Freelance Peacekeeping

Evolving Language

Bits and Bolts and Brewing - Custom TFTCG


Welcome to Bits and Bolts, a series intended to help folk with Transformers the Trading Card Game. Today, let's look at the evolution in the language WotC used when creating cards so we can learn which approaches to avoid as we develop our own cards.

Looking at TFTCG cards over time, you can see WotC creating cards with similar concepts, yet using different terminology. Some of the earliest examples of these are shown in the cards released in the 2019 W1C conference set.


Robots in Disguise are Characters: The card All-Out Attack (W1C-001) said "Each of your untapped Transformers can attack this turn". It's the only time you'll see a card saying 'Transformer'. Every other card, including the Energon Edition reprint of All-Out Attack says 'character'.

Different battle icons? Wave 5 loves you

Battle Icon Colors: Referring to the colors of battle icons has also evolved. Slipstream - Strategic Seeker (W1C-T02), also released at that 2019 conference, uses the phrase "flip at least 3 different battle icons". By the time of Wave 2 this was switched to "battle icons of at least 2 different colors" with Windblade - Combiner Hunter, and the Energon Edition reprint of Slipstream, along with other cards like Grapple (W2-T26) and Lucky Vest (W4-036) used this language. Wave 4 also saw a new form of this text with Raider Ratbat saying "for each different color among that card's battle icons". This was repeated multiple times in Wave 5 with Master of Metallikato, Versatility, and Brawn. Wave 5 also introduced us to hybrid battle icons, which would have made that early Slipstream language very problematic.

Rookie error Grapple, welcome to the scrapyard

Discard???: The previously mentioned Grapple shows another language error that somehow snuck by the editors. Grapple, under the influence of other card games, says "discard", when we all know he should be saying "scrap". Someone, somewhere was kicking themselves for that screwup.

After the Rewrite

Scrap After: With Wave 3, the language used to scrap a temporary upgrade was changed. In Waves 1 and 2 cards like Grenade Launcher, Blast Shield, Evasive Maneuvers, and Power Punch had said "After the upgrade character ... → Scrap this card.". With Wave 3's RR Disruption Blade, that changed to the more formulaic "When the upgraded character ... → Scrap this card after the battle.". While this allowed for characters like Soundblaster and Nautica to hang onto their upgrades longer, it's likely it came about because of Wave 3's Bolster not working as nicely with Blast Shield as the designers would have hoped. Since then, classic Wave 5 cards like Fusion Borer, Crystal of Power, and Emergency Barricade have used this new language; along with Crowbar and Composite Armor from Wave 4.

Scrap N Bad

Scrap the top N of your deck: Scrapping more than one card has also seen a language change. Ancient Wisdom, Treasure Hunt, and Private Sidetrack all had you scrap multiple cards from the top of your deck and then do something with those cards. Let's say you were playing Treasure Hunt with only 3 cards in your deck. You would scrap 3 cards, then shuffle your scrap pile, then scrap 1 card. Now you have to find the Upgrades in your deck. WotC fixed this with a FAQ response to not actually scrap them until all 4 are first revealed, but a FAQ every time they used this mechanism would be painful. Captain Jetfire from Wave 4 is a good example of how they fixed this, saying "Reveal the top 5 cards of your deck. Put all Upgrades from among them into your hand. Scrap the rest. ".

Flip cards? But why?!?!?!?!?

Flip a battle card: Swarm!, from Wave 1, is very similar to the last example. It told players to "Flip a battle card for each Insecticon"; which caused problems for players when Wave 2 unveiled the green battle icon. Is a Swarm! flip the same as a battle flip? A FAQ was written and all future examples used "Reveal" instead.

Weird deck sidenote. Skywarp - Teleporting Seeker says "when you play or flip a battle card that has no battle icons". This would trigger if you had Insecticons with Skywarp, played Swarm!, and revealed an icon with no battle icons.

A Sign of Things to Come

Before they were famous: Wave 1 has a few cards who would later be simplified with keywords. Aerial Recon would now simply say "Focus 1". Data Pad could use a "Plan 1". Make sure you don't copy those cards and miss using the keywords.

Sneaky W1 Cards

Play upgrades, restrict with Put: Hunker Down and Jetfire, both again from Wave 1, had significant power due to weak use of language. Each of them instructs the player to "Put an Upgrade on from the scrap pile". Equally, Wave 2 Superior Jetpack and Superior Plating restricted their being played rather than being put. This allowed Jetfire and Hunker Down to sidestep the restriction. They can also sidestep Wave 5 Ghost Shield. Superior Cannon and Master Sword use the same language, but as Hunker Down is limited to Armor and Jetfire is limited to Armor and Utility, nothing is able to sneak passed the restriction. Sergeant Soundblaster (W4) and Nautica (W5) show the evolved language - when they get an Upgrade from the scrap pile, they "Play" it, they don't "Put" it.

Play/Put Triggers: Related to the last point, if an Upgrade has a trigger related to it going on a character, it should use "Put". If a different card has a trigger related to that Upgrade going on a character, it should use "Play". Unless of course you're making a card that needs to work with Hunker Down or Jetfire.

I hope, as folk continue to develop their cards, that some of the above is of interest and use. Thank you for reading.