– Sword & Shield
February 17, 2020
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 our fifth-place finisher, as we begin the last half of our countdown of Sword & Shield’s best cards. This Pokémon Tool reduces the Retreat Cost of the Pokémon to which it is attached by [CC]. That is one more than Escape Board or U-Turn Board but those two cards come with their bonus effects, being able to Retreat while Asleep or Paralyzed and returning itself to your hand when it goes from the field to the discard pile, respectively. Is reducing Retreat Costs by just one more [C] enough to make this card great in Standard?
Yeah! I’ve said it before with offensive buffs and defensive buffs, but it is all about hitting the right numbers and the right time. Lowering Retreat Costs sounds like a no-brainer, but even if you do hit a key number – like a free Retreat Cost – you may be better off with a different Tool. After all, what if you just don’t need to manually retreat that Pokémon all that often? Even if you do need to improve your Pokémon’s capacity to retreat, make sure there isn’t a better option for your deck. The obvious example is if you are running Jirachi (SM – Team Up 99/181; SM – Black Star Promos SM161); you need to be able to retreat it while it is Asleep (from its Ability), and its Retreat Cost is just [C], so of course you’re not running Air Balloon instead of Escape Board.
That was a nice, obvious example. I wish I had a slightly tricky one handy, but I haven’t seen one yet. Just remember, even if you have to pay an Energy with Escape Board or U-Turn Board, the specifics of the deck or the metagame could make that more important than shaving off an extra [C] from the Retreat Cost with Air Balloon. There are plenty of Pokémon, though, with Retreat Costs of [CC] that should just use Air Balloon. An easy example is Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX; with Air Balloon, you can use its “Invasion” Ability to force it up into your Active slot from the Bench, then manually retreat for free – thanks to Air Balloon’s effect – to “fake” a Switch each turn.
In other cases, it will be something different needing to retreat for free, or one Energy instead of three, etc. It already has happened with some of the successful Japanese decks we’ve already seen. You can see for yourself over at LimitlessTCG, but out of the 13 deck lists they have available (spanning the Top 15, as two are missing), four are already running Air Balloon. That is only half as many as feature Escape Board, but it has the Jirachi combo to drive its usage. Out of the new Tools, Air Balloon is only second to Big Charm in usage at that event. We’ve mentioned Air Balloon a few times in our reviews as well. I think it is safe to say it will be seeing some serious play now, and probably until it rotates from Standard…
…which is good, because it likely won’t see any play after that. Float Stone is just a better version of Air Balloon, zeroing out the Retreat Cost of the Pokémon to which it is attached. Even effects that increase Retreat Costs are swallowed by Float Stone’s effect. Air Balloon just can’t compete with that. Air Balloon is a great pull for the Limited Format unless – you guessed it – you pull a big, Basic Pokémon V and decide to run it without any other Basics. You won’t be able to retreat, so Air Balloon is merely “okay”. Uncommon [W] Type Stage 1 Dreadnaw (Sword & Shield 61/202) has an attack that does extra damage, based on your Active’s Retreat Cost, and +39 decks are likely to have the space for a situational Tool, so Air Balloon will likely still make the cut.
Air Balloon is a Tool you’ll be seeing a lot of, though it also won’t be in every deck. Still, it has good general use spiked by great deck-specific tricks. I had a hard time placing this card on my own Top 20 list; Air Balloon is a pretty useful, fairly general card but we already have retreat cost-lowering effects. In the end, I settled on 6th-place. It may sound like a nitpick or sour grapes, but I think 5th-place is a bit high because of the same thing I’ve said in many of these reviews; we still have that many great cards that are better than Air Balloon in this set!
Details: Like Vitality Band from last week, Air Balloon, the 5th best card of Sword and Shield, is another one of those cards where the effect is weaker than older cards but is still a good sight for the format Air Balloon is entering. This is a Pokémon Tool that reduces the retreat cost of any Pokémon holding this by two energy. If this was the only card that reduces retreat costs, it would have seen a lot of play, but with Escape Board and U-Turn Board still Standard legal, Air Balloon is facing some competition, and it is up to players to decide if they wanted raw power or extra utility.
Escape Board and U-Turn Board are both Pokémon Tools as well and also reduces the retreat cost by one but has extra effects. For Escape Board, not only that it reduces retreat cost, it also lets a Pokemon who’s Asleep or Paralyzed retreat when normally such Special Conditions won’t allow you to. As for U-Turn Board, it also reduces retreat costs, but also puts itself back into your hand instead of the discard pile if it ever gets discarded in some way. I don’t recall U-Turn Board seeing competitive success, but Escape Board does a good job on certain decks. Well, mostly decks that have Jirachi TEU. It’s Stellar Wish ability could fetch you a Trainer card and it puts Jirachi to sleep. Escape Board provides a mean to not only shave off Jirachi’s natural retreat cost of one, but also lets Jirachi retreat even if it’s asleep. Air Balloon doesn’t let you do that, it just reduce the retreat cost only.
It doesn’t even help that it doesn’t ZERO out the retreat cost and you still need another source that can do that. Absol’s Dark Ambitions Ability even raises the retreat cost by one on Basic Pokémon; of your opponent has all four Absol in play, then Air Balloon is still useless as ever. Dark City and Zeraora-GX could do that, but it needs a specific energy attached to it. No, we need a very good maneveur.
Enter Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX!
This Pokémon has the Invasion ability, which bring itself from the Bench into the Active spot. Air Balloon shaved off that Pokémon’s natural retreat cost of two. Assuming no stray Absol is in play, you can perform similar maneuvers like the Keldeo-EX/Float Stone combo.
Overall, this is how Air Balloon is being used in Standard play. Like Vitality Band from last week, it is outclasses by a older, stronger card. In the case of Air Balloon, Float Stone outclasses it completely, regardless if they used 4 Absol TEU and/or 4 Jellicent BCR’s Stickiness ability to increase retreat cost or not [even a retreat cost of twelve (CCCCCCCCCCCC) can be zeroed out].
But really though, is it silly to think that this tiny little balloon is capable of lifting up any Pokemon of any size just barely off the ground to make sure they’re unaffected by Ground moves? Like how is this lifting up a Groudon weighing over 2000 lbs? Must be made from the same stuff that It’s made out of. You know, the scary clown that makes you float too.
Air Balloon is a Tool that makes things easier for your Pokemon in terms of Retreat Cost, and there’s a lot less murderous clowns involved! Currently, the closest thing we’ve got is Escape Board, which lowers the Retreat Cost of a Pokemon by 1 and also makes sure it can’t be Paralyzed or Asleep. The absolute best Retreat Cost “reducer” Tool was Float Stone, which just completely removed the Retreat Cost entirely, and that was in context of Garbodor being really good with negating Abilities while it had a Tool attached.
So can Air Balloon compete with that? Maybe not in Expanded, but here in Standard, it has its uses alongside Escape Board, which will be rotating out later this year as well. The big plus on Air Balloon is that most Pokemon have a Retreat Cost of 2 on average, and you can likely pull off a lot of the same maneuvers with Air Balloon with most Pokemon that you could with Float Stone. Garbodor being the best partner aside, giving any Pokemon the ability to freely retreat gives you a free Switch essentially, which means a good set of Status Conditions are not likely to affect you, the only exceptions being – you guessed it – Asleep and Paralyzed.
Chances are strong you’re going to attach this to something on your Bench that will play more of a supporting role – something like Malamar or Galarian Perrserker or Frosmoth all come to mind – and in turn they’ll be able to provide further support than what they provide already. In other words, you’ll be able to stack on supportive effects to make your deck’s strategy more effective! If nothing else, keep this card in mind in the future, as there may be Pokemon that benefit uniquely and massively off of this card’s presence.
Standard: 4/5 (I expect it’ll be a meta pick, showing up in several decks)
Expanded: 3/5 (a bit more on the niche side, not as good as Float Stone generally but still has some appeal)
Limited: 5/5 (absolutely beneficial here)
Arora Notealus: Air Balloon is a strange item in general in the games, since it’s just a balloon and all, but it is nevertheless useful. You can make Pokemon that would normally be weak to Ground-Type moves immune to them, as well as avoid Spikes! In the TCG, we can use it to break Statuses and pull off some other crazy maneuvers, so I certainly await what kinds of combos will become possible with this card legal in Standard.
Next Time: Energize the rainbow! Taste the rainbow!
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