Alola! With the Pokemon Sun and Moon expansion on the horizon, it’s only natural to wonder just how the set will influence the Standard metagame. While most sets typically only have one or two truly breakout cards, mostly due to the overpowered nature of EX Pokemon, this set looks to shift toward a far more balanced and back and forth game of Pokemon.
This stems from the move away from EX Pokemon in favour of the new GX mechanic which, while still as powerful as most EX Pokemon, balances things out by giving the more broken abilities to evolution Pokemon. This means that these Pokemon aren’t nearly as explosive as their EX counterparts, but the limitation of one GX move per game can cause some truly insane swings, making the tradeoff of speed for power all the more worthwhile. After browsing through the spoilers (and translations) on Bulbapedia, I’ve found that there’s a whopping fourteen new cards that I believe will have a tremendous impact on the metagame, either by spawning new archetypes or complimenting already existing decks.
First and foremost, I’d be remiss to discuss Solgaleo GX and Lunala GX, the flagship Pokemon of Sun and Moon. These two Pokemon both evolve from Cosmog and Cosmoem, making the little puffball that refused to get in the freaking bag all throughout your Alolan journey into a terrifying beast of a Pokemon. Each boasting massive a 250HP, these two legends are going to be tremendously difficult to take down. Those are Wailord-EX stats, and that thing was so bulky it spawned an entire mill archetype just by virtue of how many hits it can shrug off. However, what makes these such powerhouses is the utter craziness of their attacks.
For starters, Solgaleo GX has an ability to get a free switch every turn before you attack, so right off the bat this Pokemon pairs extremely well with cards that enjoy switching in and out like Zoroark and Volcanion-EX. But the fun doesn’t stop there! For a paltry three energy, Solgaleo GX can deal 230 damage at the cost of all the energy attached to it. That can take out the likes of Mega Mewtwo-EX and Mega Gardevoir-EX in a single hit, and can even knock out most EX Pokemon through a Fighting Fury Belt. While all this would certainly make this a staple build-around-me Pokemon,
Solgaleo GX has one of the craziest GX moves in the entire set. For just one Steel energy, you can take any five energy from your deck and attach them however you like to your Pokemon. Note that this doesn’t even specify BASIC energy. Oh. My. Arceus. You can get Double Dragon Energy, Double Colorless Energy, Splash Energy, and even Rainbow Energy! This much massive ramp as early as turn 2 can swing the entire game in your favour. Imagine powering up Mega Mewtwo-EX with four Double Colorless Energy so it can attack for 250 every turn with Psychic Infinity. There are dozens of ways to abuse this ability, and I’d be shocked if Solgaleo GX doesn’t see some level of competitive play.
Not to be outdone we have Lunala GX. While not as flashy as Solgaleo, Lunala allows you to move your Psychic energy around your Pokemon as often as you like before you attack, which gives cards like Max Elixir a lot more flexibility in a Psychic deck. You can simply power up a Pokemon with Max Elixirs then move them to an active Pokemon that cares about the amount of energy attached, such as Mewtwo-EX or Oranguru, attack until they’re near fainting, then transfer the energy over to another of your Pokemon. Moreover, should the need arise, Lunala can use its GX attack to automatically knock out a non-GX Pokemon. Note that this can take down every EX Pokemon in the game, from the mightiest Mega Gardevoir-EX to the lowliest Houndoom-EX. What makes this such a game changer is that when you’re staring this thing down with an EX deck, you can never let your opponent get to just two prize cards. Turns of setup can be swept away in an instant, and I can see Lunala decks running additional copies of Lysandre to guarantee that no Pokemon is safe from this GX Pokemon’s wrath.
Speaking of powerful GX Pokemon, it’s not just legendary Pokemon that are getting the bump. Even Gumshoos, Lurantis, and Gen 1 favourite Tauros have been shown some love with actually playable cards. Gumshoos GX is what’s known as a counter card, working perfectly against decks that like having huge amounts of energy. While its first attack is less than stellar, dealing only 100 damage, its GX move can be devastating against decks looking to cheat out as much energy as they can. For a single Colorless energy, Gumshoos can deal 10 damage plus an additional 50 damage for each energy attached to the opposing Pokemon. Looking back at what made Solgaleo and Lunala so powerful, having an attack like that can obliterate a deck looking to build up a single attacker. Imagine that scenario where Solgaleo used its GX to make that massive Mega Mewtwo-EX. You can very easily evolve your Yungoos the following turn, since Gumshoos GX is only a Stage 1 evolution, Lysandre the Mega Mewtwo into play, then hammer it for 410 damage! Even if you only get to do it once, you just gained two prize cards from the knock out while negating the opponent’s only GX move for the game. If that isn’t a hard counter, I don’t know what is.
On the other hand, Lurantis GX is effectively the Grass version of Volcanion. While it’s much harder for a Grass deck to get energy into the discard pile without an effect like Volcanion-EX’s Steam Up, even using something like Ultra Ball to discard energy cards allows you to use Lurantis’ first attack to ramp however you want. Unlike Volcanion, you can actually put the energy onto your active Pokemon, giving it a slight edge by turning right around into attacking with Solar Blade for the one-two punch of a total 160 damage. As the game goes on and the ramp gets bigger, Lurantis’ GX acts as a sort of reverse of Gumshoos, dealing 50 damage times the number of Grass energy attached to it. Since you only need five energy to knock out Solgaleo and Lunala, and that can be achieved through just two of Lurantis’ first attack, it’s safe to say that this GX move is a nice emergency KO button to have around. One final bonus is that as a Grass Pokemon, Luranits GX can abuse Forest of Giant Plants to evolve as early as the first turn. This really gets the ball rolling in what I suspect will be a very tempo-oriented metagame.
Next, we come to Tauros GX. Tauros has the advantage of being completely operational off of a single Double Colorless Energy, and while both its Rage and GX attacks require it to take some damage, Tauros being a Basic Pokemon allows it to abuse Fighting Fury Belt to boost its damage output even further. A maxed out Rage without Fighting Fury Belt can deal a whopping 190 damage, which is enough to knock out most unboosted EX Pokemon, and Tauros’ GX move is effectively Rage on steroids, dealing 30 damage times the number of damage counters on Tauros. Without any boosts this amounts to 510 damage (17 damage counters), and when turbocharged with a Fighting Fury Belt the maximum damage becomes a terrifying 630! That’s enough damage to take out most Pokemon at least three times over, giving Tauros GX the award for “No Kill Like Overkill”. I suspect it will find a home in the Gyarados deck centred around Team Magma’s Secret Base since it can provide an easy way to get damage counters, and since the deck is already centred around Double Colorless Energy, it would make an excellent, angry addition to the deck.
The last three Pokemon I’m going to discuss aren’t exactly powerhouses, but they do something unique that I feel will lend to earning themselves a place in a lot of decks. Eevee, Alolan Muk, and Alolan Raticate all do very powerful things, but not so much so that they have to be built around. For example, Eevee has the ability to tutor an evolution and evolve the same turn you attach the energy. Given that Eevee just received two evolutions in the form of Espeon GX and Umbreon GX, having something that big as early as turn 1 can get things rolling well before the opponent is ready. The only drawback is that as far as GX Pokemon go, these evolutions are a little lacking, so while it’s certainly an aggressive card that can do some powerful things, I think Eevee will most likely be relegated to playing a supporting role in Psychic and Dark decks.
Alolan Muk is poised to be the replacement for Garbodor, albeit a situational one. While it doesn’t require a tool card like Garbodor, Power of Alchemy only affects Basic Pokemon. This doesn’t sound so bad considering just how hard this hoses Hoopa-EX decks, but as we shift toward more evolution-oriented decks this becomes less potent. On the other hand, this can also be used by decks like Yanmega, Greninja Break, and Raticate Break which rely on the abilities of evolved Pokemon as a means of stopping the Hoopa-EX decks, so it adds a bit more flexibility than a hard lock such as Garbodor. As well, Alolan Muk also has 120HP to Garbodor’s 100HP which can sometimes make the difference between breaking the lockdown and being able to retreat itself back to safety. Should EX decks continue to dominate the metagame, I can see Alolan Muk stealing some of Garbodor’s thunder.
Lastly, we have Alolan Raticate. I see this card playing a huge role in Sky Field decks like Despair Ray Mega Gardevoir-EX, Mega Rayquaza-EX, and Rainbow Road. For just two Colorless Energy Alolan Raticate is able to tutor cards equal to the number of Pokemon on your bench. Given how these decks centre around maxing out their bench space as early as possible, Alolan Raticate can tutor up as many as eight cards in a single turn. Tutoring the exact cards you need is what made Talonflame so powerful, and getting to grab up to four times as many cards is a massive jump in potential. I’d keep an eye on this one because one of the hardest things for these kinds of decks to do is recover once they’ve spent their hand, so finding everything you need, even if Alolan Raticate only gets to do it once, can make or break certain games.
Before we get to the new Trainer cards, it’s important to understand how powerful three existing Trainers have become in the wake of an evolution-based metagame. Rare Candy, Evosoda, and Wally are going to be definite powerhouses now that evolutions are going to be top of the food chain because they can skip past your Pokemon’s weaker stages and jump right into GX mode. Wally is especially potent because he works on Pokemon that you’ve played this turn, and you can even play him on your first turn to jump start your GX Pokemon. Having Gumshoos GX or Lurantis GX on turn 1 and ready to attack is downright horrifying to face. On the other hand, Rare Candy gives you the ability to bypass Stage 1 altogether and jump straight to Stage 2, which conveniently enough includes Solgaleo and Lunala. Turning that opening Cosmog into a legendary GX on turn 2 is something that I eagerly look forward to doing, which is why I believe these cards will be staples in every non-EX deck from here on out.
With every new region comes a new Professor, and in Alola we have none other than Professor Kukui, the move master. As such, rather than discarding your hand and drawing seven cards like his predecessors, Kukui is far more Pokemon attack oriented by combining elements from both halves of Giovanni’s Scheme into an overall solid card. Professor Kukui lets you draw two cards and your attacks deal an additional 20 damage the turn you play it, so while not as powerful in terms of raw card advantage, I can definitely see this card being played as a means of turning what would normally be two-hit KOs into one-shots. This is especially necessary for decks like Gyarados and Mega Scizor-EX which often operate fully on the concept of the “double tap” for guaranteed knock outs.
Professor Kukui is lacking in the card draw department, so it looks like his assistant Lillie will have to fill in. Lillie is effectively the Supporter version of Shaymin-EX, allowing you to draw until you have six cards in hand. However, if used on your first turn you can draw up to eight cards, which is especially strong in Double Colorless Energy-based combo decks which tend to have a lot of items and tools and can empty their hand incredibly fast. What’s also great about this card when compared to Professor Sycamore and N is that if there’s a card you actually want to keep in your hand, you can keep it and still get effectively a new hand. While I doubt that Lillie will outright replace Professor Sycamore or N, I’m positive a combination of these three will be the common core for nearly every deck.
The final Supporter card I want to talk about is Team Skull Grunt. Your opponent reveals their hand and you can discard two energy cards from it. This is a card that you can play on your first turn and completely obliterate their hand. While unlike in games like Magic: the Gathering which absolutely require resources in your opening hand to function, most opening Pokemon draws typically have some number of energy to get an attack going, or at the very least to figure out a game plan for which Pokemon to build up early on. Forcing the opponent to discard two energy cards that early can seriously mess with how they are going to set up, and in certain decks like Volcanion-EX and Greninja Break, discarding their energy can save you massive amounts of damage. I don’t advocate running a full set of Team Skull Grunt, but the ability to screw with the opponent’s game plan that early is definitely something I’d look into for slower decks that require something to stall for setup time.
I’m excited for just how much Sun and Moon are poised to shake up the current Standard meta. Going back to evolution-based decks gives a lot of previously ignored decks more fuel, and the power level of the GX Pokemon feel tempered to a metagame both with and without EX Pokemon. We’re on the verge of a brand new adventure and only time will tell if any of my predictions are correct, but you can rest assured that whatever Pokemon from Sun and Moon make it big, I’ll be here to break them down and brew to help you on your Pokemon journey!