Meta Talk | The Sentinels Primer
Greetings fellow Cybertronians! I am here to promote Sentinels and why I think it is a viable choice going into the meta in the next few weeks. For those already familiar with the deck, you may scroll towards the matchup and sideboard tech section for what I think should be direction heading forward.
What are the Sentinels?
The Sentinels team were introduced into the game during Wave 2, Rise of the Combiners. They are a combiner team involving Optimus Prime, Hot Rod, Mirage, Sunstreaker, Ironhide and Prowl.
The teams unique mechanics in the tcg involve starting the game with Optimus Prime in your line-up and having 3 Sentinels in your KO pile for their transforming flip effects which mimics actual cards in game. Besides that, Sentinels offer solid stats and abilities for being on the field and flexible playstyles for the players.
Most players currently opt to play it as an offensive control style of deck, similar to Red Black decks in Magic the Gathering. However, there are some players who opt to play it as a defensive deck, focusing on combining. There are strengths to both, however I lean towards the offensive one at the moment for competitive play.
Optimus Prime, Gleaming Commander
This guy is the meat and bones of the deck and what makes it work. His ability allows you to begin the game with 3 sentinels in your KO pile, allowing you to utilise their flip effects. He has a solid statline with 15 health as well, making him ideal for tanking 2-3 hits before going down. Depending on the matchup, he will sometimes end up at the first attacker due to his low chance of getting KO'ed within the first attack. Do take note that he comes with the leader and melee trait in both modes, which may be relevant in the direction you want to take the deck.
His bot mode offers a slightly more offensive mode, having 1 more attack and 1 less defence. His ability does not trigger consistently, but however, do note of it as an out in certain matchups. He can flip your sentinels that haven't flipped for an ability/progression towards combining or flipping them back to alt mode for your next turn flip. The ability to ping for 1 more or to draw another card may end up being crucial in certain matchups.
Prowl, Strategic Mastermind
Arguably one of the best cards in the game for its cost and ability. Prowl is the most offensive of the sentinels, offering an innate Bold 1 and the highest attack stat in the sentinels team. Prowl is best served on the starting lineup of an offensive sentinel team. His ability to scrap a weapon when he is KOed is one of the reasons why I think Sentinels is favored in a matchup against battlemasters.
In the current meta of Lionisers and Firedrives, most players feel conflicted about attacking into the opposing battlemasters after their opening. Prowl allows you to commit an action or weapon should you wish to and crash in for the kill without fear of repercussion. The reason being that he is able to scrap off the weapons after he is most likely KOed after his swing. He effectively denies a good PTT turn from your opponents. Because he is the most fragile of the offensive lineups, he also often ends up as the last one to attack or the first one to get attacked if going 2nd.
A few things to note. It is important to understand the topic of damage thresholds and how to play around OSS and direct damage. If you are somehow taking 7 damage off your opponents first attack, please don't hesitate to send him in. Sentinels cannot afford to lose an attacker without him doing some damage. You may be able to mirage what is in his hand, but not what he draws. Even so, you want him to commit the OSS on his turn for 3 damage on his guy to finish yours off.
Ironhide, Steadfast Brawler
Ironhide is the other bot in the offensive lineup. His stats is slightly less offensive than prowl. Having more in defence. He is the in between guy with some decks opting to play his signature Static Laser of Ironhide as an extra weapon. I usually find him the least useful in the combiner decks, whether be it alive or dead.
His flip ability grants a pierce 2 to all your attackers this turn. Most of the time this is irrelevant as you are playing an orange based deck and your final damage after flips are likely to be 2 as well against a blue based deck or possibly higher. Things change if you do have a combat command, which allows you to flip him a 2nd time that turn granting pierce 4. The main issue for this is that Ironhide is unlikely to be the first to die to effectively use this multiple times in a game unless you are playing a blue variant of Sentinels.
Autobot Mirage, Counterintelligence
The other reason why PTT decks don't work against Sentinels. Arguably the hardest part of the deck and why it can be called a control deck. Autobot Mirage is rarely part of people’s starting lineup and strategy. However, he is a specialist for all you people who want to try doing a specialist build with him alongside sunstreaker.
Autobot Mirage allows you to disrupt opposing strategies by taking away key actions from their hand. This usually means no PTT on the opposing Lioniser, no supercharged bots, no infiltrates for your incoming PTAs. Good knowledge of the matchups and key cards are vital to playing mirage effectively. Knowing when to flip him as well as whether you have combat commands play an important role in your decision making process as well. Flipping him back to alt mode is not uncommon, especially against matchups like aerialbots or bugs.
Autobot Hot Rod, Impulsive Fighter
The reason why prime died. He has a fairly good statline with the ranged keyword which is lacking in the other sentinels. He often shows up in the blue variants starting lineup. His flip ability in the KO pile offers you a zap. 1 damage may not seem like it does much, however, combat commands, OSS, armed hovercrafts or energon slingshots effects do stack up in the same turn.
Being able to go as high as 5-6 damage. I have pulled off 5 damage of burn on unsuspecting opponents from Energon Slingshot, OSS and a Hot Rod flip, KOing his previously weakend bots. Abilities like this could be relevant as well with battlemasters. The ability to KO a weakened Battlemaster and Enforcement Baton / Prowl it off immediately is devastating for some strategies and allows you to make optimum attacks each turn. Hot Rod is also great in a damage race. Spending a turn to flip him back can be rewarding in some matchups.
Sunstreaker, Bold Warrior
The irony is strong in this one. Sunstreaker does not have bold. He, however, offers one of the most power abilities in Sentinels. The ability to draw a card. He is also the other one with tough for those interested in a blue lineup. You pretty much flip him when you are trying to maximise your action/upgrade turns and digging for 1.
Flipping him multiple times with Combat Commands is a bonus, but not necessary. Too many players value the card draw too much and forget that your opponents may have more devastating cards to pull out with Mirage or losing out on the damage race.
This is the combiner form of the Sentinels, although you probably won't be seeing this much unless you are the blue variant. You will usually want to combine while fighting defensive decks due to the higher base attack and the ability to draw cards and plan 1. Most aggro control variants do not include the Enigma because you should be able to win without combining most of the time.
For the matchups session. I will be using the following decklist as a template because this is what I found to be most effective in the current meta.
Optimus Prime, Gleaming Commander (Starting line-up)
Ironhide, Steadfast Brawler (Starting line-up)
Prowl, Strategic Mastermind (Starting line-up)
Autobot Hot Rod, Impulsive Fighter (In KO)
Autobot Mirage, Counterintelligence (In KO)
Sunstreaker, Bold Warrior (In KO)
Sideboard: Optimus Prime, Battlefield Legend
3 Grenade Launcher
3 Erratic Lightning
3 Energon Slingshot
2 Noble’s Blaster
1 Enforcement Baton
3 Improvised Shield
1 Bashing Shield
3 Force Field
2 Combat Commands
1 Matrix of Leadership
3 Reckless Charge
3 One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall
3 Peace Through Tyranny
3 Security Checkpoint
2 Press the Advantage
1 Treasure Hunt
1 Ramming Speed
1 Bashing Shield
2 Sentinel Enigma
1 Treasure Hunt
1 W5 Gyroblaster
I went ahead with a mixed pip build leaning towards orange. The reasoning is due to the way most players have played previously where decks where either orange or blue, they were able to make precise pinpoint attacks or defences. When they deal with mixed pips, they cant do the same anymore, forcing high level of commitment.
Because we cannot run armed hovercraft in this list, we have to settle for Energon Slingshot for that precision damage on weapons. Slingshot, OSS and Hot Rod is a 5 damage combo, usually enough to finish off most other bots that you failed to kill on turn 1, making them lose an attack.
The inclusion of Force Field in this list is me respecting the orange state of the meta. Having Force Field forces them into having a Bashing Shield, which you can remove via Security Checkpoint before. It buys you a turn and is great tempo. Even in the times you can't Espionage or use Security Checkpoint to remove the opponent's Bashing Shield, it takes up their upgrade for the turn, giving you a chance to survive from mixed pips in your deck.
The flex slots in this deck would be Matrix of Leadership or Treasure Hunt. The Matrix is honestly in there only because of its mixed pip nature and its usefulness against blue decks. Granting that additional point of damage adds up over time in blue matchups. Treasure Hunt is just me respecting decks with Security Checkpoint. It also digs out answers like Force Fields or an Energon Slingshot.
Sideboard-wise, I honestly don't think that there is a good character to swap in because of the way combiners work. There is an argument for General Optimus (Wave 3), but I don't think Bold 1 on your guys is worth the flip utility you give up outside of a mono-orange build. I have instead put OPBL in the event I somehow meet an odd blue deck that would favor me going 2-wide.
Infiltrate and Bolster come in against aggro matches, where you might find a Supercharge or Reckless Charge particularly annoying.
The extra Bashing Shield comes in when you know your opponents are running Force Field or playing some armors.
I run 2 Enigmas instead of 1 in the board because of the amount of blue decks prevalent in my meta. Feel free to reduce it to 1 if your meta seems orange heavy.
Treasure Hunt comes in against decks with Security Checkpoint. The W-5 Gyro is just my own personal touch against heavy tough decks or Kickback/Barrage. The singleton Confidence is if you are in need of certain combination of cards against some decks.
Here are some common match-ups and the various tips and tricks playing against them.
4-Wide Orange / Insecticons
Honestly this matchup is not in your favour, however, this deck has been tuned and designed to give you a fighting chance against them compared to other matches. Here are some things that will help you take the match.
Always try to go first. What you want to do is to try and get Prowl in with as much damage as possible against Skrapnel. This is only if you are going first. Reason being that he is unlikely to send Skrapnel out after and you will want to finish Skrapnel off with an OSS or a Slingshot Prowl the next turn. Effectively turning the match from a 4-wide to a 3-wide matchup. Force Fields are amazing in this match despite a strong presence of Bashing Shields. Always try to Force Field and Checkpoint/Espionage together to ensure it sticks.
If he is always holding 1 card in hand, chances are it is Swarm or I Still Function. Feel free to flip Mirage back and forth to try and get rid of it. Mirage will be the key card in this matchup.
In the games that you end up going 2nd, always open with Optimus into whatever he has used. Chances are it will be Skrapnel. Key card here is OSS and Hot Rod flips. Feel free to OSS and put the damage on Prowl instead since he is unlikely to survive beyond 1 hit in the first place. If you have a Checkpoint, use it ASAP regardless of what is in your hand.
For the non-Insecticon decks that are 4-wide. You have a slightly easier time due to the absence of skrapnel. You basically want to pick off 1 guy with just direct damage if possible and just go toe-to-toe with the rest.
You win this matchup via Espionages and keeping Mirage for flips before their combining turn. Always take note of what they take back into their hand and plan your turns around it. Feel free to board in your own Enigmas post board to lay the smackdown on the planes.
The idea here is generally to outplay your opponent’s untaps. Cars typically send 1 guy in, untap him and send in a different car. What you want to do here is to deal as much damage as possible to whatever he sent in, wait for his untap, and finish off the untapped car with OSS and Hot Rod flips. This way, he has effectively wasted an action untapping a car and giving you a chance to finish off his other cards through normal combat. It can get tricky without access to direct damage, but the rule of thumb is, leave no car alive. Feel free to play Reckless Charge and a weapon upgrade into a car even if you are not confident of killing it. Always send the signal you have the direct damage and force him to make bad choices.
3 Wide Blue/Defensive decks
This build of Sentinels struggles a bit against 3-wide builds due to your mixed pip nature. The general idea here is to toss all the direct damage on the biggest threat and pray that a Grenade Launcher or action gets you there. I tend to want to go 2nd in this matchup usually and save Prowl as my last attacker. Suiting him up with a strong weapon and action to make the attack into the biggest threat. Feel free to combine post board to try and beat him with raw damage.
The easiest match-ups for you. You have access to Mirage to strip his PTTs. You have Prowl to strip the weapon if he dies after committing. I tend to like going 2nd in this matchup, however, it favors you so much it does not really matter. In summary, strip his PTT. Do not be afraid to commit with Prowl to kill his Battlemaster/Weaponiser. The only turn you should be wary of is if you leave his Battlemaster/Weaponiser alive and he PTTs after you have tapped out and he gets the untap turn. You can play around it by killing the Battlemaster/Weaponiser always or flipping Mirage back and forth.
This is a rarity but they still exist. Depending on the combination, it is usually a Gen OP and either a Ultra Magnus or OPBL. To be honest,the matchup does not seem that favorable if they go first. However, you will have an easier time against UM as compared to OPBL. Commit and go all in on 1 of them is the strategy. Bash off the UM Armor and he's pretty much dead. Against OPBL, commit on weapons and actions and go all in.
I honestly have not tested this matchup. You will want to go 2nd. You will also want to Checkpoint/Mirage them asap. Metroplex has no way of generating card advantage. An empty handed Metroplex is less likely to trigger. His minions are small enough that an OSS or some combination of Hot Rods will get them out of the way. Save your OSS for those.
That concludes my brief primer on Sentinels. I hope that this would help you understand the various match-ups involved. If you have any suggestions or improvements I could make, feel free to leave a comment or email us. I would love to hear your thoughts and how to improve my column.