As with every new set out of Japan, there’s always a pervading feeling that “the” deck will come out of the new expansion. Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX and Genesect-EX/Virizion-EX were both hyped out of the box, and while they had varying degrees of success immediately, there have also been cards such as Red Card and Ghetsis that saw initial hype (and, due to their nature, initial fear) and fell flat.
Today, I’ll be taking a look at the upcoming Roaring Skies expansion and trying to sort between the pretenders and the contenders.
But first, it’s probably prudent to introduce myself as a first time writer. I’m Christopher, and it’s been about five years since I was spurred to pursue the game competitively on my brother’s rather random mention of it. Since the time of playing five Cynadquil in a deck and having no idea what Prize cards were, I’ve played in Worlds the past three years, and have my invite to play on Friday at this year’s event. I’ve peaked at Top 32, being a topdeck from T8 this year, but perhaps I am most known as a result of this disaster of a match on the world’s largest stage.
That fiasco aside, I pride myself on consistency above a boom/bust deck choice mentality; though, that is an increasingly difficult method to pursue in the game. I’d rather T8 and T4 every State than take a win and 0-2 drop the other two events.
Philosophically, so one may be aware of my perspective, I hold that “playstyle” is a conjecture of superstition and that citing such as sole justification of a card selection or deck choice is an exercise in futility. Preference of a type of deck or card? Undeniable. Virizion/Genesect is among the most nauseatingly monotonous decks in the game’s history, yet that is not a valid reason to fail to consider it. I dislike Virizion/Genesect, but I won’t cite that as a reason to not play it.
Simply, I believe that there is invariably a set of 60 cards that are superior to any other 60 for a given event — the science is in ascertaining that 60.
Hopefully this clarification upfront helps to shed a light on the way I’ll be approaching things. One deck (list) is not going to solve every metagame (or potentially any metagame); it’s necessary to adapt based on observation and expectation.
Clarifying tangents aside, let’s get down to today’s topic. While I’m aware that the BCR–PRC format, in particular, Regionals, is on the immediate forefront of most players’ minds, the advent of a new set is quickly approaching.
Unlike the last few years, where this set would be relevant about two months from its inception, there is little more than a month until Regionals take place in Madison, Wisconsin; Edmonton, Alberta; and Athens, Georgia. This is the same situation that occurred with Primal Clash and Florida Regionals, and as someone who played in Orlando and felt mostly unprepared as a result of my prior concentration on St. Louis’ format; I’ve resolved to ensure this time is different.
Today, I intend to share my early musings on the upcoming set, highlighting cards I believe have a likelihood of impacting our format both immediately and in the future. With Prereleases coming this weekend, my goal is to provide a guide on what one may want to look for in preparing for the coming events. My understanding is that Henry will have some news from Japan — Expanded format — on these cards next week, and I hope to offer a perspective from the Standard side of things. Without further ranting, let’s get started.
The Runway: Items, Supporters, and Stadiums
Bench space management is about to be as important as it’s been in years. In my mind, this is one of the worst design choices Creatures has made in a while (OK, maybe I’m just salty about my Worlds 2010 mat not being able to fit that large of a Bench). In all seriousness, there’s a good likelihood this card sees play, and not just with things like M Rayquaza-EX.
I could see this finding niche use in things that have a large number of fragile Bench-sitters. When accompanied with another Stadium, this card now serves as a way to clear your Bench of Jirachi-EX (soon to be Shaymin-EX). Its status as a two-turn maneuver aside, playing Sky Field, another Basic, and then replacing that Sky Field next turn will clear your problem.
Obviously, cards like Empoleon PLF will take solace in the advent of Sky Field. If your opponent takes the bait, there’s an easy 180; and if they don’t, a Silver Bangle/Muscle Band will make up the difference. We’ve seen Empoleon take a significant role in decks like Night March and Flareon, and that role may only be expanding.
Raichu XY, with its convenient typing, is another card primed to take advantage of this new effect. Its typing will allow an advantage over the Colorless M Rayquaza-EX and the seemingly ever-present Yveltal-EX.
There’s now a new dynamic to matches against decks featuring Sky Field as a core strategy. If an opponent has low-HP Bench-sitters, such as Jirachi- or Shaymin-EX, is it more important to put your Virbank City Gym in play or keep those easy Prizes on board? Obviously, if you can take a KO on an urgent threat with that Virbank, it’s an easy decision. If you possess a Lysandre out, that decision is even more complicated.
I’m oversimplifying the concept a bit, as obviously there’s other context — deck composition, Prize count, etc. — to factor in, but I hope it’s clear how the concept of Bench space will come to be one of significant relevance.
The same rings true of Sky Field as a whole; it’s a card unprecedented in effect, and that quality is typically indicative of a high rate of use.
While this card only saw scarce play in its prior iteration, primarily in the vectors of Durant NVI and Ho-Oh-EX, I believe it’s primed for to be more usable this time around. This is mostly a consequence of Sky Field; specifically in decks that attempt to take advantage of all eight Bench spots. Getting a Basic back from the Stadium being bounced could be game-changing.
Additionally, this continues a trend of using the discard pile as a resource in its own right — Battle Compressor, VS Seeker, Lysandre’s Trump Card, Acro Bike, Revive, and the imminent Mega Turbo are all recently-released cards that use the discard pile as their universe.
The ability to, in some respects “search” for a Basic with Battle Compressor and immediately resurrect it is certainly intriguing.
I’ll make the prediction that this is going to be one of the most significant cards to come out in the set. Similar to my take on Revive, I see an engine based on the discard pile picking this up as its next gear and accelerating to takeoff.
In fact, this could take some of the original Megas to the next level. M Venasaur-EX has always had a formidable attack, and the turn spent evolving may still be too significant to overcome, but it also had a fundamental lack of acceleration. A similar argument, though one I don’t find nearly as compelling, can be made for the likes of M Lucario-EX.
Obviously, those with Spirit Links only benefit more from the speed offered, and it’ll be interesting to see how the meta evolves. It also has an obvious ability to function with the new Mega EXs in this set, but I’ll take a closer look at that when we get to those cards.
A common theme in the discard pile engine I mentioned above is a reliance on combos. Trainers’ Mail, while certainly not an end-all, does help this problem to some extent. In decks reliant on achieving a given combo of cards in as little time as possible, I could see Trainers’ Mail being featured in one or two copies.
Lugia-EX and M Rayquaza-EX are the two most obvious examples of this phenomenon. Trainers’ Mail has been noted as a potential option for helping remedy a poor Exeggutor matchup; however, I don’t see any one Item card being enough to shift a game in one turn. Overall, the jury is still out, but I can definitely see this finding a niche.
I’m only covering this card because I’ve seen a degree of hype for it — hype I feel is wholesomely undeserved. There simply isn’t enough snipe present in the game right now to justify this card.
Simply, I don’t see this card mattering when there are already a host of other Pokémon Tool cards clamoring for attention. Maybe, maaayyybbbeee there’ll be allure with Raikou-EX in Expanded, but even that seems to be a large stretch.
As with any set in the Pokémon TCG, there will be a deck gifted by the Japanese that is so obvious not even the completely new player could miss it. In this set, Colorless types and the linked Trainer engine definitely serve in that role. Winona is pretty clearly intended to be the chief support for that deck, as the search it provides is currently unparalleled by anything in the game.
However, I would make the case that Winona is not the automatic inclusion the designers seemingly intended it to be.
While searching for 3 Colorless Pokémon obviously goes a long way to achieving the hypothetical Rayquaza deck’s setup, it leaves you reliant on other means to obtain Energy, Spirit Links, et cetera. While Shaymin helps on some level with the lost draw, I’m not sure that it’s quite sufficient to justify a heavy count of this card.
Thus, my case would be that Winona is at most a 1-of: something Battle Compressor can dispose of for easier VS Seeker access in situations you actually want to use it. Even in that capacity, I’m unconvinced that it’ll pull its weight, but perhaps I’ll be proven wrong. I submitted this article shortly after Dylan’s went to the presses, and his list does a nice job of striking balance. It’s certainly something to consider.
And lastly, we have a card that could well shift the direction of the game at some point in its tenure. The possibility of a Turn 1 Trevenant XY, Turn 1 Exeggutor PLF, Garbodor LTR, etc. is undeniably intriguing. This can easily be played with Battle Compressor and VS Seeker for increased odds of success, particularly in Exeggutor, which already accommodates this engine.
Those who’ve been around awhile will remember the effect a Turn 1 Vileplume UD could have on a game, and we’ve only become more Item dependent in the interim.
I struggle to come up with a specific use for it at the moment aside from the few above (and Trevenant is admittedly a bit flaky since its attack is eh), but it’s not hard to see the potential here. I’ll be trying to procure extra copies at Prereleases this weekend, and I’d advise you to do the same.
Cleared for Takeoff: Rayquaza and Shaymin
This card is Uxie LA reincarnate, but it’s a bit of a different game this time around.
Yielding one less card may seem relatively insignificant, but it’s the difference between Shauna’s unplayable mediocrity and Professor Oak’s New Theory’s near-staple status for the better part of the 2012 season.
I firmly believe Shaymin is not destined to be the 2- or 3-of that Uxie was. I’d say it’ll see about the level of play Jirachi-EX does in most decks. Being a 110 HP EX is dangerous business without a doubt, and I think that status will keep it from a heavy count in most decks.
With that said, it’s obviously a solid card; that much is indisputable. It’ll likely contend with Jirachi for 1-of consistency tech slot in almost everything, and in speed decks, it’s going to serve as a paradigm shift. There’s a reason things like Uxie Donk, Shuppet Donk, and the infamous Sabeldonk were viable — the effect of Set Up. Look for speed to take on an increased role with Shaymin now present.
One strategy consideration: Target Whistle may begin to see significant play in an effort to capitalize on Shaymin’s seemingly impending popularity. It’s always been a nice theory with Jirachi, but this time, I could see enough players trying to force high counts of Shaymin that it’d be worth considering Target Whistle as an inclusion. We shall see, and I’m not yet able to completely ascertain my thoughts on this inclusion. Also, it’s worth considering this in the context of the Bench space management dilemmas with Sky Field that I mentioned above.
It’s not hard to see potential here. The ability to be played in a host of various concepts, due to its typing and relatively versatile attack, makes this one seem unlikely to be a miss. Mega Turbo, Shaymin-EX, Winona, Sky Field, Trainers’ Mail, and Altaria are all cards in this set clearly intended to help set M Rayquaza up for success.
However, you obviously can’t play M Rayquaza without the Basic form, and I’d make the case that the one included in the Emerald Break Japanese set is the best of options for this variant. The 60 damage to an EX makes the KO much easier to take with the Mega on the subsequent turn; not even requiring Sky Field in the case of things like M Manectric-EX — a card that’s a sure bet to contest Rayquaza’s playability.
Without a doubt, M Rayquaza and its Basic form are something you’re going to want to try to pick up from the set. However, I don’t feel they’re likely to rise to ridiculous prices at the end of the day, so don’t get caught in the hype! Here’s how I’d start out testing it:
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 34
Energy – 7
The goal here is speed, but offers Raichu as a backup to the concept of pure beatdown. Overall, I think this is a pretty well-rounded list, and my major concern is an untimely Ninetales PRC or a dead hand with a T1 Silent Lab drop by the opponent, but I think this list has one of the better shots at alleviating these concerns. Here’s my explanation on some of the counts:
I’d like to start Rayquaza, and the best way of doing that is obviously to play four. However, it’s a tight list, and I can definitely see the argument that the depreciated value in the fourth copy is worth less than an alternate sixtieth card. This would be among my first cuts without a doubt. The fourth Mega would be superficial and only have use in a low percentage of games where drastic Prize cards take hold, so I see no reason to include it.
3-2 Raichu XY
Raichu’s purpose is twofold: First, it’s an obvious answer to mirror matches, of which there project to be many. The typing is undoubtedly a significant item to consider: With the ability to easily work through other M Rayquaza (and the nice benefit of Yveltal-EX’s Weakness), it’s a relatively insignificant cost to pay for the benefit in my view.
Additionally, this serves as a built-in option for dealing with Suicune and Sigilyph; cards I’ve seen many lists willing to take a loss to. This isn’t a worthwhile risk to me, and admittedly, the Safeguard issue could keep the deck on the shelf through September rotation.
I believe Raichu is among the better options for dealing with Safeguard, and I have a problem with the notion of “Revenge” attackers like Bouffalant LTR as a true counter.
I hold that Suicune is more played than Sigilyph, and KOing Suicune requires a Muscle Band. Playing Muscle Band in a quantity high enough to assemble the entire combo on the specific turn that a KO is available is a drain on an already-tight list.
I’d rather spend those precious slots on something that offers me an asset useful across a spread of matchups, rather than something unique to Safeguard. If anyone has any strong feelings or any questions especially about this, I’d love to hear from you in the discussion thread for the article.
Exeggcute is the simple answer to keeping your Bench full, and Virizion is hard to not play when there’s the flexibility to utilize any basic Energy. Special Conditions are still present in the form of Hypnotoxic Laser, and having an answer is worthwhile.
Juniper is the de facto Supporter in every deck, and not running four is seemingly an error in this type of deck, but Colress is hard to argue with in a deck that aims to fill the Bench beyond its normal brim. N is absolutely something I wouldn’t want to mess with in here; it conflicts with the rest of the strategy to too much of an extent to me.
I think this may be the most unorthodox count in the list, but I firmly believe that it serves well to get Supporters in the discard, have Exeggcute available, set up Mega Turbo, and generally thin your deck for Shaymin draws.
My goal would be to never manually attach a G Energy. Ideally, Mega Turbo with Battle Compressor allows you to set up with speed, and you never need to attach the G Energy. 3 Mega Turbo is more for the ease of reaching them on Turn 1 — not for the intent of playing all three with merely the 3 Energy. I do believe that it’s a fool’s errand to play much more than 7 or 8 Energy in here, as the odds are pretty good that you’re in a bad spot if you have to attach basic Energy for turn.
Briefly, some things I think could work well in here:
Obviously, it’s hard to argue with no Weakness. If I were to play Altaria, it’d be at the expense of the Raichu line and finding some other counter for Safeguard. I’d also play Winona if this became worth playing. At the moment, Raichu is all I fear in the Lightning arena, thus, I don’t think this is an auto-inclusion. Meta-dependent, shall we say?
This may be a bit out there, and is something I’ve only scribbled around on paper a bit with fitting it in the list, but another viable non-EX could be Empoleon with the now-familiar Archie engine. The deck is chock full of ways of emptying your hand, Empoleon is a sizable attacker with Sky Field. My only reservation would be a necessity to play Muscle Band, because 140-160ish damage (at most) is simply not relevant. I’d be playing Target Whistle for sure.
This could be an answer for Toad. Supporter lock is very powerful, and being able to lock the Seismitoad player from being able to disrupt your setup could allow you to get back in the game.
Of course, taking a 9-hit knockout isn’t exactly useful, so this would require the inclusion of Muscle Band as well.
Shocking, or perhaps not so, is the lack of cards with a clear claim to success in the set. Rayquaza and Shaymin are simply above the rest of the pack in this regard. Admittedly, some of the Trainers would fall into the category, but if we only consider Pokémon, nothing else seems to be 100% earmarked to see significant play.
Maintenance: Hydreigon, Reshiram, Absol, and MoreAwaiting
Now, whether Rayquaza goes the way of Mewtwo-EX and its format domination or the relatively minimal play of Primal Kyogre — at least, compared to its hype — is still up for debate. However, in this portion, I’m going to provide my outlook on cards that I see real potential in, but could well be misses.
This is something else I could see being used with Wally. Spirit Links are an increasingly real part of the game, and the effects of Muscle Band aren’t insignificant either. While it doesn’t stop Garbodor LTR’s effect, it does make G Booster a holographic hood ornament. I’d say there’s real potential here.
As an aside, I don’t feel that this is a hard counter to the Colorless M Rayquaza-EX. The Ancient Trait makes Rayquaza somewhat resilient to the effect of Banette by allowing T1 Evolution, and while it’s a pain to miss the attack, I feel getting one down T1 might be enough to make it livable.
We have a homage to the past, joining Shaymin and M Latios as the obvious throwbacks of the set. Absol ex of olden days saw play in things like Flyvees — Flygon ex DF (looks a lot like M Gallade-EX, doesn’t it?), Jolteon ex (Forretress FLF with less intra-deck synergy) — and Absolutions (the aforementioned Jolteon with its other friends), and I see it making a splash now too.
This time around, I can see inclusion in things like Toad/Dragalge/Crobat to pull off perfect locks. It would also certainly find use in decks aiming to take advantage of Bench damage (M Gallade and M Latios are two thoughts, if either come to fruition) as well. It’s a versatile card that’s currently under-appreciated in my view. I’ll be trying to pick up a few copies, as it certainly has potential.
While it’s obvious that there’s not much in the way of low-HP Basics being played, Shaymin’s impending presence makes this somewhat playable to me. In addition, there’s the matter of Latios-EX PLF having some intriguing attack options, and the new Latios-EX having the ability to hit Turn 1.
The Basic Latios-EX seems to have potential. There are a number of damage escalators in format at the moment, with Hypnotoxic Laser and Muscle Band scratching the surface. Surely a sight no 60 HP Basic wants to see on Turn 1, and for that reason, it’s inherently going to have at least some small degree of potential.
Now, if only there was something starting to pair this with to deal with some common problems …
Oh, but there is! At first glance, this may not seem very strong; however, I believe there is definitely potential here. The retreat reduction is deceptively strong, and ties well with some other cards (like the one following this) that make the Dragon concept potentially real.
OK, sure, but it still feels like it’s missing something. Energy acceleration, maybe?
Good thing they printed this too. With Hydregion to provide it free retreat, the playability is definitely there. Early on, it can be cycled with another Reshiram on the Bench to provide fast acceleration, and it can provide the needed boost later in the game.
Safeguard counter, Energy acceleration, snipe, retreat aid … what more could be desired?
What about this? Absolutely nothing to scoff at. 230 HP is solid for a Mega, requiring the full eight Benched Pokémon for the other M Rayquaza to take a knockout. Clearly a healthy attacker. The Ancient Trait is very useful against the likes of Seismitoad, making this a potential force in the metagame.
Unfortunately, I can’t find a completely satisfactory way to fit all of this together. M-Rayquaza seems to have too heavy of a cost to be used for the entirety of a game; Hydreigon doesn’t hit hard enough, and M Latios is rather specialized. Sadly, the past couple of sets don’t offer much in the way of help, as other than the Plasma Freeze versions of Latios-EX and Latias-EX, basic Dragon attackers aren’t extremely present. However, all of these cards clearly have synergy, and this much synergy rarely goes untapped for long.
Thus, I’m going to give my best shot at a concept incorporating the synergy present here. Here’s where I’ll be starting my testing:
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 33
Energy – 13
Overall, it’s a bit of a jumbled strategy, but the premise is pretty clear: Use your spread of attackers with varying Weaknesses to take advantage of the situation. M Rayquaza is likely to be your main attacker inevitably, so a 3-3 line is requisite. Mountain Ring was the least harmful Stadium I could find, and playing a Stadium is a necessity to trigger Hydregion’s Ability. Overall, I think everything else should explain itself in the very early list, and if not, feel free to ask.
The Switch count is probably the most peculiar part of the list, and it was a conclusion I arrived at after considering the strength of Reshiram. With an admittedly large amount of fortune, one is able to charge a M Rayquaza with three Reshiram and a Double Dragon Energy. That’s obviously rarely going to occur, but the principle of being able to use Reshiram makes it the count worth it to me.
Similar to M Latios in that I’m infatuated, but I can’t quite figure out how it consistently can win games. Dimension Valley serves to make the attack cost livable, and the inclusion of Absol in the set makes me believe there’s a concept intended here.
It does benefit from the ability to be charged up in one turn with Mega Turbo and Dimension Valley shenanigans, but I just can’t see it happening right now. Forretress FLF could get the damage started and help it add up quickly, but consistently taking 6 Prizes will be a challenge.
Grounded … For Now: Deoxys, Dragonite, Togekiss, and Jirachi
Included here are cards I’ve seen hyped that I don’t think have a single chance at being a relevant portion of the meta until something changes, like rotation. Or, I may simply feel that their playability will never get above their current state of zero.
I’m oddly a fan on paper, but I have no doubt that this is going to have to take a backseat until N rotates. Simply unplayable until that point.
Unfortunately, five Energy for 150 damage isn’t enough, even on a behemoth of a Stage 2 with an amazing Ancient Trait. I can’t see this ever becoming a valid card to base a deck on, let alone an ultra competitive one. The other Dragonite’s healing is nice, but in an era increasingly headed back toward the 1HKO game with Rayquaza’s advent, I can’t see a ton of success being had here either.
Eight cards is a deceptively small amount. Stacking a ton of Energy on your board is deceptively not as useful as your gut may suggest. The amount of space required to fit both this Stage 2 and enough Energy to make it worthwhile? Forget about it.
One caveat: Maybe, just maybe, it is a possibility in Expanded with Devolution Spray. Chaining it is a lot different than simply trying to use it once.
Another homage to old times, but this one seems to be simply that: a relic. Maybe once N is gone and hand disruption a thing of the past it will have a chance, but even then, there are better things to do on your T1.
The End in Flight: Conclusion
It seems some of the cards in the new set, as always, will have a decided impact. Without a doubt, there will be people trying to make M Rayquaza of both varieties work, and eventually, I believe someone is likely to succeed in striking the balance. Other cards from the set show promise, and I hope I’ve well illustrated my feelings for you on which of these cards are worth trying to pick up.
If you’ve got any questions for me about the content of the piece, any remarks on cards I omitted, or just have general questions, feel free to either PM me on the forums or leave a comment on the article’s discussion thread. I’ll be in Ontario, Salt Lake City, and Madison for Spring Regionals, so feel free to stop me to ask any questions you may have there as well.
Thanks for reading!
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
After 45 days, we unlock each Underground (UG/★) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.
Underground Members: Thank you for making this article possible!
Other Readers: Check out the FAQ if you are interested in joining Underground and gaining full access to our latest content.