Throughout the season, we get four main sets to work with and adapt to: sets before a long string of tournaments, and sets that will only be the latest for a short but important tournament streak.
As far as this season is concerned for the USA, the first kind definitely includes Dragons Exalted (Autumn Battle Roads and Regionals) and Boundaries Crossed (City Championships and Winter Regionals). Plasma Storm is definitely the second kind: it’s there for States and Regionals, and from there I believe Plasma Freeze takes over for Spring Battle Roads and the culimination of the season: Nationals and Worlds.
It doesn’t work like that for the entire world of Organized Play though. For example, in my country, our Spring Battle Roads will (mostly) be up to Plasma Storm, which is also the reason I decided to write this article.
For a lot of reasons, it is important to be able to judge what cards in a set will be good, bad, and/or ugly (Garbodor has been both good and bad for a while now, but he’s always been ugly).
These reasons include:
- It saves you some time playtesting, which gives you more time to perfectionize the lists and matchups you should be worried about, or even do your laundry.
- It lets you pre-order more selectively, keeping some weight in your wallet in the process.
- It makes you look smarter online, which totally matters.
And last but least, when the only tournaments you get to play these cards in are super important, you want to be able to get everything right as soon as possible. Not only do you need to know which cards are good and which ones are not, you need to try and get an idea of what would do well in an environment where everyone else is in the same situation.
So, how do you find out? Every set and metagame is different, so how do you know what tops and what flops beforehand? Well, thankfully, we’ve been in this kind of a situation many, many times before, and throughout all of these transitions we have seen some trends. We have years of hype and anti-hype to go through, along with tournament results to see how much of that remained true when these cards made the leap from paper to playmat.
Let’s choose some examples of hyped and anti-hyped cards, and see where it got them.
BulbapediaWhen you talk pre-release controversy, the first thing that should come to your mind is Mewtwo EX. This thing had the community buzzing for so long, and for good reason. With this amount of hype, how could it even live up to it?
I will readily admit that when this card was about to be released, I was not able to judge it properly. I had never played in a format with Pokémon-EX before, and I had only been playing for like 4 months tops to begin with, so I’m not blaming myself for that…
What I saw was a Pokémon that would do about 40 damage for a DCE, but the picture was much bigger than that. The main thing I missed about Mewtwo EX was its efficiency, its Energy to damage ratio. It’s absolutely absurd. I failed to look beyond the first turn or so, and failed to see what this card would do to Pokémon with a lot of Energy on them.
And now without a doubt, we can look back and say that Mewtwo EX definitely belonged with The Good. It dominated States and Regionals, although thankfully in such a way that people were afraid to attack with it unless it was against a fellow Mewtwo (as they should’ve been). Which in a way made it both worse and better.
This is what some great players had to say about Darkrai EX (paraphrased): why would I want to play a Moonlight Stadium that takes up a bench spot and requires me to attach Energy to that Pokémon? Clearly, what people saw was the Dark Cloak ability overshadowing Night Spear. It just did 90, and 30 to the bench, how was that any good?
Thankfully, soon enough people did realize just why that was any good, and Darkrai proceeded to dominate Nationals, Worlds, and pretty much the entire season that came after. I guess that it didn’t help that we had never had Energy acceleration through a Trainer before, and that it wasn’t immediately obvious how strong Night Spear was when you take into account that it can be powered by Dark Patch.
And funnily enough, the hyped Dark Cloak took a backseat to Night Spear, only to get back into the spotlight to assist decks such as Accelgor/Chandelure/Vileplume, Klinklang, Meganium and Mismagius. The circle of life… so yes, Darkrai EX was definitely The Good.
Remember this fellow? You might not, because Triumphant was a long time ago. He was going to sweep everyone left and right with that broken attack and that ridiculous one-sided Stadium with an alternate win condition. And then they didn’t release Lost World until Call of Legends. And then they did, and the card was… still bad! What happened?
Clearly, removing Pokémon from your opponent’s side of play was really powerful, and so was being able to use Twins. However, a big issue with Lostgar was that it did not take prizes.
Not only did this leave it with six less cards to use throughout a game (minus whatever mileage you could get out of Azelf LA), but it also posed little to no threat to the opponent’s attackers on the field, making it a lot easier for them to win.
Gengar Prime did a few nice things here and there, appearing as a tech in Vilegar lists and securing a top spot at Nationals 2011, but for the most part his allegiance was with The Bad.
Ah, I remember this card going for absurd prices at the pre-orders. It was almost too good to be true: 100 damage anywhere you want, only 1 retreat to work with Skyarrow Bridge, and it could be powered up again and again through Eelektrik’s Dynamotor. What could possibly go wrong when the gold was so obviously right before our very eyes?
Well, first off, I believe it had a deceptive synergy with Eelektrik, and this was one of the things I’m proud of to have understood right away. The Eelektrik deck had always been so strong not just because it could power up attackers out of nowhere, but because it put your opponent in a lose-lose situation: you could take out the attacker, but then Eelektrik remains unharmed and just energizes a new attacker. Or you can take out Eelektrik, but then the attacker is still there to hit you.
What Raikou does is disarm itself and rely on Eelektrik to get back to full power, which leaves you vulnerable to a Pokémon Catcher on Eelektrik. So the concept of a Raikou/Eelektrik deck was doomed from the very start, since it would be so easy to disrupt. It doesn’t help that Raikou-EX was (and still is) weak to Terrakion NVI, which was lurking to take out all of those hyped Darkrais. My testing later, and others’ as well, confirmed that Raikou was just not the monster he was thought to be (though it was acknowledged that it was good in the mirror match).
And then it took second at US Nationals. Whoops? It turns out Raikou was useful, and with Eelektrik too, but not in the way previously thought.
The deck did not run just through Raikou, but through Mewtwo… but Raikou worked very well as an additional attacker that could pick off hurt Pokémon. It also synergized very well with the huge number of Max Potions in the deck, since it got rid of most or all of its Energy anyway.
Raikou-EX is one of the, if not the most interesting cases. It’s been hyped to the top, anti-hyped to the bottom, and then still turned out to be with The Good. This is very different from cases like Mewtwo, where pretty much everyone was on the hype train, very few were not and then tournament results pretty much shut the nay-sayers up.
This is going to be the last one that drives my points home, because we still have a set to wade through. Zoroark DEX received a pretty big amount of hype: it had that pre-evolution that let it get out there turn 1, ready to attack turn 2, it had several good supporting cards such as Dark Patch, Dark Claw and Dark Cloak (I mean Darkrai… you can see where I’m going with this), and it could stand to do a lot of damage.
Let’s not forget that Zoroark could make use of good old Special D Energy. Basically, with Zoroark you could tell that they tried to make this card good. It was the Dark Pokémon’s time to shine.
But then it didn’t. I think there were two distinct things about Zoroark that did not work out that a lot of people missed. First off, the turn 1 rules were very harsh on it. If you went second, your opponent would get two turns off before you would be able to attack at the earliest (unless you got a turn 1 Night Spear, in which case I think you would be swayed away from this deck sooner later anyway). In a fast format like that (or the one we have now, really), that’s ridiculous.
And despite that nice turn 1 Ascension you will usually get, Zoroark has to deal with the issues of being an evolution. One that has effectively half the amount of HP compared to EXs, what with them almost always having an Eviolite on them. While your first Zoroark might be nice and smooth, setting up a replacement one when it goes down is a pain, especially since you can only run 4-4, and some people even wanted to tech in a Zoroark BLW.
When I tested the Zoroark deck, I very quickly scrapped it as a great deck. It was clearly getting lucky when it won, it needed a lot more to go its way, and it was having a hard time sealing games in its favor. I found that I would often much rather use one of the two Darkrai EX in the deck.
There are a bunch of other interesting cases I’d have liked to bring up, but instead of all this hindsight it’s about time we look at how we can apply what we’ve learned to Plasma Freeze. Here are some key points that we need to keep in mind if we want to prevent ourselves from seeing The Bad as The Good.
1. Theorymon is not at all like actually playing a game. In fact, I would say Theorymon most closely resembles two people playing average to good set-ups out against each other, getting a Supporter and an Energy drop every turn, or two people starting their game about midway through with both players having most if not all of their attackers set up and ready to roll. Also their decks are either both teched against each other or not at all.
2. Things that are easily missed include limited deck space, limited resources, inconsistency, and (in)ability to recover. But some more obscure things can do a card in as well, such as Gengar Prime’s inability to access its prizes.
It’s this kind of thing that you need to pay attention to, because even once you do you’re only halfway done. You still need to figure out how this piece fits into the jigsaw puzzle that is the metagame, where other people go through the same kind of thought process as you do. You still need to configure your playtesting to the point where you can say “this is what I could expect to play against in a tournament”.
With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at the Japanese equivalent of Plasma Freeze, Spiral Force/Thunder Knuckle. I will be going over some of the cards that have received attention since they’ve been spoiled, and give it a rating on the following scale:
Good – This card is clearly part of a deck that I would be comfortable taking into tournament I want to win, and this deck needs minor fine tuning at best.
Bad – This card is clearly not a part of such a deck.
Ugly – This card shows potential, but that potential might take some time to unravel itself, perhaps even a new set before it does so. Note that this does not conflict with what I said about Garbodor at the beginning. A great example of an Ugly card is Lugia EX, which I gave exactly that label whenever people asked me about it.
I will of course elaborate my opinion, and try to draw some connections to older cards and their pre-release attention to explain my thought process. I will not review every potential card in the set, however. Laziness is not my only excuse here: if you’ve paid proper attention along the way, you will no longer need me to do your analysing for you. I am trying to teach you how to fish here, but I don’t need to empty the entire pond to do that.
Let’s start with some low-hanging fruit, shall we?
Heatran-EX – Fire – 180 HP
Basic – Team Plasma
RCC Warm Blanket: 60+ damage. If this Pokémon is affected by a Special Condition, this attack does 60 more damage.
RRCC Dynamite Press: 80+ damage. If this Pokémon has any Plasma Energy attached to it, this attack does 10 more damage for each damage counter on the Defending Pokémon.
When a Pokémon-EX has been Knocked Out, your opponent takes 2 Prize cards.
Weakness: Water x2
Retreat Cost: 3
When I first glanced over this card, I was completely sure it was Bad. The numbers and the Energy just did not add up to a winning formula. When I take a look now, I see a couple of things I had missed the first time.
Heat Boiler synergizes with Hypnotoxic Laser, making it actually twice as powerful under those conditions, and of course the attack’s costs are made less awkward with Colress Machine. Dynamite Breath is just a plain 2-shot-everything attack, but only if you have a Plasma Energy on it.
Overall, I’m getting some Kyurem-EX vibes here, and not the good ones. When you’re reading an EX card, it needs to read with more “oomph” than this. It needs to be able to keep momentum going for long enough to be worth these 2 Prizes. This thing does not hit particularly early or hard, it’s just kind of average. So it’s still Bad.
Chandelure – Fire – 130 HP
Stage 2 – Evolves from Lampent – Team Plasma
Ability: Flare Navigate
Once during your turn (before your attack), you may search your deck for a R Energy card and attach it to 1 of your Pokémon. If you do, put 1 damage counter on that Pokémon. Shuffle your deck afterward.
RRC Absorb Life: 70 damage. Heal 30 damage from this Pokémon.
Weakness: Water x2
Retreat Cost: 2
Just like how some cards always get the short end of the stick, Chandelure always seems to get something interesting. This one is something that resembles a few cards we have in the format, but is not quite the same as anything but a merge of them. It’s a Stage 2 that accelerates 1 Energy from the deck, and the closest thing we’ve had to that in recent times is Typhlosion Prime. Still, Energy from the deck is a completely different beast.
The good news is that we don’t need to discard Energy before we can accelerate it, but the Bad news is that we are running on a limited supply. This immediately gives us the Emboar vibe, where we have a jampacked list with Stage 2 cards like Rare Candy, as well as Energy recovery. There is only one deck in our current format that can live with this burden, and that deck has a lot more going for it than poor Chandelure.
Flare Navigation is nothing like Blastoise’s Deluge, and none of Chandelure’s potential acceleration targets are anywhere near as good as Keldeo-EX or Black Kyurem EX. Also, its own attack sucks.
I often say that if before testing, a card seems really average, then it’s actually very likely to be Bad.
Glaceon – Water – 90 HP
Stage 1 – Evolves from Eevee – Team Plasma
Ability: Freeze Zone
Each of your Team Plasma Pokémon’s Retreat Costs is reduced by 2.
WCC Icy Wind: 60 damage. The Defending Pokémon is now Asleep.
Weakness: Metal x2
Retreat Cost: 2
This is a very interesting kind of card. I think it got some attention when it was first shown, but now you hear nobody about it. In a nutshell, it’s a Stage 1 with an arguably better type of Dark Cloak. In the context of the very well known Plasma deck (current suspects being Thundurus EX, Deoxys-EX, Lugia EX, Snorlax PLS and Kyurem PLF), this card would eliminate the option of Catcher stalling on anything but a prematurely benched Snorlax.
This is the kind of card that people list when talking about how Plasma Pokémon are “getting more support in the next set,” and then when they build their decks probably just cut right off the bat. The reason is obvious now: this thing, and Eevee moreso, give up very easy prizes, and probably have less utility overall than a playset of Switch, which would be able to get Thundurus active on turn 1 much more easily. It’s simply more trouble than it’s worth.
So because of that, we’re going to have to give it a Bad.
Mr. Mime – Psychic – 70 HP
Ability: Bench Barrier
Prevent all damage done to your Benched Pokémon by attacks.
PC Psy Bolt: 20 damage. Flip a coin. If heads, the Defending Pokémon is now Paralyzed.
Weakness: Psychic x2
Retreat Cost: 1
As you can tell by now, the cards most worth talking about are the ones with Abilities. Straight up Energy for damage usually doesn’t cut it unless the ratio is particularly good, and generally it takes an EX to do that. Mr. Mime has always been more brains than brawn, and this one has it all figured out.
Our current format is filled to the brim with bench damage from Darkrai EX and Landorus-EX, and our project format will also have a Kyurem doing the exact same 30 anywhere it pleases. Mr. Mime protects you from this, but in exchange for being a 70 HP Bench-sitter that will give the ghost the moment your opponent decides it should. Is it worth it?
From my point of view, probably so, but not in all decks, and it will greatly depend on how the format develops. Mr. Mime joins in line with Tyrogue and Garbodor as a card that is situationally useful depending on a certain meta trend.
If the prevalence of Mr. Mime is so great that Landorus and Darkrai see less use, or if Landorus and Darkrai are already projected to become less popular due to other factors, Mr. Mime doesn’t really do anything than sit on your bench and… well, it doesn’t even look pretty.
This is similar to Tyrogue being mostly useful if there are 30 HP Pokémon out there, which they would only be if they do not expect Tyrogue. I’m sure you can work out the Garbodor connection yourself. Klinklang PLS kind of fits in this alley as well.
All that said, Mime seems to be custom-made for Rayeels: it has free retreat with Skyarrow, is searchable with Level Ball, and protects the bench against both Landorus and Darkrai, the #1 and #2 enemies of the Eelektrik line. The only question that remains is, will it fit, both in the list and on the bench?
For now, I’m going to put Mr. Mime in The Good. I’ve been flipflopping him between Ugly and Good for the past five minutes or so… truth is, even if Mr. Mime does not actually end up on your decklist, he’s going to help you by deterring snipes just by opposing players having to account for him.
Weavile + Exeggcute
Weavile – Darkness – 90 HP
Stage 1 – Evolves from Sneasel – Team Plasma
C Hail: This attack does 10 damage to each of your opponent’s Pokémon. (Don’t apply Weakness and Resistance for Benched Pokémon.)
DC Scapegoat: 30× damage. Discard as many Pokémon from your hand as you like. This attack does 30 damage times the number of Pokémon discarded in this way.
Weakness: Fighting x2
Resistance: Psychic -20
Retreat Cost: 1
Exeggcute – Grass – 30 HP
Once during your turn (before your attack), if this Pokémon is in your discard pile, you may put this Pokémon into your hand.
GC Seed Bomb: 20 damage.
Weakness: Fire x2
Resistance: Water -20
Retreat Cost: 1
I’ve gone ahead and put these two together because I mostly want to talk about the Weavile/Exeggcute deck. Exeggcute on its own might deserve some merit talking about, but honestly I don’t feel comfortable making a call on it. It’s even more donkable than 30 HP Tynamo was and it gives you some minor benefits, but Propagation is so unique and new that it might just be worth it. Still, I expect the most conservative players to hold off on it.
So, the Weavile/Exeggcute deck. You get 4 Exeggcute in the discard and then you start swinging for at least 120 per turn, moreso with extra Pokémon to discard, Dark Claw, you get Energy acceleration via Colress Machine and Dark Patch, you get free retreat from Darkrai, you get to use Special Dark… oh wait, not that. Sorry, I was too caught up in a Zoroark deja vu.
To me, Weavile is a typical case of “when will people learn.” Let’s draw another comparison. Let’s look at Rayeels: people widely acknowledge it’s a very powerful deck, but it has one big drawback: Tynamo gets donked. It doesn’t happen much, but it can happen. Now, Rayeels runs only 4 Tynamo, but other than that it has some pretty buff Pokémon. The next closest thing to a donk is Emolga, which has 70.
Now, let’s take a look at Weavile again. It has the 70 HP Sneasel with a worse Weakness than Emolga’s (at least last format), and then it has Exeggcute which… gets 1HKO’d by everything. Not the Tynamo kind of everything (which includes Mewtwo/DCE, Landorus/Fighting, Tornadus/DCE/Laser or Stadium, Sableye/Laser/Dark/Virbank or Dark Claw), but the everything everything. Laser/Virbank donks it, Tornadus/DCE donks it, and a Landorus/Fighting can donk two Exeggcutes, whereas a Landorus/Fighting/Laser can donk a Sneasel and an Exeggcute.
If you think Rayeels is a risky play, then Weavile/Exeggcute is an absurd amount of YOLO that not even the bravest Twitterer would put out there.
So to compensate for that, Weavile/Exeggcute has to be really, really powerful. But let’s theorymon about it realistically: it’s a 90 HP Pokémon that takes 2 Energy to attack, that takes a ton of resources to 1HKO and will probably settle for 2HKOing EXs. And it also has a slight set-up phase to go through. And it needs to have a backup attacker ready at all times, which means benching more Catcher targets.
See where we’re going with this? It needs everything to go its way. If it came into contact with Murphy’s Law, it would probably just drop out of the tournament by itself just because of how Bad it is. Apparently according to Esa’s reports this deck does well in Japan, but Japan’s results have been different from ours before on things (see: Gengar Prime).
And with that, I think it’s time for you to start doing your own critical thinking on the rest of the set. You’ll notice that I left out the Team Plasma components (other than their cameo mention). I did this not because I’m afraid to pass judgment on them, but because I’ve already “cheated” by doing some testing advance by them, so any impression I would have on them would be from more than just theorizing.
If you’re curious, I think that deck is Good, but it has some Ugly sides that need perfecting. It reminds me a lot of Darkrai last year, where basically everyone knew it was good, but nobody knew in what shape or form it was best.
A few more quick pointers:
- Remember that it is more likely than not that some cards of this set will be held back, just like with some cards from previous expansions. Next weekend, I believe the pre-releases are about to start in Singapore, from which we will learn just how much of this set survived its journey to the West. Certain cards being left out could have big impacts on how the metagame ends up shaping.
- The more complex a concept, card or deck idea, the more likely it is to strand. The more straightforward, the more likely it is to succeed. This is especially true in an unexplored metagame, where the game is less about reacting to what’s out there and more about having a solid attacking plan of your own.
- Start your matchup theory by getting your lists from old formats, only making minor and/or no-brainer changes to them to adapt, and think about what would happen if they went up against new decks such as the Plasma deck, preferably a consistent list rather than a techy one. Only from there can you formulate which decks cannot survive the new environment, and the chain reactions from that.
- Start testing rather than theorizing as soon as you think you’ve got a rough idea of what’s going to change. Nothing beats actual gameplay experience!
This is all I have to say. Happy tail end of the season, and good luck for the remainder of it!