Hey everyone! I’m Jimmy, and this is my first article ever for SixPrizes! I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous — writing for Underground has been a dream of mine for several years now, and I’m really excited to finally be a part of the team. I’ve always felt like my thoughts come out much more clear in writing, and I hope that you can see how I think about Pokémon from my decklists as well as my commentary. Without further ado, let’s dive right into the article!
A Hot Take on Volcanion
2017 marks my 10th year playing competitive Pokémon, and it’s been a crazy rollercoaster ride that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It’s nice to reminisce on past seasons playing Pokémon, but the competitive TCG player must keep one thing in mind above all: the only thing that matters is the next tournament. You could break this down further to mean the next match, next game, or even the next play!
Today I present to you what I believe to be the best deck in the format right now, Volcanion. I believe it to be the best deck for three reasons; it is consistent, it is aggressive, and it has a very focused game plan that it is able to accomplish many times over.
Pokémon – 10
Trainers – 38
Energy – 12
This is the list that I used to win a League Cup this past weekend. My day looked like this:
Rockville, MD // League Cup // 49 Masters
R1 Waterbox (W)
R2 Fairy/Giratina (W)
R3 Greninja (W)
R4 Yveltal/Garb (W)
T8 Regice/Slowking/Bunnelby/Hammers (WW)
T4 Xerneas BREAK aka “Pancakes” (WLW)
T2 Jolteon/Raikou/Electrode (WLW)
Final: 7-0-2 // 1st Place
The most appealing thing about Volcanion to me is its consistency. Simply put, this deck rarely draws a weak hand. I noticed that even when my opponents N’d me to 2 cards, I still drew well. I attribute some of this good fortune to the hyper-consistency of the list, but also — and primarily — to my decision-making processes which revolved around one simple idea:
As soon as you discard an Energy or attach it, you can no longer do the following things:
- Scorched Earth
- Steam Up (sometimes a second or third time)
- Get value (by discarding a Fire and not taking advantage of it on the same turn through Power Heater, Energy Retrieval, or Fisherman)
The first two actions are very simple — without the R Energy, you do not have a resource required to perform a certain action. What I really want to focus on is getting value. Value is not a term often discussed in the Pokémon TCG, but is commonplace in other major card games such as Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Hearthstone. A card’s value is determined by how much damage it does, how many resources are required to neutralize it, or perhaps cards gained from its effects. In Volcanion, make sure you discard responsibly. As long as you are sure you will have ample Fires available late in the game, you can go for the discard.
On Energy Management
In our case, value is most commonly relevant with Volcanion’s attack, Power Heater. “Baby” Volcanion is the most important attacker in the deck on your Turn 1 going second. When pulling off the Turn 1 Power Heater, you can easily have 2 Volcanion-EX attacking by Turn 3 though manual attachments and Max Elixir. If you fail to attach exactly 2 Fires through Power Heater when going second, you will fall behind.
The best way you can ensure that you get the full value off of Power Heater is to get rid of your Fires early in the turn. We want to do this because once Power Heater is going to attach 2 Energy, we can focus on powering up our Baby Volcanion. Note that sometimes you won’t start Baby Volcanion. This actually reinforces the concept of getting rid of our Energy early on, as wasting an Energy on a manual attachment could potentially cost us the chance to use Max Elixir to fulfill the requirement for Power Heater. The best way to get rid of Energy cards quickly is Scorched Earth. I like to use Scorched Earth very early on in my turns so that I have a complete picture of all of the cards I have access to.
In order to use Steam Up as much as possible throughout the game, you must watch your R Energy and make sure that you are always getting value out of them. Ultra Ball is where you need to be the most careful, as sometimes discarding Fire can be very tempting. Volcanion needs at least 5 Energy on the board to function properly (Volcanion-EX ready to attack with 3, benched Volcanion with at least 2), which allows you only remaining 7 Energy. Many times when playing a match you will find yourself with only a mere 3–4 Energy to work with, even after correct Energy management. The most important thing you can do is stop and think about how each Energy will get used throughout the course of the game. You never want to have more than 4 R Energy in your discard — 4 can be a lot of you consider the 5 necessary Energies for Volcanion to function.
Finally, you need to make sure you get good value out of Energy Retrieval and Fisherman. With Fisherman, your goal is to get 3 or 4 R Energy out of the discard. There will be times where your opponent has a massive threat such as an Yveltal-EX active and you need to take the only 2 Fires that are in the discard. This is completely acceptable, but you must accurately judge your opponent’s threat. In addition, Fisherman provides you with plenty of Fire for the turns to come. It is not a big deal if you take all 3 or 4 Fires out of the discard this way, as your deck will be loaded with R Energy late game (should you get N’d).
On the other hand, Energy Retrieval is much more difficult to use perfectly. Outside of playing it down to get 1 Energy before a Sycamore, there are not many times where you actually want to Retrieval for 1. If you are getting rid of your Energy early on in the turn, then having 2 in the discard happens much more frequently.
The Skill Cap
When playing a classic aggro deck like Volcanion, it can be frustrating when you lose games you felt as if though you should have won! The most important thing to do with Volcanion is practice. Many situations call for very aggressive measures, and you will lose some resources to Sycamore almost every game. Knowing the proper Trainers’ Mail/Max Elixir sequencing is vital also (as a general rule of thumb, it is usually correct to play the Trainers’ Mail first to increase your Elixir odds). This also includes leaving outs to our switching cards. I do not find Volcanion to be one of the easier decks to play in the format because it is very difficult to play perfectly. This is also what makes Volcanion extremely rewarding. If you maximize your turns, it can be nearly impossible for the rest of the format to keep up.
Here are some reasons why I played the card counts that I did:
Pretty standard for the most part. I’ve played Entei and I’ve also played Flareon-EX in my Pokémon lineup before, but this list attempts to beat your opponent very quickly. If you want to add another Pokémon I would most certainly recommend Entei, as this list does not run Fighting Fury Belt.
1 N — You are the fastest deck in the format. This means that your opponent will be the one using N to try and catch up to you. You still have an N just in case, but many times Sycamore or one of our tech Supporters will strictly be better.
1 Lysandre — Since this is a Pokémon Catcher build, we have no need for 2 Lysandre. Playing a single copy gives us a guaranteed gust, and additional outs to a knockout as soon as it hits the discard (thanks to VS Seeker).
1 Fisherman — One of the most powerful cards in the deck, Fisherman provides you with more Energy than you will ever need during the late game. A well-timed Fisherman will force an N, or even win you the game on the spot. As mentioned before, make sure you are pulling back at least 2 Fires, minimum.
1 Giovanni’s Scheme — My second favorite tech inclusion in the deck. Giovanni provides you with the ability to draw cards in a pinch, hit 210 damage while still only using 2 Steam Ups, and it sometimes acts like a Fighting Fury Belt. It really comes in handy more than you would think, and I love the card mostly because you can abuse both effects during the course of a game (via guess who, VS Seeker).
4 VS Seeker — Ever since VS Seeker was reprinted in Phantom Forces it has been a staple in the overwhelming majority of decks. I believe that you only really need to use VS Seeker 2–3 times during a game to get the most out of it. This means that you should never be scared to discard a single VS Seeker on Turn 1, especially since most times you will be playing Professor Sycamore regardless.
4 Ultra Ball — The best Item card in Pokémon.
4 Pokémon Catcher — The true theme of the deck! Volcanion is not attempting to win games, but rather steal them. Just because you flipped multiple heads and your opponent is complaining does not mean that your strategy is any less legitimate. Catcher pulls up the threats you need to take care of before they become an issue. Even flipping a single heads out of all four Catchers can be enough to walk away with the victory.
4 Max Elixir — The best calculated aggression in the format. For the most part, you control your fate on Max Elixir. That’s right — our healthy count of 12 Fire does help us with hitting our Max Elixir, but you control your destiny. With cards like Hoopa-EX, Ultra Ball, and Trainers’ Mail, you can remove cards from your deck to increase the ratio of Energy to non-Energy cards. This way, Energy cards will never be hard to find when you need them. Max Elixir will almost always work if you remove as many cards as possible before playing it. Notice, however, that I did not list Shaymin-EX as a way to remove cards. This is because you are not removing specific cards from your deck, but rather just simply drawing at random. The difference is that when you are drawing cards, you can hit R Energy, which will reduce your Elixir odds. Stick to the searchable cards, and be careful with Max Elixir!
4 Trainers’ Mail — An amazing card that should be in every deck, ever (don’t worry, I’m kidding). Many people who know me know I am very fond of this card — so fond that sometimes I put it in decks that don’t require it. I believe that when Trainers’ Mail is truly good in a deck, you should play 4 copies. This is because you will get the most opportunities to grab key Trainers that you need. Every single card matters right now in our Standard format, and you need to make sure you see as many cards as possible throughout games. When playing 4 Trainers’ Mail you will get to see either 12 or 16 cards usually, which is enough to find our tech 2-of Items/Stadiums and 1-of Supporters. In other words, Trainers’ Mail helps you complete the picture of a perfect setup. Not only does it help you find your situational cards, but it helps you with the previously mentioned Max Elixir! I love the Elixir/Mail combo so much that most of my decks use it to try to get completely set up. I highly recommend 4 Mail in Volcanion, as it is the most aggressive deck in the entire format.
4 Float Stone — Where it all comes together. Our game plan becomes perfectly clear once we decide to play a 4th Float Stone. The card itself is arguably one of the best Tool cards to ever exist in the Pokémon TCG. In a format such as our current one, your Float Stone will likely remain down for the entire game. There are a few Tool discard effects (Rattata EVO, Beedrill-EX, Minccino FCO 86), but for the most part you will not have to worry about having your Tools discarded. Playing four allows our deck to be as consistent as possible, and most importantly keeps Volcanic Heat going each and every turn.
0 Fighting Fury Belt — While Fighting Fury Belt can provide nice things, you usually need at least 2 copies to really take advantage of it. Knowing I could only fit one if desired, I decided against playing the card entirely. This allowed me to play Giovanni’s Scheme instead, and the rest is history.
2 Energy Retrieval — Perhaps the one single card that has the most natural synergy with our deck. It allows us to quickly reuse previous Energy to do the same thing again while we are still thinning our deck for the late game. I have tried 3 copies, and I felt as if I was drawing it too often. 2 is a perfect count with 1 Fisherman as a complement.
2 Switch — There really isn’t too much behind playing Switch over Escape Rope other than the fact that our deck plays 4 Pokémon Catchers. Many times with Catcher you will need to play it as soon as you get it, and later in the turn you will need a switching effect. If the effect is Escape Rope, the Catcher you played earlier in the turn is useless! Don’t disrespect your Pokémon Catchers that way — play 2 Switch.
2 Scorched Earth — Scorched Earth is my favorite Stadium card that this deck can reasonably play. I draw more cards than I ever thought was possible, I get Fires in the discard, and I have a counter Stadium to both Parallel City and Silent Lab. Draw power from a Stadium card is never something that should be taken lightly, as the amount of card draw adds up the longer the card goes unchecked. If I ever get 4 cards off of 1 Scorched Earth, I am ecstatic.
Vs. Yveltal/Garb … 60-40
4 Pokémon Catcher is the answer Volcanion needed. The amount of pressure Volcanion puts on right now is bewildering — so much so, that the old king of Standard is now a matchup Volcanion wants to play against.
Vs. Greninja … 40-60
I genuinely believe that this build of Volcanion can take this matchup as high as 50% due to always capitalizing on the slower hands from the Greninja player. Speaking in terms of games where both decks set up as planned, Greninja is a favorite to win. Our particular Volcanion list somewhat atypical, however, as Pokémon Catchers are far from expected. Even if your opponent expects Catcher, there is not much they can do early on to play around it. I wouldn’t let the Greninja matchup on paper deter you from playing Volcanion, as anything can happen in Best of 3 with Pokémon Catchers.
Vs. Gardevoir … 60-40
A little closer than before now that Fighting Fury Belt is not featured in our list, but the sheer speed is enough to overcome Gardevoir. Giovanni’s Scheme can allow you to trade effectively with Gardevoir, which will win you the game if you jump ahead on the first turn or two.
I believe these four decks (Yveltal/Garb, Greninja, Gardevoir, and Volcanion) are the best going into Athens Regionals, and Volcanion takes two out of three matchups as favored (possibly three if you count our list against the average mirror match!). This is why I think you should play Volcanion, as it is great against a majority of the field.
In Case of the Second Plague (Frog Invasion)
I believe Volcanion to be the best deck in the format currently. However, it’s possible that many players will switch to Greninja with a heavy count of Silent Lab this weekend in order to not remain susceptible to Giratina. This makes sense to me, as Greninja allows you to win many games in which you outplay your opponent. It unfortunately does have its share of dead-draws, but I would not be comfortable with Volcanion in a field of many Greninja players (three or more on Day 1).
In this case, I would play Yveltal/Garbodor, as it provides you with many fantastic matchups, including Greninja. I’d like to showcase Robin Schulz’s list that he used to win the Special Event in Leiden this weekend, and explain some of his unique card counts.
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 36
1 Town Map
Energy – 13
I really enjoy this list from Robin because it emphasizes the advantage gained by Garbotoxin. A 3-2 Garbodor line followed up by 4 Float Stone? Sign me up! It also has a combination of two cards that his brother Philip also used to finish in the Top 4 at London: Ace Trainer and Town Map! Many players believe that these two cards do not offer much to the Yveltal deck; they find them superfluous. I believe that both cards serve an excellent purpose.
Let’s start with Town Map, the card that everyone loves to hate. What’s wrong with seeing your Prize cards in a deck where every turn has to be perfect? As the Yveltal player, every turn you must continue to do a few things to advance your board state. Town Map will help you draw what you need from the 10% of your deck that is set off to the side at the beginning of the game. It’s one thing to know you have 2 Double Colorless prized, and it is another to actually be able to get them when you need them.
Finally, Ace Trainer provides Yveltal with a way to regain the advantage in the mid game. Putting your opponent down to 3 cards with a Garbodor in play can be deadly early on. It’s also a consistent 6 cards on your end — if your opponent is up 3 Prize cards to 4, you can do the same thing as N but gain 2 cards in the process. If done correctly, Ace Trainer can be as deadly as a Delinquent to 0.
The Importance of Staying Positive and Giving It Your All
I truly believe that keeping an optimistic attitude is what makes you a champion in Pokémon. Continuing to make the right decisions in spite of what the game throws your way is how the great players remain great. The game may burn you out at times, but the second that you think negatively, you’ve lost.
Even if you only take away this one thing from my article, I will be more than happy. Please take this advice seriously, and give it your all every time you sit down at the table. I have seen the craziest things happen in my time playing this game, and the most important thing I learned was that anything can happen. Trust in the correct plays, and you will be a successful Pokémon player.
Thank you everyone for checking out my debut article! I really enjoyed writing about Volcanion, and I think it is very important to make sure that you don’t play Volcanion into a metagame of Greninja, so I provided an Yveltal list I really like right now. I think above all it’s important that you play what you are comfortable with. These are my two favorite decks that I play the most — I’m going to play one of them for certain. These don’t have to be your two decks though, which is the beauty of having a diverse format! I do hope you’ll consider Volcanion though …
I’ll see you all at Athens Regionals!
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