- Jul 17, 2019
- in News
Testing Grounds - An easy guide to building for the new format!
Testing Grounds - An easy guide to building for the new format!
So Karl and I were having a chat a week or so ago, where, after some post-rotation testing, we were putting our decks back together again ready for pre-rotation Cups and Challenges. It made us both realise that we were a bit shocked by just how much this rotation will shake up the way we construct our decks going forward, and how much we took simple cards for granted.
Nest Ball - not anymore. Tapu Lele GX, a card that feels like it has been a staple for years due to its Wonder Tag ability - gone. Can you even begin to imagine how the format is going to look without Zoroark GX, DCE, and Ultra Ball? Even better, we no longer need to sit in sorry silence as we draw-pass for 3 turns after Marshadow's Let Loose has crippled us before we even got to play a card.
So that got me thinking about just what we do lose on August 15th when rotation finally comes for some of our most beloved cards, and they find a permanent home in the Expanded Format. I have created this article with the hope of getting my own head around what we do lose, but also with the hope that it helps you guys to look ahead towards the 2019 World Championships and just what you can expect to possibly see if you're travelling to Washington DC. Alternatively, if you are planning to be watching the Livestream from the comfort of your own home.
# Ball Search #
Perhaps the biggest area that we lose cards, and that our decks will see a change is that a large portion of strong Pokémon search options are no longer available to us. The card that initiated the discussion between Karl and me was actually Nest Ball; but we also lose Ultra Ball, Timer Ball, Great Ball, and even Brooklet Hill goes… That has long been a staple in water and fighting based archetypes. In my opinion, Ultra Ball has been one of the strongest cards in the game for a long time - the ability to search out any possible Pokémon, at any given time (providing you can discard two other cards), is incredibly strong. These cards have all been vital to setting up and developing our board state so it will be incredibly important to find a new system that works.
So how do we get set up? Moreover, how do we keep a consistent supply of Pokémon in play going forward into Worlds and beyond? Simply put, the choice of deck is going to massively dictate which Pokémon search cards your favour, and the counts of said cards. We no longer have the luxury of just throwing four Nest Ball and four Ultra Ball into every list and drawing into everything we need through Lillie. So, what replaces Lillie (w/ high ball count) as the optimal turn 1 supporter?
Pokémon Fan Club may finally see a new lease of life and with the ability to grab a big basic and a Dedenne GX we can still Dedechange, draw cards in the turn, and see more of our deck. Stage 1 and 2 decks may prefer to play a maximum count of Professor Elm's Lecture and fill their board with multiple 60hp basics. Dark Box is one such deck where all your evolving basics can be 60hp. You want Carvanha and Sneasel down to evolve quickly into Sharpedo (to flood your board with energy), and Weavile to get those energies onto your attacking Tag Team GXs. Lost March may also find a new position in the Meta, and again it is a deck that would enjoy a heavy count of Professor Elm's Lecture in the list. As both Hoppip and Skiploom both have less than 60hp allowing you to use Elm to grab both the basic and evolution lines - then Skiploom itself is its own 'ball search' through the Floral Path to the Sky ability. 60hp basics are under less of a threat now that in previous formats the past year where Jet Punch was more prevalent - but it is something to be aware of if Buzzwole&Pheromosa GX sees more play. Dunsparce may yet be another first turn option, to allow us to play a different optimal supporter. However, through my initial testing I have found it to be incredibly slow despite the format itself slowing down somewhat. The previous incarnation of 'Strike and Run' Dunsparce worked well in a format where we could attack on our first turn - we no longer have that luxury.
After that, our non-supporter based search cards each come with their own specific restrictions, whether that be to search a certain Pokémon energy type, GX or Non-GX, or something different entirely. Pokémon Communication is clearly the most versatile search option available to us moving into the new era. Poké-Comms can search any Pokémon in the deck, however it requires us to have a different Pokémon in hand to throw back into the deck first. One particular engine that I am keen to test-out a little more, especially for single-prize based decks, is that of Emolga (TEU) with the Nuzzly Gathering ability to search out another Emolga with which to exchange for the intended Pokémon. After that, we have the new Cherish Ball that is nearly equally as versatile, with no cost to play the card we can search our deck for free, but the limitation here is that we are required to target a GX Pokémon only.
Lightning decks, and in particular the Pikachu&Zekrom archetype, got a major boost with the release of Electromagnetic Radar in Unbroken Bonds, and whilst it has only been a one or two of up to now it easily becomes a 4-of in most lists post-rotation. Similarly, to my explanation of Pokemon Fan Club earlier, we can use Radar to grab ourselves a Dedenne GX, acting as a pseudo-draw supporter in a pinch. Mysterious Treasure is another efficient search option that remains available to us, making psychic and dragon-type archetypes incredibly viable come Worlds. A number of Malamar variants are high on peoples testing lists, including single-prize Giratina builds, Ultra Necrozma GX, and the new Giratina&Garchomp GX – all of which are also searchable through Mysterious Treasure. The final ball search I believe to be worthy of mention is Net Ball. Net Ball is an effective consistency card in two ways: searching out basic grass-type Pokemon, but remaining highly useful in the latter stages of the game by being an effective extra energy in the deck, being able to grab basic grass energy that may be necessary to attack. Seeing play in Alolan Exeggutor decks since its release, and, along with Mysterious Treasure, allow the archetype to flourish once more, as well as providing a stable base for other archetypes such as Buzzwole&Pheromosa GX and Lost March. Friend Ball may also become an option depending on how the Meta swings post-Worlds. For Worlds itself I believe it to be too much of a risk as we don’t know totally what to expect to come up against, therefore Friend Ball may well end up as a dead weight in too many match-ups, and at the most important event of the season, is it worth it?
Finally, to round out this section, we come onto ‘ball search’ in the form of Stadium Cards. Again, these are restrictive and only allow you to target a certain kind of Pokemon, but I believe these are going to be the core of why a number of archetypes are able to function. Unfortunately, one of the biggest losses in my opinion is Brooklet Hill going with this rotation, a card that has remained staple within fighting and water decks in recent years. Ultra Space has filled a similar role in Ultra Beast deck since its release in Forbidden Light, which coincided in a huge rise in the popularity and playability of Ultra Beast archetypes such as Beast Box variants and Blacephalon GX/Naganadel. Fossil Pokémon finally get a small boost with the coming format too thanks to Pokémon Research Lab, which is in our Unified Minds set. Recent Fossil-based archetypes have struggled for consistency and getting out the Unidentified Fossils to then evolve into the stage one Fossil evolution.
# Damage Modifiers #
One of the biggest areas that we lose some common staples is with damage modifiers. A card such as Choice Band is something I can honestly say I don't remember a time in this game that this wasn't at least 2 of in most of my lists. It is a card I have taken for granted when facing off against multiple EX and GX Pokémon, especially now more than ever when I am chasing down the huge HP of Tag Team GXs. One other such card is Professor Kukui! Draw 2 cards, plus 20 Damage to your attacks for turn. I cannot even remember how many times this card has been the difference between winning or losing a match due to needing to take a KO. My first ever win in a Premier Event (League Challenge at Geek HQ, Chesterfield) was down to this exact combination of cards pulling off a KO with Tapu Bulu GX against Gardevoir GX. I still have that 1st Place prize card to this day, as it reminds me where it all started.
Alas, these cards will no longer be options to you or me in but a few short weeks, so how are we going to get that additional damage? Firstly, Lightning-type archetypes again fair pretty well with Electropower remaining a staple 4-of in lists adding a potential extra 120 damage, which of course could be split amongst multiple attacks across different turns. Non-Ultra Beast fighting-types also retain Martial Art’s Dojo as a damage booster, adding +10 damage to attacks, or a boosted +40 when behind on prizes! Beast Energy also remains for the Ultra Beast Pokemon, which gives +30 damage, but is a Prism Star card so once it’s gone, it’s gone.
We also have a number of artificial damage modifiers. Shrine of Punishment has been one of the most prevalent in the past year, particularly for non-GX archetypes, but it has since seen play in Reshiram&Charizard decks to help against Pikachu&Zekrom and the mirror, and I foresee this having a similar use going forward. Koga’s Trap gives us another option of in-between damage with the Poison condition ticking 10 damage between turns. Unified Minds presents us with a new tool, similar to Bursting Balloon previously, that deals 100 damage counters to an attacking Pokemon if it hits for 180+ damage in a single hit. With less gusting options around, I believe this card will be strong and players will be forced into awkward situations where they have no choice but to attack into it.
Finally, we have a number of Pokémon that add additional damage to our active Pokémon attacks, similar to Regirock EX (FCO) or the now rotating Lurantis (SMP). Currently, we are set to have Diancie Prism (FLI), Altaria (DRM), and Vileplume (UNB) remaining in the Standard Format, but I feel like each is too specific, or slow to get set up, to see a considerable amount of play for the immediate future.
# Draw Support / Consistency Cards #
We do not lose a huge amount of draw support this time around, compared to when Sycamore and N rotated this time last year, but we do lose insanely powerful Pokémon abilities in Zoroark-GX’s Trade, Tapu Lele-GX’s Wonder Tag, and Oranguru’s Instruct. Zoroark-GX has given rise to endless archetypes powered by the ‘Trade’ ability, and has taken the crown of multiple Regionals, Internationals, and even became the 2018 World Champion paired with Garbodor, piloted by Robin Schulz.
For the most part Cynthia and Lillie have been staples of the past season, providing the core of draw support in the TCG, and I can’t see this changing too much. However, in early testing, I have found Lillie to be less useful, as with Tapu Lele-GX rotating, we do lose outs to Turn 1 Lillie to maximise the draw-to-8, and in a format where we want to manage resources better, Lillie becomes less effective as we don’t want to empty our hand and waste crucial cards. Contrastingly, drawing Lillie from a Reset Stamp to 1 or 2 cards can be strong.
We have yet more support for some of the strongest cards in the format with Coach Trainer, which draws 4 cards as long as you have a Tag Team Pokemon in the active position. In decks such as Pikachu&Zekrom that relies heavily on Tag Team Pokemon, this may turn out to be a better choice in the long-term. Turbo decks that wish to burn through their deck quickly get help from the new Hapu supporter, which allows the user to look at the top 6 cards of their deck, take two and discard the rest. Decks such as Shedinja may prefer this to Ingo & Emmet. Along with these supporters, we have also had a return of Pokégear 3.0 helping us to dig them out of our decks quicker and allowing for the seemingly smaller lines of Supporters that will be needed in decks.
Despite losing the previously mentioned Pokemon ability support, we do still retain, or gain, a number of Pokemon to help with consistency. Jirachi has been a staple of a number of decks since it burst onto the scene, with prices skyrocketing almost immediately, partnered with Zapdos, and later Pikachu&Zekrom and Reshiram&Charizard Tag Team decks. It may become a little slower with the loss of Guzma and Escape Rope, but don’t expect it to see any less play as decks such as Ultra Necrozma and Pikachu&Zekrom will all still rely on the Stellar Wish ability to help them get rolling quickly and keep piling pressure onto opponents. Magcargo (CES) saw a great deal of play due to its synergy with Zoroark-GX and Oranguru, and even with those cards going, it could still have a part to play in keeping some decks rolling. More recently, Persian GX has provided a useful come-back tool, allowing players to grab cards from the deck after conceding a Knock-out, to get themselves back up and fighting. Whimsicott (UMI) is another card on the horizon that I am keeping an eye on. The ability reads; When you play this Pokémon from your hand to evolve 1 of your Pokémon during your turn, you may search your deck for a card and put it into your hand. Then, shuffle your deck. Although it is a one-time use on its evolution, it could grab you that one card that you need to complete a certain combo or take a crucial Knockout. However, due to its one time use, I remain sceptical as to whether it will be worth the space in decks.
In terms of other support options, we have a number of Characters from the Anime and main-series video games to help us out. These aren’t necessarily draw support, which is why I’ve categorised them away from the likes of Cynthia, but they will be crucial in aiding consistency in a number of decks. Volkner’s stock certainly hasn’t changed with the news of rotation and will still be a staple amongst Pikachu&Zekrom decks, along with other Lightning Type archetypes that may appear. Green’s Exploration has provided us with an incredible alternative engine for decks that are willing to sacrifice abilities, such as Dedechange or Stellar Wish as it can just search for any two cards in the deck. It has paved the way for some quad-builds, such as Baby Blacephalon, and perhaps most notably, allowed Reshiram&Charizard to thrive with multiple engines depending on a players preference of playstyle. Bill’s Analysis has been around a little bit longer, being part of the Team Up expansion, and although it’s not as powerful as Green’s Exploration, it has found its way into Wall/Stall lists and will fit into lists as a pseudo fifth Green’s. Red's Challenge is almost a straight reprint of Computer Search (Ace Spec) but as a supporter. It has seen play in Granbull recently, but whether you want to use your supporter to grab just one card is going to be very situational, and I don’t think it will see a great deal of play (but it’s a beautiful Full Art, nonetheless). Blue's Tactics is an interesting card. It allows us to draw to 8, but only at the end of the turn. For me, it will probably see play in some Wall/Stall or Mill-type decks, where you want to play your hand-size down low then draw a large hand full of disruption and control cards ready for the next turn. Similar to how Steven’s Resolve or Sylveon-GX’s Magical Ribbon have been used recently, or like a Tropical Beach effect if we go even further back into the history of those archetypes. In sync with Lt. Surge Strategy allowing you to play an oppressive Supporter in the turn before drawing back to 8 cards at the end of the turn.
# Gust / Switch Cards #
Obviously, the biggest loss here is Guzma. Seen as the replacement when we lost Lysandre, Guzma brought with it the ability to switch in one of your Pokemon whilst also gusting up one of your opponent’s Pokemon into the active position. I know the card has received hate from a large portion of the community its incredible dual ability, but it is soon to go, so what are we replacing it with? Other ‘softer’ gust-effecting cards also leave the format, Escape Rope and Counter Catcher. Personally, I always enjoyed a one-of Counter Catcher to catch people off-guard (it was also the first STAFF promo I ever received after becoming a Professor – fun fact!). Currently, the only card that appears to fill the gap is Custom Catcher. Unlike Guzma, that could be anywhere between a one or four-count in lists, Custom Catcher is realistically only going to be a 4-of, or none because of the need to play two at a time for the gusting effect.
As for switching our own Pokemon, we remain largely the same as before (other than Guzma and Escape Rope). The simple Switch card remains the most obvious place to start, but we can also turn to the Boards that we have available giving us reduced and improved retreat ability. Escape Board has been crucial to making Jirachi (TEU) work so well, being able to retreat under the Sleep condition is huge after a Stellar Wish, but in Unified Minds, we gain U-turn Board which returns to our hand if it gets discarded from play.
# Healing #
Healing is something that I think often goes unnoticed and is something I hadn’t really thought of until I came to construct this article. Obviously, the two biggest cards to go are Max Potion and Acerola, which have seen play in many archetypes, particularly Wall/Stall and many Zoroark-GX variants. More recently, Miltank found a home in some decks, mostly in combination with Welder in Reshiram&Charizard/Jirachi and other fire-energy based archetypes.
Post-rotation, our healing options are not as strong as they once were (unless you fancy flipping coins with Super Scoop Up) but we do still have options. The release of Green’s Exploration has given way to an increase in play for Mixed Herbs, removing special conditions but healing 90 damage when two are played together. GX-Pokemon also gain Great Potion which heals 50 damage, which is great in situations where you want to play one at a time but heals 10 more damage than a pair of Mixed Herbs if also played together.
# Conclusion #
I am excited about Worlds this year. Although I did not get my invite, I will be travelling to Washington D.C. to attend the DC Open alongside spending time with a number of friends and teammates and getting my hands on some amazing US grub. I went out to Nashville last year to experience the World Championships for the first time, and it was one of the best weeks of my life. However, back on the playing side of things, I am excited to see a totally fresh and rejuvenated game; where Let Loose and Trade will no longer form part of the in-game conversation. In an age of social media, the meta-game becomes so tight, and once a new archetype has been uncovered, or new ideas are tested, everyone jumps on the Bandwagon. This year though, there are no official tournaments or events to get a true feel for the meta, and players deck building ability, which is a skill in itself, will be tested just as much as their playing ability. Whoever is prepared to put time into their testing, and grind through hours of games with friends and other trainers will surely prevail and make deep runs into the 2019 World Championships. Compared to those who are lazy and seek just to springboard off other’s ideas and net-deck lists (a habit I’m sure we’re all a little guilty of at times).
For the Worlds format, my biggest priority will be building a consistent deck that does what it is supposed to, as well as it can. I have already looked at several tech options, but going into a totally unknown meta-game, some just won’t be worth the risk, in my opinion. I’m sure there will be players with a bigger brain than myself who will have figured out the solution to the upcoming meta, but for me, a deck that draws well and sets-up towards my personal style of play will be perfect. I may not rattle any cages at this stage, but making a good run into the tournament and coming away with points would be an achievement. For me, the DC Open will be the next big adventure on my Pokemon journey and I can’t wait to get started!
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article just as much as I enjoyed writing it. It has been a new thing for me, writing an article on the Pokemon TCG but now that the NCG website is up-and-running hopefully we’ll be able to produce regular content in this manner for the Pokemon Community! Thanks for taking the time to read, and I’ll see you in DC, if not before!
Author: Samuel Longden – NCG Content Manager