Don’t Have a Tempo Tantrum! (An Intro to “Tempo” in the Pokémon TCG)

ash ketchum vs gary oakiamthedeadpool.tumblr.comPlaying at the South Carolina State Championships this past weekend, I found myself in an intense Darkrai EX mirror match. My opponent was playing a version teched out with additional Pokémon like Keldeo-EX and Mewtwo EX, while my build featured only three Sableye and three Darkrai EX.

While I didn’t enjoy the luxury of using Keldeo-EX to escape the Special Conditions, I made up for it with a soft counter to popular cards like Hypnotoxic Laser — I used Potions.

Note the plural, because I played all the potions: Potion, Max Potion, and even Gold Potion. And every time I played a Potion card, my opponent would say something encouraging like, “Whoa, good play!” I eventually won the game, and I attribute much of that win to derailing my opponent’s strategy by using cards like Potion.

For this article, I originally planned on not including a State Championship tournament report. However, so much of my deck choice and decklist exemplifies today’s topic that I just can’t help it. At the very last minute, I threw together a Darkrai EX deck that reaffirmed my faith in deck construction. It also supported an idea in the Pokémon TCG that is referred to on many occasions, but is still quite vague for many: the concept of “tempo.”

Tempo is the rate or speed at which a player arrives at a win condition. While players do not often use the term itself, it is an abstract idea that every serious player should keep tucked away in the back of their mind. Conversely, interrupting or slowing an opponent’s tempo is central to securing many victories. This is particularly important when considering the mirror match.

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The concept of tempo should be familiar with practically any player of the Pokémon TCG. Unfortunately though, most players do not talk about this concept very much. Instead, I often hear players describe their game in painstakingly simple terms; my favorite is the infamous remark that “the opponent set up before I did.” Okay, so sometimes your opponent will set up before you, this is a given. You, as a competitive player, have to step up your game and strategize in the event that this happens.

Observing the tempo in a game is like being able to comment on what actually made a movie good rather than just saying that you liked it.

I work with kids who have social challenges, and one thing I have learned is that telling them to “calm down” means absolutely nothing unless I’m able to explain the steps required to calm oneself down. Likewise, many players have difficulty stating exactly what caused them to win or lose a game.

What’s needed, perhaps, is a change in perspective.

tempo image 1

So let’s start with the basics. In the Pokémon TCG, the three different win conditions are as basic as one can get. Let’s look at these with the idea of tempo in mind.

6 Prizes

Knock Out a Pokémon to take a Prize. Take 6 Prizes to win the game. This is pretty simple stuff obviously, but there are definitely some things to keep in mind when it comes to the Prize count.

scyther vs
Speed has been prominent since the early days of Haymaker, but games aren’t necessarily fast.

First off, you have to take six Prizes in order to meet this win condition. A unique thing about the Pokémon TCG is the threat of losing on the very first turn, and so I think many players consider speed-based strategies to reign supreme.

While I often won’t argue with that sentiment, I feel that many players overlook certain cards or strategies in favor of decks that have a lot of potential to win on the first turn.

In reality, the race to 6 Prizes can be a long one. The existence of Pokémon-EX and occasional first-turn losses softens this fact (not to mention the speed at which many decks function), but a lot can happen within the time it takes a player to meet this win condition.

At both the NC and SC State Championships, there were a couple of decks that performed surprisingly well. The first one was Landorus-EX/Empoleon DEX/Dusknoir BCR, and the second was Garchomp DRX 97/Altaria DRX. The players who piloted these decks clearly saw past the first couple of turns.

Second, with the current format, the 7 Prize Rule is extremely important for success. The existence of Pokémon-EX means that an opponent can be locked into having to KO a Pokémon-EX in order to take their last Prize. Essentially, they would be taking a seventh Prize if one existed. By doing this, you can retrieve useful things from the discard with a card like Sableye DEX, or add extra pressure with a card like Bouffalant DRX.

On the other side of this scenario, you may have to weigh out the options when facing a player who is good enough to understand this rule. If you find yourself burning resources to KO a Pokémon for only 1 Prize, you might want to think again.

tempo tantrum 2

Note: If you are using a Darkrai EX deck with Sableye DEX or “Big Basics” (Landorus-EX/Mewtwo EX) with Bouffalant DRX, this is of particular importance for you. Lots of players are really casual about this rule, or they might ignore it altogether, but understanding the benefits of forcing the opponent to go that extra mile is imperative. After all, keeping this in mind truly can make it seem like you’re playing against an opponent with 7 Prizes.

Lastly, another thing to keep in mind is the nature of the deck you decide to play. Blastoise/Keldeo-EX, for example, will absolutely not be taking Prizes on the first turn. But once set up, it’s a deck that can literally take all 6 Prizes in three turns. Many players discard valuable deck ideas because they feel they aren’t grabbing Prizes quickly enough. Remember, it’s a race to 6 Prizes, not just one.

One thing to be said with this, though, is the unfortunate nature of timed matches. You might be able to win the game in the end, but the time does not care about that. Some decks take longer to set up than others, and some decks are specifically good at making a comeback. If you feel this to be an issue, make sure you time all of your matches while playtesting.

No Pokés

Looking at the second win condition — that you have Knocked Out all of your opponent’s Pokémon in play — there’s not a whole lot to be said about tempo.

This win condition normally means that you either won or lost on the first turn, so the “course of the game” never really happens.

One thing I will comment on, however, is Pokémon Card Laboratory’s (PCL) insistence on high-HP Basic Pokémon. Though I’m a big fan of evolution decks, one of the biggest reasons to play Basics with a lot of HP is to simply avoid first-turn losses. Having a 180 HP behemoth as your Active Pokémon normally means that you will get more than one turn with which to play the game.

No Cards

For a very brief period in this game’s history, deck damage — that is, forcing your opponent to not be able to draw a card at the beginning of his or her turn — seemed to be a truly legitimate strategy. This strategy came mostly in the form of Durant NVI, the king of discarding. Even today, Durant NVI has a partner in Klinklang PLS, but it seems the race to discard an opponent’s entire deck has been canceled… for now.

While tempo for decking your opponent depends entirely on the agent used to discard, there are still some good rules to remember:

1. What must your opponent do at the beginning of every turn?

yu-gi-oh-the-heart-of-the-cardsYou are correct! They have to draw a card, meaning they are essentially getting themselves one step closer to their demise for every turn they take.

Of course, N (and now, Colress) throws a wrench into this sort of thing, but toward the end of the game you should make absolute sure your opponent is drawing a card at the beginning of his or her turn.

2. Speaking of N and Colress

Another thing about N is that even if you’re putting more cards into your opponent’s deck, you’re giving them less cards to work with. This is particularly important toward the end of the game. When I placed second at the NC State Championship last year with Durant, I found myself using N to give my opponent 1-2 cards to work with right after putting them in a really tough spot. With fewer resources, my opponents usually lost soon afterward.

As far as Colress is concerned, its playability largely depends on the in-game situation. If, for instance, you’re playing Durant NVI/Klinklang PLS against a Rayquaza EX/Eelektrik NVI player who completely loaded their bench, you’ve effectively negated their Colress so long as you have a large bench yourself.

3. Today’s Durant has evolved…

Let’s face it, if we’re talking about decking an opponent, we have to be talking about Durant NVI. With the current format, the best way to play Durant seems to be with Klinklang PLS. This version runs in a completely different manner than the Durant of last year’s format, which was extremely fast and used disruption cards like Crushing Hammer to keep an opponent from getting KOs.

Durant/Klinklang is largely a set up deck now, operating in much the same way Blastoise/Keldeo-EX does. Durant now reaps the benefits of a Stage 2’s Ability, which protects all Metal type Pokémon from Pokémon-EX. If you plan on trying this deck out, keep in mind you probably won’t end your first turn with four Durant in play, each eating through four cards of your opponent’s deck.


season2_ep51_ss2 tracy ash pikachu analysispokemon.comDuring the span of a normal game of the Pokémon TCG, you essentially want your deck to do what it’s supposed to do at the right time. Most competitive players strive to set up their deck within the first three turns, given the current format. In the past, however, there have been decks that could afford a clumsy start, so long as they made a decent comeback and positioned themselves for victory during the mid-game.

No matter the case, there are still some general rules I feel apply for nearly all decks. As an example, most players do not play with less than ten Energy in their deck (heck, even eleven is running a risk). There’s a reason for this, as is there a reason for some of the other rules concerning deck construction, and we’ll look at these below.

The First Turn

What happens in the first turn of a game of the Pokémon TCG often has a huge bearing on who will be declared the winner. Obviously, this is mostly for the fact that first-turn losses still occur in Pokémon. Nonetheless, the game is relatively fast right now, so there’s a great emphasis on being able to set up within three or so turns.

What makes the first turn so special, however, is that it lays the foundation for your deck to succeed in subsequent turns. It is often a reflection of how good a deck really is. No matter the deck you play, you should want to do the following on your first turn:

1. Play a Supporter card that will help you play another Supporter card on Turn 2

I make this distinction because cards like Cilan, Hooligans Jim & Cass, and other “non-drawing” Supporter cards are rarely effective cards. While Cilan often shows up as a 1-of in many Blastoise decks, it’s a bad Supporter card to start off with if you have no other Supporters in your hand. And with the current card pool, it’s just easier to use Juniper/N/Colress to get to your Energy, especially since you’ll get set up in the meantime.

With the current Supporter cards in the format and the fact that support Pokémon — Pokémon that help players draw more cards — do not have much of a presence in the game right now, I’m seeing an average of 12-14 Supporter cards being played in decks (I include both Random Receiver and Skyla in this count).

This number doesn’t just help you get a Supporter card in the first turn, it helps ensure that you’ll continue to draw Supporter cards throughout the remainder of the game.

2. Get Pokémon in play (critical for Evolution-based decks)

With the format as fast as it is right now, one of the most important things you can do is get your Pokémon in play, especially if you are using Stage 1 or Stage 2 Pokémon. Stage 1 decks like Rayquaza EX/Eelektrik NVI generally run high counts of various Pokéballs such as Ultra Ball and Level Ball. Stage 2 decks like Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX generally try to get Blastoise in play with a mixture of Poké Balls, Tropical Beach, and heavy Skyla counts.

If you’ve ever seen a clunky Rayquaza EX/Eelektrik NVI deck, you know the downfall of not getting your Pokémon in fast enough. If the Rayeels player cannot get at least two (if not three) Tynamo in play on the first turn, they’re already in trouble. If a lone Tynamo gets KO’d, there’s a good chance the second one will get KO’d before it has time to evolve. And for each Tynamo that gets KO’d, that’s fewer Tynamo in the deck that a player will be able to draw into.

3. Play an Energy card (critical for decks built around Basic Pokémon)

If ever there was an “unseen killer” in the Pokémon TCG, this might very well be it! Missing the chance to play an Energy card is often HUGE. Players talk a lot about the power of going first, but they should be giving Energy counts equal attention. When you fail to play an Energy card, it can often be the same as missing an entire turn.

Players don’t talk about it enough because the most important time to drop an Energy is at the beginning of the game; after the game has concluded, they often don’t often remember the missed Energy.

tempo tantrum 3

For me, running any less than 11 Energy cards usually leads to disaster. I’ll run 11 Energy cards, but only if I’m extremely comfortable with the deck and am well aware of the risks. Most decks seem to operate with a healthy Energy count of 12-14. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but 12-14 is usually the norm.

Another thing to note about the current format is the existence of Skyla and Energy Search as a viable way to navigate your way to an Energy card much more easily. I would highly recommend this for decks that do not enjoy Energy acceleration on the scale of Blastoise BCR. If you’re running 11 Energy, 2 Skyla, and 1 Energy Search, you’ve given yourself 14 ways to get to an Energy card. That’s much better than 11 ways, and you’re not altering your deck all that much!

The First Few Turns

The first 2-4 turns are critical for nearly every deck in the format. Whether you’re using Emolga DRX to get more Basic Pokémon on the Bench or playing a Professor Juniper to get D Energy in the discard for use with Dark Patch, you absolutely have to be implementing your strategy during this period. If you’re not, then you need to readjust your decklist.

During this season, some really interesting cards have emerged that are particularly powerful during this period of the game. They are as follows:

victini-noble-victories-nvi-14– “Victory Star” Victini NVI: When used in conjunction with Tynamo NVI 38, a player could paralyze the opponent’s Active Pokémon until numerous Eelektrik NVI hit the field. The 75% chance of paralysis gave Eelektrik NVI decks a way to hold off attacks until they could get a Rayquaza EX powered up.

Ditto BCR: Since this card has the potential to turn into basically any other Pokémon, most opponents ignore it and focus instead on KOing other Pokémon. In Eelektrik NVI decks, this little guy usually transforms into a Tynamo, then evolves to an Eelektrik before the opponent even knew what happened.

Landorus-EX: In terms of speed and spread damage, Landorus-EX is a force to be reckoned with. Since it performs so well in the “first few turns,” it has essentially found its way into three fairly popular decks: Landorus-EX/Garbodor DRX, “Big Basics” (Landorus-EX/Mewtwo EX/Tornadus-EX DEX/Bouffalant DRX), and Landorus-EX/Empoleon DEX/Dusknoir BCR.

– Tornadus EX: Though a card with more “first turn” potential, I still see Tornadus-EX DEX as a true threat at the beginning of any game. The fact that its 30-60 damage first attack can be followed easily with an attack that does 100 damage is downright scary.

Emolga DRX: I honestly haven’t played very much with this card, but what’s not to like? Free retreat with a Colorless attack that fills the bench is good, especially with our newly-added Supporter, Colress, to the mix.

Sableye DEX: Everyone should know why this card is here. With an attack that brings back to hand Item cards from the discard pile, this Pokémon can do it all!


The mid-game is where a number of crucial things can happen, and it’s where observers of a game can truly see a single player pull out ahead. If two capable players are having a good game, you will see a hearty exchange of Prizes, leading up to the last few turns of the game.

Concerning the tempo during this mid-game phase, let me go over some of the basics. Also, I will talk in depth about the differences between offense and defense later in this article, so keep that in mind if you are hungry for more.

1. Mid-game performance as a reflection of deck choice

slow but neat turtle clipartMark A. HicksAs a thing to keep in mind in general, some decks don’t perform very well in this mid-game phase. Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX might very well be one of them if it doesn’t get a quick start. Decks based around Empoleon DEX are another good example. These are decks that require some setting up, but once they’re up and running they’re extremely powerful.

If you are new to the game or you prefer speedy decks like Darkrai EX/Sableye, you might need to put in some extra playtesting with one of these “slower” decks before you take it to a tournament. For many, it’s discouraging to watch opponents take quick Prizes while doing the simplest of tasks: getting Pokémon in play.

2. N and Other Supporters

Yes, a little subsection on N alone. N is undeniably powerful in the late-game phase, but it also has its uses during the middle of the game as well. With Pokémon-EX in the format, players are taking twice as many Prizes as in formats past. With a well-timed N, that’s a four card swing alone (two cards gained from KOing a Pokémon is two more cards lost when an N is played).

And here’s the thing about that term “well-timed.” With the addition of Colress to the game, many players are dropping Bianca. With the right type of deck, this is an extremely smart move. In many cases, players are forced to play an N because it’s the only Supporter they have in their hand at the time.

With Bianca (or even Cheren) in decks, players are still encouraged to play N. Why? Because if you have a Bianca and N in hand, you’re more likely to play the N (the presence of N means one less card drawn). If you play a Cheren before an N, you’ll have to shuffle those cards away.

tempo tantrum 4

3. Offense and Defense

Since the Pokémon TCG is largely a game of damage calculation, a great deal can be said of the differences between offense and defense. Perhaps the easiest way to understand this is by thinking of the difference between Dark Claw and Eviolite, both of which have found their way into Darkrai EX decks.

For a metagame that features a lot of Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX — a deck that performs well mid-game — Dark Claw and Hypnotoxic Laser would be the way to go, since it helps Darkrai EX players KO Blastoise in one hit. For a metagame with lots of Darkrai EX decks, Eviolite along with something else (Potions!) might be the best play.

Understanding this concept and how it can help you fine-tune your tempo (or disrupt the tempo of others) is enormous. Many successful rogues or techs are born out of an intuitive feel for this very idea. As I said before, I’ll be going over this more later on.


In the later parts of the game, we hope that you are closing in on victory. If you are, there are some things you want to do to help secure that win and keep up with the tempo. And if you’re behind in Prize cards, we’ll look at some things you want to be mindful of, most of which deal with interrupting the opponent’s tempo.

If you are ahead at this stage of the game and are near to victory:

1. Start burning resources

I know, it sounds almost criminal to suggest this, but consider the following situation:

You are playing a Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX mirror match and have taken all but 2 Prize cards. You have a lone Keldeo-EX in play, and your hand is Colress, Ultra Ball, Ultra Ball, Rare Candy, W Energy, W Energy. You have two Blastoise in play and are getting ready to take your fifth Prize card. Should you do anything before you attack?

Obviously, since the topic is “burning resources,” your answer is probably, “Yes! Use the Ultra Ball and discard the Rare Candy and the Ultra Ball.” If you thought that, you would be right. I would also suggest dumping the W Energy to some Pokémon as well.

But you know as well as I do that many, many players would ignore those simple, game-saving steps. Then, when their opponent drops a Black Kyurem-EX PLS, powers it up, plays an N, and KOs the only attacker they have on the field, they lose because they drew an Ultra Ball and W Energy after the N.

If it’s in your best interest, don’t be afraid to dump some resources. Ultra Ball is nice in the beginning, but pesky in the later parts of the game. Thin your deck out for that late-game N.

2. Make Energy attachments purposeful
The threat of Catcher should make you wary of your Energy placements.

In our current format, Pokémon Catcher is a game changer. Though it’s strong at the beginning of the game, it can be used to buy a turn or two late-game by pulling up a Pokémon on the bench with a heavy Retreat Cost. Nothing hurts worse than having a Pokémon ready to take the game-winning KO sent to the bench and replaced with something like a Garbodor DRX.

Sometimes, careful placement of Energy can avoid this annoyance.

3. Always be wary of a late-game comeback

Just as a general rule, you want to be thinking a few steps ahead of your opponent. During the later parts of the game, this usually means watching out for a well-timed N, but it can also mean that you keep count of key parts of your opponent’s deck. Knowing whether they’ve played all four Pokémon Catcher or not, for example, can drastically change your strategy.

4. Don’t get overconfident!

There are good players out there who really enjoy a comeback and will make one happen if possible (my brother is one of those guys — it’s really annoying to play against him sometimes, haha). So if you see yourself winning soon, don’t get carried away with yourself.

Run some scenarios through in your head: “What if my opponent did this?” Ask yourself how you would deal with that change in tempo. And definitely don’t act cocky to the opponent — nobody likes that.

If you are behind at this stage of the game and need to catch up:

1. Play your disruption cards carefully

Cards like N and Pokémon Catcher can really buy you some time toward the end of the game, so make use of that! There’s nothing quite as game-changing as a well-timed N. Of course, you always want to keep count of how many of these cards you’ve used. One too many times have I seen a player use a Professor Juniper, “whiff” on the card they were looking for, then find out after the game they had already used all four copies of that card.

2. Resist the urge to depend TOTALLY on your disruption cards

n-dark-explorers-dex-96pokemon-paradijs.comOne mistake I’ve made before is to depend too much on my well-timed N to save me from a dire situation. If you put all of your hopes in a single play, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t work out. The N won’t always save you, using Pokémon Catcher to try and buy some time won’t always work, so you have to plan for the worst!

3. Remember that stranger things have happened than you winning!

I’ve seen (and been part of) some wild comebacks, so don’t give up hope entirely! Even if you have to use a Pokémon Catcher on something, then hope your opponent doesn’t have an Energy card for three turns, then use another Pokémon Catcher to bring out an attacker and attempt to Confuse it, then…

Yeah, you get the point. Sometimes it’s far-fetched (or Farfetch’d), but there are times when a crazy comeback actually does happen. Don’t deny yourself that by flipping the table. Remain calm and walk yourself mentally through the steps it will take to make that crazy win happen.


Strategically, you want any deck you play to account for any expected bad matchups you might have at a tournament. You also want to account for the mirror (unless, of course, you have a good rogue deck). Understanding tempo properly can help you make the card choices required to create a killer list. It can also help you take on decks strategically before you even enter the tournament.

For this section, I’m going to talk about Offense and Defense, as well as borrow a term from Magic: The Gathering to help illustrate a point.


Generally, players use offensive cards to overpower their opponent and achieve a knockout. While cards like PlusPower have been in the game for a long time, players never really played it until the math made sense. In some of the slower formats from the past, it did not matter if you hit for 80 or 90 — it still meant a knockout in two hits.

With the increase in HP this game has seen (not to mention damage output), this has changed. With many popular cards at a staggering 180 HP, the difference between 80 and 90 is big. Cards like Hypnotoxic Laser and Dark Claw are used to outpace opponents and land the KO.

Unlike other card games, when a Pokémon leaves the field its Energy goes with it. So not only do you get to grab some Prize cards for Knocking Out a Pokémon, you’ve also denied your opponent multiple turns of Energy attachments. Of course, sometimes you’ll be aiming for the Pokémon with the Ability rather than the Energy, but you get the point.

Playing offensively like this makes a lot of sense when the math adds up. In fact, here’s some math for you:

tempo tantrum 5

The key to making offensive plays work tempo-wise is to make sure you can land the KOs consistently. For this reason, playing Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym in Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX decks would be foolish, even though there’s some awesome “math” to be had there.


Building a deck defensively by using Potion cards, Eviolite/Great Cape, and other similar cards is really effective when playing the mirror match. Offsetting a potential KO helps you to outpace your opponent, and if you’re playing the same deck it reasons that you’ll meet a win condition sooner if you are successful.

In my experience with the Pokémon TCG, playing defensively works best when you focus A LOT on defense. My brother’s 2nd place finish at the 2012 US National Championship came with the inclusion of three Max Potion (plus four Junk Arm, remember). That’s a lot of defense when you add it up!

At the SC State Championship this past weekend, I played a Darkrai EX list that featured two Eviolite, three Potion, one Max Potion, and one Gold Potion. It was a list tailored for an expected metagame of mirror matches and “Big Basics” (Landorus-EX/Mewtwo EX/Bouffalant DRX).

In the scenario below, even playing just a single Potion could get our player who missed the Energy drop back into the game.

tempo tantrum 3

The added benefit to playing defensively is that your Pokémon tend to stay in play longer, meaning you can power something else up in the meantime.

Going back to the scenario above, when Darkrai EX is Knocked Out, that player has to devote a number of turns to powering up another Darkrai EX. If he or she were playing my list, they would have healed the Darkrai EX to the point that, when it was finally Knocked Out, they would have had another Darkrai EX ready to go. It’s tempo, but it’s also efficiency.

Tempo and the “Curve”

Magic: The Gathering has a concept they’ve termed the “Mana Curve.” In describes the relationship between creatures used (Pokémon) and Mana played (Energy). In Magic:TG, unlike Pokémon, Mana played stays in play — it represents a “pool” of energy that creatures can use. In Pokémon, our Energy cards are discarded along with the Pokémon they are attached to.

Magic players normally consider this curve in their deckbuilding process: they have a lot of creatures that can attack for cheap, some that can attack for some, and a few that can attack for a lot. The general idea is that a player is using as much Mana as they can every turn.

For Pokémon players, this concept is a little lost because the Energy discards and because of Retreat Costs, but I think it’s still a powerful concept (especially for decks that are able to utilize Energy from the discard).

For example, Sableye DEX finds a nice little home in Darkrai EX decks — two single Energy attacks that are both quite good is excellent in the first few turns. Emolga DRX helps nearly any deck that needs to set up. Landorus-EX is, some would say, the best EX in the game for this very reason.

Some decks, on the other hand, could care less about this concept. Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX decks just want to get a Blastoise in play so it can pulverize the competition.

As new cards are released and deck ideas are tossed around, do not be afraid to adopt this concept to your deckbuilding process. What is Darkrai EX without Sableye? What is “Big Basics” without Landorus-EX? Bad decks, that’s what.


By combining elements from topics I’ve covered in the past as well as today’s talk about tempo, I came up with what I thought was an excellent list for the SC State Championship. My analysis on the metagame rang true, but I faced some unfortunate matchups that I much rather would have avoided. I played Darkrai EX/Sableye DEX, and here’s my list:

Pokémon – 6

3 Sableye DEX
3 Darkrai-EX DEX

Trainers – 43

4 Professor Juniper
4 N
3 Random Receiver
1 Bianca


4 Pokémon Catcher
4 Dark Patch
4 Ultra Ball
4 Hypnotoxic Laser
3 Potion
3 Crushing Hammer
2 Eviolite
2 Energy Switch
1 Max Potion
1 Enhanced Hammer
1 Gold Potion


2 Virbank City Gym

Energy – 11

11 D

As you can see, my list is sorta the one that says, “I want it all!” The Hammers proved effective against both Klinklang PLS decks and Big Basics, while Potions/Eviolite helped me be extremely effective in the mirror match. My “Fake Specs” were Enhanced Hammer and Max Potion, both of which helped me out immensely in some games.

When asked by Zach Bivens after the tournament if there was anything I would change about the list, I answered, “The only thing I would change is my matchups.” I won every matchup I was expected to win (which represented a lot of the field), and lost against those unexpected ones.

Round 1 — vs. Matt B. with Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX

blastoise fountainpkmngif.tumblr.comThe moment my opponent flipped over his cards, I knew I was in trouble. Starting with two Squirtles and a Black Kyurem EX while going first, I could only hope not to see a Blastoise soon afterward. In the first few turns there appears a chance my opponent has nothing, but he topdecks a couple of cards that quickly help him set up two Blastoises.

Since my Darkrai list was largely unprepared for Blastoise, this match plays out in my opponent’s favor.


Round 2 — Jonathan A. with Articuno-EX/Garbodor DRX

This match is a great example of just how important it can be to interrupt your opponent’s momentum. My opponent opens with an Articuno-EX, plays two Colress Machine and a W Energy, and hits my Darkrai EX for 60 damage. In a large way, this is comparable to facing a Landorus-EX hitting for 60 on the first turn, and so I respond with the appropriate strategy by “swarming” with Sableye and using Junk Hunt to bring back Potions, Pokémon Catchers, and Crushing Hammers.

My aim is to simply eradicate all of my opponent’s Energy cards by using Crushing Hammer and Enhanced Hammer over and over again, then land some KOs with Darkrai EX. Using Eviolite also helped keep my Sableyes alive when my opponent used Frost Prison. Eventually, I was able to trap a Garbodor active by using Pokémon Catcher. I used Hypnotoxic Laser to Poison it while I continued to pull resources with Junk Hunt.

When time was called, nobody had taken a single Prize card. The Poisoned Garbodor was Knocked Out in the +3 turns, and my opponent couldn’t land a return KO. As a result, I won.

This was an extremely difficult match that demanded I observe the tempo of the game and act accordingly. My opponent seemed to be in a very powerful position after hitting for a first turn 60. Rather than aim for Night Spear as soon as possible, I focused on catching the opponent off-guard by getting his Garbodor active at an opportune time.

My mix of Potion cards helped to inch my opponent further and further away from getting a KO, while the Hammer cards helped me dismantle his ability to attack in the meantime.


Round 3 — ? with Rayquaza EX/Eelektrik NVI

hypnotoxic laser plasma storm pls 123pokemon-paradijs.comThis is another match that my Darkrai deck can handle. Crushing Hammer becomes an absolute nuisance against the R Energy requirement for Rayquaza EX’s attack, while Eviolite ensures that Rayquaza EX has to discard four Energy to KO my Darkrai EX.

Within the first three or four turns, however, I notice that my opponent is having some tremendous difficulty setting up. As a result, I use Sableye to recycle key cards like Hypnotoxic Laser and Pokémon Catcher. Even though I had an N in hand, I refuse to play it and instead manually attach to a Darkrai EX until I can start swinging. Poison alone KOs a Rayquaza EX, and my opponent is never able to keep up.

Again, the tempo of the game dictated my strategy. Many players would have used the early-game N, possibly powering up a Darkrai EX faster, but also giving the opponent a new hand to work with. My decision to not play a Supporter turned out to be the correct play.


Round 4 — Chris ? with Darkrai EX/Mewtwo EX/Keldeo-EX/Sableye DEX

This is the match I alluded to at the beginning of this article in which my opponent seemed both happy and surprised to see me play so many Potion cards. The reason both Hammers and Potions are good in the mirror has everything to do with tempo. The math in the Darkrai mirror starts out simple enough, then gets increasingly complex as players toy with Eviolites, Dark Claws, Crushing Hammers, and so on.

Looking just at the math on Darkrai EX, we are dealing with two cards that each have 180 HP and do a 90 damage attack. This works out to mean that Night Spear effectively KOs a Darkrai EX in two hits. I made a metagame call by playing my Darkrai deck extremely defensively.

I expected other Darkrai decks to be played, and I expected Dark Claw to be a popular choice. As a result, I used both Eviolite and Potions to offset the damage I knew I would accumulate during the course of the mirror.

My opponent did run Dark Claw, but he didn’t expect my use of Crushing Hammer. As I mentioned earlier in the article, missing an Energy drop is HUGE, so if I can cause my opponent to “miss” an Energy, it can very well mean the game. In this game, both my Hammers and my Potions worked out for me and gave me a chance to outpace my opponent.

Though he whiffed on a critical Hypnotoxic Laser, he also played three Dark Patch after I used an N to put him at four cards. He wasn’t able to heal his damaged Pokémon, and I nabbed all 6 Prizes with ease.


Round 5 — vs. Johnny R. with Zekrom-EX/Mewtwo EX/Eelektrik NVI

This was a tough matchup in which I had difficulty running into my Potions and Hammers. My Enhanced Hammer — critical in this matchup for dealing with Double Colorless Energy — was my very last Prize card. I also missed out on the chance to heal a damaged Darkrai EX with an Eviolite to prevent it from being KO’d. Still, I opened strong and got a quick KO on a Tynamo.

We did the usual Prize exchange, but I felt outpaced for most of the game. It also stung knowing that Enhanced Hammer — a definite game-swinger here — was lurking around in my Prizes. Nonetheless, it was a good game, but Johnny was able to secure a victory in the end.


Round 6 — Treavor ? with Darkrai EX/Hydreigon DRX/Keldeo-EX

Again, I just was not prepared for Stage 2 decks. I know I made the correct metagame call because few of my friends faced Stage 2’s, yet here I was playing against what I thought was a true dinosaur of the metagame. This match goes exactly as you might expect: if the opponent gets Hydreigon DRX in play, it’s his Max Potions against my… Potions.

By turn 4 my opponent has two Hydreigon DRX in play, but I still focus my attention and damage on them regardless. I’m even able to KO both of them, but by the time I do the damage had already been done — I needed to take 4 Prize cards while my opponent only needed to take three. I had clearly been beaten.

I give credit to my opponent though, as he did exactly what he needed to do within the first few turns: he got his Pokémon in play. Even after a Hydreigon hit the field, he managed his resources well and set up another one as soon possible.


Round 7 — ? with Darkrai EX/Sableye DEX/Ninetales DRX

Mostly another mirror match with the inclusion of Ninetales, this game went as expected. Potions helped me mid to late-game in preventing KOs and my Hammers slowed him down enough to let me speed ahead. I don’t think my opponent got a very good start on this one either, though I’m not entirely sure. By this time I was done with playing and ready to hang out with my wife and daughter.


So I finished the day 4-3. It was a little disappointing since much of the top cut was what I had planned on seeing, but I stand behind my deck choice and decklist. I didn’t have a lot of time to playtest, so I kinda concocted the list at the last minute. As I played with it through the tournament, though, I grew to love it. It seemed to make Darkrai EX/Sableye DEX very skill-intensive, which I liked.

A metronome is a device used to keep tempo.

Often described in vague terms, tempo is critically important for any competitive player to understand. So much can be planned for and strategized when this idea is taken into account. And while some people throw cards together because they seem to work well, you now have the back-story for why those combos work well.

With a difference in perspective, you can understand why Emolga DRX might be a good addition to certain decks. Or how important the Dark Claw/”HypnoBank” combo is when facing a Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX deck with Darkai EX.

I also hope you have learned something about the different “stages” of the game and how you can outpace an opponent when facing the mirror match. Or perhaps why it might help to trade in those offensive cards for something as fundamental as a Potion.

Remember to continue this discussion on our Underground Forums! If you have any questions, please let me know. And if you found this article helpful, don’t forget to let me know by “liking” it. Thanks!

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