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by Scott Landis

As everyone gets ready for Rise of the Combiners I thought it was prudent to take a look back at the competitive metagame of Wave One. From the time was created, a week before the Transformers trading card game officially launched, I have been putting out my opinions publicly in various different forms for people to read and hear. I made a lot of bold statements (the viability of certain cards, certain archtypes etc.) and I want to go over some of the hits or misses I had during that time. Now I do not have references for everything I said over the last four months, you are just gonna have to believe that I said these things…but in fairness I’m going to give you my mistakes as well as my hits so I can be my own worst critic!

Some newer players may still have some of these misconceptions, or not be aware of some of these competitive “rules” that I have determined over the last few months. In reality, each of these could merit their own article, but as my faithful readers know, I can be long winded enough as it is. I know that I continue to learn to correct my mistakes every day I play the game, so I am sure I will refine these findings throughout the month leading up to Rise of the Combiners. 


Miss One: Games will degenerate into a speed game of aggression (aggro) versus aggression

Clearly this was incorrect and I am very happy that it was wrong. You see in the beginning of the game it was obvious by looking at the simple stats on the characters that the game favored an aggressive mentality. Rarely, if at all, will a character’s defense be higher than their attack. Now you have hit points as a third stat, that typically reaches into double digits, but all it would take was a series of hits from the aggressor to take out the defender with a little the defender could do to stop this. At least that’s how it seemed in a be early on: a race to the finish line between aggressive decks.

That did not come to pass, and now arguably one of the two top meta-decks in the format is a control deck based on a blue pip shell. So while my initial take when going over the characters and actions on our early “Tech Talk” podcasts ( was that the game would be a race of aggression, in the end there is a balance of aggression and control, a true balance of each side with more to discover. 

I think the reason this was so hard to miss at first glance it was a perceived dichotomy between cards that helped you offensively and cards that helped you defensively. For example, Primary Laser forms the basis of comparison for all weapons, plus two Attack for one card, with even a blue pip. By contrast something like Armored Plating forms the basis for defense at plus one Defense, also with a blue pip. So you can see that even the basic aggressive card is double the strength of the defensive card. I think my initial reaction to the dichotomy of these numbers did not take into consideration the power of the Tough keyword, and how it is so much more important than Bold. Now that may sound like a “Bold statement” (pun intended), but if you think about how often the Tough will be activated on Defense as opposed to the Bold on offense, it logically starts to make sense. Not to mention that cards like Reinforced Plating and Body Armor are just as powerful, numbers wise, as their weapon counterparts! 

So in the end this is one miss I’m happy to have gotten wrong


Hit One: Direct Damage was going to be extremely important.

I say this with trepidation because I feel that even today a lot of players do not understand the merit of direct damage abilities. You see the power of direct damage comes into play when it allows you to essentially make “smaller powered successful attacks” against additional characters during the turn. Most players simply compare the numbers on something like Plasma Burst versus Leap Into Battle and say “ well Leap is clearly superior because it does three versus two on Plasma Burst, and a leap comes with a blue tip attached to it!. However, what they do not understand is that Leap can be defended against, as the only way that +3 attack equates to three hit points worth of damage is when your attack is great enough to completely ignore your opponent’s total defense, including combat flips. 

I think the mis-evaluation of direct damage abilities is directly related to the first “missed point” of overvaluing aggression versus defense. I think once you start to realize that something like Plasma Burst should be seen as giving you an “extra small successful attack” for the cost of part of your action phase, I think the evaluation of it’s power level (and that of its kin) should be rather obvious. 

I am not saying that he did not take a titanic metagame shift to occur for this initial claim come true, but once defensive decks started emerging, in order to combat the various aggressive decks (including the most aggressive deck in Insecticons), the viability and modal nature of these direct damage cards became obvious. Not to mention that certain characters that became ubiquitous in the meta, like Skrapnel, facilitated the need for most decks to run some sort of direct damage to keep up.


Miss 2: Dinobots would be better than Insecticons

If you want video proof of this miss, check out our “HotShots walk-through” from yesterday ( )  highlighting this “match-up” (or lack thereof). Remember that all matchup analysis is highly skewed by the play skill of the individuals (Mark and Palmer are the best Insecticon players I have seen, able to see plays many turns before they happen and use each action window highly effectively, honestly go watch that match), but I made this (incorrect) call before we had actual game play under our belts. I felt the breakthrough ability on Grimlock would be too much for the bugs to handle, consistently getting you “two-for-ones” through incredibly large hits. Grimlock is not the issue, the other Dinobots truly are. 

See, they were designed as a team that took advantage of the Bold keyword, but the truth is that they lack any team synergy that is not simply “you can play this upgrade or ability and target more than one character with them.” Sure, Sludge can heal your team, but does that even really matter? Snarl is just a random attacker with a flip that is supposed to help you recover from Dino Chomp!, but that rarely comes into play. 

So as the meta winds down where does this leave our prehistoric friends?  I think the real answer to the question of “Insecticons versus Dinobots” should really be “Do Dinobots exist as a deck, or is Grimlock just an individually solid character without a home?”

Insecticons are the best pure tribe in the game, because the payoffs that force you to play a tribal deck are massive. From the Tribal perspective Kickback gets his attack to insane levels for a five star cost character and Swarm becomes a serious damage dealer with a four wide Insecticon team. The rest of the team (Skrapnel, Barrage, Ransack) have amazing synergy with the Battle cards they bring to the table. Whether it is Ransack with the self-damage for profit of Ironhide’s Blaster or One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall or the massive base stats of Barrage/Kickback/Ransack combining with I Still Function. The deck becomes truly a “whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.” (I think Rise of the Combiners may use that theme..)


Hit Two: Optimus Prime: Battlefield Legend would be the best character in the set

Pretty obvious call here..if you need me to expound upon it you can find a lot of evidence throughout the site..( )


Miss Three: Tanks and Planes will be playable (competitively)..


We did a podcast a bit ago about why these two tribes are virtually unplayable in competitive decks, but early on it seemed like the Battle Card support they had was going to be enough to make up for their shortcomings. In practice, however, this turned out to be false.

The main issues with each of these tribes is they are generally aimless in trying to compete if you build tot their strengths. Tanks want to play defensively, but their low hit points and inability to do ANY damage outside of Pierce (and they have issues getting their attack strength up to their Pierce amount surprisingly enough..) and have pathetically low hit points, leaving them extremely susceptible to direct damage. 

Planes suffer from ridiculously low defense amounts, so going the blue route does not add much to the low basic stats. From an offensive perspective, where they seem to want to be with characters like Jetfire or Starscream with built in Bold, they simply cannot keep pace with the higher damage output tribes. 

Now, each of these tribes will get some help in Rise of the Combiners but it is important to remember their shortcomings before just jamming a lot of characters that share the same alt mode and their Battle cards in a new deck. As of this writing we do not have new Plane or Tank specific Battle cards so this may change, but remember that some of the existing Battle cards do not need two or more of the tribe to succeed. Hunker Down is still amazing with only one Tank character, and Aerial Recon can still help a single larger Plane.


Hit Three: Flamewar is the best support character to fill out a team

When the game first launched people were enamored with Arcee and ignored the powerhouse that is the Decepticon Shattered Glass-esque equivalent. I think a lot of it has to do with the complicated rulings involving Arcee’s ability and the general overrating of Arcee’s pure Pierce attack, even against control decks. Her stats are just abysmally low and this limits her effectiveness against the deck archetypes she should shine against.

Flamewar does NOT have this problem. Three attack may not be very effective overall, but her ten health/1 defense allows her to play an amazing support role in control decks, combined with her game winning “Tough 1” to the team in bot mode. An active Flamewar will effectively give your team a tremendous boost in defensive capabilities, increasing the average number of attacks to take out any of your characters very often. All of this comes at the extremely low cost of five stars, and she is a Specialist to boot (which will carry more weight in Rise of the Comibners). You cannot find a better support character than Flamewar and she sets a very high bar moving forward.


Miss Four: Metroplex will be unplayable, competitively

Another miss I am happy to be proven wrong on! When Metroplex dropped he seemed underpowered and simply a “fun” deck. I was proven wrong on this front and ‘Plex is solidly positioned in the metagame depending on how it is built. The “backwards” way he plays, with more characters appearing as the game goes on instead of less, cause a lot of issues for opponents, especially for those unfamiliar with the Titan. I think ‘Plex is only a deck that will improve as time goes on and I am glad that others took up the mantle to make him work.


Hit Four: The Bigger they Are... will be better than Leap into Battle

I took an extremely negative view of Pierce when the game launched, and while I still do not think it is a great ability the way it is generally represented in the game, The Bigger They Are.. is an exception to this rule. This Battle action gives you a huge amount of Pierce and adds to your basic attack while continuing to sport a blue pip. On small characters like Flamewar where the added two attack to five is only one above the four pierce, so it turns your attack into a virtual direct damage action, as most of the damage is sure to get through, no matter the defense you are facing. 

Yes, Leap into Battle is three versus two, but similar to the earlier mention of Leap’s shortcomings, you need to be already dealing massive damage where the three goes straight to the defender’s hit points to make up for the lack of Pierce compared to TBTA. As most giant attack decks want to lean on Bold during the Wave One metagame, you wind up in an awkward position of having this great attack booster in the wrong color deck (leading to its seemingly ubiquitous nature in poorly built decks..) . TBTA on the other hand finds a great home in decks focusing on it’s blue pip and turning the inability to deal sustained damage for the small support characters (cough:Flamwar:cough) into a guaranteed four.

As we double the available number of Battle cards when Rise of the Combiners launches, I can see decks completely cutting Leap into Battle for other options, but TBTA should remain in heavy rotation due to its modal nature.


Know Thyself - Self Reflect

That is just some examples of my personal hits and misses related to the Wave One metagame that evolved over the last four months. I truly believe the huge misconception of the aggro/control spectrum is the basis for a lot of the hits and misses and truly a lot of how you treat the game stems from your own personal experiences with decks on both sides of the coin. If you continue to face off against a sea of various shades of aggressive decks you may find some of these opinions to seem overrated for your local meta. My local metagame is much more diverse and meta defining, so I feel it is a great proxy for the overall Transformers TCG meta.  Let me know of how your opinions of how the game would play out changed over time and how the decks you built evolved over the last four months as your opinions “transformed” over time.


'Till all are one

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).  

Reach out with any questions on the event or anything to do with VectorSigma..and look for more exciting content this week and beyond!

“Till All Are One!”