Guardians Gauntlet — The Five Central Decks of Standard
What’s up ‘Beach-goers? I’m super excited to be joining you all here for an update on what is quickly becoming one of my favorite formats. Think about where we were just one year ago. Oppressive decks like Night March, Seismitoad-EX, Trevenant BREAK, and Giratina-EX dominated the format. Since then, the game has opened up considerably. There are a variety of different paths to victory and the outcome of most games seems to be the result of deck building and crucial in-game decision making. Mistakes are being punished more often and the game has slowed in pace, making for more interesting and thought provoking matches. This format has been very engaging to test so far, and I am looking forward to digging even deeper into this format for the North American International Championships and the World Championships in the months to come.
Speaking of Worlds, I was finally able to snag my World Championship invitation by finishing in the Top 4 at a local League Cup, the Nicholas Bailey Invitational, a couple weeks ago. The League Cup was well attended, drawing over 50 Masters competitors, and the results were surprising! Half of the Top 4 decks utilized the criminally underrated Alolan Ninetales-GX, while the other half played combinations of Garbodor and Tapu Lele-GX. For those of you who don’t know, the Nicholas Bailey Open is a tournament dedicated to my friend, Nicholas Bailey, who died of glioblastoma last fall. All of the profits from the event were donated to brain cancer research. It was really encouraging to see so many players rally behind a good cause, and reminded me how wonderful this community can be. Shout out to my man Nicholas! I miss you every day.
In this article, I will be showing off the strongest decks in Standard format. I have put a lot of hours into testing so far, but there are still so many avenues left to explore! I have six lists that I am very confident in to get us started. These five decks form what I consider to be the foundation of the Standard format. The format is sure to expand and grow from here, but these are the decks that every other successful deck will be measured against. If a deck can’t hang with these five, it isn’t worth playing at all!
Decidueye / Vileplume
This deck did me bad at the Virginia Regional Championships. I played a handful of 50 / 50 matchups against Volcanion-EX and M Mewtwo-EX, none of which buffed out in my favor. I was frustrated with the archetype afterwards and dismissed it for the time being. However, with the release of the new set, Decidueye gets buffed in all the right ways. Mega Mewtwo, a previously sketchy matchup for the archetype, has tanked in popularity thanks to the dominance of Trachalanche Garbodor. The Ability Garbodor also used to pose a threat to Decidueye, forcing some lists to find room for the horrible Beedrill-EX. Now that Decidueye has access to Field Blower, sticking Pokemon in the Active, especially Garbotoxin Garbodor, has never been easier. Tapu Lele-GX is a welcome addition to the Decidueye family as well, boosting consistency while providing a substantive Double Colorless Energy attacker. If you had your eye on results from Japan lately, you may even be aware that there is a brand new way to build this deck with Alolan Ninetales-GX! This is the version that I was able to clutch my invite with recently at the Nicholas Bailey Open, and I can confirm that Nintetales is not just a gimmick, but jives with the archetype very well. I will be reviewing both a traditional and a Ninetales version of the archetype below.
Ninetales / Decidueye / Vileplume
When I first saw Alolan Ninetales-GX, I thought about pairing her with Decidueye because of her formidable HP and pair of Double Colorless Energy accessible attacks. My friends told me that the idea was bad though so I put it in the back of my mind for a while. Then, I saw that Ninetales / Decidueye-GX was seeing some success in Japan, so I decided to sleeve it up and give it a try. Truthfully, I hadn’t even read Alolan Vulpix until I started to put the deck together, but I quickly realized that Vulpix’s Beacon attack is what makes this messy array of evolution lines a completely viable deck.
Vulpix’s Beacon is a free attack that lets you search your deck for up to two Pokemon and put them in your hand. This works wonders alongside Decidueye and Vileplume. If you draw into a hand without a Supporter, you can Beacon for a Shaymin-EX to set up the following turn. If you draw into a hand with a Decidueye and a Professor Sycamore, you can Beacon for a Rowlet and a Dartrix to get another Decidueye into play the following turn. Want a quick Ninetales? You can Beacon for an early Ninetales to set up behind a formidable wall or even the remainder of your Vileplume line. What really makes Beacon valuable, however, is the ability to set up under an early Item-lock. Previously, diving in for the turn one Vileplume was risky because you would rarely have time to use your own Items and set up your own board state. With Vulpix this is not an issue. You can easily go in on a turn one Vileplume to slow your opponent down, then Beacon for the rest of the Pokemon you need to set up! If nothing else, this deck is a lot of fun to play and I absolutely recommend trying it out. Shout out to Spencer Vanderpoel for finishing in the Top 32 with a version of this deck at the Seattle Regional Championships!
Alolan Ninetales-GX‘s attacks, Ice Blade and Ice Path-GX both fit perfectly with the strategy of this archetype. Ice Path-GX moves all damage from Ninetales to the defending Pokemon, dishing out damage while healing and buying you more turns to snipe your opponent with Feather Arrow. Ice Blade, much like my beloved Meowth‘s Turmoil Strike, deals 50 damage to any of your opponent’s Pokemon. This, combined with Feather Arrow, allows you to take out threats on your opponent’s Bench before they ever come to fruition. I’ve mentioned it previously, but it’s worth mentioning again that Alolan Vulpix is an all star here. Since Vulpix is your ideal starter, we play three copies. This allows you to consistently start Vulpix, sacrifice it while using Beacon, and still have Vulpix in deck to evolve up to Ninetales-GX.
One of my favorite aspects of this archetype is that it can hang with almost any deck you pair it against. As far as specific matchups go, Ninetales definitely helps your Volcanion-EX matchup, boosting it from 50 / 50 to favorable. Ninetales’ 210 HP is a lot more difficult for Volcanion to OHKO under Item-lock than Lugia-EX or Tapu Lele-GX‘s 170 HP. Ice Blade also allows you to target down Volcanion-EX your opponent builds up on the Bench even if they start the little Volcanion in the Active.
In addition to Volcanion, Decidueye-GX / Ninetales also succeeds versus Greninja BREAK, M Rayquaza-EX, Stage 1 decks like Vespiquen and straight Ninetales variants. A lot of matchups with this deck feel right around 50 / 50, but this deck also has a high skill ceiling that rewards good play and smart decision making. It’s a rewarding deck for a skilled player to pilot, making it a top choice for any competitor.
The synergy between these cards is great, but with the addition of more options, unfortunately, the deck has become a lot more difficult to play optimally. I have found out the hard way that 20 damage here or 20 damage there can swing an entire matchup. I have shot myself in the foot more times than I care to admit while playing this deck, but it’s a very gratifying feeling when you come out of a close matchup just right, knowing that you made the perfect plays required to bring you to victory.
One issue that I am having with this list is the lack of a big damage attack. With a traditional build, Lugia-EX could get out there and spam Deep Hurricane. This list has to be much more calculated when dealing with big threats like Tauros-GX, and leans heavily on attacking with Decidueye for big damage. Leaning on attacking with Decidueye can be rough, since it means less snipe damage overall once one goes down.
Another criticism I get for this lists is that there is only one copy of Revitalizer. This list is admittedly tight on space. One Revitalizer is enough to get by in most situations though. You can always Hollow Hunt for Pokemon back if you absolutely need them. Another reason I was okay with this compromise is because Alolan Vulpix can smooth your turns out by searching for evolution lines before you discard them with Professor Sycamore. Since evolving is easier with Vulpix, I have found myself discarding Pokemon less and, in turn, using Revitalizer less. Decidueye / Ninetales also doesn’t have room to play Tapu Lele-GX, meaning that it sacrifices the luxury of hand selecting Supporters with Wonder Tag, something my other Decidueye list really enjoys.
As far as matchups go, Decidueye / Ninetales, like most Decidueye variants, has a bad time with Energy removal decks like Lapras and Sylveon-GX, and struggles with certain builds of Lele / Garbodor that run Wobbuffet as well. Otherwise, I feel like the deck is very evenly matched against most things that it squares up against.
This concludes the public portion of this article.
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