Gaming vs Cancer: Before You Roll-Out

As the Transformers TCG tournament at Gaming vs Cancer gets closer, we’ll be running some articles from players prepping for the event. Today, Ben Cottee talks about prepping when you can’t get out to play every week to get the reps in…

Optimus was always very sure to get intel and be briefed on the situation before telling the team to transform and roll-out. This is great advice also for anyone preparing to go into a larger and/or competitive Transformers TCG tournament.

This is the first of three articles that will chart my journey towards and after the Gaming vs Cancer event in Southampton UK on 21st March 2020. Today I will go over a bit about me and the things I am doing before I even sleeve up my first card in a deck. Nearer the tournament I will run through some of my test decks and my likely list for the tournament and then a check in on how I did afterwards.

Ben with some of his Transformers and Magic stuff.

About Me and The Game
I have been playing Magic the Gathering on and off for 25 years. At times extremely competitively with a Pro Tour appearance but in recent years very casually. Having been a child of the 80’s, a huge Transformers fan and a collector of the recent toy lines, the Transformers TCG was a really exciting blend of both of my major interests. Since the beginnings of the Transformers TCG and despite setting up the UK & Ireland community group on Facebook, it’s weird that I have actually played very little of the game competitively. My local shop and playgroup have started to take shape recently, but we haven’t got the numbers for a weekly meet up just yet. I represent a demographic that I am sure a lot of players can relate to; I am nearing my 40’s and have a wife and child, which drastically restricts my ability to spend evenings or weekend flipping cards, which can be frustrating. My approach, which I will go over in these articles, is very much about maximising the opportunity for success even in a situation where actual tournament practice may be slim.

My opportunities to flex my competitive muscles have been restricted to a handful of visits to Brighton (FlipFlipBangBang’s home haunt Dice Saloon) and the UK Energon series in 2019 where I made one qualifier (third) and the main event itself (Top 8). My decks in those tournaments (4 wide Pierce and Ion Storm / Triggerhappy / Flamewar) really fit my playstyle of wanting to feel like I have the tools in my deck and sideboard to answer most questions well but without a pinpoint focus. I like to mix my pips and have some inevitable damage (Pierce and burn).

The reason I have still performed well comes from a combination of my previous gaming background and how much easier it is to get information in the current day and age. Even without the first I think anyone can really improve their chances of success by putting in a little work.

Ben playing Mark Rosewater, head designer at Magic: The Gathering

Knowledge is Power
When Magic started in the 90’s, the Internet was still a screech in the dial up modem’s ears. Players could turn up to tournaments with a homebrew that was the best deck in the world and no one else makes that deck. You really either were in the know or completely clueless back then.

Now there is no excuse; Transformers TCG is still in its infancy but only a year on there are multiple (great) YouTube channels with competitive playtesting/podcasting – Wreck’n’Rule, Blues on Attack, Vector Sigma.Info, Powered by Primus and on and on. There are also two great decklist facilities I use in FortressMaximus and Computron’s Lab.

Going towards a tournament you can take two different approaches to deck building, you can use these resources to find a deck that fits your style, has a character you like or quite frankly has proven its chops by performing well at a large event. Or you can go full brew and bring Flywheels and a pair of Dinobots into battle (sorry James!). This can catch people off guard who were maybe practicing just against the other decks they have seen do well and causing them to play into your hands. Both have merits and the key to both is being comfortable and practiced in what you are doing by the time the event comes around.

My view especially with less time to play around in the design side of things, is that players take Shockwave and General Optimus to large tournaments, with prestige and prizes on the line, for a good reason – they work and have been tested by others who have put in the hours. I seek inspiration and something that fits my style, that at least is probably functional – then I learn to play it before making changes. It’s likely ever card has a reason to be there originally and the bar to tinker should be set appropriately, something I hope I can show in these articles.

A selection of enemies you might wanna know.
(also Jetfire be so tall he had to sit down)

Know the Enemy
The first step is to know your enemy.

The US has had a lot of big tournaments using the Wave 4 card pool, culminating in the Energon Invitational and the PPG series Orlando; these are a great starting point. Then regionally, the 23-player event the past weekend in Northampton UK (using the community FB as a resource) can give me more information on the local preferences. What we have seen wave to wave and tournament to tournament is a healthy changing metagame.

Remember when this guy was kind of a big deal?

From both sources the theme of three main decks shake out:

  • Big Character / Blue
    • The top of the pile being Galaxy Prime (winning the EI) and having 5 appear in Northampton
    • Octone Decepticons
    • Major Shockwave
  • Wide Aggro Pierce
    • Air Strike Patrol
    • Other Patrols
    • Tanks
  • Traditional Aggro
    • Cars
    • Bugs
    • Air Strike Patrol (these little planes are so good they go in both and in defensive builds too!)

Then to a lesser extent Jetfire, Combo (Daring Escape/Overwhelming Advantage), Metroplex (someone always does).

That’s a lot of different angles of attack and the number of viable line ups and builds goes much deeper, also the UK scene is somewhat younger and less defined. Homebrews and card availability throw more variables in the mix.

But my big takeaway here is Pierce and non combat damage matter a lot.

When a weapon isn’t ncessarily a weapon upgrade.

Knowing the Enemies Weapons (and other battle cards)
The flipping mechanic means that the pip make-up of a deck (how many of colours you have) is much more a defining characteristic than the line up or the actual cards as you are much more likely to be flipping cards than drawing them. After identifying the big deck types the next step is looking at the most played and impactful battle cards. You might not be playing them in your own deck but you really need an appreciation of how they impact the metagame.

Number one with a bullet is Security Checkpoint.

Double Pip (Orange and Blue) cards with no stars, oh Wave 1 you! This is by far to me the most important card in the metagame. It’s a 3 of in any Blue decks which if we say are 50% of the field with the other half Orange variants then half the time you will play against this card. The effect is a very real one (opposed to Peace through Tyranny its more niche brother) and backbreaking for any decks that rely on heavy equipment (Overwhelming Advantage, Jetfire etc).

The second is more a classification which is Utility. Wave 4 really made this previously maligned spot shine, Pocket Processor, Galaxy Prime and Energy Pack. Where we have Enforcement Batons and Bashing Shield, we don’t have the Green pinpoint utility removal counterpart which makes it likely for this to stick.

The third is the pair of Extra Padding and Sabotage Armaments. Extra Padding makes pinpoint Armor removal less effective, Disarm doesn’t really help and having on demand tough puts pressure on decks trying to go for big attack damage. Sabotage Armaments has really put pressure on aggressive decks using weapons, playing into it is harsh but playing around it also slows your aggression, it’s probably the main reason Wave 4 saw Blue taking over.

The above doesn’t mention anything Orange; the aggressive decks are more mixed up and the angle of attack between Bold, power boost or just overwhelming numbers with Pierce act quite differently. I think the Blue decks just have a much bigger impact on the metagame currently.

Hopefully Ben won’t be needing the help of this guy after the tournament!

Closing thoughts
I am very excited to get the chance to battle at Gaming vs Cancer as it will likely be the biggest event in terms of number since the European Energon Open last September. As I look towards a deck to take these are the main points I will be considering:

  1. Blue decks with one large character are enemy number one.
  2. Security Checkpoint is the most important card in the metagame.
  3. Pierce is key – it’s also hard to stop in the game currently.
  4. The best Aggressive decks go wide.
  5. Utilities are real and hard to deal with.

Look out for more from me before  21st March for some decklists taking the above into account, sideboarding and how the lone wolf goes about getting ready to be one in a pack.

To win all you need is a little Energon and a Lot of Luck.

Ratchet + Ben pictures supplied by Ben. Other photography by James Donovan.

Gaming vs Cancer happens at Garden Court, Southampton Uni on March 21st + 22nd, a small amount of tickets for the Transformers TCG tournament are still available.

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

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