Freelance Peacekeeping

Week 1: Darkmount - Cruel Overlord

Alpha Trion Fanbrew


NOTE: These stratagems are early prototypes.

By way of introduction...

My 2020 plan was to use some savings to travel to TF:TCG competitions like GenCon and Origins. As my LGS only had a few players, and a couple were already Vector Sigma members, joining Vector Sigma felt like a good way to help prepare myself for the competitions. I joined at the beginning of the year, but obviously the COVID pandemic had different ideas.

With the realization that my year of competing would not happen, I was eager to make the leap to competing online in the Corona Cups on OCTGN, and the Vector Sigma Alpha Trion tournaments on Webcam. Playing my first online competitive match against Steffon was quite the personal milestone in this game (surprise-surprise, my silly 6-wide deck couldn't do enough damage to his near immortal Galaxy Prime). I took part in the first couple of Vector Sigma tournaments, and with my interest in the faqs and rules I was added as a judge for the third tournament. With WotC's announcement that they were no longer supporting the game, I volunteered to help out and was excited, and a bit surprised, to be added to the Alpha Trion player's committee.

I was nervous. I'm not a top-eight player. My lips move while I'm working out whether to go first or not. Vector Sigma on the other hand have a very competitive reputation, and, that reputation can feel a little bit elitist. Was my role going to be being told that the cards were already decided, now get out there and sell?

Bootstrapping a design team...

I was added to the "the-committee' Discord channel, and things were fairly quiet at first. Vin, from Vectot Sigma, proposed we have a phone call on the Saturday after the WotC announcement, and things largely simmered slowly from then.

Most of us met on the Saturday call. Vin quickly fell into the role of project manager. He highlighted the general idea, with some support from Scott, also of Vector Sigma, in terms of the general vision. Other folk joined in on the conversation and I threw in a question or two. Vin brought things back together with a proposal for a path to identify the characters we were interested in working on. Over the next 24 hours we each listed our top 10 interest list, and Vin put these together into a matrix, identifying the 20 top picks and assigning out characters to folk to work on based on their preferences.

And then things took off...

Over the next couple of days everybody updated a forum with their ideas. We each commented on each others' ideas, and then we integrated folks comments. Scott and Richard Wyatt stood out for me with the work they did to comment on every card. Slowly we started to see the burst of creativity calm down and so I made a Google sheet listing the rough 'alpha' version for each card. Dan Arnold then took those and started to create images, launching these with public play testing with community member, and Dan's personal nemesis, Jempty.

I want to emphasize how open things have been within the team. I was definitely worried on Day-1 that this would be the Vector Sigma show. That the Stratagems were already written, and that mine was a role with no teeth behind it. That's the exact opposite of what has transpired. We've each had full creative control of our stratagems, and feedback has been constructive and in line with the original idea the author had. I find myself wanting to skip a match or two just so I can spend more time working on more ideas with the team.

Guess who lives again?

The first stratagem I'm playtesting is for Darkmount. Darkmount was my top pick for improving, and I've deeply enjoyed coming up with ideas for him. Let's look at the questions I asked myself.

Darkmount Alt Mode Image Darkmount Bot Mode Image
Darkmount - Cruel Overlord
What is Darkmount’s problem?
Darkmount is severely anaemic, health is definitely going to be needed. The average health for a Wave 5 9-star is 12.
Can we fix text without modifying/replacing character text?
Yes. Darkmount’s text is solid, and he is a worthwhile flip.
What decks are we encouraging Darkmounts use in?
Darkmount is a part of Decepticon Tank decks. Fellow Decepticon tanks are 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13. Hunker-down is an important card in Tank decks, flipping from bot to alt modes. Typically a Decepticon Darkmount tank deck would involve Darkmount, Demolisher, and Megatron, Arrogant Ruler. This is confirmed by reviewing where the majority of Darkmount decks match this. Having a star-cost to the stratagem would lose us the two 10-star Megatrons, who are not great characters currently, but when all three (Darkmount, Demolisher, and Megatron-Arrogant Ruler) have stratagems, they may compound into a lot of power.
What is the Canon?
Canon-wise, Darkmount is better known as Lord Straxus. In G1, he ruled on Cybertron while the Ark-bound Transformers were trapped on Earth. He was physically strong and carried a battle-axe. Dead in an exploding space-bridge, the UK canon kept bringing him back.

My earliest idea with Darkmount was to find a way to get around that anaemic health, tying it to things that Tanks like to do, namely upgrading with Armors. So I started with "When you play an Armor on Darkmount, Cruel Overlord, repair 3 damage from him". This wasn't enough, and seeing how others were thinking, helped emboldened me to grow this stratagem.

Darkmount Alpha Stratagem Image
Lord Straxus Lives Again!
He gains +4 health.
Darkmount gains the Leader trait in both modes.
When you put an Armor on Darkmount, repair 1 damage from him.

Why this Stratagem?

Firstly it gives Darkmount the Health he is missing. Via the G1 Canon it makes him a Leader, opening up Callous Leadership (and Trithyllium Shield), and the repair is a shout-out to his coming back from the death in the UK canon.

How would we make it weaker?

Health can be reduced, and the repair effect could be limited either to being in Tank mode, or to Playing, not Putting, an armor. i.e. Hunker Down wouldn't be a repair opportunity.

How would we make it stronger?

Health and the Repair numbers could both be increased. The repair could become "When you put an Armor on a Tank, and Darkmount, Cruel Overlord, is on the battlefield, repair 1 damage from the Tank. "

Having come up with this general idea, and gotten feedback from folk to adjust it, my next task was to focus on testing. I needed a deck to test against. I didn't want to go straight up against a Quake or a Sky Bull, so I opted to use a solid but not-crushing Titan Master deck. I also needed a Darkmount deck, so I opted for an Orange Darkmount, Demolisher, and Sky Shadow (Tank) deck.

As I played, I always tested with my Stratagem deck 'winning' the dice roll and deciding to go first. Altough both decks had Peace Through Tyranny, I only used these to swap for Green cards so testing wasn't influenced by what is, basically, a combo card. For the same reason, when perusing star cards, I decided that Leap of Faith was not a good card for testing purposes, too random.

As you'll see, my early testing attacked Nightbird due to her low armor, but that often saw Perceptor being a little too healthy later on. I adapted to hitting Perceptor first; which is one issue I found in testing - I got better with the deck.

No Stratagems

Game 1
Testing without the stratagem, our Tank deck did not last long when they attacked Nightbird first. Perceptor/Brisko had 3 damage, and Kreb was undamaged. That's a lot of health left (17 to be exact). That's a lot to make up.
Game 2
Repeating by going into Perceptor first, Team Tanks lose again, but this time with 6 remaining health (Brisko and an Enhanced Power Cell on Nightbird. An early Hunker Down is very powerful for Team Tanks.

Lord Straxus Lives Again! and Anti-Air Battery

Game 1
This was a lot closer. Lord Straxus loses, with Brisko on 1 damage and Perceptor on 16 damage (with Kreb and an Enhanced Power Cell)

Fortunately, we've also been prototyping a Demolisher Stratagem. Let's include that as well.

Demolisher is another low health Wave 1 Tank, though unlike Darkmount his heavy attack and low cost has kept him in decks through the life of the Transformer game. Our Stratagem for Demolisher is still in a lot of flux. I've been using this variant, which I consider to have a 1-star cost:

Demolisher Alpha Stratagem Image
Anti-Air Battery (Costs 1 Star)
He gains +4 health.
Demolisher ignores non-attack damage from opponent's cards.

Playing some games with our two Stratagems, things were a lot closer.

Lord Straxus Lives Again! and Anti-Air Battery

Game 1
In the first match, we lost by a single health. When Kreb is able to drop a Brainstorm/Camien Crash/Camien Crash, and then upgrade with a Fusion Borer, it's quite the final hit. Still - a good result. This was an attack Nightbird first game.
Game 2
In the second match, Team Tank lost again, this time by 4 health with a Perceptor/Kreb/Enhanced Power Cell on 17 damage. Close again. Again it was an attack Nightbird game.
Game 3
In the third match, Team Tank finally won with Darkmount standing along with 2 damage. This was the first of these games in which I went into Perceptor first.
Game 4
Despite feeling like I was getting the hang of it, a win for team Perceptor, 1 health remaining on Nightbird, 2 health remaining on Perceptor/Brisko.
Game 5
Vindication for Team Tank, Darkmount wins with 10 damage (3 remaining health). His flip to alt-mode to do 2 damage is very valuable.

After this first round of testing, the Stratagem for Darkmount felt solid. I especially liked to play Cooling Vents to repair Darkmount of 2 damage, and Composite Armor plus Crushing Treads is a wonderful piece of upgrading. Given that he's not being tested against the toughest decks yet, I suspect he could still get more for his star cost, a bit more starting health for example, or a more aggressive repair, be that for other Tanks or to repair himself for more. Demolisher also felt solid.

Most importantly, for me, I enjoyed the games. It was a joy to play with one of the first cards I fell in love with.

Before we end this, let's take a look at how this deck fairs against one of the top current decks, Sky Bull. We'll use Christian Young's winning Sky Bull deck from the first VS Alpha Trion tournament.

No Stratagems

Game 1
Sky Bull wins: Plane and Tank still there with 13 damage shared accross them.

Lord Straxus Lives Again! and Anti-Air Battery

Game 1
Sky Bull wins: Ominus/Grax undamaged.
Game 2
Team Tank wins: Darkmount on 7 damage (so 6 health remaining).
Game 3
Sky Bull wins: Sky Shadow (Combiner) has 19 damage.

That's... not bad :) Being aggro Decepticons with high base defense means that Team Tank can handle a fair amount of what Sky Bull has to offer. Demolisher's invulnerability to direct damage helps too.

What's Next for Lord Straxus?

  1. One of the next things to test him in a blue deck, perhaps with Pounce, Nightracer, and both of their stratagems.
  2. Another, given Darkmont and stratagem cost 10*, is partnering him with Sky Shadow.
  3. Lastly, I need to test increases to Darkmount's Stratagem. To perform a stress test. What would it take to make Lord Straxus really unbearable?

Thank you for reading; I hope you're as excited as I am by the return of Lord Straxus!