Rogues’ Gallery: Emerging Powers and the Search for Spock

After Canadian Nationals brought a sudden end to the glut of Magneboar decks filling the format, and largely replaced them with a horde of buzzing flies, it became clear this format is rock-paper-scissors. There is no known deck in the format without a bad matchup, though type effects (weakness and resistance) can help shore up what would otherwise be a problem. Before I go on, I will better define my metaphor:


The poster child of scissors.

Rock decks are difficult to disrupt, hard to donk, and are generally the most consistent and durable decks in the format. They can’t require much setup, and if they run a stage 2 it is either situational, supportive, or in a thick line.

The best example of Rock in this format has always been ReshiPhlosion – easily one of the most consistent decks in the format, and almost impossible to disrupt once it gets going. Variants with Rescue Energy can easily force you to take 6 Prizes of 6 Reshirams if you want to win the game.

Rock decks are also defined by how hard it is to take cheap prizes; with the lowest HP Bench-sitter being Ninetales, and all the basics in the deck having at least 60 HP (barring a singleton Cleffa tech if used), ReshiPhlosion sets the bar.

Other rock decks include Tyranitar/Mandibuzz, DonChamp, and Donphan/Samurott, due to their bulk and low energy requirements.


Paper decks are decks that look great “on paper”, and stand an excellent chance to win any matchup if they get set up. Paper beats Rock because it is generally able to set up almost as quickly, and does not rely on disrupting rock to win – once set up, it beats rock at its own game.

Paper decks in the current format almost invariably rely on Emboar’s “Inferno Fandango” to set up large amounts of energy, and MagneBoar (Emboar with Magnezone Prime) is the most common example. Others include more toolboxy Tyranitar variants, as well as Blastoise decks.

The other big paper deck is LostGar, though it shares some scissors elements, to be explained next.


Scissors decks are disruptive – they beat paper because paper relies heavily on a complex setup, which can be shut down by locking trainers, discard, sniping, and devolution, all of which are common in scissors decks.

The poster child of scissors is Yanmega Prime, with its ability to retreat for free, snipe for 40, or deal 70 to the active, all for (theoretically) no energy. This speed, and synergy with the disruptive Supporter, Judge, have taken it to a US Nationals win and top spots around the world in the HeartGold SoulSilver-on format.

Other common scissors Pokémon are Weavile (for its “Claw Snag” Poké-Power, letting you choose and discard a card from your opponent’s hand, as well as its ability to snipe baby Pokémon), Vileplume (locking Trainer-Item cards), and Muk, which for the low cost of one P Energy can drag a benched Pokémon into the Active Spot, and Confuse and Poison it at the same time. Most toolbox Mew Prime decks are also Scissors based, usually Lost Zoning Crobat Prime and Muk.

Rock Paper Scissors LIzard
A Metagame Expansion?

Now that we’ve defined the three main archetypes (which, from a background of other TCGs can also be considered aggro, combo, and control, respectively), we can move on to the extension of this metaphor: Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock, as defined here:

Spock is the key metaphor here, as in the now Scissors-dominated post-Nationals metagame, we expect to see a significant population of two decks: Yanmega, and its de facto foil, ReshiPhlosion.

While Yanmega/Magnezone, the US Nats-winning deck, carries significant Paper elements in its 3-4 Magnezone Primes, Typhlosion gives the iconic rock deck some scissors up its sleeve, by being able to discard Rescue Energy from Yanmega, and generally deny Magnezone the energy it needs to hit for big damage often enough to win the game.

Yanmega decks at Worlds will likely be somewhat more heavily teched against this matchup, running higher energy counts, or even a counter attacker like Donphan Prime or Samurott.

Going into Worlds, the only decks that look like they could be Spock are Zekrom-Pachirisu-Shaymin, known as ZPS, Zekrom Donk, or ZekDonk, and VileBox, best explained in As there is already an excellent article on a toolbox Vileplume deck, I will go into detail on ZPS in this article, and why it takes on the role of our pointy-eared scientist. First, my ZPS skeleton:

Pokémon – 114 Zekrom
2 Pachirisu
2 Shaymin
1 Tyrogue
1 Cleffa
1 Unown DARK

Trainers – 304 Pokémon Collector
2 Seeker
4 Professor Juniper
4 Sage’s Training
2 Dual Ball
4 PlusPower
2 Defender
4 Junk Arm
4 Pokémon Communication

Energy – 1615 L
1 D
If nobody's playing Donphan, he's Spock.

That’s the basic core of ZPS, and it’s clear what the deck intends to do: get a turn 1 Bolt Strike with Zekrom, hitting the opponent’s active for a minimum of 120 damage, and win the game on a donk. If it does not donk, the deck intends to swarm Zekroms, loading energy as quickly.

Why is ZPS a possible Spock? ZPS is theoretically a paper deck, relying on a six card (3 Pokémon, 3 energy cards) combo to set up in one turn, but Zekrom is still a fantastic basic with 130 HP, and Lighting is a great type to be in this format, being able to hit Yanmega Prime for weakness, Knocking it Out with Outrage after a single Bolt Strike, or after taking either of Yanmega’s attacks.

It can also be relatively difficult to disrupt down to a dead hand, as it runs so many draw and search cards. Against Reshiram/Typhlosion and other Rock decks, it uses their low basic count to pick up the donk – many of these decks run as few as nine or ten Basic Pokémon, meaning single-basic starts are the most common opening to the game.

Even without the donk, this can often put rock decks on the back foot, as they struggle to survive without getting benched out – though any deck with Donphan Prime has a clear type advantage that usually turns into an easy win.

These two decks are really the only viable Spock options in the current card pool – there simply isn’t a magic solution to both Reshiram/Typhlosion and the myriad Yanmega variants that will be swarming Worlds, though I definitely think ZPS is a good play.

A brief note on Lizard decks, these are decks that are good at beating Paper and Spock, but are going to lose to the most common decks in the metagame – don’t play one for Worlds, it simply won’t go far. There are honestly fairly few Lizard decks out there right now however, so it would actually take considerable effort to make one and play it, just to lose at Worlds.

What I Would Play

He may not look like a lizard, but don't play this for Worlds.

What would I play for Worlds, after going over all this? I’d probably play Reshiram/Typhlosion. I know the deck like the back of my hand, having played Charizard for two seasons and Reshiram/Typhlosion heavily when BW first came out. It’s a rock solid deck with a tight core, and a lot of room for powerful techs that are quite valued, but rarely needed.

Tech cards that could be good include Marowak (against Magnezone), Lost Remover (enforces energy denial theme), Pidgeot (can capitalize on energy denial), and my favorite tech in this deck, Vileplume, providing a game-ending trainer lock once you’ve set up.

By locking out the commonly played Energy Retrieval, as well as setup cards and Pokémon Reversal, a line of Vileplume (anywhere from 2-1-2 to 1-0-1 depending on how many Rare Candy you run) can really nail down some matchups. Just be careful of using it when you will need to rely on Energy Retrieval, PlusPower, and Junk Arm shenanigans to win – locking is NOT the primary strategy of this deck.

Really, techs in this deck should almost exclusively be for two things: Magnezone, Samurott, and the fire mirror. Samurott is a great tech, in this deck for the mirror and for everything else to beat this deck – consider counter-teching Zekrom to deal with it.

Magnezone Prime is another option, but I believe it’s better off running with Emboar, in a more Reshiram-heavy MagneBoar approach. All in all though, I believe the closer you stay to a thick, consistent Reshiram/Typhlosion deck, the better your results will be, especially if you’re trying to grind in. I’d call this deck one of the absolute best shots for grinders, just for how hard it is to throw off its game plan.

Emerging Powers

Emerging Powers is the new set being released in North America on August 31st, and will add many interesting elements to the metagame. It is the next place we can look on our search for Spock, and while it does not appear to bear fruit at first, there are a lot of interesting options that will shake up the metagame.

Pokémon Catcher: Duh. This card is going to change everything – Pokémon Reversal effectively no longer requires a coin flip, making it a bad day to be Paper. What is interesting, however, is that it does not help Scissors decks directly as much as give every deck some Scissors to work with – it is distinctly possible that Reshiram/Typhlosion will be the deck to benefit most from this card, as its own Pokémon are difficult to KO, and the only non-attacking Pokémon in the deck have 1 or 0 Retreat Cost (Ninetales and babies, respectively). It may be the card that breaks the metaphor.

Leavanny: This card does not appear to be worth much at the outset, but using it with Mew Prime’s “See Off” attack could allow for a rapid, consistent Vileplume drop at the end of your Turn 2, as all you now have to do is hit the See Off and drop Gloom – of course, the option of using Rare Candy remains, giving Mew Prime/Vileplume toolbox decks a stronger showing in the format. I still do not see Mew Prime decks becoming Spock until the release of Eviolite; until then, 70 damage for 0 energy from Yanmega Prime is just too destructive to the deck’s main attacker.
One of Emerging Powers' only shots at an archetype card.

Gothitelle: Another source of Trainer lock, with a triple-colourless attack like Samurott, Gothitelle could be a powerful threat in toolbox decks. Straight Gothitelle itself could become an archetype as well, as 130 HP and the possibility for solid damage from its “Madkinesis” attack, along with only locking Trainers for your opponent, could make a speedy deck running a thick 4-2-4 Gothitelle line, and Jirachi and Shaymin for energy acceleration very dangerous. I will seriously be considering this as a main deck post-EP.

Beartic: Another card from Black Collection, Beartic is well known at this point for its infamous “Sheer Cold” attack – for one water and two colourless energy, it deals 50 damage and prevents the defending Pokémon from attacking next turn. This is extremely effective against decks with high Retreat Costs, and may be a serious threat to any deck running Magnezone Prime without trainer lock, as it can be dragged up with Pokémon Catcher and taken down in three turns.

Crush Hammer: A major Scissors card everyone is overlooking, Crush Hammer is a Trainer card that lets you flip a coin, and if heads, discard one of the opponent’s Energy cards from play. It’s the same effect as Energy Removal 2, a rather underwhelming card, but with the number of Junk Arm being played today, imagine how useful it can be to discard a key Rescue Energy, or the only L Energy on a Magnezone Prime. Will it replace or supplement Lost Remover? Only time will tell.

Landorus: Whether or not this card will be in Emerging Powers is unknown, but current knowledge of plans to import many Japanese promos in this set points to yes. Its attack is expensive, but it can self-accelerate off of an early Professor Juniper or Engineer’s Adjustments, possibly leading to 80 + 10 spread on the second turn. While clearly not Donphan Prime, it could be Donphans 5 through 8 in a fighting swarm deck. The shared Water weakness does not help its playability, but it is the only genie remotely worth considering.

Gothitelle (Promo): Again, not certain to be in Emerging Powers, but very likely, the promo Gothitelle is another interesting Stage 2; the same attacks would honestly be more fitting on a Stage 1 Pokémon in the current metagame, making this card questionable at best, but for 1 psychic and 1 double colorless, 60 damage and guaranteed disruption has potential. Its first attack really does not do as much damage as it should – again, this should have been Beheeyem’s card, or another Psychic-type Stage 1. Even with its speed, it’s a solid tech against Magnezone in Gothitelle decks.

Sigilyph: Two Sigilyphs are expected in Emerging Powers: the one from White, and the one from Battle Strength – both have roles as fighting counters, the former geared more for Donphan and the current metagame, the other a silver bullet to Machamp. A 90 HP Basic with the ability to stall Donphan much the same way Umbreon does (while still reducing damage from other threats as well), as well as snipe for 50 is quite valuable in any deck, though this variant does require Psychic energy.

The other Sigilyph is much more situational, but its triple-colourless attack acts as spot removal for any threatening Gothitelles, Machamps, and any other attackers weak to Psychic. Between the two, and Gothitelle, they completely oust Xatu from the format, making Psychic a more dangerous weakness than before.

Basculin: Like Sigilyph, another splashable, Basic counter – this time to all of the fire decks and Donphan out there. The downsides to Basculin are fairly major: he either needs three energy or significant damage to be effective, and he has 80 HP and a Lightning weakness. Still, this card has a lot of potential as a general-purpose water tech, with its splashable energy costs, Basic status, and low retreat.

Max Potion: The card everyone forgot about when talking about Emerging Powers, and one of the most potentially game changing; now, anything not Knocked Out in one hit could be back to full strength, just by saying the magic words “Junk Arm”. The energy cost can be problematic in some decks, but for some Pokémon (Donphan, Magnezone, Machamps post-Fighting Tag, Yanmega, and Kingdra, as well as any utility Bench-sitter) it just isn’t enough of a drawback. This card will be HUGE for Yanmega/Magnezone, and its benefits cannot be stressed enough across the board.

Notes on Emerging Powers Limited

EP is going to be a very good Limited set – it’s fairly small, and looks to have at least a halfway decent trainer count, and a lot of splashable basics. There are also no real game-breaking bombs like Reshiram and Zekrom in the set (Black and White was probably the worst Limited set in the history of Pokémon TCG). This means sealed decks as a whole will be fairly solid and consistent.

The heavy types in this set are Fighting (at least two lines, Terakion, and possibly Landorus), Metal (two lines and Cobalion), and Grass (two lines and Virizion). Some of these lines may also have multiple basics and stage 1s, similar to Black & White, though likely only single stage 2s at the top.

Playing these Stage 1s much like Pignite was played heavily in Black & White will be common – expect them and prepare to counter them. Of them, the two Boldores are clearly the biggest threat, while the Swadloons will be second-rate at best. Psychic may be strong as well, but as it counters itself, Sigilyph is the only viable tech, and is really a card you’re likely to run if you pull anyway.

Since Fighting will be clearly huge, water techs need to be looked at – this is fairly simple, because it is such a short list: the only water Pokémon known to be in the set are Beartic’s line (likely two Cubachoos and two Beartics), two Basculins, and maybe a Simipour. On the upside, they’re all very splashable, which will reduce the threat of all the water-weak Fighting types. Still, unless you pulled three Tornadus or something, you probably want to run some water techs. A singleton lightning tech as a response to the water techs is also a viable option, though the only serious option is Emolga.

For draft, Fighting is going to be the obvious type to get into, but beware: you’re likely to be in a pod with multiple players drafting Fighting. Lightning is going to be the under-drafted colour in the set, but if Emolga stays in the common spot, you’re actually in surprisingly good shape as a Lightning drafter (though go heavy on the water and bird techs) – you may be able to have a rock solid Emolga swarm, possibly with as many as nine or ten Emolgas! If you thought Elesa was annoying in your first playthrough of Black or White on the DS…think again. You will be worse.

Bombs in the set are Catcher, Max Potion, Cobalion, Virizion, Beartic, and the big Stage 2s. If your deck lacks consistency (and many will), consider using the Darmanitan or Simisear (assuming the latter is even in the set) you pulled to give you a possible counter via weakness. Unlike the last set, draft Trainers over bombs – they’re not absolute game-winners by any means, and a deck with 4 Cherens, 3 Catchers, and 10 Emolgas is likely to roll over just about anything in the format: consider your deck when you draft, especially for the first five picks. Generally, my order of operations is:

1. On-colour or Splashable bombs

2. Trainers/Supporters

3. On-Colour Pokémon

4. Splashable Cards and Off-Colour Bombs

5. Hate Picks

A note on hate drafting: DO IT. If you get a read on what your opponents in your pod are drafting, and you don’t have a clear pick for yourself, pick what you think they’d pick in your shoes. If they’re having a good draft and no one else is hating on them, they’ll likely have that card coming to them otherwise, and you’ll be the one to deal with it in a match.

Drafting your counters is also a good play – lucked out and pulled 3 Boldores? Draft up all the Basculins you can see when you’re not picking for your deck. Don’t give up a good pick for it, however – you might be playing people outside your pod all day and it won’t matter one bit. While sealed is still the main event at prereleases, draft is the far more strategic, and more fun format, so get in there and play some side drafts! This is going to be a GREAT set for it.

Final Words

Base set Hitmonchanpokebeach.comWhere, out of all these cards, however, is Spock? Nowhere to be seen, really. Emerging Powers is going to be a set that significantly impacts the design of existing decks, with cards like Leavanny, Max Potion, and of course Pokémon Catcher.

While we may see new archetypes from Gothitelle and Beartic, I do not believe either of these will be quite competitive enough against the current metagame, and will both fall into tier 2.

With the Tier 1 decks not likely to change in the next few months, expect the results of Worlds to be quite relevant to your experience as fall Battle Roads come around. For that reason, I will likely make this my last competitive article until then, unless something crazy happens, and I’ll be instead writing some more unusual articles.

If you do want to see me write about something, PM me on the forums – I’ll be glad to take your requests and throw together some short articles on whatever subjects you’d like to see.

Reader Interactions

14 replies

  1. Alex Holdway

    Great read very informative and I like the way you put the Decks into rock, paper, scissors form. 

    I agree with you about EP limited/prerelease games too; time to pre-order a box methinks…..

  2. DrMime

    I’m excited about Landorus–I think its high HP and energy accel from the discard will help as a starter in decks with higher-energy-requiring Fighting guys like Machamp, the upcoming Gigalith, etc. But I don’t think it will be in Emerging Powers. Even as a promo it accompanied the Red Collection (booster box), and I don’t know that we’ll be getting any Red Collection cards in EP. But that’s just my personal bet; I have no insider knowledge. I sure hope I’m wrong!

    • Edgar F  → DrMime

      From what I gather no, that was the second promo release of Landorus, and it came out with a deck box or something a couple months ago? We’ll see if it shows up. Thing is, getting energy into the discard on turn 1 isn’t always easy. Engineer’s and Juniper I guess?

      • DrMime  → Edgar

        It was announced a couple of months ago, but I don’t think it appeared in real life until just a couple of weeks ago, with Japanese booster boxes.

        On the second point, yeah, I agree, getting energy into the discard T1 isn’t so easy. I’d go Junk Arm myself, but those supporters would work too.

        • Edgar F  → DrMime

          Getting a trainer into the discard to actually use Junk Arm isn’t always so easy either, remember that it needs a target.

  3. Joshua Pikka

    Great article, I would have liked you to explain more what the new cards do, but I guess I had to look them up for myself. 

  4. ricky turrietta

    jeez can you please explain what each card does not just the effect it has i dont want to go look up exactly what each of these effing card does isnt this the point of reviewing them? dont automatically assume everyone knows what they do

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