In Search of Lost Thunder — Unpacking the New Format

Lost Thunder is finally upon us, and I find myself in the difficult position of having less than two weeks to test what is perhaps the richest set in the history of the TCG. So many options, so little time.

Let’s back up for a moment. This weekend, I competed in the Special Event in Lille, France. As I anticipated last week, I played Ho-Oh-GX  Salazzle-GX, earning a Top 32 finish. To summarize, I went 6-2-1 on day one, beating the expected assortment of Zoroark-GX and Buzzwole  Shrine of Punishment, tying with Malamar, and losing to another Malamar and Solgaleo-GX (that last one was not that expected, but more on that later). On day two, things were a bit stranger: I lost to Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX and Vikavolt  Rayquaza-GX, two decks I was happy to face, but beat Malamar and even managed to get a tie against Malamar / Shrine of Punishment, the deck’s single worst matchup.

I won’t go into the details of my run, both because I’ve already written a lot about that deck and because it’s not extremely relevant to the post-Lost Thunder metagame. If you’re a fan of Ho-Oh and want to keep playing it, the only important addition to the deck is to add a Heat Factory Prism Star instead of a Po Town. However, personally, I think that the deck is fading into irrelevance. As better strategies appear, it is going to be easier than ever to outmaneuver, outlast or outdamage Ho-Oh’s linear game plan.

The next tournament in sight, for me personally and for the Pokemon community in general, is the first International Championship of the season, in São Paulo, Brazil. In a way, the tournament has already begun: the best players from all around the world are currently competing in ingenuity to find the perfect 60 cards to bring to the event. I wish that I could point you to this ideal list, but I’m still in that brainstorming cycle myself. What I’ll do instead is guide you through my testing process. In this article, I’ll explain what I’ve been testing and why, provide you the current lists I’m working on, and even give you a glimpse of what I want to explore next.

1. Setting a Goal

As a competitive player, once I enter a tournament, my goal is to win it. However, when choosing a deck, it’s not that simple: there are different levels of risk to consider. For example, my teammate Fabien Pujol chose to play an all-in, pure-aggro version of Rayquaza-GX at Worlds because the list could flop completely, but it could also win the whole tournament. Since Worlds is the right time to take risks, he preferred Rayquaza to a safer choice like Zoroark-GXGarbodor.

Conversely, I think that International Championships are a time to make that safer choice, especially for those of us outside of North America. With few major events to play in every quarter, International Championships, with their massive Championship Points payouts, make up for a disproportionate amount of our total points each quarter. To give an example, in Europe, the four players who earned a travel award to the Latin America International Championship are Tord Reklev, Fabien Pujol, Adam Hawkins and myself: the four Europeans who made Top 8 at the previous International Championship. Even getting Top 128 guarantees a solid 100 CP, which could mean a stipend for the next International Championship, not to mention a good advantage in the race for Worlds.

This is why my current goal is not to find a deck that could beat everything if it runs hot, but one that has a decent chance against everything, and matchups as even as possible. Then, I’m counting on my skill and experience to get me at least to Top 128, ideally to day two and hopefully higher.

The other thing to keep in mind is that time is limited. At the time of writing, I leave for Brazil in barely over one week, so I need to make a choice quickly. My testing will necessarily be incomplete, so I must choose where to allocate time and energy. Could Girafarig be the missing piece to stall decks allowing them to send Energy cards to the Lost Zone, and therefore to beat even Energy-recycling decks like Malamar? Could it be played in combination with Marshadow and Morty in order to control an opponent’s hand? Maybe, but I can’t afford to test it right now. Even if the idea was promising, I would need too much training to get comfortable with the deck. Instead, I prefer to focus on safer ideas, at least for now.

Even among these safer ideas, one must prioritize some above others. As I’ve stated before, I’m in love with the new Alolan Ninetales-GX, so the first cards I traded for on TCGO were two copies of it. On the other hand, I’ve played a total of zero games so far with Blacephalon-GX or Malamar. There are two reasons for that. The first is that these decks have been the most hyped, so I was expecting to face them a lot online, which would indirectly give me some insight into their viability. The second is that I basically know how these decks work. Of course, they are not autopilot by any means, but I’m familiar enough with them that if someone in my testing group figures out the perfect list, I can probably train with the deck at the figurative last minute and play it.

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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