Ray of Hope — Rayquaza-GX / Vikavolt’s Unexpected Comeback

Welcome! We’re seeing some interesting changes in the metagame recently.

First, Tord Reklev won the Tablemon Invitational last weekend. For those who don’t know, the Tablemon Invitational was an online exhibition tournament organised by Pablo Meza, featuring eight of the world’s best players. Interestingly, Tord’s deck was Malamar / Ultra Necrozma-GX, a deck whose decline I was documenting last week. I saw several people wondering what Tord’s victory meant in that light. Personally, I don’t think it changes much to my assessment of the deck. An 8-man tournament doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things; the sample size is too low for any statistical analysis. It should also be pointed out that although the games were streamed this weekend, the tournament started much earlier, so the decks were chosen about a month ago, and I don’t know if our deck choices would be the same if the tournament was held now. That said, Tord’s victory may have an effect, in that despite these facts, people may feel inspired to give Malamar another try, perhaps using a very consistent build similar to Tord’s. This means that we may actually see more Malamar soon, even if the deck still has issues. I would definitely be more wary of playing a Malamar-weak deck now.

The other change in the metagame is the possible return of a long-forgotten deck, Rayquaza-GX / Vikavolt. As you may know, especially if you’ve read many of my articles since it’s a recurring theme for me, metagames often evolve cyclically. Decks appear, get refined, get countered, and then disappear until they come back. This kind of cycle is usually faster in Standard than in Expanded, but Vikaray is definitely a counter-example. After getting Top 32 in Denver, Jose Marrero used the deck again to win the Guatemala SPE last weekend. At the same time, the deck also made an appearance in Top 8 of the Philippines SPE. Of course, both of these events were relatively small, but strong decks can often appear in smaller events before they get success elsewhere (think about Zygarde-GX last season); these events were also attended by some world-class players, so it would be foolish to discard their results.

Rayquaza-GX / Vikavolt certainly piqued my curiosity. If this is also your case, then good news! This article is dedicated to Vikaray: why it came back, its chances in the metagame, its matchups, and some possible changes to the list that found success recently.

1. A Surprising Resurgence

Before these last two weeks, Vikaray had been absent from the competitive meta since November! Let’s start with a refresher: once considered the best deck in the format at the very beginning of the season, the deck got left behind as the meta evolved. It got 9th place at the International Championship in Brazil after the release of Lost Thunder, and a couple of Day 2 spots at Roanoke Regionals the week after, but then didn’t find any success at higher events than League Cups — at least in the West. In Japan, the deck was decently successful at the Niigata Champions League in December, reaching as high as Top 4, in a format that is close to our current Team Up format, although with the notable exception of Tag Team Pokemon. Since it’s a bit confusing switching from our sets to Japanese ones, here’s an explanation: the format in Niigata included Japanese sets from Sun & Moon to Dark Order, the last set before Tag Bolt, where the Tag Team mechanic was introduced. This means that, for example, Tapu Koko Prism Star was part of the format, as was Zapdos, but Pikachu and Zekrom-GX wasn’t.

This is an explanation for Vikaray’s success, but not a satisfying one. Sure, if the deck did well in Japan, it’s probably good, and if it’s a good deck, it’s not surprising it can do well elsewhere. But at the same time, you may be wondering: Is it actually good in a format with Tag Team Pokemon? If so, why? If it’s so good, why is it only coming back now? These were my questions as well, and here are the answers I’ve come up with.

First, it’s worth remembering what ended Vikaray’s hour of glory. It started the season in a dominant fashion, but soon people found out how to counter it. Buzzwole / Shrine of Punishment decks, as well as some Zoroark-GX variants, started including Weavile, which could easily KO Rayquaza-GX due to all the Ability Pokemon in the deck. Malamar also rose to prominence, and many lists included Chimecho, which prevented Grubbin from evolving into Vikavolt, as well as benching Rayquaza-GX (or Tapu Lele-GX, or Marshadow). Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX, although not a hard counter, was also fairly difficult to deal with, as it could take a KO with Moon’s Eclipse GX and force the Rayquaza-GX player to have a Guzma. Finally, although Zeraora-GX was a nice addition to the deck after Lost Thunder, both Granbull and Gardevoir-GX also found success at the same time, and both could abuse Rayquaza-GX’s Fairy Weakness. This left Vikaray in a bad spot in the metagame.

Fast-forward to now. Weavile is almost unseen; a few Zoroark-GX variants still use it but they haven’t had much success. Apart from Rukan Shao’s Tablemon Invitational deck, Chimecho has deserted Malamar lists, and so has Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX for the most part, as Malamar lists started focusing on Ultra Necrozma-GX. Granbull and Gardevoir-GX are no longer part of the metagame, as they have a hard time dealing with new and bigger threats such as Pikachu and Zekrom-GX.

In short, all the cards and decks that countered Vikaray are scarcely seen anymore, and the new decks that replaced them are much less dangerous to Rayquaza-GX. As always, this means it’s the perfect time for it to come back.

2. The List

Before I explain how the deck deals with the current metagame, it’s a good idea to take a look at the list. This is Jose Marrero’s list, presented without changes.

Pokemon (17)

3x Vikavolt (SM #52)3x Grubbin (SM #13)3x Rayquaza-GX (CES #109)2x Tapu Lele-GX (GUR #60)1x Tapu Koko Prism Star (TEU #51)1x Shaymin Prism Star (TEU #10)1x Dhelmise (CES #22)1x Marshadow (SHL #45)1x Marshadow-GX (BUS #80)1x Zeraora-GX (LOT #86)

Trainers (30)

3x Cynthia (ULP #119)3x Guzma (BUS #115)3x Volkner (ULP #135)2x Lillie (SM #122)4x Rare Candy (UL #82)4x Ultra Ball (DEX #102)2x Nest Ball (SM #123)2x Mysterious Treasure (FOL #113)2x Rescue Stretcher (GUR #130)2x Energy Recycler (GUR #123)3x Lysandre Labs (FOL #111)

Energy (13)

7x Grass Energy (RS #104)6x Lightning Energy (RS #109)

All in all, not much has changed since the lists from the early season. Tapu Koko Prism Star is an obvious inclusion in the deck, since it accelerates two Energy cards, which means that Rayquaza-GX gets to deal an extra 60 damage. It also lets Rayquaza-GX attack earlier even in situations in which you don’t manage to set up Vikavolt. For example, by benching Rayquaza-GX, attaching an Energy with Stormy Winds and using Tapu Koko Prism Star, you get three Energy in play in the first turn. This lets you attack on turn two with no Vikavolt needed! (Or even on turn 1 with a Guzma, but that’s a very unlikely scenario.)

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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