Moving Forward with Standard, and a Guide to Coping with Format Rotations

poncho cowboy clint eastwood
Darn tootin’, partner!

My name is John Kettler, and welcome to my first Underground article in over a year!

That’s quite some time, so I’d first like to take this opportunity to reintroduce myself. I’ve been playing Pokémon TCG since the start, and have been playing competitively since 2003. This journey’s given me some great memories, including two Regional titles, four State titles, eight Worlds invites, countless City/Battle Road/League Challenge wins, and several deep finishes at Worlds and U.S. Nationals. I’ve had the privilege of testing with players all over the world. I’ve mentored many big-name players. It’s been a truly rewarding experience, for sure.

Most importantly, I’ve written all kinds of articles on competitive Pokémon TCG play, from short-term deck analysis to long-term advice on playing, testing, and the community. I’ve included links to a few of my favorite oldies — ones I believe are still very much relevant today!

As you can see, my favorite articles to write are generally ones that are theoretical in nature. Today isn’t too far off from that, because this article is about getting us in the right spirit to embrace the radically new XY-on Standard format. There will be some card and deck analysis near the end (including Expanded!), but for the most part, our goal is to set a good precedent for tackling new formats. Usually these are the points where competitive players drop completely off the map, so it’s important to maintain a framework that gives you improved performance and consistency at events.

Although I will be using several specific examples to help you get through the early, still vacillating days of XY-on, the article is meant to serve as a long-lasting abstract you can use whenever arriving at any new season.

In a nutshell, the whole idea is as follows:

  1. Figure out what you’ve lost and gained, and how that impacts the way you’ll be tested in a new format
  2. Keep a couple of important points in mind as to how to adjust to a new Standard format
  3. Work through all of the major Supporters, Pokémon, and other building blocks of consistency to create a strong framework for the later decks you build
  4. Test out your theories in practice, and make changes as needed

Looking Back: Finally … A Real Rotation

furret sw artwork
Engines of the past were short lived.

Before we get too far into discussion, let’s set the stage for Standard. Recently I’ve read a lot of hate regarding the current Standard. And I mean a lot. However, consider this: We haven’t had a genuine rotation in almost three years! Things like Juniper and N have been legal for around four years! Back in the days of 2004-2008, format rotations were so dramatic, critical engines and Supporter lineups changed almost every season. Here’s a brief, non-exhaustive overview of the cards decks used to function back then:




Look at those. Without even reading any of the specific cards themselves, one intuitively knows that this four-year period was full of constant upheaval. Compare and … contrast to the modern era, which has mostly been defined by extreme speed through Juniper, and extreme tempo distortion through N. Subtract the presence of any enduringly viable support Pokémon like those listed above, and you had for what was a very straightforward fare for years.

Now we’re seeing setup Pokémon return, like Octillery BKT and Gallade BKT. But more importantly, we lost long-time staples such as N and Colress. Cards like these have been functionally legal for so long, there is a whole generation of competitive players that doesn’t know what a world without them is like.

At last, players will finally get a taste of what it’s like to overcome a new format! I personally am very excited about working with such a refreshingly different set of cards, and over the next few sections, I’m going to show you why you should be, too … not just now, but for every subsequent season, so that we’re all at a great place when testing.

Deconstructing Frustration: Why the Change from Standard is Not That Bad!

When a real format rotation occurs, and not just the kind we saw between BLW-on and NXD-on, it actually “feels” different. By that I mean that several of the old skills you were tested to death over are now moot, while the new format you find yourself in calls for you to be tested in something entirely different. This is the issue I and countless others have when adapting to a new format! But just because it’s a challenge doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to overcome it.

There’s no better place to examine the skills lost, and possibly gained, than by analyzing a few of the staples that define previous formats …


What’s Lost with N’s Rotation

n noble victories nvi 101
No more N to 1!

In both formats past and the present Expanded format, N tests a huge variety of skills. From before a game even begins, it makes you choose proactively which Pokémon to bench, and which not to bench. In fact, I’d go so far to say that its status as a staple forces players to question every single move they make all game. To that end, I can certainly sympathize with someone who sees the Standard format as “luckier”: What’s better for skill than something that makes you question every single card drop you make?

What’s Gained with N’s Rotation

Take the loss of N as a breath of fresh air, because for the first time in four years, your odds of getting disrupted badly in the late game go down dramatically. It’s no secret that most games go fast, and in a fast-paced environment, a late-game N can kill. This is especially true for convoluted setup decks, or most Evolution concepts in general. By limiting Prize-dependent N effects to a single Ability belonging to the new Mismagius, all those simple Basic Pokémon slug-and-slaughter concepts are not nearly as guaranteed to break through — no pun intended.

Also, let’s consider the replacement of N in Standard. In many decks, particularly Archie’s or Maxie’s variants, we’ve seen N go down to counts of one or even zero. The only effect identical to N is Judge, but for that card, I anticipate a 0-2 count will be the norm, rather than the exception. Therefore, while your opening hand could certainly get hit worse turn one than when N was legal in Standard, it’s a relatively more remote possibility, allowing for the opportunity to take risks in some games.


What’s Lost with Colress’ Rotation

While N’s presence tests players throughout the entirety of a game, the skills tested by Colress are weighted toward the beginning and middle of games. Colress both incentivizes you for benching Pokémon, but also disincentives you if your opponent runs it.

Basically, Colress is a judgment call on each and every Pokémon you bench, so you have to make several tough choices throughout a game.

What’s Gained with Colress’ Rotation

Now you have less incentive to hold onto Basics in your hand, and more to play them! Short of Entei AOR 14 and Zoroark BKT, both of which having attacks which deal more damage with bigger Benches on your side, there’s less of that weird N/Colress dynamic. Now you can bench Pokémon with relative security. This is positive for more setup-oriented decks because there are less unknown factors which will hinder your decision to get everything out you need.

Hypnotoxic Laser

What’s Lost with HTL’s Rotation

minkus hypnotoxic laser htl
Hand over the Laser, Minkus.

Since its release, Hypnotoxic Laser has had two very important effects on the old format metagame, and they both pertain to tempo. First, Laser places an immediate impetus on the affected player to act in a disadvantageous way. Whether that’s retreating prematurely, using an attack you don’t want to, or using some resource you’d rather save, Poison existing before you can even attack is tough on any deck. Second, Laser enhances the attack power of every low-damage deck in the game. Would Exeggutor’s Blockade could survive if all you had was Muscle Band? Would Seismitoad-EX have been able to do half the things it did without Laser-Bank? Probably not!

What’s Gained with HTL’s Rotation

… And that’s precisely what we get for the new Standard format: less premature pressure! Part of the reason why the rules were changed when Legendary Treasures rolled around was because first-turn attacks were too much for such a fast game. Why, then, should something such as Laser/Bank exist, and place the same functional amount of pressure that an attack would?

Now, we don’t have to deal with that, and barring a first-turn Fast Raid from Latios-EX, you should not be too thrown off even when going second with a low-HP Pokémon.

The Main Rub

Judge may not be as prolific as N, there are fewer forces that control how you play your bench, and there is no longer guaranteed pressure for every low-damage deck. However, it’s a slightly slower format that will greatly reward principled deck building, and people who embrace the change.

Reconstructing Attitudes: The Two Traits of Resilient Players
Let’s make due with what we’ve got!

Part of what may be frustrating about this rotation is that it is the most revolutionary rotation in over three years. But that’s the fun thing about the Pokémon TCG: It’s been on the surface the same game for over 15 years, but at depth is almost like a different game every few rotations. Sometimes it looks more like chess; other times it looks more like poker. But at almost all times, there’s something about the format a flexible person can unlock.

How do you get yourself in that mindset, though? I’ve had the privilege to work with successful players over the years, and I have seen two things they have in common when it comes to adjusting well:

1. Successful players may not catch everything, so they make adjustments.

Yeah, I know — “gotta catch ’em all” is Pokémon’s main slogan! Yet when it comes to deck theory and metagaming, nobody’s perfect, mostly because it all comes down to educated guesses. “Who all’s gonna run Fighting at this week’s League Challenge?” “Will such-and-such engine be big after winning the first three Cities at the Georgia Marathon?” And so on …

Be that as it may, you’ll find that the conceptions you once had about the metagame, an engine, or even the very way you build decks may need an adjustment. At the start of last year’s City Championship period, I was egregiously behind the curve with my Yveltal-EX/Seismitoad-EX deck. One issue I had was a strange stubbornness against Lysandre’s Trump Card. Another was an insistence on playing less searchable, less reliable, and less space-friendly switching in lieu of a single Keldeo-EX. My sticking to inferior cards cost me several games, and I spent a surprising chunk of the Dallas Marathon with mediocre finishes.

Then, I woke up, made those basic list alterations, and went from virtually no Championship Points from Cities to 140. I’ve made myself much better this past year about letting other people’s opinions in, and especially recognizing good results fast. So while you may miss the memo at the very start of Cities, you won’t leave yourself unprepared for the next set, ending up ahead of the curve. And that’s what Cities ultimately mean on your road to Worlds: finishing strong, not beginning strong.

2. Successful players recognize that nothing is truly lost.

… Or equivalent effects, anyway. Sometimes there may not be the sort of draw you want, or as game-breaking an effect as you need, but whether it’s dealing big damage getting out blazing-quick, or disrupting the opponent, there is very nearly always an alternative to keep your dream concepts alive.

Perhaps the best example of this was hand disruption in 2006-2007. Much like the format rotation we have now, that rotation saw the loss of Rocket’s Admin.: the almost identical ancestor card to N. Just like the format we have now, people complained early on about there being no disruption, too many “first-to-the-finish-line” games, and little comeback potential. Sound familiar? But as the format went on, Eeveelutions-ex became increasingly popular, and none more so than Vaporeon ex: a card with a Poké-Power capable of hand disruption! It was generally only applied to the popular “Speed Spread” deck of the time, which relied heavily on tech Pokémon and Mew ex LM’s Versatile, but Vaporeon ex could have theoretically splashed — no pun intended — into any deck you needed to control an opponent’s ridiculous hand.

In the specific example, our immediate concern has already been answered with the release of the Mismagius BKT, and especially the reprint of Judge. However, keep the basic principle in mind: Whereas many players resigned themselves to the lack of an important effect, some players kept their minds open to embracing rather than rejecting a previously inferior method of doing the lost effect, and as a result went on to win Regional, National, and World Championships.

Reconstructing Lists: Consistency Reimagined

building construction
This caption is under construction.

The Supporter Pool

When you change formats, you usually lose some crucial Supporters. Your draw pool goes down, and gives many players their biggest conundrum, which is how to play around it! As previously mentioned above, I can only imagine how frustrating it might be to lose N and Colress, two staple cards too many players throughout their whole time playing. Sometimes however, addition occurs when you subtract a negative. N sometimes forces you give your opponent free cards or a good hand, and sometimes Colress forces you to draw for an abysmal amount. Now with Judge, Shauna, and Professor Birch’s Observations, you draw less cards … but draw them more reliably.

“Why is shuffle draw still important?”

I haven’t seen a lot of discussion on this topic, but I feel it’s incredibly important to address the presence shuffle draw should play in the new format, as well as how much space shuffle draw should take up in your deck.

First, even if the three main options all on average net less than a turn-one N (Judge 4, Shauna 5, and Birch’s average of 5.5), you should generally still run shuffle draw.

Also, shuffle draw is an important piece to a consistency lineup. Take it from me: Nothing beats you worse than a dead hand. But a dead hand is more than simply a Supporter-less hand; it’s also the hand where you’re faced with impossible Sycamore options! These include spots where you would discard three VS Seeker, your last Energy in the late-game, and so on. And a hand where you have no good choices is almost as bad as one where you have no choices at all. Shuffle draw is crucial in giving you not only choices, but good ones, by virtue of giving you a newer, better combination of cards.

“What should my shuffle draw lineup look like?”

I’ve taken an eye to two Birch.

This is a “depends” question, based heavily on what else is going on with your list. I’ve found great success with a count of three shuffle draw cards in most of my decks: two Professor Birch’s Observations, a single Judge, and zero Shauna.

Professor Birch’s Observations wins head-to-head over Shauna for the simply higher net gain it offers you: an average of 5.5 (the average of 4 on tails and 7 on heads) over Shauna’s guarantee of 5 cards. Put simply, those two occasional extra cards from a heads are much more likely to save you than the fifth card on Shauna is to save you on a tails for four. But what about the ever-present threat of deck-out? Or resetting opponents’ explosive hands? That’s where Judge comes in: In exchange for one less card, it plays the “deck-out game” better than Shauna, and is almost always a guaranteed detriment to your opponent on turn one.

In deciding what’s more important in the current format, low-draw disruption or the potential for big draw, I place my emphasis on big draw. That’s where a heads on Birch makes all the difference, as in Standard, there is no other way for a Supporter to get a “big” draw like Sycamore without the risk of losing precious resources. Therefore, I am a big advocate of the 2/1 split.

Of course, there are situations where you want to minimize or even outright cut shuffle draw. The Archie’s and Maxie’s lists of both formats depend on a balance between consistently dumping enough cards to get you down to a one-card hand, and maintaining late-game consistency. To that end, more than one N in Expanded — or one Judge in Standard — is usually excessive.

Pokémon-Based Draw

A shallower Supporter pool means we continue to see an emphasis on Shaymin-EX and Unown AOR. But as little as you might like your above-mentioned options for shuffle draw, it’s still generally worthwhile to run both together. First, consistency is still important, and when you’re struggling to find an answer in a foreign format such as XY-on, you should always defer to what’s more reliable. When in doubt, go with consistency! Second, Hex Maniac is huge in Standard as well as Expanded, so to rely only on Abilities is mistaken.

Nevertheless, Pokémon draw is an important part of the post-Roaring Skies world. Therefore, we should reevaluate before Cities just what that should look like:

Shaymin-EX ROS

shaymin-ex roaring skies 16-9
You can’t “Set Up” without Shaymin! *rimshot*

Shaymin counts are tough to get down: Sometimes you can run too many, and other times you can run few. But hardly ever should you run none, because the effect will always be too good to pass up entirely! But how do you know what’s the best count in Standard, where our Supporter draw is relatively limited? I feel like some of these questions have not been asked nearly as seriously in the community at large as they should be, but hey — that’s why we’re here!

Need for Speed: How fast does your deck need to be? Do you need a lot of Night Marchers discarded with Battle Compressor, such as the fourth place list at Worlds this year? Or are you better off playing a slower, more calculated game, and therefore don’t need to blow up so soon? Alternatively, does your strategy opt for sitting back and depriving your opponent’s resources, as opposed to putting yours out on the table? All those factors become important in deciding your Shaymin-EX count, leading to a general rule that the faster your deck, the higher the Shaymin-EX count.

Bench Space: Simple enough — the more Bench space your deck demands, the less likely it is that you can afford to even drop down more than one or two Shaymin-EXs a game, much less run them. I don’t include concepts such as Mega Rayquaza or Raichu in this; rather, I mean decks with bigger combos involving more unique Pokémon to work, like the “Round” decks of Expanded or Crobat decks, which often need the Bench space for several pre-evolved Pokémon at a time.

The Deck’s Pre-Existing Consistency: The more durable, reliable Pokémon consistency you run, the less you’ll need or even want a high Shaymin-EX count. Since there truthfully isn’t a whole lot of that in Standard, let’s travel back in time to illustrate my point …

In 2009, the format enjoyed the presence of two great consistency cards, Uxie LA and Claydol GE. Uxie LA was for all intents the spiritual predecessor to Shaymin-EX, having the same Ability (“Poké-Power” as it was known back then), brittleness, and even an attack meant for self-evacuation! Nevertheless, it competed for space in almost every deck with the aforementioned Claydol, whose Cosmic Power provided a consistent method of staying up to or above six cards in your hand every turn.

As a result, you had frequent battles in deck design over how many Uxie and Claydol should be run in particular decks. There never was an exact right answer, since each concept weighed the other factors on this list differently. But what was proven with Claydol’s rotation was that with one being unavailable, people ran on average more copies of the available option.

The main lesson to get out of this with respect to Shaymin-EX is that it might not always be seen in such heavy counts. As much as I love consistency, there simply comes a point where your deck actually has to have a working goal rather than “draw everything by turn one.”

Other Considerations: Sometimes, our amount of low-HP targets must be reduced by necessity if we’re running concepts revolving around Prize denial or stalling (e.g., Wailord-EX), or if we heavily value a non-EX Prize exchange. Additionally, you might want to deprive your opponent of any extra Prizes at all when you can avoid it. And finally, you might genuinely not have the space for so many Shaymin-EXs!

To those ends, you will run into some concepts that favor one or even zero Shaymin! That’ll still be true for the next two Standard seasons it’s legal, so stay flexible.

Unown AOR

Don’t just throw it in anything!

Conversely, I’ve seen a lot of players run Unown AOR when they shouldn’t. Between PTCGO, PlayTCG, and lists posted all over the internet, I’ve seen a shocking number of decks run “Farewell Letter” to thin … but why? Nine times out of ten, the answer amounts to “because I can.” And ten times out of time, justification like that is just lazy deck-building. 2-4 spots uselessly invested to a bunch of Unowns could a negligible trade in mulligan prevention and draw for good techs, added firepower through Muscle Band and more Pokémon, or even more reliable consistency, like Shaymin and Supporters.

Playing Unown AOR ought to be the exception rather than the norm. Still, there are several good times to run it. The obvious are decks like Vespiquen, which rely on discarding Pokémon/cards for a purpose, such as dealing damage. The second is about as obvious: decks that require big Benches to function. While Unown is certainly not a necessity in any of them, its helpfulness in Raichu and Mega Rayquaza can’t be ignored.

The third possibility is a bit less obvious, but occasionally you’ll run into a deck concept that heavily values mulligan deprival, while at the same time focusing on only one or two solitary attackers. One hypothetical example I can produce would be a quad Lugia-EX deck; that is, a build where all you want to do is attack with your one heavy hitter, but also avoid netting 1-3 extra cards per game to your opponent.

Disclaimer: This is by no means an endorsement of any kind for quad Lugia! Though maybe Lugia/Unown would make a powerful third party ticket for the U.S.’s presidential campaign …

Slurpuff PHF, Octillery BKT, and Gallade BKT — The Dudes That Abide

slurpuff phf art
Fits in nicely with aggro EXs.

… And by “abide,” I mean they serve limited purposes. But they each have valuable roles for the rest of the year:

Slurpuff PHF doesn’t begin to be worth its weight in cards gained until two to three turns into a game, when you’ve finally enjoyed a net gain on the 2-4 cards it cost just to get it into play. Slurpuff is useful in fringe Metagross AOR 50 decks to increase the size of your hand, but the most generally useful place for it is as support for aggressive big attackers. Now that it has Float Stone back, you could easily make it the core engine of a Big Basic EX deck.

Octillery BKT, on the other hand, serves a more generalized utility. Remember how good Electrode PLF was at helping you recover from Ns, yet how bad it was at actually getting you set up at the start of games? Well, what a difference does one card make! Abyssal Hand certainly doesn’t make it the successor to Claydol (see above), but it’s a nice way to patch together convoluted strategies, especially ones involving Stage 2 Pokémon. A perfect example of this is Gengar BKT/Archie’s Greninja XY: When you’re trying to piece together the Archie’s Ace in the Hole combo with a Psychic Stage 2 Pokémon, surely you could use some sustainable draw to keep it flowing, right?

Lastly, Gallade BKT is unique in that it is more useful to make your prospects to set up better by manipulating the top five cards of your deck with Premonition, as opposed to outright drawing for you. That isn’t game breaking, but it’s a nice added effect that’s definitely worth accessing through Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick.

So where do we benefit most from just a simple added, yet constant effect? Once again, in decks with big, sustainable attackers that need a predictable stream of resources. Yveltal is a great home for Gallade/Maxie’s, as it is in Mega Mewtwo-EX decks.


Finally, the last things we glue together to make our decks consistent are the Items we use to draw. With the loss of N and especially ACE SPECs, it is strongly encouraged that we play four-counts of whatever staple Items we need for our concept. However, whether you choose to run a particular draw-esque Trainer depends on the concept.

Note: I will refrain from talking about the less reliable tech Supporters like Teammates and Ace Trainer. They have homes, and are certainly worthy of discussion at a later time, but are not core building blocks the way that these other cards are.

VS Seeker

There are few reasons not to max out on VS Seeker.

For now, it’s a virtual given that four VS Seeker is mandatory. Sycamore is perhaps the one unambiguously acclaimed Supporter we have, so why limit yourself to using it a maximum of four times? Why not eight? Furthermore, many games are won and lost by your non-draw Supporters, namely Xerosic, AZ, Hex Maniac, and especially Lysandre. I am open to the suggestion at some point to run less than four VS Seeker, but in a format where Item lock is minimally played and reliable Supporters are somewhat uncommon, just play four and don’t look back.

Ultra Ball

Much for the same reason, four Ultra Ball means you up to quintuple your odds of accessing a Shaymin-EX Set Up turn one.

Trainers’ Mail

Unlike most, I usually subscribe to an all-or-nothing, four-or-zero approach with Trainers’ Mail. It suffers from many of the difficult deck decisions that Unown AOR does, but is saved by the grace of versatility. Whereas Unown AOR is a guaranteed one-for-one, Trainers’ Mail is a big “maybe” into a big turn, via Sycamore, Teammates, and so on.

Acro Bike/Roller Skates

These are the main Items you’ll associate with card-drawing, and they’re like the above cards in that it’s best to run four or zero. Your reasoning for running either or both will often line up with your reasoning for running a high Shaymin-EX count: Is there something that needs to get out fast? If yes, then run them, but if no, then avoid them.

Battle Compressor

Like Trainers’ Mail, Battle Compressor is a situational way to access a big turn, by combining it with VS Seeker and Professor Sycamore. Seldom few decks aside from Night March, Maxie, and Archie ever require it as a 4-of, so running one or even two in a deck that has “some” outside synergy with deck discard — for example, supplying Energy for Yveltal XY or M Manectric-EX to attach — would be great. I’m not entirely convinced that I even need justification like that to run Battle Compressor … perhaps the ability to strengthen VS Seeker and thin the deck is enough in itself.

Battle Compressor luckily does not fall prey to the all-or-nothing dilemma that Trainers’ Mail does, mostly because it operates as a final supplement to the rest of your consistency.

Level Ball

Level Ball in this format and every format prior is generally a 1- or 2-of in decks that utilize low-HP Pokémon. “But I run Unown AOR!” is probably a bad retort, due to the lengthy stance against Unown AOR outlined above. So unless you’re playing a deck like Vespiquen or Raichu, where quick access to low-HP Pokémon is essential, I’d steer clear.


Many of your best lists — and the best starting point for any new deck you build — will have 4 Sycamore, 3-4 in combination of Observations/Shauna/Judge, 4 VS Seeker, and 2-3 Shaymin-EX. Unown has a home in the right deck, as do Slurpuff, Octillery, and Gallade, but they by no means should be catch-all inclusions when you don’t know what else to add! Finally, Item-based draw and search may be included, but not unless you need something particular done or drawn.

Old and the New: How These Theories Have Given Me an Early Boost This Season

malamar-ex 58 16-9
Laser gone? No problem.

Putting all of the above into practice, and especially my observations (pun intended) about consistent engines, I’ve been able to salvage one of the decks hurt most by the pre-BREAKthrough rotation: Yveltal XY/Yveltal-EX. Yveltal loses what many thought to be the linchpin of its damage output, Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City. Likewise, it was one of the few decks to run both a high N count and Colress consistently. Heck, we even lost Darkrai-EX, the one way you retreat reliably and switch off against Lightning Weakness!

Thus, we were essentially left with only …

Pokémon – 8

3 Yveltal XY

3 Yveltal-EX

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

Trainers – 21

4 Professor Sycamore

2 Lysandre

1 Xerosic


4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

3 Muscle Band

2 Head Ringer

1 Professor’s Letter

Energy – 12

8 D

4 Double Colorless

“Yveltal’s dead! Unplayable! Terrible! … Oh wait, isn’t two-thirds of the deck still there? Huh … who would’ve thought? Maybe this is salvageable!”

From there, I went to work. The first thing I did was seek to fill the voids left by the missing elements. Part of what made Yveltal-EX good was that Evil Ball and Y Cyclone are both powerful, brutally efficient attacks, but the other part was that you have ways to pile onto that damage.

We don’t have Laser/Bank anymore, but that’s okay: I didn’t give up, and so I chose to include Absol ROS. The damage coming out of thin air and guaranteed pressure aren’t there, but it does most of the most crucial things you need from Laser: It gives you three extra counters on whatever you’re trying to kill, a means by which to KO Pokémon without attacking, and a way to sneak around pesky Tools.

Another part of what makes Yveltal-EX strong is being able to attack occasionally free of counter-attack. This is through lucky Sleep flips on Laser, so I decided to duplicate that — plus the convenience of an alternate Weakness attacker — by including two Malamar-EX.

“And hey, wasn’t Garbodor DRX great in this thing, too??? We ran a 2-2-of that to guarantee steady Ability denial, right?”

We sure did! And we’re not giving up on that powerful lock effect either, which is why we run two Hex Maniac.

+1 Absol ROS, +2 Malamar-EX, +2 Hex Maniac

From about early September until now, this theory became my conduit to figure out engines for Standard. I tried every applicable draw and search, until I finally formed my general principles on the XY-on format outlined above. Most of this is pre-Judge/Giovanni, but I believe it still more or less holds up:

+4 Trainers’ Mail, +3 Professor Birch’s Observations, +2 Battle Compressor

… And finally, the last five spots became my flavor options! I wanted to reimagine the concept of Max Potion (before it comes back, anyway) and versatile switching, so I topped it off with …

+4 Super Scoop Up, +1 AZ

As this segment of League Challenges come to a close, and the real points are won at Cities, I’ll always be keeping in the back of my mind if these decisions are right.

Nevertheless, here’s what I came up with:

Pokémon – 11

3 Yveltal XY

3 Yveltal-EX

2 Malamar-EX

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Absol ROS

Trainers – 37

4 Professor Sycamore

3 Professor Birch’s Observations

2 Hex Maniac

2 Lysandre

1 AZ

1 Xerosic


4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

4 Trainers’ Mail

4 Super Scoop Up

3 Muscle Band

2 Head Ringer

2 Battle Compressor

1 Professor’s Letter

Energy – 12

8 D

4 Double Colorless

I’ve gone three-for-three on tournament wins with this deck, and have done excellently on PTCGO’s ranked play with it (>80% win record in Standard). I’m not about to pretend like either of those are indicative of quality, and I’m especially not going to call it the best deck of XY-AOR. After all, the results you get from League Challenges and PTCGO are always questionable. Yet what I do know — and I know it with confidence — is that principled deck building breathes life into even the most hopeless decks. Not only did Yveltal go from being more than hopeless…it’s at a position where it’s competitive with nearly anything in the new format.

“Fall”ing into Place: Commentary on Post-BREAKthrough Standard

m mewtwo-ex bkt 159 16-9
Hmmm … reminds me of a once-popular Primal card …

Although the main goal of this article has been a larger commentary on successful deck building principles, I’d be making a big mistake if I didn’t share with you at least a few thoughts on the new set, the state of the metagame, and what’s strong.

My overall impression of the set is that it has a few genuine format-changers, several bad cards, and then several more cards which are in the purgatory called … “interesting.” I’ll address a couple of these interesting cards, but mostly for the purpose of dispelling them as serious considerations. Cards like Gengar, Vivillon, and Magnezone I consider to be really good; however, ad nauseam discussion of them is not the purpose of this article at large, and this section is just hitting the immediate important points you need for BREAKthrough. I’ll therefore leave interesting cards like those up to later discussion.

Note: Judge, Octillery, and Gallade have already been addressed in detail. I consider them all to be excellent cards, and worthwhile stocking up on.

Empoleon BKT

This can be good, but expect to be playing Archie’s Ace in the Hole several times before a Miltank FLF or other strong-hitting Basic is doing the massive damage to justify the space.

Raichu BREAK

Raichu variants have become a lot stronger with the addition of Sky Field, but with the inclusion of Parallel City in the newest set, much of that strength has been whisked away. Fortunately, Raichu BREAK is a nice 1-of copy you can include to provide a guarantee 1HKO on several EXs, and a probably 1HKO on every EX in the game if you’ve used Golbat PHF and Crobat PHF enough. I also like that it’s possible for Raichu not to be the rag doll attacker of the metagame. And with AZ/Super Scoop Up, you could even juggle Raichus for a bit. Who would’ve thought!

M Mewtwo-EX BKT 63

High HP? Check. Deals big damage when a Stadium is in play? Double check. Costs a base of four to attack, but has ways around it? Triple check!

If you feel like I’m comparing this to Primal Groudon-EX, you’d be right. While the ability of Vanishing Strike to bypass effects on the Defending Pokémon is very nice particularly in a metagame where Regice AOR is played a lot, whether you use this or Groudon will probably come down to a metagame call. Omega Barrier is still amazing at stopping Lysandre, and the damage max for Groudon is much higher. Still, this version of Mewtwo is growing on me more and more …

M Mewtwo-EX BKT 64

This Mewtwo, on the other hand, is a highly efficient powerhouse. Run it with any of the Energy accelerators legal in this format, and Psychic Infinity will score 1-shot knockouts faster than the Next Destinies Mewtwo-EX ever could have with X Ball.

I want to see what this does with Yveltal; I want to see what this does with Bronzong. It’s so good, I’d even have a fleeting interest in seeing what it does with Togekiss ROS 46! Still, it might actually be better in Expanded than Standard, by virtue of having access to the old Mewtwo-EX for efficient Weakness-based KOs.

Zoroark BKT

All right, so it’s a shame our only successor to Keldeo-EX requires more work to get into play, but for decks generally, it’s an unambiguously great splash-in and side attacker. Having access to “Rush In” without leaving yourself vulnerable to losing 2 Prizes is neat, and this iteration of “Mind Jack” is far more powerful than Absol PLF’s or Entei AOR 14’s. It’s a scary day for a Vespiquen player when a three- or even two-Pokémon Bench leaves you vulnerable to a 1-shot. And I pity unprepared Sky Field deck players for this card almost as much as I pity them for the presence of Parallel City.

Mr. Mime BKT

For the most part, this card isn’t the second coming of a death to Bench damage like the Plasma Freeze one was (it’s actually debatable if the Mime PLF really prevented spread attackers from placing well at Worlds and Nationals, but I digress). And unlike the days of Garbodor, we have the popular Silent Lab and the even more popular Hex Maniac for breaking through this defensive Ability. I’d say wait on it and see if use of those two cards wanes: If it does, and we see enough serious Bench damagers come into the fold, then run a single copy.

Smeargle BKT

Put succinctly, Smeargle makes a lot of stranger combinations suddenly viable. The Ability to bind multiple types together in a cohesive way cannot be ignored, especially since the viability of so many Pokémon comes down to if they can get Metal Links, or if you can topdeck that off-color type. My immediate “gimmick” idea is to run Smeargle-Metal Links with Yveltal-EX, but that may just be me trying to find ways to keep it alive.

Assault Vest

Looks a little small for Groudon.

Assault Vest is a fantastic card, and a great way for bulkier Pokémon to stem the hate high-powered DCE attackers. I particularly like it with Mega Manectric or Mega Rayquaza, though you would have to fine-tune your list to include that, the Spirit Links, and possibly a Tool Retriever.

However, Enhanced Hammer and Xerosic are still better ways to handle Special Energy decks, especially for lower-HP decks. The essence of Assault Vest versus these cards is being reactive or proactive: Your Assault Vest is just as vulnerable to a Megaphone or Xerosic as their Double Colorless would be, so why wait to be killed when you can take the fight to them?

Given all that, perhaps the best home for Assault Vest will be Primal Groudon, who cannot be effected by Xerosic or Megaphone. Perhaps then your Night March matchup would be relatively secure!


Unlike Giovanni (discussed below), Brigette if a worthy “choice” Supporter. Its main use is in non-EX decks that need a large Bench, such as Raichu or Crobat concepts, or Vespiquen, which could always benefit from fetching two Combee and an Unown for good measure.

Giovanni’s Scheme

Having two alternate effects is neat, but this is mostly a mediocre card. Occasionally there will be a home for the extra 20 damage, between the new Empoleon and Muscle Band, we already have so many other ways to deal that damage without hogging your Supporter drop for the turn. I’ve seen several people put a tech copy of this in as the default 1-of, but it’s just not strong enough to justify.

Parallel City

I don’t think I’ve encountered a single Stadium capable of hating on so many decks all at once. Sky Field decks, Grass, Water, and Fire are all greatly weakened by a well-timed Parallel City drop. Sky Field in particular will have so much trouble recovering if two of these are dropped against it in a game, especially at moments where the opponent has a full Bench of eight.

Also, keep in mind that lots of players will be using Parallel City, including yourself, so you may get stuck in a spot where you’re stuck with the unfavorable side. To that end, you might actually want to run a counter Stadium in addition to Parallel City, given that you cannot switch out Stadiums of the same name.

Float Stone, Skyla, Town Map

I won’t say much about any of these — just that they’re all great cards. Skyla will have a much harder time finding homes in lists than Float Stone or Town Map, but like the last format, it will occasionally be a great 1-of copy. Not so much for the current format, however, as in Expanded, where Jirachi-EX’s Stellar Guidance can chain into it.

The Long Winter: Trudging Through Expanded Cities

Last but not least, I don’t want to leave you all hanging on Expanded! It’s no secret that most City Championships will use the Standard format. However, several throughout the world, and even a few in my home state, will use a BLW–BKT Expanded format. So it helps to mess around with it some. Included are two experimental lists which I’ve had a good early start with. However, I have one major point I’d like to address before that.

“The Rule”

The old rule with people switching over from Standard to Expanded is that they could just tweak whatever they have built for Standard and play it in Expanded. Barring extremely limited exceptions, you can’t do that anymore. The card pool in Expanded has finally reached a point where it is far too deep, meaning you need to consider all good decks from the collective history of the past three years, and proceed accordingly. Everything from Durant, to Yveltal, to Vespiquen are all legal after all.

However, you can get close to winging Expanded. Take whatever your preferred concept is, and then play it out in your mind if that concept can take on most of the heavy hitters at least reasonably well: If it can’t, then you should probably just abandon and switch. This is a much more interactive process than, say, taking your Virizion/Genesect list from Day 1, and then shoving a couple of Skyarrow Bridge in it for Day 2. Additionally, you’ve got a little more time to take everything about the predicted metagame in, rather than a night between two parts of an event.


The verdict is yet out on how good, if at all, Yveltal actually is for Standard. But in Expanded, it is still a potent force, top eight’ing at nearly every Autumn Regional Championship. BREAKthrough doesn’t revolutionize Expanded Yveltal all that much, but it does offer a slight twist to the way we’ve seen it played …

Pokémon – 12

1 Gallade BKT

2 Yveltal XY

3 Yveltal-EX

2 Darkrai-EX DEX

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Seismitoad-EX

1 Keldeo-EX

Trainers – 37

4 Professor Sycamore

1 N

1 Colress

1 Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick


4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

4 Battle Compressor

4 Trainers’ Mail

4 Dark Patch

4 Hypnotoxic Laser

3 Muscle Band

1 Computer Search


2 Virbank City Gym

Energy – 11

7 D

4 Double Colorless

This is by no means a unique idea, and at its core, it’s just another way to run an Yveltal/Archeops list. But now Yveltal finally has a decent Manectric answer for Expanded: Gallade BKT. Premonition, as discussed above, functions as a great secondary source for consistency. More importantly, its Sensitive Blade assures that you hit any Pokémon with its Lightning Weakness still activated for 260 to 300 damage.

The only downside is apparent: Your list becomes much more clogged to make a fast Maxie’s reliable. The verdict is out on whether it will work!

Blastoise … with a Twist

Pokémon – 15

2 Blastoise PLS

3 Keldeo-EX

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

2 Exeggcute PLF

2 Jirachi-EX

2 Articuno ROS 17

1 Jirachi XY67

1 Kyogre-EX DEX

Trainers – 34

2 Archie’s Ace in the Hole

2 Professor Sycamore

1 Fisherman

1 N

1 Lysandre


4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

4 Battle Compressor

4 Reserved Ticket

4 Trainers’ Mail

4 Superior Energy Retrieval

1 Muscle Band

1 Computer Search


1 Rough Seas

Energy – 11

11 W

“I’ve got a golden ticket …”

First, let’s talk the post-BKT alterations, because they are significant. I always find the last four “filler” spots dedicated to Acro Bike to be the most painful. Often, Acro Bike will fail to chain you into that all-important turn one Blastoise, and instead leave you dry. For this past Regionals, I replaced my Acro Bikes with Pokémon Communications, which worked surprisingly well: I lowered the number of times a stray Pokémon in hand stopped me from Ace in the Hole, and had a new out to Shaymin-EX and Jirachi-EX.

However, I see Reserved Ticket as a potential replacement for both. This is because unlike Acro Bike or Pokémon Communication, a heads is a virtual guarantee that you will be able to chain everything you need to get an Archie’s, pending a Set Up or Trainers’ Mail in your hand. And what makes it a superior Archie out to Acro Bike is that even if you get tails, you’ve thinned your hand out by one!

Fisherman is an additional out to Energy, and the only way you can circumvent both Trevenant XY’s Forest’s Curse and Seismitoad-EX’s Quaking Punch. From there, the rest of the deck is designed to be strongly anti-Vespiquen and Seismitoad; two Articuno increase your odds of staying at an even pace with Vespiquen knockouts, while Kyogre-EX’s Dual Splash could lock a Vespiquen opponent out of the game entirely. The new Jirachi promo serves as a catch-all counter to every bad situation you could possibly endure against decks as fast as your own, or to frustrate a Seismitoad.

Adelante! Moving Forward

What a tough format to work with, huh? But that’s okay: Like I said, it’s part of the joy many of us get out of this game. I see stagnant format rotations as missed opportunities, and radical format rotations as fertile ground to show off your skill as a deck builder. I hope a lot of the principles outlined in the first two-thirds of this article will help you get through not just this format rotation, but every single format rotation in your future as a Pokémon player.

But hey, it’s good to be back! These articles are a lot of fun to write, and I’d be privileged to come back soon.

Until next time, though, happy testing!

…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

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