I hate to repeat myself, but after writing about Primal Clash last month I realize how drawn I am to this format. It reminds me of US Nationals in 2011. New formats always favor better players and players that can be creative and think for themselves. I always get excited for new formats because there are never any preconceptions about the metagame; everything needs figuring out. It’s a lot of legwork, but pioneering new formats is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in the Pokémon TCG.
I love uncharted territory, but I’m still not sure how much treasure there is to be had on this island. My review of Primal Clash was an overview of the set pre-launch. Cities are over and all I’ve been doing that’s Pokémon related is playing the game on PTCGO. Now that I have my paws on all the new cards I still feel like I don’t have a great grasp on the new format. There are a ton of options to explore but it’s clear to me now that some cards that I loved are bad and there are a few cards I was blind enough to overlook. Primal Clash had me really excited at first, but now that I’ve calmed down a bit I’ve realized that this set isn’t that much more exciting than Phantom Forces.
Still a great set, Primal Clash delivers. 40.6% of cards in this 160-card set are playable by my standards, and maybe I’ve lowered them. (He did the math.)
For Pokémon, that isn’t a bad number! Pathetic by the standards of Hearthstone maybe, but in our little world, that’s a decent number of cards that aren’t strictly filler. I’ve been playing a lot of Hearthstone lately, and it’s no wonder Blizzard’s keystone card game is becoming a core e-sport in the gaming community.
There isn’t a single card in the entire game of Hearthstone that has no use at all. No card is “strictly better” than another. For some reason, paper TCGs can get away with printing trash. Sure, there’s collecting value to printing yet another Illumise/Volbeat duo, but from a gameplay standpoint it just makes card designers seem lazy.
Less Filler, Please!
I say this literally every time a new set comes out: there’s no reason cards can’t be better. Every card doesn’t have to be good or playable even. What cards should be is more interesting. The new Lombre PRC is about as exciting as watching somebody else get roses on Valentine’s Day. Of course, the only reason to play Lombre is to get to Ludicolo (if that), but still, why would the creators of the Pokémon TCG want my Ludicolo journey to be so dreadfully boring?
Right now the dominant strategy in regard to Stage 2 Pokémon is to wait until the second stage is set up before attacking, but why not change that? Basics and Stage 1 Pokémon are grossly underpowered, if not useless in the current metagame. I’m sensing a push to make non-EX Stage 2 Pokémon relevant again, and I wouldn’t be against giving the little gateway Pokémon a reboot as well. Often overlooked if not just Rare Candied past, Lombre needs love too.
Pokémon spent its last few years making the game worse, but for profit. Hearthstone took traditional card design and threw in some logic, resulting in a game where all cards are playable. Remarkably, it’s a model for game design that can’t really be seen in any other game that’s played in paper, and I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s because balancing adjustments are a lot harder to make to cards in print than digital ones, forcing designers to be more conservative with what they release.
Delving right into a direct comparison isn’t entirely fair. Pokémon is a more mature game, and that brings a lot of baggage to the table. Still, with so much filler, I can’t help but think I’m not getting my money’s worth out of a pack of Pokémon cards. Since when did “I got nothing” become a fair response to the question “What did you pull?”
What I Do Like
So what DID Primal Clash do right? I like that they decided to deviate from the type-themed sets gimmick. The newly announced “Roaring Skies” expansion (which might be the best set name since Legend Makers by the way) is inevitably poised to mirror the video games with some overpowered Dragon-types that nobody asked for, but nonetheless it’s a nice break from the norm.
It wouldn’t be a Pokémon TCG without a new mechanic every few months, and Primal Clash delivers right on time. Ancient Traits happen to be one of the least obtrusive gimmicks of all time. Instead of dominating a set’s advertising, they chill quietly in the background of these cool new full art cards. Sure, it’s an obvious attempt to market Groudon and Kyogre, but I don’t mind them. The traits are fair and do their part to make the game more interesting. I can’t complain when the shadowy organization that designs our cards does something new in a balanced way, but Ancient Traits feel like an experiment in bringing Evolutions back into the spotlight.
The power creep of Stage 2 Pokémon isn’t keeping up with that of Basics, and frankly, I feel like the science of evolution has been ignored by the card creators for over four years at this point. I feel like what’s being ignored is that Basics being so much simpler to play is an underestimated strength of the EX cards. Maybe it’s obvious, but for years Stage 2 Pokémon have been kept in line with the power level of Basics pretty well. What’s ignored is that even with the EX rule, the consistency and simplicity of Basic Pokémon is ultimately more valuable than anything Stage 2 Pokémon can bring to the table.
This has been true for a while, so what’s new? Well, the mass production of Spirit Links actually makes Mega Evolutions viable, striking a nice balance between Basic and Evolution. Gardevoir is the clear winner among the new Mega Evolutions but Kyogre (who is “Mega” in spirit) was definitely overhyped. Kyogre didn’t get a ton of attention to begin with, but I think it’s even worse than that. I’ve spent some time with every one of the cards I was excited about last month.
Basically, the strategy being Primal Kyogre has to revolve around getting the Ancient Trait online as early as turn two or three; missing any attachments puts the deck even further behind. So much can go wrong that it’s hard to go right. Kyogre might be better some other year, but for now the Sea Basin will probably be relegated to the second tier. Kyogre had some hype around it for a while, but Gardy has emerged as the clear winner from Primal Clash.
M Gardevoir-EX is the new hype train and people don’t seem to be jumping off just yet. Gardy is like Mega Mom (Kangaskhan) and M Manectric-EX before it. It’s a perfect fit with Aromatisse, giving the deck a tank and some utility, but Gardevoir in particular has natural synergy with other Fairy-types that just seems to mesh really well with the current format.
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 30
Energy – 12
But the question is, does Gardevoir deserve Aromatisse’s undying devotion more than a more traditional partner?
Not everyone has the same conception of what “Fairies” actually is. It’s still one of the least explored and most daunting decks to develop in the standard format. So to answer the above question, I’m going to compare Gardevoir/Aromatisse to Ray’s Manectric/Fairies from last month. Different format, but I’m familiar with his list and I consider it the gold standard for all things pink in a pre-Primal Clash world. Here are some thoughts:
- Tons of damage
- Best late game in Pokémon
- Great Resistance
- A type that unifies; no more awkward reliance on Rainbow
- Empowers Xerneas
- High HP main attacker
- Less freedom to tech
- Significantly worse against Metal and V/G than the Manectric deck
- Very weak early game
- Linear strategy
Gardevoir is the only Pokémon in the set that I’m 100% certain will be good. I loved it last month, and I still love it today, but I’m not convinced it’s better than the Manectric deck in its current form.
Manectric’s power level throughout the game is like a horizontal line. Its power is constant throughout ending with a naturally weaker late game in comparison to other threats that exist in the metagame. While it’s always doing 110, Manectric decks can play techs like Charizard-EX FLF 11 and Aegislash-EX that do work late game.
On the other hand, its potential to be a top tier threat in the first three turns is huge while Gardevoir’s power spike comes much later. Manectric can potentially hit hard early and pack a consistent late game, Gardy’s power level is like a steep slope that curves sharply up around turn five. Xerneas puts down no pressure early, but if Gardevoir can’t be dealt with, it will carry a game like no other.
Previously, Mega Pokémon always had a limiting factor attached to their destruction, be it impossible Energy costs or just not doing that much damage at all. Even Aggron is limited by chance, but Mega Gardevoir is an attacker that is only limited by its ability to survive long enough to do lethal amounts of damage, which isn’t hard when you have 210 Hit Points.
Unfortunately (there’s always a downside), Gardy will need the help of six or more friends on the field to do enough damage to make the Mega worth playing, those friends being half of the deck’s Y Energy. Less than that, and you’re still swinging for a decent amount, but not as much as you could be playing Genesect, Yveltal, or another established archetype.
Is Manectric a better partner for Aromatisse though? I’m not sure. It definitely has stronger matchups against top meta decks like V/G, but that all depends on tech space, which Gardy doesn’t have a whole lot of. Manectric is certainly the more versatile attacker, but Mega Gardevoir’s late game is undeniably strong. I don’t think I would stray far from the pink standard. Gardevoir has a dominant late game, but Manectric wins out with its versatility and explosiveness.
Manectric-EX is still an excellent option next to Gardevoir.
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 31
Energy – 13
Ray’s list is still the base, but this is the variant of Fairies that I play on PTCGO when I get bored of V/G. The Spiritomb/Charizard package is still a must-have for the ever-present Grass-type threats. Donphan isn’t the monster it used to be but Aegislash happens to be really good against both Donphan and Gardevoir variants, among other things. It’s a catch-all that only got better with Primal Clash, so I’d definitely play it.
I’ve been messing with Dialga as a harder counter for Gardy, but the results of that testing haven’t been the best. Two Rainbow Energy is a steep price to slay even a Mega Gardevoir.
Rough Seas is one of my favorite new Stadiums, and I think it’s actually a lot better with Manectric than anything else. Straight Manectric is one of the best mid-game decks in the game, but it is easily punished by stray Fighting types. Rough Seas is a bit of a win-more card, seeing as Manectric already abuses Max Potion as well as Aromatisse decks can. It’s good against matchups that Manectric ALREADY crushes, including Yveltal and Crobat. Rough Seas is the best Stadium that Manectric can have on the table and I think it’s worth running if only to take Virbank out of play.
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 35
2 Head Ringer
Energy – 13
This deck is so fast that it can easily race V/G with Spiritomb in play. Without it, the matchup is still winnable. This is an example of a deck with pretty extreme matchups. The Yveltal, V/G, and Crobat matchups should all be pieces of cake, but Fairies and Fighting decks will dominate Manectric. Weaknesses aside, no other deck can rush a high damage tank so quickly, and that gives it the potential to beat anything.
The first mechanic from Primal Clash that got me excited was Omega Barrage. I started imagining Medicham, Nidoqueen, and Excadrill by doubling the base damage on their cards, all while overlooking the obvious interaction with Muscle Band and Silver Bangle that I was missing. Excadrill was always the mediocre one, Medicham was limited by its low HP and relatively expensive attack, and Nidoqueen by its stages of evolution.
But those judgements were just at first glance. Furious Fists still does a lot for the Fighting-type of the bunch, but 90 just isn’t enough to justify the investment. Putting Medicham aside, I moved my focus to Nidoqueen, which seemed like the next most promising card that was packing Omega Barrage.
I eventually saw Meditite and thought about abusing Shrine of Memories to get the best of Medicham without the expensive attack. The Stadium turned into Celebi and a decent deck was born. Decent.
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 34
Energy – 11
With Strong Energy, Silver Bangle, and Fighting Stadium, you can turn Meditite’s tiny fist into a gauntlet that shreds EXs like nobody’s business. I’m playing this with Celebi and Landorus at the moment. The biggest weakness this deck has is still Medicham’s low HP. If Medicham just attacked with the full “combo” in play, a Mewtwo can easily take all of that off the board. It’s an explosive strategy, but it falls apart when it gets behind.
The fact that every knockout requires every piece of the puzzle means that the deck will naturally get less consistent the longer the game drags on. Landorus and ‘Luchy do a decent job of patching the hole that Medicham can’t cover on its own. Landorus rush is strong in certain situations, but be careful where you put your resources. Medicham is still the real kicker against EX decks.
Jirachi is really good in this deck. The logic is generally that, sure, sometimes the small-bodied EX can give up two free Prizes to your opponent and we accept that. Jirachi can also turn losses into wins just as often if not more commonly. Supporters are clutch. In this deck you’re already dealing with this risk because of Celebi, so how much grief can one more liability on the bench really cause?
In the same speech, let me also argue why Celebi isn’t completely terrible. Medicham isn’t something an opponent can ignore. If they spend a turn attacking around Medicham, that gives you enough time to just attach to it. Yoga Kick all day. Who cares if Celebi eats it to an Megalo Cannon if you can get a better trade out of the deal? When a non-EX is smacking for 180 damage or more, it’s hard for an opponent to go after other Pokémon knowing that Medicham can so easily snowball out of their control.
To beat the deck, you have to deal with the Medicham directly. Cutting the deck off from its resources is the only way to take 6 Prizes before you lose the game. Like Night March, Medicham thrives on its ability to match the power of Pokémon-EX without the downsides. Trading evenly (Prize for Prize) with this deck is a surefire way to take it down. Putting all those resources into Medicham is worth it to Knock Out an EX, but life is rough the moment you’re not getting 2 Prizes a turn.
- Tons of damage for a non-EX
- Utilizes Korrina
- Can play the Stadium game
- Makes great use of Jirachi
- Fast enough to protect Celebi
- The surprise factor
- Can have one of the most explosive early-games in Pokémon
- Trades terribly against non-EXs
- Consistency issues late game
- Needs an attachment every turn
Medicham is one of the better all-new decks to come out of Primal Clash, but I can’t help but comparing it to Night March. Both decks suffer if they run into issues in the first few turns, but Night March has a consistently strong endgame.
Unfortunately, that’s where Medicham gets stuck. It feels increasingly more fragile the longer the game goes. Close games tend to fall out of Medicham’s favor over time.
So those are the new decks that I’ve taken out of Primal Clash, but not many Teammates to be found. People love to hype that card, but my testing echoes the conclusion I came to in January. I’m not convinced it’s good or even average for that matter. Certainly not something I’d play more than one of in most decks. It’s in my Night March exclusively right now.
Speaking of which, I think Night March is stronger than ever. It still has a problem with Toads, but the rise in Primal Clash decks are sure to dilute the metagame. Night March happens to be really good against Fairies, especially the slower variants that I talked about a dozen or so paragraphs up. Night March struggles to smite those ultra-high-HP Mega Pokémon, but their slow speed keeps them honest.
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 36
Energy – 8
There’s not a ton to say about Night March. The late game of this deck is usually pretty autopilot for anyone to play, but we all clench just the same when they clear all the DCEs off of our board. The answer is Teammates. It’s the perfect answer to the everyday struggle of drawing no Double Colorless.
The worst part of playing Night March was always missing the combo pieces, mainly the Energy (and of course the Toad match up, but don’t say that too loudly, it might hear the sound of your fear).
Finally, there’s V/G. Every Underground article I write will always include some sort of service to the best deck in the history of Pokémon, even if it does come at the very end. I call it the best deck in history, and it was at one point. The question remains: is it still?
Like I said about Night March, if nothing else then Primal Clash will dilute the metagame of V/G’s bad matchups. Pyroar was starting to look up as Donphan began to fade out of the metagame late in the Cities season, but the rise in Fairies decks means that things aren’t turning around for Katy Perry’s halftime steed any time soon. Good news for V/G of course.
Not much ever changes about V/G, unarguably one of the most permanent pieces of the XY-era. What makes the deck worth writing about is the environment in which its viable. V/G’s popularity ebbs and flows, but I see no reason to call V/G anything but tier one right now.
Pokémon – 10
Trainers – 36
Energy – 14
Copy and pasted from my last article, with some edits. This deck is so incredibly mature that it’s easy to edit based on the metagame. I maximized the Muscle Bands and pumped up the Energy Switch to better deal with Toad and Manectric decks. Dedenne is staple for Yveltal, and now there are enough Muscle Band to go around in that matchup too.
Everything else is standard, but Lysandre is more important now than ever. Spiritomb can cause a problem. While it’s not always a must-deal-with threat, it’s important to pack some kind of answer to stop the scream from sealing you out of the game.
Last month I spent some time without Colress Machine, which was just about the biggest mistake I’ve made since playing Leafeon all year in 2009. Put it back in — V/G without Colress Machine is almost as terrible as the deck without Town Map. (Keep trusting me, there’s no reason not to play Town Map).
As a V/G player, I’m going to keep an eye on Spiritomb’s popularity. It’s the best way to give yourself an instant edge against the Paleozoic Pokémon. Of course, it comes down to whether or not Spiritomb is worth playing considering that V/G itself is underplayed right now. As far as popularity goes, V/G has fallen from the highest echelon, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not one of the best decks in the game. Donphan has surely seen a fall from grace, maybe raising V/G up a bit. Unteched Fairies will certainly struggle against this as well. V/G seems to be settling into a nice place post-Primal Clash.
Well, there are some thoughts for you. Primal Clash is not quite as good as I had hoped, but so far Medicham and Gardevoir seem to be pulling ahead of the rest. Teammates isn’t all that hot either. Any two cards isn’t as good as it used to be.
I haven’t found a great way to utilize Silent Lab yet. It might be too situational, and the decks that could benefit from it already run Stadiums that take priority. Stadiums are also returning to the forefront of the Pokémon world. As Stadiums like Dimension Valley, Fighting Stadium, and Fairy Garden take on bigger roles in upcoming decks, I’ve noticed Stadium counts gradually creeping upwards. Stadium war hasn’t been a thing since 2007, and I’m really excited that one of the game’s oldest phenomenon is once again becoming an integral part of the game’s core strategy.
Primal Clash might be underwhelming, but it feels like a throwback to the golden age of Pokémon TCG. Ever a sucker for nostalgia, I can’t complain.
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