I played Aristocars at Origins 2019 and received a ton of insight into the match-ups, and ultimately what makes this deck tick. It’s one thing to theory-craft and play-test against yourself – it’s a whole ‘nother level when playing against real players in a competitive environment.

Thursday

On the Thursday open, I went undefeated at 4-0-1 after games against Aerialbots, Metroplex, and Orange Bugs (x2). Other than going 2-1 in the first Insecticon matchup against Jon Palmer of Vector Sigma fame, I swept every other match.

vs Aerialbots

My first surprise was realizing this deck can do a lot of damage. I ended both games in the Aerialbots match-up by attacking for 14 damage (with Cliffjumper) against Superion. Previously I figured the stars would have to align perfectly in order to pull damage numbers like these, but given that it happened twice in back-to-back games shows the consistency is much higher than I originally thought.

My Aerialbots opponent was relatively new to the deck, however did not make any obvious mistakes other than some questionable attack sequencing. In one of the games (where he presumably did not have an Inferno Breath in hand), he didn’t attack with Fireflight until the 4th or 5th turn. Afterwards I asked why he didn’t leverage the Brave to divert attacks away from half-health characters, and he replied he’d rather me (over)kill half-health characters instead of laying into an undamaged Aerialbot. Above all, his main goal was to combine into Superion with the least amount of damage. I guess I can’t argue with that.

vs Metroplex

The Metroplex games were pretty one-sided. Metroplex never really got going and I easily controlled the field in both games. In my own play-testing, I don’t believe I’ve ever lost a Metroplex match-up so the results bore out what I was expecting. Half-way through the matches my opponent’s strategy very visibly shifted from, “Set up bold engine” to “Pump out mini-bots as fast as possible just to soak up attacks” and that’s definitely not a good place to be when playing Metroplex.

Unrelated to the match but my opponent’s Metroplex was un-sleeved and curling to a crazy degree. The following day I brought him a 6×8 soft sleeve and top-loader just so I could calm my internal cringing. I have a stack of both soft sleeves and hard top-loaders in the 6×8 size and ended up giving out a bunch of them over the weekend.

vs Insecticons (x2)

My third and 4th match-ups of the day were both against Orange Bugs. In a sense, this deck was designed to beat Orange aggression decks (Insecticons in particular) and both games vs Bugs validated my personal theory and play-testing.

In the first match-up (against Jon Palmer) I opened by attacking (an alt-mode) Skrapnel with Autobot Hot Rod and was fortunate enough to flip two orange pips, putting 3 damage on Skrapnel despite his 3 defense. This was absolutely huge as Skrapnel could now be taken out with just 1 more attack alongside a Hot Rod KO area flip. If I had only dealt 2 damage putting Skrapnel at 5 health remaining, I would need either two more attacks or one more attack with two Hot Rod flip to Bot-mode in the KO area (which requires 3 turns). I eventually won but it was a close game, largely due to how strong a player Jon is.

Jon won game two in a nail-biter. He made some really nice plays as well as a couple killer Kickback attacks with numerous double orange pips. I remember being disappointed with some of my draws but hey, that’s part of the game and just how it goes at times.

I didn’t take notes and am going off memory, but in game 3 there was one situation where I started my turn with BB:LW as my last untapped character, while Jon had two untapped characters (including Skrapnel with 4 damage). I believe Jon was looking forward to the prospect of attacking twice on the turn following mine (I sure would’ve been), which – in that game state – would’ve put him firmly in control. I was also fairly certain he was holding an I Still Function! in his hand.

Instead of doing the usual thing, I flipped BB:LW and attacked (and killed) his untapped Skrapnel. Jon kinda got a funny look on his face, and on his turn he used I Still Function! on the recently KO’d Skrapnel just to salvage his double attack. In my book, if I Still Function! is used on anyone other than Barrage or Kickback, it’s a win. If it’s used on a wheel turn and is only turning 1 attack into 2 (rather than 2 into 3), that’s another win. Bumblebee’s Alt-mode ability used in that situation completely changed the momentum of the match.

The third game ended with me one-shotting Barrage with Cliffjumper + Grenade Launcher + Press the Advantage and a lucky orange flip.

The last round was against another Orange Bugs deck, and the matches played out heavily in my favor. I had some great draws – in the second game an early Security Checkpoint cleared my opponent’s hand of two (initial draw) Grenade Launchers and then due to two Start Your Engines, my opponent had to send 3 attacks into Hot Rod just to barely KO him.

Friday

Origins Transformers TCG Friday Open

Friday was my “for fun” day, so I ran a janky “mixed-pip-but-largely-blue” Sentinels deck. For some reason even I can’t fully comprehend, I’ve been enamored with the card Emergency Maintenance and obsessed with trying to trigger its full 3 health repair effect. Since Sentinels starts the game with 21 stars in the KO area, just losing a single character would allow Emergency Maintenance to reach it’s full “repair 3” potential. Or so the thinking goes.

My sideboard was basically all the orange double pip cards alongside 3 Reckless Charges, which in theory would flip my deck from defensive to aggressive. The jank is real.

Spoiler alert – I went 2-4 on the day with wins over Brad running Metroplex and Jon Palmer piloting “The Touch” Dual Primes. Brad had a run of terrible luck (don’t think he triggered Metroplex’s ability even once) and I had a run of ridiculously good luck in the games against Jon.

Losses were to Brian playing Rogue Squadron, Cameron running a “traditional” Sentinels deck, Adam piloting Mission Prime, and finally a gentleman playing Opti-Shock. Not to take anything away from my opponents (who all played well) but I didn’t help my case as I made numerous mistakes, particularly around playing Mirage’s KO flip ability when I should’ve known what was in my opponent’s hand, telegraphing my intent to combine (which in itself is telling) by playing Security Checkpoint the turn before, and using Reckless Charge by itself with no chance of actually taking out the target.

Suffice it to say, my blue Sentinels deck has been regulated to the jank-yard but my love for Emergency Maintenance will never die!!

Saturday

Origins Transformers TCG Saturday Open

I did not play at all Saturday and spent the day walking around, chatting with other players, and getting in people’s way. In hindsight I should’ve continued to play and refine my Aristocars deck against live competition (or at very least, fill out my deck registration so it was ready for Sunday). At the time I rationalized it by thinking, “I don’t want to give people more experience playing against my deck“, and “I’m resting up for tomorrow“, but the real reason was that I was perfect at that moment, and didn’t want to ruin it (ala Good Will Hunting).

That said, there are a few things I didn’t miss by not playing on Saturday. I enjoy playing Transformers TCG, but 6 hours of straight game-play without sustenance breaks is pretty grueling.

It might’ve just been coincidence but it seems the further away from the “head” of the table, the smaller the allotted player space got. From the above photos you can see the Top 8 all have plenty of elbow room, but I remember instances where I was seated further down the table, and didn’t have enough space to put down a (standard sized) play mat. While a single long table maximizes playable space, it’s also inherently zero sum and has cascading effects. Breaking up the table with walkable gaps would do well to normalize the space for all players as well as creating walkways to and from the match-up sheets.

Much ink (and tears) has been spilled on the Registration Checklist so I won’t beat that dead horse. Something else that is begging to be digitalized are the match pairing sheets. Publishing the match pairings online would eliminate the need for 30+ players to file down narrow walk-ways and crowd around a 8×11″ sheet of paper (and likely the need to haul a printer everywhere). These are things I bring up in the spirit of continuous improvement, but are very much first world problems.

Chatting with the Transformers TCG lead designer on the various aspects of the game’s design was really cool, and he autographed my Wave 3 Major Prowl:

Ken Nagle autographed Major Prowl

Since I didn’t play, one thing I did was walk around and make note of what the field looked like from a deck standpoint. The following is list of what was being played at which table (Saturday 11 AM Round 1):

  • 31. Predacons vs Stunticons
  • 32. Hot Wheels (Wheeljack, Prowl, BB) vs Dinobots
  • 33. Three-wide Primes (OP:BL, Hot Rod, Flamewar) vs Three-wide Primes (OP:BL, Hot Rod, Flamewar)
  • 34. Stunticons vs Blitzwing, Thrust, Arcee
  • 35. Hot Wheels vs Aerialbots
  • 36. Metroplex vs Hot Wheels
  • 37. Thrustlock vs Hot Wheels
  • 38. Metroplex vs Aerialbots
  • 39. Flamewar, Nemesis, Thundercracker vs Orange Bugs
  • 40. Constructicons vs Metroplex
  • 41. Orange Bugs vs Hot Wheels
  • 42. N/A
  • 43. Orange Bugs vs Three-wide Optimus (OP:BL, Arcee, Demolisher)
  • 44. Stunticons vs Bumblebee: Legendary Warrior, Cliffjumper, Prowl
  • 45. Demolisher, Warpath, and Megatron(?) vs Dual Primes
  • 46. Rogue Squadron vs Hot Wheels
  • 47. Orange Bugs vs Blue Bugs
  • 48. Cliffjumper, Wheeljack, Prowl vs Orange Bugs
  • 49. Predacons vs Hot Wheels
  • 50. Nemesis, Barrage, Demolisher vs Dual Megatron
  • 51. Hot Wheels vs Sentinels

The Saturday 5 PM session looked like this:

  • 29. Aerialbots vs Three-wide Primes (OP:BL, Starter-set Optimus, Flamewar)
  • 28. Hot Wheels vs Orange Bugs
  • 27. Hot Wheels vs Fire Wheels
  • 26. Predacons vs Predacons
  • 25. Metroplex vs Nemesis, Flamewar, Thundercracker
  • 24. Aerialbots vs Dinobots
  • 23. Orange Bugs vs Orange Bugs
  • 22. Orange Bugs vs Aerialbots
  • 21. Orange Bugs vs Prowl, Wheeljack, Arcee
  • 20. Orange Bugs vs Prowl, Bumblebee:LW, Wheeljack
  • 19. Aerialbots vs Thrustlock
  • 18. Orange Bugs vs Dragstrip, Deadend, Wheeljack, Prowl
  • 17. NA
  • 16. Aerialbots vs Aerialbots
  • 31. Optimus Novastar vs Orange Bugs
  • 15. Stunticons vs Hot Wheels
  • 30. Must have missed this table

Sunday

Sunday was a different story. I arrived late and forfeited my first match to an Orange Bug opponent. The second match I went a bit YOLO and a disastrous early Security Checkpoint dropped my entire hand for my opponent’s single Bashing Shield. When I sent BB:LW into an untapped Chop Shop, I didn’t come up with an orange flip and thus left him alive with 1 health. The poor planning and decision making were 100% on me, but the unfortunate luck didn’t help either. Just one of those games.

Takeaways (Deck Improvements)

The biggest lesson coming out of Origins was in understanding my deck’s win condition. For awhile there, the number of orange pips kept creeping up as I was lured by the prospect (and success) of flipping more orange pips on offense. That as it turns out, is fool’s gold as while it works wonderfully for a game or even a streak of games, eventually the variance is going to cost you due to lack of consistency on defense (aka the identity of this deck). The wake-up moment of clarity was after a match lost by (among other things) a slew of bad defensive flips, I realized I had 3 Sparring Gears and 0 Reinforced Platings.

Aristocars (and blue decks in general) win with a combination of getting your opponent off schedule and doing just enough damage. In Transformers TCG, the attack, health, and defense values are often red herring to what’s truly important – how many attacks (or turns to be even more general) does it take to KO a character? If Option A can attack for 33 damage per hit, well that is objectively better than one only doing 20. That said, if your opponent is playing Metroplex and both options require 2 turns to KO, is there really any difference in that 13 point damage spread?

I’ve tracked the damage and defensive output of Aristocars over numerous play-tests and have found the damage averages out to about 8.55 damage per attack and 4.37 armor per defense. The damage output is certainly less than you’d get with aggressive orange decks, but it’s enough to where 95%+ of the characters in the game are in 2-shot territory (this is of course assuming the minimal defense one faces against Orange decks).

On the defensive side of things, “getting your opponent off schedule” just means making them waste attacks. Orange decks for the most part try to “out-race” the opponent in damage, and don’t do as well the longer the game goes on. I define “wasting an attack” loosely as, reducing an attack that would be 6 or more down to 2 or less. Empirically, my play-test games against Insecticons show if I can waste just two of my opponent’s attacks, my chances of winning skyrocket. Realizing this made me stop the Orange pip creep and get back to basics.

How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Self-Damage

I almost never use cards like Reckless Charge and One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall outside of aggressive, “kamikaze”-style decks. I get and sympathize with the argument of, “Why do you care about taking damage if the trade-off is killing an opponent’s character?“. While that’s obviously a great trade-off in isolation, the problem is that unless it was the winning play of the game, you’ve just made it easier for your opponent to tit-for-tat KO your character on the following turn.

I’ve played more self-games against Insecticons than I can count. Hell, I’ve probably played the Insecticon deck more than most Insecticon players! Contrary to popular belief, the biggest threat (at least for Aristocars) isn’t Kickback or even Barrage, it’s Skrapnel. Nothing has caused more deck re-work than losing games solely due to Skrapnel and his “guaranteed” staying power. The only reason Aristocars went from playing Bumblebee: Brave Warrior to Autobot Hot Rod was the 1 damage from the KO-area flip reduces the attacks needed to kill Skrapnel from 3 to 2.

With three characters, it’s vitally important to have some way of doing damage other than just attacking. A lot of match-ups go from “unforgiving” to “unwinnable” if just one attack is wasted. Direct damage opens up a lot of breathing room, especially for the Insection match-up and Skrapnel. I played around with Plasma Burst for a bit, but when we are talking about finishing targets, the difference between 2 and 3 points of direct damage is huge.

Apart from re-aligning with its defensive roots, adding 3 One Shall Stand, One Shall Falls to Aristocars was the biggest shake-up and improvement.

Final Words

It’s cliche at this point but truly the best part of Origins was meeting and playing with the rest of the community. I have no local scene to speak of, so Origins was the first substantial game-play I’ve experienced with real, live opponents. I also got to meet most of the content creators I followed, so that was pretty cool. Everyone from Vector Sigma, Steffon of SDotAkuma (eventual 1st place winner), Cameron of Arbitrary Hero, Brian from Wreck ‘n Rule, and numerous others attended and were all great guys. The Transformers TCG game and community are in their nascent stages so the interactions that happen now will set the culture for years to come. This is history in the making!