Evolution is the Solution! On Guardians Rising’s impact

For the Pokémon Trading Card Game, the last week and a half has been quite transformative to say the least. I’ve written about the newest set, Guardians Rising, a couple of times now, but its impact on the standard format metagame has been absolutely incredible. I’m going to stick to my guns and point towards my Guardians Rising top 3 as the reason why. Tapu Lele-GX, Field Blower and Garbodor have come together to challenge expectations and ingrained behaviours of players who have been playing the same kind of ‘Big Basic’ archetypes which have consistently been the best. But what actually happened?

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The 2017 Seattle Regional Championships occurred at the end of May, representing one of the first large scale tournaments in the new format. Within the top 8 decks, we saw 6 playing Garbodor, all of them featuring Tapu Lele-GX at some count and almost all of them ran Field Blower as well. While the latter two cards aren’t too surprising, it is the sheer dominance of Garbodor at the event which demands attention.

Garbodor, a decrier of items, did so well because players did not adequately adapt. Garbodor’s damage ramps up as their opponent plays item cards and simply ‘playing smart’ was not enough to out play them as these decks were also paired with another attacker (commonly Drampa-GX or Espeon-GX) to force the opponent into playing items to keep up. People playing the common ‘turbo’ setup engines filled with item cards such as Max Elixir were severely punished as illustrated by the outcome.

Madison Regional Championships followed just days afterwards and gave us a final I wouldn’t have predicted a month ago between Vespiquen and Metagross-GX. A stage 1 oriented deck against a stage 2 deck? Crazy!

Look beyond the finals and the top 8 looks like this:

Vespiquen
Metagross-GX
Zoroark
Garbodor/Espeon-GX
Decidueye/Vileplume/Alolan Ninetales-GX
Vespiquen
Volcanion
Vikavolt-GX/Tapu Bulu-GX

In this top 8, you have mostly stage 1 and stage 2 Pokémon. Powerful, yet slow to set up compared to the Volcanion and Darkrai decks we are used to seeing. This is warranted by the existence of Garbodor which severely checks any strategy which tries to win through setup speed. Despite this, we still see a Volcanion deck in the mix, which has been adequately adapted to deal with the threat of Garbodor by shedding items in favour of Pokémon like Starmie and Turtonator-GX, as well as adding the new Brooklet Hill stadium.

It is a top 8 which is worlds apart from the metagame of this past season. We see variety not just in archetypes, but also the types of Pokémon which compose them – we have Stage 1, Stage 2, Pokémon-EX, Basic Pokémon-GX, all supporting each other one way or another. It is a very exciting time in the game, where past assumptions are being shattered and people are exploring new ways to pace their builds and strategies. The game may well be entering its second golden age, and may make for a very exciting road to the North American International Championship and World Championship afterwards.

For now, I would encourage players to get to building and experimenting. After these past couple of big events, I would say that anything goes as long as you test and practice. Good luck to those of you travelling to Sydney, Perth and Auckland for regional championships in the coming days!

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