The Fro Knows: What to Watch in Sun and Moon

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Alola! With the Pokemon Sun and Moon expansion on the horizon, it’s only natural to wonder just how the set will influence the Standard metagame. While most sets typically only have one or two truly breakout cards, mostly due to the overpowered nature of EX Pokemon, this set looks to shift toward a far more balanced and back and forth game of Pokemon.

 

This stems from the move away from EX Pokemon in favour of the new GX mechanic which, while still as powerful as most EX Pokemon, balances things out by giving the more broken abilities to evolution Pokemon. This means that these Pokemon aren’t nearly as explosive as their EX counterparts, but the limitation of one GX move per game can cause some truly insane swings, making the tradeoff of speed for power all the more worthwhile. After browsing through the spoilers (and translations) on Bulbapedia, I’ve found that there’s a whopping fourteen new cards that I believe will have a tremendous impact on the metagame, either by spawning new archetypes or complimenting already existing decks.

 

First and foremost, I’d be remiss to discuss Solgaleo GX and Lunala GX, the flagship Pokemon of Sun and Moon. These two Pokemon both evolve from Cosmog and Cosmoem, making the little puffball that refused to get in the freaking bag all throughout your Alolan journey into a terrifying beast of a Pokemon. Each boasting massive a 250HP, these two legends are going to be tremendously difficult to take down. Those are Wailord-EX stats, and that thing was so bulky it spawned an entire mill archetype just by virtue of how many hits it can shrug off. However, what makes these such powerhouses is the utter craziness of their attacks.

 

For starters, Solgaleo GX has an ability to get a free switch every turn before you attack, so right off the bat this Pokemon pairs extremely well with cards that enjoy switching in and out like Zoroark and Volcanion-EX. But the fun doesn’t stop there! For a paltry three energy, Solgaleo GX can deal 230 damage at the cost of all the energy attached to it. That can take out the likes of Mega Mewtwo-EX and Mega Gardevoir-EX in a single hit, and can even knock out most EX Pokemon through a Fighting Fury Belt. While all this would certainly make this a staple build-around-me Pokemon,

 

Solgaleo GX has one of the craziest GX moves in the entire set. For just one Steel energy, you can take any five energy from your deck and attach them however you like to your Pokemon. Note that this doesn’t even specify BASIC energy. Oh. My. Arceus. You can get Double Dragon Energy, Double Colorless Energy, Splash Energy, and even Rainbow Energy! This much massive ramp as early as turn 2 can swing the entire game in your favour. Imagine powering up Mega Mewtwo-EX with four Double Colorless Energy so it can attack for 250 every turn with Psychic Infinity. There are dozens of ways to abuse this ability, and I’d be shocked if Solgaleo GX doesn’t see some level of competitive play.

 

Not to be outdone we have Lunala GX. While not as flashy as Solgaleo, Lunala allows you to move your Psychic energy around your Pokemon as often as you like before you attack, which gives cards like Max Elixir a lot more flexibility in a Psychic deck. You can simply power up a Pokemon with Max Elixirs then move them to an active Pokemon that cares about the amount of energy attached, such as Mewtwo-EX or Oranguru, attack until they’re near fainting, then transfer the energy over to another of your Pokemon. Moreover, should the need arise, Lunala can use its GX attack to automatically knock out a non-GX Pokemon. Note that this can take down every EX Pokemon in the game, from the mightiest Mega Gardevoir-EX to the lowliest Houndoom-EX. What makes this such a game changer is that when you’re staring this thing down with an EX deck, you can never let your opponent get to just two prize cards. Turns of setup can be swept away in an instant, and I can see Lunala decks running additional copies of Lysandre to guarantee that no Pokemon is safe from this GX Pokemon’s wrath.

 

Speaking of powerful GX Pokemon, it’s not just legendary Pokemon that are getting the bump. Even Gumshoos, Lurantis, and Gen 1 favourite Tauros have been shown some love with actually playable cards. Gumshoos GX is what’s known as a counter card, working perfectly against decks that like having huge amounts of energy. While its first attack is less than stellar, dealing only 100 damage, its GX move can be devastating against decks looking to cheat out as much energy as they can. For a single Colorless energy, Gumshoos can deal 10 damage plus an additional 50 damage for each energy attached to the opposing Pokemon. Looking back at what made Solgaleo and Lunala so powerful, having an attack like that can obliterate a deck looking to build up a single attacker. Imagine that scenario where Solgaleo used its GX to make that massive Mega Mewtwo-EX. You can very easily evolve your Yungoos the following turn, since Gumshoos GX is only a Stage 1 evolution, Lysandre the Mega Mewtwo into play, then hammer it for 410 damage! Even if you only get to do it once, you just gained two prize cards from the knock out while negating the opponent’s only GX move for the game. If that isn’t a hard counter, I don’t know what is.

 

On the other hand, Lurantis GX is effectively the Grass version of Volcanion. While it’s much harder for a Grass deck to get energy into the discard pile without an effect like Volcanion-EX’s Steam Up, even using something like Ultra Ball to discard energy cards allows you to use Lurantis’ first attack to ramp however you want. Unlike Volcanion, you can actually put the energy onto your active Pokemon, giving it a slight edge by turning right around into attacking with Solar Blade for the one-two punch of a total 160 damage. As the game goes on and the ramp gets bigger, Lurantis’ GX acts as a sort of reverse of Gumshoos, dealing 50 damage times the number of Grass energy attached to it. Since you only need five energy to knock out Solgaleo and Lunala, and that can be achieved through just two of Lurantis’ first attack, it’s safe to say that this GX move is a nice emergency KO button to have around. One final bonus is that as a Grass Pokemon, Luranits GX can abuse Forest of Giant Plants to evolve as early as the first turn. This really gets the ball rolling in what I suspect will be a very tempo-oriented metagame.

 

Next, we come to Tauros GX. Tauros has the advantage of being completely operational off of a single Double Colorless Energy, and while both its Rage and GX attacks require it to take some damage, Tauros being a Basic Pokemon allows it to abuse Fighting Fury Belt to boost its damage output even further. A maxed out Rage without Fighting Fury Belt can deal a whopping 190 damage, which is enough to knock out most unboosted EX Pokemon, and Tauros’ GX move is effectively Rage on steroids, dealing 30 damage times the number of damage counters on Tauros. Without any boosts this amounts to 510 damage (17 damage counters), and when turbocharged with a Fighting Fury Belt the maximum damage becomes a terrifying 630! That’s enough damage to take out most Pokemon at least three times over, giving Tauros GX the award for “No Kill Like Overkill”. I suspect it will find a home in the Gyarados deck centred around Team Magma’s Secret Base since it can provide an easy way to get damage counters, and since the deck is already centred around Double Colorless Energy, it would make an excellent, angry addition to the deck.

 

The last three Pokemon I’m going to discuss aren’t exactly powerhouses, but they do something unique that I feel will lend to earning themselves a place in a lot of decks. Eevee, Alolan Muk, and Alolan Raticate all do very powerful things, but not so much so that they have to be built around. For example, Eevee has the ability to tutor an evolution and evolve the same turn you attach the energy. Given that Eevee just received two evolutions in the form of Espeon GX and Umbreon GX, having something that big as early as turn 1 can get things rolling well before the opponent is ready. The only drawback is that as far as GX Pokemon go, these evolutions are a little lacking, so while it’s certainly an aggressive card that can do some powerful things, I think Eevee will most likely be relegated to playing a supporting role in Psychic and Dark decks.

 

Alolan Muk is poised to be the replacement for Garbodor, albeit a situational one. While it doesn’t require a tool card like Garbodor, Power of Alchemy only affects Basic Pokemon. This doesn’t sound so bad considering just how hard this hoses Hoopa-EX decks, but as we shift toward more evolution-oriented decks this becomes less potent. On the other hand, this can also be used by decks like Yanmega, Greninja Break, and Raticate Break which rely on the abilities of evolved Pokemon as a means of stopping the Hoopa-EX decks, so it adds a bit more flexibility than a hard lock such as Garbodor. As well, Alolan Muk also has 120HP to Garbodor’s 100HP which can sometimes make the difference between breaking the lockdown and being able to retreat itself back to safety. Should EX decks continue to dominate the metagame, I can see Alolan Muk stealing some of Garbodor’s thunder.

 

Lastly, we have Alolan Raticate. I see this card playing a huge role in Sky Field decks like Despair Ray Mega Gardevoir-EX, Mega Rayquaza-EX, and Rainbow Road. For just two Colorless Energy Alolan Raticate is able to tutor cards equal to the number of Pokemon on your bench. Given how these decks centre around maxing out their bench space as early as possible, Alolan Raticate can tutor up as many as eight cards in a single turn. Tutoring the exact cards you need is what made Talonflame so powerful, and getting to grab up to four times as many cards is a massive jump in potential. I’d keep an eye on this one because one of the hardest things for these kinds of decks to do is recover once they’ve spent their hand, so finding everything you need, even if Alolan Raticate only gets to do it once, can make or break certain games.

 

Before we get to the new Trainer cards, it’s important to understand how powerful three existing Trainers have become in the wake of an evolution-based metagame. Rare Candy, Evosoda, and Wally are going to be definite powerhouses now that evolutions are going to be top of the food chain because they can skip past your Pokemon’s weaker stages and jump right into GX mode. Wally is especially potent because he works on Pokemon that you’ve played this turn, and you can even play him on your first turn to jump start your GX Pokemon. Having Gumshoos GX or Lurantis GX on turn 1 and ready to attack is downright horrifying to face. On the other hand, Rare Candy gives you the ability to bypass Stage 1 altogether and jump straight to Stage 2, which conveniently enough includes Solgaleo and Lunala. Turning that opening Cosmog into a legendary GX on turn 2 is something that I eagerly look forward to doing, which is why I believe these cards will be staples in every non-EX deck from here on out.

 

With every new region comes a new Professor, and in Alola we have none other than Professor Kukui, the move master. As such, rather than discarding your hand and drawing seven cards like his predecessors, Kukui is far more Pokemon attack oriented by combining elements from both halves of Giovanni’s Scheme into an overall solid card. Professor Kukui lets you draw two cards and your attacks deal an additional 20 damage the turn you play it, so while not as powerful in terms of raw card advantage, I can definitely see this card being played as a means of turning what would normally be two-hit KOs into one-shots. This is especially necessary for decks like Gyarados and Mega Scizor-EX which often operate fully on the concept of the “double tap” for guaranteed knock outs.

 

Professor Kukui is lacking in the card draw department, so it looks like his assistant Lillie will have to fill in. Lillie is effectively the Supporter version of Shaymin-EX, allowing you to draw until you have six cards in hand. However, if used on your first turn you can draw up to eight cards, which is especially strong in Double Colorless Energy-based combo decks which tend to have a lot of items and tools and can empty their hand incredibly fast. What’s also great about this card when compared to Professor Sycamore and N is that if there’s a card you actually want to keep in your hand, you can keep it and still get effectively a new hand. While I doubt that Lillie will outright replace Professor Sycamore or N, I’m positive a combination of these three will be the common core for nearly every deck.

 

The final Supporter card I want to talk about is Team Skull Grunt. Your opponent reveals their hand and you can discard two energy cards from it. This is a card that you can play on your first turn and completely obliterate their hand. While unlike in games like Magic: the Gathering which absolutely require resources in your opening hand to function, most opening Pokemon draws typically have some number of energy to get an attack going, or at the very least to figure out a game plan for which Pokemon to build up early on. Forcing the opponent to discard two energy cards that early can seriously mess with how they are going to set up, and in certain decks like Volcanion-EX and Greninja Break, discarding their energy can save you massive amounts of damage. I don’t advocate running a full set of Team Skull Grunt, but the ability to screw with the opponent’s game plan that early is definitely something I’d look into for slower decks that require something to stall for setup time.

 

I’m excited for just how much Sun and Moon are poised to shake up the current Standard meta. Going back to evolution-based decks gives a lot of previously ignored decks more fuel, and the power level of the GX Pokemon feel tempered to a metagame both with and without EX Pokemon. We’re on the verge of a brand new adventure and only time will tell if any of my predictions are correct, but you can rest assured that whatever Pokemon from Sun and Moon make it big, I’ll be here to break them down and brew to help you on your Pokemon journey!

The Fro Knows: Where We Go From Here

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I sense…a disturbance in the Standard format. As if millions of players cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. Something terrible must have happened. We are on the precipice of a new Standard era, one where WotC isn’t afraid to ban cards in Standard if they prove overpowered. While this may seem like an overreaction to the backlash against the revamped rotation schedule – which they promptly dashed, this is a stark reality for us all. Now banning announcements will be held on the Monday after the pre-releases as well as five weeks after the Pro Tour. This gives them twice as many opportunities to correct mistakes they may have made in their (lack of) testing so that the format doesn’t see the same dominance that UW Flash and GB Delirium have had in recent months. This also means that, like Modern, Standard tournament staples are now riskier to invest in. If a deck seems completely overpowered after the Pro Tour, it may now become safer to build Tier 2 archetypes in the event that those stronger decks get hit with the ban hammer.

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But where does this leave our current Standard? We lost three heavy hitters in Emrakul, the Promised End, Smuggler’s Copter, and Reflector Mage, although the last one makes little sense in a post-Collected Company world. Either way, the fact remains that the current Aetherworks Marvel/UW Flash/GB Delirium roshambo match that is Standard has been seriously shaken up. Without Emrakul, Aetherworks Marvel and Delirium lose their inevitability. Without Smuggler’s Copter, UW Flash loses its most aggressive threat and BR Aggro loses its card filtering, Without Reflector Mage, UW Flash and Panharmonicon lose their main method of keeping the board clear for their threats like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

While losing these cards don’t necessarily kill the archetypes, it does hinder them to the point where they’ll be scrambling for replacement parts. While GB Delirium wasn’t hit by the Emrakul ban nearly as hard as Aetherworks, it will still have to decide whether it wants a giant creature to act as a finisher, or if it wants to tone itself down back into a dedicated midrange role. Barring a shift toward going wide with Decimator of the Provinces or a ramp package for Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, the more likely scenario is the midrange route. In order to do this, the Emrakul slots would have to be something that’s mostly value like an extra Noxious Gearhulk, or something incredibly grindy like Seasons Past. Of the two, I think Seasons Past is the more likely solution since resolving it allows you to restock your hand with value spells to push through the opponent’s dwindling resources. What also helps this plan is that without Smuggler’s Copter, it’s much more difficult for aggressive decks to get going, so you’ll most likely have the time to fire off a Seasons Past to put away the game.

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For UW Flash, the loss of Smuggler’s Copter and Reflector Mage might be enough to force it to revert back to the early Spirits shells that were popular toward the end of the pre-Kaladesh Standard season. These decks ran pretty much the same shell as the current Flash deck minus the Copter, so it seems like a natural fit. And while it’s nowhere near as powerful, if the deck is truly hurting for a vehicle, either Sky Skiff or Heart of Kiran from Aether Revolt can potentially fill in the void of cheap fliers that can’t be affected by sorcery speed removal. Shifting to a Spirits shell also helps replace the hole Reflector Mage leaves with Nebelgast Herald. While it doesn’t bounce the creature, having multiple flash Spirits can keep an opponent’s threat locked down while developing your own board.

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Finally, we have Aetherworks Marvel. Losing Emrakul was a huge blow to this deck, which is particularly painful since it marked thefirst time in ages that we had a dedicated combo deck in Standard. It was a deck I championed even as the Kaladesh spoilers were first being posted, so I took this one a little personally. However, I am undeterred in keeping the Marvel dream alive. We do lose Emrakul, but at the same time, in my experience there have been plenty of times where casting an Emrakul wasn’t game over on its own. As Marvel gained popularity, people starting shifting toward more sorcery speed removal to interact with Emrakul, and unlike Temur Emerge which could recur Emrakul with Grapple with the Past, once they killed an Emrakul it stayed down. But you know what giant, game ending creature doesn’t die to sorcery speed removal? Ulamog! By upping the Ulamog count in the Marvel deck, we trade off the ability to ruin the opponent’s plans with Emrakul for a potential three-for-one.

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What makes Ulamog so backbreaking is that the vast majority of removal spells seeing play right now either destroy or shrink, but Ulamog’s indestructibility and sheer size protect him from these cards. Declaration in Stone and Stasis Snare have been on the downswing lately, namely because they were either too slow or they could be interacted with, so Ulamog can easily carve a niche in the deck. Moreover, this leap over to Ulamog might see a reversion to the classic GR Ramp decks that dominated pre-Eldritch Moon since they could reliably hardcast Ulamog, which is something Aetherworks decks tend to struggle with.

The bannings have certainly changed the core structures of the previous top dogs, but what they have also done is open up the floor so existing archetypes that were otherwise pushed out have a chance to shine. For example, now that Emrakul is out, decks that would get obliterated by having their turns taken, such as Metalwork Colossus and Dynavolt Tower decks, can stockpile their resources to their heart’s content. Emrakul held these decks back considerably, since the opponent could attack a Colossus into Emrakul, then use the Colossus in their graveyard to sacrifice all of their artifacts. In Dynavolt Tower’s case, they could use the Tower to burn their opponent while using up all their energy reserves, effectively rendering them helpless. While Ulamog is equally difficult to deal with for these decks, the fact that it doesn’t actively obliterate your entire game plan and undo turns of effort makes it much more manageable for these decks to operate.

One other deck that was played for all of three weeks before being promptly beaten back by Smuggler’s Copter aggro was Mardu Gearhulks. This deck grew in popularity due to MtG Goldfish, and effectively plays like a reanimator deck by discarding Combustible Gearhulk, Noxious Gearhulk, and Cataclysmic Gearhulk, then bringing them back over and over through Refurbish and Ever After. Having played against the deck with Aetherworks, I can say with conviction that the deck is a real contender, but since the Smuggler’s Copter decks had such an early and consistent clock, the deck couldn’t really get going because they were dead by the time they could set up. Noxious Gearhulk is subpar when you can’t target the opponent’s biggest threats like Copter and Gideon, so it fell off to the wayside. However, I think that if any deck takes up the mantle of big, grinding midrange deck, I think this is the deck to do it. I would even say that it could take over GB Delirium’s place in the metagame since it not only goes bigger, but because Fatal Push will be so prevalent, having a creature base completely unaffected by it feels like where you want to be.

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Going forward post-Aether Revolt, it appears that combo will also be a defining force in the format. For the first time in ages, we will actually have three (THREE!) infinite combos in Standard. The first, which we already had in Kaladesh, revolves around Panharmonicon, Eldrazi Displacer, Drowner of Hope, and Thought-Knot Seer. Here you use Panharmonicon to double the EtB trigger of Drowner of Hope to generate six tokens which you sacrifice for six mana. You then use Eldrazi Displacer to blink the Drowner over and over, netting three mana each iteration. From there, you use your infinite mana to blink Thought-Knot Seer so the opponent draws their entire deck from its “leaves play” trigger. While losing Reflector Mage hurts, this deck does gain access to many of the Revolt cards that have EtB triggers, such as Deadeye Harpoonist and Airdrop Aeronauts, that combo well with Eldrazi Displacer. What’s interesting is that by blinking a Revolt creature with Displacer, when it returns to play it’ll trigger from seeing itself leave the battlefield!

Another infinite combo comes in the form of Wandering Fumarole and Crackdown Construct. This combo works by animating the Fumarole with Crackdown Construct in play, then repeatedly activating the Fumarole to switch its power and toughness infinitely. Since each activation gives the Construct +1/+1, we have an infinitely large attacker. What’s also fun about this is you can do all this mid-combat after the opponent has declared blockers. I expect this to see at least some play due to how easily splashable it is. Anyone running Blue and Red can realistically jam this into their decks with little consequence, and with cards like Built to Smash and Invigorated Rampage it won’t matter what kind of blockers the opponent has because you’re going to trample right through them.

The final and easily most hyped combo is Crazy Cat Lady, I mean, Saheeli RaiFelidar Guardian combo. We effectively have sorcery-speed Splinter Twin in Standard again! With both of these in play, you can use Saheeli’s -2 ability to make a copy of Felidar Guardian, which in turn blinks Saheeli so you can activate her -2 again and again until you have infinite attacking cat tokens. I absolutely love this combo, and I think that this is going to be one of the top contenders going into the Pro Tour. As well, because you’re in Jeskai colours, you can easily splash the Wandering Fumarole combo in there as a backup plan. This is not unlike when Pyromancer’s Ascension players in Standard would run Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin in their sideboards as Plan B.

One of the last archetypes I think will make a showing in the new Standard is RW Vehicles. While losing Smuggler’s Copter is painful, the deck gets three brand new tools to get themselves off the ground. Siege Modification, Peacewalker Colossus, and Consulate Dreadnought are poised to be the glue that makes a Vehicles deck actually possible in a post-Copter world. Consulate Dreadnought is by far the scariest card in a mana-to-power ratio, and while Crew 6 is a lot of power to animate it, we fortunately have several means of ignoring it. With Siege Modification and Peacewalker Colossus we have ways of bypassing the crew costs for vehicles, which enables us to run far more vehicles cards without worrying about keeping creatures around. Couple these with Start Your Engines and we have the potential to build an entire deck without creatures. For example, a curve of Turn 1 Consulate Dreadnought, Turn 2 Heart of Kiran, Turn 3 Cultivator’s Caravan, Turn 4 Start Your Engines is an attack for a whopping 22 damage without having to tap any creatures whatsoever. While not the best deck defensively, I think this has the power to really hammer away at a slower metagame.

Bannings always hurt, and while they aren’t usually as format warping as these ones will be, I think that Standard will have the tools to really diversify and move away from the Three Deck metagame. Aether Revolt brings a lot to the table, especially for combo players, and despite losing one of my favourite cards in the format, I remain optimistic. These bannings have only weakened the existing decks rather than kill them entirely, so fans can still play them with minor substitutions. We have a multitude of viable combo decks and the interaction to stop them. I’m actually excited to see how things change in the next few weeks, so buckle up, Standard players. We’re in for a hell of a ride.

 

The Fro Knows: Starting Your Pokémon Journey

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Do you want to be a master of Pokémon? Do you have the skills to be number one? Catchy theme songs aside, Pokémon has been one of the most dominant gaming franchises in history, and the card game is no exception. With hundreds of characters and a wide variety of strategies and game play, it’s no wonder why the game rivals even Magic: the Gathering in popularity. But just how do you get started playing Pokémon: the Card Game (TCG)? On the surface it looks like a pretty daunting task. There’s so many cards to chose from! What Pokémon should I choose to build around? What Supporter and Item cards should I use? How much energy is enough? It was only a few months ago I found myself asking these very same questions, but since then I’ve jumped in the Pokémon world with both feet, and I’m here to help you, the reader, answer these questions for yourself.

hoopa-ex-1Pokémon decks in Standard right now typically fall into two categories: Hoopa-EX decks and non-Hoopa-EX decks. What this means is that they either run a heavier focus on the raw power of EX Pokémon or they focus more on synergy through traditional evolutions and combos. Hoopa-EX is a powerful Pokémon that can search out any three EX Pokémon, so even in decks not running any Psychic energy you can guarantee to see at least one Hoopa-EX just on the strength of its ability alone. These decks rely on the sheer might of their Pokémon’s stats and attacks rather than synergies, with the trade-off that the opponent only needs to knock out three of their Pokémon to win. It’s a very “all or nothing” strategy that tries to end the game well before the opponent is able to get those three KOs, and can often run into problems should their main attacker get wiped out.

On the other hand, Non-Hoopa-EX decks often revolve around evolution chains and ways to accelerate them into play via cards like Wally, Evosoda, and Forest of Giant Plants. Since these decks have a generally lower power level than their EX counterparts, they can typically get the ball rolling much faster due to lower energy investments and tricky combos.

The Pokémon you choose to build around are typically up to personal preference, and they can often lend themselves to incredibly different strategies. There are some Pokémon, such as Mega Rayquaza-EX, that are really all about the brute force, attacking for massive amounts of damage each turn, while others like Garbodor (Breakpoint version) try to create a “prison” environment where you stop the opponent from doing things. It’s important to understand this when building your deck because just trying to mash a bunch of Pokémon onto the same team won’t have the same results as a more streamlined team where they compliment each other’s abilities. That being said, there are ways to build around nearly any Pokémon, so having your favourite as the star of the deck is still easy to do.

xy9_en_88Let’s take Raticate for example. Everyone remembers Raticate. Since the Red/Blue/Green video games, Raticate has been a mainstay of early Pokémon teams since it evolved from one of the very first Pokémon you could catch. Players always got attached to their Raticates until it was time to move on to bigger and flashier Pokémon, but the card game has given Raticate a new lease on life. The Raticate from Breakpoint has an ability that makes it immune to poison. This gives it an unlikely ally in Ariados (Ancient Origins), who can poison each active Pokémon, which affects only the opponent when Raticate is in the ring. As well, thanks to Raticate Break, you can use Super Fang to drop the opponent to 10HP, which Ariados’ poison conveniently finishes off. This combination is capable of taking down even the fiercest of foes, which just goes to show that with a little ingenuity you can use your favourite Pokémon to run with the big dogs.

Next up we have Trainer cards. These are the backbone of any deck since they allow you to use a variety of effects to get your game plan underway. While there are potentially thousands of combinations of Trainer cards you can run in a deck, over the years a tried-and-true formula has come about for the staple Trainers that should be played in every deck:

Four VS Seekers: These allow you to get extra uses out of your Supporters, which means you can cut back on the number of each Supporter card you run. This is important because this means you don’t have to run redundant copies of certain “tech” supporters that have very specific uses. Instead of running four copies of Wally in your Greninja deck, you only have to run one since the VS Seeker lets you use Wally over and over to evolve your Pokémon.

Four Trainer’s Mail: Trainer’s Mail is a card that gives you the flexibility of picking and choosing which Trainer in your top four cards you want to use rather than blindly taking cards from the top of your deck. Having control over your draws and the cards you’re playing is often what makes or breaks a game, so having four copies of Trainer’s Mail to help ensure you get what you need is imperative.

Three-four Professor Sycamore: Professor Sycamore has the title of Most Powerful Draw Card in the game. Discarding your hand to draw seven new cards is an ideal way of getting rid of unneeded cards to dig for ones that will help you win. What’s even more powerful is that you don’t actually need cards in your hand to use it. If Professor Sycamore is the only card in your hand, you can play him to draw a new hand with zero drawback! The only thing to take into consideration is that using Sycamore too many times can quickly deplete your deck and cause you to lose from having no cards left, so you have to keep an eye on how many cards you have left to work with. That’s why some lists that have other avenues of drawing cards have cut down to three copies, but generally you should never go below that.

Two-Three N: The main antagonist from Black and White returns in one of the best cards for messing with the opponent’s hand. One of the keys to playing Pokémon TCG is being able to sculpt your hand one turn to better serve you the following turn. This is why Pokémon like Talonflame (Steam Siege) and Items like Ultra Ball are so strong. Tutoring up the cards you need make it much easier to win, so cards like N are necessary for throwing your opponent’s plans out the window. What’s also great about N is that should you find yourself on the losing end with your opponent taking prize cards left, right, and center, N can act as an equalizer by giving you more cards to work with than your opponent. However, the opposite effect is true when you’re ahead, so you have to be careful using N when the game is in your favour.
As well, N can help shuffle cards you return from the discard pile, such as with Puzzle of Time, back into your deck to draw later. It’s because of these reasons that N is typically a two-of, with a third copy added when you’re running three Professor Sycamore.

With this core in place, the rest of the Trainer cards really come down to which cards best support the Pokémon base you’re running. For example, if Volcanion-EX is your main attacker, you want a lot of ways to switch it in and out of battle in order to negate the drawback on its Volcanic Heat attack, such as Olympia, Pokémon Ranger, or Escape Rope. If you’re running Garbodor, you’ll want a lot of Tool cards like Float Stone so you can use its ability. If you’re playing Mega Audino-EX, you need a higher ratio of Supporters-to-Item cards to consistently get the bonus on its attack and pick off benched Pokémon.

More often than not you’ll need to run some kind of Pokeball cards to fetch up whatever Pokémon you need at the time. Ultra Ball is one of the best for this since the only restriction to using it is discarding two cards, which given how many cards you draw in an average game, is a paltry price to pay. Other options include Dive Ball, which should be an automatic four-of in Water decks, and even Supporters like Pokémon Fan Club and Brigette.

In addition, cards that can change the active Pokémon are critical for controlling the flow of battle, either by sneaking in a Pokémon you’ve built up on your bench or forcing one of your opponent’s weaker Pokémon in for an easy knock out. That’s why it’s recommended to run at least one or two copies of Escape Rope and Float Stone, and at least one Lysandre. These cards offer a lot of flexibility and can really throw a wrench into your opponent’s plans, so it’s no surprise that the majority of competitive decks run them.

These slots are all up to personal preference, and often include “tech” cards that may not be particularly good in every matchup, but are phenomenal for very specific ones. When you make a prediction on what a metagame looks like you can run these silver bullet cards to make certain matches much easier, and if you can accurately guess what the popular decks of a tournament will be, you can make adjustments so that your deck is optimized against those decks.

xy6_en_76Say you expect a lot of Mega Rayquaza-EX and Xerneas Rainbow Road in an event. By including copies of Delinquent to discard their Stadiums and Parallel City to shrink their bench it makes it incredibly difficult for them to win, and if such a deck is a large enough presence that you face it often, it drastically increases the chances of you doing well. These cards can be crucial, but should almost never be more than two to three copies since you aren’t guaranteed to face these decks every single round, and to draw too many of these cards in matches where they’re less than stellar can be backbreaking.

Finally, no Pokémon deck is complete without energy. Energy cards are necessary for attacking and retreating, and the number of energy you’ll run will often come after plenty of trial and error. Generally, the sweet spot for energy is around 10-13 since it ensures that you’ll draw them with your various Supporters without clogging up your hand with them. Of course, these numbers also vary with each deck. Certain combo decks like Gyarados and Vespiquen/Yanmega only run four Double Colorless Energy since that’s the only energy they need to use their main attacks, but for the most part you will probably stick to the ten-thirteen formula.

Using these points as a framework, building a competitive Pokémon deck boils down to filling in the blanks. Combine ten to sixteen of whatever Pokémon you want to build around, the Trainer core of VS Seeker/Trainer’s Mail/Professor Sycamore/N, ten-thirteen energy, and roughly twenty-four other Trainer cards, and you’re done. Getting your deck to where you want it takes time and practice, just like training a Pokémon, and it’s just as rewarding. Fine tuning the ratios of each category of cards is a process that not only improves your skills as you test what works and what doesn’t, but also helps you get a better understanding of how other decks function.

There’s potentially thousands of combinations of cards, and the only way to understand even a fraction of them is to play and familiarize yourself with them. You may have a pet card that you want to try out, but with practice may realize that it doesn’t quite fit. You may find that this pet card works as a tech option but not as a general deck staple. Through vigorous practice and testing you can learn and improve, and that’s what Pokémon is really all about.

The Pokémon TCG is nonstop fun and incredibly in-depth game play that requires plenty of time and practice in order to do well. The sheer variety of playable archetypes gives a little something for everyone, and the ability to build around your favourite monsters and still have a chance at winning is nothing short of amazing. While it can be intimidating to get into at first glance, I hope this guide to building your first deck helps you all experience the same joy I’ve had playing this great game.

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Cruel Ultimatum: Grixis in Modern

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Out of every tri-colour tribe in Magic, I would argue that Grixis is one of the most confused currently in the Modern format. Almost every other one has a definitive archetype that dominates the shard or wedge. For example, Jund is a midrange shard in Modern. Although other archetypes can be constructed with the Jund colours, the most obviously powerful archetype and the singular identity of the shard in competitive play is midrange. Grixis does not have this same type of straightforward power in one archetype that Jund, or several of the other tribes, have. There is an identity crisis present within Grixis; elements of it are aggressive, midrange, control and even combo and each build of the deck holds sway in any given metagame. Over the course of the last few years, new cards entering the Modern card pool, as well as bans and unbans have caused this shard to go through many metamorphoses on the biggest stages in the world.

The development and refining of Grixis lists in recent history really come down to four Pro players: Corey Burkhart, Gerry Thompson, Kevin Jones, and Michael Majors. All four players wrote about the archetype, brewed lists, and put up results at Grand Prixes and Star City Opens. Innovation was almost entirely driven by the banning of Splinter Twin and new cards that entered the Modern card pool in recent history.

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After Splinter Twin was banned, Grixis was left in limbo. Much like Izzet, this was an archetype dominated by the presence of Splinter Twin and the power of the combo. Once the card was banned, Grixis had no real direction. There was a push-pull dynamic of whether you wanted a heavy counter magic deck or a deck based around heavy discard. Players basically took the most recent Twin decks and removed all Twin components as a starting point for a new age of Grixis decks. Looking at Theros block onward, Grixis got a bag of tricks that pale in comparison to those given to any other shard or wedge. The major additions to Grixis were:

  • Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
  • Tasigur, the Golden Fang
  • Bedlam Reveler
  • Anger of the Gods
  • Goblin Dark Dwellers
  • Kolaghan’s Command
  • Liliana, the Last Hope
  • Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
  • Pia and Kiran Nalaar
  • Collective Brutality
  • Painful Truths
  • Gurmag Angler
  • Murderous Cut
  • Keranos, God of Storms
  • Thing in the Ice
  • * Ancestral Vision (Although technically not a new addition, this card was a recent unbanning)

Recently, at GP Dallas, Corey Burkhart made it to the finals with his most current iteration of Grixis control. His list for the event was:

Grixis Control – Corey Burkhart (2nd Place GP Dallas)

4x Polluted Delta

4 x Scalding Tarn

3x Island

1x Swamp

1x Mountain

2x Creeping Tar Pit

1x Spirebluff Canal

1x Sulfur Falls

2x Watery Grave

2x Steam Vents

1x Blood Crypt

4x Snapcaster Mage

3x Tasigur, the Golden Fang

4x Ancestral Vision

4x Thought Scour

4x Serum Visions

4x Lightning Bolt

1x Engineered Explosives

2x Spell Snare

3x Terminate

2x Countersquall

3x Kolaghan’s Command

4x Cryptic Command

Sideboard

3x Fulminator Mage

3x Surgical Extraction

2x Sun Droplet

2x Anger of the Gods

2x Dispel

1x Damnation

1x Izzet Staticaster

1x Engineered Explosives

This form of Grixis does away with hand disruption and focuses on hard counters, kill spells / burn, and card draw. Much of the composition of the deck is due to the creatures that Burkhart selected for the deck: Snapcaster and Tasigur. Synergies with Snapcaster Mage are straight forward: play powerful instants and sorceries. Tasigur, however, is a harder commodity to design around.

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A deck designer needs to understand that when you are milling through Tasigur’s activated ability or through Thought Scour there are cards that you do not want to be in your graveyard. In particular, hand disruption spells and conditional counter magic like Mana Leak are very poor in a deck based around Tasigur as a finisher. With the exception of Spell Snare, Burkhart’s list would gladly take back any card milled into the graveyard in the late game. Spell Snare is a necessary evil in control decks in modern because of the tempo advantage it could provide in certain matchups. This builds stands as a more tradition control build of Grixis but, more radical builds have seen play.

Grixis Reveler – Gerry Thompson (MTGO Deck List)

1x Island

1x Mountain

1x Swamp

4x Blackcleave Cliffs

1x Blood Crypt

2x Bloodstained Mire

2x Creeping Tar Pit

1x Darkslick Shores

3x Polluted Delta

4x Scalding Tarn

2x Steam Vents

1x Watery Grave

3x Bedlam Reveler

1x Shriekmaw

4x Snapcaster Mage

2x Liliana, the Last Hope

3x Kolaghan’s Command

4x Lightning Bolt

3x Mana Leak

1x Slaughter Pact

2x Terminate

4x Thought Scour

1x Collective Brutality

4x Inquisition of Kozilek

4x Serum Visions

1x Thoughtseize

Sideboard

3x Engineered Explosives

2x Fulminator Mage

1x Izzet Staticaster

1x Vampiric Link

2x Countersquall

3x Surgical Extraction

2x Collective Brutality

1x Thoughtseize

This is a deck that wanted to explore the space of Grixis with several of the new tools that the shard got in recent sets. Unlike Burkhart’s control list, Thompson’s deck is a hand disruption deck with a light sprinkling of counter magic. I would also classify this deck as midrange while Burkhart’s deck is much more of a control deck.

Recursion is the overarching theme in this deck; recycling of both spells and creatures. Kolaghan’s Command and Liliana, the Last Hope both provide methods of rebuying creatures from the graveyard. Additionally, all creatures in this build of Grixis have powerful enter the battlefield (ETB) effects that provide additional value when they are cast. Similar to Burkhart’s list, Thompson’s variant of Grixis has a lot of grind value and has a powerful late game that it can play towards.

Along the lines of Burkhart’s build, Thompson’s creatures dictated the types of spells that he wanted in his deck. Bedlam Reveler and Snapcaster Mage both demand a high amount of sorceries and instants within a deck. The Reveler also wants card velocity, which is achieved through Thought Scour and Serum Visions. Reveler Grixis relies on recursion to win the long game in contrast to Burkhart’s list that has Cryptic Command and card draw.

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A third type of Grixis deck has also appeared at the top tiers of Modern events from time to time: Grixis Delver. Delver decks in Modern are a blend of tempo and aggro that aim at landing an early threat, Delver of Secrets, and using counters to protect that threat. The deck tries to be as efficient as possible; on average the spells in the deck all cost one or two mana. More than any other Pro player, Kevin Jones of the SCG circuit is a large proponent of the Grixis Delver strategy. He won the American World Magic Cup Qualifier with this list:

Grixis Delver – Kevin Jones, WMCQ 1st Place

4x Delver of Secrets

1x Gurmag Angler

4x Snapcaster Mage

3x Young Pyromancer

3x Tasigur, the Golden Fang

2x Island

1x Mountain

1x Swamp

1x Blood Crypt

1x Bloodstained Mire

1x Darkslick Shores

4x Polluted Delta

4x Scalding Tarn

2x Steam Vents

1x Sulfur Falls

1x Watery Grave

2x Electrolyze

1x Kolaghan’s Command

4x Lightning Bolt

2x Mana Leak

1x Murderous Cut

2x Spell Snare

2x Terminate

4x Thought Scour

1x Collective Brutality

3x Gitaxian Probe

4x Serum Visions

Sideboard

1x Engineered Explosives

1x Izzet Staticaster

1x Countersquall

2x Dispel

1x Kolaghan’s Command

2x Magma Spray

1x Spell Pierce

2x Surgical Extraction

2x Painful Truths

1x Vandalblast

1x Desolate Lighthouse

This type of strategy has the unique advantage of being able to go both wide or big in any given game. Young Pyromancer allows the deck to go wide simply through the casting of sorceries and instants. Pyromancer clogs up the ground while the Delver attacks in the air each turn slowly draining the opponent’s life total. The Delve creatures in the Delver deck permit it to go big and cast creatures that can go toe-to-toe with Tarmogoyfs. Jones’ deck has a strong Delve/graveyard subtheme and really showcases how the graveyard is a resource like everything else in Magic.

I find all of the above three lists highly divergent while still having a measure of overlap in the card pool. Even though the archetypes are different, certain subthemes begin to become clearer after examining current Grixis lists. Graveyard, efficiency, and grind all come to mind when looking at the lists explored above. While it may not have one true dominant style of deck but it does have a large breadth of viable options. I have also found that Grixis suffers from “flavor of the month syndrome”. A new card will come out, stir interest in the community and make a measure of inroads into the Modern format. Half a year later, no one is playing that card anymore. One of the most glaring examples would be Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Michael Majors was utilizing 3-4 copies of the card in his Grixis list after Jace’s release. Now, the card is rarely seen in Modern lists. Arguably the same trend was seen with Pia and Kiran Nalaar and Goblin Dark Dwellers. Every once in a while you see one of the aforementioned cards but it is infrequent. Grixis still feels like it’s trying to find its wings in modern.

Recently, the Aether Revolt spoilers released information on a powerful new toy for Grixis: Yahenni’s Expertise. I think this card really has a place to shine specifically in Grixis. No Shard grinds harder than Grixis and no Shard wants the type of two-for-one value that this type of card can provide more than Grixis. Players have been comparing this card’s effect to Bloodbraid Elf because it causes something similar to cascade: the only difference being that you have to have the other card in your hand. I believe some of the most powerful turns with this card will be casting it then “cascading” into an Ancestral Vision or Boom / Bust. These types of interactions have been seen better in Goblin Dark Dwellers, however Expertise only costs four mana. The one glaring sticking point is that the card is somewhat fighting over a spot the Anger of the Gods already occupies. It is my hope that both cards can find a place in Grixis. Perhaps one card is more a main deck card while the other is more of a sideboard card. Only time will tell if Expertise has any true modern relevance.

Until next time.

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A Case For Venom By Alex S.

A blast from the past has invaded North America, ready to re-invigorate the lost hearts and souls of countless disillusioned comic book fans everywhere. For those of you looking for a serious analysis on the latest releases in the industry, you need look no further, I will be your guru; so strap in your seat-belts boys and girls, we’re about to go on a transcendent trip into Marvels greatest antihero of all time. He’s gooey, he’s mean, and oh boy does he ever hate a scream, the one, the only, Venom.

I’ll start this piece with some harsh truths, as it is my sincere hope to be a recurring, loud, opinionated voice that guides you on the rich journey of navigating through the plethora of comics available to us all. We can begin a simple statement to summarize my feelings on just what it meant to hear Venom was getting a new makeover: I was a HUGE fan of Eddie Brock and what he did for the franchise; the blonde bodybuilding disgraced journalist was literally the first villain I wanted to know more about, at the young age of twelve or so, I had no idea why I felt that way.

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That’s actually saying a great deal now that I come to really think about it, especially when you consider the awesome backstory of how a boy named Randy Schueller got paid $220, so seasoned shyster Jim Shooter, then chief-editor of Marvel , could get his hands on the rights to the idea. It would later be modified by a man named Mike Zeck, to become the alien symbiote costume of Spiderman; and by issue #300 of Amazing Spiderman we have the first glimpses of the Venom we now know today.

 

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Thanks to the genius of writer Mike Costa, we are introduced to an incarnation of our favorite symbiote that is no longer a lethal protector, nor is he a gooey guardian; instead we are graced with a profound true-to-roots change. Issue number one shows us this incredible metamorphosis through the arrival of our newest host and antihero, a man by the name of Lee Price.

Utterly amazing is how Marvel is deciding to link and carry a strong story-line through the new stories being told about our favorite comic legends. We can see the torch carried over from Venom Space Knight where by midway of the first issue of the newest Venom series we see an mind-numbing array of sketches that show the symbiote learning how to take the shape of a human and even survive for a prolonged period of time without a host; abilities our little friend never had before. Shortly after this feat is revealed we see a meeting where our protagonist is sitting with a man by the name of Gargan, a man most of you who are still probably reading this far into the article are familiar with: I’ll give you a hint, his name starts with an S, and rhymes with Orpion. A deal is hatched, things go sour (when do they not in a comic?) and just as our protagonist is about to be no more, deadly Venom intervenes.

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The art here is absolutely gorgeous and it’s the reason I just have to spoil this part of the book; we see a wave of glistening ebon protoplasm as it is shaped into a makeshift shield, causing a spray of bullets to deflect or embed itself unto its slimy self. I find this to be one of the more appealing aspects of this series so far; if the art continues to be this good, you can be sure I’ll be grabbing each and every issue, along with the variants.

For those of you who might be true financial gurus in the industry, you need little educating on just how valuable and lucrative it is to collect things involved with what is often called the greatest antihero of all time. Merchandise outlets have only just begun to really catch on to how popular he is in the last few years, with t-shirts, mugs, key-chains, and other commemorative items now flooding almost every tier of merchandise available; you will find a Venom mug, a Venom piggy bank, a Venom anything they can really make and get away with. If one were to question the validity of collecting trinkets or comic books, an easy counter to the argument is to look at Hollywood and the film industry, the two have always been major reasons for spikes and booms among things like comic books.

When you look at how the next seven years are all docketed with tributes and first releases of numerous caped heroes that have never really graced the screen, it’s easy to draw a conclusion that investment now might be a very lucrative future proposition. Business teaches us that almost every industry can only look ahead seven years and reliably predict the course of its industry; if the next few years are flooded with movies paying tribute to comic books, what are the odds that those comic books actually lose value?

I think if Lee Price proves to have at least a bit of depth, he may make for the best take of Venom to be put on screen yet; a dark, sinister creature conflicted from its past lives and struggling to find the true meaning of being human.

It isn’t just about the comic books either. Graphic novels, and action figures depicting Venom are all likely to see significant increases if this series can maintain the quality it is presenting thus far. That the story is directly connected to the Venom we have known for the last decade or so is quite appealing to me as a reader too; we see this inclusion through the symbiote showing Lee Price what it has done in the last few years as a Guardian of the Galaxy with Flash Thompson.

What is interesting and important to note is that the symbiote has seemed to manage to imprint some of the values and morals he developed while influenced by Flash, as that seems to best explain why it chooses to depict moments of heroism and bravery, instead of the debauchery it committed as Eddie Brock; this all seems to disgust Lee. With Lee’s reaction it is easy to see him as a Villain, but that isn’t to say that he’s pure evil; it does however hint that a darker, more conniving version of Venom is about to be a regular fixture in our lives, and hooray for that!

Reminiscent of the layered, twisted art one can find on the pages of Superior Spiderman, particularly around issue #34, where Toxin makes an appearance and becomes involved in the fighting. I have been waiting for the better part of a decade for Flash Thompson to finally take a break so my favorite comic book legend could find a host that isn’t so depressing and filled with self-loathing. At last our saviors have arrived and I say encore! Encore!

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