Amped Up — What Happened to Iron Hands?

Hello PokeBeach readers! Isaiah here, and I am happy to be writing another article for you all! Last time, I discussed one of my favorite decks in this format, Charizard ex, and its position in the metagame currently. In general, many of my takes in that article remain consistent, still continuing to see Charizard ex as one of the strongest, if not the single strongest deck in the format. Even if partially due to its popularity, Charizard ex has remained one of the biggest litmus tests for a deck’s viability, arguably more so than the other deck most people call the best deck in the format, Giratina VSTAR. A good deck to use as evidence for this school of thought is Snorlax Stall, which is known for its bad Giratina VSTAR matchup and fantastic Charizard ex matchup. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Miraidon ex has exited the meta almost completely, dropping from winning the Latin America International Championships and having a peak of 19 appearances in Day 2 of the first European Regional Championships of the Paradox Rift format to having just six in the most recent European Regional Championships. The deck has fallen off almost completely, largely thanks to its abysmal Charizard ex matchup.

At the Charlotte Regional Championships, the metagame seemed favorable for Miraidon ex’s return, with players such as Azul Garcia Griego, Ian Robb, fellow author Grant Manley, and even I’m thinking that the deck was poised for a deep run, and while it did make Top 4 at this event, most of the notable players playing the deck had middle of the road runs at best, largely characterized by losses to Charizard ex. At the start of the format, Ian Robb and I came to an early agreement that Miraidon ex would likely be the best deck in the format for the entire Paradox Rift format, largely thanks to the strength of Iron Hands ex, with us going as far as to characterize the card as the strongest Pokemon in the Standard format. This opinion influenced his opinion to play Chien-Pao ex at the Latin America International Championships as well, as that deck could easily use Iron Hands ex and it seemed like it was better against Gardevoir ex than the Miraidon ex deck lists of that format. While our prediction about Miraidon ex’s position in the format may have been wrong, I do think that we were onto something about Iron Hands ex. As the format has evolved, Iron Hands has remained one of the single most impactful cards from the Paradox Rift, probably only being surpassed by Counter Catcher. In this article, I want to go over not just where it stands currently, but how it got to the point it is as currently and where it is going to land in the future.

How Did We Get Here?

Around 11 years ago, the original Lugia-EX from Plasma Storm released. At first, the card got a lot of hype. Its Overflow Ability allowed it to take an extra Prize card whenever it took a Knock Out and it did 120 damage for four Energy. Sadly, this card did not really land, seeing some play but not a lot of success, but when Plasma Freeze came out, and Deoxys-EX with it, everything changed for Lugia-EX and it was able to get a 2nd place finish at the 2013 World Championships. Fast forward to late 2023 and people certainly did not make the same mistake with Iron Hands ex, with many calling the card format-ruining and claiming that it was going to warp the Pokemon TCG around itself for the next two years that it would be legal. Generally, Pokemon players are very, very good at over dramatizing a card’s expected impact when it gets revealed, with cards like Drifloon or Hisuian Samurott VSTAR coming to mind as cards that were expected to be meta defining but completely failed to even be playable.

Iron Hands ex was not a case of this, with the card’s impact being immediately apparent, appearing in just under 20 percent of decks in Day 2 of the Latin America International Championships, and even going on to win the event in Juho Kallama’s Miraidon ex deck. Kallama’s deck took a pretty conventional approach to how his deck was built, especially for the time that it was built, but he was not the only Miraidon ex to do well that weekend. Aneil Saini shocked the world with his unconventional Miraidon ex deck list that played a remarkable 18 Lightning Energy and a copy of Peony, a card that many players had not seen since Frank Percic’s Whimsicott VSTAR deck that he used to finish in 2nd place at the 2022 Europe International Championships. This deck list would ultimately be the basis for another Miraidon ex deck built by 2014 Video Game World Champion Sejun Park, which used a remarkable four copies of Peony instead of just one. This build ultimately would be the the Miraidon ex deck that saw the most success for most of the Paradox Rift format. However, the deck feels like it has, somewhat inexplicably, disappeared from relevance. Alongside Miraidon ex, Lost Zone decks built around Mirage Gate emerged as a prominent, less successful use for Iron Hands ex, seeing scattered Top 8s in multiple Regional Championships, but never a win (at least, not outside of Japan). This deck has continued to be relevant, but certainly less than Miraidon ex has been.

It’s hard to say what exactly caused this sort of rise and fall for Iron Hands ex. Was it matchups? Was it consistency? Was it a matter of the community being more prepared for it? I am honestly not sure. All we can say for sure is that it certainly happened. If I had to guess, like I alluded to before, it probably was an issue of the Charizard ex matchup. Miraidon ex has been the best deck to use Iron Hands ex by far, but with a horrific Charizard ex matchup and middle of the road matchups against many other top decks, Miraidon ex was sort of pushed out of the format in favor of other more powerful decks, and Roaring Moon ex took its place as the big Basic Pokemon deck of the format. Another huge issue is that Gardevoir ex decks fell by the wayside for a while, largely thanks to the emergence of Miraidon ex as a top level meta threat. This created a sort of paradox where Gardevoir ex is able to be successful in environments without Miraidon ex, but Miraidon ex is only successful in environments with high volumes of Gardevoir ex.

In reality, a contradiction like this is nearly impossible to navigate, but in the Pokemon TCG, the issue is not seen through such a basic lens, instead resulting in the recent conclusion by players that Gardevoir ex is strong enough to beat everything else that it can afford to lose to Miraidon ex, which has led to a surge of Gardevoir ex players around the world, including a Regional Championships win in Knoxville at the hands of Ryan Antonucci. The Iron Hands ex paradox goes even further when you consider its position in Lost Zone decks. In general, Iron Hands ex is a card that is extremely strong early in the game against Gardevoir ex, but Lost Zone decks are inherently bad at getting to a point where Iron Hands ex is useful early enough for it to matter, creating another paradoxical relationship where the card is meant to run Gardevoir ex over before they set up while also being too slow to feasibly do so. As a result, many Lost Zone decks have moved away from Iron Hands ex in favor of cards like Mawile which are more applicable against other matchups while also being useful at more points within a game. Alternatively, decks like the Radiant Charizard version of Lost Zone decks just accept the bad matchup against Gardevoir ex, which is an equally valid strategy considering the lacking popularity of Gardevoir ex.

In short, Iron Hands ex started off strong in the Paradox Rift format, but due to a variety of aspects of the metagame, the card has been largely unable to get its footing again in the Standard format since then. However, what if there was a deck that was able to power up Iron Hands ex fast enough for it to matter against Gardevoir ex while having good matchups against many other decks in the field? Well, that’s where we consider one of the format’s latest rising stars, Chien-Pao ex.

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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Incredible how Iron Hands is almost 4 months old but already has iterated over so many different decks and forms. I am really curious on how things will go with Temporal Forces right and the many cards that will certainly power it up
So weird to hear Miraidon dropped, but I guess with poor match ups and the upcoming rotation of so many key cards, its not too surprising.
what do you think about the turbo iron hands deck from fukuoka?
I missed replying to this comment sooner, but I actually think this deck will probably be really good. I have done very little post rotation testing myself, but from watching some friends play some games and just looking at the matchups that appear to be popular, I expect the deck to put up strong results at EUIC and beyond.