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.
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.
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||Trainers – 26||Energy – 6
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.