A Void In The Format: Replacing Claydol

claydol-great-encounters-ge-15pokemon-paradijs.comOne of the biggest “shocks to the system” hitting the new 2010-2011 Modified Format is the rotation of the fighting type Pokémon Claydol. Claydol was a near requirement in every deck for the past 3 years. Despite being a normal rare, the card spiked to nearly 20 dollars a piece before it was released as League promo, which reduced its value to a managable level. Even at that point, the card stayed strong in value.

It could be argued that the card was so important to how decks set up and flowed that it defined those formats. Even if you disagree, it is hard to argue that it was extremely vital to those formats, and that its removal is leaving a giant, gaping hole in the new format. Now the question that lingers is: How do we re-build the skeletons of decks to remain consistant in it’s wake?

This has always been one of the most challenging tasks when facing an undefined format. It is easy to look at cards and say ” these cards work well together, and will be a powerful force “. The challenge comes from figuring out how to streamline the engines of those decks in order to maximize their effeciency. In some cased, it could be argued that the draw engines dictate what decks are viable more so than vice versa.

Delcatty in 2004 really helped lend power and consistancy to Blaziken, and Electrode EX decks in 2005. In 2005 and 2006, decks “defocused” as a result of Pidgeot allowing you to search out single copies of cards every turn. I performed well ( finished swiss in 2nd seed ) at Worlds 2006 with a Blastoise-EX deck featuring 24 single copies of cards. Also, in 2005, Jirachi plus Swoop! Teleporter enabled the Muk EX and Medicham EX decks. Without that engine, those decks would not have been tier 1 archetypes.

uxie-legends-awakened-la-43pokemon-paradijs.comAs a result, figuring out how to make decks tick is the first step to really getting a grasp on any given format. We are left with some of the same tools that we had from the previous format, so let’s address those real quick before we address some of the changes that need to be made. Uxie is still in the format. Set Up is one of the most powerful effects ever printed on a basic Pokémon. The ability to recover from a small hand is too powerful to overlook. The card was used as at least a lone copy in every deck since it has been printed for good reason. I do not see this changing any this season.

Bebe’s Search is still around, and so is Call Energy and Roseanne’s Research’s new replacement, Pokémon Collector. Pokémon Communication made a huge splash last format in regard to Pokémon searching, so that stays around too. The ability for decks to draw into whatever Pokémon they need remains barely hindered. The problem then, comes from having to get access to your trainers, and energy. Being able to find Rare Candy, Broken Time Space, Double Colorless Energy, Expert Belt, and other cards becomes much more difficult.

SP decks have access to Cyrus’s Conspiracy, which gives them a huge edge. Battle Roads have been nearly swept by SP decks, and I really feel one of the key reasons stems not only because the Pokémon are so fast, flexible, and powerful, but because the decks have such a huge edge over other decks in regard to draw power. Cyrus’s Conspiracy gives them such an edge that other decks have issues keeping up reliably.

cyruss-conspiracy-platinum-pl-105pokemon-paradijs.comIs this because no other decks can acheive the same level of power and consistancy that Cyrus enables SP decks to have, or is it because the SP engine remains relatively unchanged while everyone struggles to find a consistant approach to their non SP decks? I feel it is a bit of both personally, but I am sure the second half is very significant. SP decks also have access to Power Spray, which help to cut off other player’s use of Uxie.

Before, decks would have access to Uxie and Claydol. This would put a huge strain on an SP deck’s ability to lock them out of powers entirely with Power Spray. Claydol could be used every turn as well, and if put into play in multiples would almost assuredly force through card advantage. Sure, they could kill Claydol with Garchomp, or after Bright Look, but that at least required them to actively lock down your card advantage.

Now, they can devote their attacks at your actual threats while holding Power Sprays to passively restrict your ability to develop your game. This is a very relevent change. Uxie is not going to be enough draw power to get the job done. Admittedly, you can attempt to play around Power Spray either by using Spiritomb, or Cyrus’s Initiative, Judge, and Looker’s Investigation to disrupt their hand, but it isn’t always going to be a reliable answer.

uxie-lv.x-legends-awakened-la-146pokemon-paradijs.comUxie LV.X: Now, where can we turn for a more reliable source of draw power? One of the most popular solutions at the moment is Uxie Level X. As you can tell by its soaring value in the secondary market on both eBay and online card stores, it seems to be everyones default solution to the problem. Every deck is running Uxie anyway, so why not add the Level X in as well? Its continual card draw, and it has a powerful colorless attack that can also abuse Double Colorless Energy. It gives every deck access to a potent Psychic attacker.

The card is good for all of the right reasons. It’s a good secondary attacker, provides good draw power over time (which helps reduce the threat of cards like Judge and Cyrus’s Initiative) and requires minimal adjustment to decks, using only 1 space.

There are a few downsides to Uxie though. First, it’s power is a bit restrictive. It lets you dig 2 cards deeper into your deck, but at the same time, it only nets you one card. So while it does give you card advantage, it isn’t anything near what Claydol was providing. The ability to dump your hand and refill to 6 was so strong. Uxie also takes a turn to come into play, and requires you to play Uxie down early. So you may run into situations where you have a decent sized hand of cards you don’t need, and you have to play down Uxie for a very subpar Set Up, and then have to wait a turn to even get the Level X online.

It also requires Uxie to get active, and then retreat. Decks will run Unown Q to offset its 1 Retreat Cost, but the fact that you can only retreat once per turn still offers some awkward situations when you try to get it active and benched in the same turn. It works better in SP decks where you can Pokéturn your active, then free retreat Uxie.

It also has a frail 90 Hit Points. It requires more work to get up than Claydol did, and it has less impact, but remains fairly equally vulnerable. It is only a Crobat away from being smacked by either Garchomp C Lvl X, or the SP Drifblim. At the same time, a majority of these downsides are me merely playing Devil’s Advocate. The card is clearly a fantastic source of draw power, and you would need a fairly strong case to justify not including it in your decklist.

sableye-stormfront-sf-48Sableye: Another card which has seen plenty of play in the past year or so is Sableye from Stormfront. Its Impersonate attack is a great way to set up, and it lets you play multiple supporters in the first turn. With the addition of Judge and Cyrus’s Initiative, it can really cripple an opponents game as well. Sableye is an interesting card when discussing it as a replacement for Claydol because it really is the least lateral alternative that I will discuss. It is very similar to Chatot in that it helps to speed up your early turns of the game, while also giving you a free attack midgame to fall back on if you want to get set up further.

I generally dislike any Pokémon which requires you to have to give up your attack midgame to give you any source of draw power. The pace of prize taking has gotten so fast now that you really cannot afford to simply stop your attack and give up a prize. Sableye is so strong that I actually like it despite this.

Its ability to use a Supporter is so versatile that it overcomes its inherent disadvantage. Judge and Cyrus’s Initiative are proactive cards, and can help keep pressure on a player while you are rebuilding. The ability to Judge, and then Impersonate into a Cyrus’s Conspiracy for a Supporter and a Power Spray is a very strong play. Or Judge, then Impersonate into a Cyrus’s Iniative even if you drew well off the Judge.

It is not what I’d call “passive draw” like Uxie Level X, or even Claydol are. They are effectively adding card advantage every turn without giving anything up. They don’t require you to attack, such as Sableye. They aren’t one time uses that take up a valuable bench space when played like Uxie. ( And while Claydol and Uxie Level X obviously sit on your bench, they continue to passively augment your draw every turn. ) Yet Sableye helps you in your building phases, and also sits on the bench as a fallback plan vs Judge, or if your hand dries up. It is your contingency plan.

Now, I’ll cover some of Sableye’s weaknesses. First, if you open with it, it forces you to go first. Some decks really do not want that. It can be a handicap vs some decks as well, as it walks into strong starts from stage 2 decks which allow you to fall behind really quickly. So while it can be an advantage, it is a bit of an unreliable double edged sword. It also is a bit frail. It often gives up a very easy prize.

The other annoying part is that it somewhat hinders your ability to go aggressive. If you open with Sableye, it’s a huge inconvenience to retreat it, and let it sit on your bench. It has the same issue that Spiritomb does in my eyes. It’s fine when they attack and kill it, but it really clogs the bench if it has to be retreated. It can come back to haunt you in games where you would be the aggressor and want to press your advantage. I mentioned earlier how it can be a nice contingency plan on the bench, but in a lot of matchups, its also a hinderence. SP decks will often wind up sniping or gusting around it, and leaving it stranded on your bench.

One thing I want to stress here before moving on from Sableye entirely is the fact that it does far more in the early game than the other alternatives. So while its midgame presence is, in my opinion, far weaker, it remains a viable option simply due to it’s opening game strength, and the occasional busted plays available with disruption Supporters.

slowking-prime-undaunted-ud-85Slowking Prime: Another card that people have thrown around in discussion is Slowking Prime. It is somewhat similar to Uxie Level X in that it lets you receive one of the top 2 cards off the deck. Unfortunately, the card you receive is chosen by the opponent, meaning you will automatically receive the weaker card. (Unless you are really, really good at deceiving them regarding what you need.) It also means you will never receive the “win condition”.

If your opponent is aware you are a Poké Turn away from killing his active, Slowking will never let you get a Poké Turn, or a Cyrus unless you happen to have two copies in the top two. So while Slowking IS “card advantage” in the sense that it is nets you an extra card each turn, it is arguable that it is closer to the opposite. It merely gives you cards you don’t really need, and guarantees your better cards wind up on the bottom of your deck.

I’ve heard people suggest using it with Underground Expedition. The problem with this is that it requires you to run a bunch of subpar cards. Slowking, in my eyes, is quite weak, and it also requires you to run a Slowpoke. Plus however many Underground Expedition you need. At that point, if you have access to both, you get a slightly powerful draw combination. (At the cost of a bench space, roughly 6 deck slots, and costs you your supporter use, 4 times a game, if you draw well.)

Seeing how I address Uxie’s draw effect as being somewhat weak, the convoluted Slowking engine strives to try and match it, and even if it ever does, requires so much work as to make it not worth it. Now, it doesn’t have to be active to evolve, which is pretty nice, and really is the only Pokémon I will be addressing that doesn’t have that handicap, but there are many ways to get around being active that it isn’t a big deal.

smeargle-undaunted-ud-8Smeargle: Smeargle is a card that a lot of people have been testing out as well. The verdict is still out on it, but the card has enough power that it is certainly turning heads. Its Portrait Pokémon Power lets you look at your opponents hand and copy any Supporter card you see in it. The best part is that it doesn’t count as your Supporter for the turn! The catch? It has to be active, and if they have a supporter, you MUST use it.

That means if they have 1 card in hand, but its a Copycat, your stuck with a 1 card hand. If they have a Judge, you are forced to Judge. And if they have no supporter? The Pokémon Power doesn’t do anything. So while the effect can be extremely powerful (especially since you can use it on turn 1 and can use a Supporter that way…catching a Collector on the first turn, or even a Bebe’s Search, is very powerful) it can also be unreliable and dangerous.

One of the best parts of the Power for me personally is the fact that it lets you see your opponent’s hand. I run Smeargle in Gengar Vileplume, because it lets me know how many Trainers they have in their hand. While that is the most straight forward use of the knowledge, simply knowing their limitations and potential plays for the next turn can be huge when making decisions. Finding out if they have a Power Spray can make planning a turn much easier. Knowing if they have a DCE, or access to a Level X for the next turn can make or break SP mirror. So the card offers both card advantage, and knowledge advantage!

The problem with it, besides the fact it is unreliable, is that it has to be active. In the middle of a game, you really might have issues keeping it usable. Clearly, the card gets equiped with an Unown Q to reduce it’s Retreat Cost down to 0. This means that every time an opponent Knocks Out your active Pokémon, you get to bring up Smeargle, and use Portrait before retreating. Thats a pretty big edge over the course of a game. The other fun way to use it is with Poké Turns, Warp Energy, and Warp Point. All of those allow you to promote a new active without using up your retreat for the turn. This lets you sneak in extra Portraits over the course of a game.

staraptor-fb-lv.x-supreme-victors-sv-147pokemon-paradijs.comStaraptor FB LV.X: This is my personal favorite Claydol replacement at the moment. It has 100 Hit Points, a free Retreat Cost, and a wonderful Pokémon Power, Fast Call, which lets you search your deck every turn for a Supporter card of your choice. This allows you to run a more diverse array of Supporters in your deck, while still being able to draw them at will. Imagine using Cyrus only while being able to play your new situation specific Supporter in the same turn. It really allows you to be a reactive player.

It also offers the mandatory defense against Judge, Looker’s Investigation, Giratina ( Let Loose ) and Cyrus’s Initiative. ( In this case, without having to be active, or attack. ) That is not all it has going for it though. It is an Pokémon SP, and can be grabbed by SP Radar! In an SP deck, Cyrus’s Conspiracy already rewards you for playing situation specific Supporters to search for at the right time, so adding Staraptor only makes such an allocation more consistant. It also free retreats once leveled up, so it doesn’t even eat up an Unown Q.

The card also has a built in superiority over Smeargle. By having access to a Supporter on command during your turn, it allows you to keep your hand supporter-less without having to worry about your consistency. You can either do that, or plant “trap” supporters, such as the small hand Copycat, or the Judge, in your hand. Even if an opponent would normally not Portrait you due to seeing that ploy, it still prevents them from looking at your hand merely for information.

In an SP deck, the card is a great attacker as well. Defog does a base 40 damage, but if it discards a stadium card, it does 70! Against anything with a Colorless weakness, such as Garchomp C Level X, Dragonite FB, or an Earthquaking Garchomp C, it is scoring a Knock Out. Its 100 HP and lightning, not colorless, weakness makes it very difficult for those colorless decks to return the KO on it. Against SP decks without Luxray, the card is a huge pain to deal with, and often wins you the game, not merely as a result of its card advantage, but it’s attacking power. In a deck such as DialgaChomp, where you may be running Stadiums anyway, Defog gains a lot of strength. It can also be used to discard Stadiums that an opponent may really want to be using as well.

The card does have some downsides. It can be Power Sprayed on key turns. It has to Level Up while active, and it is an easy target for a Luxray GL LV.X Bright Look kill. It also doesn’t net that much in terms of true card advantage. It lets you get an extra supporter each turn, but it doesn’t override the fact that you are limited to one Supporter a turn.

So while it requires 2 spots to run the Staraptor, it also requires you to run more Supporters to maximize its effectiveness. If you only run Pokémon Collector and Bebe’s Search, the cards strength isn’t being realized. As a result it really does require a bit more work to fit into a deck, although I think that it is worth it, as I’ll argue with my next suggestion…

copycat-heartgold-soulsilver-hs-90More Supporters: Claydol really let decks fall back on only needing search supporters. You didn’t need Supporters that actually gave you any birth of cards, but merely ones that would get you Claydol, so that you could let that do it for you. This changed how the game played drastically, and was one of the reasons why Gardevoir’s Psychic Lock was so powerful against the formats it was played in. Without Claydol, decks really do need to go back to an approach where you ran more actual “draw” supporters in addition to your “search” supporters. I’ve always preferred Search to Draw, so when I’m making a case for Draw supporters, there has to be some validity to it.

Some of the cards I really feel are strong are the following: Copycat, Cynthia’s Feelings, Professor Oak’s New Theory, Volkner’s Philosophy, Engineer’s Adjustment, and Sage’s Training. Volkner and Oak’s New Theory both help you refuel your hand to 6 cards, and are very reliable. Copycat and Cynthia’s Feelings give you a new hand ( and the ability to see a wide range of cards, so if you need to see a specific card with no regards to the other cards in your hand- such as hunting for a key DCE in SP – these cards see you the most new cards. ) but can conditionally give you HUGE rewards, netting you hands of 8 or above in the right circumstance.

Engineer’s Adjustment and Sage’s Training are both cards that add to your hand size, letting you see 4 or 5 new cards respectively. The Adjustment nets you more cards, but costs you an Energy in hand, where as the Training digs deeper, but also costs you 3 discarded cards. They are both strong, but conditional as well.

sages-training-undaunted-ud-77Each specific deck is going to benefit differently from the different Trainers. Gengar Vileplume, with Vileplume inflating their hand size ( Especially if Haunter stacks it with trainers! ) makes Copycat into a huge card drawing source. Getting 10+ card Copycats is pretty standard. Faster decks which want to hit a turn 1 Rare Candy or Broken Time-Space might like Sage’s Training because it digs the deepest. It seems the most cards, so it is the best in regard to trying to hit a specific card as soon as possible.

Looking over the different Supporters and seeing how so many are good yet conditional makes another case for Staraptor. ( and to a lesser extent Sableye. ) The flexibility such an engine offers is too good to pass up. The other card that this really helps improve the value of is VS Seeker. VS Seeker allows you to turn all of those searched for one ofs into 2-ofs, or 3-ofs. It is a way to cheat the system, so to speak.

To wrap things up, there really isn’t a clear cut “replacement” for Claydol. Claydol was universal the correct play in every single deck. Some people will try to make a case for a specific deck here or there, but I stand by the fact that it belonged in every deck, even if just as a 1-1 line. Different decks are going to want to run different engines. This may be healthier for the format, if it is able to overcome the apparent stranglehold SP has over it at the moment.

Staraptor, Uxie, Sableye, and Smeargle have all shown promise in my testing, and I feel that a return to a higher Supporter count is also necessary to keep decks up to date. I legitimately don’t have the answer as to what the solution is. I have the above list of leading candidates, but only time and heavy testing will really isolate what is strongest in the long run. So grab some decks, sleeve them up, and start playing. Hopefully some of these suggestions and critiques will give you a nice boost into it all. Good luck!

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