As I mentioned last week, Astral Radiance is approaching, and while I’m still too busy with the current format to start testing in-depth for the next one, many players’ eyes are on it. I wrote about Palkia VSTAR because that was the obvious place to start, but there are plenty of other cards, including Hisuian Samurott VSTAR, Radiant Hawlucha and Miltank, which will have an important impact on Standard.
I’ll leave these cards to my co-writers here at CFB, because as often, I want to turn my attention to the Expanded format. While it’s currently neglected when it comes to IRL competitions, there are many players who play Expanded online – more than Standard players, in fact! Many of these players are simply casual players who just use whatever cards they happen to have, and if they’ve been playing for a while, some of these cards are Expanded, so they play Expanded; but there’s also a community that cares about that format. I’m part of this community: if you’ve read me for a long time, you may remember that prior to Brilliant Stars, I was far more focused on Expanded than Standard.
That’s why today, I will review Astral Radiance from a purely Expanded point of view. Here’s my usual reminder on the topic: the Expanded format benefits less from any newer set than Standard, because there are far more cards in Expanded, so a new set is a smaller change to the card pool, relatively speaking.
What’s more, the cards that are good in Expanded and the cards that are good in Standard may not be the same. Some cards shine in Standard but may be too weak to work in Expanded, or be outclassed by existing Expanded archetypes, or have weaknesses that are exploited by Expanded decks, but not Standard ones. For example, the Inteleon engine is too slow for Expanded, and it can be countered by cards such as Wobbuffet and Garbodor. Conversely, some cards are bad in Standard but work well in Expanded because they fit better in its metagame or interact with older cards that are not in Standard. For example, Tsareena V has never seen play in Standard, but has had success in Expanded thanks to its synergy with plenty of Expanded cards, including Sky Field, Giratina LOT and Dragonite-EX.
Therefore, while there is of course some overlap between cards that work in Standard and cards that work in Expanded (Quick Ball is good no matter what!), don’t assume that because a card has potential in Standard, that potential also exists in Expanded, or the other way round.
More Pokémon VSTAR are making an appearance in Astral Radiance, and some of them are seriously good. But forget about Palkia VSTAR for once. The best Pokémon VSTAR for the Expanded format is Darkrai VSTAR.
This card was almost tailor-made for Expanded, where it’s poised to become one of the best decks in the format. The Dark type has been strong since Expanded was a format, thanks to Dark Patch, attackers like Yveltal-EX, Darkrai-EX BKP and Guzzlord, and support Pokémon such as Darkrai-EX DEX, Darkrai-GX and Weavile-GX.
There has always been a deck whose game plan is to flood the board with Dark Energy and use that to power up powerful attacks. Darkrai VSTAR is but the newest attacker in that line. Its Dark Pulse is the same attack that Greninja & Zoroark-GX has, but instead of being on a Basic three-Prize Pokémon, it’s on an Evolution two-Prize Pokémon. While not being Basic is bad in some aspects, many Expanded decks like having an Evolution Pokémon they can attack with, in order to have an out to anti-Basic Pokémon (Vileplume BUS and Pyroar FLF). Darkrai VSTAR solves this issue without having to play Weavile-GX.
Of course, Star Abyss is also another huge bonus to Turbo Dark. Star Abyss’s most basic use is to recover two Dark Patch, boosting Dark Pulse’s damage by 60. However, it also lets you get back Escape Rope, Hypnotoxic Laser (for Darkrai-GX’s Dead End GX) or some other one-of Item that was discarded in the early game. Star Abyss can also recover an ACE SPEC card, so you could play Scramble Switch and get multiple uses out of it. This works well with the Dark-type’s gallery of powerful attackers, including Mega Sableye & Tyranitar-GX and Umbreon & Darkrai-GX.
Basically, Darkrai VSTAR seems like it can replace Mewtwo & Mew-GX / Weavile-GX in order to become the new face of the Dark type in Expanded, with less reliance on Tag Team Pokémon, making it better at trading Prizes against other aggressive decks. Darkrai VSTAR is also in a good spot in the metagame due to the Dark-weak Shadow Rider’s position as one of the biggest threats in the format.
Another VSTAR Pokémon that doesn’t see much hype in Standard is Dialga VSTAR. However, this Pokémon has a lot more potential in Expanded for similar reasons. Just like Darkrai VSTAR, requiring many Energy in play to work is an issue that’s easier to solve in Expanded, because of Max Elixir as well as potentially Bronzong PHF. We have already seen fast Metal decks do well in Expanded. Bronzor TEU can evolve into Metal Transfer Bronzong on the first turn of the game. Combine that with the explosive draw power of Dedenne-GX and Crobat V and you can use Zacian’s Brave Blade on the first turn of the game. But with Metal Saucer and Max Elixir, you can get five Energy or more in play on your first turn, move these Energy to Dialga-GX, and use Timeless GX. Bronzong allows the Energy on Dialga-GX to be moved to other, better attackers later on.
Dialga VSTAR fits very well in this shell. After using Timeless GX, you can move your Energy to Dialga VSTAR and use Star Chronos to get another extra turn, and then use Dialga VSTAR’s Metal Burst for another big KO using all the Energy you have in play. If you can pull all of this off, you should either win the game or be in an extremely dominant position, having taken multiple KOs and disrupted your opponent’s start.
Does that sound broken and unfair to play against? Don’t worry, plenty of decks sound this way when described in a vacuum, but don’t end up as good as they should be because there are counters to them. The Expanded format has a lot of cards that can lock some parts of the opponent’s plan. A fast, aggressive deck like Dialga VSTAR, at least the way I described it, is incredible if everything goes well, but can be stopped in its track by a Silent Lab, Path to the Peak or Wobbuffet PHF, among other cards. It is possible that the card will still see play, but in order to be anything other than a highroll deck, it will need to include its own counter cards, such as Field Blower, and that will make it slower and less frustrating to play against.
What about the other VSTAR Pokémon? Palkia VSTAR, the new face of Standard, is not without potential in Expanded, but it is much less impressive. Compare its Star Portal VSTAR Power to Darkrai VSTAR’s Star Abyss. In Expanded, Star Portal does exactly the same thing as in Standard: it accelerates three Energy from the discard pile. If anything, it’s worse than in Standard, because in Expanded, you can accelerate Water Energy by other means, such as Aqua Patch. Star Portal is less unique and more replaceable.
On the other hand, Star Abyss’s strength depends on the Items it can get back. Since Expanded has a higher choice of Item cards, Star Abyss becomes better there. For example, you can get VS Seeker back from the discard, which essentially means that Star Abyss can recover Supporters as well as Item cards.
Another thorn in Palkia VSTAR’s side is that Lightning-type Pokémon are more common in Expanded. ADP / Dragonite, another top tier deck in the format, uses Lightning Energy and Tapu Koko Prism Star, and as such includes Pokémon that can act as secondary attackers, namely Vikavolt V and Zeraora-GX. These Pokémon can easily OHKO Palkia VSTAR while still being useful in other matchups. The rise of ADP Dragonite was a major reason why Togekiss VMAX fell from Tier 1 of Expanded, and my guess is that a similar fate awaits Palkia VSTAR: it won’t be able to do well because the best decks of Expanded are better than it and it doesn’t offer anything else.
That said, it’s not a bad card. Subspace Swell is a powerful attack in a format with Sky Field, and being able to power up multiple Pokémon, without having to use an Item card, is still a powerful effect. If more varied Water attackers are released, there could be a Water Toolbox-type deck in which Palkia VSTAR would likely play a key role. Right now, though, I see few reasons to play it over Turbo Dark, to give only one example.
Hisuian Samurott VSTAR, another powerful Pokémon for Standard, might also be underwhelming in Expanded. This is in part because Darkrai VSTAR is also there and it fits what Dark decks tend to do in Expanded much better. Samurott is its own beast: it’s an attacker that requires fewer support than Darkrai VSTAR’s Dark Pulse, but also has a lower damage ceiling. Unfortunately, in Expanded, that’s not a good tradeoff to make in most cases.
There is one combination that warrants a mention, though: Samurott’ VSTAR Power, Moon Cleave Star, has incredible synergy with Yveltal-GX’s Doom Count GX. By using both on the same turn, you can KO any Pokémon in the game for only one Energy card, albeit at the cost of using both your VSTAR Power and your GX attack.
That’s still a good trade… assuming you’re Knocking Out a three-Prize Pokémon. Against decks with smaller Pokémon, that’s not a very good combination, although against the smallest of Pokémon, Samurott becomes very good again. For example, Moon Cleave Star can just KO a Bunnelby without even having to attack. For intermediate Pokémon that have more than 40 HP but fewer than a Tag Team, Samurott VSTAR would likely be played with cards that can add damage to the board, such as the Roxie / Weezing combination. Add Galarian Zigzagoon, Absol ROS, and maybe even Medicham V and you have an interesting build that can take advantage of damage counters in play.
I don’t think this will be enough to make a Tier 1 deck, especially since other Pokémon VSTAR have a bit more HP than Samurott’s damage output, so they would be difficult matchups, but at the very least, it has potential. That’s more that I can say for the remaining VSTARs of the set.
Astral Radiance’s new mechanic is Radiant Pokémon, Basic Pokémon that you can only play one of per deck, with powerful effects. There are only three Radiant Pokémon in the set, but they’re decently interesting cards. Let’s talk about them.
Radiant Greninja is, in my opinion, the most interesting of the three. Not only can it be used as an attacker in a Palkia VSTAR deck, it can also be played in other decks simply for its Ability. Volcarona, notably, will love to have an additional way to draw cards and discard Energy at the same time.
Radiant Greninja could also see play in other Energy-heavy decks, such as Turbo Dark and Speed Zacian (or Speed Dialga, if the deck starts focusing more on the additional turn Pokémon). I’m not sure it will be worth it in these builds though, mainly because their Bench space is limited and there are more important Pokémon to play. If Turbo Dark plays Sky Field, then it would most likely have space for Radiant Greninja, but then the issue is that it becomes weaker against Sudowoodo.
In any case, a draw Ability on a Basic Pokémon is a powerful effect and one that is likely to see play.
Radiant Hawlucha is weaker, because fewer Expanded decks rely on VMAX Pokémon compared to Standard, so most decks won’t make good use of it. There is one notable exception: ADP Dragonite can use Radiant Hawlucha to increase its damage output. Between Altered Creation GX, Radiant Hawlucha and Muscle Band (Leon is also an option), Dragonite V can reach a high enough damage output to OHKO VMAX Pokémon, especially the dangerous Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX. I expect ADP Dragonite to play Radiant Hawlucha unless Shadow Rider drops from its top spot in the metagame.
Finally, Radiant Heatran is unique in that it requires a very specific type of deck to use. It has synergy with Magma Basin, but also with Welder and Frozen City for example. It’s possible to deal very high damage with it in a Fire-type deck, but a Welder deck (Charizard VSTAR, for example) would have no reason to run Frozen City just for Heatran. It’s a bit more realistic to simply include a Damage Mover (assuming the deck already runs Magma Basin) to move damage from another Pokémon to Heatran and make sure it can OHKO anything.
Trainer cards can often be at the core of new, powerful archetypes. Astral Radiance doesn’t have anything as defining as, say, Green’s Exploration, but some of its Trainer cards are pretty interesting and will see play.
My pick for more important Trainer card of the set is Hisuian Heavy Ball. There are many decks that run only one copy of some of their key Pokémon, and Hisuian Heavy Ball lets them get these cards out of the Prizes. If nothing else, it’s a fantastic card in any deck that runs Tapu Koko Prism Star, but it’s also good in any deck that runs mainly Basic Pokémon, such as ADP Dragonite or Tsareena. I’m sure that plenty of less meta decks, such as Durant, will also make good use of it. Overall, Hisuian Heavy Ball is good. Not format breaking, but solid.
Canceling Cologne also seems important. Abilities on Active Pokémon can play an important role in Expanded: Wobbuffet, for example, is a powerful card to slow down faster decks (or to shut down Vileplume AOR’s Ability). Stall decks use walls such as Pyroar or Altaria to shut down archetypes that can’t deal with them, and Snorlax to lock a non-attacking Pokémon in the Active Spot. Shock Lock relies entirely on Stoutland’s Ability to achieve its lock. Canceling Cologne can deal with all of these. It may not be the best answer to these cards, and only some decks need a counter to them, so I’m definitely not saying that Canceling Cologne will be a staple in the format or even in any given archetype. In several of the scenarios above, Escape Rope would work just as well to counter the opponent.
At the very least, though, Canceling Cologne is an Item with a unique effect that can play a role in the Expanded dance of counters and counter-counters. That’s valuable. It may not be right now, but at some point, it’s inevitable that some deck(s) will include Canceling Cologne in order to improve their matchup against some other deck. This card will see play.
Supereffective Glasses also have a unique effect. It’s a very situational card, but it also looks to me like a card to keep in the back of your mind that will one day see play in a specific deck to counter another specific deck. It’s hard to find an example, though, because Weakness is usually enough to KO anything, unless your attack is pretty weak.
There are some attacks that deal little damage that see play (Vikavolt V’s Paralyzing Bolt comes to mind), but if you wanted to increase your damage output against Lightning-weak Pokémon you would probably play Muscle Band, not Supereffective Glasses. With a Muscle Band, Paralyzing Bolt would deal 140 damage, instead of 150 with Super-Effective Glasses, but it would be useful if many more scenarios, so it would be better.
If Supereffective Glasses are not good on low damage attacks and not good on high damage attacks, what can they do? The sweet spot seems to be around 110 to 120 damage (or 80 to 90 damage, plus a Radiant Hawlucha in play). That’s a low enough damage output that it won’t OHKO a Pokémon VMAX, even with Weakness. Muscle Band would increase the damage to 260 to 280, or Choice Belt to 280 to 300, but that might not be enough. On the other hand, Supereffective Glasses would allow this attack to hit for 330 to 360 damage on the VMAX Pokémon, getting a KO. Unfortunately, there are few attacks that see play that deal around this amount of damage, so right now, I’m not confident this card will not see any play.
Trekking Shoes may not see much play either, because it’s generally worse than Acro Bike, which is already not popular anymore. I could see some donk decks on ladder, and maybe Honchkrow-GX, play Trekking Shoes, but these are not really relevant decks in the metagame.
As for Supporters, the first one that comes to mind in Roxanne. In Expanded, Roxanne faces strong competition from N, which is usually better because it is useful even on the first turn of the game. However, situational Supporters have a place in Expanded thanks to VS Seeker. For example, I think I will play Roxanne in Coalossal VMAX. It provides disruption, especially in combination with Path to the Peak, but it also gives the deck more draw than N in the midgame. Roxanne is also very strong in combination with Trevenant & Dusknoir-GX’s Night Watch, and Shadow Rider can make great use of this combination.
Irida is weaker than in Standard because Water Pokémon are not as good in Expanded, mostly because the Inteleon line is too slow. Also, Dive Ball is a better way to search for Water Pokémon in a deck that runs enough of them. That said, Korrina, the Fighting-type equivalent to Irida, does see play in Coalossal VMAX (and in the past, in Primal Groudon), so Irida might have potential, if it can find a fitting deck.
Irida’s rival Adaman is the equivalent of Crasher Wake, a card that never saw any play, so I’m not holding out much hope for it either. That said, maybe Metal is a better type for this kind of effect. While the most effective Metal deck has been a fast, aggressive deck with Dialga-GX, some slower, more defensive archetypes did see play in the past. Metal Pokémon can benefit from defensive effects such as Lucario & Melmetal-GX’s Full Metal Wall GX, Max Potion and Metal Goggles. It is not beyond my imagination to envision such a deck running Adaman and Mt. Coronet to access cards it needs every turn, healing Pokémon with Max Potion while slowly overpowering the opponent.
Maybe, more realistically, Adaman and Mt. Coronet would be a better fit for a Stall deck’s engine, though.
Speaking of Stall, Cyllene could also fit in there. There are other ways to recover cards in Stall, namely Bunnelby, but sometimes you want to get back a card while still keeping Snorlax or some other wall in the Active Spot. Cyllene can be a (unfortunately only 75 percent reliable) way to get a card back from the discard, and as always in Expanded, Lusamine loops will give it infinite value… over an infinite amount of turns (games tend not to last that long).
Finally, Grant is an interesting card in that it can let you discard cards simply by virtue of being in the discard itself. I don’t think that makes it good enough to play just so you can discard cards, but if you can also use it for its actual effect, it becomes very interesting. In particular, it has a lot of synergy with Marshadow-GX, which copies attacks from Basic Pokémon in the discard pile. I could also see Coalossal VMAX running this card, not because it needs to discard anything, but just because a damage boost that you can simply put in your discard and get back at any point if needed is useful to have.
As for Stadiums, the only relevant one is Temple of Sinnoh (Jubilife Village is a worse Tropical Beach, which already doesn’t see play, and Gapejaw Bog doesn’t do anything that Team Magma’s Secret Base doesn’t already do). Shutting down Special Energy is a powerful effect, but right now, there are few top tier decks that rely on Special Energy. ADP Dragonite is probably the main one, but this deck is very fast, and Temple of Sinnoh is not that reliable. It could be good alongside N in the late game, but then ADP Dragonite could have a Lightning Pokémon powered up and be able to win the game without needing Special Energy.
Therefore, I don’t expect Temple of Sinnoh to be very relevant upon release, however there have been many top tier decks that use Special Energy in the past, and Temple of Sinnoh could be a powerful counter if this kind of deck rises again at some point in the future.
Finally, here are some notable Pokémon that haven’t already be mentioned:
- Mightyena: A powerful counter to Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX, one of the format’s best decks. Even when its Ability isn’t active, Mightyena can use Triple Acceleration Energy. It fits into Zoroark decks, but probably not more than that.
- Starmie V: A powerful attacker against decks that play a lot of Energy, such as Turbo Dark, although few decks can run it (it can use Counter Energy, for what it’s worth). The issue is that Starmie V can KO Darkrai VSTAR, but it will also very easily be KO’d back, so it only trades two Prizes for two.
- Luxray V: Honestly, Fang Snipe in a format with Double Colorless Energy and Double Turbo Energy could be strong. It would have to be paired with other disruption cards, maybe Energy denial, but it has potential. It also seems especially good against Stall decks.
- Garchomp V: Decks with Duraludon VMAX, Arceus VSTAR and Double Dragon Energy have started popping up in online tournaments. Garchomp V, which deals heavy damage to Benched Pokémon, could be a strong secondary attacker for this kind of deck.
- Gallade: Okay, this won’t see play by itself, but there are a lot of good Gardevoir and Gallade cards in the format. It’s possible that one day, a new Gardevoir or Gallade will be strong enough to warrant building a deck around it, with Kirlia CRE to help the setup. When that day comes, this Gallade will likely be a good one-of in the deck. Also note that Astral Radiance gets a 70 HP Ralts, an improvement over the other ones in the format.
Astral Radiance’s main impact on the format will be making Turbo Dark much stronger. Other decks may get a couple new cards, such as Hisuian Heavy Ball, but will likely not change much except to react to how the metagame shifts – which, admittedly, can still have a notable effect on the format overall.
I’ll leave you with this Darkrai VSTAR deck list to get you started in the format!
****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ****** ##Pokémon - 15 * 1 Crobat V DAA 104 * 3 Darkrai V ASR 98 * 1 Darkrai-EX DEX 63 * 2 Darkrai-GX BUS 88 * 1 Galarian Moltres V CRE 97 * 1 Mega Sableye & Tyranitar-GX UNM 126 * 2 Darkrai VSTAR ASR 99 * 1 Marshadow-GX BUS 80 * 2 Dedenne-GX UNB 57 * 1 Radiant Greninja ASR 46 ##Trainer Cards - 34 * 3 Battle Compressor Team Flare Gear PHF 92 * 4 Dark Patch DEX 93 * 4 Max Elixir BKP 102 * 4 VS Seeker PHF 109 * 1 Hypnotoxic Laser PLS 123 * 1 Scramble Switch PLS 129 * 2 Sky Field ROS 89 * 2 Professor Juniper DEX 98 * 1 N DEX 96 * 1 Guzma BUS 115 * 1 Colress PLS 118 * 1 Escape Rope BUS 114 * 1 Field Blower GRI 125 * 4 Quick Ball SSH 179 * 4 Ultra Ball BRS 150 ##Energy - 11 * 11 Darkness Energy SWSHEnergy 7 Total Cards - 60 ****** Deck List Generated by the Pokémon TCG Online www.pokemon.com/TCGO ******
Until next time!