from the video tape, allow me to set the scene: In the pre-official team VectorSigma.info days there was a group chat with a lot of the current members. I would say I was the “mad scientist” of the chat, but the reality was that I was more of the “random thoughts” kind of guy. As such I would drop things into the chat every once in a while, along the lines of “hey what about this idea?” Pretty innocuous on the outside looking in, however a lot of these ideas were super off the wall.
Or put more succinctly: Bad. Capital B.
In most instances they earned a response of “so you want to play a deck with zero synergy?”. I’d go on to explain the theme or purpose of the deck concept, and try to defend it, but naturally (thankfully) everyone one else would pull me back down to Earth. Despite the protestations, I would persevere and thrash about clinging to my insane idea like a lifeboat in the ocean.
Then Scott would start posting Elsa memes about Letting Go, and yes Disney gifs are a regular appearance in the chat room. No that is not made up.
(Editor’s Note: another one that frequently appears is Ariel saying “you want thingamabobs? I got twenty)
Anyway, eventually I’d say my goodbyes to whatever lunacy I had written up because ultimately they were bad ideas, although I feel the exploration was worthwhile. What does this have to do with anything? Surely everyone has ideas, and almost by definition many will be bad, so it is not the sharing of the off-the-wall ideas that is the issue: I struggle with letting go of the ideas.
Here’s the deal, the Transformers TCG is a card game. Presumably everyone is with me so far. There are rules for the game. That also checks out. Competitively there are floor rules, tournament procedure, etc. Check and check. One thing that people may not realize is that by virtue of being in a competitive environment there are also some unwritten rules.
Namely it is sort of a Darwinian level of “the strongest survive”. Now for other games that isn’t necessarily a concern. They may or may not have an existing IP and as a result strategies or play patterns can draw people to one faction or another, one theme or another. In this game we have a wildly different beast. Pick anyone in your playgroup, can they off-hand name their favorite Transformer? Did they have the toy as a kid? Do they know their fate from the movie, show, or other media and possibly other appearances?
Great! Too bad that ‘bot sucks and probably won’t be playable until another version exists. If then!
Kind of a gut punch huh?
Clearly that statement is meant to shock a bit, and OF COURSE the caveat is right now, but it is a hard truth that is important to learn when trying to improve. As mentioned, I personally struggle with it because Transformers as a franchise is very dear to me. I have lists, and lists, and lists, and lists of decks going all the way back to the beginning of Wave One with tons of iterations on basically every ‘bot released. However most haven’t seen the light of day because in the end there are other decks that accomplish the same goal in a better way, or they are preyed upon by a different deck that is very popular/strong. If you look at Scott's recent discussion about sphere's it could be that the specific character/deck is doing the same thing as another deck. Only weaker.
From the perspective of competitive play, you need to put emotional attachments on the shelf momentarily to properly assess a given ‘bot or battle card’s place in the meta. While this is a concept I mentally understand, as I am sure many people do, it is clearly easier said than done. I want to build decks with Runabout and Runamuck, I want to create Bombshell lists, Non-Aerialbot combiners (who actually combine) are good right? Thundercracker is still a high priority for me to generate a home for etc. etc. etc.
Now there is of course nothing wrong with these characters or others finding their forever home at the kitchen table. Nothing about this says that competitive play is a no-fun zone either. There’s plenty of enjoyment to be had playing Optimus Prime variants, Insecticons, or other “Tier 1” strategies. They are fun as well! Let’s face it though, in your heart of hearts you know there’s a Cybertronian that is your favorite.
You can admit it. This is a safe space.
The problem is that the Venn diagram, for me anyway, of “Transformers that I love” and “Transformers that are competitively viable” has a veeeeery slim overlap. That’s OK though. Our key takeaway is that we shouldn’t lash ourselves to the mast and go down with the ship when a personal favorite doesn’t quite pass muster. Tunnel vision in this fashion can manifest in other ways and can be equally as dangerous to the testing and deck selection process.
If you aren’t comfortable thinking that you need to forsake your favorites, then look at it as actively looking for new ‘bots to add to your personal Hall of Fame. Setting your personal goals for competitive or other types of play is important. Equally important is conducting yourself in a manner which is consistent with achieving that goal. Battering Ram and trucks are your thing? Spectacular! You want to win the Energon Invitational? Well you need to qualify first through a pretty tough gauntlet of challengers and maybe Trucks, Tanks, or Planes aren’t the best mode of transportation for that trip.
(Editor's Note: Another way of testing strategies that may need refinement in a live-fire setting is playing in EIQs after you are already qualified, I've been doing this to great and fun effect since Gen Con! ~ Scott)
What about for players that just love the game itself as opposed to the characters? Believe it or not there is a sizable portion of this game’s player base that are indifferent to the Transformers themselves. The gameplay of this TCG is what drives them. That’s perfectly fine, but those players aren’t immune to getting way too attached to pet cards either. Instead of struggling to find a home for the Firecons because you love those particular characters, or Mirage because you really liked that one episode way back when, instead you are really attached to certain game mechanics or play patterns. Windblade's free plays are almost there. You keep trying tribal Tanks because if you just got the ratios and find Hunker Down every game then perfection is just right around the corner. Right in the land of make believe where there are no Bashing Shields.
Stop trying to make fetch happen.
I’ll repeat it again, but this is a trap I fall into a lot. It’s very simple to become enamored by a specific interaction and snowball that into a Magical Christmasland Scenario. Other times instead it is pride which chains you to a failing idea. You don’t need to put thoughts out publicly to still have pride driving you to keep tinkering with something long past its overdue date. Spoiler season is the perfect breeding ground for this sort of infection. You see a card that does something cool, or unique, or “powerful”. Then you sleeve it up win some games but also lose some. Continue to refine and bash it against known powerhouses. It doesn’t do so hot but maybe if XYZ were ABC and you sequencing 456 instead 123 you’ll get them. But after trying and trying if it’s still a brick wall and your new toy is most definitely not a wrecking ball, you have to reconsider. Who cares though? If you spend hours and hours pouring through the official app to find that diamond in the rough, what’s it to anybody else? Ultimately it doesn’t matter. You can spend your time in whatever way you feel best. That being said, if you want to climb the competitive ladder and improve as a player and deckbuilding you need to accept sunk costs and cut your losses sometimes.
The thing about card games is that in many ways they boil they down to time. You need to make decisions in an appropriate amount of time in a tournament so you aren’t slow-playing. You need to jump on meta shifts lest you get left out in the cold as yesterday’s tier one is now sippy cup tier. You also need to invest your time appropriately when testing and theorycrafting or suddenly you are days from Gencon and you don’t know what to play because all your wacky ideas bounced off the wall and nothing stuck.
*Cough cough* (Editor’s Note: so you just seek out advice from your level-headed deck building teammates and it all works out..)
Where exactly to call it "done" is the hard part. All of us have built decks that felt they are almost there and just needed a couple dozen more test games, maybe a handful of card tweaks and then we would crush all who dare shuffle up in front of us. I don’t know about you dear reader, but I have a job, a family, other responsibilities and I need to make sure “Transformers time” is efficient. Fortunately, I have the other VectorSigma members to both help reign me in, but also to trust their results for when I just simply cannot test every matchup and scenario. Not everyone has that luxury but it is a learned skill that can be honed.
If your goal is to build the best deck you can to utilize the Constructicons then go for it! You are going to have to accept that there are limitations though if you want to bring it to a competitive level event. That's where you need to release the burden of those emotional attachments. The nature of card games is that at any given time there's probably only a few tier 1 decks. There room for tier 2 things with strong play to place well but you are asking your deck and yourself to work harder than is necessary. You can still run a race with weights attached, but why make it tougher? That's where goals come in. If you are targeting a win vs. aiming at having a good time there are wildly different requirements. Neither is bad or wrong but maybe you should shake off the weights if you are worried about being too encumbered.
There is something to be said for perseverance and getting a unique build to work. Certainly, on Any Given Sunday a deck could take the W and maybe win it all. People netdeck for a reason though, and it is NOT because of a lack of creativity (well…maybe in some cases). Netdecking occurs because after all the simulations are run, and the gauntlets are completed, there are specific decks that make the cut and others that don’t. Maybe it’s by an inch, maybe it’s by a mile. Discerning whether to keep sinking more effort, more resources into a deck despite it’s failing is a key component of preparation.
No shame in being wrong, it is possible that you just need to step away from a build for a while to get the fresh perspective you needed, and you shouldn’t take this article to mean “trash any deck that doesn’t work immediately”. Just don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself, shake hands, and part ways though. If your sights are set on competitive event you may not be able to get away with running your cherished 'bots, and instead have to focus on the specific spheres you think will show up. Don't worry though, there’s always next wave and the spotlight may shift.
Let me know what you think of this style of article on the "psychological side" of the Transformers TCG..stay tuned for more of Rung's Ruminations!
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“Till All Are One!”
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