It’s about to be May in a few days, which means that it’s just about time for our fourth main Pokemon TCG set release of the competitive season, with Unbroken Bonds coming out in just a few days. Prerelease tournaments have been underway for the set since last weekend and this set is deep with interesting and powerful cards that will help to reshape the competitive landscape.
For this set, I am going to try out a new format, which is breaking down the set review into separate articles for each Pokemon type and then also putting the Trainers and Special Energy into their own review article as well.
When I first switched over to including all cards in a singular set review article, Pokemon sets were much smaller and packed with lots of useless filler cards. Now, sets are ginormous and have a lot more playable cards in them. The new format will both allow me to take a look at some deeper cuts within a set, but also make the set review a more approachable writing task for myself, as I can work and release it a little bit at a time. Doing it this way is certainly much less daunting than reviewing 70-100 cards all in the same article.
In the first article of the set review, I will be taking a look at the Grass Pokemon in the set. There are a total of 19 Grass Pokemon in this set, including one Tag Team GX, one Pokemon GX, and two Ultra Beast Pokemon.
Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX
Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX is a very similar card to Buzzwole GX, except that it’s now Grass-type, has 260 HP, and gives up three prizes when it’s knocked out.
Jet Punch is still Jet Punch, but given the power creep of the format, and the lack of additional buffs you have for it, it’s now worse than ever. It still does the same 30 damage as Buzzwole GX, but you don’t have Diancie Prism Star to give it added damage. Bench Barrier also returns in this set with Mew, so in at least a few rounds of a tournament you will probably be getting your snipe damage on Jet Punch blocked.
Elegant Sole does 190 damage, which is a good number to knockout Basic GX Pokemon, as well as Stage 1 GX Pokemon if you have a Choice Band attached. With Beast Energy attached as well, you can knockout Stage 2 GX Pokemon as well as some of the weaker Tag Team Pokemon. You can also soften things up with Jet Punch to make it easier to knock them out with Elegant Sole.
Elegant Sole dropping down to 60 damage if you used it the previous turn is annoying, so you will want to play this with switching effects, but doing some damage is better than not being able to attack on your next turn, which is how these types of attacks typically work.
Beast Game GX is a solid attack, as prize gaining, whether it’s been Lugia EX or Articuno ROS has proven time and time again to be a strong game mechanic. The 50 damage isn’t a lot, but with Beast Energy and Choice Band you can take that up to 110 damage. I would expect most uses of this card to be to do this low damage output to knockout previously softened up Pokemon for an extra prize, or to take out a low HP Basic Pokemon for two prizes.
The extra effect will be difficult to pull off, 8 Energy is a lot, but with Beast Ring it’s definitely not impossible to flood your board with Energy in a single turn, and since it doesn’t require Grass Energy for the extra effect, you could feasibly splash Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX into a wide variety of Energy acceleration decks by utilizing Beast Energy, Rainbow Energy, or even a Basic Grass Energy to fulfill the Grass requirement in the attack.
It’s difficult to place where this card should land in the meta game. A deck built entirely around it (the only Pokemon it ran were four Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX) won Champions League Chiba back in February, but that was before Japan got all the good new Fire cards. In the most recent Japanese tournament, Champions League Kyoto, Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX’s was nowhere to be seen. Since we are getting all the new Fire cards at the same time as Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX, it seems unlikely that any decks built around it are poised to dominate initially. It shouldn’t be discounted that a deck built around it, like the one seen at Champions League Chiba, could see major tournament success, but it’s unlikely to be immediate as the meta game will need to shift away from Fire for it to become more viable.
I do think it should still see immediate play though, just as a 1-of that’s intended to take advantage of the prize gain on the GX attack. Zapdos/Ultra Beasts is a potentially strong landing spot for the card as they already play four Rainbow Energy and Beast Energy, and Zapdos won’t OHKO in a lot of matchups, giving you more opportunities to get the prize gain off on previously weakened Pokemon. Anything playing Viridian Forest could put a single Grass Energy into the deck and find it pretty easily for when they want to attack with Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX.
Other opportunities to see play would be as an alternate / early game attacker in Celebi & Venusaur GX decks, although these would likely struggle in a heavy Fire meta just as the straight Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX deck would. It could also see play in VikaRay decks, or even straight Vikavolt decks, which could be a possibility with the new cards that Vikavolt gains in this set.
Caterpie & Metapod & Butterfree
With Caterpie and Metapod, we have two pre-evolutions that help their Stage 2 come into play more easily.
First, we have Caterpie who can search out Metapod and evolve into it on a successful coin flip with its Pupate Ability.
Then we have Metapod which can search out a Butterfree on a successful coin flip and evolve into it with its Emerge Ability.
You would have 25 percent probability of evolving into Butterfree on the turn Caterpie came into play on a single evolution line. However, the more Caterpie you get into play, the greater probability you will have of getting a Butterfree into play on the turn that you got your Caterpie all into play. Hitting heads twice on back to back coin flips is a 25 percent probability, but the probability of hitting heads twice on back to back coin flips at least once when you do three sets of these coin flips is 57.8% probability. Now this isn’t exactly what it would be probability wise, as any Metapod in hand or in your prize cards would alter the probability from game to game.
For example, if you have a Metapod in hand, a Metapod in your prizes, and you flipped heads on your first two Caterpie, but flipped tails on the Metapod Ability, then you wouldn’t have any more Metapod to evolve your third or fourth Caterpie into, decreasing the probability off that expected 57.8% probability for that individual game.
Of course you would need to get it active to attack with it as well, so you would also need a switching effect to get it active to attack if your active Caterpie isn’t the one that successfully emerges into a Butterfree on turn one.
Outside of the turn that you put Caterpie into play, this Ability is still useful for helping you get a swarm of Butterfree into play as you will typically hit some amount of heads allowing you to search out your Evolutions throughout the game.
The next question would be is if there are any Butterfree worth playing, and the answer is probably not.
The new Butterfree from Unbroken Bonds is the most interesting one we have in Standard. If you can get an early game Butterfree, you could power up a pretty bulky attacker all for one Energy attachment. However, it would most likely not be worth it to run a Butterfree engine to do so as you would have to include a thick Stage 2 line, so there’s probably a better form of support available to those attackers that is easier to setup. You would also need to stop and attack with Butterfree again for each new attacker you want to setup. You can spread the Energy out across multiple Pokemon, which could be useful for setting up Pokemon that would otherwise just need one more attachment to get setup though. However, the point stills stands, there is probably an easier way to power those Pokemon up, and the Pokemon who don’t have an easier way to power up probably won’t be able to stand up against the Pokemon whose best acceleration option isn’t Butterfree anyhow.
Butterfree from Burning Shadows is mildly interesting for Grass decks, as you could play a thin 1-1-1 line, and work on developing it throughout the game and then use it to heal your grass tanks like Celebi & Venusaur GX or Pheromosa & Buzzwole GX, but this seems more like an idea suited for a cube than competitive play.
Expanded doesn’t offer any Butterfree better than what’s already available in Standard, and the Adaptive Evolution Caterpie and Metapod from Flashfire seems like a more consistent option for evolving into Butterfree than the ones from Unbroken Bonds in Expanded anyhow.
Gloom provides a nice little Ability with Irresistible Aroma that you can utilize on your way to evolving into Vileplume. You can use it to put Pokemon with coming into play Abilities, such as Tapu Koko GX onto the owner’s bench to prevent them from getting to use that Ability in the game. You can also use it to put weak Pokemon, or multi-prize liabilities onto your opponent’s bench as targets for later in a game.
I don’t think Irresistible Aroma is irresistible enough for players to not prefer a Rare Candy engine to get Vileplume into play, but it is a solid effect if you do choose to include a Stage 1 as part of your setup engine in a Vileplume deck.
I could see this getting play independently of Vileplume in a spread deck to get more Pokemon onto your opponent’s bench.
This is one of the most fun card designs in the set with Varied Pollen being a very powerful bench sitter Ability. With Varied Pollen you can choose to inflict your opponent’s Active Pokemon with any of the Special Conditions, except for Paralyze, which would have been far too strong as a once per a turn Ability. By getting to choose from one of four different effects, you can use Vileplume in a very versatile manner, utilizing different Special Conditions depending on what the situation calls for.
If you need to slow down your opponent, then you might use Confusion. If you need something to be unable to retreat, then you could choose Asleep. Need something knocked out? Then Burned would be a great choice for +20 damage. Want something knocked out headed back into your turn? Then Poison might be able to work that out math wise.
t’s probably too slow for use immediately, but if Stage 2 bench sitters become easier to play after Guzma rotates in August, then I think Vileplume could find it’s way into some competitive deck eventually.
Venomoth is another interesting card design among the Grass Pokemon. It attacks your opponent’s bench for you while Special Conditions attack your opponent’s Active Pokemon. 90 damage is a solid amount too, being able to knockout Pokemon like Malamar, as well as provide a big chunk of damage to knock out something bigger that you may have previously damaged with something else. With a colorless attack cost, Venomoth is highly splashable for its Assassin Flight attack.
This could be utilized with the Vileplume above, cards like Hypnotoxic Laser or Ariados AOR in Expanded, or Koga’s Trap from this set.
I don’t think Venomoth is strong enough to headline its own deck, but it seems like it could be a very useful alternate attacker when paired with our next card, Venomoth GX.
Venomoth GX looks like it could be a sleeper card from Unbroken Bonds. With Shinobi Mastery, it has available to it two potentially very strong attack effects, and with it being a Stage 1 Pokemon, it should be fairly easy to get these into play while building a deck in a way that allows you to use the Supporter cards you need to use.
Its base damage is 110 damage with Shinobi Mastery, which is a solid number to hit as it will get you a 2HKO on most Pokemon, at least when you have Choice Band attached. Where this attack starts getting interesting is the added affects.
Added effect number one requires you to play Koga’s Trap from your hand during the turn, and if you do, you get 90 more damage.
This takes Shinobi Mastery from its base damage of 110 all the way up to 200 damage. However, Koga’s Trap Poisons the Active Pokemon, so it’s effectively raising it to 210 damage. With Choice Band, you could be doing 240 damage total with this attack. That’s enough to OHKO a Pikachu & Zekrom GX.
You could also play Seviper from Burning Shadows to increase the damage the opponent takes from Poison, increasing its damage cap.
Working off the Koga’s Trap line of play, a good support Pokemon could be Parasect from Team Up, which puts 2 damage counters on Confused Pokemon in between turns. This would effectively raise the damage cap to 260 damage with Choice Band attached, and 270 damage with a single Seviper in play. This would allow it to reach the OHKO math for most of the Tag Team Pokemon in format. To the best of my knowledge, Magikarp & Wailord GX is the only Tag Team with more than 270 HP, and conveniently enough, you would hit that one for weakness anyhow.
The second effect to Shinobi Mastery prevents all damage to Venomoth GX during your next turn from your opponent’s Basic Pokemon when you play Janine from your hand during your turn. This could be very useful against the Basic-centric decks that we’ve been seeing more of since the release of Tag Team GX, especially after Guzma and Escape Rope rotate in August.
The damage math on Venomoth GX actually works out pretty well for attacking the current format’s top decks. 110 damage? Perfect for knocking out a Zapdos. 210 damage after Poison? Perfect for knocking out Zoroark GX or Lucario GX and you already hit Lycanroc GX for weakness. 240 damage with Poison and Choice Band? That OHKO’s Pikachu & Zekrom GX. Whether it hits for relevant numbers in upcoming formats remains to be seen and will depend on what decks emerge as the most powerful in future formats, but 210 damage is solid enough output that Venomoth should have plenty of meta games where it’s hitting for proper damage amounts.
Powering it up consistently is going to be tricky, but there are some solid options for doing so.
With Koga’s Trap Confusing the opponent’s active Pokemon, you may be able to rely on that to slow your opponent down as you build up your Venomoth GX with Energy. It may not be super effective in the switch effect heavy format we have going on right now, but after rotation when we drop down to fewer switching effects, then it might become stronger to rely on such a strategy.
Energy Acceleration might be another way to approach streaming these. Vikavolt SUM comes to mind, but if you’re going to shove in a Stage 2 line, it may be hard to build the rest of the engine you need to use Koga’s Trap and/or Janine consistently. Another option is Abamasnow from Forbidden Light. It’s a one time use Ability, but with Devolution Spray Z, which comes out in this set, we can devolve it to use the Ability multiple times in a game off the same bench slot.
If you’re willing to use an attack to get the Energy into play to attack, then Shuckle from Lost Thunder can use Energy Drink to provide the Grass Energy to two different Venomoth GX, and then they will be a Double Colorless attachment away from being able to attack.
Post rotation, if Double Colorless Energy does actually manage to find it’s way out of the format and doesn’t get a last minute reprint in the August set, then it will be much more difficult to power up Venomoth GX in that format, and it will be more difficult to power up moving forward, although we do have more Grass acceleration options coming our way in the August set as well with Tsareena.
Ten-Card Return GX could be a solid turn 2 GX attack, allowing you to get a big hand to setup whatever support Pokemon you’re using, as well as possibly get multiple Koga’s Trap or Janine into your hand. It’s nice that it does 60 damage as well, as that can take a knockout on a pre-evolution Pokemon while you’re working on your setup, or at least put a dent in a bigger Pokemon to setup some knockout match against it.
It is Fire weak, which could be a problem, but with Janine you could shutout Pokemon like Blacephalon GX or Reshiram & Charizard GX from doing damage against it. Even if you opt to not play any Janine and just go with Koga’s Trap and the heavy damage route, it is possible with how much damage it does that you’re able to maintain an even prize trade against these decks.
This will be a tricky deck to figure out the consistency engine for, but if someone can figure it out, power wise, Venomoth GX does seem like a very solid attacker that can hit for good numbers.
We’ve seen the Reactive Poison attack printed twice now in the Sun and Moon block, first on the Stage 1 Ariados in Celestial Storm, which did 20+ 50 damage for each Special Condition.
While Victreebel’s Reactive Poison does more damage for every Special Condition above one, it isn’t doing much damage more. If this type of attack hasn’t been playable on Stage 1 that had a Colorless attack cost, allowing it to be paired with any type of support, then there is near zero chance that it will be good on a Stage 2 that requires Grass Energy.
This Grubbin should be the new go to Grubbin for Vikavolt decks. Electrical Signal is a very powerful attack for a pre-evolution and will allow you to search out Vikavolt on your turn, as well as the new Charjabug (which you could evolve into or attach as Energy to a Vikavolt). As long as you have Rare Candy or Volkner in hand after your first turn, then you will be able to complete the combo needed for a turn 2 Vikavolt.
This Grubbin should greatly improve the consistency of Vikavolt decks, making them more playable, whether it’s the recently revived VikaRay, VikaBulu, or new Vikavolt or Vikavolt GX decks that come out of this set with the new Vikavolt and Charjabug.
The last Grass card worth mentioning in this set is Kartana, which is a bizzaro version of Baby Buzzwole.
When you’re at four prizes remaining, its Big Cut does 130 total damage. When paired with Beast Energy and Choice Band, this could turn into the damage output for a OHKO against Basic GX Pokemon, or even Stage 1 GX Pokemon like Zoroark GX if you have a Professor Kukui to go along with it.
This is definitely a weaker attack than Baby Buzzwole’s Sledgehammer. First, its base damage is less, so it’s a pretty useless attack at any other stage of the game. It doesn’t have nearly as many damage buffs available to it as Baby Buzzwole, with Beast Energy and Choice Band being the only ones. Buzzwole has Diancie Prism Star, and also has Strong Energy in Expanded.
Secondly, if you take a knockout with it, then the added damage goes away, making it a useless attacker again. With Buzzwole, if they didn’t take a knockout, then the added damage carried into your next turn as well. Granted, the added damage won’t go away on Kartana if you don’t take a knockout, but that would also mean you didn’t take a knockout that turn, so that could mean that you weren’t able to progress the game in the way you needed with Kartana.
Third, when you move off the four prize turn, Buzzwole could be powered up with Beast Ring or Counter Energy and use Swing Around for significant damage. Kartana is mostly going to be useless once you move off the four prize turn. Attacks like False Swipe generally aren’t very good when they’re guaranteed, but with False Swipe requiring you to flip heads on a coin flip, it’s a downright terrible second attack, especially for three Energy.
Kartana does have free retreat though, which does give it some use on your field as something you can promote after knockouts on your Pokemon.
This card isn’t great, but it might be just good enough to see play in Grass and Ultra Beasts decks. With a card like Baby Buzzwole you could look at it and know it was pretty good. With this card, it’s very hard to tell if it will actually be worth putting in decks or not.
That’s it for the Grass Pokemon in the set. Check back soon for Part 2 of the Review in which I take a look at the powerful Fire Pokemon in the set.