Slip back in time a few months ago to when Combiners were first announced as part of the Rise of the Combiners set. From that moment we formed opinion after opinion about those Characters, the decks behind them, and the Combiner themselves. I conducted a string of interviews with some public figures in our community a few weeks prior to the release of Rise of the Combiners and the one thing that all four of those gentlemen had in common (other than Optimus Prime Battle field Legend maybe being too good) was excitement over Sentinels. From the very beginning, Sentinels had a lot of hype going for it, and it brought some of the more intriguing rule breaking abilities as well. This deck through 2 months has seen many variations and quite frankly has been quite dominant in our local area. So, I thought it would be helpful to the community to take a deeper dive into why that is.
From day one of release Sentinels was on the radar I recorded games with Steffon Picinkey playing it on Day 1 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48Gh_p-7zDM) and I remember walking out and telling the rest of the guys there that I felt the deck was showing some real strengths, especially this Bold based aggressive version instead of a steady board advantage based Blue version we assumed would be how the team would play out. For the first month of the game no one at VectorSigma.info had opted to play it in any of the 3 local events. However, the deck was still very prominent. No top 4 the first week, one in top eight and one in top four the second week and the third weekend had the same. After that event we started to have some very real conversations about where the deck was in the meta. I want to go back and look at where the deck started and then where it is now and discuss why I believe the deck has such a strong place in the current metagame.
This was the first Sentinels list to make a Top Four, finishing as the first seed after the Swiss rounds. Jon DeSilva From Team Gradelock had a “prime deck” (Editor’s note: ugh) for the pickings of the meta that day , as he ran through multiple Aerialbots and being very favored in this early meta. We see the Melee theme with Power Sword, a full set of Bashing Shields, and a lone Espionage. I point all these cards out specifically cause as time goes on, you’ll see very different looking lists that center around the comings and goings of these cards.
Power Sword although an upgrade that provides Bold 3 is nice, but it is more of the fact that Bold 3 isn’t always +3 Atk in a deck that is not entirely Orange, so over time the card has fallen out of Sentinels list. Bashing Shield is an incredible card, but having three is just simply too many. You will never need to play more then one a game most likely, and since your two main attackers have a base Bold 1, you are very likely you will see a Bashing Shield when you need it, as you flip more cards naturally during attacks. This is partly why you see most lists now running only one, but this was early in the RotC metagame coming off an armor dominated Wave 1 meta. The final card is Espionage. This card in Sentinels is an absolute game changer. When played in combination with Mirage’s flip (which you auto have in play virtually on command) you are able to pick apart an opponent’s hand to take away their best turn. This is something that can not be over looked. I know most people take the choice to flip Mirage first because it feels like your eliminating your opponent’s options on turn one, however if you time your Mirage for the turn before their best attacker it can be even more detrimental to the game state. If you can Mirage and follow it up with Espionage to take away an action and upgrade from your opponents’ best Character on offense you can truly take the game away (more on this later). Let’s now look at the next list to Top Four.
This list is quite different then the last one. Steffon opted to keep the Power Sword (although post-event said it would be cut), he dropped a Bashing Shield, and went up to three Espionage. However, those are not the biggest changes. They come in the form of five blank pip cards: two I Still Function and three One Shall Stand One Shall Fall. Both cards bring a big impact to this deck: OSSOSF creates a bigger range in being able to kill certain characters in one shot along with giving us a great card for cleaning-up post attacking. Steffon also opts to play 1 enigma. Which comes full circle back to my original thoughts of the deck and the interviews I did pre ROTC release, do Sentinels need to combine?
Do Sentinels need to combine? It feels like we (VectorSigma.info team) have been asking each other that from the very beginning. After the first month of events we really decided to start answering the question, we basically all decided the answer was “No,” at least in the current aggressive versions. Your characters in play present enough pressure to end games quickly, and Mirage and Hotrod provide support in the KO Zone to really disrupt your opponent’s actions, while Sunstreaker allows you to see more cards. One thing often overlooked compared to other characters is that you only need to flip once to get these abilities, compared to many similar characters who have these advantage type flips when they flip BACK to alt mode. Sentinels can out advantage its opponents from turn one, in a game where both players start with a three card hand Sentinels allows you to start with an effective seven cards! Mirage = Disruptive Entrance, Hotrod = Zap, and Sunstreaker being able to draw you an additional card. Those three Characters starting in your KO Zone just gives the deck so much advantage, and when you see Combat Commands you can simply abuse those abilities even more often. Combining is normally the finishing move for a control deck (like Aerialbots or Stunticons) or the rush “giant attacker” for an aggressive deck (Predacons, Constructicons), and this deck lies squarely in the middle, so there is simply no need.
We then decided how can we create even more of a disadvantage for our opponents, and we came to an oldie but goodie Security Checkpoint. Yes, it sounds outrageous: a double blue card in an Aggressive deck?! However this deck was so very disruptive that we in some cases felt like a control deck as well, a true Aggro-Control if you will. Yes, the deck is very capable of ending the game before you know it, but it was also capable of keeping Combiners from combining. When your able to Mirage and Espionage in the same turn to take away a complete turn for an opponent’s best character it felt very strong. However, if you Mirage and see your opponents’ hand is flooded with Upgrades, Security Checkpoint absolutely punishes them for it and even if your forced to play Security Checkpoint blind, you can normally arrange this “mirrored effect” to where it hurts your opponent more than you, as you can play your best upgrade before you Checkpoint (especially early game). After a ton of discussing we finally had a 40-card list ready for testing.
So, you can see a very large change from the fist Top Four from John, to this list here a month later: The Power Swords are gone, the Leap into Battles are gone, no more Matrix of Leadership. What’s new? A full set of Security Checkpoint, a full set of Confidence, and a full set of Espionage. These three cards are the key components to the deck, as I said earlier, we wanted our Mirage turn to be a complete set up to take away your opponent’s best Character’s turn. So whenever we decided to Mirage we wanted an Espionage or a Security Checkpoint to follow it up the same turn, and Confidence was a great way to find those cards to help that plan succeed.
I ended up 3-2 in the Swiss rounds on the day (Mark also went 3-2 with the same list), we both lost the mirror match (2-1) to the other Sentinels deck that made Top four, Mark lost to a the Dinobots deck that made Top 4, and I lost to an aggressive Aerialbots list in round five. I then beat that same Aerialbots in top eight cut to make Top Four, and Mark lost to Insecticons (the deck’s nemesis) in Top Eight.. My other wins were against Grimlock – Wheeljack – Arcee, another Mirror match Sentinels, and a different Dinobots. All three of those wins were 2-0 and Security Checkpoint played a huge roll in the games. Every game I played Security Checkpoint, I won that game. Taking away half of my opponents turns was just too much for them to overcome. Even when you must take your own upgrades with Checkpoint, it is fine because you have strong offensive Battle Cards and built in Bold Characters. The fact simply is that Security Checkpoint remains a pillar card in the metagame, and finding ways to use it even in this aggressive shell adds so much value.
The 39th and 40th cards in the deck were Handheld Blaster, they were originally Disruptive Entrance but after testing the day before and never playing the card actively it just didn’t feel worth the slot in the deck. We struggled to find a good Blue replacement for it and landed on a double blue instead. After playing the event with them though, I would likely cut them for something more offensive. The games I lost were just games I just didn’t play weapons, so adding a few more weapons would make a difference, Handheld Blaster just was not good enough when forced to play it, so finding a better weapon is priority one for the deck. Options include increased copies of Erratic Lightning and Noble’s Blaster. I also believe a Ramming Speed could be cut as well, as Confidence allows you to dig for a single copy instead of playing two and you still have Bashing Shield for your main upgrade nemesis: armor.
What I can tell you with certainty is that I never ever felt in any game I played “man I wish I had an Enigma” and this deck is beyond capable of winning without it. It makes your game harder if you’re even trying to get to it. Most times is better to flip Sunstreaker back to alt mode to get another draw the next turn or which ever the best character is to reflip.
Most importantly what I think I learned about this deck is that it is very straight forward, even with all the extra options in the beginning of the game. More options simply make your desired game plan easier to achieve, but it is ultimately a one dimensional game play. All three Characters in the KO Zone create incremental advantages throughout the game that simply can’t be matched in other decks currently. Sentinels in our Local meta has been a force to reckoned with, and this will only continue to happen. If your planning on going to an event you should have a sentinels list in your gauntlet for testing cause it’s a top deck in this meta for sure.
Look for games from the Top Deck Games event on our YouTube channel (youtube.com/VectorSigmainfo) to see the deck in action. Until next time, Autobots Roll-Out!
Keep your eyes on the fan Facebook groups and/or our Facebook Page and Reddit when our next content goes live, and please hit me up with any comments on Facebook, email, Discord (AUStarwars#1576), or Line (austarwars).
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“Till All Are One!”
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