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Cards to Watch for in Sword & Shield—Evolving Skies
Rayquaza VMAX and other powerful cards from the new expansion are ready to soar in your next deck.
By Christopher Schemanske, Contributing Writer
Every new Pokémon TCG expansion is an exciting opportunity for players to up their game, whether that’s adopting the newest strategies or adapting reigning archetypes with new options. Sword & Shield—Evolving Skies is no exception, and it comes at a time where its stars could fuel a lot of evolution in the Standard format. As the second expansion with exciting Single Strike and Rapid Strike Pokémon, we get to see the options for Battle Styles-based archetypes get even more interesting.
Let’s take a look at some of the most promising cards from Sword & Shield—Evolving Skies.
A Regal Ruler: Rayquaza VMAX
The highlight of the expansion for many Trainers, Rayquaza VMAX has a tantalizing combo of high-damage attack and the built-in capability to draw cards. Sure, the Azure Pulse Ability isn’t going to fuel a game single-handedly, but the option to dig an extra three cards to find that crucial Energy, Boss’s Orders, or Professor’s Research is worth having around. A Rayquaza VMAX player might be reticent to put too many of the 3-Prize behemoths in play at once, but the fact that Azure Pulse can be chained one-into-another provides for some interesting, if risky, options.
However, Max Burst is the root of why we’re here. While a base of 20 damage isn’t particularly exciting, it’s Rayquaza VMAX’s capability to hit for limitless damage that makes it such a heavyweight contender. Of course, accumulating Energy cards is not always as easy as we’d like it to be, and having to attach 5 total (and then discard 4 of them) to deal with popular threats like Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX, Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX, and Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX is certainly no small feat to accomplish. But, the fact that Rayquaza VMAX can reach that one-hit Knock Out potential at all is rather rare in the current Standard format, and it’s what sets it apart as a true star from the set.
Fortunately, Rayquaza VMAX has a supporting cast ready behind it. Flaaffy, the spiritual successor to one of my favorite cards of all time, Eelektrik, is ready to fuel Rayquaza VMAX’s rise with its Dynamotor Ability. Once upon a time, Rayquaza-EX and Eelektrik teamed up to reasonable competitive success, and Rayquaza VMAX and Flaaffy look well-positioned to emulate that in 2021. The task is a bit different, though, as Rayquaza VMAX will probably be looking to take two big one-hit Knock Outs on opposing Pokémon VMAX in most games, whereas Rayquaza-EX players knew they needed to attack at least three times to win a game. This difference actually has a huge impact on the way players think about building their decks, as it will affect the overall usefulness of Flaaffy—a Stage 1 Pokémon requiring significant setup investment—during a game.
Rayquaza V offers some low-level firepower of its own, which will add a solid dimension to Rayquaza VMAX’s overall playability. The flexibility to use a 2-Prize attacker instead of the 3-Prize Pokémon VMAX adds some depth to the deck. I’m excited to see how high players end up flying with Rayquaza VMAX!
A Sneaky Eye: Umbreon VMAX
Umbreon VMAX isn’t necessarily an obvious all-star, but it has the potential to shift the Standard format a good bit. While its Max Darkness attack isn’t bad, there isn’t an apparent way to power it up quickly, meaning it’s likely to lack significant impact. Instead, Umbreon VMAX’s chance at stardom comes from its Dark Signal Ability.
Dark Signal is the latest in a long line of “gust” effects that give a player control over who occupies their opponent’s Active Spot—and, most of them have seen play in some capacity! It’s truly a powerful effect. Right now, that niche is filled by Boss’s Orders in the Standard format. On the scale of the Pokémon TCG’s history, Boss’s Orders is a pretty simple-to-use, easy solution to fill this role in most decks, so Umbreon VMAX’s impact will be a bit muted.
But in decks that can afford to take advantage of Umbreon VMAX, the option to use an Ability to achieve this effect, rather than a Supporter, opens a lot of other doors. Simply, the extra Supporter-like action allows for turns to be more dynamic and explosive, which can turn the tide of games! It especially opens more options for decks that are reliant on a specific Supporter to make their strategy happen—Welder-based decks are a great example.
Where will Umbreon VMAX fit in? The Eternatus VMAX deck seems like a perfect match. Since it relies on filling its Bench with Darkness-type Pokémon, Umbreon V and Umbreon VMAX are a perfect addition. Eternatus VMAX gains a lot from these two Pokémon, freeing up its Supporter slot in many turns to do something more productive than Boss’s Orders. As a deck that’s often extremely reliant on hitting a combination of cards all at once, this effect is particularly powerful.
Arguably, Eternatus VMAX might struggle to establish itself in a Standard format that’s dominated by Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX, but on the other hand, feasting on some Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX sounds pretty fun. It seems likely that Umbreon VMAX’s stock will mostly sink or swim with Eternatus VMAX, but don’t be surprised to see it find some other slots of success over the next few years.
Concentrated Calculations: Medicham V
This is one of my favorite cards in quite some time, which probably says more about me than it does about Medicham V—but nevertheless I’m very excited! Yoga Loop is the kind of unique attack that can turn games around entirely, and as a Rapid Strike Pokémon, Medicham V has a pre-built engine to slide right into. Most importantly, Rapid Strike Energy allows this attack to come online in a single turn, which provides an essential edge of flexibility.
I can’t understate the importance of taking an extra turn—this is the kind of effect that I feel like is usually included on a Stage 2’s attack that costs three different types of Energy and is something we’ll likely never see in the competitive scene. Instead, in this case, there’s already a pre-built home for Medicham V: the Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX deck.
As a fellow Rapid Strike Pokémon, it’s well situated to receive the benefits Medicham V can add. More importantly, G-Max Rapid Flow already focuses on spreading damage around. But, most importantly, Inteleon has become a fixture among many Urshifu players, and it’s the combination of G-Max Rapid Flow and Inteleon’s Quick Shooting that really opens up options for Yoga Loop.
Perhaps it’s wise to pack a bit of caution, and it’s possible that the situations where Medicham V will win a game that you wouldn’t already win without it end up being too few to justify. I think the potential is there, though, with the amount of flexibility and inherent strength in the attack’s effects. I’m really excited to see what players come up with working with Medicham V!
A Stellar Support Duo: Raihan and Zinnia’s Resolve
Deckbuilding in the Standard format has been defined by a mix of Boss’s Orders, Professor’s Research, and Marnie for most of the last year. Sword & Shield—Evolving Skies offers a pair of new options that could displace some of that status quo and provide players some dynamic options for deckbuilding.
The first of those is Raihan, which offers players a great way to recover from a Pokémon being Knocked Out. Especially in today’s format, featuring a lot of Pokémon that require two or three Energy attachments to achieve their peak effect, the extra attachment Raihan provides could have significant effect. Getting to search your deck for any one card is a great companion effect—perhaps you need that Rapid Strike Energy, that Pokémon VMAX, or another piece of a combo to make your turn come together. Raihan isn’t going to be an automatic inclusion in every deck, but I think it’ll be a useful option for a number of decks.
Zinnia’s Resolve is a more traditional draw Supporter than Raihan. The discard cost isn’t a huge deal for some decks (Flaaffy-focused decks, for example, might be very excited!), but for others, it could be a major obstacle. That difficulty will probably influence whether players choose higher counts of Marnie or Zinnia’s Resolve. Obviously, they’re very different cards, but Zinnia’s Resolve does have a major advantage of being able to add to a hand without getting rid of what’s already there, making it easier to assemble combos as needed. Especially after the Standard format rotation, I’d expect Zinnia’s Resolve to be included in a few decks around the format.
Items Inspiring the Future: Boost Shake, Spirit Mask, and Rescue Carrier
There are a few Item cards that don’t have obvious places to succeed in the Standard format right now, but they have effects that are unique and powerful enough to be worth thinking about for the future. Let’s get into a trio.
Boost Shake is pretty novel—instant Evolution, but at the cost of the rest of your turn! Being able to threaten a Stage 2 Pokémon via normal Evolution on Turn 2 is pretty good, especially when going first (since you can’t attack anyway). I expect it’ll see play at some point paired with a Stage 1 Pokémon that has an Ability important enough to justify the cost. In the past, Garbodor‘s Garbotoxin would’ve been a very real application of this card, and that could still happen in the Expanded format! For that matter, Trevenant‘s Forest Curse could be an excellent Expanded application of this card. While an obvious Standard role might not exist yet, this effect is powerful enough that I’m confident an opportunity will arise.
Spirit Mask may look underwhelming at first, but in decks that aim to control an opponent’s hand, it has a lot of potential. Admittedly, we don’t have any of those in Standard right now, but it’s an archetype that always seems to sneak its way back into playability, so file that away for future knowledge. Right now, if Garbodor VMAX happens to find a way into playability, I think Spirit Mask would be a big part of that. Discarding one card is annoying, but discarding two is more likely to have a significant effect on a player’s plans.
Rescue Carrier looks like it should be really strong if a deck focusing on smaller attackers comes back, but with “Mad Party” back on the sidelines, there’s not really an obvious role for it in today’s Standard. The Expanded format might be more kind, but regardless, I fully believe something will eventually crop up that makes Rescue Carrier worthwhile. Getting back two Pokémon directly to the hand isn’t really an effect I can remember being on a card before, which I think should say something about its future playability!
A Glacial Stare: Glaceon VMAX
Glaceon VMAX doesn’t jump off the page as a powerhouse contender, but it may turn out to be the hidden gem of the set. Immunity to Pokémon VMAX is an important factor in today’s game, but it’s going to be extra valuable in the future, once Pokémon-GX have left the Standard format. That immunity sets it up well, and access to Water-supporting cards like Melony and Capacious Bucket will help get Glaceon rolling quickly.
Max Icicle isn’t going to set any damage records, but it’s the kind of attack that can steadily wear down an opponent, especially if Glaceon VMAX’s Crystal Veil Ability is stalling sufficiently. This might actually be a good use for Boost Shake, where a player going second can get a Glaceon VMAX into the Active Spot before their opponent has a chance to use their own Pokémon VMAX to attack Glaceon V. It reminds me so much of Glaceon-GX, which languished underplayed for most of its life but still had a few moments in the spotlight. Keep an eye on this Pokémon!
This is just a taste of the potential power that players can find in Sword & Shield—Evolving Skies. For example, Wishiwashi is a creative card with little obvious competitive potential, but who knows, maybe someone will even make me very happy and find a way to make it successful! I’m excited to see where players head next.
For more Pokémon TCG strategy and analysis, be sure to keep checking Pokemon.com/Strategy.
Christopher Schemanske is a contributing writer for Pokemon.com. He’s been playing the Pokémon TCG since 2010, with a streak of Worlds invitations between 2012–2018. Nowadays, he enjoys splitting his Pokémon time between playing and being part of the awesome Professor staff teams at major events.