Turning Tides

A Longer Look at Primal Clash

As some of you may or may not know, I love to write. I also hate being TOLD what to write. There’s some innate dread surrounding the concept of homework and after fourteen years of education, I’m still not exactly sure what about it shortens my attention span so drastically. This article was written on borrowed time, but deadlines are stimulating. Psychology would call me an “arousal-procrastinator.” People like me look the deadline monster dead in the face and feed off his energy.

Today on my trip down procrastination alley, I’ve decided to delve through Primal Clash.

Some of you probably already have some of these cards. If you don’t, you probably are aware that the English set was spoiled many weeks before anyone expected it to be. A major distributor started selling a product early, which is nothing new. Generally you can find Pokémon cards out at certain stores about a week before their street date at the earliest. This box was let out roughly three whole weeks too soon, and in it are new packs.

It’s pretty neat that we already have English images of the new cards, but what a coincidence it is that they couldn’t have come at a more helpful time. Florida Regionals, of all tournaments, will be the first event played with Primal Clash, and the set is sure to shake things up.

For the American scene, Summer 2011 was the last time a new format was dumped on players right before a set of big events, those being US and Canadian Nationals. I’m pumped to be attending Florida Regionals myself, but a lot of people are upset about the quick format shift. It’s not surprising that this alienates so many people. Change is hard.

Primal Clash’s entrance into the Regionals format undoubtedly favors skilled players. Proven or not, Primal Clash will give the most pliable minds of the game a chance to shine. Copying work off the Internet or waiting until the last minute to start testing won’t be an option for Florida. Like it or not, information will quickly become very valuable. There’s no way there won’t be sleepers out there.

This will be the first and the last time I write about Primal Clash. Don’t honestly expect anyone who is going to Florida to tip their hand in any way at all. American players are historically very secretive people and this will be the first time a set has ever been dropped so close to what I’m sure will be one of the largest Regionals ever.

It’s a long walk down procrastination alley, so let’s take some time to look at all the good cards in Primal Clash. I have enough space after all.

The Most Hyped Cards

primal kyogre 149 artebay.com
Tidal Storm’s a-brewin’!

Kyrogre-EX, Primal Kyogre-EX

Instead of organizing this list by collection number or some other method that makes sense, I’ll order my list by levels of hype surrounding them. So you’ll probably see your EXs first and sleepers toward the end.

So in proper order, let’s begin with Kyogre and go from there. The EX and its Primal counterpart are unfortunately a matched set. Giant Whirlpool is a poor attack for its cost. In a format where the splinters of the Blastoise archetype set the standard for Water Pokémon, Black Kyurem-EX PLS and Keldeo-EX are strictly better attackers.

Tidal Storm and Alpha Growth are an improvement. They have obvious synergy and Tidal Storm moving Energy instead of discarding allows you to pivot between a series of attackers very efficiently. 150 in itself is definitely not enough to make the card good. A Mega/Primal Pokémon is always a huge investment as far as deck space goes, and you should make sure it’s worthwhile. 30 damage to all the opposition’s Benched Pokémon is what makes the card. The spread damage threatens Basic Pokémon while putting EXs into range of being Knocked Out by the brunt of Primal Kyogre’s attack.

I think Kyogre is going to be played best with something that makes the card more effective at what it does. Be it an Energy accelerator or a card that takes out Grass Pokémon, I think Kyogre has too many enemies to go at the format alone. Expect Tropius PLB to see some play. Energy Press can drop Kyogre more efficiently than anything else I can think of.

It can’t surpass the power of Black Kyurem, but its autonomy lets it approach the metagame from a different angle. It’s a strong Water Pokémon that doesn’t need Blastoise to babysit. Kyogre should fit nicely into this metagame without being too strong.

Gardevoir-EX, M Gardevoir-EX

Gardevoir is in the same camp as Kyogre. Both are outclassed by their amazing evolutions. Each is pretty obviously just a stepping stone to the next stage, but I like how each regular EX form has a bit of niche use. Anyway, without Mega Evolving there isn’t much of a reason to play Gardevoir-EX.

Honestly, I think Gardy is a bit overhyped. It’s 2015, and even 210 is too little HP. Gardevoir-EX is the Fairy-type Pokémon Aromatisse has wanted for three whole sets, but it still isn’t quite the beast people seem to be making it out to be. It does outclass Manectric as the deck’s go-to attacker and it has the amazing synergy that Xerneas has always wanted.

Gardevoir is certainly Pokémon’s love letter to the Fairy type but the prevalence of Metal types and Genesect might stop the 210 HP Pokémon from being as effectively tanky as it could be.

Gardevoir will certainly end up as the centerpiece of the new mono-Fairy deck that I’m sure will arise as a tier one archetype. It’s another reasonably balanced card that fits into the metagame really well.

Swampert PRC 36

Okay, so maybe I lied. It’s really hard to look at the sheet of spoilers for this set and find any of the other cards more “hyped” than the ones around them. This set is the most balanced one that we’ve had in awhile, and it shows.

Swampert is next. It has Alpha Growth, a trait that I can already see would take a bad card and probably make it at very least borderline playable. Diving Search is a reboot of Smooth Over, a great Poké-Power on a Magcargo DX 20 from back in the day. Unfortunately, Stage 2 Pokémon aren’t as easy to play as their single-staged counterparts, especially considering that Quaking Punch is an omnipresent force in decks ranging from Metal to Yveltal.

But even with Alpha Growth, Hydro Pump is still expensive for its cost. As an attacker, it’s particularly weak to Mewtwo and Yveltal, which practically reduces its strengths to only its Ability. Rough life for Swampert, but maybe it’ll see play in a format with less of an emphasis on EXs. So probably not before it rotates out in two more more years.

Swampert is playable, but there’s no way it will measure up on its own.

Aggron-EX, M Aggron-EX

Let me preface this by saying neither Megatron Slam or Raging Hammer are better than the kit that Dialga-EX has to work with. The fact that they are a matched set however greatly increases their collective playability. Megatron Slam is pretty bad. You will always play Victini LTR with it, so it has roughly a 75% chance of Knocking Out your opponent’s Active Pokémon. The other 25% of the time you’re basically going nothing and hurting yourself.

120 damage on a Pokémon doesn’t mean much when you’re doing 240 on a good roll anyway. Playing Shrine of Memories gives you a more consistent attack in Raging Hammer, but it doesn’t have much synergy with Mega Aggron. Doing enough to Mega Aggron to let it KO your Pokémon with Raging Hammer doesn’t mean much when Aggron could also just do the deed with a good roll on Megatron Slam.

With Bronzong, I’d rather just play Dialga. It still gets many of the same knockouts with much more consistency. The most relevant high-HP Pokémon of the Primal Clash world are Kyogre and Gardevoir, and Dialga cleans up on the latter anyway. Aggron isn’t worth the effort to set up for the risk it poses to your win-loss ratio. Don’t be that guy who is salty that he got bad Aggron flips. After all, that guy chose to play the card that can shoot itself in the foot in the first place.


I’ve talked a lot about the quality of Water Pokémon not measuring up to the standards of Black Kyurem and Keldeo but 200 damage is undoubtedly less than it used to be. Camerupt-EX is like Black Kyurem after it got hit with a shell full of power creep.

It can do uncapped damage based on how many Energy you discard. It’s nice that you don’t have to use a lot of resources to Knock Out small Pokémon and the uncapped damage gives you the wall-breaking potential that Black Kyurem misses out on.

While Camerupt is a lot like a Fire-type Rayquaza-EX, Scorched Earth is nothing like Tropical Beach. Emboar LTR is stronger than Blastoise is right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that neither can compete on a plane that Seismitoad can shake.

Camerupt-EX and Emboar alike will probably fizzle. Strengths aside, there are too many meta factors inhibiting setup-intensive strategies from being effective right now. The format is showing signs of slowing down. Maybe Camerupt could show its strength. Sadly, that day probably won’t come before Emboar is lost to rotation. Look out for Camerupt in Expanded. I don’t doubt Emboar will replace Blastoise now that Fire types have a strictly better package of cards to work with.

Groudon-EX, Primal Groudon-EX

Primal Groudon can easily hit for 220 or more per turn, but its awkward Energy cost punishes it. Since Fighting isn’t likely to get any Energy acceleration any time soon I’m pretty sure Groudon isn’t viable and won’t be for a long time. Placing four Energy is a chore for the effect and Landorus outclasses it.

The Less Hyped Cards

bunnelby primal clash artebay.com
Bunnelby tho?

We’re starting to step away from the hype train now. You can tell since the next card is…

Bunnelby PRC 121

Rototiller is a lot like Junk Hunt; being able to shuffle any card back into the deck balances out the fact that the cards don’t go directly to the hand. Reusing cards like Hypnotoxic Laser is the main use of Rototiller. There’s not a lot to say about this one — just that it’s a more balanced version of Sableye DEX.

The deck is an awkward place to put cards from the discard. Rototiller isn’t as lean as Junk Hunt but I think it would get the job done in certain situations. Bunnelby is one of the very few cards ever printed that can interact with Special Energies in the discard pile. It’s not an ideal starter like Sableye was but it has the benefit of being almost as good in the mid game.

Excadrill PRC 97

Omega Barrage alone can make a filler card into something that’s actually playable. Bronzong could probably help you string together a chain of Mach Claws, which are surprisingly strong when they’re being boosted with Silver Bangle. If Excadrill is too much to be the central focus of a deck, it could easily be adapted to be a more Energy efficient way of dealing with smaller threats, while Dialga-EX can deal with the larger ones.

Dredge is bad; Omega Barrage is the only reason to use this card.

Medicham PRC

Medicham is a lot like Excadrill, but easier to buff. The stipulation is that it has to be buffed a bit more in order to do a decent amount of damage. Medicham basically has no HP and needing two colored Energy to attack is a steep cost when there’s no guarantee that Medicham will stick around for any longer than one turn.

Excadrill is probably a better Pokémon to abuse Omega Barrage. Medicham is a glass cannon that needs too large an investment to be worth its weight in Pokémon card.

Torchic PRC 26

This card is actually overrated, and by that I’m saying it’s basically unplayable. Starters that draw cards aren’t good right now, and being forced to give Energy up to get more random cards doesn’t make Flare Bonus any less terrible. So much hate for such a small Pokémon, but N is the most played Supporter of all time and that card doesn’t like Torchic very much. Discarding resources only to have them shuffled into oblivion is an unfortunate side effect of playing Torchic in this metagame.

The Trainers

silent lab artBulbapedia
I won’t be “silent,” but I will be brief with the Trainers.

Okay, it’s time to speed things up. I’m going to run though the new Trainers in less than 500 words.

Acro Bike

Pokédex Handy 901is, but worse. VS Seeker or the regular old Bike are each better ways to use your sixty spaces.

Spirit Links (Gardevoir, Groudon, and Kyogre)

Each is only as good as the Pokémon they correspond to.

Dive Ball

Pokémon search for no drawback? For Water Pokémon only? …significantly worse.

Water isn’t a great type right now, but for the Pokémon that the card can search for, Dive Ball is THE dream.

Repeat Ball

Hard to say. Decks with an EX focus use Ultra Ball to get specific Pokémon into play. Evolution decks that want to set up Stage 2 attackers are virtually non-existent. I’d say Repeat Ball will only be as good as the Evolved Pokémon that surround it.

Rough Seas

There are probably better options, but Kyogre’s natural bulk puts it in a nice position to abuse this Stadium. Manectric too maybe?

Weakness Policy

Won’t change much. Like Head Ringer, it can be removed before it can do anything. It will definitely see play, as will Startling Megaphone.

Scorched Earth

Energy are hard to come by at times. Often times Energy are what turns are spent looking for, and I find that it’s hard to justify throwing out an assured attachment for two random cards. It’s kind of rare to have two or more Energy in your hand, so I think Scorched Earth isn’t useful often enough enough to see play in the decks that currently exist.

Shrine of Memories

A grand name for a card that’s as irrelevant as the second stage itself. Heh.

Silent Lab

A great card that’s perfect to play one of. It neuters Genesect like nothing else. Getting at its opponent’s Bench is crucial for V/G to win certain matchups.

Professor Birch’s Observation

Fate hates coin flips, Roller Skates, and probably puppies too.

Fresh Water Set

That name really rolls off the tongue, but the damage won’t roll off your Pokémon. 20 isn’t as much as it used to be.


Teammates is not Twins. It’s not a good card to have as your only Supporter, so I’d never dedicate more than one space to it. A single copy with four VS Seeker could open up windows for big plays on certain turns. Teammates definitely increases the power of VS Seeker, but since it’s only useful during six turns of a game at the most, playing any more than one will get you diminishing returns.

Archie’s Ace in the Hole and Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick

Like Teammates, it’s hard to find a window to play either of these since there’s never really a good time to have no cards in your hand. Fighting and Water Pokémon don’t have the best options for cards to bring back from the dead, and the more useful half of the card is the sentence about drawing five cards. This duo belongs in the overrated pile. Any one of the staple Supporters is better.

No staples, but a lot of new options. I’m glad to see a lot of playable Trainers and Supporters. None of them are straight up useless for once.

I’ve talked about Phantom Forces and the last few XY and I’ve noticed that Pokémon seems to be keenly aware of power creep. Printing Silent Lab and other soft counters to dominant decks like V/G is absolutely the right way to go about changing the power levels in the game.

Primal Clash is full of flavor. I think the new Alpha and Omega abilities could actually just have been made into regular Abilities, but that aside these cards are empowered with fresh mechanics and colorful artwork. It works well because you can see that the gimmick doesn’t dominate the set either.

The recent expansions have been getting players increasingly more excited to Play! Pokémon, and the modified environment is healthier than it has been in years. The uninspired Black & White block is finally being pushed to the edges of the format (where it belongs). I’m glad to see the game’s design in a good place again. Pokémon TCG is only poised to get better.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another deadline to beat.

~Dylan Lefavour

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