Hello everyone! My name is Brit. It has been quite some time since I've had the pleasure of writing about Pokemon, and boy it does feel good to be back!
Before we get started, allow me to introduce myself. I started playing Pokemon around 2009 and qualified for my first World Championship in 2011. From there, I earned six consecutive invites as well as being a top 16 player in North America for multiple seasons, along with a handful of other solid tournament finishes along the way. I never stepped away from the game completely, but I took a considerable break after the 2017-2018 season, and have slowly been involving myself with the community once again. I am not quite back up to par in my gameplay just yet, but I've got more than enough insight, positivity, and excitement about the game!
Hi there! My name is Dustin Zimmerman. Much like Brit; my most successful (and lucrative!) days of the Pokemon TCG are a little bit behind me. I started playing competitively in 2005, I placed in the semifinals of the World Championships in 2013, and I was ranked the #1 player in North America the following season in 2014.
Having also stepped away from the game completely for a few seasons, I, too, have returned! Apparently my competitive spirit never died out, and Pokemon is the perfect outlet. (Not to mention I'm more or less immersed in the community—most of my best friends are those I met playing this game!)
Today, Dustin and I will be giving you a detailed analysis of what cards we expect to make the biggest impact on the Standard meta-game. As exciting as new sets of cards can be (the thrill of cracking open pack after pack never seems to get old), the sad reality is that only a handful of cards from each set have the potential to see high level tournament play.
Unlike Magic: The Gathering or some of the other digital competitors out there, the sealed and limited formats of Pokemon are largely non-existent. Pre-Release tournaments have been amended to some degree, but that doesn't change that fact that a vast majority of Pokemon cards never see competitive play. Additionally, Japanese players receive their versions of the sets months prior, and while our sets are never 100% identical, the fact that they host sanctioned tournaments before we have our pre-releases does give us an immediate insight into what cards may be worth our attention. This can make analyzing a new set relatively uninteresting, because not only is our scope narrow from the beginning, but also the results of Japanese events predict our own in many ways.
Rather than bore you with our take on a Top 10 list, Dustin and I will instead highlight our favorite cards from Vivid Voltage, and spice things up by tying them into older cards with similar effects. Though we can't simply assume that because an older card was competitive, its more contemporary counterpart must also be competitive, it is our hope that illuminating this past connection will better inform today's analysis.
Another aspect of Pokemon that has always set it apart from its MTG counterpart is the interaction of type advantages. With each new set, the balance of the standard metagame has one or many of its scales tipped in or out of favor thanks to a handful of powerful cards. Think about how the release of Eternatus VMAX (swsh3-117) completely erased (for a few months, at least) any sort of Dragapult VMAX (swsh2-93) in the format—all because of that little "D" in the lower left of the card! And sometimes it may not even be a type disadvantage, but rather a fundamental weak spot in your deck's strategy that takes you out of contention when a new card is released.
In the spring of 2010, Jumpluff HGSS decks were absolutely dominating State and Regional tournaments (I won Indiana States myself that year with Jumpluff!). But with the release of UL that May, Entei & Raikou LEGEND became a near-perfect counter that the rivaled Luxchomp archetype could splash into their lists. All that is to say—what will Vivid Voltage bring to the standard format that unbalances the metagame we're familiar with? Will it simply be a fighting type that attacks for weakness against Eternatus and Pikarom, or something more?
I think that this card is on the mind of many players looking for something interesting out of Vivid Voltage. At first glance, Togekiss VMAX (swsh4-141) strikes me as a card that will primarily be explored as a control option. Control-type decks have not quite found their footing this year due to the seasonal rotation (and a couple of targeted bans), but I think Togekiss has plenty to offer that the current Excadrill/Cincinno or Charizard/Braxiken-GX TagTeam are lacking.
Bearing many similarities to Sylveon-EX (g1-rc21) of years ago, the power that Max Glide offers is hard to deny. Sylveon-GX (sm2-92) was such a wonderful card and I think Togekiss VMAX (swsh4-141) should be afforded a similar amount of versatility. Typically, Magical Ribbon served to fetch you three ideal or disruptive cards for the following turn (naturally, this means lots of Crushing Hammers, Team Yell Grunt-esq supporters, etc.) but it should be noted that being able to search any card you'd like gave you more options that just pure disruption. Your win condition could revolve around setting up an additional attacker like Gardevoir-GX (sm3-93) to try to sweep your opponent's board, which had been sufficiently worn down from all of your disruptive options or a more typical mill route.
However, I do think the appropriate build of the deck will have to be a hybrid of control with auxiliary options to fall back on. Just as Sylveon-EX (g1-rc21) had to be creative a lot of the time in finding its win conditions, I believe Togekiss VMAX (swsh4-141) must also put on a similar display of creativity to be truly competitive. The 120 damage that Max Glide offers does not quite seem efficient enough to put real pressure on your opponent, meaning that your lock has to be "perfect" in order to win most games. (Not a a realistic goal for any deck should that be their only means of staying competitive!) As such, I expect Togekiss VMAX to be the fulcrum of the deck, but with lots of other options to fall back on. Your weakness to Lightning type Pokemon strikes me as being solvable with Weakness Guard energy, but beyond that, I think it will take careful testing and experimenting to find the ideal partners for the deck.
The colorless energy requirement certainly doesn't help narrow down our options much, but it is a welcome challenge to identify the most accommodating partner. I hope to try Togekiss with lots of colorless Pokemon like Persian and Altariam but there are lots of options to explore. I'd also like to suggest that Togekiss could potentially be used entirely as a set-up Pokemon. Stage 2 decks in the current format are very reliant on the Jirachi/Rosa package, so trying something like Togekiss VMAX (swsh4-141) as your initial attacker may help the prospective Charizard/Leon deck find a place in the meta-game. Perhaps also there's some sort of Four Corners deck that could revolve around Togekiss VMAX (swsh4-141) with Welder and various Aurora Energy attackers to fall back on it.
Going hand in hand with Togekiss above, I think Snorlax (swsh4-131) is an incredibly welcome card for anyone looking to play decks with alternative paths to victory. (For example, beyond ADPZ or Eternatus's more streamlined approach of attempting to take as many prizes in as few as possible turns.) Though the comparison to be made with Snorlax are perhaps a little more obvious than some of our other featured cards today, I think that Gormandize is quite a bit more versatile than many are considering.
Just as Togekiss VMAX (swsh4-141) seems poised to find its place in a controlling deck, it should go without saying that Snorlax (swsh4-131) will do the same (though I imagine the Snorlax-centric control deck will be a separate deck from Togekiss V control decks). It has an ability that matches one of the most important and powerful trainer cards ever printed: Tropical Beach (bwp-BW28). For those newer to the game or not entirely familiar with older formats, Tropical Beach was the World Championship promo for only two years (2010-2011 and 2011-2012 season) meaning that outside of purchasing it, the only way to have "earned" them was to have competed or staffed at Worlds those years. This means the supply of Tropical Beach has always been incredibly limited, and any time there is discussion of cards that needed to be banned in Expanded, Tropical Beach always finds its way into the conversation. Noticeably, though, no action has ever been taken against the card.
It's my hope that Snorlax (swsh4-131) will serve as a softer option to Tropical Beach (bwp-BW28), with an increased availability that ought to curb some of the power the Tropical Beach decks have in virtue of their obscure supply. In a lot of ways, Snorlax could be even better than Tropical Beach, as it is more accessible in terms of search options (in both Standard or Expanded) and in the ways you can interact with it when it's not in play.
I think there are many decks in Standard currently that play Zacian V exclusively for Intrepid Sword, and I imagine that all of them will find a better replacement in Snorlax (swsh4-131). Tropical Beach's use throughout the history of the game will largely be remembered for how it aided control decks and occasionally a Stage 2, set-up deck but it occasionally saw play in more aggressive decks. Especially with our current first turn rules, I think almost every deck should test Snorlax as a way to end your first turn drawing lots of cards that doesn't require dropping another easy two prize Dedenne-GX (sm10-57) or Crobat V (swsh3-104). Whether it's worth the space remains to be seen but I think this card could provide an incredible boost of consistency to many decks that perhaps have yet to rightly consider it.
This new Jirachi (swsh4-119) card is certainly one of the most hyped cards of the set, and it remains one that I am greatly looking forward to. While it is certainly very powerful, I am a bit skeptical of how easily it will find a home in this format (at least as easily as I expect Snorlax (swsh4-131) to). Its ability, like its Team Up counterpart, will undoubtedly boost the consistency of any deck that opts to include them...but I'm struggling to decide the best way to make both Jirachi work in unison. Is there a certain kind of deck that ought to favor the older one? Is there an argument to only play this newer Jirachi (swsh4-119) over the old one? Or is there an answer somewhere between the previous two questions?
To be frank, I don't have a clue. I think it will be paramount to testing various combinations of Jirachi, but if I had to speculate, I would guess the older Jirachi is more favored until it rotates. This is good news for the future of this Jirachi (swsh4-119), as it will likely only improve over time, but I think the extra cards that Stellar Wish allows you to see is enough to override the negative side effects of going to sleep or being unable to use Air Balloon. Any deck that is already accommodating the heavy Switch and Scoop Up package that typically goes alongside Jirachi TEU will be able to seamlessly incorporate the amazing rare.
This Jirachi (swsh4-119) is incredibly similar to Uxie Lv. X (dp6-146) and its Trade Off from years past, which was so powerful a card that many decks would play extra cards like Unown Q exclusively to accommodate it. Unfortunately, Uxie Lv. X (dp6-146) only had to make its way into the active once in order to get the ability every turn—but I still wanted to bring this comparison to the forefront of our discussion today. Stellar Wish may see more cards, but its scope is limited, meaning there are many scenarios where Dreamy Revelation is statistically equivalent or sometimes even better. Uxie Lv. X (dp6-146), even though it could only see a few cards over a number of turns, was often the key to winning SP mirror matches and in a format where many of the matchups quickly devolve into a race of which player can play Boss's Order before the others, I think this card warrants experimentation. I imagine that ADPZ or PikaRom lists would have to rearrange themselves to some extent to get maximum value of a united Jirachi package but it is definitely something I look forward to experimenting with, perhaps in conjunction with Snorlax (swsh4-131) as well.
I think the two most recent Standard formats in Pokemon have been relatively difficult to "solve" because of the way the top decks interact with each other. The best two decks, ADPZ and variations of Eternatus VMAX (swsh3-117), played different games in a lot of ways—making it difficult to build a deck that stood a shot against either of them! Many decks could be specifically crafted to handle ADPZ but that would rarely give them any sort of game against Eternatus. A large reason for this, I believe, is simply because the format lacked any great Fighting type Pokemon, allowing Eternatus VMAX (swsh3-117) to go relatively unchecked by more conventional options. Coalossal VMAX (swsh4-99) is the first Fighting Pokemon I have seen since my return to the game that seems capable of keeping Eternatus down while being competent against the rest of the format. Big HP, big damage and new support in Energy and Trainer cards are always promising. Older Fighting support like Fighting Dojo and Karate Belt exist in Standard for a little while longer, as well so I believe there will be a lot of different ways to try to make this deck work.
With Stone Energy, maybe even the Stage 2 Coalossal VMAX (swsh4-99), I think this card has a lot of options. Given it's main attack is only one energy (and can be manipulated easily with Oranguru SW/SH), I think there could be some merit to trying this option more as a counter-attacker than a full deck on its own. That said, I am also intrigued by a more defensively minded deck that tries to keep Coalossal Vmax along for as long as possible, and eventually sweep with a few consecutive turns of G-Max Boulder.
Unfortunately, there is no great old card to compare this one against, but I am at the very least reminded of an older Rhyperior (dp6-145). Both cards revolve around discarding the top card of the deck, and get an additional if those cards are energy cards. The Rhyperior (dp6-145) deck was always at its best as a sort of tool box with Mew Prime and various other attackers, and I think Coalossal VMAX (swsh4-99) could find its place in something similar.
The concept of "spread" decks is an archetype that feels truly unique to Pokemon. Basically, it consists of taking smaller attackers that damage your opponent's entire board in such a way that seems harmless at first...but the more attacks the spread player gets off, the scarier and scarier the situation becomes. From Abomasnow Stormfront and Dusknoir BCR to most recently the rotated Tapu Koko promo, spread decks have always been amongst my very favorite, and I believe Orbeetle VMAX (swsh4-21) can function somewhat effectively as a spreading attacker. Sadly, the ever-growing HP bars of many of the game's central attackers makes spread far less viable than it once was. Long gone are the days where most of your opponent's Pokemon only had 60-120 HP, meaning even something like Flying Flip could become overwhelming in minimal time. Instead, we are stuck with big basic Pokemon attempting to one-shot or two-shot other, bigger Pokemon. Decks that rely on spreading in some capacity must have some sort of special hook or appeal, like Dusknoir's ability to interact with damage counters indefinitely on your turn or Abomasnow's Snow Veil granting a small but reliable damage reduction. Otherwise, it seems hard to justify when Brave Blade wins the game in two attacks.
Though it would be drastically different from the way Dragapult VMAX (swsh2-93) goes about "spreading", I think Orbeetle VMAX (swsh4-21) would need to be much more focused on using the basic V to hit and run, and then using cards like Jirachi to serve as pivots into your Eerie Beam each turn. I imagine you'd also want to try to be slow and disruptive with cards like Crushing Hammer and Team Yell Grunt, trying to get as much mileage as possible Shrine of Punishment and other various ways of manipulating your opponent's damage. Like with Togekiss VMAX (swsh4-141), I think your Fire weakness (though this seems to vary and overall be a less damaging weakness than Lightning currently) is relatively amenable with Weakness Guard Energy, giving the deck a considerable amount of space for other options. Maybe the debuting Legendary, Zarude-GX would be worth exploring here as well or even Decidueye. Grass has a lot of really great support cards right now and despite the weakness, I think that it could become a meta-game presence with relative ease should it be able to stand up to ADPZ and Eternatus VMAX (swsh3-117).
This card is exciting because it combines two really classic strategies—accelerating energies and purposefully falling behind on the prize trade. While many Pokemon have done one or the other over the years, it's usually an Electrode who does both. In 2005, Electrode ex (ex6-107) was a top-tier juggernaut of a card that found itself in many competitive decks for the duration of its tenure in the standard format. It took advantage of cards like Pow! Hand Extension, Rocket's Admin, and Scramble Energy to counteract the prize cards you surrendered. That being said, Electrode (hgss4-93) and Electrode-GX (sm7-48) didn't quite make such an impact in their respective formats despite having nearly identical effects. So how will this one fare?
Well. let's take a look at the differences: you only sacrifice one prize card (good), you only attach 2 specific basic energy to 1-2 Pokemon of a specific type (less good), but you do get to search your deck for these energy cards, saving you the trouble of first getting them into your hand or discard pile (great). I think it's safe to say Buzzap Generator is a good Ability in general. Interestingly though, lightning type Pokemon have already been doing really well lately thanks to the energy acceleration of both Pikachu & Zekrom Tag Team GX, Boltund V, and Tapu Koko Prism Star. So... where does a new Stage 1 fit into all this? What can it provide that those other cards don't?
I personally think that the Pikarom deck as we know it does just fine without Electrode. But, perhaps some more niche lightning attackers like Morpeko VMAX (swsh1-80) or Pikachu VMAX (swsh4-44) can benefit from going behind on the prize exchange by structuring their decks to take more advantage of cards like Reset Stamp or Lt. Surge's Strategy. And if we want to get even more exciting, Martial Arts Dojo can provide +40 damage to any attacker that was just powered up from Buzzap Generator, assuming of course your attack cost has a colorless in it somewhere that can be fulfilled with a basic fighting energy.
Sidestepping your opponent's active Pokemon and instead dealing damage to benched Pokemon has been present in all of the standard formats I can recall from the past 15 years—but it's not often that a single card directly affects the amount of damage done. I mean, sure, there were some mild shenanigans in 2015 with Wide Lens (xy6-95) allowing Landorus-EX (bw7-89)to put an extra 30 damage various unsuspecting fighting-weak bench sitters, or Galvantula (xy11-42) in 2016 with it's unique Double Thread attack (which basically provides the Wide Lens (xy6-95) for you) punishing two benched Froakie at a time, but neither of those were that impactful on the metagame.
Telescopic Sight (swsh4-160), however, may be a different story. No longer are we dependent on weakness for extra damage—instead, it's just a simple +30 on the big guys, GXs and Vs. Immediately my attention went to Cramorant V (swsh1-155), who already had the impressive capability of doing 160 to any benched Pokemon for 3 Colorless. It's a famous Dedenne-GX (sm10-57) sniper and underrated VMAX 2HKOer, if they had 320HP or less. But now, the threat is even greater! Attaching this tool card now puts Crobat V (swsh3-104), Eldegoss V, and Oricorio-GX (sm12-95) all within range of a Spit Shot. Seeing as nearly one hundred percent of standard decks plays at least one of those cards, this is huge. Cramorant may now even have an opportunity to be the star of his own show, and not just an extra in the Blacephalon Bonanza.
Tag Bolt GX is another notable attack that deals big bench damage and can technically take advantage of Telescopic Sight, but again, Pikarom as a deck is already so fine-tuned that it may not be a necessary strategy to win. Instead I think we should look at lesser attackers who could really use the boost to become a formidable deck on their own, such as:
Now this card hasn't necessarily blown anyone's mind, and I doubt anyone else would consider it within their Top 10 Vivid Voltage cards, but I wanted to mention it here specifically because it is so uniquely poised within the metagame.
Cards that say "prevent damage from your opponent's ___ Pokemon" are nothing new at all, but are almost always present in the form of Poke-Bodies or Abilities. Some have been good, and some have lived in the binder their entire lives. It's not often that this same effect is present from the use of an attack. Jolteon EX EVO and Glaceon-EX (xy10-20) saw some individual success as tech attackers in box-style decks, and more recently, Obstagoon SSH enjoyed a brief stint in the competitive circuit until more decks VMAX archetypes emerged. Speaking of which, Zamazenta's Amazing Shield prevents damage from exactly those Pokemon! If you can find a way to reliably fulfill the LFM attack cost (like Tapu Koko Prism Star + Karate Belt + attach), it's the best Eternatus counter in the game available. You easily score a OHKO, and then cannot be return KO'd by the next.
Outside of the Eternatus matchup, Zamazenta (swsh4-102) is a great option for any deck that specifically attempts to power up these new amazing rares. You'll never rely solely on Amazing Shield to carry you through a game, but the effect is too good not to include. I would say as a whole, cards that prevent damage from VMAX Pokemon will only get better with each new release, so long as they keep printing them.
I love how every so often, the Pokemon Company prints a number of cards in the same set that clearly synergize with one another, as if the game designers are attempting to create an archetype on their own. In DEX, it was Garchomp and Altaria. In Boundaries Crossed, it was Blastoise (bw7-31) and Keldeo-EX (bw7-49). In Roaring Skies, we got Shaymin-EX (xy6-77), M Rayquaza EX, and Sky Field (xy6-89). Night March and Mad Party are clear examples too, and these 5 all did very well in their respective formats! In Vivid Voltage, it's Whimsicott (swsh4-76) and Garbodor (swsh4-111). I'll only be focusing on the former, however.
Unlike a typical Tool Drop attack of years past, Flying Fury does 10 + 40 damage for each tool discarded from each of your Pokemon. And without anything like Sigilyph PLB's Toolbox Ability or the ΘDouble ancient trait available, we're capped at 250 damage, assuming our bench is full and everyone has a tool attached. But for 1 psychic energy on a Stage 1, that's incredibly formidable. So long as you can consistently attack with a steady stream of Whimsicott (swsh4-76) and replenish a field of tools, you should come out ahead on the prize trade against the format's most popular decks. U-Turn Board is our best friend here, coming back to our hand immediately after being discarded by our own attack (or an opponent's Tool Scrapper). Flying Fury should always at least do 170 damage, assuming you can't find anything else, and that you have a way to get them back if your opponent uses Marnie to place them all on the bottom of your deck (Greedent RCL comes to mind). Other tools to consider are Lucky Egg or Island Challenge Amulet for any benched Dedenne-GX (sm10-57) or Oricorio-GX (sm12-95) you might be using to set up.
So what gives—why no Garbodor (swsh4-111)? I know it seems like a match made in heaven. Flying Fury discards the tools and does a lot of damage, Trash Cyclone shuffles them all back in and does a lot of damage. But, please consider the space available in your deck. The introduction of Garbodor (swsh4-111) is now another Stage 1 line you have to include, which is 4-6 spots. Plus, you should now be playing Twin Energy (which Whimsicott (swsh4-76) can't even use), another 4 spots. All of this has added a lot of clunk to the deck, without providing additional win conditions that couldn't have been accomplished by Whimsicott (swsh4-76) itself.
Ever since Pokemon changed the first-turn rules preventing us from attacking, there have been a handful of cards (Latios-EX (xy6-58) and Pheromosa-GX (sm5-158) that sidestep this rule with an attack that explicitly states otherwise. For balance reasons, these attacks have been cheap and didn't do a lot of damage, at least in the standard format. In my experience, these cards were only ever included in decks if it was believed that the metagame in any given tournament would provide them with lots of 30-40HP Pokemon to donk on the first turn. Otherwise, they simply weren't worth the space.
Talonflame V (swsh4-29) is the first attack of this nature that I actually feel can make a difference. First, it's a very supportive attack. For just one colorless energy, you can set up with what is essentially the effect of Dedechange without having to place a vulnerable Pokemon onto your bench.
Second, free retreat! It goes without saying how crucial this is in streamlining your gameplay, meaning that an active Talonflame is never intrusive or inconvenient. This card is the definition of "splashable", as literally any deck could add a copy to its ranks and reap the potential consistency benefits.
Lastly, Bright Wing is actually a surprisingly nice second attack to have. Typically support Pokemon aren't contributing to the "take prize cards" strategy, but Talonflame can OHKO all of the popular metal and grass type Pokemon, of which there are many. There is little to no reason not to play this card if you're already playing Welder in your deck.
I'm excited for a lot of these cards, and expect them to be tons of fun to play. I do my best to stray away from any pessimism when I can, but my general sense with Vivid Voltage is that its impact likely won't be felt until many of these more powerful cards rotate. Despite my love of the game currently, flexibility and creativity when it comes to deck building feel a bit static at the moment. It is still my belief that we are caught in an awkward intermediary period here, and that things will improve after the rest of the Tag Team Pokemon rotate and we're just left with Vs and VMAXs.
I agree with Brit completely—this set is a great example of cards that will be a lot better later. Take it from us, sometimes cards don't get their day in the sun until many months or years after their initial release. It's important to keep an eye on not just which cards help you beat today's metagame, but also those that sit patiently in the binder until the format grows/shifts in their favor. Celebi (hgss4-92) was printed in 2010, but didn't see play until much later in 2012 where it became a heavy influence on the game!
We hope you've enjoyed UNDNTD's point of view on the new Pokemon. Keep an eye out for more commentary in the coming weeks!