I want to start this article off with a spotlight on a hitherto largely unhyped deck that a select group of talented players did well with at this year’s U.S. Nationals:
- Accelgor DEX/Mew Prime/Chandelure NVI/Vileplume UD
- Getting the most out of your deck
- Deck #1: Zeels
- Deck #2: Darkrai (covering various variants)
- Zeels – Misplays and Misconceptions
- General Misplays
- The end and the beginning
Accelgor DEX/Mew Prime/Chandelure NVI/Vileplume UD
All of the post-Nationals talk of Klinklang’s unexpected win in the Master’s division has eclipsed discussion of this deck, which was even more off-the-radar than Klinklang and did amazingly well in its own right. Our very own John Kettler took the deck to the top 16, losing only once before that to – wouldn’t you know it? – another Accelgor player, Harrison Leven, who emerged from Swiss with a perfect 9-0 record. He also made it to top 16.
On paper, the deck seems like it would fail in this format for a number of reasons, from early-game frailty to the reliance on dual Stage 2s. How did it manage to dominate Swiss and then go so deep into the cut?
Well, I’m sure Kettler plans to talk about the deck (and his Nationals experience with it) in his own upcoming article, so I don’t want to steal his thunder and do an extensive analysis of Accelgor’s matchups or secrets here. Instead, I want to talk about some different ways to approach beating it.
General approach for any non-Vileplume deck
As is always the case when facing a Vileplume deck with one that relies on Items, you should look for any chance you get to either deny Vileplume’s entrance into play, or remove it once it has hit the field.
Rush decks like Speed Darkrai have the best chance to KO Oddish/Gloom early on and cut Vileplume off “at the roots,” so to speak, because they are specifically designed to start dealing big damage on turn 1 more reliably than, say, Zeel, which only occasionally will hit the turn 1 Mewtwo + DCE to apply early pressure.
If you are going first and can KO an Oddish turn 1, you put the Accelgor player into a perilous situation. If he has an Oddish in the Prizes, the game is probably already over. If both of the remaining Oddish (most lists will run 3) are still in the deck, he needs to get them both into play at the same time, and soon, or Catcher will allow each individually-Benched Oddish to be taken out before it can evolve.
Darkrai is great at denying Vileplume for another reason, aside from its turn 1 capabilities: it can KO 2 Oddish at the same time, which not only cuts off Vileplume, but also delays Twins until it is too late. This is a bit harder to do against Accelgor since anything you hit with Night Spear is getting OHKOed, turning Twins on, but it can still be done with the aid of Tornadus EX/Sableye DEX/Terrakion NVI/even Smeargle UD.
The strategy is to simply hit one Oddish with any of those aforementioned attackers (only use Tornadus is there is no Stadium in play, of course) to soften it up. Then, on your next turn, Catcher up a fresh Oddish and hit both it and the one you softened up with Night Spear, taking them both out. If you can pull this off, you have probably won the game.
Of course, you can’t always rely on your opponent to depend on Twins to get Vileplume out. Sometimes, he won’t need it, and then a play like this won’t work. You can try to gauge the likeliness of a “natural” Vileplume drop via Smeargle or by observing things like the absence of a Supporter drop from the opponent (which may mean the hand is dead, or may mean there is dynamite in it such as Rare Candy and Vileplume).
One thing players have a hard time with when facing Vileplume is recognizing when not to go for an Oddish KO. If the opponent has 2 Oddish in play and is certainly holding either a Twins or the pieces for a Vileplume next turn (which, again, you can spy with Smeargle), it makes no sense to take out one of those Oddish and leave the 2nd to freely evolve.
You actually help the opponent out a bit by doing that, by clearing off a valuable Bench space for something like another Litwick or an emergency Shaymin drop later on. (Accelgor is a deck that often likes to work with a big Bench, and it can get clogged early game with stuff like the 2 Oddish, Pichu HS, Litwick BLW Promo BW27, Relicanth CL, Darkrai EX.)
If you know or sense an imminent Vileplume that you can’t stop, target down something else, particularly Litwick/Lampent/Chandelure. You don’t have to worry about Pokémon like Pichu, Relicanth, or even Mew (well, you will “worry” about Mew eventually, but your opponent is going to be running 4 of them, so KOing one isn’t usually game-breaking). In fact, if you’re running Darkrai, you want Pichu on the Bench because you can get a double-KO with Night Spear that way.
The reason you want to set your sights on the Chandelure line in particular is because Chandelure is actually what lets this deck maintain its permanent lock. Without Cursed Shadow, Deck and Cover eventually leads to KOs that come at the end of the Accelgor player’s turn, giving the opponent a chance to attack once before the next lockdown.
If the opponent is given that one turn to attack after each KO, Accelgor easily finds itself in a bad spot since it can’t withstand hits like Vanilluxe and can be forced into a Prize exchange that it can’t win (especially if a few Prizes had to be given up early game, as is usually the case with Accelgor).
Against sound players, you shouldn’t expect to see Litwicks on the Bench before Vileplume, but you might; for example, the opponent is going to Juniper and would rather force the Catcher on Litwick than do your job for you and discard it himself.
N is one of Accelgor’s greatest enemies, which is good news for non-Accelgor players, as N is a staple in almost every deck. You don’t have to do any special teching to deal the deck a potentially harsh blow.
N hurts Accelgor by disrupting the constant flow of DCE + Mew needed to stream Deck and Covers. Accelgor wants to get its deck as low as possible, ideally low to the point of containing nothing but Mew and DCE, but it also wants to keep cards like Sage’s Training, Juniper, and Collector on hand so that it can repeatedly pull out the Mew and/or DCE it needs to attack. When N reduces the hand to 1 or 2 cards, it becomes more likely that Accelgor will whiff on the resources to pull off Deck and Cover.
Not being able to Deck and Cover every turn is of course bad for Accelgor, as it gives the opponent a chance to attack. Against Darkrai, this can be especially bad due to Night Spear’s “reach”; depending on the board state and how many previous snipes there were in the game, a single Darkrai attack could net 2 big Prizes. In other matchups, Chandelure can act as a buffer during turns when a Deck and Cover isn’t possible, but not against Darkrai – Night Spear deals an excessive 180 to it.
Watch what you promote
Chandelure allows the Accelgor player to KO anything either going back into his turn, or during his turn, so it may not seem to matter what you promote after a certain point in the lock. However, this isn’t true. Common 70 HP Pokémon like Smeargle and Sableye are usually bad choices to bring Active because they are naturally KOed by poison going back into the Accelgor player’s turn, with no help from Chandelure, which means that Cursed Shadow is instead going to be used to soften up other things.
When you bring up a 70 HP Pokémon, you’re basically giving your opponent a free Prize and a free Cursed Shadow. When that Pokémon goes down, you are still promoting something else for the opponent to lock.
The exception to avoiding bringing up a 70 HP Pokémon is when you’re trying to get your opponent down to a lower number of Prizes (preferably 1) so you can hit him with a more devastating N. You accept that the 70 HP Pokémon is going to be KOed and that your next Active is going to be locked for a turn, but you are banking on dropping a devastating N and getting out of the lock on your next turn, hopefully for long enough to win the game while the opponent repeatedly whiffs DCE and/or Mew.
The hard counters
The two big “hard counters” to Accelgor (and also Vanilluxe or any other status-effect deck) in the current format are Unown CURE and Espeon DEX. Vanilluxe NXD is another card that lets you escape from any status condition while also giving you board disruption, but it is harder to run (as a Stage 2).
Unown CURE is riskier than Espeon for a few reasons: you can open with it (meaning you get no use out of its Power, plus you’re stuck with a bad Active at the start of the game), and it only bails you out of the lock once. The pros for using it over Espeon are that it only takes up one spot in your deck, and it can be searched out with Collector.
Unown gets a lot stronger with Seeker. That card isn’t common, but it is a staple in the Mismagius/Vileplume deck that has done well at various Nationals around the globe (including a top 16 finish in America).
Espeon is much more devastating than Unown because its effect lasts as long as it remains in play. Accelgor doesn’t even get the +10 from Poison that Unown at least allows. (Deck and Cover hits and inflicts Poison; the Poison at the end of that turn leaves 10 damage, then Unown cures it off.) Eevee is a better opener than Unown, too, with its Call for Family attack and ability to paralyze in a dire situation.
It is also a bit harder to donk due to its lack of a weakness to Mewtwo (meaning X Ball alone isn’t enough to OHKO it). The cons to running Espeon are that it takes up 2 slots in a list, and it isn’t as easy to get into play as Unown, particularly under Item lock.
As good as Unown and Espeon are/can be against Accelgor, some people have the misconception that either card included in a deck means that any status-effect matchup becomes an “autowin”.
Let me start off by saying that both Unown and Espeon are a lot more effective at beating Accelgor if they have the element of surprise behind them. If you can drop an Unown “out of nowhere” and unexpectedly launch an attack midgame, you catch your opponent off guard, and it is unlikely that he has done anything to prepare for it. Espeon is impossible to truly surprise an opponent with since Eevee telegraphs its imminent presence, barring those games where the opponent is just baffled by Eevee and doesn’t have any idea what it leads to.
Still, the Benching of Eevee is itself a surprising move, and even though it does give the opponent at least one turn to prepare for Espeon, that isn’t as good as your opponent knowing you run it from the outset (as he will in a best of 3 game, or if words gets out about your list’s techs).
If the opponent knows about Unown/Espeon, the smart thing to do is prepare 2 Chandelure. This isn’t easy, but it can be arranged if it is made into a goal immediately (so parts of the line aren’t discarded by Sage’s, so Twins fetching is prioritized, etc.).
Having 2 Chandelure in play lets the opponent drop 6 damage counters on the field at least once in the game, which is enough to OHKO Unown and either take out an Espeon that was previously Cursed Shadowed, or set it up for a KO from the next Chandelure usage. With only 1 Chandelure in play, Unown can be saved from a KO with Seeker repeatedly and reused to break the paralysis lock. Espeon is also allowed to sit on the field for an additional turn, shutting off Deck and Cover’s effects for that extra turn and allowing an extra attack to go off for the Espeon player.
A less common and surefire way to deal with Espeon is Lampent NVI. An Accelgor player can take a risk and bring it Active with Luring Light, hoping that the opponent won’t have the energy to immediately retreat it. If he doesn’t, he can OHKO it with Deck and Cover (Mew does 100 to it due to Espeon’s weakness), removing it and its prohibitive Ability from the game. This isn’t a likely scenario though, and can be prevented with a simple energy attachment on the Espeon.
I brought up Slippery Slopes Vanilluxe earlier and I’ll say a bit more about it now. It isn’t popular in this format because Stage 2s aren’t popular, thus there’s no way to slip a 1-0-1 line into most decks, let alone reliably get the tech into play. Vanilluxe/Vileplume/Victini is an exception since it already runs a full Vanilluxe line. Klinklang could run it, but it already has Kyogre EX to aid that matchup, plus it can sometimes use Rainbow Energy to break the lock by KOing an Active with that 10 damage.
However, in the upcoming format, Vanilluxe might be more viable. We are getting several great Stage 2s that are already receiving major hype – mainly Hydreigon and Garchomp – and some others from the past, such as Emboar, may see new life. These decks could all run Vanilluxe if Accelgor/other status lock decks became too prevalent and overpowering; if people actually pair Accelgor with Mew EX and Gothitelle, as has been discussed in some quarters, Vanilluxe becomes even better, as it can potentially break the Magic Room lock as well, unless there is a 2nd Gothitelle in play.
Aside from breaking these locks, Vanilluxe is also great for disruptive purposes in any matchup. A Warp Point option every turn can create a lot of problems for a lot of decks. The ability to switch your Active out at will is also good.
Kyogre EX and Raikou EX are two other good answers to Accelgor, although both of them do run the risk of being locked out of the game due to the lock on other Pokémon never letting them come up and attack.
If Kyogre EX beats the lock, though, it can give Accelgor a quick loss by Dual Splashing two Oddish, or two Litwick. Accelgor should virtually always lose to either of those double-KOs, if not immediately then eventually.
Raikou EX can come out more quickly than Kyogre EX due to the support of Eelektrik, but it unfortunately will always take a Prize – and only one, so no double-KOs here – and undesirably activate Twins. It is better late game, if you ever have a chance to get out of the lock.
If you had the opportunity to set up Vileplume for a Volt Bolt with double Spark/single Outrage earlier when it was still Oddish or Gloom, you can take it out and regain your natural right to use Items. If you manage to buy several turns of freedom from the lock due to the opponent whiffing Mew and/or DCE, you may even be able to 2HKO Darkrai or Chandelure.
The dreaded clock
Another enemy of Accelgor is the clock, particularly in the cut when there is the possibility of a Sudden Death game 3. Let me just issue a disclaimer up front: I am not advocating that you try to illegally stall a player out here when I bring up the issue of time. It is simply a fact that Accelgor has problems occasionally with time due to the fact that it is a set up deck, and thus it almost always has trouble in game 3.
Once the lock does get rolling in a game, that game can devolve into “Deck and Cover. Pass. Cursed Shadow, Deck and Cover. Pass”. But any game that comes down to the wire and eats up a lot of the clock puts the Accelgor player into a dangerous spot.
What should you do with this information? Well, again, don’t try to illegally stall. For one, it’s, uh, illegal, and for two, it’s horrible sportsmanship. On the other hand, legal “stalling,” or doing things like playing a Supporter even though you don’t need any new cards, or taking the time to consider where you attach an Energy even though it doesn’t matter (say you put it on a Smeargle), can be done to eat some time off the clock, but be careful that you don’t slip over into the illegal territory.
Doing something like extensively shuffling your opponent’s deck after every Deck and Cover or Twins in game 2, when you never shuffled his deck at all in game 1, is going to be a red flag to an official, and/or your opponent.
If you win game one, you also should avoid scooping in game 2 even if you think you stand a good chance of losing. That way, you force the game to drag on longer, giving your opponent less time to play game 3. Don’t let game 2 go to time, of course, since you don’t want the start of the finale hinging on a coin flip. (Accelgor is a slower deck, but it can still have sick openings, such as turn 2 Vileplume, or turn 2 Deck and Cover, and both of those are potentially lethal in Sudden Death.)
If time is getting close to being called, then you should scoop so you can go first for sure in the 3rd game. Just don’t give up after 10 minutes of play.
Getting the most out of your deck
Now I want to take 2 decks that a.) are extremely popular/good right now and b.) will remain extremely popular/good going into the upcoming BLW-on format, and analyze some of their “hidden” features. Some of the analysis is naturally going to be based on HGSS-on interactions, but even if you’re officially done with this format, I’ve learned that it is never a bad thing to learn or remind yourself of game history.
Testimonial here: I’ve recently been playing a lot of 2005-06 decks as an exercise and because I love that format, trying to play them as perfectly as possible, and I can say that this time spent with “dead cards” does aid me in the present.
Deck #1: Zeels
The mighty Tynamo
By now, most players have switched from the once-superior 30 HP Tynamo to a split of the NVI with Paralysis/DEX with Spark. Darkrai made that happen. Losing the free retreat is unfortunate, but Zeel does gain two nice options with the other Tynamos that should not be overlooked.
Thunder Wave: Paralysis buys you a turn of immunity, or forces the opponent to hit a Switch or SSU (latter requiring a heads, of course). In a turn-based game like this, even one turn of additional set up, or one turn of halting an opponent’s offense, can be enough to swing a game. You never want to be using Thunder Wave – it isn’t your go-to attack, obviously – but it is always there for those bad situations where a 50/50 chance of a one-turn reprieve is your only shot at remaining in the game.
Note that Thunder Wave also does deal damage. Yes, 10 is a paltry number, but it can either lead to OHKOs later (ie. you Thunder Wave a Terrakion and then Bolt Strike it), or finish off something that was hanging by a thread (ie. you Bolt Strike Terrakion and then finish it off with Thunder Wave). It would seem foolish to use a 40 HP Pokémon to set up a KO or finish off a Pokémon due to the virtual assurance of it being immediately KOed, but sometimes you a.) have no better option or b.) are willing to sacrifice a Tynamo to protect something more valuable that can also be KOed, such as Mewtwo EX or Zekrom.
For example, say you are playing against CMT and go first with Mewtwo and DCE versus Tornadus EPO. You go ahead and hit it for 40, taking the chance that your DCE drop will initiate an immediate Mewtwo response (Dual Ball for Mewtwo, Switch to it, DCE + PlusPower for OHKO, for example). Your opponent doesn’t have the Mewtwo response and ends the turn without attaching to the Active (perhaps he Benched a Celebi and attached to it, anticipating a later Shaymin usage or simply to prepare Celebi for retreating later on).
You can’t finish off the Tornadus just yet, and you have no Catcher to KO Celebi, so you deal another 40 with X Ball. Your opponent Benches a 2nd Tornadus and attaches a DCE to it, and eventually passes.
You suspect that if you leave your Mewtwo Active, your opponent will do something like promote Celebi, drop Mewtwo, drop Shaymin and move over the Benched Tornadus’ DCE, then attach for turn to give it a 3rd energy, retreat and X Ball for the KO and the start of the dreaded Mewtwo war. You don’t want that.
Unfortunately, you don’t have Zekrom available to finish off the Tornadus with Outrage (40+40+40=120), but you do have Tynamo, so you decide to retreat the DCE off of Mewtwo (removing it from easy X Ball OHKO range) and use Thunder Wave with a PlusPower for 40 to get the KO.
Also note that paralysis stops Smeargle from using Portrait, or Celebi from using Forest Breath. This is especially useful at the start of a game, especially when you’re going first with a Tynamo already Active versus either of those two Pokémon. Your opponent might have been able to go off on you with a Portrait copying your Juniper, or used Celebi to charge something for a turn 1 KO, but a heads on Thunder Wave shuts those plans down.
Spark: This is actually an extremely useful attack in certain matchups under the right circumstances. One of them is Vanilluxe. The way that deck wins is not by initiating a permanent lock like Accelgor/Chandelure, but by winning the Prize trade against decks that can’t OHKO Vanilluxe easily (or without great sacrifice, such as using Mewtwo) under Item lock.
Spark puts 2 different Vanilluxe in range for Bolt Strike OHKOs, which is huge. Tech Bellossom UD or Pokémon Center foil this strategy completely, but in the absence of those cards, a single Spark can equalize the Prize trade and/or eventually lead to the opponent running out of Vanilluxe.
Spark also works well with Raikou EX, particularly against Vileplume decks. Barring the generally atypical aggressive start from the opponent, you should be able to get a few Sparks off, targeting Oddish (a great play would be to Catcher one up, PlusPower, and hit it for 20 while putting 10 on a Benched one; then you’d just need one more turn of Spark to set both Oddish in range for Raikou snipes once either becomes Vileplume).
You may not see the rewards to your early Spark plays until way down the road, but that doesn’t matter, as long as you do see that damage add up eventually.
As with the other Tynamo, 10 damage (to 2 things, which is even better) can go a long way in the right situations. You could set up 2 Terrakion for later Bolt Strike OHKOs, for example.
Zekrom, a 130 HP non-EX Basic
This card is straightforward in the sense that it has 2 no-frills, “just damage” attacks and no complex Powers/Abilities/Bodies. How complicated can a card like this be?
Well, it isn’t a complicated card, but it does have more usefulness than some people realize.
Zekrom isn’t an aggressive opener, but it makes up for that with its buffer-like qualities, and the retaliatory threat of Outrage. The opponent should be wary of hitting a Zekrom early on because that damage fuels Outrage, which can lead to the loss of easy Prizes in conjunction with Catcher, or the placement of a big HP dent in whatever hit Zekrom first.
Sometimes your opponent will be better off passing even when he could attack. The decision of whether or not to attack is a strange one to have to make; how often in this game do you benefit from not doing damage?
With 130 HP, Zekrom is virtually donk-proof. It also doesn’t give up 2 Prizes when KOed, so the opponent isn’t as rewarded for targeting Zekrom as he would be for targeting something like Mewtwo EX.
Turn 1 Outrage
A turn 1 Outrage for 20 with DCE is a lot stronger than it seems. I already went over how a lowly Tynamo could actually be invaluable at setting up KOs, and Outrage works in the same way. Just because you aren’t setting up an immediate KO doesn’t mean that the attack is a waste; several turns down the line, that 20 damage easily contributes to a faster KO.
Bolt Strike with Eviolite
Aside from Fighting Pokémon or Mewtwo with 7+ energy on it (or the odd Lost Burning Magnezone), this is the best response to Darkrai that we have at the moment.
Its effectiveness is simple to understand: Darkrai takes 2 turns to KO a Zekrom and only gains one Prize from the effort, whereas Zekrom takes the same 2 turns to KO a Darkrai and gets 2 Prizes for the same effort. Darkrai can get around this sometimes with enough PlusPower/Special Dark/Dark Claw, but often it has to settle for the losing Prize trade.
An Eviolited Zekrom isn’t just good versus Darkrai, either. It’s good versus just about anything, especially EXs, barring Groudon, for the same reason it excels versus Darkrai. Whenever Zeel players talk about their games devolving into Mewtwo wars prematurely or in a “forced” manner (ie. the opponent takes the first KO on Mewtwo with a Mewtwo, seemingly “forcing” the war), I always wonder why Zekrom is abandoned.
You don’t always have to respond to Mewtwo with Mewtwo. Sometimes it is better to use Zekrom, either to set up the Mewtwo for a 2HKO, or to take a Prize on something Benched. The goal with the latter strategy would be to take 2 KOs in this manner before going down, which is of course a superior Prize trade.
The Mewtwo that wasn’t being hit for those two turns can then be KOed by Mewtwo on a subsequent turn, a move which basically says to the opponent “I dare you to KO my 2nd Mewtwo with your 3rd Mewtwo and pray that I don’t have the 3rd.”
Eelektrik can attack?
Yes, it can. Will you use Electric Ball in most games? No, you won’t, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll absolutely never have a good chance to use it. For example, consider that Electric Ball OHKOs a lot of Evolving Basics, especially if you factor in PlusPower. It can finish off Pokémon with 130 HP that have been hit with Thundurus (not such a common Pokémon these days, but it’s still out there in lists) or an X Ball for 80, and it can also provide the finish blow versus Mewtwo/Raikou that have been hit with Bolt Strike.
Sometimes your board will have no attackers available except for Eelektrik, and while you may think you’ve lost in every such scenario already, that isn’t always the case. You could deal 50 with Eel, groan at how lame your lot is, and then topdeck Juniper and get the Mewtwo you need to finish off whatever Electric Ball just softened up. All of a sudden you’re back in the game.
Note that I am NOT advocating trying to actively find a way to attack with Eel at every turn. I’m just pointing out that it is there for those fringe situations.
People have talked about running 1 of these as a tech in Zeels for a while, but it felt more like a novelty, only-good-in-theory sort of idea, something stuck forever in the realm of the hypothetical. No one actually cut a card to run it. Well, except for Kevin Nance.
Eel Sr., as I will refer to it from now on in the interest of easier typing, does a few great things in this metagame and makes a lot of sense as a 1-of addition, now more than ever.
The first big thing it does is give the deck a more organic out to Accelgor than Unown CURE or Espeon. Accelgor can’t arrange a KO on an Eelektrik going into the Accelgor player’s turn, which gives the Zeel player a chance to Evolve out of the paralysis and either attack with Eel Sr. or retreat for another attacker.
Attacking with Eel Sr. is usually going to be the strongest move. Slurp Shakedown may be the single worst attack name in this TCG’s history (we’d need a full-blown contest with entrants including Zzzt from SV Combee and Damagriiigus from NVI Cofagrigus to really decide this), but the attack itself is great against Vileplume decks.
The obvious primary target to drag up is Vileplume itself. Odds are that your opponent will have Darkrai in play (unless you’re facing Vanilluxe), and thus you shouldn’t expect to lock Vileplume Active for a turn of complete immunity. However, against Accelgor, your opponent is usually not going to be able to get Vileplume to the Bench and also attack with Deck and Cover in the same turn.
Retreating Vileplume also doesn’t save it from a KO unless the opponent is able to immediately dispatch the Eel Sr., since Slurp Shakedown can target it again next turn. The 60 damage it deals is exactly enough for the 2HKO.
You don’t have to target Vileplume, though. Sometimes it will be better to go after other Pokémon, such as Mew if it is the only one in play and the opponent has burned all his Collector/just got Ned to nothing, or a heavily damaged EX that the opponent was waiting to Seeker (versus Mismagius).
In non-Vileplume matchups, you will be doing the bulk of your Bench disrupting with Catcher, granted, but Eel Sr. is still a great weapon to have lurking in your deck. It is great with N against heavy retreaters, such as Eelektrik in the mirror. Dealing “only” 60 damage is actually a good thing sometimes when you are looking to create a lock rather than outright KO a Pokémon.
For example, say you’re tied in Prizes in the mirror match – 2 to 2 – and time has been called. You are on turn 2 and you can’t take a Prize, but you know your opponent has the means to take one, and the game, with a loaded Mewtwo that you haven’t been able to counter due to your 3rd Mewtwo being one of those last 2 Prizes. You take a gamble and get Eel Sr. into play and powered up, and you pull off the N + Slurp Shakedown on an energyless Eelektrik. Your opponent draws nothing useful from the N or his topdeck, and passes for the loss as you can take a Prize on that trapped Eel for the win.
Raikou is a great, natural fit in Zeel, in spite of all the indifference it received from the community upon its release. If you’re skeptical, look no further than the fact that Kevin Nance took it all the way to the Finals at U.S. Nationals.
Okay, so that fact alone isn’t enough for me to skip over an analysis of the card and how to use it. The main attraction of Raikou is the “extended reach” that Volt Bolt gives you. So many people erroneously think that Catcher’s presence in the format renders any form of a snipe attack underwhelming; after all, isn’t Catcher + Bolt Strike or Power Blast or X Ball better than a targeted 100 that gets rid of all your energy?
Sometimes it is, and sometimes you shouldn’t be thinking that Catcher and sniping are directly comparable. For one thing, Raikou’s greatest utility is versus Vileplume decks, which forbid you from using Catcher. For another, Catcher isn’t a Basic energy – you’re only getting 4 of them max in your deck, along with 4 Junk Arm.
8 outs to Catcher is a lot, and enough to take you through a game, but why stop at 8 outs to Bench damaging? Raikou is like a 9th out, and Dual Ball/Ultra Ball act as additional outs because they can fetch it for you on demand. If you have to force the Catcher comparison, think of Raikou as a searchable Catcher.
Catcher and Raikou work very well together, too. It’s a whole lot like Luxray GL LV.X and Garchomp C LV.X from the recent past – Bright Look something that can’t immediately retreat, and Dragon Rush whatever you want while your opponent is stuck finding a way to get his Active back to the Bench. Replace Bright Look with Catcher, and Dragon Rush with Volt Bolt, and it’s exactly the same strategy.
Throw N into the mix as well at the end of a game where your opponent has taken 4-5 Prizes, and you can give yourself the time to get multiple Volt Bolts off without taking any damage.
The discarding required of Volt Bolt seems universally bad, but think about Mewtwo for a second, and suddenly there is an upside to stripping away 60 damage from X Ball.
This card conveniently partners well with Raikou – you lose all your energy after you attack anyway, so you’re free to play this for no additional cost, and negate whatever damage your opponent just did. You force him to score OHKOs or go home, basically.
Any other Pokémon can benefit from this card, too, without there being much of a penalty for the discard due to Eelektrik. For example, you can tank Mewtwo against decks that don’t have an answer to it.
Max Potion is also great for healing off Eels that have been harassed by Night Spear, foiling any double-KO plans that your opponent had and preserving your crucial Support Pokémon.
Deck #2: Darkrai (covering various variants)
The Nightmare Incarnate himself
If Night Spear didn’t deal Bench damage, Darkrai wouldn’t be the all-star that he is. Just having the ability to hit the Bench isn’t going to win you games automatically though; you have to know what to hit each time you use the attack, and this isn’t always going to be an easy decision to make game after game, matchup after matchup.
I want to take a look here at how Night Spear’s Bench damage contributes to the KO of various Supporting or Evolving Pokémon.
The number on the right side represents the number of attacks needed to get a KO from nothing but accumulated Bench damage. (The Pokémon is assumed to be at max HP prior to the first Night Spear, and it is also assumed that Eviolite is not on these Pokémon.)
Tynamo (40 HP)=2
You may see Pokémon like Ralts or Tepig and wonder why I bothered listing them, as they aren’t current forces in the metagame. I listed them because a.) part of their lack of presence is due to the terrorizing of Night Spear and b.) they may become more prevalent down the line in BLW-on.
The goal of any Darkrai player is to get as many double-KOs throughout the game as possible. Darkrai loves seeing low-HP Basics, especially those it can OHKO, such as babies and Solosis (as rare as those are – and again, Night Spear is a big part of their near-extinction). Instead of Catchering up everything with 90 or less HP for easy Prizes like most other Big Basic decks do, Darkrai has the option to go ahead and set up 2HKOs on the opponent’s attacker while putting 30 on an Evolving Basic, setting it up for a 2HKO as well.
The opponent is under immediate pressure to evolve; failure to either do that, or somehow remove the Darkrai/disable it, means he risks falling into the dreaded double-KO hole next turn.
With Catcher, Night Spear becomes even more of a menace to set-up decks. It allows Darkrai to take down one Tynamo while putting another one in the pressure zone, for example. Repeated use of Catcher in this manner can deny the opponent all of his Evolutions in a matter of only a few turns.
Night Spear’s Bench damage is great against big attackers, too. Hitting any EX twice on the Bench and once Active with a Dark Claw and a Special Dark/PlusPower nets a KO; hitting any EX 3 times on the Bench and once Active with no damage modifies nets a KO; hitting most non-EXs once on the Bench and once Active with a single damage modifier nets a KO (and sometimes you don’t even need the modifier, such as versus Tornadus or Thundurus).
Still, it is a great Ability to have even when your strategy doesn’t hinge upon it. Free retreat allows not only for greater fluidity throughout the game, but it allows you to conserve energy on your field so that you can make powerful Shaymin/Energy Switch moves later on. Sometimes that 1 extra energy that remained on the Smeargle you opened with, and which is now being moved over to a hungry Mewtwo by Shaymin/Energy Switch, is all you need to score a crucial KO.
The ability to retreat a fully-energized, damaged Darkrai to another one without losing energy, and then Shaymin those energy over to the fresh Active, is another example of how good Dark Cloak is.
Dark Cloak also makes it much easier to achieve the dreaded turn 1 Night Spear if you open with a 2+ retreater, such as Darkrai itself, than it would be if you had to pay the card’s printed retreat cost. In that case, you could never get turn 1 Night Spear without the aid of Switch or SSU (DCE and 3 Dark Patch, which means 3 discarded Darks, is a bit farfetched, especially without the aid of Smeargle); in fact, you’d very rarely get it by turn 2 either.
With Dark Cloak, everything in your deck is “okay” to open with, even something like Terrakion that would make a Zeel or CMT player cry to see sitting solo in an opening hand. (You almost always want to open Smeargle, but you don’t suffer tremendously from any opener with Dark Cloak bailing you out.)
Speaking of Terrakion, it becomes a viable partner for Darkrai due to Dark Cloak. You don’t just fear opening with it when you decide to run it in a deck – you fear Benching it due to Catcher and its unpayable 4-retreat. One of the reasons I dislike the recent phenomenon of including Terrakion in decks like CMT and Zeels is due to the retreating issue. People will argue that Switch or SSU take care of it, but they only do that when you draw into them exactly when you need them (and when you get heads, too, in SSU’s case).
Darkrai doesn’t have to worry about having Terrakion stranded Active, completely throwing off the tempo of the game. That makes it harder for decks to prevent being hit with Retaliate; if a player can’t stick an unprepared Terrakion Active and 2HKO it before it does anything back, he usually either has to use 2 Catchers just to take one KO, or leave the Terrakion alone.
I like Dark Claw as a 61st card in any Darkrai list, and sometimes it should make the cut. However, right now I think that Eviolite is the better Tool to equip Darkrai with, and thus you should be running higher counts of it than Dark Claw (whether that means 3 Eviolite and no Claw, 2 Eviolite and 1 Claw, etc.).
The reason Eviolite is so good is primarily because of the rampancy of Terrakion and other Darkrai. Without Eviolite, Terrakion always OHKOs you whenever it attacks with a full Retaliate or Land Crush, and an opposing Darkrai always gets a 2HKO with Night Spear. WITH Eviolite, you force the PlusPower to come down for Terrakion to take you out, and you turn a 2HKO from other Darkrais into a 3HKO (barring damage modifiers).
Surviving that extra turn is huge, especially in builds that run SSU or Max Potion. The last thing your opponent wants to see is you retreat a Darkrai with 160 on it from an Eviolite-reduced Retaliate, Shaymin the energy over to Mewtwo, and then Max Potion all that damage away.
Eviolite is also good against other Darkrai for Bench protection. It can keep your Terrakion safe from Catcher plays that would otherwise allow Night Spear to KO it even when it goes back to the Bench, and it can prevent Darkrai or Mewtwo from being put into OHKO range.
Although I value Eviolite higher than Dark Claw, I do like the latter as a 1-of option that cuts through opposing Eviolited Pokémon and gives you more ways to pile damage on the board with Darkrai. Dark Claw is especially useful against Terrakion, as it doesn’t allow Benching the Terrakion to save it from a KO (110 + 30=140). If you’re only doing the base 90, Terrakion lives by 10 HP on the Bench, and you don’t want that.
In Hammer variants, Sableye is the backbone of the deck, but in other versions, it can be a great 1-of utility card.
If you open with it, you can compensate for lack of a turn 1 Night Spear by instead setting up a strong second turn via the reuse of cards like Dual Ball, Dark Patch, Catcher, and Random Receiver. In the midgame, it can act as an expendable buffer that also retrieves something valuable that will allow for a great solidifying play, or even a miraculous comeback. (By “expendable buffer,” I mean a Pokémon that doesn’t matter if it is KOed, since your opponent still has to KO 3 EXs to win.)
In the late game, the card can really shine with N and Catcher to buy you time to get multiple Junk Hunts off. You can pick up cards like Max Potion or SSU that save you from losing, you can go for Catcher to steal your final Prize, you can get a couple of Dark Patch to power up your last Darkrai – the options are limitless. You can even get into bizarre situations where you lock your opponent out of attacking, for example by targeting an Eel with Catcher when your opponent is out of DCE, Switch, and Junk Arm in the deck, and there is no Bench spot for Shaymin to move any energy over to it.
You can deck your opponent out sometimes in this manner, or just win on time if you’re ahead in Prizes. Junk Hunt is actually a great anti-decking mechanism, too, if you can put your opponent into a position like I described with Eel and use it many times, then return all those cards to the deck with an N or a PONT.
I remember writing about Confuse Ray’s unsung potential back in a prior article, and so I’ll just reiterate: Confusion can win games, and so can 10 (or more, depending on damage modifiers) damage. You can even combine the kind of plays I went over with Junk Hunt with Confuse Ray – use that attack first to hopefully keep Sableye immune for a while, then Junk Hunt.
Sableye is also good to have on the Bench because it can be targeted with Dark Patch. Yes, you’d usually want to be using that to power up Darkrai, but sometimes you don’t, such as when you’re staring down a Fighting deck and need to rely on Mewtwo. In that scenario, you could Dark Patch numerous times onto Sableye and then Shaymin the energy onto Mewtwo. You may also want to power Darkrai, but not have one in play. In that case, you can do the same thing as with Mewtwo and Sableye, just replacing one EX for the other.
Not a lot of lists were running heavy Mewtwo lines at Nationals, but the Darkrai variant that got the furthest – Jay Hornung’s – was. I think going with 3 Mewtwo and bypassing Tornadus EX or Terrakion was smart, and Jay’s results validate that.
Mewtwo is a monster in this portion of our format just as it was during States and Regionals. It isn’t as dominant, and every game doesn’t come down to Mewtwo versus Mewtwo anymore, but it still has the ability to deal more damage than anything in the game, aside from Magnezone Prime. Darkrai doesn’t seem to be a great partner for Mewtwo – it doesn’t seem like a bad one, either, just not great – until you consider the combination of Shaymin, Dark Cloak, and Dark Patch.
Throw all that together and you can have a Mewtwo coming up with a lot of energy on it at any point in the game to deal with threats like Terrakion and other Mewtwo that can give Darkrai a bad time. It also provides an answer to tank decks like Klinklang. No longer can any opponent expect to keep a single Pokémon alive forever, regardless of its HP or Eviolite or Max Potion. With 3 Mewtwo, you can win the Mewtwo war if it comes down to that, too.
Zeels – Misplays and Misconceptions
For this next bit, I want to first dissect Zeels again, this time looking at various things that players do wrong with the deck, either in-game or in the deck building stage. I am only going over one deck like this due to the fact that I don’t want this article ballooning into a novel. Any time in the future that I am given the opportunity to write again for UG, I’d like to repeat this with a different deck, or set of decks.
After I finish talking about Zeels, I’ll address some general misplays and misconceptions that frequently plague people.
The point of this section isn’t to make you feel bad if you are “guilty” of some of these misplays or misconceptions. We all make errors. I’ve certainly made my fair share this season alone. The idea is that by addressing some of these issues, you’ll either correct them or avoid them.
As I said earlier, I don’t buy into the notion that a Mewtwo war is unavoidable just because one player KOs a Mewtwo (or whatever else) first with his own Mewtwo. I also think that going aggro Mewtwo early in a game is usually a bad play, unless you are confident that the opponent isn’t running Mewtwo or something else capable of OHKOing you (like Poltergeist Mismagius, for example).
Zekrom with Eviolite is one of the best non-EX attackers available. It is so good that it feels like an EX even though it isn’t. One of Zeel’s big pros is that it doesn’t rely on EXs for the bulk of its offense, which often puts EX-based decks into bad Prize-trading scenarios. If you are using Zekrom as a secondary attacker in more games than not, though, you’re missing out on this huge perk.
2. Not running enough Zekrom.
This goes along with the first point. I don’t like 1. 2 is the most balanced number, and 3 is a nice option too. You want to attack with Zekrom as much as possible, and you can’t get too many Bolt Strikes off with just one copy in your deck.
3. Misusing/overusing EXs.
The three EXs you would be running in Zeel are Mewtwo, Tornadus and/or Raikou. None of them need to be on the field at all times. Mewtwo is a powerhouse, no doubt, and I don’t mean to make you doubt every time you want to get it into play with my “Zekrom over Mewtwo” bit. It is going to be a huge force in a lot of your games. Just don’t play it carelessly, or use it when you would be better off with Zekrom, Thundurus, Tornadus EPO, Terrakion, etc..
In certain matchups or scenarios, Benching it before you’re ready to attack with it is suicide; we learned this immediately back at States, but sometimes players forget it. Attaching energy to Mewtwo before you attack with it is even more potentially dangerous. Sometimes if you open Mewtwo and DCE, you actually want to abstain from attaching that energy because dealing 40/60/80 on your first turn is not at all worth giving up 2 Prizes to your opponent’s immediate Mewtwo + PlusPower response.
Tornadus EX is an underwhelming card in general for a few reasons, primarily because Power Blast does less damage than Bolt Strike while potentially discarding energy. Yes, it is easier to power Tornadus up due to its DCE compatibility, but its an EX, so you’re trading a bit of speed for an additional Prize when KOed, and you’re not dealing as much damage as Zekrom either.
The potential discard is especially bad against any deck with Crushing Hammer or Lost Remover because you can go from having 3 energy to 0 in a turn. Tornadus’ weakness also turns it into a big liability in the mirror match, so much so that starting the game with it usually means a loss (barring a lucky Tynamo or Smeargle donk, of course).
In spite of its drawbacks, people run Tornadus for a few good reasons. It does boast the highly desirable Fighting resistance, which coupled with Eviolite turns Tornadus into a tank versus Terrakion and its friends. Max Potion builds make it nearly impossible for a Fighting Pokémon to ever score a KO. The donk potential of Blow Through is enticing in builds that run Skyarrow Bridge, and for that matter the ability to do turn 1 60, even without donking, is highly attractive.
100 for CCC is also far from bad, even if it does ultimately pale in comparison to Bolt Strike; the one advantage Power Blast does have over that attack is that it is a lot easier to pull off on turn 2.
If you run Tornadus, I’d say go with only 1 copy, and like Mewtwo, use it with discretion. It is safer to Bench and energize “prematurely”, but it still shouldn’t be sitting there for turns on end before you use it. That often will lead to Catcher giving your opponent the first blow on your EX, and you never want that. Also be prepared to get tails on Power Blast. Don’t put yourself into a position where a tails is going to really hurt you.
By now you know I love Raikou. As good as I feel the card is, it needs to be used correctly. There are exceptions to this, but generally, you’ll want to save Raikou for the late game, where it can pull off the aforementioned Catcher + N combo, and/or act as a cleaner that steals easy Prizes off of Benched Smeargle/Shaymin/Eel/Celebi/etc.. Early on, you do want to be relying on Catcher and Zekrom/Mewtwo/etc. for offense.
[One of the exceptions to this would be in a build with 2 Raikou and several Max Potion and Skyarrow Bridge. That approach would be using Raikou a lot more from the outset because its use is directly facilitated by the list.]
Before you commit to making a play with Raikou, you obviously need to have some Eelektrik in play, as well as a Switch or Skyarrow Bridge. Otherwise you’re going to be hurt by the discarding. One of the reasons you don’t want to go aggro-Raikou is that it opens you up to being crippled by Eel KOs. Late game, you hope to thwart Catchers on your Eel via N, but early game, your opponent is going to have plenty of opportunity to find Catchers and cut off your vital Raikou support.
Against Fighting decks, you’ll usually want to skip Raikou, or use it sparingly (ie. when you’re desperate, or when it will win you the game). Do remember that against Terrakion, you don’t have to take a Prize with Volt Bolt (assuming your opponent has something in play with more than 100 HP left), so you can play around Retaliate a bit by setting things up for KOs rather than actually taking KOs.
4. Benching Terrakion at the wrong times.
[This obviously doesn’t apply to non-Terrakion builds.]
First of all, I don’t like Terrakion in Zeel, and never have or likely will. I know its pros (great against Darkrai and mirror), but I think its cons (inconsistency with energy/being able to actually attack with it when needed, bad starter, Catcher target) outweigh them, plus I am not one of those people who believes Darkrai manhandles the “classic” Zeel.
That being said, I can’t dismiss Terrakion in this deck just because I personally don’t like it. If you’re going to run it, be careful when you Bench it. If you aren’t setting up a Retaliate or Land Crush (via help from Shaymin) this turn or next turn, you should probably reconsider playing it down.
Why? Because its presence on the board begs for a Catcher, especially against the decks you’re going to be using it to beat. Your Darkrai opponent is going to jump at the chance to bring up a Terrakion that can’t OHKO it yet, and get the first strike.
If you don’t have a Switch, you might well lose that Terrakion for no good reason just because you can’t bail it out of the Active spot. You don’t have Darkrai here to grant it free retreat with a single energy drop, and you’re never going to pay 4 energy to move it.
You also eliminate the surprise element that makes Retaliate such a strong attack in the deck (again, I dislike Terrakion here, but I’d be a fool to deny its strengths). Sure, your opponent is going to know you run it if you’ve shown him any Fighting energy so far in the game, or if word has gotten around about your list, or if it’s game 2 or 3 of a top cut match, but what if none of those things applies? You have the opportunity to catch your opponent off guard.
Due to Eelektrik, you can Bench a Terrakion and Retaliate in that same turn with ease (as long as you have the Fighting energy, mind you, and that isn’t always going to come with ease – one of the big reasons I dislike Terrakion here).Yes, N can prevent this, but early on, your opponent is more likely to Juniper or PONT, and if he doesn’t even know you have Terrakion yet, he isn’t going to be aiming to knock it out of your hand. (And how would he know you had it in hand anyway? Well, Smeargle would reveal it, but then that would change this whole equation.)
5. Mismanagement of Tynamo.
I addressed this earlier – don’t Bench one Tynamo at a time against an aggressive deck. Also, sometimes it’s smarter to abstain from playing any Tynamo down at all until you have an attacker ready. That way, your opponent has to choose between responding to a live threat or taking out a Tynamo. That decision tends to be the former, and your Tynamo lives on.
6. Dynamotoring just to Dynamotor.
Sometimes, even if you can Dynamotor, you shouldn’t. For example, say you have 2 Prizes left and your Bench consists of 2 Eel, 1 Smeargle with an energy, and a Zekrom with 1 energy, and your Active is a Zekrom with 3 energy and an Eviolite with no damage. Your plan is to Bolt Strike a Mewtwo this turn and then finish it off next turn with Raikou (you anticipate that your opponent will retreat because leaving Mewtwo Active would be suicide).
The problem is, you don’t have Raikou in play. However, you know that it is in your deck, as well as a Dual Ball and an Ultra Ball, and you have a Juniper that you can play next turn. You are all out of Junk Arm and Catcher, which is why Raikou is your go-to Pokémon. Your discard pile only has 2 Lightning energy in it.
Some players would automatically put those 2 energy on the Benched Zekrom with 1 energy already attached. If you did that, though, you’d be unable to power up Raikou for the win on your turn, unless one of your energized Pokémon got KOed. Instead of needlessly attaching the energy to Zekrom, you should leave them discarded so that they can be attached to your game-ender next turn, if you do draw into it.
7. Running DCE, Fighting, and Lightning with Terrakion.
Unfortunately, one of the cons of running Terrakion is that you can’t afford to be playing DCE as well – at least not 3 or 4. 1 or even 2 might be nice for retreating Eels or powering Mewtwo, but you’ll be hurting your consistency a great deal if you try to run a high count of DCE instead of more Lightning or Fighting. (Something like 9 Lightning and 5 Fighting is standard.) DCE is a luxury card in these builds, not an auto-inclusion as it is in classic Zeel.
1. Performing game actions prematurely.
It is your turn, and you’re playing Zeel. You draw your card, Bench a Zekrom, use Dynamotor on it, and then use PONT. Seems fine, right? The problem is in the order of operations. Dynamotor can be used whenever you want during your turn, so why would you want to use it before you use PONT?
You may get something from those new 6 cards that changes your mind about Dynamotoring to the Zekrom – for example, maybe you draw a Mewtwo and another Lightning, and now you have the means to use X Ball. You should not perform a flexible game action before you have seen all of your options within a single turn.
Of course this doesn’t mean that you should never use Dynamotor before you use PONT. Sometimes you have to Dynamotor at a specific time within a turn – for example, if you are planning on using Switch, and need to get energy on your switch-in Pokémon. If you used Switch before you Dynamotored, you couldn’t energize that Pokémon.
Retreating is another thing that you can often delay until the end of a turn, and thus you usually shouldn’t retreat right after drawing your card, or before you drop a Juniper. Retreating is permanent once you choose to do it, and you only get one chance per turn, so why needlessly set your Active in stone before you have played the rest of your turn out? That Juniper might open up a different play for you than you expected.
If you already retreated before you played Juniper, though, you’re stuck (barring bail-outs like Switch, etc., but even if you do hit one of those cards, why are you forcing yourself to waste resources solely due to reckless play?)
2. Failing to prepare for N.
All throughout the game, you should be preparing for your opponent’s N(s). You know almost everyone is running it, and you know it can be devastating, so don’t fail to defend yourself from it as much as possible.
By this I mean conserve as many draw Supporters as you can, ditch useless cards whenever you have the chance (play Dual Balls even if you have no need to search out a Basic for the rest of the game, Junk Arm away additional copies of Skyarrow Bridges when you have one locked in play already, etc.), Bench Smeargle and/or Sableye, and don’t waste Random Receivers (using one at some point in the game, even if you don’t need it, is a great play because it turns Junk Arm into a Supporter, essentially, but you usually don’t want to burn a 2nd/3rd/4th Receiver just to thin your hand/deck out).
3. Misplaying with your own N.
Sometimes you need to use N early or midgame when it isn’t at its most disruptive. If you have a choice – for example, your hand has a PONT and an N in it – then conserve the N. Generally, the more N you have left in your deck at the end of a game, the better – your odds of drawing it are increased, and you have the means to use N multiple times if one doesn’t stick.
That said, there are times when you do want to get rid of N instead of save it, and you need to recognize them. Usually, if you’re ahead in Prizes by 2+, your opponent is probably going to benefit from your own N more than you, either through you playing it or him getting to use it via Smeargle.
Using Random Receiver after you have been hit by a 1-2 card N and hitting one of your own copies of N is also terrible. When you find yourself in a strong winning position, you should probably get rid of N via Junk Arm and Ultra Ball so that a.) Smeargle doesn’t get it for your opponent and b.) you don’t put them back into your deck to redraw with Random Receiver (or just naturally).
4. Benching Evolving Basics one at a time.
By now, it is common knowledge that Benching only one Oddish is suicide for a Vileplume player. The same principle carries over to any set-up deck, but for some reason people seem to know about this as it pertains to Oddish but then neglect to follow it when playing a deck like Zeels.
If you only have one Tynamo available to get into play early on and your opponent is playing a deck with the means to easily Catcher or snipe it, odds are you shouldn’t play it. You will not be able to get any Eel out on your next turn, and your opponent will get an easy Prize. In this scenario, you should thus be patient and wait until you have the means to Bench 2 or 3 Tynamo before you Bench any.
Of course this doesn’t mean that you Juniper or PONT or N every lonely Tynamo away on your first turn. I’m talking about situations such as when you’re against CMT and there is a NVI Virizion Active ready to use Leaf Wallop next turn, and your board is Smeargle and Zekrom, and you already played a Supporter, and you have the means to Bench one Tynamo this turn. If you Bench it, expect it to get KOed. If you don’t, you force your opponent to either waste an attack on Smeargle, or Catcher Zekrom and set it up to Outrage for at least 60.
5. Wasting Junk Arm.
This has been written about a lot before, so I’ll just reiterate: Junk Arm is a game-winning card, and you don’t want to squander it. Sometimes you’ll have to make agonizing plays like Junipering away a hand with one in it, or Ultra Balling for something essential and discarding a Junk Arm to pay its cost, or maybe even Junk Arming away a Junk Arm, but you can’t help those situations.
When you do have control, which is most of the time, don’t Junk Arm unless you have a compelling reason to do so.
6. Trying too hard to play around an opponent.
Smeargle is the main culprit responsible for inspiring players to misplay just by its mere presence on an opponent’s field. In the recent past, we had cards like SF Gengar and SW Gardevoir playing mind games.
The central misplay here is to get rid of your Supporters solely to prevent Portrait from copying them. If you Ultra Ball away 2 Juniper and leave yourself with no Supporter to block Smeargle, you’re crippling yourself to only potentially hurt the opponent. You might not even affect him at all, as he may not have been planning to use Smeargle any time soon!
Sometimes it is smart to strip your hand of Supporters to foil Smeargle, such as when you’re in a dominating position and you know your opponent has a completely unplayable hand, but a Smeargle on the Bench. When you ditch your Junipers in this situation, you move from “obvious misplay” into the complicated realm of “risky but intelligent play.”
The risk is that your opponent topdecks a Supporter/Random Receiver or some other out and gets back into the game, while you sit there with no Supporter and lose your ability to advance your board, also losing your grip on the game in the process. The reward is a big one if your opponent doesn’t topdeck, though: the continued inability of the opponent to do anything with his hand, which should secure you the win.
7. Overzealous use of Smeargle.
Don’t think that you must use Portrait every turn of the game. Smeargle can backfire on you in several ways – you might hit a Seeker and be forced to return an energized Pokémon to your hand against your will (for an example of this, watch game 2 of the top 16 match between Dylan Bryan and Tom Dolezal, available at The Top Cut; Tom Portraits into a Seeker when he only has 1 Benched Pokémon, around the 40 minute mark), or you might hit an N that cripples you, or you might hit a Juniper when you were holding 5 good cards that you hate to see gone.
You also don’t want to break your back trying to get Smeargle in a position to use Portrait (ie. in the Active spot). For example, if you have to use up an energy attachment for the turn as well as a Junk Arm for a Switch just to do a “luxury” Portrait (a Portrait that you don’t need), you’re misplaying.
Unless you’re desperate, or intentionally gunning for something like turn 1 Darkrai, don’t use Portrait unless you’re able to deal with the possible negative consequences.
8. Overzealous use of resources.
Just because you have a card in your hand, such as Catcher, doesn’t mean you should play it. This is incredibly basic, and very much a matter of common sense, but players still struggle with NOT playing cards sometimes. I’m not talking about completely wasting cards either, such as Catchering a Pokémon with free retreat that you don’t even plan on attacking, but using cards in a way that isn’t necessary or that has minimal reward.
Just because you can Junk Arm things back from the trash heap later on doesn’t mean you should casually Juniper away a hand full of Items just so you discard Darkness energies to hopefully be Dark Patched this turn, when a PONT was sitting there in your hand as well.
Using Juniper recklessly is the main way players plow through their resources. In addition to depriving themselves of more options and tools throughout the game by playing in this manner, these players run a greater risk of decking out than the conservative, careful player. Speed Darkrai is a prime example of the kind of deck that makes it all too easy for a player to run out of cards with 1 or 2 Prizes left.
Some people feel compelled to play a Supporter every single turn, regardless of whether or not it is worthwhile. If you have a good hand, why use PONT? Sit on that Supporter until you need it. If you have 2 Prizes left and you’re holding a Juniper with one other card in your hand, but don’t need any cards this turn to advance the win, consider holding the Juniper. Your opponent will hesitate to N a 2-card hand away only to give you 2 new cards; your opponent also shouldn’t have any idea one of those 2 cards is a Juniper (he would expect you to have played it if you had it).
This format is hard to tech in anyway due to lack of consistent draw or search options like Pidgeot FRLG, Uxie LA, or Claydol GE. Overteching, or trying to tech for too many matchups, or too extensively for any one matchup, won’t even necessarily work in your favor for those matchups, and against other decks, it will often hurt your consistency to a debilitating degree.
For example, imagine a Zeels list that runs Terrakion (for Darkrai!), and Espeon (for status lock!), and Eelektross (for Item lock in general!), and 1-1-1 Leavanny NVI (no weakness to opposing Terrakion or Mewtwo!), and 3 Lost Remover (for Klinklang!). This may be an over-the-top example, but there are players who end up constructing lists like this for all kinds of decks.
The end result is that those decks can’t even do what they are intended to do because they have sacrificed all of their consistency for a parade of unnecessary techs.
If you’re going to tech at all, narrow your targets and your counters way down. Focus on correcting a particularly bad matchup, not every single matchup you could face, or focus on gaining an edge over a specific popular deck (or decks).
The end and the beginning
Like most of you, I’m very excited for the rotation and subsequent new season. Having Regionals in October now means that Dragons Exalted is going to be even more scrutinized than it would have been if all we had were Battle Roads, and everyone is going to have to get a grasp of the fresh format even more quickly than normal. I think that puts 6P in a good position, as there will be tons of demand for information on decks, playtesting, results, and so on.
You may be a bit apathetic right now about Pokémon in general due to the weird limbo feeling that people experience after Nationals and before the start of a new season, but hang in there – I think a great new era for the TCG is on its way, and you’re in good hands with the UG.
I hope you found something of use in this article. Let me know if you have any questions or comments in the Hideout, as usual. I’ll be around.
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