BREAKpoint officially enters our card pool tomorrow, and I don’t know if it’s just me, but it definitely feels like a strange set. Many of the cards in it are rehashes of older cards, while a sizable portion of the set is filler. The EXs in the set are unusually underwhelming, while the Trainers are hit or miss. In summation, I would be afraid to open packs of this set for fear that I’ll get junk 90% of the time.
Perhaps the strangest thing about this set is its reliance — or reintroduction — of older cards. Puzzle of Time seems oddly familiar, Max Potion is a direct reprint for the Standard format, and Garbotoxin? It gets slapped onto an almost identical Garbodor to the one that changed the game four years ago.
Still, that doesn’t mean these cards won’t be effective — they certainly will. Rather, it feels to me like an opportunity to compare the newer cards to their close cousins from years ago. In today’s article I will draw from my experience and knowledge from many years back to make some educated guesses about how a few cards from our newest set may impact the format.
Hopefully this will help shape your decisions on how to play these cards with the upcoming round of tournaments. Also, I know I’m not hitting on every card from the new set, but I wanted to at least cover those ones that have utilized in the past in one way or another. That said, let’s look at some of the cards from BREAKpoint that intrigue me the most!
Puzzle of Time … Plus?
I’ve enjoyed the “multiple option” thing that has been going on with the Pokémon TCG lately. Cards like Giovanni’s Scheme, Parallel City, and now Puzzle of Time are giving players more than one way to play the card, and while this might seem like a fresh mechanic, it’s something that surfaced quite noticeably during the “LV.X” days. In fact, Puzzle of Time feels like a close cousin to Poké Drawer +, a card released in Stormfront that has nearly the same effect.
For the record, there were two other cards in Stormfront that had the same “strength in numbers” effect — one could act as a Lysandre in Item form and the other could remove 8 damage counters from one of your Pokémon. They ended up being played far less than Poké Drawer +, however, which is surprising given their effects.
For me, this is a great place to start with a discussion about how cards in the past can predict and even determine the effectiveness of cards today. On the surface, Puzzle of Time looks like an insanely good card, capable of bringing any four cards back from the discard pile. Once we dig a little deeper — and compare it to cards of the past — we might have a different idea about how well the card will function. That said, let’s talk about the “Poké ______ +” cards from 2008.
Of the three, Poké Healer + stood out the most historically, but not when it first released. In fact, when Stormfront came out, these three cards (Poké Healer +, Poké Blower +, and Poké Healer +) were hardly played at all. Considering that the two-card effect of each card was incredibly good at the time, this may be surprising. I know today we have Lysandre, Max Potion, and other cards that seem superior to these older, clunky cards, but things were much different back then, and removing 8 damage counters from your Pokémon was worth giving your opponent a Prize card over (just look at Regigigas LV.X).
Trust me when I say this though: I, like so many other players at the time, tried desperately to get these cards to work. Sadly though, they didn’t. They flopped immensely, getting banished to the binder almost as soon as they were released. The reason for this was simple, but overlooked — the promise of having two of these cards in hand at the same time proved far too difficult to even bother with.
Even if you were able to pull off the impressive two-card combo, that meant that only 2 more copies of the card remained to do anything with. Even having a single one of these cards prized meant that one would likely not be able to pull off the combo at all during the course of the game.
I tried running these different cards with Marley’s Request, and even then the combo was hard to recreate. When I ran Life Herb in a deck I used at Worlds that year in place of Poké Healer + I had a few players ask me why I chose such an unreliable card over the awesome healing power of Poké Healer +. “Honestly, I could never pull off the combo more than maybe once,” I said, absolutely certain of my testing results.
So what changed? Why did Poké Drawer + become the best in the “+” family of Trainer cards? Simply put, Junk Arm was released, providing awesome synergy to a powerful effect. Decks that relied on speed while not minding the discarding effect saw an instant boost to consistency. In my opinion, the prime example of this was with Gyarados SF, a card capable of setting up on the first turn without any issue thanks to the lightning-fast marriage of Poké Drawer + and Junk Arm.
>> SO, HOW WAS THE CARD PLAYED BACK THEN?
Let’s look initially at Poké Drawer + without Junk Arm, then with. Without the assistance of Junk Arm, Poké Drawer + was mostly a gimmick card. It had its moments, but so did something as unreliable and wonky as Legend Box. Maybe the most obvious inclusion of Poké Drawer + was in decks that aimed to get a first turn Stage 2 Pokémon in play (primarily Machamp SF, Gengar SF, and Kingdra LA). I should note that when Poké Drawer + was released it had very little help from other cards at the time. Marley’s Request was pretty much the closest one could get to abusing Poké Drawer +’s effect, which isn’t saying much at all.
After Junk Arm got released, however, Poké Drawer + found success. Players who chose to run both those cards made a mistake if they didn’t run full counts of each. Obviously, the goal was to access the “double play” Poké Drawer + offered as much as possible, and since Junk Arm brought cards back from the discard pile, it wasn’t really hard to do.
>> HOW THEN SHOULD PUZZLE OF TIME BE PLAYED TODAY?
In the same way Poké Drawer + wasn’t played in every deck back in the day (even after Junk Arm’s release), I think Puzzle of Time will find its own, very powerful niche. Be forewarned though: tossing 4 Puzzle of Time into your deck without making other changes to your deck’s structure will not work. You’ll run into the same issue I had with Poké Healer +, which is you’ll rarely find yourself hitting the “double play” combo enough to warrant its inclusion in your deck.
Additionally, there’s the issue Puzzle of Time currently faces with Supporter engines. With many decks localizing draw power to Professor Sycamore and Shaymin-EX, I’m skeptical about how many times 2 Puzzle of Time will end up in a player’s hand. For anyone that has gone through the process of building and testing Stage 2 decks, you probably know what I’m talking about because of Rare Candy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been forced to discard Stage 1s and Rare Candy just to mount a functional setup, but it’s enough to have me even just a little pensive about Puzzle of Time.
With all this said, my best advice is to let Skyla be the oil that gets a Puzzle of Time combo possible. This may seem counterintuitive for the decks that would most like to run Puzzle of Time — speed decks like Vespiquen and Night March, for example — but without it you’ll find yourself frustrated time and time again trying to connect 2 Puzzle of Time. Besides, from most of the discussion I’ve seen on Puzzle of Time it seems most useful for bringing back Special Energy like Double Colorless Energy, a play that can afford a non-draw Supporter to hit the field.
Also, I want to jump in real quick to say that Sableye DEX and Puzzle of Time are an absolutely busted combo. I’m not sure how it’ll be handled, but the existence of those two cards in the same format is just not healthy for the game. I even question Puzzle of Time alongside Bunnelby PRC 121, so we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, expect to see players abuse the combo.
Good Ol’ Garbotoxin
The reintroduction of the Ability Garbotoxin is perplexing to me. First off, it’s been printed on Garbodor yet again, which seems silly given the fact it’s a near reprint of the old Garbodor (much like the new Mr. Mime BKT and its older Plasma Freeze counterpart). Second, it’s an awfully powerful Ability to bring back to the Standard format; while Mr. Mime seemed a quiet staple in a few decks, Garbodor is a deadly force that can completely break the game. And lastly, the general opinion of players (at least from what I’ve seen) is that Garbotoxin is just not that fun for the game. I know there will be detractors to that opinion, but when it was revealed Garbotoxin would be returning the vast reaction seemed to be that of a collective groan.
Still, this Ability is coming back to the game, and to ignore it would be foolish, especially given how strong it has been in the past. Part of what makes Garbotoxin unique is its uncharacteristic “surprise” factor — the fact that it shows up right as players are discounting its effectiveness. This has happened repeatedly, almost to the point that throwing Garbodor into any deck that can accommodate it is a wise move.
Still, there are some questions to be answered. Does the Standard format provide as ripe an opportunity to shut off opponents’ Abilities? Have cards released in recent sets finally pushed Garbodor into the “fringe” category of tech choices? Can this card live up to the legacy left behind by its pre-XY counterpart?
First of all, let’s look at the Standard format, since it’s the one this new Garbodor will affect that most. While one would think of Standard as the format with less archetypes given the size of the card pool, it seems this format is more sensitive to the release of new cards, lending to an up-in-the-air quality that keeps things interesting. I’m sure to be off a little here, but let’s take a look at at least some of the archetypes that are showing strength in this format:
- Yveltal-EX/Zoroark BKT/Gallade BKT (YZG)
- Night March variants (with or without Vespiquen AOR 10)
- M Mewtwo-EX BKT 64 variants
- “Crobat” variants (paired with Lucario-EX, Manectric-EX, and Raichu XY)
I’m sure there are more decks I could add here, so feel free to add your favorite. What I find most interesting here is the lack of reliance these decks have on Abilities past turn 1 or 2 (with Crobat PHF being the exception). Bronzong PHF is also another target for Garbodor, so that’s a consideration too, but so many of these decks and their variants are more than okay with trudging on its own past the first turn without Abilities.
Of course … I feel like I’m in the very process of proving the point that Garbodor is going to show up yet again with a decent partner and take everyone by surprise. If that’s the case, what might that partner be? If I were forced to play Garbodor at the next Standard tournament, I’d go with one of two decks: Seismitoad-EX/Garbodor or some crazy conglomeration of Garbodor, Houndoom-EX, and Bunnelby with Puzzle of Time, Max Potion, and Energy denial cards. Essentially, I’m looking at Garbodor to either partner up yet again to deny my opponent all manner of things, or I’m hoping for it to provide me a narrow opening to disable my opponent so I can deck him/her out.
This stands in contrast to the Garbodor of old, which found strength in being able to cancel out Blastoise PLB, Aromatisse XY, Plasma decks, Pyroar FLF, and so on. Still, being able to disable Zoroark BKT, Bronzong PHF, and Crobat PHF might just be enough to warrant a Garbodor resurgence.
>> SO, HOW WAS GARBODOR PLAYED IN THE PAST?
Like I mentioned before, Garbodor mostly made an appearance when people least expected it to. The general pattern was: 1. Archetypes surfaced that didn’t outright depend on Abilities, 2. Garbodor saw less play, 3. Players noticed that Garbodor was played less and Abilities made a small comeback, 4. Players talked about Garbodor, but saw no need for it, and finally 5. Garbodor places well at an event where everyone was sure it wouldn’t be played.
This pattern proved to work multiple times, and I think it’s because players tend to downplay the importance of the “lesser” Abilities in their mind when compared to Abilities like Deluge or Inferno Fandango. When that happens, cards like Startling Megaphone get thrown out of the list, giving Garbodor a strategic opening.
>> HOW THEN SHOULD GARBODOR BE PLAYED TODAY?
Honestly, I would suggest going for the same strategy Garbodor has relied on in the past. Jason Klaczynski has always been adamant about taking a deck he’s familiar with and pushing it as far as it can go, which is why his 1st place finish with Seismitoad-EX/Garbodor LTR at the 2015 National Championships seemed at once odd and customary. To see him play with a personal favorite wasn’t surprising, but to see him win at a time people thought Garbodor LTR was dead actually was.
If you’re a big user of Garbotoxin, then play it. You’ll more than likely face a whole host of players who have long ditched cards like Startling Megaphone. I can’t promise that Seismitoad-EX is still a great play, especially in the absence of its good buddies Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym, but locking Item cards is still a powerful way to win games.
Making Garchomp Work
If there are three things I can count on Pokémon TCG players to do, it’s 1. complain about the format, 2. lose it when a Gengar or Gardevoir gets released, and 3. try desperately to get a Garchomp deck to work. When Garchomp DRX 90 was released, players flocked to it instantly, deeming it one of the best decks in the format with the slightest hint that it might be competitive. After the fallout proved that it wasn’t even tier 1, many persevered in the hopes that Garchomp/Altaria would find success. Sadly, that never materialized.
So here we are again with a Stage 2 Garchomp that for all intents and purposes seems to be the card creators’ most alluring piece of bait yet. For 1 Energy it can cut directly into Night Marchers while powering up another attacker, and for 2 Energy it packs a wallop against Pokémon-EX. Given that it’s a Fighting-type it enjoys the plentiful benefits Fighting Pokémon get from Strong Energy, Fighting Stadium, and Focus Sash (very important for powering up additional Garchomp through the first attack), and it’s also capable of hitting the field through Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick. Meanwhile, the Dragon-type Gabite DRX 89 has its Ability capable of getting your Gible and Gabite onto the field.
From a top-down view, this idea should work, but there are a few problems with it. First, the double Fighting Energy requirement on Garchomp’s second attack stings when Garchomp hits the field via Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick. Gallade BKT might hit for less damage, but it’s for 1 Energy card, not 2. Also, cards brought into play by the Archie/Maxie Supporters historically provide some amazing Ability. Garchomp falls outside of this pattern, meaning it provides neither consistency nor Energy acceleration.
With that in mind, I actually like a hybrid Dragon-type/Fighting-type build that utilizes the consistency from Gible and Gabite with the bells and whistles Fighting-type Pokémon enjoy. Here’s a list to get you started:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 32
Energy – 10
To me, a key in understanding how Garchomp may work is in recognizing that it’s just not good “Maxie” material. With a C Energy requirement, a powerful Ability, and more HP, that crown belongs to Gallade BKT. However, this new Garchomp boasts a stronger attack that doesn’t rely on a slew of Altaria DRX on the field, meaning that players can focus on using Gabite’s Ability to pave the way for Garchomp.
>> SO, HOW DID GARCHOMP WORK BEFORE?
Trust me, I have a Garchomp/Altaria deck built that I play for fun every now and then. It wins games and has some stellar moments, but there are moments where it seems braindead, incapable of getting anything going past the first turn. So, to answer “how Garchomp worked before,” I would say it needed many things to line up in its favor, or for many things to not line up for the opponent. Whether or not you went first was an enormous factor for this deck, for instance.
Garchomp also needed the help of Altaria DRX to do meaningful amounts of damage. While Garchomp was paired with Landorus-EX at one point, this was short-lived, so the dependence on Altaria required at least 6 spots in a deck that already felt pretty tight.
>> CAN GARCHOMP WORK TODAY?
Hopefully, the list above gives you something to work with. In the same way that Gallade BKT has seen some success without being the ends to Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick, I honestly think Garchomp BKP can work. Any Fighting-type Pokémon is naturally going to get a second look because of all the Fighting support there is, and Garchomp happens to hit some magical numbers with the right cards. Using Garchomp’s second attack with a Strong Energy attached, a Fighting Stadium in play, and a Silver Bangle attached to it yields an unconscionable 230 damage — enough to blow through nearly everything but M Rayquaza-EX. Even better than that, though, is the strength Garchomp poses against regular Pokémon-EX.
My biggest fear for Garchomp is the same fear I have for any Stage 2 deck, which is that it’ll just be a smidgen too slow. Even without the added pressure of calling on a flock of Altaria, there’s no guarantee that Garchomp will be able to keep the pace with Basic-centric decks. The addition of cards like Max Elixir and Fighting Fury Belt are also worrisome since they contribute almost exclusively to faster, bulkier Basic Pokémon (why the card creators feel Basic Pokémon need a boost I can’t say!).
Finally, the Grass Weakness is unusually bad with the popularity of Vespiquen. Normally, if a popular deck that is faster than yours has a type advantage, that spells bad news. While Focus Sash can lessen the impact the here, there’s still the problem that Vespiquen decks are notoriously fast. I would be very afraid of that matchup if I were trying to get Garchomp off the ground.
Max Potion Returns!
Along with the new Garbodor, the return of Max Potion seemed to elicit despair from many players. I can understand that response — it’s a card that can negate unbelievable amounts of damage and effort, totally destroying the opponent’s tempo. In a lot of ways it prevents players from being able to plan ahead effectively, and it just feels bad when the opponent gets to wipe an enormous amount of damage off one of their Pokémon.
Still, it’s a card that feels like a staple in the game. Initially released in a set from 2011, Max Potion has been used in a great number of decks to aid cards like Landorus-EX, Seismitoad-EX, and so on. Its addition to the Standard format is a welcome sight for anyone wanting to play Aromatisse XY, not to mention its natural synergy with the new Fighting Fury Belt.
Speaking of which, let me share a deck I’ve been playing that has a surprisingly good track record I’ve updated it with some of the newer cards as well:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 34
Energy – 10
What I like most about Max Potion is precisely what many people hate about it: it can unravel an opponent’s tempo and swing a game in the other direction in a single, powerful play. The above Florges-EX deck is built almost entirely on this concept. With the help of Fighting Fury Belt, Florges-EX is no longer within 1HKO range for most Pokémon, giving Max Potion a chance to be played before Florges-EX goes down. I hate that Sky Field has to be in play with a full Bench for Florges-EX to hit for a measly 180 damage, but at least Max Potion can break up an opponent’s offense long enough for this deck to do some damage.
>> SO, HOW WAS MAX POTION PLAYED IN THE PAST?
Technically, we’re not that far removed from Max Potion being used in tournaments, but there has been a decline in its use lately. I attribute this to the popularity of the Standard format during City Championships and the rise of heavy-hitting decks in the Expanded format that are hard to predict when it comes to damage output. Look at Vespiquen/Flareon or any deck with Crobat PHF in it and you’ll see that it’s not always easy to predict how much damage an opponent may do on their next turn. If your Landorus-EX has 20 damage on it, for instance, it might feel silly to play a Max Potion … until the opponent does what he or she needs to attack for 160 damage.
Before these decks hit the scene, damage output was much more predictable. It was easier, therefore, to know when to play Max Potion and when to hold on to it. It featured prominently with cards like Aromatisse XY/Seismitoad-EX and Landorus-EX, forcing players to have an answer to “massive healing” or just lose outright.
>> HOW DOES MAX POTION LOOK IN TODAY’S FORMAT?
I mentioned it earlier, but I do think Fighting Fury Belt is a natural partner for Max Potion. Gaining an extra 40 HP tips many cards past the damage cap that decks like Night March and Vespiquen are comfortable hitting, giving certain Pokémon a chance to weather multiple blows, then get healed via Max Potion before going down.
While Fighting Fury Belt doesn’t work with M Pokémon-EX, it still gives at least a little insurance to regular Pokémon-EX, allowing them to evade knockouts and trade Prize cards better against those hard-hitting decks. Yveltal-EX now boasts 210 HP, while cards like Yveltal XY start to look more like Pokémon-EX in terms of HP.
Ascension … Phantump Style
Many years ago, there were two attacks that — if printed on a Basic Pokémon — automatically made an Evolution line significantly better. Those attacks were Call For Family and Ascension. Call For Family found success with cards like Nidoran + RG (okay, okay, the attack name was different but the effect was practically the same) and Weedle GE. Meanwhile, Ascension aided things like Banette ex (Shuppet CG) and showed up in a similar form with cards like Jirachi HL and Spiritomb AR.
Of course, Ascension today doesn’t seem as grand given the format’s distaste for Evolution cards, but the new Phantump provides an automatic path to Trevenant XY’s Item-locking Ability. I recognize that Ascension cannot be used on the first turn if a player is going first, but it alleviates (even if just a little) the pressure a player often faces in connecting a first turn Wally to an Active Phantump. One of the biggest issues Trevenant XY decks face is the disadvantage that goes with missing the first turn Item lock. In my own testing, Trevenant XY falls behind drastically if it goes second, primarily because the lock comes first and the setup comes second.
With Ascension this disadvantage can be circumvented — if a player using Trevenant XY goes second they can focus on draw power and setup, then use Ascension to get Item lock on board. It really helps in taking two steps forward after the significant disadvantage of going second.
BREAKpoint introduces additional options for Trevenant as well in the form of a new one with a decent Ability and a Trevenant BREAK. The assistance Ascension provides means that Trevenant BREAK can hit the field as early as turn 2. Armed with an Item-locking Ability, 160 HP, and a powerful attack, Trevenant BREAK is quite powerful. Here’s an update to a Trevenant XY/Gengar-EX deck I’ve been using off and on for some time now:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 33
Energy – 11
One thing I’m looking into is a more Trevenant-focused deck that uses Bursting Balloon to punish players on a couple of fronts — by first getting an Item lock going and by next creating a stream of Trevenant BREAK attacking for a single Energy (with Dimension Valley) while loading damage onto the opponent’s Pokémon with Bursting Balloon. Here’s a really early take on that:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 34
1 Eco Arm
Energy – 10
The biggest advantage Ascension gave to a deck in the past was with Banette ex decks. While getting Banette ex in play on the first turn didn’t activate that card’s Poké-Power, it certainly did help streamline the deck’s consistency. Moreover, Banette CG could hit the field on the first turn, causing chaos against Pokémon ex (it had a Safeguard Poké-Body). The most popular combo with Banette ex at the time was with Houndoom UF — essentially a manner of Item lock.
>> SO, HOW WAS ASCENSION USED IN THE PAST?
This is appealing to me because there are many ties over from that old deck. From Item lock to streamlined consistency — even to the fact that both Banette and Trevenant are Stage 1 Psychic Pokémon — the new ammunition for Trevenant feels like a throwback.
>> WILL ASCENSION MAKE TREVENANT A VIABLE DECK?
Rather than focusing on a single attack, I want to point to the entire new Trevenant line instead. I definitely think Trevenant decks are viable. They were before (though only at a rough tier 2 status), and BREAKpoint gives a boost to the deck in the form of a few cards. Bursting Balloon, Trevenant BREAK (arguably one of the easiest Pokémon BREAK to get in play), Ascension … I think all of these factors may spell out a resurgence in Trevenant XY-based decks.
Also, and I’m not sure just how effective it will be with Hex Maniac in the format, Trevenant BKP is really good at putting pressure on Night March decks (not to mention regular Pokémon-EX in general). I left a single copy in the above decklists for that reason.
It’s always interesting when new spins on old cards are brought back into the game. Hopefully, I’ve captured at least a little of what these cards look like from the perspective of someone who’s played for a long time. And rather than give a typical rundown of what I thought was good from BREAKpoint, I thought I would take a look at a handful of cards and really extrapolate some knowledge and experience from them.
For the record, I do think every card I discussed in my article today will find its way into the game, with the possible exception of Garchomp BKP (though I can hope!). I also focused a little more on the Expanded side of things with the knowledge that Regionals are right around the corner. In any case, let me know what you think in the Underground forum, or just drop me a line!
Also, I’ll be traveling to Virginia Regionals in a couple weeks here, so I hope to see some of you there. Maybe — just possibly — we’ll have an incident-free trip to Regionals for once, so wish me luck! As always, thanks for reading and let me know you liked what you read by giving this article a “like.”
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