Penguin Power: An Analysis of Empoleon/Dusknoir

Empoleon, A History

napoleon saint
Napoleon Empoleon was in exile.

Since Empoleon’s release in Dark Explorers, players have always seen great potential in it: high HP for a Stage 2 (140 HP); built-in draw power (which, in our current format, is a feature found only in cards such as Musharna NXD and Electrode PLF); and a one-Energy attack that can deal a considerable amount of damage. In theory, Empoleon should have been a power since its release. However, Empoleon has been a victim of the most merciless deck-killer in Pokémon: the format.

When Empoleon was released, one of the best decks in the format was ZekEels. I’ll give you the short version: ZekEels could 1-shot Empoleons with relative ease; and when Empoleon could return a KO, ZekEels would just recycle its Energies and continue reaping havoc. It was a bad time to have a Lightning Weakness, and Empoleon just couldn’t cope.

However, later in the season, Boundaries Crossed gave Empoleon a new ally in its battle against the Eels: Landorus-EX. Suddenly the synergy between Terrakion NVI, Landorus-EX, Empoleon, and Blend WLFM Energy created a new deck: Empoleon/Terrakion/Landorus (yes, not much creativity was shown in its given name). Even though the deck was strong and did make it into City Championship top cuts, it could not cope in tournaments such as States and Regionals. Once again, Empoleon was good, but just not good enough.

Then came Team Plasma. It unleashed cards such as Kyurem PLF, Thundurus EX, and Absol PLF onto the Pokémon world. Many Stage 2 decks had difficulty coping with T/D/K and other Plasma variants because every Pokémon in format could suddenly be 1HKO’d. Empoleon had exceptional difficulty because all a Plasma player had to do was bench several Deoxys-EX and attack with Thundurus to 1-shot Empoleons. As such, Empoleon saw very little competitive play during this time.

Just when it seemed Empoleon would be forever stopped by unfortunate circumstances, Pokémon TCG released the new format rules: players who went first could no longer attack on the first turn and Pokémon Catcher was now Pokémon Reversal. Two of Empoleon’s greatest weaknesses were destroyed in one blow: it could no longer be donked, and Bench manipulation was drastically weakened. Empoleon could now, once again, emerge from the shadows and become a major player in this format.

The New Empoleon

And improved!

With the new format came a new partner for Empoleon: Dusknoir. The strength of Empoleon/Dusknoir (another creative name…) is fairly straightforward. Empoleon typically deals 80-120 damage in one attack. Excluding Eviolite and Max Potion shenanigans, Empoleon will often do more damage than is necessary to KO its opponent’s Pokémon.

This is where Dusknoir comes into play: it allows you to move the excess damage on your opponent’s Pokémon elsewhere on their field. This allows you to KO your opponent’s Pokémon, and save the “excess” damage to KO the other Pokémon on your opponent’s field.

The List

In past articles I have only given skeleton lists; however, the list I will provide has been developed over several tournaments, and I am confident in its lines. It will also allow me to explain several choices I have made that may not be traditional in most Empoleon/Dusknoir lists.

Pokémon – 18

4 Piplup DEX

1 Prinplup DEX

4 Empoleon DEX

3 Duskull BCR

1 Dusclops BCR

2 Dusknoir BCR

2 Mr. Mime PLF

1 Emolga LTR

Trainers – 35

4 Professor Juniper

4 N

4 Skyla


4 Rare Candy

3 Ultra Ball

3 Level Ball

2 Escape Rope

2 Super Rod

2 Silver Mirror

2 Silver Bangle

1 Tool Scrapper

1 Max Potion

1 Dowsing Machine


2 Tropical Beach

Energy – 7

7 W

The Cards

A list is only as strong as the lines of Pokémon, Trainers, and Energy that compose it. This is an integral truth of Pokémon, as well as any other trading card game. However, they are also based on personal preference and taste. If you disagree with the lines, that is fine. If you think my list is terrible, that is fine. If you think I’m a rubbish writer who shouldn’t be allowed to post on this site, that is fine. All I ask is that you are polite with sharing your opinions.

4-1-4 Empoleon DEX
There are many “draws” to Empoleon.

The Emperor Penguin, Empoleon has built-in draw power, requires only one Energy to attack, can dish out 150 damage when combined with Silver Bangle, has healthy HP for a Stage 2, and is very easy to chain after the first Empoleon is put onto the field.

Unlike the main attackers of other decks currently popular in this format, Empoleon is a non-EX attacker. This means your opponent is forced KO six Pokémon (or seven, if you run Life Dew) instead of three Pokémon-EX, which can tax the resources of any deck.

Empoleon does have many weaknesses: it can still be 1-shotted by Thundurus EX (and Hydreigon DRX 97), it requires Rare Candy to be set up by turn 2, its Basic form (Piplup) is still very easy to 1-shot for practically any deck in format, and it basically dies to any form of Item lock.

3-1-2 Dusknoir BCR

Empoleon’s partner in destruction, Dusknoir moves damage on your opponent’s field, allowing you to conserve every damage counter you may need to achieve a KO later in the game. Dusknoir also allows you to take multiple KOs in one turn. In one match during a League Challenge, I was able to KO two Keldeo-EX in one turn due to Dusknoir’s Ability (my N were suddenly useless, but that is beside the point).

Dusknoir was always a strong partner for Empoleon, but a risky choice because it could easily be dragged to the Active Spot by Pokémon Catcher (a non-flip at the time), allowing your opponent several turns to stall if you couldn’t retreat it.

With Catcher now a flip, it is currently much safer to play Dusknoir, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible for it to be locked in the Active Spot. You must be careful with your resources; if you allow yourself to run out of methods of retreat (such as Switch and Escape Rope), your opponent can easily turn a game from a win for you to a tie by dragging up Dusknoir.

2 Mr. Mime PLF

This 70 HP Barrier Pokémon serves only one purpose: to prevent Bench damage. While this may not sound overly important, consider what it prevents: the 30 damage from Darkrai EX, the 20 damage from Genesect EX, and the 30 damage from Kyurem PLF (to name a few). This damage would make Empoleons much easier to KO (especially versus Darkrai). In many ways, Mr. Mime is the reason that Empoleon has even matchups versus decks such as Darkrai and Plasma.

2 Silver Mirror

silver mirror plasma
Pesters those pesky Plasma Pokémon.

This to prevent Thundurus EX from having a field day against Empoleon because, despite the format change, it is still relatively easy for Thundurus EX to 1-shot Empoleons (especially with the rise of Frozen City in Plasma lists). Silver Mirror changes Plasma from an awkward matchup into one where you hold the advantage. It also improves your Virizion/Genesect matchup, as they are forced to use G Booster or rely on a secondary attacker (such as Mewtwo EX).

However, it is important to remember that Silver Mirror, like all Pokémon Tools, can be easily removed by Tool Scrapper.

2 Silver Bangle

When facing every deck that isn’t an Empoleon mirror match, Silver Bangle is a critically important card. It allows you to conserve more damage on your opponent’s field (provided Dusknoir is in play), gives you the extra damage output needed to take critical KOs that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to achieve, and makes your opponent’s Bench management efforts nearly redundant.

1 Max Potion

I have no shame in saying that this card has caused more than one of my opponent’s to burst out in frustration. This is because Max Potion can completely ruin your opponent’s strategy to 2-shot your Empoleons (a method often used in mirror matches and by Genesect/Virizion). It is a devastating play against Darkrai/Hydreigon, who will be forced to 1-shot your Empoleons with Hydreigon instead of the 2HKO strategy they would otherwise use. Altogether, it is a solid tech that can change the entire game in your favor (if played correctly).

2 Tropical Beach

As with all Stage 2 decks, this is a necessity. If you do not have at least one of this card, I would not recommend playing this deck. However, you can successfully play this deck with only one copy of Tropical Beach.

Empoleon Tech Options

Okay, so you like the deck, you like the majority of the list, but what if you want something different to put in it? Something to make it more… well, your own. This is where the tech section comes in. It will list several options that fit into the synergy of Empoleon/Dusknoir and help you find a more personal fit.

Provides some type coverage.

For the longest time, Mew-EX was considered a staple to any Empoleon list (and still is to many players). However, through playtesting, I found that while Mew-EX gave you another attacker, the fact it was a 120 HP EX just hurt too much. One advantage o ften overlooked in Empoleon is that your opponent is forced to take 6 Prizes. If anything, attacking with Mew-EX gives your opponent more of an advantage than it does for you, because now he/she just needs to KO one Mew-EX and four Empoleon.

Mew-EX does provide type coverage against several major Psychic types in format: Mewtwo EX (found in Mewtwo/Virizion/Genesect and practically every deck that runs Double Colorless Energy), Deoxys-EX (not often found attacking Empoleons, but never underestimate the ability to 1-shot a card found in every Plasma list), and Gothitelle (which is slowly reemerging as a power in this format).

It is also very helpful to have a Basic Pokémon that is easy to put into play and attack (especially if you have only one Empoleon on the field; for Empoleon/Dusknoir to not have any Empoleon on the field leaves the deck vulnerable to devastating N plays).

Computer Search

Since its release, Computer Search has been the staple ACE SPEC for many decks. It increases consistency and speed; makes Tropical Beach more effective by discarding cards in your hand; and increases the likelihood of a turn 2 Empoleon. My only concern is that by discarding cards that are “useless” at the time with Computer Search, you may be forced to discard cards that are useful to your match when you use Empoleon’s Diving Draw.

Life Dew

Basically, Life Dew makes it so that your opponent has to KO seven Pokémon instead of the already-high-number of six Pokémon that he/she had to deal with in the first place. It works very well in combination with Mew-EX, as it makes Mew fit into the underlying strategy of Empoleon/Dusknoir (as it makes your opponent take only 1 Prize when they KO Mew-EX).

The problem with Life Dew is that it is easily removed via Tool Scrapper (which with Garbodor’s current popularity, is a highly played card) and adds no consistency to Empoleon/Dusknoir.


In most decks, Colress adds a strong element of consistency to any deck. However, when people play against Empoleon, they become very hesitant to bench Pokémon (they do not want to increase Empoleon’s damage output any more than they have to). Because your opponent won’t bench as many Pokémon as they would versus any other deck, Colress suddenly becomes limited in strength, especially in the early game. Mind you, it is still common to play Colress and draw 7+ cards, but it does add a layer of risk to Empoleon/Dusknoir.


Now that you’ve seen what composes Empoleon, you’re going to want to know how it fairs in the current format. We will go over the matchups of several of the most commonly played decks in format in this section.

Blastoise – 60/40

keldeo ex black white promos
Target their Keldeo.

Surprisingly, Blastoise is a good matchup for Empoleon/Dusknoir. This is because Blastoise has a difficult time KOing six Empoleon when all you need to do is KO three Pokémon-EX.

In this pairing, it is important to focus on KOing their Keldeo-EX. They will avoid attacking with Black Kyurem, as it involves using far too many resources to successfully attack with it six times (seven, if you run Life Dew). Thus, they will attack with Keldeo-EX, who can easily 1-shot Empoleons with only five W Energy attached.

If you allow the Keldeo-EX to continue KOing your Empoleons, you will be quickly overwhelmed. If you focus on attacking their Keldeo-EX and move damage accordingly with Dusknoir, this is a relatively comfortable matchup.

Gothitelle/Accelgor – 20/80

Okay, call me harsh, but it’s the truth. Empoleon is a deck that is about chaining Stage 2 Pokémon with Rare Candy, and Gothitelle is all about not letting that happen. Your path to victory is found only if they just can’t set up, or, if you can quickly set up an Empoleon and Dusknoir by turn 2 or 3, attack their Gothitelle and move the damage to their Shelmets and Accelgors (if they can’t attack, you’re not locked). It’s a difficult match, but with a bit of luck you can pull off a win.

Rayboar – ??/??

Yes, I realize a double question mark doesn’t help much, but that is because this matchup is swayed by what techs your opponent runs. If they run the Zekrom PLF, you’re in for a harsh match, as they can easily 1-shot your Empoleons. However, if you use Dusknoir properly, you can easily 1-shot that Zekrom with ease. If they don’t run Zekrom, then this matchup is strongly in your favor, as they can only 1-shot your Empoleons with Rayquaza EX (which requires three Energy to do so, and a great deal of resources to repeatedly attack).

Just play cautiously and keep enough damage on the field to 1-shot that 130 HP nightmare (if you can, but don’t play so cautiously you lose the game by playing it too safe).

Darkrai/Hydreigon – 40/60
Go after this guy.

While this won’t be your toughest matchup, it is – by far – the most annoying. It is critical that you get damage on their field before they can use the Hydreigon/Max Potion combo to heal it away; this way you can take critical KOs when you need them.

What will make the game awkward is the way you will spread the damage. You cannot leave it all on one Pokémon (Max Potion stinks, I know), so you will be forced to spread the damage evenly on their entire field. The exception is when they have only one Deino on the field. Your mantra for this matchup is “KILL DEINO”, “DESTROY DEINO”… okay, a bit much, but it is the best strategy (if you can achieve it).

You will also need to be weary of Hydreigon, as it can 1-shot your Empoleons with relative ease and, when combined with Dark Patch, do so repeatedly. Also conserve your N’s for after they use Sableye’s Junk Hunt to retrieve Max Potions from the discard (you don’t want them to have them in hand).

Virizion/Genesect – 65/35

This is actually a very strong matchup for Empoleon/Dusknoir as Genesect can only 1-shot your Empoleons with G Booster. You can foil their 2-shot strategy with Max Potion, stop the 20 damage to the Bench with Mr. Mime, and prevent damage from Genesect with Silver Mirror (and Virizion is not a strong threat to Empoleon). This, combined with Dusknoir’s damage movement, makes Virizion/Genesect a straightforward matchup.

The problems occur when they get a strong setup and you get a shaky start. If they can start hitting early, they can wreck your setup (consider that they can drag up any of your Pokémon with Red Signal). Also, be certain you have an out if they drag your Dusknoir to the Active Spot, as this can easily turn a win into a tie if you can’t retreat it.


I hope this article has given you some insight to Empoleon/Dusknoir, and that this deck becomes one of your possible choices for whatever upcoming tournament you plan to attend. Most importantly, I hope you enjoyed the article and found it informative.

Till next time,

~Chance N.

Reader Interactions

18 replies

      • Rich D  → Darksripe2

        Players of Darkrai/Hydreigon mainly. It is a somewhat useful wall against many played Pokemon and so some players are teching it in.

        • Darksripe2  → Rich

          sorry, didn’t realize darkrai existed for a minute, derp.
          i am surprised that people can’t get around it with, you know, plasma kyurem or garbodor.

  1. Yann Riviere

    In France there are eevees in every empoleon decklist. It was played with flareon (and leafeon) at the beginning but as nobody does play Virizion/Gensect in our country, it was dropped out for Leafeon which gives an almost autowin against Blastoise. It helps against Latias EX too. (though it’s very unlikely to see one…)

  2. Datwombat

    A few notifications, your initial list has 2 Mr.Mime PLF listed as opposed to the 1 you talk about. Also, under the Blastoise matchup section it says ‘Soul Dew’ instead of ‘Life Dew’. Your list is also very interesting with the exclusion of Exeggcute and a secondary attacker, but as you said, it’s personal preference i guess.

  3. Adam Capriola

    Nice article Chance. What is your opinion on Exeggcute?

    • Chance Nauman  → Adam

      It is a very strong card in Empoleon (although it is terrible to open with). I wish I had remembered to add it to the article. Perhaps it would have given the article more credibility to the veteran Sixprizes users.

  4. GThang

    Wow this is awful… You seem to think empoleon/dusknoir (Empire btw…) just came out of nowhere -_- You gave no reasoning or insight to your poor card choices (3-1-2 dusknoir wtf, 2 mr. mime, 4 juniper, 1 prinplup, no exeggcute, no colress, etc) and gave no mention of other attackers (leafeon, flareon, sawk, drifblim, terrakion, landorus, cobalion, mewtwo, etc) or additional bench sitters (jirachi, keldeo + float stone, etc).

    srry if im being harsh, but this was just piss-poor.

    • Chance Nauman  → GThang

      You’re entitled to your opinion, no one can take that away. And I will agree: I could have added more details. However, if you are going to “diss” this article, I would appreciate you having the stomach to use a name other than “Anonymous Andy”.

      On another note, thank you. I am working on my writing skills, and criticism is an excellent help. Your wording was not overly polite, but you did make several strong observations that others agree with. So, again, thank you.

        • Chance Nauman  → GThang

          That’s happened to me as well. I hope you don’t think my response was sarcastic; it was genuine. My goal was/is to write an article people may find useful, not make enemies on a site I respect.

  5. Mark Hanson

    Ach, no love for Empoleon/Accelgor. That won/topped about just as many Cities as Empoleon/Fighting.

  6. Jonas Nisse

    Straight Darkrai, Plasma or Virision/Mewtwo matchups are not mentioned but GothGor is. ???????? Were are the evolutions?I thought donks were not a problem anymore, 3-1-2 Dusknoir? P.S. For those of you wanting to know the Plasma matchup, If Plasma can stream Kyurems before they set-up (Turn 2 Kyurem presuming you go first) they win. If not then it is 50/50 because you 2HKO while they still OHKO.

  7. James Clark

    I’ve been using Empoleon since Dusknoir first came out, and I have to say I’m surprised to see Juniper in lists. I’ve always gone with my own version and to me Juniper is fairly unnecessary especially as a 4-of. I find myself getting close enough to decking out WITHOUT a discard+draw 7 card in my deck.

    I tend to move towards Colress instead of Juniper because your deck requires you to try and fill out your bench to obtain the most damage possible. This means if you’re playing effectively Colress should be able to net you at least four or five cards.

  8. Darksripe2

    actually there’s crobat pls for built in draw support

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