The 2018 Pokémon TCG Standard format rotation is about to take place, and when it happens, only more recent expansions and promo cards will be legal in Standard legal play (see the announcement for details). This expansion rotation keeps the game fresh for longtime players and accessible to new competitors. It can also really shake up the metagame—the loss of a few key cards can effectively stop a deck cold, and it could make a middling deck reach new heights because a major obstacle to its success is no longer in play. Needless to say, it's an exciting time of the year for Pokémon TCG competitors!
We can't really predict the future of the Pokémon TCG without knowing which cards will arrive throughout the season, but we can take a look back at what cards are rotating out of the Standard format and how that might affect popular decks. We'll also take a look at some of the recently released cards as a way of peering into the looking glass at what could be popular all season long.
Check out some of the exciting changes coming with the Standard format rotation and what you can expect at your next competition after it goes into effect September 1.
Certainly one of the most impactful departures is Shaymin-EX, a Pokémon that was so popular at major events that it was a surprise when we didn't see it in a deck. The Set Up Ability to refill your hand when it came into play on the first turn was essential for fast starts. The loss of Shaymin-EX in Standard format tournaments will likely slow the game down a notch—and some players will probably welcome that, after a period of lightning-fast matches.
Vespiquen decks briefly took the game by storm, including strong appearances at the 2016 Pokémon World Championships in San Francisco. Vespiquen's Bee Revenge attack made for somewhat unconventional strategies, as it got stronger based on the number of Pokémon in the player's discard pile. Don't worry, though—the legacy of the Beehive Pokémon will surely live on the Expanded format for some time to come.
There was a strong sense that Mega Rayquaza-EX would be a breakout star when it debuted in the XY—Roaring Skies expansion. Its Δ Evolution Ancient Trait allowed for fast starts, and its Emerald Break attack could reach greater potential with the help of the Sky Field Stadium card from the same expansion. It might not have lived up to all the hype, but decks starring Mega Rayquaza-EX have done quite well over the past two years.
“Item lock” decks are the decks players love to hate—they're maddeningly frustrating and incredibly effective at the same time. So the departure of Vileplume from the Standard format will be bitter for folks who loved to play it and sweet for folks who hated to play against it. But remember, Vileplume's Irritating Pollen Ability replaced Seismitoad-EX's Quaking Punch attack, so there's always the possibility of another big Item-lock Pokémon.
A number of Trainer cards that have been indispensable are also rotating out of the format. The VS Seeker Item card from XY—Phantom Forces got an extra year of action when it appeared as a secret card in XY—Roaring Skies, two expansions later. The opportunity to fetch Supporter cards from the discard pile was huge, because they're generally not that easy to retrieve. The departure of VS Seeker could enable a dramatic change in the balance of Supporter cards in decks.
The Lysandre Supporter card has been almost as popular as VS Seeker, letting you target a Pokémon on your opponent's Bench and pull it into the Active spot for a smackdown. Unlike VS Seeker, a solid alternative is ready to step up: Guzma is like a double Lysandre, calling up a Pokémon from the opponent's Bench and making you switch out your own Active Pokémon. This could end up being a better alternative, as it can also be just what you need to get a vulnerable Pokémon out of harm's way. Even with Lysandre still legal in Standard, your boy Guzma saw tons of play at Worlds this year.
A third Supporter card that will be rotating out is Hex Maniac, a card that has done a lot to shape battles even when it doesn't get played. The mere threat of not being able to use Abilities has changed in-game tactics considerably. With Hex Maniac out of the way, players might be a little more patient when deciding what to do on not only their current turn, but the following ones as well—you don't have to hurry to use your Abilities if they're less likely to disappear.
A couple of Poké Balls will be rolling away, too. The Level Ball Item card searches for a Pokémon with 90 HP or less, while the Dive Ball can surface any Water-type Pokémon. They both have their place in popular decks, but there are already alternatives. For example, a Nest Ball can fetch a Basic Pokémon (which covers many of Level Ball's targets), and the Brooklet Hill Stadium card gets Basic Water-type Pokémon (and Fighting-type Pokémon) into play.
Two Stadium cards that have paired well with popular decks will no longer be available, but it remains to be seen how much this will impact their success. Decidueye-GX players will certainly shed a tear for the loss of Forest of Giant Plants, a card that caused enough of an imbalance that it's being removed from Expanded format play, too. And Team Magma's Secret Base has helped rev up Drampa-GX's Berserk attack. There are other ways to get damage onto your own Pokémon (the Po Town Stadium card is a good one that saw play at Worlds); it's up to the creative players to figure out how to do it without major repercussions.
New to the Scene
The Sun & Moon Series has been stacked with meta-defining Pokémon, so don't expect too much immediate change at the top of the leaderboards. Metagross-GX may feel the heat from the new Kiawe Supporter card and its assistance to Fire-type decks, especially Volcanion-EX decks. One possible side effect: Alolan Ninetales-GX might become more prominent if Metagross-GX does decline, because there aren't many other Metal-type decks to attack Alolan Ninetales-GX's Weakness.
If you tuned in to the North American International Championships or the World Championships over the past couple of months, you've seen the power of Trashalanche Garbodor and Drampa-GX. This pairing has won a lot of top-level matches by turning the opponent's apparent strengths into big liabilities. Beyond the loss of Team Magma's Secret Base, few cards have rotated out that will hinder the continued success of this potent deck.
Competitors have been testing the duo of Tapu Bulu-GX and Vikavolt and finding pretty great results. It's a simple one-two combo of Vikavolt's Strong Charge Ability energizing Tapu Bulu-GX's Nature's Judgment attack. If it gets going, you can hit for 180 damage every single turn. The dependence on getting a Stage 2 Pokémon quickly is an obstacle players will have to overcome, but if they do...watch out.
Slightly older cards will certainly remain in the mix for the 2018 Championship Series season. Few have stood up to Greninja BREAK's Giant Water Shuriken Ability over the past year, a trend that will continue at least for a while longer. Sure, it takes a bit of a hit with Dive Ball gone, but this deck does a pretty good job of getting Pokémon into battle on its own thanks to Frogadier's Water Duplicates attack. The big question is: Will Tapu Bulu-GX be the Grass-type Pokémon that's strong enough to sap Greninja BREAK's strength?
As we touched on before, the combustible mix of Fire-type Pokémon Volcanion, Volcanion-EX, and Ho-Oh-GX gets even more fuel from the new Kiawe Supporter card. The deck was already good enough to make the top cut at the North American International Championships, and Kiawe's help in accelerating Energy onto its hard hitters (particularly Turtonator-GX) could help it reach a boiling point going into 2018.
Gardevoir-GX became legal just in time for the World Championships, and it didn't take long for players to put it to good use—two of the three new champions used decks featuring this Pokémon. Its Secret Spring Ability can certainly be a game changer by rapidly increasing the amount of Energy you can get into play. Even in decks that aren't built around Fairy-type Pokémon that require a lot of Colorless Energy (Tapu Lele-GX comes to mind), this card could have a major impact for a long time.
It feels like there's been a powerful Darkrai in the Standard format since forever, and right now there are two. The teamwork of the now-venerable Darkrai-EX and the brand-new Darkrai-GX didn't see any real action at Worlds, but we'll see if competitors can find more avenues to success with this powerful duo going forward.
The yearly Standard format rotation is always a good time to look at the state of the Pokémon TCG, but the greatest thing about the game is its constant evolution. Through the launch of new cards and the never-ending creativity of the players, it's impossible to predict what's around the corner—and that's what makes it so fun.
Keep checking Pokemon.com/Strategy for Pokémon TCG strategy and analysis throughout the 2018 Championship Series. Good luck, Trainers!