Top of my list of wants for Wave 4 was to see more plane support battle cards. There’s a handful of cards that reference the Planes trait in Transformers TCG so far, but very few of them have proven to be particularly useful, even in a casual gaming setting.
Wave 4 didn’t see any much in the way of further support for the Planes trait. The ‘plight of Planes’, though, did get a mention in an article from Ken Nagle that revealed a new Thundercracker character card: Nagle’s Notes: Sergeant Thundercracker
Suddenly planes – especially Decepticon planes – were being quietly aligned with the also maligned and unwanted Black pip cards.
Can I get a shrug of confusion?
This kind of weird and previously unheard of pairing is too curious not to focus on. Thus, the opening project of Flip Flip Bang Bang in Wave 4 will be focused on Seekers and Black pips. Not just one character this time – since this wave introduces two seekers and both require Black pips for their abilities, we’ll be focusing on both.
For those new to the blog, the goal here is to try and see how these things work and behave, not necessarily to construct something guaranteed to be competitive. It’s about discovery and exploration; we always hope to find something that could be good in more-than-casual play, but we’re not going to limit what we look at to what will win games.
In this opening segment, I want to look over aspects of Planes and Black pips, both what we know so far, and what has been discussed in the reveal for Thundercracker.
The Seekers Themselves
Before we talk about the ‘Plane tech’ that we’re expecting to include in this deck, we should talk about the two characters we want to focus on in this project: Sergeant Thundercracker and Raider Nova Storm.
The new Sergeant Thundercracker is a 9 star Decepticon Plane character card. His stats are surprisingly good – 4 / 14 / 2 in alt, 5 / 14 / 1 in bot. His attack values are pretty strong and on par with characters like Captain Ironhide and Wheeljack, but his health stat is the highest of any 9 star character. He is Ranged on both sides so Marksmanship, Armed Hovercraft and the new Sturdy Javelin are all great fits for Thundercracker.
Thundercracker‘s bot mode ability let’s you scrap a card from your opponent’s hand when you attack… but there’s a cavaet: the amount of cards you can choose from are determined by the number of Black pips in your flip. That seems kind of lame but consider this: very few character abilities let you choose which card to scrap, most let the opponent choose instead. The ability still requires you to have Black pips in your flips though; to use this ability, you must run Black to some degree.
His alt mode ability is even more Black-centric; reveal the top card from your deck, for each Black pip, move a damage counter from a Plane to an enemy. Note that it is reveal, not scrap, so even if this doesn’t do anything you will still know what that card is (curiously, the ability to reveal was first seen in Wave 1 Skywarp, another Seeker). The dream is to reveal a double or even triple Black pip card.
Moving damage is kind of interesting in that we haven’t really seen it much in competitive play, and I don’t think I’ve ever discussed it in Flip Flip Bang Bang, beyond Elita-1. We’ll go into the subject of moving damage later in the article.
Raider Nova Storm
The third and final Rainmaker, Nova Storm is a 7 star Decepticon Plane character card. She is among several 7 star characters revealed in Wave 4 that are associated with a pip colour; naturally Nova Storm‘s colour is Black. Her stats are 3 / 12 / 1 in alt mode and 5 / 12 / 0 in bot mode; she’s about on par with Barrage, trading one point of health for one point of armour (arguably not a good trade depending on how the deck is built). Like Thundercracker, she is Ranged.
Nova Storm‘s bot mode ability gives her Pierce 3, and her alt mode ability lets her move 1 damage from herself to an enemy… but both of these abilities only apply if she has an Black pip upgrade (Metal Detector, RR Disruptor Blade, Increased Durability, etc.).
Nova Storm is less interesting than Thundercracker, which I guess makes sense – she isn’t a classic G1 character, and she’s a Common not a Rare.
We’ll need to partner up these two with 9 star of other characters. For this project I’d like to stick exclusively with Decepticon planes, at least for now. That means we’d either need to use Thrust (doubtful), an 8 star Decepticon (Someone like Blackwing, who has no native Pierce but a high attack), or two of the Air Strike Patrol (which could provide 15 points of health between them). If she was more readily available, I’d have considered Slipstream.
Anyone we pick would want to be in alt mode most of the game.
Ways of the Plane
Whilst there haven’t been any new ‘plane’ cards in Wave 4 (EDIT: Except Multi-Missile Pod for both Planes and Helicopters) , the development team have strongly suggested they feel certain abilities are ‘plane’ abilities. These include:
- Direct Damage (most Planes are Ranged)
- Moving Damage (Slipstream and Bombing Run have previously focused on moving damage)
and now, at least with Thundercracker and Nova Storm:
- association with Black pips and Pierce.
- … and thus association with hand removal.
There’s some interesting albeit situational actions that do Direct Damage in Wave 4, but mostly the only new addition I’m interested in including here is Sturdy Javelin (especially as Thundercracker is on it).
“We’ve also decided to give black the “move damage” ability when possible since it’s a kind of piercing damage but in an evil way because usually your opponent must help you by damaging your characters first.” – Ken Nagle
The ability to move damage from one character to another is very interesting: because whilst it appears to be repairing damage from one bot and placing damage on a second, it is its own separate mechanic. Therefore, it bypasses any anti-repair tech (Torox, Needler, etc.), as well as bypassing any anti-direct damage cards (Captain Ironhide, Motormaster, Defensive Driving, Take Cover, etc.).
That second point is fairly important – in a game that is increasingly favouring ‘The Ranged Package’ of Marksmanship, Armed Hovercraft and possibly Sturdy Javelin, having a means of blocking direct damage isn’t a bad idea. Thus, having a means of bypassing that defense is worth considering as well. There’s ways to block moving damage like Bumpers… but who plays that??
Moving damage does have a downside though – you actually need to have damage on you in order to do the move. That means the abilities are useless in the early game, and remain useless if your plane dies before you can move the damage.
Moving damage has always been linked to planes, most notably in the action Bombing Run. Still, abilities that move damage see very little play in both competitive and casual environments; as part of this project, I’ll be trying to include as much damage moving cards as possible (within reason; nobody needs Fling in their deck).
“Having a hand disruption effect can be swingy but we’ve decided that hand disruption should be a black mechanic.” – Ken Nagle
This isn’t really a plane mechanic, rather it’s a general mechanic that has been newly associated with Black, and thus by association planes. It’s also integral to Thundercracker‘s abilities, so worth highlighting.
Hand disruption has already proven to be a powerful mechanic; it was critical to the success of Sentinels in Wave 2, and likewise Major Shockwave in Wave 3. It’s also been a key part of any success Soundwave might have had.
There are arguably two breeds of hand disruption – hand disruption that just kills the opponent’s hand (Shockwave), versus hand disruption that allows you to see what is in your opponent’s hand at the same time (Sentinels, Soundwave). Thundercracker is sort of half way between these two, but does lean more to the latter – you get to see some of your opponent’s hand and kill a card based on that. This matches one of the new Black pip cards in Wave 4:
I’m uncertain about leaning into this mechanic too much; I suspect maybe having the usual Security Checkpoint and Espionage cards is enough for an initial deck.
On top of the usual cards we want to remove such as combiner enigmas and other key cards, we’d also want to look at removing any card that blocks Pierce (Point Defense System and Stable Cover), since our deck is Black-focused and thus Pierce-focused.
“Sergeant Thundercracker is a new archetype all by himself. He does a great job of highlighting the places in the game we want to push like Decepticons, Planes, and black icons that haven’t been in the spotlight enough.” – Ken Nagle
Wave 3 introduced Black pips, but other than a few odd cards here and there, Black cards were a novelty rather than an archetype in and of themselves. Even Blue/Black decks were’t that popular. There’s a few reasons for this; the first is that during Wave 3 there was a very limited pool of cards to choose from, and secondly players were still resistent to the idea of mixed-pip decks, considering a black pip card to be an effective blank card. In addition, the cards themselves were nearly always a limited version of an alternate Blue or Orange card. For example, Dismantle…
… is a much more limited version of Ramming Speed or Vaporise; it does a similar thing, but two-thirds as well since it can’t remove utility upgrades.
Wave 4 introduces a heap of new Black cards, in various configurations too: double-Black cards, more Orange/Black, more Blue/Black, a single White/Black, and even a triple-Black star card. With Wave 4, we have a much larger pool of Black cards to pick from so whilst some of these cards will still be two-thirds power cards, we at least now have options.
We can also think about ratio percentages when building a deck, since we have multiple Orange/Black and Blue/Black cards at this point. Our options include:
(essentially the deck needs to think like an Orange deck – have ways of staying alive beyond Blue, but ultimately must be able to achieve it’s goal very quickly. Minimal native Pierce.)
(as above, but might require more native Pierce if we want to get value from all the Orange and Black we flip)
(uses Blue to stay alive, Black and other Pierce to get damage through.)
Blue/Black definitely sounds like the most appealing of these combinations, since Pierce is generally speaking a keyword preferred by Blue decks and Black just adds extra Pierce. I’d like to explore all three of these options in our project though; does pure Black or Orange/Black work?
We’d also want to experiment with the actual percentages of these colours; do we go in full on Blue/Black, then split the rest down the middle? A bit more to Black? A bit more to Blue?
Other Plane Cards
Finally, I should mention that there is one card in Wave 1 that doesn’t really fit the current Planes mold, but is special in its own way:
Aerial Recon is a psuedo-Focus card that introduced the mechanic a good two waves early. It doesn’t really see much play, and I don’t know if it really fits our ideas. It’s worth considering though, especially if we have a very mixed deck and don’t mind an Orange pip.
I should also mention one of my own pet cards that happens to be for planes:
I don’t think I’ll be running Crash Landing either; I run this with a Ramjet deck and I have never managed to get it to work. Whilst tempting and very Planes with the direct damage, I think it is better suited for a different project.
Both of these cards are also competing with new utilities in Wave 4, and I’d much rather play with those instead.
We’ve laid a general idea of what we want to think about in this deck; the next thing to do is to discuss Black-pip cards in general, especially since the amount of such cards has dramatically increased in Wave 4. We then want to make an initial deck, and try it out and see how it does – from there we can work out which direction we want to go in.
There is potentially a lot of ground to cover on this one; Black pips are still a bit of a mystery, and there’s other new things linked to Black pips that I think we’re going to bump into sooner rather than later. We’ll see how it goes and where this project leads us.
Until next time!
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