Since we last spoke, I’ve managed to max out my Battle Roads points, putting me at 323 (I can technically earn up to 354 but that won’t change anything), meaning I’ll need a top 16 finish at Nats next month to earn an invite.
While this is pretty disappointing, mostly due to how low of a Championship Point payout Nationals offers, I’m glad that I was able to turn a very lackluster season around into something respectable, and with how hot I’ve been running lately, I don’t think spiking Nationals or the LCQ is completely out of the question. Let’s all just keep our fingers crossed, team.
Today, we’re going to talk about Darkrai, a deck that I took to a the top 16 at British Columbia Regionals before falling to Bidier Jing and his Jit Min-inspired Garbodor/Tornadus/Ho-Oh deck, who would ultimately go on to win the tournament undefeated.
The matchup was positive and I played fine, but unfortunately Bidier made a deal with the devil that day. You guys know Worlds was supposed to be in San Diego this year, yeah? Bidier, a Vancouver native, called to it, and it answered…
The deck has changed quite a bit since I last played it though, so there should still be plenty to talk about. I’m going to follow roughly the same format that my last article followed, going through a detailed list of the cards you play and why you play them, providing a few basic decklists, and then giving a general rundown of how the matchups play out.
There were a few notes that my article was a bit too long last time, so I’m going to keep it shorter this time around, but if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments!
Table of Contents
Although Darkrai has been around for a very long time, I think it’s important to understand what each card does for the deck and how it works in context of the rest of the deck. Plus, as I said above, the deck has changed a bit and there are a few more cards than previously, which is especially important to know if you’re unfamiliar with the deck in this format.
Although you’ll find that it’s moreso the combination of insanely broken Trainers + Dark-type support that makes this deck function as well as it does, the Pokémon are still very important, although the numbers you choose to run are usually more relevant than anything, as the Pokémon choices are pretty obvious.
The deck’s namesake and the most important Pokémon in the deck, Darkrai provides multiple functions that ultimately lead to the deck’s success. Firstly, he’s a fine attacker. 90 for 3 with a 30 snipe is already nothing to scoff at, and that’s before you consider the ramping abilities of Dark Patch in combination with cards like Ultra Ball, and the fact that Dark Claw and Hypnotoxic Laser are easy inclusions that add to that damage quickly.
Really, the thing that makes Darkrai such a good attacker is all the favorable math:
- Night Spear for 90 is enough to knockout Eelektriks, Sableyes, and set up 2HKOs on the most played EXs.
- Night Spear with a Dark Claw attached for 110 is enough to knockout everything mentioned above, 2HKO any EX in the format, 1HKOs Absol PLFs, and KOs Kyurem PLFs after setting them up with the 30 from a previous Night Spear.
- Night Spear with a Dark Claw attached and a Hypnotoxic Laser (including Virbank City Gym’s poison damage) deals 140 damage, which is enough to KO any non-EX as well as set up a KO on any EX even if you lose your Dark Claw, Virbank City Gym, and don’t have another Laser to play.
The other attribute that makes Darkrai such a powerful card though, is its Ability Dark Cloak, which allows every Pokémon with a D Energy attached to retreat for free. This Ability is the reason why I think Darkrai EX is one of the most well-designed cards in the game, both being a very powerful engine for its own deck, and allowing decks like last year’s Accelgor DEX/Vileplume UD/Chandelure NVI deck to work. He’s fallen out of favor in those types of deck as of late due to the power of Float Stone, but the point stands.
Sableye is an insanely good card, and if you believe a certain former 2-time World Champion, may be one of the most powerful cards in the format. While I disagree with that assertion, he is certainly powerful and plays his role here well, allowing you to spend T1 or T2 on recurring Items in the case that you don’t get the ideal start.
One common misconception (and something that I believe leads to the notion that Sableye is overpowered) is that Sableye is also good mid-game. While this may have been the case in past formats, Sableye is almost never optimal – or even very good – after the first few turns of the game. Not only is the format very aggressive and not kind to such missteps, but you also don’t want to be playing multiple Sableye in almost any situation, as that disrupts the “7 Prize game” aspect of Sableye that makes him so good.
Regardless of my criticisms, Sableye is a solid card and there is little reason not to run at least one copy in every Darkrai list.
Like Darkrai’s, Keldeo’s Ability is very powerful and is one of the reasons why I think it’s such a well-designed card (if you can’t already tell, I spend a lot of time thinking about card design and how the game works regardless of format or metagame), and it gets put to very good use here. Between Hypnotoxic Laser and Accelgor, there are plenty of situations in which Rush In can save you from skipping an entire turn, and the ability to give it almost infinite free retreat with a single D Energy is one of the most powerful plays in the game.
The newest addition to the deck, Absol provides a few interesting interactions. Firstly, it’s a non-EX attacker, which is important to create a favorable Prize exchange in any given game (and also good vs Klinklang, although as you’ll see the matchup is already favorable).
Additionally, its attack plays off the Bench damage, which is important as nearly every successful deck in today’s format is filling their Bench at all opportunities, putting them in the unfavorable position of either accepting that Absol is going to be swinging for huge numbers or neutering their Bench and therefore lowering their chances of winning further.
This one is obvious, it’s the best Supporter in the game and should be played in every deck, very rarely in less than 4 copies. In Darkrai it is even better than usual, though, as you don’t often care about discarding things due to Sableye and Dark Patch.
Also, all your Pokémon are Basic so you rarely need to worry about discarding important pieces. Discarding mediocre hands at will to draw 7 new cards is pretty absurd.
Like Juniper, N is one of the best Supporters in the format and you should always run it, blah blah blah. Also like Juniper, it’s even more justifable in Darkrai as Night Spear can set up multiple KOs if played correctly, meaning that you can manipulate your hand size with N before taking 2-4 Prizes in a single turn, essentially giving yourself a number of “free” cards.
I’ve decided to include these in a group as I’m not sure I have enough to say about each of them to justify their own section, and unlike most cards in the game right now, opinions are sort of split on these.
I personally ran no Skyla in my BC Regionals list and was very happy with that decision, but I know a lot of very good players who would disagree with me there. Most lists include some number of Colress just based on how the format works right now and how powerful of a card it can be, and Bianca is favored with some players more than others. I’ll go over these a little bit more when I discuss the two lists I’ll be giving out in specific.
This is another Item up for debate. I know some players who prefer 0-1 Random Receiver based on the idea that hitting the Supporter you want more often is more important, my friend Amelia Bottemiller runs heavy Random Receiver in almost every deck because “all the Supporters are bad,” and I know some people, like myself, who are a little bit more reasonable.
I personally think Random Receiver is an important piece of the deck as it can be brought back with Sableye if you’re in a tough spot (again, not a spot that you’d like to be in, if you had the chance), but I don’t think I’d ever run more than a couple of them. They’re good in the right position but should never replace or reduce your Supporter count, in my opinion.
Gust is one of the most broken effects of all-time and is especially good in Darkrai as you’re very good at manipulating damage and setting up multiple KOs in a single turn. It’s as simple as that.
This is the card that truly makes the deck work. Without access to early acceleration the deck is simply a bunch of good Pokémon that are likely a little too slow to compete in the current format. Dark Patch, in combination with cards like Ultra Ball, Professor Juniper, Energy Switch and Abilities like Dark Cloak and Rush In is absolutely absurd.
I went through the reasons why Laser is so important in the math portion of the Darkrai explanation, so I feel like it should be obvious at this point. This card is very good and works very well with everything that we’re trying to do.
Like so many of the other cards on this list, an already powerful card becomes more powerful within the context of our deck and interactions with Dark Patch. There is no reason not to run several of this card.
Another one of the Dark-support cards that make this deck so good, Dark Claw changes math on so many things and is the main reason why Absol is so darn good. 140 for 2 with nothing but a Basic, 2 Energy, and a Tool seeeeeems good.
Funny story: Much like you, I used to think Energy Switch was important in Darkrai. I mean, it provides the capability for Turn 2 (or Turn 1!) Night Spears and it helps to save your precious Energy in unfavorable situations, right? What’s not to like? It must be very powerful!
I thought like that too, until Paul Johnston made a decklist error and had to play out the top 16 of Washington States without Energy Switches in his Darkrai deck. Paul is a close friend so I was pretty crushed when I heard the news… until he won his top 16 match… and then his top 8, and then top 4, before eventually losing to my best friend Matthew Oslakovic in the finals in a 57-card mirror. This proves, beyond anything, that Energy Switch is overrated and unnecessary.
…Or that Paul Johnston is an extremely good, extremely lucky player who could beat most of us with his eyes closed. Your choice!
In seriousness, Energy Switch is very important to the deck for all the reasons mentioned above. Play it.
Very important for maximizing your damage output potential with Hypnotoxic Laser. Virbank is also useful for bouncing opposing Tropical Beaches. Although you’ll typically have fewer Virbanks than they have Beaches, they also rely on their Beaches more early, so it becomes a calculated risk. Be careful not to engage in Stadium wars that you know you will lose if you feel Virbank is important to the matchup, though.
Turning an Energy card into something that’s searchable with Skyla (if you choose to play it), Junk Hunt, and thins your deck is very good. I am a pretty huge fan of this card in nearly all decks and like to run 1 or 2 copies where I can.
This is a card that I don’t think needs to be more than a 1-of in our deck, but is still important and is very good when it’s useful. I’ll save most of my input on this card for the matchups section, but be aware that this card is very good and it only gets better as more players are cutting it/playing few copies.
Your Choice of ACE SPEC
Although ACE SPECs are very powerful cards and therefore to a certain extent you can’t go wrong with them, I think Dowsing Machine is the correct play for Darkrai. It lets you get back copies of Hypnotoxic Laser, Dark Patch, and other effects you would like to repeat as often as possible, and it also allows you to grab 1-ofs like Max Potions or Energy Search in clutch situations.
I put this section at the end because I’m going to be providing two lists, one that plays Enhanced Hammer, and one that is a more consistency-focused version that doesn’t. I’ll go over the benefits to each in the decklist section, but I wanted to make mention that while Enhanced Hammer is a completely legitimate play, the deck can exist without it.
Crushing Hammer has fallen out of favor recently, as most of the decks in the metagame are relying on some form of Special Energy, and often times wasting a card on a flip is just not where you’re looking to be.
Now we move onto the interesting part of the article: decklists! As I said before, I’ll be providing two lists, one that is teched out and one that is more consistency-focused. I figured that this was the best way to display the power of the Darkrai deck and the different things that it can go, all dependent on personal preference and metagame.
For each list, I’ll spill out the entire deck (I’m not a big fan of giving out skeleton lists) and then will go over some of the choices and why they matter. I don’t have infinite room in this article, so again, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please bring them to the forums!
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 39
Energy – 10
The 4 Darkrai is non-standard and is another focus on the consistency. You want a Sableye start the majority of the time, yes, but more than anything you want to be consistently pumping out Darkrais. Often when playing 3 copies you’ll prize one and have one KO’d early and will sometimes be stuck without much to do. Having 4 is a little excessive but guarantees you that you’ll always have the maximum chances of doing exactly what you’re looking to do at all times.
Additionally, running 4 Darkrai is legitimized by the fact that we’re also running 4 copies of Energy Switch, a card that is usually relegated to the 3-of section. These decisions go hand in hand; we want extra Energy Switch to guarantee ourselves the earliest Night Spears possible, and having additional copies also lets us get out of tricky situations (like say, a Darkrai that carries all our energy but is about to be Knocked Out) easier than a standard list.
The only other change I think is necessary to talk about is 3 Colress and no other non-N or Professor Juniper Supporters. This is something I went back and forth on before ultimately deciding that it was for the best.
Although Skyla does allow us to grab key copies of cards at key times, it and Bianca limit our explosiveness and are not right for every situation. We’re playing more copies of Darkrai than normal, and by playing Absol we’re already putting some stock in the idea that our opponent will have a large Bench, so why not focus heavily on Colress?
It’s worse in the early game, yes, but at every other point in the game Colress is much better and has the ability to get us out of almost any situation, regardless of how many cards we have in hand, or how many cards we need.
In a list like this we’re obviously always looking for more Energy, and I’d like to have 11 or 12, but I’ve found that 10 is enough. This is the list I’ve been primarily testing and the list that I’m likely going to end up playing for Nationals (if I decide to play Darkrai; more on that later), so I feel pretty confident in that assertion. If there are cuts to be found or you’re not liking certain counts of cards, I’d highly recommend adding additional Energy over almost anything else.
Pokémon – 7
Trainers – 42
Energy – 11
There are a few key differences between this list and most standard Darkrai x Hammers lists. Only one copy of Absol is probably the biggest, and to be completely honest this is probably the decision that I’m the least married to. I’ve found it to largely be fine, but it’s mostly a metagame choice and I wouldn’t blame anyone for running two copies.
I debated a long time on whether to put 1 or 2 here, but I’ve tested more and more successfully with a single copy, so decided it was the morally correct decision to include that list.
A single Sableye is also something that, although I haven’t seen too many people doing, I think is 100% correct. As I explained earlier in the article, Sableye is very good for early game but it’s not exactly what you’re looking to be doing in the mid to late game, and dropping more than one risks setting up an unfavorable prize exchange. I’m not sure if many of the published lists are running only 1 or 2 Sableye, but I urge you to try it out before you knock it, I think you’ll be surprised by the results.
The Supporter lineup is pretty standard, it gives you more options than the consistent list does, giving you more coverage versus all types of situations.
The Hammers are the big, obvious change from the consistent list to this one. The Enhanced Hammers are very solid vs all of the Plasma decks that are out there, as well as any of the Big Basics decks running around using Prisms or Double Colorless. The single Crushing Hammer I’ll admit is a bit of a personal preference, but I’ve found that it’s interesting to have vs Klinklang, because as long as it’s not prized it can almost single handedly win the game, especially now that we have access to Absol.
The only other interesting portion of the list is the one Float Stone. I know that this may seem counter-intuitive, given all the hype I’ve been giving Dark Cloak, but for those of you who played Darkrai in past formats, you know that finding Energy for Keldeo-EX and being quick to find a Night Spear were often difficult to do in tandem, and Float Stone fixes that problem. I’m not a madman, I’m not completely relying on it and I’m only running one copy just to save myself in certain situations, but I’m a huge fan of it.
For this section I’ll go over what I feel like are the most relevant decks in the metagame and how the matchups work. Doing this section right now and with this deck is kind of difficult as everyone’s Battle Road metagame is different and Darkrai has been around for so long that a lot of the matchups are second nature to some players, but I’ll do my best to give clear, concise advice that applicable to any metagame, even the one at US Nationals!
For the sake of this article, I’ll assume that the following decks will see play:
- The Mirror
I have no doubt that other decks are seeing play across the country, but I thought it would be best to include the matchup notes for the decks that I think will make up the majority of the field at U.S. Nationals. If you’d like in-depth matchup notes from different decks, feel free to ask in the forums and I’ll do my best to explain them!
This matchup, like so many others in this format, depends on the speed of both of the decks involved. Overall, I think that if you’re playing the Hammers version of Darkrai that the matchup should be 50/50 or slightly more favorable for you. You’re just about as fast as long as nothing goes wrong, and you have the ability to disrupt their Energy pretty well.
However, they are a lot more consistent than you in some ways and can definitely take advantage of your low-HP Pokémon in Sableye and Absol, particularly if they play Lugia EX.
I’ve tested the matchup extensively and the only real notes I can give are to get lucky in drawing into your Hammers and outspeed them as much as you can.
The consistent Darkrai list is pretty loose versus Plasma, from what I’ve found. You’re just about as fast, maybe a little bit faster, but at the end of the day they have a much better chance of “going over the top” of you, since you have no way of slowing them down if they get a particularly fast start or you get a particularly slow one. I’m not sure of the exact percentage I would give us, but I’d definitely plant us firmly in “unfavorable” territory.
With the consistent Darkrai list your goal should be, as always, to outspeed them, but in this particular case you need to also be mindful of when your Darkrais are going to die and try to protect them with everything you have. Absol is also very good versus them, and would be the main reason for wanting to run 2 or even 3 copies. Powering out Absols at the right time and baiting out favorable Prize exchanges is one of the few ways to get an edge.
Firstly, let me say that the Hammers-based Darkrai list is very, very soft vs Gothitelle/Accelgor for obvious reasons. Not only do your Hammers do nothing because there is never Energy on the field, but they are actually unplayable once a Gothitelle is up (although in all fairness, once the lock is up it’s very hard for any deck to get an edge).
The consistent Darkrai is a little bit better, but you have to know how to play the matchup correctly, and you also have to accept that there are going to be occasions where Gothitelle gets an absolutely absurd opening hand an gets the lock up before you even know what’s going on.
As far as what “playing the matchup correctly” entails, here are a few bullet points…
1. Do not try to rush them. You only have a few precious turns to play Items and need to dedicate most of that time to finding Keldeos so you can limit as much damage as you can. The deck should be slow to deal damage and if you have a Keldeo or two up to stem the bleeding it’ll buy you time to start finding attackers. Keldeos are of absolute priority, and this matchup is the main reason most contemporary lists have switched to running 2 of them.
2. Never play a Virbank City Gym, or at least avoid it unless the situation is dire (e.g. you think you can win this turn if things go right, etc.) as it will only end up hurting you in the long run. The only consideration to make is to try and disrupt their Beach with it, but even then I’ve found that again, unless you think blowing up the Beach will put you in a hugely favorable position, that it is only going to end up biting you.
3. Although a lot of your cards are going to be dead and you are going to need to dig for certain cards at certain moments, try not to thin your deck too much. Gothitelle is literally never going to deck out (unless they mess up and don’t play around N), but slamming a Juniper whenever you draw one is a good way to ensure that you will. Be mindful of what you need to do to win and never overextend.
I’m afraid to sound like a broken record, but this matchup largely depends on your ability to get consistent Night Spears versus their ability to get Blastoise online and pumping out a Black Kyurem EX. It may sound like oversimplifying, but it really is that simple.
If they do get Blastoise out though, you’re in luck in that you can actually kill it! And it should be your #1 priority. The way I’ve thought about the matchup is that if you let them get the Blastoise online you’re already in a tough position, but if you don’t kill it within a few turns and/or they get two Blastoises up, you’ve dug yourself a hole that very few men climb out of.
If you do manage to kill it though, you should be alright as the math works out favorably for you, and hopefully by the time they manage to get one up they don’t have any other Squirtles on board, meaning that you can take them out one-by-one.
The strategy that I think a lot of Blastoise decks will employ if they sense that you have the ability to KO their Blastoise (i.e. you have a lot of cards in hands, have tells, etc.) is to try and set up a large Keldeo. The reason being that even if you deal with the Blastoise, the Keldeo will still have all of its Energy on it and should be able to buy time before they can set up another Blastoise.
Unfortunately for the Blastoise deck, that strategy won’t always work, as you should be ahead by a few prizes by the time they’re able to get something going, and not immediately taking quick prizes with a Black Kyurem EX can be a good way for them to throw the game away, ensuring that we’ll keep up the prize lead for the rest of the game.
Vs. The Mirror
The mirror is weird and frustrating, particularly if you’re playing the Hammers version, where it all comes down to not only who can get early Night Spears, but who can get luckiest on their Hammer flips. I suppose the one upside to this matchup is that you are able to come back from an unimpressive/slow start, but unfortunately it usually comes down to having to rely on Hammer flips, which is something no one wants.
I’d go so far as to say that if you’re preparing for an upcoming Battle Road and you expect that Darkrai will be a very large percentage of your metagame, you should take out some number of Enhanced Hammers for Crushing Hammers, just to give yourself a bit of an edge.
I’ll admit that I haven’t tested the consistent Darkrai versus consistent Darkrai mirror match all that much, but in the little that I have, it has played out just as you’d expect: You need to get out Darkrais early and time your prizes correctly, as well as trying never to play too many Sableyes or Absols down as to not disrupt the Prize trade.
I’m afraid there’s almost no skill in this matchup, and as long as you can determine the very straightfroward, linear lines of play, it all comes down to luck of the draw.
I was kind of torn on whether or not to include this, but I figured that I would based on the fact that I still think the deck is legitimate, and is mostly underplayed right now due to hype behind it being unplayable (which has happened with every single set since Next Destinies, I remind you).
This matchup comes down to the Darkrai deck being resilient in the mid to late game. You’re almost certainly going to take early prizes and be much faster than them in general, so the real key is making sure that you don’t overextend and get all of your energy wiped off the board, or let them get too many Eelektriks set up at once. The most important factors to this are to:
1. Save your Pokémon Catchers for Eelektriks and Tynamos, and try not to burn any early. It’s going to be very difficult to take out Rayquaza EXs, so cutting off what fuels them is your best bet. Make sure that you don’t get overconfident because of an early prize lead and start throwing important resources away
2. Make sure not to overextend yourself to the point where you won’t have resources late game, and especially be certain not to get concerned with fancy play at all. You want to cut off Eelektriks and Tynamos; that is your path to victory and if you play tight and stick to it, you should be fine.
Although the old Darkrai decks with heavy Hammers were better positioned versus Rayquaza due to Crushing Hammer blowing up R Energy, we unfortunately don’t have access to that line of play quite as easily anymore, and are instead going to have to rely on other means of winning. That’s not to say you shouldn’t slam a Crushing Hammer on a Fire whenever you can, but I’d be much more concerned with Dowsing Machining and Junk Hunting for Pokémon Catchers over Crushing Hammers or basically anything else.
Important note: I haven’t done any testing versus the new Klinklang lists that have performed well at foreign Nationals these past few weekends and are running cards like Terrakion-EX, but the matchup is probably interesting. They have Fighting types which can theoretically completely wipe your board, but if you’re playing with Enhanced Hammers you should be able to deny them Energy for the entire game and win via Hammer, Absol, and Poison damage.
However, if you’re playing the non-Hammers version, I’m afraid there’s likely not much you can do outside of taking out Klinks and Klangs early. As far as that goes, follow the directions in the Rayquaza/Eelektrik matchup, as the two should play out pretty similarly.
Against the “original” type of Klinklang list that only runs Metal-type Pokémon, I think you have to play smart, but will likely be okay if you understand the matchup. That one Crushing Hammer can go a long way if you’re choosing to play that version, and if not, your Absol and Virbank City Gym/Hypnotoxic Laser combo should go pretty far.
It’s not a fun matchup by any means, especially considering that I’m in favor of cutting to very few Absol, but it’s not dire either. Again, refer to the strategy that you’ll use vs any set up deck in the format: Deny them their Blastoise/Eelektrik/Klinklang and you should make it out okay.
I hope this did a good job of explaining the strengths and weaknesses of Darkrai and its variants. Although I’m never sure what I’m going to play until the day before the event, Darkrai is a strong contender for my deck choice at Nationals 2013. I’m leaning toward the consistent version as of now but we’ll have to see what metagame calls I feel I need to make leading up to the event.
As always, please remember to like this article if you enjoyed it, as hopefully that will convince Adam that people like my content and I’ll become a regular writer (and not starve!). Thank you for reading!
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