The Fellowship of the Guardians

Guardians Rising Preview Pt. 1

What’s up, everyone! I’m back with you, again, so soon after my previous article, again, to discuss with you something that’s important to the game at large, again. I hope you’ve noticed an evolution of sorts through my last few articles: what started off as somber and depressing transitioned into cautious optimism, and has since blossomed into gleeful anticipation with regard to Guardians Rising. Today, I “BREAK” my evolution line of articles, and drop the most enjoyable article yet: a preview of our upcoming set’s highlights!

As we move ahead, we’re working much more closely to coordinate our articles to bring you timely and relevant content. As such, we’ve got a great lineup for you this week: I’ll be kicking things off with a general set review, covering some of the best cards from the set and offering some initial thoughts across the board. Later in the week, Travis and Alex will be dropping some awesome deck ideas with cards from the new set. Virginia Regionals, the final major PRC–SUM tournament, is just about here, so I’ll cap this article with a very brief discussion of what I foresee happening there. The bulk of this is all about Guardians Rising, and was an absolute blast to write, so let’s jump in!

Crème de la Crème: Guardians’ Best

The best of the Guardians.

In my last article, I gushed over Guardians Rising. This set is really going to change the game, and I think it’ll be strictly for the better. Last time, I had the pleasure of covering Tapu Lele-GX and Field Blower, the two best cards in the set. I won’t be covering them again here because you can check out my previous article, but here’s a summary of my thoughts in case you missed it:

These are the single two best cards Pokémon has created since Shaymin-EX, unquestionably.

Last time it was easy to talk shop, because I only had two cards to worry about. This time, I’ve got what seems like hundreds, because this set is truly massive! 145 normal cards, combined with a whopping twenty-four secret rares, create a colossal 169-card set! The amount of cards in this set harkens back to titanic sets like Skyridge and Aquapolis. What all of this means is that reviewing this set in a typical fashion, going over every card and discussing each of their merits, would be way too extensive for the scope of this article.

The solution? Two articles! Yes, today, I’ll kick off my review with a Top 5 (ignoring Tapu Lele and Field Blower, as they’d automatically occupy the top spots), and sometime later this week, I’ll finish out the review looking at a few cards that just missed the Top 5 cut.

The last thing I want to say before I get started is that this set review and the opinions in it are both preliminary. I could be totally wrong on 100% of these cards (I sure hope I’m not!), right on all of them, or somewhere in the middle. I always enjoy it when cards I rated poorly to begin with actually turn out to be strong, whether through someone’s ingenuity or just natural meta evolution. These opinions are definitely subject to change as I start testing seriously, and as I hear what other people are playing with. Anyway, let’s start with my #5!

The Top 5:

#5: Lycanroc-GX

Perhaps it’s not just the Guardians that are Rising here.

A lot of veteran players were excited the moment this card was revealed, as its Ability is a spiritual reprint of an older one: Bright Look. This Ability first came to exist on Luxray GL LV.X, a card that ruled its format. Luxray saw immediate play upon release, skyrocketed in price, and never relented in its dominance until its rotation. The reason for its continued spot at the top of the metagame was a lack of other guaranteed “gust” effects. Ninetales DRX is our most recent reprint of this ability, and while Ninetales did see some fringe play, it did not see regular play because we had Pokémon Catcher in format.

As Lycanroc enters the scene, Lysandre is still legal, so I do not expect the card to see immediate play (other than in Fighting-centric decks where you can also attack with it). However, this summer, it seems Lysandre will be rotating out of Standard. While I do enjoy Lysandre and think it’s a very balanced card, our guaranteed gust effect will leave the game. This void will be filled by Lycanroc, which is why I’ve placed it in my Top 5. In a couple of months, when rotation happens, Lycanroc will become a huge part of the game. Many aggressive decks will run Lycanroc packages to strengthen their aggressive strategies, and some decks may opt to run it if they lack a good GX attack and need a generic one to fill it.

Luxray was $120+ at Nationals 2010, and while part of that is the “Nationals value bump” we see every year, I don’t think it ever dropped below $80. While I don’t know if Lycanroc will reach that same price level, I’d advise picking up a 2-2 line immediately, because I would rather be safe than very, very sorry.

#4: Sylveon-GX

Headed to the top of the format?

It’s funny that Sylveon-GX isn’t being talked about much, and I suspect it’s for an interesting reason: Sylveon-GX was revealed so long ago (around the reveal of the Japanese Sun & Moon, if I’m not mistaken) that many players have simply forgotten about it. Fortunately — or not — they’re about to remember it real quick! This is another card that will be covered later in the week when Alex takes a look at it, so you’ll get more info there.

It seems every Eeveelution-GX is going to have a one-energy attack, which is likely designed to create synergy with Eevee’s Energy Evolution. Umbreon’s has good synergy with walls, like Wobbuffet PHF, and Espeon’s has a lot of disruptive utility. Both of these are terrible compared to Sylveon’s, whose attack might be one of the most powerful ever created. If you start Eevee and go second, all you need to do is attach a Y Energy before you can attack and triple Computer Search. There isn’t even the downside of needing to discard cards! All you have to do is attach an energy for turn!

I think I can stop there, because we haven’t even covered the GX attack yet. Sylveon’s GX attack has absurd utility, with the ability to instantly remove two threats from the board—literally. A Lysandre+Plea-GX play can effectively end games. Going forward, as we start seeing more Stage 2 Pokémon (and, therefore, Rare Candy) re-enter the game , this card gets even stronger. Believe the hype.

#3: Rescue Stretcher

Another “in-spirit-only” reprint.

Coming in at the halfway point, I’ve got Rescue Stretcher. Like Field Blower, this card is actually a reprint of another old card: Pokémon Retriever. Like Windstorm (Field Blower), Pokémon Retriever saw tons of play in its day. I think this card will see a ton of play in any deck that (currently) uses Super Rod, and even in decks that currently don’t. We’re going to see a lot more Evolutions returning to the game, which necessitates recovery — previously in the form of Super Rod. Many Evolution decks will probably run multiple copies of recovery cards, especially if they’re a slower setup deck. Now, Rescue Stretcher provides even more Pokémon recovery options. While it can’t get back Energy, it allows you to get the same amount of Pokémon recovery, or gives you the option of retrieving a specific Pokémon right into your hand. This means Rescue Stretcher could also see play in aggressive decks to target a specific Pokémon (such as a Shaymin-EX), where regular recovery like Super Rod was excessive and unnecessary. I expect this card to see a ton of play, even if it isn’t format defining like the two cards above it on my Top 5.

Fun fact: Rescue Stretcher is now the third recent reprint of a card that saw heavy play back in 2006, a format that is widely regarded as one of the best the game has ever seen. Rescue Stretcher (Pokémon Retriever), Field Blower (Windstorm), and Ninja Boy (Swoop! Teleporter) are all reprints of cards that featured balanced and skill based effects. I’m not reading into it too much, but maybe this is another sign that very good things are on the horizon.

#2: Garbodor

Garbodor has been the bane of Standard all year, and now, finally, we’re…oh man. Garbodor isn’t going anywhere, but the upside is that it isn’t what you think. Myself and many others think this card is actually the best Pokémon in set, if you exclude Tapu Lele. Both Travis and Alex are going to be writing about it, so you’ll hear more dissection of the card as well as great strategies for it.

This card is bonkers. What is most fascinating about this card is that it is the next in what is shaping up to be a long list of apologies from the designers. For so long they’ve run away with this power creep, printing some of the most powerful Items in the game’s history — before one-upping themselves! Now, they’re pumping the breaks on that as hard as they possibly can. Garbodor is seemingly an admission that they’ve overdone it with design that necessitates almost 50% of most decks being Items. Being able to do 20× the amount of Items in your opponent’s discard for a single Psychic is absurdly punishing.

Every deck that runs or has considered running a Garbotoxin line now has easy justification for doing so. Instead of a 2-2 or 2-1 Garbotoxin line, players very realistically could start running a 3-3 or 3-4 line of Garbodor, with a 2/1 or 3/1 split favoring Garbodor GUR. Decks now could find themselves running a small count of Psychic energy as well, and even a Professor’s Letter to find them. This card:

  • Trades phenomenally with EX and Pokémon-GX.
    • Trades very well in general, for that matter.
  • Gets stronger as the game progresses.
  • Can force uncomfortable play from an opponent to try and account for it.
  • All but eradicates any Psychic-weak Pokémon from the meta, unless they’ve got a way to handle this card.

Believe the hype.

#1: Choice Band
The first in a long line.

Back in 2009, Pokémon printed a tool called Expert Belt. Expert Belt’s added to a Pokémon’s HP and damage output, but at the cost of giving up an extra Prize card. Back then, Pokémon-EX didn’t exist, so everyone was forced to take six knockouts every game. Taking multiple prizes in a single turn was a huge deal. Expert Belt was a very powerful tool with a very balanced drawback. Players didn’t have the fortune of simply slapping the card down at will because it could be very punishing. Fast forward to the release of XY in 2014, when we got Muscle Band. Muscle Band simply gave everyone +20 damage with no drawback. Then, last year, they printed Fighting Fury Belt, which is essentially a better Expert Belt, with the “drawback” of only working on Basic Pokémon.

Now, they’ve printed a better Muscle Band in Choice Band. Choice Band does +30 instead of +20, but only affects both EX and Pokémon-GX. I think this card almost completely outclasses Fighting Fury Belt. Now that reliable Tool removal is present once more, Tool cards should again be looked at as one-time uses, with any additional turns being only an added bonus. If you’re only going to have a single use of a tool, would you rather use it to do +10 or +30 damage? That’s really all there is to this debate. The +40 HP of Fury Belt is nice, and used to be impactful, but it is no longer reliable. This card should see play in almost every deck from now until its rotation. Believe the hype.

An interesting note with Choice Band: even though we’re past the EX era, the designers are choosing to acknowledge their previous mechanic, likely because they assume something like Expanded will be around for quite some time. Other cards share this same mechanic and I imagine we’ll see this going forward, to prevent strange, exploitable interactions between EX/GX. Neat!

These five cards make up my (Lele-and-Blower-less) Top 5. These cards are ones I expect to have an exceptionally powerful impact on the game, right out of the gate, and what’s interesting is that many of them interact with each other!

Garbodor forces many decks to rethink whether going all-in on Items is the best strategy, which naturally necessitates running more Supporters; Tapu Lele searches for supporters. Choice Band is huge power boost for almost every deck, and making sure your opponent doesn’t have a chance to get repeated use out of it is imperative; Field Blower removes Tools. Choice Band and Field Blower are both insane effects that everyone will be playing, and they’re both Items; Garbodor preys on Items. Garbodor and Lele could slow the game down a little, which means more dedication to a slower setup; Sylveon-GX can absolutely destroy dedicated setups. Being able to gust a bad Pokémon into the Active Spot to bounce two threats your opponent is building makes Sylveon so good; Lycanroc has that gust ability.

Those are just a few interactions between these cards, and many others will have them as well. Expect to see a lot of these cards, and make sure you get your playsets.

About-Face: Roanoke Final Thoughts
Pretty much how Michael feels about discussing this format.

I’ve been asked to include a little bit here on Roanoke, which is this coming weekend. Unfortunate. Deciding what to play on the eve of our final PRC-SM major event can be kinda stressful, especially because I know many players are desperate to put this format in the rearview mirror. Pablo and Travis posted great reflection pieces on Brazil last week, and there’s great content there to check up on. My advice is actually even more disheartening than having to discuss this format more: play Decidueye/Vileplume.

The reason for this is simple. The deck is most likely the BDIF. “What beats Decidueye/Vileplume?” is the question of our age. It has knocked decks out of the format, knocked other decks down some rungs on the tier ladder, and will very likely fly into Day 2. The most important fact behind Decidueye/Vileplume’s dominance is that its worst matchup is itself. If you’re playing the deck, win the coin flip and get turn one Vileplume, your chances of winning the game skyrocket. The heavy reliance on Items of literally every deck in the game means that depriving your opponent of them before they draw a card will win games on its own.

This is why these kinds of decks see success, yes. But, with Decidueye/Vileplume, this is even truer. You don’t even need to have that solid of a first turn aside from a turn one Plume to take over a game. The moment Vileplume hits the board, your opponent needs above average draws the rest of the game to have a shot.

Decidueye/Vileplume doesn’t even have that bad of a matchup spread, or really any singularly bad ones I can think of. Sure, a strong open from Volcanion going first could spell disaster, but, the same could be said if you went first. This is pretty much the case for every deck a lot of the time. In a format so strongly dictated by coinflips, playing the deck with the highest upside upon winning a coinflip seems imperative.

Of course, this is funny coming from me, as a rant I penned a month ago basically advised against doing something like this. The reason I’ve changed my tune on this is not because I don’t believe what I was saying the last time; I still do. Pablo’s article does a great job and he’s got ample experience and success with the deck, so I strongly advise you to look there for further advice. Alternatively, the winning deck from Brazil is a solid list with some creative techs to try punishing a format already struggling to deal with the vanilla concept.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today! Check back tomorrow for the second part of my set review, where I’ll talk about a lot of the good cards left off my Top 5, as well as all the cards with potential! See ya tomorrow!

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