July 14, 2022 is the first anniversary of the Gym Leader Challenge format. It started with a simple discord message:
What prompted this? Let’s look back to a year ago: Chilling Reign had been released about a month prior, and the Standard format meta was being dominated by two degenerate decks: Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX / Zacian V was almost turbo at this point– with Dedenne-GX and Crobat V and Professor’s Research all playable in the same turn, you could draw through half the deck and get all the pieces needed for a turn 1 Altered Creation GX easily. The term “Boss, Boss, Game” was abundant. After an Altered Creation GX, one simply had to knockout an opponent’s Dedenne-GX or Crobat V on the second and third turns to win. Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX / Gengar & Mimikyu-GX / Trevenant & Dusknoir-GX was the other competitor: here the idea was to use G&M’s Horror House GX first to buy yourself another turn, then charge up T&D’s Night Watch attack– with Marnie in format, you could reduce your opponent to a two-card hand without their having played a single Supporter card, while slowly getting more energy in play to one-hit knockout even the biggest Tag Team pokémon in format with Shadow Rider’s Max Geist.
The rest of the format had settled down into the lull that comes between set drops. When the tier 2 decks and the meme decks had been played and the meta matchups had been memorized, a serious lack of motivation growing within the community, accelerated by the pandemic and the next set being a while away. In such a time the Gym Leader Challenge format was conceptualized– bringing a change of pace to a game that we all love and enjoy, but which was becoming too fast and monotonous to do so. The ideology behind the GLC format was simple: bring more people into the game by introducing them to a more accessible and affordable format than Standard or Expanded, offering a slower but more involved game to gather interest and develop playing skill and bring to light the plethora of cool cards with cool attacks and Abilities and effects that had been lost to time and the competitive mindset. As a biased observer, I think all of these have been suitably achieved. Over the last year, GLC has risen in popularity amongst serious and casual players alike, and we are very excited to watch it continue growing. Let us take a look at the journey so far.
Full Grip Games Set Release $1Ks
For every expansion card set released since people started playing GLC en masse, the Full Grip Games store in Akron, Ohio has held a GLC $1,000+ tournament on the Sunday of the set release weekend. The first such tournament, for the release of Sword & Shield—Evolving Skies, saw a lot of people join in after hearing about the format for the first time a day before, during the Standard event on Saturday. Tre McCarden won the tournament with Psychic, Dragapult and squad proving their invincibility all day.
The influx of people who find out about GLC during the Standard event and end up playing and having fun has continued every set. Mike Gibbs had picked up his friend’s Grass GLC deck just the day before and ended up winning the second GLC tournament at Full Grip Games! As 2021 turned into 2022 and Brilliant Stars was released, GLC started gaining real popularity. The Brilliant Stars GLC $1k tournament had over 100 participants, the largest on-paper GLC tournament so far. Other stores also began organizing their own GLC $1k tournaments. As Covid restrictions were lifted, a lot of players started taking multiple GLC decks to introduce their local game stores and Pokémon communities to the format, and regular GLC events started being organized all the way from Brazil to the UK and even Japan.
The third GLC $1k began with JW Kriewall (aka FlexDaddyRighteous), streamer and co-host of the Tag Team podcast, claiming he had unfinished business with the tournament and was going to win it all. A day later, after one of the most nail-biting pokémon matches ever streamed, he did just that with his Darkness deck.
Three different types had won the three tournaments; another reason GLC is fun to play– any type you pick always has a chance of winning if constructed properly and played skillfully. As in the video games where there is always room on your team for your favorite pokémon, almost everyone’s favorite pokémon could now be included in their personal deck and still be competitive in the format.
The latest set release GLC tournament was another huge step forward, with the prizing raised to $2.5k, another testament to GLC’s growing popularity. There was even a competitor who flew in from Iceland to compete and won their match on stream! Grant Manley dominated the tournament with his Colorless control deck, winning the event without dropping a single game. There were now four different decks that had won four different tournaments. While that is a very good sign of a healthy format, the singleton nature of GLC meant that decks like Colorless control which force your opponent to discard key pieces from their hand and deck were unfairly powerful in the right player’s hands.
The Hall of Fame
In any card game, in any format, there will always be some cards that get banned because they were printed too powerful initially or because some combination of cards printed at a later time gave rise to a gameplay sequence that broke the game. GLC started with a clean slate and no bans in the format.
The first cards to be banned were Oranguru (UPR) and Lysandre’s Trump Card. They were both banned for similar reasons– Oranguru’s Resource Management allowed the recovery of a large number of cards over time or the reuse of specific resources over and over again. Similarly, LTC allowed players to reuse their entire deck– defeating the purpose of a singleton format which limits resources to encourage thoughtful deck building.
Forest of Giant Plants was the next to be banned, a preemptive decision spurred on by the impending release of Torterra from Brilliant Stars and the discovery that Roserade DRX’s Le Parfum Ability could get all the pieces to have a 190 HP monster hitting for 300 damage for two energy setup by the second turn of the game. Further, cheating out evolution pokémon on the first turn of the game felt against the spirit of the game.
The most recent two bans, Chip-Chip Ice Axe and Hiker, have Grant Manley’s spectacular performance in the last set release GLC tournament to thank. Their effect of being able to control which card your opponent draws into on every turn of the game felt too restrictive, especially when paired with other Supporters which also force your opponent to Discard cards from their hand and their deck and Pokémon with attacks that allowed you to recycle all of these supporters. All five cards have now ascended to the Hall of Fame, where they will be remembered as some of the most powerful cards of all time.
One of the goals is to keep the ban list as small as possible. The singleton nature of the format helps in controlling how frequently all cards can be played in a game (usually just once), and each card has been entered only after deliberation with the playing community. However, the GLC card pool is extended every two to three months, and it is unlikely that no other cards will ever be sent off.
Regional Side Events
After some months of unofficial IRL events such as the Full Grip Games 1Ks, 2022 saw the return of Play! Pokemon Premier Events. Including Regionals, International Championships, and Special Events, ten such events were held between February and June. Nearly all of these featured GLC side events, with over a hundred trainers in attendance at many of them!
These side events were a great opportunity for trainers to meet up and play against other GLC fans from across the world. Players of all levels, from format newcomers borrowing a friend’s deck to seasoned veterans looking to prove their experience, gathered in event halls across the world. They were also quite nice to make bank on the prize wall!
Most notably, GLC side events were hosted at both the European and North American International Championships: events run by The Pokémon Company, International rather than third-party organizers. This is a huge step for the format, proving its popularity yet again and giving hope that there might be some official support on the horizon– but only time will tell! As the entire community continues to grow and enjoy the format, we thank all of you for your support in bringing us here.
It’s also important to acknowledge that GLC did not start fully-formed. Many strategies and deck lists have been forged in the fires of the online tournament scene, refined in the chase for prize packs, and more importantly, clout. Many of these tournaments have been part of regular series run by community members, and we thank all the organizers, participants, and streamers for being active and continuing to play, enjoy, and spread word of a cool format.
With every set, the GLC card pool will continue to increase in size. The next English set is Lost Origin, which releases sometime in late August to mid September and brings back the Lost Zone, a fan favorite mechanic from previous blocks. With this comes exciting new interactions in GLC, with the opportunity to put both yours and your opponent’s cards in the Lost Zone, something that might benefit a lot of control archetypes as well as provide a general detriment for decks that rely on recycling just one or two attackers, thus adding another element to consider while deck building and playing the game. With the World Championships in London just around the corner in August, and hopefully a full return to competitive Pokémon after that, we hope to draw a lot of people to the format in the coming year and beyond.
Your GLC Decks
We leave you with the First Anniversary GLC Album, a collection of beautiful paper deck lists built and played by many enthusiasts! Here are some sneak peeks: