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Your New Overlord is Here – An Introduction to Palkia VSTAR

Hello! While there are still plenty of Regionals and Special Events in the current (Sword & ShieldBrilliant Stars) format, Astral Radiance’s release is getting closer. This is always a strange time: I, like many players making articles, streaming or recording videos, want to talk about all the shiny new cards and decks that are coming. Most players have probably settled on a deck for the current format and don’t plan on changing too much. The Brilliant Stars format, as interesting as it is, feels, if not solved, then at least pretty well explored.

Yet, as a competitive player, I need to stay focused on the current format. As a European player, for example, there are still three major events in the current format that I’ll be attending (Lille and Bremen Regionals and the Milan SPE), so it would be a bit premature to forego Brilliant Stars altogether in favor of Astral Radiance. While I do stay updated on the Japanese metagame in order to have an idea of what we’ll all be playing and teching against in a month, I have only watched this format, not played it, so I’m not qualified (yet) to give a detailed rundown of the format.

Therefore, I’ve decided to play it safe. This article will talk about Astral Radiance, but only in a way that I’m sure will stay relevant. I won’t talk about every deck that we can expect to see. Instead, I’ll cover only one new archetype: Origin Forme Palkia VSTAR.

Origin Forme Palkia VSTAR (040/189)

I don’t think many players would disagree if I stated that Origin Palkia VSTAR will be the most relevant deck to come out of Astral Radiance. In Japan, Palkia is a tier 1 deck, matched only by Mew VMAX (and Arceus VSTAR, if you count all variants as one). If you watched Champions League Yokohama a few weeks ago, or looked at its results, you may not have reached that conclusion: after all, Mew VMAX ended up winning, Arceus was in second place and only one Palkia deck made top 8.

However, looking only at one tournament, prestigious as it may be, never gives a complete picture of the metagame. If you only looked at EUIC results, for example, you might conclude that Mew VMAX is not that relevant, since only one such deck made top 8. On the other hand, if you’ve given any attention to the current format, you know how centralizing Mew VMAX is to the metagame. It is the main reason why Galarian Moltres is such a widely played card. In fact, it’s pretty impressive how strong Mew VMAX manages to be when almost every deck for the format techs for it (whether it’s with Galarian Moltres, Path to the Peak or something else).

Palkia VSTAR is similar. It’s, on its own, an incredible deck, and its lack of success at some specific events is mostly due to players actively teching for it. The second place deck at Champions League Yokohama was Arceus VSTAR / Inteleon featuring a 1-1 Surfing Pikachu VMAX deck. Hoopa / Moltres toolbox decks, such as the one that made top 4, are running attackers like Raikou V and Zeraora VIV. There’s a reason why these Lightning-type attackers pop up: they’re here to counter Palkia VSTAR, just like Galarian Moltres is teched everywhere to combat Mew VMAX.

As the metagame will develop in the rest of the world, we might see different decks rise than the ones that did best in Japan. As much as I rely on Japanese results to get an idea of a format, on multiple occasions, western players have developed their own takes on decks months later which ended up performing better. For a recent example, Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX did much better in our parts of the world, especially at EUIC, than it did in Japan in the same format. Whether that’s due to Japanese players never coming up with the kind of build that Robin Schulz premiered at Liverpool, to Manaphy being less popular here, allowing Urshifu to surprise the competition, to Japanese tournaments being best-of-one, making Japanese players less inclined to play this kind of deck, or some other factor is a topic for another day.

Nevertheless, Palkia VSTAR is not a meta pick that targets weaknesses in the metagame; it’s just a force of its own, like Mew VMAX and Arceus VSTAR. As such, I think it’s all but guaranteed to be a powerhouse in the upcoming format. This article aims to explain why, and how.

 

 

Header - Key Cards

The VSTAR mechanic has been a bit disappointing in my opinion, since only two Pokémon VSTAR have any relevance in the format (and even then, Arceus VSTAR is way above all competition). Astral Radiance offers some alternatives, including Hisuian Samurott VSTAR, Darkrai VSTAR (mostly for Expanded… we’ll talk about this more next week) and of course Origin Palkia VSTAR.

Origin Forme Palkia VSTAR (040/189)

Palkia’s attack, Subspace Swell, deals 60 damage plus 20 for each Benched Pokémon, so at a minimum, assuming your own Bench is full, it will deal 160 damage. If the opponent’s Bench is full too (which you can expect against Mew VMAX, for instance), that’s 260 damage, and if they limit it to three Benched Pokémon, Palkia still deals 220 damage. So, while the attack is reminiscent of Suicune V’s Blizzard Rondo, its higher power makes it much more threatening. If you add some damage boosts such as Choice Belt, Quick Shooting or even Leon, Palkia VSTAR can threaten to OHKO VSTAR and VMAX Pokémon, unlike Suicune, who needs Ludicolo (a much higher commitment) to achieve this kind of feat. Palkia’s VSTAR Power, Star Portal, also lets you attach three Water Energy to your Pokémon. This means you can easily power up Palkia VSTAR even if you whiffed a turn one attachment (or it got removed by a Crushing Hammer or a Meloetta KO) without having to rely on Melony like Arceus VSTAR would.

Radiant Greninja (046/189)

You can also attach Water Energy to another Pokémon. The main candidate is Radiant Greninja, which is simply incredible in this deck. First, it has great synergy with Capacious Bucket and Palkia’s VSTAR Power. You can grab Energy, discard it to draw more cards, then attach these Energy when needed. Greninja is also a powerful attacker that can snipe two Pokémon with 90 HP or less: Sobble, Drizzile, Meloetta, Bidoof, Zigzagoon, Houndour, etc. Obviously, it can be countered by Manaphy, but that’s not a big deal. Greninja’s mere presence means that, at the very least, the opponent is forced to Bench an additional Benched Pokémon, which increases Palkia’s damage output.

Irida

Trainer – Supporter
Search your deck for a [W] Pokémon and an Item card and put them into your hand. Then, shuffle your deck.

The last new card that warrants discussion in this deck is the Supporter, Irida. It can grab an Item and a Water Pokémon, which includes Palkia V and VSTAR, Radiant Greninja, the whole Inteleon line and Manaphy. There’s never any shortage of targets, so the card stays relevant.

Irida’s main draw is that it’s always useful. Draw supporters like Marnie and Professor’s Research have drawbacks and should not be played when you want to keep the cards in your hand. Boss’s Orders and Cheryl are situational and Roxanne and Raihan can only be played under specific circumstances, but you can always choose to play Irida if you have nothing better to do.

Header - Building the Deck

Here’s a sample deck list:

****** Pokémon Trading Card Game Deck List ******

##Pokémon - 19

* 4 Origin Forme Palkia V ASR
* 3 Origin Forme Palkia VSTAR ASR
* 1 Radiant Greninja ASR
* 1 Manaphy BRS 41
* 4 Sobble CRE 41
* 3 Drizzile SSH 56
* 2 Inteleon SSH 58
* 1 Inteleon CRE 43

##Trainer Cards - 34

* 2 Irida ASR
* 2 Boss's Orders RCL 154
* 1 Raihan EVS 152
* 1 Professor's Research SHF 60
* 1 Roxanne ASR
* 1 Pal Pad UPR 132
* 1 Marnie SSH 169
* 1 Ordinary Rod SSH 171
* 4 Quick Ball SSH 179
* 2 Ultra Ball BRS 150
* 2 Evolution Incense SSH 163
* 4 Level Ball BST 129
* 3 Capacious Bucket RCL 156
* 2 Choice Belt BRS 135
* 2 Path to the Peak CRE 148
* 1 Temple of Sinnoh ASR
* 2 Scoop Up Net RCL 165
* 1 Echoing Horn CRE 136
* 1 Escape Rope BUS 114

##Energy - 7

* 7 Water Energy SMEnergy 3

Total Cards - 60

****** Deck List Generated by the Pokémon TCG Online www.pokemon.com/TCGO ******

Like many other decks, Palkia benefits from an Inteleon engine. It increases its damage, gives access to cards it needs and fills its Bench nicely. Plus, there’s the Irida synergy I mentioned above. Therefore, the deck overall looks a bit like an Arceus VSTAR / Inteleon deck, with its one-of Supporters as well as Pal Pad and Ordinary Rod. In that light, I think that most cards are self-explanatory, at least if you’ve seen or played Arceus before. Let me comment on some specific choices, though:

  • Roxanne: This new card is great and will decide games. It’s a comeback mechanic, one that’s especially effective against Mew VMAX when combined with Path to the Peak. Roxanne is a fantastic one-of in this kind of deck which can find it whenever it needs. It’s possible that finding ways to counter Roxanne could end up being an important part of whether a deck can succeed, and I wouldn’t be shocked if, for example, decks like Palkia VSTAR or Arceus / Inteleon ended up running a 1-1 Bibarel line to improve their resilience against Roxanne.
  • Raihan: Raihan isn’t needed to attack on turn two if you whiff the turn one attachment, but it’s still a good card to make sure you have enough Energy for the whole game. It can also let you attack more easily with Inteleon and Radiant Greninja.
  • Echoing Horn: Echoing Horn is a situational card, for sure, but it works well in this deck because it increases Palkia’s damage. As such, I expect most decks to play one copy, similarly to Suicune V decks.
  • Two Path to the Peak, one Temple of Sinnoh: Path to the Peak is a great Stadium, especially against Mew VSTAR but, just like in an Arceus deck, you don’t want to have it in play before you’ve used your VSTAR Power. That’s why it’s good to have another Stadium available, and the best one for this deck is Temple of Sinnoh, which turns all Special Energy into Colorless Energy. That’s good against a number of decks, including Arceus VSTAR, but also Mew VMAX. Sure, Mew VMAX can still use Cross Fusion Strike even if its Fusion Energy only provide Colorless Energy, but Temple of Sinnoh will deactivate its effect, allowing you to use Quick Shooting on a Mew VMAX. When both Benches are full, Palkia VSTAR can OHKO Mew VMAX with a Choice Belt and a Quick Shooting.

 

Header - Other Options

As always, here are some other cards that I chose not to include in the list above, but which can definitely work. I’ve seen all of them in Japanese deck lists.

  • Melony: A V-based deck with only Water Energy not running Melony is definitely a surprise. My reasoning for not including Melony is that Palkia’s VSTAR Power is enough to power up attackers, so you don’t need Melony, and there’s always Raihan if you end up running out of attackers. That said, while there’s no need to focus on that card like in a Suicune V or Ice Rider deck, I think most Palkia decks will run one copy of Melony, since it’s situationally useful.
  • Crobat V: I’m not a huge fan of running a 180 HP two-Prize Pokémon, since it feels like giving opponents easy Prizes, but Crobat V is a good card in a deck with Quick Ball and Ultra Ball, so it’s an option, just like in Arceus VSTAR decks.
  • Starmie V: Starmie V is a secondary attacker that’s extremely effective against decks that get a lot of Energy in play, such as Arceus VSTAR decks. Due to its relatively low HP, it will be revenge KO’d back, but you can see it like Galarian Zapdos V in Arceus / Birds: it’s a Basic attacker that trades effectively with a VSTAR and puts you closer to the end of the game if you’re in the lead.
  • Big Charm: Big Charm can help Palkia the same way it helps Arceus: it makes a Benched Arceus V less vulnerable to a KO by an opponent’s Arceus VSTAR, and it can also help you put your attacker out of reach of Mew VMAX’s damage.
  • Tool Scrapper: Conversely, in a deck with multiple ways to search for Trainers (Drizzile, Inteleon and Irida), you can play this kind of tech in order to counter opposing Big Charms (or anything else, of course).
  • Battle VIP Pass: Strangely, this card features in most Japanese deck lists. I think the main reason is that Palkia needs a full Bench to be very effective, and drawing even one Battle VIP Pass gets you much closer to that goal. What’s more, if you go second, Irida is an out to a turn one Battle VIP Pass, which makes playing even one copy of Battle VIP Pass reasonable. That said, I remain unconvinced by the number of lists I’ve seen which play three copies of VIP Pass, and since the deck doesn’t have a great way to use Battle VIP Pass later on (unlike Mew VMAX which can discard it to Cram-o-matic, or even Cinccino decks which can use it as fuel for Make Do), I think that the deck will probably end up being better without it (or with just one copy, for Irida).
  • Cross Switcher: This Item, on the other hand, I find interesting. Cross Switcher has seen play in some decks, notably Suicune V, and it could work here. The idea is that Irida, in addition to Drizzile and Inteleon, makes it even easier to find a pair of Cross Switcher. You could play a deck with three or four Irida and use Cross Switcher rather than Boss’s Orders as your main way to target opposing Pokémon. It remains to be seen whether this can work effectively (Cross Switcher is a pretty useless card drawn off an opposing Roxanne, for example), but it’s definitely an idea I plan on exploring thoroughly.
  • Avery: Finally, I want to mention Avery, which has seen play in several Japanese lists. This card seems very counterintuitive in Palkia, since it will actually reduce Palkia’s damage output. However, many decks still rely on a big Bench, so forcing them to discard their Sobble and Drizzile (while keeping Manaphy, because of the threat of Radiant Greninja) can be more important, on a turn when you don’t need the extra damage to take a KO.

 

Header - How to Play

As mentioned in the introduction, I don’t have experience actually playing the Astral Radiance format, so I can’t offer you a proper matchups guide. However, having seen the deck in action, here’s some tips I can offer:

  • Play the deck like a more aggressive Arceus deck. I mentioned that there’s a lot of similarity between builds of Arceus VSTAR / Inteleon and Palkia VSTAR / Inteleon, and unsurprisingly, that translates to how the decks should be played. Palkia doesn’t have Starbirth, but it doesn’t need it, since it doesn’t need a second Arceus V or a Double Turbo Energy on its turn two. Instead of a turn two Starbirth, you’ll often use a turn two Star Portal, though.
    • It’s interesting to compare Palkia to Arceus / Inteleon. Palkia doesn’t have the healing from Cheren’s Care that Arceus can use (it can play Cheryl, but since the deck only accelerates Energy once, it’s not as easy to keep chaining attackers after you use Cheryl). In exchange, it has a higher damage output, making it easier to get KOs on a Benched Arceus V, for example, so play to your strengths.
  • Make the most out of Radiant Greninja. I’ve explained how Radiant Greninja is a valuable secondary attacker that pressures the opponent into Benching Manaphy, but it’s also a mini-draw engine in a deck that mostly relies on searching specific cards, and that’s valuable in itself. Don’t discard Energy carelessly, you’ll be able to use it to draw more cards on later turns with Radiant Greninja. Greninja also makes Energy good cards to draw after a Roxanne, so you can play Ordinary Rod and put Energy back in your deck in the midgame to prepare for that eventuality. Finally, note that you can play Scoop Up Net to recover Radiant Greninja in your hand and play it down again, allowing you to use Concealed Cards again. That’s not the best use of Scoop Up Net, but it’s something to think about in a pinch (or if you have to use Scoop Up Net on it anyway, for example because you opened with it and need to retreat it into Palkia).
  • Speaking of Radiant Greninja, it’s a good idea to keep one Energy on it after using Star Portal, so that you always have the option to use it as an attacker (you can attach two Energy in one turn thanks to Raihan). This forces the opponent to always have Manaphy in play. If you don’t attach any Energy, the opponent could decide that they don’t have to play Manaphy since Greninja is not a threat.
  • One interesting aspect of Palkia VSTAR’s design is that its damage output relies on Benched Pokémon, including the opponent’s. That means that there’s counterplay baked in the card’s design itself: you can avoid Benching Pokémon in order to limit your opponent’s damage output (that’s more a tip for playing against Palkia than with Palkia, but that’s relevant to this article too. Also, Palkia mirror matches will be common). Of course, decks still need Pokémon in play, and Palkia has Echoing Horn to grab Pokémon from if they’re discarded, so things are not that easy, but I think this kind of back-and-forth will be valuable. In the end, if anything defeats Palkia, it will probably be the community learning how to build their decks and managing their Benches in such a way that Palkia always falls short of a KO. That’s easier said than done, but still, if Palkia ends up being popular like I’m predicting, it could increase the value of decks that can use a low Bench. Arceus VSTAR / Duraludon VMAX, for example, seems to be making a small comeback in Japan, and I believe that the fact that Palkia’s damage is limited against it (in addition to its access to healing) is one reason why.

 

Header - Conclusion

As much as I hate Palkia as a Pokémon and Origin Forme Palkia as a design (for multiple reasons, one being that the insistence on the thematic opposition of space and time as concepts, seen in the Sinnoh games and especially Legends Arceus, makes absolutely no sense; another being that Palkia is extremely ugly), the card itself is good and interesting. Palkia VSTAR is set to be a top tier deck but, like Mew VMAX and Arceus VSTAR before it, I think it will make the game more skillful, not less.

Palkia’s attack reminds me of Empoleon DEX, and that card also demanded skill on the part of the opponent. I’ve played Empoleon a lot and I remember that there were games I knew I would win just because my opponent Benched one Pokémon too many on the first turn. I don’t think Palkia will require this level of precision of any player, but I still think it’s good when a card is strong but its power can be offset by the opponent playing a certain way. In any case, I’m excited to play this deck and other new cards from Astral Radiance!

Thanks for reading and see you again soon,

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