Back in the day when I was drafting Magic on a regular basis, every limited format had certain “rules” to it: some color combinations were clearly more powerful than others, the stats on the removal or creatures meant that “having four toughness was key”, etc. Siege: War for Cybertron (I) seems to be the first Transformers TCG set created with limited in mind. Even though your upcoming release events are unlikely to feature a draft format, and these “rules” are more important when you actually need to decide between cards you chose to add to your pool of available cards, it is important in a sealed deck (6 Siege packs, 25 Stars, 25 Battle Cards) to understand some “rules” so you can adjust your pool according to what you should expect to see throughout the day.
A general note on sealed deck play in the Transformers TCG: it is a completely different animal than Constructed. Even draft is a different world compared to Sealed. Your overall deck composition is significantly worse than in Constructed: the stats on your characters are much lower and you will be playing a lot of “bad cards.” That also means that a lot of “bad cards” in Constructed are suddenly all-stars in limited, given the smaller card pool. Your 25 Battle Cards will not be perfect, and in fact after my first pass through the Battle Cards I typically have around 20 I want to actually play and find myself forcing five more in just to have a legal deck. That is not atypical, and if you do not find yourself feeling the same way you either got a really great pool, or you are over valuing how playable the cards were to begin with. But hey, you likely wound up having to play a bunch of the bad ones anyway so in the end, the unplayable pile shrinks and the playable one grows.
So what stands out as rules for Siege Limited?
“The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance and Other Essays
In Constructed in an Orange vs. Orange type matchup, you can at least calculate that you will be doing (without Bold or Tough) “Base Attack +Upgrades/Action Pumps + 2 against their Base Defense.” Even if they are playing a Blue deck it is simply “Base Attack +Upgrades/Action Pumps + 2 against Base Defense +2.” Of course then the random nature of flips comes into play, and deckbuilding (Blanks, Doubles, off-color, etc.) but you can at least “expect” that amount of damage to occur. This is not the case in limited, as it is so difficult to slant your deck on way or another, and frankly even if you could it is likely you would not even want to as the power level of the deck would surely suffer. I mean would you rather run another Basic Combat Protocol instead of Steady Shot just to keep the deck all Orange? Probably not.
This is an extreme example, you will not have this choice regardless because you simply will not have enough cards of one of the primary colors to “just play that color with maybe even some filler” regardless. That is the point: you will have cards of each primary color in your deck so relying on your combat flips to assist you in combat, especially in a larger quantity than your opponents who have equally inconsistent decks, is a fool’s errand.
Siege adds Black pips to the game, and as such there are many of them in the common slot. Of the Six common Black Pipped cards, four of them are “mono-Black” to Torment you, and two are dual pipped. In the Uncommon slot, six are mono-black or Green-Black, having no additional effect on combat beyond the Pierce. I am not saying that Black Pips do not have a positive effect when attacking, in fact the number of low attack characters in the set will play very well with a Black Pip slant to do any damage to defenders, but they do make calculating damage potential extremely inconsistent. As they take away from the Orange or Blue you can be playing, and in fact some like Calculated Strike or Dismantle should probably be played regardless, you cannot do calculations on attack values as you can in Constructed.
The bottom line is you should be looking at combat much differently than in Constructed: in Constructed you can easily calculate that you should deal x additional damage or defense based on your deck composition and various card plays. In Limited, that is not the case, so you should look at your combat flips as added bonuses, not the end game of combat calculations.
I noticed something interesting when I was looking at the commons and uncommon Battle Cards in Siege: there is one additional Blue card (counting Black/Blue or Green/Blue as “Blue” for this discussion) in both the common and uncommon slots. Meaning, you should expect to simply open more Blue cards than Orange, although it is nearly impossible to slant your deck on way or another regardless (especially since the dual pip cards cost a Star and are uncommons) as we discussed above.
My ratings on the Blue cards are also higher (I promise this is not a preconceived bias compared to most of my Constructed decks) with (in order of commons and uncommons): Steady Shot, Battle Field Report, EMP Wave, Covert Armor/Reflex Circuit/Sturdy Armor, Dismantling Claw, Smoke Cloak, Pep Talk all being rated as “staples or better” to run. The rest of the Blue cards are playable as well, especially if you are filling the rest out with the above to at least attempt a Blue slant to the Battle Deck.
Contrast this to Orange where the list looks like: Reactive Armor, Defensive Formation, Full Loadout, Squish them Like Bugs, Rock Toss, Combat Dagger, Basic Combat Protocol. Two of these are low damage dealers, and two add to defense, so it seems to me that Orange focused decks will simply play out worse from a card quality perspective when you actually use the cards for their abilities.
What does this mean? Well, unsurpringly again, the Black pip comes into play. If the format is slanted towards heavier Blue, with even an inconsistent Battle Deck expecting to help you with “+1 Defense” per combat flip and multiple Orange cards helping on Defense, one permanently, you need a way to push damage. This influences both the stats on the Characters you should be looking to run, the number of turns to KO a bot, and the way you play out your turns.
Oh, Forcefield is also a common so do not expect large swings in damage to carry you in a few turns.
Remember the original Ice Hockey for Nintendo? Are you old? The game was clearly inferior to the Konami Blades of Steel released not long afterwards, but the coolest part of Ice Hockey is you could control your four man lineup with “the Fat Guy, the Medium Guy, and the Skinny Guy” who had varying (obvious) levels of Checking, Speed, Shot Power, etc. Siege Limited is kind of like this, as you have choices in how to run your lineup. This is of course 100% influenced by what you actually open in your six packs, but given the number of pools I have seen opened (around 10 at the time of this writing) I feel you can be in one of these two main camps.
One: Fat Guy/Medium Guy/Skinny Guy (Star Cards when needed)
Here the focal point of the deck is the Nine+ star character, supplemented by a Seven/Eight cost one (normally) and a Micromaster. Yes, mathematically you could wind up running “A 9 + 7 + 5 + 4” but given how much the power level of the singular characters seems to change from seven to eight and beyond, I would be looking to push this strategy if you open a solid larger character. Of the characters who cost nine or more, only Runabout seems “under powered” and his value clearly increases if you have his partner in crime Runamuck (who I feel is playable regardless). Not to mention that outside of Rare or Super Rare characters, Ion Storm seems completely format warping and over powered.
In this lineup type your main character should have two or more defense in the mode they will most often be hanging out in, even if they have to flip back to it after attacking, thus only being exposed to one combat at a lower defense mode. Remember, games go longer in limited as it is much harder to push damage, so the flip density of your deck can be used to smooth out combat more than gain abilities. With Battlemasters who do not need to ever flip, and Micromasters who really only want to ever flip once and then simply use their tap abilities from Bot mode more than once.
This lineup will be where you will often find your Battle Master centric decks, as their costs of six to seven normally put them in this type of lineup to anchor the “Fat Guy.” Remember, unlike Constructed where Battlemasters basically come complete with one to two Quartermasters in the Battle Deck, once they are off the table, they are likely gone for good. This means you will want to use them as the upgrade on the main character in the lineup, not the skinny guy.
Two: Medium Guy/Medium Guy/Skinny Guy/Skinny Guy
If you open multiple solid characters that cost seven or eight (Battlemasters, Arcee, Flamefeather, Chromia) and two of the “better Micromasters” you could go this route as well. I consider the “good Micromasters” to be: Laserbeak, Ravage, Red Heat, Mudslinger, Road Hugger, and Top Shot. Laserbeak and Mudslinger really stand out here as cards you want to actively play that affect combat instead of just “let me fill out my 25 Star Lineup.”
Unless you have one of these two Micromasters, I would likely stay away from this lineup, as they are the only two five star characters to actually be able to deal more than one guaranteed damage when they attack or use their abilities. For five stars Laserbeak has pretty impressive survivability stats, with a respectable nine hit points and a rare any amount of defense on a smaller character. Road Hugger is pretty clearly insane, as turning the clearly underpowered Blue limited cards into Leap into Battle’s once per combat round is clearly an upgrade.
This is not to say that either of these powerful five drops should be ignored in the “Fat Guy, Medium Guy, Skinny Guy” lineups (in fact something like Ion Storm, Arcee, Road Hugger seems tournament winning), but sacrificing the draw and upgrade steps when you use a Micromaster ability is more costly in a lineup with three versus four characters.
I also want to make a special note about Ravage. He may seem rather innocuous, but given the next section I think his role becomes rather obvious: helping you kill Ion Storm. The sheer number of “+1 Armors” you can throw on his already ridiculous three starting defense means you also turn Ravage from “Season One: Direwolf Lady” to “Season Seven: Direwolf Nymeria” immediately.
Here’s a list of the weapons I am excited to run out of the common and uncommon slot: Em-24 Laser and HV Electron Breacher. One is blank, one is black only. One is Decepticon only. That’s it. That is why I rate Dismantling Claw as “solidly playable” when on paper it is clearly terribad: there are just not enough playable weapons in these slots. The same logic applies to Basic Combat Protocol and Smokethrower.
Contrast this to the armors available. Everyone should know by now that +1 Defense >> +1 Attack power, and we already talked about decks being Blue slanted so the list of playable “armors” is: Covert Armor/Reflex Circuits/Sturdy Armor (play the ones you can equip regardless of what you are across from), Reactive Armor, Compact Shield, Smoke Cloak, Extra Padding, Urban Camo.
So what does all this mean for the tournament itself? Well, if the tournament is run as a best of three format, as the floor rules seem to suggest, prepare to be for a long day. Combat will be slower, the characters health pools are larger, the Battle Decks are defensively slanted, and the offensive upgrades (outside of Battlemasters) are hard to find. Identify your high value target, and send in all you have at them, because it seems like the last good ‘bot standing will take the match.
I believe when you Draft this format it will improve this play style, but that is a conversation for another day!
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