Okay. We’re nearing the end of the 2011-12 season, so we’re fast approaching the final series of local tournaments: Spring Battle Roads. For BRs our card pool will be expanded by one set, Dark Explorers. This will also be our card pool through Nationals and Worlds.
By design, I’ve chosen Dark Explorers as the centerpiece of this article. By the time we hit Nationals, the meta will be well defined, but immediately after a new set is released, it’s an entirely different ball game, just because everything is so up in the air.
By now, most of you probably know that I’m a member of a rather large Pokémon team. Just like we do with every set, we spend the few weeks before its release testing out all the new cards in the set. So, taking this into account, this article will be an analysis of the meta and deck intricacies of the HS-DEX format. I’d like for this article to be your go-to resource for all things Dark Explorers and give you a big leg up on Battle Roads.
Impact on the Format
I’d like to begin by discussing what, from a technical standpoint, does Dark Explorers bring to the table? Unlike Next Destinies, which led to a complete overhaul of the meta, Dark Explorers is looking to impact the format in a different way.
Basically, instead of changing the meta, Dark Explorers is just going to enhance it. I think a big reason for this is because EXs already exist in the format, whereas they did not with Next Destinies. All of the EXs are huge and powerful Basics, so they really increased the speed and power of the format. However, since the format has already been influenced by Pokémon-EX, this next wave won’t have as drastic of an impact since the format is already “EX-ified”.
Instead, the degree of influence Dark Explorers will have on the format will be determined by how strong these new cards are and how they interact with the already established meta (this second bit pretty much kills Kyogre EX).
Basically, when you look at each of the EXs, they’re just bigger versions of already existing cards. Some act in almost the exact same manner, such as Tornadus EX to Tornadus, while others essentially do the same thing in this format, albeit in a slightly different way, such as Kyogre EX to Kyurem (bench hitting), Groudon EX to Terrakion (Fighting beat stick) and Raikou-EX to Zapdos (sniper).
Having more powerful versions of strong cards, even if they are Pokémon-EX, does offer several interesting benefits. First and foremost, they’re great ways to save space in your deck, because they act like “two for one” cards. That one copy of Tornadus in your Zeels build becomes a lot stronger when you replace it with Tornadus EX, which without a double PlusPower is a 4HKO for Terrakion. You get a stronger weapon for a tough matchup without devoting any extra space to it.
The only two EXs that fill more unique niches in the format are Entei-EX and Darkrai EX, both of which I’ll discuss more thoroughly later in this article.
So, taking all this into account, Dark Explorers is looking like its going to be mostly just complimenting and expanding the format and not reshaping it like Next Destinies did. However, there is one way that DEX will be able to make an impact and that’s by using Dark Pokémon (more on them later).
Top Tier Decks – Updated
Dark Explorers actually contains a lot of really strong cards that can be played in just about all the top decks in the format. Below are my most recent lists for the current “Big 4”, Zeels, Durant, CMT and Terrakion, as well as my build for Raikou/Eelektrik, each freshly seasoned with DEX cards and ready for Battle Roads.
Deck #1 – Zeels
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 30
Energy – 13
pokemon-paradijs.comApart from the new Dark Explorers stuff, there isn’t anything in this list that’s really surprising. Thundurus is becoming more and more common as a 1-of in Zeels. All you need is a Collector and a Tynamo/Switch in your opening hand and you can get it attacking Turn 1 and doing damage Turn 2. You already know Thundurus is a great early game attacker, but I actually included it in the list to help with two matchups in particular: CMT and the mirror.
You’ve got favorable odds heading into the CMT game, but a slow start on your part can be exploited by your opponent for the win. Thundurus can charge itself up and makes quick work of Tornadus while not being run over by Mewtwo EX, so it’s a strong weapon here.
The other matchup I mentioned was the mirror. It’s the same principle here; Thundurus gives you something to fight with while you’re developing your field and (perhaps most importantly), if your opponent doesn’t get their own Thundurus or another attacker set up early, it’s a really strong way to disrupt your opponent. It tears through Tynamo and even Eelektrik is within 1HKO range via PP. Thundurus can provide additional support against other matchups too, like Durant and Dark.dec.
I’ve taken out my lone copy of Zekrom-EX, which isn’t unheard of, but it isn’t something I’ve usually done in my Zeels lists in the past. I liked it in there for the less common matchups like ReshiPhlosion and Magneel, but I ended up cutting it from the final list to make room for more consistency cards.
I really like this card, but only in lists that are optimized to abuse it. Volt Bolt’s cost is pretty steep, so before you go add it to your list, really stop to consider what it adds to your deck’s overall strategy.
In my testing, I experimented with Raikou-EX in about ten different Zeels builds, but it was only a valuable addition in about 2/3 of them. In those two thirds that did benefit from Raikou-EX, it certainly pulled its weight. Having another tool in your arsenal that can pick off those Eelektrik proved to be really valuable in several matchups, most notably the mirror and against CMT.
On the other hand, in that 1/3 group of builds that I don’t like Raikou-EX in, the simple explanation is they didn’t need Raikou. They had their own thing going on and went about taking the advantage in these matchups in a different way, so it just ended up being a “win more” card.
Even though you can’t reuse Raikou-EX with Junk Arm, I think one of its biggest advantages is it can be searched out so much easier. Being able to turn a Dual Ball/Pokémon Collector/Communication/Ultra Ball into a Pokémon Collector at any point in the game (Junk Arm doesn’t usually offer much of a toolbox aspect until the late game) is really strong.
It gives you more options during every stage of the game and lets you play a more reactive game plan best suited for the matchup and situation.
I’m actually really high on Tornadus EX right now. Of all the EXs in the set, Tornadus EX is the most universally useful. It plays several important roles in a number of the top decks in the format and with its Colorless typing, it’s easy to splash in just about any deck out there.
In this case, we run Tornadus EX as an out against Fighting decks. I can see a lot of decks that once played Tornadus to switch over, at least partially, to running Tornadus EX, especially Lightning-based decks. The ideal card for decks like Zeels is an easily splashable Pokémon that can do a lot with minimal space devoted to it. In this format, the bigger and more powerful Tornadus EX fills this role more effectively than Tornadus does.
We’ve always had a lot of variety in terms of what kinds of search Trainers Zeels can run. Assuming you run 3-4 Pokémon Collector, most builds devote 2-3 slots in their lists for these cards, but choosing from them can be tricky. We’ve got Dual Ball, Level Ball, Pokémon Communication and now Ultra Ball is thrown into the mix.
Ultra Ball is a new card from Dark Explorers. Its “cost” of discarding cards from your hand is actually pretty advantageous, letting you get L Energy into your Discard and thinning out useless cards from your deck before a PONT or N drop. The list already runs a maxed out Junk Arm count, so between it, Sage’s Training and Professor Juniper, I was burning through cards incredibly quickly.
I knew I wanted to run at least one Level Ball, but I ended up going with two copies because the Pokémon I most frequently search out with Trainers anyway is Eelektrik, so its HP cap was rarely an issue.
Considering some builds are running as little as a 3-3 Eelektrik line, I’ve actually got a pretty heavy Eel line going here. This is mainly to counteract the potential abundance of Raikou-EX. I predict a large portion of lists will be running at least one copy of it, so I feel Eelektrik is going to be under more pressure than ever. The thicker line also helps smooth out consistency bumps and helps you get set up fast.
The Super Rod is more of an extra card. It helps against Durant and nets you more copies of Eelektrik or any other attacker, but if Raikou-EX ends up being less of a force than expected, I’ll cut it for something else, probably the 2nd Eviolite.
Overall, this list accomplishes everything I want it to. Speed and consistency were my biggest priorities when constructing this list, but I also wanted to have a lot of options and ways to outplay my opponent at any given time. I feel this build doesn’t water down any of its strengths and really capitalizes on what made Zeels a strong deck in the first place.
As a matter of fact, three players in my team have committed to playing this exact build Week 1-of Battle Roads. In our testing, this list has simply put up better numbers and runs more effectively than any other Zeels list (about two dozen in all) we’ve tested.
Deck #2 – RaiZeels
pokemon-paradijs.comThe most common question I’ve heard about Raikou-EX is “Why not just play Pokémon Catcher?” Very early on, when I saw the scan of Raikou-EX, I actually agreed with this sentiment. I figured maxing out Catcher, which can be used in conjunction with any attacker and reused via Junk Arm, would work better than putting all this effort into Raikou.
It didn’t take many games to come to the conclusion that Raikou-EX is by and far at its strongest when used with Pokémon Catcher. On this principle, I am strongly opposed to cutting down the amount of Pokémon Catcher you’re running on the basis that you’ve added Raikou-EX into your list.
The strength of sniping isn’t just about hitting the bench for damage, but being able to apply more pressure on your opponent. Pokémon Catcher is a powerful card on its own, but when played in conjunction with Raikou-EX, it gains an enormous amount of strength.
For example, you could play Catcher to drag up an Eelektrik, then snipe another Eel on your opponent’s bench via Volt Bolt. You can hit one of their most valuable Pokémon and now they’re going to have a useless CC-Retreater stuck active. If you can follow up by taking more KOs, you’re making it really difficult for them to keep up with the exchanges.
This combo isn’t difficult at all to get off, but it does a lot of damage, which is why I think there’s validity to Raikou-EX-based decks and not just as a 1-of tech.
Here is the list:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 29
Energy – 13
Before I go into the finer points of the list, I’d like to make one thing clear: you won’t be attacking with Raikou-EX. In fact, you’ll only be actually attacking with it about 35-40% of the time. Your other attackers like Zekrom and Thundurus will be doing the rest of the heavy lifting.
pokemon-paradijs.comThis probably seems strange in a deck that claims Raikou-EX as its main attacker, but the simple fact is it just isn’t possible to rely solely on Volt Bolt to win you the game. My team and I logged a lot of games using lists with 3-4 Raikou-EX and little to no other attackers. We eventually got the build to a point where it was consistent and you could get off Volt Bolts repeatedly for the entire game.
Our next development with Raikou-EX and what we eventually deemed the best way to run a Raikou-EX deck is to feature it as a co-main attacker. Even in its strongest matchups, Raikou-EX isn’t always going to be your most effective main attacker; sometimes you just need to get a 1HKO on a big Pokémon your opponent has active.
The Zeels listed earlier in this article runs one copy of Raikou-EX, which worked well with the rest of the list. It added another powerful element to the deck without overshadowing what has worked for Zeels for the past several months. This deck is very similar to Zeels, but features a much more prominent and proactive Raikou-EX opposed to the situational tech it is in Zekrom/Eels.
By now, you know what makes Shaymin a strong card and a valuable addition in Zeels/RaiZeels, so I try to get a copy into my lists whenever I can.
On top of its usual strengths, it has a lot of synergy with Raikou-EX. After you use Volt Bolt, Raikou is going to be clean out of Energy (or close to it), so if you want to attack with it in the same turn, you either have to play Switch or waste your manual attachment to bring up a second Raikou-EX (if you only have the one, you need a double Switch). Shaymin brings to the table a searchable way to avoid the hassle and still snipe with Raikou-EX that turn.
Besides Shaymin, these are my go-to cards for getting a “clean” Raikou out of the active slot without wasting a manual attachment, which can be followed up by an attacker perhaps better suited for the situation. It also makes “looping” Raikou-EX possible because you can keep Retreating/Switching between them.
SAB also makes running Smeargle a possibility and boosts Tornadus EX’s damage output to a solid 60 for CC. The 2nd Switch also gives me another out (several with Junk Arm) against Pokémon Catcher if they drag up an Eelektrik to snipe around or stall my offensive for a few turns.
Mewtwo EX and 3 Double Colorless
The Mewtwo war plays a less prominent role in Raikou-heavy builds compared to standard Zeels matches. This is namely because Raikou-EX is notably strong against Mewtwo EX since it can score a 2HKO while they require 5-Energy X-Balls to do the same. Tornadus and Tornadus EX are no match for this Lightning-filled deck either.
However, with this being more of a Zeels-influenced deck and not full blown Raikou.dec, Mewtwo EX still needs to be addressed and the best way to do that is still your own Mewtwo. However, I cut down the DCE count. In terms of whether or not you get it when you need it, there’s not a huge difference between 3 and 4, especially when I have Dynamotor(s). So with everything, I’m still maintaining a more than sufficient Mewtwo game plan.
pokemon-paradijs.comLike Shaymin, an already strong card gains some newfound strength in this deck. Apart from a Cleffa or Tyrogue start, Tyrogue is mostly going to be used to KO Tynamo. The high Catcher count and Raikou-EX already means we can apply a lot of pressure on an opposing Zeels player’s Eelektriks and Tyrogue add fuel to the flame.
Even if you don’t score the donk, it’s still a cheap prize and will help in denying your opponent as many Eels as possible throughout the game.
The main I added this card to the deck is to fulfill the C Energy cost in Volt Bolt. If you read it carefully, Volt Bolt only discards L Energy attached to it, so by using Rescue Energy to help pay its cost. Attack with it, then get it on your bench and not have too use two Dynamotor AND your attachment for the turn getting it charged up again.
Its ability to rescue the Pokémon to whom it’s attached shouldn’t be underestimated either. It effectively acts as a 3rd Mewtwo EX, 3rd Raikou-EX, 2nd Tornadus, 2nd Thundurus, etc., which is especially handy when one of your copies are prizes. You probably won’t get full mileage out of it against Lost Remover-friendly decks like Terrakion or Durant, but it’s still a great multi-purpose card.
Straight Zeels was an already established archetype, unlike this Raikou-centric variant, which took a lot more time, effort and Gatorade to get it to a level where it can compete with the rest of the format. Raikou.dec boasts many of the benefits and strengths of Zeels but carries along a more powerful disruption factor. It has one of the biggest skill components in the format, but also provides a lot of room to outplay your opponents, so strong players will go far with this deck.
Deck #3 – Durant
Pokémon – 6
Trainers – 43
Energy – 11
I’ve included my latest Durant list. It’s among the most consistent lists I’ve played, has answers to the key problems that plague Durant and some other useful tools.
I’m actually going to do this section a bit differently. Once you’re familiar with how Durant works, unless you’re playing some abstract tech, any list you see doesn’t really need a huge explanation. So instead, I’ll touch on a few interesting points in the list, but then I’d like to weigh in on a recent topic of controversy, Heatmor DEX.
No Mewtwo EX
It’s a potential life-savor in Durant, giving you another way to win matchups if Plan A falls through. The main reason I cut it from my list was it’s an awful starter unless you happen to score the donk, which doesn’t happen often with just one Mewtwo EX and 1-2 DCE. Otherwise, you’ll likely just be delaying your first Devour until Turn 2 or 3, which in most cases will mean the loosing the game.
I’m not opposed to ever running it again and I certainly understand why you might add it to your list, and I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but I think the negatives slightly outweigh the potential advantages. It’s a high risk, high reward card that I just don’t like in Durant right now.
Pokégear 3.0 vs Random Receiver
In short, I think Pokégear 3.0 works better here for two reasons: the high Supporter count and Pokémon Collector/Black Belt. The guarantee of netting you a Supporter off a Random Receiver is tempting, but there’s nothing worse than searching for a vital hand refresher only to get Collector. Pokémon Collector is a necessary addition to get that Turn 1 4-Durant Devour; Level/Dual Ball is fine the rest of the game, but isn’t as powerful in getting the initial set up.
On the other hand, this list has a pretty full Supporter count, so the odds of whiffing on a Supporter via Pokégear are really low. But on the flip side it offers the possibility of revealing two or more Supporters, so you can pick and choose which one you need.
Heatmor – Its Effect on Durant and How to Counter It
There’s been a lot of back and forth on how much damage Heatmor will do to Durant. I’ve heard everything from it will completely destroy Durant to it won’t affect it at all and everything in between, with players of all skill levels scattered. My team and I spent a lot of game testing against Heatmor with Durant, so I’m confident my findings are accurate and correct.
I’ll say right off the back the bat that I don’t agree with either of these extremes. Barring a Trainer card that says ‘return all cards in your discard pile back into your deck and shuffle’, Heatmor is about as perfect of a counter to Durant as you can get. For just a single Energy (any type), you can score 1HKOs even on a Durant loaded with an Eviolite and multiple Special Metals.
The main reasoning I’ve heard from the players who say Durant will be unscathed is ‘it’s a flexible deck, so it won’t have trouble finding a way to counter it’. This is true, but using this as the sole basis for saying Durant won’t be hurt at all is being a bit naïve I think.
ZPST had a strong Durant matchup because it could get out a Pokémon as early as turn 1 that could consistently take KOs on Durant. So, instead of needing three Energy to power up Zekrom by Turn 3 (without outside help), you’ve got a Pokémon that can do this on Turn 1-2. If they start with a free Retreater like Tynamo or Cleffa, they can even score the donk.
The other main problem Heatmor presents is any of Durants auto-losses, such as The Truth, can just add a single card to their deck and have a fighting chance. It won’t completely turn things in their favor, but it does give them an out; an alternative to just scooping right away. Not being able to take advantage of these auto-wins as often certainly will take its toll.
pokemon-paradijs.comThat being said, Durant is a deck that has a lot of options, so even a silver bullet will have trouble completely eradicating the metal ant. Of the different techs you can run, your best bet is going to be Black Belt, which can score the 1HKO on Heatmor when played with either Durant, Tyrogue or Mewtwo EX.
Despite its Regionals win, I wouldn’t advise selecting it as your deck for Battle Roads. It struggles with the hyped Darkrai EX and loses ground to Heatmor. You could do worse, but there are definitely several better choices out there with better match ups and stronger against the field overall, so I don’t recommend taking Durant to BRs.
Deck #4 – Terrakion & Co.
Fighting.dec was the hot commodity to come out of States. It maintained a strong showing through Regionals and is looking to be an even better play for Battle Roads. There’s little chance Zeels will be dethroned as the BDIF and there are several promising Dark decks (Darkrai EX and Zoroark DEX) on the near horizon, all of which are weak to Fighting.
If Dark decks live up to the hype, which all signs point to it doing just that, this could be a huge breakthrough for Terrakion. Before, it had one strong match up (Zeels) and then most of its other matchups that jumped around the 50/50 mark (CMT, Durant, mirror). Having two more strong matchups against popular decks in the format will really solidify its position as a competitor.
Updated with Dark Explorers cards, this is my list:
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 36
Energy – 13
There are a lot of combinations of Fighting and non-Fighting Pokémon you can run in these types of mono-Fighting decks, but I really like this array of attackers. I think the key in making a strong Fighting deck in this format is keeping Zeels in auto-win territory while boosting your other match ups past or as close to 50/50 as possible.
pokemon-paradijs.comThe ideal lead attacker in this deck is Landorus. It can hit for maximum damage Turn 2 thanks to Abundant Harvest, which is actually pretty huge against decks where you aren’t hitting for Weakness. You can spare a slower start when you can get 1HKOs so much easier, but when the playing field is evened out, the difference between attacking Turn 2 and Turn 3 is pretty stark.
If I wanted a Pokémon that was strong against Zeels, I could have just stuck with Terrakion. The reason I like Groudon EX is because, on top of being great against Lightning and Dark decks, it serves as a solid heavy-hitter against the rest of the format.
Groudon EX has a ton of synergy with Landorus. For starters, Gaia Hammer can stack your opponent’s bench with damage, allowing Groudon EX to hit for maximum damage on a “fresh” Pokémon. Also, it can be tough to charge up Groudon EX because, unlike Terrakion, you don’t have that extra turn when your opponent takes a KO where you can do 90 for just two Energy. Landorus helps with this because Abundant Harvest helps get more Energy into play, which can be moved onto Groudon via either the maxed out Exp. Share or Shaymin.
Overall, Groudon EX is a great card that gives it more aggressive strength against non-Zeels/Dark decks and gives you the possibility to go on the offensive and not have to play so reactively, something that straight Terrakion lists can struggle to do.
Apart from any Tornadus/Tornadus EX, the next biggest threat in their arsenal is Mewtwo EX. It’s not the easiest for Landorus or Terrakion to kill, especially with Eviolite and especially in multiples. Leaving their “outs” unanswered is dangerous and can end up costing you otherwise strong matchups.
The thing with Mewtwo wars is, even against unfavorable match ups, you can get lucky and steal the game. All it takes is for them to whiff on a key return KO and it can be enough for you to pull ahead on prizes. The Mewtwo EXs, along with the DCEs and PlusPowers are also important for the CMT match up, which would be even more of an uphill battle without them. They keep your opponent on their toes and prevent your opponent from stacking Energy on a single Mewtwo EX for huge X-Balls.
Speaking of CMT, the other major weapon your opponent has in this matchup is Tornadus and/or Tornadus EX. Either way, you’re dealing with a big Pokémon that has a Fighting Resistance, making them tough KOs for Fighting-heavy decks like this one. I’ve experimented with a lot of different methods for countering these two cards, even attempting a Donphan & Dragons-like strategy with Landorus and Zekrom.
I ultimately settled on running two Ruins of Alph and an equal amount of Lost Remover, both of provide strong, albeit different, methods for handling Tornadus. Ruins of Alph “takes down” resistances as long as it’s in play, which puts Tornadus EX into 2HKO range. It isn’t as worthwhile against Tornadus EPO, but it does make it so you don’t need a PlusPower to 2HKO an Eviolite’d Tornadus.
It’s also important to note Ruins of Alph is a Stadium card, which lead me to the second counter, Lost Remover. The Strategy here is to deny your opponent’s Tornadus Energy so, by default, they can’t attack. Lost Remover will kill their DCEs, especially with Junk Arm and Ruins of Alph takes down SAB, so they won’t be able to sneak in Celebi Prime for a quick Forest Breath before Retreating into their actual attacker; a lot more pressure will be placed on their ability to draw into their Switches and Junk Arms.
If I’m not mistaken, this is the first deck in this article thus far that can really abuse Random Receiver. Obviously its greatest strengths are that it guarantees you a Supporter and that it can be reused since it’s a Trainer. Perhaps the best part is that you can cheat this seemingly random searching your deck for a Supporter and guarantee you’ll get something you need.
For example, if your Supporter lineup features 4 N, 4 PONT and 4 Juniper, you can be sure that each time you play RR, you’ll be given a way to net yourself a new hand. In this way Receiver is very similar to Fast Ball, which did the same thing but with Evolutions.
Like I said, Zeels and Darkrai EX are ‘all the rage’ now, so Terrakion is looking to be in a great position come Battle Roads. Terrakion is going to be a great play for BRs, although I highly favor variants that have multiple attackers; straight Terrakion is just too one-dimensional. It gains another, possibly several, strong matchups via Darks and benefits from several new cards in Dark Exploers as well. Terrakion isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Deck #5 – CMT
CMT was on par with Zeels at States, taking roughly the same amount of 1st place showings, but at Regionals it definitely proved that Zeels is the BDIF. Out of all the events, CMT wasn’t able to take home a single one. Thankfully, CMT gains a few new tricks in DEX, which just might be enough to pull up beside Zeels once again.
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 34
Energy – 13
CMT has a lot to prove right now, despite being one of the best decks at States, it’s the last tournament performance that people will be mostly judging it on. I have no doubt it will do better at BRs than it did at Regionals, specifically in its number of wins.
One of CMT’s greatest advantages is the Terrakion vs Zeels war game is actually to its advantage. Even Troll is a slightly favorable match up and straight Terrakion is even better, so the more players running these decks, the better. They’ll also help knock as many Zeels out of top cut as possible, which is definitely good for CMT. I think this will lead to a stronger-than-expected showing Week 1.
2 Tornadus EX, 1 Tornadus
I spent a lot of time testing out all sorts of combinations of Tornadus and Tornadus EX. I tried everything from 1/1 to 4/0 and even things like 3/3 and 4/4. In the end, this is the split I settled because it gives me what I need.
It pulls its weight in the mirror as well, since it tears through regular Tornadus and can go head to head with Mewtwo EX. If you get lucky with the coin flips on Power Blast, you can make your opponent waste a 3rd Energy to get the 2HKO. Eviolite basically turns this war into a 3HKO war, barring an encounter with a heavy loaded Mewtwo EX.
Despite these benefits, I still like running a Tornadus in here. With the majority of my attackers being EXs, having the option to lead with a non-EX attacker and then enter into a 2 for 2 Prize exchange can be favorable, especially if you managed 2 Prizes off Tornadus.
pokemon-paradijs.comI’ve got the maxed count of Pokémon Catcher in here, which provides an irreplaceable edge in a lot of matchups. CMT, like Zeels, is notorious for its crazy fast starts, so this is the perfect deck to capitalize on Pokémon Catcher’s disruptive potential.
Your best chance against Zeels is to tear apart their early game set up and hope you can set them so far back they can’t make a comeback in time or prevent them from getting in the game at all. Pokémon Catcher helps make this happen, letting you take tons of cheap but vital KOs on Eel pieces.
It’s got a hoard of other uses later in the game as well, but I don’t need to tell you that. Bottom line, it’s a life savor at any point in the game, but for key matchups you want it as early as possible, so a high count is certainly worth it for all the advantage it gives.
3 SAB, 2 Switch
Of all the splits between these two cards, this combination of cards is by far the most powerful for this style of CMT. The double-Switch play occurs less often early game because of the lower count, but it’s actually easier to do so later in the game because SAB will generally stay in play, so all you need is one Switch/Junk Arm to make the “double switch” happen.
I’d always kept Bouffalant in the back of my mind as a card that I wanted revisit. When a list running it managed to win a Regional Championship, I knew it was time I really began hammering out the details of how I can most effectively take advantage of it.
In this case, Bouffalant acts as another weapon against Zeels, a popular match up that isn’t quite in CMT’s favor. It can be used to simply attack their active Pokémon, but 9/10 times I’m KOing an Eelektrik via a Catcher Play.
The funny thing is Pooka won Regionals with a list containing Bouffalant, but he was playing Zeels. I did test it out in Zeels and it remains a viable option there as well, but CMT is the deck that I saw the most drastic edge accumulated when I added in Bouffalant.
Our usual tools for getting Celebi out of the active are actually really useful with Bouffalant as well. You may run into a time when your opponent can’t respond to a Revenge KO, so now you’re stuck with a CC Retreater active that can only do 20 damage. Any advantage you garner with a two-Energy KO is negated by having to waste 1-2 turns getting it out of the way.
Like Zeels, CMT is also really well suited for charging up ‘surprise’ Bouffalants in a single turn, via either Forest Breath or Double Colorless.
I’ve got a scary thin Supporter lineup (just 10), but the three copies of Random Receiver + Junk Arm have been good at ensuring I have a Shuffle-&-Draw Supporter whenever I need one. But other than that and the new inclusions catalyzed by Dark Explorers, nothing else deviates from the thoroughly-established ‘best’ list.
Like I said, CMT actually gets stronger with all the anti-Lightning stuff going around, which for this reason alone makes CMT a strong candidate. And besides just that one benefit, it still has all the strength and speed a good CMT build should have, so put all this together and it’s one of my (and hopefully your) top choices for BRs.
The Darkness Has Come
If you can get past the corny title, I’d like to redirect the discussion away from the current best decks and focus on the new Dark Pokémon. I’ve heard a lot of different view points from many reliable sources on how strong Dark Pokémon will be.
Some people are saying it’s going to be vying with Zeels for BDIF. They say that Darkrai EX is a beast that can start attacking as early as turn one via Dark Patch (although in my testing this doesn’t happen real often) and it simply tears apart Zeels by killing off their source of Energy acceleration: Eelektrik. But on the flip side, some people are just writing off Dark.dec as early-set hype.
Upon further investigation, I learned that most of the people who are skeptical of Dark Pokémon’s viability were doing a lot of theorymoning. It’s also interesting to note that the majority of players who believed Darkrai EX is BDIF hadn’t really begun testing DEX either. The large majority of people I talked to who had actually logged some games with Dark Pokémon agreed that the right build was a force to be reckoned with (very few people believed it would surpass Zeels, however).
So, which is it? In my teams’ testing, Dark variants have been performing right around Tier 1.5. Like any deck, they’ve got their troubles, but we’ve still got a few weeks before Battle Roads. By the time we hit the 2nd or 3rd week, I’d wager Dark decks will be a prominent figure in the format.
Of all the different assortments and combinations of Dark Pokémon you can run, two variants in particular have risen above the others because they’re faster, stronger, more disruptive and/or has better matchups. Okay, I’m going to jump right into it.
Deck #6 – Darkrai EX/Tornadus
There’s an abnormally large population of Dark Pokémon in Dark Explorers (I wonder why), but the one in particular that’s separated itself from the pack and claimed the most hype is Darkrai EX.
First let me show you the list, then I can get into the finer points of the deck and list:
Pokémon – 8
Trainers – 37
Energy – 15
This list has a few key discrepancies between it and most of the lists you’ve probably seen floating around, so let me explain.
In particular, this deck focuses on the combination of Darkrai EX and Dark Patch. Darkrai EX is a powerful Pokémon on its own, but its attack is pretty pricy, so relying on this strategy alone has proven to be slow and ineffective. The Turn 1 Night Spear via double Dark Patch does not happen often, and even basing the entire list to achieving this doesn’t increase your odds by very much.
Because of the massive hype surrounding Darkrai, my team and I extensively tested out a huge assortment of lists and builds. During this time, we came up with two important rules that govern how to build the strongest Darkrai EX builds.
Rule #1 – You cannot rely solely on Dark Patch.
Dark Patch is a powerful card, there’s no denying. Its ability to break the 1 Energy per turn rule helps you keep up with the exchanges by keeping Dark attackers coming one after another. It can be great early game too, letting you start using Night Spear on Turn 1-2.
They can only attach the Energy in your discard pile to a Benched Dark Pokémon, so you’ll have to deal with Dynamotor syndrome. This disadvantage is kept under control by Darkrai EX’s Ability, which gives Free Retreat to all your Pokémon with Darkness Energies attached to them. This ability isn’t as strong early game, when your Energy is likely to be concentrated on just your attacker, it is considerably better in the mid- and late-game.
Anyway, the real problem is getting off Dark Patches early consistently every game. You need to have a Basic Darkness Energy in your discard pile as well as a Darkrai EX on your bench. We’ve got Juniper and Junk Arm to get those Energy discarded, but all in all it makes the Turn 1 Dark Spear pretty difficult, which is why that alone can’t be the deck’s biggest merit. It has to be a pleasant surprise, not something you base your entire strategy relies on.
That being said, Dark Patch gets dramatically stronger later in the game, when the odds are much higher you’ll have Darkness Energy in your discard, your field will be better suited for it and your chances of a double-Patch via Junk Arm are considerably higher.
Rule #2 – A secondary attacker is necessary.
No matter which way you spin it, a straight Darkrai-EX deck just isn’t a good play. Even if you didn’t have to worry about Fighting decks, having your strategy be so one sided and not even having the advantage of hitting for Weakness like mono-Terrakion does is a recipe for disaster.
In this list, I’ve chosen Tornadus EX as my co-attacker, for which I did so for two main reasons. The first and probably most obvious is to deal with Fighting. Darkrai EX can do damage to Fighting decks, but being an EX that’s 1HKO’d by Terrakion makes it way too risky to use in this match up, barring for 7th prize scenarios since its being an EX won’t matter.
The other big reason is this deck needs a faster attacker. Like I’ve said about a dozen times, relying on a Turn 2 Dark Patch for your early game is not a smart play; going on the offensive early was often a key to winning, so it’s important we can do so as often as possible and completely justifies running four copies of DCE.
An important card for the early game offensive is Shaymin. Darkrai EX accounts for ½ of our starters, but just because it’s your starter doesn’t mean the need for an early attacker isn’t still there. You can maneuver Darkrai to your bench and then bring up a Tornadus with a DCE, then drop the Shaymin, which will have you attacking Turn 2. Dark Patch also functions as a pseudo-DCE thanks to Shaymin.
Darkrai EX’s biggest merit is that it can hit both the active Pokémon AND something on your opponent’s bench. In particular, these numbers line up really well against Zeels. You can drag up an Eelektrik, KO it and then take out another Tynamo on their bench or combat a Tornadus swarm with Dark Claw and get ahead in the prize race by 2HKOing Celebi on their bench.
A few notable points in the list:
Energy Lineup (9 Basic Darks, 2 Special Darks, 4 DCE)
Dark decks are actually really tight with Energy lines and needing to squeeze in the Double Colorless for Tornadus didn’t make things any easier. Basically, I’ve kept the Basic Darkness Energies in the deck because of Dark Patch. As the method of Energy acceleration, the more basic Darks in the list, the faster and more consistent our deck overall will be.
The biggest drawback to Rocky Helmet was always that its strength was dependant on your opponent’s moves. It can be played around a lot more, they can use a different attacker to take the KO or they can just Catcher around it.
Basically, Dark Claw is a Rocky Helmet that allows you to be much more proactive and aggressive, not giving your opponent room to play around it, but only for Dark Pokémon. Darkrai EX’s 90 damage output is a little low, but boosting it to 110 is actually quite a bit better. It’s enough to 1HKO non-Eviolite’d genies and self-damaged Zekroms and also brings clean Zekrom within knock-out range via Double-PlusPower/Special Darks.
Even though this list is pretty Pokémon Tool-heavy thanks to Dark Claw, Tornadus EX can’t actually use DC. I don’t want to have Tool overlap, but both Tornadus are at their best against Terrakion & co. when they’ve got an Eviolite attached. It’s not a crutch for matchup, but it’s performed well enough in testing to earn the spot, especially with all signs pointing toward Terrakion garnering even more popularity.
I didn’t discuss matchups for any of the earlier decks because, Raikou.dec notwithstanding, they were all already well-established decks and none of the new cards really make huge impacts on its match ups. This Dark deck and the Zoroark one after this are largely comprised of brand new DEX cards and since some of you may not have even started testing Dark Explorers yet, instead of just saying they’re good and expecting you to believe me, I’d like to give you the matchup guide I composed during my testing..
VS Zeels – Even/Slightly Unfavorable
pokemon-paradijs.comThis matchup is very slightly in the Zeels player’s favor, but it’s still very winnable. Their advantage stems from two factors; Tornadus EX isn’t very strong here and they have more power overall. If they don’t get the Turn 1 Thundurus, Tornadus is actually a solid lead-in attacker, but after that its uses will be pretty limited.
Your main goal in this matchup is to kill off their Eelektriks and deny them Energy acceleration, which will help sap them of their power advantage. Darkrai EX, Dark Patch and your Dark Claws/PPs/Sp Darks total a pretty powerful offensive, but against a late-game, fully set up Zeels, you can just be overwhelmed. Thankfully, Night Spear is incredibly effective at killing off Eels and Tynamo, since it can potentially take down one of each or two Tynamo in a single hit.
As for their bigger hitters, Pokémon like Zekrom and Thundurus are within 1HKO range, especially if you soften up those targets with Night Spear’s bench damage. You’re at a slight disadvantage, but you can definitely luck into a strong start or outplay your opponent for the win.
VS Durant – Favorable
This matchup isn’t hopeless for the Durant player, but you certainly have the odds in your favor. We only have one non-attacking starter and every Pokémon in the list has a Retreat Cost of C, which can even be made free via Dark Cloak.
We have both DCE and Dark Patch to get Energy onto our attacker faster and Patch will have plenty of Energy targets in the discard thanks to Devour.
VS Terrakion – Unfavorable
pokemon-paradijs.comThis is your worst pairing among the current top decks right now. You have a solid chance of pulling out the win, thanks to the heavy Tornadus count and the Eviolite can save you if you drop it at just the right time, but a heavy Lost Remover count can be difficult to overcome.
Thankfully, more and more builds are straying away from mono-Fighting lists and adding in more things like Mewtwo EX and Tornadus. This is good because the less Fighting-focused they are, your odds better slightly. It won’t be easy, but this list runs enough outs that a little luck can propel you into a win.
VS CMT – Slightly Favorable/Favorable
CMT will still be a popular choice at Battle Roads, so having such positive odds against it goes a long way in demonstrating Darkrai EX’s viability in this format. Darkrai EX doesn’t ‘own’ Mewtwo EX like I’ve heard some people mention, but it can trade 2HKOs with it.
However, the part where it gets ahead is once again that secondary bench damage, so you can score 2HKOs on Celebi or weaken benched Tornadus while keeping up in an exchange with Mewtwo EX.
I tested this matchup especially hard. Wwe were doing a lot of testing with CMT builds, and I wanted to work more with Darkrai, so things just fell into place. During these games, I had a great opportunity to experiment with a lot of different strategies on how to play the match up. In my experience, your goal isn’t to win the war; you just need stay in it long enough to take your prizes. Keeping this in mind, you can approach the Darkrai/Mewtwo exchange pretty different, which ultimately means you have an advantage. Tornadus EX is no deadweight here, either.
BulbapediaDarkrai EX received the majority of the hype directed toward Dark Pokémon, but in recent weeks Zoroark DEX has really picked up steam and now they’re both regularly mentioned in the same breath as some of the cards with the most potential.
Zoroark’s playability stems from Brutal Bash, which does 20 damage for every Darkness Pokémon you have in play for a very manageable CC. Between Dark Patch and Double Colorless, it isn’t difficult at all to stream 120 damage a turn, a number that can be further increased with Dark Claw and Sp Darks.
Brutal Bash relies on having a full bench of Darkness Pokémon to hit for maximum damage, a fact that can be quite hindering since there actually aren’t many strong Dark s
A lot of names have been tossed around as potential partners for Zoroark, including Bisharp and Krookodile. Out of all choices available, the Weavile UD build was leaps and bound ahead of the rest. Zoroark is a better attacker than any of the other options, so I felt that running a partner not up to par just because of its type wasn’t a good idea.
Weavile is a Support Pokémon with a Free Retreat Cost and provides a powerful way to cut down your opponent’s resources. Sniping a key PONT when they don’t have any other Supporter can easily mean several turns where they just draw and pass. A Claw Snag barrage against Zeels early is very detrimental, especially when combined with a strong offensive. Its Basic form, Sneasel, which is near impossible for Mewtwo EX to donk, has zero Retreat Cost, so you can easily Retreat it into a Zorua for a Turn 1 Ascension, which equals a pretty dramatic speed increase.
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 29
Energy – 14
If I were to incite a rule for Zoroark like I did for Darkrai, it would be not to depend on it for all 6 Prizes. Zoroark is a fast and aggressive attacker that can take a lot of KOs, but it’s a rather fragile Stage 1. This list runs two Rescue Energies and a Super Rod, but all it takes is a Zorua to be killed off early or some bad prizes and decks without another attacker will be hard pressed to draw their last prize.
It’s for this purpose that I run Darkrai EX. Not used too often in the early game here, it’s a Basic Pokémon that fuels Brutal Bash, gives your Pokémon free Retreat and is more than capable of easing the prize taking burden off of Zoroark.
It took a lot of tinkering around with, but I’m very satisfied with the Trainer and Supporter lines and how this build flows as a whole. It contains enough precision search that I can stay in fast-paced games and go aggressive early and is consistent enough that I can maintain this pace for the entire game.
Just this past weekend, I made the switch from the 2/1 Ultra/Level Ball split I had previously ran and changed over to all Ultra Balls. It ran consistently either way, but since Zoroark is the #1 priority in most cases, I felt going with Trainers that can search out either one, even for a cost, was the better move.
I crossed out Pokémon Communication pretty early on in testing because I never wanted to shuffle way Pokémon. Whether it was an extra Basic or piece of an Evolution, there were very few situations where I could comfortably give up Pokémon. Whether it was a Basic Pokémon to fill my bench or an Evolution, I’d almost always want to put it in play. Discarding extra Trainers or Energy was an easier price to pay than loosing Pokémon back to the deck.
I’d like to mention my count of ‘damage increasers’ like PlusPower. Basically, I don’t run any PP, three Dark Claw and one Special Dark and the reasoning for this is solid; you don’t need them all that often. Basically, you only use them to hit a fresh Zekrom or an Eviolite’d Tornadus/Thundurus and even then, you only need one. Add in the fact that Dark Claw can potentially be used multiple times and Junk Arm and I think four copies of these kinds of cards is the ideal play.
Some builds are trying things like maxed out Absol Prime, PP, Dark Claw and Sp Dark in hope of being able to 1HKO Pokémon-EXs, but in my opinion it just isn’t going to happen. All the games you loose because your deck is so filled with garbage will far outweigh those few times where you score the 1HKO on a Mewtwo EX or Regigigas-EX.
VS Zeels – Even
pokemon-paradijs.comIn the overall back and forth KO war, each player is about even. Zoroark can generally keep up with the exchanges for the better part of the game and then rely on Darkrai EX to take those last few KOs. On the flip side, you could use Darkrai EX toward the early or middle game to kill of their Eels, then clean up with Zoroark, both of which can be effective.
One stubborn advantage the Zeels player has is simply more variety. They can choose between Zekrom, Thundurus, Raikou-EX, Mewtwo EX, Tornadus EX or even Zebstrika whereas we’re more limited in terms of what we can attack with. Each deck has their own slight advantages over the other, but when you put it all together, the matchup is going to be very close.
VS Terrakion – Unfavorable
This won’t take long. Darkrai EX is useless here and they can 1HKO your Zoroarks. Surprisingly enough, you do actually might be able to keep up with the KOs. Don’t get me wrong, it will take a sizable amount of luck on your part, but Zoroark can 1HKO Terrakions and get charged up in a single turn, so it is possible. Again, a build that’s running heavy counts of Tornadus and Mewtwo EX is going to be a much more positive matchup than straight Terrakion.
VS Durant – Slightly Favorable/Favorable
It will take a couple turns to get going, but once you do, there isn’t much your opponent can do. You’ll need 3-4 Dark Pokémon on your bench, depending on Eviolites/Special Metals, and all your Pokémon either have free Retreat or can get it via Darkrai EX. Either Darkrai or Zoroark is a solid attacker in this match up.
Your high Special Energy count can hurt, but Dark Patch negates this. Also, both your main attackers having a Psychic Resistance, so Mewtwo EX needs to have 4 and 6 Energy to KO Zoroark or Darkrai EX, respectively.
VS CMT – Slightly Favorable/Favorable
BulbapediaLike I said before, Darkrai EX is good here because it can 1HKO Tornadus with a Dark Claw, go 2 for 2 with Mewtwo EX and all the while stacking damage on Celebi for extra KOs. Zoroark is equally useful, since it can both 1HKO Tornadus and trade prizes evenly with Regigigas-EX, Tornadus EX and Mewtwo EX.
One final card I’d like to touch on is Sableye. I don’t run it in either of my lists, but I’m sure a lot of you are either considering running it or have read online about other people running it. Quite frankly, I couldn’t be more opposed to this notion. People who support Sableye say that it gets back two Item cards in your discard pile and you can just use Darkrai EX for free Retreat. However, there are a few things to consider.
First of all, even though Dark Cloak will give Sableye free Retreat, you still have to attach a Darkness Energy to use Junk Hunt, so you still fall behind with your Energy attachments. The only way you don’t is with a Shaymin drop, which isn’t really worth it in Zoroark builds because it weaken your overall offensive capabilities. It’s also a bad starter because you aren’t likely to have many Trainers in your discard pile Turn 1, plus the same principles I mentioned still apply.
If you try to use Sableye any other time in the game, it basically means you have to give up an Energy, a Pokémon and a free prize for those Trainers. Combine all this with the fact that we still have Junk Arm and I haven’t been able to find a single Dark build in which I’d actually want to run it.
These seven decks I’ve discussed so far are by and far going to be the likely dominant force at Battle Roads, but there is a couple other ideas being thrown around that, good or bad, I’d like to offer up my thoughts on.
Chandelure NVI/Darkrai EX
pokemon-paradijs.comThis idea seems really interesting to me. Instead of running Dodrio to get free Retreat and in turn Vileplume to protect Dodrio, this build would use Darkrai EX + Dark Energies to give Chandelure free Retreat.
This is actually a creditable idea. No Trainer lock means we can run Switch, which makes “Cursed Shadow” even more powerful, plus we’ll have an attacking option in Darkrai EX, although we most likely loose Chandelure NDE.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Chandelure has a place in this fast format anymore, where even quick Stage 2’s like Empoleon DEX are considered rather slow. Add that with Dark seeing a big surge in popularity and Chandelure’s risks far outweigh the benefits right now.
I’m going to keep this one short; I really can’t see Hydreigon reaching the top tables of a tournament. Even with both Double Colorless, Dark Patch and all the other Support Dark Pokémon have right now, Hydreigon is just too slow and clunky. Even when you get it set up it doesn’t act fast enough. It would have to be that as soon as it comes into play, you immediately net some big advantage, which Hydreigon doesn’t provide. It also has one of the worst Weaknesses in the format, a big problem in a deck that’s supposed to be able to ‘tank’-esc with its huge HP.
This idea I really like. Obviously run along side Eelektriks, Darkrai EX would give Raikou-EX free Retreat and lower the amount of Energy discarded via Volt Bolt. Both Pokémon can hit the bench for a lot of damage, so you’d be able to apply a lot of pressure on decks that use any form of Bench-sitters.
BulbapediaThis type of deck would use Entei-EX in the same manner that Tetrakion used Terrakion. You’re basically running Entei, a slew of consistency and disruption cards and not much else. I thought of this sort of build, but initially wrote it off because, unlike Terrakion, it can’t hit all the Lightning and Darkness decks for Weakness, but its damage output is the same.
It was actually in Roarkiller’s set review of Dark Explorers that he suggested going with a prize-denial, tanking variant complete with Super Scoop Ups and Seekers. Entei-EX has a built in Exp. Share, of sorts, so you could get Energy into the Discard via the usual methods and then proceed to build another one up on your bench. Once Entei-EX is nearing KO range, scoop it back up and deny your opponent prizes.
The only problem I see here is being out sped. You can’t start getting another Entei-EX charged up on your bench until Turn 3, so if your opponent can threaten the KO any time before that, you don’t have a lot of good options. Shaymin could alleviate this, but it’s a pretty bad starter here, so it’s a risk with such a low Basic count.
Right now, I don’t think its matchups are particularly strong right now. It kind of does its own thing, so none of the top decks are especially awful pairings, but where it’s at right now, I’d be nervous if I was walking into a Battle Road using this deck, but it’s definitely one to watch for the future.
Mark A. HicksOver the past few weeks, my team and I have spent an enormous amount of time sorting through all the new cards in Dark Explorers and determining what worked and what didn’t. Once we figured out what works, we then did a ton of testing to know what worked the best, which is the information you just finished reading.
This will actually be my last article until June. May is the busiest month for me, school wise, what with exams and everything, so I thought it best to take a month off and come back strong.
Battle Roads are still a few weeks away, but with Regionals done and over with, starting your testing early means you can take your time and do things right, not cramming the night before to build your deck.
Since I don’t have a writing slot in May, I still want to contribute, so I’ll actually be posting a Deck Garage thread early May in the UG Deck Help section. I will personally give feedback and suggestions to anyone and everyone who posts their deck, so if you’re looking for some more personalized deck help, I definitely suggest you check it out. If you want to keep your deck/list on the DL, you can email your list to email@example.com.
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
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