Surprise! The Trojan Horse: Palkia / Lucario

gillianjcThere is something extraordinary about the art of surprise and unfamiliarity in battle. The Trojan Horse, the German collapse in the freezing Russia, Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope—all tactics that allowed the expected underdog to conquer a champion.

It’s psychological. You simply cannot expect what you haven’t prepared for. This same concept applies directly to Pokémon. Let’s take a look at some recent past successes:

Worlds 2010—Yuta’s Luxchomp: Warp Energy? Dragonite FB? PONT?

These were all fairly unexpected cards for even bigger players. For example, Michael Pramawat (2nd place by a hair) didn’t even know what PONT (Professor Oak’s New Theory) did when Yuta played it for the first time—you can even see him question it in the short video that Poké released of their match.

Now I’m not saying that Pramawat still didn’t avoid all of the misplays he could, but it’s impossible to say that Yuta’s unorthodox style of Luxchomp was a huge contributing factor to his 12-0 accomplishment.

Nationals 2010—Con Le’s Honchkrow SV

This decision was one that surprised many players, and proved to be hard to play around for the players that had never seen it before. In top 64, Matt Alvis had a Mewtwo LV.X down and thought he won the game—but after seeing Honchkrow SV, knew he had the loss. Honchkrow was also arguably the only reason he was able to beat Kyle “Pooka” Sucevich.

States 2010—Stephen Silvestro/Aaron Curry’s Sablock

pokemon-paradijs.comThis deck is about as unexpected and rogue as it gets. The concept alone of hand disruption decks was very rare, and leave it to Silvestro and Curry to innovate yet a second Pokémon SP hybrid. Its build was kept under wraps well, leaving everyone raving like mad on the forums to learn its secret.

Because they did such a good job of concealing the list, I was still able to carry a little bit of the surprise factor along with me into Regionals.

Worlds 2009—Stephen Silvestro’s Raybees

Beedrill was an established archetype, and so were SP builds featuring Luxray GL LV.X. However, combining the two Frankenstein-style was clearly innovative and original. Nobody knew how to play against him. The Palkia players didn’t know if he even ran the Energy Gain or Lightning, and were dumbfounded when they lost their Palkia G LV.X fairly quickly.

The deck wasn’t perfectly consistent—and these issues caused him to lose games early, putting him at 1-2—but the surprise factor was well on his side and allowed him to escape with the prestigious title of World Champion.

Worlds 2009—Fabien Garnier’s Gyarados (from France!)

While Gyarados did see some talk in small circles, and did have one small spot in the top 64 at that year’s nationals, it was Fabien’s drive to 5th place (only losing to Stephen Silvestro himself) that caught the attention of the Pokémon public.

The idea of setting up an attacker for 0 energy to do 90 damage fairly quickly was one that we were surprised we overlooked in the US—it led Fabien to an impressive world’s run, and the establishment of a popular archetype.

These surprises aren’t all of the same magnitude, and many of them are innovations that will define a player’s career. As players coming into State Championships, I’m not telling you to lock yourself in a lab and discover the next winning rogue combination.

Honestly, this format has had so little added to it that there isn’t much else to create. Majestic Dawn is entering its 4th season of competitive play, with many other sets hitting their 3rd. With only a few new elements added to our format (probably not enough good cards to count both hands) within the last few sets, I’m not expecting a deck out of left field.

The way I see it, there are three tiers of surprise in the Pokémon TCG, and today, we can at least tackle the 2nd. Here’s how I see it:

Tier 1: Where did that deck come from?

Here’s where Gyarados, Sablock, and Raybees would fit in. Decks with concepts barely used or even completely foreign that succeed out of nowhere. These decks have the pure advantage of being untested against—you simply can’t prepare for decks that come out of left field.

I don’t recommend trying this, though. Everybody gets into the game, thinks that they can become the next Silvestro and then throws together a “top secret rogue deck” that “beats everything”. Then, when they hit the big tournaments like States and Regionals, miss top cut by going X-3 in a streak that they call “bad luck.”

Luck isn’t the factor—it’s the deck. While I don’t want to discourage creativity, just remember: the top deck builders of this game have deep knowledge of even the most obscure cards. If you think your unbeatable secret combo can win, just remember that a better player has probably tried it before and written the idea off.

Next year, I’d be more open to the idea because the rotation will change our format’s structure completely. But for now, there probably won’t be any more emerging decks out of the blue.

Tier 2: Who knew that concept could work so well?

Here is around where Yuta’s Luxchomp might fit in (it could also work in tier 3), as well as any “new” deck the first week or so that it succeeds. Most of these concepts are ones that are thrown around on forums like Pokégym, even by lower-level players, yet the concept remains relatively ignored.

Things like Yamato losing 6-0 with Luxchomp to Erik Nance’s Steelix would fall into this category—you might know the deck exists, but never really gave it any credit and wrote it off as a bad or inferior idea, and thus didn’t test against it. This is where I believe Palkia/Lucario sits right now, and why I’ve been testing the deck these past few weeks.

Tier 3: What a crazy tech!

This is where a player will fit in just 1-2 cards into their deck that help sway an otherwise poor matchup, or catch the opponent off-guard. Things like Jason Klaczynski’s classic Jolteon * tech, Chris Fulop’s inclusion of Chatot MD, and Con Le’s Honchkrow SV.

These are, once again, techs that have probably been considered by other players, but not necessarily tried or tested as often. Running that one secret tech in your deck can be enough to change a matchup entirely! The key to getting this to work is to tech your deck for the metagame you expect.

Pooka, Con Le, and Yuta all expected heavy SP at worlds, and all three of them ran Dragonite FB as their counter to it, despite the fact that the card saw little play in the US. I ran a 2-2 Honchkrow in my SP because our metagame is full of Machamp and Vilegar.

Look at which decks you expect to play in your upcoming tournament and search around your extra cards for a unique answer to that problem. Test it first and see if it works!

So with that in mind, I feel like Palkia Lucario is right in tier 2, and possibly tier 1! It receives little hype online (outside of Underground and Fulop : P), and has only been briefly considered by a handful of players. I can guarantee that 90%+ of players have not tested against the deck whatsoever, which could be a huge advantage.

Is it the best deck in the format? No, probably not, but the surprise factor alone can take you a very long way. For those of you guys fed up with the format and looking for something last minute to try out, here is my Palkia/Lucario/Honchkrow build:

Pokémon – 23

3 Riolu LA
3 Lucario CL
2 Murkrow SV
2 Honchkrow SV
2 Palkia G
1 Palkia G LV.X
2 Uxie LA
1 Uxie LV.X
3 Mesprit LA
1 Azelf LA
1 Regice LA
1 Unown Q MD
1 Crobat G

Trainers – 27

4 Pokémon Collector
2 Bebe’s Search
3 Seeker
1 VS Seeker
1 Switch
4 Super Scoop Up
4 Poké Drawer +
3 Junk Arm
1 Luxury Ball
4 Pokémon Communication

Energy – 10

4 Double Colorless
2 Special D
2 Warp
2 Upper

wm_normal_014-lucariopokegym.netThe strategy of the deck is pretty simple. Get Palkia G LV.X out as soon as you can, and Warp Energy or Switch him to the bench as soon as possible. Then, use his power “Lost Cyclone” to fill your Lost Zone with Pokémon to power up Lucario’s “Dimension Sphere” attack.

The constant clearing of bench space makes Poké-Powers like Mesprit’s “Psychic Bind” available throughout the game, and Honchkrow SV acts as your counter strategy to deal with Vilegar and LostGar lists.

Is my list absolute genious? Probably not, but you have to start by understanding a core list before learning how to expand to different strategies and improve the deck for your metagame. Right now, this is the list I feel the most comfortable about, and I’ve performed surprisingly well with it in testing so far.

I’m not sure that it’s the right play for my metagame (infested with Vilegar), but I do recommend it to you guys who really hate all of your current choices and want to give something different a shot.

The deck’s two greatest assets are the power lock and the fairly quick unlimited power. Both options give the deck a possible shot at winning the game—it functions in a very similar way to Regigigas.

In order to give you guys the best explanation of how the deck has been going for me, I’ll outline each matchup so far that I’ve tested, how things play out, the problems and realizations that I’ve come to, and a few alternative things you can try to the deck otherwise. Here we go!


This matchup is actually much worse on paper than it is in real life. The goal is the same as always—Lost Zone with Palkia, maintain power lock, and sweep with Lucarios. Your best way to deal with this matchup is to stock up on Mesprits and prepare for a Power Spray or two, and get the power lock to stick.

Under the lock, SP can build with Cyrus but won’t be running at their optimal speed, and you’ll be given the time you need to set up.

One thing that I’ve noticed in playing my game is that (with the exception of Dialga), 110 is your magic number. That’s 4 Pokémon in the Lost Zone. Other than for clearing bench space for a constant power lock, you don’t needPalkia for anything other than that.

The absolute fastest way to do this is by throwing 4 Pokémon in on your first Lost Cyclone. Not possible you say? Well it is! My favorite way to set this play up is by attaching my Unown Q before filling my bench (you’ll usually use it to retreat an active Palkia G LV.X or your non-Riolu starters anyway).

When you Lost Cyclone, throw in Palkia G LV.X himself, along with the Pokémon with Unown Q on it! Palkia G LV.X throws all stages of Pokémon, as well as anything attached to them in the Lost Zone, so you can throw all 4 in at once.

This is your best option if they’ve been given enough time to setup, or if they’ve stockpiled on Power Sprays somehow and you need to start swinging fast.

With Lucario, you can swing against anything SP throws at you for the knockout for one energy. While you might be a little frail, you’re still only open to 1-shots by Uxie LV.X and attacks in combination with Crobat G’s “Flash Bite” (an option they don’t have when under power lock, anyway).

As you take your lead with Lucario, you can also set up your alternate attacker (Honchkrow SV) as a way to guarantee prizes on your opponent’s bigger Pokémon SP. With both the power lock and a constant prize-taking attack, the game can be swept without too much trouble, ESPECIALLY against players who are new to the matchup!

One problem that can happen is with Luxray GL LV.X’s “Bright Look” on your Palkia G LV.X before you’re able to get enough Pokémon in the Lost Zone. Your best way to handle this is to keep the power lock as long as you can (they can’t bright look you with no powers), and to eventually try throwing all 4 Pokémon in the Lost Zone at once before they’re given the opportunity.

However, if your opponent has no powers and no way to instantly KO your Palkia, don’t rush into tossing it away—its power is very disruptive and keeps bench space clear for multiple Mesprit drops.

VS LostGar

This is a matchup that on paper says you’d automatically lose. After all, you’re doing the work FOR them by thowing your own guys into the Lost World! However, with the proper approach, the matchup becomes much easier than you’d think.

The strategy is once again keep them under the power lock, and use your turbo engine to get Honchkrow SV set up as quickly as you can. One Honchkrow SV can essentially 1-shot any Gengar Prime without Azelf LV.X/Exploud SV every single turn. For this matchup, you ditch the Palkia strategy completely.

Other helpful tricks include using your Regice to discard any extra Pokémon in your hand—giving your opponent a harder time to Lost Zone multiple Pokémon at once. If your opponent begins getting enough Pokémon in the Lost Zone where things start getting down to the wire (5-6 Pokémon), you can actually use Lucario’s attack at this point to grab 1-2 late game prizes if necessary.

Combined with power lock, Honchkrow early game, and Lucario late game, your opponent will honestly run out of Gengars.

VS Vilegar

This matchup is the real one to fear, and one that I can’t construct a good enough answer for yet. Your goal is to use a quick Regice to move Spiritomb before they lock you from Trainers completely and set up as much as you can. If it’s all you’ve got, setting up your 2 Honchkrow instead of opting for Palkia isn’t too bad of a plan.

While they do run a heavier Supporter count, and Spiritomb for evolving, the power lock can be useful if you notice that their hand size is getting lower. Using this small speed boost to your advantage, you can hit early prizes with Honchkrow SV, and hopefully widen the margin enough where a few Lucario KOs are all you need to seal the deal.

Your major problems include Gengar SF’s “Fainting Spell” (you have absolutely no way around it), “Poltergeist” (1-shots Lucario with just 2 Trainers in your hand, and Honchkrow at 3), and Vileplume (shuts off your Trainers for good).

Regice is a useful tool in limiting your hand of Trainers, but it’s hard to play a great game here when your entire engine relies on being available to you. The matchup isn’t great, and I’m not exactly sure yet how to tech it to make it better for you.

An even heavier Honchkrow line (3-3?) could help you muscle through enough Gengars where Fainting Spell is no longer an issue, but I’m not sure how much extra it would help you out. If you expect this to be heavy in your area, this deck might not be your best choice (this fact is what keeps me from perfecting the list and running it at my States).

VS Gyarados

This matchup is another one that works much better for you than it does on paper. You have a lot of tricks up your sleeve that can give you the edge very quickly. The obvious advantage is the power lock. Gyarados is possibly the most power-reliant deck in our format right now, with Uxie drops and Regice’s “Regi Move” being an integral part of your strategy.

pokemon-paradijs.comCutting that off from the Gyarados player immediately forces them to set up through search Supporters and Junk Arms—and it’s very likely they won’t have both right off the bat.

Your other advantage is the power of Honchkrow SV combined with Palkia—something outlined by Chris Fulop as a response to his Layer Theory article. Honchkrow SV’s power, Darkness Restore, allows you to place a Pokémon from your opponent’s discard pile to their bench.

By bringing Magikarp into play, you immediately limit their Gyarados power to 60 damage a swing. However, by using Palkia G LV.X, you’ll always be able to clear room for placing another Magikarp on the field with Honchkrow.

If you get Honchkrow to where he is 2-shotting or even 1-shotting Gyarados, you can seriously limit your opponent’s attacking power. With two Honchkrow SV, you can also use the power twice in one turn, leaving your opponent with just one Magikarp in the discard, providing they had all 4 in when you started your antics.

I know you might be asking “Why put ‘Karps back in play when they just get more powerful for each Gyarados you Knock Out?”, but by limiting your opponent’s power even by 30 damage each turn, you can slow down their pace enough to build a serious Lucario.

It doesn’t sound plausible, but by playing this limiting game on your opponent—both through power lock and Honchkrow, you can set up a powerful Lucario in a reasonable amount of time. You need 6 Pokémon in the Lost Zone to deal 150 damage with Lucario—enough to 1-shot a regular Gyarados with one Dimension Sphere.

You can achieve 6 Pokémon in the Lost Zone in just 2 turns by throwing 2 Pokémon with Palkia one turn, followed by throwing Palkia himself and a Pokémon with Unown Q the second turn.

However, if you’re constantly limiting your opponent by filling their bench with Magikarp and power locking them, you’ll have plenty of time to throw enough Pokémon to reliably 1-shot Gyarados, even WITH Expert Belt.

I wouldn’t write this matchup off as an auto-win, but I would go as far to say that with practice it becomes favorable.

Honestly, outside of these main “top tier” decks, there isn’t too much else that you’ll need to adapt a strategy for. All non-trainer-lock stage 1 and 2 decks are power reliant, and will fall apart to a trainer lock before Lucario can sweep the field.

Once again, I think of the build as an alternate Regigigas. You have the same threat in power lock, but you also don’t have to sacrifice Prize cards to keep the lock going, at the trade off of setting up a little bit slower. However, even without Claydol, it’s become pretty apparent that decks are reliant on that first Uxie LA “Setup” to… well, set up.

Right now, you might be building the deck already with the amount that I’ve honored it, but the deck isn’t without it’s awkward kinks that need to be addressed. Here are a couple of problems that I’ve had so far, and what I’ve done to tackle them:

Setting up Palkia G LV.X can be a pain.

You need Palkia, Palkia G LV.X, AND a way to get it to the bench. This ordeal can take up to 3 turns to complete, and even with power lock it can be a tedious task. My advice here would to not be afraid to use a Double Colorless Energy, or your Unown Q + a single energy to get him out of there.

The turbo engine is designed to get you a quick Warp or a Switch to move him away ASAP, but if all else fails, do what you can to bench him.

One alternative is using an SP-based list like Fulop proposes in his Layer Theory article. Here, you can Poké Turn your Palkia if you have no other ways to move it out of the way. However, I like Honchkrow SV much more as my Dark attacker, so choosing between one engine or another can be a hard decision to make.

The deck can afford to take up early prizes, but it can’t afford to lose Palkia most of the time. This aspect alone makes the deck a little fragile—a problem I’m hoping to address in the future.

Speaking of fragile, the deck has no recovery!

There’s no easy way to get reasonable recovery in this deck. To recover Palkia, you can use Aaron’s Collection. However, if you find yourself falling that far behind, you might as well have lost already. Another issue could be running out of main attackers.

While the deck aims to use Honchkrow and Lucario in succession to give you five realistic attackers in a full game—it might not always be enough. Sometimes, you’ll want more Lucario into the game before it’s too late. To solve this, you could run a single Palmer’s Contribution.

However, I’ve found that in such a fast format, if you aren’t able to take prizes quickly enough, recovery is useless. I’ve found that running a single copy of Palmer’s means it rarely gets used, and running any more copies of it will just take up space.

The best way I’ve gotten away with no recovery is simply keeping the power lock as long as I can, letting you take a large enough lead where recovery isn’t needed.

What techs do you recommend in this deck?

So far, there are a few other options that I’ve found to be useful in the deck. One such option is Giratina “Let Loose,” which could be great in disrupting Cyrus chains, and absolutely deadly after a Psychic Bind in the same turn.

pokemon-paradijs.comMy only problem with Giratina is that along with Regice, you run 2 chances of starting with a 3-retreat pokemon. With all of the trouble you go through to move fatty Palkia G LV.X around, moving a 3-retreat Pokémon from the beginning just sounds like a nightmare.

Another card that I’ve looked into was Twins, which can fetch you an immediate Double Colorless Energy/Pokémon to set up if you find yourself falling behind. I started my build with 3 Twins, but have slowly whittled them down to none—when the deck sets up like it’s supposed to, it’s actually pretty hard falling behind!

There is also the option of running an SP-based build with Cyrus, Garchomp as a second attacker, Absol G LV.X for Gengar, and possibly a couple of W Energy for an alternate attacker, but I found myself having trouble setting up and getting the lock off fast enough without my “turbo” engine. Feel free to give both builds a try, though!

Why no Broken Time-Space?

This is usually because it takes 2-3 turns to set up the Palkia with the power lock and get ready to attack, so your first attacker or two can set up no sweat, and your backup attackers can evolve while your current attackers are in the Active Spot. There is the occasional time where I feel my recovery with a new Lucario isn’t as fast as I’d like it to be, but usually the deck sets up and gets new Lucarios/Honchkrows out at a decent pace.

However, there is an alternative strategy that I’ve been looking at for fun, and it might (it might not!) have some merit. The idea is that if Palkia G LV.X can throw a Pokémon, all stages below, tools and all, why not try to throw evolution Pokémon into the Lost Zone with Lost Cyclone?

I then went into the pool of cards and looked for an evolution Pokémon that had a useful power, but was expendable. I think I found the perfect Pokémon for the job: Froslass from Arceus. The idea is that you evolve up with a Broken Time-Space and use “Snow Gift” to grab any card you want—either a way to set up a second Froslass, a second Poké Drawer +, a Double Colorless, or whatever you need.

pokemon-paradijs.comThen, you can just throw him in the Lost World with Palkia because your job is done. You’d probably only run a 2-2 line of Froslass, and because it helps you set up with its Power, you don’t go too far out of your way to get him out along with everything else.

With this setup, you could throw a setup Froslass, an Unown Q, and Palkia in all at once for 5 Lost Zoned Pokémon in one turn. Or, you can throw 2 Froslass in at once for 4 and still have time to Lost Cyclone more Pokémon afterward.

The idea is obviously still in “beta,” as you’d have to run an enormous amount of Pokémon to get the strategy going, but it’s a small creative concept that might give you guys room to experiment.

Should I really run this deck at States?

While it’s kind of hypocritical of me to say this because I’m probably going to take Sablock again, I really think this deck has a realistic shot, as long as you practice each matchup enough (and your area isn’t covered in Vilegar).

Having that surprise factor is an extremely important asset—you can practice a matchup as much as you want in your head, but facing a deck you’ve never even played against before can lead to big trouble right away. Not knowing your matchup will inevitably lead you to misplays, which can easily cost you the game against a deck that can pick up in speed so quickly.

If you’ve been really struggling/disliking your current options for States, or feel that you know your current deck so well that further testing won’t benefit you any more, then give this deck a shot. You’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised.

…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

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