Written by Novril
Don’t expect many off-topic articles like this. I’m just publishing this because the world championship starts on friday and will be streamed here and it may interest you.
2 quick notes before we begin:
1. I have never played the physical card game, just with the videogame online client which is twice as fast, and doesn’t wreck your wallet.
2. Starting September the format is going to change and many of the currently powerful cards will rotate out, and the game will shape into something new. So this world championship is the last stand of most of the current powerful decks.
YOU CAN CLICK ON ANY CARD TO SEE IT IN MORE DETAIL!
A deck needs to have 60 cards, and you can only have 4 cards of the same name in a deck. A coin flip decides who goes first, but attacks cannot be used on the first turn of the game. You lose in this game when you can’t draw any more cards, or when the opponent takes all 6 prize cards, awarded for KOs. Like the videogames, you put one Pokemon on the front to fight, and can have 5 more on the bench. Attacking requires attaching energy cards, which can only be done once per turn, unless you use special methods to bypass this rule.
This is what the average Pokemon card looks like:
You can see that it has 130HP, requires mostly dark energy to attack, has a retreat cost of 2 energy (which can be any kind of energy), takes double damage from lightning types, and takes 20 less damage from fighting types.
EX Pokemon are bigger, stronger versions of Pokemon. They have more HP and their attacks are stronger and require more energy. Their downside is that when they are KO’ed they reward with 2 prize cards instead of just 1. Because Yveltal EX is common too, the smaller, non-EX Yveltal is nicknamed “baby Yveltal”.
BREAK Pokemon are evolutions the card game made up for Pokemon that don’t have them in the videogames. They add more HP and more attacks or abilities. Unlike regular evolutions, you can still use the attacks of the previous form.
Mega Pokemon EX are evolutions of Pokemon EX. They have more HP and different attacks. The problem is that when you Mega evolve your turn ends, which is a huge flaw. But this can be prevented by attaching a tool called a “spirit link” prior to that.
Item cards do various things. You can use as many as you want in a turn. For example, this card restores 30 HP.
Supporters are characters from the games. They function like “super items”, but you can only use one per turn. For example, this card restores 60 HP and all status conditions.
Tools are items you can equip on your Pokemon, and provide persistent benefits. For example, this tool makes the Pokemon’s attacks do 20 more damage.
Stadiums are persistent and affect both players. A stadium can be removed by using specific stadium removal cards, or by replacing it with a different stadium. For example, this stadium allows any Pokemon that has a fairy energy attached to it to retreat for free.
Common cards that will be played a lot:
Every deck needs a good “draw engine”, a way to draw more and more cards until you get to the specific cards you need this turn. Since you can only use one supporter per turn, almost all the competitive decks in the game also use several copies of Shaymin EX (aka ShayBae) because of its ability “Set Up”, which allows draw cards until you have 6 when you play Shaymin unto the bench. Its attack also allows to recycle the card and re-use the ability, but it’s not very common since wasting a turn is a heavy price. Being an EX with only 110 HP makes Shaymin a common target for 2 prize cards, and many matches end up focusing on sniping benched Shaymins for the win. Fun fact: Tournament legal copies of this card cost $40 on eBay.
Ultra Ball lets you get any Pokemon from your deck, for the price of discarding to extra cards from you hand. Sounds expensive but this actually compliments Shaymin. You discard 2 cards you don’t need right now and make your hand smaller, so now the Shaymin you get with the ultra ball can draw even more cards.
Hoopa EX lets you get 3 EX Pokemon from your deck. So for one Ultra Ball you can summon the whole squad into the bench. You can put 2 EX attackers, and then a Shaymin EX to draw some cards. Having a retreat cost of 2, and an attack which is never used, can turn Hoopa into a weak spot in your bench, prone to stalling and even to KO’s.
So many great attacks in the format require 2 energy, doesn’t matter which type. Instead of attaching 2 basic energy cards, you can just use Double Colorless Energy (DCE) and attack instantly. Because it’s a special energy card you can only have 4 of it in a deck, and it will often be one of the cards players look for when digging through their decks with the draw engine.
Fighting Fury Belt is a tool that adds 10 damage to attacks, and 40 HP. 40 HP is a noticeable buff and many times can make the difference between getting KO’ed in 1 turn or in 2 turns.
Float Stone is a tool that grants free retreat. Because many decks have support Pokemon that do not want to be in the active position, they will also have a Float Stone or 2, especially for the “heavier” Pokemon.
If you are not pleased with the cards in your hand, Sycamore throws all of them into the discard pile and draws you 7 new cards. Many times have to discard important cards just to get to cards you need ASAP.
“Each player shuffles his or her hand into his or her deck. Then, each player draws a card for each of his or her remaining Prize cards.” N has many different uses. At the start of the game, it’s like getting a fresh hand with Sycamore only that you don’t throw precious cards into the discard pile. If you know your opponents just got an important card which they plan to use next turn, you can use N to force a shuffle and make them lose the card (hopefully they won’t draw it again). N is also a comeback card. When the opponent has few prize cards left, an N has a good chance of leaving them with a dead hand, and no ways to draw. If they haven’t already set up multiple attackers, and they don’t top-deck a Sycamore or something, they may be in big trouble.
“Switch 1 of your opponent’s Benched Pokémon with his or her Active Pokémon.” Lysandre is another key supporter in this game. It allows you to finish off wounded Pokemon who retreated to the bench. It allows you to target support Pokemon who do annoying effects from the bench. It allows you to snipe Shaymins. It allows you to put a Hoopa or a big Pokemon with no energy in the active position in order to stall. Lysandre is the main reason Float Stone is added to decks.
This game has plenty of extremely dominating abilities, and attack effects. Hex Maniac disables abilities for one turn, and Ranger disables attack effects for one turn.
You’ve already seen that special energy, such as DCE, and tools, like Float Stone and Fighting Fury Belt, are commonplace. Xerosic lets you remove one tool or one special energy, so it’s going to be used at some point for sure.
VS Seeker lets you pick up one supporter from the discard pile so you can use it again. This means that you also don’t have to have 4 Lysandres. You can simply recycle a single Lysandre with a VS Seeker.
Trainer’s Mail allows you to take a trainer card from the top 4 cards of your deck. Most decks are filled with trainers so this serves as a part of the draw engine, helping you get the next card that will help you draw more cards.
“Look at the top 6 cards of your deck and attach a basic Energy card you find there to a Basic Pokémon on your Bench. Shuffle the other cards back into your deck.” Some of the decks that use plenty of basic energy use this to get energy faster than the usual pace of 1 per turn.
Ninja Boy lets you switch one of your Pokemon in play with one of the Pokemon in your deck, while transferring all the parameters to the new Pokemon, like damage, energy attached, etc. This new card is extremely useful for almost any deck, to replace attackers based on the situation, or to smoothly remove a support Pokemon from the active position and switch it with an actual attacker.
Another new card which may see a lot of play is Captivating Poke Puff, which lets you look at the opponent’s hand and put any Pokemon you see there on the bench. While you can’t guess in advance what the opponent is holding, this has many uses. Besides having knowledge about the opponent’s cards, you can waste the opposing Shaymins and Hoopas, fill the opposing bench with Pokemon that don’t fit the situation (taking up space for ones that do) and improving the effects of some Pokemon’s attacks. (Trevenant BREAK, Zoroark, Lucario etc.)
Now let’s look at some top tier decks!
The current state of the game is populated by a deck called Night March (will be called NM for my convenience), and decks that can have roughly equal matchups against it. Decks like M Rayquaza EX, M Mewtwo EX and M Manectirc EX are usually solid competitors, but will probably be absent because they lose badly to NM. (But the first 2 will make a comeback after the rotation in September.)
Joltik, Pumpkaboo and Lampent all have an attack called Night March: “This attack does 20 damage times the number of Pokémon in your discard pile that have the Night March attack.” The deck uses its Ultraball+Shaymin draw engine, and battle compressors, to dig quickly through the deck and put as many Pokemon with NM in the discard pile. Battle compressor also allows to get any supporter from the deck when you also have a VS seeker. Both Joltik and Pumpkaboo use DCE to attack, but Pumpkaboo also needs a Dimension Valley stadium in play since his attack costs 1 more. NM also uses Puzzle of Time to retrieve important cards from the discard pile and recycle DCE.
Lampent is a stage 1 and doesn’t even get to play. It goes into the discard pile first, and then enough Joltiks and Pumpkaboos are also discarded to allow the remaining ones to reach enough damage to kill their big EX opponents in 1 turn, and winning the prize trade as they get 2 prizes and the opponent gets just 1. This is why sniping Shaymins is so important when fighting NM.
There are several variants to the deck. Some just have night marchers and Shaymins, and give the night marchers tools like Fighting Fury Belt to make them harder to kill by attacks that target the bench. Others may also add a couple Mews, which can copy the attack of the benched night marchers and give you more attackers to use in case you need to reach higher damage levels and put more night marchers in the discard pile. They also have free retreat as a quality of life bonus.
There are also variants that use Vespiquen as another, late game attacker, and also to do big damage to many common water and fighting types who are weak to grass. Vespiquen’s Bee Revenge works pretty similar to NM but it needs many more Pokemon in the discard pile. This is also why 4 Unown are included as well, to help draw cards and power up Vesp. Of course the inclusion of so many extra Pokemon cards means less room for “tech” trainer cards in the deck that deal with specific problems, or an overall worse draw engine, but you can’t win them all.
The 2nd dominant deck in the game after NM. The goal of the deck is to evolve ASAP from Phantump using either a Wally supporter if you start first, or with Phantump’s Ascension on the second turn because Trevenant has an item lock ability, which prevents the opponents from using items as long as it’s in the active position. If the opponents have plenty of items in hand, and can’t get rid of them, they can’t draw cards with Shaymin, and may be stuck with a dead hand until they find a supporter that can free them such as Sycamore, N, Lysandre or Hex Maniac.
If the Trev player goes first against NM and manages to evolve with a Wally, and the NM player doesn’t have an access to Lysandre or Hex Maniac to get rid of the item lock, battle compressor cannot be used then it’s pretty much a guaranteed win for the Trev player. But if NM goes first, or the Trev player didn’t get an active Trev, or a Lysandre or Hex Maniac was used then the NM player can set up and we’ll have a real match.
Trev has relatively low HP so it’s good to evolve it into its break form, which adds 50 more HP and a cheap, great attack called Silent Fear.
For just one basic energy + a dimension valley stadium in play, you can start damaging all the Pokemon on the opposing team, which also targets the weak Shaymins in the back and other important supporters. It also slaughters night marchers without a Fighting Fury Belt.
You can also stall using Lysandre, and bring a fat Pokemon with no energy to attack nor retreat to the front, and chip away while the opponent has to spend turns just to try to switch. (Remember that items can’t be used because of the item lock, including Float Stones.)
To finish opponents off, or to try to build quick damage on one opponent, the attack of regular Trev can also be used, and does 60 damage to the target and 20 damage to 2 Pokemon you choose on the bench.
Trev can’t really compete when trading hits with hard hitting Pokemon, so he uses items to compensate. There are 2 variants of this deck. One uses Crushing Hammers and Team Flare Grunts to try to remove energy and prevent the opponent from attacking. The other uses Bursting Balloons to make the opponents damage themselves in case they choose to attack.
Yveltal and friends
Because NM and Trev are so common, dark decks that can hit Pumpkaboo and Trev hard because of their weakness are doing fine in the current state of the game. These dark decks all contains Yveltals as all Yveltal cards in the format are great and have something to offer.
Baby Yveltal is a non-EX that can one shot a night marcher without a fighting fury belt for just one energy. Outside of the NM matchup, this attack is used to poke the opponent early while also attaching energy into the bench, helping your big attackers prepare quickly.
Fright Night Yveltal has a great ability which cancels the effect of items in play while it’s active. This means an automatic extra 40 damage because you just canceled the Fighting Fury Belt in play. Its attack may be costly (DCE helps) but its able to rack up damage quickly since almost every deck will have an EX in the back to take the additional hit- Two of these and the Shaymin in the back is dead.
Yveltal EX is not fit to fight NM. It’s in the deck to combat everyone else as a big, threatening attacker. It mostly uses its first attack, which punishes the opposing Pokemon for hoarding energy, and rewards Yveltal EX for hoarding energy himself. The 2rd attack can be prepared quickly with a DCE, and can be used to one shot a Trev BREAK.
Besides the birds, which are all weak to lightning (Joltik) and resistant to fighting, dark decks also non-flying dark attackers, which are weak to fighting but resistant to psychic (Pumpkaboo, Trev), usually either Zoroark or Darkrai.
Darkrai EX is a big bulky attacker, especially with Fighting Fury Belt, that mainly uses its first attack, which only requires 2 energy, and becomes very strong once you spread enough energy on your bench, a process which is made quicker with Max Elixir.
Zoroark is a non-EX Pokemon that has 2 uses, its ability and its attack. The ability allows you to bench active Pokemon, and if you give it a Float Stone, he can serve as a free switching mechanism. The attack is also great. For just 2 energy, or a DCE, you can come in and reach high numbers depending on the size of the opponent’s bench, which tends to be filled of additional attackers hoarding energies, Shaymins and other supporting Pokemon. And you can also try your luck with Captivating Poke Puff. before attacking.
This deck uses Darkrai EX as the main attacker, while charging up Giratina EX.
As was previously stated, Darkrai EX is a big bulky attacker, especially with Fighting Fury Belt, that mainly uses its first attack, which only requires 2 energy, and becomes very strong once you spread enough energy on your bench, a process which is made quicker with Max Elixir.
Powering up Dark Pulse works well with Giratina EX because the Double Dragon energy it requires can count as any basic energy. So not only it counts as grass and psychic for Tina’s attack, but it also counts as if you attached 2 dark energy in one turn, which combined with Max Elixir helps Darkrai reach big damage levels quickly.
Once Giratina EX is charged and ready to attack, the opponent’s options are limited. First, Mega EX can’t harm it because of the ability, and the attack Dark Wheel prevents the opponent from playing stadiums, tools and special energies, and many prominent decks require all of these to function properly. While Hex Maniac and especially Ranger can help against this, and indeed make Giratina worse, instead of using supporter turns and VS Seekers on supporters that help achieve additional goals, the opponent is stuck using Ranger over and over just to keep playing the game normally.
Darkrai Tina has 2 tech options. One is to include Garbodor and Float Stones to attach to it and activate its ability, which nullifies all other abilities in play. Once you put all the squad on the bench you don’t need to use Shaymins and Hoopas anymore, and most decks don’t have Mega EXs so you don’t need Giratina’s ability either. You can then use Garbodor to shut off dominating abilities like Trev and Vileploom item lock, or Greninja BREAK’s shurikens, Manaphy’s free retreat etc. etc.
The 2nd tech option includes some more dragons. More specifically Latios EX and Hydreigon EX. Latios is there mostly for ‘Donk’ attempts. Its first attack only does 40 damage but allows you to attack in the first turn of the game. With a muscle band you can buff it to 60 damage, and if the stars align you may end up against a sole weak starting Pokemon (which indeed can happen for many dominant non-EX decks) and get a free win. And even if you don’t, starting the game with 60 damage and continuing from there is nice. A couple of Hydreigons are also added because of the ability, which reduces retreat cost for dragons if a stadium is in play (which will be the case usually). The ability stacks, so with one on the bench Latios can retreat for free and Giratina only has to pay 1 energy, and with 2 on the bench Tina retreats for free.
Also known as ‘Toad Tina’. Much like Darkrai Tina, you use a bulky, early attacker while charging Giratina on the bench. This time the early attack is Seismitoad EX and instead of trying to rack up damage quickly, using a DCE it immediately starts using Quaking Punch to item lock the opponents, preventing them from setting up quickly, while slowly chipping away at them with 40 damage each turn (with a Fighting Fury Belt) and charging up Giratina. Even the small damage of is enough to threaten night marchers because of the item lock.
Fighting Fury Belt’s HP bonus already makes Toad a tank, but other items are also used to cause even more annoyance. Crushing Hammers remove energies, and Scoop Up Cyclones give you a 50% chance to take the wounded Toad back into your hand, together with the belt and the DCE it had, and then promote a 2nd, healthy Toad from the bench, attach the belt and the DCE to it and basically undo all damage the opponent did so far. While Ranger hurts both Toad and Tina, the deck is still going to stay good enough to compete.
It’s called a ‘toolbox’ because it has specific solutions for a variety of situations. This is made possible because of Manaphy’s ability, which gives every Pokemon with a water energy attached free retreat, and allows you to switch easily depending on the situation. The deck also uses Max Elixir to give everyone energy quickly.
The main attacker is Seismitoad EX, who not only stalls the opponent with the item lock of Quaking Punch, but also uses its second attack to hit hard.
The deck uses the stadium Rough Seas to heal Pokemon every turn. The free retreat from Manaphy and the constant switching and healing makes it hard to get kills against this deck. Rough Seas also negates the self damage effects of Toad’s 130HP attack.
When possible, Toad retreats and lets Articuno finish off weakened targets, because when Articuno gets kills it grants one extra prize card.
The free retreat also makes several additional tech options available: Regice, a non-EX attacker which can be made immune to damage from EX with its 2nd attack (but loses to Ranger), Aegislash EX which is immune to damage from Pokemon with special energy attached to them (but loses to Hex Maniac), and Aroma Shaymin EX, which adds additional healing every turn besides than Rough Seas.
One of the only 2 competitive decks in the format that doesn’t use Shaymins in its draw engine. Greninja is an energy efficient non-EX attacker that can do big damage after you are done setting up the bench.
You want to evolve into Frogadier ASAP and use its attack, which summons all the other Frogadier to the bench. From there you evolve them into Greninjas, and one of them into an older version of Greninja, that can turn water energy into shurikens and buff your damage from the bench. Greninja can do 80 damage with one water energy, and also shut down abilities in niche situations. Greaninja BREAK adds more HP and can add another 60 damage with its own, bigger water shurikens.
Because the deck takes a while to set up and start steamrolling, Stardust Jirachi is used in the deck to try to stall special energy users with its first attack.
Another deck based around item lock, but this one is an extreme version. The Forest of Giant Plants stadium allows you to evolve immediately, and Vileplume item locks both players. What makes the deck hard to play is that you need in one turn to use your big draw engine to set up your own Pokemon and then activating the item lock before your opponent got to set up.
This includes evolving a Vespiquen, finding DCE for it, discarding enough Pokemon to power up its Bee Revenge attack, putting a Float Stone on Gloom, and only after all of that, finally evolving into Vileplume and activating the item lock. So you need to get the right cards in the right order and it’s very easy to end up screwing yourself in the process and give the opponent an easy win.
There are several cards that help you function under an item lock. AZ lets you recycle Shaymins (or save them from possible sniping), clear the active position, or mainly pick up the Vileplume evolution line into your hand, which allows you to continue setting up without the item lock, and when you are over you put and evolve Vileplume on the bench to bring the item lock back for the opponent’s turn. Bunnelby lets you retrieve key cards from the discard pile, such as important Pokemon or DCE.
That’s pretty much it. If some other deck has a surprising presence in the tournament, I’ll add it during the weekend. I hope you;ll enjoy the championship stream!