Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

Fulop’s Fiery Unbroken Bonds Set Review, Exploring SUM–UNB w/ ReshiZard, Gardeon, and Baby Blace, and Innovations at EUIC

Hello again everyone!

There have been two major happenings recently:

  1. The International Championships held in Berlin at the end of April, and
  2. the release of the new expansion, Unbroken Bonds.

Since the metagame in Berlin continued to be stale, and with Unbroken Bonds hopefully rendering many past results less meaningful as we delve into a new card pool, I don’t want to dwell on that event too much. That being said, while the Top 8 of the event was stagnant (4 Pikachu/Zekrom decks, a Zapdos deck, and 3 Zororoc decks), there were interesting decks that made it into Day 2 that are worth covering—even if we are looking at a bit of a lame-duck format.

Innovations at EUIC

10th: Tapu Koko Spread—Kaiwen Cabbabe

Pokémon (15)

4 Tapu Koko SM30

2 Blitzle LOT

2 Zebstrika LOT

1 Zapdos TEU

1 Tapu Koko p

1 Tapu Koko-GX

1 Tapu Lele UPR

1 Larvitar LOT 115

1 Oranguru SUM

1 Oranguru UPR

Trainer (35)

4 Lillie

3 Guzma

2 Cynthia

1 Erika’s Hospitality

1 Judge

 

4 Electropower

4 Ultra Ball

3 Electrocharger

3 Nest Ball

2 Escape Rope

2 Rescue Stretcher

1 Pal Pad

2 Choice Band

 

2 Shrine of Punishment

1 Thunder Mountain p

Energy (10)

4 Double Colorless

4 Lightning

2 Counter

 

Copy List

****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 15

* 4 Tapu Koko PR-SM SM30
* 2 Blitzle LOT 81
* 2 Zebstrika LOT 82
* 1 Zapdos TEU 40
* 1 Tapu Koko p TEU 51
* 1 Tapu Koko-GX GRI 47
* 1 Tapu Lele UPR 94
* 1 Larvitar LOT 115
* 1 Oranguru SUM 113
* 1 Oranguru UPR 114

##Trainer Cards - 35

* 4 Lillie SUM 122
* 3 Guzma BUS 115
* 2 Cynthia UPR 119
* 1 Judge BKT 143
* 1 Erika's Hospitality TEU 140
* 4 Electropower LOT 172
* 4 Ultra Ball SUM 135
* 3 Nest Ball SUM 123
* 3 Electrocharger TEU 139
* 2 Rescue Stretcher GRI 130
* 2 Escape Rope BUS 114
* 1 Pal Pad FLF 92
* 2 Choice Band GRI 121
* 2 Shrine of Punishment CES 143
* 1 Thunder Mountain p LOT 191

##Energy - 10

* 4 Double Colorless Energy SUM 136
* 4 Lightning Energy Energy 4
* 2 Counter Energy CIN 100

Total Cards - 60

****** via SixPrizes: https://sixprizes.com/?p=73249 ******

via: Limitless TCG

Fans of Tapu Koko rejoice! This deck is loaded with them! As a dedicated Spread deck, this list runs 4 copies of the Flying Flip promo (I now regret only buying 3 copies of the card under the assumption that was more than I’d ever need!), the Prism Star, and a copy of the GX. This is far from the first time we’ve seen a Tapu Koko-based Spread deck, and the core of this deck is certainly a gimmick we’ve seen before.

Flying Flip and Shrine of Punishment spread damage early on, while Zapdos TEU and Larvitar LOT 115 are both able to clean up on damaged Pokémon. Against high-HP GX Pokémon with heftier Energy costs, Tapu Koko-GX’s GX attack can handle things. A lot of decks hate the premise of having to take 6 KOs. Also, most decks do not run any sort of healing. Zoroark decks, an exception to this, are kept in check by the threat of Larvitar’s burst damage.

I didn’t think this type of Spread deck would be well positioned for Berlin. Clearly, I was wrong, as a 10th place finish in an event of this size cannot be a fluke. I do now think that is Spread is well positioned, and this is about the best build you could have for it. (I still like Spell Tag Malamar, but that is a light Spread presence opposed to a dedicated game plan, so I don’t like to lump them together.)

34th: Vikaray—Jose Marerro

Pokémon (17)

3 Grubbin SUM

3 Vikavolt SUM

3 Rayquaza-GX

1 Zeraora-GX

1 Tapu Koko-GX

1 Marshadow-GX

1 Shaymin p

1 Tapu Koko p

1 Dhelmise CES

1 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Marshadow SLG

Trainer (30)

3 Cynthia

3 Guzma

3 Volkner

2 Lillie

 

4 Rare Candy

4 Ultra Ball

2 Energy Recycler

2 Mysterious Treasure

2 Nest Ball

2 Rescue Stretcher

 

3 Lysandre Labs

Energy (13)

7 Grass

6 Lightning

 

Copy List

****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 17

* 3 Grubbin SUM 13
* 3 Vikavolt SUM 52
* 3 Rayquaza-GX CES 109
* 1 Zeraora-GX LOT 86
* 1 Tapu Koko-GX GRI 47
* 1 Marshadow-GX BUS 80
* 1 Shaymin p TEU 10
* 1 Tapu Koko p TEU 51
* 1 Dhelmise CES 22
* 1 Tapu Lele-GX GRI 60
* 1 Marshadow SLG 45

##Trainer Cards - 30

* 3 Cynthia UPR 119
* 3 Volkner UPR 135
* 3 Guzma BUS 115
* 2 Lillie SUM 122
* 4 Rare Candy SUM 129
* 4 Ultra Ball SUM 135
* 2 Nest Ball SUM 123
* 2 Mysterious Treasure FLI 113
* 2 Rescue Stretcher GRI 130
* 2 Energy Recycler GRI 123
* 3 Lysandre Labs FLI 111

##Energy - 13

* 7 Grass Energy Energy 1
* 6 Lightning Energy Energy 4

Total Cards - 60

****** via SixPrizes: https://sixprizes.com/?p=73249 ******

via: Limitless TCG

Jose recently won a SPE with this deck, and he and Michael Catron both played the archetype to a Day 2 finish in Berlin with only a few differences in their lists. Vikaray had some degree of hype before this event, so it wasn’t an “out of left field” choice. While there are some changes to the list (Lysandre Labs to stop Escape Board on Jirachi as well as Choice Band’s damage buff, and Tapu Koko p to help give the deck additional Energy acceleration) I don’t feel like the list is anything revolutionary, so I’m not going to go into great detail about how the deck is constructed.

What I do want to focus on is why did Vikaray go from being a deck that was one of the best choices at the start of the format, to completely obsolete, to now seeing a resurgence? Well, the format has narrowed. PikaRom decks and Zororoc decks are a clear-cut Tier 1. While the start of the format saw Malamar, Zapdos, Blacephalon, and Stall decks see more representation, the gap in popularity between the top two decks and “everything else” is now large.

Malamar is a terrible matchup for the deck but seeing far less play. Even the builds that are played have cut Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX, and that was a major reason as to why the matchup was such a problem. The Zapdos decks, able to play a reliable 1-Prize game, were problematic as well. Now, Zapdos’s major representation is found as an additional game plan in PikaRom decks. With 3 Lysandre Labs, Jose’s build gives him a decent shot in the Zapdos matchup anyway. Blacephalon, another deck that can go blow for blow with Rayquaza, is also on the decline in popularity.

On top of this, Stall or Control decks are a major annoyance at Regionals and Internationals, and this deck is very, very good against those decks as they don’t have any way to keep the deck disrupted. Long story short, the consolidation of the metagame toward PikaRom and Zororoc has pushed out decks which may be a problem for Vikaray, while also putting a big bullseye on those two decks, leaving an inbred format that is softer to its game plan.

60th: Shedinja Stall—Pedro Eugenio Torres

Pokémon (22)

4 Blitzle TEU

4 Zebstrika LOT

4 Nincada LOT

3 Shedinja LOT

2 Oranguru UPR

1 Slowpoke LOT

1 Slowking LOT

1 Durant LOT

1 Ditto p

1 Tapu Lele-GX

Trainer (34)

4 Lillie

4 Professor Elm’s Lecture

2 Brock’s Grit

2 Gladion

1 Faba

1 Ingo & Emmet

1 Tate & Liza

 

4 Nest Ball

4 Ultra Ball

3 Great Ball

2 Crushing Hammer

1 Counter Catcher

1 Enhanced Hammer

1 Rescue Stretcher

1 Super Scoop Up

 

2 Sky Pillar

Energy (4)

3 Water

1 Double Colorless

 

Copy List

****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 22

* 4 Blitzle TEU 44
* 4 Zebstrika LOT 82
* 4 Nincada LOT 29
* 3 Shedinja LOT 95
* 2 Oranguru UPR 114
* 1 Slowpoke LOT 54
* 1 Slowking LOT 55
* 1 Durant LOT 128
* 1 Ditto p LOT 154
* 1 Tapu Lele-GX GRI 60

##Trainer Cards - 34

* 4 Professor Elm's Lecture LOT 188
* 4 Lillie SUM 122
* 2 Brock's Grit EVO 74
* 2 Gladion CIN 95
* 1 Ingo & Emmet TEU 144
* 1 Tate & Liza CES 148
* 1 Faba LOT 173
* 4 Ultra Ball SUM 135
* 4 Nest Ball SUM 123
* 3 Great Ball SUM 119
* 2 Crushing Hammer SUM 115
* 1 Enhanced Hammer GRI 124
* 1 Counter Catcher CIN 91
* 1 Rescue Stretcher GRI 130
* 1 Super Scoop Up BUS 124
* 2 Sky Pillar CES 144

##Energy - 4

* 3 Water Energy Energy 3
* 1 Double Colorless Energy SUM 136

Total Cards - 60

****** via SixPrizes: https://sixprizes.com/?p=73249 ******

via: Limitless TCG

I saw this deck—piloted by Pedro Eugenio Torres, a player clearly worth paying attention to—and it took me a moment to even begin to process everything going on here. This is clearly a Stall deck, with the win condition being decking the opponent. While there are plenty of decks like this in the metagame (well, more so at Regionals and ICs than at Best-of-One events like Challenges and Cups) this one chooses to focus on using Shedinja to deny Prize cards taken. Shedinja’s Ability lets you attach it to a Pokémon, making it so that the Pokémon gives up one less Prize card when KOed. It’s Life Dew. Only you are not limited to one copy of the card per deck. Shedinja is “technically” kept in check by the existence of Field Blower…except no one plays the card outside of some Zoroark builds. The existence of Prism Star Stadiums (which cannot be discarded other than by counter Stadiums) forces the average deck away from the Item and toward Stadiums.

The deck uses Oranguru’s Resource Management to restock the deck with whatever you’d like, and the ape is the deck’s primary attacker. Beyond this, you have Durant as an option to accelerate the decking progress, and Slowking as a way to rip key resources from an opponent’s hand. Between Oranguru, Durant, Slowking, and Faba, the deck has tools which let it compete well against the other Stall decks in the field.

The deck also has a unique engine! The deck’s game plan is to aggressively deck itself as quickly as possible so that you are able to completely control your draws off of Oranguru. It runs a full 4-4 Zebstrika engine, which is previously unheard of. Using multiple Zebstrikas a turn, it will not take long to end up with little to no deck left. From there, Brock’s Grit and Resource Management let you restock your deck with all the cards you could want, while the Zebstrikas make sure you draw back into them! Using Resource Management to restock Brock’s Grit makes sure you have access to Energy, Shedinjas, and the additional Oranguru every turn.

The deck runs a lot of Ball cards to help set up and also thin the deck early. Finally, it runs a few utility cards which can be gotten back with Resource Management once looping. Crushing Hammer, Enhanced Hammer, and Faba pressure the opponent’s Energy, and Counter Catcher is a huge problem for decks since this deck never takes any Prize cards. Super Scoop Up is interesting, and can reset Bench spaces, but at the same time I’m not entirely certain why the card is in the deck without having gotten a chance to play much with the deck.

I’ll shamelessly say this is my favorite deck from the tournament, even if I stand by the fact that these Stall decks are bad for the game overall. If I felt like the deck was fast enough for Best-of-One tournaments, I’d take this to some local events. Sadly, I do not believe it can reliably avoid draws.

22nd: Greninja/Tapu Koko—Jit Min Lim

In addition to these decks, Jit Min Lim piloted a Greninja/Tapu Koko deck that I sadly couldn’t find a list for. Jit is an established and strong player, and he managed to place 22nd with the deck, which is a testament to its potential viability.

Editor’s Note: I don’t have Facebook, but for those who do: you may be able to access Jit’s list here.


Despite these bright shiny oases of innovation, a majority of the format was much of the same. Hopefully Unbroken Bonds changes things up because I’m already beyond tired of the current crop of decks.


Now let’s look at the stand-out cards from the set!

Unbroken Bonds: Set Review

Pokémon

Grass

Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX
Well, it has 260 HP and Jet Punch, so it can only be so bad. Let’s not overlook something though: This is a Grass type and not a Fighting type, and therefore it does not have access to Diancie p or Strong Energy. That is a decline in damage output. On the other hand, there is Lurantis SM25, which is Diancie in and of itself. Being a Stage 1 is slower and clunkier, but being able to have more than one out is an upside. Besides Jet Punch, Elegant Sole is a good rate on an attack doing 190. Resetting it each turn shouldn’t be difficult. Beast Game GX is a difficult attack to evaluate…you probably are not KOing much for 50 damage, even if Jet Punch is softening them up. I guess you can pick off Jirachi and Marshadows.

Also, this is an Ultra Beast. As a result, it can use Beast Ring. Beast Ring is more or less the only way you can expect to pull off a big Beast Game GX. I like this card, but I’m not sure if its going to be quite good enough, though. It isn’t as fast as Buzzwole-GX is, and its mid and late game is going to be weaker than the other established top decks at the moment.

Venomoth-GX
Venomoth is a cool design. I love when they print cards that play off of each other. Unfortunately here, I think Venomoth’s GCC attack cost is too expensive for it to keep up with the degenerate decks in the game right now.

Grubbin UNB
This is also a good Basic for the line as its 1-Energy attack can grab your Vikavolt and a Dedenne or something else useful.

Kartana UNB
Another typed Ultra Beast non-GX that fills a spot on the Prize curve. It’s worse than Buzzwole in a vacuum, but it has a different type and should have its applications as well.

Fire

Arcanine UNB
Powered up by Welder, Arcanine “swarms” could be a real thing. They are 140-HP Stage 1 Pokémon that deal a good amount of damage and power themselves up. There is enough of a Fire-type support package in the game that this card legitimately could be real.

Reshiram & Charizard-GX
Well, here is your giant Fire murder machine of choice. There isn’t a whole lot fancy about this card. It does 230 damage for 4 Energy, and has 270 HP with a Weakness to a fairly underplayed type. Between Welder, Kiawe, Flareon-GX, and the new Volcanion, there are a lot of options to get Energy onto this Pokémon so that it is attacking on the second turn. The card is clearly a haymaker, and I’m optimistic it will see a good amount of play.

Volcanion UNB
This is an interesting card. I don’t think the second attack, even when “turned on,” is particularly exciting. Flare Starter isn’t a great rate normally, but on Turn 1, going second, it’s a huge boost of Energy. I can see this being a 1-of in decks that can reliably get it Active on its first turn, but nothing beyond that. There are enough strong Fire-type options now that there has to be something to do with this. There could also be a build that may choose to go second to take advantage of this and Energy Spinner even. Who knows.

Incineroar UNB
The only reason I could ever see this being played is if it somehow worked well enough with Ho-Oh-GX’s Eternal Flame. Benching three of these “cheap” is a huge boost in damage output.

Salazzle UNB
This repurposed Delcatty RS is good. We’ve seen how impactful Heat Factory p is. I don’t know if the Fire decks need the additional draw power, but Salazzle-GX is a decent card already, and sharing that line may give this card a chance to see play as it is close to “good enough” on its own.

Blacephalon UNB
This is a card that has received a ton of hype, but I’m not buying in on it. There are certainly enough cards in the format right now that allow you to compile Fire Energy into your hand to discard. Between Welder and Beast Ring, it isn’t that difficult to power up its 3 Fire Energy attack cost…still, it demands a lot of moving parts. The payoff is there, but 120 HP isn’t that stable, and you have to do a lot of work every single turn. We’ve seen it with Granbull LOT (which has higher demands, for sure!) that it is possible, but this is far from a slam dunk to be Tier 1. I expect hand disruption to be a major problem for the deck. I’m being critical of the card here, mainly because I think it is overhyped, but I don’t want to convey the idea that I think the card is bad. It isn’t. It is a good card and clearly pushed; I’m also seeing an entire format of stupidly pushed cards it has to compete with. We’ll see how it goes.

Water

Blastoise-GX
240 HP and taking 30 less damage a hit is actually a difficult KO for most decks. It does 60 damage for every Water Energy you shuffle back into your deck…with Aqua Patch, and some sort of gimmick like Naganadel LOT, it’s not that difficult to pump Waters into play. Still, it’s a Stage 2 that demands a lot of Water Energy in the deck and additional setup to work. I assume this will not work.

Lightning

Charjabug UNB
I don’t expect this to make or break a Vikavolt deck, but if a build did choose to run Charjabug opposed to purely a Rare Candy engine, this is a huge upgrade. It is strong for the line, but doesn’t shore up any weaknesses, as Energy acceleration is already Vikavolt’s strong suit.

Dedenne-GX
STOP. PRINTING. THIS. EFFECT. While Dedechange is an attempt at a “fixed” Set Up, it is still not an effect that should be in the game. It was a problem with Uxie LA, and it was a problem with Shaymin-EX ROS. Maybe it won’t be a problem now, but I’m not holding my breath. Outside of “fixing” the Ability, Dedenne’s attacks at least all cost Lightning Energy. Static Shock is not strong, and Tingly Return GX is pretty obnoxious, but either requires two attachments or a Thunder Mountain. It’s going to make opening starts more reliably busted, and that is going to amplify the advantage of going first even more. I think this is more of a 1-of safety net like Tapu Lele-GX has become.

Zeraora UNB
This card feels mediocre…the Special Energy card hate is nice for an Energy, and Discharge is not a terrible finishing blow for a non-GX Pokémon if powered up by, say, Full Blitz. I’d normally write this card off as being too low-impact, but it’s in one of the best types right now and I can’t rule out it being played as a 1-of there.

Psychic

Muk & Alolan Muk-GX
This card is built around a Special Condition…in a format with Guzma. In a format where Jirachi encourages piles of Switches and Escape Boards. Yeah. Cool design, but completely hamstrung by the way the powerful cards in the format play out.

Gengar UNB
Gengar has an interesting Ability, and Gastly’s Ability helps you dump Haunter into play, but Gengar is a narrow card. There will be matchups it’s good in, but it’s too situational.

Mewtwo UNB
Anything that gets back Supporters is at least decent, although the rest of this card leaves a lot to be desired. I think there are too many other cards competing for this role to allow it to see play.

Fighting

Marshadow UNB
This is a searchable answer to Stadium cards, and also a pretty good counter to Buzzwole, of all variants. It will probably see fringe play.

Marshadow & Machamp-GX
This card fails the litmus tests for TAG TEAMs in that all it does is deal a slightly higher rate of damage and it has some extra HP. It doesn’t do anything truly degenerate to warrant risking 3 Prize cards. Even Acme of Heroism GX isn’t that impressive for 4 Energy (in a type that doesn’t have access to acceleration!) and can be played around with Guzma.

Dugtrio UNB
Dugtrio’s sole role is to provide damage reduction for your Metal Pokémon. When you take into account Metal Core Barrier, Metal Frying Pan, and Lucario & Melmetal’s GX attack, there is a big damage reduction gimmick available. I’m not sure how much is too much, and if running Stage 1 Pokémon to add additional damage reduction is worth the cost.

Hitmontop UNB
Finishing Combo actually feels really, really good? Having played Sky-Scorching Light GX as often as I have, I’m not willing to write this off. I get the idea…Hitmonchan attacks into Hitmonlee into Hitmontop…which is cool and flavorful.

Crabominable UNB
This isn’t a “good card” as it is too easy to play around to be a main attacker, but it is a powerful counter for Zoroark-GX decks as it can pretty easily OHKO them due to Weakness for a DCE. Zoroark can’t really play around it. The card is also strong against PikaRom for similar reasons, although they can do more to avoid walking into it. Being able to play it off a Ditto p is also a shocking and powerful play in these matchups. I’m not certain it’s worth it, though.

Darkness

Greninja & Zoroark-GX
Our newest incarnation of Darkrai-GX DEX, this TAG TEAM does deal a lot of damage…there are also decent ways to cheat Darkness Energy into play on the Bench…the problem is, even if the damage output is high, it’s still positioned worse than Rayquaza-GX in my eyes, and has a far worse Weakness. When the “decks to beat” are PikaRom and Zoroark—both weak to Fighting—there is too much incentive to run Fighting and this card deals with the splash hate poorly. It doesn’t seem to do anything truly degenerate enough to warrant the risk. Being a TAG TEAM is still a huge liability…its GX attack is strong but with it giving up 3 Prize cards when KOed, you can’t afford to be using it and not taking Prizes yourself. PikaRom is so good because it snowballs brutally and has an attack that can take multiple KOs in one turn if unchecked. Greninja & Zoroark feels like an above-rate attacker and I don’t think that’s what I want in my TAG TEAMs.

Honchkrow-GX
It’s almost like they knew how stupid this card is. “Unfair GX.” Why is this considered a card that should be in a game? How is this an enjoyable play experience? At least it gets incinerated by Lightning types, I guess. The fact that Dusk Stone evolves this guy on this first turn is really dumb. Its Ability just shuts off certain decks. Its GX attack forces opponents to topdeck going into their second turn. Its attack is also really, really good. I think this card is incredible. I finally see a card I might abandon Malamar for.

Metal

Lucario & Melmetal-GX
This was the first Pokémon in this set I was told about, and I got excited for how unique its GX attack is. I’ve complained that the game is too slanted toward aggressive decks, so any attempt to provide defensive elements to the game I like. The big selling point to this Pokémon is the GX attack, at which point you can defer to whatever Metal attacker you’d like. This TAG TEAM isn’t inept as an attacker either, but there are likely better Pokémon that don’t give up as many Prize cards. You can use Celesteela-GX as an option, for example. Throw a Frying Pan on it, and you have a 200-HP Pokémon taking 70 less damage per attack that cannot be damaged by GX Pokémon. Toss in any amount of healing, and you can see where this becomes a problem for a lot of decks to deal with.

Fairy

Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX
Well, this one’s on the booster pack artwork, so it’s gotta be pushed unreasonably, right? Fairy Song is similar to Xerneas XY’s Geomancy as it accelerates your game pretty quickly. The attack is strong. Kaleidostorm is an interesting attack, as 3 Energy (even if some of this is Fairy Song‘d out) for 150 is mediocre, but the effect is great. The idea here is that you are able to keep swapping Energy between Gardevoir & Sylveons, and either Acerola or Max Potion them so that if the opponent can’t OHKO one, they are hard-pressed to take Prize cards.

Magical Miracle GX is really good, even if 3 Energy for 200 seems to be the going rate for GX attacks off of TAG TEAM Pokémon. If you ever get 6 Energy onto it, wiping out the opponent’s hand is a big payoff. Normally I complain about these types of effects, but in this case you actually have to earn it, so it is fine. I think even with Fairy Song, this will be difficult to pull off.

Whimsicott-GX
Fluffy Cotton is nonsense, and really annoying, but luckily for those of us who don’t want to keep swinging into that, the rest of the card is underwhelming. Toy Box GX is good, but it’s a GX attack, so that is to be expected. Its Energy Blow damage rate is too low to want to use.

Colorless

Persian-GX
Its Ability is cute, but likely in a “too little, too late” sort of way. I don’t want to be proactively getting out a Stage 1 GX just for a bit of draw power twice during the game. You have to look at the opportunity cost of getting Persian out…and early…it’s probably more than offsetting whatever benefit you get off its Ability. Its attacks cost a bit too much for what they do to be a selling point either. I think this is a whiff.

Celesteela-GX UNB
Alright, I’m high on this card. Its Ability really screws with multiple decks. Blacephalon-GX can’t KO it. Malamar can’t OHKO it. Vikaray can’t OHKO it. Zoroark decks can barely even hurt it. Buzzwole-GX can’t hurt it. The TAG TEAMs can’t hurt it. Most of the non-GX Pokémon can’t OHKO it. That said, Alolan Muk shuts it off, and so does Power Plant. But if decks don’t embrace these cards, this card is going to be difficult to deal with. The fact that its attack cost is CCC makes it splashable. Metal Pokémon get a lot of Support too, and this could be one of their best weapons.

Trainers

Dusk Stone
This card’s viability stems exclusively from how good the Pokémon it can evolve are. The Honchkrow-GX in this set is extremely good, so it will at least see play there. I actually like this type of design for Stones and their respective Evolution lines.

Electromagnetic Radar
I think that most Lightning decks would rather have the versatility of being able to grab non-GX Pokémon with their search (Zapdos TEU and Tapu Koko p are important) but as a 1-of for Volkner or something, this card could be a fine inclusion. Being able to grab Zeraora-GX and Pikachu & Zekrom-GX in one card is good. Discarding two cards is not free in these decks though, since so much of their draw power comes from search and Jirachi TEU, and maintaining a high hand size isn’t to be taken for granted.

Energy Spinner
There was hype going into Team Up about this card’s inclusion, only for its release to get delayed. Energy Search was a card I had initially assumed survived rotation this season, only to find out I was somehow wrong. Ultra Necrozma/Malamar initially would have loved the card, but now we have Viridian Forest which is a better card in the deck since it also offers an important discard outlet and a counter Stadium. Spinner is still good, as many decks can afford to at least trim some Energy to replace with this, and hitting it on the first turn going second is a big payoff. Unfortunately, the odds of this happening aren’t too great, and it doesn’t come up as often as you’d think. This card should see some play, but I think it’s overhyped.

Fire Crystal
Fire Crystal is another cog in the Fire machine we now have available in Standard. Since Blacephalon and Welder both want Fire Energy to be in your hand, this card has a lot of value mid and late game. These decks will absolutely play multiple copies of this card.

Green’s Exploration
While Alolan Ninetales-GX GRI saw a huge amount of play initially, it has been a non-factor since the release of Team Up. Nonetheless, we saw how good grabbing 2 Item cards can be. I think that decks running Rare Candy will want this, and I think that this card could be obnoxious alongside Lt. Surge’s Strategy.

Janine
Functionally this isn’t much different than Underground Expedition (assuming the deck is random with no manipulation, such as Resource Management) and Expedition doesn’t see much play. I expect this to not be good enough.

Koga’s Trap
This feels like an apology fix for Hypnotoxic Laser…and by virtue of being a Supporter, it is substantially worse. Confusion is worse than Sleep too; potentially leaving them unable to retreat is important. I assume this won’t see play until Guzma rotates, as Special Conditions are poorly positioned right now.

Lt. Surge’s Strategy
I’ll say it right now: I like the concept of this card. I think it allows decks to take advantage of more narrow Supporters while still having access to draw power. I think the game needs more cards to benefit players who are behind. I think the problem stems from the fact that the Stall decks were already too good and should have been addressed. Lusamine should be gone. That is the main problem card. If we got rid of that, I feel like Surge could offer interesting and innovative play patterns that are healthy for the game. One of two things should happen:

  1. Either the power level of this set pushes the Stall decks out of viability, or
  2. they get even better off of this card and Lusamine gets the ban it likely deserves.

I’d love to see this card be a strong option for Stage 2 decks, or slower decks that go down on Prizes the “fair” way but would like to stage comebacks opposed to never taking a Prize. As it is, looping Lusamines and Surges and other obnoxious Stadiums and Supporters feels too good. Not only is it likely too good, but it is about the least fun play pattern imaginable. My stance on this card is similar to that on Battle Compressor: clearly both are/will be involved in degenerate game play, but both cards are not a problem on their own and offer legitimate benefit to the game if not for other terrible card designs.

Martial Arts Dojo
The damage output of this card cannot be overlooked. Even the 10 additional damage when ahead is powerful and stacks well with Diancie p. The potential damage output when behind is absolutely absurd, though. Unfortunately, most of the viable Fighting types are Ultra Beasts, so we’ll have to see what can be paired with this. Zygarde-GX has seen some success, but even that keys off of DCE initially, so the demand of having a basic Fighting attached isn’t a gimme there either.

Metal Core Barrier
This is a powerful card, as it reduces 70 damage to your Metal Pokémon…I’m just not convinced it is better than Metal Frying Pan. Metal Core gets discarded after a turn cycle, and therefore gets blanked if the opponent opts to Guzma around it. Frying Pan not only soaks up more damage over a two turn cycle, but it can be played preemptively and is harder to work around. Still, 70 damage is a huge amount of damage reduction. We’ll see if it ends up making a big impact or not, though.

Molayne
This is a kind of awkward rate (2 Metal Energy to shuffle a Trainer into your deck) but the ability to recover Trainer cards is really, really valuable. With the way that Standard is playing out, if it stays aggressive, I don’t think this card is going to be super impactful. It could see some play in Stall strategies, which gain a tremendous amount from this set, but even there, the Metal Energy demand is a challenge for an effect that is probably covered by Lusamine.

Pokégear 3.0
Looking at the top 7 cards of your deck to grab a Supporter is good, but I’m not sure it’s necessary. We’re finally at a point where we have enough viable Supporter options that this card isn’t super alluring. Again, where I think this card may shine is in Stall decks, unfortunately.

Power Plant
Turning off the Abilities of Pokémon GX is very powerful. The first thing to come to mind is clearly Zoroark-GX. Beyond that, this turns off Zeraroa-GX, Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX, Decidueye-GX, Alolan Ninetales-GX, Lycanroc-GX, Gardevoir-GX, Rayquaza-GX, and others. I’d be surprised if this card didn’t see some play at some point. I also love that the designers are finally pushing both Stadiums and Tools as powerful enough to be a facet of the game worth fighting over.

Red’s Challenge
Computer Search on a Supporter is going to be good. Challenge can get key cards like DCE and Rare Candy which are otherwise difficult to find. Also worth noting is that it can get Prism Stars, too. I could see this as being a solid upgrade over Mallow in Zoroark builds. This is another card that really benefits from Dedenne-GX too. Not only does Dedenne offset the card disadvantage and the fact that you only see 1 card off of your Supporter from the turn, but it also has the “Ultra Ball” effect that lets you thin your hand to optimize how many cards you draw. I think this card is the real deal.

Welder
This is the most important card that Fire got in this set. While I’d rather take Energy out of the discard pile than the hand (with Blacksmith) this card also draws you 3 cards when you play it and that is big. There are a lot of strong Fire-type Pokémon in the format…Blacephalon-GX, Flareon-GX, Ho-Oh-GX, Reshiram & Charizard-GX, Blacephalon UNB, as well as others. Most of them suffered from a lack of Energy acceleration, and even those good enough (such as Blacephalon) would still welcome this effect with open arms. This card is going to spawn multiple archetypes. Clearly an all-star.

Energy

Triple Acceleration Energy
As far as I am aware, this is a functional reprinting of Boost Energy. I’m not convinced this will find a place, but there are a lot of Evolution cards out there, and this effect is extremely powerful. Discarding itself at end of turn isn’t a huge deal in a lot of cases as usually attackers get KOed anyway, so if the Pokémon isn’t KOed, you’re in a decent spot anyway. (Yes, Guzma–KOing a Benched Pokémon is annoying, of course. Still, while obviously a disadvantage, it isn’t that bad.)

SUM–UNB: Decks

Anyway, I think it’s common knowledge by now that I do a majority of my testing on PTCGO. As I write this, Unbroken Bonds has been legal for about a day. That said, I’ve done some testing and a lot of discussion about the new cards and wanted to offer a few starting point lists featuring the new cards.

Reshiram & Charizard-GX

Pokémon – 12

4 Reshiram & Charizard-GX
3 Jirachi TEU
1 Tapu Lele-GX
1 Dedenne-GX
1 Marshadow SLG
1 Absol TEU
1 Blacephalon UNB

Trainers – 36

4 Welder

3 Guzma
3 Kiawe

 

4 Nest Ball
4 Ultra Ball

3 Fiery Flint
3 Fire Crystal
3 Switch

1 Adventure Bag
1 Escape Rope

2 Choice Band
2 Escape Board

 

2 Power Plant

1 Heat Factory p

Energy – 12

12 Fire

To start out, I wanted to see how streamlined I could make this deck. As a result, I’m running the full 4 Reshiram & Charizard-GX count and 3 Jirachi TEU. I have a split between Marshadow, Tapu Lele-GX, and Dedenne-GX. I would not be surprised if certain ones end up playing better than others, but right now I like the 1-1-1 split to see how they all play. I’m trying the baby Blacephalon because the deck does need a non-GX attacker, and it feels like it could offer a lot of burst damage off of just a Welder.

This deck is a bit unusual because it doesn’t really run normal Supporters, but that seems fine since you are reliant on Kiawe and Welder. Guzma is also a main way to reset your TAG TEAM. Since your Supporters are going to be usually of the utility variety, you’re banking on Jirachi to do some extra work. I imagine players will assume 2 Jirachi is fine in this deck, but I think you almost always want two Jirachi out since I expect you’ll be able to use more than one a turn quite often. Just getting a little bit of extra card advantage will add up in this deck.

I was considering a 1-1 or even a 2-2 Salazzle UNB line as an alternative source of card draw, but I think with only 4 Ultra Ball and no actual raw draw Supporters beyond the 3 cards off of Welder, I fear it would be difficult to get the lizard out reliably.

Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX

Pokémon – 9

4 Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX
2 Misdreavus UNB
2 Mismagius UNB
1 Xerneas CIN

Trainers – 42

4 Acerola

4 Bill’s Analysis

4 Green’s Exploration
4 Guzma

 

4 Max Potion

4 Nest Ball

4 Pokégear 3.0

2 Counter Catcher

2 Dusk Stone

2 Switch

1 Energy Spinner

1 Energy Switch
1 Pal Pad
2 Choice Helmet

 

2 Power Plant

1 Wondrous Labyrinth p

Energy – 9

9 Fairy

I’m basing this off of lists I saw do well in Japan. To get going, all you need is a pair of Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX and 1 Fairy Energy. From there, the deck kind of just sets itself up on its own. After that you need to draw into Acerolas and Max Potions and Switching effects to stay alive. As a result, Green’s Exploration is an incredible card in this deck. As is Bill’s Analysis. To use both Exploration and Power Plant, this deck has limited Abilities in it. It also runs no conventional Supporter cards. You’ll be using Acerola and Guzma most turns.

What I do want to look at is Mismagius. This card is not traditionally a good card. It gives up a Prize card to draw you cards, which sounds terrible…I mean, it is terrible. In this case, though, your opponent is being presented only with Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX…both give up Prizes in 3 card incremenets, so floating the opponent 2 Prizes is irrelevant. In fact, it can be used to facilitate Counter Catcher early on, even. Admittedly, the lists I saw with this gimmick had access to Reset Stamp, which we do not have yet, which is a one-sided N, which gave the deck additional benefits from giving up Prize cards, but I don’t think the gimmick becomes bad without it.

The selling point here is that you can use Dusk Stone to power out the Stage 1 out of nowhere…also worth noting is if you have Misdreavus Active, you can Stone it, then sacrifice it to promote a Gardy. This lets it act as a Switch, too. Don’t bench a Misdreavus until you have to, because it can get Guzma’d and killed. Sometimes it is a decent bait to take pressure off of your Gardevoir and Sylveons, though.

Choice Helmet is an interesting option to keep your TAG TEAM outside of reasonable OHKO range. Energy Spinner is your 10th Energy that is searchable with Exploration or grabbed with Analysis.

Xerneas is included as a non-GX attacker option, and also a potential consistency boost with the ability to search up a Supporter. On the topic of Supporters, I’m not sure if I want to add a couple of extra Supporters such as Cynthia or Erika’s Hospitality. These will also help increase the hit rate of Pokégear 3.0 too.

Another option I want to look at with the way this deck is headed is the inclusion of a “fair” Lt. Surge’s Strategy/Lusamine loop. Being able to loop Acerola every turn seems absolutely filthy. The deck also does have a defensive enough game plan that it shouldn’t be too difficult to actually assemble the gimmick over time.

I am sure there are other, more conventional ways to build this deck, but I hate having Pokémon sitting around that get themselves killed off, thus giving your opponent ways around having to take out 2 TAG TEAMs.

Blacephalon

Pokémon – 4

4 Blacephalon UNB

Trainers – 41

4 Green’s Exploration
4 Welder

1 Guzma

1 Lusamine p

 

4 Acro Bike

4 Fiery Flint

4 Fire Crystal

4 Pokégear 3.0

3 Nest Ball

2 Beast Ring

2 Energy Retrieval

1 Energy Spinner

1 Rescue Stretcher
2 Wishful Baton

 

3 Ultra Space

1 Heat Factory p

Energy – 15

14 Fire
1 Beast p

I promise I did not intend to showcase three decks that are all built around Green’s Exploration, but the card looks to be incredibly powerful. This deck is extremely streamlined…it literally only runs 4 Blacephalon. You could run additional attackers, like…

I don’t even bother. The Energy is also pretty simple, in that I have 14 Fire Energy and a Beast Energy p.

So Blacephalon does 50 damage for every Fire Energy you discard to it for the cost of 3 Fire Energy. So the deck demands you get 3 Energy attached a turn, and also that you keep filling your hand with Fire Energy. This isn’t easy. To keep Energy onto the clown, you have Welder, Beast Ring, and Wishful Baton. I don’t run 4 Beast Ring because there are only a finite amount of turns it is live. It splits counts with Wishful Baton, another way to conserve Energy.

As for getting Energy into hand, the deck is playing a combination of Fiery Flint, Fire Crystal, Energy Spinner, and Energy Retrieval to get Energy into hand. Alongside 15 actual Energy cards, it is pretty easy to have access to a bunch of Energy. The deck runs 4 Pokégear 3.0 and 3 Acro Bike as Item-based draw to smooth things over. Nest Ball and Ultra Space help you get your Blacephalons out. Maybe it is just better to run more Ultra Space over Nest Balls, but you do have situations when you want to play more than one in a turn, and you can’t do that with all copies of Ultra Space.

Outside of Green’s Exploration and Welder, the deck runs 1 Guzma and a Lusamine p. 1 Guzma seems bad at first glance, but you are so busy spamming the first two Supporters that playing a Guzma is hard to fit in. Lusamine p is crazy in that you guarantee that you will have only Ultra Beasts in play and that your opponent will have to go to exactly 3 Prizes. Getting a free turn of invulnerability is great. Between Pokégear and preemptive planning with Exploration, it isn’t hard to have the card at the right time.

Conclusion

Anyway, in closing, I am actually super excited to see what Unbroken Bonds does to the format! This set has a lot of powerful cards, and a ton of useful Trainers. Hopefully this will reduce the stranglehold that Zoroark and Lightning decks have had over the format! I will not be attending Hartford Regionals, but I will be attending Madison Regionals later this month to try and make a push for my invite, as I am still sitting at 348/550 Points.

Until next time!


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