Fringe Fun

Examining Under-the-Radar Cards in Roaring Skies with Sam Chen and Tyler Ninomura
natu roaring skies art
Newly released album art for the upcoming Tame Impala record.

Roaring Skies Prereleases are underway, and there’s a lot to be excited about. This week, I’m going to take a different path and talk about some of the lesser cards in the new set: the fringe playables.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, fringe playable refers to cards that aren’t able to stand up to the competitive metagame right now, but do have other applications, such as in just-for-fun decks or a specific Tier 2 or 3 archetype. Some of the cards we’ll be going over today could even see tournament success if the format was a bit different, which is something we’ll get into on a case-by-case basis.

To make sure that you get opinions from all angles, I’m enlisting the help of two of my good friends: 9-time World Championship competitor Tyler Ninomura and Top 16 ranked Sam Chen.

I’ve chosen a handful of cards from Roaring Skies that I find the most interesting, but feel free to mention some cards that you like in the comments! I believe that there exists a larger gap than ever between “good” and “bad” cards in modern Pokémon design, which, while often is not the best for gameplay, does lead to some interesting discussion.

Beautifly (Miraculous Scales)

Two stages too much.

KENNY: This card is mostly interesting because it serves as a Safeguard Pokémon with free retreat. I don’t think this card could ever see play in current Standard, but Beautifly could definitely be fun in a deck running Sigilyph LTR and Suicune PLB in the early game which then transitions to Beautifly in the later stages. Beautifly’s attack is entirely reasonable, especially when aided by Muscle Bands or Silver Bangles, though the nature of Safeguard will encourage you to leave your opponent’s Pokémon-EX Active more often than not.

SAM: I think we’ve always wanted a Safeguarder with free retreat, but unfortunately, this one is a Stage 2. To make Beautifly a central part of your strategy requires a heavy commitment to the line, and it’s non-Basic, so it’s not really techable as a thin line. There may be a niche for this card in the format (as a counter to stuff), as many of the lists we see in the new format (like Rayquaza) don’t run non-EX attackers, but there are so many non-EX attackers in the format. There may be a place for this card in a future format, but not right now.

TYLER: Beautifly is an interesting card at best. Being a Stage 2 hurts it a lot. Safeguarders like Suicune and Sigilyph are strong because the only resource they consume is a Bench spot. Pyroar FLF is viable because it only consumes a Bench spot and a Stage 1 Pokémon. Pyroar also benefits from some great typing and additional synergy with the various Fire-type support like Blacksmith and Scorched Earth. Beautifly gets nothing, consumes the same resources as the Safeguarders and Pyroar, AND requires you to evolve into a Stage 2.

The attack itself isn’t anything to write home about either; we are in a format where you expected to at least 2HKO everything. 80 and a cyclone effect just doesn’t cut it in a format this fast and aggressive. Add to this how weak and low HP the pre-Evolutions are and you get a card that is almost entirely unplayable in a <50% Grass-Weak, non-EX attacker-filled format.

Ninjask (Wing Buzz)

Trump Card trumps it.

KENNY: This card has to be super fun in a deck built around decking out your opponent. We have access to Ninjask, Trick Shovel, Dunsparce ROS, Bunnelby PRC 121, and Diggersby PRC if we’re looking for an all-in discard strategy. We can also go a slightly more conservative route and use Rhydon XY and Rhyperior PRC 77 to add in some damage output with our milling. We could even throw Diggersby into that deck thanks to the Fighting type synergy.

While decking isn’t optimal when playing with sixty card decks, it is actually a powerful strategy when playing in a draft or any other tournament where the decks are smaller and the cards are less efficient.

SAM: In other formats, this card would have been amazing. However, Lysandre’s Trump Card makes this card not worth it. There are more efficient ways to discard cards from your hand for decks that need that (Ultra Ball).

TYLER: Ninjask, while an interesting card, is currently outclassed in the current format. Basically, it comes down to a race between your Ninjasks’ Abilities to mill your opponent’s Lysandre’s Trump Cards and ALL of their VS Seekers. Granted, there is a non-zero chance for this to happen, but those chances aren’t that great either. Importantly, if the opponent is holding ANY of the noted cards, you’re going to be in for a bad time.

That said, the kind of deck that Ninjask would probably thrive in is a tempo hand control deck with the Ninjask mill as the late-game win condition. However, because Ninjask is so focused on what it does well and that focus isn’t a particularly strong win condition.

Natu (Psywave)

Reliant on your opponent.

KENNY: This card could’ve been an actual contender in the Mewtwo-EX formats of the past, and it still stands to be a reasonable contender against any other Pokémon that require significant Energy costs, especially if they have a Psychic Weakness. I love the idea of Ancient Traits in general and I hope that one day they’ll become more relevant, but sadly it seems that they’re not powerful enough to make up for a lack of damage output.

SAM: This card would be interesting in Dimension Valley decks if the damage was dependent on some condition based on your Pokémon, not your opponent’s Pokémon. Xatu could be an interesting Tier 3 deck, so Natu could see use in that?

TYLER: Natu is an interesting card due to its Delta Plus Ancient Trait. Getting an extra Prize whenever Natu Knocks Out an opposing Pokémon is inherently a very strong effect. That said, the attack it needs to use to get those KOs is far from the current standard for damage output. While Dimension Valley helps Natu’s relatively high attack cost, Psywave’s damage output at 10× the number of Energy on the Active Pokémon isn’t only low, but is entirely reliant on your opponent to be able to do ANY damage. While you can possibly splash this in your Psybat decks for a surprise extra Prize, I imagine that you’ll find that it is entirely underwhelming.

Togekiss (Serene Grace)

Needs the right partners.

KENNY: This is probably my favorite of the cards we’re talking about today. Not only is the Ability very powerful, but the Ancient Trait gives it a much better chance of actually hitting the board and making an impact. I’m not sure what the best partner is for Togekiss right now, but I’m sure that there are a ton of Pokémon that would be powerful if not for their heavy Energy costs. In a deck that can both support a Stage 2 and afford to run a lot of Energy, Togekiss could have a huge splash.

SAM: The problem is that the ideal number of Energy in a deck is somewhere from 9-13 for most decks. On average, you’re going to get 2-3 Energy for a Stage 2 in a format where there’s much better acceleration (Double Dragon Energy, Double Colorless Energy, M Manectric-EX, Mega Turbo, etc.).

TYLER: Togekiss is a card that I think has a lot of potential. The introduction of Wally helps Evolutions a lot, Togekiss included. Granted, you need to build your deck around it, but that didn’t stop Ho-Oh SW/Togekiss GE decks in the past. The reduced number of cards our new Togekiss gets to see hurts this card a lot.

In order to compensate, you have to add more Energy cards to your deck than the standard nine to thirteen in the current Standard metagame. This isn’t entirely bad, though, and if you wanted to go full gimmick you could even add Ether to the deck. One way to build Togekiss is to use a self-mill plan with Battle Compressors, Korinas, Skylas, Stevens, etc. to try and get your deck to a primarily Energy-filled state while keeping a similar Energy count as normal Standard decks. This could be a way to build an Archie’s Swampert deck or Maxie’s Primal Groudon deck, for example.

The other build is to simply throw it in a deck that relies on having lots of Energy in play to do something cool, like Huntail PRC or M Gardevoir-EX. While this build may end up being a little less consistent due to the high Energy count, your payoff could be huge with a lucky Togekiss. In the right kind of deck, I can see Togekiss being an all-star.

Unfezant (Feather Dance)

For YOLO enthusiasts.

KENNY: As long as your deck can support a Stage 2 (I’m thinking a 4-2-4 line with 4 Rare Candy) and can fit 4 Double Colorless Energy, this card is going to be a ton of fun. The main downside of Unfezant is not being able to attack first turn, therefore giving your opponent a window to prepare. However, with 140 HP, most EXs won’t be able to score a KO on Unfezant early. Additionally, most decks are running so few non-Pokémon-EX that they might not have a choice other than to sacrifice one of their Pokémon and build up a secondary attacker on the Bench. With the right draws and coin flips, I could see this deck tearing up League Challenges and local tournaments.

SAM: Feather Dance is what makes this card interesting, but two-turn attacks are bad, just like in the video game. Not only is the damage output bad even with +80, the damaging attack (Sky Attack) requires a flip.

TYLER: Unfezant, despite its awesome artwork, doesn’t really make the cut. Not only is it a Stage 2, it also suffers from a pretty terrible Lightning Weakness. If Lightning Pokémon weren’t already prevalent in your metagame, expect them to see a resurgence with the coming of our new Colorless-and-Lightning-Weak-EX overlords. In terms of its attacks, Feather Dance is a cool effect but two-turn attacks have always been bad while there are cards that gust, cyclone, and such in the format. With the prevalence of these options in addition to all the great deck-searching in the current metagame, Unfezant is going to have a hard time keeping its Feather Dance up. It should be noted that if you copy this effect with something like a Mew-EX, you WILL get the added damage to ALL damage you deal, including Bench damage. If you can pull off a Feather Dance’d Glaciate somehow, kudos to you.

Unfezant’s second attack, Sky Attack, seems fine if you ignore the text. 120 for three Energy is pretty much what you would expect from the current generation of cards. Having to flip to do ANY damage though is pretty awful. While we have cards like Trick Coin and Victory Star Victini, using those cards just to do 120 damage is pretty awful. Back in the Fliptini heydays, you were banking on flips to Paralyze opponents or prevent them from KOing you. Sky Attack neither locks nor prevents KOs, making it a pretty awful attack.

Jirachi (Diminutive Desire)

Keep on wishing.

KENNY: Of the cards we’re reviewing today, I believe this is the most likely to see competitive play, though that would still require quite the shift to the format. Diminutive Desire, in a format with less powerful draw and search effects, could be a great Turn 1 or 2 play. The fact that Jirachi is a non-EX also helps its case a lot, as only trading 1 Prize for a few turns of card selection isn’t bad at all. Even in just-for-fun/League decks, I don’t believe Doom Desire will be all that relevant, unless we find a way to trap our opponent’s Pokémon in the Active Spot, perhaps with a combination of Hypnotoxic Laser and Dragalge FLF?

SAM: Forest Guardian/old Master Ball for an attack would’ve been good 10 years ago. Now, there are just more efficient ways to set up (through Abilities, Trainers, etc.). Doom Desire is an interesting attack, except against Pokémon that can retreat easily.

TYLER: Jirachi is similar to many cards that I have tried in the past. Diminutive Desire would be pretty good if we didn’t already have Supporters that let us straight draw seven cards or, even worse for this card, shuffle our hand into our deck during the opponent’s turn a.k.a. after you use the attack! While Doom Desire does technically combo with Dragalge and Hypnotoxic Laser, there are enough switching effects that break this auto-2HKO. You also might as well run something that does it in one turn and doesn’t need to lock them like Gourgeist XY or Raticate BCR.

If we get into a format where all the Pokémon have high retreat and no one uses the plethora of switching effects, Jirachi is legitimately a card you should look at. If you don’t want to go the Poison-lock route, you have Team Aqua’s Muk and Team Aqua’s Secret Base as some soft lock options.

Thanks to Tyler and Sam for helping me out with this one! I hope articles like this one remind readers to always take a look at some of the less hyped cards from time to time. You never know what you’re going to find!

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