Characters

Autobot Hot Rod – Impulsive Fighter (7*)

Bumblebee – Legendary Warrior (10*)

Cliffjumper- Renegade Warrior (8*)

Upgrades – Weapons (10)

  • Grenade Launcher – O (x3)
  • Handheld Blaster – BB (x3)
  • Noble’s Blaster – BG (x2)
  • Energon Axe – B (x2)

Upgrades – Armor (8)

  • Reinforced Plating – B (x3)
  • Bashing Shield – OG (x1)
  • Sparring Gear – OG (x1)
  • Force Field – W (x3)

Upgrades – Utilities (3)

  • Matrix of Leadership – OB (x3)

Actions (21)

  • One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall – Blank (x3)
  • Press the Advantage – OG (x1)
  • Security Checkpoint – BB (x3)
  • The Bigger They Are – B (x1)
  • Start Your Engines – B (x3)
  • Work Overtime – W (x1)
  • Leap Into Battle – B (x3)
  • Heavy-Handed – B (x1)
  • Espionage – WG (x1)
  • Roll Out! – OB (x3)
  • Smelt – BG (x1)

Summary

  • Battle Cards: 42
  • Orange Pips: 12
  • Blue Pips: 34
  • White Pips: 5
  • Green Pips: 7

Intro

The Aristocars is a deck I’ve been wanting to make for a long time. While I can’t argue with the single-minded focus of mono-color decks (or their results), the fact that either defensive or offensive battle flips were largely rendered meaningless (and therefore boring) always irked me. A viable, balanced color deck that was versatile, fun to play, and still competitive became the holy grail of Transformers TCG for me.

Enter the Aristocars (aka the Warriors Three). The name is a nod at the fact two out of three characters are super rares. We also run a lot of the high value battle cards (an earlier iteration also included 3x Peace Through Tyranny) so this is by no means a budget deck ( ~250 USD at current market prices as of 6.02.2019). 

The Team

Bumblebee – Legendary Warrior is the heart of the team. He should always be the last one standing in order to fully maximize his bot mode bonuses. From a raw stats per star metric, last-man-standing Bumblebee comes in at (7 + 15 + 3) / 10 = 2.5, which is in elite company. For comparison:

  • Optimus Prime: Battlefield Legend is (8 + 14 + 2) / 13 = 1.8462
  • Nemesis Prime: (7 + 16 + 2) / 12 = 2.0833
  • Barrage (often considered the best raw stats for star character): (5 + 11 + 1) / 7 = 2.4286
  • Flamewar: (3 + 10 + 1) / 5 = 2.8
  • Cliffjumper: (5 + 12 + 2) / 8 = 2.375
  • Bumblebee: Brave Warrior: (4 + 9 + 2) / 6 = 2.5

You’ll actually notice that all three members of the team rank quite high on this metric, and while stats per star is by no means the end-all, be-all judge of a character’s value, it’s one point of consideration when selecting characters to form a team. This particular metric is slanted toward characters with fewer stars (exhibit A: Flamewar) so a 10-star character with stat efficiency in the same ballpark is saying a lot.

Bumblebee: LW is also a leader which means he’s a good target for Matrix of Leadership. His Car mode is useful for targeting characters your opponent wants to protect, but most of the time he wants to stay in bot mode for the +1 attack. In certain match ups though, knowing when to attack in Car mode can win or lose you the game, and thus a driver for high skill cap.

Remember, there are (6) character flip cars in the deck (Roll Out!, Start Your Engines) so after playing said card, you can flip BB: LW back into Bot mode and still maintain the ability to attack any target.

Cliffjumper acts as primary support, and the reason why the deck list has no battle card based draw power. You want to keep Cliffjumper in Car mode at all times, unless for some reason he’s the last man standing at which point his alt-mode ability becomes useless. Last-man-standing Cliffjumper clocks in at an incredible (7 + 12 + 2) / 8 = 2.625 raw stats/star!

Bumblebee: Brave Warrior is the team’s damage soak and is typically the first attacker (in Bot-mode) every game. Innate Tough 1 makes up for his slightly low health and if you add a Sparring Gear to the mix, he becomes surprisingly hard to kill. Soaking two (orange deck) hits your goal – anything above and beyond that will significantly improve your chances of winning.

The main substitution debate is why Bumblebee: BW at 6 stars (with Leap of Faith) over 7-star options like Prowl: Strategic Mastermind or Autobot Hot Rod – Impulsive Fighter?

If we want to stay defensive-minded, we can consider Autobot Hot Rod who is 4/10/2 at 7-stars and has innate Tough 1 as well. In my mind, the additional 1 health is not worth the loss of the card drawing synergy provided by Cliffjumper.

Since BB:BW wants to be in Bot-mode to attack and defend, you naturally are able to take advantage of Cliffjumper’s draw  ability on the initial flip as well as after playing Roll Out! or Start Your Engines. With Autobot Hot Rod, there’s absolutely no reason to be in Bot-mode (at least while alive) so you end up losing 2-3 extra card draws over the course of the game.

Edit: 6.21.2019 – As of Origins 2019, I have replaced Bumblebee: Brave Warrior with Autobot Hot Rod. While the card draw engine is not quite as smooth, you still can flip Hot Rod to Bot-mode on the second or third turn when Cliffjumper or Bumblebee: LW attacks. Your opponent is put into conflict where they can use this opportunity to attack a Hot Rod without Tough, or go after higher value targets (CJ, BB).

Hot Rod’s 1 point of direct damage from the KO area is incredibly useful vs Skrapnel as needing only 2 attacks to take out Skrapnel (instead of 3) can easily decide a game.

Prowl: Strategic Mastermind is an option if you want to be more offensive minded, however you still lose out on the card drawing synergy as well as access to Leap of Faith. The loss of the latter is not that big of a deal, but the former is one of the key advantages of this deck.

Battle Cards

The first thing you’ll notice is this deck is 42 cards. Now I know that’s a cardinal sin to many people but what can I say, I love Force Field and the difference between 3/40 and 3/42 is negligibly small. If you’re a 40-card purist, removing 2 Force Fields will get you back to 40.

The second thing you’ll notice is there are a decent number of green pip cards (7) in the deck. A key pillar of this deck’s strategy is pairing green pip cards with the draw power to quickly and efficiently get the cards you need for the given situation. It’s not as relevant to call this out now, but earlier iterations of this deck had up to 14 green pips.

Grenade Launcher

If this deck has a weakness, it’s getting consistent damage on heavy defensive blue decks like Aerialbots. Oftentimes how often you draw into Grenade Launcher will be the determining factor of your success against such decks.  One-shotting someone like Fireflight makes a massive difference in how the match-up plays out, as needing 3+ attacks to get Fireflight off the field drastically reduces your chances of winning.

Handheld Blaster

Double blue pips for defensive flips. In a pinch, playing this card actually provides above-zero value (compared to pure blue decks) due to the balanced nature of this composition. If drawn, leaving this in your hand to swap for a green-pip card is the best play you can make 99% of the time.

Noble’s Blaster

The weapon of choice for our blue-blooded Cars. Owing to the green pip, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get these in hand. Adding 2 damage to any character on this team turns them from a solid attacker to a legitimate offensive threat. I typically ignore the question of, how much damage can you do? with, how many attacks does it take to kill my target? Adding a Noble Blaster reduces the all-important “hits-to-kill” from 3 down to 2 for the vast majority of targets out there.

Bashing Shield

There are three Upgrade removal cards in this deck and Bashing Shield makes up two of them. If you’re not opposed going to a 41-card deck, adding a third Bashing Shield would be a good idea, especially against heavy blue decks.

A huge contributor to why Armor (Force Field in particular) is not currently in vogue, Bashing Shield combines armor removal with a green pip so you are more or less guaranteed the option of playing it. I used to run 2 of these in the main deck, however there are 2 problems. The first is it’s an Orange pip, and the second is it’s an Upgrade. The former is something we can work around with trade-offs elsewhere, but the latter is a huge negative in a deck where we are not getting “free” damage from combat flips and thus the damage from our Battle cards is incredibly important. All things being equal, I prefer Action-based Upgrade removal (particularly in this deck).

Sparring Gear & Force Field

The “main” armors. When provided the choice, Reinforced Plating should be the default play. Force Field should be played tactically as a preventive counter-measure against a specific (big) attack.

Deciding when to play an armor vs a weapon can make or break your game. I typically ask myself, “does playing this weapon make a material difference in the result of my attack?” If the answer is yes, then play the weapon, otherwise play the armor. An easy example is in the Insecticon match-up where Skrapnel (in Bot-mode) is the only valid target. You’re only going to get 3 regardless of the damage bonus so playing an armor is the best move.

Another situation is your target has 9 health and 1 armor. If you attack without a weapon you’ll do 5 damage, and thus require another hit to kill. If you play a weapon, you’ll do 8 damage and still require another hit to kill. Unless there are some larger implications at play, putting down the armor provides the most incremental value.

Matrix of Leadership

A mainstay in a balanced pip Autobot deck. Both Bumblebees are worthy targets for the honor. I like to think of Matrix of Leadership as +3 attack except spread out among your characters. If played during the early game, you might be surprised at how much damage you get of this upgrade as the turns go by. That said, it is still slow-developing so I find myself playing this only if there are no better options in hand.

Press the Advantage & Leap Into Battle

These were added to provide combo/burst damage. Against Decepticons Press the Advantage is often as good as a Grenade Launcher.

Security Checkpoint

Double blue pips for defensive flips. When played at the right time,  can single-handedly give you an insurmountable advantage.

Start Your Engines

Resets your card drawing engine and creates extra attacks – one of the main reasons to play Cars! You’ll notice the other car un-tapping card, Turbo Boosters is not included in this list. While the initial iteration ran 3 Turbo Boosters, I found they just didn’t provide enough relative value. The problem with Turbo Boosters is it’s an upgrade, and thus you can’t play another, more impactful upgrade on that turn. If you’re dead-set on having maximum untapping ability then feel free to swap them back in, but (IMO) the results will be suboptimal.

Spare Parts

This deck makes significant investment in armor from a card-slot and strategy perspective so it’s imperative to ensure we get value out of them. It’s a situational judgement call on whether to play the Spare Parts or the armor first, but general rule of thumb is to play the armor and then play Spare Parts on the following turn. You get immediate value out of the armor and it’s only vulnerable to removal for a window one turn. The alternative is often too slow, but could work if there are no immediate threats on the field. I’ve gone through several add-remove iterations with this card and as of now, it’s back in as a one-of. Currently in the sideboard.

Espionage

Since there’s just a single, it would behoove you to hold it for specific scenarios such as the turn before an Enigma drops, or right before your opponent’s best character’s turn. Can be sideboard fodder if not needed.

Smelt

On first glance this card seems terrible. After understanding the game a bit better, I’ve realized Smelt has it’s niche. That is, in certain match-ups and/or game phases, your opponent often only has one upgrade on the field. In this scenario, you can fetch Smelt off a battle flip and use it for positive effect. Another way to think about it is, if you’re only running one Upgrade-removal Action (ex. Vaporize), what are the chances you’ll actually draw into it? Wouldn’t that deck slot be better served with a fetch-able albeit less useful version? Minimal value is still better than no value.

Gameplay

Your first few turns typically play out like:

Turn 1: Flip Bumblebee (draw card due to Cliffjumper) and attack with Hot Rod

Turn 2: (Optionally) Flip Hot Rod (draw card due to CJ) and attack with CJ

Turn 3: Attack with Bumblebee

For example if you went first (aka on the play), you’ll have 7 cards in hand on turn 2 (after flipping Hot Rod), and paired with two rounds of battle flips (aka two opportunities to retrieve a green pip card), you more than likely are sitting on a stacked hand with a plethora of options. This accelerated start is essentially “guaranteed”, and provides a significant advantage over your opponent. Now it’s just on you to follow through with sound decision making!

An alternative start when there’s a priority target you *need* to get off the field (ex. Kickback) before it has a chance to attack:

Turn 1: Flip Bumblebee to Bot-mode (draw card due to CJ) but attack with Hot Rod

Turn 2: Flip Bumblebee back to Alt-mode and attack priority target with enough battle cards to one-shot them. Oftentimes this mean Grenade Launcher + Leap Into Battle. I typically do not assume I’ll get an orange battle flip because unless you’re going for a hail-mary play, it’s just not worth leaving Bumblebee vulnerable to attack for almost killing a target.

Turn 3: Attack with CJ

A few tips:

  • If possible, playing Start Your Engines on the second or third turn of a round will make a significant positive impact on your board state. Yes, you can get multiple attacks in with Cliffjumper or Bumblebee, but a great play is un-tapping Hot Rod (especially if equipped with a Reinforced Plating), sending him in again, and forcing your opponent to waste more attacks into him.
  • It might go without saying, but ideally you are playing both an Action and an Upgrade on your turns. Grenade Launcher + Leap Into Battle or Noble’s Blaster + Press The Advantage can produce huge spikes of damage, and your chances of winning the game is often directly proportional to how many of these coordinated turns you can pull off.
  • Always make decisions with an eye on keeping Bumblebee: Legendary Warrior alive. The last-bot-standing bonuses paired with the ability to pick off wounded characters your opponent might be hiding is huge. If things didn’t play out quite as expected and Cliffjumper is the last bot on the board, then that’s OK too. If Bumblebee: Brave Warrior is the last bot alive you’re probably in trouble.
  • Noble’s Blaster and Press the Advantage provide an additional edge over Decepticon-based decks. Orange Bugs – one of the most prolific (and feared) decks of the current meta falls quite easily to the Aristocars (55/45 if I had to quantify the advantage).
  • I maintain over a dozen deck lists at a time (including all the top net-decks) and tune my creations by testing against them. Believe me, growing up as an only child I have plenty of experience playing against myself in an impartial manner (sob).
  • This deck has trouble against heavy blue defensive decks like Aerialbots (35/65) and Dual Primes (40/60). Something that will improve your odds is when facing a choice, always opt to remove your opponent’s armor as opposed to trying for a big hit over top the armor (aka play Bashing Shield over an offensive upgrade).

Origins 2019

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

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.

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 shows the consistency is much higher than I originally estimated.

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.

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 sometimes.

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, that’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 scenario 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.

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.

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 games 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.

Final Words

The Aristocars is a balanced blue-heavy deck-list that’s both versatile and fun. No longer will you just be going through the motions when flipping battle cards during half the game.  The team is made up of characters that are among the most pound-for-pound efficient in the game, and the card draw engine paired with a heavy green pip count smooths out the inherent variability in mixed-pip decks.

This is an engaging, high skill cap list on average deals 8.55 damage per turn, and defends for 4.37.  Over a typical 12 turn game you are dealing 8.55 x 12 = 102.6 damage (before defense) and mitigating 4.37 * 12 = 52.4. This gives you an effective health pool of 52.4 + 9 + 12 + 15 = 88.4.

Sure, sometimes you’ll lose due to a bad flip but over a big enough sample size you’ll find your decision making (many times down to  which green card you take) to be the dominant variable. Have fun!