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João Lopes

Evolution of Standard

Now that a new set is legal, let's look back at the evolution of Standard up until now so we can better comprehend how it might change in the near future.

11/27/2016 by João Lopes

I’m back!


It’s been 3000 years… That meme is still relevant, right?

If you’ve read my past articles then let me be the first to thank you for being part of the 60cards community for so long. I hope you’re enjoying your stay! If you’re new here then you may not know me at all. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

Due to me being very busy, it was hard to find time for Pokémon which limited my research for writing – hey, in my mind quality wins versus quantity – so I took a year off.  Did I stop playing Pokémon all together? Of course not, I still watched some tournaments and actually came back to playing in time for the first Portuguese/Spain joint Nationals. A bigger tournament than previous Nationals with fierce competition coming from our neighbor country? How could I pass that?

I actually did well since I found a deck which I love playing: Greninja. I made an effort to invest quite some time testing and managed to place top 4 and earned an invite to Worlds – not bad! Well, to be fair, I only stopped playing for a season and occasionally watched tournaments so I’m not sure this can be considered a comeback but it was enough to get me to compete in San Francisco and to light the “fire” in me.

You know what the “fire” is, right? It’s the that thing that propels you to want to be the best at whatever you do, be it sports, school, work and even games like Pokémon TCG.

Some say the “fire” is the single thing that distinguishes average players from the top ones. It is the “fire” that brings you that desire to be better, that lifts you up even after a crushing defeat. That feeling that makes you move forward and keep trying.

Are you travelling to some Regionals or even the London International?  Did the big tournaments and even bigger prize pools spark in you a burning desire to go and win it all? Then, my friend, you may have the “fire”.

Now, just having the “fire” is just the start: now we must use this willpower to find the strength to improve ourselves (sounds like I’m a football coach). First, we need information. We need to learn and guide our playtesting so it can be more effective.

Here’s what we’re going to be discussing today. I decided to divide the information in some sort of sub article titles since this text is more a continued thought:


There’s two ways to approach tournament results:

We can look at rough numbers – results, decklists, win percentages – or we can try to figure out what led the players to choose the decks they did and why did some  deck came out on top and why other’s didn’t.

Both are very important but today we are going to focus in the second option. We are going over the evolution of the ever changing metagame, what’s in the player’s mind, what does work, what doesn’t and what may work in the future.  We’re going to analyze the past and the present so we can be one step ahead in the future.

Let’s go.


Dark dominating again?

So, it seems that Yveltal is still that go-to deck whenever a format is still being defined.

No matter how much we did know about Mega Mewtwo with Garbodor and Volcanion, a fresh Standard format with a very impactful rotation will have some sort of unpredictAbility that is often not taken into account.

We can all agree that Mega Mewtwo, Volcanion, Rainbow Road and Mega Rayquaza – the predicted top dogs for these tournaments – are, in fact, really strong archetypes and they WILL be played until the metagame shifts in a way that some of these deck no longer become viable. However, they are also big targets to counters and some other lesser known archetypes or new builds might come up and caught people off guard.  

First of all, let’s address the counters decks. Do they work? Well, more often than not they don’t.  Why? Exactly due the unpredictAbility factor that these early tournaments have: what if you don’t face what you were expecting to counter? What if a new archetype takes over the tournament? What if you face other counter decks?

The nature of counter decks is that they rarely have a proactive plan: they mostly react to what your opponent has in play. While this may work and may push some of the top decks away, it is ultimately a gamble and only effective in a very stale metagame – which is definitely not the case. Regardless, some people will focus on these types of decks (mainly because they dream of being famous rogue builders, proud of having something they cooked up or just to be different from the crowd) and some will even incorporate counters in for techs in established decks.

This is where the new or unexpected archetypes come in. When the format is trying to counter itself, decks either become less optimized or face people who came prepared for those exact matchups. So, a new archetype or an old one that is proven to be effective become good choices while players are still exploring the format.

Such is the case of Darkrai/Giratina and Yveltal based decks.

Mega destroyer! Or is it?

Darkrai/Giratina was, without any shadow of doubt, the most successful deck at the Orlando Regionals. The deck was prepared to face a horde of Mega Pokémon decks and, of course, Volcanion, and it payed of! However, I’m not confident that the deck will have any success past that tournament.

“Why not?” You ask.

Well, was it a great call for Orlando Regionals? Certainly! Is it a top tier deck? In my opinion, no.

Since then, the metagame has changed a lot. Not only that, while not many people expected Darkrai/Giratina to be a top contender in Orlando, now players are aware of it and will prepare against it.

The most popular deck going into Dortmund Regionals was Mega Gardevoir (Steam Siege) which only become more powerful with the addition of the new Dragonite-EX – a card almost precisely tailored for that deck. What does Gardy beat easily? That’s right, Darkrai/Giratina. With a very unfortunate combination of Weakness/Resistance from the Mega Gardevoir, it is a very, VERY tough matchup. Not only that, Gardevoir keeps Mewtwo in check – an even easier matchup for the fairy lady in a dress – which was one of the reasons to play Darkrai/Giratina.

But wait! There’s more!

Volcanion, the deck that would be countered Garbodor actually isn’t. How? Let’s think about it:

Volcanion-EX does 130 damage so even under a Parallel City it will 2HKO a Giratina or Darkrai equipped with Fighting Fury Belt.

Darkrai and Giratina will always 2HKO Volcanion-EX at best since the Volcanion deck will always put them under pressure.

Volcanion-EX is charged by the non-EX Volcanion, the list is smoother and is much more likely to hit Max Elixirs.

Darkrai/Giratina has to set up a Garbodor otherwise it will lose the game with makes keeping up with the damage rage a much harder task.

Yes, if you’re Volcanion player facing Darkrai/Giratina and just ignore the Garbodor, you will most likely win.

So, a deck that has bad matchups against the most popular decks in the metagame? I don’t think this archetype has a bright future ahead of it…

But what about Yveltal? Well, that’s a different story.

Whether it's BDIF or not, it's ever present in the meta.

Fright Night Yveltal is king in this metagame

It might not me an overpowered attacker, but this bird of darkness slows down pretty much every deck in Standard making its sniping damage accumulate to levels that are hard to deal with.

Let’s take a look at what my Azul Garcia Griego used to take down Orlando Regionals:

Instead of focusing on Oblivion Wing Yveltal, Azul used primarily Fright Night Yveltal to slow down Mega Pokémon and lock heavy retreaters who rely on Float Stone. With this, it was easy for him to set up knock outs with the help of the Yveltal-EX.

The strategy of keep setting up multiple Yveltal and slowdown the opponent while   evolution of the archetype. In fact, Gonçalo Ferreira took down the Liverpool League Cup by just focusing on this strategy alone. Take a look at his list.

Instead of going for a Garbodor line, Gonçalo focused solely on getting as much snipe damage as he could with Yveltal and then finished the job with Yveltal-EX. Since most of the important Abilities happen in a specific turn or in the first turn of the game, Garbodor seemed less effective than Hex Maniac and counter intuitive considering the thick line of Fright Night Yveltal and Mew. Instead, the control of board and the incredible prize swing with Umbreon-EX and Absol and the 1-prize trades with Mew had him keeping up with the burst speed of some decks like Mega Gardevoir and Volcanion.

So will we seeing a decline from the decks that use Garbodor? Well, consider the top deck at the moment: Mega Gardevoir-EX.

Mega Gardevoir, BDIF?

This is the list that started it all. Previously only a few had tried this concept but when Mees posted his version of the deck, suddenly everyone started testing this deck. This caused a major format shift.

The flavor of this deck is simple: use all the burst draw Standard has available for you, use the bench clearing for Pokémon recycle, abuse Weakness and Resistance.

This deck alone is pushing Mega Mewtwo and Darkrai/Giratina to the sidelines and the new addition of Dragonite is going increase its effectiveness and, of course, it’s popularity. Not only that, the option to use Rattata multiple times (discard with Despair Ray, bring it back with Dragonite) makes sure that Fighting Fury Belt is not a sure way to survive an attack from Mega Gardevoir.

Our Queen

Another implication of the new popularity of this deck is that we have an old star, Mega Rayquaza, coming back to the scene. This guy took down the Liverpool Regionals due to one simple factor: Rayquaza knocks out Mega Gardevoir in one hit and cannot be OHKO’d back. While the sky dragon has problems against Giratina decks, those are being kept in check by Mega Gardevoir. Expect Mega Rayquaza decks to keep showing up.

It seemed that Garbodor has become sort of obsolete. The major partners of this Pokémon (Mega Mewtwo and Darkrai/Giratina) are now very risky plays and even Mega Scizor has to be lucky to avoid facing any Volcanion decks. Even Yveltal has been proven to work better by abusing Fright Night and its consistency. Suddenly, the big bad trash bag has fallen a bit out of flavor.  

Dortmund told another story. Predicting a metagame of Mega Gardevoir and some other Pokémon with crucial Abilities to be played (like Rattata and Electrode from the new set), Yveltal-EX and Garbodor made the dream pairing. However, it might as well be a momentary shift in the meta (as we've seen from the transition from Orlando Regionals to Liverpool Regionals) and Yveltal/Garbodor might be losing its spot as king of the hill once again. If that happens, do you know who would be really happy? That’s right, Greninja.

Greninja: why is it still played?

Ah, Greninja… One of my favorite decks that I have ever played. A deck that requires patience and skill but it is very rewarding (though the mirror has got to be the most frustrating matchup ever, unfortunately). Sadly, Greninja was hit pretty hard with the loss of any form of tool removal in this last rotation. Greninja is the first deck to have 58/59 cards of the list legal in Standard and somehow seem to be entirely rotated out.

Can it survive the Garbodor menace?

Some teams and individual players that tested extensively for the Orlando Regionals predicted Greninja to have a break out performance. While that wasn't true for that specific tournament, Greninja showed up in big numbers in both European Regionals. Why is that? Why would a deck that loses to Garbodor be a good pick in a format ruled by Garbodor?

Yes, Greninja is a risky pick in Standard even though it has the potential to beat any deck without Garbodor. But even then, shouldn’t the popularity of Garbodor be enough for players to consider Greninja an unplayable deck?

Well, it is true that Greninja has a really tough time against a Garbodor that was successfully set up before the stage 2’s come out. However, Greninja without the Ability is not completely useless. Let’s look at some stats and scenarios:

First of all, Greninja deals 80 damage for one energy.  Since when is that a bad cost/damage ratio? You have to factor the Bursting Balloons. Without any way to remove tools, those pesky balloons stick to your ninjas and give a headache to your opponent as if the frustration of taking one prize when taking out each ninja wasn’t enough.

“But what if you’re facing a Fright Night Yveltal?” Then then don’t have a Garbodor active, do they? Bring out the Break and wreck his field. The only true change in the archetype is that instead of having two different approaches when build a Greninja list (pure consistency with Jirachi/Talonflame with Balloons) there’s only one viable way to play the deck right now.

Let’s look at my sample list:

The format is filled with basic Pokémon-EX carrying Fighting Fury Belt, and Mega Pokémon with 210/220 HP. The magical number of this season is 220 and that’s what a player should have in mind when building a deck.

When it comes to Greninja, we all know the possibilities that Giant Water Shuriken gives this deck: it’s so powerful it can turn any match around. But now we have to take into account how to get to that magical number without any Abilities.

Two Moonlight Slash plus an activation of Bursting Balloon equals 220 – The magic number – and that’s over two turns, pretty much on par with the damage dealing speed of the rest of the dominating archetypes. You also have to take into account Talonflame’s damage. Sure it doesn’t do much, the best thing about its attack is the help it gives you while setting up and preparing your comeback. However, 40 damage makes a huge difference in knocking out whatever Pokémon you just hit:

If you hit a Shaymin, you just need Lysandre plus Moonlight Slash;

If you hit a Trubbish, you can just hit it again next turn before it turns to a Garboor while still having the benefits of Aero Blitz. If it does evolve into a Garbodor, Greninja can finish it off;

if you hit a normal Pokémon-EX, a Bursting Balloon followed by a Moonlight Slash is enough to knock it out;

if you hit a Mega, two Moonlight Slash plus a hit from Faded Town (or two Faded Town hits, Bursting Balloon and one Moonlight Slash) reach the magical 220 damage.

It also negates the damage reduction of Parallel City over two turns. Even so, I think it is worth to run at least two faded towns. Parallel City is used in most decks and that stadium paired with Garbodor makes Greninja lose the race quickly. Sure, any other Stadium that is not named Parallel City could do the same job but right now, Faded Town is the most useful (Silent Lab very rarely has any impact on the game, Faded Town can make Megas easier to knock out, as explained above).

So, a lot of damage potential, non-ex attackers, cheap and reliable attacks, solutions against bad matchups and great recover Ability thanks to N and Ace Trainer. What’s so bad about the deck?

Well, those are precisely the reasons why many players predicted Greninja to do well. That and the fact that Volcanion was expected to be popular due to it being a simple, fun and cheap deck to build. However, with so much Garbodor, one must consider the possibility of going through the whole tournament without being able to use Giant Water Shuriken. In that case, we’re left wondering: is it the best deck at doing the 2HKO job?

If you think about it, Garchomp – a deck that has the exact same shell has Greninja – can have the exact same damage output has Greninja with one energy (Strong Energy is there to help), does not have to worry about Parallel City, in fact, it can USE IT to improve some of its matchups and has the potential to get OHKO’s with its second attack under Ability lock. Sure, it doesn’t have Frogadier, the dream Stage 1 Pokémon, but Gabite can prove to be quite useful at locking a Pokémon with high retreat cost in the active position only to evolve and knocking it out next turn. Garchomp and other stage two's like it lack, however, two crucial tools available only to the ninja frog Pokémon: Shadow Stitching to prevent the heavy burst of draw power that make Mega Gardevoir such a feared deck; Giant Water Shuriken - not because of the raw damage (as we've noticed, Garchomp can pull the same or even higher numbers of damage) but because it's flexible in a metagame filled with Shaymin-EX sitting on the bench and lots of retreat options that save attackers from non-sniping damage.

Dortmund Regionals revealed that people are reacting to this: though Darkrai/Giratina in no longer played as much as some players expected it to, Garbodor has found a home in a more stable deck. Yveltal Garbodor triumphed in Orlando - as we've discussed above - and came back in high numbers in the latest Regionals in Dortmund. So, anyone considering Greninja can be sure to have an edge against many popular decks. But be prepared to make a lot of those 2HKO while under Ability lock calculations if the metagame has really shift back to be Garbodor filled.

Volcanion: what is its position in the meta?

 To the surprise of noone, it's a great deck.

Still on the topic of two-hit knockouts while under Ability lock, Volcanion does just that with ease. It shares the same weakness to Parallel City, of course, but, if you really want to get around it, Scorched Earth is a solution that actually improves your set-up. Also, Volcanion is much better at getting rid of Garbodor since the non-ex Volcanion can easily OHKO the Trubbish in the first turns of the game with Power Heater as well as knock out Garbodor with Steam Artillery. As we know, while not under Ability lock, Volcanion can achieve OHKO’s with little effort. Let’s look at a list that made it to the top 8 of Orlando Regionals in the hands of Daniel Lopez:

It seems that Daniel Lopez came to the same conclusions as me while testing Volcanion.

The first version of this archetype popped up before the rotation (we even saw some players bringing Volcanion to Worlds). After the rotation hit, some “staples” remained in most builds without question. As the format matured, it became quite apparent that list are packing a little too much stuff that is not needed. Prime examples? A full line of non-ex Volcanion and Flareon-EX.

I like Flareon-EX a lot. However, I’ve got to say that it doesn’t add much to this deck. Sure, the Ability is very good and, unlike Volcanion-EX, it can use it again and again. But really, what does Flareon do, that Volcanion can’t?

The only thing that bothers me about this list is the absence of Stadium cards. Yes, there’s a Parallel City in the list, but that’s it. It’s a single copy so if you don’t get it out in the first turns of the game, it becomes impossible to counter your opponent’s Parallel City. Since this is a deck that is really affected by that Stadium, the decision to run no counters to it seems weird. Personally, I would like to see a least a couple Stadiums in a Volcanion list but Daniel must have had his reasons to not fear enemy Stadiums.

Another counter card this deck is lacking is Pokémon Ranger. Now, there is no doubt that the deck does not need to run Ranger to keep attacking with Volcanion, there’s no shortage of switching cards. But what about Jolteon-EX? Speaking of witch most of these deck do not have a solution for Jolteon, do they?

The mere EXISTENCE of Pokémon Ranger turns out to be the best counter to Jolteon-EX. Can you really be confident using a deck that solely relies on Jolteon/Glaceon lock?

Turns out you can! 

So, does this Volcanion list lose automatically against a lone Jolteon-EX? Yes. But then again, that is not a likely scenario. It’s clear to see that Daniel chose to focus on building a fast proactive list rather than worry about making sure the deck has no weaknesses. As the results show, it worked pretty well for him.

Closing Thoughts

That was a lot to take in… Let’s recap, shall we?

The yearly rotation produces, by definition, a new and fresh metagame. Although the strategies/decks that are prone to be the most successful seem pretty obvious at first, more often than not a surprising fresh brew of new decks or updated versions of old unexpected archetypes come out on top. This year, Mewtwo was bound to be the undeniable king of the game with Rayquaza and Mega Scizor following. Everything else was doomed to fall before the big three. Turns out that the format isn’t that simple, eh?

Since the metagame is never stale coming from a recent rotation – and even more when a new expansion has just been released, it is not a good practice to try to counter everything: if you mispredict the field, you’re left with a reactive deck that is frail when compared to any other proactive strategy that you failed to counter. Instead, play to your strengths: pick one of the decks we talked about – the one who suits your playstyle the best – and practice a lot with it.

Until we conclude the real tier list of the Standard metagame, straight consistent strategies are more dominant just for the fact that they’re more resilient against surprises rogue lists or strange techs that were unaccounted for. And since we have a new expansion coming, I don’t think that true tier list will come soon.

However, don’t be discouraged: if you are a deck builder, a tester, one who likes to be the innovator, I’ve got some advice for you: playtest, playtest, playtest.

This is an analysis meant for those who want to play events in the near future (like an upcoming Regional).Like I said, it’s easy to check the last results but unless you consider why are those the top decks, why are those being played, why have certain decks fallen out of fashion, etc. It’s becomes easy to misjudge the metagame and make a bad pick for the next big tournament.

If you got the time to test those brand new meta-breaking decks –say, you’re testing for the London International - go ahead! Ideas are always good on paper but even with a lot of experience, it is easy to misjudge the viAbility of a deck without sufficient testing. Put a lot of work into your decks, don’t be afraid to scratch out ideas when they don’t work, reflect upon each change in your list and play a few games before further changing the list. Even if you play against strange decks (or even theme decks) in the PTCGO ladder, everything counts.

Whatever your deck idea is, set your goal to create the most consistent, proactive deck you can make. That is your best weapon against a wide unexplored meta that is always changing.

Will Gardevoir be the best deck in Standard? Will Yveltal win another big tournament? With time, tournaments will weed out bad decks, players will improve their list and the metagame will slowly become more and more defined.  When the top dogs of the format have been discovered, teching might be a good idea to stay ahead of the game.

But this is now, that is then.

Keep playing, keep testing, keep enjoying the Standard metagame, and keep enjoying Pokémon.

João Lopes

Get out there!


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