Air Balloon – Sword and Shield
Date Reviewed: January 10, 2021
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is horrible. 3 is average. 5 is great.
Air Balloon (Sword & Shield 156/202, 213/202) is another one of those honorable mentions when it comes to the top X cards of 2020. We’ve reviewed this card once when it was the fifth best card of the set. This is a Pokémon Tool card that reduces the retreat cost by CC. Depending on what their inherent retreat costs, some Pokemon might retreat for free and others still have you pay energy cards – even after the reduction – just to retreat. This effect last indefinitely until the Pokemon is KOed or that the tool in question is being removed via Tool Scrapper, which could happen as soon as your opponent’s turn. If that’s the case, then Air Balloon is no better than Switch or even Scoop Up Net because even though they are a one-and-done deal, because they bypass any cost that could’ve been paid for by energy cards.
When Air Balloon debuted, other Pokémon Tool cards that reduces retreat costs still exist. Escape Board (SM Ultra Prism 122/156, 167/156) and U-Turn Board (SM Unified Minds 211/236, 255/236) were still Standard legal at the time. And while they both reduce the retreat cost of C, they also have added effects; Escape Board lets you retreat even if your Active Pokemon is Asleep or Paralyzed; U-Turn Board puts itself back into your hand if it gets discarded. Putting it together, Air Balloon is facing competition from other cards with lesser raw power, but it could also be considered as an alternative. None of the other Pokémon Tools regarding retreat costs are replacing each other, and fortunately Float Stone isn’t there to school us all since it left the 2017-2018 rotation! I recall in the early days where Air Balloon formed a good combination with Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX, as its Invasion ability forces itself in the Active Spot, and you manually retreat for free. Since Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX’s retreat cost was CC, Air Balloon was able to completely remove the cost. But that tactic wasn’t in every deck, however. Ability lock, tool removal, over-reliance of getting those cards into your hand, and effects that raise the retreat cost are couple factors that keep this combination from working reliably.
Some time has passed, and both Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX and Escape Board left rotation, with U-Turn Board being the only other option remaining. Even now, there has yet to be a Pokemon that picks up where Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX left off. But Air Balloon was still being played, at least from what I saw while skimming through Top 8 of some of the few recent tournaments.
-In Champions League Yokohama, a Eternatus V-MAX deck that ran three copies of Air Balloon finished at 8th place.
-In Players Cup Global Finals, only two decklist from the Top 2 was viewable. Both decks were PikaRom based archetypes and they both used two copies of Air Balloon
-As for Players Cup Finals and Pokemon Online Global Championships, there’s way too many decklists there, but somewhere along the line there were a couple decks that used Air Balloon with or without other alternatives like Escape Board.
So, Air Balloon still has a strong showing, and if U-Turn Board leaves rotation this year and no other Pokémon Tools besides Air Balloon takes their place, then Air Balloon may heavily see play due to being the only tool that reduces retreat cost. With Jirachi (SS Vivid Voltage 119/185) being one of the many other Pokémon you would like to see in your starting hand before the game starts, Air Balloon and U-Turn Board is going to be necessary for such decks. Even decks without starter Pokémon can still make use of Air Balloon, and those tournament results showed that. I wonder how the game would be like without Air Balloon, but that means players would be inserting more switching/bounce related cards in their decks…whatever it takes to get that specific Pokémon away from their Active Spot.
In Expanded, Float Stone will continue to eclipse most Pokemon Tools that reduces retreat cost because it makes their retreat cost zero, regardless of how much your opponent tries to increase it. It’s also good in the Limited format due to similar reasons in regards to Standard.
- Standard: 3.5/5
- Expanded: 1/5
- Limited: 4.5/5
The fact that Air Balloon is still being used in tournaments and made some great finishes means that its future prospects remains to be pretty good, at least in Standard. I don’t recall if I had this in my personal list, but even if it didn’t, this isn’t something to forget about, either.
Welcome to a week of (mostly) Honorable Mentions. We’re talking about cards that didn’t make any reviewer’s personal list of best cards from 2020, but which came close. I was sorely tempted to suggest we do a Top 20 of 2020 countdown this year, but we wanted to line up with the other reviewers so that didn’t seem like a good idea. I let myself submit a Top 15 (to help determine our Top 10), and that meant there were a lot of decent cards worth mentioning. Plus one or two that aren’t all that great now, but performed well in 2020. These are not in order of quality, but of what I thought worked well for our review schedule.
Up first is Air Balloon, a card which we first looked at in February of 2020. Specifically, it was our 5th-Place finisher from Sword & Shield. It is a Pokémon Tool that reduced the Retreat Cost of the equipped Pokémon by [CC]. This means you not only pay [CC] less to retreat, but effects that read your Retreat Cost will also perceive it as two lower than what is printed. If your Pokémon only have Retreat Costs of [C], you got more bang for your buck with Escape Board pre-Rotation. Even now, there is U-Turn Board, which returns to your hand any time it hits the discard pile from the field: pretty handy given that Tool Scrapper is Standard-legal. If your Retreat Cost is at [CC], though, then Air Balloon is pretty great; turn anything into a free-retreating pivot Pokémon. Just remember that effects which add to Retreat Costs can spoil those plans, as well as those that prevent Trainers, Items, or Tools from being used, and those that nullify the effects of the aforementioned card types.
With Retreat Costs above [CC], Air Balloon helps, but probably not enough to justify its inclusion. If you had to extra copies for something else in your deck, and you can spare an Air Balloon, go ahead and use it so that something with a massive Retreat Cost only has to discard one or two Energy, instead of three or four. At least, in the Standard Format; in Expanded we have Float Stone. Float Stone’s effect basically multiplies Retreat Costs by zero, so it benefits anything that doesn’t already have a free Retreat Cost. This also means it counters any effects that increase Retreat Costs as well! We also have Escape Board and we still have U-Turn Board, but Float Stone makes Air Balloon almost totally obsolete. If you need more than four Float Stone, you should consider some non-Tool options; there are multiple Abilities capable of lowering or zeroing out Retreat Costs.
Air Balloon is a most welcome sight in the Limited Format. No, you don’t need it in a Mulligan build, except maybe to bluff that you’re not really running a Mulligan deck. There’s a chance it won’t show up at the right time, or that you just won’t need to retreat whatever you have equipped with Air Balloon. I may be mistaken, but there is a better chance you’ll need to retreat in the Limited Format, and better chance your Pokémon won’t have great Retreat Costs, so go ahead and enjoy Air Balloon here.
- Standard: 3/5
- Expanded: 1/5
- Limited: 4/5
Air Balloon is no where near as good as Float Stone, but is is as good or better than Escape Board and U-Turn Board in enough situations that it remains a good, solid card. Which is somewhat funny for a balloon. Did Air Balloon live up to its ranking as the 5th best card of Sword & Shield? Probably not, but were I to make a Top 10 Cards of Sword & Shield list now, it would probably make it; definitely in the top 15.
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