Stage 2 decks in the Paradox Rift format

Paradox Rift brought us Iron Hands ex and Roaring Moon ex, but stage 2 decks can still dominate in a world of fast Basic Pokémon. Stéphane explains how.

Stéphane Ivanoff13 Nov 2023

Welcome back! Now that Paradox Rift has been released and we’re on the verge of watching (or competing in!) the first international competition featuring this new set (LAIC starts this Friday), it’s time to look at what this huge, influential set is offering. There’s a lot to analyse in Paradox Rift, from the shift in Chien-Pao ex decklists to the rise of Snorlax Stall, the evolution of Charizard ex, Lost Box’s fall from grace and its consequences for one-Prize decks… this is far more than I could achieve in one single article, and I’m not an expert on all of these topics. Instead, I’ll try to guide you through my thoughts on the format and the decks I like, especially stage 2 decks, and I’ll leave you with a couple of decklists that you can use.

Roaring Moon ex and the metagame shift

Like many players, I started my exploration of this new format by playing Roaring Moon ex. It’s fun, fast, we get the cards for free on TCG Live just by playing, and it’s a new deck, so obviously, I wanted to try it. I got a lot of wins just because I was playing stuff like Brute Bonnet and Ancient Booster Energy Capsule; I think that at first, many players were focused on pure speed, and lost the mirror match because my Roaring Moon ex were tankier, so the opponent would be forced to use Frenzied Gouging, letting me get revenge KOs with Morpeko or Brute Bonnet. Having two one-Prize attackers also felt better against one-Prize decks, especially Gardevoir ex.
After a while, though, people got used to the deck and started playing better against it, and suddenly, it became much harder to get a win streak. I quickly became acquainted with the deck’s various weaknesses: its vulnerability to Iono, especially coupled with Path to the Peak (hello, Giratina); its difficulty dealing with one-Prize attackers, with Kyogre (admittedly rare) being an absolute nightmare for the deck; the need to mitigate bad PokéStop discards in order to avoid losing games to itself. I tried a variant with Darkrai VSTAR and Crossceiver (look, I love Crossceiver, and that variant was doing alright in Japan). I tired Bibarel, Mew ex, Pal Pad, Ordinary Rod, and more. And in the end… I didn’t really find a list I liked. When I have Ancient Booster Energy Capsule in my list, I feel like they always get discarded to PokéStop and I wish I was playing more Item cards. When I’m playing a super fast list with Trekking Shoes, I lose one-Prize matchups where I wish I could give my Pokémon 60 more HP. Obviously, with every deck there are tradeoffs to be made, but I can’t settle on a 60 card list. I think if I were to play Roaring Moon at an event, it would probably be the turbo variant that plays Water Energy and four Energy Switch for Moonlight Shuriken, alongside Cross Switcher and Cancelling Cologne. It’s definitely not perfect, but right now, I think going for speed is the best way to succeed with this deck; Moonlight Shuriken gives it a chance against Lost Box, Gardevoir, and their ilk, so the lack of Capsule is more manageable.

I wasn’t the only one going being disappointed by Roaring Moon, though. Results from Japan’s City Leagues echo my own loss of faith in the deck. In the week from October 30th to November 5th, Roaring Moon was the most represented deck among the top 16s of all City Leagues. In the next week, it fell down to fifth place, behind Charizard ex, Giratina VSTAR, Gardevoir ex, and Chien-Pao ex. Roaring Moon ex is obviously still a part of the metagame, but it doesn’t feel all that important anymore.

What’s interesting, though, is that despite our fears regarding some of the new cards (Iron Hands ex and Iron Valiant ex), setup decks, including stage 2 decks, are holding up quite well. Charizard ex and Gardevoir ex are both fairly successful due to the new cards they can use, which is good because I believe they’re pretty interesting decks for the metagame. Since I love playing stage 2 decks, after my love affair with Roaring Moon ex ended, I moved to both of these archetypes, and I will share my thoughts on them.

Gardevoir ex

Gardevoir ex seemed like the archetype most likely to get hit by the new wave of cards. Iron Hands ex seemed like a big issue, especially when Gardevoir ex goes second, and to be fair, I think it still is. However, since Iron Hands ex isn’t particularly good against many other decks in the metagame (like Charizard ex and Roaring Moon ex), it hasn’t been dominating. It’s also worth noting that Gardevoir ex has a strong matchup against Roaring Moon ex (as surprising as that may seem given their respective typings), which is huge given the Ancient Paradox Pokémon’s popularity.

Surprisingly, there are four cards from Paradox Rift that Gardevoir ex can play, two of them being auto-includes. First and foremost, Counter Catcher. Gardevoir ex is a deck that will play from behind in most games (and if it doesn’t, you should be worried), and Counter Catcher is a great way to help it come back. Being able to use a gust effect on the same turn you play Iono is fantastic and lets Gardevoir come back. It also improves some matchups significantly. For example, Mew VMAX is a much easier deck to deal with when you can use Gardevoir ex to KO your opponent’s Genesect V instead of having to deal with a Mew VMAX (which may or may not be holding a Box of Disaster), twice. Mew VMAX struggles to KO Gardevoir ex, so you’re using a tanky attacker instead of trying to gather enough Energy to OHKO Mew VMAX (or simply damaging it and then risking a Psychic Leap).

The other card that I think goes into every Gardevoir ex list is Scream Tail. This is an attacker that can hit the opponent’s Bench. Unlike Cresselia, it is stopped by Manaphy, but it can also deal up to 160 damage, whereas Cresselia usually only deals with 80 HP Pokémon. Scream Tail can KO such Pokémon as Bibarel, Baxcalibur, Archeops, Squawkabilly ex, Gardevoir, etc. Some decks can use Manaphy (and some don’t; you won’t see Lugia VSTAR play Manaphy to protect their Archeops), but even if they do so, if your Gardevoir opponent has to dedicate a Bench spot to Manaphy, that’s already a small win.

Many lists have started including Avery, sometimes in multiple copies. Now that Gardevoir ex has more ways to hit the Bench with Counter Catcher and Scream Tail, Avery is a great card in it. Play it against Chien-Pao ex / Baxcalibur and watch your opponent sigh. If they keep only one Baxcalibur, they risk losing it to Scream Tail. If they keep Manaphy as protection, you could use Counter Catcher to Knock it Out anyway. If they keep a Frigibax as backup, then you can just snipe their Bibarel instead, leaving them without draw power when you use Iono. And in all these scenarios, they’ll have to discard Radiant Greninja as well… you can imagine similar scenarios against other setup decks, like the mirror match.

The two other new cards that Gardevoir can run are Luxurious Cape and Jirachi. Luxurious Cape is a finisher, an alternative to Zacian V. Unlike the big sword dog, it can’t be searched by Ultra Ball or Fog Crystal, so you have to rely on your draw engine to get it. On the other hand, Luxurious Cape can be played, not only on a Gardevoir to increase its damage cap, but also on Scream Tail. With a Luxurious Cape, Scream Tail can endure up to 180 damage, which means it can deal up to 360 damage to an opponent’s Pokémon — and that is crucial — even on their Bench. No need to find Boss’s Orders: you can simply KO that Mew VMAX or Gardevoir ex on the opponent’s Bench to take your last Prizes! (But not Charizard ex, though: don’t forget about the Tera rule.) I’m not yet convinced by Luxurious Cape (it’s a dead card for most of the game, but you can’t afford to discard it because it can’t be recovered; in many ways, it’s reminiscent of Sky Seal Stone), but it could be good.
As for Jirachi, it’s a simple tech for Lost Box and Giratina, which also happens to help in the mirror match and against Iron Valiant decks. I expect people to try out Lost Box variants in this format even though Jirachi is around, so I think I’d trend towards playing it, at least in the beginning. I think preventing Yoga Loop plays against Iron Valiant decks is also important.

With that in mind, here’s my current decklist:

4 Ralts ASR 604 Iono PAL 25410 Basic {P} Energy
3 Kirlia SIT 682 Worker SIT 1952 Reversal Energy PAL 192
1 Kirlia CRE 601 Avery CRE 187
2 Gardevoir ex SVI 861 Boss’s Orders LOR-TG 24
2 Gardevoir CRE 614 Battle VIP Pass FST 225
1 Mew CEL 114 Level Ball BST 129
1 Manaphy BRS 413 Ultra Ball SVI 196
1 Radiant Greninja ASR 462 Fog Crystal CRE 140
1 Scream Tail PAR 862 Rare Candy CES 142
1 Jirachi PAR 1262 Counter Catcher CIN 91
1 Cresselia LOR 742 Super Rod PAL 188
1 Luxurious Cape PAR 166
2 Artazon PAL 171
Here’s, in no particular order, how I explain some of my choices:

4 Ralts ASR: You don’t need Memory Skip Ralts in this deck since Scream Tail is an answer to Alolan Vulpix VSTAR. Of course, you could use it in some other situations, but I’m really worried about Iron Valiant ex, so I think having four 70 HP Ralts is absolutely better.

2 Worker, 1 Avery: If I wasn’t afraid of Path to the Peak, I’d switch these counts around, but I am, so I won’t. Avery is a good card and only running one makes it harder to play it when it counts the most; at the same time, it’s also useless, or even detrimental, in some situations. For example, against Roaring Moon, if you fall behind by a couple of Prizes (which is supposed to happen), you don’t want your opponent to discard their Squawkabilly ex before you can snipe it with Scream Tail. Because of that, I’m fine with one Avery, while Worker is a card you’re always fine playing.

4 Battle VIP Pass, 4 Level Ball, 3 Ultra Ball, 2 Fog Crystal: I’d like a couple more search cards, but we need to include the new cards, and that means cutting some cards. 2 Fog Crystal has long been the standard in Japan, so the deck is definitely still playable this way, but it’s a bit less consistent. I think keeping four Level Ball is important, though: you are relying a lot on Mirage Step in this format, especially since you’re fine losing a couple of Prizes in the early game in order to use Reversal Energy and Counter Catcher. (This focus on Mirage Step is also why I cut down to two Rare Candy.)

2 Artazon, 0 Collapsed Stadium: If you know about the concept of role compression (using a single card to fill two different purposes; this term is also used in other games), then you can easily understand Artazon: it’s both a Stadium card (in other words, a Path to the Peak counter) and a consistency card. It’s not the ideal Stadium to play to counter Path to the Peak, and it’s not the best search card you can get, but it plays both roles, so it’s good in this list, as it lets us run more other cards. Collapsed Stadium, on the other hand, has been fairly disappointing. I’ve found that I almost never use it. In the past, it was used to remove damaged Pokémon from play so they couldn’t be KO’d by Sableye, but with Jirachi and Manaphy to protect our Bench, I believe we don’t actually need Collapsed Stadium anymore.

1 Boss’s Orders, 2 Counter Catcher: I strongly believe that two copies of Counter Catcher are optimal in Gardevoir, as they give the deck so much value and let it do unexpected comebacks (you can trap something Active with Counter Catcher, use Iono, and snipe around it with Cresselia or Scream Tail, for example). Of course, Boss’s Orders is still needed, as Counter Catcher won’t always be playable, especially in the late game.

Overall, while I don’t think 100% confident with this list yet, I’m convinced that Gardevoir ex will remain a solid deck in the Paradox Rift format; it might be a bit worse than it used to be, but I’m sure we’ll see top tier players pick it up again and again anyway.

Charizard ex

3 Charmander MEW 4
4 Arven SVI 2351 Jet Energy PAL 190
1 Charmander OBF 263 Iono PAL 1857 Basic {R} Energy
3 Charmeleon MEW 52 Boss’s Orders PAL 172
3 Charizard ex OBF 1254 Battle VIP Pass FST 225
2 Bidoof CRZ 1114 Ultra Ball SVI 196
2 Bibarel BRS 1212 Nest Ball SVI 181
1 Mew CEL 112 Rare Candy SVI 191
1 Manaphy BRS 411 Energy Search SVI 172
1 Jirachi PAR 1261 Lost Vacuum LOR 162
1 Radiant Charizard CRZ 201 Counter Catcher CIN 91
1 Lumineon V BRS 401 Super Rod PAL 188
2 Technical Machine: Evolution PAR 178
1 Defiance Band SVI 169
1 Vitality Band SSH 185
1 Forest Seal Stone SIT 156
2 Artazon PAL 171
1 Town Store OBF 196
This is one of the best decks of the format: with Jirachi and Manaphy, opponents will have to deal with the Active Pokémon, and it’s not easy to do when Charizard ex has 330 HP. Giratina VSTAR can no longer damage a Charizard ex with Lost Impact and follow that up with a double KO Lost Mine, thanks to Jirachi. Chien-Pao ex / Baxcalibur remains an unfavorable matchup (although Counter Catcher allows Charizard ex to target Benched Pokémon like Bibarel and Baxcalibur), but that can be changed with the inclusion of a 1-1 Toedscruel list, which prevents the opponent from recovering Energy cards with Superior Energy Retrieval. Other cards can be ran in the deck, like Professor Turo’s Scenario which acts as a healing card, a switching card, and a tech against Snorlax Stall.
This list is fairly classic nowadays, but I do want to mention the inclusion of Energy Search, which is here to help with the turn 1 setup. Sometimes, you get Arven in your opening hand and you already have a Battle VIP Pass or Nest Ball, but you don’t have an Energy to use the Evolution attack. Energy Search lets you get an Energy card through Arven, allowing for the turn 1 setup. Of course, here, it’s better than Earthen Vessel: you usually don’t want to discard anything from your opening hand, and you don’t need a second Fire Energy in hand when you’ll likely play Charizard ex on the next turn anyway.


Despite everything, stage 2 decks remain strong in the current format, which is honestly reassuring, as few players want the game devolve back to big Basics trading OHKOs back and forth, as it was for some time. Of course, big Basic decks like Roaring Moon ex or Miraidon ex have their place in the metagame, but the game is better when they’re not the only choice.

That being said, even though I stated that the big threats to slow decks have proved to not be that effective, I wouldn’t count them out yet. Iron Valiant ex may only be eighth most represented deck in the top 16 of City Leagues in Japan, but it’s the deck that won the most City Leagues this week (tied with Giratina VSTAR). This suggests that it’s actually a strong deck, or at least one that thrives in this metagame, but that it’s underplayed. If Charizard and Gardevoir remain popular while Roaring Moon and Miraidon are not, we’ll probably see Iron Valiant’s popularity and effectiveness rise up. Will that be the case at LAIC? We’ll see soon enough!

Thanks for reading, as always, and good luck whether you’re attending LAIC, a League Cup, or an online event this weekend!


Related Articles