Towards the end of the Energon Invitational, RJ, Joe, and Brian were all systematically challenged to exhibition games by a young gentleman named Eli, who proceeded to give us all a whooping. Afterwards, we’ve been in contact with his parents. Eli’s father (Jonathan Clifton AKA megaclutz) was kind enough to write up an article about the experiences of qualifying for the EI alongside his son, their playtesting efforts, and a report about their games at PAX Unplugged.
Here is the deck that my fifteen year old son Eli and I both ran at the Energon Invitational, which I took to a 5-1 constructed record and 34th place finish.
Insecticon Skrapnel – Insecticon Leader
Barrage Merciless Insecticon
Kickback – Cunning Insecticon
Raider Kickback – Infantry Soldier
- 3 Peace Through Tyranny
- 3 Roll Out
- 3 Swarm
- 3 I Still Function
- 3 Incoming Transmission
- 3 Supercharge
- 1 Treasure Hunt
- 1 Ramming Speed
- 1 Enforcement Batons
- 1 Bashing Shield
- 1 Energon Axe
- 2 Laser Cutlass
- 3 Power Punch
- 3 Improvised Shield
- 3 Grenade Launcher
- 3 Sturdy Javelin
- 3 Matrix of Leadership
- Sergeant Springer – Special Ops Aerial Defense
- 3 The Bigger They Are
- 2 System Reboot
- 2 Infiltrate
- 2 Sabotaged Armaments
- 1 Cornered!
Yes, I know, it’s bugs. But it plays much differently than a normal bugs list.
First, some background information. I didn’t realize just how talented Eli was until he went undefeated at our Siege I release event. He already builds better sealed decks than me, and I have years of MtG experience in limited formats, so it was clear he would have a good chance to qualify for the EI at PAX. After building him a standard bugs deck for our first qualifier, he proceeded to demolish me in the finals. I was running Brian’s Firewheels deck from Origins. And no, I did not let him win that match, although I probably would have if necessary.
When it came time to start testing for the invitational, Eli decided he was going to play bugs no matter what. Here is where I have to give credit to Scott Landis. While reviewing the Siege II spoilers on their Tech Talk podcast, Scott mentioned that if you play Raider Kickback with The Matrix of Leadership and Roll Out that it was like having extra double pip cards in your deck. I had my doubts that Scott actually thought this would be a viable option, and to be honest I didn’t expect it to work out, but I built the first version of the deck for Eli and we went to work.
The next step was choosing what to remove from the standard bugs list. During our testing quite often a bug would survive an attack now due to the extra blue pips in the deck, so we decided not to use any cards that would damage our own characters or lower their defense, therefore Erratic Lightning and Reckless Charge got the boot. Power Punch, Supercharge and Incoming Transmission are still good since they give you a better chance to flip the blue pip you need for Raider Kickback to deal a damage. Swarm now often flips a blue to heal Skrapnel, which can be devastating against a deck lacking direct damage.
The final spots took days of testing to finalize. It seemed that 10 blue pips was the correct number to use, but with so many good aggressive blue pip cards it was difficult to decide which ones to use. Armed Hovercraft is great, but Barrage is the only Ranged character. Since Sturdy Javelin is already in the deck for direct damage, there should be a better option than Marksmanship. Smelt never seems to hit what it needs to. So we settled on two Laser Cutlass and an Energon Axe. Laser Cutlass can be put on any of the characters, and Energon Axe helps fill the void left by removing Erratic Lightning. The pierce damage often decides the game against decks like Shockwave. Treasure Hunt helps dig for Sturdy Javelin and refill your hand after Security Checkpoint or Shockwave, and Ramming Speed is for those pesky utilities.
Now on to the Sideboard. We did a LOT of testing against Shockwave, and it was not looking good at all for a long time. At least half of the sideboard needed to be dedicated to Shockwave, and it looked like pierce was the way to go, so three copies of The Bigger They Are… seemed like a good choice. The larger problem was Shockwave’s amount of discard coupled with the extra dead cards in Matrix and Roll Out (technically not dead, but almost never useful). So we decided that the new Springer was going to be the sideboard character. Springer helps refill your hand and as a Leader he can even carry the Matrix (Rodimus Prime once tried to give Springer the Matrix in The Five Faces of Darkness Part 4). Also, the Matrix actually gives ALL of your other characters +1, even the Decepticons. System Reboot was our only defense against that annoying combo deck, but it is also useful against Shockwave. Originally there were two Photon Bombs for Aerialbots but I didn’t expect them to show up in great quantity so we settled on a single Cornered! and hoped to never have to use it.
The next choices were great in theory but not always in execution. The Transformers TCG rewards skill in both deck building and play more than any other TCG that I have played. In other words, it minimizes the luck factor and randomness so that the player who makes fewer play errors in a given match will win more often. It was my hope that the extra blue pips in the deck would lead to opponents making decisions based on their experience that bugs decks normally flip no blue pips on defense leading to a character surviving an attack by one health. We chose to use secret actions to further throw aggressive opponents off of their game, hoping it would result in more play errors. Using both Infiltrate and Sabotaged Armaments meant having a defense against both Orange actions and weapons, and the theory was that if an opponent saw an Infiltrate in the scrap pile that they would play a Grenade Launcher into a Sabotaged Armaments. It didn’t always work out that way though.
The flip sequence for this deck is certainly not set in stone. Against most orange aggressive decks you still want to flip Skrapnel first, especially when playing first, even though you lose the Raider Kickback one damage ability. Skrapnel is still just too important against decks with little to no direct damage. Transforming Raider Kickback first is of course ideal against most other decks since it maximizes the chance to get that extra damage in each turn, and attacking with Skrapnel without flipping him means a defense of three.
At this point Eli is happy with his deck and is very excited to meet and possibly play against people he watches on Youtube, but I still had not decided on a deck to play. My play style has always been aggressive but I had never taken a bugs deck to a tournament and never planned to do so. There was a Demolisher/Arcee/Skrapnel/Razorclaw deck that was very appealing, but my main focus had been to prepare Eli for his first big tournament and there just was not a lot of time left to work on my own deck, so I decided to just use the same bugs list as Eli since I already had so much time spent playing against it. Also, during testing Eli was making plays that I was not expecting and would never had thought to do, like flipping Kickback to repair damage or sacrificing Skrapnel to tap Blaster and kill him with a bot still underneath.
The following are some highlights of what I remember from my experience at the Energon Invitational. At the time I had no plans to write a tournament report so I didn’t take notes or anything. We live in Alabama and my wife refuses to fly, so driving to Philadelphia is the only option and the trip takes over 12 hours. So I sit down in front of my Round 1 opponent and it is my son Eli. We traveled hours away from home to sit down across from each other to play identical deck lists in the first round. Before the tournament we knew it was possible that we would face each other if we had similar records later in the event, but this was the worst case scenario. As a father, I really wanted my son to defeat me, but I was not going to just let him win if I felt that he did not deserve it. If Eli had played a great match and he only lost because of bad luck then I would have given him the win, but he was a little nervous and made some pretty bad play errors so I took the match 2-1.
In the second round I faced the deck that I had originally planned to play myself – Demolisher/Arcee/Skrapnel/Razorclaw. I don’t remember much about the match so I think it was a fairly easy win due to my experience playing with and against the deck. After three rounds of sealed which I will not discuss here, my next opponent was Shockwave. I won the first game and sideboarded Springer, but unlike the Shockwave deck we tested against, this deck was using Overwhelming Advantage. So I lost game 2, removed Springer and won a close game 3. The next round was against Cliffjumper/Red Alert/Arcee/Prowl. I feel like the lack of direct damage to kill Skrapnel is the reason that I won this match 2-1.
The penultimate match of the tournament was the most memorable, as it was the only deck that I had no experience against – Impactor/Tailwind and 3 other Air Strike Patrol. I won this match 2-1, but for several reasons I probably should not have won. For most of game 3, all that my opponent needed to win was a Sturdy Javelin or other direct damage, but he never drew it. Also, due to my inexperience with playing bugs in a tournament, I thought that with Swarm the opponent had to chose a single character to deal the damage to and could not spread the damage, and my opponent believed me when I told him that was how it works. I interpreted the wording on the card incorrectly and had never been told otherwise, and I would like to apologize to him for inadvertently stealing this match.
The final round was one of the most important matches of my life; win and get $500 or lose and possibly get nothing due to bad tiebreakers. My opponent was playing Octone/Sights/Caliburst, and I won the first game easily, but then he sideboarded Nemesis Prime. Now, I personally have no experience playing with or against a deck with only two characters, but from what I understand it has an advantage over four characters. I lose game two and have a decision to make – bring in Springer or stay with all bugs. I still do not know what the correct decision was or if it even would have mattered, but I brought in Springer and lost a close game three.
So I finish at 6-3 overall, 34th place just outside of the money, and Eli ended up with a 4-5 record, 3-3 in constructed using bugs. Afterward, I find out that between rounds Eli has been playing exhibition matches against members of Wreck ‘N Rule and has apparently made it his mission to systematically murder every member with bugs. So far Eli has beaten RJ, Joe and Brian; so watch out guys, he’s coming for the rest of you!