Apple CopywritingI feel like I’ve run out of interesting hooks and introductions. I’ve written a lot of these articles by now, and there was a point where my favorite part of doing an article was trying to come up with a clever way to introduce the work. That is not the case this time. In fact, I’m writing the introduction last, because I was holding out in the hopes that I would have something interesting pop into my head at the last minute. Instead, here I am, at 5 PM on Monday night with nothing. Which I guess could be taken as an innovative introduction in its own right. Or at the very least, a weak one.
Anyways, I enjoy writing right after a new set ends up getting released. Being given a whole new slew of cards to work with makes playtesting exciting after months of trying to work out kinks in a pretty stagnant format. I’ve been working with roughly the same 4 decks for what seems like an eternity now, so having something new is a blessing.
The big focus on Dark Explorers is Dark Pokémon. Darkrai EX has received a lot of hype, and there are a few ways to try and utilize it. Zeels is still going to be a contender, and we are also dealing with Celebi Prime based decks. At States and Regionals, we had decks like “Troll” and Terrakion NVI variants popping up as metagame cards. Their viability will depend on what other new decks pop up due to Dark Explorers.
Outside of spawning potential new decks, the set offers a ton of new support cards. Ultra Ball is an amazing search card, and absolutely my favorite card in the set. Random Receiver is an “upgrade” to Pokégear 3.0, although not just strictly better because it does require you to adjust your lists to incorporate it. Raikou EX is a natural potential fit into Zeels. Tornadus EX is a natural fit into CMT. Groudon EX has potential in a “Troll” build.
Pokemon ParadijsFirst and foremost, we have what I consider to be the best deck prior to Dark Explorers, and one of the best ones coming out of it as well: Zeels. Zeels has been the big “power” deck in the format for a while now. It isn’t exactly a slow deck, but it lacks the coming out of the gates ability that many of the other decks in the format have brought with them. It often finds itself having to play from behind, relying on its ability to have superior energy acceleration and the ability to simply hit harder than other decks.
While it may not look like it necessarily hits THAT much harder than the other decks in the format, it does by enough of a margin that it gives the deck back the advantage it gave up by taking time to develop its board. Decks like CMT have energy acceleration as well, but looking at a normal CMT game, you’re getting (optimistically) 3-4 Forest Breath off a game, and just looking at the course of an average Zeels game, you’ll see you Dynamotor far more often.
While CMT gets just enough energy to be fast and keep up with exchanges, Zeels gets access to a glut of energy which allows it to keep up exchanges with even bigger hits.
Outside of this, the deck is also the “best” N deck at the moment. When you have pretty much every deck running at least 2 N just as a powerful mid and late game disruptor, and as a way to try and steal comeback games, having a deck that can fairly recklessly jam in 4 copies of the card is a huge edge.
Having a self-sustaining supply line of energy is huge when dealing with N. Most decks play “fair” with their energy. They have to come from their hand. Even CMT, which cheat son acceleration, still has to have energy in hand. A good 1-2 card N can really just steal a game if they whiff.
With Zeels, you have all your energy in the discard pile, and from benched Pokémon that can throw it into play. This makes it so you are not only resilient to other player’s Ns, but you can afford to run the risk of missing on your own N as you can probably craft a powerful turn or two even without much of a hand.
Mark A. HicksThe downside of the deck has always been that it is slow. I pointed it out before, but it can give up a prize or two, or sometimes just be put on the defensive most of the game and outraced. It doesn’t usually fall into spots like this, but it usually does have to play as the underdog until it can catch up. The 4 count of N helps to do this, but you can’t discount the weakness entirely.
One of the other issues the deck has had is its trouble dealing with dedicated Fighting decks. In this format, that means decks like Terrakion, or “Troll” variants, primarily. The deck doesn’t really like playing against splash Terrakions in lists, but it can overcome that. A whole strategy based around repeated Fighting type attackers is a bit harder to overcome though.
I’ll show you my final list from pre Dark Explorers:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 30
4 Junk Arm
Energy – 14
BulbapediaNot a whole lot of changes from what I had been doing with it. In all honesty, I had still been toying with Cleffa HS in the Smeargle spot, due to the lack of Skyarrow Bridge and the lowered Switch count (Shaymin acts as a poor man’s Switch which can be searched up in a lot of instances, but also has other powerful uses which offered utility to the point where I value it far more than a Switch). It, plus the Eviolite, are huge concessions to the real threat that the Fighting-centric decks have posed since States.
I know I wrote a bunch in a past article about how I disliked Eviolite due to it being fairly irrelevant in both CMT and Zeel matchups, but cards change in value as the metagame changes, and when a 4th style of deck arouse (the 3rd being Durant, where Eviolite is REALLY bad), Eviolite just happens to be a pretty good counter to it.
That being said, Dark Explorers actually changes the deck up quite a lot. Some of the very fundamentals I liked previously get thrown for a bit of a loop, and I’m even looking at experimenting with some even more extreme variations of this deck.
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 32
4 Junk Arm
Energy – 13
Pokemon ParadijsAs you can see, we’ve switched from the previously amazing 30 HP Tynamo, which offered a free retreat cost, to the 40 hit point ones. Previously, your big issue with the 30 HP Tynamo was Tyrogue HS/CL, a card which was actually seeing some pretty substantial play almost exclusively for this purpose.
Kyurem NVI previously threatened the 30 HP tiny dynamos as well, but the card quickly fall out of favor amongst players to the point where it can effectively be written out of the metagame entirely now.
The card which does, on the other hand, pose quite a threat to the Pokémon is Darkrai EX. Its attack does 90 damage, which kills an Eelektrik right out of the gates, and also kills a Tynamo, making it very difficult to replenish your supply of them throughout the game.
You can deal with it a bit when you’re on the play, but on the draw, if they get the fairly reliable turn 2 Darkrai attacking, it can really set you back on energy. Having the 40 HP one is a concession to that issue.
The other card that really impacts this decision is Tornadus EX, my vote for the best Pokémon in the set. I could make the (valid) argument that the card, for an unconditional DCE, does 30 damage on the first turn, but that is only half of the reason the card affects the Tynamo decision. Tornadus EX is exactly what this deck needs.
Tornadus EX is a great turn one attacker. Previously, CMT for example, would have the attacking edge in this matchup, even regardless of who went first. It could open with 40-80 damage on the first turn. Thundurus was such a nice inclusion in Zeels because it threatened reliable turn 2 80 damage.
Tornadus EX offers a possible turn 1 60 (or 30, which while it shouldn’t score many kills, is actually still a pretty good start for two hitting things) while also offering a very important Fighting resistance, opposed to Thundurus just piling on more of the same weakness.
Toss an Eviolite on Tornadus EX and Fighting Pokémon are going to have a very, very hard time chewing through its huge hit point total while doing 40 less damage per swing. Terrakion is a hypothetical 4 hit on it, and it gets bricked entirely if no KOs were scored (without having the full 3 energy, of course). The various Donphan experiments are pretty much entirely out of luck as well. It can shrug off Mewtwo hits pretty well two, since it can hit for 100 while dumping off energy on it, very much like Zekrom EX used to do.
BulbapediaThe main role it is playing, despite its many uses, is still offering the deck speed. You are no longer going to just accept that you’re not applying pressure until turn 2. Sure, you aren’t hitting with Tornadus T1 as often as CMT gets a T1 threat active, but you do it often enough that the deck is substantially faster for it.
Of course, you have to run a Stadium to activate its true damage output, but Skyarrow Bridge has already seen play in some Zeel lists for Smeargle, so it isn’t too farfetched of an inclusion. By running 3 copies of the Stadium, we can afford to run the 4 one retreat Tynamo.
Previously, I was really focusing on having a free retreat active available to start with so I could have a reactive start (this is one of the reasons I was pretty hesitant to swap Cleffa for Smeargle) and this is still an issue. At 3 Skyarrow Bridge, there is a decent chance I will not be able to open with it, even after a hand refreshing Supporter. I went back up to the 2 Switch count because of this.
The interesting interaction here is that you don’t even need to get Tornadus EX active turn 1 UNLESS you drew the Skyarrow Bridge, so you aren’t actually missing any opportunities because the two conditions directly overlap. I guess you may wiff on a few turn 1 30s because of it, but that is a price I am willing to pay.
I still use Mewtwo as my primary attacker here. Decks are either going to play the Mewtwo game, in which case the deck plays as it did pre Dark Explorers, or it is going to try to approach the matchup differently, a state which Mewtwo still thrives in. Mewtwo isn’t that great against Darkrai EX, but it really is just a two hit KO vs. a two hit KO, so despite it having the natural resistant to Mewtwo, it doesn’t actually turn into much of a Mewtwo “trump” anyways.
What does get a bit tricky there is that they are compiling 30 damage on your bench over the course of the game, so every 3 turns or so they do “skip ahead” a prize which matters. This is negated by the fact that Zekrom can do the 2 hit vs. 2 hit exchanges with a Darkrai while not being an EX as well. It is a bit harder to get online, but it trades very well there. Again, you have an inherit energy advantage the longer the game goes, but it often doesn’t show because they will try to hunt your Eels pretty aggressively.
The other attackers we have are a one-of Tornadus, Thundurus, and Zekrom. I’m probably going to try and fit the second Zekrom back in just due to its inherit strength against the Dark decks, but I’ve trimmed it to one and not been too disappointed so far.
Pokemon ParadijsIn testing, I really enjoy having a nice toolbox of Pokémon because it lets you test a large number of Pokémon and quickly figure out how they interact with your deck, and other decks. It makes it easier to judge which ones show promise, and which ones to write off.
Now, this is a bit counter-intuitive to my normal advice when trying to brew a new deck, which is to try and start simple. Just work off of bigger numbers for consistencies sake. I stand by that when innovating new archetypes. I deviate from that quite a bit when I am merely updating an established deck though, because you are well past the streamlining phase, and you know what cards are needed at the deck’s core to keep it relatively consistent.
I know a lot of players scoffed at the idea of running only 1 Thundurus in the deck, and I stood by my decision before of only running one, and now that we get Tornadus EX as a superior opening attacker, running more than 1 of these guys seems very wrong to me. (If you aren’t going to run Tornadus EX, I’m not going to go off on you for running more than 1 Thundurus, but I really feel it isn’t optimal.)
There will be games where you don’t have access to a turn one DCE, so loading him up seems like a perfectly fine back up plan. Plus, it is another non EX attacker to use in exchanges through the course of the game.
Zekrom is the decks first attacker, and really still scales well despite the continued power creep. It’s got such impressive damage output for a hefty non EX basic, that it cannot be ignored. I’m literally sitting here talking myself into wanting to add a 2nd copy back into the deck as I type this.
Luckily for me (and you!) I am going to finish each deck’s section with some “variants” to the given list that I feel are either tested alternatives, or just flat out theory crafting attempts that I haven’t quite gotten around to yet. When working with a new set, I try and flesh out the most realistic updates first, and once those are made, go crazy and try some of the more out there ideas.
Not only will most of those likely fail, meaning you wasted a ton of time without having your solid back up choices already developed, but you can get some VERY skewed results simply because your testing against sub-optimal “stock lists” of the updated archetypes.
Pokemon ParadijsNow, getting to Tornadus, he is still a great attacker, even though he’s slower than Thundurus, weaker than Tornadus EX, and hits for far less than Zekrom. He is a 2nd fighting resistant attacker, he is a turn 2 attacker, and he is a good non EX attacker to set up kills on EXs. He covers a lot of roles as your #2 source of those roles. The best role he provides for me is that of a way to get out of an energy crunch.
If you have issues getting Eels online, or the opponent is killing them, Tornadus is able to put pressure on while also keeping your energy in play and not all invested on your active Pokémon. While in a tight exchange, this can be backbreaking for an opponent. I don’t really want more than one of this guy, but he really does fill a lot of roles. He offers a huge degree of utility for just one card slot.
Onto the Energy, I’ve finally made the concession to go down to 9 Lightning Energy from 10. I don’t LIKE doing it, but the deck had to make room for more cards (Such as 3 Skyarrow Bridge) and the cards have to come from somewhere.
After talking with Adam Garcia about his Regionals winning list and how it ran 9 Lightning, I consider that a testament to it being enough over the course of a long event. I’d rather have 10, but I’ve always been one to try and push the boundaries on energy ( I ran 7 water Energy with Blastoise EX at Worlds 06, for example. ) and while 10 has felt perfect to me in testing, this is fine.
The Trainers went through some major changes as well. We added the 3 Skyarrow Bridge, and upped the Switch count back to 2. I addressed those already, but to summarize, we need to offset the Tynamo choice having a retreat cost while trying to keep the deck as a more aggressive alternative to the old list. These become necessary.
I specified earlier that Tornadus EX was the best Pokémon this deck got from the new set, and I did that on purpose. The best card it got was, in fact, Ultra Ball.
BulbapediaLet me say this right now: Every deck I build runs 4 of this card. I’ve pretty much cut Collector or Dual Ball or whatever card choice for Basic search we had before from my lists and just use this. It also fulfills the Pokémon Communication role and can actually get evolution cards. This isn’t as big of deal in decks like CMT where everything is a Basic, but let’s compare this card to its alternatives.
Pokémon Collector: This card is a Supporter, which is a huge disadvantage. It can’t be used after a draw Supporter, and while I like Collector in decks like Zeels (I had the 2-2 split before) the switch from Pokégear 3.0 to Random Receiver is the nail in the coffin for Collector for me. With Pokégear, we wanted to pad the Supporter count, and the Collectors gained value with it.
Now, we want Random Receiver to just act as a Junk Arm-able draw Supporter (and a card that keeps your hands live while not triggering Portrait for opponents) and nothing sucks worse than needing a new hand and peeling a Collector. I feel like I was one of the last defenders of Collector in decks over Dual Balls, so I don’t think I need to make a huge case for an item card being a superior choice to this Supporter.
Dual Ball: Simply put, yes, I would rather discard 2 cards than have a 25% chance of failing to grab anything at all.
Level Ball: Outside of Durant (the one deck I do not run 4 Ultra Ball in!) this card cannot get everything you want. It can get a lot of the utility Basics, alongside Eelektrik and other low HP Stage 1s, but it can’t get your EXs or big attacking Basics, so it is pretty restrictive.
Heavy Ball: Ok, Heavy Ball is really restrictive, but if you’re just running 4 Terrakion, I guess I just lied in regards to Durant, as it trumps Ultra Ball here too, but I don’t see much of a reason to run that deck. This isn’t even because I feel Terrakion has lost value. It is EXTREMELY well positioned right now. I just feel like you can make a better deck with more options in it then pigeonhole yourself into just using a set of Terrakions.
Pokémon Communication: It doesn’t require you to shuffle a Pokémon into your deck. A lot of decks are only running 12-15 Pokémon, so Communication at a huge count is pretty risky. I still liked it in decks with evolutions as a 1-2 of, but it can’t really replace your Basic searchers. (It was a lot better when decks still ran Collector, but its strength waned as the Collector counts dropped off.)
Pokemon ParadijsAll of the other Pokémon search cards are just so restrictive compared to Ultra Ball. Discarding cards can certainly matter, but you usually do have cards you can afford to pitch. It isn’t often an issue with Junk Arm (although having 4 of each certainly does require you make some judgment calls. The upside is big enough to easily offset it.) and it isn’t with Ultra Ball either.
While on the topic of discarding, a lot of decks currently benefit off of discarding cards! Zeels LOVES to have additional discard outlets to fuel early Dynamotor. Decks with Landorus love having additional copies as well. Darkrai wants to have a T2 Dark Patch. I guess CMT doesn’t want to discard Energy, but I made some adjustments to my list for that as well to help make it a bit easier to deal with too.
Eviolite is still in here as a way to really hose Fighting attackers alongside Resistance, and to be used against decks which do not run Mewtwo EX themselves. A Mewtwo with an Eviolite on it can really get tanked and take a ton of prizes. This is one of the reasons I really love Shaymin in here.
People will look at Mewtwo and their game plan will be “two hit it while they two hit me” because Zeels can’t get it supercharged in time, and they can, worst case scenario, Catcher it up and get a hit on it as you power it. With Shaymin, you just spread your energy around the field and power the Mewtwo into OHKO range without ever exposing it.
While one Eviolite and one Shaymin make this play look really unlikely and hard to compile, it really isn’t as difficult as you’d think. Shaymin is easily searched for, and Eviolite can be Junk Armed back. This play is usually done near the end of the game (and ideally paired with a backbreaking N and/or Catcher) so you have plenty of turns to get to the Eviolite.
The play also works without Eviolite, so it isn’t putting all the eggs in one basket. All the cards involved have their own roles, and just so happen to converge for a really powerful play in a lot of matchups.
Now, let’s look at some of the cards I’d love to see in the deck still, but aren’t currently in my 60.
2nd Zekrom: I addressed this earlier, and it’s just a great all-purpose attacker, and really good against Darkrai. I think I touched on him enough so as to not have to go into great detail for this one.
Zekrom EX: I love this guy more than most people. I like him as just a huge damage output with massive hit points. He can close out a game without really ever being able to be two shot. With Plus Powers, it can break up a Mewtwo exchange. With only a few PlusPowers in the deck, and the number of 130-150 HP Pokémon not being that high, I’m not really sold on it being THAT useful.
In a format where Mewtwo was the only real viable attacker, this card shines, but as we look to a format that may be deviating from that, it may not be as useful. The card is still very strong, and should not be discounted, but I’m not sure that it makes the cut currently. Battle Roads will definitely show us a more defined metagame, and he may earn a spot back in the 60.
The other downside to this guy, and the main reason I feel he can be a bit of a liability, is that we should expect a ton of players trying out Dark based decks. Terrakion is even better because of this, and it conveniently just wrecks this guy. I see a lot of players teching Terrakion even, so I’m not even feeling safe promoting or benching this guy because you never know if you can just get blown out by the card.
2nd Eviolite: Eviolite is so good in some matchups. If we see less and less Mewtwo based decks, this cards value goes WAY up, and I definitely want a second copy. I actually have a sinking suspicion that by the end of Battle Roads that we will have the second one of these main.
2nd Random Receiver: This is another card I like. It’s an additional Supporter, which is really important since you are running 4 N. You want a high Supporter count so you can recover off of N well. I know you don’t always need the best draws off of N because you can sustain yourself with your field, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to chain Supporters.
I don’t really want any other Supporters beyond the 12 I have (*waits for Sage’s Training comments*) and Random Receiver thins the deck, and is also immune to Smeargle, which is huge to me. You can trap players into using Portrait with a small hand because they have to assume you have a Supporter, especially if you bait them by discarding an actual Supporter to Ultra Ball or Junk Arm, as no one would ever pitch a Supporter if they didn’t have a backup one.
Now, let’s look at some of the crazy ideas I have for the deck. (Not SUPER crazy, but they would require some pretty big re-workings.)
4 Skyarrow Bridge, 2 Tornadus EX
Pokemon ParadijsI went into the idea of how a quick Tornadus EX shores up one of the decks few weaknesses. If you run 4 Skyarrow Bridge, you can really optimize the chance of getting this card on turn one. That being said, Skyarrow Bridge is really awful in multiple copies, obviously, but the upside may be worth it. The 2nd Tornadus makes it so you get more openings with it (and it can’t really be prized this way).
The dead cards midgame don’t matter that much though, as you need cards to pitch to Junk Arm and Ultra Ball though. This is a greedy built that I’m really interested in trying. If you do build this approach, there may be some other smaller changes to help augment your aggressiveness. If the build really does put on the offensive display I hope, the deck will definitely need to adjust to maximize this edge.
Terrakion with Fighting/Prism Energy
Terrakion is huge in the format at the moment. It is good against Zeels, and good against the Dark decks, both of which are key matchups. I feel like the list is pretty heavily favored against the Darkrai decks on the play, but definitely an underdog on the draw. (But I feel you have a bigger edge on the play then they do vs. you.) If Regigigas EX sees play in CMT still (I feel like it will not due to Tornadus EX) it helps there. If given the choice, I’d LOVE to play this card, but it is so incredibly difficult to fit this into the deck.
I’ve seen lists that run less Mewtwo and DCE to fit Terrakion. This is probably the only way to fit it, but I’m not sure I want to cut DCE. It makes it so you have to forgo Tornadus EX and Tornadus probably, and I don’t think that’s worth it. If the deck turns out to have major issues with Dark (I’m currently not experiencing them, but let’s be honest, Zeel and CMT lists are far more streamlined then the new decks, so as people test more, the decks may get better and it could change things quite a bit.), then I feel you may be forced to fit this guy.
Rather than cut the DCEs, I’d probably end up being super greedy and try and just squeeze 2-3 Fighting into the deck and maybe an Energy Retrieval.
Ok, this one I actually have a list for, and it is pretty different from the standard Zeels list, but I’m including it in here.
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 30
Energy – 13
Pokemon ParadijsThis is a rough list, but it works fairly well. A few of the things I want to work on is the 10th Lightning Energy, a 4th Tynamo, and maybe replacing Smeargle with Cleffa, as I really am less and less interested in this card without Skyarrow Bridge. The main idea of this deck, which separates it from previous Eel-Zone type decks, is that you do not really use Magnezone as an attacker.
You are primarily a Mewtwo deck. Your goal is to play the Mewtwo war, where you can just overwhelm them, and late game use Magnezone to break up the exchange. Magnezone is very hard to kill at 140 HP so I feel comfortable with only 2 copies with more Magnemites. Magnemites die easily, and Magnezone is pretty hefty. As a result, 2 Magnezone should be fine as a secondary attacker.
Against Darkrai, Magnezone is a pretty good attacker, as you can ideally score some one shots off of it. The deck is pretty raw still, but I think it has some potential. I’m not going to claim that I innovated this idea, as I’m pretty sure it has been discussed before, and I want to give credit to Matt Nawal for exposing me to the idea at League this week.
I don’t own any decks, so I just borrowed a deck off of him and the deck was pretty fun and impressive even though the list was somewhat sketchy. I’ve had about 4 days to put in a bit of work on the list, so it needs a lot of work still too I’m sure. But if you have the overwhelming urge to use your Rare Candies again, this may be a viable choice. (Don’t get too relieved, you’re still pretty much just attacking with Basics.)
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 34
Energy – 14
Pokemon ParadijsWhile I’ve always been a huge fan of Zeels, and it’s my favorite deck in the format at the moment, but I feel that CMT is still an awesome deck as well. I’m not including my previous list because I don’t feel like this is terribly different than a standard CMT list, where as I feel Zeels really evolved.
The simple changes here are the switch to Ultra Ball from Dual Ball, the switch from Pokégear to Random Receiver, and the switch from “Bad Supporters 11-12” to Bianca. More than 2 N is a bit sketchy in this deck, and I don’t really like Cheren or Sage in here either. Bianca actually gains some pretty big ground because Ultra Ball and Junk Arm keep hand sizes really low here. It’s worse than Juniper or PONT, but it’s better than the alternatives.
Next up, we have the inclusion of Terrakion. He’s huge against Darkrai, which I feel the deck needed help against. I liked it before because it helped me deal with Zeels a bit better. Now it has another deck to prey upon, so I’m sold on its inclusion entirely. That being said, you need to run a dangerously low Grass count, and only get 3 Fighting Energy.
The card that really gels that together and one that is a new addition (I run it over Super Rod now) is Energy Retrieval. This helps offset the lower energy count of both types, but also helps to break even with the high amount of discarding done to Junk Arm and Ultra Ball.
It also lets you Juniper away Fighting Energy and get them back for Terrakion. I actually like 2 Energy Retrieval for this, but there are a ton of cards I’d love additional copies of, so I can’t justify squeezing this in yet.
The other card I’d love to add an additional copy of is Eviolite. Same logic as with Zeels, as the card is good against all of the non- CMT/Zeel decks. Unless we can confirm that those decks will make a huge splash in the format, then I can’t justify the 2nd Eviolite over the other cards.
Now, Tornadus EX is a bit of an unusual inclusion into Zeels (well, I’m sure I’m not the only one to try this, but it does require some deck re-working) the card is just a perfect fit into this deck. It’s a great turn one attacker, and even offers a nice, stable attacker to do 100 damage with.
I feel like this deck is a huge powerhouse still, although I feel like it is the least hyped of the “big 3” right now (the other two being Darkrai and Zeels), but with Terrakion having a presence, you have a pretty good game against most of the field. This being said, I think that Durant is pretty much a dead deck now, but Tornadus EX is pretty sweet there.
Durant runs Lost Remover (and I’m sure a few other decks will run a copy or two) so the choice of Fighting over Prism is to help there. Prism rarely does anything but provide Fighting Energy (Grass only matters to use with Forest Breath, which neither Prism nor Fighting do) so I’d rather take the one that avoids Lost Remover, and works with Energy Retrieval.
I used to run only 2 Mewtwo EX, but I also ran Shaymin EX because I liked it against Durant, and felt it was a versatile attacker. I didn’t want to run even more questionable openers, so I trimmed it and added the 3rd Mewtwo. This decision was made because of less of a threat of Durant, but it also was influenced by the replacement of Super Rod with Energy Retrieval.
Without Super Rod, I didn’t want to be stuck with only 2 Mewtwo, or one if I prize one. It also lets you be a bit more aggressive, bringing the total number of aggressive openers up by one.
Ok, now, this is where we run into some interesting issues. The entire set was clearly designed with the intention of making a viable Dark based deck. The two big players, in my eyes (to be fair, they are pretty obvious) are Darkrai EX and Zoroark. Darkrai EX seems to be given the most exposure. The big card that enables the deck to function is Dark Patch, giving the deck some acceleration. If you “live the dream” you can even get a turn one Darkrai EX. Generally, you’ll have to “settle” for a turn 2 one.
Darkrai has some natural advantages to it. First, it does 90 damage and 30 damage to a Benched Pokémon, which is really powerful against Eelektrik and Tynamo. The 30 damage is good at killing Celebi Prime in 2 hits as well. So the card just picks on the popular support Pokémon. To make it even more appealing, it is resistant to Psychic, which is huge against Mewtwo. It systematically attacks the major focal points of the pre-Dark Explorers format.
Pokemon ParadijsThat being said, it isn’t without weakness. Terrakion is just an atrocious card to face. Zekrom is a pretty tough card to beat as well. I addressed both of those in more detail in the Zeels analysis though. The big thing I have found with the card so far is that it really changes in threat level depending on whether you are on the play or on the draw.
If he hits on turn 2 on the play, it is a huge menace. Otherwise, I feel like he is a bit too slow and low in damage output to really keep up with the best decks. The deck is fast, but not as fast as CMT is, and it doesn’t have the power and energy acceleration of Zeels.
There are a few ways to build around Darkrai. I’ve seen the “all in” approach, which is literally just taking a ZPS approach where you try to get a turn one Darkrai attacking. Smeargle uses and Victory Medals are used to try and get two Dark Patches online on the first turn. I put very little faith in this approach, for a few reasons.
The first is, even when you do focus on it, the deck doesn’t reliably pull off this “combo” on the first turn. To make matters worse, since you dedicate so much of your deck to accomplishing this, you have a far weaker mid and late game, and less options overall. That means the games where you don’t get the turn one attack, you are in pretty bad shape.
On the other hand, there will also be some decks that can just still beat you past the “God start”. Terrakion is particularly brutal against you. Having such an easy, splashable, and popular counter as a direct foil to your only real game plan pretty much makes the approach subpar. Here is a list for this approach anyways, but if you do use it, be warned, I told you it wasn’t a good idea.
Pokémon – 8
Trainers – 44
Energy – 8
This deck list is far from “good.” I have gold fished some hands with it to try and optimize the chance of getting a first turn Darkrai EX. Now, this shouldn’t be a “final” build of the deck at all. You’d like to add in cards like Shaymin, which let you cycle between Darkrais. It also works with the fact that has synergy with the Super Scoop Ups, which are really good at helping you milk extra uses of Portrait.
This is just a “streamlined” list aiming to work on the engine of the deck. Whenever you want to push the envelope with consistency and speed, it is more important to try and stick to JUST the engine at first. After that, make trims and add cards which help it compete against decks and situations it needs help with.
Due to the fact that I don’t believe the deck is viable even when it is “optimized” I haven’t bothered to run it against a gauntlet and thus I haven’t really gotten a chance to go through that tweaking phase.
The next two decks I feel are a bit more reasonable. You can pair it with Zoroark, who is a more powerful but restrictive Cincinno. It gives you a potent non EX attacker which allows you to make better exchanges and not be so all in on Darkrai. It forces you to run pretty much all Dark Pokémon. This is a bit of problem where I feel that cards like Smeargle, and Shaymin have a really high level of use in the deck. I really dislike having NO “crutch” Pokémon, but it is a price to pay in exchange for power.
The second approach is to use Weavile as a supporting Pokémon, and to run DCEs and a slew of various attackers to use with them. I said earlier that Darkrai’s Psychic Resistance made it pretty effective against Mewtwo, but I guess I should clarify that. It isn’t so much that it is GOOD against Mewtwo as much as it is capable of going toe to toe with it.
I feel Mewtwo is still a defining card in the format. As a result, with the DCEs in the deck, we can run a single Mewtwo EX yourself in order to deal with other Mewtwos. You also have access to both Tornadus and Tornadus EX. This gives you some good alternate attackers to using the almost all Fighting weak Dark Pokémon.
Zoroark has more raw power to it, but it really is restricted to what it can do, and has no real way to combat its weakness. You can’t splash Tornadus or Mewtwo to give you some variety.
Here is the initial rough sketch of my Darkrai Zoroark list:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 31
Energy – 13
BulbapediaOne of the big issues when attempting to build a deck like this is that you are forced to have a lot of basic Dark Pokémon. You want to get 6 Dark Pokémon in play on turn two almost every game. The deck doesn’t need a 3rd Darkrai EX. You really don’t even need Weavile in this deck. There are plenty of trainers I would still like to be playing. Unfortunately, you are forced to run unnecessary Pokémon just to milk maximum value off of Zoroark’s attack.
I said earlier that I want to run 4 Ultra Ball in every deck besides Durant and straight Terrakion. I guess I’m twice the liar. I only run two in here. This is a bit of a specific example. First, you REALLY want to get a bench full of Dark Pokémon by turn two. As a result, Pokémon Collector is just too good not to run here. You don’t have room for 8 searching cards, especially since Zorua can search use Ascension as a way to make sure you’re able to have a t2 Zoroark.
I think I’d use a 3rd Ultra Ball if we didn’t get the built in Ascension for this deck. The use of Collector has made me switch from Random Receiver back to Pokégear. It could whiff at times, but it has a bit more versatility to it when you have 4 “dead” Supporter mid game.
While on the topic of Zoroark, I’m currently running 1 copy of the Foul Play version as well. I’m not sure that I even want it, as there can’t be a ton of times where it is better to Foul Play than just smack someone for 120, but I want to at least experiment with it. I would not be surprised to learn that it is just worse than the full set of the new one.
The last evolution line is a bit of a toss-up. I’m going with Weavile because Sneasel has free retreat, optimizing the chance of opening with a turn one Zorua for Ascension. I’m also trying to be fast and apply a ton of pressure, so Claw Snag off of Weavile is just extremely synergistic. I want to attack with Zoroark almost every turn, so a tertiary attacker really doesn’t offer much. You need more than the max 8 basics off of just Darkrai and Zorua, so you are forced into a 3rd line.
Therefore, Weavile is really the only one that offers any sort of active advantage without having to attack. Weavile has tested extremely well as well. It can be pretty easy to snag a lone Supporter out of someone’s hand, and cripple their game. When you’re breaking even with exchanges with Zoroark, you can often steal a crucial card to deny them a return KO.
One of the most used plays I was making with the card is to steal N from my opponent the turn before they would use it to disrupt me. Weavile is a great card to both steal games by cutting off an opponent at the knees out of the gate, and a great card to take a crucial card out of their hand to steal a game you had no right to win.
I was actually experimenting with it a bit in CMT going into Regionals as an anti N card, and just a mirror match breaker to disrupt them during exchanges. I never got to log enough games with it to decide if it was the correct call, but in this deck, I’ve been very pleased with what it’s done.
Unlike a lot of Darkrai decks, I only run 3 Dark Patch in this deck. Dark Patch isn’t your turn 2 requirement in this deck. You aren’t aiming to use a 3 energy attack. You are aiming for a turn 2 attack for either two energy, or a DCE. Dark Patch is more of a mid and late game accelerant.
Dark Claw, on the other hand, is awesome in here. It takes Zoroark from dealing 120 damage a turn to 140. The big thing this offers is the ability to deal with Terrakion. Darkrai two hits it, and is just in terrible shape against Terrakion, but Zoroark can actually one shot it for “one” energy. This at least deals with the splash Terrakion issue.
Now, we do run into a few issues I haven’t fleshed out yet. We have 10 total Dark basics in the deck. Only 7 of them are non EXes. Against decks with Terrakion, you are forced to avoid benching Darkrai, meaning you can come up short on viable Pokémon to bench. At most you can go up to a 4th Sneasel, or try and add some Revives or Super Rod. The deck is pretty tight on room, so I’m not sure how to squeeze any of these cards in. 4 Sneasel and 2 Darkrai EX may be superior to the 3/3 split.
The other cards I’m unsure of are PlusPowers and Special Darkness Energy. Right now we cap at 140 damage, but PlusPower allows you to really go up and over the top. If you jam in 4 PlusPower (somehow) and have your 4 Junk Arm, you can realistically one shot EX cards. This is especially true if we ran 4 Special Dark Energy. Since we rely much less on Dark Patch, we don’t really need a full count of basic Dark Energy. Something like a 6/4 split could be awesome. Here is a list of this approach to the deck:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 31
Energy – 13
The next version of the deck is focused more on attacking with Darkrai opposed to Zoroark, with a supporting cast of non-Dark Pokémon. Here is the list:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 34
Energy – 13
Pokemon ParadijsThis deck can reliably get a turn 2 Darkrai, and in the games it likely can’t, you do have access to Mewtwo and Tornadus as a quick attacker. The draw power is pretty standard to all of my lists. The other Trainers are a bit more intriguing.
I run 2 Switch in here, despite Darkrai’s Ability (I still want to call it a Poké-Body! I doubt I’ll ever get used to that change.) because you want to make sure you can get it benched for Dark Patch. It also helps make Smeargle more of a reasonable card.
As for the Pokémon Tools, I opted for 2 Dark claw and 1 Eviolite, although I’d like a 2-2 Split. I like the extra damage a lot, and I also like the ability to tank a Darkrai. Eviolite makes it a lot harder on Mewtwo to attack it, and also makes it so a Darkrai is out of Terrakion range without a Plus Power. N and Weavile allow you to protect this play from the Plus Power by offering good hand disruption.
Energy Search is better than the 9th Dark, and a 2nd copy may just be better than the 9th copy of a basic Dark too. Not only does it thin your deck, but it also gives you an easy Junk Arm target to get energy discarded for Dark Patch. It’s been performing really well so far for me. It was a short cut run in ZPS lists for a while, but it doesn’t have a ton of applications in most decks.
The last card is one that I feel is really, really well positioned: Super Scoop Up. Decks are doing a lot of two hit killing, especially when dealing with EX cards. There is bench damage being spread around. Both of these make Super Scoop Up awesome. If a player ever goes for the “two shot” on an EX, you are basically making them skip an attack.
Even in Mewtwo wars, a lot of times a player transitions to a two shot approach to break it up. You can just blow a player out with a Super Scoop Up (or a Seeker, but it requires a bit more work…but hey, no flip!). You also can bounce a “hanging” benched Pokémon to get rid of Catcher targets that players incorporate into their exchange plans.
Pokemon ParadijsThe fact that literally no one expects these bounce cards that makes them so powerful now. I’m running one copy in here because it is good with Weavile, and Shaymin, and Darkrai after you use a Shaymin to move energy away. I don’t really have a lot of room to fit more, but I’d love to play as many as 3 in here. I would love to build a deck exclusively to try and abuse the card, because I think it is a very exploitive card right now.
Now, these are the main decks I have been testing. I haven’t seen any really impressive decks that I’ve played against outside of these, and I certainly have been “boring” and really stuck to trying to log games using the “big 3” just so I can get a full understanding of them. Once you get that, you can try and build decks to beat them, but I highly doubt there is anything huge that can successfully approach all 3 of these decks.
I do want to address the various cards from Dark Explorers that don’t necessarily have a home yet, but are impressive enough to warrant potential constructed play eventually with some work.
Raikou EX: This card is clearly powerful. Anything that can snipe for 100 damage is great. Unfortunately, the card loses a lot of value because Catcher is in the format. You aren’t giving your deck any “real” edge when Catcher + Zekrom, a non EX, can accomplish the same thing, and are cards your deck is going to run anyways.
I tried the card as a 1 of in Zeels, and it certainly wasn’t BAD, but I didn’t really use it alot, and I certainly haven’t really missed it since cutting it. Catcher is just such a good card that powerful snipe attacks just don’t have the same luster they had in prior formats. The fact it is weak to such a huge role player in Groudon EX doesn’t really help any either.
Groudon EX: The card has some pretty impressive stats on it, but I really haven’t found a good home for it. As a tech card, Terrakion is just better, and it is difficult to really build a deck around abusing Groudon. It may have a role in some sort of “Troll” list (a term I have no idea the origin of, but I certainly don’t like the name.) but it’s still kind of slow. The lack of good acceleration for Fighting Pokémon is low. It has a good weakness and resistance.
BulbapediaThis could end up being quite good, but I just haven’t found the right list for it. I’ll be the first to say I am not particularly well versed in “Troll” style decks, namely because I haven’t been terribly impressed by the decks, either played by me or against me, so I haven’t made a huge push to test the deck. This card is functionally quite powerful, it just needs a home.
Klinklang DEX: Ok, I actually like this guy. If we got Registeel EX this set, I actually feel Klinklang Registeel would have been a very real deck. This card is only good because it is a nice one of alongside the BW Klinklang as an end game “limitless” damage attacker. Fire is a very underplayed type, so metal type Pokémon are decently positioned. Klinklang BLW is awesome with Max Potion, so I’d look to see this card eventually work once we get Registeel out.
Cofagrigus DEX: This is a confusing card, but one with a ton of potential. The card absolutely abuses Mewtwo EX, which alone makes it worth looking at. It has a limitless damage output, which is another huge trait to draws attention to it. There are a lot of Pokémon Tools in the format too, and it attacks for a DCE. I think this guy is a great starting point for a deck, as we’ve seen decks like Dark Slowking and Mismagius in the past work.
The Dark weakness is now an issue, unfortunately. The other downside of this card is that there is a finite amount of damage you can do. With 16 Pokémon Tools, you still can only do 4 attacks of 160 damage, which may work out mathematically with EXs, but does require you to have some sort of backup plan. Luckily, it keys off of DCE, so you have a huge number of options available.
Heatmor DEX: DURANT! :D
Empoleon DEX: Ok, this card just reads great. It’s card advantage, and it’s Jumpluff HS. At the same time. Unfortunately, it is a Stage 2 in a format ruled by overpowered (and pretty well bad for the game) Basics. The other big issue is that it is weak to Lightning, which is an awful type to be weak to. I’m not sure where I would place this card, but it definitely has the raw power and versitility to be a role player.
Jumpluff was hard to keep off doing relevent damage, because at the time, 80 damage (a safe “minimum” damage) mattered a LOT more than 80 damage matters now. Still, drawing 2 cards a turn can be huge. Great card, just maybe not quite the right metagame for it right now.
Scyther DEX: Ok, this guy is just a colorless Grass type attacker. 60 damage with PlusPowers is really good at dealing with ground type Pokémon and is easily splashed, so it may just randomly see play in decks really weak to Terrakion. I could see it getting a bit of tech use in Darkrai decks, but more likely in Zeels.
Now, I want to go off on a slight tangent about the state of the game of Pokémon. I’ve alluded to and joked about how Evolution cards are pretty much unplayable these days, especially Stage 2s. Now, this being said, I’m aware that there are some evolution decks that have done fairly well in Japan recently, such as the Darkrai EX / Hydreigon deck, but we still run into the problem where it seems that at best the evolutions are playing a support role.
Hydreigon just moves Dark Energy around, so it doesn’t need to come out until late, and is almost a “luxury” card to a certain degree. This doesn’t change the fact that most evolution cards will still remain obsolete. Unless they are almost exclusively support cards, they can’t compete with the Basics we have printed.
Due to the fundamental challenges of the design of Evolutions, they have to literally be substantially better than Basics in order to justify devoting large amounts of deck space to the lines, plus having to go through all of the resource and time to get them into play. Otherwise, at strength parity, you just go with the Basics because, well, they are Basics.
Now, the Basic Pokémon (as attackers!) are just so much better than the evolution cards we have now that in order to make worthwhile evolutions, the cards would have to be printed with such absurd strength that I’m not sure the game could realistically handle it. There is no healthy way to scale these cards. The design of the past block of sets has done such irreparable damage to the power creep of the game that I have a pretty bleak outlook for the next year or two of the game.
Sure, we may have a functional format just using basics and very few supporting evolutions (or the elusive evolution that just randomly may be worth playing due to being a direct counter and being a narrow yet clutch metagame call), but the fact that a huge number of cards per set are just restricted out of playability due to prior design imbalance doesn’t make for a healthy game.
Pokemon ParadijsNow, I’ve heard that this is just like the old Haymaker days. Except that it actually isn’t. There is a very big difference. Haymaker games were long and drawn out. The damage vs. hit points ratio was so much different. Pokémon were 3 hitting each other, opposed to one-shotting each other while giving up 2 prizes at a time. Haymaker mirror matches were drawn out games of attrition.
Due to the slow damage output, variance, such as who went first, or slightly superior starts, could be mitigated over time. Currently, games are over so quickly that the opening flip, and a start difference is just so difficult to overcome. I understand that they have tried to “speed up” the game, but it makes for an extremely unhealthy play experience.
The game is already very fickle with its openings, by making things so hyper aggressive they are not doing the game any favors. Rather than making card designs with the intention of making the cards help offset the variance and mechanics flaws of the game, they have done the exact opposite and just printed as many absurdly fast and powerful Basic Pokémon to just show off with a giant bull’s-eye and spotlight the inherent weaknesses of the Pokémon TCG rules.
The other issue is cards like N. We’ve seen these types of cards in the past. Lass from Base Set, Rocket’s Sneak Attack in Team Rocket, and The Rocket’s Trap, Dessert Shaman, Rocket’s Admin, Galactic’s Wager, etc. These other cards, while some were quite balanced, and others imbalanced, had one big thing working for them. Most of the formats were slower. Games lasted many more turns then they do now.
This gives players more turns to draw out of disruption. Even a card like Rocket’s Admin, a literal clone of N, had such a different impact on the format that it was present in. Games were slower, so decks had time to establish an actual board. Now most games literally just come down to KO, return KO, KO, return KO, etc., until the game ends on turn 7.
This gives players little room to develop a board, so not only do games end far quicker after N/Admin gets played, but you lose the extra turns at the start of the game, and the turns it takes for prize counts to get low enough for the card to become crippling. This means the disruption hits with far less developed boards, and puts an even greater emphasis on topdecking.
Pokemon ParadijsAlso, when Rocket’s Admin was legal, we had cards like Pidgeot RG with Quick Search, and Jirachi DX to recover past Admin. For Admin to be really crippling, it required your opponent to go through the additional work of cutting off already established continual draw in play. Now it is just a simple forced topdeck every single game, with no actual set up places required to make it devastating.
All these gimmicks and cards that used to be “good but technically not broken/bad for the game” are being re-introduced to the game where the climate of the format is simply not the same, and the cards are no longer just “good but technically not bad for the game.”
The direction the game is taking is not a good one, and to make it worse, I’m not sure how the damage can be undone. Power creeps are almost impossible to come back from. It’s ok when ALL of the cards in a block jump, that’s one thing, but when they went and gave unbelievable stats to the easiest to abuse type of cards in the game, they really dug a hole I’m not sure how they get out of.
I hope something is done, but none of the currently spoiled sets really have anything to fix the issue. I don’t understand how it is so damn difficult to design sets where Basics, Stage 1s, and Stage 2s are in balance with each other. Throughout most of the history of the game, either Basics or Stage 2s have just been far too powerful compared to the other. After literally 17 years, I am baffled that they haven’t figured out a balance.
That being said, I’m still testing the game, despite taking the opportunity to whine about it. I feel like I’ve taken the best year possible to break from the game, as I do not envy those who have to race to try to get enough CPs to make it into Worlds this year.
Now that I’ve gotten that rant out of the way, I want to know if anyone is interested in me taking a crack at writing about the Professor Cup format this year. If there’s enough interest, I’ll devote the time to go over it, if not, I’ll shy away from it. I do plan on competing in it this summer, and I’m fairly stoked for it. The format seems a bit imbalanced, but it’s something to do other than durdle at Nationals this year.
… and that will conclude this unlocked Underground article.
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