With the 2010-2011 City Championships approaching, I thought I’d do an overview of the current modified environment on what I feel are the best decks and how they fare against each other. This article should also pair well with the in-depth analyses we’re getting of each deck by several of my staff writer contemporaries. As always, if you disagree with anything I say here, or even on the off-chance that you agree, feel free to let me know in the comments!
This past Sunday at the league I run at Gabi’s Olympic Cards & Comics in Lacey, WA, I had a Poké-parent ask me what I meant when I said “tier one”. It occurred to me then that I had never really heard it defined. I suppose it was just something that as a competitive player you understand from the get-go, or at least come to understand pretty quickly. I defined it to him as the decks that I feel are going to be played and are going to win.
Note that this is completely my own definition, and other players may not agree with it. Also note that I don’t think ONLY tier one decks are going to win, but that they are going to win the majority of tournaments, and, more importantly stand the best chances of winning.
With all that being said, here’s a breakdown of the five decks I consider to be tier one in the current modified environment:
What else? I know a lot of you are probably groaning looking at this right now, expecting the next few paragraphs to be a breakdown of how LuxChomp is the greatest thing since sliced bread (or more appropriately, Gardevoir/Gallade *wink, wink*), and that your pet deck will never beat it and you should give up now and go play YGO, nice deck kid, etc.
Well, I’m not exactly going to do that here.
Is LuxChomp a good deck? Certainly. Is Luxray GL LV.X one of the most broken cards in this format, if not the most? Sure. Is the combination of Luxray and Garchomp absolutely ridiculous? Sure. Is LuxChomp most likely going to be the winningest deck of the Cities format? Probably. Is LuxChomp the best deck in the format? No. I strongly believe that LuxChomp, while tier one and obviously very good, is a bit overrated at the moment, and here’s why:
I don’t think Luxray is that useful of a card anymore. There, I said it. It was great last format for being able to pull up Claydol and have fun Dragon Rushing everything until your opponent enters scoop phase. It certainly is good now; it gets you there, and is definitely your best choice for getting the gust effect. However, I think some are overestimating its usefulness by a ton. In a Garchomp-less format, Luxray was king as there were no super great SP attackers, and the gust effect was so strong. Garchomp, however, outshines Luxray in every single category.
Should you stop playing Luxray? Of course not! (Although Blaziken/Chomp lists are completely valid.) As I said, it’s one of the strongest partners for Garchomp, and it’s still a good card. What I think people need to do, though, is realize that Luxray is one of the easiest cards in the format to play around, and stop being so worried about it when it hits your opponents side of the table. On the flipside of it, if you’re the one playing LuxChomp, I would recommend that, in most matchups, you get your SP mirror counters, Mewtwo/Machamp counters, etc. built up before you invest too much in the Luxray (unless, of course, you have the turn 2 “Bright Look”).
With all of that being said, there’s a reason the undisputed king of 09-10 is on this list: It’s still good. In fact, it’s still great! I hope no one takes my bashing on Luxray as a slight to the deck, because I didn’t intend for that whatsoever. Being the easiest SP deck to play, as well as the fastest and arguably the one with the most options and room in the list, it definitely has a leg up. As long as you know your metagame and have tweaked your list accordingly, I think you can feel pretty confident walking into a CC with LuxChomp.
vs. Gyarados — Favorable
vs. DialgaChomp — Slightly Favorable
vs. Sablelock — Slightly Favorable
vs. Machamp — Highly unfavorable
For those of you playing along at home, the matchups above are (*spoiler warning!*) the decks that I considered to be tier one. Because I know I’ll get a lot of questions about it, and because I feel confident enough in my assessment to do so, I’ll go ahead and breakdown why I think these are correct:
Versus Gyarados, the answer is simple: play Lucario GL. I’ve seen a rash of lists lately that omit Lucario completely, and the players posting those lists then turn around and cite the deck’s bad Gyarados matchup. I’ll never understand it. Play the Lucario GL and focus on taking early prizes. Once they get a Gyarados going, focus on 1HKOing it, or at least as close as you can come with the Luxray. This can be a difficult task, but if you can outspeed them and if you play tight, I think you can get there.
Another option that I’ve seen people talk about when defending that Luxray has a good matchup here is the claim that you can Bright Look their Regice and snipe around it. This is completely and utterly untrue. Any good Gyarados list is running multiple Warp Energy, and any good Gyarados player is going to know to save their Warps for just such an occasion. If you know they don’t run Warps, or that they’ve used them all, go ahead and Bright Look it, but on the majority of occasions all you’re going to get is a Warp Energy into Tail Revenge to the face. That and SHAME.
In short: power up your Luxray, play Lucario GL, don’t overestimate the Bright Look, and you should be good to go.
Those of you who know me know that this is what I consider to be the best deck in the format, and that it’s been kind of a pet deck of mine for the last few months. I’ve seen this strange divide in people, at least in the circle of players I observe, that makes them either love or hate Dialga.
Some people completely get it and are able to play it and play against it well, while others don’t see what’s so great about it, have trouble perfecting their lists, and would rather play LuxChomp. Both are completely valid points, and, although I may disagree with the latter, there really isn’t a wrong answer.
The biggest boon to Dialga is that, as alluded to in the previous paragraph, the list is dumb. And by dumb I mean the list is very hard to perfect. And by hard to perfect I mean going over a DialgaChomp list makes me want to sell all my Pokémon cards and do that mind-wipe thing from Men in Black so I don’t even have to remember that this game ever existed.
There are multiple variations to play of it: you can either use stadiums and ToxiTank/Staraptor, or you can go for a more streamlined approach and not. Do you find a way to help your match against Machamp, or do you accept the loss? How many Uxie do you run? How important is Smeargle?
All of the above are valid questions that you should be asking yourself, and, unless you’re a much better Pokémon player than I, are probably struggling with, or at least have to think about. The number one issue that I find when building the DialgaChomp list, though, is the energy. Calls, Special Metals, Basic Metals, Psychics, Double Colorless; it can all get very confusing, especially when trying to break down the numbers of each, the likelihood of drawing into them, etc.
Another layer of confusion is added when you consider the ability to tutor energies with Cyrus’s Conspiracy, use Energy Exchanger, etc. All in all, I don’t think there’s any truly correct energy line-up, and I think it’s all dependent on your metagame, your playstyle, and your list. With that being said, here’s my current energy breakdown:
I’m usually a stickler for consistency, but I feel 3 Call is acceptable here based on the number of basic Pokémon you have, and the fact that you don’t necessarily need to rip a bunch of your SP stuff all too early. I would like to fit 4 in here and it’s certainly not incorrect to do so, but 3 should suffice.
The Psychic is because I run Toxicroak G Promo to counter Luxray. As I said before, a lot of these choices are going to depend what’s run in your meta. I feel that Luxray is prolific enough in my meta to justify running the Psychic. If there’s no Luxray in your local metagame, then you probably should save yourself the space. Either way, I wouldn’t run more than 1.
The lone Metal is there mainly because I like to run 2 Energy Exchangers in my list. I’m not sure if the Energy Exchanger are the most popular choice, but, to me, they’re a near staple. Being able to grab an energy with Cyrus, and then turn around and exchange it into whatever you want? Seems good, man.
vs. Gyarados — Slightly favorable
vs. LuxChomp — Slightly unfavorable
vs. Sablelock — Favorable
vs. Machamp — Unfavorable
Versus Gyarados I feel like the early trainer lock along with the later-game big damage is what gets you there. You can’t “Deafen” your entire game, which is what a lot of people are banking on doing, but you can Deafen enough to slow them down while you’re able to build something substantial and get your combo off. One of the biggest reasons I favor Dialga here is because Gyarados can’t hit the “magic number” against you. That magic number is 110, the number of Hit Points that Garchomp C LV.X and Luxray GL LV.X have, and subsequently the number of damage an Expert Belted Gyarados with three Magikarp in the discard pile will deal with Tail Revenge. With Special Metals resisting damage and Expert Belt boosting your Dialga’s HP, you should be never be getting 1HKO’d, and should be able to recover more consistently than them.
Versus Machamp I feel the matchup almost directly correlates to how early you can get the Deafen off, and how many Power Spray you play. If I expected to have a heavy Machamp presence in my meta, I would consider playing 2 or even 3 Power Spray for the ability to deny “Fighting Tag”, arguably Machamp’s biggest asset at this point. Even still, it’s an SP deck, and SP decks are going to have unfavorable matchups against Machamp, particularly now that Machamp SF’s new BFF is legal stateside.
I also want to point out that Dialga isn’t a deck that wins, rather it’s a deck that doesn’t lose. You’ll see in my matchups section that the word highly is never used, and that the matchups are split across the board, with one favorable, one unfavorable, one slightly unfavorable, and one slightly favorable. Dialga doesn’t steamroll through anything like LuxChomp does, but on the flipside it doesn’t get steamrolled by anything like LuxChomp does. It’s a deck that, given a strong list and a stronger player, has the ability to beat any deck in the format on any given day. For more about the concept of winning versus not losing, I recommend you check out Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s article on the subject over at ChannelFireball.
Sablelock is an interesting deck for me personally because, when I first heard about Aaron Curry winning an STP with it, I was a little confused as a number of local players (Matt Dias specifically) had been toying around with similar ideas for the past few months. Still, I was quite shocked that an unknown deck was able to win in one of the toughest metagames on the planet. I was even more surprised when it continued to do well and defined itself as a top tier deck.
I wish we would see this kind of original thinking more in Pokémon (I know that’s an odd statement coming from me) as I feel it would diversify the format a little bit. Big ups to everyone involved in the creation of Sablelock.
For all the credit I give it as a rogue, Sableye is now a bonified “netdeck” if you will. The thing I appreciate most about Sableye is the varied number of ways in which you’re able to play it. You can play it as a quick donk deck with disruption as it was originally created, or you can play it with a little more consistency in the form of Honchkrow SV.
You can play the now-infamous Chenlock version with Blaziken FB, or you can opt for removing the Sableye completely (or nearly), exchanging them for Smeargle UD. The best part is you can even combine some of these (I personally like Honchkrow SV, Blaziken FB, and Smeargle, along with Unown D, and a single Sableye) into your own creation, while still being viable.
I feel like this deck is a bit underrated by some. Zach Lesage, another staff writer here, is covering his version of tier one throughout 4 articles, one for each deck he thinks deserves a spot in the highest tier. Our lists matchup perfectly except for his exclusion of Sableye, which I think is pretty strange. Not to single Zach out though, there are plenty of people who I’ve seen discredit the deck, and I can’t understand any of it. I guess I should give credit where credit’s due, though, and say that there have also been some players who have been big-upping the deck for quite a while (J-Wittz and Matt Chin come to mind). It seems to be a “love it or hate it” type of deck.
vs. LuxChomp — Slightly unfavorable
vs. Dialga — Unfavorable
vs. Gyarados — Favorable
vs. Machamp — Unfavorable
Versus LuxChomp I think the matchup is razor thin, and I think the only reason that LuxChomp comes out on top more often is because they have the room to run more of the mirror counters, and the consistency to get them online more often. I personally run a Dragonite FB and an Ambipom G in every deck I play, as I feel Garchomp and other SP decks in general are too big of a threat to justify cutting either, but I’ve seen some Sableye players cut one or the other to make room for more techy stuff. I feel like the Blaziken varient of Sablelock is probably the best to pilot against LuxChomp, as Blaziken is a great card in general, and a few-welled timed Luring Flames can really turn a game around.
I know a lot of people disagree about my analysis of the Gyarados matchup, but here me out: I’m basing the matchup on the Sableye player running Honchkrow SV. I’ve seen it cut from a few lists, and I can’t quite understand why. Not only does it give you your Mewtwo counter — which I think no matter how irrelevant Mewtwo is in your meta, you need — but it also is the perfect answer to Machamp and Gyarados. It’s such a fantastic card that in my opinion, any Sablelock list should be running it. If you don’t have the room, cut cards.
I haven’t been doing mirror analysis at all, but I’ll throw in that the Blaziken variant is probably the best version to run in the mirror. I got completely demolished by Michael Chin in the finals of an Autumn BR, due in large part to me being irresponsible with Sableye drops, and him Luring Flaming them up. Not only is Luring Flame a great attack in general, but by Luring in a Sableye or an Azelf you can buy yourself some serious time. In some cases, especially late game, it can win you the game outright (as it did with my example). I’ll also say that the Sablelock mirror is probably the most difficult and still intensive mirror in modified at the moment.
Oh, and also, due to the small number of Sableye in most people’s lists, I’m starting a petition to rename the deck SPionage, a name that I think is infinitely cooler. WHO’S WITH ME?!
Colin Peterik published an article about Machamp not too long ago, as did Underground writer Chris Fulop (if Chris Fulop writing a Machamp article isn’t enough to get you to buy a UG subscription, I don’t know what is), and I know that a few of my staff-writer colleagues have similar articles in the pipe-line, so I’ll try to keep this one short and to the point.
My philosophy on Machamp is that it’s always been a deck that can win, but rarely is a deck that does win. Case in point: My teammates Sam Cottle and Alex Domini, along with myself, all ran SP decks in a Machamp-filled environment, and between the three of us, we went 6-0 against Machamp for the day, including Alex beating it in swiss. I don’t mean to gloat at all, rather to just point out that this entire time, Mahcamp has been missing a key element.
It’s good against SP decks, that’s obvious. It can possibly win you the game on the first turn, if you get lucky enough. What it always lacked however, is late-game presence. Sure, you can mull through basics, but what happens when you set-up slower than your opponent? What happens when your SP opponent finally builds up their Machamp counter? Prior to the Prime being released, the answer was that you would try to get lucky with Hurricane Punch, use Rage as a latch-ditch effort as your Machamp died, or use the LV.X, which, while providing a bit of a late-game presence and big damage, came with a ridiculously bad drawback. Now, the answer is much more simple:
This guy is exactly what Machamp decks have been calling for. Now, when your Machamp SF has 100 damage on it, you can simply set up a Machamp Prime on the bench, and be able to throw down big damage almost immediately! No more having to worry about Raging your way out of a bad situation. What’s even better is that he has a built in switching mechanic, so there’s no need to worry about retreating or SSUing your active Machamp. Oh, and did I mention that that switching mechanic also lets you recycle the energy from your active Machamp onto the Machamp Prime? Ri-dic-u-lous.
So it’s obvious I’m a bit high on this card, but I just can’t help it. I guess I should cover it’s flaws though, something about journalistic integrity? Well, for starters, x2 weakness to Psychic (Read: Uxie LV.X and Gengar) is never good, but it’s what’s come to be expected with Machamps. The fact that it’s biggest attack is a little overcosted also doesn’t help it any, nor does Fighting Tag, arguable the single best part about the card, is a Power, and as such can be Power Sprayed. The card is certainly not without it’s faults, let that be known.
However, I don’t think even the most vehement of Machamp haters (I’m looking at you, Luxray!) could deny the fact that being able to send up a Machamp Prime to swing big, and then when the times get too rough, Fighting Tag over to your other Machamp Prime, and then use Seeker to heal the benched Machamp Prime is pretty good, especially when you consider that you can then Fighting Tag again and repeat the process until the end of infinity (or until you run out of Seekers, I suppose).
I’ll probably be playing this for the majority of City Championships as I feel it has some of the best matchups against the meta at large. I’ve noticed quite a few players who’ve been just as hyped on Machamp and just as ready to run it for Cities as I have, but who’ve been unsure about exactly what they should run. This is the point in the program where I should tell you that Chris Fulop is an infinitely better player than I am, and that if you haven’t already, you should check out his new Machamp article in the Underground, as he goes over a great deal of pertinent information.
With that being said, I’ll lend out a little advice of my own. I think 3-4 Smeargle is the best Machamp set-up card, particularly if you’re going for a more consistent, long-game version, and less of a donky version. I currently run 4 in my build, and it’s worked out pretty nicely. I also run a 4-3-2/2 line of Machamp, using SF ‘Chops, TM ‘Chokes (90 HP says SUP to Dragon Rush), and a 2/2 split on SF Machamp’s and Machamp Primes. I also don’t fuss with things like Unown R, as I feel like they’re unnecessary in the long run. Regirock is also a common card I’m seeing being run that I’m just not into, but that I concede to being a good card, just one that I’m not fully on board with yet. Outside of that, my Machamp list is pretty standard.
Is it possible that I wrote the most about a deck that I promised I would write the least about? Ugh, I could write about this deck forever. Let’s get to the matchups and move on.
vs. LuxChomp — Very Favorable
vs. DialgaChomp — Favorable
vs. Sablelock — Favorable
vs. Gyarados — Unfavorable
I think most of these matchups speak for themselves, but I’ll add a few quick comments on some…
Versus Luxray I think it’s a near auto-win unless they run Lucario GL and Drifblim (which I advise, but realize that some are gambling addicts (trademark ryanvergel), as there’s not really a competent way to deal with you outisde of that. Uxie LV.X is a staple and does help quite a bit, but you need Lucario GL to make it worth the while, and chances are, as a basic, you’re just going to get Taken Out next turn. Drifblim is a key card as it can not only deal some serious damage to both Machamps with a Lucario GL in play, but it can’t be Taken Out by Machamp SF, and has the added ability of being able to make you shuffle in your Machamp, which if timed correctly and executed on a fully-built Machamp Prime, can really cause you some trouble. Still, against decks that don’t run those cards you should be fine, and even if your opponent is smart and decides to whip out Drifblim on you, it doesn’t exactly have the highest HP in the world, and can usually be taken care of without too much fuss.
I think all the other matchups speak for themselves, so I’ll move on. If you have any questions about any of these though, feel free to leave them in the comments, as obviously I’m all too eager to talk about this deck.
Ahh Gyarados. Although this list is in no specific order, I intentionally left Gyarados as last because I think it’s probably the lesser of all of these decks. That’s not to say that it’s bad, any deck included on this list is undoubtedly the cream of the crop, I just feel that Gyarados doesn’t quite get you there as consistently as some of the other decks. Maybe it’s just my own personal bias against the deck, though.
One of the more interesting notes about Gyarados is, like Sableye, the sheer number of combinations you get to decide upon. Do you run it with Luxray and a heavy Warp Energy count? Do you try Dialga to prepare for Gengar/Vileplume, or do you go for a straight Gyarados list that produces the most consistent results without any of the frills? Or is it somewhere in-between?
I personally am admittedly still perfecting my Gyarados list. I don’t think I’ll run Luxray, but it’s certainly not an incorrect choice either. I also don’t fuss with Dialga as I don’t think Vileplume will be relevant enough in my meta. Again, though, I realize that Dialga is a very good choice if your meta is being ovverun with Spiritomb and Vileplume decks. I instead opt for a pretty consistent list, multiples of all the useful trainers, sometimes in playsets, not a whole lot of extra techy cards. I do approach things a little bit differently than some though…
For starters, I don’t think Volkner is all that amazing of a card. I understand it’s use and I see why it helps Gyarados, but I’ve been constantly fiddling with the numbers of the card since I built the deck. I first included 4, thinking that consistency was key, but I’ve since doubted myself a little bit, and am now in a state of flux between 1 and 3. Overall I think 2 is probably the best play, as it’s a useful card, but I feel like it doesn’t quite get you there.
Secondly, my team has been experimenting with Poké Blower + in the deck in exchange for Luxray (big ups to Liam Williams for coming up with the idea). Normally I wouldn’t bother with the card, but I feel that with Junk Arm being such an important piece of the puzzle, that getting 2 Poké Blower + in your hand, and then being able to recycle them for later use isn’t as difficult as it once was. I’m certainly not advocating that Blowers are a strictly better choice, I just wanted to share a little something personal.
Lastly, I’m shocked at the number of players dropping Combee from their lists. I said earlier that I didn’t believe trainer lock would be a threat in my meta, but even I’m still running Combee as a singleton just in case. I understand that Rescue Energy helps the matchup quite a bit and makes Combee a little less useful, but I’ve yet to see a list so tight that it’s worth dropping our honeycomb friend just to increase the consistently a little. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.
vs. LuxChomp — Unfavorable
vs. DialgaChomp — Slightly Unfavorable
vs. Sableye — Unfavorable
vs. Machamp — Favorable
Versus Machamp it can be a toss up. My testing has found that Machamp will take the lead early, but Gyarados will soon build a board presence and catch-up. From there it can get into a little bit of a stalemate and really rely on who can use Seeker more effectively, and overall how the Machamp deck has conserved it’s resources. I’ve found that in this instance Gyarados is ultimately who comes out on top, consistently enough that I consider the matchup Favorable.
That’s all I’ve got for you today. I hope you enjoyed the article, and I apologize in advance for it’s lateness. Work has been killing me, and in the time that I did sit down to finish the article, SixPrizes was down for me (and only me, apparently). Hopefully the length of this article and the fact that I wrote another article this week will please you, my masters.
I hope you can all take something from this, and if you think I’m wrong or right, and whether you want to send me hatemail or loveletters, please talk about it in the comments! As always, I’m all ears. I’m open to any questions, comments, or advice you’re willing to give. I think the real question, though, is…
What are YOU playing for Cities?