Deck-Building for Beginners (Episode 1: Basic Principles)

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to serve as a beginner’s guide to deck-building principles. If you’re new to the game, or new to building your own decks from scratch as opposed to using lists you’ve found online, these are some of the guidelines that I’ve found helpful when it comes to creating a new deck. Not all of these principles are hard and fast, and as you become more experienced at the game, you’ll often find yourself veering away from these guidelines. Like I tell my students when working on writing, you need to know the rules before you can start breaking them.

Step 1: Figure out your quest

(I want to ___________)

The first thing to figure out is what you want your deck to do.

  • This could start as a high concept idea (ie. I want to try to chain as many actions as possible with Thundercracker using cards like Brainstorm or Leap of Faith).
  • Alternatively, it could start off much more simply (ie. I want to build a deck based around Captain Ironhide from Wave 3).

Early on, it’s helpful to try to concentrate your deckbuilding around a focal character. As you become more accustomed to the game, you’ll have more experience as to which secondary or tertiary characters can help you facilitate certain strategies/gimmicks.

As an example, I doubt many people decide they’re going to focus their team and deck around Dead End, but as you play more, you’ll keep him in mind if you plan on using a deck that focuses on TOUGH or on drawing cards.

Step 2: Choosing a Team

Once you have your goal, the next step is to figure out your character line-up. As a beginner, I’d recommend trying to follow these guidelines.

  • Try to use all 25 stars to fill out your character line-up, or at the very least, try to get as close as possible. From a very general standpoint, you’ll get more bang for your buck investing in characters as opposed to investing in star battle cards in your deck.
  • An easy way to build a team is to focus on the “tribal” nature of alt modes. If you’re overwhelmed by the 150ish characters out there, it might be helpful to focus down on only Cars or only Tanks.
  • Consider characters with abilities that synergize with each other. For example, Thundercracker becomes stronger as you play more actions. Finding partners like Wave 1 Mirage or Wave 2 Bumblebee allows you another avenue to play additional actions.
  • Consider characters that help to shore up weaknesses in your focal point character. As an example, I’m a huge fan of Wave 1 Arcee, since any damage she does is essentially unblockable. At the same time, she only has 9 HP and 1 DEF, so it’s highly possible that she’s defeated by your opponent if they go first before you even get to use her. By having a character with Brave (like Fireflight), you ensure that she can’t be wiped out before you get to attack with her.
  • If you’re stuck choosing between a few character choices to fill out one of your slots, take a look at the keywords. For example, if you have multiple characters with the RANGED keyword, it will give you access to specific powerful battle cards that require a Ranged character AND give you multiple targets to play those cards on in case one of your characters is defeated.

Step 3: Orange or Blue?

Image credit: TFW2005

Once you have your character line-up sorted out, it’s a good idea to decide if your deck will be primarily orange or primarily blue in terms of battle icons, or “pips” as they’re more commonly called. It is possible to achieve success with a deck that is composed of mixed pips, but in the early stages of playing, it’s helpful to tailor your deck towards one color. Even if you decide that you’ll be playing an orange-focused deck, don’t be afraid to include a few blue pip cards, or vice versa.

Often times, the decision to go orange or blue can be figured out based upon the characters you’re running. Characters with inherent Bold will push your deck toward orange, while inherent Tough will push you toward blue.

Addendum: Battle card deck construction for beginners

DISCLAIMER, PART DEUX: There are a ton of exceptions to the following guidelines. As a new player, these should start you off with a solid deckbuilding base that you can tweak as you become more experienced.

General deck guidelines

  • Your deck MUST have at least 40 cards. You can have more than 40 cards if you wish, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so. As the rest of the Wreckers (and Joe especially) will tell you, I’m terrible at math, so I won’t try to explain the statistics to you. Suffice it to say that adding more cards dilutes your likelihood of seeing certain key cards during the course of the game. It might be tempting to squeeze in an extra card or two, but try to get used to building within a tighter 40 card deck framework.
  • Try to keep an even ratio of Upgrades to Actions. Ideally, you’ll want to be playing an Upgrade and an Action on every turn, so keep it as close to 20 Upgrades/20 Actions as you can. As you play more, you’ll discover that certain focal characters or teams want to have a slightly lop-sided deck. For example, Optimus Prime (Battlefield Legend) is clearly geared more toward Actions, while the Omnibots probably push you toward having a higher number of Upgrades. Still, at the early stages of playing, an even ratio of Upgrades to Actions should help you ensure that your hand of battle cards is usually evenly balanced.
  • You can include up to 3 copies of any given battle card. From a general standpoint, three copies of a card means that you’re strongly hoping you see it in your hand and that you get a chance to play it. Two copies means that it’s situationally useful, but perhaps not crucial to how the deck plays. One copy of a card usually means it’s there for very specific situations.

Double pip Cards

Blue decks that focus on Tough will often include 3x copies of Handheld Blaster and Security Checkpoint. Orange decks that focus on Bold will often include 3x copies of Improvised Shield and Peace Through Tyranny. At a superficial level, they’re generally including these cards for flips during battles. Blue decks almost never want to actually play Handheld Blaster; likewise for Orange decks and Improvised Shield. Security Checkpoint and Peace Through Tyranny have very powerful effects on the game, but are balanced by also forcing the player using them to pay a penalty.

White Pips

Over on the Transformers TCG subreddit, a user named Kodokami ran a whole bunch of numbers and found that it can be helpful to include 7-10 white pipped battle cards in your deck. You’ll probably eventually trim that number down a little bit (especially if you’re heavily invested in Orange Bold decks), but it’s a great place to start in your first few deckbuilding ventures.

Green Pips

After you get your first few games under your belt, you’ll find yourself in situations where you either can’t play the cards that are in your hand or where the cards in your hand don’t help you at that moment. When you attack or defend, you are able to pull a green pipped card that you flipped into your hand by exchanging it with a card in-hand after the battle is resolved. I’d recommend trying to include 2-3 green pipped Upgrades and 2-3 green pipped Actions in your first few decks so that you can “fix” your hand.

Blank pips

Generally speaking, cards that do not have any pips usually have extremely strong effects. In your first few decks, consider taking 1-3 of the following commonly used blank pip cards. In your first few decks, try not to have more than 3 blank cards, since it’s a major sad trombone feeling when you flip blanks during a critical attack or defense.

Battle Card Roles

At a basic level, there are four roles that battle cards serve for you.

A. Dealing damage to your opponent’s characters

B. Keeping your own characters alive

C. Helping you find or play more cards

D. Slowing down or debuffing your opponent.

There are some cards that fall outside of these categories, and some that that perform multiple roles at once. For now, though, try to mentally classify cards according to these categories and consider them as you build your deck. In your first few decks, it can be helpful to try to balance your battle cards to accomplish those four tasks.

Upgrade card composition guidelines

DISCLAIMER III: Again, take these as general guidelines that you can tweak as you become more experienced.

  • 10-12 Weapons: Since the name of the game is to KO your opponent’s characters, you need to do damage to them.
  • 4-6 Armors: You want to keep your characters alive. Generally, however, it’s more advantageous to be using your upgrade on your turn to play a weapon.
  • 2-5 Utilities: For the most part, Utility cards are less impactful than Weapons or Armors, but they tend to be more specialized (like how Datapad allows you to get additional card draw and/or stack your attack flip).

Action card composition thoughts

Because Actions aren’t broken into “formal” categories like Upgrades, I don’t have necessarily have set guidelines. Here are some things to consider:

  • You probably want to consider having some ATTACK-boosting cards, like Leap Into Battle or Reckless Charge, to help you pump your attacks.
  • Direct damage cards (cards that allow you to deal damage outside of a normal attack) are extremely helpful to either KO opposing characters outside of combat or to set up a KO with an attack that you’re about to perform. Look into cards like Zap or One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall.
  • You want to be able to remove upgrades from the opponent’s characters. There are Upgrade cards that perform this function, but they’re usually specialized toward removing a specific type of Upgrade. Early on, consider taking Ramming Speed or Vaporize because they are universally useful.
  • Incoming Transmission and Inspiring Leadership are staple cards in your first few decks, as they’ll help you filter through your cards to find the ones you need.
  • In addition, I like taking cards that help to “refill” your hand if it’s been depleted. Consider cards like Treasure Hunt, Pep Talk, and Work Overtime.

closing thoughts

That’s basically my thought process as I go through the initial draft of making a new deck. Stay tuned in the next week, as I’ll be writing an article where I go through the above steps and put together a deck for a character I’ve been hoping to put on the table for quite some time. As always, keep your eyes on the Wreck ‘n Rule YouTube channel for our usual shenanigans.

Also consider supporting us on Patreon, since the proceeds go toward helping us upgrade our recording set-up AND toward throwing some sweet custom swag your way!

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