Ladies and gentlemen, I am excited to bring you today’s article about a new format in the Pokemon TCG! The Gym Leader Challenge format is one that’s becoming more and more popular by the day. Although it isn’t an official format, there are still large tournaments being run for it, and many top-level players and content creators have picked it up. In my opinion, this format is fun, skillful, and legitimate enough to be more than just a fad, so I’m going to be talking all about it today.
YouTuber, streamer, and former PokeBeach writer Andrew Mahone (also known as Tricky Gym) is the creator of the Gym Leader Challenge format, which got its name due to the single-type teams, which mimic that of Gym Leaders from the video games. For clarity, I’ll be referring to it as GLC from now on.
A Brief Overview of GLC
Here are the rules:
- The card pool is from BW-on, so it shares a pool with the Expanded format.
- Cards with Rule Boxes are banned. All Pokemon V, GX, EX, BREAK, Prism Stars, Ace Specs, etc. are banned. This also extends to Ancient Trait Pokemon, so cards like Bunnelby, Articuno, and Regirock are also banned. Although Ancient Traits aren’t technically Rule Boxes, they’re banned anyway because they’re way too strong.
- Only one of each card with the same name is allowed in your deck, besides basic Energy. It’s a singleton format.
- You may only have one type of Pokemon in your deck as this is a monotype format.
Aside from those major differences, the game is played the same way, with the same rules as normal. I’ll be talking about this format inclusive of Evolving Skies, which has a minor impact on the format.
As far as building a deck, you have to pick one type and roll with it, making that type as powerful as possible. With the current restrictions, however, there are a few far-reaching implications and rules of the format. First of all, the format is slow; cards like Dedenne-GX, Crobat V, and Shaymin-EX aren’t around, so decks can’t dig as aggressively as they can in Expanded. Available draw Pokemon such as Zebstrika, Cinccino, and Marshadow can only be used in one archetype due to the monotype rule, so every deck has limited draw support at most. Additionally, the format is only single-Prize Pokemon, which is another factor that makes it slow.
Next, all of the cards that have been banned in Expanded are legal (besides Shaymin-EX). This isn’t as broken as you might think, but it means you have to watch out for cards like Hex Maniac and Reset Stamp. Even Lysandre's Trump Card is legal, but it isn’t actually that good — there are several strong options for recovery cards, so you don’t need to use a Supporter for that role, or at least not one that clogs up your deck so much. Of the normally banned cards, Hex Maniac is undoubtedly the strongest in this format. It’s an uncounterable Ability-lock that every deck can and does play. It’s brutally effective in this format where nearly every archetype relies on Abilities in some way.
Despite Expanded’s vast card pool, the singleton rule makes it so that you’ll often end up playing “bad” cards in your deck. For example, if you want more than one Professor's Research, you’ll have to go with the budget options of Ingo and Emmet and Sightseer. This goes for Pokemon too, especially because the dominant Rule Box Pokemon are no longer around — you probably wouldn’t expect Cramorant, Lapras, and Wailord to be Water’s strongest attackers, but in this format, they can dominate!
Consistency is weird in this format, and search cards are king; Ball Guy and the strictly worse Apricorn Maker allow you to search for what you need while thinning out the deck quite a bit in the process. Part of the reason why Water is so good in GLC is that it has access to Alolan Vulpix and Inteleon, which make it so that you search out exactly the card you need at the right time. I initially thought that Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick and Archie's Ace in the Hole would be crazy overpowered in this format, but it turns out that’s not the case. Why? It’s difficult to search out the Archie and Maxie cards. Tapu Lele-GX and Jirachi-EX aren’t here, and Battle Compressor and VS Seeker are limited to one of each. Your best options are Xtransceiver and Reserved Ticket, both of which are horrible cards. It’s always faster and more consistent to manually set up the Pokemon you had in mind for Archie and Maxie. Along those lines, Archeops is a lot weaker than I expected, despite literally every deck relying on Evolution Pokemon. Archeops is a bit slow and every deck can play Hex to get around it. Archeops also forces you to build your deck around it, which only makes your deck worse than everyone else’s.
If your deck isn’t overpowered when it gets set up, you won’t win much. Nearly every type has the potential to be ridiculously strong once it sets up, so you want your deck to feel like it’s unfair when it’s firing on all cylinders. If not, you’ll get blown out of the water by decks that simply have a higher power level. I learned this lesson the hard way when I tried to play a Castform deck because it’s “fun” and “cool”, but it was just weak and got obliterated by everything…
Which Type is the Strongest?
I’ve been playing this format a lot recently, but it’s still relatively new to me. As such, there are some types I have experience with and some I don’t. I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned about the types that I do have experience with and glossing over the others since it’ll be mostly speculation.
Grass is strong in this format, though it’s also high-maintenance. Shiinotic, Grovyle, and Zarude help with rapidly searching out all the Grass-type Pokemon you need, and the combo of Venusaur and Rillaboom is absolutely ridiculous. Furthermore, once you’re done with Grovyle, it evolves into Sceptile, which OHKO’s the entire format with ease and also provides relevant invincibility against Ultra Beasts. A setup with Rillaboom, Venusaur, and Sceptile in play is nigh-unbeatable.
Let’s also not forget Forest of Giant Plants, which is a legitimately broken card that Grass happily makes use of. It’s a bit difficult to find the Stadium though, which is the only thing keeping this monster of a deck in check. If you’re feeling it, you can also include Vileplume for a fourth Stage 2 line! Vileplume helps this deck make comebacks by slowing down opponents and clogging their hand. Grass often plays from behind because it needs to set up a lot. Here’s my current Grass list, which is one of my top picks in the format at the moment.
Shining Genesect and Zarude are the main attackers. Sceptile is a mid-to-late-game attacker, as well as a counter to Ultra Beasts. Pheromosa is a pivot and late-game finisher. Beedrill is a draw out off Shiinotic, especially after a late-game N or Reset Stamp. Tropical Beach is extremely useful, especially since you already are playing Stadium Nav for Forest of Giant Plants, however, the deck is playable without Tropical Beach. This deck is weak against Hex Maniac, but it’s not the end of the world for it. Araquanid was a tech consideration to beat Fire, but it doesn’t work against Hex Maniac.
This concludes the public portion of this article.
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