If this is the first article you’ve read in this series, you’ve got some catching up to do. Here’s the story so far:
The experience of the Ironhide and the Space Jets deck has been that it is rather powerful… at least, going into other Blue decks it is. However, playing into aggro decks – Bugs, General Prime, Cars, surely Lionizer decks as well – the deck falls rather short. Without too deep an analysis, we can pinpoint some flaws in the deck that result in it failing against aggro:
- Low defense (no bot can handle a punch of 15+)
- Low actual damage output (only Ironhide can hit for high numbers, the other two are relying on Pierce)
- No real means of controlling where damage is going.
That’s some fundamental flaws right there!
The purpose of this fourth and final part of our look into Ironhide is to see if there’s any way of steering the current deck so that it has a fighting chance of taking on one of these aggro decks. As usual we’re just looking at the options – considering what we can possibly do to the deck, trying things out, and recording what we find.
The ultimate conclusion might be that this deck – and possibly Ironhide himself – doesn’t have much of a place in a meta dominated by high-powered aggro decks. If that’s the case, that’s fine. It doesn’t mean it’s the end of the line for Ironhide or even this deck; there might be deck construction ideas I missed, cards in the future might provide Ironhide with more options, I might simply have needed more practice and testing, etc. The point is we’re going over some options, and seeing if there’s anything that immediately jumps out.
Finally – and it’s always worth remembering this in general, but especially with this blog – creating the ultimate deck isn’t the goal, discovering things and having fun building a deck is. I’m already there as far as this is concerned, I’ve had a lot of fun building and playing with the options for Ironhide. This is just seeing if we can go the extra mile before moving on to the next project.
So, enough chit-chat, let’s get into this.
I wanted to go back to the final match of the last Brighton tournament, against Nick’s General Prime / Wheeljack / Dragstrip deck. This was a straight forward deck that didn’t do anything especially bizarre. It simply had lots of attack boosting cards, a bit of Blue, some card draw, and that was about it. It worked very well, and performed in a simple and easy to understand way. It’s about as vanilla-Bold as they come, but boy does it do the job it’s meant to do. This makes it a pretty good test deck as far as I’m concerned (It’s also a very good deck to give to new players).
Nick gave me his deck for testing, which according to Nick is based on a Vector Sigma deck by Adam Bixler (I’ve not seen the original deck so I don’t know how much has changed). I’ve had to make a few small adjustments to the deck due to availability of cards, but the intent is still there.
I tried it out against my current, unaltered Ironhide and the Space Jets deck. Ironhide does not do well, which is something we already knew.
I wanted to try out something new though, and that was to try siding in a new character, as discussed in the last entry on Ironhide. So for a second batch of tests, I tried swapping out Triggerhappy for Blackwing; this changes my deck from a quasi-Burn and Pierce deck to a Dreadwing deck using Ironhide. In this set up, I’d essentially have four activations before I was tapped out – Dreadwind, Blackwing, Ironhide, then the combined Dreadwing.
Testing into the General Prime build with the same Ironhide deck but with Blackwing gave me much better results. Now, instead of my deck being easily crushed, it was maybe losing matches by about 3-4 damage each time. This is something I can actually work with; I just need to change the deck enough that I can either take a bit more incoming damage, or hit just a little bit harder each time. At least, that’s the plan.
So let’s try some things out, and see if we can’t make up that difference. If we can work out a way of dealing with General Prime, we can see about other types of aggro deck.
Attempt #1: Less Orange, More Armour
So this ended up being a quick two step process – first I tried to remove some Orange cards and replace them with two Reflex Circuits and two Forcefields, then I went one step further and replaced the now redundant Escape Routes with Work Overtimes so I could recover cards after Dreadwing combined. I could potentially also have used System Reboots instead of Work Overtimes, they’d have fulfilled the same role and disrupted my opponent’s hand at the same time.
It didn’t really do any better than before.
Here’s the general flow of activations:
Turn 1: Dreadwind does 2 damage to Dragstrip
Turn 2: Dragstrip does maybe 1 – 2 damage to Dreadwind, tops.
Turn 3: Blackwing, hopefully, kills Dragstrip. Dreadwind and Blackwing form Dreadwing
Turn 4: Wheeljack severely wounds Ironhide (or outright KOs him)
Turn 5: Dreadwing attacks Wheeljack, gets him to half health.
Turn 6: Prime takes out half of Dreadwing‘s health (often with a Press the Advantage)
Turn 7: Ironhide finishes Wheeljack
Turn 8: Prime finishes Ironhide
Turn 9: Dreadwing takes out half of Prime‘s health
Turn 10: Prime finishes Dreadwing
That’s…. more or less it, every time. In fact it normally works out worse than this – Dragstrip sometimes survives Turn 3, allowing him to use a Turbo Booster on Turn 4 and absorb an attack on Turn 5. Often Wheeljack just KOs Ironhide instantly on Turn 4 and there’s nothing left to do.
Armour isn’t really helping; certainly I’ve picked two weird ones here, Forcefield and Reflex Circuits. The former so I can physically reduce big swings to 4 damage, the latter because +2 DEF against Wheeljack seems pretty relevant. But often I’d only get to play one Reflex Circuits per game, and often not see the Forcefields at all. Armours also seem to fall off from Bashing Shield very easy, since General Prime is running many of them. So even if I were getting Tough 2/3 armours on to my team, I don’t think they’d stay on long enough to be useful.
Plus…. playing armours means not playing weapons, and we need weapons, that’s Ironhide‘s entire schtick!
Let’s try something else. Even if only for science.
Attempt #2: Secret Actions
I haven’t had much of a chance to go over the new secret actions cards in this blog, other than a brief mention in the Megatron Weekend Casual blog post way back when Flip Flip Bang Bang first started.
Let’s have a quick look at our options:
Battlefield Report (Blue, draw two stack one)
Bolster (Orange, play an armour)
Dampening Field (White, attacker can only flip 4 cards)
Defensive Formation (Orange, +1 Defense to everyone)
Hiding Spot (Black, someone gets Stealth)
Infiltrate (Blue, negates an Orange action)
Scavenge the Battlefield (Orange, takes upgrades form KO’d character)
Take Cover (Blue, character can’t take non-attack damage this turn)
Of these I think we can automatically remove Hiding Spot – we’re generally speaking controlling who is getting attacked each turn anyhow, so this card is redundant apart from on Turn 3. We can also ignore Scavenge the Battlefield (it just isn’t that effective for us) and Take Cover (one of our characters is already immune). Bolster requires us to have both the action and the armour in hand, so I think that’s out too. Dampening Field is also out – it’ll reign in Wheeljack a little, but not by enough to really swing the game. Defensive Formation might be nice, but I don’t think +1 Defense from an Orange card is going to be a great trade for us.
That leaves two Blue cards – Battlefield Report and Infiltrate, both on colour and both effective against an Orange deck. Let’s give these a whirl:
So the good news is that I finally got a win with this set up. Not a convincing win – I’m sure there was a misplay at one point where I opted for Prime to swing at Dreadwing instead of Ironhide and he didn’t quite kill him, leaving him exposed, but a win nonetheless. This is out of many test games played, though.
The bad news: Infiltrate didn’t come up once. But Battlefield Report came up a few times and seemed genuinely useful. It seems particularly useful on turns where I’m forming Dreadwing.
I find myself unconvinced that secret actions are the answer. They feel few and far between, and it is difficult to build a plan around a card that you have no real means of getting in your hand other than through chance. Battlefield Report is a keeper though.
Attempt #3: More Damage!
In this setup I’m going to try for more direct damage cards, and see if I can’t chip away my opponents before swinging in with Dreadwing.
I initially looked at Two-Pronged Attack, but I was upset to discover that the card let’s the opponent choose where the damage goes (ala Nemesis Prime). Plane-tech really is the worst, isn’t it?
I’m going to try putting in Bombing Run though, and hopefully a small bit of damage shifting will help Dreadwing stay alive just a moment longer to deliver a finishing blow.
Still not good. I’d say there’s about a 10% chance of victory, I very occasionally scrape a victory that is often the result of a poor hand for General Prime.
I did feel like a better activation sequence is Dreadwind->Ironhide->Blackwing->Dreadwing though, that seemed better at redirecting the Wheeljack swing to a favourable position; either take out Ironhide, or try and take out only half of Dreadwing before he combines.
Bombing Run pretty much always got snubbed for a better card. It’s out.
Attempt #4: Flat Out Cheating
Finally, I decided to take a different approach and change the General Prime deck instead. In almost every test, I found that at least one blow on Dreadwing would use a Press the Advantage and that seemed to take victory for General Prime and the gang.
We’ve all discussed Press the Advantage and how strong it is, and certainly in every test I’ve done so far I’ve felt the sting of a well placed Grenade Launcher + Press the Advantage combo.
So let’s cheat: Let’s just take Press the Advantage out of the General Prime deck. It had two copies, it now has none (it’s also now a 38 card deck, so I’m really cheating here). Let’s see if this is actually a key card, and if it is, work towards some sort of card disruption.
If there’s anything to be learned from this entire post and test session it’s this: taking out Press the Advantage didn’t really change much.
Several tests in and it still just doesn’t cut it. Certainly General Prime doesn’t quite hit as much as he used to, as he is now having to rely on Leap into Battle, Reckless Charge and One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall for his attack actions (all of which either hit softer or damage Prime‘s team); but Dreadwing just isn’t managing to seal the deal regularly enough to make it work.
If removing the best card from General Prime‘s deck is still not swinging the tests, is there much point in continuing? What can I really do?
At this point I’m feeling somewhat burnt out, so I think it is time to call it a day on trying to make Ironhide w/Dreadwing a possible answer to General Prime. I feel comfortable in saying it’s not a solution.
There are definitely cards that look like they are meant to counter a deck like General Prime, but quite a lot of these don’t really escape the fact that Wheeljack and General Prime only need a weapon in play to deal a sizeable amount of damage. Each card I play specifically to counter or neuter the next incoming blow is softening my own attacks, and these are always weaker attacks than those that I’m receiving even without weapons and actions.
We could have counter-cards in our deck, but we need those cards in our hand in order for them to be useful. Everytime an obstacle is put in our way (an incoming Press the Advantage, a Forcefield, etc.), we need to have the exact right card in hand and sometimes even pre-emptively plan for the incoming action (as is the case for Espionage or secret actions like Infiltrate). These strategies go against the grain of how Dreadwing works, too – Dreadwing needs to scrap three cards in order to combine, so our options become very limited very fast, because we either have little to no hand or are about to be in that situation.
We also need to factor in that the more this deck is changed, the harder it will be to configure a main deck that pivots to the Dreadwing side deck. With each change, this becomes harder and harder. Also, increasingly this is feeling like a deck about Dreadwing and not one about Ironhide, and from a personal perspective that’s not what I want.
When it starts feeling like only good luck is going to swing victory, and it’s taking this much effort to try and make everything work, time to call it a day. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Despite finding that this Ironhide deck works rather well in some match ups, its time is probably not now. The original deck has strong legs against Blue lists (an arena that is already seeing competition from the infamous 4-wide Pierce list designed by David Fox and popularized by Wreck n’ Rule), but right now there doesn’t seem to be a reliable means of taking on the various General Prime decks. This is without taking into account other aggro lists like Insecticons, Cars or the assorted Lionizer builds.
That’s not to say the deck can’t find value another time. Wave 4 is only a couple of months away, and comes with the promise of Decepticon tech – which, oddly enough, is probably what this deck is craving despite the presence of the Autobot Ironhide.
All being said, Ironhide is still a great character, and I definitely hope to return to him another time.
For now though, this project can be put to rest, and we can move on to the next character… which apparently is going to be another Captain, just one who works for the other faction…
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