Column by Sarah Dougherty (@voluntaryreboot)
Analysing Vivid Voltage from a collector and a player’s perspective.
To see out 2020, TPCi will keep releasing sets at the non-pandemic intervals (most likely because these things were set in motion back at the start of the year anyway). That’s produced some truly fantastic sets like Rebel Clash and Darkness Ablaze come with it – these are sets with their own collector value but also a huge emphasis on tournament level cards, introducing both format defining archetypes (like Dragapult and Eternatus), along with instant staples like Eldegoss V and Crobat V, backed up by a suite of uncommons and rares to fill the rest of your packs with great trainer cards or useful support Pokémon. But as we get closer to November, does Vivid Voltage stack up, and what should you be looking out for?
A Collector's Perspective
I’m going to approach it from two angles: collector and competitive. From a collector’s point of view, this set is loaded with potential. The attention grabber over the last few days has been the pre-release kit Charizard promo – safe to say, people keeping these sealed or cracking them to find the elusive sky lizard will make the kits in general incredibly difficult to get a hold of from your local Leagues. In a similar vein, the Charizard theme deck will be an immediate pickup for collectors – sealed should hold value in itself, but a well graded shatter holo copy of our faux-dragon friend will also be a good move down the line.
Within the set itself, we haven’t seen the full list yet, but the Pikachu V/VMAX seem like a really obvious couple of cards to chase – particularly in their full art / rainbow rare variants, assuming we get them. With the recent spike in collecting I wouldn’t be surprised if this on its own was enough to drive the set into silly territory within a few months of release, once the first wave of stock dries up. And that’s before we even consider the Amazing Rare cards…
We don’t know a lot about how these will be introduced at the time of writing, or even if they’ll be a feature in future sets. We don’t know how easy they’ll be to pull (one a box? One a case?) or whether there’ll be a playability factor to consider.
But it seems pretty likely that, with fan favourite Pokémon such as Jirachi and Rayquaza to chase down, things could get out of hand pretty quickly. I think the demand for these is going to surprise people and we could quite easily see the recent problems of scalpers hoarding all the stock of Champion’s Path continue once these types get clued in to what’s happening in this set. Anecdotally, the pre-order prices for Vivid Voltage already are noticeably higher here in the UK than Sword and Shield or Rebel Clash, and I don’t think that’s going to deter anybody who’s willing to pretend £80 for an ETB that’s still in print or £35 for a tin you can still buy at the recommended retail price of £21 on the high street is a good idea.
This set is also bringing with it some fairly unique products, the Elite Trainer Box Plus. This comes in three flavours, depending on where you are – one for each Zacian and Zamazenta, and one which combines the two.
These are special products in addition to the usual ETB which come with a range of packs from the first year of Sword and Shield in the TCG, along with a gold promo of the title Pokémon (both in the deluxe version). There are a few other nice collector items in these but sealed is going to be where these really shine – there’s no way these things don’t absolutely skyrocket in value a few years down the line. They’re fairly pricy at around £60 and £100 respectively, but if you’re into “investment pieces” or simply like to display great looking products, these are going to be well worth picking up.
A Player's Perspective
Turning to the competitive set, if you’re approaching Vivid Voltage purely as a player, I don’t think there’s a huge amount to be particularly aware of. In terms of the tournament level metagame, it’s going to be fairly cheap to pick up singles of whatever you want (unless someone makes Amazing Rare cards work, or Pikachu VMAX becomes a high tier deck) instead of opening packs in the knowledge you’ll probably pick up something useful, even if it’s just a trainer card. And we can’t forget that Organised Play is suspended due to the ongoing Coronavirus situation, which certainly in most of the Western countries doesn’t seem to be getting any better and doesn’t have any tailwind behind improving, either. With these unfortunate facts, it barely makes any sense to buy cards if you don’t have a collector element to support it – by the time tournament play returns, there’s a risk anything you buy is either out of format (rotated out of the Standard metagame), or has been rendered irrelevant by newer and more powerful cards. My usual approach is to pick up 4 copies of every trainer card and new tech/support Pokémon, which I’ll likely continue, but given how many copies of newer cards like Rose or Piers I own which will almost certainly never see a sleeve for a game against another player, even this “library of playables” attitude is starting to feel like a bad idea.
In terms of ‘new’ archetypes, there don’t seem to be that many introduced in this set that’ll be able to keep up with the lightning fast format we currently find ourselves in, where games usually end after about five turns maximum.
There’s a solid chance this changes once the Tag Team cards rotate out and we see some games without Arceus, Dialga and Palkia GX defining the meta, but until that point it’s unlikely to slow to a point where any single prize deck is able to make a dent in the format. Orbeetle VMAX is an interesting card with one of the first VMAX abilities we’ve seen, but the requirement that it has to be active and the fact it only places one damage counter per active Orbeetle VMAX per turn makes it ultimately too slow to make a significant impact on the opponent’s board. Galarian Darmanitan VMAX could have been fun but with a 4 energy requirement it’s only currently going to work with Frosmoth, which is the sort of Pokémon that’s incredibly vulnerable to an early Boss’s Orders knocking out the only way of powering it up.
There are a handful of other cards which probably do hold up (notably Talonflame V, which allows a pseudo supporter attack on the first turn – though even there it is so limited that another copy of Dedenne GX or Crobat V is probably better for the majority of decks) but in the wider consideration of not needing to have access to these cards for tournament play, from a strictly buying perspective it just makes more sense to allow the collector’s market to push the price of cards like this down.
As an example, in June I bought 3 copies of the fantastic tournament card Eldegoss V for £15 each. You know, just in case I needed them and they were hard to get a hold of later. What a mistake that turned out to be! They’ve plummeted to £2 each on the same Facebook groups I picked it up on, it got reprinted in Champion’s Path, and now I have a copy sitting in the bulk pile beside me somewhere which isn’t even sleeved. It just doesn’t make sense to buy cards for competitive play if you’re not going to use them for competitive play.
With that said, the set isn’t a complete write off. Cards like (translations pending!) Longview Scope, allowing you to do 30 extra snipe damage to benched GX and V Pokémon, are going to be incredibly good and make cards like Cramorant even better, putting previously protected support Pokémon (Crobat V) directly into harm’s way. Hero’s Medallion (reducing the HP of a VMAX Pokémon by 100, but your opponent takes one fewer prize for it) is another particularly interesting card which can potentially force a third VMAX Knockout if the pieces fall into place.
Memory Charm is another that could have its uses – potentially making something like Salamence VMAX a tanky spread deck by unlocking the attack of Salamence V. These are all reasonably niche or archetype specific cards, and it’s not an exhaustive list - but the potential on their own to shape the metagame and force cards like Tool Scrapper into decks is usually enough to justify picking up 4 copies of each, just in case.
And that’s around where I land on Vivid Voltage overall. It’s a neat set which probably does more to subtly change things than it is one likely to shake up the game, introduce new tier 1 decks, and realign what we consider to be good. From a buying perspective, it makes sense to pick up and be aware of (mostly) the new trainer cards. However, more so than usual, it’s definitely a “singles” set for competitive players. With Rebel Clash and Darkness Ablaze I considered those “sealed” sets as a competitive player, because while I had tournament cards like Crobat to chase, I was still happy enough with the idea that there’ll be useful things for decks in the pack even if it’s not going to give me the staple ultra rares. Buying a box was a reasonable investment, as long as I accepted I probably wouldn’t get everything I need from it. Vivid Voltage doesn’t have that same appeal as someone playing the game. It’s way better to give it a week or two and let the collector market drive the price of playable staples down to incredibly affordable levels. But if you’re collecting… Vivid Voltage is sure to be a totally different story. Personally I’d focus on sealed pre-release kits as the long term value item – the Charizard promo alone will push the value of those up – but a well graded set of Amazing Rares will be a fantastic mini set of cards to focus on in its own right. This set is going to be a hit with collectors and it’s well worth having a look at it if you get bored (or somehow find the funds!) between the Hidden Fates reprint, Champion’s Path release, and get bored waiting for the Western adaptation of Shiny Star V.
We want to emphasize that this article is based on the opinion of this author and that everyone can take a different view.