Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX in Expanded Deep Dive
In the Pokémon TCG, the standard format has always been the focus of competitive play, but the expanded format offers a much larger card pool, including almost every card printed since the Black and White era of the game. I’ve been really enjoying the expanded format because so many decks are viable, there are lots of options when building decks and you aren’t going to get sick of playing against the same deck all the time. I’ve decided to start a series looking at expanded archetypes in more detail. The the format is definitely diverse, but there is a consensus that Shadow Rider is the best deck in the format, so why not start the series with an in depth look at the deck to beat in expanded.
Before we get started, here is an example of a deck list from Vini Fernandez who won the first Full Heal expanded tournament with this deck in January. It’s a good representation of what Shadow Rider decks look like at the moment.
4 Shadow Rider Calyrex V CRE 74
4 Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX CRE 75
1 Alolan Grimer SUM 57
1 Gengar & Mimikyu-GX TEU 53
1 Lunala Prism Star UPR 62
1 Tapu Lele-GX GRI 60
1 Alolan Muk SUM 58
4 Professor’s Research CEL 23
2 Marnie CPA 56
1 Guzma BUS 115
1 Acerola BUS 112
1 N FCO 105
1 Mallow GRI 127
4 Fog Crystal CRE 140
4 Mysterious Treasure FLI 113
3 VS Seeker PHF 109
2 Trainers’ Mail ROS 92
1 Computer Search BCR 137
1 Super Rod BKT 149
1 Field Blower GRI 125
1 Quick Ball FST 237
1 Enhanced Hammer GRI 124
3 Float Stone BKT 137
3 Silent Lab PRC 140
13 Psychic Energy 5
Shadow Rider Calyrex V and VMax
What makes Shadow Rider Calyrex VMax so good? Firstly Underworld Door is an incredible ability giving you two of the best effects in the game, card draw and energy acceleration at the same time. It then synergises really well with the Max Geist ability as all those extra energy attachments all contribute to your damage output and you don’t have to risk putting all your energy on a single pokémon either. 320 hit points is also huge making it that much harder to kill in a format where VMax pokémon see less play. Decks that are adapted to threats like Arceus & Dialga & Palkia GX with 280 hit points might be less well adapted for killing a VMax.
It isn’t just the ability, the attack and the hit points that make Shadow Rider the best deck in the format. Being an evolved pokémon using basic energy helps it dodge disruptive effects and even run disruption of its own. Shadow Rider Calyrex V is also pretty strong and more than evolution fodder. The Shadow Mist attack might only do 10 damage but stadiums and special energy are very important card types in expanded. The core of the deck consists of just the V, the VMax and basic energy. This adds reliability and consistency as you aren’t dependant on stadiums and special energies that are targets for your opponent’s interaction. It also frees up space in the deck list to run disruptive cards of your own and include tech cards to focus on specific match-ups. The combination of all these advantages makes Shadow Rider Calyrex really well positioned for the expanded format and I expect it will be able to adapt to shifts in the meta-game going forward.
Some expanded decks try to play as few energy cards as possible, but in Shadow Rider basic psychic energy is something you want plenty of. Each psychic energy represents card draw with Underworld Door and extra damage with Max Geist. Thirteen energy seems to be the usual amount of energy these decks play, which gives you enough to knock out any pokémon in one hit.
Since basic psychic energy is so good, Shadow Rider lists rarely play any other energies. Special energies leave you more vulnerable to effects like crushing hammer whilst not boosting the damage output of Max Geist. Weakness Guard Energy has seen some play as a hedge against dark decks. Dark decks have been unusually quiet in expanded lately but I expect them to return in an attempt to prey on Shadow Rider which is weak to dark types. If this happens, Shadow Rider decks might turn to Weakness Guard Energy to try and level the playing field.
Getting Set Up and Efficiency
Fog Crystal is incredible for this deck. Finding basic pokémon helps you get more Shadow Riders onto your bench, or a supporter via Tapu Lele GX or a tech pokémon like Lunala Prism Star. It also finds the energy you need to make your draw engine and energy acceleration function. Unfortunately it can’t find your VMax pokémon, but Mysterious Treasure is perfect for this. Where possible use Mysterious Treasures to find the pokémon you need, so you can use more Fog Crystals to find energy. Both of these cards are so good at finding the critical pieces of your game-plan you should play four of each in your deck.
With so many useful items like Fog Crystal and Mysterious Treasure, you should be able to rely on Trainers’ Mail to find you can use. Trainer’s Mail gives you a little bit of selection as you dig through your deck. Digging through your deck like this is like playing with smaller deck, increasing the chances of finding all the cards you need to set up the Calyrex engine.
Shadow Rider decks also usually play one or two copies of Quick Ball. Here it’s strictly worse than Mysterious Treasure as it can’t find your VMax, but the extra searching effect makes you that bit more efficient at getting set up.
A feature of this deck is that your main attacker and your energy alone provides a lot of card draw, but you need several evolved pokémon in play and lots of energy in hand before Underworld Door can compare to supporter based card-draw. Professor’s Research is the best way to draw lots of cards at once, and unsurprisingly it’s an ultra-staple in every pokémon format. Many expanded decks only need to play a couple of copies of Professor’s Research and rely on pokémon based draw engines like Dedenne GX and Crobat V. These cards might be fantastic, but there are number of issues with them in this deck. They can’t be found with Fog Crystal or Mysterious Treasure, they take bench spots away from all our Shadow Riders and they don’t work with Silent Lab which I will talk about in a moment.
The solution for many Shadow Rider decks is to just run four copies of Professor’s Research and a copy of Tapu Lele GX to guarantee playing one as soon as possible. Tapu Lele can do more than tutor for a supporter though in this deck which is great. With lots of bulky VMax pokémon the Tapu Cure GX attack is situationally useful.
Horror House GX is a really strong attack in expanded with most decks running large numbers of items. If your opponent is stuck with a hand of only items they might be unable to do anything during their turn. This one turn advantage gives Shadow Rider the time it needs to set up whilst giving it an alternative option to Shadow Mist on turn one against decks that don’t play any special energy. With cards like Fog Crystal and Mysterious Treasure you can easily find Gengar & Mimikyu GX and the energy you need on turn one. This means you only need to add one copy in your deck which is a really low cost for adding such a powerful option. It’s not surprising we see this ghostly duo in every list.
Stadiums are really important in Expanded. Some decks are reliant on having a particular stadium in play whilst others are vulnerable to stadiums like Silent Lab and Path to the Peak. The good news is that Shadow Rider is almost immune to the effects of Silent Lab as Tapu Lele GX is the only basic pokémon with an ability and you can usually sequence your plays to avoid the drawback. Silent Lab is great at slowing other decks down by denying draw engines like Crobat V and Dedenne GX. Slowing your opponent down with Silent Lab can buy you the time to get your VMax pokémon set up and ready to over-power your opponent. Your opponent should be able to answer a card like Silent Lab with their own stadiums or a card like Field Blower, but they might be spending valuable time or resources to do so rather than setting up their own game-plan and that is perfect for you.
The bad news is Path to the Peak is really good against you. By preventing you from using Underworld door you are heavily reliant on supporters for card draw and even worse you have no way to make the extra energy attachments you need to attack with your VMax. I expect to see Path to the Peak become a more and more popular option in expanded as a way to fight Shadow Rider and playing more stadiums of your own becomes a valid way to defend against Path to the Peak. The number of Silent Labs being played does vary but I like the lists that play three copies because Silent Lab functions really well slowing your opponent down whilst protecting you against a big weakness like Path to the Peak.
Next up two cards that don’t normally see play in expanded but are seeing play in some builds of Shadow Rider. Mallow works perfectly with Underworld Door letting you tutor for any two cards and draw them in one turn.
Lunala Prism Star has started appearing in Shadow Rider lists as tech against other Shadow Rider players. Psystorm counts all energy attached to all pokémon so in a mirror-match this can kill a VMax whilst only giving up one prize in exchange. As the meta-game adapts to Shadow Rider being the best deck, I expect Lunala to become more and more popular. Unfortunately it is a prism star pokémon so you can only play one copy.
N and Marnie fill similar roles, letting you disrupt your opponent’s hand whilst also drawing a good number of cards. N typically gets very powerful as the game progresses leaving your opponent with only one or two cards left in hand. Marnie is better suited for stall decks that try to win through decking. These decks like to draw lots of cards so going to four can be a big downgrade. Both of these trainers see widespread play in expanded and they are just as good in Shadow Rider as other decks. Since these trainers aren’t as important at the beginning of the game, and they have a similar effect, decks only run one or two copies of each.
Guzma is another trainer that is ubiquitous in expanded. Like Boss’s Orders it lets you target weaker pokémon on the bench for easier knock-outs but it also has the utility of giving yourself a switching effect as well.
Acerola is a more niche trainer, used to heal a damaged Shadow Rider VMax. Since many decks can’t kill a Shadow Rider in one turn, healing a VMax can nullify one or more attacks. Acerola also returns the energy to your hand so you can activate Underworld Door more consistently and draw even more cards.
Alolan Muk has the same disruptive ability as Silent Lab, so much of what I said earlier is true here. It doesn’t counter Path to the Peak like Silent Lab, but having a back-up option for Silent Lab can be really strong. Once piece of disruption can be fought through. For example, all it takes is a stadium or a Field Blower to negate Silent Lab. If you have Alolan Muk and Silent Lab in play, it becomes much harder to find the answers to both. Lists only run a 1-1 evolution line, which is awkward if one piece gets prized, but with so many Fog Crystals and Mysterious Treasures in the deck, Alolan Muk is pretty easy to set up when needed.
Continuing the theme of disruption, Enhanced Hammer is another way to slow your opponent down. Some decks don’t run any special energy, whilst others use nothing but special energy. Examples include Double Colourless Energy in many decks, or Double Dragon Energy with Arceus & Dialga & Palkia GX. If you expect to play against lots of decks with special energy, Enhanced Hammer is a great option that can slow your opponent down significantly.
Field Blower is another card that can disrupt your opponent if they are dependant on a particular stadium like Sky Field. Importantly it also counters Path to the Peak which is very useful. This is another ultra-staple you see in most expanded decks.
VS Seeker is an extremely important part of the expanded format, and it’s no surprise we see plenty of copies of this staple card in Shadow Rider decks. For those who haven’t played with VS Seeker before, it allows you to reuse supporters from your discard pile. This means decks only need to run one or two copies of a supporter, even if it’s really powerful. This lets you use a supporter over and over again in good match ups, whilst not having too many copies in your deck when you don’t need that particular effect.
Super Rod is another good card for retrieving key cards from your discard pile. Since your damage output scales with the amount of energy you have available shuffling three energy back into your deck is really powerful in this deck. The flexibility to return pokémon as well is really important as well as it ensures you don’t run out of the most important parts of your deck, Shadow Riders and Psychic Energy. If your Shadow Riders are getting knocked out with energy on them, this will help you recover. It also lets you discard these cards to Quick Ball, Mysterious Treasure and Professor’s Research whilst knowing they aren’t gone forever.
Float Stone is another essential card in expanded. It helps ensure you always have the right pokémon in the active spot, even if your opponent is forcing you to switch with cards like Guzma. In this deck it’s even more important since a Shadow Rider VMax can only accelerate energy to itself via Underworld Door if it’s on the bench. You’ll often see three float stones in Shadow Rider lists so that Shadow Rider players can do as much switching as they need.
Guzma and Float Stone are the best ways to move your pokémon in the expanded format, but Escape Rod also sees play as another version of this effect. Like Float Stone it doesn’t take up your supporter for the turn, but like Guzma it also switches your opponent’s active pokémon. It doesn’t see play in most lists but it’s definitely viable to include one and there are situations where it’s better than either Guzma or Float Stone.
Ace specs are a big feature of the expanded format. You can only include a single ace spec in your deck but they are so powerful almost every deck runs one. Computer Search is the most frequently played ace spec and is the default option for many decks. It lets you find any card in your deck which is incredible for finding that one card you need in a tricky situation. In Shadow Rider it gives you a second way to tutor for a supporter, and a way to find Float Stone and Silent Lab whenever you need them.
Another Ace Spec that sees play in Shadow Rider lists is Scoop Up Cyclone. Picking up an damaged Shadow Rider can deny prizes, provide a switching effect and refill your hand with psychic energy to activate Underworld Door. Acerola also provides these options, so if you already run Acerola, I prefer Computer Search as a more generically powerful card. If you play against decks that inflict paralysis like Shock-Lock or decks that can’t kill a Shadow Rider in one turn, I do like Scoop Up Cyclone as an alternative option that can be played alongside a trainer in one turn. It’s also interesting in lists that play pokémon like Dedenne GX to draw more cards.
The main drawback to the ace spec cards is the price. Computer Search in particular is very expensive. Don’t stress if they are too expensive for your budget. They do make your deck more efficient but they aren’t a critical piece and your deck will still function with-out any ace spec cards. For example other efficiency cards like Quick Ball and Trainers’ Mail are fine replacements for Computer Search.