Bring on the Damage!

A Look at Big Trends This Season as Well as What’s to Come
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The sun is setting on the season.

The year’s biggest tournament is finally upon us! As players convene in Vancouver for the Pokémon TCG 2013 World Championship, the world turns its eyes upon players who are hungry to compete for the winning title. It’s exciting for many reasons, one of which is that we will finally find out which deck and player stands above the rest.

This moment in the season always carries with it a divide. For many, this is the culmination of an entire season’s worth of hard work. On the other hand, many players are ready to sink their teeth into the new season and try out their post-rotation deck ideas. Whichever camp you fall into, one thing is for sure: now is a good time to look back on the season, think about what it meant to you, and determine what big trends shaped this year of the Pokémon TCG.

For me, there are a few obvious trends that spring to mind. First and perhaps foremost is the idea of simplicity. The people who create the cards (Pokémon Card Laboratories) have seemed content with giving the game powerful combos that are easy to spot. EX and Eelektrik NVI, Blastoise BCR and Keldeo-EX, Deoxys-EX and practically any Plasma Pokémon, Virizion-EX and Genesect EX… to put it simply, these combos are no-brainers.

At the same time that these powerful cards in each set enjoy a lot of support (I mean come on, Genesect EX has TWO ACE SPECs all to himself, the greedy little bug), basically everything else just has to suffer. This is the other trend that I’ve noticed, that power in this game seems centralized to a select few cards. In some cases, Pokémon have even lost what they once had. Just check out Exeggcute PLF’s disheartening 30 HP, or the fact that the last time we saw Masquerain PLB’s Ability it was on a Pokémon with more HP that was capable of doing more damage (that is, Mismagius LV.X).

genesect ex vs exeggcute plf

In the cases where we see some creativity with regard to non-EX Pokémon — Cofagrigus PLF 56 and Sigilyph PLB come to mind — interesting decks sprout up! When I use the word “creativity,” I am primarily referring to interesting aspects of a card that differ from that oh-so-familiar “Flip 2 coins…” type of card . Both Cofagrigus PLF 56 and Sigilyph PLB have extremely interesting Abilities. As such, they have seen a lot of play.

Perhaps the biggest trend I saw as this season passed us by — even more so than the game’s simplicity or the weight the creators put on power cards — was the growing addiction the game had with damage output. I remember the days when Strength Charm was the best way to do an extra 10 damage — actually, it was the only way. When PlusPower was released, many players in my area thought the card creators were nuts. Little did they know that PlusPower was just the beginning.

And with that, I would like to talk about what I feel to be the defining characteristic of this entire season: the total flood of cards that do more and more damage and keep even 180 HP Pokémon scared for their lives. In addition to this, I will cover a couple of concepts that I feel will help players see the game a little differently, and I’ll also take a look at some cards that are hitting the “magic numbers” since the release of our newest set, Plasma Blast.

Note: My article on “Pokémon TCG Strategies” is next in line! If there’s anything YOU would like to see included in it, please let me know. As was the case with my brother’s crazy Swampert e/Scizor e/Gardevoir e δ, there are often strategies so specific they only become known when a deck that utilizes that strategy sees the light of day (yes, I mentioned my brother’s “Scythe” deck to intrigue you).

Provided here is a table of contents. Click on the link to move forward.

Table of Contents

  1. Offense and Defense of the Furthest Ends
  2. “Trainer-mon,” or Embracing The Trend
  3. Stacking Up The Damage
  4. The New Combo Kings
  5. Conclusion

OFFENSE AND DEFENSE OF THE FURTHEST ENDS

With the release of the newest Pokémon TCG set, Plasma Blast, there are a couple of interesting Trainers that caught my eye that represent something more than just a new way to either add to or prevent damage. To me, Silver Mirror and Silver Bangle, both new Pokémon Tool cards, seemingly represent two different approaches to the game altogether.

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“Mirror, mirror on the wall…”

Silver Mirror represents the concept of defense. When attached to a Pokémon that is not a Pokémon EX, it protects that Pokémon from all effects of an attack (including damage) done to it by the opponent’s Team Plasma Pokémon. Essentially, it creates a near-impenetrable shield to any Team Plasma Pokémon (though the attack featured on the ACE SPECG Booster” will still break through a Pokémon with a Silver Mirror attached to it).

Silver Bangle, on the other hand, is a Pokémon Tool card that allows a non-EX Pokémon to do an extra 30 damage to the opponent’s Active Pokémon EX. In a format that already has many cards that help stack up the damage, this card is nothing but pure offense. The chance to add on an extra 30 damage to an attack can ultimately lead to a knockout and 2 Prize cards gained, where otherwise the opponent might have played a Max Potion and reversed the damage, then followed up with a knockout on your Active Pokémon. Essentially, Silver Bangle is a game-changer.

Both of these cards are justifiably good, and I would not be surprised to see both of them being used in the same deck list. Yet, I feel that one of them best represents the game as it stands today.

With EX Pokémon still running most of the show, Silver Bangle seems to be a defining card for the format. In a way, it seems to articulate what this format is all about: the more damage we can add up, the better!

Its effectiveness against Pokémon EX is something many players have been clamoring for. In discussions, many have stated they want something like Desert Ruins to counter Pokémon EX. Silver Bangle is in many ways that very card!

Silver Bangle is not alone in its ability to pile on the damage, yet it outclasses many other cards that are out there. If we look at all the cards that can add damage to the field or to an attack, Silver Bangle is most efficient, especially in a format that features mostly Pokémon EX (which ours does).

While PlusPower may net you 40 extra damage over the course of a game (that’s 10 damage per card) and Hypnotoxic Laser/Virbank City Gym may net you an extra 120 damage during the game (that’s 20 extra damage per card if you run 4 Laser and 2 Gyms), Silver Bangle takes the top spot by producing an extra 120 damage on the field for only 4 cards. That’s 30 extra damage per card, not counting if you’re able to attack multiple times!

pluspower hypnotoxic laser silver bangle

Another factor to consider is that unlike Hypnotoxic Laser, Silver Bangle can hit Weakness. If I face a Darkrai EX deck and use a Silver Bangle on a Stunfisk DRX, its “Muddy Water” attack will be doing 100 damage, leading to a knockout in two attacks. Using Hypnotoxic Laser and assuming the opponent gets out of the poison by using something like Keldeo-EX/Float Stone, it would take Stunfisk DRX three attacks to knock Darkrai EX out.

In terms of a hard counter to Pokémon EX, Silver Bangle is right up there with the “Safeguard” Ability. Of course, it also begs a simple question: How effective will it be once X&Y sets get released? Will Pokémon EX be overlooked by a new mechanic, or will they continue their influence over the format?

“TRAINER-MON,” or EMBRACING THE TREND

Years ago, when the Pokémon TCG was new on the scene and players were first getting introduced to the game, a term was quickly coined to describe the way a typical game of Pokémon played out — players called it “Trainer-mon.” The reason? Trainer cards in the Pokémon TCG were doing more than the Pokémon themselves. Players would speed through their deck, aiming at playing an array of Trainer cards that would shut down the opponent’s setup completely.

Fortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it), the game is currently not centered around just Trainer cards. Pokémon still have to do their part in order to help a player find success.

Still, we have definitely flirted with the idea that Trainer cards can single-handedly win games. Every competitive player is by now familiar with Sableye DEX, the “best card in the format.” Using “Junk Hunt,” players can effectively copy any Item card in the format, meaning that many games have come down to nothing more than flipping for Crushing Hammer repeatedly until time was called.

As more and more damage-dealing Trainers have been released, I have heard an increasing number of players issue their complaints. Trainer cards in our current format seem very aggressive overall, but not just in terms of damage output. Even the “Ball Engine,” a reference to using various Poké Balls to get Pokémon in play, is more aggressive than in formats past. When I first started playing this game, players had to use Supporters to grab Pokémon (Celio’s Network, Wally’s Training, Bebe’s Search). Now, players enjoy using an Ultra Ball to grab a Pokémon, then playing a Professor Juniper, then playing another Ultra Ball.

I personally understand those complaints about the format that I’ve heard from so many, which is why I introduced the “Missing Format” with my last article. Still, I think there’s something to be said for embracing the current format, even with all its aggressive Trainers and speedy setup. Let me demonstrate…

In preparing for Battle Roads, I have been testing Kyurem PLF/Deoxys-EX a lot. When I originally built my deck, it only had 4 Kyurem PLF in it and 12 Energy, meaning that I had a total of 44 spots for Items, Supporters, and Stadiums. With this much room, I could pretty much do whatever I wanted Trainer-wise. Of course, I kept room for my Supporter lines and Colress Machine, but apart from that I had the flexibility to let my Trainers speak for themselves. I essentially had a deck that worked off of two attacks and many different Trainer cards.

I wanted to utilize Scramble Switch in my deck, and so I kept room for Skyla. I also tinkered with the idea of using a 2-2 Roserade DRX 15 for reasonable access to any card in my deck, allowing me to get to Scramble Switch when I needed it. Eventually, the Roserade idea fell through, mainly because I remembered a card that had just been released: Reversal Trigger.

At this moment, I realized that Reversal Trigger was essentially a replacement for Roserade. As I continued to work on my deck, I noticed the same things with plenty of other cards. Silver Bangle is pretty much a “Gold Breaker” attack in Trainer form, Scramble Switch is a limited return of Zapdos e FRLG, Enhanced Hammer was Cobalion-EX’s first attack before it ever existed, and Hypnotoxic Laser is the best replacement for Amoonguss NXD I’ve ever seen.

what's the difference

Eventually, I came up with this list:

Pokémon – 9

4 Kyurem PLF
4 Deoxys-EX
1 -EX

Trainers – 40

4 Professor Juniper
4 N
2 Skyla
2 Colress
1 Team Plasma Grunt

 

4 Team Plasma Ball
4 Colress Machine
4 Silver Bangle
4 Switch
3 Pokémon Catcher
3 Tool Scrapper
2 Exp. Share
1 Float Stone
1 Super Rod
1 Scramble Switch

Energy – 12

8 Water
4 Plasma

NOTE: I’m still not sure about this one, as it still requires testing. Going into Battle Roads, I’m not entirely sure how popular Hypnotoxic Laser will be. I anticipate it will fall out of favor because of Virizion-EX, but just how much it will be ignored remains to be seen. I’ll give updates to the above deck list on the Underground Forums, along with some thoughts about the new season.

Perhaps the most extreme example of this concept is with the Snorlax PLS deck that floated around quite a bit during Battle Roads. My good friend Ryan Vergel did a feature on this deck at Celadon City Gym. At no Energy Cards in the list at all and only 4 Pokémon, the deck is just about as “Trainer-mon” as you can possibly get.

What this shows us is that for the current format, Trainer cards have largely taken the place of those Abilities and attacks so many players have tried to make work. Playing Hypnotoxic Laser in your deck is almost like playing a 4-4 line of Amoonguss NXD, except you get a similar effect for less cards. Reversal Trigger essentially gives any Team Plasma Pokémon the ability that Manaphy PLS has (of course, Tool Scrapper exists to counter Reversal Trigger).

If most decks are going to feature no more than 15 or so Pokémon, it has to mean that the Trainer line will remain open. Use that space to tech as you normally would with Pokémon.

STACKING UP THE DAMAGE

As far as the Pokémon TCG is concerned, we are far from the days of Strength Charms and PlusPowers. The game right now is BOLD, with knockouts constantly in reach. A Thundurus EX cowers at the sight of a Sawk PLB, capable of knocking it out with a single Energy, a Hypnotoxic Laser (no Virbank City Gym needed), and a Silver Bangle. That’s 170 damage given the right circumstances! Even without those circumstances, though, my Kyurem PLF/Deoxys-EX deck is capable of pumping out a first turn 100 and 30 to the bench.

Let’s look at cards notable for being able to put more and more damage on the field. I have already mentioned many of the Trainers that fit into this category, so I’m going to focus on some of those I haven’t discussed yet.

Notable Damage-Altering Trainers

PlusPower, Silver Bangle, and Hypnotoxic Laser/Virbank City Gym

I have already discussed each of these, so I’m going to skip them for now.

Iris

Can provide surprise damage.

This is an interesting Supporter that is much like Black Belt from Triumphant. That card never saw much play, but then again, it wasn’t around for very long with Pokémon EX. The benefit to Iris is that many players will never see it coming. They may plan on Silver Bangle, and they might even factor in the damage from Hypnotoxic Laser, but playing an Iris at a key moment in the game can really help make that comeback possible.

I would recommend playing this card in low counts (1-2). If it becomes an integral part of your deck, you might use something like Reversal Trigger, Roserade, or Computer Search to have better access to it. Just don’t use Axew PLB unless you’re running a Haxorus PLB deck.

Frozen City

I like this card quite a bit, especially since many players might abandon Hypnotoxic Laser/Virbank City Gym for fear of Virizion-EX. Even against Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX, this card serves to remove a primary source of draw power from their deck and damage them heftily if they cannot replace it. Moreover, using Frozen City might actually help you reach those KOs that otherwise wouldn’t happen.

I would recommend playing a high count of this, since you want it to hit the field as soon as possible and replace counter stadiums with ease. Also, pair this with Team Plasma Pokémon, unless you’re going for something truly tricky.

Dark Claw

With Plasma Blast ready to release, Dark Claw finds some big competition in Silver Bangle. Essentially, Dark Claw is good for attacking non-Pokémon EX. With the new season, I anticipate we will see more non-Pokémon EX than just Blastoise BCR and Sableye DEX. Also, Dark Claw only works with Dark Pokémon; Silver Bangle, however, has the benefit of being compatible with any non-Pokémon EX.

Team Plasma Badge (+ Deoxys-EX)

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Combo with “Power Connect.”

This nifty combo seems to go under the radar a bit, but try to keep in mind that Deoxys-EX can “Power Connect” with more than just Team Plasma Pokémon. The astute reader will probably think, “Yeah, but Silver Bangle should be the go-to card in these situations.” True, but only in a format rife with Pokémon EX. If people start playing everything but Pokémon EX (like that’ll ever happen, ha!), then this little trick might work.

Also, I suppose it’s worth noting that with 4 Deoxys-EX in play, you’re technically doing 10 more damage than you would with Silver Bangle.

Ultra Ball, Level Ball, Team Plasma Ball, Heavy Ball, etc.

I have to mention these here to get my earlier point across about how aggressive cards are these days. With many Pokémon having Abilities that alter damage, it’s worth noting that a fine-tuned “Ball Engine” can get Pokémon in play faster than ever before. A consistent Garchomp DRX 90/Altaria DRX list can pull off massive amounts of damage in no time because of this. Hmm, perhaps it’s time to test that deck again with Silver Bangle!

Notable Damage-Altering Pokémon

Deoxys-EX

PlusPower isn’t that great a card anymore, that’s true, but turn it into an Ability and stick it on a 170 HP Pokémon and you have a winner. Deoxys-EX is one of the best cards in the game, due in large part to its damage-stacking Ability. Apart from the combo I mentioned earlier with Team Plasma Badge, Deoxys-EX is a staple in any Team Plasma deck that needs to increase damage output. I would recommend using a full playset in any deck you deem fit for it.

Altaria DRX

Another example of a Pokémon that has somehow weakened over time, Altaria DRX boasts an incredible Ability. While it combos extremely well with Garchomp DRX, I can see it being used with Dragonite PLF as well to pump out loads of damage while locking Item cards as well. With a low-HP Basic, I would recommend a 4-4 line OR a 3-3 with space in the deck list for Pokémon recovery.

Bouffalant DRX

This card is essentially Silver Bangle before Silver Bangle existed. 60 for three Energy isn’t great, but that damage doubles when Bouffalant DRX is facing a Pokémon EX. This card was popular off and on throughout the season, and I expect that popularity to rise with the release of Silver Bangle.

Cofagrigus PLF 56

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One of the few truly interesting cards in the format.

When I first saw this card, I thought it was terrible. Giving up a Prize card for the single benefit of placing 3 damage counters anywhere seemed awful. Yet, players have since flocked to the card, pairing it with Flareon PLF and Lugia EX. In Flareon PLF decks, it provides the second benefit of getting more Pokémon in the discard pile. In Lugia EX builds, it helps Lugia EX reach those KOs. In both, it gives the player using it a little more control over the use of N. Not bad!

Vileplume BCR

This card has always been talked about, but has never seen any real competitive play. With Silver Bangle, this might change. In any event, Vileplume BCR doesn’t necessarily add to the amount of base damage being done. Rather, it pushes the Weakness to be 4× instead of 2×, making 1HKOs much more possible. I would recommend running this much like you would Blastoise BCR: a 4-1-4 with Tropical Beach for consistency and speed.

Chandelure NXD

Chandelure is another card that has seen intermittent play since its release. Lately, though, it’s practically disappeared, swept away by cards much stronger and faster. Still, with the right list, Chandelure NXD practically becomes a Cofagrigus PLF 56 without having to give up a Prize card. I’m not sure if this will ever see play again, but I do know it has a friend in Cradily PLB!

Dusknoir BCR

Anyone who doubted the power of Dusknoir BCR was in for a surprise this year. Many people called the multi-Nationals winning deck “Gothitelle/Accelgor,” but where’s the love for Dusknoir BCR? Now, I know that Dusknoir BCR adds absolutely no extra damage to the field, but with the capability of moving damage on the opponent’s field anywhere one pleases, this card helps players move the damage where it needs to go. Of course, it still has Darkrai EX to overcome.

THE NEW COMBO KINGS

Embrace the power cards, stack that damage up, and be ready for a change! The new season is right around the corner, so what are some wicked combos appearing with our newest set? Here are some ideas to get you started:

Bouffalant DRX

bouffalant combo king

Bouffalant DRX is a master of damage output. Silver Bangle puts it over the edge by giving you the ability to 1HKO Pokémon EX when you use the HypnoBank combo. Since a deck built around this will likely have to focus most of its energy on making the combo work, I would suggest pairing it with a Pokémon thtat can spread some damage to start off with (Kyurem PLF or Landorus-EX comes to mind).

You can even utilize Exp. Share and run it alongside a heavy count of Tool Scrapper — soak up an Energy with Exp. Share, Tool Scrapper your own Exp. Share away, attach a Silver Bangle, and catch an opponent off guard!

Kyurem PLF

kyurem combo king

As I mentioned before, Kyurem PLF really has a lot going for it right now. Even against Virizion/Genesect — a matchup in which your HypnoBank combo is largely useless — you have the capability of Knocking Out any Pokémon in their deck with two hits. Opponents are forced to Knock Out your Deoxys-EXs to keep the Prize trade equal — either that or they suffer the difficulty of taking 1 Prize card at a time.

Vileplume BCR

vileplume bcr combo king

With Vileplume BCR’s Ability and an attached Silver Bangle, all of the above Pokémon do 200 or more damage with their single-Energy attacks, enough to KO any Pokémon EX in existence! This is a combo that has been floating around for a long time, but Silver Bangle largely makes it possible. Where Hypnotoxic Laser didn’t really help Vileplume BCR out, Silver Bangle does. I plan on testing this deck as soon as possible, largely because I think it finally has a shot at being competitive.

A fair warning though: any Pokémon that you can’t hit the Weakness on becomes incredibly difficult to Knock Out.

Zebstrika NXD

While Zebstrika NXD can take advantage of Silver Bangle, I am more interested in its ability to abuse Silver Mirror. With the opponent’s Tool Scrappers rendered useless, Zebstrika NXD and a Silver Mirror faces an auto-win against any Team Plasma deck not prepared. A quick Zebstrika NXD/Silver Mirror also fares well against Genesect EX (just don’t let them get G Booster in play).

For Zebstrika NXD, I envision a high Ghetsis count (preferably 4) and a partner in Garbodor DRX. Remember, Garbodor DRX will make HypnoBank useful again when facing Virizion-EX.

Porygon-Z PLB/Tornadus EX PLS

I’m not entirely sure about this combo, and it doesn’t necessarily deal with damage output outright, but I thought I would mention it because of Tornadus EX PLS’s ability to reach 180 damage. With Porygon-Z PLB’s Ability, you can effectively move Plasma Energy off of Tornadus EX PLS, use Max Potion to heal, then get right back into 1HKO mode. If anything, I would caution you against people reading this article who plan on doing massive amounts of damage with Silver Bangle. Eviolite and Aspertia Gym might be useful here.

CONCLUSION

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“Go big or go home.”

The Pokémon TCG in its current state is largely about linking a few cards together to do massive amounts of damage. Getting a knockout on a Pokémon EX in one hit is quite possibly the most powerful play a person can make in the game, especially if they’re set to pull it off again and again. This is the reason many players feel Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX to be such a strong deck. Its strength rests in the 1HKO. While not every deck can play Black Kyurem-EX PLS successfully, the cards in our newest set definitely help players reach those 1HKO limits.

At the same time, as we reflect on another season of the Pokémon TCG, many players will remember this as the year of unrivaled damage output. From Hypnotoxic Laser to Deoxys-EX to Silver Bangle, the card creators seem comfortable giving us newer and newer ways to pile on the damage. As for me, I will embrace it. If you want to be competitive in this game, you have to. Who knows, with the release of X&Y we might see “Hypnobangle Beam,” an Item card that burns, poisons, and paralyzes the Defending Pokémon (also, you can play as many of them in your deck as you’d like, just like Arceus!).

I plan on updating members in the Underground Forums with deck lists for some of the ideas I proposed in this article. Since I’ve only tested for the next season a little bit, I didn’t want to give members a list that I would later regret. Also, I hope there are those out there who are playing the game with “Missing Format” rules. We’re planning another tournament soon, so I’ll let everyone know how that went after it’s over.


…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

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