Neutral Shield — The New State of the Standard Format

Hello everyone! Alex back at you with some random thoughts about the format, as well as some early things to start testing if you’re planning on going to the International Championships in Indianapolis. For the first time in a long time, I feel like the Standard format is in a healthy place, and many decks are actually taking skill to pilot. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been online and have gone down to one Prize and actually needed to use my brain to come up with a way to win. In the past, I just threw some Netflix on and mindlessly tested until something felt right. Now, we’re in a good spot.

Before I get started today, I want to tell you a little story. It’s been a while since I started an article with a story, so it feels good to be connecting with you again!

Everyone remembers Runescape, right? Or at least you either remember it, remember other people playing it, or you’re still one of those weirdos still playing it (no judgment). That game took up a lot of my free time during the middle school and high school years. I even went through that stretch of time when I played in college because I was so bored. Heck, I even got my girlfriend at the time hooked in on it. Not to brag or anything, but I totally had three skills at level 99.

Well if you remember enough about the game, there was this quest called Recruitment Drive, in which the player tried to gain access to a secret organization. Halfway through the quest, you’re required to change genders, or at least that’s how I remember it. Basically it was a dressed up way of saying that Runescape was adding the change gender feature, of which the playerbase had been screaming about for some time. Back in 2005, this was a big deal.

During my time trying to finish the quest, I had a lot of people coming up and asking to be my “Runescape Girlfriend.” I didn’t know what this meant, but I assumed that since my character was a girl now, that most others assumed I was then too, a girl. These people would give me tons of free stuff just for saying I was their girlfriend. A little weird? Sure, but it’s how I got my Herblore skill to 60.

One problem still eluded me though — the name change. My name was Mario followed by a bunch of numbers, and occasionally each of my boyfriends would ask me why my name was Mario when clearly I was a girl. I usually laughed it off and said that Mario was cute or something. But the next time that I was going to try to scam some 13 year old boys, I was going to come up with a better name. And that next time came up at Laser Quest.

I’ll say it straight, I’m super good at Laser Quest. Not the most marketable skill in the world, but I don’t lose. Period. I’m pretty good at playing Sableye / Garbodor, and I’m easily better at Laser Quest than milling people out. I thought to myself that if I made my name a girl’s name when I played, that nobody would ever guess it was me tagging them until I had already hit then four or five times. And I was right!

So why tell you this embarrassing story about Middle School Alex? Well today I thought I would do something a little bit different for my article. Instead of doing a “Hey, here’s this list, here’s this list, remember U150?” type of thing, I would give you an interview. But not just any interview, an interview with myself using my Laser Quest alter ego, Mrs. Mario.

Cringe worth moments aside, there’s a question I’d like to ask of you. I know a lot of people come to sites for the lists and move on, so if you’re reading this, then you’re my favorite! Originally, I was going to write a normal looking article for you guys, accompanied by a “Fantasy Draft Preview” of sorts. A lot of people like to do a similar thing to fantasy sports and draft players for U.S. Nationals and World Championships. A little preview on this subject might be a fun thing to write about, so I’m wondering if it would be a fun thing to read about? Basically I would take a lot of the players from Worlds, do mini interviews, and smash them into a condensed article, alongside some cool deck lists to expect at the World Championships. If this is something you would be interested in, please let me know so I can write it!

But now, onto the article!

A Standard Format Update

Mrs. Mario: Hey Alex! Thanks for joining me today in talking about your thoughts for Nationals!

Alex: Great to be here! It sucks that it’s no longer called “Nationals” though, but instead, “North American Internationals.” How lame is that?

Mrs. Mario: Right? Well at least you can say “Nats” or “NA ICs,” and people will still understand what you’re saying!

Alex: That’s true! So for the rest of this interview, I might switch back and forth between those, if it’s okay?

Mrs. Mario: Totally fine! First question, what were your thoughts on the results of Madison Regional Championships?

Alex: Well, first things first: the decline of Garbodor was rapid, which is an odd thing to say, considering it still took eight of the 32 spots in day two. Granted, that’s down from the 24 spots we saw in Seattle, but still enough to be the most represented deck of day two. Those Garbodor variants were split on the line of seven Drampa-GX variants and one Espeon-GX variant.

Mrs. Mario: Why do you think that is?

Alex: Well, since Garbodor was such a force in Seattle, people actually decided to counter it directly rather than rolling the dice. Seattle players were hoping to not face the deck, while Madison players knew that they couldn’t avoid it. I played Vespiquen in Seattle anticipating a lot of Garb, and never once played against it. I think we’ve entered a format now where player skill is mattering a whole lot more than a meta call is. So going into Nationals, play what deck you’re best with and most practiced with.

Mrs. Mario: That’s always going to be solid advice for anyone. Moving on now, of the “new” decks that surfaced in Madison, which one is your favorite?

Alex: By “new” decks I’m assuming you’re talking about the Zoroark BREAK/ Drampa-GX that took third, and the smattering of Vikavolt and Metagross-GX?

Mrs. Mario: Don’t forget about Lurantis-GX / Tapu Bulu-GX!

Alex: Oh yeah, that’s a deck as well. Personally I’m not a fan of the Lurantis version, but I have yet to test it. I’ve played around with Vikavolt a little bit, and it seems fun! It’s much different then the Vikavolt build I tested for Seattle, but fun still the same. If you remember from my last article, I touched on Vikavolt a little bit. Part of me is wishing I didn’t go to Toronto so I would have had more time to test out Vikavolt. It seems like a strong play right now.


Mrs. Mario: So based off that response I’m assuming you like Vikavolt the most going forward?

Alex: Actually, no! I’m a big fan of the Zoroark deck. When I was testing Vespiquen / Zoroark for Seattle, I threw together an oddball list that used Zoroark BREAK alongside Vespiquen and the usual techs there. I found myself falling in love with the attack, but couldn’t quite get the consistency to work. That’s probably because I was trying to smash two different deck ideas into one. I discarded the Zoroark BREAK thinking it wasn’t good enough for the meta. Boy was I wrong! I’m kicking myself now because Zoroark / Drampa seems like the best pairing for the meta now. In the games I’ve played this last week and a half, I’ve been winning the most with the Zoroark list I have right now.

Mrs. Mario: Sounds fantastic! May I see your list?

Alex: You sure can! Keep in mind this list is still very much in the beta testing of things, and is not set in stone. Also, you can always see the lists I’m testing whenever! Anyone can! You only have to ask!

Pokemon (20)

2x Zoroark BREAK (BKT #92)4x Zoroark (BKT #91)4x Zorua (BKT #89)1x Umbreon-GX (SM #80)1x Vaporeon (AOR #22)1x Flareon (AOR #13)2x Eevee (SM #101)2x Tapu Lele-GX (GUR #60)1x Oricorio (GUR #56)1x Shaymin-EX (RSK #77)1x Oranguru (SM #113)

Trainers (30)

4x Professor Sycamore (BKP #107)3x N (FAC #105)2x Lysandre (AOR #78)2x Hex Maniac (AOR #75)1x Teammates (PRC #141)1x Professor Kukui (SM #128)1x Delinquent (BKP #98)1x Brigette (BKT #134)4x Ultra Ball (DEX #102)3x VS Seeker (RSK #110)3x Choice Band (GUR #121)2x Float Stone (BKT #137)2x Rescue Stretcher (GUR #130)1x Special Charge (STS #105)

Energy (10)

6x Darkness Energy (BLW #111)4x Double Colorless Energy (NXD #92)

Mrs. Mario: Whoa, that’s a crazy list! I don’t know where to start!

Alex: Yeah it’s definitely a little bit different. I did take inspiration from the list that Danny Altavilla took to a third place finish in Madison, with a bit of changes here and there — most notably, the lack of Drampa.

Mrs. Mario: I think that was the first thing I noticed, too. Why drop your backup attacker?

Alex: Honestly, I found myself not needing it as much as I thought I would. I wasn’t a big fan of using a two Prize attack in a lot of matchups and found myself attacking with Zoroark for a majority of the game. Drampa was cool for those clutch OHKOs late game, but that was the extent of its usefulness — late game. If I ran hot or my opponent bricked, it was a dead card, as Zoroark carried me most of the way there. Even in the close games I still didn’t use it 100% of the time.

Mrs. Mario: So with those two spaces gone, where did you move the list from there?

Alex: The lack of Drampa also cuts back on the need for Team Magma's Secret Base. I did play around a little with Parallel City to bounce my two-Prize attackers, but it didn’t come into play all that often. I decided to cut the requirement of a Stadium in general and play a Delinquent. I haven’t used it all that much so far, but with the constant switch in the metagame as we move through this Standard format, I wouldn’t be surprised to see stuff like Silent Lab make a comeback. Plus, with all Supporters being searchable with Tapu Lele-GX, I think if you have the room, Delinquent can and should be thrown into every deck. But you can cut it if you’d like.

Mrs. Mario: Seems good. So that looks like it made some free room in your list. I’m assuming that’s where the Eevee line came from?

Alex: That’s correct. From all of the chatter I’ve heard about Metagross-GX- and Volcanion-EX-based decks, I felt like the Vaporeon and Flareon were needed. Sure, you could argue that you already have a pretty good Volcanion matchup without the Vaporeon, but better safe than sorry. Plus, most Volcanion players will get scared of the Vaporeon and take the Lysandre on that instead on taking out the real threat in the form of your Active Zoroark. Since we were already playing an Eevee line, the Umbreon-GX was a cute inclusion to give the deck a bulkier attacker. So far it hasn’t found much use, and I almost would prefer it to be another card of some sort, maybe a Tauros-GX or a Drampa-GX.

Mrs. Mario: Maybe you could even include the new Promo Tapu Koko in this list?

Alex: Honestly, I should. The more and more I’ve played around with this card in other decks, the more and more I’m falling in love with it. It forces your opponent into some very odd situations during the early game, as if they don’t deal with it quickly, the damage starts racking up quickly. It also alleviates the need for a damage modifier in the mid stages of the game if you soften everything up first. It’s not in the above list, but it should be.

Mrs. Mario: How about counts of cards? Anything that you wish you could have a second or third copy of?

Alex: Nah, everything is kind of where I want it to be in terms of counts. I don’t think you can drop to one Zoroark BREAK, or even down to one Hex Maniac. Hex is too good in this list. It’s prompted me to start thinking about a Zoroark / Garbodor list, in which I would play both the Garbotoxin one and the Trashalanche one. In that scenario, I would switch over to four Rainbow Energy and find room for a second Special Charge. I think Hex could be dropped to a one count, and the Eevee line would be taken out to make room for these changes. It’s honestly not the worst idea in the world; I simply haven’t tested it out yet. With Rainbow, you could then justify having Drampa back in the list.

Mrs. Mario: Whoa! Quad Zoroark with Garbodor teched in. Sounds like a bunch of fun! What other cool ideas do you have for this deck?

Alex: There are a lot of techs you can put into a deck like this. The nice thing about adding Rainbow is that you open yourself to a lot of one-Energy attackers that use other types; you’re not limited to Darkness. That list is too long to write down, but the spicy tech I have added and tested a bit of is Spiritomb from Steam Siege. In this build, I’ve increased the amount of Tapu Koko to two. Generally speaking, with the Eevee and Drampa versions, a good turn one involves an Energy attachment to an Eevee or Drampa. That way from the rest of the game on, when you attach, you can attack. You don’t have to waste a turn whiffing Energy, generally. So with Spiritomb, it’s the same thing. Getting that turn one attachment on Spiritomb opens up some nasty plays for the late game. Mind you this is only a cute idea and not intended to be good. Seems fun.

Mrs. Mario: It sounds like if Nationals was tomorrow, you would be playing Zoroark.

Alex: To be fair, I’m not entirely sold on the idea. It’s definitely one of my final picks, but even though the tournament is less than a month away (yikes), I’m still not married to the idea. Instead, I’ve been falling more and more in love with Alolan Ninetales-GX.

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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