The Great Equalizer

On Choice Band, Mew, Tapu Koko, and Gyarados

Yes, you read that right, I’m back already. After my tournament report early in the week, I’m glad to be back to take a look at the next battle we have to fight: Guardians Rising. Astute schedule-watchers will note that Alex Hill was originally scheduled for today, but fear not, he’ll be here Friday instead. I’ve been playing way more TCGO than is probably healthy since I got home from Toronto, and have been excited to test out some of my ideas with the set.
Christopher listening to GRI hype. Actually, might just be Christopher in general.

Community perception seems to be that Guardians Rising is the coming of a new order in the game. I don’t really think I can remember any set receiving quite the hype that this one has, and I especially don’t remember my opinion on a set varying from the norm this much. To say the least, I’m not nearly as infatuated with GRI as many of my colleagues or players at large.

Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s a decent number of cards that have enormous potential. My disagreement with the consensus is more in the quantity of useful cards than the enormity of those that are useful. In that respect, the likes of Tapu Lele, Field Blower, and others certainly have the potential to be transformative in the way that Michael Slutsky‘s been talking about for awhile.

The important part today, though, is the cards that I do think have potential. By no means do I argue the set to be bad, but things like Alolan Ninetales-GX — receiving plenty of discussion — simply don’t strike me as better than anything we already have in the meta. Reinventing the wheel is seriously tempting, and it’s something players deal with every time a new set drops. It may be fair to call me jaded, but over the last several years, I’ve become severely skeptical of new archetypes as they release.

Even with that in mind, I’m here today with two new archetypes that I think could be set to make waves in the early portions of XY-GRI. Additionally, I’d like to take a look back at a deck that — literally — made waves earlier in the year: Gyarados. More often than not, I find that a new set’s impact is in the decks that it improves, rather than the ones that it creates out of thin air. There’re always exceptions, like Boundaries Crossed’s production of Blastoise/Keldeo-EX, but they’re certainly not the norm.

Tricks of the Trade: Guardians’ New Toolbox

The tools in this set for evolving current archetypes are numerous. Tapu Lele and Field Blower are the two most obvious, and I think their potential is well-documented. However, some other cards in the set have the potential to impart significant change in the meta. Principal among them in my mind is Choice Band. It may not seem like extra damage itself is something inherently transformative, but think about the number of attackers that seem to be just a bit off on math. It’s truly a pretty large number. Raichu XY, Gyarados AOR, Lugia-EX AOR, Greninja BKP, and Drampa-GX are the first five off the top of my head.

Choice Band puts the meta in a position to be more diverse, especially in conjunction with Lele/Field Blower. It puts more attackers in a position to do relevant damage, which, by extension, means there are more competitively viable strategies. This effect only plays so far — after all, those that were already positioned to do well are now only more well positioned with Band’s addition to the format. But, even so, the secondary effect of mitigating Fighting Fury Belt’s play (coupled with Field Blower) itself is enough to change the “magic numbers” dynamic of the game. Instead of 220, 180-190 is going to pop back into relevance.

A key example of a card that’s benefited from the new set is Lapras-GX. Aqua Patch is an obvious boon, but in addition to that reality, Choice Band gives it a way to hit critical numbers in the 170-190 range. While I don’t love Professor Kukui, it allows the concept to get over 200 — Sylveon-GX’s magic number. In a way, I feel the game is going to morph slightly away from the current environment where we see the clash of various strategies (Lapras’ Mill, Decidueye’s Lock, Darkrai’s Speed, Garbodor’s Ability denial) to a clash of mere numbers.

To some, that’s going to sound a lot like the unfortunate reality we faced in much of 2013-2015. And, in a way, it is. The flip side, though, is an ability to tech decks for specific purposes and a loss of matchup polarity. If decks aren’t meant to inherently counter each other at a fundamental level, but to simply go about their tasks in different manners, there’s more room for outplaying others.

Is it possible that I overstate this effect? Most certainly. I do very seriously believe, though, that we could see a shift in how things work. I’m not ready to declare this a good or bad thing, only a change. Time will characterize the nature of the change — or it’ll deem me an idiot for being totally wrong about all of this. We’ll see.

The first deck I want to look at embodies this concept pretty essentially. Instead of worrying about specific matchups, it concerns itself more with hitting these “magic numbers” and executing an effective strategy. Really, there’s only one “tech” in it the deck at all, even if it’s a bit of a spicy one. Linear, brute strength is something I think we’ll see become increasingly important, and I think this deck does a decent job of getting that done.

Jack of All Trades: Mew Box

Pokémon – 14

4 Mew FCO

2 Drampa-GX

2 Magearna-EX

2 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Carbink FCO 49

1 Lugia-EX AOR

1 Kangaskhan SUM

1 Shaymin-EX ROS

Trainers – 33

3 Professor Sycamore

2 Lysandre

2 N

1 Hala

1 Ninja Boy

1 Pokémon Ranger


4 Max Elixir

4 Ultra Ball

4 VS Seeker

1 Escape Rope

1 Field Blower

1 Special Charge

3 Choice Band

2 Float Stone


2 Team Magma’s Secret Base

1 Parallel City

Energy – 13

9 M

4 Double Colorless

Yes, yes, it looks more than a little insane. It’s still very much a work in progress, but the concept itself is something I’m excited about trying. The idea here is to lead with Drampa-GX in almost every matchup. Quite simply, the GX attack is a great lead, as it forces your opponent to either acknowledge your 11 card hand, presumably rife with options or requires them to N…which nets you a none-too-shabby 7 card hand. Righteous Edge is stellar against Decidueye/Vileplume, among other things, while Berserk is generally great for dealing heavy damage. It’s a great example of the principle I posed regarding Choice Band’s potential impact on the game: 150 damage is underwhelming, but a generic, colorless route to hitting 180? Sign me up.

Team Magma’s Secret Base has the dual function of providing fuel for Drampa’s attack and chipping into your opponent’s bigger Pokémon, which makes Drampa all the more useful. Parallel City is generally useful, but will be especially good for clearing damaged EXs and extraneous Mew from the field when necessary.

The purpose of Mew itself is multi-fold. First and foremost, it offers a stellar starter that has free retreat and allows you to drop an Energy prior to your Turn 1 Supporter that can then be used to employ any of the multiple useful early attacks in the deck. It also can serve as a useful non-EX to deal heavy damage, which is always good to have. Now that Garbodor isn’t infallible, it’s a role I think Mew could come to play a bit more often.

So obscure that it wasn’t even in the image database.

Speaking of Garbodor: one of the bigger problems I identified with this concept is its susceptibility to Garbodor GRI. You’re going to end up playing more than a few Items almost always. That’s where another of my stranger inclusions comes in: Kangaskhan SUM.

Cross-Cut seems somewhat pedestrian at first blush, but when dealing with the attacking Garbodor GRI, it actually offers a legitimate option. Mew FCO can use Kangaskhan’s Cross-Cut itself, and with Weakness, work through garbage cans with ease. Furthermore, with a Choice Band, it can hit any evolving-GX for 90 damage, which is never shabby for a single Energy. I’d imagine that GX can probably be subsequently finished off with Deep Hurricane or Berserk.

Tapu Lele shouldn’t be ignored as an attacking option in here. It can add up rather quickly, and, particularly, is good at softening up attacking threats for other things to deal with later. Lugia is similarly a decent all-around attacker, but is actually especially in here for Deep Hurricane. It’s possible it’ll find its way out of the list because Berserk is more Energy efficient, but for now, I like the extra Weakness diversity it offers.

Magearna-EX will seem strange at first glance as well, but one of the flaws in this deck is a lack of easy way to hit 200+ damage. Team Magma’s Secret Base helps a bit, but it still doesn’t quite get there. The biggest 200+ HP threat at the present moment is Sylveon-GX, which is conveniently weak to Metal. Alolan Ninetales-GX, which is probably the next-most prominent threat of that stature, is also weak to Metal. As such, Magearna makes a convenient counter to those cards while also offering the protection of Mystic Heart. With Lele, the single copy of Pokémon Ranger makes sense due to the number of niche uses it can have in addition to the simple reset of Magearna’s attack (since it’s not like Sylveon is going to 1HKO a Magearna anytime soon).

The last notable Pokémon here is the Energy Keeper Carbink. This is a direct response to the current level of mill-type decks we have, as the genre will only get more prominent with Sylveon. It may turn out to be unnecessary, but right now it’s something I’m including to help with that sort of deck.

The biggest Pokémon option not included that you could consider is Taruos-GX. It’s clever with Ninja Boy, and a good way to deal with gargantuan, ~250 HP GXs should you be unfortunate enough to run into one. The problem is that you aim to use Big Wheel-GX early in the game, so Mad Bull-GX doesn’t have quite the same role as it could.

This concept is something I’m going to continue testing, as I believe it has the potential to do well if the metagame materializes appropriately. This sort of jack-of-all-trades deck generally will have some inconsistency, and my testing thus far indicates that to be somewhat the case. Still, though, I’m working to smooth the list and will be interested to see if it’s something I can make work.

Coo-coo for Koko: Tapu Koko-GX

Pokémon – 12

4 Tapu Koko-GX

2 Raikou BKT

2 Tapu Lele-GX

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Jolteon-EX

1 Dragonite-EX EVO

Trainers – 36

4 Professor Sycamore

3 N

3 Lysandre

1 Hex Maniac


4 Max Elixir

4 Ultra Ball

3 Field Blower

3 VS Seeker

2 Max Potion

1 Rescue Stretcher

1 Super Rod

3 Fighting Fury Belt


3 Parallel City

1 Sky Field

Energy – 12

10 L

2 Double Colorless

This deck attempts to take advantage of the bench manipulation offered by Parallel and Sky Field in a new manner. The bench spot manipulation we get here works well with Tapu Koko, which aims to cycle a new attacker in almost every turn while hitting for a solid 130. Much of the deck is dedicated to getting that attacker online quickly, with the heavy Elixir engine, and the rest is dedicated to keeping it there. Fury Belt becomes the Tool of choice to help with durability, and because Choice Band doesn’t help us hit any particular numbers.

Raikou is a decent secondary attacker to work on once you have a Koko cycle underway, and Jolteon-EX fills an interesting niche. Otherwise, the rest of the Pokémon are simply dedicated to strategy execution. Dragonite is a bit unique, and its purpose is to help lock down a Koko cycle (probably best paired with Sky Field). It helps you re-use the multitude of coming-into-play Abilities the deck offers.

The side effect of this emphasis on looping Tapu Koko’s Ability is the corresponding option to similarly reuse Tapu Lele and Shaymin. It’s that option that leads to my inclusion of a heavier Supporter line and reduced VS Seeker count. The deck has a lot of consistency options, and that’s perhaps my biggest draw to it.

In contrast, that consistency also corresponds with a relative amount of linearity. The deck isn’t exactly rife with options to alter a strategy midagme; Raikou to alter the prize exchange is about as good as it gets. That’s both a good and bad thing. Unlike much of the format now, this concept isn’t going to aim for 1HKOs. It has to be reliably consistent in exchange if it’s to be competitive, and it fits that bill.

The pair of Double Colorless are for enabling Tapu Koko, Jolteon, and Raikou to attack more easily. I’m not yet sure they serve a significant enough purpose to justify being in the deck, but in the early stages of my testing, I think they’re pretty useful. The concept as a whole might just be a bit too underpowered to endure, but it’s a premise that I think might have merit.

Rising from the Depths: Gyarados Revived
Is Gyarados set to rise again?

For our final discussion of the day, I’d like to look at Gyarados AOR. This is an archetype that’s seen middling success all season long, and was most recently played to Top 32 finishes by Sam Hough in Brazil and Tyler Ninomura in Salt Lake City. Its success this year has been primarily located to Europe, but I think Choice Band may push it to the next level.

Pokémon – 12

1 Magikarp EVO

1 Magikarp XY143

1 Magikarp GEN

1 Magikarp AOR

3 Gyarados AOR 21

1 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Remoraid BKT 32
1 Octillery BKT
1 Mr. Mime GEN


Trainers – 44

4 Professor Sycamore

2 N

2 Lysandre

1 Hex Maniac

1 Teammates


4 Dive Ball

4 Puzzle of Time

4 Rescue Stretcher
4 Trainers’ Mail

4 VS Seeker
3 Level Ball

1 Special Charge

1 Town Map

3 Choice Band

1 Lucky Helmet

1 Float Stone


4 Team Magma’s Secret Base

Energy – 4

4 Double Colorless

It’s hard to fit everything that needs to be in this list. I’m sure many are annoyed at my Magikarp selection, but honestly, I do think it’s critical in this deck that your 4 Magikarp are differentiated. If you go second, see a certain Magikarp in your hand before getting N’d, and then need to play out a new hand, that’s information at your disposal.

I don’t always endorse different arts, because I think there are scenarios where it makes more sense to make your counts ambiguous to your opponents. For example, it killed me to play two different Enhanced Hammer in Groudon earlier this week, because if I played the SR one in Game 1, but the PHF one first in Game 2, my opponent would know to expect a second at some point in the game.

Some players are super aware of this regarding Lysandre and N, so they keep their arts the same on those cards — as I’d argue they should. As an aside, a trick I’ve picked up on involves the specific set the card is from. Sometimes, someone thinks they have two identical Lysandre, but one might be from FLF and the other from AOR. I’ve figured out more than one specific card count in ways like this, and sometimes it can be the difference in a key decision.

Now, back to Gyarados. Choice Band puts it in a position to capably hit damage targets it previously couldn’t, which makes it altogether a more legitimate threat. It only needs 2 Magikarp and a Band to hit 180 now, which is a significant change in status. It should be noted that Choice Band should probably be treated as more of a triple-PlusPower than a Tool you’ll get more than one use out of. Eco Arm could be something to include a some point.

I’d like Ultra Ball in the list, I’d like more Tools in the list…I’d like a lot more in the list. As it is, Rescue Stretcher itself is a boon to the deck, providing a far more versatile recovery option than Buddy-Buddy Rescue. Between this and Choice Band, I think Gyarados is something with serious potential to be on the rise.

The clean, hard damage Gyarados achieves is the stuff that makes competitive decks. I’m concerned that the combo may be too fragile to be truly effective, but it’s the single most interesting “improved” concept to come out of the set in my view. Greninja may be a close second in that department, though, and you should check out Brit’s analysis of it from last week.

Rising to the Occasion: Final Musings on Seattle
We’re going to see some new stars in Seattle.

As we head into Seattle, I think it’s likely that some GRI cards will make an impact on the game, but I’m not sure we’ll see the total meta revolution that some have predicted. We’ll see some new concepts, but not a new world. I’m not yet convinced that Decidueye/Vileplume will fade — for whatever you make of that.

I’m excited to continuing exploring the new set, and to see what our other writers come up with as we head to Seattle. Alex has some additional decks for consideration Friday, and we have 3 more articles next week before the big day. I enjoy hearing from readers in person, so if you see me, feel free. Otherwise, as always, best of luck.


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Reader Interactions

5 replies

  1. Chad

    I’ve been testing out the wacky Mew list and having fun. I’m not sure it’s top tier, but Drampa and Mew really put in work. I love the idea! :)

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