Unown (All 3 of ’em) – Lost Thunder
Date Reviewed: November 23, 2018
Ratings Summary: See Below
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is horrible. 3 is average. 5 is great.
The Pokémon TCG has given three new win conditions with those Unown cards. Depending on your point of view, it might or might not be doable. I’ll let the other members speak of their usefulness, since they explain much better than I can put into words. All I can say that out of the three, only Unown DAMAGE gets to take the spotlight because it’s requirement is actually manageable when the card pool favors it.
Ratings (Unown Hand/Unown Missing/ Unown Damage)
Unown (LOT 90, 91, & 92) returns to the Pokemon Trading Card Game from the Lost Thunder expansion set.
And I’ll I can do is ask, “Why?”
Ok just to warn you, I’m going to rant. If you don’t want to waste the next five minutes of your life listening to me channel Lewis Black, there are plenty of other reviews up and down this page that my colleagues would be thrilled if you perused. All I’m saying is that I’m warning you now.
I have NO CLUE why anyone would design these cards. These three cards are no win scenarios. No matter what happens after they are released into the Pokemon TCG universe, no good whatsoever can come from these cards. It’s like the goldfish that have been released into Lake Tahoe. They’re here, there’s nothing we can do about them, and Lord only knows what kind of monstrosities they’ll become.
And when I say no win scenarios, I mean no win for the people who were obtuse enough to think that these cards were a good idea. It’s pretty clear that these cards have a binary outcome: they work or they don’t.
If they work:
We’ve seen some examples in expanded where people have put together some combinations where they look real enough to me that they’re probably going to have to get banned before the next expanded tournament on December 15th in Anaheim, CA. So if these cards work and function as designed, they have to be banned because they will break the game, and we have to ask, “What on God’s green Earth put the idea for this card in your brain?”
Especially after banning multiple cards last August that created scenarios where “cards that stifle creativity and prevent several kinds of strategies from being viable. These cards also have the potential to make a major negative impact on an opponent before they get a chance to take their first turn, which can lead to a frustrating experience.”
Hello Pokemon TCG designers? Anybody there? Do we see a connection here?
And do you really think you’re smart enough to have examined every possible scenario so you could assure yourselves that these Unown cards would never find a realistic niche in either format? Because if you really are smart enough to have analyzed every possible combination, I would think that you’d be smart enough to realize that even if you could do that, it would be a colossal waste of your time to even try.
If they don’t work:
You get guys like me complaining that I got a COMPLETELY USELESS card in my four dollar pack. Unown is a Rare card – so instead of getting something potentially useful like Granbull or Espeon or Shedinja or Zebstrika, I got a four dollar bookmark. Congratulations, Pokemon TCG designers, you finally came up with a card that’s worse than Slowbro DEX 24!
Standard: 1 out of 5
Seriously, 214 cards and you had to include these three cards? Really, 211 wasn’t enough, you had to put these as the cherry on top of the set. Instead of a cherry, though, these are really a tomato. A rotten stinky tomato that puts a stain on the entire set and the game altogether.
And I’m only giving it a one because Otaku makes me. Its real rating is somewhere around -4,321, give or take a couple of hundred depending on how much my teenagers are aggravating me at any given moment.
Our Top 11 countdown is over except… not. No, we don’t have a “#1f”; it was awkward enough with our usual Top 10 process stretched out to accommodate a somewhat complicated tie for first place. Though, wanting to keep things easy this week (its Thanksgiving was yesterday in the USA) and highlight what, by present standards, is a well-made Stage 1, I was sorely tempted to split Skiploom (SM – Lost Thunder 13/214) from Jumpluff (SM – Lost Thunder 14/214) into separate reviews. Then I got news that something quite, quite rare had occurred, a First Turn Win deck had emerged! It wasn’t overly reliable – yet – but it turns out three cards I personally had written off as “Johnny Bait”, weren’t as hopeless as I first thought. In hindsight, these three should have had priority anyway, as each features a brand new “win condition” for the Pokémon TCG, joining winning via Prizes, your opponent running out of Pokémon in play (Bench Out), your opponent having no cards in their deck when they go to draw for the turn (Deck Out), or the effect of the Lost World (Call of Legends 81/95) Stadium. That last may not be known to you, though we did give it a re-review early this year (the original review is here). These four win conditions are now joined by three more, one each brought to us by Unown (SM – Lost Thunder 90/214), Unown (SM – Lost Thunder 91/214), and Unown (SM – Lost Thunder 92/214).
Each Ability is different and independent of each other, though they do have a lot in common so (at this point) I’ll cover them collectively. As with most Abilities, these can only be used once during your turn, and before you do something that ends your turn automatically after it resolves, such as attacking or using Steven’s Resolve. Each Unown may only Activate its Ability while it is your Active Pokémon. Each also has a specific condition which must be met before it can be Activated. The Ability on Unown (SM – Lost Thunder 90/214) is named “DAMAGE” and its specific requirement is that you have 66+ TOTAL damage counters on your Benched Pokémon. Unown (SM – Lost Thunder 91/214) has “HAND”, which can be used when you have 35+ cards in your hand. Unown (SM – Lost Thunder 92/214) possesses the Ability “MISSING” and its stipulation is your opponent needs 12+ Supporters in their Lost Zone. The Abilities are the most important part of each card, though every aspect of the rest matters, at least a little. Even the name: Unown (XY – Ancient Origins 30/08) is an Expanded-only card which isn’t a staple, but has seen a decent amount of competitive play as deck thinner… which sometimes aides combo-centric decks.
Being a Basic is usually the best, and this is no exception; it will just be easier to field and run an Unown than if it were a higher Stage. There is an issue in that anti-Basic effects include that of Silent Lab and the Ability found on Alolan Muk; both would prevent you from using an Unown’s Ability. A more minor concern is you might be forced to open with Unown; unless you’re pulling off a First Turn Win – where it might help – this just leaves it exposed and (potentially) in the way. The [P] Typing mostly just matters in Expanded, where it prevents “Bide Barricade”, the Ability found on Wobbuffet (XY – Phantom Forces 36/119; Generations RC11/RC32) from shutting down Unown’s own Ability. Being exposed is an issue because they only have 60 HP; nice for being Level Ball and Professor Elm’s Lecture compatible, but an easy OHKO while Active or even while Benched against a sniper. Something with a bonus Bench-hit like Buzzwole-GX can still 2HKO it while still hammering away on your Active, and even the spread from “Flying Flip”, the attack on Tapu Koko (SM – Black Star Promos SM30, SM31), scores a 3HKO. [P] Weakness and lack of Resistance rarely matter because the HP is so low, but that Retreat Cost of [C], which is normally good, hurts when you’ve got something this finicky you may need to retreat to get it out of the way until it is ready. Hidden Power is pure vanilla filler, doing 10 for [P].
Originally, my incomplete article was trying to cover the key parts of using each Unown. I realize now that isn’t going to work as even the least proven of these three already has an unproven, somewhat complicated deck behind it and this review is already pretty long. I’ll just have to cover those in a bonus article and link to them here. For now, we’ll still cover the broad strokes. We’ve got three new win conditions and I cannot tell if the designers thought they made them so difficult they’d either be fun filler or (at least) “feel fair”, as you’ve had enough time to defeat them if you faced them OR if they actually knew that the amounts required could or even WOULD still lead to something competitive… but it is already happening. The HAND already showed up in a Steelix (SM – Celestial Storm 89/168)/Wailord (SM – Celestial Storm 40/168) Stall/Mill deck at the Sao Paulo International Championship. Maybe that is a fluke, maybe it was only TecH (which is my hunch), but either is far better than I ever expected and in the first major event with the card legal!
MISSING is the only Ability among these three that does not seem like it could eventually produce a First Turn Win list or a “beat it or lose to solitaire” list. They haven’t been proven in tournaments, but I have seen a decent list for MISSING, though if Supporter counts drop any lower than they already are, there will be too many unwinnable matchups for it. DAMAGE and HAND, however, already have lists designed to win quickly, even an actual First Turn Win list for DAMAGE (though it isn’t too reliable on that turn). So… decent scores that are almost misleading for these cards in Standard and Expanded, but they are horrible in the Limited Format. I’m not sure you could even hypothetically pull off either DAMAGE or HAND there, and MISSING requires an opponent with – for Limited Format play – an exceptional amount of Supporters, on top of your own pulls being stellar.
I both love and hate these cards. I like the idea of new win conditions for the game, but I am not so fond of them being “card specific” and I definitely don’t like that they already are heading towards strategies that are either First Turn Win or pseudo-solitaire style play. It isn’t fun to play a game where you lose or effectively lose before you get a turn, and unless you’ve got several turns to push for a more traditional win condition, even if it takes a few turns to accomplish it is still more frustrating than fun for me… and though it is more opinion than fact, I think for most players. Even something I find kind of cool, that deck that keeps grinding along to achieve a win condition while I keep grinding along, trying to take six Prizes can become tedious when it comes to how long it takes your opponent to actually achieve the win on that final turn (if they win). It is even worse on something like the PTCGO, where the steps involved can take a lot of time, such as with an infinite combo used to fuel DAMAGE. Even if these end up proving noncompetitive, we just have the opposite problem; sets don’t need anymore “filler” that won’t appeal to competitive players or collectors.
And you thought we were done talking about the most powerful deck archetype in the new set – FOOLISH FOOLS!! There was another group of Pokemon waiting in the shadows, silently watching, waiting for their moment to strike! And that time is now!! BEHOLD THE POWER OF THE THREE UNOWN OF LOST THUNDER!!!
…they’re really not that great, but let’s see how they ended up being a major talking point in the community, especially one in particular.
All three Unown have the same stats – Basic Psychic Pokemon, 60 HP, Psychic Weakness, no Resistance, Retreat Cost of 1 – and they all share the same attack in Hidden Power, a 1-for-10 vanilla move. But each of them shares a special kind of Ability that allows you to win the game, so long as the Unown is Active and you’ve fulfilled their particular condition. Each one is different and requires a different strategy to work around, so let’s take a look at each one to get an idea of which could be done and which would be too difficult to pull off feasibly.
Unown HAND is the first one, and its condition is to be holding 35 or more cards in your hand. At first, you might imagine that a deck built around this would be really good, considering how many draw Supporters are in the game. However, consider that in Standard most of those draw Supporters are either small “draw 2” cards that don’t bring out a lot of cards to the hand, and most of the ones that do end up drawing more cards have a condition of sorts which prevents them from drawing more than a specific number of cards. Cynthia and Sightseer, for instance, can’t be run effectively, as they’ll only draw up until you have a certain number of cards, and Lillie only works best at the start of the game. Hala requires you to use a GX Attack, and Whitney needs more Whitneys in the discard pile to even be any good. In theory, this deck would revolve around stalling out your opponent – probably with cards like Shuckle-GX and Mr. Mime-GX – while you attempt to draw out your deck as fast as you can, aiming particularly to amass 35 cards in hand, excluding cards used to stall, draw more cards, or Unown itself. In short, you’ve only got about 25 cards you can play in the deck, as you’ll have to draw and hold onto the rest to fulfill the condition. For that reason, I find Unown HAND to be the least likely deck to be built out of all of them and the one that’ll have the least impact overall.
Unown MISSING is the one I believed would be the only one to see any level of play, as its condition is to have your opponent’s Lost Zone contain 12 or more Supporters. The initial problem is that you’re relying on your opponent to have 12 or more Supporters in their deck, never mind actually playing them, but then you also need a means of putting them into the Lost Zone. Your best friend here is the new Girafarig, which has the power to put 2 cards in your opponent’s Lost Zone from their discard pile, albeit at the cost of your attack each turn. Girafarig himself only has 90 HP, so it’s not likely in today’s game to be able to get the attack off 6 times before it gets KO’d. Never mind that you actually need your opponent to have 2 Supporters in the discard pile each time. You could be able to mill out some cards from your opponent’s deck with different Pokemon, which can help fuel the discard pile with Supporters to remove with Girafarig, but the timing might take so long that you won’t be able to fulfill the condition before your opponent has gotten through beating up your Girafarig, picking up their cards, and moving over to the next table despite your desperate attempts to keep them there so you can get Unown MISSING to work.
Which leads us into Unown DAMAGE, whose condition is simply to have 66 or more damage counters on your Benched Pokemon. This one also felt doable, as you’d just need to let your opponent play the game without actually KOing anything, all while you have massive pools of health on your Bench so that you can actually achieve the win condition. Pokemon-GX and Pokemon-EX are a definite must in any Unown DAMAGE build, but for the most part, you never really want to just have your Pokemon-EX/GX sitting around doing nothing but soaking up damage until you’ve gotten the chance to throw down your Unown to win the game. Never mind that your opponent will not be so nice as to let you keep a bunch of almost-KO’d Pokemon on your Bench all willy-nilly without pushing down on them with a Guzma or Custom Catcher. As a result of all of this, there have been no decks showing up to prove that there’s a great strategy to all of this…in Standard.
In the Expanded format, however, with the increased card pool, there have not only been combinations of cards that can fulfill the win condition – there are ways to combo off these cards in order to win the game as early as Turn 1. Yes, you read that right. Pokemon has an official FTK – First Turn Kill, or you could call this a First Turn Win if you’re not into killing things – in their game. Granted, it has its own share of problems and inconsistencies, but let’s break down the two main strategies: the Weavile/Klefki strat, and the Blastoise/Frozen City strat.
Weavile/Klefki revolves around setting up a board with a couple of Wailord-EX – yeah, remember that guy? The biggest Basic in the game with 250 HP – alongside Reuniclus (BW), Weavile (STS), and Team Magma’s Secret Base. In combination with an open slot on your Bench, you can play down Klefki (STS) and begin cycling through the combination until you’ve got just the right amount. First off, you play Klefki on the Bench, which triggers Team Magma’s Secret Base and puts down 2 damage counters onto Klefki. Then you move those off of Klefki using Reuniclus’s Damage Swap, which can be used as often as you like during your turn, storing the damage up on Wailord-EX. Don’t worry, Wailord-EX can take this, he’s got a huge HP pool to work with, and that’s the point. Klefki can then use the Wonder Lock Ability, attaching himself to another Pokemon as a Tool – this normally prevents your opponent from damaging the Pokemon Klefki’s attached to with their Mega Evolved Pokemon, but that’s not relevant to the combo. You attach Klefki with Wonder Lock onto your Weavile, who can then use its Tear Away Ability to put the Tool attached to it – Klefki, in this case – back into your hand. And just like that, the cycle repeats itself, and you can continue to do this until you’ve amassed enough damage onto your Pokemon to play Unown DAMAGE, switch it out into the Active slot, and win the game.
The main problems with this strategy are that it revolves around setting up a lot of Evolved Pokemon in Reuniclus and Weavile, so you can’t do it on your Turn 1. You can start setting up with different draw cards though, as you’ll need to get Klefki into your hand to secure the victory. Level Ball is a must-run to not only grab Klefki, but it can also grab Reuniclus and Weavile as well! After that, it’s a matter of setting up the Team Magma’s Secret Base and the rest of the board, and once it’s all put together, there’s nothing that can stop you outside of an Ability Lock – a notable weakness that these decks share, and something that can reasonably happen against the Weavile/Klefki variant. But the same can’t be said of the Blastoise/Frozen City variant.
Blastoise/Frozen City also utilizes Wailord-EX, as well as Blastoise (BCR) and Energy Reset. Now it might not seem obvious how this one works, but we’ll break it down again. You need to be able to play Blastoise and Frozen City down as well as Wailord-EX. The easy part then follows: you can attach up to 12 Water Energy on Wailord-EX, thanks to Blastoise’s Deluge Ability, and each time you attach an Energy from your hand, Frozen City puts 2 damage counters on the Pokemon you attach them to. From there, you can use Energy Reset to put all the Water Energy back into your hand, having dealt 240 damage to Wailord-EX (note that this doesn’t KO Wailord-EX at his massive 250 HP), and then you can push more onto another Wailord-EX. 2 Wailord-EX make for 48 damage counters on their own, which means another 18 damage is all that’s needed to secure the win – which can be done with Blastoise or even another Wailord-EX. But how do you get that Blastoise onto the Bench? Simply put, Archie’s Ace-in-the-Hole. It’s the only Supporter you need to get Blastoise out and about.
Because of Archie’s, Blastoise can be played out as early as your Turn 1, which means this entire combination is entirely possible to pull off on your Turn 1. Which means that yes, somehow, Unown DAMAGE is not only the most playable option, it’s also the most broken one. These two are just a couple of variants that have popped up, and I’ve no doubt that there are other variants as well – no doubt all using Wailord-EX to some degree or another – but ultimately, this kind of deck’s existence threatens the state of the Expanded format. So it’s entirely possible that we see Unown DAMAGE getting hit on the Expanded ban list, assuming that the deck – particularly the Blastoise variant – ends up performing majorly well at any tournament. Of course, as with all FTK decks, this isn’t a guaranteed win; sure, if you can pull the combination off, you can win on your first turn, but there are a lot of factors that have to go right with both of these variants before you can get to the point where you say “GG”.
Still, if my experiences with Konami and Yugioh have taught me anything, it’s that game designers tend to be unfavorable towards FTKs, and given Pokemon’s previous history with cards like Shiftry and Forest of Giant Plants, it’s unlikely that they’ll sit idly by when news of these combinations comes up. But for now, Expanded players, have fun contending with decks designed to win immediately!
…Standard players, you’ll be fine. They haven’t found a broken combo yet.
Standard: 2/5 (overall, the Unowns on their own aren’t that threatening, and they are unlikely to do anything major in Standard)
Expanded: 2/5 (ideally, the same would be said for Expanded, except Unown DAMAGE is BROKE outta 5 and the most likely to get banned as a result)
Limited: 1/5 (and let’s be honest…you’re not pulling off any of these in Limited)
Arora Notealus: It’s always nice for the game to take these creative paths in pushing the boundaries on what can be done as an alternate win condition for the games at hand. You want the alternate win condition to be appealing enough to inspire new deck builds around it, yet you don’t want it to be so easily obtainable such that everyone suddenly wants to play it instead of the game’s main objective. I think that was the original intention behind these Unown – just innocent and yet difficult to perform alt win conditions that would be fun to play around with, but as with all things, enough cards in the pool can make any unfeasible maneuver suddenly extremely easy to pull off. It’s just a matter of the timing and the cards.
Weekend Thought: Do you think Lost March deserves our #1 spot for Lost Thunder? Do you think the Unowns actually have broken combos outside of Unown DAMAGE in order to instantly win the game? Do you think Lost March will be the top deck of the format, or is it just a pale imitation of Night March in its glory days?
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