Experts' corner

Daniel Altavilla

Steam Me Up (Steam Me Up Inside) - Volcanion and Why I Love It + Cloud Duck

Daniel goes into detail about a popular deck, Volcanion-EX, and a rogue deck, M Altaria-EX, for the competitive scene.

12/28/2016 by Daniel Altavilla

Hey there, 60 Cards readers! It's been a long time, but fret no longer as I'm finally back to award your wait with quality competitive content! So now that we've seen so many shifts in the meta and we've had so many PRC-EVO tournaments under way, we all seem to be in agreement about the meta.

Table of contents

The top 3 decks according to the consensus would  be:
1. Yveltal/Garbodor
2. Volcanion
3. Greninja

Now, while Greninja is hardly a top 3 deck as far as being consistent, it has yielded insane results and will continue to do so because if enough players pilot it, it's bound to do well. But my article isn't about Greninja, since personally I think the deck isn't fun to play, isn't fun to watch, and isn't fun to face. I think the deck is linear and brainless. While the players who have chosen to pilot the deck have been incredible, I think the deck severely limits a player's ability to make strong plays and many players use the "N and Pray" method (playing N as much as possible until your opponent has a poor hand, and then setting up in the time it takes them to recover), which is actually a slap in the face to the game of Pokemon. You are actually taking the intricacies of each player and of the game and dumbing everything down to RNG, which isn't something I advocate. Anyways getting off of my tangent, let me get into Volcanion and why I think it's the best deck in the format.

There's no "I" in Steam!

Volcanion is a deck with many different strategies. The ability to put 2 energies on two different Pokemon allows you to run any attacker you can fathom. That's why players like the Spanish man who made top 8 in Europe run Salamence-EX and do well, while players like Ahmed Ali from Georgia can run Dragonite-EX or Entei AOR and do well.
Volcanion also can be built in many different ways and remain consistent. This is why it prospered before Max Elixir. It's why Daniel Lopez made top 8 in Orlando WITH Max Elixir. It's why Zander Bennett did well with Bursting Balloons and why Andrew Ramey did well with Weakness Policies. The deck just can't be built poorly!

I wholeheartedly believe that Volcanion is the most consistent deck in the format.
There have been multiple lists that were 5 or more cards off of each other in top 8 at 3 different large-scale tournaments, and that has to be noticed. The deck is constantly changing to adapt to the meta. While a deck like Yveltal/Garb has the same exact thing going on:

1. A Stage 1 pokemon that can't attack and requires a Pokemon Tool to operate
2. An attacker that is susceptible to Enhanced Hammer
3. Weakness to Jolteon-EX and an inability to KO Jolteon-EX in one attack consistently

Volcanion beats out Yveltal on many fronts because Crushing Hammers/Enhanced Hammers don't do much to hurt it. You're almost impervious to Mill strategies that rely on Energy removal, thanks to baby Volcanion STS. The closest comparable thing to Garbodor in Volcanion is Hoopa-EX, which is actually consistent because it can set up your field with one Ultra Ball. Jolteon-EX never poses a threat to Volcanion, as you can always OHKO it. If the Jolteon player has Garbodor on the field preventing Steam Up, you can simply take your time KOing the garb because Jolteon has to 3 shot your Volcanion.

The target on Yveltal's back shifted the meta in a way that favors Volcanion. Decks like Vespiquen, Jolteon/Pidgeot/Garb and Gardevoir-EX variants gaining popularity allows for Volcanion to gain even more good matchups.

Volcanion is a deck that runs 11-12 Basic Energy rather than 9 Basics and 4 Specials, meaning you rarely miss Max Elixir. When you do, it barely matters, but when you don't, you can donk EXs, and that's an insane option. Volcanion is similar to Yveltal in the way that it can't always draw "dead". Sometimes an Yveltal player can steal a game just by having Energy. You don't even need a Supporter card to apply pressure through your attacks. This is similar for Volcanion, and why you usually have enough freedom to play Fisherman, Pokemon Ranger, or Olympia on a whim.

Another thing I appreciate about the deck is how easy the mirror match is. Usually an Yveltal mirror match comes down to the wire and it gets as close as what you draw off of N and how you manage your finite resources. In the Volcanion mirror, it comes down to your Elixirs. If you can set up 2 Volcanion-EX before your opponent and if you can Lysandre up their Volcanion-EX, you can win as simple as that. Volcanion in mirror can literally be described through a Flow Chart. Did I Set Up an Attacker with the Potential to Set Up Another? Yes? Did I Lysandre my opponent's attacker and retaliate to the 2nd one he/she has? No? Pray my opponent can't flip the script and apply the pressure to me. It's almost as simple as the Night March mirror!

The last thing I can think of that makes Volcanion attractive to me is the skill gap. It's very noticeable whether a player knows how to pilot his or her Volcanion deck, and I love that. When a player like Ahmed Ali can beat Gyarados with the deck, and a player like Andrew Ramey can beat anybody if his draws allow, while other people running the deck are 0-3 dropping or sitting at the bottom tables constantly, it has to be assumed that they just can't pilot the deck as well as a better player. When the deck is so consistent, but so many players are failing with the deck, their matchup knowledge or microdecisions or something has to be lacking. A deck that was considered BDIF at one point, and is actually stronger than BDIF when a great player pilots it, is the kind of deck I wouldn't mind playing in a 9-round tournament. 

Hopefully what I've said about Volcanion is agreeable!

My list for the steam beast is 59 cards alike to Ahmed's current list. I feel he is the Volcanion pioneer and I seriously don't doubt that he is the best Volcanion player in the game. Here it is:


The one thing that probably stands out the most about this list is the low count of Energy Retrieval. The card specifically helps in situations where you need to play a draw supporter card but you also need Fire Energy, or to help you get that extra last couple of Steam Ups, or even to turn an N to 1 and a top deck into a 3rd card, allowing you to play Ultra Ball for Shaymin-EX. So Energy Retrieval has some very clutch uses, but it also bogs down our consistency. We're trying to keep our deck steamlined, after all! So Ahmed and his testing group realized that with only 2 Energy Retrieval you're still able to hit it when you need it most and you also don't have to worry about being stuck with one in the early turns too often. There's also the unpopular but still apparent idea that the less copies of a card you play, the statistically less chance you have of starting the card in the opening hand(s), meaning you are less likely to discard it with Professor Sycamore. (This notion was why Daniel Lynch and TJ Traquair have played multiple tournaments with only 3 VS Seeker.)

Another thing I like about the deck that isn't standard is Salamence-EX. Our angry lizard friend is what I feel gives us the biggest shot at winning the EX/Garb matchups. Sally allows us to keep hitting big numbers even under Ability lock and his investment is very minimal, as you're literally setting up another attacker behind him. He also gives us a greater (yet not too substantial) shot at the mirror match. If our opponent in the mirror sets up 2 Volcanion-EX, but we set up one Volcanion-EX and one Salamence, I'd assume that if they can't OHKO the Salamence, we would probably have an edge in the game. They're forced to play down EXs as they dig through their deck for Max Elixir, and while doing so they're playing down a hefty amount of energy. This makes it scary because now they have to use Steam Up to OHKO when they threw the Steam Up gameplan to the backburners. While it doesn't help that matchup substantially, it still puts a dent in it, and with all the talk going around of Yveltal/Garb wanting to run 4 Yveltal-EX and 0/1 Yveltal BKT, I'd be comfortable with Salamence in my deck for that matchup, too.

Our last weird card would be the singleton Enhanced Hammer. Special Energy hate has been particularly easy to include in anything and it's been a great way to bring your opponent to a screeching halt while they're trying to build momentum. This is why Yveltal decks play 2 along with Team Flare Grunt! While we don't have the gall to devote 3 slots just to Jolteon-EX and Yveltal-EX, we still have a nice time with just one Enhanced Hammer. It can also help us tremendously against M Mewtwo-EX/Garbodor, which, while the worst version of Mewtwo, is still ever present in any tournament as players often never give up on the first deck deemed "BDIF" every new format. Enhanced Hammer alleviates a couple of matchups simply by giving us the extra turn we need!

Matchups for Volcanion

Speaking of matchups, let me explain the ins and outs of each important matchup and why I feel Volcanion has no problem with them:

Yveltal/Garbodor - 60/40

This matchup could easily be a 40/60 for a player who doesn't understand what their priorities are in this matchup, and even then, some players see it as a 50/50 or still unfavorable for Volcanion. I personally find it a little favorable for us, as all you have to do is hunt out Garbodor and then Yveltal-EX can't do anything against you. Hunting out Garb can be done by a baby Volcanion too, making it even less of a commitment for you. If I was playing this matchup right now my game plan would be to see if I can overwhelm my Opponent's Yveltal BKT with Volcanion-EX, or attempt to pull up Trubbish ASAP and KO it early. But if neither of these things were possible, I'd probably have to just bench a 2nd baby Volcanion STS and slowly charge up a Steam Artillery. You literally do not need to bench down Volcanion-EX until the Garbodor is gone. It's possible you can bench one after pressure has been applied to your opponent's first Yveltal BKT in hopes of coercing them into setting up another, but often you really don't want them on the field. The sad reality is that you'll more than likely start an EX Pokemon as your beginning Basic, so you pretty much have to put your eggs into the same basket and try as hard as you can to KO that Trubbish. With 2 Escape Rope and 2 Lysandre and Steam Up giving you bigger Set Ups, I doubt you miss it TOO often, though. And if everything goes awry, just sit back and let Salamence start 2-shotting them without needing Ranger or Olympia to keep the pressure on.

Mirror - 55/45

The +/- 5 literally comes from Sally. I think this matchup is a glorious one as I stated above, because it's over so quick most of the time. The only RNG involved in this matchup is hitting it during the Lunch Break round so that you get an extra 30 minutes. But seriously, just play smart and you'll almost always come out on top during the games that you draw well.

Greninja - 60/40, (50/50 without Enhanced Hammer)

Why is it that Greninja gets that much better with 1 slot? Well, I think it's because they need every single Splash they can get their hands on, so denying them a Greninja or a Greninja BREAK out of nowhere just bursts their bubble, so to speak. You literally overwhelm them, and Splash is their only hope to make it out of the round alive, assuming that they don't have any niche techs. I also think Greninja is just inconsistent and won't set up too much, so even if they get through 2 Volcanion-EX, you can probably just close the game out with a 3rd as they'll dead draw at some point and set themselves behind. As for us, yes, we can also draw poorly, but it's less likely when we can just burn through our deck so efficiently.

Another deciding factor in this matchup is whether they decide to play Talonflame. If they're running Flame and they can't get down 2 Froakie, you need such a minimal investment to KO their one Froakie, so more often than other decks this will be accomplishable. It's pretty nice putting yourself up a prize or two before they even get a chance to use Water Duplicates, because if you're up more than 2 prizes when they get Greninja going and you can keep recovering off of N, you're in an outstanding position and they probably can't close the game out on you.

Rainbow Road - 60/40

This matchup is very simple. You have a one-prize attacker which can OHKO their one-prize attacker, which is quite literally why Rainbow Road could never beat Night March. The turn that they whiff an attack, you just Lysandre an EX Pokemon up and push ahead in the prize trade. If they bench Genesect-EX FCO, you have an easy 2 prizes on the board for the entire game. You can also OHKO their Volcanion-EX with your own, and as long as you have a Fighting Fury Belt attached, they are most likely not going to be returning a KO that turn.

Jolteon/Garb Variants - 70/30

Jolteon/Garb has no consistency and no damage output. So you just take advantage of that by building up two Volcanion STS for Steam Artillery and then OHKOing Garb and then OHKOing Jolteon-EX. While you're only doing 20 damage at first, Pidgeot is a literal empty threat. Pretty free matchup unless they play Lab and can stick it in play, and even then it's still pretty free.

PlumeBox - 80/20, (90/10 going first)

You have attackers which can OHKO Plume for minimal investment. But more importantly, you have a Pokemon Ranger and 2 Lysandre. That's one...two...three ways to get around Flash Ray, ah ah ah! And even then, if the game permits, you can just KO two Plume and be able to use Items again.

M Rayquaza-EX - 70/30

You have an attacker which can OHKO M Rayquaza, and they can only set up 2 M Rayquaza. You also have a one prize attacker which can OHKO Shaymin-EX, and they always bench 3 Shaymin-EX. You also have Salamence. This matchup is foolproof, just don't let them surprise you with a Jolteon or anything and you'll be okay.

Darkrai/Dragons/Garbodor - 40/60

I feel that this matchup is just like Yveltal except that they're OHKOing your EXs while Yveltal is 2HKOing or more with Olympia. If you can hunt down Garbodor in the early turns, you'll be alright. Otherwise you will not be able to close out the game.

M Mewtwo-EX/Garbodor - 45/55 see above.

This matchup plays out the exact same, except that Mewtwo gets Garb out less consistently and you can take advantage of that. It's still a poor matchup, though.

I'm hoping that my matchup knowledge with Volcanion measured up with what some of you expected, and if not please message me with any questions you might have. For now though, let's give the steam puns a rest, and shoot over to the next deck I want to talk about, M Altaria-EX/Garbodor.

Making Cloud Angels

So, the ARG Invitational and two ARG Circuit Series tournaments just cleared up in Florida. This allowed plenty of players to showcase new and exciting decks, such as fellow 60Cards writer Michael Canaves' Aerodactyl FCO/Gallade BKT/Talonflame STS deck, a Vespiquen/Zebstrika build with Captivating Pokepuff, and even M Altaria-EX/Garbodor. This deck, at first glance, sounds horrible, but I understand it, and I'd like to share a quick draft of a list today.

I can't give credit where it is due, but hopefully the person who piloted this deck will come forward soon and allow themselves credit. For now though, let me show off the list I've crafted:

The idea of this deck is that the top tier in the Standard format will never shift. It is impossible in a 700-man tournament where 3 decks are so obviously better than the rest for the meta to shift -- those 3 decks will remain the best there is. So how do we build a deck that can defeat every top tier tech? Well, clearly, it requires Garbodor, Parallel City, resistance to Darkness, and the ability to heal your entire board for 30 damage each turn.

The matchups for this deck are really one-sided. Either you slaughter a deck or you don't. In your closer matchups, it comes down to whether your opponent can keep applying pressure substantial enough to prevent you from consistent healing.
This deck is essentially what Gardevoir always wanted to be, but better. It can run Salamence-EX, Regice AOR, Togekiss BKP, Glaceon-EX -- really anything that takes 1 colored energy and a Double Colorless is an okay attacker in here. It's comparable to Gardy as far as matchups go, but you don't have to struggle with the same decks. While I'm confident in my list, I've seen others that are built completely differently, and I know there's still room for improvement in the idea as a whole. But, for now, we still have a great spread. I'll get into matchups after I explain my counts:

4-3 M Altaria

So, any Mega deck is going to be inconsistent: You require a Spirit Link, a Basic Pokemon, and a Mega Pokemon. M Manectric-EX decks have suffered consistency issues for the last 2 years, and they were widely regarded as one of the most consistent decks! Not to mention, the Standard format we currently play in, as a whole, is inconsistent. This makes it almost equally important to run a 4-3 Mega line in a deck such as this as it is to run 4 Professor Sycamore. Long story short, unless I had a strong enough Basic attacker to rely on, such as Togekiss-EX BKP, I'd never drop the line to 3-3 or less.

2-2 Garbodor

Garbodor and Parallel as a combo in itself beats multiple decks in this format. Volcanion, Rayquaza, Rainbow Road, Greninja all fall prey to this combo. I wish Hex Maniac would be able to do the same thing for us, but we're a slow and steady deck, so setting up a Garbodor is something we're totally okay with doing.

1 Jolteon-EX

Jolteon is our little helper for anything Basic. Plumebox, Yvel Garb, Volcanion, and probably most importantly Darkrai/Dragons/Garb. It's kinda tough to compete with basic decks when we're so slow, but Jolteon alleviates these matchups just a bit more.

1 Umbreon-EX

Our little ray of Moonlight here is the one questionable inclusion I have here. In practice it can be very strong, but usually it's not easy to get going. The idea is that you take 4 prizes versus Mewtwo decks if they don't keep Damage Changing, which is hard to accomplish but if you can catch them it really applies enough to pressure to get you where you need to be in the matchup. It can help versus other megas, like Scizor, but that matchup is pretty god awful already.

1 Mewtwo EVO

This is a tech for not only Mewtwo decks, but for Yveltal. I just wanted some extra protection for these matchups and the go-to guy is our baby Mewtwo here. His damage output isn't amazing until your opponent is forced to overextend to KO your Altaria. Then, Mewtwo does some serious damage. This card can probably be switched out for Espeon EX to do a consistent 140 damage vs mewtwo (and attack through Regice AOR), or you could run Cresselia BKT, which also hits 140 consistently but has the heal 20 effect, having obvious synergy with the Mega Altaria attack.

4 Altaria Spirit Link

I don't think this count needs an explanation, I just wanted to share a quick rule of thumb. Usually, you're going to want to run an equal amount of Spirit Link cards to the amount of Basic Pokemon EX you run in the specific line. For example, a 3-3 line of Altaria would be better with only 3 Spirit Links, as on the off chance you need all 3, you'll have them, without wasting the extra slot in case you don't need all 3. Another reason is the amount of space being devoted to your line. This deck strives to get Altaria running posthaste, so we have a 4-3 line with 4 spirit links. If Altaria was a less important card, we could easily drop a Link and a Basic Altaria-EX.

2 Fairy Drop

Fairy Drop is in here because healing in Standard is crazy strong. Especially when you already heal your entire field for 30 damage every turn. This means that Yveltal BKT is essentially only doing 30 a turn and then getting one shot, and that cards like Greninja Promo are useless. Adding Fairy Drop into the mix for the stronger attackers provides a great balance between Attack and Defense.

1 Mega Turbo

This card isn't very important in this deck. I wanted 0 in the beginning, but after thinking about it, Yveltal/Garb decks are running 2 Enhanced Hammer ans a Team Flare Grunt. This means we often have a 0 energy Altaria, and we want to set it back up in one turn to remain in the game. Turbo also is a way to recover our basic Fairy energy, which we have no other way to bring back otherwise.

1 Special Charge

Charge is in here for the aforementioned reason - Enhanced Hammer is running rampant in Standard. I'd rather be safe than sorry and with no energy accel, we often will have to discard special energies in the race to set up a field. Charge will help us feel more comfortable as we get everything going.

2 Parallel City

As I stated above, Parallel/Garbodor alone is the main reason you're able to have a chance versus half the format. This Stadium will always be my stadium of choice in this deck. Fairy Garden could work and so could Shrine of Memories (to turn off your Metal weakness) but I doubt either of those cards will have a big enough impact to make me want to remove these Parallels.

4 Rainbow, 4 Double Colorless, 2 Fairy

This is sort of a slim Energy line, but it's just the amount we need to get things running smoothly. I wouldn't edit this line at all besides maybe dropping a rainbow for another Fairy. That change would be completely dependant on the meta and how often I felt I would need my Backup attackers compared to the Altaria itself.

So obviously the deck is very niche and every single piece of it was thought out to counter the meta. The great thing about Altaria is how possible it is to run any attacker, so for League Cups and other small tournaments you can just walk around the room, scan to see what decks your opponent's are sleeving up and writing down, and from there you can make a judgement call on which 2 or 3 attackers you would like to run. That freedom sure is an amazing thing!

You probably would like to know the deck's matchups before bringing it to a League Cup or a Regional, so I'll explain them. They're fairly cut and dry but I'm sure I'll be able to squeak in something that wasn't obvious before you read this article.

Yveltal/Garbodor - 60/40

This matchup is mostly based on math. With 3 energies attached to Altaria, and 3 energies and a Fighting Fury Belt attached to Yveltal, Yveltal is hitting you for 120 damage. After you attack and heal, your damage is reduced to 90. If Yveltal can't find another Energy card, they won't be KOing you. if they do, then they've just been forced into placing their attachment onto their active Yveltal! If you hit Fairy Drop, it's actually impossible for the Yveltal player to 2 shot your Altaria, making it a quick win for you. I feel the deck should be played like Volcanion in this matchup - essentially forsaking Altaria Spirit Link (Fighting Fury Belt) in favor of Float Stone so that you can switch between two Mega Altaria (Volcanion) and keep the heal (damage) going. This makes it so much more difficult for your opponent's math to check out! You also have Olympia at your disposal as well. One thing I wouldn't do though, is rush a Garbodor. You want your opponent to play down their Shaymin-EX so that you have easy prizes at the end of the game and since you play Parallel City you can lock the stadium in and keep them from discarding their Shaymin!

Volcanion - 60/40

This matchup comes down to whether or not you can stick a Garbodor. I doubt you'll be able to for long, but if you can, you can easily gain an edge in the matchup. If it's too difficult in your testing, drop Umbreon for Salamence-EX to alleviate this matchup a tad more. As far as healing goes, Volcanion is dealing 140+140 at the worst, hitting 280. You need a 30 heal and a Fairy Drop in order to survive, but they need way too many cards to keep streaming attacks. This can work out in your favor most of the time!

Greninja - 50/50?

This matchup is annoying: Your opponent will always be sitting on Enhanced Hammers and Team Flare Grunt, and if they're running the Max Potion/Talonflame list, you will probably never be able to KO a BREAK until the later turns of the game. They only deal 30 damage a turn if you have Parallel City in play and if you can keep attacking with Altaria, but you always have to worry about your energies getting removed. In this matchup, with Garbodor, I would just let them spend all of their VS Seekers on Team Flare Grunt and then Shaymin Loop them into a deck out. If they choose N over Grunt, you can just pressure them with Altaria. Not a horrible matchup if you know what you're doing!

Rainbow Road - 70/30

I don't wanna call it an Autowin, but you can just sit behind Jolteon-EX and Garb/Parallel while you get a couple Altarias charged up and then you can go HAM. Or you can just Flash Ray them to death -- whatever you prefer. Fairy Drop on Jolteon is REALLY good, by the way.

Jolteon-EX/Garb Variants - 80/20

These decks aren't built to face a deck with an Evolved attacker and a basic attacker, so you can again sit behind Jolteon-EX while you charge up the proper attackers. The only way this matchup gets difficult is if they can charge up a huge Lugia-EX and just overwhelm you. But that's probably not going to happen while you're attacking with Jolteon-EX.

PlumeBox - 90/10

It's like the above matchup, except you have the potential for t1 Trub/Float Stone to make them scoop. I doubt this matchup can be lost without you falling prey to a dead hand under turn one Item Lock.

M Rayquaza EX - 70/30

This matchup is like Rainbow Road, except instead of being able to sit behind Jolteon you're charging up Umbreon behind your Altaria. You're healing the 90 damage they deal to you and you have 220 hp so for them to OHKO you it requires a full bench under Item Lock. Salamence works just as well as Umbreon in here so if you make the cut for the Volcanion matchup it won't hurt this one.

Darkrai/Dragons/Garbodor - 40/60

This matchup is like Yveltal but a bit tougher. One thing they don't have? A consistent way around Jolteon. One thing they do have? A way to make it so you can never attach an energy card. I'm positive this matchup is easy if you can get around Chaos Wheel, though. I wouldn't tech a Pokemon Ranger for this matchup.

M Mewtwo-EX/Garbodor - 40/60

M Mewtwo-EX is the bane of Standard's existence. I have no idea how the deck is so good against the entire meta yet so bad in general. The one thing I do know is that we have a horrible matchup versus this deck. You essentially just want to go aggressive with your healing (is that an oxymoron?) and then get Mewtwo EVO and Umbreon EX ready. If this matchup proves troublesome, my only other tech could be Delinquent. I'm not sure what could be cut, but Delinquent allows you to win the Stadium war against their Shrine of Memories, which keeps them from Damage Changing you out of the game. Hopefully this deck will just stay dead, because it really isn't that great for a "BDIF", and Gardy just trashes it anyways. But we'll have to see, I guess!

That's about all I have on Altaria right now, I really hope that this explanation withstood the expectations of those that have heard of it but weren't quite sure how it works. Personally, I expect this deck to improve by leaps and bounds in the future, and I can't wait to see it turn into a true meta deck one day. For now though, it'll have to stay in the kitchen sink as a rogue deck and I'll have to keep begging my friends to test with it!


That'll do it for this article, and I'm confident that I've given you all a new outlook on Volcanion and a strong rogue in M Altaria-EX to start testing and improving upon. I'm always hoping to be productive and improve the game of my readers in any way, so I'm glad I have the opportunity to share these decks and my ideals.

It's definitely been way too long since I've been able to write an article, so I hope you all have missed me as much as I missed you! As always please message me if you have any questions or concerns, and please leave the article a (+1) if you appreciate it at all.
Anyways, Happy Holidays, and until next time,

- Daniel Altavilla


[+9] okko


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