It’s Like a Sauna in Here

An Unbroken Bonds Review, Blastoise/Alolan Ninetales, and All-Basics ReshiZard

Hello everyone! This week is an interesting one as a new set has just been released, and we have a rare break in the major tournament cycle! For that reason, instead of outlining testing results and advising you on what to come equipped with for the next Regionals, I’d like to take a look at some of the more interesting and powerful cards in the latest expansion, Unbroken Bonds. Many players, including myself, felt as though the Standard format had grown stagnant in the weeks leading up to the EUIC, so hopefully Unbroken Bonds is just what we need to pump some lifeblood back into the format.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll be highlighting the cards that I think make for interesting additions to the Standard and Expanded formats. Some of these cards will slot easily into existing archetypes and others may be powerful enough to become the bases for brand new decks.

With Unbroken Bonds being on PTCGO for the past week or so, I do have some hands-on experience with these cards—but far from the amount I’d need to be 100% positive about these assertions. There’s never a substitute for putting the time into proper playtesting, but looking over a set in this manner is valuable and I’d expect the majority of these concepts to come to fruition in the metagame.

I’ve chosen to cover fewer cards than I usually would to make room for decklists and longer form thoughts on some of them, but as always, if you have any questions about anything I didn’t cover, please let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Unbroken Bonds: Set Review

Grass

Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX

I’m going to start things off with what may be a controversial statement: I don’t believe this card is going to be good enough. While at face it resembles powerful cards that have led many players to great success, I believe that it has some weaknesses that are going to prove too difficult to overcome.

Firstly, I believe Fire Weakness is going to be a huge liability in a format full of Reshiram & Charizard-GX. While cards with suboptimal Weaknesses have been successful in the past, I’m not too interested in putting myself at an immediate disadvantage in the early weeks of the format.

Secondly, this card being Grass-type means it’s a pretty significant step down from Buzzwole-GX, which it has naturally been compared to quite a bit. The current age of Pokémon design seems to be about supplying a certain type or subset (such as Ultra Beasts—more on that later) of cards with powerful tools that turn good cards into great ones. This is very evident in the case of Buzzwole-GX as Strong Energy and Diance p have gone a long way toward making various Fighting variants playable over the last few years. Without that kind of support, I’m not sure this card is good enough.

With that being said, the card clearly isn’t bad and has a lot of things working in its favor. As I alluded to before, it is an Ultra Beast, which gives it access to its own set of support cards. It’s also a 260-HP monster with decent attacks all around. Plus, it has been a popular choice for recent Japanese tournaments.

Traditionally, relying on Japanese innovation to help you succeed in the Play! Pokémon tournament series has not been a recipe for success, it doesn’t mean we should outright ignore the information we’ve been given.

After doing some digging, it appears that all of the recent winning Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX decklists look something like this:

Pokémon – 4

4 Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX

Trainers – 45

4 Bill’s Analysis

4 Green’s Exploration

2 Acerola
2 Professor Kukui

1 Guzma

1 Lisia

1 Lusamine p

1 Team Rocket’s Harassment

 

4 Beast Ring

4 Custom Catcher

4 Pokégear 3.0
4 Net Ball

4 Max Potion

1 Energy Recycle System

1 Field Blower

1 Switch
2 Choice Helmet

1 Choice Band

 

2 Power Plant

1 Life Forest p

Energy – 11

10 Grass
1 Beast p

Note: Team Rocket’s Harassment has not yet been released in English.

This is clearly a super aggressive, very “all-in” style that we see a little more often in Japan than stateside. Obvious differences in tournament structure and card releases aside, this is not where I would start when exploring how to play with Pheramosa & Buzzwole-GX. While most of the card choices seem solid and I generally respect this kind of strategy, I don’t think you necessarily need to lean so hard on the namesake card.

If I had an upcoming tournament to prepare for and was interested in playing with this card, I think I would try to include it as an attacker (perhaps even the primary attacker) in a deck that could utilize the power of the Ultra Beasts and their synergies. I’d like to see a version of this deck that highlights the strengths of this Grass-type TAG TEAM (such as Jet Punch and the ability to use Beast Ring) and not the weaknesses (such as getting destroyed by a Reshiram & Charizard-GX).

Grubbin UNB

This Grubbin should end up slotting right into existing Vikavolt decks, as Electrical Signal is a strong attack on a Basic that you’re going to be playing anyway. While it’s not going to add anything flashy to the format, small improvements like this are very important.

Kartana UNB

This card is worth mentioning for similar reasons to Grubbin. It’s not something that’s going to steal the show, but it is another decent single-Prize attacker that doubles as an Ultra Beast. It’s crucial to be aware that cards like this one exist when theorizing and playtesting new decks.

Fire

Reshiram & Charizard-GX

Unlike the previous TAG TEAM we’ve covered, I’m absolutely in love with this card and believe that it is going to live up to the hype. 270 HP, an almost irrelevant Weakness, three attacks that are both good on their own and work well together, and access to Fire support cards? Sign me up! I have only scratched the surface of the possibilities with Reshiram & Charizard-GX, but here’s the list I’ve been tooling around with:

Pokémon – 11

3 Reshiram & Charizard-GX

1 Turtonator DRM

2 Jirachi TEU

1 Marshadow SLG

2 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Dedenne-GX

1 Mew UNB 76

Trainers – 36

4 Kiawe

4 Welder
3 Guzma

 

4 Acro Bike

4 Switch

4 Ultra Ball

3 Fire Crystal
3 Nest Ball

1 Adventure Bag

2 Choice Band

2 Escape Board

 

1 Heat Factory p

1 Power Plant

Energy – 13

13 Fire

Reshiram & Charizard-GX is the card I was most excited to talk about when I started this article, and this list is the first of many that I’m sure I’ll be tooling around with over the next few weeks. There’s a lot here that I like and a lot that I’m unsure of, so I’d like to go ahead and break down some of the card choices.


3 Reshiram & Charizard-GX
I think three is the right number, at least in the early stages of the format. Leaning heavily onto cards like Kiawe and Welder means we have less access to draw power than most decks, which both (A) makes it difficult to run many different Pokémon (especially if they require evolving) and (B) means that we need to make sure we’re running a sufficient number of attackers. I would go to 4 before 2 but be very hesitant to move from 3 in the first place.

1 Turtonator DRM
I believe the deck needs a single-Prize, non-GX attacker, but I’m not sold on Turtonator being the correct call. I’m playing it because the early Japanese lists were, and while it does its job, it doesn’t do much else. I’m going to be testing a few different options as I have time over the next few weeks, the best of which I believe is likely Blacephalon UNB.

The biggest piece of advice here is that I don’t think any cards that need to evolve will work. I strongly believe that we want to be prioritizing cards that are easy to find and attack with over everything else, and I would avoid anything that has to evolve altogether.


2 Tapu Lele-GX, 1 Dedenne-GX & 1 Marshadow SLG
I’m confident that you want all of these Pokémon in your list, but I’m not quite sure how many of each you need. I’ve chosen to rely more heavily on Tapu Lele-GX as my thinking is that our Supporters are absolutely crucial, and in the case of Welder they rely on us having certain cards in our hand. This makes me want to be able to find a Supporter without risking any of the cards in our hand. It’s possible that this is too conservative of an approach, as Dedenne-GX is a strong card for this archetype. I’m confident that as players get more experience with the new cards and the format matures we’ll have an optimal choice, but for now I’m relying on instinct and my personal philosophy with the deck.

2 Jirachi TEU
Jirachi slots in nicely here because of how reliant we are on switching effects. Not only does Jirachi act as a nice bit of draw power in the early game, but it’s not unreasonable to expect that we activate Stellar Wish every single turn (sometimes even twice a turn!).

1 Mew UNB
This is also a holdover from my early scouring of the Japanese lists. It’s very strong versus Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, a matchup that I admittedly haven’t played too much against. If PikaRom is a big part of the metagame and proves to be a troubling matchup, I love this card, but if it falls out of favor I could easily see ditching it in favor or something with a little more impactful across different matchups.


4 Kiawe & 4 Welder
These cards are absolutely crucial to the deck and I couldn’t imagine ever wanting fewer than four of each. Welder is your primary source of both acceleration and draw power, and Kiawe is absolutely back-breaking on the early turns of the game. It’s unfortunate that we can’t reasonably afford to run more Supporters that draw cards with no stipulation, but I believe these cards are synergistic enough with our strategy that it’s absolutely worth it.

3 Guzma
Both “halves” of Guzma are important here as we are reliant on switching effects and would like to gust up whatever our opponent’s biggest threat is. I originally began testing with 4, but found it to be overkill.


The rest of the deck more or less speaks for itself. We want to find and power up our big TAG TEAM, we need to find ways to move from the Active position (and hopefully find some benefit while doing so), and we need to attach a lot of Energy.

I wouldn’t be at all shocked if numbers get toyed with or certain cards get swapped with those with a similar effect. This is still very early in the process and things are bound to change, because of metagame fluctuations if nothing else. Still, I believe this list is powerful and consistent and I’d recommend trying it out if you’re looking to play with Reshiram & Charizard-GX.

Blacephalon UNB

Not only is this card a potential addition to Reshiram & Charizard-GX, but it has the potential to be the star of a deck in its own right. We’ve already spoken about the importance of single-Prize attackers and how much Fire support exists in the format, so I would not at all be surprised to see Blacephalon become a major player in Standard. I can’t say that I’ve put too much effort into the deck myself, but it’s definitely something to keep on your radar.

Water

Blastoise-GX

This card didn’t immediately strike me as very powerful, but I soon became interested after realizing how good Reshiram & Charizard-GX is, and therefore how important Water typing might end up being. I have not gotten a chance to dive too deep into Blastoise, but I have this built online and think it’s a reasonable place to start:

Pokémon – 15

4 Squirtle TEU 22
2 Wartortle TEU

2 Blastoise TEU
2 Blastoise-GX

2 Alolan Vulpix GRI
1 Alolan Ninetales-GX LOT

1 Articuno TEU

1 Tapu Lele-GX

Trainers – 32

4 Cynthia
4 Lillie

3 Guzma
2 Erika’s Hospitality

 

4 Rare Candy

4 Ultra Ball
3 Nest Ball

2 Rescue Stretcher

2 Timer Ball

1 Energy Recycler

1 Max Potion

 

2 Brooklet Hill

Energy – 13

13 Water

My initial inclination is to combine Blastoise-GX with Blastoise TEU and rely on Alolan Ninetales-GX to find your Rare Candies and overall make things run a bit more smoothly. I suspect that consistency is going to be a major issue as Stage 2s have inherent issues of their own, but Blastoise-GX is a resilient enough card that I could easily see it making a splash. If this idea proves to be worthwhile I’ll update you all with a more tested list sometime in the near future.

Lightning

Dedenne-GX

This kind of Ability has always been strong, as Uxie LA and Shaymin-EX ROS have similar effects and are among the most powerful cards of all time. Dedenne is most certainly not that, but it is very good and very explosive, and it has the added benefit of potentially fueling discard pile synergies. There’s not much more to say other than I’m thankful this card doesn’t have a built-in way to reuse itself.

Charjabug UNB

This card is worth paying attention to for the same reasons Grubbin is. It’s not quite as powerful as Grubbin and traditional Vikavolt lists won’t make much use of it, but it’s worth a shout-out here.

Psychic

Mew UNB

As I mentioned earlier, Mew is very useful in the right context. With a super strong, if narrow, Ability coupled with a reasonable attack, what’s not to like?

Marshadow & Machamp-GX

I really wanted this card to be good enough, but after thinking about it for a few weeks and trying to come up with a decklist I thought was anywhere near playable, I don’t think it is. TAG TEAM GXs come at a real cost and therefore need to be doing something that truly can’t be done by any other means, and I don’t think this one quite gets there.

Darkness

Honchkrow-GX

I have my reservations about how much of an impact this card can make on the metagame while people are still playing with Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, but there’s no doubt that this card is good enough in a lot of circumstances. Honckrow provides a ton of disruption at a relatively low cost, and has a very strong attack to boot. I love this type of card and look forward to brewing with it in the future, should it end up being viable.

Metal

Lucario & Melmetal-GX

I was part of the prerelease playtesting for this card sometime last year before Melmetal was even revealed, and I’ll never forget how many times I had the read the GX attack while Kyle Sucevich just sat across from me, laughing. Despite how fun and unique the GX attack is, I haven’t been able to come up with something reasonable with the card quite yet. I’d guess you want to be all-in on damage prevention, with the hopes of using Lucario & Melmetal-GX mostly for its GX attack and defaulting to some other, more powerful attacker.

Colorless

Cleffa UNB

Cleffa is pretty bad, but that art is some of the best I’ve ever seen and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since the card was released.

Celesteela-GX

When I first read Celesteela I thought that it prevented all attacks from GX Pokémon, and originally had a lengthy paragraph here discussing how much potential the card had. After reading it correctly, I think there is likely some potential there, but obviously the Ability is very narrow. Colorless attack costs are helpful, but I doubt we’ll be seeing Celesteela at the forefront of the metagame anytime soon.

Trainers

Dusk Stone

This card is pretty simple to evaluate as it’s only as good as the Pokémon named on it. I love Honchkrow-GX and I’m glad it gets another tool, but if none of the Pokémon end up being good enough, this is destined for the sidelines.

Green’s Exploration

This card might be asking for too much, but in the decks where it’s always or often turned on, it’s going to be an important tool. The Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX list that I posted near the beginning of this article is a somewhat extreme example of the type of deck that really wants a card like this.

Lt. Surge’s Strategy

This card is one of the most degenerate designs we’ve seen in years and I won’t be surprised if this breaks the existing Stall decks. If the existing mill/stall archetypes didn’t already exist, or we could somehow guarantee that people wouldn’t play those cards, Lt. Surge’s Strategy could be a reasonable and even pretty neat addition to the format. That is sadly not the world we live in, though, and I can’t imagine anything good, fair, or fun ever being done with this card.

Power Plant

A powerful card, if not a bit boring. Does exactly what you want it to do, is going to be great in the right situations and metagames, and is sure to be a crucial tool in your Standard arsenal for as long as it’s legal.

Red’s Challenge

Obviously strong and will have a major impact on the game. I think it would be wise to go over all of your existing decklists and make sure that none of them benefit from just throwing one or two of these in. Specifically, if you have a deck that can benefit from cards being discarded and/or is focused on finding one specific piece to the puzzle, this is going to be great. We’ve seen formats where raw card advantage is so powerful that you won’t play a card that only finds one thing very often, but I think this card is strong enough to see a lot of play.

Conclusion

This is one of the strongest sets in recent memory. In addition to all the cards I’ve written about today, the set is chock full of others that could potentially be playable, or are likely to have their moment to shine eventually. I’m excited to see what the future holds, as Unbroken Bonds is guaranteed to make an impact on the format, and hopefully freshen things up a bit while providing some fun new toys for us all to play with. I think the next big event I’ll be attending is the North America International Championships, but I’ll be writing a few times between now and then. Hopefully the next time I see you we have even more sweet decks to talk about.

XO
KW


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