Like many of you, I was pretty excited about the reveal of Sky Shadow for Wave 5 of the Transformers TCG. Aside from some of the implications (a Phase Sixer! Another duo-con! Obscure character! Possibility for Overlord! Other Transformer nerd things!), Sky Shadow‘s entire mechanic look like an interesting ‘upgrade’ of Skytread‘s, with a lot less of the drawbacks.
In this Spotlight article, I want to talk about some of the reasons why I think this character is so interesting, briefly talk about how I’d like to go about building him and who I’d initially pair him with, and even talk about some initial side-boarding ideas that occurred to me very early on.
This won’t be too in depth – I don’t have much time to write this, but I’m excited enough about Sky Shadow that I wanted to say something about him outside of my usual schedule. I think as we learn about more cards and ideas mature, we’ll end up having more thoughts on the character. Hopefully this will lay groundwork for some deeper articles closer to the release of Wave 5.
Sky Shadow shares a lot of conceptual similarities with the Wave 4 character Skytread. They both do not have a bot mode, they both are formed by two cards that start as a tank and a plane, and they both combine when one of their separate parts die. As I covered Skytread not so long ago, I feel like I’m in very familiar territory looking at this character.
I’m not going to re-tread (*cough*) all the discussion of Skytread from my series about him and how he works, but here are three essential bullet points:
- Skytread tends to work best when you can control how he combines, through a variety of means.
- Skytread performs best when you manage to attack with both parts of Skytread, and then combine, getting a third activation.
- Skytread causes a temporary loss of cards in hand when he combines (which can become a permanent loss if he dies before you can retrieve them).
My building attempts with Skytread have tried to maximize the benefits of effectively being wider than he might appear, whilst trying to have options for controlling how combination happens, and recovering hand quickly. The result was a deck that was very fun to play, quite novel in its playstyle and could win some games here and there; but it was far from a competitive deck and struggled in a lot of match ups.
So why be excited by Sky Shadow, if I’ve already done something similar with Skytread, and even then it’s not that powerful?
Well, just because characters have similar looking mechanics, doesn’t mean they necessarily play the same way. A great example of that is the comparison between Optimus Prime Battlefield Legend and Alpha Trion (who I also wrote about). These two characters are very mechanically similar; enough so that Alpha Trion is often viewed as ‘mini Optimus Prime‘, and he was touted by some as being a contender in the Wave 3 meta for that reason. But in actuality Alpha Trion‘s lower attack and tighter restrictions to his abilities mean he lends himself to a very different playstyle; and I think the case is the same with Skytread and Sky Shadow.
Shall we go over the differences?
- Sky Shadow, in total, is a 15 star character – 7 stars for Tank, 7 stars for Plane, and 1 star for a Stratagem that let’s him combine. He is 3 stars more expensive than Skytread, limiting his options.
- Both Tank and Plane have stat lines of 4 / 10 / 2; both are better than their equivalents in Skytread in at least one stat.
- Tank has a bonus Tough 2; Plane has a bonus Bold 2. They compare well with similar 7 star characters with Tough and Bold.
- Sky Shadow has the same rule for combining that Skytread does (though it is printed on his Stratagem, not his character card); but he has no drawback, no cards are lost from your hand, and there is no damage moving.
- Combining gives you a free Ominus (titanmaster head character). Ominus gives you Pierce 4.
- Combining does 3 points of damage to an enemy Autobot.
- Sky Shadow retains the Tough 2 and Bold 2 from both Tank and Plane.
- Sky Shadow has an outrageous Attack 8, nearly the best unboosted damage in the game (only Optimus Maximus is better).
- When Sky Shadow is KO’d (the combiner, not the parts), Ominus flips to bot mode; Ominus has Attack 2 and Pierce 4, and will definitely do damage next turn.
… okay, is that enough bonuses and extra features? To say that Sky Shadow is an upgraded version of Skytread is understating it a bit.
More Untapped Characters!
I think my favourite part about playing Skytread has been that feeling of getting an extra bonus character when the tank and plane finally combine. Sky Shadow not only does that, but also adds in the extra element of having a titan master head.
I already talked about how I feel the titan master mechanic might play out in my Spotlight article on Twintwist. To summarize, I feel their role is to exact a quick, instant revenge on the opponent – unlikely to make huge changes, but built correctly can cut down a tapped opponent with a few health left. We’d want to build them to take advantage of lots of Orange or Black pips (which is how I felt Flameout would go), or have some sort of inherent Pierce – which is exactly what Ominus brings. Ominus will always be able to do some damage.
I think the play pattern of Sky Shadow will ultimately end up feeling like it happens in phases. So we might start out with:
Flame War – Sky Shadow (Plane) – Sky Shadow (Tank) – Steeljaw
… where Sky Shadow Plane and Tank attack first, whilst Steeljaw and Flame War flip to bot modes. We then should hopefully see our opponent target Plane; the easier of the two to bring down, resulting in …
Flame War – Sky Shadow w/Ominus – Steeljaw
… all of whom are untapped. Depending on how wide our opponent is and who went first, this could be a complete all out attack for Sky Shadow. Even on the retaliation, our opponent still needs to deal with Flame War, Steeljaw, potentially half of Sky Shadow AND THEN still have enough characters or health left in one character that Ominus won’t be able to simply finish them off.
Sounds like a good strategy for a line-up, at least in theory.
Building and Line-up
A somewhat difficult aspect of Sky Shadow is that he merges three keywords that don’t necessarily work well together: Bold, Pierce and Tough. Pierce and Tough have always made a great couple; strong teams like the Aerialbots have defined the meta in their day by bringing huge amounts of both Tough and Pierce to the table, but the Bold that came with that team never felt right. Likewise, if we went Blue/Black in a build, native Pierce might end up being redundant (although, if Sky Shadow‘s attack gets any higher, he’ll need all the Black he can get).
However, in Wave 3 we saw a rise in mixed-pip teams thanks to General Optimus Prime. Locally in Brighton we saw our friend Mat Armstrong rock the first local tournament of Wave 3 with a mixed pip General Prime build that earnt him the nickname Mixed Pip Mat. Later Vector Sigma would also talk about their own builds, with Scott Landis taking one to the Top 4 at Gencon last year.
We can potentially learn a lot from how to build a deck for Sky Shadow by looking to the General Optimus Prime builds (and indeed, also the builds for Galaxy Prime played in Wave 4) for ideas on how successful mixed-pip builds might work out. A successful build might take elements from those, including use of direct damage cards like Armed Hovercraft and Sturdy Javelin, as well as cards that have been useful for Skytread like Peace Through Tyranny, One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall, etc.
I don’t think I’m the correct person to try and do the math on this, but with both Bold 2 and Tough 2, a theory might be that a 50/50 split between Orange and Blue might work well, though leaning one way or the other might still give a feeling of being defensive/aggressive despite whatever majority colour. I suspect more math-orientated Transformers TCG commentators might better inform on the probabilities than I would; but it’s at least an idea and one to experiment with in early builds.
As far as Black goes, I think it’s a matter of trying out an Orange/Blue build and seeing how it does, before experimenting with Black; there’s certainly benefits from a Black/Blue build too, as we’d want to hit at least Pierce 8 when attacking with Sky Shadow, possibly more. Certainly, 5 Black pips and an Energon Axe will lead to 11 Pierce 11, which is a frightening concept.
As for companions for Sky Shadow, with 10 stars to spare the options are quite numerous; it’d definitely be fun going through the options and coming up with idea after idea for who Sky Shadow could play with. That being said, I like the idea of stacking the Tough and the Bold; Flame War is almost a shoe-in in this list, and I’d also consider additional Tough/Bold bonuses from the cats Ravage and Steeljaw. I think I’d lean more towards Steeljaw; that would mean that once Sky Shadow is combined, he’ll be attacking with Bold 3 Tough 3 Pierce 4, plus whatever bonuses upgrades and actions might grant him. Yikes!
Initial Sideboard Ideas
With a wide list like this, sideboard options might seem unlimited. Again, it would be very fun to go through the options and see what character pairings we could pull out from the game that could make a Sky Shadow deck really pop. If we had Steeljaw and Flame War, an interesting option might be to have a 10 star character in the sideboard.
Two options really stuck out thinking over the character this morning, though; and funnily enough we already mentioned both those characters:
So, seems a bit of a cheap sideboard option since Prime is everywhere… but I actually think General Prime flanked by Sky Shadow WITHOUT the Stratagem could end up being a really good update for the line up. Plane attacking with Bold 3 is insanely good, as is Tank blocking with Tough 3.
The other option would be to simply side into a Galaxy Prime list, since both Sky Shadow (with stratagem) and Galaxy Prime are 15 stars. Steeljaw is probably not quite the right companion for most tradititional Galaxy Prime builds but it might be interesting to experiment with a build that is a little closer to an even split of Blue and Orange; or at the very least, Steeljaw granting Galaxy Prime Bold 1 would make it easier for Galaxy Prime to see both colours for his bot mode ability.
Ultimately sideboard options are more about what issues we think the current meta might present to our deck; and without a decent idea of what the meta actually is, it’s very hard to solidify a sideboard. We’d need to know our main deck’s strengths and weaknesses and plan our sideboard to deal with problem matchups.
So Where’s The Deck?
At the moment, this is all spit-balling ideas; we’re not at the deck building stage quite yet, despite Spotlight being intended for quick, untested prototype builds. I think I’m enamoured enough with Sky Shadow that this won’t be the last you’ll be reading about him on this site, though, and I intend to give a quick follow up on him in a few weeks when we’ve seen a bit more of the set. That could potentially sharpen line-up ideas – maybe my initial ideas aren’t necessarily the best choices when we know more about Wave 5?
In the mean time, I hope you’re thinking of your own ideas for Sky Shadow. It’ll be great to see this very obscure, shadowy character have his time in the light.
Until next time.
Special thanks to Nick Cork and Michael McGreish for various bits of input, and for the whole Brighton crew for joining me in gushing over this character the past 24 hours.