Experts' corner

Chris Fulop

The Four Horsemen of Standard

Chris discusses the four decks he feels are at the head of the pack in Standard.

06. 04. 2017 by Chris Fulop

Hello again everyone!

I want to take this article to go over the decks I currently consider to be top contenders in the Standard format, as well as some slight variations of those decks. This format is actually really wide open, with a number of decks putting up strong results around the world. That being said, I do think that certain decks are better positioned as a whole right now than others. In many cases, these opinions line up pretty well with the results being posted by the decks, and in some cases I disagree a little bit. Lets go over the archetypes briefly, with some justification of their position on this list before I go over specific lists and card choices.

1.) Decidueye/Vileplume

This is the defining deck of the format right now. Vileplume has been a card that has seen fringe yet successful play for awhile now. Last format, we saw Vileplume Vespiquen put up great results. This year, we've had Vileplume toolbox, featuring Jolteon-EX, Glaceon-EX, Regice, and other disruptive, defensive Pokémon be successful as well. Vileplume is just so disruptive to almost every deck in the format, and with Forest of Giant Plants enabling it to hit the field in one turn, even on the first turn, it can force the average deck, which is very likely to be quite dependent on Item cards, to play a majority of the game without most of their engine. In a lot of games, they see ZERO turns where they get to play Items at all! By being able to do this, Vileplume decks are able to just steal free wins off of dead drawing opponents.

The strength of Vileplume doesn't really need to be stressed, though.

Decidueye has proven to be the most impactful Pokémon-GX out of the Sun and Moon expansion. Tauros' impact is lessening as the metagame evolves, and while Lapras, Lurantis, Solgaleo, and Espeon have all seen some play, none of them can content with the shadow the Stage 2 Grass Owl Pokemon has. Decidueye keys off of Forest as well, and on the deck's best turns, you can get out a Vileplume and 2 Decidueye on your first turn! Those games are really, really difficult to lose.

Why do I feel like this is the best deck in the format? Well, I'd argue that the general consensus is also on the deck's side, and the results seem to support it as well. At the very least, the results do not disprove it. Well, I mentioned before that the deck steals games off of the strength of Vileplume's disruption. That is a major selling point. Certain decks, even if they get to go off a bit first, are just so dependent on Items that they are just very disadvantaged even if they get to play a full game.

The deck also really lets you leverage yourself over weaker players. A lot of players are not the best at playing against disruption, so a deck like Vileplume has some inherent strength there. To top it off, Decidueye is ALSO very good at forcing opportunities to outplay a weaker opponent. By being able to place damage counters all over the board, without even attacking, you can perform some great set up plays. This allows you to make some complex lines of play involving N and Lysandre (not on the same turn, kids!) that enable some great comeback wins.

That is another big point: While you can win games by having a great start, you also have more come back ability than almost any deck in the format. Decks which try and just throw haymakers each turn are powerful, but they don't really have much ability to break serve in exchange. This deck plays a totally different game plan. That is also important: Decks have to play a totally different game against this deck than they do against basically the rest of the format. That makes it difficult for decks to really adjust to combat it. Vileplume/Decidueye is the format's most disruptive deck, and it plays on a fairly differen axis than most of the metagame, and that makes it hard to adjust for. On top of this, it is great at leveraging play skill, making it a great choice for any player who takes the time to master the difficult to play deck.

2.) Mega Rayquaza

Okay, lets be honest, every one who has read my articles in the past 2 years or so knows how much I love this card. It may honestly be my favorite card ever printed. That being said, bias aside, the deck has been putting up good results, and a lot of other players seem to be pretty high on the archetype at the moment.

I like this deck because it is the single most powerful deck in the format. It is the most proactive deck in the format, and is a solid favorite against most "fair" decks in the format. If you do not play against Item denial, Ability denial, Parallel City, or Lightning Pokemon, you are just going to be a very strong favorite. The deck is more than able to combat Item and Ability denial, and it can deal well enough with Parallel City as well. Lightning Pokemon, as a whole, are quite bad at the moment, so that isn't a major concern. While the deck has a lot of free wins against the average deck, it is also competitive against those decks which are suited to fight it. I'm not going to pretend that Vileplume and Garbodor do not making up a large portion of the metagame, or that many decks run a few Parallel Cities. Those are all major pillars of this format, but they do not making Rayquaza roll over either. (I realize now that Giratina-EX was left out of this discussion...that is a card which you do more or less roll over to, though!)

I mentioned before that Decidueye and Vileplume are really dictating the direction the metagame is headed, and in order to deal with the disruption of the deck, you'll see more and more decks adjust to beat it. In almost any format, as the metagame gets inbred to deal with specific decks, it usually opens up the format for the default "most powerful" deck to thrive, especially when that deck isn't particularly weak to the big deck with the bullseye on it's forehead. In this case, I believe that Rayquaza is very much competitive with Vileplume Decidueye.

3.) Mega Mewtwo

Let me start by saying that I dislike this archetype. I can't even put a finger on why: I know it is good, I respect the deck, and I encourage people who want to use it to do so. I just dislike playing it, and don't see myself choosing to use it in the future either.

Mewtwo is now the best Garbodor deck in the format. Yveltal is just not good enough anymore. It struggles against Vileplume Decidueye: The deck doesn't need to attach many energy, weakening Evil Ball. Yveltal BKT is rather anemic in a format thriving with GX, and not EX, Pokemon. Darkrai decks are either no longer running Garbodor and focusing on speed, or they are pairing the deck with Giratina-EX and Salamence-EX and Double Dragon Energy.

Mewtwo is great because it is powerful, disruptive, and most importantly stable. It isn't as powerful as Mega Rayquaza, but the damage output is still very high. Unlike Rayquaza, you do get to play Garbodor which is absolutely well positioned in this format. It is interesting against Vileplume, where it comes down to a race between getting a Tool onto the Trubbish and Vileplume coming out. The Vileplume deck does have the ability to still answer Garbodor, but it is a challenge. Mewtwo is also competitive with Mega Rayquaza because it runs Garbodor, and Parallel City, and hits hard enough to OHKO a Mega Rayquaza under reasonable conditions.

One of Mega Rayquaza's biggest issues is that while it is extremely powerful, it requires a lot of moving parts. You need a full bench, and a Stadium card out to do your damage. Mewtwo functions really well even when you are facing down disruption. The deck is more powerful than a lot of decks. It plays well in the face of disruption. It offers strong disruption. It is just a very well rounded deck that is hard to exploit, and that makes it a very strong choice. (Even if I hate it.)

4.) Darkrai

Darkrai is another deck that has put up great results recently, even though I do feel like it's standing is slipping a little bit. It is a fast, powerful deck that also is pretty resilient to disruption. Prior to Sun and Moon's release, I would even argue that it was the de facto best deck in the format. Darkrai has three different potential builds, all of which have different strengths. You can play it in a very streamlined build. You can pair it with Double Dragon Energy and Salamence and Giratina. Finally, you can play it with Garbodor.

Darkrai has game against Vileplume/Decidueye, and Mewtwo. It is an underdog against Mega Rayquaza, but it isn't a hopeless matchup either. Alright, finally, I want to list off the decks which are viable, but not something I really don't like the position of at the moment. In other words, this is the section that will just anger people who like these decks, but oh well.

Yveltal/Garbodor: It is a worse Garbodor deck than Mewtwo, and a worse aggressive deck than Darkrai. As EXes become GXes, Yveltak ( BKT ) weakens, and the deck loses a lot due to that.

Lapras/Waterbox: This deck suffers from being weak to Grass Pokemon... such as Decidueye. I actually have been a fan of how the deck plays, it just struggles both against Owls, and Mega Rayquaza which can OHKO most of it's threats. It'll be interesting to see what impact Aqua Patch has on this deck... on one hand, the card is incredible, but the deck already has energy acceleration with Max Elixir and Exp. Share, and the reasons it isn't better positioned is not due to a lack of this. Aqua Patch makes the deck better, for sure, but it doesn't really address what keeps it from being tier 1.

Volcanion: Volcanion was a deck I really wanted to like, it is powerful and proactive, and it should be really good against Decidueye. Unfortunately, it isn't as good against Decidueye as you'd think (don't worry, it is still favored!) and it is pretty poor against Rayquaza and Mewtwo. 

Vespiquen: Vespiquen was a really powerful deck, but it is pretty poor against Decidueye Vileplume. That is enough to make me want to avoid it.

Greninja: Another deck that just really got hammered by the emergence of Decidueye. The deck was already closely competitive with much of the metagame in the format, and just tossing a near auto loss onto the pile is pretty muc a backbreaker.

Lurantis: Be it with Vileplume, Solgaleo, or any other shell, Lurantis decks have seen mild amounts of play. I'm just not totally sold on the card. I think the most appealing of them to me would be alongside Solgaleo, as Solgaleo at least offers the deck another powerful attacker as I just don't feel like Lurantis GX alone is enough to carry a tier 1 deck. Pairing it with Vileplume is dubious now as well, as all of the decks in the format adjust towards dealing with Vileplume Decidueye. The splash hate you suffer there is too much. I think the card is good, I just haven't seen a DECK with it yet that I think checks off all the right boxes.

Mega Gardevoir: I've seen a bit of a resurgence of this deck lately, but I'm not really sold on it. I just think it plays a bit too fair for my liking. It is also really, really bad against Mega Rayquaza. (I was amused to see on Facebook that Rahul Reddy conceded the finals of his League Cup because he "didn't want to waste 40 minutes" losing to Rayquaza in the finals with his Gardevoir, if you want an addication of the matchup.) It is nice in that it handles disruption fairly well, and is very consistent. I feel like Gardevoir is almost always a metagame call...there are too many decks I honestly dislike it against, and I feel like you have to pick your spots when using it.

Now, lets look over the lists for the decks I like:

Alright, so this isn't too far off course from a fairly stock Vileplume Decidueye list, but I do want to go over the numbers anyways.

4-4-3 Decidueye: The stock list is 4-4-4, and I've even experimented with a 3-3-3 line (I don't hate it, but you have to compensate by giving the deck something else to do offensively because you do lose a bit of Owl oomph. More on this in a bit.) The 4th Decidueye is nice, but not mandatory, especially not with 2 copies of Revitalizer. You rarely get out more than 3 of these guys in a game, and in spots where the lost copy could be obtained but can't be because you only run 3, I can't imagine how many times it is the difference between a win and a loss.

2-2-2 Vileplume: This feels thin to me but it is pretty common place. A thicker line would make it easier to get out on the first turn, but that is a price you have to pay. I've had a fundamental discussion about the merits of chasing Owls vs Flowers as a set up priority, and how that should impact the counts of the Pokemon, and while I think there could be more focus on the Vileplume line, I've been happy with these numbers.

3 Shaymin-EX: Shaymin is necessary to help this deck get it's best starts. It is somewhat awkward in that benching multiple Shaymin ends up eating into your Decidueye bench slots, but this deck can actually use Sky Return fairly well. You still get Owl damage each turn, so "only" doing 30 damage is not a major issue. I've seen a lot of players put off taking opportunities to reset their Shaymins during games, and I think that is a mistake.

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