Hello everyone! The final set of the season always has a special allure to it, and Unbroken Bonds has already lived up to the hype.
I think now is a good time to reflect on all of the sets we’ve gotten this competitive year and how incredible each has been. It is impossible to avoid having “stronger” and “weaker” sets, but this is the first full year in a long time where all four sets have been phenomenal. Let’s take a look at their size alone:
- Celestial Storm: 183 cards
- Lost Thunder: 236
- Team Up: 196
- Unbroken Bonds: 234
For those of you keeping track at home, these are the four biggest sets the Pokémon Trading Card Game has ever seen except for Aquapolis in 2003, which narrowly beats out Celestial Storm in size with 186 cards. It cannot be understated how incredible it is to see four massive sets—with a ton of playable cards—in a row. It seems that the days of filler sets are behind us, and we can expect multiple viable archetypes, powerful new Supporters, and interesting techs with each new release. Considering the influx of playable cards, it is no surprise that we’ve seen major format shifts with every set so far.
With Unbroken Bonds Came…
The tyrant emerging from Unbroken Bonds is Reshiram & Charizard-GX, and the results of the first weekend of events show this deck is the real deal. We saw different versions take down both Santa Clara and São Paulo, with SixPrizes’s own Alex Schemanske and Pablo Meza nabbing 2nd and 1st respectively at these events. Interestingly enough, all three ReshiZard decks that found themselves in the finals had significant differences in their builds. Kian Amini’s was the most unique with 4 copies of Volcanion UNB, Green’s Exploration, and Custom Catcher. My great pal Kenny Wisdom did a detailed breakdown of Kian’s list if you want to learn more about the unique choices in his deck that lead him to victory.
Alright, so ReshiZard lived up to the hype. It’s the real deal—the next big deck—and poised to take over Standard unless something is done about it. So, what do we do about it? When I get into a mindset of trying to counter something, I first like to see if I can identify common themes in the archetype that I can exploit. After reviewing all of the finalists’ lists, I came up with the following:
- Weakness to Water
- All Basics (minus Alex’s RK9)
- Heavy Item counts
The range in consistency engines makes focusing on that part of the deck a bit more difficult, and I don’t think Kian’s engine is particularly exploitable in the way that Jirachi engines are, so we’re forced to look elsewhere. However, if after testing we anticipate a certain version to be “best,” we can cater our choices accordingly.
With these themes in mind, let’s start thinking about what sort of deck can be put together to counter ReshiZard.
1. Weakness to Water
The first is the simplest weakness to exploit as it is quite literally the Weakness of the card—its vulnerability to Water typing. The deck benefits from Water types being nearly non-existent in the format right now, but we’ve begun to see obscure cards like Frost Rotom UPR and Slowking LOT creep their way into decks as counters to the Fire behemoth.
2. All Basics (minus Alex’s RK9)
The second common theme between the ReshiZards is that they play all Basic Pokémon, with the exception of Alex’s 1-1 Arcanine UNB. This leaves room to utilize cards that target Basic Pokémon specifically:
- Vileplume BUS was a popular consideration during SUM–TEU, but with the introduction of Stealthy Hood to Standard, Basic-focused decks have an easy out to Disgusting Pollen.
- Another way to counter Basic Pokémon could be to simply out-damage them with something like Weezing UNB or Tyranitar-GX, which both do more damage to your opponent’s Basic Pokémon.
- We also have cards like Absol TEU, Spiritomb UPR, Rhyperior UNB, Venomoth-GX, and Nita which all disrupt Basic Pokémon in some way.
3. Heavy Item counts
The third theme is how aggressive these decks are with their Item counts. Moving fast and doing a lot of damage has been a recurring theme among Fire Pokémon, and ReshiZard is no different. Kian’s version epitomized this with more than 1/3 of his entire deck being Item cards!
- In past formats we had Garbodor GRI keeping these greedy decks in check, but it seems like the new kids on the block aren’t respecting the Trash Monster nearly as much as they used to. This creates an opening for Garbodor GRI to move in and start doing a lot of damage for little effort.
- We also have Gengar & Mimikyu-GX with Poltergeist doing 50× the amount of Trainers in your opponent’s hand. Kian’s list played 42 Trainers, so hitting high numbers is much easier than you might think.
- Alternatively, we could try to disrupt our opponent from playing Items in the first place. Our options for this route include Noivern-GX, Omastar TEU, and Luxio UPR, with the first two likely being the most viable.
Now that we know more about what makes ReshiZard function and its counter strategies, we try building something that matches some of what we’ve mentioned above! If we follow these themes, we should be able to put together a few ideas capable of doing work against ReshiZard. The key will be to keep the ideas more broadly “good” so they can hold up against the rest of the meta.
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 36
Energy – 12
4 Unit GRW
This updated version of the Quagsire deck I talked about before Denver has been showing a lot of promise.
I’ve adapted the deck to accommodate an engine focused around Green’s Exploration after Kian’s success with such an engine in Santa Clara, and it has been incredibly fun to use. I cannot understate the way your play can open up when you have that kind of control over each turn.
Switching to Green’s caused us to ditch Articuno TEU in favor of the new Kyurem, which has been fine. Call Forth Cold is great for getting more Energy into play quickly instead of saving what we have. Hail Prison—the auto-Paralyze attack—is a great option to have, but you should be careful about discarding too much Energy.
Green’s Exploration has made utilizing Quagsire a bit more awkward, and it ultimately may prove to not be worth the space, but I look at the potential Quagsire plays as game-winning options if my opponent doesn’t target down Wooper. The potential for Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX or Magikarp & Wailor-GX to win the game in a single turn is powerful enough to let a Wooper sit on the Bench as a threat as you play the game out.
Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX takes the same amount of Energy as Magikarp & Wailord-GX, but instead allows you to focus on a single target to take additional Prizes on. With Green’s Exploration and Lt. Surge’s Strategy, you can set up one swing turn where you evolve into Quagsire, get Pheromosa & Buzzwole-GX into the Active, and take the 3 additional Prizes to win the game.
I could have listed a lot of other options here, but essentially I’m looking at “Swing cards” that can be grabbed with Green’s. Having Green’s in a format without N is incredible, and can allow you to plan multiple turns ahead for a big swing turn with one of the TAG TEAMs to finish the game. Having Beast Ring to get additional Energy into play, or Counter Catcher to use a Gust effect without a Supporter, could be exactly what you need to win.
Despite not having a dedicated Prism Stadium, this concept does have a few “normal” Stadiums to choose from that all seem fine. I’ve been testing Power Plant because it’s new and interesting, but I’m certain that both Brooklet Hill and Shrine of Punishment would be great options. If I were to cut the Quagsire stuff out, then adding 2 copies of one of these Stadiums would be high on my list.
Testing out Green’s Exploration has been quite the experience. Building decks without Abilities in this manner is not something we’ve seen in the PTCG during my time. However, now that I’ve gotten more used to playing with Green’s Exploration, the idea of not using it is less appealing, so I’m definitely going to be exploring different ways to piece this together with the Green’s engine.
Pokémon – 8
Trainers – 39
Energy – 13
Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX caught my eye when Unbroken Bonds first leaked. Something I’ve found appealing about the card is how self-sufficient it is. The ability to find and move Energy—without requiring other cards—is nice as it lessens the dependency on what’s in your hand. This makes it a perfect partner for a powerful card like Omastar TEU. A major issue with Omastar previously was that most cards needed some kind of support to help them progress their board state, meaning that there was always a need to have a decent-sized Bench alongside the Fossils in play, which was a headache for keeping Fossil Bind active.
All you need for any game is 1 Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX, 1 Omastar, and another Benched attacker. An advantage of the Omastar in a deck like this is you can limit the amount of single-Prize attackers the opponent can Knock Out, so even if they’re able to Knock Out 2 Omastar throughout a game to keep Items online, they will still need to take down 2 TAG TEAM GXs in order to win.
This gives you plenty of time to maneuver enough Energy into play to pull off a Magical Miracle GX, which shuffles your opponent’s entire hand into their deck if Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX has 6 Fairy Energy attached.
The deck still needs refining. It can be a bit Supporter-clunky and using Lillie efficiently throughout the game is tough without Ultra Ball. But I genuinely love the “Big TAG TEAM/Fossils” concept and think there is potential here.
My first iteration of the deck had these Psychic attackers instead of Gardevoir & Sylveon. Gengar’s Poltergeist fit well with Omastar’s Item locking, and Alolan Muk’s Poison attacks are much more terrifying when you lose access to cards like Switch, Escape Rope, and Escape Board to get out of Poison. However, I felt like matches were constantly won and lost on finding Energy. Needing two Energy attachments to attack is annoying with no Energy acceleration and relevant Weaknesses in the meta. I do think the cards play better into the “Lock” aspect of the idea, but Gardevoir & Sylveon is more reliable.
I’m constantly going back and forth on Lusamine, but ultimately I think it is too slow. Oranguru UPR can recover more cards without taking your Supporter for the turn, but without a way to draw directly into them outside of Ingo & Emmet, it can be less consistent.
Giovanni’s Exile makes sense in theory, considering the demand on Bench space for Fossil Bind, but in practice I never found myself using the card.
Other Fairy Charms
Currently we only have Fairy Charm Ability because it’s the most broadly useful, but in a more defined meta we could easily find space for others.
The last four sets have been incredible and will likely pave an entire new way of playing and thinking about the game, the likes we have not seen since Pokémon-EX were reintroduced in 2012. Seeing these powerful and exciting cards storm onto the scene makes me wish I were competing as often as I have in the past, but PTCGO keeps me happy enough.
I will be at the upcoming Madison Regional Championships, but I haven’t been feeling the competitive drive as much lately, so I’m undecided on whether or not I will be playing in the Main Event. Either way, I will be around and definitely be keeping up with all of the action. Hopefully I get to see some of you there, and as always please come up and say hello. Until next time!
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