Hello everyone! Travis Nunlist here with Day 4 of our SixPrizes Article Marathon. I’m very hyped to be bringing you an in-depth analysis in preparation of the very first North American Intercontinental Championship. It should shape up to be the most exciting event of the season with Guardians Rising changing the Pokémon Trading Card Game in incredible ways. The tournament is projected to be the largest of the ICs, which is logical considering US Nationals has been the biggest event in the game’s history if by no other measure than pure attendance numbers.
Unfortunately, I’m not entirely certain yet if I’ll actually be able to attend the event, but I’ve been trying to keep up with the metagame regardless! My move to the Los Angeles area has come with its own set of life changes so my attendance will most likely be a week-of decision.
The only event I’ve attended recently was a League Cup near my new area. I played a Greninja list given to me my our own Michael Slutsky, who I’m sure will rave about his favorite frogs in his upcoming piece. Admittedly the deck choice for me was more card pool-based rather than a savvy metagame call, because I don’t actually own any Tapu Lele-GX yet, but it worked out somewhat well regardless! I went through Swiss at 4-0-1 finishing first seed, but ultimately curse of the first is all too real and I fell to a Gyarados deck in Top 8.
Today, I’ll be reviewing of one of the lesser discussed concepts of our Guardians Rising Meta – Volcanion. This is definitely a deck that has taken a hit with the release of the new set, and has ended up in a somewhat awkward spot in relation to the rest of the field. Azul Grego’s T8 finish at Madison proved that a reduced item focus can still find success in a Garbodor infested metagame. Moving forward, it’s important to consider available options with such a proven concept as reliability is a key factor to success at such a long and grindy tournament.
Volcanion is a deck that many players, including myself, have gone back and forth on throughout its entire first season of legal competitive play. The strategy is simple enough – lead with Volcanion’s Power Heater to accelerate energy to an assortment attackers, mainly Volcanion-EX. You also can use Steam Up to increase the damage output of your Fire-Type attackers. The Volcanion duo has found a few different partners throughout the season that have supplemented the strategy, but the two of them have always been the primary focus of the deck.
I was convinced the deck was hot (heh) garbage through much of 2016, and could not wrap my head around why such a simple deck was continuing to find success at major events. The mere existence of Garbodor BKP as a major metagame force seemed like enough to make it a non-factor. Yet, Volcanion was always at the top tables despite the trash monster’s persistence. The meta adapted to the pressure of Garbodor with decks like M Gardevoir-EX, Turbo Dark, and even Greninja could build itself with Garbotoxin in mind. Meanwhile Volcanion just kept steaming along, improving its position when Garbotoxin lost a lot of power against the field.
Then came along SUM which brought along incredibly powerful GX Pokémon like Decidueye-GX, Lurantis-GX, and Tauros-GX that were looking to leave their mark on the competitive scene. However, one common weakness remained among all of the new stuff in SUM: not much could really handle the speed, Fire typing, and damage output that Volcanion had maintained all season. Falling into an even better metagame position, Volcanion went on to win the very first IC in the SUM format along with repeated success in both Standard and Expanded Regionals. Volcanion ended the SUM format as a Tier 1 contender after finally showcasing the innate strength of such a straightforward concept with undervalued flexibility.
Guardians Rising has told a much different story for our fiery friend. Steam Up advocates everywhere were excited about the release of Turonator-GX and Field Blower, imagining it pushing the deck to a whole different level. Unfortunately, the bane of the deck, Garbodor BKP, received a massive revival with a comedically powerful attacking partner in Garbodor GRI. Volcanion had learned to deal with Garbotoxin, but Trashalanche was a whole different beast. As a result the deck took a major beating and a hard L at Seattle Regionals, failing to take any spots in Day 2 of the event. Pushing through to the Madison Regional Championship, Volcanion seemed to have taken a crash-alanche course in item conservation. An unorthodox list made it to Top 8 of the event through by playing less items and preying on an unprepared field.
Now, here we are looking at the smoldering coals of a once raging fire ready to be reignited for the NAIC. Volcanion is burning for another deep IC run and is looking to find its place in an evolving Guardians Rising metagame.
Pokémon – 7
Trainers – 29
2 Tech Supporters
Energy – 12
12 spots sure seems like a lot of room for such a simple deck, right? To be fair, most of the space will be dedicated to some kind of consistency. I wanted to get the skeleton down as bare as possible in order to present different card choices and what their inclusion means for the kind of Volcanion build we will end up with. The way I see it, you can either build Volcanion with Garbodor in mind, similar to Azul’s list, or you can choose to ignore the Trash King with an old school turbo focus. I’m not sure either build is incorrect, but will largely depend on what sort of meta you except going into the NAIC.
4th Volcanion – This card found its way into Azul’s build and makes sense considering the slowed down nature of the deck. Volcanion is definitely your best starter, and the 4th helps to ensure you have enough copies available to play an odd prize game should you need more than 1. Steam Artillery is a very underutilized attack, and gets boosted by Steam Up just like the rest of the deck. Focusing more on the little guy gives you consistent access to a heavy hitting option from your non-EX.
4th Volcanion-EX – This card was notably absent from the Madison list. The more I think about it, the more I don’t mind the cut. The addition of Choice Band means you generally don’t need as many Steam Up, and Turtonator-GX even does 160 before modifications requiring even less use of Steam Up to score a knockout against most things. I would still include 4 in a turbo build as the damage boost on Volcanion STS is too important. Having the consistency of 4 also helps make sure the turbo build can setup and do what it wants to do every single game.
2nd Turtonator-GX – This is a card I’ve come to appreciate more for a variety of reasons, and can absolutely see the merit of including a second copy. It has 3 very good attacks, more HP, doesn’t require reset after attacking, and even discards energy making Pokémon like Espeon-GX much less effective against you. The GX attack is very good at continuing pressure, maintaining heavy hitters, and setting up under lock. Shell Trap is good at delaying the game a bit where needed, and is especially powerful against decks like Vileplume AOR that might lack maximum outs to moving around the effect of the attack. Regardless of the build, at least 1 Turtonator-GX has earned its place as a staple of the deck.
Oricorio GRI 15 – Yes, this is one of the other Oricorio. This lil guy can provide some niche uses with search and an interesting attack. The search effect is very good for your setup and gives you a good way to get Pokémon out without items against Garbodor GRI. Kindle is a disruptive attack that can provide some devastating damage when combined with Steam Up. While the card may ultimately not make the cut for a large event like the NAIC, it’s always good practice to be aware of obscure cards that can potentially fill a niche or solve a problem for your deck.
Entei AOR – This is a card that has found mild success in Volcanion all year, and is more of a niche pick. Entei’s Combat Blaze is very good against any deck that cannot restrict its bench, and getting use out of Steam Up makes the attack even more potent. This is probably a card I would only play if I expected decks utilizing Skyfield to have a decent presence, but can definitely swing matchups into your favor pretty easily if not played around.
Salamence-EX – This card is in a small group of cards that have taken a huge playability hit with the release of GX Pokémon. Even though GX Pokémon are incredibly similar to EX Pokémon, the name change makes cards like Salamence-EX, Yveltal BKT, and Carbink FCO lose a lot of power. Unless it is specifically a metagame call, Salamence-EX has lost a lot of its appeal as a secondary attacker and probably isn’t worth the inclusion anymore.
1-1 Starmie EVO – We actually first saw this card find success in Volcanion in the Expanded format piloted by Rahul Reddy. The inclusion is great for playing a longer game, as it allows repeated use of Steam Up without the worry of running out of resources. Once Starmie is up and running, you basically get 2 free Steam Up a turn. The issue is having to evolve, which is not something Volcanion is used to. Seeing the card utilized in slower builds makes a lot of sense because there is generally more time to gain value out of it, and if played alongside Brooklet Hill then setting it up consistently should rarely be an issue.
Hoopa-EX + 1-3 Shaymin-EX – These cards are reasonably grouped together as they usually come as a package deal and are generally optimal when paired. The inclusion of Hoopa-EX and Shaymin-EX is a commitment to the turbo build of the deck, and allow it to pop off on T1 every game when desired. Grabbing 2 Volcanion-EX and coupling that with draw from Shaymin is a huge part of the reason why Volcanion was so good before, allowing it to hit big T1 numbers while accelerating energy.
1-2 Tapu Lele-GX – Tapu Lele is clearly a busted card, and I completely understand the desire of anyone who wants to play as many copies of the card in their deck as they can. Volcanion is no different, but moving past 1 copy is probably only something you want in the slower version. You often just want to play more Shaymin-EX in the turbo build in order to maximize what you’re capable of every single turn, but 1 is probably worth keeping around even if you can’t grab it off of Hoopa-EX.
3rd/4th N – Higher counts of N are going to find their home in the slower build of Volcanion. With longer games you’ll have more opportunities to disrupt your opponent’s hand, you won’t be taking prizes as quickly so it won’t hurt you as often, and it can keep you from discarding too many items against Garbodor GRI.
Delinquent – This card is not often seen in Volcanion lists, but found success in the slower build. The idea is you have more time to play tech supporters because you’re not as aggressive, and you have a heavy Stadium count anyway. The card is very powerful in the slower build because it gives you additional value out of extra copies of Brooklet Hill you don’t need in the mid-late game. A well timed Delinquent to 0 can end any game, and is even more accessible with Tapu Lele-GX.
Olympia – The sole switch supporter has seen frequent play in Volcanion since it was printed, and the card has a high degree of flexibility in the deck. It can reset Volcanic Heat, switch to a more appropriate attacker, and/or provide a clutch spot heal. Olympia is probably worth it in both builds because the niche it fills is mostly independent of the speed of the deck. No matter how fast you are, every deck needs to switch sometimes.
Pokémon Ranger – This is a lesser played card that fills a lot of the same roles as Olympia while solving some different problems that may arise in the metagame. While not having as diverse of an application as Olympia it can still reset Volcanic Heat. It also gives you outs to effects of attacks like Jolteon-EX’s Flash Ray and Greninja BKP’s Shadow Stitching. If you think you’ll run into enough of these effects during an event, it’s definitely worth considering Pokémon Ranger.
Hex Maniac – Volcanion is actually one of the very few decks in the game that Hex Maniac has seen almost no competitive success in. It has always seemed like other cards were more valuable additions to the deck over the ghoulish gal. However, the meta in general right now is incredibly vulnerable to ability lock with Hex Maniac being the most universal application of the concept. Against cards like Vikavolt SUM, Greninja BREAK, and Vileplume AOR, a well timed Hex Maniac can drastically shift a game into your favor. Heading into the NAIC, Hex Maniac is a much higher consideration for Volcanion than it ever has before.
4th Ultra Ball/VS Seeker, 1-2 Energy Retrieval, 3-4 Max Elixir/Trainers’ Mail (Items galore) – Unless you are very new to the Pokémon Trading Card Game, many of the previously mentioned cards should seem familiar as near staples in Volcanion and a few other decks until Guardians Rising dropped. The mentioned items are all powerful consistency cards in Volcanion and a huge reason why the deck was so successful pre-GRI. However, the inclusion of these 10-12 item cards made the deck incredibly vulnerable to Garbodor GRI and thus have had their inclusion questioned. If you’re looking to play the turbo version of Volcanion, I would recommend playing most, if not all, the mentioned items. However, if you want to build your deck with Garbodor GRI and Vileplume AOR in mind, then I would look elsewhere for consistency.
Switch vs Escape Rope – It seems like playing Switch in the slower build, and Escape Rope in the turbo build is the way to go. An early Escape Rope is more likely to force something active your opponent does not want active, which is great for the turbo build. The slower build needs a more consistent switch option and giving your opponent the chance to promote something different can prove damaging if you find yourself desperate to switch.
Stadium Discussion – Volcanion has always been one of those decks that doesn’t need stadiums to be successful. It has always kind of played whatever Stadiums seemed the most appropriate for the meta and build without relying on them. The deck has seen success with 4 different stadiums this season, and all have their own merit. Parallel City and Skyfield offer Volcanion bench manipulation.
When the deck relied on the Hoopa-EX/Shaymin-EX engine for setup, having access to a way to increase bench size or remove unwanted bench sitters was incredibly valuable. Scorched Earth offered the deck an alternative way to draw cards, aiding in pushing the speed/consistency even further while helping against things like Vileplume AOR and Garbodor GRI where your traditional consistency cards are less effective. Brooklet Hill is a new stadium that has recently seen success due to giving the deck non-item/ability search for Volcanion-EX. Being able to pull out Volcanion-EX with a stadium is very good against Garbodor GRI, and gives the slower version of the deck a consistent way to setup with minimal item use.
13/14 Fire – The general consensus is that you either play 12 Fire with 2 Energy Retrieval or 14 Fire. The threat of Garbodor diminished Energy Retrieval’s value below that of additional energy, and if you’re looking to play the slower build then the less items the better.
Burning Energy – This card could be cute in a build with multiple Turtonator-GX. It can help you chain Bright Flame quickly and easily against decks that can’t handle the bulk or output. While it doesn’t seem like keeping up on attachments or energy in play is an issue for Volcanion, it’s worth being aware of a potentially useful card if a heavy Turtonator-GX focus proves effective.
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 37
3 Trainers’ Mail
Energy – 12
The most interesting aspect of the list here is 0 stadiums. They have never felt especially necessary to me, especially with Field Blower, and have chosen to include more valuable cards in their place instead.
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 33
Energy – 14
This is Azul’s list with Hex Maniac over Delinquent. After testing, there is very little I would change about the slower build. The concept is relatively straightforward, simple, and consistent. Hex Maniac solves potential problems where Delinquent is just a good card that doesn’t really fix any niche issues the deck may face.
Looking forward to the NAIC I would play the slower variant because my gut tells me that Espeon-GX/Garbodor is going to be the deck to beat going into the event. If Garbodor in general ends up being much less popular than I anticipate, then I would switch to the turbo build without hesitation.
I’m honestly very excited for the NAIC, even if I’m unable to attend. Rest assured, if I cannot make the event in person I’ll be following religiously on every single outlet that I am able.
The Pokémon Trading Card Game continues to move in an incredibly exciting direction, and I’m sure there will continue to be some incredibly ingenuity surfacing as the format develops. I hope my review of the red rebel Volcanion will prove useful in some form to anyone and everyone.
I’m finally getting settled into the Los Angeles area and am incredibly excited to get to know the local Pokémon community. If any of you see me at a local event, don’t hesitate to say hello! Until next time my friends, take care and good luck to everyone attending the NAIC!
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