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Short and Sweet — The Ephemeral Team Up-Evolving Skies Format

Short and Sweet — The Ephemeral Team Up-Evolving Skies Format

We are approaching the end of the 2021 season and consequently, the end of the Chilling Reign format. This means that rotation is near, and the Pokemon TCG community will soon be unified in its focus on the Sword & Shield-on format; however, it also means that you are about to experience that yearly wonder that is the ephemeral format.

What I call ephemeral formats are those formats that exist only for a few weeks, after the August set is released but before rotation takes place. In this case, the Team UpEvolving Skies (TEUEVS). This format will be the one played, de facto, on TCGO upon Evolving Skies releases but before rotation takes effect two weeks later. More importantly, the Pokemon Online Global Championships (or POG Championships), a sort of unofficial Worlds ran by a coalition of online organizers, has been announced for the first weekend of September in exactly that format (just like, last season, it was played in the ephemeral UPRDAA format). The Atlas League, which has been running events all year long, will also be running a global event, the Atlas Annual Championships, September 17-19, with day one being open to everyone and played in TEUEVS.

In official tournaments, though, Evolving Skies would become legal two weeks after its release date, that is, on rotation day. Therefore, one could argue that the ephemeral TEUEVS format isn’t supposed to be played; that when Evolving Skies is released on TCGO, players should agree to play without pre-Sword & Shield cards, to effectively simulate the post-rotation format. There is certainly a case to be made for that, but I have a few objections to that idea.

First, I don’t think that whether a format is supposed to be played is a real indicator of whether you should play it or not. It has been confirmed that, had Worlds 2020 happened, rotation would have happened before it, so that players could only play post-rotation cards in it and it’s likely that the same would have been true of Worlds 2021. However, these tournaments didn’t happen, and it would be sad if the player base, given the freedom to play whatever they want, would restrict themselves to only the official line. All year long, players have enjoyed tournaments in many formats – Standard and Expanded – but also variations on these with additional bans; Sword & Shield-on; retro formats; the recent Journey format (SUM-on with a huge ban list that aims to recreate a play style closer to the EX-era) and so on.

In fact, I would argue that the game is more fun when you play formats that weren’t made to exist, because then you can set your creativity free, without archetypes being designed for us. I’ll admit that this comes down to personal preference, though, I enjoy Expanded more than Standard because of all the surprising combinations that have been discovered over the years between cards that were seemingly not designed to be played together.

But in any case, something that many people miss is that the claim that TEUEVS (or UPRDAA for that matter) wasn’t made to be played is false. In Japan, the cards that make up Evolving Skies have been out for at least a month and a half, and their National Championship (as well as multiple City Leagues) was played in the equivalent of TEUEVS. To a Japanese player, TEUEVS is not some freak format featuring cards that were never meant to be played together, it’s the direct continuation of and just as logical as TEUCRE.

Jirachi (99)Jirachi (SM161)

If you’re not familiar with Japanese set releases, here’s the short version: Japanese formats are not equal to ours, since Japan has more sets, which are smaller than ours, which then get aggregated into your Western sets. Therefore, some Standard-legal cards from Team Up have rotated in Japan because they were from a small set from before Tag Bolt (their Team Up equivalent). The most relevant cards are Jirachi, Incineroar-GX, Yveltal, Absol and all the Prism Star cards.

Newer players might not know it, but ephemeral formats used to be the norm. The World Championships that take place every year in August would usually be played with the latest set, but before rotation which used to be set on the first day of September. It was only in 2019 that this was changed. I think that this change was for the better. Having a format that was only played for Worlds (and other events happening at Worlds) was undesirable for multiple reasons.

For players, it meant a lot of playtesting for very little impact. For many years, I spent my time between early July and mid-August thinking about a format, proxying decks and trying them out against each other, all for one tournament that would only be seven rounds long. At least in 2019, when I inevitably did bad at Worlds, my playtesting, both deck I ended up playing and others, wasn’t for naught; I didn’t play the Mewtwo & Mew-GX deck that my testing group perfected and that Henry Brand used to win Worlds, but I could at least use it at League Challenges and Cups later.

For spectators, too, having an ephemeral format sucked. If they saw a cool deck on stream, too bad, because that deck wouldn’t be playable anymore after that weekend. The most prestigious event of the year wasn’t something that new players could benefit from watching.

However, while I’m glad that the World Championships has used a post-rotation format, I’m happy about ephemeral formats being played in online tournaments. Here’s why: first, while events like the POG Championships are fun and do evoke the feeling of a community getting together for a large event and celebration, it’s not comparable to the incredible feeling of being at Worlds. The prestige of the event is not close to that of Worlds, and neither are the prizes. This is in no way an attack on the organizers; it’s obvious that an amateur team doesn’t have the resources of the Pokemon Company and that online events can’t bring players together in the same way as an IRL one does. Therefore, even the most dedicated player won’t spend as much time playtesting for the POG Championships or the Atlas Annual Championships as they would for Worlds.

There are also far more tournaments to play in, now. Before the pandemic, there would be no official competitions between the North America International Championships (and before that, US Nationals) in early July and Worlds. Players attending Worlds would use that time to figure out what the best play would be for that competition. However, in the era of daily online events on Limitless, this has changed. Up to August 27th, the day Evolving Skies gets released, there will be events in the Chilling Reign format and after that, there will be plenty of post-rotation events; if someone doesn’t care about TEUEVS, they can easily ignore it and maybe copy someone’s decklist at the last minute to play in the POG Championships if they feel like it.

With this in light, the ephemeral format is not something players are forced to engage with, it’s more of a slight, temporary change of pace, which I personally enjoy. When you’re playing in tournaments daily, formats can get repetitive very fast; anything that brings some change is welcome!

To recap, TEUEVS is an ephemeral format, which will be played on TCGO upon Evolving Skies‘ release, for a couple of global online events and, in all likeliness, a bunch of small ones. You could just take a break from Pokemon for two weeks and skip it, but it’s a unique opportunity to have some cards interact for the only time (apart from Expanded). If you’d like to take this opportunity, that’s where I come in! Today, I’d like to recap this format as you know it from Japanese tournaments, to give you a first look at what will change from the current format. I can’t cover every single archetype, so I’ll look at 10 of the best decks of the format. I apologize in advance if the deck you’re most excited about isn’t mentioned here!

The Unchanged

Let’s start with the safe part: the decks that won’t change or barely, from Chilling Reign to Evolving Skies. If you don’t want to test a bunch of new decks in the short window of time between the release of Evolving Skies (or now, if you’re playing with proxies) and rotation or if you lack the resources or time to do so, you might want to stick with one of these safe choices. It’s not because a deck doesn’t use any new cards that it’s bad!

The poster child for this affirmation is Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX. This deck won the Japanese National Championships in both the Masters and Seniors division; it also took two spots in Masters Top 4. These four impressive results were achieved with decklists that have in common the complete lack of any card from Evolving Skies. Galarian Articuno was lauded as a possible boost for Shadow Rider, but it turns out that the deck doesn’t need another way to add Energy to the board from the hand and can’t devote a Bench space to the cases it would be useful. Articuno’s attack, while interesting, doesn’t fit the deck either and doesn’t help against Decidueye (which would be the main reason to add a single-Prize attacker to the deck), so it was excluded.

What all four decklists mentioned did play, though, is a two-two line of Alcremie VMAX. As the format gets more and more focused around VMAX Pokemon, the inclusion of this powerful finisher that can take the last three Prizes in one attack becomes an obvious choice.

Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX is almost untouched too. It gets a bit worse in this new format because more decks can hit it for Weakness. In addition to LMZ and ADP / Zacian, Metal Pokemon (and Metal Saucer) will see play in Duraludon VMAX. While Duraludon VMAX isn’t itself Metal-type, it uses Metal Energy, so it can be played with Bronzong, Metal and Aurora Energy and Metal Saucer, along with secondary attackers like the obvious Zacian V and Zamazenta V. There’s also a Metal-type Duraludon V, which can benefit from Metal Saucer before evolving into a VMAX.

What Ice Rider does get in this new format is Suicune V, a new secondary attacker that only gives up two Prizes. In my opinion, this is important. It is common for Ice Rider to give up three Prizes as its first VMAX is Knocked Out and then must use another Ice Rider VMAX knowing that, once that one is KOed, the game is over. After Evolving Skies, you can use Suicune V as your first or second attacker. When your opponent has KO’d an Ice Rider VMAX and a Suicune V, you can use Drizzile’s Ability to search for a Reset Stamp, have Path to the Peak in play and then force your opponent to deal with another Ice Rider VMAX, while down to one card.

Apart from Suicune V, though, Evolving Skies doesn’t offer anything new, and I expect decklists to be the same, still using the Inteleon engine, with Suicune V being the only change.

LMZ, too, should stay mostly the same. The only new card from Evolving Skies that had made its way to Japanese decklists is the new Crystal Cave Stadium, which can be searched with Guzma & Hala and provides healing to the deck, making its Pokemon even tankier. Speaking of Guzma & Hala, the Tag Call engine is the way to go in this new format. Some LMZ players have been getting away with removing Coating Energy in the Chilling Reign format because of the fall of Welder decks, but you can expect Rayquaza VMAX to be played mostly with Welder and this deck will play secondary attackers (like Victini V or Volcarona V) which will ruin LMZ’s day if it doesn’t play Coating Energy.

Finally, if single-Prize decks are more your style, then you’ll be happy to know that Rapid Strike Malamar stays the same from Chilling Reign to Evolving Skies! Rescue Trolley is the only new card worth considering, but it’s not necessary. Antoine Boulay made top 16 at the Japanese National Championships with this deck and their list didn’t use it (or any other card not currently Standard-legal).

I don’t think you need me to provide a decklist for any of these decks; just take your favorite decklist from Chilling Reign and keep it as is or add one of the few new cards that fit in the deck!

The Changed

Next come the decks that are recognizable archetypes, but that new cards have significantly altered…

Rapid Strike Urshifu

I’ll start with Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX / Inteleon, one of the best decks from Chilling Reign (even if it took some time for players to recognize this). This deck is unchanged, with only two new cards, but these change its matchups a bit.

First, Raihan provides the deck with more card search and Energy acceleration. Raihan seems very good in a deck with Inteleon, because you can search for it with Drizzile (or Inteleon SSH) when you just got KOed. In turn, Raihan provides Energy acceleration and can search for any card, especially Rapid Strike Energy which the Drizzile engine can’t otherwise look for. Raihan can replace a Karate Belt in the deck since it provides a similar role: Energy acceleration.

More importantly, Medicham V provides the deck with something rarely seen extra turns. Some players have recently used Cobalion-GX in Urshifu decklists to provide an extra turn to the deck of sorts; that extra turn allows the Urshifu players to add some more damage counters thanks to Inteleon and can save the game. Medicham V acts similarly, but even better because it gives you an extra turn; the opponent can’t heal or play a Reset Stamp between the Yoga Loop turn and the next one, unlike with Iron Rule GX.

Of course, Yoga Loop’s effect is situational, as you need to set up a KO, but it’s not that hard to do so thanks to Inteleon. But what makes it incredible is how well it deals with Mew. You’d like to end the game with a G-Max Rapid Flow for four Prizes, but there’s a pesky Mew in play? No problem, simply use Quick Shooting twice, then Yoga Loop the Mew. You get an extra turn, where you’re free to use Quick Shooting again, play Boss’s Orders if you need to and so on. Medicham V turns Mew from a serious problem to an inconvenience or, sometimes, a benefit for Urshifu.

By the way, you could use Cobalion-GX in addition to Medicham V if you wanted to. This way, you can Yoga Loop, play Iron Rule GX on the following turn, then Yoga Loop again, provided you spread damage well enough. This does take two spots on the Bench, but it allows you, in theory, to use four turns of Quick Shooting without the opponent attacking.

Here’s a decklist based on Alex Schemanske’s Players Cup IV-winning deck, that incorporates the new cards:

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