Building Starscream: Mr Grumpy, Pt 1

Thanks to Emily Stewart for letting me use her Starscream drawing above. You can find her art on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, as well as her Etsy store where she sells this design as a bookmark with both Skywarp and Thundercracker. Check out her work!

Oh Starscream.

Starscream is arguably the most popular character in the entire mega-franchise of the Transformers. The character most remembered is the G1 cartoon version – who was comically treacherous to the point of pure parody. But he’s had plenty of iterations, including the self-cloning renegade in Transformers Animated, the sniveling evil chancellor type in Transformers Prime, and even though I’ve never seen Armada, I’m well aware of Starscream‘s arc in the series, despite knowing nothing else about the series! In the comics world, Starscream actually does get to be the leader like he always wanted – leading the entire Cybertron populace for a good number or years, particularly in the Windblade / Til All Are One comics.

Yet, despite his prominence in the franchise, and a staggering five character cards (a number only beaten by Bumblebee)… Starscream hasn’t been doing very well in the TCG. Actually, none of the seekers have been doing very well. We’re somehow three Skywarps in after three waves and none of them have been particularly popular; Thundercracker is king of jank decks but not much else; Slipstream is nowhere near as controversial as her SDCC’18 mate Cliffjumper, and all the characters with Storm in their name all seem good, but you don’t see them around the competitive circuit much, do you?

That kind of makes Captain Starscream, the latest incarnation of the character in the TCG, perfect fodder for a website like Flip Flip Bang Bang. An underused, under appreciated rogue who desperately wants the Leader trait but has been denied it by the developers. Can we at least make something interesting with this guy? If he isn’t ‘competitive’, can we at least see if he can be enjoyable? Let’s see what we can do.

Hello you.

We should start, as usual, by going over what Captain Starscream does and what he’d bring to a deck. Starscream is a 12-star character; his options for team-mates are going to be quite limited, so we’re probably looking at a 12-8-5 or 12-7-6 formation if we want to go three wide. Going two tall would mean teaming with anyone who isn’t as expensive as Major Shockwave. Four wide would mean running with a 5-star and two 4-stars, which isn’t really an option.

Captain Starscream has alt stats of 4 ATK / 16 Health / 2 DEF and bot stats of 6 ATK / 1 DEF. Those stats are in a similar ballpark to wave-mate Elita-1, but slightly weaker than Ultra Magnus (even without armour) and a fair bit weaker than fellow decepticon jet Ion Storm. Perhaps the most obvious 12* card to compare him to would be Nemesis Prime, and Starscream falls short of him in both attack and defense.

As his stats are weaker than a few examples I’ve already given, we need to find advantage in his abilities and traits if this project is going to be worth our while. Starscream has a unique and interesting bot mode ability – whenever an enemy upgrade is scrapped from a character, that character takes one damage. This should hopefully give us some extra value in our upgrade scrapping cards – each of these cards played will effectively double up as a free Zap whilst Starscream is in bot mode.

When Starscream flips to his plane mode, he does one point of damage to an opponent with no upgrades. For Captain Starscream to make his build cost, we need to be able to utilize both abilities effectively; that might mean having a low flip-density in the rest of our team.

Captain Starscream is ranged in both modes, so we have access to all the usual Ranged direct damage cards. He is also a Plane, which means we have access to Plane cards – which also tend to be direct damage cards.

…. I don’t know about you, but I think the idea is we’re meant to be doing lots of direct damage with this guy, what do you think?

Why would you even want to be leader, Screamer? It doesn’t make you happy. Ever.

Project Overview
For this project I’d like to do a few things:

  1. I’d like to go over our options for upgrade scrapping cards. I kind of like the idea of starting the deck with a ton of upgrade scrapping cards and just seeing how it plays out. It’ll no doubt be super terrible but it should be interesting regardless.
  2. I’d like to go over direct damage cards. I’ve been using Armed Hovercraft and Marksmanship in a lot of my decks this wave, I know, but I’d like to go over what other options we have.
  3. I originally thought about discussing planetech… but I don’t know if Starscream will be in his alt mode that reliably, so I think planetech can wait for another time. Who knows, maybe Wave 4 will be kind to planes?

Then I’d like to build a main deck with sideboard. In the most recent Vector Sigma article, Scott Landis described a pretty interesting theory that touched on what types of deck do well against certain other types of deck. I’d like to use his theory as a base to build a three-wide Blue deck that could do really well against a four-wide Orange deck (using my Wave 2 Bugs) but then pivot into a two-tall deck that could do really well against a four-wide Blue deck (using my Wave 2 Aerialbots – which needs updating, but I’ll be using it untouched for now). Understand that failure or success will neither prove nor disprove his theories, but gives us an end goal for the project other than simply having fun making things.

Essentially Elita-1 was built with these match ups in mind but I don’t think I really pushed it as much as I should have. This time around, I’ll focus on these match ups and hopefully come out with a promising configuration that works well into those two builds.

Hurry! Remove his upgrades whilst he is tripped over! Also I’m the leader now!

Upgrade Scrapping Cards
Right, let’s see how many cards we have in this category. Once, long ago, it felt like there were only a handful of these cards, but now we have tonnes. I’m listing them with colour and what type of upgrade they remove, and not bothering to list all the other effects just yet.

Here are all the actions:

Collaterial Damage (Blue, Weapon)
Device Virus (Black, Any but special rules)
Dismantle (Black, Weapon or Armour)
Ramming Speed (Orange, Any)
Salvage for Parts (Blank, All)
Smelt (Blue/Green, Any)
Vandalize (Orange, All of one type)
Vaporize (Blue, Any)

Here are all the upgrades:

Bashing Shield (Orange/Green, Armour)
Crushing Size (White, Utility)
Dismantling Claw (Blue/Green, Weapon*)
Drill Arms (Blue, Armour)
Enforcement Batons (Orange/Green, Weapon)
P. Targeting Drone (White/Green, Utility*)
Reactive Armour (Orange/Green, Armour*)
Scrapper Gauntlets (Orange, Weapon)

*but only when this card is scrapped

That’s 16 different cards; theoretically we could just take 2-3 of all of these and call it a deck…. I mean, we won’t, but we could. If we were bored, and didn’t have an article to write.

I think we want to be as Blue as possible as we’re probably not going to be flipping multiple cards on attack and want to aim for a two-tall build (likely to be taking lots of attacks); so we only want to consider Orange and Black cards that seem especially worthwhile.

From an action perspective, I think that means we can exclude Dismantle and Ramming Speed. We can consider Vandalize only if we have spare stars, which is probably not going to be the case, so excluding that too. Collateral Damage is probably too niche (for, well, anyone), and Salvage for Parts will only be worth running if we’re using Torox for the repair-denial as well. Device Virus – which requires us to scrap an upgrade to scrap two of the same type on the opponent – feels a bit difficult to use, but if any deck was going to get mileage out of it it’s going to be this one, right? So I think we’re considering: Vaporize, Smelt, and Device Virus

For upgrades, we can safely remove Dismantling Claw, Personal Targeting Drone and Reactive Armour from consideration. These are kind of fun in Sealed but impractical in Constructed. All our other upgrades are fair game though – Drill Arms, Crushing Size and Scrapper Gauntlets all have the advantages of card draw if they don’t scrap, and Bashing Shield and Enforcement Batons have Green pips so they can be swapped into hand easily.

That’s about 8 cards; we probably don’t want full sets of some of these, especially the cards with green pips, but we can experiment and see how they are working.

“Hold on tight Spinister, we’re going on a Bombing Run!”

Direct Damage Cards
Like upgrade scrapping cards, the number of cards that deal direct damage has increased significantly over the last few waves. Where in Wave 1 we probably only had a handful, now we have a pretty wide selection.

(I’ve excluded anything that Captain Starscream himself can’t use, e.g. Energon Slingshot, Swarm!, etc. Also excluding planetech, I don’t think we want to restrict ourselves to planes)

Armed Hovercraft (Blue, 1 to all enemies)
Bad Attitude (Blank, 1 to each Autobot)
Erratic Energy Grenade
(Black, 2 to all enemies when upgraded character dies)
Fling (Blank, move 1 damage from friendly to enemy)
Frag Toss
(White, 2 damage to an enemy of your opponent’s choice)
Heavy Landing (Blue, 1 to on enemy)
Inferno Breath
(Blue, tap character for 3 damage to enemy)
Marksmanship (Blue, 2 damage to enemy in bot mode)
One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall
(Blank, 3 to one enemy and one friendly)
Photon Bomb (Blank, 2 to everyone)
Plasma Burst (Blank, 2 to one enemy)
Rock Toss (Orange/Black, 1 to a tapped enemy)
Squish them like Bugs
(Orange, 1 to all enemies with less stars than a character who does attack damage)
Strafing Run (Blank, 1 to each enemy)
Underhanded Tactics (Blue, 1 to on enemy)
Zap (Orange, 1 to one enemy)

We’re definitely favouring actions here with 14 to pick from, and only 2 upgrades. Marksmanship and Armed Hovercraft are obvious choices as they are Blue and deal a decent amount each. Squish them like Bugs also seems good despite being off-colour.

The rest might depend on matches. Frag Toss seems like a nice include simply because it is a White card. Marksmanship, Heavy Landing and Underhanded Tactics seem like general all-purpose Blue direct damage cards and can be included.

The rest I’m less sure on, though I will try out Photon Bomb, Strafing Run and/or One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall at least. Most of the rest aren’t very suitable; some seem better for wider decks (Erratic Energy Grenade and Inferno Breath being good examples).

“Starscream! Flamewar! With my Cerebro Shells, I command you to destroy the rest of the Insecticons! Mwahahaha!”

Starting Team
I don’t want to go into another long post going through team-mates – I’d be repeating text from previous projects – so I’m going to show you who I’ve already decided is going to be in our team. These are subject to change, of course, but possibly not by much.

Main Deck
Captain StarscreamBombshell Flamewar
This is our main team which will be mostly tested into Insecticons. Bombshell is our point and blocker. I had originally considered Dreadwind, despite the fact he was in my last project. However Bombshell, with his 4 defence, should be able to handle incoming damage slightly better than Dreadwind even though he has less health. He’ll do worse into a Skrapnel in alt mode due to his lack of Pierce, but he’ll do better in the late game into Kickback / Barrage when he flips to his bot mode and hits for 4+ damage.

Flamewar needs no introduction. She’s one of the most prolific characters in the game. Passive Tough 1 in a Blue deck is fantastic.

No we can definitely work together! Really!

Side Deck
Captain StarscreamGeneral Megatron
So here’s a thing – I don’t actually have General Megatron, as I traded it for a Major Shockwave thinking I’d end up playing Major Shockwave far sooner than General Megatron. Naturally this changed. Whoops.

I think General Megatron could be pretty interesting though, especially if I can get the three upgrades on him quickly. Into Aerialbots, chucking out that much direct damage should sort things out very quickly.

If I have not acquired Megatron by the time of Part 2, I’ll just have to use a proxy!

Incidentally: Thundercracker – Snarky, Starscream – Grumpy. Deal with it.

I’m not expecting a lot out of Captain Starscream – I think he’s an awkward character who pales in comparison to other characters of his weight class. As such, in this project my general mantra of “Let’s just see what we can do regardless of how good it is” applies double. Whilst Ironhide, Elita-1 and Alpha Trion all have really interesting aspects about them, I don’t think Starscream‘s small amounts of direct damage is quite on the same level.

We’ll see – I’m happy to be surprised!

Until next time!

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3 thoughts on “Building Starscream: Mr Grumpy, Pt 1

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