Building Ironhide: Liquid Nitrogen, Pt 3

So I’ve talked about things we can do with Captain Ironhide, and even taken Ironhide out to a tournament. Much to my surprise, my test deck actually does quite well. I’ve since then tested the list against my Aerialbots deck, and it seems to do pretty well there too, even without Espionage.

The team felt cohesive, and even thematic – it harkerned back to a period in the IDW comics where Ironhide had to work with misfit former Decepticons as part of Cybertron’s defense. But is this the definitive Ironhide team? In this week’s Building article, I want to take a look at possible ‘formations’ for a character like Ironhide, and what characters could fit into such formations. From there, we can create new ideas for line-ups, and perhaps even finding something better!

Fair warning: This is going to be a long one; we’re going to consider a lot of character cards. This blog is all about the deep dives, so brace yourself – put on your spelunking gear, we’re going in!

(all art from this post comes from Til All Are One volume 1, as drawn by Sara Pitre-Durocher. If you haven’t read it, you should, it’s a great Ironhide-centered story!)

After a while of playing Transformers TCG, you start to see familiar numerical patterns when it comes to the star cost of characters within a line-up. For example, a 13 star character will be teamed up with a 7 and a 5, a 10 star character could regularly appear with a 9 and 6 star, etc.

That seems obvious, the numbers all add to 25 duuuuuuh; and you’re right, it is obvious. I don’t think we all think in terms of these numerical patterns, though. I don’t know if card players have a general term for this, but I’m going to refer to them as formations in this blog.

Thinking in terms of these formations ahead of time helps us think about what characters we can team a character with. It helps us to get out of the habit of trying to create line-ups that are well under the 25 star limit or over it. If we’re thinking in terms of numerical formations, we can quickly determine sideboard characters, including ones that make our list taller (a list that is 13-7-5 can easily turn into 13-12, for example). It also helps us perceive what kind of role our character playing; is he the centre of a four wide team? A support character to a much larger player? Just one of three equally powered characters?

I went through this a bit with Alpha Trion, and how his star cost meant there was a great deal of versatility to the formations he could be used in compared to Optimus Prime. Ironhide increases these possibilities even moreso:

Three Wide
Ironhide / 12 / 4
Ironhide / 11 / 5
Ironhide / 10 / 6
Ironhide / 9 / 7
Ironhide / 8 / 8
(the deck from last weekend is this formation)

Four Wide
Ironhide / 8 / 4 / 4
Ironhide / 7 / 5 / 4
Ironhide / 6 / 6 / 4
Ironhide / 6 / 5 / 5

That’s an almost overwhelming number of possible teammates we can give Ironhide, and that’s without the consideration of not playing to a maximum star count or putting star cards in our deck. With each of these formations, Ironhide‘s role changes as well.

We need to restrict our possbilities, else risk total overload. With Elita-1, I tried to do this by just teaming her exclusively with cars, because cars are a very good tribe with plenty of good candidates and a great gimmick in untap cards. However, Ironhide is a truck; trucks aren’t an especially good tribe unless you’re a sucker for Cargo Trailers (I am not – and I don’t think Ironhide is either, he wants to be upgraded with weapons regularly). Besides, I’m more interested in Ironhide‘s bot mode, so alt mode cards aren’t of interest.

Instead let’s go about this in a different way – let’s ask ourselves the question ‘What will Ironhide bring to a team, that another 9 star card will not’. That might help us narrow down some possible team mates, but also help define what our deck will look like.

Rivals… Sparring Buddies… oh hi Sparkstalker!

So here is every 9 star character in the game so far:

Wave 1: Bumblebee (Common), Darkmount, Mirage, Slug, Wheeljack
Wave 2: Grimlock, Thrust, Venin
Wave 3: Hound, Skrapnel, Wheeljack

We probably don’t need to think about comparisons with most of these; we’re unlikely to build a list that would prefer Slug, Grimlock, Venin, Skrapnel, Mirage or Common Bumblebee. Thrust has a very particular, non-comparable mechanic (but might be an interesting sideboard character in some lists if we want to go quasi-taller).

I don’t know what to make of Wave 3 Wheeljack just yet, which might mean I have to give him some attention in a later project. Who would benefit from Brainstorm… hmmmm…

Darkmount is kind of hard to measure up against; I think maybe in a really hard Blue build, Darkmount might be preferable, but Ironhide is so much better at handling Pierce (he has more health) and direct damage (he can stay in alt mode and be immune; also more health). But in some instances Darkmount might be preferable, as he does have an impressive amount of defense. Hound can also reach higher attack levels too, but has less in the terms of hijinks; Hound is somewhat one dimensional in that we simply throw as many upgrades on him as possible to make a big hit.

This analysis really comes down to one point: in the line-ups we make, is Wave 1 Wheeljack going to be better? Wave 1 Wheeljack is – and I don’t think this is a controversial take – the best 9 star character card and one of the best characters in the game. He is noticeably ahead of the power curve. In a mostly Orange list, Wheeljack will almost always be a better pick than Ironhide. So when we’re looking at who to team-up with Ironhide, we need to think if that pairing will work in a Mixed or Blue deck, because otherwise Wheeljack is our default 9 star.

Wheeljack stole most of the transformers; now Ironhide has to beg. Poor Ironhide 😦

Potential Partners
I think the best thing to do is go through the formations starting from the most wide to the most tall, and singling out potential team-mates as we go through the star ranges. We can remember interesting characters as we go up, in case we want to pick someone who will leave us with extra stars free.

I’m going to ignore some of the formations that are only two-tall, bar any four star characters. I think having one 4-star character to enable four-wide is okay; but just having two characters and then one or two 4-star starts to feel like you’re just running two-tall, and I’m not sure I’m interested in that with this character.

I can also easily ignore battle masters (they do not fit well with Captain Ironhide) and anything that plays Orange (because Wheeljack will always be better in Orange lists).

Shall we get started?

Four Wide
9 / 6 / 5 / 5
In this formation (as well as the next one), Ironhide is the big gun, and then we have three small characters – much like my Alpha Trion list or Brian Alan’s Firewheels deck (but not like Keith Allen’s 4-wide cars or typical Bugs, which are much more even across the team). This would normally play better in Orange, rather than Blue, and we already know we want to avoid Orange as it would work better with Wheeljack. In Orange you can use Bold or other attack bonuses to make up for low attack values; that’s harder to do in Blue, even with Pierce. Let’s see where this goes anyhow.

The two five star characters will need to either be blockers, utility characters or small Pierce characters. Some suggestions here:

Air Raid (Utility / Damage)
Alpha Bravo (Pierce)
Buzzsaw (Utility)
Fireflight (Blocker)
Flamewar (Utility)
Frenzy (Utility)
Raider Laserbeak (Pierce)
Rampage (Pierce)
Raider Ravage (Direct Damage)
Ravage (Pierce)
Skydive (Blocker)

Soundwave‘s minions – in both forms – are interesting options as they offer lots of Pierce. Buzzsaw is an interesting one as his ability looks similar to Ironhide‘s, but unfortunately it plays a blue weapon rather than swaps, so would mean we’re losing cards from our hand quick. We’re also using a blue weapon on Buzzsaw instead of on Ironhide, which seems a little counter-intuitive unless we have some serious card draw on the go.

At the six star range we could pick:

Acid Storm
Chop Shop
Red Alert

None of these characters seem quite right; ChopShop sounds like he could be handy but I don’t think we want to take a weapon away from Ironhide. The best we might be able to do here are strong stat blocks like Red Alert and Swoop, or a meta-breaker like Acid Storm or Warpath (and we really don’t want the very squishy Warpath).

This doesn’t seem like the right formation for us; a wide Blue formation would be very fun, but not with Ironhide. The four-wide Pierce Blue formation with Triggerhappy featured on Wreck n’ Rule this week would be better. Let’s move on. We can ignore 9 / 6 / 6 / 4 too.

9 / 7 / 5 / 4
In this formation we’re looking to pair Ironhide with someone a little meatier, but still managing to get a four-wide arrangement. The 7 star character needs to be able to carry things a little more though, as we have a 4 star in this set up who is probably just going to drop dead at the first hit.

Anyhow, some seven star characters:

Sergeant Chromia
Raider Flamewar
Sentinel Hot Rod
Sentinel Mirage

Private Red Alert
Sentinel Sunstreaker

The sentinels are all good picks for different reasons. I’ve already enjoyed Hot Rod and Mirage, and I think they would be good choices – Sunstreaker slightly less so. Flamewar could be good in the type of slightly mixed deck I’m running, likewise Red Alert.

Chromia could be handy; I struggle to play armour in this list because I’m always playing weapons, she’d allow an armour play to be cheated in.

This looks better than 9 / 6 / 5 / 5, and I think the highlighted characters have potential, but perhaps not enough to warrant the formation. It still feels like we’d want to go for a four-wide Pierce heavy list, in which case I still prefer Triggerhappy as the big player. Ironhide is probably destined not to go four wide.

Onslaught, a probable 5 star character in Wave 6, refuses to work with Ironhide. Nice guy.

Three Wide
9 / 8 / 8
So the current Ironhide and the Space Jets decklist is this formation; and the third member of this formation could quite easily be two 4 star characters instead (Hook and Bonecrusher for example). It’s a solid formation that you don’t tend to see much of outside those based around Dreadwing; and funnily enough, Ironhide and the Space Jets has half of Dreadwing already. This formation has three evenly costed characters who can all do work on their own. An opponent will struggle to pick who to attack first.

Here are some of our options:

Bombshell (Wave 1)
Dinobot Sludge (Wave 2)
Private Arcee
Raider Triggerhappy

So there were more options than this, I took a few out that would not have been useful with the deck list at present; the likes of Sergeant Skywarp and Specialist Ratchet could be useful, but they require changing the deck in a way that is going in a different direction. If I started putting secret actions in the deck, Skywarp might come back into consideration. I also really wanted to consider Sparkstalker for thematic reasons, but he definitely doesn’t fit.

It’s really difficult to argue with Dreadwind and Triggerhappy, especially the latter, but we do have good options here. Bombshell does have a lot of defense and could be an impressive blocker, though he doesn’t have the added bonus of Pierce like Dreadwind. Dirge might play well into our careful control playstyle. Wave 2 Sludge is neat for card draw which we definitely need.

Arcee looks quite promising too; we’re playing lots of weapons so she would quite quickly find herself with Bold 1/Tough 1.

Realistically in this formation I think the current group is the winner; but I think Blackwing is worth thinking about in the sideboard. Aside from the fact he does more damage (in the same ballpark as Arcee), putting him in the sideboard can give us a pair of Dreadwing decks – one with Triggerhappy acting as wingman, another with Ironhide acting as wingman. If we don’t want Dreadwing ever, then Arcee might be a better sideboard character. More investigation is required.

I think we always have to take Triggerhappy in this formation. He simply brings too much to the table as a partner for Ironhide. Triggerhappy is rather underrated, and hopefully when the meta next shifts to Blue we will see much more of him; then those Autobots will be molten metal! Plus, it’s bloody Triggerhappy, can you believe he even has a card? Great right?

9 / 9 / 7
A similar formation to the last one – three mid-range characters of even power level. We already talked about 7 star characters; we’d probably go with Hot Rod, Mirage or Chromia. But what about the rival 9 star characters mentioned earlier? Let’s look at the highlights:

Wave 1 Wheeljack

At this point we have to ask ourselves ‘is this character better than Triggerhappy‘? Many of these are great characters; but alongside Ironhide, I don’t think any of them come close to Triggerhappy. Thrust makes us tall, Darkmount is easy to Pierce down, Hound twists our upgrade sequencing, Skrapnel diverts attention but not much else.

Wheeljack would swing this entire project in a different direction; our argument has been ‘this must be Blue, because otherwise take Wheeljack‘. But if we already had Wheeljack, we could consider Ironhide in a much more aggressive list, with the third member being Sentinel Prowl or even Sentinel Ironhide for double Ironhide hijinks. Wheeljack and Ironhide even have a weird synergy in that they both play off large amounts of weapons. Perhaps not a deck for today – but let’s put a pin in this idea, and come back to it another time.

Otherwise, this formation is a pass, let’s move on.

Wheeljack is still undecided though.

9 / 10 / 6
This is a very common formation where you have one 10 star character that looks like the main player, but usually the two other characters are doing more work than it looks. Most 3-wide cars list are here, as are a lot of Grimlock lists or similar to it. I normally like the 10 star mark, as that tends to be the sweet spot for bots that do a lot of work, but still leave room for some solid characters next to them. Here’s some highlights:

Bumblebee Legendary Warrior
Bumblebee Trusted Lieutenant
Megatron Arrogant Ruler
Private Trailbreaker

Almost everyone here hits decently, especially with a weapon in hand. Some have gimmicks we can make use of, like multiple action plays (Trusted Lieutenant), playing more upgrades (Megatron), or diverting attention (Trailbreaker). We should skip Blaster and Soundwave for now as neither are out yet in most places (even though we did discuss some of their minions earlier).

I think there’s potential for a few builds here:

Ironhide / Megatron / Fireflight or Skydive
(Megatron cycles through upgrades and tries to upgrade everyone, using Ironhide as a big hitter whilst still being Blue)

Ironhide / Ramjet / Flamewar
(Ramjet is big, stupid and hits for so much damage, and potentially so could Ironhide)

Ironhide / Trailbreaker / Flamewar
(Trailbreaker keeps up a Forcefield and holds attention, gear up for big hit from Ironhide. Not sold on this idea.)

Some ideas, but nothing that makes me want to ditch the 9 / 8 / 8 formation and Triggerhappy.

9 / 11 / 5
Our final formation, this one will use Ironhide as a key side character, with a central figure doing most of the core work. Here Ironhide will basically be contributing shenanigans (our Armed Hovercraft / Drill Arms / Enforcement Batons type plays) whilst a bigger character takes care of the big hits, or contributes a major ability.

Here are three 11 star characters that I find particular interesting:

Alpha Trion
General Prime

Of course I need to list Alpha Trion – I already spent a few weeks focusing on him and know how he works pretty well at this point. I do think Alpha Trion would work better in an Orange list – so Wheeljack is probably a better friend for him. But Alpha Trion would give Ironhide an interesting companion and could still work in Blue. In particular I like the idea of Alpha Trion guaranteeing us a Treasure Hunt or maybe even a Relentless Charge to set up a strong swing with Ironhide despite being in a Blue shell.

Shockwave is an almost perverse idea; why not use the guy who Ironhide otherwise negates? There’s more chemistry between the two than you might think, too – Shockwave brings the team a lot of card draw and benefits from System Reboot to reset cards; the weapons received from doing this can then be used with Ironhide. I like this idea way more than I think I should.

Finally, there’s General Optimus Prime. The General is one of the best all-rounders in the game right now, just a solid buff bot that can switch to a powerhouse. He swings well in Orange with Wheeljack (and, well, any character you care to name); there’s absolutely no reason he can’t do the same with Ironhide and Flamewar in a Blue shell. I don’t think many people are playing General Prime in this way, so it might be an interesting experiment.

Now Ironhide has plenty of team mates. Including Sparkstalker. Hi Sparkstalker, you are totally not Swerve.

So, we went through all the formations, and jotted down a few lineup ideas. Here’s a summation of them:

Ironhide and the Space Jets
Ironhide / Triggerhappy / Dreadwind
(Soft blue, with either Arcee or Blackwing in sideboard)

Ironhide / Wheeljack / Sentinel Prowl
(Soft to Hard Orange)

Ironhide / Megatron / Fireflight or Skydive
(Blue, Megatron cycles upgrades)

Ironhide / Ramjet / Flamewar
(Dumb Blue smash!)

Ironhide / Alpha Trion / Fireflight or Skydive
(Alpha Trion build that pulls Treasure Hunt from scrap)

Ironhide / Shockwave / Flamewar
(Shockwave build with lots of card draw to get Ironhide the right weapons)

Ironhide / General Prime / Flamewar
(High native Tough build)

The original line-up is still sounding the best to me, but I hadn’t really thought about pairing Ironhide with Private Arcee, so that’s something to try out. Whilst I was mostly thinking about Blackwing in the sideboard, Arcee could be a good idea too.

Otherwise, I think I’d like to try a few of these ideas out at a later stage in future casual days; I’ve always wanted to try and play Shockwave, and I’ve yet to give General Prime a go, so whilst I might not do anything with these line-up ideas just yet, I now have a record of them and their basic function for future use.

Joke’s on Bruticus, Ironhide is immune to Burn.

Now that I’m committed to the main line-up, and have narrowed down a sideboard character to two candidates, the next step is to sort out what battle cards are missing from my mainboard, and work out what I want in my sideboard and when to play them. I also need to work our a strategy for playing into aggro, as so far this list does not do well into strong aggro lists. That will be the subject of the fourth and final part of this now lengthy project.

However, there might need to be a one shot distraction before then – because we don’t want to burn out on Ironhide. So next week, expect a little diversion before we finish off the Ironhide project. I may have hinted in this post who might be featured in that diversion. *grins*

Until next time.

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5 thoughts on “Building Ironhide: Liquid Nitrogen, Pt 3

  1. I built Ironhide, Gen Prime, and Firedrive (called it Firetrucks). It is blue burn with some control (3 espionage) and scattered orange. Played against some good aggro at our local constructed and came out on top. Firedrive helps keep damage away from the others. Usually it took 2-3 attacks to finish him. I side in OPBL to go double prime if I want to go tall.


    1. I assume you meant Fireflight rather than Firedrive? 🙂 Sounds great though, I have heard about people playing Gen Prime w/Ironhide, seems like a good fit. Glad it works out!


  2. I’ve loved reading this whole series on Captain Ironhide! Ironhide is my favorite character, and since Wave 3, I’ve always enjoyed using him. You’ve taught me a lot: believe it or not, I have *never* used Ironhide’s bot mode ability. I never devoted enough time to figuring it out. I knew Triggerhappy would have to be the way to go, but I couldn’t figure who to fill the list out with. Dreadwing makes so much sense! I’ll have to take a closer look at this.

    Being an avid user of Captain Ironhide, despite never having cracked his bot mode ability, I want to say that his alt mode ability is seriously powerful–only, its effect on the game is hard to gauge, because you don’t always get to see what cards your opponent chose not to play with Ironhide on the field, preventing their strategy. Maybe I like him so much because of my brother’s heavy use of non-attack damage in his deck builds.

    And, concerning the formations–my first ever tournament win (although it was a small tournament) was a 9/11/5 with Captain Ironhide, General Optimus and Wave 1 Arcee. The deck was designed around Optimus’ ability to give both Tough 1 and Bold 1, so it was split precisely down the middle with blue and orange icons. Ironhide’s ability especially came in clutch because of his ability (as you mentioned) to absorb trample damage. Now, in an exact blue/orange deck like that, I really want to try out your Mining Pick trick. I would just need to figure out some better card draw with the notable absence of Triggerhappy…

    Great write-ups! Always great to see Ironhide get some love.

    Liked by 1 person

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