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The problem with Springer in combo

by Vince Degulis

Welcome back everyone! This is another one of those long-winded, barely coherent, pseudo-psychological tirades that I have written in the past. The topic in question is one that pushed the community into a fervor pre-Energon Invitational. Wizards took action to prevent its dominance, but like the Decepticons on Saturday morning it’s back to cause trouble again. For those who haven’t yet identified this menace, it goes by the name Daring Escape.

Only this time it may actually be worse.


It’s time for some confessions. I like playing Daring Escape decks. I also may or may not have ruined a local event by playing it. However, I can take a step back and see the forest for the trees. The existence of a consistent, powerful Daring Escape deck is not a good scenario for the game, the community, the meta or really anything else. Although many of the points against the deck have been repeated ad nauseum, due to the new build there are even more reasons that this archetype needs to be addressed. I’m actually going to make the argument for a different way to approach dealing with the deck’s existence, as well as some additional related thoughts.

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Are you old? Have you been playing TCGs long? You get this..

In my past ccg-lives I don’t think I was ever really a “combo player”. Sure, I played combo when it was the appropriate choice, there are certainly periods in just about every card game player’s past where the de facto best deck was some degenerate combo. Look, it happens the design teams for any game are not machines. They are not omniscient. They also have constraints, requirements, goals, and personal biases that influence their design processes. In other games, and this one as well, I kind of just drift from deck to deck, archetype to archetype, and sleeve up the flavor of the month so to speak. If I had to pin down a specific sort of deck I’d say I’m drawn to the flavorful ones that also tend to be tier 1.5 so that I’d be able to catch people unaware. 


That isn’t comprehensive though, I also tended to enjoy playing disruption builds or “prison” decks. In both cases you make your opponent’s life very difficult and push them into making mistakes. In other games it might be resource destruction, it could be intense discard, or in the case of the “prison” variety it could be locking them out of certain game actions while slowly grinding the game towards victory. We’ve seen disruption based decks exist in the form of Sentinels and Shockwave decks, but the lock-out strategy isn’t one that has made its way into Transformers, at least not fully. Of course, there’s a good reason for this. While way back in the early 1990s it may have seemed fine to have decks revolve around specifically removing player agency, card game knowledge (and game knowledge in general) has grown significantly since then. It may come as a shock but most people who sit down to play games want to - I dunno - play the game?

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Thought Daring Escape was Oppressive Enough...didnt you...

Feel free to take a moment if that revelation has rocked you to your core.


Let’s jump back to an earlier statement I made about potentially ruining a local event. I recently played an iteration of the Daring Escape (DE) deck which included the EMP Wave plan. One of our initial findings about the DE list is that it is susceptible to getting pushed around by aggro. They apply pressure quickly, and especially post-board, they can cause significant issues as you have a hard time setting up fast enough. That’s where EMP Wave comes in. I sat next to someone in round two at EI that ran an interesting combo deck featuring this exact plan. I apologize that I don’t recall his name but essentially the idea is that you utilize Springer and Conversion Engine to play EMP Wave during the “end step”. If you go back and look at the timing document you’ll notice that this is after the untap portion of the turn. If your eyes are starting to widen, they should be. If you can continually find EMP Waves, or Ancient Wisdom and Unleash Potential to “wish” for them from your sideboard you can just punch your opponent’s team with relative impunity as you’ll tap them down and although they get a “turn” you steal away the most significant part: combat.


Is this the best version of the deck? Honestly that’s not the point of the article, but it adds another level of insanity to a deck that has been looking crazy for a long time now. Is the deck unbeatable? Certainly not. But it is a tough argument to make that it isn’t intensely warping for the format. We could rehash the conversations about whether 8 cards in a sideboard just to stand a prayer of beating a deck is healthy, or about any of the other more strategy focused elements of the deck. Instead we’re going to focus on what may be a hidden issue that is going to continue to present problems as more sets are added. I’m going to suggest that one of the best Transformers in Siege 2, Sergeant Springer, joins Swap Parts and Multi-Mission Gear on the banned list. 


Before I dive into the explanation, I want to state that Springer may not be the only piece of the deck that needs to go, especially when considering hypothetical cards that only Wizards knows about. If I could predict things that well I’d be playing the lottery instead. I’ve played other games with similar “resource” systems to Transformers in the past and just like a mana-based game like Magic: the Gathering, cards and effects that allow you to profit on resources are always desirable and can lead to degenerate scenarios. Springer fits this mold quite clearly. Let’s face it, getting 7 cards in hand when he has +1 card every turn stapled onto him just isn’t really a cost. Do situations exist where it isn’t automatic? I’m not going to pretend those will never occur. But realistically speaking, in a deck focused on making Springer’s bot mode trigger you are rarely going to be in danger of it not happening. Even if your opponent is hellbent on denying you cards, it is possible you do it anyway!

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So good for any deck, too good for Combo?

After Peace Through Tyranny was shown, the player base realized its potential power level. Yes of course the cost of KO’ing a character is high, but taking an entire extra turn? The effect is strong enough to justify the high cost. Springer’s bot mode ability duplicates two of the four things you’re normally able to do in a turn, at the low cost of your flip – which, given Conversion Engine, may not be a cost at all. Resource multipliers such as this are highly regulated in both Transformers and other games. If you think of the “Power 9” from M:tG, eight of them directly provide additional resources – mana, cards, or a full additional turn. Flipping Springer to bot mode provides this power level of additional resources, and that kind of acceleration always contains the potential for something degenerate to result. 


For comparison, let’s look at other examples in the Transformers TCG that provide additional resources and have been at the top of the competitive power curve. Optimus Prime, Battlefield Legend was the first offender as he allows you to, with caveats requiring either randomness or deck sculpting, play an extra action on the turn he attacks. Like Springer you get extra stuff, but it comes with tacked on inconsistency. Blaster is another character that provides a free resource. His flip provides potential explosiveness, but even in a well-oiled machine it can sometimes flop or strategically fall short due to relying on the top card of your deck. It’s also generally limited to 2-3 times per game, and cannot be done on consecutive turns without additional card expenditure. 


There are plenty of other examples from top tier decks and cards throughout the course of the game’s lifespan where you can isolate the “free plays” aspect pushing certain strategies to the forefront. Springer operates differently on multiple levels. First, the trigger for Springer is simply a flip, compared to other similar effects that require attacking (both Primes) or dying (Captain Elita-1). Blaster is the one comparison that has the same trigger, but falls behind when we look at: point two – Springer is more consistent due to fact your extra plays are cards that you choose, rather than being randomly determined. Third, Springer inherently sets up his own ability via his card draw. An argument can be made that the flip density required of Springer decks is a serious impediment to his viability, but the actual card pool we have available counters this argument. Between battle masters and characters that don’t actually care about flipping, you now have an entire engine unto itself in a single character which by definition you will have access to every single game. That’s before considering that there’s a utility that allows you to use Springer’s flips twice per turn.

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Decklist

Where does this leave us with respect to the DE decks and combo in general? Well I have many more words to say about both but I’m going to try and tie all these loose ideas together and leave it up to community debate. DE is beatable, and it is not the excruciatingly difficult to play deck that people may think it is. If you look at things from strictly the competitive perspective I’d almost say the deck is fine. There are counters and it has good and bad matchups. Sure it has “oops I win!” games, but there are a plethora of decks that do. How many times have you just been obliterated by an orange deck with an absurd PTT turn? How often have you just bashed your head against a wall of a blue deck until you knocked yourself unconscious? In the competitive world these things happen. The difference here is the repeated phrase of NPE or negative player experience. Put simply, the deck is not fun. Why does that matter for the competitive environment? Well way back at the start of this essay I mentioned that when people sit down to play a game, they expect to play a game. We all consciously or subconsciously accept that yeah sure sometimes it’s not your game/match/event or whatever and once in a blue moon Lady Luck intervenes in your favor or your opponent’s. There’s a very fine line that naturally varies from person to person where something clicks and you just say “that’s not right”.


Looking back at the event I played in, multiple opponents stated something like “You’re a nice guy, but that deck is wrong”. Putting aside that me being a nice guy is questionable, they are clearly not wrong about the deck. Past a certain point there was nothing they could do and they knew it. This was intended to be a competitive environment but that doesn’t change the fact that the play pattern (to borrow a term from the toy side of things) of this deck is entirely and unambiguously antithetical to the entire stated premise and goals of this card game. Multi-syllabic fancy words aside, this deck sucks to play against and does so in a unique way. It is so soul crushing, so painful, so demoralizing because one player’s agency is completely removed. 



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It never escapes our hearts...or minds..

Taking a moment to look outside of card games, let’s briefly mention stun effects in other games. They show up in a variety of genres - FPS/3PS, RTS, MOBAs, MMORPGs, and others. In each case they need to be carefully implemented or else there’s an outcry regarding stunlock. Why do you think rogues were, and maybe still are, one of the more hated classes in World of Warcraft? They sneak up, and can just demolish someone before they even have a chance to respond, due to their powerful stun effects. 

Bringing it back to card games, resource destruction, discard, counterspells, and other “lock” effects are now sparingly released compared to the quantity and quality with which they were released in earlier game editions. Even if we make the assumption that DE decks are “fine” from a competitive perspective, something that is still up for debate, they are quite clearly not OK from any sort of gameplay viewpoint. The actual logistics of winning the game through a 10+ minute turn to play a successful Daring Escape just does not fit the definition of a fun game. 


This is why I am suggesting Springer needs to bow out. He enables too many potential problematic plays and will continue to do so unless there is something wild in the next set to render the idea impotent. We have seen that cards such as Rise of the Combiners Megatron and Bumblebee don’t seemingly push the envelope too much. They provide a trade in resources: one flip for one play. Springer instead provides profit on your investment, and this is how loops in other games come about. Usually these loops result in something mean happening. Sure there have been eras in various games where aggro, control, or even mid-range were oppressive and it caused problems. In general if you ask someone when the worst time during a game was, they will frequently cite when a combo deck ran amok. This game is about giant living machine punching each other, moving away from that central idea needs to be done cautiously. 

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Till All are One!

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