Trainer Lock HGSS-On – Could It Be “The One”?

cinemasifter.blogspot.comOne of my favorite movies of all time is The Matrix. The protagonist Neo discovers that he is “The One” and has to fight against a machine controlling almost all of humanity in a computer simulation called the Matrix.

Near the end of the 1st movie, Neo manages a daring rescue of his buddy Morpheus, but after appearing to be about to escape, he is shot and killed by an agent, dashing the hopes of the rebellion and the movie-watcher (admit it – you were as shocked as I was).

However, being the Chosen One has a few perks, including the ability to resurrect when a pretty girl refuses to accept your death and kisses you (kinda works for me when my wife kisses me in the morning when I’m trying to wake up). Neo then destroys one of the agents and manages to escape the Matrix and continue to lead the resistance.

With the recent rule changes and upcoming card rotation, many have concluded that there is no escaping the Matrix of playing trainers, and the “Neo” trainer lock deck strategy from this past season looks dead. However, I believe the strategy may just be a kiss away from making a comeback and sticking it to the metagame Matrix. Read on to find out why!

A Brief Look Back

First of all, the trainer lock strategy featuring the dynamic duo of Vileplume UD and Spiritomb AR proved to be very successful this season. The combination enabled slower tier 2 decks to compete successfully against heavy trainer-based decks like SP and Gyarados.

The most popular trainer lock combination featured Vileplume and Gengar, aka “Vilegar”, and it was not uncommon to see it combined with others (Machamp, Jumpluff, and my favorite – Magnezone!). The addition of this strategy kept the metagame interesting and provided a viable alternative to the all-too-prevalent SP decks (aka, the SP-ar Wars).

Is it Dead?

Many pundits reasonably assume that the trainer lock strategy is dead. Here’s why:

Turn 1 Trainer Play
Now that trainers can be played turn 1, it becomes critical for almost all decks to run trainers, so why lock yourself?

Loss of Turn 1 Trainer Lock
With Spiritomb and “Pitch Dark” Gastly rotating, there is no way to get a turn 1 trainer lock anymore. Thus, your opponent can safely play trainers for at least a turn and possibly more before you can evolve a Vileplume and set the lock.

Loss of Gengar SF
Gengar SF was such a killer combo with Vileplume as its 2nd attack, “Poltergeist”, could dish out massive damage when your opponent’s hand became loaded down with trainers and supporters. And, your opponent always had to deal with the ever-annoying “Feinting Spell” possibility.

Loss of Speed Evolution
The new season will also reflect the loss of Broken Time Space and the ability to use Rare Candy after playing a basic the same turn, thereby slowing the Vileplume evolution and trainer lock. Not only that, Spiritomb AR allowed for easy setup with its “Darkness Grace” attack, and its loss creates further problems. Establishing the trainer lock late-game could be very problematic.

Is it Deadlier?

So, with so much going against it, why should we even consider the trainer lock anymore as a viable strategy?

I’d say yes, and here’s why:

Vileplume UD is Still Around
Vileplume has always been the backbone of the trainer lock strategy, and it is still alive and well. The strongest reason for its effectiveness is its ability to safely trainer lock from the bench.

It’s Much Harder to Discard Trainers From Your Hand
The rotation right now includes very few ways to selectively discard cards from your hand. Professor Juniper and Judge allow hand clearing, but are all or nothing and can hurt your own strategy.

There are Fewer Ways to Snipe or Drag up Vileplume
Once Vileplume is set up, there are few options to take it out. For whatever reason, the new format has very few ways to take out benched Pokémon.

Vileplume Can Still Evolve Quickly
What??? Yes, I did write this and will go on record declaring Vileplume can evolve much quicker than anticipated with the addition of 2 key deck ingredients – Sunflora HS and Rare Candy. Sunflora’s “Sunshine Grace” Poké-power is much stronger in this format and can help find the exact grass Pokémon needed to set the trainer lock.

Although not as effective as last season, Rare Candy can still speed up the trainer lock by 1 turn and can be searched for with Twins.

Trainer Lock Has a Much Stronger Impact on Your Opponent
Though harder to implement, the trainer lock could cripple your opponent mid to late-game by denying access to key trainers like Dual Ball, Super Scoop Up, Rare Candy, and Pokémon Communication. It’s always been a good strategy, but it can now be a devastating one.

Dialga G Level X is Gone!
A huge threat for the trainer lock was always Dialga G Level X which canceled out both Vileplume’s and Spiritomb’s trainer-locking bodies. Good-bye and good riddance!

You Can Still Slow Down Your Opponent Turn 1
While you can’t slow down your opponent with Spiritomb or Gastly on turn 1, using Cleffa has a decent probability of walling your opponent while you work on setting up Vileplume and other benched Pokémon.

Vileplume Still Has Good Partners
A key to Vileplume’s past success was its synergy with Pokémon like Gengar SF. Although nothing will probably reach Gengar SF’s potential in the near-term, there are still a few that could be highly effective, including:

Yanmega Prime I love the idea of partnering Vileplume, Sunflora and Yanmega Prime and see this deck having “Mega” potential. The rotation will still include Judge and Copycat which allows Yanmega to consistently attack without any energy.

Mismagius. Poltergiest is still alive and well! While Mismagius can possibly dish out massive damage, its 2-energy cost and low HP is a problem that may be difficult to overcome.

Jumpluff. I still like Jumpluff partnered with Vileplume, but it is very difficult to play 2 different Stage 2 evolutions in the current format, even with the assistance of Sunflora.

How to Prepare and Play a Trainer Lock Deck

pokebeach.comIf you want to play a trainer lock, you had best plan on the following:

Control the Pace of the Game
The trainer lock strategy concedes the early game in hopes of a strong mid to late-game. A key to success is walling with cards like Cleffa while setting up other Pokémon like Vileplume on your bench. Losing control of the pace early game through your opponent getting a quick start is a real risk.

You Will Have to Play Some Trainers
Just like Neo, you’re still going to have to go back into the trainer Matrix to make anything happen. I hate this reality, but the truth is that trainers are still critical to getting set up in the new format even though they will be deck garbage later in the game.

Plan to Come From Behind
Establishing your trainer lock will likely mean sacrificing some early Pokémon. Given that reality, cards like Twins and even Black Belt can be very effective as you mount a roaring comeback.

Choose Your Lock Partner Carefully
Finding the right partner for the trainer lock can be challenging in the HGSS-on format. As mentioned earlier, 2 contenders I have found are Yanmega Prime and Mismagius, but others like Jumpluff and Serperior could be effective as well.

Because you will be devoting deck space to the Vileplume evolution, you will need to pick a very energy-efficient partner and preferably one that can dish out enough damage to 1-hit most Pokémon in the current format. To be perfectly honest, there aren’t any really good partners for the trainer lock, but there are still some good ones.

Deck Build and Strategy

Now, on to the good stuff! Most trainer lock decks should include a 2-2-2 line of Vileplume. Here is one example of a deck build with Yanmega Prime:


Pokémon – 28 

4 Yanma TM
4 Yanmega Prime
4 Sunkern HS
4 Sunflora HS
2 Oddish UD
2 Gloom UD
2 Vileplume UD
4 Cleffa HS/CL
1 Caterpie HS
1 Metapod HS

Trainers – 26 

4 Pokémon Collector
4 Pokémon Communication
4 Rare Candy
4 Judge
4 Copycat
4 Twins
2 Flower Shop Lady

Energy – 6 

4 Rescue
2 G


A Few Matchups

Speed Zekrom (unfavorable)
Speed Zekrom is exactly that – FAST! Plus, it tends to run Pokémon Reversals which may allow an early take out of Vileplume evolutions, and Yanmega’s weakness to Lightning is tough to manage. One possibility to counteract this would be to run a combination of Yanmega and Jumpluff to help counteract weaknesses.

Reshiram and Friends (even)
If you can get the trainer lock on early enough, it could significantly reduce their ability to evolve key Pokémon like Emboar and Typhlosion.


Though trainer locking is going to be harder in the upcoming format, don’t count out its ability to impact the metagame. It can certainly provide some needed diversity and provide a great counter to the trainer-heavy format and may even be “The One” to take a few tournaments.

Good luck!

Reader Interactions

36 replies

  1. Anonymous

    Vileplume could be easily set up turn two. Emboar sets up that quick. However, turn two is still one turn too late unless you win the coin flip. If vileplume sees play, sludge drag muk will not be far behind.

    • Martin Garcia  → Anonymous

      Lets not forget that in the next set, catcher should make its entrance. And blastoise is still in the format, even if its slow, sniping 100 damage is not a risk to dismiss.

      I particularly hate trainer lock strategies, so i hope you are wrong, but i have to admit the posibility still exists, and it may very well work.
      Good article as always.

        • Garrett Williamson  → Martin

          I actually like it better, It cant hit for 2 different weakness, you dont have to evolve into it, it has lower retreat and a higher base HP plus it can abuse indigo plateau making its HP 190.

      • Steven Nilsen  → Martin

        Blastoise is a problem if you don’t plan on running a bench sitter in duplicate.  Although it may never be favorable, I think there are ways to beat Blastoise.  Every deck has its Achilles heal. heal.

  2. Eloy

    Great Article Tony. I actually created a Jumpluff Vileplume deck for next season. It is pretty much as you said with Sunflora for draw power. I actually added Noctowl for draw power. Right now i am also testing a Rotom with the lithograph from triumphant so i can dig into my prizes if needed. Rotom is nice because with so many energies next season i am able to snipe the bench if needed just for one energy.  

  3. Anonymous

     Rated this positive after reading the first paragraph.  Anybody who has good taste in movies can’t be that bad ;)

  4. Anonymous

     Everything you mentioned is correct, while there are a lot of pros to trainer lock now the down side is its much slower.  Before you could wall with Spiritomb locking them out of trainers till you had your Vileplume ready.  But now you can’t stop them from playing trainers before the Vileplume is in play. Plus there is no way to drop a suprise Vileplume.  As soon as a player sees an Oddish on the bench, there goes all of his trainers.  I still love the article though :)

  5. Michael Sison

    What about Gothitelle? What are your thoughts about it? Good article, by the way. I found this one very insightful. :-)

    • Tony  → Michael

       Thanks!  Gothitelle has to be active to trainer lock, so I don’t like it as much.  but, it may be able to have some potental.

  6. Robert Hall

     Good article, has the mid-season rotation been confirmed yet?

  7. kathyobrien

     LOLz I was playing Polterplume (my name for Mismagius Lock) and My opponent tried yo use junk arm to get rid of trainers when he saw i had a Vileplume.

  8. Garrett Williamson

    Trainer lock it still pretty effective. when it comes to wanting to rare candy into something fast I like to use stantler to get it onto my bench as fast as possible. Plus i think you should drop the metapod. If you think about it the 2 big lightning hitter, zekrom and magnezone, both one shot you anyways.

  9. Joshua Hall

     I also think trainer lock is alive and well, and the whole MEGA idea looks pretty nice.  I think Vileplume could also be combined with something like Ambipom, Mime Jr, and Slowking for some real locking action.  Either Cinccino or MEGA seem optimal attackers for low energy.

  10. Joshua Pikka

    I’m trying a vileplume deck.

    But its with Mismagius.  It seems to work fairly well.

    The problem is that you can’t get plum setup until turn 3, which gives your opponent plenty of time to setup.  So the trainerlock doesn’t really hurt them that much.  

  11. Steven Nilsen

     I’ve been running a deck like this at home and completely agree that trainer-lock for a late game win is a viable strategy.  I have some ideas on how to make your strategy a little different.

    First adjust your opening strategy:
    -4 Drop the Cleffa (I could be wrong about this, but I prefer Mercactus
    -4 Cut the Sunkern/Sunflora to 2/2, you only need one to set up, and more than two is problematic
    +3 Maractus with Constant Rattle attack, 90 HP delays giving up prizes on turn 1 and attack back turns 1&2
    +3 Black Belt (A very useful Supporter for come backs!)

    +1/1 Caterpie/Metapod, you’ve got no chance against fire without this… but read on…


    Now replace your main attacker:
    -12 Yanmega line and 4 Judge
    +2/1/2 Caterpie/Metapod/Mothim (60 damage and reversal for GCC)
    +1/1/1 Reuniculus line (takes advantage of the remove 3 damage from each pokemon for G, from Mothim)

    +4 DCE


    Then, think of tooling in Bellossum and cutting back elsewhere.  The remove 1 damage per pokemon with the Reuniculus makes can be very handy… but now I’m morphing your strategy for a trainer lock deck into a mega-heal trainer-lock deck, which pushes the contest to the brink before it gets set up.  I’m still tinkering with the right attacker.

    These are just ideas.  I’ll try your deck out, but I think you should give this a try too.

      • Jesse Ortiz  → Jesse

        And i’m pretty sure your opponent chooses whom to switch with, if you use Butterfree’s attack, since it states “Your opponent switches”.

        • Anonymous  → Jesse

           ya. opponent chooses. i think the best partner for trainer lock is mismagius UD/CL. since more decks have higher trainer numbers running mismagius is somewhat viable. while i agree vileplume imay turn out to be a good deck next format(since we really cant know until the switch) it takes a turn for the worse. BTW has anyone contructed and playtested a trainer lock deck for next format?

        • Tony  → Anonymous

           I’ve playtested both Yanmega Prime and Mismagius.  Yanmega is easier to get out, but it lacks high damage output to OHKO cards like Zekrom and Reshiram.  Mismagius can have the higher damage output, but it’s not consistent, and it is harder to recover once it is knocked out. 

    • Tony  → Steven

      Interesting ideas!  Like I noted in the article, I’m still looking for a great partner for Vileplume, and it’ll take some more testing to come up with some good matches, but you bring up some interesting ideas. 

  12. Colin Peterik

     Here’s hoping that Catcher is released as a Supporter…

  13. tim h

    The best part about trainer lock is that people cant Basic -> RC -> Stage 2 all in one turn. This gives you one more turn to set up a lock. That said, I personally don’t think that trainer locks will be all that good in the next format – most of the draw power is supporters with very few trainers in almost all decks. The only thing you will really block is Communication and Rare Candy. 

    For the record, I don’t believe that Reshiboar (reshiram and friends) is an even matchup. I don’t think that you can set up a Vileplume (through or not through Sunflora) and a Yanmega before they will set up an emboar and a reshiram. That said, even though you don’t have weakness from Reshiram, blue flare still OHKO’s everything; and collector is a supporter. 

  14. tim h

    Also, lastly, I don’t think trainer lock will work because as soon as you play Oddish, everyone will know what’s coming next, and Pokemon Catcher before you can evolve.

  15. David Wiken

     Well, you’ve got one thing right – trainer lock will be played a lot next season! I have personally tested Bearplume (Beartic/Vileplume), and TBH, it laughs at Reshiboar, Zekrom and DonChamp… Will prolly play the new “vilegar”myself:)

  16. Mac Crowley

    Its funny to see these articles that thought 4 cleffa was a good idea. Its not to any fault just fun to see how the meta develops

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