Drill Hall: Buying into Transformers TCG

(Disclaimer: This article seems a bit moot now, given the current issues with COVID-19 and Transformers TCG being a dead system that will be less available as the months go by. This article has remained otherwise untouched since its release and has been kept for historical reasons – JD)

Everyone has to start somewhere. You’ve discovered the game, you’ve seen it being played, and you’re excited to get into it. But where do you start? How do you start? What do you even need to buy? Or, alternatively, maybe you have a friend who wants to start playing, but you don’t know what to recommend to them?

This week I’m bringing to you Drill Hall, a small series of articles that will hopefully let new players get into the game, work out how to get started, and learn the basics of deck creation. I won’t be covering basic rules, rather I’ll be covering some often asked questions that aren’t answered elsewhere. However at the end of each article I’ll provide links for official rules, as well as resources and videos of other people playing the game. This way you can read this, get an idea of what to get, and then go and watch other people playing the game and be excited for Transformers TCG.

My hope with these articles is that you’ll feel more comfortable buying into the game, and feel excited and confident to make decks of your own and take part in your local Transformers TCG community – or indeed, start your own local community!

So whether you’re a new player looking to get stuck in, a veteran Magic player looking to quickly get a competitive deck going, someone with a fondness for Transformers taking a peek, or maybe you just know someone about to get into the game… this article is meant for you.

Mat from Dice Saloon about to open a ton of Siege booster packs.

Why Play Transformers TCG?

Let’s keep this one simple, and pick out some great points:

  • Fast gameplay – a single game averages about 15 minutes, so you can play lots of games in one session.
  • Easy to learn rules. Playable at many skill levels – young, old, casual, competitive, etc.
  • Increasing amount of depth if you want that kind of involvement.
  • Great art (and the game has progressed from solely re-using art assets to having original art by IDW comic artists like Nick Roche, Alex Milne, Andrew Griffith, Sara Pitre-Durocher, Casey Coller, Josh Perez, etc.)
  • Great support from developers.
  • Great community, both local and international.
  • Strong upcoming Organised Play and competitive scene.
  • Plenty of play options.
  • Still a young game, so everything still feels fresh and new.
  • … and its Transformers. Naturally.

Hopefully that’s enough convincing for you – now we can talk about the tricky stuff. *grins*

Where to Start
One of the first things that every new player has on their minds is this: What do you even buy first? Saying where to start isn’t as simple as just saying ‘Go get a box of Wave 1 boosters’. Different players have different budgets, different degrees of commitment, and different personalities. Let’s see if we can split new players in to four different groups:

  1. Parents with young children
    You have a son or daughter who likes the look of the game or likes Transformers, and you think it’d be a fun way of bonding in the evening.
  2. Casual Player
    You like Transformers, you’ve got lots of other stuff on, but you wouldn’t mind buying in a little and having some fun. You don’t have enough time to fully invest, or you’re not a veteran card gamer and just want to see what it’s like.
  3. Potential Competitive Player
    You like playing competitive games, you’ve heard this game has a good upcoming scene, and you want to jump in whilst its young.
  4. Potential Creative Player
    You like the creative side of deck building games, you like the look of the cards and the mechanics, and you want to get stuck in. (PS. You are also my target audience, so please hit me up on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll like what I do, despite my shameless plugging).

I’m going to give my honest recommendations as to where to start with all four of these player types, with recommendations for where to start cheaply, and where to go from there if you choose to buy in at a larger level. Chances are, you fall into more than one of these categories, so you might want to read through them all.

(I’ve provided product links from my local games shop Dice Saloon for many of these recommendations – please support your local games shop and buy from them, and help your local games community grow.)

George showing off Bumblebee vs Megatron.

Hopefully this will be a quick one – as someone who isn’t a parent myself, I can’t speak from experience. Instead I am speaking from reading other people’s comments on the game, and making my own assumptions based on that.

Realistically you probably don’t want to commit to buying too much, just in case your child doesn’t take to the game for more than a few minutes (Kids amirite?). So the easiest option is probably the Bumblebee vs Megatron starter set.

This set has no real value for competitive or involved advanced play; you’ll never see any of the characters in this set show up in a tournament or even most casual games. However, they have nice simple mechanics and clean, young person friendly art that is closer to the current Cyberverse cartoon. The characters are all popular with younger audiences – Bumblebee, Windblade, Megatron, Starscream. The set is also normally the cheapest available.

It’s worth remembering that the game has two sets of rules – Basic and Advanced, with the latter being the ruleset most players play. Basic play ignores the rules on the cards and ultimately becomes just about counting numbers; this makes it perfect for playing simple games with younger children, and teaching them basic math skills. However, Advanced play with this set is quite simple too, and the set in general is designed to be an easy introduction.

If you want to go further, then booster packs might be the way to go from there, especially if you want to keep things fairly simple. The Wave 1 booster packs will always have the simplest characters and mechanics, with later waves bringing in more complications, so that’s probably the best place to start. Turbo Sealed might be a good way of playing quick games with your children as well; rules for that type of gameplay can be found here, referred to as Two-Pack Sealed – Turbo Mode. You can even ditch the ‘sealed’ element and make turbo decks for quick play, but that’s an idea for another time.

The original Mat with the original Starter set.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret – I never intended to take this game as seriously I did. My original intention was just to buy some boosters, maybe play a few games, but mostly enjoy something that had Transformers on it. I am a Transformers fan first and foremost, not a card gamer. So these recommendations are coming from personal experience… but also with the knowledge that one year later, I have a rather large collection of cards and a website dedicated to dissecting them. Maybe that should be a warning?

If you want something to just learn the game with, then the Autobot Starter Set is a good starting point, along with some booster packs so you have some variety. That being said, any of the pre-built feature box sets – Metroplex, Devastator, Blaster vs Soundwave – are probably good starting points if you don’t mind a little bit of additional complexity. These sets are technically starter sets but are really just specialist decks – characters that don’t fit in with the type of gameplay featured in the booster cards. You’ll need to remember that these aren’t likely to win you tournaments ‘out of the box’, but since you’re a casual player you’re probably not going to mind that.

So long as you’re not too worried about collecting everything, you can more or less buy booster packs ‘for fun’ from that point on. If you do want to take things seriously, though, you can look further for my recommendations for Competitive and Creative players.

I don’t know what Mat is doing here either. Focus on Metroplex. Focus on him!

There’s varying levels of competitive play, and arguably the answer to the question ‘what cards do I need to be a competitive player in Transformers?’ is… well… all the cards. The competitive scene changes constantly as new decks are developed, and new counters are developed for those decks, and the meta evolves from there. What was once dismissed six months ago is suddenly a regular feature in every sideboard, and what seemed great is now regarded as easy to deal with.

Simply saying ‘buy everything’ isn’t very helpful though. Let’s recommend some quick starting points to get you going and you can work from there.

At the time of writing, probably the easiest path to a strong competitive deck that can be picked up and learnt rather quickly, is the Blaster deck developed by Vector Sigma. This deck was the basis of the deck which subsequently won the UK Energon Open (that version of the deck list is here).

In order to put together this deck (sans sideboard) you’ll need:

One Blaster vs Soundwave set
Twelve Rare battle cards:
3 x Static Laser of Ironhide
3 x One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall
3 x Press the Advantage
3 x Peace Through Tyranny
Seven Uncommon battle cards:
3 x Reckless Charge
3 x Treasure Hunt
1 x Grenade Launcher
Nineteen Common battle cards:
3 x Confidence
1 x Supercharge
1 x Enforcement Batons
3 x Erratic Lightning
3 x Forcefield
3 x Improvisd Shield
1 x Bashing Shield
2 x Field Communicator

The Uncommon and Common battle cards should be easy to get hold of. Hopefully your local community or local game store has some freebies they can give out. If they don’t, then you should be able to find them on ebay or at any online retailer that sells single cards. In the UK, example online singles resellers include Bearded Card Trader, Joker’s Toybox and Chaos Cards.

The rare cards are more of a problem – Static Laser of Ironhide should be easy enough to buy for £1, and One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall is relatively cheap too. However, Press the Advantage is often quite pricey and Peace Through Tyranny is one of the most expensive non-promo battle cards. Both are likely to appear in lots of decks you create, but as you’re just starting out, you might not want to commit to these cards just yet.

So instead, here are some recommended cards you can get cheaply that might fill the gaps temporarily: replace Static Laser of Ironhide with Flamethrower (two are included with Blaster vs Soundwave), replace One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall with the uncommon card Plasma Burst, then finally replace Press the Advantage and Peace through Tyranny with six cards from the following: Supercharge, Power Punch, Incoming Transmission, Zap, Bashing Shield, Enforcement Batons. Ideally you want a 20 / 20 split of actions and upgrades; the original deck leans a little to actions anyhow, so you can afford to replace one of these action cards with an upgrade quite happily. You can switch around these cards until you find something that works for you.

Understand that taking out the rare cards is going to result in a weaker version of the deck – Press the Advantage and Peace through Tyranny are particularly powerful cards and make one hell of a difference. However, this will give you a starting point – you can try out the game and see if you like it and want to invest further.

When you do decide take the further dive, I recommend picking up Wave 1 booster packs, or even just commit all the way and buy a box of Wave 1 boosters. You’ll hopefully pick up some good rare cards this way – ones to look out for are Peace Through Tyranny, I Still Function, Energon Axe and Security Checkpoint. You’ll also be able to pick up core cards for other competitive decks like Cars and Bugs – Start Your Engines and Swarm are both essential cards for these decks.

Once you’re at the point, you’ll no doubt be deep enough into the game that you’ll have a good idea what you want to buy from there.

Blaster is traditionally an Orange aggro deck – one that focuses on high damage with minimal defense – and quite a lot of other competitive decks work very similarly to it. I’ll be going into more detail about these decks and how to build them later in this series.

George really wanted to pose with Blaster vs Soundwave, apparently

I’m not sure if the creative player is the easiest or hardest person to recommend starting points to. In some ways the kind of player that wants to create and experiment with deck ideas and concepts is likely to be able to do that with whatever resources are available. In other ways, such a player never wants to limit their ideas by a lack of resources – so like the competitive player, the real answer is ‘you need to buy everything’. Again, that’s not helpful advice, so let’s see if we can come up with a good starting point and go from there.

Starting with one of the pre-built decks seems like a good idea, but you probably want to pick one that is particularly interesting. Blaster vs Soundwave definitely fits this bill. Aside from being good teams in general, and Soundwave being a bit of a puzzle in himself (and thus worth you trying to work out how to make him work), all the smaller characters have unique abilities you’ll want to use in other teams. I am finding increasingly that I can put characters alongside the likes of Ravage and Buzzsaw, so if you want good ideas straight from the start, this is going to be a good purchase for the future as well as the present.

Devastator is also a good choice, as you’ll find some use out of the unique battle cards in this set, and constructicons can make good filler characters in your teams. Metroplex is incredibly fun to build around as well and has interesting mechanics. So if you like weird and interesting concepts in your game, any of these three sets will prove to be interesting for you. You could possibly even buy each of them in turn, and build your collection that way.

From there, you’re probably going to find more strange and interesting cards in later sets than in Wave 1; certainly Wave 1 will contain a lot of staple cards, so you should definitely consider buying a box of Wave 1 if you’re looking to buy in proper. However if you want to really experiment, you can find a lot of value in Wave 3 cards, and definitely Wave 4 cards when they release. Those sets will provide you some strange and interesting characters and cards to play around with.

As a player you’re probably going to find the game more exciting once you have all the cards to play with, but starting with one of the pre-builts and building slowly is probably the most sensible way to go about building your collection.

This was my best ‘I am Devastator’ pose.

What Else
Here are some other things you should look into getting once you’ve started playing, though few are essential if you’re just starting. If you’re a veteran card gamer, you probably already have most of these.

  • Sleeves
    You don’t need to get fancy ones, but cards are easier to shuffle when sleeved and won’t get damaged. It’s also easier to store decks together if they are in different colour sleeves. Small children with dirty hands won’t ruin the cards.
  • Toploaders
    You want 3.5 x 5.125” toploaders (hard plastic sleeves) for your main character cards; for larger cards like Metroplex 6 x 8” will do, and for small or folded characters you want 3 x 4”. In the likely event your LGS doesn’t stock toploaders, you can buy them from Amazon (For people in the UK or other non-US locations, you can export from AmazonUS with minimal additional fees). Foiled cards have a tendency to bend, keeping them in these sleeves prevents them from doing this.
  • Counters
    These are for counting damage; the cardboard ones that come with the sets are fine, but something a bit more sturdy is more preferable. You can use counters from board games (I used counters from 7 Wonders for about 4 months), or you can buy counters from specialists (I use the ones from Customised Gaming, but there are many other options like Counter Attack Bases, and Etsy will have plenty of options too). Dice work as well, but be aware that dice can be accidentally knocked over, and rogue dice can confuse players – I have heard stories of high-level tournament games ruined by rogue dice on the table.
    (Please do not use the damage app, your opponent needs to see your board status.)
  • Storage
    You’ll need deck boxes for carrying your cards to and from your local game store, and you’ll need a place to store your cards at home too. Ultra-Pro make a lot of boxes for this; I can also recommend boxes from Customised Gaming (we even gave one away a few months back).
  • Playmat
    Often tables can get covered in water or gunk, having a playmat means all your cards are on a set surface. Also they look nice. You can even get custom game mats from various retailers like Inked Gaming in the US, or Patriot Games in the UK. If you’re getting a mat made with someone else’s artwork, be sure to ask the artist’s permission beforehand, don’t just rip off their art, and definitely don’t use copyrighted material. Support the arts, yo.
Pizza Queen (real name) has taken a Wave 1 box for herself

What’s next
Okay, so you’ve got a bunch of cards, you’ve read up on the rules, watched a few play videos, built a deck you’re certain is legal, been to your local game shop… but you don’t quite know how to build a deck that works properly. Or, you’ve built a deck based on a deck you read online, and know how to play it, but you want to build your own decks and don’t quite know how yet. In the next part of this series, I’ll talk about how to get started building a deck, specifically an Orange deck. I might even involve a few cards from Wave 4!

In the mean time, here are some helpful and/or entertaining links:

How to play:
Official Guide
Wreck n’ Rule Guide

Entertaining matches:
Wreck n’ Rule: Turbo Sealed Game
Wreck n’ Rule: Sealed Match
Blues on Attack: Shockwave vs Blaster
Gencon: Tournament Final
Cityspeakers: Commentated Match

Further links and Resources:
Online Resources @ Computron’s Lab

Until next time!

Cover art by Emily Stewart, social medias: Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, as well as her Etsy store.

Thank you to George, Mat and The Pizza Queen, all from Dice Saloon, for posing for some product photography.

Follow Flip Flip Bang Bang on Facebook and Twitter for more talk about the Transformers TCG.

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