First Impression of Pokemon: Sword & Shield
Traditionally, the release of base sets and a new block of cards has led to an exciting time for the trading card game. I anticipate the release of Sword & Shield to be no different! As per usual with a new block, we have gotten a rule update, and I am personally a huge fan of this one. Of course, there are a lot of amazing cards to talk about as well! In this article I will cover the turn 1 rule change and discuss some of the cards that have been most impressive in early testing.
Turn 1 Rule
The most impactful ruling change that starts with Sword & Shield’s legality is the new Turn 1 Supporter Rule: “the player who goes first cannot play a Supporter card on the first turn”. This is a huge change aimed at better balancing the differing advantages between going first and going second. I personally welcome this change and I think it will lead to more intuitive deckbuilding and potentially more interactive gameplay.
How exactly does this rule change influence the way decks will be built? With supporters no longer a turn 1 option going first, players may build specific decks to have a stronger turn 1 going first with supplementary abilities and items in lieu of supporter cards. It is also possible some players will construct specific decks to be stronger when going second. These decks will likely rely on strategies that need the use of supporter cards to carry out and/or have aggressive basic attackers that can benefit from being the first to attack.
I also think the new rule is overall beneficial for gameplay since Welder can no longer be played turn 1 going first. Welder was an oppressive card in standard ever since its release in Ability Zard and the Mewtwo & Mew Box. Because of Welder, Reshizard threatened Turn 2 300 damage from the player going first and Mewtwo & Mew threatened copying Espeon & Deoxys' Cross Division to place 20 damage counters on turn 2. The aggressive attacks made for straightforward games that left little room for counter strategies and the use of Cross Division GX gate kept evolution decks since the earlier stages of evolution cards could get completely wiped off the board before getting a chance to evolve. In my opinion, Welder is the most validating reason for this rule change and while I think Welder should have never been printed, I’m glad this rule change is being implemented.
Early Look at Impactful Sword & Shield Cards
I think Zacian V is obviously one of the best cards in the set and its power level should not be underestimated. It isn’t just hype, the card is actually very good. Its ability Intrepid Sword is a perfect supplementary ability for turn 1 without a supporter; since it draws cards and ends your turn, and it even has the ability to accelerate energy on top of that. Zacian V is an excellent attacker with Brave Blade dealing 230 damage for 3 metal energy which is an insanely efficient attack that can one-shot very relevant Pokemon either with its base output of 230 or with a higher damage output with the help of modifiers like Vital Band and Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX Tag Team's: Altered Creation GX. I fully expect Zacian V to be an integral part of Metal-type archetypes and to also be included in non-metal archetypes for the draw power of Intrepid Sword.
In upwards of 30-40 games testing with Zacian V variants thus far, Zacian V / Lucario & Melmetal-GX has been oppressively powerful. It has strong attributes across the board, including high damage output, energy denial, energy acceleration, tanking, and healing. I will focus further on this archetype in the near future, but for now I will say that Zacian V is the strongest card in the set and Zacian V / Lucmetal is one of the best decks in SWSH Standard according to my testing.
Nest Ball and Ultra Ball rotated out of this season’s standard format, leaving us with limited search for non-GX basic Pokemon, which handicapped the majority of evolution based archetype. Malamar was able to strive in this standard format since Mysterious Treasure can search out most, if not all, of its Pokemon and Net Ball offered search for Grass Pokemon, although there have not been any competitive Grass decks in Standard for a while.
I would have loved to see Quick Ball come out earlier, potentially making the standard format more consistent and wide open for more archetypes, but it is better late than never. A full playset of Quick Ball will be included in many decks just as Ultra Ball was in the past. Quick Ball is better than Nest Ball ever was since it can search for a basic Pokemon and put it to your hand, not directly to bench. So in Standard Format at least, Quick Ball is an out to Dedenne-GX which is huge.
Marnie is a very unique and useful card, and I anticipate it seeing a lot of play once it comes out. It has been very popular in Japan already, and I see no reason for it to be less popular elsewhere. It is a very solid draw supporter since it puts everything in your hand at the bottom of the deck, essentially helping you dig for cards that were not already in your hand; it is also solid disruption, as it puts your opponent’s hand at the bottom of their deck but not by their choice. Marnie has your opponent draw 4 cards and this has the potential to be just as, or even more disruptive than Reset Stamp, depending on the point of the game. I expect most decks to include at least 1-2 Marnie, and some decks like Mewtwo & Mew/Malamar, which is a disruption based deck, will include a full 4 count.
Professor’s Research (Magnolia)
A reprint of Juniper and Sycamore, Professor’s Research is a universally strong card for the Standard format. There’s not much room for analysis or in depth theory with this card, it is just plain good. Discard your hand to draw 7 will likely always be one of the best supporters at any point in the Pokémon TCG. Professor’s Research will find itself in many decks and will help standard decks carry out their game plan more consistently.
Frosmoth is a very good card that was also balanced well by the developers. It has an ability similar to Deluge/Rain Dance which allows you to attach unlimited basic water energy a turn, but Frosmoth’s ability is limited to attaching these energy to benched water Pokémon only. Frosmoth has synergy with two great attackers in the set, Lapras V MAX and Keldeo V. Lapras V MAX and Keldeo V both have strong attacks that scale in increments of 30 damage for each additional water energy attached to them, so these cards depend on something like Frosmoth to reach their full potential.
Frosmoth could potentially pair with Quagsire which moves water energy to the active Pokémon if you want to accelerate water energy to non water Pokémon, but admittedly this sounds like a hassle to go through when you could use the aforementioned water Pokémon as your attackers.
Ability:Tantrum Head When you play this Pokémon from your hand onto your Bench during your turn, you may put 1 damage counter on 1 of your opponent's Pokémon.
Surprise Attack: Flip a coin. If tails, this attack does nothing.
Galarian Zigzagoon is a pre-evolution pokemon which i’d normally leave in the bulk pile. However, Galarian Zigzagoon has a familiar ability that will undoubtedly prove itself useful in the standard format. Zigzagoon’s Tantrum Head ability allows you to place a damage counter on one of your opponent’s Pokémon when you play Zigzagoon from your hand to your bench. This can proc extra damage on something like Garchomp & Giratina's: Calamitous Slash or add up with additional damage for Yveltal-GX’s: Doom Count GX attack.
Galarian Obstagoon, which is stage 2 in the evolution line, has a similar ability which places 3 damage counters on a Pokémon when it evolves, but being a stage 2 it is less splashable into different decks than the basic Zigzagoon is.
We are almost a month away from the first Sword & Shield legal tournament outside of Japan and the set is still in pre-release; these are some of my very early thoughts on the set. I have put in time over winter break with a sizable portion of new and old archetypes in the UPR-SWSH format, but I am sure there are still more ideas and combinations to be discovered and refined in what is looking to be a very diverse and adventurous standard format. I will be working on lists and strategies to share in the near future, but I will tell you now that I highly suggest getting ahold of 3 or 4 Zacian V for standard if you would like to build all of the tier 1 archetypes. I foresee this card holding high prices like Dedenne-GX and Jirachi have in the past, although it is less universal.
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