[GUEST ARTICLE] “Orange Theory” by Rich Ridge

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rich is one of our local players who jumped into the game from the very beginning. I’ve personally known Nick since the days when we were teenagers training for our black belt in Okinawan Kenpo, but we reconnected over playing card games (Destiny, then TFTCG). When it comes to deck-building, he’s a bit of a mad scientist, and has created some pretty potent off-meta decks featuring characters like Grapple. However, when the Blaster vs Soundwave set was released, Rich almost immediately began tinkering with it and created a very formidable base deck, which he then went on to refine, using it to very good effect over the course of the past few months.

Of all the local South Jersey crew, Rich placed the highest at the Energon Invitational, finishing at 19th overall. He was kind enough to share his write-up about playing Blaster (and aggro decks in general).

“Orange Theory”

(The choices that led me to an aggressive orange strategy for my 19th place finish at the Energon Invitational)

THE AGGRO LIFE

I will begin with the obvious. People tend to look down on aggressive (aggro) decks in tcg games, and the Transformers TCG is certainly no exception. Many players see it as an “easy” archetype to play. I was happy for my own success at the Energon Invitational, but also for seeing another aggro deck (Bugs) in the top 8. Complaints I hear often about aggro include:

  1. Aggro is “on rails”, having very few possible decisions in play, always making the same attacks with the same characters in the same order.
  2. Aggro is based more on luck than skill. Because of point #1, you are more at the mercy of your draw than your plays.
  3. Aggro is exploitative and cheap, due to abuse of card power and simple interactions to the greatest degree possible in order to maximize damage.

My personal response to these points:

  1. While SOME aggro decks have very few ways to play optimally, they can (and should) be built to be more responsive and allow for large variations in attack options. However, ANY good deck of ANY archetype will have an ideal order of attack and sequence of plays you are trying to achieve. I would argue strongly that a well-made deck of any kind follows a play pattern and could be called “on rails” by a detractor.
  1. In any tcg the luck of the draw can be crucial or devastating to your strategy at any given time. Any deck endeavours to have a card distribution which has consistency AND can be responsive to your opponent. Aggro decks are no different, except that their consistency goal is damage whereas a blue deck favours defense or a combo deck favours green and white pips etc… The common inclusion of cards such as Bashing Shield, Zap, and Ramming Speed are the other side of the same coin to blue deck cards like Security Checkpoint, Marksmanship, and Vaporize. Cards are included to fit the archetype for pip draw while providing apt counters to diametrically opposed decks and similar decks alike.
  1. Every deck ever built seeks to exploit the power of the cards. If you are playing competitively, you are trying to break the game. You are trying to find an advantage for which others have not thought of or prepared adequately. If you suffer regular crushing defeat at your opponent’s hands while piloting a “strong” deck, then your opponent has possibly thought of a better way to build a deck and play the game than you. Losing is always less preferable than winning, obviously, but I feel like calling decks “cheap” or “exploitative” is just poor sportsmanship. If advantages exist, we take them. Aggro is no different than other decks in this way.

Moving on to the specifics of my deck, I ran an orange aggro Blaster build in the Energon Invitational. 

THE DECK

  • Blaster
  • Steeljaw
  • Ramhorn
  • Prowl (Sentinel version)
  • 3x Daring Counterattack
  • 3x Supercharge
  • 1x Flamethrower
  • 2x Bashing Shield
  • 2x Fight for Position
  • 3x Force Field
  • 3x Field Communicator
  • 3x Power Punch
  • 3x Grenade Launcher
  • 1x EM34 IR Laser Launcher
  • 1x Static Laser of Ironhide
  • 3x Erratic Lightning
  • 3x Reckless Charge
  • 2x Peace Through Tyranny
  • 3x Treasure Hunt
  • 2x Ramming Speed
  • 2x Leap Into Battle

Sideboard

  • Private Smokescreen
  • 3x W-5 Gyro Blaster
  • 2x Zap
  • 3x Sturdy Javelin
  • 2x Heat Of Battle

STRATEGY

So, why do I choose aggro Blaster, and build it the way I do?

In short, consistency and efficiency. Piloting an aggro deck well is NOT about how much damage you can pump out in one swing. It is about being ABLE to throw crazy damage, but consciously and surgically deciding where and when to deliver the damage. The biggest mistake I see many aggro players make in Transformers TCG is to simply do as much damage as they can between their board and their hand with EVERY swing.

My deck is built to take the guesswork out of how much damage I will deal. Two characters have a base attack of 5 and two have a base attack of three. With most cards I draw being single orange pip cards, I can simply add +1 damage to my expected output for each card I will flip between my base 2 for combat and any bold I have added.

 The hard part, the part which takes real skill… is knowing through either experience or observation what you can expect your opponent to be able to defend. With that in mind, you aim to deal EXACTLY enough damage to kill your opponent’s bots in the AVERAGE scenario.

For example: if you are attacking a bot with 4 health remaining, 1 defense, and tough 1 in an all-blue deck, you can expect to need to deal 8 damage (4 health +1 defense +2 base defense flips +1 tough flip) on average to kill it. Let’s say you’re going to attack this bot with Steeljaw. He has 3 attack and bold one. You have, among other things, a Supercharge and an Erratic Lightning in your hand. While it might be tempting to “guarantee” the kill by playing both Supercharge and Erratic Lightning, you only need one or the other to statistically succeed on average. Wasting another card for a play which is mathematically likely to be unnecessary is harmful to you in the long run. Aggro decks can get into trouble late game when they run out of gas (damage increasing cards), and preventing this with prudence and patience is the key to success. 

ON BOT CHOICES

I’m not running what most would call a “standard” Blaster list. Let’s start with my choice NOT to include a weaponizer such as Firedrive or Lionizer etc…

In my opinion, weaponizers take too many options away from the battle cards by demanding deck support. What I mean is, if I play a weaponizer such as lionizer, I am almost automatically including 3x Peace Through Tyranny, 3x Quartermaster, and 3x One Shall Stand One Shall Fall. Playing that weaponizer, to me, means that I am giving up options on NINE cards in a 40 card deck. Nearly 25%!

I want my bots to do all their own work and so Wave 2 Prowl, who requires nothing but a sturdy deck with plenty of orange to function, was my choice. Here is my reasoning:

  1. Prowl has 5 attack (essentially 6 attack in this deck with his bold 1), 10 health, and one defense, and is going to be the best power for cost in a deck all about dealing damage. 
  1. His amazing KO area ability was a big part of my choosing him as well. Aggro decks do not defend at all with pips, and so getting rid of big mid-to-late game weapons on opponents characters is both very appealing and very practical. Ideally, Blaster has very little damage on him until late game, and keeping him alive is crucial for those last big swings. Debilitating your enemies attack power by killing a weapon without using a battle card can be utterly game-changing, and people often forget about little-old Prowl in the KO pile!
  1. Prowl is capable, using Blaster’s initial flip and ability to play a free card off the top of your deck and including pips drawn, of doing up to 15 damage on a turn one first attack. That would be Blaster flipping to play Grenade launcher onto Prowl, the drawing both PTTs and a white pip (Prowl’s innate bold 1) followed by two more orange pips. This is an INSANE possible first attack. Now, not living in dreamland, the AVERAGE attack he throws, assuming you don’t hit the worst draw in your deck, would be Blaster flips to top deck a +3 minimum attack boost of some kind (18 cards in the deck), Prowl attacks flipping three cards which are all at least one orange pip (31 cards in the deck), and deals 11 damage plus or minus 1.

What does this mean? It means going first against Bugs, Prowl usually one-shot kills Skrapnel. It means that going first against heavy blue two-wide, one of their bots is taking probably 6-8 damage right away. Against 4-5 wide tough decks, their brave character or their best tough character is probably going down in one shot.

  1. Being able to “bookend” your first round of attacks with two characters who have a base attack of 5 (Prowl and Blaster) in a deck with so much added damage puts huge pressure on your opponent and, I have found, seems to force them into difficult decisions which disrupt their intended play.

After my atypical choice of Wave 2 Prowl, my two mini-cassette characters under Blaster are right in line with the usual strategy for the usual reasons. Steeljaw gives himself bold and so has an effective attack of 4 instead of his base 3 while also giving bold 1 to Blaster, and Ramhorn can attach the Force Field upgrade to anyone on my team while he is defending. The extra damage from Steeljaw’s ability adds up over the multiple swings you hopefully get with him and Blaster, and Ramhorn dropping Force Field in defense only improves its value as the deck you are facing leans more towards aggressive orange itself, becoming completely invaluable during a mirror match against pure orange aggro.

Smokescreen on sideboard was purely as extra insurance against aggro. It was definitely good for me in a few games, but overall with the commonality of combo decks, I would run Turbo Board in the future.

ON BATTLE CARD CHOICES

Maximizing damage is not just about characters, but about battle card consistency. Again, I want to KNOW to the best of my ability how much damage I will do before cards are ever flipped during battle.

I will call this first list of cards in my deck the “guaranteed damage group”.

Guaranteed damage group cards for my deck is Leap Into Battle, Reckless Charge, Grenade Launcher, Static Laser Of Ironhide, and EM24 IR Laser Launcher, as well as Field Communicator to smaller effect.

These cards add attack stat directly to your character, and so are not dependent on card flips to do damage. These are the cards I prefer to save in my hand, if I can,for times when even the small possibility of failure to flip orange pips during battle is unacceptable. They are most powerful and most desirable to have in hand.

The next list I will call the “speculative damage group”.

Speculative damage group cards for my deck is Power Punch, Supercharge, Flamethrower, and Fight for Position.

These cards can’t guarantee damage, but very nearly so, especially mid to late game when you know better what cards are left in your deck based on the contents of your scrap pile. In my deck, SDG cards can ALMOST be considered GDG, but of course I have 6 white pips, 2 blue, and 1 no-pip in the deck which can cause inconsistency in damage output. These cards are essential to maintaining heavy damage pressure on my opponent, but if I can do so they will always be used secondary to GDG cards when going for an important KO.

The next list I call the “support group”.

Support group cards for my deck are Treasure Hunt and Field Communicator.

These cards keep me going strong with my strategy of consistently being able to boost damage output at will EVERY turn without fail. Both get me cards which are then immediately usable with fair consistency due to the distribution of card types in my deck. Treasure Hunt will grab 2 upgrades on average, which in turn each have a roughly 90% chance of being upgrades which add damage. Field Communicator will flip a card worth +3 damage or more roughly 50% of the time. Almost any other card it flips will most likely be usable to some benefit at the moment, while still conferring +1 attack to Blaster.

The last list I call “special use group”.

Special use group cards for my deck are Ramming Speed, Bashing Shield, Daring Counterattack, and Peace Through Tyranny.

These cards have unique and powerful abilities, and are therefore most likely to be held patiently for the right moment. Bashing Shield and Ramming Speed are generally most important because heavy armour and Force Field are two worst-case scenarios for orange aggro and need to be dealt with quickly. Daring Counterattack makes even my smallest characters extremely effective against heavy blue decks for late-game finishing KO’s. Peace Through Tyranny is a nice bonus to damage during battle flips, but occasionally provides a perfect opportunity for a devastating extra Blaster attack by KOing my Wave 2 Prowl (who has normally attacked first and taken a lot of damage).

Other concerns with my battle cards came up with Reckless Charge and Static Laser Of Ironhide. Doing damage to yourself may seem counterintuitive or detrimental, but the consistency these cards add to the damage output while maintaining orange pips for flipping battle damage is more valuable that the problem of damage they cause can counteract.

Since a deck like mine does not defend with pips, my characters are expected to die after a certain number of swings from ANY character with a certain attack value range (depending on the kind of deck of which it is a part). Mathematically, one instance on average of 2 or 3 damage being dealt to myself does not change the turn on which my character will be KO’d, and therefore the added damage potential of the cards is a pure gain for my strategy.

Lastly, the addition of two Leap Into Battle was about action vs upgrade numbers. I wanted an equal amount of the two so that on average I could hope to be able to play one upgrade and one action each turn, with as many of those potentially being at least a +3 damage boost as possible. Originally I ran 3x EM24 IR Laser Launchers, but realized that I would be closer to 50/50 action/upgrade split in my deck if two of them were Leap Into Battle, and also I would lose the downside of 2 blank pip cards while gaining some small measure of defense flip possibility.

In the sideboard, W-5 Gyroblaster counters heavy blue decks that defend enough to be troublesome, and also works well against heavy-bold aggro (as fewer of my cards make use of bold than many aggro decks, plus it shuts down Kickback in Insecticons). Zap helps against safeguard characters, Skrapnel, and in plenty of little niche situations where the direct damage matters. Sturdy Javelin was intended for use with smokescreen but ended up a relative flop. Heat Of Battle is useful against another aggro deck, though I wasn’t too happy with it. Honestly, I would change out both Sturdy Javelin and Heat Of Battle for something else.

SOME POINTS

Keeping damage high and varying HOW you can do damage with battle card selection (as well as prevent your opponent from nullifying it) is the key to a strong orange aggro deck. Part of this is consistency in damage value, but also in card type (action vs upgrade saturation).

Choosing a team that is both powerful AND versatile will serve you well against a wider range of opponents. Having tricks up your sleeve like Prowl’s weapon destruction, Ramhorn’s free shield play, and Steeljaw’s added bold create small but effective nuances in gameplay which your opponent may fail to consider properly, or will force them to alter their plays in ways that may still be in your favor in anticipation of these abilities. Blaster, or course, is outright value with his two ability triggers for a free card off the top of your deck and his solid health with strong base damage. 

IN CONCLUSION

This Blaster deck to me was the obvious choice over things like Bugs, Cars, or Grimlock as an aggro build. All of them are powerful, but with less room for consistency due to cards needed to support the abilities of the characters and theme rather than focusing purely on damage output and countering opponent’s strategies. Bugs doesn’t protect itself beyond Skrapnel’s ability, and Swarm deals damage for which the opponent gets to choose the target. Grimlock requires too much setup for a big swing to take advantage of his damage overflow ability. Cars needs too much support for their untap cards and the draw to get them, with characters that are too fragile as a 4-wide and too little damage overall as a 3-wide. Blaster with his cassettes and Prowl works without wasting deck slots for support of character abilities or overall deck strategy, leaving the player free to focus on implementing battle cards that maximize damage and response to OTHER decks.

Thanks for reading! I hope my opinions on aggro and Blaster decks are useful/illuminating to those interested in the archetype! Til all are one!

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