This is the fourth and final part of our look at Black pips and Seekers (specifically Thundercracker and Nova Storm) in Wave 4 of the Transformers TCG. I’ve been playing around with this deck since launch, tried it out on multiple opponents and in various configurations. I’ve tested it locally at home with a variety of decks now – both Blue and Orange – and feel ready to call time on this project and move on to the next.

Before we do that though, I’d like to give a summary of the two focal characters, and give some general observations about playing a pure Black deck these last few weeks.

Want to read the whole thing from the beginning? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Done? Cool.

“Nova Storm, I’m tired of this damn project. Let’s go off and enjoy the outside world!”

Summary – Characters
Whilst both seekers are Black-centric Decepticon planes, I feel like they play differently and will have different roles in the game going forward.

Let’s briefly talk about how these two fit in.

“Gah, who knew even on a sunny day the UK was freezing in December!”

Thundercracker
Ultimately this project has been centred around Thundercracker; it was the article that revealed him that informed the direction of this project and the resulting deck, after all. I’d like to bring us back to this quote from Ken Nagle:

“Sergeant Thundercracker is a new archetype all by himself.”

… and he ain’t kidding, for one painfully clear reason: Thundercracker punishes you for every non-Black card you play.

During the course of this project I’ve seen a lot of my friends play around with Black pips in other decks. In many of these decks, when they talk about Black decks they are actually talking about Blue/Black decks, rather than near total Black. That’s mostly because they are playing decks that benefit from having particular Black cards – usually mercenary-enabled cards in decks that feature Octane, Lockdown, Nightbird, etc. Characters like Soundblaster are also finding themselves running Black cards, because there are Black pips required for Soundblaster‘s abilities. These decks tend to treat Black the same way most other Blue decks treat Orange or blank cards – they are just off-colour cards that feel necessary for their decks.

However, Thundercracker is different from these setups. He doesn’t require just one or two Black pips in order to work; his bot mode ability is only worthwhile if he is flipping a substantial amount of Black pips, and if you flip to his alt mode and the revealed card is not Black, it might be considered a wasted flip. You can certainly bypass that restriction by using Plan or Plan-like effects like that of Incoming Transmission; but then you’re having to spend an action to do that, and you could be using that action to do something else. The reveal is still nice – revealing a Sturdy Javelin kind of sucks, but at least you know you’re getting three further cards and can plan for it still. Never forget the worth of just knowing what you’re about to flip.

Thundercracker‘s stats are very good – probably the best around for his star cost. If you’re not running a Black deck though, taking him is basically on par with taking Wave 1 Slug but with the Ranged trait; not entirely a poor pick, but I think most decks could find a better choice in the 9-star category. Take Triggerhappy, a Wheeljack or Ironhide instead.

Thundercracker wants Black more than aggro bugs want Orange; he punishes you even for having plain White cards in your deck. I fear Thundercracker will only be seen in this very restricted, pure Black setup; but within that setup he is the star player. An appropriate spot for a Rare character card.

Basking in the Sun’s rays.

Nova Storm
At the start of this project I was relatively dismissive of Nova Storm; sitting next to Thundercracker she felt a bit wanting and whilst she could arm herself with a Black upgrade for some tasty Pierce 3 and damage moving when she flips to alt mode, she looks like the weaker one in the party. Who needs Pierce 3 when you could potentially hit 5 Black pips on the attack anyhow?

Except… Nova Storm is pretty good. I ran her in a release day sealed alongside Sights and Sandstorm and that worked out rather well; and I’ve seen her partnered with a lot of other bots in other lists since. She’s appeared in lists that have done well in actual competitive tournaments, which is rather exciting.

She’s got just the right stat line for her star cost. Whilst Pierce 3 is a little redundant if you’re flipping 5 Black, she can still arm herself with a weapon so that ceiling is a bit higher. A Nova Storm with a Crowbar only needs 4 Black to hit 7 Pierce 7 after all, and that gets higher when you start playing Calculated Strike or Opportune Offensive on her.

Plus, unlike Thundercracker, you don’t need to be running an entirely Black deck; you just need a few Black upgrades, and there’s plenty of those to pick from depending on what type of deck you’re running. Pierce 3 is much nicer when you’re running mostly Blue; I hope and expect to see more of her as the wave continues.

So many cards!

Black
An entirely Black deck is something that felt completely barmy in Wave 3 – the cards were so utterly lacking and there was such a sparse selection that the very idea of running just Black was a bit of a non-starter. I don’t think I knew anyone who gave it a go, except perhaps at the end with Devastator (and even then, it didn’t go so well).

Wave 4 changed things significantly, with Black being the most common pip colour amongst the new cards. The cards introduced in this set have started to inform us how Black might be intended to be played, and some of the cards that were included sync with a pure-Black strategy in interesting ways. I’d like to highlight some cards that I have found particularly interesting whilst playing this deck:

Increased Durability and Minor Medic Kit
I think a lot of strategies can be boiled down to an offensive plan and a defensive plan, even if the defensive plan is ‘kill them faster than they kill us’. For Black, part of the defensive plan appears to be just keep adding health.

This tracks with a character like Thundercracker having such a high health stat, but Wave 4 also introduces two new upgrades: Minor Medic Kit and Increased Durability.

The cards fit different upgrade slots so can be happily played on the same character. Thundercracker with both makes for a terrifying 20 health. Even a lowly micromaster becomes less than trivial with one or two of these upgrades.

It makes sense for Black to have its own defensive plan; Black lacks the ability to lower incoming damage like Blue, and lacks the outgoing damage output of an Orange deck, so having something like +Health offsets Black’s shortcomings.

Increased Durability and Minor Medic Kit have been very important in most of my games and have often been deciding cards in winning games.

Crowbar
I find this card fascinating because on paper… it’s absolutely rubbish. A Primary Laser that scraps after use? Why would anyone want that?

Except… I kind of see how it works in a Black deck. Obviously you get the advantage of the double-Black pips, but in a deck that is wanting to maximize its Pierce value, only adding +2 to your attack is kind of what you want. Earlier I gave an example with Nova Storm where you could add this to her and then expect to get 4 Black pips on the flip, but there’s other uses for it too, for example…

… coupling Crowbar with Fight for Position on Thundercracker can result in flipping dramatically high amounts of Black pips (especially if we hit multiple double-Black cards), on top of a slightly improved attack value. Every character starts feeling like Arcee.

You’re likely to take Crowbar just for the pips, but unlike Improvised Shield and Handheld Blaster that rarely feel good in your hand, Crowbar can actually work out. Plus the fact that it scraps immediately afterwards means it will find it’s way back in to your flips, increasing the number of Black pips you flip next time.

Swerve
All hail Swerve. All hail this beautiful, beautiful card.

Not you!

I definitely hit a lot of Sturdy Javelins when Thundercracker flips to alt mode, so having a card that has both White and Black is very appealing on its own. Swerve also synergises well with Thundercracker and Nova Storm, letting them both fling damage at an attacker. Attacking either with only one health whilst a secret action is in play becomes a dangerous proposition. Even just adding the extra point of defense feels worthwhile. I’d definitely be on the look out for other teams I could use this card with; using it to ping damage to an opponent is fun, imagine what else it could do.

RR Disruptor Blade
Finally, a deck that makes good use of this card. +3 damage, and in this deck, no drawbacks or limitations. Nuff said.

“I thought beaches were meant to be sandy? What are these pebbles?”

General Observations
How could a Black deck possibly fit into an existing meta? I definitely don’t feel comfortable in thinking that such a deck would have a guaranteed place in a competitive environment – for starters, I can’t imagine how a Black deck could take on an Orange deck and survive. Black simply doesn’t have the tools to deal with a pure Aggro deck yet; it can’t reduce the incoming attack by enough not to be squashed. Whilst it does have the advantage of higher health pools, those aren’t guaranteed and the upgrades can be knocked off just as easily as Tough upgrades can for a Blue player.

I’m not even sure if it has a place in a meta dominated by successful Blue decks; I’ve certainly seen some success against well built Blue decks with Thundercracker, but it’s still resulted in some very close games when my opponents are using anti-Pierce tech like Stable Cover and Point-Defense System, or have high health values themselves, abilities like Safeguard or simply being able to bring a lot of raw damage to the table.

However, there are two really big reasons why I think you should have a deck like this built:

  1. A Black deck makes for an excellent stress test for any Blue deck you are intending on building. For a Blue deck to be successful, it will need to be able to defeat an opponent in a timely manner even without Tough or flipping Blue cards; otherwise you’ll be vulnerable to a rival Blue deck that simply hits harder than you (or indeed any Blue deck with easy access to Pierce or non-attack damage).
  2. This deck is incredibly cheap, and uses very few Rare cards. The original build I made in Part 2 of this project had exactly 3 Rare cards – all of them copies of RR Disruptor Blade. Every other card was either Common or Uncommon.

    I did bring in Rare cards during testing in Part 3; Opportune Offensive of course is a Rare card and one that worked very well. The other two – Bombing Run and Roll-Out – actually worked against the deck.

    The monetary value of this deck is FAR lower than almost any equivalent Blue or Orange deck. Those decks would need to bring in expensive cards like Peace Through Tyranny, Security Checkpoint, Energon Axe, Marksmanship, Roll-Out, Matrix of Leadership, I Still Function, etc. in order to make them work. This deck neither needs nor wants those cards.

There’s other considerations with the deck that I didn’t get into; the conversation in the community right now is very focused on decks that want to win using Daring Escape, and I never explored how this deck would deal with that card (I’d imagine in the same ways every other deck would). There are negative consequences of this deck too – a player who enjoys creating interesting decks with Blue might find it demoralising playing against a deck that effectively ignores every pip they flip and makes Tough more or less worthless.

Finally, my personal view is that Black isn’t competitive right now… but I’m not a competitive player, I’m a player who just enjoys playing with the mechanics of the game. What the hell would I know anyways? It might just not be Black’s time yet; just like Wave 4 gave Black more options than during it’s introduction in Wave 3, future waves may do the same to push Black as a competitive archetype.

… aaaaaaaand….. relax.

Final Thoughts
In the end, I definitely feel like I understood what the original official article was getting at with Thundercracker, Planes and Black pips. What at the time felt like a weird mix of various undesirable traits and abilities bundled together, actually ended up making a deck I had a lot of fun playing.

I certainly haven’t finishing playing with the deck; I’ll definitely keep it around – because, again, really cheap – and tweak it from time to time. The deck I have right now is optimised ‘for fun’, not mathematically optimised to get the very best numbers possible, nor have I even considered trying to optimise it to take on an Orange deck (if that is even possible). I have lots of questions about running all Black too, like what are the probabilities of hitting just Pierce 2 or hitting Pierce 7 when you flip? Those types of probability calculations are way out of my skill set and better handled by another creator.

It’s time to move on though, so whilst this might not be the end of Black pips on this blog, it is the last of Thundercracker and Nova Storm. They can now enjoy their time by the sea in peace.

Until next time.

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