Ice Trae Q&A - A Guide to Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX + Inteleon
“Ice Trae Q&A”
Answering Community Questions on Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX/Inteleon
Hello again Flipside readers! Last time I wrote, I covered one of the big new archetypes coming out of the Chilling Reign set: Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX. Of course, alongside the Shadow Horse, Chilling Reign also brought us the Ice Horse— and Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX, which was the less-hyped of the two, has now proven to be a force in the Standard format in its own right.
Within the first two weeks of the set’s legality in online tournaments, Ice Rider variants using Cinccino as a support Pokemon began popping up, some with solid results. Before long, though, some players began to question whether Cinccino was truly the best partner for Ice Rider. Well-known player Isaiah Bradner and my teammate Le Bui combined their brainpower to produce a new Ice Rider deck skeleton, using a thick Inteleon line as the primary support Pokemon. Lacking time to play in many tournaments that week, the pair passed the list on to me, and I placed Top 4 in two tournaments in two days-- a testament to the deckbuilding skills of Le and Isaiah, and also to the strength of Ice Rider and the incredible potential of the Inteleon engine. With the NBA semifinals looming large in his mind, Isaiah decided to name this new deck “Ice Trae,” after Atlanta Hawks star Trae Youn
Since then, Le took his own turn piloting Ice Trae to an online event finals, and Isaiah Cheville, Caio Paoli, and Jake Santiago have also found success with the deck. Some modifications have been made to the original list--either by the original creators or by others who have picked it up--but Le’s and Isaiah’s original skeleton is quickly taking hold in the community as the best way to play Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX.
Ice Trae is one of the most fun and skill-intensive decks I have played in quite some time, and when I return to real-life tournament play in the coming weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised if I sleeve it up for pretty much every event in this format. I’ve put in a ton of games between online tournaments and the PTCGO ladder, and discussed the list in great detail with Le, Isaiah, Jake, and Caio, and I feel like I know the deck better than almost anything else I’ve played in the past year. With a number of questions coming in from around the community on our list choices and how to play the deck, I decided to use this article as a big Q & A session, answering the community’s most pressing questions regarding Ice Trae.
First off, here’s the list I used for my back-to-back Top 4 appearances. (For the first tournament, one of the Boss’s Orders was a second Professor’s Research, but I believe three Boss’s Orders is more correct; it certainly felt better in the second tournament.)
This 60 felt strong, but there are still possible changes that could be made. Currently, Le and I have been working with an updated list that replaces the two Switch with a second Air Balloon and a copy of Leon. I will discuss these and other potential card changes in some of the Q & A section that follows. (Also, if anyone wants to see my matchups across the two tournaments: here’s the first event and here’s the second.)
And now, let’s get into the questions!
“What is Ice Rider’s matchup spread? My team is considering it for Team Challenge but we don’t have much experience with it.”
-MBoss11, via Discord
One of the reasons I like Ice Rider/Inteleon is because it has a lot of close matchups that are generally determined by player skill more than by variance. The only notable matchup that has proved particularly unfavorable has been LucMetal (and that matchup is still winnable, as I will cover below). Almost every other matchup in the current Standard metagame feels solidly winnable for Ice Rider, even though they may not all be outright favorable. Because the deck is so consistent in both setting up your board and pumping out damage, has such strong comeback potential with Path to the Peak and Reset Stamp, and gives you the opportunity to choose a particular card from your deck for any given scenario, it can find answers to almost any opposition.
In the past year or so of playing and writing articles, I have tried to move away from theoretical matchup analysis charts in order to focus more on micro gameplay within matchups, but if I were to estimate matchups for Ice Rider at present, it would look something like this:
- Shadow Rider Calyrex V - fairly even
- ADP variants - fairly even (depends on build)
- LucMetal/Zacian - unfavorable
- Eternatus VMAX - slightly favorable
- Other Dark decks (Mew3 or Malamar VMAX) - fairly even
- Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX decks - slightly unfavorable, but swings to quite favorable with a one-card tech (Mew)
- Victini VMAX - favorable
- Decidueye - slightly favorable
- PikaRom - fairly even
- Misc. single-Prize decks - tend to be favorable
“How does this archetype keep pace with other, harder-hitting decks?”
Just because this deck has a damage cap of 250 doesn’t mean it isn’t a hard-hitting deck. Part of the strength of Ice Rider is its capacity to easily keep pumping out solid damage every turn, as well as the ability to vary this damage (and thus conserve resources) based on the particular need each turn. For example, on turns where you do not need to OHKO a high-HP target, you can use Ride of the High King or, if you need a bit more power, simply discard one Energy with Max Lance.
This consistent, yet adaptable, damage output does two big things for the deck: it allows you to consistently win two-shot wars against other VMAX decks, and it allows you to efficiently trade with single-Prize decks. As the pace of Standard gameplay has begun to slow down just a small bit towards the end of this season, it’s become more common to see games that are a marathon, not a sprint. Ice Rider does very well in these games, but it can also win a lot of the “sprint” games with its ability to frequently take down opposing Pokemon-V on the second turn of the game.
Another aspect of Ice Rider, which Isaiah put into words better than me, is the concept of “choosing when you attack”-- dictating the pace of the game. In a two-shot war with other VMAX decks, you have the advantage of playing four Marnie and four Path to the Peak to disrupt your opponent from turn one, and also a Drizzile-Inteleon line that gives you access to the exact resources (Energy, Boss’s Orders, etc.) to build up an attacker on the Bench and then target an opposing Pokemon of your choice on your terms. Rather than responding to an opponent’s plays, you are often the first player to make a game-changing move (e.g. taking the first Prize Cards or getting the first hit on an opposing attacker). Thus, to return to the original question, Ice Rider can “keep pace” with supposedly faster decks by actually controlling the pace of the early game to a certain extent.
“What considerations go into using the Inteleon line vs a Cinccino line?”
-TeamAbra87, via Discord
“Thoughts on Inteleon vs Cinccino? What’s the correct Inteleon line to play? Is Froslass any good? What techs should I be playing? ( Mew? )”
-Connor Holt (@ConnorHolt11)
The biggest difference between Drizzile-Inteleon and Cinccino comes down to searching for cards rather than drawing cards. I have always loved decks that let me search out the exact resources I want on any given turn: Alolan Ninetales-GX/Octillery/Mallow in 2017; Buzzwole/Magcargo in 2018; Mew/Cramorant V Toolbox in 2020; and now, Ice Rider/Inteleon. There is certainly skill involved in knowing what cards to discard with Cinccino, thinning your deck to more frequently draw into what you need, and adjusting gameplay in case you whiff what you were digging for; most players also loved Zoroark-GX decks for these reasons. But having raw deck search as your central draw engine introduces a unique element of skill to Pokemon that has been absent in Standard for quite some time.
One key difference is that Ice Rider/Inteleon has a stronger early game than Ice Rider/Cinccino, for two reasons. First, it’s easier to find exactly the card you need to set up and attack in the early turns of the game via Drizzile, whether that be Evolution Incense to find a VMAX or Capacious Bucket to find Energy attachments. With Cinccino, you need to use your Supporters or other support Pokemon such as Dedenne-GX to possibly draw into those pieces. Second, a very strong line of play for Ice Rider can be to play a turn two Boss’s Orders to take a Max Lance OHKO on whichever attacker your opponent has been charging up on the Bench. This is much easier when you can use Drizzile to search out Boss’s Orders; this is not a line of play that is typically available to Ice Rider/Cinccino. It is also much easier to pull off a turn three Boss’s Orders because of Inteleon; on turn three with the Cinccino build you still may have not seen a Boss’s Orders yet.
This increase in early-game strength does come with a trade-off wherein Ice Rider/Cinccino can have a somewhat stronger late-game, because Cinccino operates continuously throughout the game and can always bail you out of a late-game Reset Stamp, whereas Drizzile and Inteleon are single-use. However, I still find Ice Rider/Inteleon to have a strong late game, you just need to think a bit harder. Save an unevolved Sobble and/or Drizzile for the late game so that Level Ball, Evolution Incense, or just raw drawing one of your evolution pieces can bail you out of Reset Stamp or Marnie. Be sure to adequately thin your deck in the turns leading up to that point. I often find that I have extraneous copies of Quick Ball past the first turn or two of my games with this deck; those should always be used to thin out useless cards, since unlike most decks, this deck cannot use Quick Ball to bail itself out of a late-game Stamp.
Regardless of whether you play solely Inteleon SSH or add one or more Inteleon CRE, I am completely confident that playing any less than four each of Sobble and Drizzile is incorrect. That 4-4 line is the entire backbone of your deck; you will frequently use three and even four Drizzile in a game, and you cannot afford to decrease the chances of drawing those pieces. (I will add here that while it’s probably obvious that Sobble CRE is the optimal Sobble, I didn’t realize just how strong an attack Keep Calling is until I played this deck. Very frequently I will use it on turn one going second, filling my board with all the Sobble I need for the whole game and opening up my Quick Ball and Level Ball to grab other Pokemon.)
The new Froslass from Chilling Reign is a cool tech I’ve seen some people play, and a card that the card designers clearly designed to have synergy with Ice Rider. The main draw of Froslass is that it lets you put two Energy onto an Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX in a single turn without using Melony, letting you play another Supporter for the turn. This can enable some interesting plays where you can power up an attack your opponent wasn’t prepared for, and perhaps pair it with a Boss’s Orders to destroy their setup. However, I don’t currently think Ice Trae should include Froslass. A 1-1 Froslass line is bound to be inconsistent. If you move up to something like a 2-2 Froslass line, you probably have to cut too many valuable cards from the rest of the list. I have only encountered one or two losses where I thought I would have won if I’d had Froslass.
Lastly, Mew. Mew’s inclusion in Ice Trae would pretty much just be a tech for one archetype, which is Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX variants. I have not found these matchups to be too bad, but I think they are somewhere in the vicinity of 45-55 to 50-50 for Ice Trae. You need to play extremely carefully so that the Urshifu player cannot take three Prizes from using G-Max Rapid Flow on your Benched Inteleon lines, destroying your setup and solving their Prize trade so they only need to KO one VMAX to win. When your whole deck relies on the search from Drizzile and Inteleon, this is easier said than done. Mew would solve this problem by allowing you to play a bit more “carelessly” and get full value from all your Inteleon lines, while forcing the Urshifu player to attack into your VMAXes, with which they will trade unfavorably. I think Mew is a great tech to add if you are expecting Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX to be one of the most popular decks in a particular metagame and want to make the matchup much more favorable. However, the matchup is still very winnable without Mew and it won’t always make up enough of the metagame to warrant a tech.
“Why is Inteleon CRE bad?”
-Gino Gallizzi (@GinoGallizzi)
“Explain why no Inteleon CRE, and also the name of the deck please, I’m out of the loop as always.”
-Stéphane Ivanoff (@lubyllule)
Stéphane, I covered the Ice Trae name origin story above, but the question “Where is the other Inteleon?” is something I’ve been asked incessantly since I started playing this deck. To respond to Gino’s phrasing: Chilling Reign Inteleon is certainly not a “bad” card, but it is not in our list for the simple reason that it is just not necessary. Are there plenty of theoretical scenarios where the extra two damage counters from Quick Shooting can be relevant each turn? Absolutely. Have I, Le, Isaiah, and Jake found these scenarios to be particularly common during our testing and tournament runs, or thought that our overall win rate would increase if we played an Inteleon CRE? No, which is why we stuck to purely the old Inteleon! As I put it to a few people, the ability to search for any two Trainers is so powerful that you would prefer all of your Drizzile have the chance to evolve into Inteleon SSH rather than Inteleon CRE. Frequently, I will conserve a Drizzile on my Bench so that Inteleon or Evolution Incense can bail me out of a late-game Reset Stamp or Marnie; this is not an option I would have if that Drizzile had already evolved into an Inteleon CRE.
This is not to say that Inteleon CRE should never make its way into Ice Rider/Inteleon. Some matchups where it could be relevant include ADP or PikaRom lists that run Big Charm (although I am skeptical that it actually improves your matchups there by a worthwhile amount), Decidueye, and Spiritomb. If you want to tech for any of these matchups, there is merit to playing an Inteleon CRE, but it is not necessary at all to winning any of those matchups. To players hasty to add a copy or two of Inteleon CRE simply because it is a shiny new card and has theoretical value, I encourage you to play out some games with this list and see how often you really end up wanting it.
“How do you beat a sentient being piloting PikaRom/Path to the Peak with Big Charm, ADPZ, or LucMetal?”
-Luke Morsa (@Celios_Network)
“How are you supposed to navigate Weakness matchups like ADPZ and LucMetal?”
Let’s address “Metal decks” first. You play differently against LucMetal than against ADPZ, which is not a true “Metal deck” and is currently somewhat overshadowed by ADP/Galarian Moltres V builds anyway. I mentioned that Le, Isaiah, and I have added a Leon into the latest version of our list; this greatly helps the ADP matchup because you can OHKO ADP with Max Lance on turn two. If you don’t play Leon or can’t find it, you can hit ADP with Pierce as soon as possible, then follow with a Max Lance KO. If a Benched Zacian V hits an Energy attachment with Intrepid Sword early, or has two Energy on it at any point, you may want to use Boss’s Orders to immediately remove it from the board and force your opponent to power up another Zacian V. I find the ADP/Galarian Moltres V build much easier to deal with because it is a bit harder for them to power up a Zacian V (if they even play any). You can occasionally beat ADP by simply OHKOing three two-Prize Pokemon; sometimes you do have to go through the ADP, but know that the other route is a possibility. Remember that Dedenne-GX is OHKOd by Ride of the High King if your opponent fills their Bench--this is actually very important because it lets you save your Energy to have an immediate follow-up OHKO with Max Lance. A copy of Great Catcher, allowing you to Melony to chain attacks while still gusting a Dedenne-GX or Mawile-GX, could be a strong tech for this matchup.
LucMetal is Ice Trae’s only strongly unfavorable matchup amongst meta decks. However, you can certainly win, if only via the incredible strength of Path to the Peak. You can capitalize on the fact that LucMetal often relies on setting up by using Intrepid Sword on multiple turns. With Path to the Peak, you can often prevent LucMetal from setting up at all, while you take three clean two-Prize KOs with Max Lance. If LucMetal ever uses Full Metal Wall GX and gets Metal Goggles onto multiple Pokemon, you will almost certainly lose, but it is reasonable to prevent the opponent from getting to that point in at least some games. Again, Leon is a helpful tech for this matchup. Leon and Tool Jammer combined would help the matchup considerably, but that is a lot of deck space to devote to a single matchup that wouldn’t become better than 50-50 anyway.
Lastly, the PikaRom matchup. Once Le and I cut the two Switch from our list as I discussed earlier, I thought this matchup would become very unfavorable, because there was no way to pivot out of Tandem Shock. However, this is not the case. With Leon, you can OHKO Raichu & Alolan Raichu-GX (without Big Charm) or PikaRom (even with Big Charm). This ability to take at least one OHKO during a game means you will almost always win the Prize trade, since even if PikaRom pulls off Tandem Shock under immense OHKO pressure and your Path to the Peak and Marnie spam, you can just set up a second VMAX to respond. If you also play around Reset Stamp, I think this matchup is actually somewhat favorable, although it does require a bit more testing on my end.
“Does the deck beat Decidueye?”
Luke Morsa and I got into a hilarious debate about this during one of his recent Twitch streams, which led to my humiliation in this video. In summary, I (jokingly) said the matchup was “100-0” in favor of Ice Trae; Luke swiftly 2-0d me with Decidueye on his stream, although, by his own admission, he drew extraordinarily well and I drew somewhat poorly. While “100-0” is obviously hyperbole, I do sincerely believe the matchup is slightly favorable for Ice Trae, and had Luke and I played out ten games I would have expected to win five or six.
The reason I think the matchup is favorable comes down to the speed and control with which you can begin setting up your Stage 2 Pokemon to attack relative to your opponent. Inteleon can come into play on the third turn of the game and it is quite easy to have two Energy attached to it by then, and the Inteleon can search for Boss’s Orders to immediately pull up any Decidueye on your opponent’s Bench and get the first hit in. In contrast, with average draws, Decidueye often spends the first few turns of the game falling back on Snorlax, which you can counter with Marnie. Your opponent can of course theoretically get a Decidueye into play (or two, if you’re Luke) a turn before you, but it is difficult for them to have the Energy, a pivot into the Active Spot, and especially the gust effect to begin attacking your Inteleon first. The ability to search for the exact cards you need to set up and pressure your opponent early on is something Decidueye lacks, as while you are setting up Inteleon they will not be able to play Rosa in the early game. Even the new lists that run the Inteleon engine have a harder time setting up two different Stage 2 lines than you do setting up one.
You should still set up an Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX in the matchup to be able to swiftly Knock Out any non-Decidueye Pokemon that your opponent puts into play. You want to be especially keen on Knocking Out opposing Inteleon CRE, since the damage counters from Quick Shooting can add up quickly.
This is actually a matchup where a copy of Inteleon CRE on your own side could theoretically be good, since one Quick Shooting places a Decidueye at 120 HP where it can then be Knocked Out by Aqua Bullet. However, you still have to evolve one of your Drizzile into Inteleon CRE instead of Inteleon SSH, which means you lose some consistency and control from deck searching. I would not suggest adding any techs for the Decidueye matchup at present.
The Decidueye matchup is another point in favor of the Inteleon build of Ice Rider over the Cinccino build, as the Cinccino build would need to hard-tech to beat Decidueye since it is impossible for Cinccino itself to trade with Decidueye efficiently.
“After seeing other players have success with Ice Rider lists other than Ice Trae (different counts, techs, etc.), what changes would you consider?”
-MrDarthBean, via Discord
Two card changes I’ve seen people playing that I like are the additions of Leon and Tool Jammer. Leon fixes a lot of math for the deck, most importantly enabling you to OHKO Tag Team Pokemon-GX such as ADP, Mew3, ChuChu, or PikaRom with Big Charm attached. It also OHKOs a Zamazenta V through Metal Goggles or Full Metal Wall (not both). Another play I like is using Leon to either boost Pierce from 40 to 70 damage or Max Lance from 250 to 280 damage the turn after, giving you a perfect 320-damage 2HKO in the mirror or against some other VMAXes. I think a copy of Leon is optimal in Ice Trae currently.
Tool Jammer is another way to deal with Metal Goggles in the LucMetal matchup and Big Charm in the ADP and PikaRom matchups. It’s cute, but I don’t think it’s worth including as one of your 60 cards.
Some changes that I don’t like in other lists I’ve seen include the addition of Dedenne-GX or Crobat V. While these are good in basically every other deck to turn a Quick Ball into a way to draw a lot of cards, they aren’t needed in Ice Trae. You have so much consistency to search for your Drizzile-Inteleon lines that the marginal consistency boost from Dedenne-GX or Crobat V isn’t worth the liability of Benching it. Putting a two-Prize support Pokemon into play enables your opponent to map their Prizes much more effectively (1-2-3, 2-3-1, etc.). One of the things I like about this deck is that it naturally forces inefficient Prize exchanges on your opponent, often forcing them to Knock Out two VMAXes or one VMAX and three pieces of the Inteleon line, both of which are highly time- and resource-consuming. You no longer have this advantage if you rely on a two-Prize support Pokemon. Even a few months ago, if you’d told me a deck could thrive in this season’s Standard with a Stage 2 search-based engine instead of traditional support Pokemon, I would have laughed--but that’s exactly what Ice Trae does, and it’s one of the deck’s great strengths.
I also have seen people cutting Marshadow, which I think is incorrect. Isaiah notes that Path to the Peak is a huge factor in your win condition in a large number of games, so you want to be able to immediately play it down without needing to spend a turn to “bump” Chaotic Swell. You want Path to stick in play as much as it possibly can over the course of a game-- your deck won’t suffer at all from it, but the goal is that your opponent’s will suffer greatly, allowing you time to build up your Drizzile-Inteleon lines and choose when and where to deal the first blow with Ice Rider. (Some players on Twitch and Discord asked how I felt about cutting one copy of Path to add a tech; my response was a resounding “no!” This deck is much weaker without Path to the Peak messing with your opponent at any and all phases of the game.)
“How do you expect the deck to handle rotation?”
-NinecardTCG, via Discord
One of the cool things about Ice Rider is that this particular build of the deck loses almost nothing to the next rotation (SUM-on). Just three cards in the list I showed above rotate out: the Marshadow and the two Reset Stamp. Losing Marshadow is irrelevant because the card it’s intended to counter— Chaotic Swell— also rotates, but losing Reset Stamp could definitely hurt Ice Rider a bit, considering how often the deck is able to pull off big comebacks with Stamp plus Path to the Peak. (Indeed, I think the lack of Reset Stamp, leaving Marnie as the only playable hand disruption in the format, could be one of the biggest issues with the post-rotation format— but that’s a topic for another article.)
Instead of viewing post-rotation Ice Rider as a come-from-behind deck with lots of disruption, then, I propose a switch to a more aggressive style. I mentioned to Isaiah that I thought an Ice Rider build with four copies of Pokémon Catcher could be quite strong. While it’s easy to chain attacks with Ice Rider because of Melony, you cannot gust with Boss’s Orders on the same turn you use Melony, which can be somewhat limiting. Pokémon Catcher would be a partial solution to this, giving you a chance to gust and play Melony in the same turn, giving you incredible power to alter the course of a game if you hit heads on Catcher. You can of course try multiple Catcher flips in one turn if you flip tails on the first one, and Drizzile and Inteleon make it easier to find copies of Catcher. This is an untested concept, but it has the potential to be quite strong, with a similar style of play to the aggressive, gust-heavy Victini VMAX archetype that is expected to do well post-rotation.
The nature of the Drizzile-Inteleon engine means that Ice Rider is a pretty easy deck to add techs to, so regardless of how the SUM-on metagame shapes up, I expect Ice Rider to have a place in it. It should be able to take a lot of favorable matchups on the back of its consistency and raw damage output, and it should be able to tech to shore up one or two less-favorable matchups.
That’s all I’ve got for this article, which has sort of become the Ice Trae Bible. I wrote a lot, but I still feel like I have more to say about the deck, so for any further questions, clarifications, or debates, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @twhitesell42. You can also find my team @UNDNTD and my coaching here. As real-life events begin to return, I look forward to reconnecting or meeting many new players in person for the first time, but until then, I’m always available over the internet. I’ll be back on Flipside later this month with a look at another new deck or metagame development, so stay tuned!
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