Once again. 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!
Last time, I set out a plan regarding how to go about building a deck around Captain Starscream. I wanted to try and do something a bit off-beat, but at the same time aim for a very specific goal:
- I wanted to start with a deck of nothing but upgrade-scrapping cards and direct damage cards.
- I wanted to build a main deck composed of Captain Starscream, Bombshell and Flamewar, that could comfortably take on a Bugs list.
- I wanted to build a sideboard option with General Megatron that could take on Superion.
The two match ups were decided by referencing Vector Sigma’s Spheres theory, which suggests a three-wide Blue deck should do well against a four-wide Orange deck, and a two-wide Blue deck should do well against a four-wide Blue deck. We’re not looking to prove or disprove that theory, we’re just using this to help establish an achievable goal. I’m also not worrying too much about trying to make a deck that will do well in other match-ups – I find it hard to believe any three-wide Starscream deck will be able to take on a similar three-wide Optimus Prime deck, for example.
I want to get the most out of Captain Starscream; if I’m not getting at least one direct damage from him on my turns, then I think Nemesis Prime or Ion Storm are almost always going to be better choices. I think as such we almost always want to have one card in hand that can remove an enemy upgrade. When there’s no enemy upgrades in play, Starscream should be switching to alt mode to deliver direct damage that way (hopefully damaging a secondary target whilst cleaning up a primary target on his attack).
Because of the nature of the deck and what I’m trying to achieve with Starscream, I’m going to try and keep a record of how much direct damage is delivered per test, with how much damage is directly attributable to Starscream‘s card counted separately. The Starscream direct damage count does not include any direct damage as a result of Starscream‘s Ranged trait (Armed Hovercraft, Marksmanship) or star value (Squish them like Bugs), since Ion Storm could enable these cards just as well. This will help us determine how much worth Starscream has at the end of the project.
If you need a quick refresher on Captain Starscream before we start, check out part 1.
We ready? Cool. Let’s see how this does.
Test Summary – Bugs
For our initial tests, I want to start by running a deck with Bombshell and Flamewar into my test Bugs deck. Before we start, I want to go over what tactics I use for Bugs when I test my decks out on them. I’m currently using the classic line-up of Skrapnel, Barrage and Kickback, with Chop Shop as my fourth.
Against the Starscream deck, Skrapnel will go first but in alt mode; Skrapnel is vulnerable in bot mode, but would require an in bot-mode Starscream or Bombshell to deal decent damage to him in alt-mode. So he remains in his beetle mode.
I am then being careful where I place my upgrades; each upgrade I use is likely to be burnt off by Starscream, so every upgrade I play needs to be earning it’s play value that turn as it’s unlikely to remain next turn. As a result, I’m not pre-emptively playing upgrades – I’m not loading Kickback with a Grenade Launcher the turn before he attacks, so that I can play another weapon on Barrage the same turn. It’s worth remembering that upgrades like Grenade Launcher, Power Punch and Force Field, all Insecticon staples, will trigger Starscream‘s bot-mode ability when they are scrapped as a result of their own rules; so using Grenade Launcher and Power Punch can end up causing damage to the wielder after the attack, and Force Field is useless at five health left instead of four.
Attack order is Skrapnel, Chop Shop, Kickback, Barrage. I only flip Kickback and Barrage, and I leave it as late as I can so they don’t get hit by Marksmanship. It’s well worth remembering that Barrage can flip back to his alt mode to give someone Pierce 2 – relevant when fighting against Blue lists (and often forgotten by most players).
Additionally, in all tests Starscream is going first – this is to establish consistency. If I were to play this deck in a tournament, I’d test and practice going second as well, but that wouldn’t be especially interesting to write about. This does mean that in every test, Barrage and Kickback can gang up on the best target, and I might even be able to I Still Function in Chop Shop too.
Test #0: Stupidity
I wanted to start at the most ridiculous place I could, and work my way back to sanity from there. I said I wanted a deck that would have nothing but direct damage and upgrade scrapping cards in it. I’d try and steer towards Blue, but in order to make such a deck I’d probably end up bringing in lots of cards that had no Blue pips, and since neither Security Checkpoint nor Handheld Blaster fall in to the category of cards that do direct damage or upgrade scrapping, the number of Blues was pretty low.
Direct Damage: 21
Upgrade Scrap: 19
This deck was too silly for me to be recording direct damage quantities, so I didn’t keep note of them. I just wanted to see how this did.
For the most part, it did about as well as you’d expect. It still managed to kill a few bugs but in most of the tests it was quite a long way off. There was, however, a test where it lost by taking just enough damage for a total KO. That’s promising – that means so long as I can make the deck a little bit more defensive, it can stand a chance against the Bugs test deck.
So let’s start this proper shall we?
I actually changed only a few cards from the ‘ridiculous’ initial test; basically I took out the Scrapper Gauntlets as the deck really needed more Blue, and I also took out one each of Bashing Shield and Enforcement Batons. This kept the essence of what the initial deck was doing, but sanitized it into a Blue defensive deck that would benefit from Flamewar and make Bombshell a tough bulwark to break through. They were replaced with two Security Checkpoints and three Handheld Blasters (I’m using these only for the pips). As yet I didn’t feel the need for a third Security Checkpoint.
Direct Damage: 21
Upgrade Scrap: 14
5 tests ran, 60% success ratio for Starscream.
Direct Damage on wins: 13 (2 from Starscream), 15 (3), 19 (4)
Direct Damage on losses: 9 (3 from Starscream), 10 (1)
Nearly all of these tests were very close, only a few hit points out either way. The big deciding factor seems to be how many direct damage cards I can play within the game, especially the big sweeping damage cards – Armed Hovercraft, Strafing Run and Squish them like Bugs. All three of these played very well.
General strategy was to survive the first round and try and spread as much direct damage as possible, and then hammer decisive kill shots one by one during the second round with Starscream and/or Bombshell.
There’s definitely too much upgrade scrapping cards in this iteration of the deck, I almost always had at least two cards that could kill an opponent upgrade and usually there was only one on the table. I could probably rein in those cards a bit. I also found I had plenty of 1-point damage cards in my hand, so I think the Heavy Landing cards can be cut too, though still keeping the similar Underhanded Tactics.
This deck could use some traditional +ATK and Toughness cards, as some added survivability would be nice (even if just to force an opposing action/upgrade to be devoted to removing the armour), and the list does regularly struggle to get enough attack up. That’s some easy card swaps for the next test.
I managed to identify 7 cards I felt okay with switching out from the last iteration of the deck. I felt like Smelt was enough upgrade removal most of the time and I was okay with getting rid of Vaporize, Enforcement Batons, Bashing Shield and Crushing Size. I kept Drill Arms though, as it has additional effects and is still a Blue pip. I also ditched Heavy Landing.
Increasing damage output was the main priority, so in was Scoundrel’s Blaster and Leap Into Battle for predictable, easy +ATK boosts. I also added two copies of Sparring Gear with the aim to upgrade someone in the first round to try and keep someone alive for one more hit. Most pip ratios didn’t change, apart from having a little more Green in the mix.
Direct Damage: 18
Upgrade Scrap: 6
5 tests ran, 80% success ratio for Starscream.
Direct Damage on wins: 14 (5 from Starscream), 13 (1), 8* (2), 17 (4)
Direct Damage on losses: 6 (0 from Starscream)
*This test was won when Bombshell was given a Scoundrel’s Blaster and Leap Into Battle, nearly one-shotting a Barrage that had taken a couple of direct damage already. The change of cards had worked well.
The deck is certainly favourable over Bugs at this point. I’m feeling like I have the same advantage over them that I do when I’m playing Aerialbots. That’s a good position to be in.
It definitely felt like it was capable of taking Bugs on and was able to hold its own against some pretty powerful strikes (the two Sparring Gear made a great deal of difference). The inclusion of Leap into Battle and Scoundrel’s Blaster essentially made it so that bugs were cleared out properly, and usually I could co-ordinate my plays so that I’d be boosting ATK whilst still being able to play direct damage cards at the same time.
The triple threat of Strafing Run, Squish them like Bugs and Armed Hovercraft is really frightening for a wide deck, and I nearly always have at least one of them in my starting hand. The high results for direct damage in these tests are usually a result of being able to play as many as three of these in the first round. Usually by the second round (the first round is normally spent softening up the bugs), bugs are dying two at a time and the round is spent trying to make sure I get the best possible hit out of Bombshell or Starscream whilst keeping them both alive long enough to finish off Barrage (who is almost always the last to die thanks to his high health pool).
There’s still some duff cards here; I think Frag Toss can be replaced by something else. I also don’t know if I need Underhanded Tactics. However, these are considerations for another time – an 80% win rate in the test environment is a healthy sign for the deck, and whilst I’d probably want to make further tweaks to it, and as said before test going second, I think it’s working against it’s main target.
Test #3 – Aerialbots
Time to look at the sideboard. For this test I swapped out Frag Toss for Photon Bomb, and Bombshell and Flamewar for a proxy of General Megatron.
The Aerialbots deck is fairly old and hasn’t been updated since Wave 3 – so whilst it is still intimidating, it has no Black cards, nor does it have any Battlefield Reports or Laser Cutlasses. all of which I’d expect to see in Superion decks now. Worth keeping in mind – a real Wave 3 Superion build is likely to have a lot more Pierce than the one I’m using.
Direct Damage: 21
Upgrade Scrap: 6
I didn’t record the direct damage in the few tests I ran… as the deck was failing to seal the deal. It would often do enough damage to leave Superion in the mid-30s damage wise, but it still felt a bit wanting.
The amount of direct damage being delivered by the two is pretty gruesome – I think in every test I was able to get out a Photon Bomb and at least two of either Strafing Run or Armed Hovercraft. That’s a good 20 direct damage. Unfortunately I can’t quite get the two of them to clean the rest up before Superion forms. Usually when Superion forms he takes out Starscream quite quickly, and whilst Megatron is rather tough he is an easy victim to a Noble’s Blaster for Pierce 5. I’m also failing to get upgrades on Megatron to trigger his bot-mode ability.
This might need some extra thought…
To Be Continued…
… I was hoping for this to be over in two parts. This was either going to be something that didn’t work, and we’d move on, or something that turned out to work quite well, and I’d call it there.
Except… it seems like it’s a bit of both.
Against Bugs the list was doing exactly what I wanted it to, but against Superion it felt like a near miss. There’s quite a few things I’d like to try against Aerialbots, so…. I’m adding another part to this project. Next week, we’ll be discussing some options for the Captain Starscream sideboard, trying them out to see if we can get Superion to crack. Then I’ll give a final summary of Starscream himself, and talk about other match-ups I’ve already played Starscream into.
Hopefully next week will go a little better than the last time I tried to work out a sideboard to tackle a problem opponent. Fingers crossed.
Until next time.
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