Eleventh Hour Surprises: Finishing Strong, and Starting Stronger

robandstephanielevyWith only a few days until the Last Chance Qualifier, Worlds, and the crowning of our new champion, there are still unanswered aspects of the current format, as well as unmentioned threats to watch out for. These “eleventh hour surprises” change EVERYTHING, and what once looked like a relatively cut-and-dry metagame transforms into something very unusual.

Be it due to the surprise leak (and subsequent proliferation) of a secret deck, or just a play that the majority of the world didn’t see coming, things look and feel different when the player base is actually at the physical location of an event.

In this article, I will try my hardest to diffuse the “surprise factor,” and alert you to some last-second developments in the Worlds 2011 metagame. We will jump straight into what decks are favored by which areas of the world, my personal testing results, and some major recommendations for techs. This ought to construct an overall idea for what surprises are in store for both the Last Chance Qualifier and the main event.

Above all, you competitors ought to gain new knowledge to arm yourselves for this exhilarating weekend, and even you non-competitors will receive a huge jump-start on the rest of the competition.

This is going to be one of my most concise articles in a long time, but it will also be one of my most useful. So if you are interested in reading all of the latest developments, then read on, dear Underground members…Read on.

Metagame Developments

[Note: due to my constant communication with/observation of Masters players, this will be a Masters-centric portion of the article. However, I expect all of these developments – especially those involving Japanese players – to trickle down to the younger groups.]

[I also expect all of my previous advice about Seniors and Juniors from “Canadian Nationals” to hold over, but if you have any more specific questions, then please don’t hesitate to ask me in the forums!]

1. Japan

oimaxOf all metagames, Japan’s holds the most mystique in our community: they’ve won two Worlds with unorthodox lists, and – for all intents and purpose – are cut off from us, both competitively and communicatively. For these reasons, we ALWAYS care about what they’re playing, as well as who they’ve got in the running for a given season.

This year is no different on those counts, but due to the cancellation of qualifier events, there is uncertainty as to what impact their base will bring to Worlds this year.

First off, expect an above average turnout from the Japanese crowd in the LCQ. The players from Japan that dish out the funds to travel internationally to play are usually playing for keeps, so they’re already “above average” skill-wise; however, when you factor in that they lost any domestic opportunity to score invitations, they’ll be doubly prepared to bring their best to the Grinder.

With no doubt in my mind, this year is serious business for this group, and given the reasons for which they are competing, this seriousness is justified.

As to what decks they’ll be using, expect a respectable amount of each of the following: Zekrom, Reshiram variants, Tyranitar, and Donphan – each of which have prominence in their own metagame.

Keep in mind that the success of these decks is in the context of a format with Catcher and Crush Hammer, so things might be a little different; however, the Japanese aren’t 100% familiar with our “condensed” version of their format, so if you’re unfamiliar with a field, you go with what you know. In my opinion, it is these four decks their players know best.

Before we move on, I ought to elaborate on what I meant by “Reshiram variants.” Unlike the rest of the world, which seems to be trending toward Typhlosion, my information suggests that Emboar is its partner of choice in Japan.

You’ve seen Emboar before on this site, but here’s my take on the deck – a relatively non-teched, aggressive style of build that is likely very similar to what will be played by some of their competitors:

Pokémon – 14

3 Tepig BW07
1 Pignite BLW 17
3 Emboar BLW 20
4 Reshiram BLW
1 Zorua BLW
1 Zoroark BLW
1 Cleffa HS

Trainers – 32

4 Junk Arm
4 Pokémon Communication
4 Pokémon Collector
4 Rare Candy
3 PlusPower
2 Energy Retrieval
2 Sage’s Training
2 Professor Oak’s New Theory
2 Professor Juniper
1 Burned Tower
1 Pokégear 3.0
1 Switch
1 Revive
1 Pokémon Reversal

Energy – 14

14 R*

*One or two could be removed for Double Colorless Energy

pokegym.netNinetales isn’t our friend here, and despite Pokémon Communication’s weakness without it (14 Pokémon!), the goal of this list is to just blow through the deck and trigger a steady swarm of Reshirams from start to finish – nothing else.

The reason why I feel this sort of list will show up in the hands of Japanese players is because it is very aggressive, as well as successful at throwing an unprepared opponent off of his or her game.

Finally, despite my very low Pokémon count, I am confident that four Collector on top of a Pokéager 3.0 is a must: it’s all very useful in getting out a fast setup, and if you aren’t getting a turn two Emboar/Reshiram, then you will be in serious trouble most games.

I went half-and-half on this decklist, constructing it to give you a feel of what their variants will look like, yet also tweaking it to my own preferences. I’ve discussed in previous articles why I run the one Reversal, and despite a lack of Magnezone, I feel this list is no different: you need the option to disrupt at some point, or you simply will not be winning as many of your games as you should be.

As for Cleffa, its purpose in this list is to serve as a tech crutch for consistency – something I don’t expect Japanese players to do. In all of my time playing against and observing their decklists, I’ve never seen someone from Japan “crutch” their consistency; most of them didn’t play Jirachi Deoxys in that context, Yuta didn’t play Chatot in his Luxchomp, and I don’t expect competitors to do this with Cleffa.

2. Non-Japanese International Visitors

pokegym.netWhile opinions from friends and acquaintances rarely reflect consensus, most of my contacts outside of American or Japan are disenchanted with the Grinder’s new single elimination system. Furthermore, several of these players have decided not to go to Worlds this year because of that.

So for you American readers, as well as you non-American members who comprise 1/3 of Underground’s membership, expect a decidedly more dichotomous American/Japanese metagame.

But even with less players, I still expect the international presence to be felt. As of late, I’ve noticed two decks rise dramatically in popularity outside of the States: Typhlosion and Zekrom. For the former, it’s due to the deck’s raw quality: it’s fast, consistent, and – perhaps most importantly – capable of amazing recovery.

Regarding the latter, it makes sense when you consider it’s a more winning deck than Yanmega/Magnezone, and is increasing in hype due to its perceived (perhaps actual) winning matchup against that deck. I fully expect these two to be nicely represented in both the LCQ and the main event by international players.

3. United States

I don’t need to explain why this field will be made up of predominately American players; however, in this “lull” period between Nationals and Worlds, the U.S. has seen some changes regarding its LCQ and Worlds. The question is, “what changes?”

– More good players are trending toward Typhlosion than ever before. Unlike Nationals, which saw some relatively disproportionate representation in favor of decks such as Primetime and stage ones, I expect this to be one of the biggest plays by competitive Americans.

It has amazing firepower, decent recovery, respectable consistency, and can even play off of a dead hand – what’s there not to love? Like my above point referencing European players using Typhlosion and Zekrom, I anticipate this to occur in the main event and the Grinder.

Going hand-in-hand with the Typhlosion play, I anticipate plenty of hate for the deck as well, appearing mostly in the form of Zoroark or water-based decks/techs.

Granted, I don’t expect most of it to work, but I won’t be surprised one bit if a top tier player using Typhlosion gets knocked out of the first round of LCQ by a net-decked water list off of SixPrizes…Say, for instance, the highly-rated Blastoise/Floatzel list, posted by my good friend David “Hasselfhoff” R. !

– Zekrom has gained momentum, but is still a non-factor from the American collective. I expect a few individuals with great lists to go deep, including some Underground subscribers who have professed success with the deck; but as a collective, I expect the Zekrom quality quotient to be low.

Why? Because Zekrom – despite being prolific amongst relatives, friends, and part-timers, is just not that popular in the competitive American metagame: it has a rough late game, is less likely to “run hot” due to the best 2/3 structure of the grinder, and will suffer terribly due to the increased popularity of Zoroark, Donphan, and Bouffalant.

Now no matter where your country of origin is, I hope you Zekrom players have answers for these; but if I had to guess, then I’d say your strongest Zekroms will come outside of the United States, and not from within.

– Yanmega/Magnezone (“Primetime”) is still very popular, but the base is divided on how it wants to run the deck. Unlike Pooka’s Stage Ones and Tom Dolezal’s Typhlosion, which were quickly reverse-engineered by online contributors, Primetime still has no set standard.

This is in part due to the fact that its evolution branched off into two variants: a fast-hitting, simple variant focused on accentuating the first turn advantage (e.g., what I described in my Canadian Nationals article); and then a more teched out, tricky build that trades in a strong early game for disruption and added late game options (the list pioneered by Martin and Aziz).

…For many players, though, this “split” doesn’t appear to exist at all, since the vast majority of public literature on the deck revolves around Pachirisu variants. As a result, I don’t expect it to be a very ”even” divide; rather, it will likely be about 70-75% Pachirisu variants, coupled with about 25-30% Jirachi/Kingdra variants.

I expect competitive players to be much more evenly split, so if you pair against a “name” player in the main event or Grinder who’s using Primetime, expect equal odds of either variant showing up across the table.

Personal Testing Reflections

In my last article, I discussed a set of daily testing results: of the four decks referenced, I had positive conclusions for Primetime/Donphan, and negative conclusions for Lostgar/Tyranitar.

As I began to experiment more with the Grinder metagame, I found more reasons to drop the last two – namely, the difficult of winning on time for Lostgar in a best-of-three, as well as the extremely challenging match that Tyranitar will have against Donphan. It is the culmination of these results that have let me to settle on “something-Primetime” or “something-Donphan.

  1. Dealing with Primetime, my struggle has been between the two main takes on the deck: each have their own distinct strengths, are capable of helping me prevail against certain matchups…And are capable of failing me.

pokegym.netNo matter how you run it, Primetime is an extremely well-rounded deck with no horrid matchups…But it isn’t outstanding versus much either. For your most popular matchups, stage ones can be rough, and either Zekrom “or” Typhlosion could be an uphill battle…Depending on which variant you choose.

There are ways to make both better, such as increased consistency or more precise teching, but it’s tough to feel 100% about this deck against the metagame at large.

Despite all of these anxieties, it’s a deck that’s chock-full of consistency, the necessary options to outplay opponents, and is all-in-all fun to play!

Sure, it’s a winning strategy to go with the best options you can…But when all else is equal, it’s prudent to go with what’s most entertaining: after all, an entertaining deck is more likely to be mentally stimulating, and if you’re mentally stimulated, then you’re more likely to play optimally.

  1. For anyone who has read my recent discussions of HeartGold/SoulSilver-on, it should be patently obvious that this is a card I’ve been working with for a long time, and would really love to see shine in the metagame. As such, it ought to be of little surprise that it is one of my top choices right now.

My preferred base for this deck has evolved into something surprisingly simple, yet effective: the “Donphan/Dragons” build.

Pokémon – 8

3 Phanpy HS
3 Donphan Prime
1 Reshiram BLW
1 Zekrom BLW

Trainers – 26-30

7-11 draw cards*
4 Pokémon Communication
4 Junk Arm
3 Pokémon Collector
3 Pokémon Reversal
3 PlusPower
2 Switch

Energy – 11

7 F
4 Double Colorless

*Professor Oak’s New Theory, Professor Juniper, Copycat, Sage’s Training, Judge

Open Spots: 11-15

pokemon-paradijs.comDoes this build look thin? If so, then I’ve succeeded in showing you how versatile and varied this deck can be, as well as how little it means to simply call it “Donphan/Dragons.” No, I’m not trying to discretely discuss my deck in front of hundreds – I’m just telling you like it is.

The reason why I became such a fan of this variant is that it’s the only one able to take advantage of Earthquake damage, yet not run in a painfully clunky fashion (Donphan/Machamp) . This, in tandem with Reshiram and Zekrom’s type coverage, makes Donphan and Dragons one of the most versatile, well-rounded plays in a metagame full of Yanmegas and Magnezones.

Your initial setup is fairly straightforward: try to get out a Donphan Prime by turn two with at least a couple dragons on the bench (usually one Reshiram and one Zekrom each is preferred, but certain matchups and lists may require a deviation from the norm).

Remember that some undesirable bench damage is still inevitable in most games; however, the dragons ought to balance it out nicely. All in all, this deck requires very little setup, and is interested in mainly just fast beats and clutch Reversals – not much else.

So what are some of the directions this deck could be taken in? The most basic form is the one featured in the deck forum right now: a standard Donphan/Dragons with multiple Reshirams, multiple Zekroms, and a Bouffalant.

Of the builds I’ve tested, however, the most successful include Zoroark and/or Yanmega; in other words, variants that look like a heavily modified version of the deck Kyle Sucevich used to get second at Nationals, using no more than 3-3 lines of either. Just remember that if you’re too light on the Zoroark, this list will very easily be run over by Typhlosion.

Speaking of Typhlosion, that honestly appears to be the only really difficult game this deck has. I’m pretty confident that between Reshiram and Zekrom, you should have at least a 55/45 or 60/40 matchup percentage against every Primetime variant you face.


Any Zekrom (even lists with anti-Donphan tech!) should be torn apart by you if this includes Zoroark, and many of the standard stage one variants will be hard-pressed to keep up with you if you include Yanmega, a 4-4 Donphan line, or both.

Unfortunately, the Typhlosion problem has become increasingly worse over time for me: techs like Zoroark, Defender, and Bouffalant keep it close, but I always feel like they have the tactical and strategic advantage every game. It is this matchup that underscores Donphan’s greatest strength and weakness: simplicity, which leads to both curb-stomp wins and curb-stomp losses.

Before we move on, I need to address the 723 pound dragon in the room: the fact that I’m not considering Reshiram/Typhlosion. By all means, I am convinced it is a FANTASTIC deck, and stand by all of my points discussed above; however, in a single elimination environment such as the Grinder, I am deathly afraid of its chances against decks with a natural type advantage.

It can handle random water techs comfortably, but unless it has a powerful tech of its own, Typhlosion will be losing to the most random nonsense around (think Wailord/Feraligatr with tech Alomomola). Donphan may appear to suffer from the same problem, but cards like Yanmega, Zoroark, and Zekrom all bail you out of that matchup; Reshiram doesn’t.

In addition to its water wores, its matchup against a good Yanmega/Magnezone trends around 50/50, and against Jirachi/Kingdra variants, it’s even more questionable: they can frequently get your Reshirams within two energy Lost Burn range, and heavily discourage you from Typhlosion swarming due to the threat of a Jirachi UL devolution. It certainly has ways around all of these threats (Reversals and Serperior tech), but I am not convinced that they are enough in the end.

For these reasons, I do not feel confident in its ability to send me deep into a Last Chance Qualifier top eight. The main event, though, is a COMPLETELY different story as far as metagame, so if I survive the grinder, then it may become my top choice.

Techs and Tweaks Worth Considering

To round out my pre-Worlds discussion, I would like to remind you of four very powerful tech options that could be great for this event, and quite possibly the rest of next season.

1. Twins in atypical lists. One thing I (and quite frankly, some others) have been testing for the past week or two is Twins in decks you wouldn’t normally see them, such as the hard-hitting Primetime, or even the aggressive Typhlosion/Reshiram. This move is essentially a concession to the reality that if you’re not going first, then you might as well make the best of it.

After all, Twins and Black Belt are the ONLY “advantages” (if you’d like to call them that) to going second right now! This move has proven itself useful in several of my games, and has actually led to come-from-behind victories.

2. Pokégear 3.0. This consistency tech has gained numerous followers in the competitive community, with some swearing that it should be a staple in any HGSS-on build. I follow a more conservative approach to this card, and feel that there are really just two lists it is “made for”:

A) Decks with diverse Supporter needs. Builds such as Primetime want to build up a bench, disrupt the opponent, even hand size, or even come from behind using Twins. Thanks to a tech like Pokégear 3.0, you’re consolidating all of these various needs into one easily manageable game.

B) Decks that suffer heavily from Judge disruption. Say you’re running Zekrom or Donphan and played an early game Pokégear, only to be Judged late game into a dead hand in “typical” lists…But wait! You drew into a Junk Arm, and since your build runs Pokégear, your “loss” has now most likely become a win if you can grab a Supporter off of the top seven! It’s these above hypotheticals that make Pokégear really strong.

3. Ditto/Seeker. This is a nifty combo I developed with HeyTrainer forum member Meesie6x6, which centers around resource disruption. The idea is to bench the Ditto against an opponent with a full bench, followed by a Seeker, thus forcing yet another of their Pokémon to exit play.

Since your opponent’s bench varies in size throughout the game, this move is very situational, and the combo itself is mostly untested. Still, it’s a devilish tech that could devastate certain matchups that rely on big benches too much. Typhlosion perhaps?

4. Zoroark BW and Bouffalant BW. Unlike the previous two, these Pokémon have been hyped into oblivion, and are very well-known to the community. However, I can’t stress enough that in decks capable of running them, Zoroark and Bouffalant can be lifesavers, and are useful against every big matchup in the format right now.

While Primetime can’t easily run either without revamping its energy line, any deck that runs energy acceleration, Double Colorless, or both could benefit heavily from a tech of either. So if you’re totally lost for answers to Typhlosion, Zekrom, et al., then these two cards could be your tickets to a win.

All in all, I feel each of these techs are extraordinary options, and are very underrated in the current environment. Even more well-known plays, such as Zoroark and Bouffalant, aren’t getting nearly the attention they deserve, so I thought it would be important to point these out.


Eleventh hour decisions can be fairly heart-wrenching, but remember that regardless of how well you do at Worlds, the things you learn will carry over to the entire 2011-2012 season, and make you that much better equipped going into it. Even if you will not be attending the big event, I anticipate this article to be a solid preview for many of the big developments that arise from Worlds, as well as a preview for the next season at large.

Finish strong; start stronger!

…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

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