Sky’s the Limit

Rounding out the Standard Format with M Rayquaza and Rainbow Road
poliwag-togepi-happy-excited-1peachyame.tumblr.com
New season! Oh yeah!

Hey everyone! I’m incredibly excited (as usual) to be writing today’s article. It’s a very exciting time in Pokémon as Championship Point and Regionals information have just been revealed. In fact, I was so pumped to start the grind for a World Championship invite that I spontaneously booked a trip to Philadelphia for Regionals in November!

Although I’m excited to go back to the Expanded format for Philly in a month and a half, Orlando will be my next event so I’ve been working hard at figuring out the new Standard format. This article will analyze some of the decks and lists I’ve been testing out and should paint a pretty good picture of the format when combined with Russell’s article from earlier in the week.

Before we jump in, I do want to applaud Pokémon for the changes they’ve made to the tournament season. There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between Magic’s Grand Prix, Pro Tours, and the Pro Tour invitation structure and Pokémon’s new Regionals, Internationals, and International invitations for top performing players in rating zones. Magic has been incredibly popular and successful for years so it’s no surprise that Pokémon is following their lead. If we can expect things to continue to parallel Magic, though, expect Regionals to grow exponentially. 700+ will probably become the norm very quickly. Get ready for some long days of Pokémon!

Format Origins: Yanmega/Vespiquen

The first deck that I started working on in this format was /Yanmega, modeled after the Jesper Eriksen’s Worlds-winning deck. Even with the loss of Battle Compressor, there are plenty of ways to get Pokémon into the discard pile and fuel Bee Revenge. Unown and Klefki can quickly be discarded and each Yanmega BREAK that gets Knocked Out adds 3 more Pokémon to the total. The deck also plays very fluidly and elegantly addresses the consistency problems that plague other decks in the format. Here’s the list I settled on:

Pokémon – 30

4 Yanma STS

4 Yanmega STS

3 Yanmega BREAK

3 Combee AOR

3 Vespiquen AOR 10

2 Remoraid BKT 31

2 Octillery BKT

4 Klefki STS

3 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Spinarak AOR

1 Ariados AOR

Trainers – 26

4 Professor Sycamore

2 N

2 Judge

2 Lysandre

 

4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

2 Float Stone

1 Revitalizer

1 Buddy-Buddy Rescue

 

4 Forest of Giant Plants

Energy – 4

4 Double Colorless

Unfortunately, the deck is very weak to , and with the release of Karen, I don’t think it’ll be too competitive in the coming months. However, if you have any Standard LCs to play in before Karen is legal, this is a great deck to pick up. Christopher Schemanske and his brother piloted the above list to a combined record of 15-1-4 in 2 LCs (with all but 1 draw being intentional) for a total of 48 CP.

While the deck isn’t a great play for the upcoming Regionals, it could be in the future. If we get a Tool-removal card in the next few sets, and Karen is underplayed, this could be a surprise deck that preys on the EX-heavy decks of the format. Feel free to ask me in the forums if you have any questions on the deck or the list!

Breaking Time: M Rayquaza

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, for one, welcomes Karen to the format.

Rayquaza was the first deck I and many other players thought of when the Standard format rotation was announced. It has a significant amount of raw power and speed typically unmatched by other EX decks. was the only thing that really kept it from taking off in the 2015-2016 format. Players such as Connor Finton were able to capitalize on metagames with an absence of Night March to blow the rest of the competition out of the water. Very few things effectively counter Rayquaza and also do well against the rest of the format which makes it a very strong play in almost any metagame. Here’s a good list to get us started:

Pokémon – 16

2 Rayquaza-EX ROS 75

2 Rayquaza-EX ROS 60

3 M Rayquaza-EX ROS 76

4 Shaymin-EX ROS

2 Hoopa-EX AOR

1 Magearna-EX

1 Jirachi XY67

1 Bunnelby PRC 121

Trainers – 37

3 Professor Sycamore

2 N

2 Lysandre

1 Hex Maniac

1 Karen

 

4 VS Seeker

4 Puzzle of Time

4 Ultra Ball

3 Rayquaza Spirit Link

3 Trainers’ Mail

3 Mega Turbo

1 Escape Rope

1 Float Stone

1 Super Rod

 

4 Sky Field

Energy – 7

4 Double Colorless

3 Metal

Key Cards

1 Karen, 1 Super Rod, 4 Puzzle of Time

This list is very straightforward and about as consistent as it gets. There are basically no techs because I would rather focus on recovery and sustainability. I was incredibly surprised to see just how much Parallel City can hurt Rayquaza when decks are playing several copies. Since Rayquaza is the big deck to beat right now, I want to have a good game plan to deal with that.

Between Karen, Super Rod, and Puzzle of Time, there are plenty of ways to recover Sky Field and the necessary Pokémon to continually fuel Emerald Break. Karen is a great addition to the deck as it also shores up your Vespiquen matchup which is one of the only problematic decks to play against. Puzzle of Time is a questionable card in the list, and probably the first cut when looking for room to add techs. However, the ability to grab a Sky Field and a Shaymin after a Parallel City is incredibly valuable.

1 Magearna-EX, 1 Bunnelby

These seemingly random tech cards help you to account for everything. The deck needed a few more Pokémon so I went looking for some that are just generally useful. Magnearna doesn’t specifically counter any of the popular decks in the format but I prefer to come prepared in a new format such as this one. It also deals a pretty high amount of damage in a pinch, especially if your opponent is using a wall such as Glaceon-EX. Bunnelby helps with recovery when Karen and Super Rod aren’t enough but also can surprise an opponent for a free win by deck-out. It’s not a flashy tech but has proven very handy.

Other Options

Zoroark BKT

This is the best card to add to win the mirror match. It’s an easy attacker to set up, only requires a DCE, and responds elegantly to a M Rayquaza that just 1HKO’d yours. also still allows you to play alternate attackers or tech Pokémon as you don’t need a basic Energy type to attack with it. It’s not incredibly strong against most decks in the format since they don’t need to fill their Bench to function, but it’s still a non-EX attacker in a deck that otherwise doesn’t play many.

Special Charge

If Puzzle of Time is cut from the deck to make space for other Pokémon, Special Charge would be an instant inclusion. Enhanced Hammer, Team Flare Grunt, and M Scizor’s Iron Crusher attack all can be problematic for the deck. If your opponent can stop you from winning the game with 4 attacks from the 4 DCE you have, Special Charge is necessary to finish off the game.

Jolteon-EX

Jolteon is another strong option for your secondary attacker, especially if you expect Rainbow Road and Yveltal decks to be popular. I prefer Magearna to give me a good way to 1HKO Glaceon-EX if anyone happens to play it. However, Jolteon is a better all-around attacker and can steal games if Pokémon Ranger falls out of favor. It also can be a consistent answer to Giratina-EX as Pokémon Ranger can be hard to find without Battle Compressor in the format. I would want to add a 4th basic Energy if I added Jolteon to give you a good way around Chaos Wheel. Carbink FCO 49 may even be useful in this situation so they can’t use Team Flare Grunt to stop you from attacking.

Klefki STS

This is a pretty outrageous idea that I’ve been trying to make work. On your first turn, you usually don’t need a Spirit Link to be played on Rayquaza to evolve since you’re not going to be attacking anyway. There are also often other times during the game where you can’t pull off an attack so you could just evolve and leave a Rayquaza open for a Klefki. This could be huge in the Rayquaza mirror or against some of the numerous other Mega decks in the format. It typically requires less space than Zoroark while providing more or the same amount Basic Pokémon to fuel Emerald Break. It’s a crazy idea but may just give you the edge you need.

Parallel City

This is another really strange option that could help in the mirror. The ideal scenario would be to Lysandre up a Shaymin, then slam the Parallel City to decrease their damage output while still allowing you to take an 1HKO. Unless they find a Sky Field, they can’t even 2HKO your M Rayquaza but you can 2HKO theirs. It also allows you to control the game and drop Sky Field at the opportune moment and take the 1HKO to go ahead when you can.

Pokémon Ranger

Jolteon and Magearna have been better answers to Giratina and Glaceon in my testing but Pokémon Ranger is a lower cost option and more easily reusable in some situations. It would also allow you to play a different basic Energy (since we would no longer be opting for Magearna) if you’ve found room for another attacker such as Zoroark to let Zorua attack in a pinch.

Matchups

Mirror (50/50)

This matchup completely comes down to what techs each player is playing. Zoroark is undoubtedly the best option and should completely win the matchup if only one player is playing it. An extra copy of Hex Maniac as well as the 4th copy of Trainers’ Mail can slow down your opponent when you go first and can’t attack. Jirachi XY67 can also give you a way to control the game when used with N.

Try to limit your Shaymin usage as they give your opponent options to stay in the game even in situations where they can’t find enough Pokémon to get a full 1HKO on a M Rayquaza. Even if your opponent would be able to find enough Pokémon, the option to simply Lysandre and KO a Shaymin lets them save resources. You want to pressure them into discarding valuable cards like Puzzle of Time and Double Colorless Energy, giving them less outs from a late-game N. Playing conservatively with your Benched Shaymin also makes you less susceptible to Zoroark.

M Mewtwo (50/50)

At first glance, this matchup should be a blowout. The first few turns often look that way but the Mewtwo player can turn things around. The 1-2-3 punch of Parallel City, Garbodor, and an N to 2-4 cards can completely destroy a Rayquaza player’s setup. Unless you draw into a Sycamore, find a Sky Field, and can find enough Pokémon in the next turn or two to power up a knockout or two, M Mewtwo will run you down in a few turns.

In other games, the speed of M Rayquaza can keep a M Mewtwo player on the back foot and make it impossible for them to find the necessary combo to win. Zoroark also helps you to have a backup attacker that isn’t crippled by Parallel City. If they don’t play Garbodor and you can keep some Shaymin in your deck to draw with late in the game, I feel confident in the matchup no matter what they do.

Yveltal/Mew (60/40 or 40/60)

While Jolteon does make this matchup pretty strong for the Rayquaza player, the matchup is still winnable without Jolteon. A single Rayquaza can blow them out of the water as long as you play around Umbreon-EX. Having Puzzle of Time also strongly impacts this matchup by letting you recycle Sky Field and DCE when they discard them.

The thing I’m most afraid of in this matchup is Yveltal BKT. If they can stream a few, you have to waste a turn every time you want to Mega Evolve unless you can find Hex Maniac at opportune times. If you don’t start with Rayquaza, you have to waste an Energy attachment to retreat or find your single Escape Rope. If they put enough damage on your board with Pitch-Black Spear, Umbreon could easily finish off the game. Make Knocking Out their Yveltal BKT your top priority.

Rainbow Road (50/50)

As a Rayquaza player in this matchup, my number one priority is to Hex Maniac quickly and often. Rainbow Road needs a pretty decent amount of setup before they can stream attackers, and without Shaymin, they usually won’t find what they need. Once they start building up a Xerneas, make sure to Lysandre it up and you’ll buy yourself another turn. Since they weren’t able to use Shaymin, they probably don’t have 2 Xerneas — 1 with Fairy Energy and 1 with Exp. Share — on the board. This is the only way for them to deal with a quick onslaught. Once they do get set up, they’ll need to bench several Pokémon-EX to score an 1HKO so if you took enough of a Prize lead in the early game, you should be able to close out the game from there.

From this description, it may seem like Rayquaza is heavily favored in the matchup but Galvantula is the key for the Rainbow Road player. More on that later in the article.

Volcanion (60/40)

This matchup would be even more heavily slanted in Rayquaza’s favor if I didn’t think that Entei was such a good counter. Especially now that Volcanion-EX can further boost your damage output even when a Rayquaza player limits their Bench space. Even so, the low HP of Entei and Volcanion make them easy picking, and the low damage output from Volcanion just doesn’t let it keep up with Rayquaza. Since you don’t need a ton of Pokémon on your Bench in this matchup, limiting your Shaymin usage similarly to how you want to play the mirror match is incredibly helpful and gives them even less of a chance to steal a game. As long as you don’t overextend, this should usually be a win for Rayquaza.

Color Me Pink: Rainbow Road

xerneas bkt 16-9
The dual-types from Steam Siege have rejuvenated this old archetype.

The second top-tier contender I want to cover today is basically the little brother to Rayquaza, another deck that deals massive amounts of damage by abusing Sky Field. What it lacks in speed it makes up for in utilizing a non-EX attacker as well as the natural inclusion of some interesting support Pokémon and backup attackers. Here’s a good starting list based off of a list that Brandon Smiley used in a local tournament in Texas:

Pokémon – 17

4 Xerneas BKT

3 Shaymin-EX ROS

2 Volcanion-EX

2 Joltik STS

2 Galvantula STS

1 Carbink FCO 49

1 Jirachi XY67

1 Flygon-EX

1 Hoopa-EX AOR

Trainers – 33

4 Professor Sycamore

3 N

2 Lysandre

1 Karen

 

4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

3 Trainers’ Mail

3 Float Stone

3 Exp. Share

1 Super Rod

1 Buddy-Buddy Rescue

 

4 Sky Field

Energy – 10

6 Fairy

4 Double Colorless

Key Cards

1 Carbink FCO 49, 1 Flygon-EX

These are two of the support Pokémon I mentioned above and they both play incredibly strong roles in the deck. Carbink ensures that you will always be able to maintain your chain of attackers once you get going. Opponents can knock off the DCE on your Active Xerneas but the Fairy Energy is safe, as Carbink allows you to keep it in play with Exp. Share. can force your opponent to switch their Active Pokémon out, giving you an easy way around Jolteon-EX without having to play a copy of Pokémon Ranger. It also outclasses -EX as the best Dragon-type Pokémon-EX in the format.

1 Karen, 1 Super Rod, 1 Buddy-Buddy Rescue

This deck plays a similar recovery engine to Rayquaza as it is very susceptible to Parallel City. However, I decided to include a Buddy-Buddy Rescue here as a good, low-cost option to grab exactly the Pokémon you need at a given point. In a deck that depends on certain types of Pokémon being on the Bench, this can be the difference between winning and losing.

3 Exp. Share

Exp. Share is the card that makes this deck work. Between the inclusion of Carbink and the absence of a Tool-removal card, it nearly guarantees that you can continuously stream Xerneas. You have to sacrifice a bit of speed for sustainability, but in the slower format that we have now, that’s completely acceptable.

Other Options

Max Elixir

This card could effectively replace Exp. Share but it requires a full reworking of the deck to do this. I would want to play 4 Max Elixir and at least 7 Fairy Energy, preferably 8. Those 2-3 slots don’t come cheap in a deck that relies on a lot of specific pieces to function correctly. However, once a Tool-removal card is released, Max Elixir might become the best means of Energy acceleration that the deck can use.

Bisharp STS

While Galvantula is the better dual-type Pokémon overall (see the Rayquaza matchup down below), Bisharp has its own merits. It’s a great attacker in the mirror, only requiring a single Energy to attack and allowing you to start your chain up again if you find an Exp. Share for a Xerneas. It also provides a consistent damage source to finish a KO when your opponent limits your Bench with a Parallel City. If Xerneas BREAK or start to see play, Bisharp would also be decent in those matchups. Just don’t try to play both it and Galvantula in the same list — there’s not enough space.

Level Ball

Level Ball was in Brandon Smiley’s original list and it’s a great way to search out all of your non-EX Pokémon save for Xerneas. If I were to include a copy, it would be in place of the Buddy-Buddy Rescue. Level Ball helps with your early-game consistency but I prefer Buddy-Buddy to recover after a Parallel City or to grab a Galvantula if I have to discard it before I’m ready to evolve my Joltik. I just don’t think Level Ball impacts your set-up speed enough but it’s worth trying out.

Eco Arm

Exp. Share is such a crucial component to this deck’s strategy that I want to make sure I have enough to keep the stream of Xerneas going. I’ve lost several games where I thought I would be favored because I had to discard 2 Exp. Share on the first turn. Eco Arm can mitigate this problem and let you play aggressively, a necessity in a deck that has such a complicated setup.

Switch/Escape Rope

While Float Stone works really well in a deck like this that has to utilize several Pokémon with high Retreat Costs, it doesn’t cover every situation. Float Stone can eat up a Tool slot on your Xerneas and get in the way of the optimal stream of attackers. It also leaves you incredibly weak to Yveltal BKT, especially since Volcanion-EX has a 3 Retreat Cost and can’t be retreated for just a DCE. Using other switching cards may be less consistent and fluid but it does let you account for a higher variety of situations.

Matchups

Mirror (50/50)

This matchup is all about playing conservatively. Your opponent will be just as slow as you so you can get away with not playing your Pokémon-EX. Let them be the first person to play an EX down, then only drop yours if you need them to score a knockout on a Hoopa or Volcanion. This will give you the advantage you need to stay ahead in the Prize trade.

Jirachi is another way to win the Prize trade. Stopping your opponent from attacking for a turn is huge, especially since most lists don’t play Pokémon Ranger in lieu of Flygon. Either they already had a Lysandre and a DCE in hand, they don’t attack and you pull ahead, or they drop a Flygon to get around Jirachi. The first option is unlikely and the other two give you the opening you need to take the game. For this reason, make sure you Lysandre up your opponent’s Jirachi as soon as possible.

M Mewtwo (50/50)

This matchup plays out similarly to M Rayquaza vs M Mewtwo. You don’t have as much speed as Rayquaza so you can’t blow them out of the water but you are more sustainable. Even after a Parallel City, you can leave Volcanion, Galvantula, and Xerneas on the Bench to deal 160. Unlike Rayquaza, you can just Lysandre up Shaymin to take knockouts after Parallel City has been dropped. You can also use Galvantula to set up knockouts on Shaymin, or to finish off the Mewtwos that you hit for 160. If they switch the Stadium to a Shrine of Memories to use Damage Change, you have enough Bench space now to 1HKO M Mewtwo.

The one thing that keeps this matchup in check is N. Although you can recover from Parallel City, it requires you to find Energy and more Xerneas when M Mewtwo is easily 1HKO’ing you. If the Mewtwo player keeps up a stream of N, it can be really difficult to come back. Try your best to thin out your deck and mitigate the effect of N.

Yveltal/Mew (60/40)

Between their fairly limited damage output, low HP, and your Resistance to Dark, this is a fairly easy matchup. However, when played correctly, Yveltal BKT’s ability to shut off Tool cards can give them a shot at winning. If you find yourself needing to play down too many Pokémon-EX to set up or score knockouts, they can steal wins by stalling and sniping.

In a typical game, they don’t even 1HKO your Xerneas BKT, allowing you to build up Energy and Exp. Share on your attackers and keep yourself relatively N-proof. As Russell noted, Parallel City doesn’t even damage the deck too significantly, since a Bench of Galvantula, Xerneas, and another typed Pokémon allows you to still 1HKO all of their non-EXs. As long as you get a decent setup, this is a matchup you want to see.

M Rayquaza (50/50)

I wrote above about how Rayquaza can win this matchup but it’s still very winnable for Rainbow Road. Even if they get the optimal start to the game with a stream of Hex Maniac, you can bring the game back into your favor with a turn of Galvantula’s Double Thread. You’ll be putting so much pressure on them by sniping 2 Shaymin that they’ll have to either let you Knock Out those Shaymin or let you power up a Xerneas by Knocking Out that Galvantula. You can still Knock Out those Shaymin later in the game if you need to with your 2nd Galvantula. As long as you get that opening to start the Xerneas stream, you should win. However, your inconsistency and slow start doesn’t always let you do this. Try to N your opponent after they take a knockout or two to give you an opening to pull off this strategy.

Volcanion (40/60)

Your lack of speed and low HP make the difference in this matchup compared to M Rayquaza. You’re also very susceptible to Entei and they’re just more consistent than you. You’ll need to bench EXs to deal with any Fury Belted Volcanion-EX that they use which will allow them to take control of the Prize trade. Unfortunately, N isn’t too strong in this matchup as they put lots of Energy on their board so you can’t shut them out that way. Your best hope is for a fast start and several turns of Lysandre to pick off EXs on their Bench. Galvantula’s ability to snipe Shaymin could also help you steal games.

Hot Dog: Houndoom Mill

houndoom-bkt-21-16-9
Decks make for great chew toys.

The last deck I want to talk about is something my friends and I have been floating for the last few weeks. It’s very strong in some matchups but isn’t incredibly consistent and can fall apart quickly. Plus, mill decks have never been incredibly prevalent in the format and often rely on opponents’ poor play to do well. This is my most recent list:

Pokémon – 8

3 Houndoom-EX

3 Bunnelby PRC 121

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

Trainers – 44

4 Professor Sycamore

2 N

2 Lysandre

2 Team Flare Grunt

2 Team Rocket’s Handiwork

1 Delinquent

1 Hex Maniac

 

4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

4 Crushing Hammer

4 Max Potion

3 Trainers’ Mail

2 Enhanced Hammer

2 Super Rod

2 Assault Vest

1 Fighting Fury Belt

1 Captivating Poké Puff

 

3 Parallel City

Energy – 8

8 Fire

The deck plays nearly every disruption Trainer in the format in an attempt to give you enough time to discard your opponent’s entire deck. Assuming it can set up, it has a pretty good matchup against 3 of the 5 decks that Russell and I discussed. Rainbow Road seems like a good matchup but Carbink derails any of those thoughts. Volcanion’s Energy acceleration is problematic, especially since you can’t knock their Float Stone off and strand one of their high-retreat EXs Active. Those are possibly the strongest two decks in the format, which makes Houndoom fairly risky. However, it’s an interesting deck that could catch opponents off guard in the right metagame.

Conclusion

Between this article and Russ’s from earlier in the week, you should have a pretty clear picture of the Standard format as it stands now. There’s still plenty of time before Orlando to try out some of the different techs and lists we’ve discussed, as well as try coming up with a counter deck to the popular decks in the format if you’re so inclined. The format is relatively young and unexplored. There’s definitely more decks out there that can do well.

I’ll be in Orlando in a few weeks for my first Regional of the season and will be back here to discuss the results with you in the days following the event. I’m incredibly excited to start the grind toward 500 CP and to see just how big these new Regionals will be. It’s a great time to be a Pokémon player.

See ya!

Alex


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