Leaders take action. The greatest leaders, no matter what they’re thinking, show strength… not always through raw physical strength but through strength of determination, through strength of character and conviction. They take…Decisive Action. For today’s spoiler we’re going to look at the decisive, but absolutely insane, Shattered Glass Optimus Prime!
In playtests Optimus Prime, the diabolical leader of the Shattered Glass Autobots, was my problem child. He hit a lot of thematic goals, but he was too good for the board. The goals for Prime were as follows:
- I wanted to stay true to Prime as represented in the game already; he has a history of interacting with card draw and action plays. Giving him something consistent in the vein of an action felt “right.”
- I wanted to make him evil. Prime in the “prime” universes is noble, but this Prime needs to be just plain wicked. Instead of taking care of his people, they would be disposable, an asset, useful until they weren’t. Megatron and Galvatron are destructive, but SG Prime is downright malicious, no matter who’s side they’re on.
- I am a fan of recycling; when dabbling in someone else’s pool, I don’t always feel comfortable introducing whole-cloth material as that can really unbalance things, but I do enjoy remixing and even in that space there’s a lot of fun. I wanted (for all of my SG characters) to remix the game, which was also thematically appropriate for an alternate reality release.
The first drafts of Prime came together quickly; focusing on the above I looked for ways to ramp Prime’s destructive power at the cost of his crew. The SG Autobot stratagem the decks will feature increases all of their power based on how many characters have been KO’d. Looking for other abilities, the battle card “Heroic Team Up” was spot on perfect. It was even Autobot branded! How do we make Prime even more vicious? To SG Prime, his minions are disposable. How can we replicate that? How can we steer the fire their way? “Brave” requires that character to be attacked if there’s a choice between targets. How about we “give” the tapped character Brave, making them the target, a “live shield” for SG Prime? Bwahahaha!
Come testing time, Prime was a MONSTER. Gloriously so. Frighteningly so…dangerously so. In “vanilla” playtests, battles between the precon SG Decepticons and SG Autobots were close, but balanced. It was a good give and take. With abilities? SG Autobots going first usually led to Prime flipping, using his ability, and smashing for 13+ damage in one shot. Going second? Same deal, only now we get an action. A little later? Massive hit, plus an action, plus on-board equipment. AND with the bonuses from the SG Autobot Stratagem. Often, poor Dirge bore the brunt of that assault and was the first body on the pyre, usually not even seeing one round of combat on his own.
So how do we deal with this?
Major concerns were his ability to take this action RIGHT out of the gate. It was too reliable, no real choice existed. You just did it. In deck design, a situation with no other, appreciable, choice is pretty lousy. Infamously Magic dealt with this and a concept they called “damage on the stack;” without getting too deep into it, in combat there were creatures for whom you always blocked with them, allowed their ability to deal damage to “go on the stack,” and then sacrificed them for a bonus effect. It was an “always win.” There was no downside. The Brave, while thematic, protected Prime while making another (often weaker) character a target, which would play into the overall SG Autobot strategy.
Hashing things out with Kaleb Adams as we reviewed sets, he had similar concerns. Prime was too good. What kind of costs could be added? We reviewed a few options together and some made sense, some didn’t, some got way too wordy…and we tumbled into one that seemed to work…
So the idea ultimately is that Prime, be it Battlefield Legend, Nemesis or others, is both beefy, hard-hitting, and toys with action cards. SG Prime’s ability was derived from an existing action, Heroic Team-Up. Prime was using it TOO freely. But…what if it cost…something? Transformers TCG doesn’t have a currency, a resource, in the way other games do. Its currency is its action economy, what you can do; play an action, play an upgrade, transform (flip), and attack. What if it cost… an action? Heroic Team-Up is an Action card. And, what if, we codified it as an ability keyword, ala Bounty?
“Decisive” was an off the cuff name that really seems to work, as in “Decisive Action.” With this, we could condense some somewhat lengthy text into a fairly straight-forward keyword and make something interesting available: potent, reliable, character card abilities, but limiting their use to an extent by consuming other actions.
Decisive works by replacing an opportunity to play an Action card with activating a Decisive ability. As an ability/reminder, it reads “Whenever you could play an action, you may activate a Decisive ability instead. This counts as playing an action.” On the upside, its akin to playing a signature ability on a regular basis, whenever you want it. Catches are its on that character only, its not in the deck to contribute battle icons, and it still costs you an action slot to use. In this, it works akin to some of the Upgrades, which consume additional slots or allow more than one thing to go in a given slot.
On a design note, we both agree that Decisive actions should carry some additional cost depending on the scale of the ability. The “easy” one is to scrap a card from your hand; SG Prime’s full ability text reads “Decisive -> Scrap a card from your hand and tap an untapped Autobot you control. Add that character’s base ATK to Optimus Prime’s ATK until end of turn. That character gains Brave until the beginning your next turn.” Doing this, you are essentially playing Heroic Team-Up every time he’s activated. Alternatively, you can implement other costs such as scrapping a card on the field (specific upgrade, even a character), placing damage on your own team, tapping other characters, etc.
In the early testing, SG Prime’s ability stack became something of a “golden calf.” I knew I needed to do something about it but couldn’t quite figure out what without sacrificing too much flavor, and it was just way too cool to me to eliminate. The idea of psycho-Prime grabbing a minion, using them for an offensive boost AND a live shield, and them getting slagged while he’s untouched was just too perfect a mental image, too perfect a mechanical confluence. But it was overbearing. It led to few optimal choices, few real decisions, and meant it was mechanically a problem, invalidating other cards on the board.
By adding Decisive, this slowed things down just enough to be less oppressive. Consuming an action and discarding a card put a limit on how quickly and how often the ability can be used; turn one plays are no longer possible (you need to be able to play an action, and if you go first you can’t!) and turn two plays require more interesting decisions as you can’t double-dip with the ability AND an action or an upgrade. Depending on your draws, you might choose to hold off a turn until you can scrap something you care much less about.
My own hope is as new sets are released more teams embrace Decisive and its possibilities. In our complimenting sets both Kaleb and I are exploring chances to utilize this to some interesting extents. Without too much spoilage, I like the idea of leaders both being and having Decisive and as such Megatron, whose abilities have been weaker in playtesting, gets a fun Decisive ability of his own. Kaleb’s implementing Decisive across several of his pieces as well, as the ability nicely fills in or rounds out early abilities of his as well.
FINALLY, to round it all out…here’s a full bot-mode spoil of EoI’s “Optimus Prime, Emperor of Destruction * Shattered Glass!” Enjoy and be sure to check back for more spoilers and news for EoI’s “Shattered Glass” box set and keep your eyes peeled for more reveals from Kaleb Adams’ “Shattered Glass” release!
Q: Can I use a Decisive ability on the first turn of the game?
A: No, you cannot. Using a Decisive ability requires using an Action “slot.” As you cannot play anything on the first turn, you don’t have a “slot” to spend on a Decisive ability.
Q: Can I use a Decisive ability on the second turn of the game?
A: If you are going second, you can use a Decisive ability, but that is your play for the turn, as when going second you can play an Action or an Upgrade but not both. The Decisive ability would count as playing ac Action, your one play for the turn.
Q: Can I use a Decisive ability as one of my Actions after playing Brainstorm?
A: Yes. Brainstorm allows you to play two Actions, giving you two “slots” to play a Decisive ability. You could, in fact, activate two Decisive abilities off Brainstorm if you chose to, provided you could pay the additional costs as well.
Q: Can I activate the same Decisive ability more than once per turn?
A: Provided you have multiple opportunities to play an action, can pay any additional costs incurred by the ability, and the ability itself does not prevent it, then yes. Normally this would be quite the investment in resources so it won’t happen often, but it is possible!
Have any more Decisive questions? Hit us up! Comment here, on the Edge of Iacon Facebook page, or reach out to Nate or Kaleb and we’ll sort it out!
Optimus Prime, Emperor of Destruction * Shattered Glass Q&A
Q: I have a Primary Laser (+2 ATK) equipped to an Autobot. If I tap that Autobot for Optimus’ Decisive ability, how much do I add to his attack?
A: Optimus’ ability instructs you to add the tapped character’s base attack, so that would be the value printed on that character, in that mode. If the character has a base attack of 3, you would add 3 to Optimus’ attack value for the turn. If another effect modifies that somehow, such as a weapon, stratagem, or other effect, you ignore that addition or penalty.