Dunsparce: Nostalgia Goggles or The Return of An Old Favourite?
With Celestial Storm hitting store shelves, everyone’s busy running around making sure that they get their hands on the new hyped cards of the set to build decks around. Cards like Rayquaza GX, Shiftry GX, Banette GX, Scizor GX, and even Magcargo are being thrown around as some of the best cards from this upcoming set.
However, there’s one card that isn’t getting a lot of attention or love, which is quite surprising to me – since it’s basically a reprint of an old staple.
That’s right, it’s the measly, unassuming Dunsparce!
What Even is a Dunsparce?
Boasting 50 HP, a weakness to fighting, and a retreat cost of one; Dunsparce doesn’t seem like much to write home about on first glance.
What makes this card potentially great however, is the first attack “Strike and Run”. The attack allows you to search your deck for up to three Basic Pokemon and put them on your bench. If you do so, you may then choose to switch Dunsparce with one of the Bench Pokemon.
Does it sound familiar? It’s basically Brigette as an attack. With Brigette rotating out of format post-Worlds, decks that rely on evolution (like Zoroark GX-based decks) could be in the market for a card that eases the setup phase.
Dunsparce’s second attack is Sudden Flash – a coin flip for Paralysis and 10 damage. Not bad for a Basic Pokemon.
A Blast From the Past
This card first saw play back in 2003 when it was released in EX Sandstorm. This card found its way into many meta decks. The only decks that didn’t play this card played other cards that fulfilled a similar function (Team Magma’s Zangoose is a card that comes to mind), but even then, Dunsparce’s ability to search out three basic Pokemon and bench them immediately far outclassed anything that was available then.
Another aspect that made Dunsparce a near “auto-include” card was the card’s raw stats and where it stood relative to the state of the game at the time. 50HP for a basic Pokemon was pretty standard back then, and it was likely that your Dunsparce would be able to withstand an attack if you chose to leave it active after attacking. The 10 damage was also somewhat relevant at times, as the HP cap for Pokemon was significantly lower back then.
But perhaps the biggest reason why Dunsparce was as meta-defining as it was in early EX-era days was because of the first-turn rules. The rules for starting then were different: the player who won the coin flip went first, you couldn’t draw a card, you couldn’t play a supporter, but you could attack going first.
This ensured that if you started Dunsparce as your Active Pokemon, you had a higher chance of getting the first turn “Strike and Run” off. The equivalent of that in the current meta-game is starting with a Brigette in hand going first.
Decks that relied on Dunsparce for setup would often run 3 to 4 copies of the little critter. That meant increasing the odds of starting with Dunsparce – a move that often increased your chance of winning.
Old Dog, New Tricks?
When one looks at how meta-defining Dunsparce was in the EX-era days, it seems almost like a no-brainer that it would be just as effective in today’s meta-game.
However, it’s not that simple. Whilst “Strike and Run” is still a very useful attack in decks that require significant set-up, the game has changed drastically since then, which makes Dunsparce less effective when compared to its 2003 counterpart.
Firstly, the HP cap has increased significantly since 2003. Basic Pokemon with 50HP are often seen as a liability rather than the average. It is hard to find a 50 HP Pokemon that is played in any of today’s top tier decklists. In fact, players have opted to play 70HP Pokemon over their 60HP counterparts even if it means having less effective attacks (Rockruff and Froakie come to mind), indicating perhaps that even having 60HP isn’t enough.
Another reprint in Celestial Storm is Slugma. The original EX Deoxys print also had 50HP, but the reprint in Celestial Storm has a beefy 70HP to compensate for the power creep since those cards were released.
But the biggest knock against Dunsparce is the rule change that you can no longer attack going first. It’s often no secret that players who win the coin flip will choose to go first. The advantage you have going first is huge, especially when it comes to evolution-based decks. Decks that run Dunsparce are likely to be evolution decks, and getting a “Strike and Run” off is key in the deck running smoothly. But in order to be able to attack first, you’ll need to elect to go second (if you win the coin flip) – which is counter-intuitive to what an evolution-based deck wants to do, because it means giving your opponent the chance to evolve their Pokemon first.
If the wording on “Strike and Run” had been changed to allow you to attack going first, I’d wager that the card would see a lot more play in the format.
Going into Worlds, this card will see no play. The format is simply far too fast for a card like Dunsparce. The 50HP means that it can be easily knocked out, and simply put, Brigette is still a far better option.
However, the meta is expected to slow down once the new rotation hits. We lose certain “fast” cards (Professor Sycamore, Brigette, Max Elixir), and the format is forecasted to gravitate back to Evolution Pokemon. A slower format and the lack of Brigette could mean that people start thinking about Dunsparce as an option in evolution decks.
Whilst Pokemon Fan Club has been bandied around as a potential replacement for Brigette, getting 2 Pokemon simply isn’t as good as getting 3 Pokemon (quick maffs). Playing Dunsparce also means that you can play a draw supporter going first, something that current Brigette decks don’t often do.
Another potential replacement for Brigette is Alolan Vulpix. The card saw some play in Metagross GX, despite some lists also running Brigette. The obvious upside of Alolan Vulpix over Dunsparce is that you can search out any Pokemon and you’re not just limited to Basic Pokemon. However, the drawback is that the Pokemon go into your hand rather than being played on the bench immediately – which doesn’t allow you to evolve it on your next turn.
An interesting thought exercise is whether decks will elect to go second if they play Dunsparce. If the format slows to a point where most of the top contenders are Stage 1 or Stage 2 based decks, going second might not be as crippling as it is now. Combo-intensive decks that require different/multiple evolution Pokemon to succeed may choose to prioritise setting up their board over evolving first.
A good example would be post rotation Zoroark GX decks. Brigette is a key supporter in Zoroark-based decks, to the point where some lists started running 4 copies of that supporter. It’s not farfetched to think that post-rotation lists could include 4 copies of Dunsparce, as you can always “Trade” away any Dunsparce you draw into, much like you would with Brigette.
There is some potential for the land snake Pokemon in a much slower format, which many are expecting to be the case once rotation limits the card pool. Alternative options like Nest Ball, Pokemon Fan Club, Brooklet Hill, Alolan Vulpix, and maybe even Olivia, will make it so that Dunsparce won’t be an auto-include card in every deck, even if the format is slow enough. However, the foundations are there for the once-great card to make a return.