Hello SixPrizes. My name is Steve Lewis, and I’m a competitive Pokédad in the Houston, Texas area. I’m also a Pokémon professor, judge, and co-league leader, all of which keep me busy. Although I have a pretty good Premier Rating (1817) and a decent amount of Championship Points (158 CP), I have absolutely no tournament wins to my credit. So remember that, if you find yourself disagreeing with any part of this article.
Alright, that’s enough about me. Let’s get to the good stuff.
The Newest Member of the Black and White Dragons
Today I’m going to discuss a Pokémon card that came out with Plasma Freeze, and one that will get a lot of play at U.S. Nationals and probably the World Championship – Kyurem PLF or Plasma Kyurem.
First of all, let’s review this card’s stats. Kyurem PLF is a Water-type, Basic Pokémon with 130 HP, a three Energy Retreat Cost, no Resistance, and x2 Weakness to Metal-type Pokémon.
Kyurem PLF has two attacks, both of which are extremely good. Frost Spear, for one Water Energy and a Colorless Energy, does 30 damage to the active Pokémon and 30 damage to a benched Pokémon. This is basically a copy of Landorus-EX’s Hammerhead attack, but with a higher energy cost since Kyurem is not an EX Pokémon. Kyurem’s second attack, Blizzard Burn, does 120 damage to the active Pokémon, but with a cost. After attacking with Blizzard Burn, Kyurem can’t attack on the following turn.
I think it’s very interesting that Kyurem PLF was issued near the end of the Pokémon Black and White era because it reminds me a lot of the original Black and White dragons – Zekrom BLW and Reshiram BLW. All three cards are Basic Pokémon with 130 HP and two attacks, the first of which costs two Energy.
While Outrage was a very good attack on Zekrom BLW and Reshiram BLW, nowadays there are too many attackers that can do 130 damage and knockout one of these dragons in a single hit. Since Hammerhead has already proven itself to be a very good attack in the current metagame, I prefer Kyurem PLF’s Frost Spear to Outrage, especially since it can be setup in one turn with Colress Machine.
All three of these dragons have a second attack that costs three Energy (2 colored and 1 colorless) and does 120 damage. Furthermore, all of the second attacks come with a price, whether it’s doing 40 damage to itself (Zekrom’s Bolt Strike), discarding two Fire Energies (Reshiram’s Blue Flare), or preventing the Pokémon from attacking the following turn (Kyurem’s Blizzard Burn).
Of the three, I actually think that Kyurem’s Blizzard Burn is better than the other two attacks for a couple reasons. First, you don’t damage yourself or discard Energies, which makes it more difficult for your opponent to knock you out and easier for you to keep attacking throughout the game and on the following turn, if you can reset the attack’s effect.
Second, resetting Blizzard Burn’s effect is pretty easy because of another Plasma Freeze card – Float Stone. As long as Kyurem PLF is sent to the bench, by playing Switch or Escape Rope or by a Keldeo-EX using Rush In, and the new Active Pokémon can retreat, preferably due to an attached Float Stone, Kyurem PLF can keep attacking with Blizzard Burn until the opponent does something to prevent it, like knocking it out.
Even if your opponent is able to knockout Kyurem PLF, you only give up 1 Prize. In today’s metagame, most decks want to Knock Out EX Pokémon and take 2 Prizes each time. Taking a single Prize is so, well, two years ago …
A Time Gone By
In 2011, when Black and White was first released, Zekrom BLW and Reshiram BLW were clearly two of the best cards in the game. Very quickly these cards were incorporated into powerful decks that made waves at U.S. Nationals and Worlds, including ZPS (Zekrom BLW/Pachurisu CL/Shaymin UL), MagneBoar (Magnezone Prime/Emboar BLW 20/Reshiram BLW), ReshiPhlosion (Reshiram BLW/Typhlosion Prime), and The Truth (Vileplume UD/Reuniclus BLW/Donphan Prime/Zekrom BLW).
When I started playing the Pokémon TCG, following the release of Black and White Emerging Powers, these two dragons were still very popular powerhouses.
Although I was new to the Pokémon TCG, I quickly realized how good Zekrom BLW and Reshiram BLW were compared to many other playable cards. Their high HP, ability to have Outrage’s damage increased by opponent’s attacks, and second attack with a relatively low Energy-to-damage ratio were really good characteristics.
Furthermore, they both had high-quality support Pokémon they could be combined with. Reshiram BLW had either Typhlosion Prime HS to recover the Fire Energies from the discard pile or the combination of Emboar BLW 20, Energy Retrieval, and Fisherman to quickly get powered-up again. Zekrom BLW first found good partners with Pachurisu COL and Shaymin UL. Later he got new support from from Thundurus EPO and Eelektrik NVI to get the Lightning Energies flowing from the deck and the discard pile and even from Eviolite to reduce Bolt Strike’s self-damage.
My family’s stock of competitive Pokémon trading cards was initially built up by purchasing several Reshiram and Zekrom tins in 2011. These two dragons remained at the top of the Pokémon heap until Mewtwo EX and Darkrai EX were issued with Black and White Next Destinies and Dark Explorers.
The Rise of the EX Pokémon
Since Next Destinies, EX Pokémon have been the dominant attackers in the TCG. Most non-EX Pokémon have provided vital supporting roles such as Klinklang BLW, Eelektrik NVI, Sableye DEX, Hydreigon DRX, and Blastoise BCR. While there have been some notable non-EX attackers that were the primary attackers for a deck, such as Terrakion NVI, Vanilluxe NVI, Empoleon DEX, and Garchomp DRX, these have been few and far between and haven’t had the same amount of success as the EX-attacker focused decks.
For example, decks such as quad-Terrakion NVI, quad-Sigilyph DRX, and Empoleon DEX had some tournament wins, but by far the most successful decks have had mainly EX attackers. These decks have included Zekrom-EX/Mewtwo EX/Eelektrik NVI, Darkrai EX/Sableye DEX, Rayquaza EX/Eelektrik NVI, Keldeo-EX/Blastoise BCR, Landorus-EX/Garbodor DRX, and Landorus-EX/Mewtwo EX/Tornadus EX (Big Basics).
Since Dragons Exalted, some anti-EX cards have been introduced into the game, including Sigilyph DRX with its Safeguard Ability and Bouffalant DRX with its Gold Breaker attack. Probably the most successful anti-EX deck was Klinklang PLS/Cobalion-EX during the recent State/Province/Territory and Regional Championships. This deck had several wins and top showings and forced competitors to play Garbodor DRX or to include non-EX attackers, such as Victini NVI and Bouffalant DRX, to counter Klinklang PLS’s Plasma Steel Ability.
Even so, I would say that we are still playing in an EX-dominated format. The EX cards are typically the most expensive and the most coveted when a new set is released and usually the most playable (aside from the occasional Celebi-EX and Heatran-EX).
The question is will the format remain EX-dominated? Or will the reign of the EX Pokémon, like that of the dinosaurs, come to a quick end?
Taking the Game by Storm
With the releases of Plasma Storm and Plasma Freeze, the Pokémon TCG has been given some very strong non-EX attackers such as Absol PLF, Snorlax PLS, Flareon PLF, and the ice dragon himself, Kyurem PLF. In addition we have been given tools and support for Team Plasma decks including Thundurus EX, Deoxys-EX, Lugia EX, Tornadus-EX PLF, Umbreon PLF, Plasma Energy, Colress Machine, Team Plasma Ball, Team Plasma Badge, Shadow Triad, Plasma Frigate, and Frozen City. In a flip-flop of sorts, Team Plasma decks are centered around using EX Pokémon in supporting roles for a mixture of EX and non-EX attackers.
Although the numbers may vary, all Team Plasma decks will have two EX Pokémon in common – Deoxys-EX and Thundurus EX. Deoxys-EX serves the deck through his Power Connect Ability which helps to strengthen the attacks of every Team Plasma Pokémon, except itself. Deoxys-EX’s Helix Force attack also directly counters Mewtwo EX, which has been the most dominant card in the game since early 2012.
Thundurus EX provides Energy acceleration for the deck through its Raiden Knuckle attack, which can attach ANY Energy from the discard pile to another Team Plasma Pokémon. Raiden Knuckle can also be used to do early damage and setup knockouts for stronger attackers such as Kyurem PLF, Absol PLF, and Lugia EX. In a tight spot, a player could also use Thundurus EX’s second attack Thunderous Noise, assisted by Deoxys-EX’s Power Connect Ability, to score key knock outs.
Besides these two support EX Pokémon, Team Plasma decks can be built very differently. Sometimes, the decks are focused around Kyurem PLF’s Blizzard Burn attack. These builds typically run 3-4 Kyurem PLF, basic Water Energies, Energy Search, Exp. Share, and higher counts of Skyla and Colress Machine to get the turn 1 Frost Spear and turn 2 Blizzard Burn.
In addition to the Team Plasma decks, the Plasma Storm and Plasma Freeze cards have strongly influenced the metagame. Darkrai EX decks got stronger due to the addition of Absol PLF and the reduction in play of Landorus-EX. Team Plasma decks, which are very popular, perfectly counter the Big Basics decks consisting of Landorus-EX, Mewtwo EX, and Tornadus EX, which are weak to Kyurem PLF, Deoxys-EX, and Thundurus EX, respectively.
Since Landorus-EX is not being played as much, Darkrai EX has better type-matching versus the metagame. Also, Sableye DEX is one of the best support Pokémon in the TCG, allowing Darkrai EX players to reuse critical item cards, such as Hypnotoxic Laser, Pokémon Catcher, Enhanced Hammer, Max Potion, etc., throughout the game.
The addition of Superior Energy Retrieval, Float Stone, and even Exeggcute PLF have helped the Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX/Black Kyurem-EX PLS decks. The addition of Float Stone to the metagame has also made Keldeo-EX a viable tech in virtually every deck to get out of that annoying Poison + Sleep combo caused by Hypnotoxic Laser.
Float Stone even gave us the resurgence of the Gothitelle EPO/Accelgor DEX/Mew-EX lock deck, which now has the option of using Dusknoir BCR’s Sinister Hand Ability to maintain a paralysis lock for the entire game and take all 6 Prizes at once.
Finally, the reliance on Float Stone in the current metagame, and the reduction in play of Switch, gave rise to R-Lax, the quad-Snorlax PLS deck that doesn’t even run Energies but takes all 6 Prizes using Hypnotoxic Laser, Virbank City Gym, and Snorlax’s Block Ability, preventing the opponent from retreating. Alternatively, the deck wins by decking out the opponent.
Tracking the Storm – A Brief Review of Spring Battle Roads and Early Nationals
Since I live in the Houston, Texas area, I am able to attend a large number of local competitions. I attended 7 Spring Battle Roads, competing in the first 5 and judging the last 2. A trend emerged over these competitions. The first 3 competitions were won by Team Plasma decks with heavy Kyurem PLF lines. These decks were tailored to support Kyurem PLF by using Basic Water Energies, Energy Search, Exp. Share, 4 Colress Machine, and/or 4 Skyla.
Another deck that had a huge presence was Klinklang PLS. Although it didn’t win, the deck commonly finished in the top 4, and at the second competition, Klinklang PLS took 4-of the top 8 spots. This deck didn’t really gain anything from Plasma Freeze except for Float Stone, but Team Plasma’s reliance on multiple Special Energies makes it very susceptible to Cobalion-EX’s Righteous Edge attack. In addition, a Cobalion NVI can 1-shot a fully loaded Kyurem PLF for just two energies using Energy Press.
Over the last 4 Spring Battle Roads, things began to change. Three of these competitions were won by Team Plasma decks running multiple Lugia EX. One of the competitions was won by a quad-Snorlax PLS deck that went 6-0, facing multiple Team Plasma decks. To be honest, this was the first time the quad-Snorlax PLS deck had been piloted in the area, and I think it caught many by surprise. Had players known how to approach the matchup, it might not have had as easy a time. However, I think it was still a very good call for the meta.
Why was Lugia EX able to have such success? Well I think that Lugia EX is very strong in the Team Plasma mirror match, since it can take 2 Prizes by Knocking Out Kyurem PLF, which is usually the Team Plasma deck’s strongest attacker and the one with the most Energy.
Lugia EX also helps the Team Plasma deck in the Darkrai EX matchup by giving it a 180 HP attacker that is more difficult for Darkrai EX to Knock Out. The extra Prizes drawn by the Lugia EX player can also help it catch up after a slow start.
Finally, Lugia EX’s Plasma Gale attack, especially when powered up by Power Connect from multiple Deoxys-EX, lets the Team Plasma player take 2 Prizes after Knocking Out such pesky Pokémon as Gothitelle EPO, Blastoise BCR, Snorlax PLS, Absol PLF, and any other low HP Pokémon. The negatives against Lugia EX are that it takes longer to setup, requires more energy, and isn’t as consistent as other Team Plasma decks.
Decks that were probably under-played by the better players in the area included Darkrai EX, Blastoise BCR, Rayquaza EX/Eelektik NVI, and Gothitelle EPO/Accelgor DEX. There were increased sightings of Gothitelle EPO as the season progressed, including a top 4 finish by John Kettler at one competition, but it was still only a handful of players at each event. Attendance in the Houston area is pretty good, and each Spring Battle Roads had 5 to 6 rounds of Swiss for Masters.
Early Nationals results have been all over the map as far as which decks won, but when looking at the decks that made top cut, a pattern emerges. Overall, the dominant decks appear to be Team Plasma, Darkrai EX, Blastoise BCR, and Gothitelle EPO/Accelgor DEX. Other notable mentions include Klinklang PLS, Garbodor DRX (with Landorus-EX and Cobalion-EX), Rayquaza EX/Eelektrik NVI, and Zekrom BLW/Eelektrik NVI.
At U.S. Nationals, I expect to see a similar sampling of decks with perhaps higher numbers of Klinklang PLS since I know a lot of players are partial to the deck. I also expect to see a wide variety of decks in the early rounds, just like I’ve come to expect at every large event like a Regional or State Championship.
Return of an Icon
In a recent casual, non-scientific poll on Facebook, Zekrom was named the Pokémon most commonly associated with the Black and White era of the TCG. Certainly, this iconic dragon is both the Pokémon and the trading card that I most closely associate with my first two years of the Pokémon TCG. Perhaps it’s fitting then that a resurgence in play for Zekrom BLW could be occurring as we close out the Black and White era and look forward to Pokémon X and Y.
One of the most surprising early National Championship results was the winning deck from the Netherlands, a ZekEels variant using Zekrom BLW, Bouffalant DRX, Zekrom-EX, Eelektrik NVI, Keldeo-EX, Mr. Mime PLF, and Hypnotoxic Lasers. Realizing that Landorus-EX was going to see a reduction in play, and that Zekrom-EX’s Strong Volt attack plus Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym could knockout most any Pokémon in the format, I had tried to create a good ZekEels list a month or so ago. I just couldn’t get it to stand up to my Team Plasma deck on a consistent basis.
However, I was running 2 Zekrom-EX, 1 Mewtwo EX, and no Bouffalant DRX. I also had not found room for 4 Hypnotoxic Laser and 2 Virbank City Gym. The deck list for this National’s winning deck has already been posted here.
I’ve played about 40 games on PTCGO with the deck and I believe it is very strong, having decent matchups against most of the heavily played decks in the format. The obvious weakness is the threat of the donk when starting lone Tynamo NVI 38. Other than that, the deck hits for a ton every turn with its non-EX attackers.
Even if you can’t get the Knock Out, hitting for 150 (120 from the attack plus 30 additional poison damage) and forcing the opponent to either switch, retreat, or just get Knocked Out by poison damage is tremendously strong. Ideally, you want to start Zekrom BLW to threaten early damage from Outrage. You need to get your bench setup with 2 Eelektriks, Mr. Mime, Keldeo-EX with a Float Stone, and one additional attacker.
Early game you just keep churning out Zekrom BLW or Bouffalant DRX depending on the matchup. In the middle game, you try to setup Zekrom-EX for a surprise 1HKO on an undamaged EX Pokémon. From there you hope to finish the game off with Zekrom-EX or one more non-EX attacker, all the while using Dynamotor to charge up the next attacker.
Using Keldeo-EX to Rush In and bring Zekrom-EX to the bench, only to be recharged by two Dynamotors and then returned to the Active position for another Strong Volt by retreating Keldeo-EX, is probably the most enjoyable part of playing the deck.
I believe this deck has a positive matchup with Team Plasma decks due to 3 things: the good Prize trade with all your non-EX attackers, type-matching if they play Lugia EX or Tornadus-EX PLF, and your energy acceleration is typically faster than theirs. This version of ZekEels also has a positive matchup with Klinklang PLS due to all your non-EX attackers.
The matchup with Darkrai EX is 50/50 and really depends on how well each person draws and how soon you get out Mr. Mime and Keldeo-EX. The matchup with Gothitelle EPO/Accelgor DEX is also 50/50, I feel, and depends on you getting your Eelektriks and Keldeo-EX in play. As long as you can Dynamotor to Keldeo-EX, Rush In, retreat to an attacker, and repeat, you can generally be competitive in that matchup.
This version of ZekEels generally has poor matchups with Landorus-EX, Garbodor DRX, Snorlax PLS (since you don’t run many Switch), and Blastoise BCR. Blastoise BCR in particular is a problem if they run 3 Keldeo-EX, since Keldeo-EX can easily knockout Zekrom BLW, Bouffalant DRX, and Eelektrik NVI. In addition, you can’t keep them locked in the Active position with Hypnotoxic Laser due to Keldeo-EX’s Rush In ability.
Conclusion (Poor Reshiram)
So which of the Black and White dragons will see play at U.S. Nationals? We all know that Kyurem PLF will get a lot of play, as it is a featured attacker in the Team Plasma deck. Zekrom BLW should also see some play thanks to an innovative, National Championship-winning list from the Netherlands.
Unfortunately, Reshiram BLW appears to be left out of the party. Certainly its Fire-typing is a bad characteristic to have when there are such good Water-type attackers as Kyurem PLF and Keldeo-EX. I do think that Reshiram PLF will see play in a Rayquaza EX/Eelektrik NVI deck that runs Zekrom BLW, as it is a good Klinklang PLS counter.
Depending on what, if any, cards are rotated this year, perhaps Reshiram BLW will get to shine again against the good Grass attackers, such as Virizion-EX and Genesect EX, that are in Plasma Blast. Then again, as much as I played against ReshiPhlosion, I wouldn’t mind if Reshiram BLW just faded off into history.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I think it’s interesting that Kyurem PLF is such a similar card to the original Black and White dragons, Zekrom BLW and Reshiram BLW, and that it is being released near the end of the Black and White era of the Pokémon TCG. In all honesty, I wasn’t initially enamored with the Pokémon in the Black and White video game. It wasn’t until I began playing the TCG that I started to enjoy these new additions to the Pokémon lexicon.
And now, as the Black and White era comes to a close, I will always fondly remember Pokémon such as Zekrom, Reshiram, Tornadus, Thundurus, Landorus, Chandelure, Cobalion, Virizion, Terrakion, Keldeo, Emboar, Klinklang, Victini, Eelektrik, Eelektross (take that Empoleon!), Emolga, Sigilyph, Bouffalant, Stunfisk, Krookodile, Sawk, and even Throh (from my first ReshiBoar deck).
I’m looking forward to participating in my first U.S. National Championship, and I wish everyone good luck!