A Meta of Ice and Fire — Unbroken Bonds Speculation

The upcoming Unbroken Bonds set introduces lots of new archetypes. Of those archetypes, Reshiram and Charizard-GX stands out, winning a recent Champion’s League in Japan, dominating Japan’s City Leagues, and garnering significant hype on social media. I already went ahead and started testing some of the lists coming out of Japan, so let’s talk about that. This article focuses primarily on three archetypes: Reshiram & Charizard-GX, Baby Blacephalon, and Zoroark-GX / Dewgong. The first half of the article discusses the lists revealed from Japanese tournaments and my thoughts and playtesting results with those lists. Whereas the second half of the article focuses more on ways to improve upon or counter these decks.

Japan’s Meta

Before I start discussing deck lists, let’s take a brief moment to review Japan’s tournament results.

First up, the City League results provided by PokemonCardJP. In the sample of seven City Leagues, Reshiram and Charizard-GX, Zapdos Variants, Zoroark-GX Variants, and Pikachu and Zekrom-GX would secure the most Top 8 placements. Half the Zoroark variants used Lycanroc-GX while the other half used Dewgong. I should also mentioned that Gardevoir and Sylveon-GX won two of the City Leagues.

Additionally, I found some lists from the Kyoto Champions League. This event happened after the release of GG-End, so it represents a significantly different format than the Unbroken Bonds format we should expect. Notably, it includes Reset Stamp, along with some new tech cards. Reshiram & Charizard-GX remained strong into that format, taking up nearly half of all Top 64 spots at the event. Zoroark and Zapdos, in comparison, faded into obscurity, taking only four slots and two slots respectively. Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX also made a small showing at the Champions League, but managed to make it all the way to Semi-Finals.

In summary, I definitely expect both Reshiram & Charizard-GX and Pikachu & Zekrom-GX to perform well. Zoroark-GX and Zapdos did well in the League Cups, but not well at the Champion’s League. I suspect the introduction of Reset Stamp changed the field for Zoroark-GX and Zapdos. But Reset Stamp does not release with Unbroken Bonds so I would expect Zoroark and Zapdos to continue performing well in the West for another season. But I would also keep an eye on Gardevoir & Sylveon-GX due to its good placements.

Reshiram & Charizard-GX

For the first deck list, let’s start with Reshiram and Charizard-GX, specifically the list that won the Champion’s League. That list included a few cards from GG-End, but I think we can still learn a lot from the build. This list, along with every other Reshiram & Charizard deck from the Kyoto Champion’s League, opted to run few to zero copies of draw traditional draw supporters such as Cynthia and Lillie. This makes some sense as Reshiram & Charizard-GX wants to play either Guzma or Welder every turn anyways.

Pokemon (12)

3x Reshiram & Charizard-GX (UNB #20)1x Tapu Lele-GX (GUR #60)1x Dedenne-GX (UNB #57)2x Jirachi (TEU #99)1x Miltank (CRI #78)1x Mew (UNB #76)1x Hoopa (UNM)1x Marshadow (SHL #45)1x Absol (TEU #88)

Trainers (36)

4x Welder (UNB #189)3x Kiawe (BUS #144)3x Guzma (BUS #143)4x Ultra Ball (SM #161)4x Nest Ball (SM #158)3x Fire Crystal (UNB #173)2x Switch (SM #160)2x Escape Rope (BUS #163)2x Reset Stamp (UNM)2x Escape Board (ULP #167)2x Choice Band (BUS #162)1x Adventure Bag (LOT #228)2x Power Plant (UNB #183)1x Big Oven (UNM)1x Heat Factory Prism Star (LOT #178)

Energy (12)

12x Fire Energy (BUS #167)

List Changes

I wanted to start testing a list similar to the winning list from Japan for our upcoming Unbroken Bonds format. This means I need to cut Hoopa, Reset Stamp, and Big Oven because those cards don’t get released in our Unbroken Bonds set. For the first wave of testing, I replaced them with Oricorio, Field Blower, and 2 copies of Mysterious Treasure. This change greatly increases the deck’s outs to both Fire Energy and Supporters.

Initial Testing

The deck definitely finds its first Kiawe or Welder consistently, but I always feel railroaded based on my starting hand. You often need to burn an Ultra Ball to set up your first Reshiram & Charizard-GX, leaving you with a tiny hand and likely no way to replenish it. Additionally, very few of your cards offer you flexibility. For example, this deck offers only three outs to Choice Band. If you do not find a Choice Band in your opening hand, you cannot expect to reliably find one off a Stellar Wish or Welder to draw for three. As a result, you often get forced into suboptimal plays to deal with your hand situation. For example, you might attempt to load six Energy onto a Reshiram & Charizard-GX to set up an OHKO, but that telegraphs to your opponent that you probably cannot access your Choice Band. In contrast, a build with Green's Exploration and Pokégear 3.0 runs far more outs to single tech Trainers and would keep your opponent on their toes.

But after some playtesting, I can see why the tech Pokemon in the deck somewhat make up for the reduced consistency. A single Miltank heal results in a checkmate scenario, as most decks cannot stop Reshiram & Charizard-GX from taking Knock Outs and still need multiple turns of attacks to take one down. Additionally, the Bench Barrier Mew swings multiple matchups. Not only does it improve the Pikachu & Zekrom-GX matchup, but its attack also fixes math in the Reshiram & Charizard-GX mirror.

Ideally, I would like a deck that can somehow provide the best of both worlds, as I do find the Jirachi build lacking in terms of draw power, but more on that later.

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