By Contributing Writer Christopher Schemanske

When Pokémon V and Pokémon VMAX made their debut in the Sword & Shield expansion,
they entered a competitive landscape already dominated by TAG TEAM Pokémon-GX.
Until now, a few new contenders have integrated themselves alongside the old
guard, but Pokémon-GX have largely maintained their perch. Now, with the
launch of Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze, we may be witnessing a
significant rise in Pokémon V and Pokémon VMAX. There’s a sense among players that
the third or fourth expansion in a Pokémon TCG series is when things start to
get exciting, and Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze may be a turning
point in this battle between old and new. This shift will certainly be aided by
the new Standard format, where some of the Sun & Moon Series expansions
have recently rotated out.

exactly which cards in the Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze expansion
should we keep an eye out for? Let’s take a look at some of the top contenders
from the new expansion!

As long as Welder is
around, Fire-type Pokémon will be working with a stacked deck when compared to
the rest of the game. Fiery Flint went away with the recent
Standard format rotation, but Fire Crystal and Heat Fire Energy
both stick
around as the spark of an array of Fire-type decks. This base helps fan the
flames of Centiskorch VMAX and Charizard VMAX, who both look
poised to use that engine as the start of roaring competitive decks.

start with Centiskorch VMAX. Its G-Max Centiferno attack facilitates extra Energy
attachment, one of the most valuable assets in the Pokémon TCG, while also
doing good damage. In the new Standard format, one-hit Knock Outs are going to
be less common than any time I can remember, and while Centiskorch VMAX does
need gaudy amounts of Energy, it theoretically can rack those up! With a
healthy 320 HP, an uncommon Weakness (for now), and the ability to get those precious
one-hit Knock Outs, this seems like a concept that could excel in the new
format. It will be limited by a few basic drawbacks, however. 40 damage for
each Energy is a weird number mathematically—it won’t hit too many “magic
numbers” at this point in the format. Putting a ton of Energy on one Pokémon is
usually not the hallmark of a successful strategy, either—it’s risky to put all
your resources in one place. Nevertheless, this may be one time I could see it
working out.

VMAX, on the other hand, is a greater threat for a one-hit Knock Out but
sacrifices the flexibility to do less damage at a lower cost. It’s a bit slow—5
Energy is a high bar for an attack, and Charizard V can’t do anything
too great for less than 4. But once it starts rolling, I wouldn’t be surprised
if being the only deck consistently getting one-hit Knock Outs (with an assist
from, perhaps, Volcarona-GX) is enough to keep it around. Things will be a bit slow,
though, by nature of the high Energy cost. Look for strategies with Volcanion, Welder, Giant Hearth, and other
Fire-supporting cards to attempt to power through everything in their way—the hallmark
of Fire-type Pokémon in the Pokémon TCG!

all the attention (and expectations) for this card, the plan for Eternatus VMAX is
pretty simple: get lots of Darkness-type Pokémon on your Bench, do lots of
damage. It has high HP, a low attack cost, and an uncomplicated strategy—the
makings of success. In the Standard format, one of the key weaknesses seems to be
a lack of Energy acceleration, but Eternatus V is able to set up an
extra Energy attachment with its first attack, and often that’s all you need to
keep things moving for the full game.

going to need to fill all of those Bench spots, though, to be at its most
effective. Luckily, Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze lends it some
additional help. I’m intrigued by any number of choices, such as Ariados (pulling a Pokémon in
off your opponent’s Bench is always a powerful effect) and Hoopa for a cheap, strong
attack. Galarian Zigzagoon from the Sword & Shield expansion will surely
find a home here, too, with room for so many Darkness-type Pokémon and the need
to hit for higher damage occasionally.

I think the greatest weakness Eternatus VMAX will have to overcome is that 270
damage doesn’t do anything particularly interesting. You’ll be hitting many Pokémon
V and Pokémon-GX harder than necessary, but you could be at the mercy of
your Pokémon VMAX opponent with some of the various healing options available,
such as Mallow & Lana and [SWSH1 #166]Hyper Potion. Still, this is too
obviously good to be ignored, and its existence could probably be enough to
force current TAG TEAM mainstays like [SM9 #33]Pikachu & Zekrom-GX
retirement. Plus, there might be another pretty good Darkness-type Pokémon that
loves using Bench spots and can help keep a deck moving. Oh, here it is….

are too many good cards to talk about them all, but ignoring Crobat V would be batty. It’s
the latest in a long line of Pokémon—Dedenne-GX and Shaymin-EX
the most recent—that help by drawing cards. Seeing more of your deck is
generally a huge factor in getting complicated strategies rolling, and Crobat V
is here to help that happen. It carries a once-per-turn restriction, which
means you can’t get too crazy, but it will surely be a fixture in every Pokémon
TCG player’s deck-building process for the next few years. Turning Quick Ball or Pokémon Communication into
a hand of six cards is always going to be great, and Crobat V will matter to
competitive players for a long time.

the moment, we’re in a pretty unique period, with Dedenne-GX, Crobat V,
and Eldegoss V
making up a trio of Pokémon whose only real function in decks is a once-when-Benched
effect that helps the deck keep going. They all serve slightly different roles,
but with all these “support” Pokémon floating around, the toughest thing for some
players will be choosing which one to use. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few
decks develop an entire strategy around taking advantage of these frailer two-Prize
Pokémon. For the moment, Crobat V is probably the most difficult of the three to
use: Dedenne-GX always provides six cards, and Eldegoss V gets you a
Supporter of choice, but Crobat V requires a low hand size for maximum use. Unfortunately,
there really aren’t a ton of cards that help reduce hand size right now, so
Crobat V isn’t going to be able to save you from a bad hand. However, it will be
excellent at refilling an empty one, and that’s enough to make it worthwhile.

Vikavolt V is here to shut down one of the most
important types of card in the game: Items. Cards that prevent your opponent
from playing Items have a storied history in the Pokémon TCG. Vikavolt V is the
spiritual successor to a strategy most recently seen in Seismitoad-EX
a few
years ago. Vikavolt V charges in with a little more juice by doing a little
extra damage than its predecessors. 50 damage may not be too exciting, and currently
there aren’t a lot of essential Item cards in the format, but having this
option turned off is always annoying. One caution: Vikavolt V is a bit
difficult to use on Turn 1, which means your opponent will probably get at
least two turns of Item use before you slam the door shut.

most Items related to setting up attackers right now, and 50 damage not quite
being enough pressure to make most decks care about your threat to their
attackers, we’ll have to see whether Vikavolt V can do enough in the early
game. In the Expanded format, Electropower will be around, and
I’m quite confident there will be some excitement to work with. But even in
Standard, it is still an incredibly powerful effect, and I’m certain it will
see play somewhere along the line—it might just not be immediately following
this Standard rotation.

as a central aspect of decks come and go in Pokémon, and we’re currently at a
bit of high point, so there’s a lot of competition among them. Nevertheless, there
are three Stadiums in this expansion that I believe are going to see play in a
variety of supporting niches during their time in the game.

start with Glimwood Tangle: obviously, there are a lot of attacks that involve coin
flips, and being able to retry your luck is a great boon to many of those strategies.
This is an effect we’ve seen on a number of Victini cards over the years, and I
expect it will see similar level of play—perhaps a bit more, even, as it avoids
taking up a spot on your Bench in a format I expect will be cramped for space. It
can be super fun to play a deck with a bit of extra edge involved, and taking
off a bit of that risk makes it all the more so.

value Rose Tower will
bring is probably among my more controversial opinions. I believe this is a super-strong
effect that has the potential to work with some strategies that involve keeping
a low hand size—plus, it’s just extra insurance against a bad hand! The flip
side to that, of course, is that it is insurance against a bad hand that your
opponent also gets to use. Stadiums are naturally a double-edged sword, though,
so that’s just a fact of life. It will take the right deck, but never count out
a card that lets you easily draw more cards! I may be rating this card higher
than a lot of my peers, but I’m expecting to see some great results from Rose
Tower eventually.

Spikemuth is a fascinating effect, and one obvious
application is the extra 20 or 40 damage a few decks need to get their
opponents to one-hit Knock Out range. I generally don’t like relying on my
opponent’s actions to get me the extra damage, though, and I really don’t like
Stadium cards that only have a positive effect on my opponent’s turn: there are
too many ways to get around it! The most exciting application of Spikemuth is
actually damaging your own Pokémon, with Spiritomb looming in the wings.
Now, you can hit for heavy damage out of nowhere, with Jynx ready to move the new
damage counters around or Scoop Up Net ready to get that
newly damaged Spiritomb back to the Active Spot. Cape of Toughness is
another Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze contribution, giving extra HP
to work with and a lot of damage to do. Spikemuth and Spiritomb are a great
example of thinking outside the box to find successful strategies in places
that aren’t obvious.

I don’t know if it will be 2020, 2021, or 2022, but I’m highly confident that
someone will someday do something notable with the Mad Party gang. Obviously,
this is a throwback for many players to the Night March squad in XY—Phantom
, but this time there are four of them! This allows for more damage,
and the potential is boundless alongside Twin Energy. All of these Pokémon
probably won’t make it into any other decks besides Mad Party, though. Galarian Mr. Rime in particular is probably never worth evolving, and will
instead live a lamp of a life in the discard pile.

Polteageist is the exception—but, of course, it is only
useful with other Mad Partiers. The extra draw is nice, but the more important
factor is definitely being able to discard Mad Party cards to get the damage
working. There aren’t a ton of other easy discard effects right now, so Mad
Party will probably have to settle for being a two-hit Knock Out deck this time
around. By giving up only a single Prize card, though, you can afford to make
that trade. The single biggest problem for Mad Party is that I can already
predict 24 cards in every deck: 4 Bunnelby, 4 Polteageist, 4 Dedenne,
4 Galarian Mr. Rime, 4 Sinistea, and 4 Twin Energy. A
set of Triple Acceleration Energy is probably in order, too, meaning almost
half the deck is spoken for before we even consider supporting cards. This
isn’t a dealbreaker, but it does raise some red flags: high damage will be
traded for a pretty tight deck without much room for tricks. It’s a trade
probably worth making, and I’m really looking forward to someone cracking the

is only the start of the excitement presented in Sword & Shield—Darkness
, though: With
more than 180 cards and countless Pokémon V and Pokémon VMAX to explore, there
are numerous possibilities to work with. Best of luck figuring out your own new
deck, Trainers! For more Pokémon TCG strategy and analysis, be sure to keep

Christopher Schemanske

Christopher Schemanske is a contributing writer for 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.

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