I’ve played the Pokémon TCG since July of 2004. (Ten years and counting.) In all that time, I’ve seen concepts rise, fall, and come to life all over again. The designers of the Pokémon TCG turned the resurrection stone thrice in hand before us, and Pokémon-ex were back.
The first ex block was undoubtedly the golden age of the Pokémon TCG, so you might beg the question, “Dylan, why so sad? If you’re such an ex fanboy! Why can’t you hustle as hard as you hate?!”
The Pokémon-EX haven’t exactly had the stellar reception enjoyed by the lowercase exs of old, but the geists of the past definitely feel as though they’re rising again, and I couldn’t be happier to be part of their haunting.
I’m going to write about Phantom Forces, but first, I want to get people thinking about set design. Basically what I’m saying is every card printed can’t be good, but most cards should be playable—playable meaning a card is helpful, balanced, and perhaps most importantly, unique to the point that nothing strictly better exists that I can play in its place.
Table of Contents
- Digression on Set Design
- Ghost in the Machine
- Virizion/Genesect: Reloaded
- Black and Yellow (but Not Mellow)
- A New Dimension for Dropping Tools
- The Phantom Menace
Digression on Set Design
If you’ve been following me on social media, forums, SixPrizes, or anything else really, you might have picked up on the fact that I used to really hate the direction the powers below are taking the game that I love. If you really don’t care about my rants, I’ll surmise. I believe that:
A. Sets are too simplistic. Not to say every card in a set should be good, or even playable for that matter. I simply believe that most rares should have at least something to make me think twice about how they could be used in a deck.
B. Pokémon has been, until recently, printing far too many awful rares and not nearly enough average ones. These mistakes are exactly what contributes to the simplicity I criticize. In this game, it isn’t usually hard to pick out the best rare in a given set and I think that’s a very basic balance flaw.
To be fair, it must be extremely hard to balance a game when the Pokémon-EX exist in a format with rares that people also want to see be playable. Rares have to be made super strong in order to compete. Excessively strong rares are few and far between, practically nonexistent in recent years. I feel like printing Bronzong PHF was a good move. Rares seem to fit better in a support capacity, where they can fill niche roles without being the dominant force in any deck. There’s no reason to change the structure of the metagame right now. EXs are beginning to fit nicely into the “main attacker” role, and non-EXs seem to be completely relegated the supporting cast. This is working well so far, and the game is more balanced than it has been in years. Impressive.
The designers of the game run a very controlled metagame. Who couldn’t see Seismitoad-EX, Lucario-EX, and Landorus-EX getting big after Strong Energy dropped in the last set? That was probably intended. I feel like Pokémon almost “handed” players the ideas they needed to win. There was very little creativity because the best cards were so obviously the best and the combos were sadly simplistic. I want to feel like there are always new ideas to explore.
Over the last few years, I included nearly the same Blastoise list in at least two of my articles. I wasn’t being lazy; that was a great list. It’s just a little disappointing that in a year of sets, we never got any cards that were worth playing in Blastoise. The tools Blastoise already had were so good that they were hard to outclass, which is a problem in itself.
We can see this effect in Virizion/Genesect decks now. The deck was basically handed to us in Plasma Blast, as though Pokémon was saying “We WANT you to play these cards together!” Nobody could have missed the synergy between V and G, thus brought about one of the most consistently strong decks since Blastoise.
Over a month ago, I wrote about Furious Fists in a similar way that I’ll talk to you about Phantom Forces today. I approached Furious Fists with cautious optimism, but I’m honestly thrilled to say that I think Pokémon is either taking my advice, or just realizing that their design archetype is getting stale (probably the latter, honestly). Phantom Forces is a fun and interesting set with boundless potential. Maybe I’m just getting senile, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been unable to predict what cards will be popular out of a new set, and honestly that’s a sobering, yet frustratingly refreshing fact. This is perhaps the most playable set since Platinum.
Ghost in the Machine
Time to jump right in and state what everyone already knows: Bronzong is the strongest rare in the set. It has some pretty strong synergy with almost every Metal Pokémon-EX in recent history. From the new Dialga-EX to the underplayed Skarmory-EX, Bronzong is sure to be a magnetizing force in the metagame. It’s easy to draw comparisons between Bronzong and Eelektrik NVI, but can the bronze bell really compare? They both do the same thing, but with a different color of Energy. In reality, I don’t feel like grey is as strong a color as yellow has ever been. Losing Level Ball certainly didn’t do this concept any favors.
The cool thing to run seems to be Cobalion-EX and Mewtwo-EX with Bronzong, but I’m just not seeing it. I think Aegislash-EX is more effective than Cobalion-EX in every way except against Pyroar FLF, and frankly, I don’t have much hope for that matchup even if I were to play a bunch of Cobalion.
When the creators of the TCG want to hand players a combo, they sure aren’t subtle about it. Bronzong PHF, Dialga-EX, and Aegislash-EX are a trinity with near perfect synergy on paper. Aegislash and Dialga both hit hard and have qualities that simultaneously deny strategies that rely on not only Pokémon-EX, but also Special Energy cards.
In practice, G Booster and Pyroar counter this combo hard. Although I predict one of these decks will be stronger than the other, the idea of giving up a poor matchup to one of the best decks in the format terrifies me. Undoubtedly, the Bronzong deck’s obvious synergy gives it some inherent strength. Dialga and Aegislash are good cards, yet do they hold up?
Unfortunately, the wording of Dialga-EX’s Chrono Wind hurts the card. The effect lies on the Defending Pokémon, and because it’s so easy to remove an effect on your own Pokémon (simply by retreating) the words below Chrono Wind are aesthetic at best. Dialga sounds like it has a lot going for it, but in reality, this card is nothing special. However, it has type synergy with Bronzong and a strong second attack. Neither of these options is going to make it the next Rayquaza-EX. The damage cap of these Metal Pokémon is too low; they don’t even compare. Thankfully, both of these Pokémon have more defensive qualities to recommend them. Dialga isn’t terrible, but it’s also not the offensive pivot people seem to be hyping.
Aegislash, on the other hand, is a fantastic Pokémon-EX. It easily overshadows Dialga. Having protection against Special Energy makes this card what it is. Its attack is average but it has a hard-hitting partner and plenty of Colorless options to supplement its weak spot.
Having built-in protection against attackers using Special Energy really slows down their game. DCE and Strong Energy are what currently allows fast decks to be aggressive early game. Whether or not those Energy cards will still be favored when Aegislash hits, I couldn’t tell you. Aegislash’s presence should affect your opponent’s play in many cases.
As anyone who has stomached a few years of Pokémon can tell you, people are no strangers to decks that punish you for using certain types of Pokémon or Energy. However, many average players can’t think themselves around these types of decks. One of the most common misplays is using Juniper to dig aggressively for basic Energy to attack with. This play burns resources in the process.
That player will struggle to find basic Energy for the rest of the game if they put their few basic Energy on one Pokémon to 1-shot an Aegislash. The Metal player can proceed to clean up the game with another Aegislash. Decks like this one seem like they will do a good job of pushing around average players at local tournaments.
Surprisingly, the return of Enhanced Hammer might inadvertently hurt Aegislash’s playability. If people cut back on Special Energy to play around Hammer, we’ll see decks that are better equipped to handle Mighty Shield as well.
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 31
Energy – 12
This is my first attempt at a Metal deck. I put a focus on Aegislash because I think it’s important to put pressure on people early—pressure here meaning that I force them to actively search for Energy to attack me with. In cases where they get a dangerous amount of basic Energy in play before I have a real counter play, I can use Mewtwo to attack and hopefully wipe the critical mass of Energy off the board as quickly as possible. In decks that rely heavily on Special Energy, the first big threat is usually the most dangerous to Aegislash.
Metal has some weaknesses in the metagame. Garbodor ruins the strategy, G Booster can tear down your walls, and Pyroar hits most of this deck for Weakness. Although I tried to address some of these issues in the list above, they take a toll on consistency. This is a format where the winners seem to be defined by including a variety of strong midrange attackers in one list. In a format where Yveltal, Seismitoad, and Mewtwo are some of the strongest Pokémon to have in a deck, it’s tough to justify taking the long road to victory with a stage one line.
I totally ignored Stadiums and instead decided to include cards to avoid taking Poison damage. Steel Shelter is viable, but I feel like it’s another example of a Stadium that is only useful if your opponent doesn’t play their own Stadiums. It’s also only good against Pyroar, but I think Pyroar is on the decline in Modified anyway. If you want to have a better Pyroar matchup, you can probably get there with 3 Shelter and 1 or 2 Cobalion-EX.
I feel like the Metal deck would be in a better place if its attackers did more consistent damage and had fewer fancy traits like protection against Special Energies and the like, because isn’t doing damage what Pokémon ultimately boils down to?
I’ve thought a bit about playing Bronzong with non-Metal attackers, but I just can’t see a reason to do so. Malamar-EX isn’t good, as much as people seem to think it is. If I want to Knock something Out for a lot of Energy, I’ll just do that 100% of the time with Black Kyurem-EX PLS and Blastoise BCR; I don’t see a reason to go through the trouble of flipping coins to get my 1HKOs.
Other than the strong Metal options from Phantom Forces, attackers like Mewtwo-EX or Yveltal-EX seem to have the most synergy with Bronzong. Including D Energy would clunk up the list and make it tough to play DCE alongside both Metal and the Darks you need to play already. I’d rather play all Darkness, DCEs, and keep Yveltal’s early-game prowess on my side.
Bronzong and friends definitely have potential, but keep it simple. Aegislash and Dialga work well together, and there are many ways to take advantage of their strengths, I just feel like their weaknesses in the current metagame make for a steep slope to climb.
“Writing about Virizion Genesect again? Ugh, that’s like, the fourth time this week!”
I always have these decks that I have to throw into my articles or I just don’t feel complete. This is one of them.
But this month VG actually gets changed up, and it gained so much that I think it might actually be the best deck in the format. I’m still not exactly sure how this deck will interact with the new Team Flare Tools, so let me take a moment to talk about them.
The Flare Tools are a totally new mechanic to the game, and I’m not sure how they’ll be utilized. Some people seem to have overlooked how these only work on your opponent’s Pokémon-EX.
How people end up playing them will probably end up drastically changing the way people treat Tools overall. People realize the Flare Tools are good, and people want to play them. However, realize that attractive as they might sound, cards that strictly hurt your opponent (example: Red Card) almost always fall out of favor when people realize that their own consistency is generally more valuable. Most existing decks, save Tool Drop, don’t have any clear synergy with Jamming Net or Head Ringer. Honestly, I don’t know what to make of either. The usage of these cards is narrow, and they’re easy to tech for. I’m thinking they won’t be worth playing. Even against EX-heavy decks, Flare Tools are a very soft counter.
I see Head Ringer hurting V/G if it’s played as a staple (which I doubt). It’s really tough to remove Tools on your own Pokémon right now. There are options, such as Tool Retriever, but that card is so incredibly downright awful in any situation where your opponent doesn’t play Flare Tools that I’d never want to play it. However, one Retriever can literally negate four copies of a Flare Tool. Playing your Pokémon-EX with a Tool attached is the default answer to Flare Gear, and after you know they play Gear, you basically only invest Energy in Pokémon that have your own Tools on them (they’re safe and untargetable options, obviously).
Retriever can be a safeguard if your opponent is somehow able to remove your Tools and parasitize your Pokémon with their own. However, If I know that people are going to want a copy of Tool Retriever for safety, am I really going to spend four (or even fewer) spots in my deck on Flare Gear? Unless my name happens to be Trubbish, I think the answer will ultimately end up being a resounding “no.”
V/G is both EX heavy and reliant on a single ACE SPEC Tool. With no impressive Fire Pokémon to speak of, the Flare Tools are just about the only thing to come out of Phantom Forces that will threaten Genesect’s dominion.
So what did Virizion and Genesect gain? The Pokémon Flute reboot, Target Whistle, will probably see some play. Decks that play a small amount of EXs will try to deny V/G easy Prizes by doing most of their damage with non-EXs. With this card, we can make life even more difficult for anyone trying to keep their EXs off the board.
Playing a surprise Whistle can allow you to capitalize on your opponent’s questionable discard choices. Target Whistle isn’t the greatest card in most decks, but the combination of G Booster and Red Signal can erase EXs like no other. I think a single copy has potential in V/G. If they ever discard a Seismitoad, think about how free those delicious 2 Prizes will be. Mmmm…
The other hot item in this set is VS Seeker. Pokémon comes in clutch with this reprint. Not only is it a good card to have in any format, I can also still use my FRLG VS Seekers. I’m not a big fan of functional reprints which is the concept of taking an old effect and sticking in on a new card under a different name (Gust of Wind turning into Pokémon Catcher, etc.). I like my nostalgia just the way it is.
VS Seeker happens to be one of my favorite low-impact Trainers ever. It won’t ever directly draw you cards, and it will never be played as a 4-of, but this singleton staple gives every deck a consistency boost in a format that desperately needs fresh draw Supporters.
Strange that neither of these Items has been getting much hype at all. Target Whistle definitely has niche use, but that niche happens to be in the format’s best deck so I think it deserves more than a mention. VS Seeker is no stranger to longtime players, but it always proves to be pretty useful nonetheless.
VS Seeker encourages innovative deck building. There are a lot of single copy cards being played right now, which is always a lot of fun. VS Seeker makes it easier to get value out of single copies of supporters like Blacksmith, Shadow Triad, Lysandre, and his Trump Card. In most cases, you’ll never use three Lysandre in one game, but you might want to play the three so you’re more likely to have one when you need it. This may go without saying, but playing two Lysandre and one VS Seeker gives you a lot more utility in your 60 cards.
The only new Pokémon in this set that V/G might want to play is Manectric-EX. Manectric and its Mega could potentially bring V/G into a totally new world. For its entire existence, V/G has been a single-typed Grass deck. Throwing yellow into the mix might actually force us to rethink the entire basis on which the deck is built. This month I’m going to focus on conceptualizing “V/G/M.”
The only problem with Manectric is the typing. That’s the only struggle this deck faces. While Lightning is a great type, just the fact that it needs L Energy to do things is the worst part about the whole Manectric package. Aside from his unfortunate needs, this is what M Manectric-EX brings to the table:
- 110 damage coming from an Evolved Pokémon, the perfect answer to Pyroar.
- Cheap attacks that hit hard. Virizion and Genesect sometimes get behind when you miss Energy drops early.
- One Turbo Bolt can literally snowball you to victory. Getting extra basic Energy on the field late game can open up a turn for you make plays with Plasma Energy.
- Manectric can be a “win more” kind of card. Power up a second Genesect while you’re ahead for even more outs to win the game.
Manectric’s speed shouldn’t be overstated too much though. Regular Manectric-EX’s attacking options aren’t nearly as good as a fast Emerald Slash. M Manectric-EX is definitely a Pokémon that will carry your late game and every match you play against Pyroar but paying a lot of L Energy and using Manectric in place of Virizion-EX isn’t an option. I’m firmly in the camp that thinks Manectric isn’t main attacker material, though it does happen to be extremely strong against Yveltal-EX decks, which V/G as we know it tends to struggle against.
Pokémon – 13
1 Jynx FFI
Trainers – 34
1 Town Map
Energy – 13
This is the list I came up with that utilizes the best of Phantom Forces. First of all, let me say that Manectric is a tech, but although it also takes care of Pyroar, it’s much better than something like Beartic FFI. Manectric is so good because it has an immense amount of utility in every late game, not just late games you play against Pyroar decks.
Manectric should never be forced into being an early game card. Once you’ve established board presence, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding Spirit Link or L Energy at some point. Drop Manectric-EX as soon as possible. Preferably you want to Mega Evolve through Spirit Link. Against Pyroar, a mid game Manectric is what you’re looking for. There is plenty of time to Mega Evolve without Spirit Link early game. You have nothing to attack a Pyroar with early game anyway, just focus on getting M Manectric-EX into play. It’s about time V/G stood a chance against Pyroar.
Don’t ever overextend to get Spirit Link and M Manectric-EX down unless you absolutely can’t do without. Usually you can let regular Manectric-EX chill out on the Bench for most of the game. Wait for a moment when you can easily drop Manectric Spirit Link and M Manectric-EX in one turn, because you definitely don’t want to be caught by Megaphone with Spirit Link unused on Manectric.
Deoxys-EX was good in here before, but now that Mega Manectric is around, Deoxys’ extra 10 damage lets you claim that last sliver of health from its 210. Playing Deoxys is more important than ever, just for the sake of covering all your bases.
Jynx FFI is another card that’s currently trending. There’s no way this deck could fit Herbal Energy in addition to the second type, so it needs some manner of healing to make the math more favorable in the mirror match. 100, 70, 50 and 20 are the major numbers you’re playing with when running V/G, taking 10 damage off any of those can really disrupt the math to a clean KO on a 170 HP EX. A combination of Deoxys-EX and Jynx seems like the popular package to be playing right now.
Dedenne FFI is a safe option for the early game against Yveltal-EX, but I don’t think it’s needed. Dedenne is certainly less expensive, but regular Manectric-EX can score the 1HKO on Yveltal in situations where Tools are involved. If Manectric’s second attack isn’t enough to put Dedenne back in.
Mr. Mime PLF is also a good option in here, but spread damage isn’t all that popular right now. V/G doesn’t even worry that much about Hammerhead troubles unless it is behind. Jynx can also function as soft protection from small amounts of splash damage.
There’s nothing wrong with Virizion/Genesect right now at all. V/G is a deck that rewards the pilot for making safe and well thought out choices when ahead while still having a lot of comeback potential. It takes a good deal of skill to know when abandoning traditional strategies is worthwhile. I’ve recently realized that V/G is hard to play with from behind, and it takes practice to know when a risky gambit could pay off in a win.
Black and Yellow (but Not Mellow)
Spirit Links finally give Mega Pokémon some viability. I don’t understand why Spirit Link is so Pokémon specific. Printing one Spirit Link that works for all Mega Evolutions would have also done the job but I guess I can live with what we’ve been given.
Manectric-EX doesn’t seem very good on its own. 110 damage isn’t a high enough number to center a deck around. It has to be played with something that’s worth attaching Energy to. Genesect is Pokémon in the format that can do 200 damage, and the other is Black Kyurem-EX PLS. I figure that sticking Kyurem in the same deck as Manectric can’t be awful since it does 200 damage…
The goal here is to get M Manectric-EX out by turn 2 or 3 and attaching two Energy to Black Kyurem. This is faster and more consistent than the old Blastoise decks, and it puts on more pressure early. With a straightforward early game and good typing, Yveltal and Seismitoad decks are positive matchups. It uses no Abilities, so there’s no reason to worry about Garbodor. Keldeo is in here as a counter to Landorus more than anything else.
Most of the same should be spent attacking with Turbo Bolt. Black Kyurem exists to take easy Prizes mid and late game. Battle Compressor makes a deck like this possible. It’s easy to get away with only playing 5 W Energy when you can easily discard them in one clean play. This is just an idea I had that might be promising; it’s basically untested. I want to play Crystal Wall so badly…
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 33
Energy – 13
(There are 2 open spaces here and I have no idea what to do with them. This is a simple concept that couldn’t be anymore straightforward.)
A New Dimension for Dropping Tools
The next deck I want to explore is Tool Drop. The new Team Flare Tools open a whole other side of the table to Trubbish’s antics. Dimension Valley finally brings a viable Stadium to the table. In previous formats, Tool Drop struggled if it missed playing an Energy early game. Not only does Dimension Valley make up for that, it also gives the deck explosive consistency for attacks on turn 1 and 2. That’s a lot of utility, so I chose to play 4 in this deck. That might feel like a radical departure from the typical Stadium count in decks of the modern age, but because Dimension Valley gives the deck so much presence early that there is no reason to not play a full suit. If you play any less than 4, I think you’d have to put Exp. Share back in the deck.
I’m also ignoring Jamming Net. First, because it’s a bad card, and second, because you want to drop Tools as soon as you draw them. A smart player will only Bench what he or she needs to when playing against Trubbish. Most people won’t give you four or more EXs to attach Flare Gear too. I feel like 3 Head Ringer is enough. It isn’t Flare Tools that make this deck, it’s Dimension Valley.
Losing Level Ball was rough on Tool Drop. Hopefully Ultra Ball can do the job well enough. I think it’s totally possible to take out Dowsing for Master Ball for some cleaner Pokémon search. Ultra Ball is one of my least favorite parts of this deck. Finding cards to discard is harder than you’d think, though Lysandre’s Trump Card makes life easier.
Garbodor LTR is still a roadblock for this concept. There isn’t a great way to deal with Garbo that doesn’t also take away from some aspect of the deck’s consistency, so I think this is going remain a tier 2 deck, though a very strong pick in the right metagame.
This deck should make quick work of a meta filled with EX-heavy decks like V/G and Plasma.
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 42
3 Head Ringer
Energy – 8
The Phantom Menace
Finally, I want to say something about the only thing more toxic than players on the Virbank City Facebook group: Gengar-EX! Unfortunately, the Mega is pretty underwhelming. The Pokémon card designers definitely pick favorites because someone who is high up in the design process has a thing for Gengar. In the past decade, there must have been more playable Gengar printed than any other Pokémon. Maybe Gengar-EX isn’t exactly good, though it certainly falls into the realm of “playable Gengar.” Personally, my favorite part of the card is the wall of jellybeans Gengar is busting through, or at least that’s how I’d like to imagine it doing.
I built the deck similar to how you’d build a Donphan deck. The thing is, Donphan isn’t usually worth taking out if you’re playing against it. That takes a lot of resources if Donphan is on the Bench, and it’s usually for little reward. Gengar, on the other hand, is both hard to replace and worth 2 Prizes. For this reason, the deck definitely needs some way to handle matchups with Lysandre and Red Signal.
Some people have theorized about using Dimension Valley to make Gengar’s Dark Corridor less expensive, but I definitely think Virbank City Gym is a better route to take. Virbank makes the attack more damaging and heavy residual Poison damage often draws resources.
Unfortunately, if we were to build this deck exactly like a Donphan one, it would pretty much fold to Virizion and Genesect. Verdant Wind takes most of the sting out of Dark Corridor, and to make matters worse, no deck has an easier time dragging Gengar off the Bench and doing 200 to it. I was considering adding M Gengar-EX to the deck, just so I would have something that can survive a G Booster and hit back for 100, but 220 HP isn’t that much more than 170 when playing against V/G. Megalo Cannon’s splash damage is sufficient to put M Gengar-EX into knockout range. For this reason, I think this deck demands Spiritomb LTR. Unfortunately, if we decide to play Spiritomb, we can’t also play Garbodor or Wobbuffet effectively.
Wobbuffet does a job similar to that of Garbodor, but the deck needs probably needs to have one Active at all times to stand a GHOST of a chance. I got really excited when I saw Wobbuffet’s 110 HP, but the buzzkill came when I realized Bide Barricade excludes Abilities on Psychic Pokémon, including Deoxys’ Power Connect. Either way, Deoxys is easy enough to take out with Lysandre and Psychic Weakness.
Aegislash-EX is great due to its high HP and protection from attacks done with Special Energy. Aegislash can completely shut out certain decks while being completely useless against others, so I chose to include it as a single copy. I’m not sold on it because of how common Gust of Wind effects are in this format.
It’s surprising how good Wobbuffet is. I think it’s one of the biggest sleeper cards in the set, if not in the format. It completely dismantles Bronzong and Pyroar decks, while also doing some real work against V/G. I’m still not sure how good this deck will be in practice because I’ve only played a handful of games with it. Like Tool Drop, I think Gengar decks will be more successful in some metagames than in others. Donphan’s simplicity might make it the better option in the long run though.
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 34
Energy – 13
That’s all I have for you all this month. Although Phantom Forces didn’t actually introduce a whole lot of new archetypes, I think the set gives us a lot of new promising options to play with. Manectric is probably the best Pokémon in the set, followed by Bronzong. But it’s in the Trainers that the set really shines. VS Seeker is a welcomed addition to the format. Battle Compressor is a unique combo enabler that I’m really happy to see come into the game. The Flare Gear Tools are all interesting, but not worth what they are currently selling for on the secondary market.
I didn’t really discuss it in any of the decks that I mentioned, but I figured I should give a shout out to my boy Enhanced Hammer for complicating the format and making things more difficult for everyone.
This format is phenomenal, and Phantom Forces only gives us more options to enjoy. In the next few months I’ll be playing a lot of Standard. It seems really enjoyable so far, so I’m pumped to be playing Pokémon again after a short hiatus.
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