Rayquaza VMAX – Evolving Skies
September 10, 2021
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is horrible. 3 is average. 5 is great.
This is it, the best card of Evolving Skies is none other than one of the artwork of this expansion’s booster packs/boxes: Rayquaza VMAX! This Pokémon has an awesome ability and attack, both that will be used to greatest extent.
Rayquaza VMAX’s ability, Azure Pulse, lets you discard your hand and draw three cards. Even though this effect is less-than-half powerful than Professor’s Research, this ability doesn’t use up your supporter of the turn. And if you have multiple Rayquaza VMAX in play, then you could use this ability as many as four times to draw 12 cards in one turn. Like professor’s research, you have to mind about the cards being discarded, as not many cards can be retrieved easily. You can mitigate the situation if you know which cards are absolute fodder. In Rayquaza’s case, discarding Lightning energy is inconsequential because you can bring it back with Flaaffy’s Dynamotor, while accelerating your own Rayquaza to blast with Max Burst, which I’ll get to soon. Despite a retreat cost of CC, Tower of Waters completely shave off that cost, making it retreat for free! And since it doesn’t have any Weakness in regards to type, your opponent has to hit the full 320 damage or more, and not many cards can do that without some investment.
Back to Max Burst, it costs a fire and a Lightning energy for 20 damage. Then you can choose to discard any amount of basic Fire or any basic Lightning energy and it does 80 more damage for each energy discarded. To OHKO anything in the game, you’ll need to discard four energies to get through the maximum printed HP on a card before buffs: 340. Luckily, Flaaffy’s Dynamotor from yesterday’s review can do exactly that. Just use four Flaaffy’s Dynamotor on a single Rayquaza VMAX, bring it on the Active and dish out 340 damage turn after turn! The Fire energy requirement might make the deck a bit inconsistent, but that didn’t stop Rayquaza-EX from functioning. However, if it weren’t for Flaaffy supporting Rayquaza VMAX, then Max Burst would be pretty underwhelming. At least it can still sit there with its ability helping you draw cards. Being a Rapid Strike card, it might benefit from added support from Rapid Strike Energy or Rapid Strike Scroll of Swirls, but that won’t help fulfill Max Burst at all, so I don’t think it would be suitable on a pure Rapid Strike deck, although Tower of Waters provides free retreat for Rayquaza VMAX.
Overall, the resurgence of RayEels goes by the form of RaySheep or whatever they’re called. Regardless, they are here to pick up where RayEels left off. And with similar card pools compared to 2021 and 2012 (Level Ball, Tower of Waters, Ordinary Rod, Professor’s Research, Marnie, and more), there are plenty of tools to work with on a Rayquaza/Flaaffy deck.
- Standard: 3.5
- Expanded: 3.5
So, Rayquaza VMAX is the best card of Evolving Skies, yet I rated it as an average card. I think by reading older reviews of Rayquaza-EX DRX makes me worry and think that perhaps the same problem might apply to Rayquaza VMAX as well. It is a great card, though, doubling the role of being good draw power and OHKO potential, but if you couldn’t do either of them – because Path to the Peak was already in play and/or there’s not enough Flaaffy/Eelektrik in play to rapidly fuel Max Burst – then it would make Rayquaza VMAX a sitting duck as much as Rayquaza-EX. Still, expect to see this revived archetype in action!
At last, we come to the number one card of this expansion, and the only reason to doubt we’d have it as our number one is… well… sometimes we’re very off in our predictions. Rayquaza VMAX (SW – Evolving Skies 111/203, 217/203, 218/203) is our 1st-Place pick! I’m going to reverse my usual review order, because it is really this card’s effects that let us know how good or bad its stats actually are. Rayqauaza VMAX knows one attack, “Max Burst”. Priced at [RL], this attack does 20 base damage, which is awful. However, its effect states you may discard either any amount of basic Fire Energy or any amount of basic Lightning Energy attached to Rayquaza VMAX (“this Pokémon”). If you do, the attack does 20 damage plus 80 for each card discarded in this manner. Please note that you cannot discard both: you have to pick either discarding no Energies, discarding basic Fire Energy, or discarding basic Lightning Energy.
At first, this still seems underwhelming. If you discard just one of either basic Energy, you’re only doing 100 damage. Discarding two of either, and you’re finally hitting hard enough to OHKO a Crobat V, 180 damage. When you discard three of one of these types, now you’re OHKOing almost all Basic Pokémon V (and smaller) targets, doing 260 damage. In Expanded, this would even bring smaller TAG TEAM Pokémon-GX and ye olde Wailord-EX into OHKO range! If you can actually afford to discard four of a either basic Energy, Max Burst hits for 340 damage, exactly enough to OHKO anything based on printed HP scores. Various defensive buffs mean some stuff will still survive, but if we had a way to fuel Rayquaza VMAX to that level, even for just one or two hits, it’d be great… oh yeah, we do.
This is the main reason why Flaaffy (SW – Evolving Skies 055/203; SW – Black Star Proms SWSH122) placed so high. It is a familiar combo, echoing what we saw with Rayquaza-EX (EX – Dragons Exalted 85/124, 123/124; BW – Black Star Promos BW47) and Eelektrik (BW – Noble Victories 40/101). For a time, this was the dominant deck in Standard. It was not one of those decks that never saw decline, but it was one of those decks that would wax and wane with how good it was. If I remember correctly, it even had some life in the Expanded Format, though power creep did eventually leave it behind. After all, Rayquaza-EX’s HP is 170, which was the equivalent of the modern 210 when it released, and its “Dragon Burst” attack is similar to Max Burst but with less control (you must discard all basic Fire or Lightning Energy) and lower damage output (60 per basic Energy discarded). When it was new, though, discarding three Energy would OHKO anything by printed HP scores.
So the attack is pretty good, what else? Rayquaza VMAX has the Ability “Azure Pulse”. An instance of this Ability may be used once, during your turn, prior to attacking or doing anything else that ends your turn. Azure Pulse has you discard your hand, then draw three cards. This is a weaker version of the “Sprint” Ability found on Zebstrika (SM – Lost Thunder 82/214), which worked the same except you draw four cards. That Zebstrika saw some success, but I think Azure Pulse is better than Sprint, even though it draws one fewer cards. I think we’ve already established Rayquaza VMAX has at least the potential of being the next big attacker. Now we find out it has a draw Ability as well! Moreover, one that plays nice with Flaaffy. Build your deck so that most cards can be used right away and/or recycled, and discarding your hand should at least be a fair tradeoff for drawing three cards.
Okay, so Rayquaza VMAX has some great effects, so how about its stats? Just for funsies, I’m going to continue covering things (more or less) in reverse. The Retreat Cost of [CC] is adequate. Since we’re almost certainly running Rayquaza VMAX with Flaaffy, Rayquaza VMAX will need to vacate the Active position each turn. Possibly, we’ll even need to do-si-do as an Active Rayquaza VMAX with just its [R] Energy attached needs to head to our Bench to reload, then be promoted back into the Active spot in the same turn. Probably better to just design your deck so that you have two Rayquaza VMAX (or one and an alternate attacker) that can just trade places, alternating attack duties. Getting back to the retreat cost, this means we really wish it was free, or even [C] but we can compensate by running more switching effects and/or something like Air Balloon to zero out this cost.
No Resistance is mostly inconsequential. Most cards have no Resistance, but technically any Resistance is better than none. It might have been nice to have one match-up where it was harder to OHKO (or even 2HKO) Rayquaza VMAX, but it is not a big loss. The lack of Weakness is the exact opposite; no Weakness is perfect. Not a single attacker will score double damage against Rayquaza VMAX. Given their 300+ HP scores, this means Rayquaza VMAX lacks the typical Achilles’ heel of its ilk. Speaking of HP, Rayquaza VMAX has 320; 20 more than the minimum and 20 below the maximum. Among Pokémon VMAX, this is solid. In general, it is great and difficult for your typical deck to OHKO.
Rayquaza VMAX is a Rapid Strike Pokémon and this does benefit it. In fact, the issue is sorting out the Johnny Bait from the useful support. For example, Florges (SW – Evolving Skies 073/203) that lets you move an Energy from one of your Pokémon to one of your Rapid Strike Pokémon. Sounds exactly like what we need to make better use of Flaaffy except Florges is a Stage 2. Okay, but why not use Rapid Strike Style Mustard to field it? Between Azure Pulse and the “Rapid Strike Reach” Ability found on Octillery (SW – Battle Styles 037/163, 178/163; SW – Black Star Promos SWSH089) it should be reliable, right? Remember your Bench space is limited, and I think I’d rather have the room for more Flaafy and an alternate or spare attacker. Oh, and maybe a spot so I can still consider using Crobat V early game.
Blaziken VMAX might work if you want a Fire Energy-based version of the deck, but that is still a long shot. Rapid Strike Scroll of Swirls is out unless you’re running something like Spiral Energy to cover your off-type Energy costs. Another arm-chair Trainer decision, but I think I’d prefer to focus on basic Energy cards, since their support also works for all the basic Lightning Energy you’ll want in the deck. Rapid Strike Scroll of the Flying Dragon and Rapid Strike Scroll of the Skies are legitimate options. I especially like how the former lets you switch from obliterating your opponent’s Active to picking off 90 (or less) HP targets on your opponent’s Bench. Tower of Waters means you don’t have to rely on Air Balloon, which is pretty important considering I just suggested you consider a different Tool. Zeraora V might be that alternate attacker I was hinting at, and again helps with diversifying your attack strategy as – when the attack gets it bonus effect – you do a 100/160 damage split.
One of the reasons you might want to ignore the Rapid Strike Tools and stick with Air Balloon is Rayquaza VMAX’s typing. As one of the recently returned Dragon types, there are two Stadiums already available to support them: Stormy Mountains and Crystal Cave. The former lets you search your deck for either Basic [N] or Basic [L] Pokémon, then play them directly to your Bench. Given how important Benching multiple Mareep and at least one Rayquaza V should be for your first turn, and even Benching replacements of Mareep should your opponent focus on repeatedly OHKOing your Flaaffy (double OHKOing in the case of Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX), Stormy Mountains may even be useful the entire game. Crystal Cove plays nice with your high HP, though: this Stadium lets you heal 30 damage from all your [N] and [M] types once per turn. No use for Flaaffy, but this might help you stretch out your Rayauaza VMAX time.
Time to address the elephant in the room: as a Pokémon VMAX is Rayquaza VMAX will give up three Prizes when KO’d, has to deal with certain anti-VMAX effects, but does gain access to a few bits of VMAX support. Pokémon VMAX are still Pokémon V, so all Pokémon V counters and beneficial effects that exclude Pokémon V apply. Pokémon VMAX have a Rule Box, so Path to the Peak is a concern; even if your deck is structured to utilize Azure Pulse well, this Stadium can deny it to you. VMAX is also the card’s Stage, so it is on par with running a Stage 1; neither easy like Basics, nor as demanding as a Stage 2. We might look at Rayquaza V later, but for now, just understand it is a fairly typical Basic Pokémon V, save for the lack of Weakness. It is built to be an attacker but its attacks aren’t quite good enough.
Finally, I think Rayquaza VMAX has a decent shot in the Expanded Format. Yes, classic Eelektrik/Rayquaza-EX decks have long been dead but the big issue there is that their primary attacker hadn’t kept up with power creep. Rayquaza VMAX is current; it might age poorly, especially with a new gimmick on the way, for the next three months it should have a solid chance. The only other concern is how it is easier to counter Abilities in this Format. Rayquaza VMAX was not my number one pick, but I did have it in 2nd-Place. Flaaffy is what fuels it, and what has a good chance of continuing without it, but I don’t think the any of the alternate approaches you could take with Rayquaza VMAX will pay out. It still scores well, just not as well as if it were more “self-contained”. It really does come close, though, by having a solid stats, a solid supporting Ability and a strong – but dependent on Energy acceleration – attack.
- Standard: 4/5
- Expanded: 3/5
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