The Flame that Burns From Within

A Look at Ho-Oh-GX and its Matchups, An Aside on Volcanion, and Discussing Gardevoir

Alternative article title: “The Calm Before the Storm.” If I’d been playing Water decks for the last two weekends, perhaps I’d have rolled with that. But, as it is, we’re headed toward a fine stretch of back-to-back-to-back Regionals—which, in my view, symbolizes a coming storm quite well.

But, as it happens, there’s something to be said about the drive behind the type of person that is going to be involved in all 3-of those events. I know quite a few players are going to be making the cross-continental trek over the next few weekends, and there’s something to be said about those players. Perhaps I’ll be among them. In either event, it’s going to be an interesting few weekends.

For us at SixPrizes, I want to provide a bit of a scheduling update heading into the critical stretch. As I write this on Sunday morning, we’ll start scheduling for October later today—so by the time of your reading this, we’ll hopefully have a schedule to release in short order. I’ve heard a lot of recent feedback concerning the week immediately following a major event, with some concerned we spent too much time on Expanded immediately following Fort Wayne’s Regional. In reality, not everybody attends every tournament, so especially for those not attending Florida, I understand Expanded probably wasn’t the ideal subject matter that week.

Heading into October and this Regionals marathon, our goal is to ensure the first article of each week corresponds to the format of that Saturday’s Regional. That is, each of the next three Mondays, you should see an article about Standard/Expanded/Standard, respectively. We hope that this helps make sure we help everyone attending the following weekend’s Regional get off on a solid footing. In the weeks following Hartford and Orlando, there’ll still be some discussion of Standard and Expanded, respectively, to help keep an eye on each format as we look toward Vancouver and San Jose. In addition, look out for a podcast episode sometime this week looking at Standard.

With that aside, let’s get into the main reason everyone’s here today: the Standard format. Whether you’re a New Englander waiting for Hartford, a Northwest Resident waiting on Vancouver, or literally most anywhere in between, the Standard format is probably your primary focus right now. So, housekeeping accomplished, let’s get into that.

The Everlasting Burn: Fire in Standard

If you aren’t aware, my family has had a decent run our last two cups with Salazzle/Ho-oh (or, as I’ve denoted it—to much controversy!—on Heyfonte, ??). We went into Ohio, now two weekends ago, and scored a combined 15-2 Swiss record (with Swiss losses to Gardevoir and Metagross). Cut didn’t go as well, as my brother Knocked Out my mother in Top 8, I failed to advance past Gardevoir in my own quarterfinal, and Alex then succumbed to Gardevoir himself in semifinals. The list we played, which we’ll get to in a few, probably wasn’t especially prepared for the Gardevoir matchup.

This past weekend, Alex and I were the 1-2 seeds at a Cup in Michigan, but I once again succumbed to a weird Top 8 match with Ninetales, and he lost Top 4 to Vikavolt. Not the most thrilling of Top Cut performances, but I believe the potential strength of the deck shows through in the number of successful Swiss rounds we’ve encountered over the last two Cups. Here was the list we played this immediate past weekend:

Pokémon – 15

3 Ho-Oh-GX

3 Tapu Lele-GX

2 Salandit GRI

2 Salazzle-GX

2 Volcanion-EX

1 Giratina XY184

1 Volcanion STS

1 Turtonator-GX

Trainers – 31

4 Guzma

4 Professor Sycamore

3 Kiawe

3 N


4 Ultra Ball

3 Max Elixir

2 Super Rod

2 Switch

1 Field Blower

4 Choice Band

1 Float Stone

Energy – 14

14 R

Card Choices

Early on, I started with a list very similar to Takuya Yoneda’s Worlds creation, but gradually, it shifted more toward what you see here. One of the first matchups I tested was Greninja, and I found that Giratina made it a genuinely favorable affair, meaning it was guaranteed a slot in my list for the first Cup (as Greninja seemed to have picked up hype). I was going about 50/50 with Gardevoir with my TCGO samplings, which, while not great, wasn’t all that terrible either. The deck did quite well against Golisopod, and has favorable matchups against some of the lesser-represented decks, like Metagross.

Overall, it’s a pretty strong concept that doesn’t use many Items (meaning it generally laughs at Garbodor decks) and relies on minimal draw to setup—which is a double edged sword. One of the pitfalls to the deck is that you end up using most of your Supporters in the form of Kiawe and Guzma, which means you don’t really get through much of your deck in any given game. This means that sometimes finding Salandit is a bit complicated, especially when faced with hands where using Ultra Ball isn’t especially ideal. Some inclusion of Nest Ball may be a worthwhile idea to consider. I’ve seen Scorched Earth included in some lists to help alleviate the lack of draw, but I honestly feel like I’m short on Fire sometimes, so I’m not sure how feel about that.

Sometimes, bad news.

Getting back to the problem of not drawing through your deck, on paper, this is bad news for late game Ns. In my experience so far, though, so many of the cards in this deck are “live”—that is, I can play them at almost any point in the game—that truly dead-drawing off N is somewhat difficult. Even Energy usually can be turned into something useful.

One key: try to avoid going down to a single Prize card if it’s at all controllable (that is, if you have 3 Prizes and need to Guzma twice to take them, generally go for the non-EX first if you don’t suspect Parallel/other mayhem to ruin the plan). With Tapu Lele in the format, an N to 1 is infinitely more impactful than an N to 2, as Ultra Ball is only useful in one of those scenarios.

Turtonator is especially useful for its GX attack, but Shell Trap can be an interesting play in some matchups as well. Salazzle is usually poor in the early game, but I’ve seen some situations where Queen’s Haze made an impact, and 110 for 2 isn’t the worst thing ever either. Also, while we’re on the subject of Salazzle, be sure to keep in mind that you cannot Steam Up to impact its damage.

During the first League Cup, we played 2 Field Blower over the 3rd Max Elixir. I’m 100% sure it was the right call to fit 3 Max Elixir (less sure on Field Blower, though), and my goal is to fit a 4th. It’s not that you want to play 4 in a game, but that you want to be able to hit them off mid-game Ns to setup a backup attacker after your primary Ho-Oh begins to fall.

As for the Field Blower, I’ve concluded the right number in this deck is 0 or 2. There are definitely games where you want to execute Tool removal (especially against things like Ninetales that rely on Choice Band to hit relevant numbers against you), but as mentioned earlier, you don’t really draw through your deck all that well. This makes 1-ofs significantly weaker than they are in some other decks. In order to have reasonable amounts of access, I think a 2nd copy is necessary. So, I believe this is a weird spot where playing 1-of a card is strictly worse than playing 0-of it.

As for whether it should be 1 or 0? If I make this pick for Connecticut, I’ll be watching a lot of League Cup results trying to gauge how much impact things like Garbodor look to be having on the format. If I foresee a lot of Garbodor, I’ll probably stick with two Field Blower just to make sure I’m not losing any games the deck should be winning. If we see lots of Ninetales, I’ll consider playing Field Blower to help force spots where they can’t afford to Guzma because they need a Choice Band to 1HKO my Ho-oh. Otherwise, I’m probably leaning toward the current 1 Field Blower as a cut for something like the 4th Max Elixir.

Xander Pero won a Cup in Chicago with the above list, minus Field Blower for an Oranguru SUM. I think Oranguru is definitely something that bears consideration, and could be very strong. My primary concern with it lies in the bench space it requires, but it could well alleviate the aforementioned issue of draw.

Matchup Discussion

Matchups you’d gladly sit across from all day: Golisopod-GX/Garbodor, Drampa-GX/Garbodor, Espeon-GX/Garbodor, Greninja BREAK (if you keep Giratina; else it’s a bit dicey), and Metagross-GX. These are decks that you either hold a commanding type advantage against or rely on a medium of damage that you either directly counter or make ineffective (Greninja, Garbodor GRI).

Of those matchups, it should be noted that losing individual games to Metagross and Greninja would be very unsurprising. As a note, it’s important to map out 6 Prizes against Greninja and simply execute them. They don’t have the means to deal with Giratina anymore, so you can bank on them simply doing 80 or 110 per turn. As long as you can jump out to a prize lead and execute knockouts every turn, you simply win the game.

As for Metagross, it can be a bit more complicated. If they achieve an ideal setup, and are playing the Necrozma suite, things can get very dicey, very quickly. Be sure to remember that they can’t stream attacks with less than 2 Metagross on board, so I generally would argue the correct play is to to target down Beldum/Metang while you have the chance without pressure, and Metagross later in the game. You shouldn’t lose many games, but it can happen.

I wouldn’t expect to drop games against too much else on this list, though anything can happen, I suppose.

Things You’d Preferably Not Play: I don’t believe there’s much that this deck strictly automatically loses to, but like anything, it has matchups it would rather avoid if possible. For this, I think Gardevoir is probably in that category. While I know it’s winnable—and some, like Xander Pero still insistent that it’s favorable—there are simply better matchups in the game such that I’d rather just not. The problem with the Gardevoir matchup is that you inherently need to have lots of Energy, making their knockouts fairly easily achieved.

I don’t believe you beat Gardevoir when they go off on Turn 2, but the reality is that a Stage 2 deck doesn’t always manage that.

For that matter, I don’t think very many things are capable of beating Gardevoir when it achieves a solid Turn 2-Gardevoir, ideally with at least one more evolution down, start. On that basis, I’m not too worried about playing a deck that loses to something like that—I’m not sure what does beat it when that happens, ergo, I don’t mind that loss.

It’s…complicated: Tapu Bulu/Vikavolt falls in a similar category to Gardevoir, but is here because I have less experience with which to make a final determination as to whether I think it’s generally favorable or more often a problem. If they go off and manage to eliminate your Kiawe target on Turn 2, odds are very good that you will simply lose the game. On the other hand, short of that, you have the opportunity to exchange and try to Guzma out the important parts of the setup before danger can arise. This is a matchup I’m looking to test more.

Alolan Ninetales-GX is an enigma of a matchup, to say the least. Conceptually, it may seem as though Water beats Fire, but it’s far more complicated when you consider Ho-Oh’s Lightning Weakness. In addition, they have a bit of a dysfunctional attack cost. The best way they can turn things in their favor is Alolan Ninetales BUS, but you generally play enough Guzma—and they have to play enough targets down—to make this not be a surefire way to win a given game.

I beat it in Swiss yesterday before losing in Top 8, but in fairness, my friend’s Top 8 starts were literally what you’d draw if you scripted a Ninetales’ ideal Turn 1, where mine…weren’t. That’s not a complaint, but a caveat that I feel bears mentioning: the matchup isn’t as bad as that match looked there. Something I want to test more, but I think the key point to keep in mind here is that it’s probably not as bad as it looks on paper.

Fire and Ice: The Alternatives for Standard

Before we break away from Fire totally, I want to quickly highlight a second list, for Volcanion, that I’ll be considering for CT. I think this list sacrifices a shot at the Greninja and maybe Drampa/Garb matchups in favor of being better against Gardevoir. Whether it’s a worthwhile tradeoff is going to depend on the results of the aforementioned testing and how well I find this actually does against Gardevoir.


Pokémon – 15

3 Volcanion-EX

3 Volcanion STS

2 Turtonator-GX

3 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Ho-Oh-GX

1 Staryu BKP

1 Starmie EVO

1 Oranguru SUM


Trainers – 31

4 Guzma

4 Professor Sycamore

3 N

1 Kiawe


4 Ultra Ball

4 Max Elixir

2 Field Blower

1 Super Rod

2 Float Stone

2 Fighting Fury Belt

1 Choice Band


3 Brooklet Hill

Energy – 14

14 R

The idea here is that Fury Belt helps you withstand some hits against Gardevoir, making it more durable than the Ho-Oh variant. I’m not totally sure it’s an idea I buy into, and am moreover not deep enough into testing it to make a solid call. I still worry about many of the same matchups as before, although in theory Ninetales BUS will be very bad as a stall option, so this list should be superior against Ninetales.

4 Guzma is essential, though, and otherwise I aim for maximum consistency/draw. I like the 4th Volcanion-EX in most situations, but this deck already has so many things trying to eat up bench space that you don’t have a ton to mess around with there. That alone makes the 4th Volcanion somewhat dubious.

I’m not sure whether this will prove any better than Salazzle, but I at least wanted to offer it as somewhere else my mind is thinking at the moment. To finish off today, I want to offer the list for the other deck I considered for this weekend, and am definitely considering for Connecticut: Gardevoir itself.


Pokémon – 17

4 Ralts BKT 100

2 Kirlia BKT

4 Gardevoir-GX

2 Tapu Lele-GX

2 Alolan Vulpix GRI

1 Alolan Ninetales BUS

1 Mr. Mime BKT

1 Oranguru SUM

Trainers – 30

4 N

4 Professor Sycamore

3 Guzma

2 Brigette

1 Acerola


4 Ultra Ball

4 Rare Candy

2 Field Blower

1 Rescue Stretcher

1 Super Rod

2 Choice Band

2 Float Stone

Energy – 13

7 Y

2 Rainbow

4 Double Colorless

Gardevoir is pretty well-established at this point, but this aims to add a bit of spice to the norm. Alolan Ninetales is quite strong as an option against a variety of the field, if only because it forces opponents to waste their finite Guzma supply getting around it, forces them to waste resources dealing with it, or buys you time to setup. That you can attack with it is really only an added bonus.

Mr. Mime is quite good with the increasing number of attempts to execute a Tapu Koko SM31-related strategy against Gardevoir, and blocks things like Necrozma-GX as well. Oranguru is a staple in most things at this point, as its steady drawpower and insurance against a late N cannot be matched in the format today.

Ralts and Kirlia here are a bit unusual compared to the normal choice. We used Ralts BUS at Worlds because Decidueye otherwise could combo a T1 Feather Arrow with a pair of them on T2 to grab a knockout. With Decidueye marginalized, begin able to do 10 for C, as opposed to 10 for Y, makes this decision. Kirlia is a bit weirder, but technically this one can do meaningful damage if you’re lucky with the DCE. Plus, with Rainbow Energy, it can act as an extra Guzma/Acerola/etc. in a (really weird) pinch.

I don’t believe anything else about the list is all that remarkable, but if you have any questions, feel free to find me—otherwise, Gardevoir lists are not revolutionary things in most situations.

Among my reasons for considering Gardevoir, the effect I mentioned earlier (if it sets up well, it will likely steamroll most decks) is high among them. It should be noted that I’ve not tested the Ninetales matchup all that much yet, and it is the key factor I think between whether I’m comfortable with this deck’s matchup slate or not. Conceptually, it should be difficult for Ninetales to take 6 Prizes against your board, especially with Mime, so I’m leaning toward the “comfort” side of that dichotomy at the moment.

The reason to play Gardevoir is that it doesn’t have any strict auto-loss that is played widely. Even Metagross can stumble, and even dispensing with that fact, it’s not as though Metagross is broadly played at the moment (though, I’m hearing it may have some fans in New England, which is, of course, home to the event).

We’re just under two weeks out from Hartford, and it’s going to be interesting to watch things evolve from now to then. There’ve been some stranger decks popping up, like Xerneas BREAK, and Bremen, DE Regionals offered us a first look at the Standard format in a competitive environment. To say the least, there were some strange lists in play there.

I’ll be in Hartford, hoping for a good run to justify at least keeping in the distance of the Top 16 chase. There are so many points in the CP universe this year (with lessened kickers and lesser depreciation as you move down the table) that Top 16 figures to be a matter of who gets luckiest while spending the money to fly after it. But, with that said, this is a Day 1 worth avoiding, so who knows…

Like usual, feel free to contact me with any questions or commentary.

Otherwise, as always, all the best.


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