Diamonds in the Rough

Exploring Ultra Prism and First Looks at Magnezone and Empoleon

kossyWhen we scheduled for February, I didn’t really imagine I’d be dropping this article from 35,000 feet. As I discussed last week, I’m on a bit of a strange back-to-back this week, only a few days removed from writing about the aftermath of Dallas last week. My sense in discussions has been that most players would prefer to hear about Ultra Prism, rather than have me rehash BKT–CIN again. So, today, I’m going to take the opportunity to go over some of my favorites from the new set, the impacts the set figures to have on the current Standard’s titans, and generally look toward St. Louis.

I understand that a few of our subscribers have interests in Sydney’s imminent happenings; if you should wish to pick my brain on that, feel free to drop a line privately. I feel it’s better to handle limited-use information that way, rather than writing a piece that will be useless to a large portion of our subscribers immediately, and to the rest, in a mere few days. It isn’t lost on me that it’s a weird look failing to write about the impending International Championship, and emphasize that subscribers are more than welcome to reach out to me individually.

So far, we’ve had Alex take a look at Glaceon and his overall buylist for the set, and Pablo examined a few other archetypes he believes could make waves in the new format. To be completely honest, I wasn’t even 100% sure what all of the cards in Alex’s buylist did the first time I read it, so to say the least, there’ve been some interesting revelations on my part as I read through some of the cards he listed. As I haven’t yet placed my Ultra Prism order—and, indeed, I recognize the danger in the timing of that fact—part of this article is going to represent my own learning/decision making in deciding what seems to be worthwhile as investments go.

My plan is to start by discussing the cards that are the most interesting in my mind, offer a few lists to start testing with, discuss the overhyped folk of the set, and finally examine a few of the potential sleeper choices the set looks to offer. With everything from insane energy acceleration, to big GXs, to intriguing Stage 2s, there are a lot of moving variables in the set. While I, and a few of my friends,’ initial reactions are that the set could largely disappoint, there’s certainly no shortage of potential ideas to dig through. I don’t normally write set previews, so this’ll be a bit unique for me, but I’m hoping it’ll be insightful.

The Unparalleled of the Ultra: UPR’s Best

(spoiler: it’s a short list)

Metal

Without much doubt, I think the combination of Solgaleo—or whatever that Necrozma thing is supposed to be—and Magnezone is among the more intriguing options in the new set. I’ve heard a good number of thoughts indicating a belief that the hype is perhaps too extreme, but generally speaking, when the card designers gift a combo so obviously, it tends to be useful at some point in its legal lifespan. I’m not saying it’s going to run through St. Louis—maybe it needs rotation in order to eventually shine. But, at some point in its lifespan, I expect these to be cards worth owning.

Fortunately enough, Magnezone was pretty freely proliferated through prerelease starter packs, so it ought to be reasonably feasible for most of the player base to obtain easily. Dusk Mane Necrozma, Magenzone or not, is something that would probably strike intrigue eventually with some sort of neural Energy Acceleration (Silvally-GX, or perhaps Max Elixir). Things that can hit for 220 damage are generally pretty decent in the game.

In my mind, Dialga-GX has the potential to really change the calculus in a given “Metal” deck’s competitive viability. I know a decent number of folks that are quite negative on the card, and it’s certainly not as strong as its otherwise-identical Metal counterpart will be—free of a Fairy Weakness—in a few months. Nonetheless, taking an extra turn is inconceivably crazy as an effect.

For any Stage 2 deck, you’re effectively fighting a timer: can you setup and execute your strategy before your opponent either destroys your setup or takes 6 Prizes? For some of those decks, it’s all about the number of Prizes—until the game is actually over by the rules, some Stage 2s have a chance to bring the game back. Gardevoir-GX strikes me as a good recent example of this.

On the other hand, there are some Stage 2s where you losing the game is less about your opponent’s Prize count and more about whether you’ll be able to establish and maintain a board long enough to win the game. Greninja is the best example of this in my mind: whenever I play it, my opponent’s Prize count has less to do with my odds of success than how many Greninja I manage to chain.

In Dialga-GX, there’s a chance to buy back extra time. 150 damage isn’t a menial number, and with Choice Band, is enough to take a 2 Prize swing against much of the format. Against something like Gardevoir, which will be in decent shape in a format that lacks the promo Solgaleo-GX and gains a more favorable meta post-release, it’s conceivable that a Dialga play could result in a 4 Prize swing—few decks are equipped to come back from a trade like that.

Even when you’re not stealing extra Prizes, you can do things like eliminate an opponent’s Magnezone—with the GX attack—and follow it up with a Guzma to remove the backup Magnemite. More importantly, that goes for any Stage 2 that can be dealt with for 150 damage. You can rest easier in a “7 Prize game” knowing that you have a free turn to reset the count to an even place.

One additional play that comes to mind: compatibility with Cyrus p. You can, with relative ease, reduce your opponent to a bench of 2, knockout the active with Dialga, and then deal with one of the remaining benched Pokémon the following turn. It’s easily one of my favorite cards from a design point in recent memory, as there are simply so many things that you can do to potentially out-maneuver an opponent. When a concept can back up such finesse-oriented plays with the option to simply annihilate whatever’s in front of it, it tends to be a sign to me that it’ll be successful.

On the flip side, having so many options can also lead to a road where you fail to execute any of them, in a battle with inherent consistency—or the lack thereof. I’m not of the mind to create a hype train over anything, and definitely acknowledge the real possibility it falls absolutely flat, but it’s a concept I absolutely want to explore. Here’s where I’m at on a list:

Pokémon – 16

4 Magnemite UPR 81

3 Magnezone UPR

3 Dusk Mane Necrozma-GX

2 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Remoraid BKT 32

1 Octillery BKT

1 Dialga-GX

1 Solgaleo p

Trainers – 34

3 Cynthia

3 Professor Sycamore

3 Guzma

2 N

2 Brigette

1 Cyrus p

 

4 Ultra Ball

4 Rare Candy

2 Field Blower

2 Professor’s Letter

2 Super Rod

2 Float Stone

1 Nest Ball

 

3 Mt. Coronet

Energy – 10

10 M

The number of ways to go about constructing this list is immense. I’m fairly sure that I’ll test versions with more energy, less energy, with different recovery balances, etc., but this is my current favorite idea of a balance. It’s a bit thinner in some places than I’d like—2-2 Octillery strikes me as a high-potential idea—but I think it’ll be an intriguing start to test.

I want to quickly call out that I think Professor’s Letter and/or Energy Retrieval will be the key to this deck being able to compete. I’ve stuck with Letters here, and feel the count could probably be increased to good effect, but testing combinations of all sorts of factors will be the only way to come across the “right” list—a concept that, while admittedly a bit abstract, is something I pretty-firmly believe probably exists.

Lastly, Solgaleo p strikes me as something that’ll probably be very strong at a point in the near future. The energy acceleration is almost crazy, and the fact that it’s bulky and Garbotoxin-proof makes it very unique in its genre. It may not be entirely needed in here, but is included because I think it’s just an incredible card.

The Rest

willfosho.tumblr.com

These are cards that strike me as useful, but that lack any obvious place in a current archetype. The best example are the new Unit Energy—while I’m certain cards with the appropriate energy combinations will make their way onto the scene eventually, and they’ll then find a role, I can’t think of a good place for them in the immediate. Nevertheless, they’ll be useful someday.

Like Solgaleo, I think Lunala p’s attack has high potential, and I’d make sure I have my token single-copy. Cyrus is also in this category. To round out the Star’s while I’m here, I’m unconvinced of Giratina, Darkrai, or Super Boost Energy being all that useful. All require some weird niches to be useful—for example, I can’t think of the last time I had 3 Stage 2s out and wasn’t already all-but-guaranteed to win the game. I really hate this 1-of concept and feel it reduces skill in the game in favor of who-can-draw-into-it-when luck, but early peeks at our May set reveal the phenomena is probably only going to get crazier.

Generally speaking, my advice is to have playsets of all trainers on hand—though, in the case of past things like Imakuni, an obvious exception can be carved. To be honest, there were cards at my prerelease that I didn’t even know existed, but at this point in my memory, I can’t say there were any that struck me as 100% not-worth-acquiring. Obviously, Cynthia, Fire/Electric Memory, and Looker are among the highlights, but I tend to believe in a policy of covering all my bases when it comes to uncommons.

Mid-Tier Considerations

These could be good, they could be really bad; I could be grasping at straws.

The first of these two, which I’m not going to spend too much time going over in lieu of just providing my thoughts on a list, is probably a bit of wishful thinking…but, we’ll see! Empoleon strikes me as having good damage output for a not-awful Energy cost, and the HP is in line with the odd buff we’ve seen recently, which makes it an intriguing option. Here’s where I’m thinking on a list:

Pokémon – 20

4 Piplup UPR 32

2 Prinplup UPR

4 Empoleon UPR

4 Zorua SLG

3 Zoroark-GX

3 Tapu Lele-GX

Trainers – 30

3 Brigette

3 Cynthia

3 Professor Sycamore

3 Guzma

1 Skyla

 

4 Aqua Patch

4 Rare Candy

4 Ultra Ball

3 Choice Band

2 Float Stone

Energy – 10

6 W

4 Double Colorless

Actually good or just Christopher’s favorite?

Immediately, this strikes me as having too many things trying to fit at once to work well, so we’ll see what comes of it in testing. I really like the concept of a non-GX that can hit this solidly, but trying to fit Aqua Patch and Rare Candy in the same list is weirder than I expected. Zoroark is my designated partner because I feel Trade will have the dual benefit of thinning the deck and discarding W Energies for aforementioned Patches, but it may be altogether too contrived.

The other concept that could be good, but doesn’t immediately strike me as awesome, is Garchomp/Lucario. Let’s put it this way: I’m not convinced that a Stage 2 demanding 3 Energy to attack, a specific Supporter to use the attack at a meaningful level, and relying on a Stage 1 for novelty factor is a good plan. I’ll be unsurprised if someone manages to figure a way into this, especially in Expanded with other Garchomp options, but I’m otherwise solidly unconvinced on the viability of this pair.

A card of note: Oranguru, outside of the causing a lot of Professor Cup headaches, could be a spiritual successor to Sableye/Garbodor’s idea of a lock. With Looker, you can loop back any 2 cards+another Looker for next turn, and pull off some interesting combos. The obvious downside, though, is the use of your Supporter. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be too stunned to see a deck take advantage at some point—and, of course, the Oranguru is similarly useful against mill strategies.

Potential Busts

We’ll start with the most controversial: I’m really not a fan of Glaceon-GX. Every time I think about it, I consider how pitiful the damage output looks in today’s game (in unrelated news, I hear 2012 is holding on line 1 seeking assistance with a Night Spear epidemic), and that turning off Trade is more of a late-game play than something I imagine being immediately useful to an early game. With that in mind, there’s no doubt that turning off Tapu Lele will be a nuisance to some decks, especially Stage 2s.

I’d be unsurprised to see decks with Zoroark engines resultantly mixing things around to include maximum playsets of things like Brigette, which you want on Turn 1, but almost never again. In my mind, one of Zoroark’s biggest edges in this format is the unique ability to thin your deck of useless extras, and that’s going to be interesting moving forward—of course, it’s not lost on me that Zoroark can’t do this under Glaceon, but when an attacker as simple as Tapu Lele-GX can probably deal pretty effectively with a card…I question that card’s competitive worth.

I’m confident that Leafeon-GX’s day in the sun will come, but I don’t think it’s today…or, in particular, next Saturday. My gut reaction is that this card will be best-utilized for its healing or its ability to drop a silly number of Mega Evolutions on a board at once—but, it remains to be seen whether either of those niches can lead to a competitive concept.

On the other hand, I do not envision it being all that useful as a Dartrix factory, as some have suggested. By the time you dedicate the effort to evolving Leafeon, getting it active, and finding the appropriate benched Pokémon, I can’t imagine the overall exchange of resources being worthwhile. Even trying to figure out how to fit the requisite Leafeon line, G Energy, Switch outs, Basic Search, and the target Evolution line in one deck gives me a headache.

Luxray is an adorable concept, but I fear the damage output will be too minimal to be useful. I picked up my Shining Celebi for the occasion, but had I not had some modicum of faith that there’ll be more where this came from on TPCi’s end, I don’t think I’d have taken that step. I started to draft a list, but I’m not honestly sure at this point where to find the extra damage I think this concept needs to be useful.


Otherwise, I don’t think highly of the rest of the set, and would say this is a pretty exhaustive list of what’s left to be considered—with that said, though, if you have any thoughts to the contrary, feel free to take that up with me in the comments, on Twitter, or by PM.

I’m off to Sydney, from my connection, now, so that’ll end this preview. Hopefully it gave you something to think about, if nothing else.

Else, as always, all the best.

Christopher


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