Thursday, May 30, 2019

Specialist Stratagies

After the last set of changes, there was only one more; remove Vandalize for Battle Ready.

I didn't want to take out Vandalize; equipment is too useful to ignore. However, because of Bashing Shield and Enforcement Batons, I knew I had some answers. Utilities are still going to be a problem, but you solve that problem by KOing the character, right? More orange pips means that Supercharge becomes far more useful.

So with the list done, how do I approach games?

Specialists vs Cosmos Prime
First: I usually transform Sludge and attack with Shockwave. Shockwave's stats are far superior to everyone else's and if I'm on the play, there's nothing for me to do anyway. So it's likely to get in a good hit, while being able to withstand a decent amount of damage.

This can change if I know I'm going up against a highly defensive deck but generally leading the attack with Shockwave is correct. Sludge gets transformed because opponents usually want to take it out quickly and getting the repair bonus is always helpful.

Now, turn two is where this deck starts to shine. That can even happen if you're going second! Because one can frequently engineer turns where you play Multi Mission Gear or Field Communicator to get a 'full' turn, playing multiple cards. Because Specialists play a game of incremental advantages, getting to take more actions in the early game can help give them an edge. They can't blow an opponent out; you have to look for weaknesses in the armor and capitalize on them. The sooner, the better!

Similarly, don't be afraid to use up Repair Bay on just one character. Incremental advantages, remember? Plus, those orange pips don't do you any good sitting in your hand.

Swoop usually bats cleanup and is definitely the weakest link in the deck so far. Generally, it's great to put a Grenade Launcher on him but any equipment is helpful, even Multi-Mission Gear for defense and a bonus action. And if he's carrying the full load of utilities, Battle Ready means Swoop has a bigger bonus to attack than Grenade Launcher, getting +3 from the utilities, plus +1s from both Field Communicator and Multi-Tool.

If Swoop survives, though, using the alt mode ability to repair and ping for one isn't bad, especially since on the next attack, that will also repair a second point of damage.

Similarly, I have found it useful to play carefully so I have opportunities to use Shockwave's bot mode ability with System Reboot. This can frequently hit for three points of damage but against a deck trying to use a lot of draw, like Bombshell, Psy-Ops might, you could KO someone.

If you get the chance to untap with the full suite of characters, I've found that I'm usually in a better position than I think. Swoop often tempts opponents to go after it but all three characters can do quite a bit and if one character is gone, the other two can still close a game. It's a pretty balanced roster, at least for now.

The updated decklist is:
Sludge/Mighty Stomper 8 stars   
Shockwave/Cyberton Commander 11 stars   
Swoop/Fearsome Flyer 6 stars

Pep Talk 2
Treasure Hunt 2
System Reboot 2
Supercharge 2
Repair Bay 2
Battle Ready 2Zap 2
Brainstorm 3
Surprise Attack 1
Bashing Shield 1
Equipment Enthusiast 2
Improvised Shield 1
Grenade Launcher 2
Data Pad 1
Multi-Tool 3
Field Communicator 3
Leap Into Battle 3
Multi-Mission Gear 3
Scrapper Gauntlets 1
Spare Parts 1
Enforcement Batons 1

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Shockwave, as it turns out, is a specialist. 6 attack, 11 health and 3 defense are pretty good stats, and it means that the Specialists deck can concentrate on making attacks instead of trying to get Cosmos to trigger. The concepts are pushing against each other and that's one reason it's not working.

"I don't like Disarm," Jason told me.

I had to agree, it is the glory of cool things. New Designs has also been underperforming for me.

"Leap Into Battle and Supercharge," he told me. It makes sense; giving a character +1 attack isn't tremendously helpful. Giving a character +1 attack and then either +3 or Bold 3, that could swing a game. 

After a few games, I recognized another problem.

The reason Swap Parts was banned was because it allowed Multi-Mission Tool and other equipment to retrigger for free and all at once, creating an overwhelming advantage. I was using Disarm to get those triggers but it never came together the way I hoped it would. Effectively, the power level of the deck just isn't high enough to make games interesting.

So the next logical step is to play other equipment, so I can reshuffle older equipment into my deck and get those free abilities again. In order to make sure I get that equipment, I'm using the green icon introduced in Rise of the Combiners. If I flip over Enforcement Batons, that's fine! I can swap it out and then play it to keep the free stuff coming.

One other thought might be Battle Ready for the damage boost instead of Supercharge. I have frequently found myself with characters carrying 2 or 3 upgrades; this damage boost might be better than bold is, because my deck has as blend of combat icons. Battle Ready guarantees a damage boost but Supercharge does not. At least it's worth testing. Salvage for Parts was also on my radar but without a battle icon, healing my characters just isn't worth it.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Sound And Fury

I played the Specialists against a couple different decks including Stunticons and the matchups...well they aren't relevant to what I learned.

Specialists vs Stunticons
Thanks to Wheeljack, I was able to filter the HELL out of this deck. Even when I wasn't, I was able to play free things via Multi-Tool or Field Communicator (which is BONKERS good) and keep going through my deck, playing more cards. Sure, it didn't click every time, but frequently I could make a lot of stuff happen on my turn.

The problem is, that stuff didn't do anything. I would have characters that would be suited up with multiple pieces of equipment, and a handful of cards to Brainstorm with and then...nothing. I showed off a lot of effects and when the deck did go off, opponents were always impressed by all the cards I got to play. It just didn't translate into changes in the board state: I wasn't taking opposing characters out, or forwarding a victory condition.

So I decided that maybe the deck needed some oomph and changed characters, adding in a victory condition: Cosmos, Recon & Communication. With this came Sludge and Swoop, chosen because they are specialists in both modes, unlike their car counterparts, and frequently hit harder, along with the removal of more car-centric cards like Turbo Boosters.

But it didn't help. Cosmos is only scary if the KO ability goes off and the ability isn't easy to trigger. Sludge and Swoop can do a lot of damage but weren't really as frightening as I wish they would be.

So the question becomes; now what?

Now we ask friends for help. What do I do with this deck?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Specialists

So, here's a Transformers deck that I'm wanting to give a go to. A card database link for reference.
Character cards

Bumblebee Courageous Scout/9 Stars
Prowl Military Strategist/6 Stars
Wheeljack Weapons Inventor/ 9 Stars

Battle cards

Leap of Faith  1
Equipment Enthusiast   2
Vaporize  3
New Designs  3
Pep Talk   2
Treasure Hunt  2
System Reboot  1
Zap     2
Repair Bay 2
Disarm  2
Confidence  3
Brainstorm  3
Intelligence Mission   1

Turbo Boosters   2
Force Field   2
Multi-Tool  3
Field Communicator   3
Multi-Mission Gear  3
Some people may recall that the Specialist deck is the one that got Swap Parts banned. Since the consistency of that deck is gone, I wanted to know if Specialists could still make an impact.

Here's the premise: Specialists get gear that let you do free things. Free is a very good price. So play out all the things, and overwhelm the opponent's characters with more cards than my opponent can play. Make the game go long with Repair Bay to let characters last longer (for free!), use Brainstorm to enable more free plays, Zap for a free damage, with Treasure Hunt and Confidence to fill the hand, and keep playing more stuff. Turbo Boosters can untap my characters to give me extra attacks, or as a way to mitigate Intelligence Mission's drawback. Again: free stuff is free!

It seems awesome, so let's give it a go.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

75% Or So

I feel like this deck is in a good place. Testing has been positive, I don't hate the cards that I draw at any given moment. I cut Blinkmoth Urn for the Saheeli, Sublime Artificer because I just won't be able to use that much mana, and my opponents don't need the boost.

I think I would like to make space for a Trash for Treasure but I'm just not sure where. So I ran the deck through and decided I would cut an Island for the card. Again, I expect this to be good but not gamebreaking.

Which is where I like my Commander decks: tuned, but shy of competitive, that 75% good rate. This should give me some solid outs, without being the scariest threat at the table.

Well, most of the time. Decklist for Saheeli, the Gifted.

1 Chaos Warp
1 Magmaquake
1 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Shattering Pulse


1 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
1 Endless Atlas
1 Retrofitter Foundry
1 Mimic Vat
1 Mirrorworks
1 Prototype Portal
1 Unwinding Clock
1 Commander's Sphere
1 Hedron Archive
1 Izzet Signet
1 Magnifying Glass
1 Mind Stone
1 Prismatic Lens
1 Scrabbling Claws
1 Sol Ring
1 Swiftfoot Boots
1 Unstable Obelisk
1 Worn Powerstone
1 Izzet Locket
1 Jinxed Ring
1 Enchanter's Bane
1 Thopter Spy Network
1 Goblin Bombardment
1 Efficient Construction
1 Kyren Negotiations
1 Saheeli's Artistry
1 Echo Storm
1 Saheeli's Directive
1 Aether Gale
1 Blasphemous Act
1 Reverse Engineer
1 Tidings
1 Trash for Treasure

1 Darksteel Citadel
1 Great Furnace
1 Seat of the Synod
14 Island
12 Mountain
1 Forge of Heroes
1 Buried Ruin
1 Command Tower
1 Foundry of the Consuls
1 Highland Lake
1 Izzet Boilerworks
1 Izzet Guildgate
1 Swiftwater Cliffs


1 Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer
1 Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice
1 Vedalken Humiliator
1 Treasure Nabber
1 Ancient Stone Idol
1 Soul of New Phyrexia
1 Inkwell Leviathan
1 Sharding Sphinx
1 Hellkite Igniter
1 Bosh, Iron Golem
1 Darksteel Juggernaut
1 Duplicant
1 Myr Battlesphere
1 Scuttling Doom Engine
1 Steel Hellkite
1 Thopter Assembly
1 Loyal Apprentice
1 Geode Golem
1 Etherium Sculptor
1 Whirler Rogue
1 Chief of the Foundry
1 Pilgrim's Eye
1 Thopter Engineer
1 Meteor Golem
1 Sai, Master Thopterist

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

On Competitive Magic

There is, as you might imagine, quite a bit going on in this essay by Ari Lax about how competitive Magic is changing. (If you have an interest in competitive Magic, this other essay by Matt Sperling might also be of interest-I thought that was well done, too. An emphasis on empathy will go a long way for people no matter what). Your mileage may very about the takeaway on pro Magic but for me, this part stuck out.
Wanting to prove something gets you to beating people at the local shop to say you won, but that's it. Why does anyone play competitive Magic beyond that level?

It's about the art of self improvement.
That struck a chord.

Because I play decks until I've 'figured them out'. My current work on the Saheeli deck is a perfect example: I played that deck until I understood what it wanted to do, stripped out the cards that didn't forward that goal, put in ones that I thought did...and boom. Now that I've done that, I'm pretty much done with playing the Saheeli commander deck. I think this is one of the reasons I have so many decks (new problem excitement!) and leave them behind so quickly (the equation is solved until new cards appear). 

At some point is generally no more work to be done that isn't obvious (add in brutally strong cards!/give up on this idea for now) or helps me discover something about the game or myself that I didn't already know.

Part of that comes from having played Magic for over twenty years, reading a ton of strategy and 'making of' essays, part of it from trying to do self improvement work of my own.

I play Magic-or any game, lately the Transformers TCG and Betrayal: Legacy-for two reasons, when I drill down into the core.

First, I'm there to socialize. The socialization might be fairly light, as I'm still making friends with people who are playing Transformers, or be a bit more personal; most of the people I play Magic with I've been playing for years. Nevertheless, I am there to maintain or build connections with other people.

Second, I'm there to do better. I am not playing against other people so much as I am trying to improve my own game. The opponent provides context for me compete against, but my goal is to play better than I played before. Winning or losing isn't as relevant as whether or not I played the best game I can play, did I handle the stress properly, or my opponents respectfully.

And I take that measure against only one person: Me.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

"What's Your Win Condition?"

Matt asked me this after a few games with the new setup.

"Well, Goblin Bombardment," I replied, "assuming I can't just overrun with tokens."

"Have you considered Kyren Negotiations?"

Well...damn. What a great idea! My creatures don't need haste for the Negotiations to be useful, and I've had a lot of success with this deck generating tokens so this just seems like a perfect fit. It's an awesome way to get extra mileage out of my tokens, especially when board stalemates arrive-and they always do.

The Negotiations paid off right away in a game against Matt and Caitlin. Saheeli, the Gifted's ultimate suddenly became a lot more powerful, allowing me the luxury to play patiently, using my creatures more strategically to block and still get damage in.

After that game, it was suggested that I add in Scrap Mastery or some other way to recur artifacts that had gone to my graveyard. Trash for Treasure and Daretti, Scrap Savant are possibilities, and of them, Daretti is the card I believe would push this deck over the top into a more competitive vein, as is Intruder Alarm, an idea that was also floated. This is a fun, goofy-ish token deck and I don't think I want to lock the boardstate down with Intruder Alarm; it creates unfun situations. Saheeli, the Gifted doesn't have an expedient way to close the game out once Intruder Alarm arrives so I'm shying away from it, but it's certainly an avenue for someone to use.

Another card that I'm looking to add is Saheeli, Sublime Artificer. It's a second copy of Efficient Construction with a potentially useful secondary ability but I'm mostly playing it to get more Servo tokens. My order for War of the Spark just arrived yesterday, so testing these final changes will happen soon.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

On Teaching

The Transformers TCG put out a post on their Facebook about how to teach the game. There's also a spoiler card for those interested (which I am) but that's not what I want to talk about.

When I get to teach someone how to play a game, I try to tell them everything I think they need to know.

The mistake I make that this article points out, is telling them more than they need. It's a difficult error to recognize, because as someone versed in playing the game, I can see all the moving parts. Those are important to me, so that I can play at the level I am trying to play at. New players don't need all that extra data. The trick is to pare things down to precisely what someone needs and no more.

Or: focus on what matters.

The biggest stumbling block for me might be to let 'incorrect' plays happen. With a game like Betrayal: Legacy, it's a little easier to let that go, because we're all making the mistake together. But in a competitive game, I don't want to have someone learn the wrong thing and then move forward, losing games because they didn't know the right thing.

There has to be a compromise or workaround, I'm just not sure what it is. Maybe a 'wrapup' moment, where I can clarify certain points, or just saying beforehand that I won't worry about details until a couple games in, and the person I'm trying to teach gets a feel for the game?

It's hard to know-but it also makes me appreciate the work of designers all the more.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Finer Direction

After playing the Saheeli deck multiple times, I have a sense of what it wants to do: make a ton of tokens and overrun my opponents with them.

There are a few cards that just don't fit this well-or need to be removed for more relevant cards that fit the theme better. So here's the first round of cuts:

Loyal Drake (I have card draw and this goes against the theme)
Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor (goes against theme)
Coveted Jewel (bad)
Into The Roil (too narrow)
Psychosis Crawler (too narrow)
Maverick Thopterist (there are better cards)
Dreamstone Hedron (a difficult cut but I thought I could do better)
Vessel of Endless Rest (doesn't fit the theme)

And the replacements:

Feldon's Cane
Meteor Golem
Shattering Pulse
Phyrexian Altar
Goblin Bombardment
Efficient Construction
Sai, Master Thopterist
Jinxed Idol

Of these Jinxed Idol is the most interesting one to me, since the Gather wording on it says "whenever a non-token permanent is put into the graveyard". I have token creatures to spare, so there's a genuine chance to mess with some players' strategies, especially ones that want to use sacrifice effects. Sure, it's not so hot against other token decks but you can't win 'em all. Plus, I like the political element that the Idol introduces.

The rest are there to help solve other problems: Shattering Pulse to take care of artifacts, and Meteor Golem for other permanents, Goblin Bombardment to make use of all the tiny artifacts creatures Saheeli's ultimate generates, Phyrexian Altar for mana, and finally Efficient Constrution and Sai, Master Thopterist to increase the number of Thopters this deck can generate.

I look forward to seeing how these changes pan out because they feel smart and focused towards the theme. My one questionmark is Phyrexian Altar. I had added that card, because I was hoping to find some more expensive bounce effects: Distorting Wake or Capsize being my top two, and then sacrificing any hasted-but-sacrifice at end of turn tokens to feed into a board reset.

I am apparently using those cards in other decks because I don't seem to have any. I'm going to do a little digging for another spell like this that I can use but for now, I want to get some more games under my belt!