Let me start with a question: is the current Standard format a diverse one?
Most players would answer yes – there are many viable decks, none of which is exceedingly powerful. Powerful decks are kept in check by other decks (often due to Weakness), so while the metagame isn’t a complete free-for-all in which anything can work (which would mean you can’t meta call, because you can’t expect anything), tournaments usually end up with varied top cuts.
The argument for the other side is that, while plenty of decks are viable, these decks aren’t all that distinct from each other. They usually rely on Pokemon VMAX hitting for damage for a couple of Energy. They might not use the same exact Pokemon or the same engine (although Inteleon fits into a lot of these decks) and some of them only hit the Active Pokemon while some of them deal Bench damage, but there are still similarities which make these decks feel similar. Dragapult VMAX and Leafeon VMAX don’t do the same thing, but the general flow of their games is similar. There’s no mill deck. There’s no one-Prize deck that uses low HP, Basic Pokemon that can nevertheless deal huge amounts of damage. There’s no deck that sacrifices early Prizes to get a strong lead on the board. There’s no stall or control deck, despite Sander Wojcik’s best attempts. There’s no Item lock deck – or is there?
Not everyone means the same thing when they talk about a format’s diversity. If you enjoy Standard, I’m not questioning your experience. I’m having fun too! However, thinking back to some great formats I played in, I can’t help but feel that we’re missing options and that the game would be better if players could better express their different play styles. This is one of the reasons why I like Expanded a lot, by the way: decks tend to be much more distinct and knowing how to play one doesn’t directly translate to knowing how to play another.
Therefore, today I’m happy to talk about a deck which differs a little from what you’re probably used to from the format: Vikavolt V. I mean, it still uses the Inteleon engine, so you won’t be too lost, but it uses it in a slightly different way from most other decks.
Vikavolt V’s strength comes from its first attack, Paralyzing Bolt, which Item locks the opponent. You know that it is a strong card: if you’ve played any Expanded in the past year, you’ve probably seen it in action in the Pikachu & Zekrom-GX deck, which was the best deck in the format for a while and Vikavolt V was perhaps a more important card for that deck than Pikarom itself. Even in Standard, upon release, it was a strong part of the Pikarom list that Isaiah Bradner used to win the 2020 POG Championship. If Vikavolt V hasn’t been strong in Standard since then, it’s because it lacked some key cards (like Electropower) that made it such a threat, not because it was a bad card. Electropower is not back, but for other reasons, Vikavolt could fare better in the 2022 Standard format.
The third set in the XY-era, Furious Fists was released in August 2014. One of the cards that caught everyone’s eye was Seismitoad-EX (aka Toad), who for the cost of a Double Colorless Energy could use Quaking Punch, dealing 30 damage and preventing the opponent from playing Item cards for a turn.
If you didn’t play in this era, it’s possible that you’ve heard of Toad as something of a demon. It was one of these cards that ended up much more powerful than its designers expected, forcing them to print counter after counter for it, with limited success. Zoroark-GX also fits this description. While Toad saw plenty of play in the 2015 season alongside other partners, including Landorus-EX and Yveltal-EX, an archetype emerged that simply used it alongside plenty of powerful Item cards (including Super Scoop Up, Hypnotoxic Laser and Crushing Hammer), denying the opponent KOs and using Lysandre’s Trump Card to use these cards again, indefinitely. That archetype was extremely successful at European Nationals and became so powerful after Roaring Skies that Lysandre’s Trump Card was banned before United States Nationals. Toad was still strong, though. In the 2016 season, it was played alongside Giratina-EX or in a Water Toolbox and it still performed very well.
Despite this domination, despite how annoying it could be to get Item locked starting on your second turn and despite how stupid Toad mirror matches could get, I strongly believe that Seismitoad-EX was, overall, a good thing to happen to the game. Before it came out, the game could get boringly simple. Keldeo-EX / Blastoise / Black Kyurem-EX mirror matches were often a trade of OHKOs, for example, whose outcomes were often decided by which player would whiff a Superior Energy Retrieval. But with its Item lock, Seismitoad-EX made these kind of Stage 2 Energy accelerators much less viable (because you can’t use Rare Candy under Item lock). Instead of the format being dominated by big, powerful attacks, dealing low damage to lock the opponent became the standard. Games became longer, letting players make better use of their whole deck. Utility Supporters such as Pokemon Center Lady and Xerosic became more popular, instead of decks playing only draw Supporters and Lysandre. In my opinion, Toad helped the game transition to a more strategic era than simple big Basic battles.
Of course, Vikavolt V isn’t Seismitoad-EX: its main flaw is that it requires two Energy to attack, so you can’t use Paralyzing Bolt on turn one (except with Turbo Patch I guess). Still, it’s pretty good. The low damage output may seem bad, but with Inteleon, you can add more damage to the opponent’s board turn after turn and since Item lock makes games much longer, this means that you can get a lot more use out of Inteleon than other decks do. And if you lock up a Pokemon with a heavy Retreat Cost in the Active Spot, you can slowly chip away at it while you damage something else with Inteleon turn after turn, essentially getting free damage every turn. There are multiple reasons why this strategy can be particularly effective in the current format.
Many decks in Standard rely on the Inteleon line. I’m sure you can remember games where Drizzile’s Shady Dealings grabbed the perfect card for the opponent: Boss’s Orders for game is the perfect example, of course, but Item cards such as Fan of Waves, Tool Scrapper, Switch or maybe an Evolution Incense for their Pokemon VMAX are also very common targets. Paralyzing Bolt removes all these options. The Inteleon line is so popular that some decks have tried including Jolteon and Memory Capsule to shut it down, but Vikavolt V does this much more effectively and without having to run an awkward Stage 1 Bench-sitter: it doesn’t completely shut down the Inteleon line but making Drizzile only search for Supporters and Stadiums makes it much worse. Plus, Vikavolt V hits Sobble and Drizzile for Weakness, so they’re easy pickings and you can easily Knock Out a Drizzile before it evolves again if you want.
Meanwhile, you can use your own Drizzile to get the cards you need. Item lock combines very well with disruption cards, as mentioned above: Boss’s Orders on a Pokemon with a high Retreat Cost will let you attack multiple times, since the opponent can’t play Switch or Air Balloon to retreat under Item lock. If you’re dealing 50 damage per turn, but the opponent needs three turns to manually attach Energy to retreat (something that can happen in the Shadow Rider matchup, for example), then Paralyzing Bolt basically deals 150 damage. With two Inteleon in play, it’s more like 270 damage, which can be spread around as you wish, which is extremely good.
You can also manipulate the damage to take KOs with Quick Shooting instead of Paralyzing Bolt. For example, I’ve run into situations where my opponent, playing something like Jolteon VMAX, sends a Zigzagoon Active to sacrifice it. Since Zigzagoon has 70 HP, it can be KOed by Quick Shooting plus Paralyzing Bolt, but it’s better to just use Paralyzing Bolt (forcing the opponent to use their manual attachment to retreat it) and then Quick Shooting on the next turn to finish off the Zigzagoon, so you can use your actual attack on a bigger threat. Or even play a Boss’s Orders to bring up another target that can’t attack and hit that one!
Other disruption cards are also effective. You thought Marnie plus Path to the Peak was strong? Try adding Item lock to the mix and that four-card hand will sting even more when only one or two cards in it are even playable! Even getting a Pokemon VMAX out is not that easy when you don’t have access to Evolution Incense.
Crushing Hammer, Fan of Waves and Team Yell Grunt can also set your opponent back a turn, which is useful to buy time, which translates into more damage. You might wonder why Energy denial would be stronger here than in other decks, since Item lock doesn’t directly prevent the opponent from drawing or playing Energy cards (unless they play Energy Search), so at first glance, these cards aren’t any stronger in this deck than in non-Item lock decks.
However, due to games with Vikavolt V being longer, the value of Energy isn’t the same. For example, if you bring up a Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX with no Energy in the Active Spot, it will need two Energy before it can retreat (or three to attack). Removing the first Energy they attach means you set them back a whole turn: the fact that they can’t play Switch or Air Balloon here means that Energy plays a different role here than in other Shadow Rider matchups. Of course, Hammers can also be used to prevent a deck like Dragapult VMAX from attacking on turn two.
As a Basic Pokemon V, Vikavolt V can benefit from Cape of Toughness. This synergizes with Item lock because, after Paralyzing Bolt, the opponent can’t play a Tool Jammer or Tool Scrapper to get rid of it. This means, for example, that Zacian V can’t OHKO Vikavolt V with Brave Blade (unless they play Rusted Sword and manage to attach it before getting locked).
Speaking of Pokemon Tools, Item lock prevents the opponent from playing any, so you only need one Tool Scrapper to remove any Tool cards they may have attached before getting Item locked. We’ll never need more than one Tool Scrapper, but you do need one, because removing Tool cards is very important (mostly for Air Balloon, but also deck-specific Items like Elemental Badge in Jolteon VMAX).
I hope that it’s clear by now that Item lock is more than a gimmick and has a deep impact in how games are played. Now, let’s look at the actual decklist.
The decklist below is inspired by Vinícius Fernandez, who posted it and inspired other players to play it in recent online events. He wasn’t the first person to play Vikavolt V, though and in fact the deck’s best results this season were achieved by Japanese player sino who did well with it in early September, in the first days after rotation.