“I think our deck is good, check it out.”
“I’ve been working on something, let me know what you think.”
“It seems unbeatable. I don’t think we can lose.”
“Haven’t been more excited about a deck in a long time.”
In Pokémon, especially at the beginning of a new format, we hear these phrases a lot. Players love to innovate, and it seems as if every major player/team/area always either comes up with an off-the-wall secret deck that they plan on taking down Regionals with, revives an old, overlooked strategy, or builds an optimal version of an established metagame deck, and gets excited about it. Players love to innovate and love to speak in hyperbolic phrases and it’s natural to get excited about the idea of winning with something that you created, particularly if your testing results back up your claims.
I spent the first few weeks after Worlds hearing these, and similar statements time and time again. By the time October rolled around though, most of those text message brags and hopeful Facebook group posts had turned into something more closely resembling this…
“I dunno, it loses to Blastoise.”
“It’s fine, but I don’t see how we beat Stoise.”
“I mean… we can never beat a Keldeo.”
“It’s positive versus everything but Black Kyurem.”
And it was true. It seemed like nearly every deck that anyone liked or was testing would have positive matchups all the way across the board (or at least solvable ones) but not quite be able to crack the shell on the nut that was Blastoise.
In today’s article I’m going to go over what I think is the best deck in the format and why it holds that title. In addition to covering the most important cards in the deck, the different variants that are viable, and some general matchup notes, I’ll be writing a bit on why I feel Blastoise is so powerful and will likely remain powerful for a very long time, getting into something I’ve never really written about before, but dedicate a lot of time thinking about: Pokémon theory, and the overarching generalities of the game itself.
As always, if there’s anything I didn’t cover or a topic that you’d like a few more details on, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to clear things up.
If you’re a fan of my articles (although in fairness I haven’t written in quite a while, more on that later) you’ll know that I’m a man of details and like to take the time to go over things as neat and tidy as possible. If you’re very familiar with Blastoise and the format right now in general you can skip this section, although I think my input and perspective brings something for everyone.
This card is the powerhouse of the deck and it’s easy to see why. Deluge is an extremely powerful Ability and, although Blastoise isn’t a powerhouse EX with a million HP, it does have enough that most decks have will have to “reach” to knock it out, via damage-increasing cards like Dark Claw or Hypnotoxic Laser.
Being a Stage 2 is the only real downside of this card, and we’ll shortly get to why that’s not as big of a problem as it typically would be. Even its attack works well with Deluge, making the card just that much better.
Another huge reason why Blastoise is able to succeed at the level that it does is Squirtle, mostly for its Ability. Here’s a quick list of everything in the format that Shell Shield completely shuts off:
- Landorus EX’s Hammerhead
- Darkrai EX’s Night Spear
- Registeel EX’s Triple Laser
- Genesect EX’s Megalo Cannon
- Kyurem PLF’s Frost Spear
- Stunfisk DRX’s Muddy Water
Additionally, there are a number of cards that Squirtle shuts down, but that aren’t very well positioned right now (Raikou EX, Groudon EX, Kyogre EX, Zebstrika NXD to name a few). Needless to say, the fact that Squirtle is essentially un-KOable without the use of a Pokémon Catcher is huge in Blastoise’s success, as, after all, without Squirtles you can’t get out Blastoise’s, and without Blastoise’s what are you even doing?
Keldeo EX is one of the most distinctly powerful cards Pokémon has printed in a long time. I find it very interesting because it’s not outright, absurdly powerful like other cards of recent memory are (*cough* Black Kyurem EX *cough*), but rather its power level may not be determined by a novice player immediately.
Obviously Secret Sword goes deep with Deluge and can deal essentially “infinite” damage, but Rush In is where Keldeo really shines. Negating retreat costs entirely (Blastoise’s four retreat comes to mind immediately) and neutering Status Conditions and Hypnotoxic Laser is a huge part of the reason why Blastoise maintains its success.
Black Kyurem EX PLS
Here we have a card that’s essentially the complete opposite of Keldeo EX. There’s nothing interesting or subtle about this card. There’s no neat interaction that only advanced players will noticed, there’s no off the wall play to be made (unless you count James Good Slashing Takuya Yoneda’s 60 HP Trubbish to Top 4 in Vancouver), there’s nothing but raw, unmatched power.
Everyone knows 200 damage is a lot, but Black Kyurem also quietly improved with the rotation to NXD-on, as Eelektrik decks aren’t anywhere to be found, meaning that he can’t easily die to a baby Rayquaza DRX out of nowhere anymore, and there are fewer dragons in general for him to contend with.
With the upcoming November rules changes, Tropical Beach has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind. It’s a card of unmatched potential that can simply not be replaced by anything else in the format… and it’s $200 and rising. The point of UG isn’t to talk about card prices so I’ll spare you that whole discussion, but needless to say, Tropical Beach is essential in any deck that literally cannot attack on turn one, and that needs many cards in its hand to operate.
I think I’ve pretty well covered the majority of the cards in Blastoise. In the past I’ve gone over every single card in a list, but I feel like common Supporters and Items don’t need to be explained anymore, and any talk of specific counts of cards I’ll go over a little bit later in the article with a deck list.
One thing I do want to quickly discuss is the little bit of wiggle room you have in the deck. Not so much with specific card counts, but more so small techs or other decisions you can make to really give yourself an edge. Here are the two most common ones:
Catstoise is a variant of Blastoise which includes no Black Kyurem EX, slightly heavier Keldeo EX, as well as lower counts of Rare Candy in exchange for Wartortles. My best friend Mike Newman played this to a Top 16 finish at the World Championship in Vancouver.
Without any Item lock in the format I don’t think that Wartortles and fewer Candies are necessary, but the decision to forego Black Kyurem is still an interesting one. You’re more consistent as you don’t have to play Lightning Energy and you also significantly improve your matchup against Darkrai, and slightly improve your matchup against Plasma.
However, you also have to accept an auto-loss versus normal Blastoise builds, and in the dark against a random deck your cards are much worse, as Keldeo has a hard time “going over the top” of anything like Black Kyurem can.
At the end of the day I prefer the Black Kyurem version as I value raw power in a deck like this and think that Black Kyurem provides exactly what you need, but there is certainly an argument to be made for Catstoise, mostly dependent on metagame.
For those who aren’t aware, some Blastoise lists have been playing Jirachi EX as a way to find crucial cards in times of need. Blastoise needs a lot of parts moving in unison to really work, so searching for a Blastoise, Rare Candy, Superior Energy Retrieval, etc. at any given time can be extremely powerful and turn games around very quickly.
Jirachi also comes with a cost, mostly in the form of its 90 HP. Remember a few hundred words ago when I went over all of the things that can’t KO a Squirtle? Almost all of those things and probably five times more can score two quick Prizes off a Jirachi with ease. While killing a Jirachi instead of a Blastoise or Keldeo isn’t the worst thing in the world for you as the Blastoise player, two Prizes is still something no one wants to give up.
In the end this decision is very much like the Catstoise vs. Blastoise decision in my mind – it’s up to the specific player and is metagame (and list) dependent. If I had to give a blanket, “correct” answer, I would say that Jirachi is not worth the space, as it only helps when you’re not winning, and if you’re not winning it’s likely because your opponent has taken quick prizes off of your Squirtles, and in those situations you simply can’t afford to lose another two Prizes.
I feel like I’ve sufficiently explained a lot of the different things you can do with the deck in the above paragraphs, so I’m going to stick to two lists instead of my usual three or four. A regular Blastoise list that I would play for this weekend’s upcoming Regionals, and a Catstoise list that I think is probably optimal if you want to go that route.
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 35
Energy – 13
Exeggcute is something that players have gone back and forth on, and while I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not my usual type of card whatsoever, I think the risk of being donked by starting with is completely worth it when you consider that it makes Superior Energy Retrieval – already the best card in your deck – that much better.
Additionally, the change to best-of-three Swiss makes Exeggcute marginally better, although in areas with larger tournament attendance that advantage can be negated by the extra Swiss rounds accompanying that tournament format.
A 2/2 split of Keldeo and Black Kyurem is pretty standard, but I’ve seen players up one and drop another in all sorts of combinations. In my mind there’s not enough room in the list and I can’t really think of a specific metagame where I’d want too many of one or another, without switching to straight up Catstoise.
Two copies of Tool Scrapper is a concession to all of the Garbodor decks running around. Lex D’Andrea’s run at the K.O. proved that Garbodor was a legitimate choice and that it could get through Blastoise, so I think heavily teching for it is very justifiable, especially considering that there are a few other Garbodor variants running around (the Terrakion version being the most prevalent) and that it’s the cheapest deck in the format to make, meaning even if you don’t think it’s particularly threatening, it could be over-represented at any given Regional.
Dowsing Machine is another option here, and a completely viable one at that. It allows you to player much looser with your Junipers and other discard cards, and lets you get away with a single Tool Scrapper. I find the raw consistency of Computer Search to be better, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for choosing Dowsing.
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 35
1 Level Ball
Energy – 12
As you can see, the lists are mostly the same, just with a few slight but meaningful changes.
More Keldeo because you’re relying on them more. Even though you have the same number of Mewtwo as the regular version does Black Kyurem, Mewtwo is a much more narrow card and doesn’t have the universal application that Black Kyurem has, thus you have a need for a higher number of attackers.
Mewtwo is included because you need another attacker, and it’s an incredibly powerful card in general that is particularly good in this field, not to mention with Blastoise. Mewtwo is good versus Plasma, allowing you to go over the top of a Deoxys EX at any moment, and against regular Blastoise who may not know you’re running Mewtwo, you can severely punish them for loading up a big Keldeo. Additionally, it has small edges over things like Bouffalant (which was well represented in NorCal this past weekend) and can easily score cheap KOs on things like Drifloons and opposing Squirtles.
I cut the Energy Retrieval because without all your Energy getting Black Ballista’d to the discard pile you don’t use the Retrievals as much as a regular Blastoise list would, and your Ultra Ball count is up to 4 at the expense of your lone copy of Heavy Ball as there are less things Heavy Ball can fetch without the 3 retreat cost Dragon.
Cutting only one Energy total even though you’re getting rid of an entire type may seem strange, but Keldeo and Mewtwo are both Energy sinks who can never have too many. I would even play the thirteenth if I could find room, but I can’t really see any cuts.
Despite what the NorCal results will tell you, Blastoise is favorable in this match. Although you are generally a turn or two slower, their Night Spears are heavily neutered and generally you have more staying power than them and can play the long game better. You’re also much less weak to Hypnotoxic Laser because of your ability to constantly rush in.
You can still lose to them KOing a Blastoise with a Night Spear + Laser + Dark Claw, and it’s nowhere near an auto-win, but you should win more matches than you lose.
Along the same lines as the normal Blastoise matchup, this one is favorable to highly favorable. Everything I said about the deck in the paragraph above is true, except for the fact that you’re even more resilient to Hypnotoxic Laser plays, and although Darkrai resists Mewtwo, they are forced to two shot you, during which time you can build up huge Mewtwos and an endless stream of Keldeos.
While it’s true that you don’t have the raw OHKO power that Black Kyurem provides, you’re in a much better position overall as if they KO your Blastoise you care much less as you have so much Energy already on board and not in the discard pile after a Black Ballista.
Unfavorable. I hesitate to even include this matchup here as I’ve found that it’s more draw dependent than anything. If you can get your Blastoise online and get an attacker loaded up before they get a Garbodor up then you’re in a good position, but that’s all based on luck of the draw. Additionally, drawing Tool Scrappers and using them wisely is very important, but sometimes they just never come/are prized/etc.
The biggest piece of advice I would give is to save any Tool Scrappers you draw for the right moments, when you can set up a board of Keldeo that will be able to attack even with Deluge shut off, OR when you can score a crucial KO.
Unfortunately I didn’t get around to testing this as much as I would’ve liked, but taking my results and talking in-depth with Mike Newman and Chris Jester (who have both worked on the deck much longer than I have), I’m confident in saying that this is slightly unfavorable to even.
Not too much changes in how the matchup plays out, except for you have a much easier time just setting up big Keldeo that the Darkrai deck can’t deal with, and the fact that you can get some free wins via Mewtwo on Trubbish or Garbodor. Again, the only real piece of advice I have is to set up multiple attackers and use your Tool Scrappers wisely.
I think it’s pretty easy to see why this matchup is unfavorable, although I don’t think it’s quite as bad as many people think. If you can survive the initial onslaught of easy knockouts and them preying on your Weakness, you can set up a position to stabilize and try to take over the game.
In a way it reminds me a lot of the Darkrai vs. Eel matchups from last year, where the Darkrai player (in this case the Virizion player) is going to get ahead early, but the Eel (Blastoise) player has a better late game and can still come back. In fairness I think this matchup is worse than that one, but the two draw interesting similarities.
The main point I want to drive home here is to set up a board of multiple Squirtles and not too many Keldeos and try and survive the initial turns until you can start building up a board presence, but obviously that is easier said than done.
Highly unfavorable. I hesitate to use the words auto-loss as, again, there are times where you can come back after the first few turns of getting dominated OR games where they are simply going to stumble, but in general you have the same matchup generalities as the regular Blastoise builds do, except you don’t really have any good attackers versus them, and opening double Keldeo or having to drop a second one early for whatever reason can spell certain doom.
I don’t think Virizion/Genesect is all that great of a deck, but in any area where it’s going to be fairly represented, I wouldn’t think about playing Catstoise.
I’m only going to write one entry for this deck, as I feel that it’s even all around. I suppose it’s slightly better for the Catstoise player as you have Mewtwo on your side versus Deoxys, but in general Plasma is such an inherently powerful deck capable of basically anything that I’m unsure that any deck that doesn’t specifically tech several cards against it can ever claim to have anything more than an even/slightly favorable matchup.
With both decks the strategy is pretty simple: eliminate their Kyurem and Deoxys and try to get a faster start than them, and keep in mind that due to Raiden Knuckle, Colress Machine, and Deoxys EX they can pull things off out of nowhere.
After NorCal, it seems that Big Basics is coming into the fold more and more. I don’t feel comfortable giving out any concrete advice as I haven’t spent nearly as much time testing against these decks, but experience from last year’s Cities format and a little bit of theorymoning tells me you should be perfectly okay, and the matchups are probably highly favorable.
You have Keldeo for their Landorus, if you play Mewtwo you can likely go over the top of their Mewtwo and make their Bouffalant a lot less threatening. As it stands now I don’t see why any Blastoise variant would have much of an issue with the Big Basics decks and am surprised they performed as well as they did, but as I said I haven’t spent a lot of time testing against them.
That’s all I’ve got for today. It’s easy to see that I think Blastoise is the BDIF right now and, regardless of what happened in the finals of NorCal, I think it’s impossible to debate that it’s at least a very powerful deck that stands among the best in the game. I’m taking most of this season off to stream events for On The Bubble, but if I were playing any Regional coming up I would most certainly sleeve up the basic Blastoise list provided here.
Speaking of streaming, I don’t want to plug too much on this premium article, but On The Bubble will be streaming every Regional this year, as well as a number of States, Cities, and who knows what else! Jeremy Jallen and Isaiah Middleton already finished NorCal this past weekend, which should be up on our YouTube channel any day now.
Tune in to Twitch.tv/OTBWest this upcoming weekend to see Chase Nieman and myself stream BC Regionals, and like our Facebook page at Facebook.com/OTBPokémon to be made aware of the rest of our streams and everything else we’re doing.
See you soon!
… and that will conclude this unlocked Underground article.
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