Building Seekers: Back in Black

In this series so far we’ve talked about theory and gone through cards. We now have a base mono-Black deck in which to play with – the question is, what cards will work in practice, what kind of pip colour ratios do we want, who do we want in our team, and do we want to have mercenaries*?

In this article, we’ll be trying out variations of our base deck with a variety of different teams, and switching out cards in our base deck. We want to learn what works well in a Black Decepticon Planes deck, and what doesn’t.

(Didn’t read the previous parts? Here is Part 1, here is Part 2)

*this wasn’t a question, this was four.

So I figured I’d mention this before we start – I have been playing with variations of this deck already, as I was very eager to jump in and just start playing. For the first week of Wave 4, I was playing a version of this deck with Nightbird, utilizing the mercenary cards Dual Wield and Opportune Offensive. Chances are if you caught the second part of this article on social media, you’ll have already seen the deck I used. For those who are coming in late, it looked like this:

I bring this up because I already know a little bit about what will work and what won’t, because I already did some limited testing two weeks ago. It’s informed my choice of test opponent, and given me an idea of how I should expect decks to perform against it.

You again? Really? Can we get Rodimus Prime soon? Or Optimus Primal?

Test Opponent
Given that a Black deck is a new archetype, I want to initially test this against a deck it should theoretically do well against. Thus I don’t want to test it against an aggro deck like Bugs (I don’t see that going very well at all), but rather a moderately strong Blue deck. I have four already made and ready from Wave 3 – Ironhide, Megatron Living Weapon, General Megatron, and a Wave 2 Optimus Prime Battlefield Legend deck.

I’ve decided to use the Optimus Prime deck – it’s rather old, but relatively simple to pilot, with a proven track record in its time (The one I had built was based on Vector Sigma’s, as piloted by Daniel Arnold to second place at Origins 2019 – Deck List, Article). It’s also a ‘mainstream’ deck, unlike the decks I’ve made or Mondo Spanner’s General Megatron deck. Plus, it gives a Wave 1+2 vs Wave 3+4 type vibe!

A Black deck should be able to predictably and dependably take down this deck in a test environment, so long as it’s me piloting the Optimus Prime deck (I’m sure more skilled Optimus Prime players would do better). In all these tests, Decepticon Planes have gone second – results could quite possibly be different if they were to go first. Finally, Flame War never flips in these tests, since the Tough 1 is redundant and it allows Optimus Prime to get more direct damage cards.

“Now, Blackwing, don’t worry, we think you’ll do great. Even if you look a bit weird with that head and everything.”

Basic Seekers
To start off with I figured I’d try the basic deck with a typical, singular Decepticon in the third slot. I went with Blackwing – he hits well, doesn’t need flipping, and has reasonable defensive stats. He doesn’t get in the way of what we’re trying to do.

Team: Sergeant Thundercracker, Nova Storm, Blackwing
Deck changes: -1 Decipher, +1 Plunder*

*based off the base deck I presented in Part 2.

After several test matches, this version of the Black deck can not break through Optimus Prime. It often feels like it doesn’t have enough Black, and I was able to pilot the Optimus Prime deck to victory every time I tested this team out.

We can definitely do better than this.

Verdict: Failure.

“No pressure, but you thirty year old G1 toys gotta win everything for us, okay?”

4-Wide Black Seekers
Next on the list to try out is the Air Strike Patrol. The two I picked were Nightflight and Tailwind. Both of these guys should stay in plane mode, there’s no real need to flip them into bot mode. The intention is for each of them to soak up all but the initial attack, letting Thundercracker and Nova Storm blast into Optimus Prime once he is exposed. The deck is the same; I’ve just changed this from 3-wide to 4-wide.

Team: Sergeant Thundercracker, Nova Storm, Night Flight, Tailwind
Deck changes: None

Despite having less Black pips… this setup performed much better than the three wide set up. Optimus Prime is forced to either go first, or he’ll be hitting into one of the smaller Air Strike patrol planes. Neither Hot Rod nor Flamewar have enough attack to take out a plane too, so by the time his team are tapped out, the larger planes are in a position to push a lot of damage into Optimus Prime, and still have three planes left when they become untapped. It’s entirely possible to take out Optimus Prime before the wheel turn too, if enough damage has been moved on to him.

It doesn’t seem worthwhile bringing in New Orders, btw. I don’t think untapping the Air Strike patrol is necessary.

Verdict: Success!

“So, Bombing Run, we just chuck these micromasters at the Autobots and that’s it, job done go home?”

Bombing Run
Before we move on to Mercenaries, I wanted to make a slight change to the list. Whilst we’re running a lot of Black, my original intention of running damage moving cards has slipped a bit. Let’s try the 4-wide list, but this time with three copies of Bombing Run in the mix.

Team: Sergeant Thundercracker, Nova Storm, Night Flight, Tailwind
Deck changes: -3 Decipher, +3 Bombing Run

So in only a few tests, I’ve gotten to see the best and worst possible situations with Bombing Run:

  • On the plus side, I’ve seen Bombing Run show up in hand twice and been able to shift 5 damage total from my team back on to Optimus Prime during a single game. It also showed up on defense.
  • On the negative, it’s also showing up on attacks, and it once showed up when Thundercracker flipped to alt mode, thus denying the moving of damage.

Results otherwise were pretty much the same – easy win for four-wide Black planes.

Verdict: Success, but new card has mixed results.

“Sorry Nightbird, no time to relax, you’re needed in the next test.”

Let’s move on to the Mercenaries; we’ll start with Nightbird. As I’ve already said, I’ve been running this build for a while so this one can be quite brief: it works pretty well, possibly not quite as good as the four-wide Planes, though. I do find that Nightbird‘s lack of defense makes her a prime target, and her alt-mode ability is very easily forgotten. It’s usually inconvenient to switch her to bot mode to get her bounty, if she’s alive enough to make it to a second attack.

The mercenary battle cards are nice, though.

Team: Sergeant Thundercracker, Nova Storm, Nightbird
Deck changes: -3 Decipher, -3 Special Delivery, -1 Hiding Spot, -1 Stable Cover, +3 Dual Wield, +3 Opportune Offensive, +2 Plunder

Previously tested, positive.

Verdict: Success

“Sorry TC, we couldn’t find this ‘Mudflap’. I think someone is playing a joke on you. Who names a bot Mudflap anyhow?”

For Mudflap, I wanted to try something in particular – I wanted to test the build with Roll Out, and see if I can’t get all three characters to flip into alt mode, thus triggering a mass shift of damage from Thundercracker‘s team to Optimus Prime. Mudflap has slightly better defensive stats than Nightbird.

Team: Sergeant Thundercracker, Nova Storm, Mudflap
Deck changes: -3 Decipher, -3 Special Delivery, -2 Point-Defense System, -1 Hiding Spot, -1 Stable Cover, +3 Dual Wield, +3 Opportune Offensive, +1 Plunder +3 Roll Out (Note: This has now shifted from our original build by a significant amount.)

Well, the Roll Out trick didn’t really work out; it requires having the Roll Out in hand within the first few turns, because chances were one of Thundercracker or Mudflap would be dead by the time everyone was in bot mode. Being in bot mode meant being vulnerable to Marksmanship, and Optimus Prime sure loves his Marksmanship. I could not get it to happen at all; it’s a fun idea, but not practical at all.

Otherwise, Mudflap seemed pretty good. He lacks Nightbird‘s soft action-denial, but he makes up for it with better stats. I think I prefer him.

Verdict: Success, but Roll-Out is a failure.

“Okay, I got all the blue blast effects, we’ll put them on you before the camera man gets here and — oh crap he’s here!”

So far we’ve tried cards without Black pips, and quite often they don’t feel great; they go against our game plan. Even if Bombing Run and Roll Out are useful cards in their own right, they stop us from just Piercing our opponents into the KO pile or triggering Thundercracker‘s ability.

However, what if we try inserting more Blue/Black cards? We already went through these cards last article – let’s put in all but the one we can’t play into our deck. Some of these won’t be very playable, of course. We’re also having to drop a few decent cards to make this happen – dropping Calculated Strike is a particularly bad move on my part.

Oh well, For science!

(We’ll continue with Mudflap.)

Team: Sergeant Thundercracker, Nova Storm, Mudflap
Deck changes: -3 Decipher, -3 Special Delivery, -3 Point-Defense System, -2 Hiding Spot, -2 Stable Cover, -3 Calculated Strike, +3 Dual Wield, +3 Opportune Offensive, +1 Plunder, +3 Steady Shot, +3 Smoke Cloak, +3 Point Position

scratches head a bit

Well, it continues to be successful, and the occasional Blue flip has kept several characters alive when they probably wouldn’t have before. It definitely feels less potent though, I had to work a bit more to get a Planes victory.

I’d probably not bother with the Point Position (which never felt useful), and keep the Calculated Strike.

Because the Blue flips kept Mudflap alive a little longer, I finally got to use his bounty… it let me Dual Wield a weapon on to him (which wasn’t useful, since he died the next turn).

Verdict: Success, but not convincing enough to go in this direction.

“Here you go Nova Storm. We stole this from some big fellow. We’re sure he won’t come looking for it…”

Finally, let’s see what happens when we steer things in the other direction – let’s bring into play all the Orange/Black cards. We’ll ditch Mudflap for this one and bring back the Air Strike patrol.

Team: Sergeant Thundercracker, Nova Storm, Night Flight, Tailwind
Deck changes: -3 Decipher, -3 Special Delivery, -3 Point-Defense System, -2 Hiding Spot, -2 Stable Cover, -2 Calculated Strike, +3 Combat Dagger, +3 Rock Toss, +3 Fight for Position, +3 Immersed in Shadow, +3 Wedge Formation

I’m not going to lie: this version of the deck is super flakey, but super fun.

Ditching fairly dependable cards like Calculated Strike and Hiding Spot in favour of Orange/Black pips and Bold seemed a bit odd. It certainly isn’t dependable – in the tests I ran, this setup actually lost a game (none of the others with this line-up did so).

However… it’s super fun, and low levels of Bold will inevitably hit maybe one or two Orange. In a traditional aggro deck that’s not much at all, but when each one comes with a Black and you’re very likely to hit double-Blacks as well, you end up hitting suped-up Arcee levels of Pierce damage.

Here’s a photo of a play from testing…

… this is Nova Storm with a Crowbar and Bold 2 from Fight for Position, and Thundercracker with a Combat Dagger for Bold 1. Nova Storm is managing to hit for Attack 9 Pierce 9, where as Thundercracker is managing Attack 6 Pierce 6, killing an undamaged Optimus Prime outright in one turn (everyone was tapped out at this point).

This is certainly not the most dependable version of the deck… but when it works it REALLY works.

Verdict: Mixed, but definitely the most fun version of the deck.

(sidenote: buying these G1 micromasters has made me really consider buying a Skyhopper)

I tested 7 different setups with a wide mix of cards, deviating from the original deck by as many as 16 different cards. Whilst I could do more tests to try and really hammer down what the best cards are for this deck, that could be very tiring, and there’s only so many hours in the day.

A summary of my own thoughts though:

  • Tailwind/Nightflight worked out quite well, better than the three wide versions.
  • Mudflap is probably the most suitable companion for three wide.
  • … but my Roll Out idea for him wasn’t practical at all.
  • Blue/Black was fine but not particular fun and felt a little flat.
  • Orange/Black was great fun but far less dependable.
  • Bombing Run is probably not worth taking, even in a four wide Planes deck.

So what next?

Well, I had originally planned to attend a tournament yesterday… but after a very stressful week of work, realised my mind isn’t really in the right place and a quiet weekend at home was what I needed. Things happen, games are for fun – kind of a nuisance, but we’ll manage. Next week I’d like to write up some conclusions I’ve made about Thundercracker, Nova Storm, and the whole concept of Black Decepticon planes, and then after that we’ll move on to the next thing.

We’re nearly done.

Until next time.

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