This is one my favorite times of the year due to the changing colors, and regardless of beliefs, everybody seems to be in a good mood. We also have finally reached the end of the huge break in the Pokémon action as well. Even Fall Regionals didn’t seem to fill the three month or so gap between Worlds in mid August and now.
Now we’re well into the midst of constant League Challenges and City Championships. There is always a tournament to look forward to and that’s a really good feeling.
In my last article I discussed what I felt to be some of the big decks heading into the new format. I wrote my last article long before we had any results from foreign Regionals, League Challenges, or Cities. Everything I wrote about was straight from my own testing, but now for this article I have a lot of results and personal tournament experience to go on. I can pair my own testing with real world results from other players.
Last month I put a lot of emphasis on deck building and its importance. This month I want to put a strong emphasis on metagaming and how to do it effectively.
However, the core of this article is going to be based around one of my favorite decks of this new format: Empoleon. The deck is easily adaptable for different play styles and metagames. The deck also takes more skill to play than it seems it might need. I’m going to discuss different options the deck has, and what metagames they are best suited for.
Table of Contents
- The Importance of Metagaming
- A Rise to Power
- The Penguin’s Plan
- My Top 3 Ways to Play Empoleon
- Chicago Cities Reports
The Importance of Metagaming
Since for a majority of this article I want to discuss Empoleon, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to discuss metagaming and how important it is. Empoleon is a great deck to tie into with this as it is the easiest deck in the format to adapt, change, and effectively metagame against the format.
Most people know what metagaming is, or should by now, but the way I would explain it to somebody who might not be familiar with the concept is “playing a certain deck or cards that improve your matchup against a certain deck or cards.”
This goes hand in hand with assuming the decks you’re going to be metagame against are going to be popular. An example of this would be playing Emboar/Reshiram at a tournament where you expect to see a lot of Virizion/Genesect. Another example would be adding Flareon into your Empoleon deck to also give you an edge versus Grass. Small changes can greatly improve bad or shaky matchups. It’s all about understanding what decks are going to be popular and cards that are effective against them.
One of the most important aspects of metagaming is making changes to your deck without ruining your overall consistently. If I expect one deck to be popular, I might play an outright counter to that deck instead of teching. (Once again, an example is playing Emboar/Reshiram in a field full of Virizion/Genesect).
However, if I expect a deck to be represented (like 20% of the field or roughly 6 players in a 30 person tournament), I might make small additions to my deck to help improve that matchup. Adding Flareon to Empoleon is a great example of this because the deck most likely already plays a 1-1 Leafeon, so by adding a 1-1 Flareon we’re only making a small change and helping the deck by giving it a greater out to Leafeon.
Later in the article I will go into detail about how I tech Empoleon for different matchups, but the biggest thing I want to stress is how important it is to test a deck after you tech it. Sometimes your techs won’t be as effective as you think they will be (in which case a lot of the time they aren’t worth playing), and other times teching will hurt your deck’s consistency, which makes the tech a liability.
Most of Empoleon’s matchups against the field seem to be right around 50/50 with none really being worse than 40/60. However, the deck can easily incorporate cards to improve shaky matchups or to further strengthen positive ones.
A Rise to Power
In my last article I gave my list for Empoleon/Dusknoir. I knew the deck was good, but it started off more as a “fun deck” that I felt I could use to show my testing group just how much the new rules have changed what is viable.
How good Empoleon really was got reinforced when I saw that it won two Regionals in France. Both of these Regionals were comparable to reasonably sized Cities here in the United States, so I felt those results were well representative of the deck heading into our winter tournaments.
My Original List
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 31
Energy – 9
French Regionals Top 8 List
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 33
Energy – 7
Like everybody else, this is where I started heading into League Challenges and City Championships. I’m going to start by going through some of my thought processes.
“With this information, what are some assumptions that we can draw?”
- Empoleon is a Tier 1 deck.
- With little to no other information about the format other than the two French Regionals, people will assume Empoleon is a Tier 1 deck. This will create a shift in the meta where more people will play Empoleon, play counters to Empoleon, and fewer players will play decks weak to Empoleon.
The biggest mistake that I see people make is that they overreact to a new deck in the format. They assume the deck will either be over-represented or over-countered, when in reality we haven’t seen a format-dominating deck since SP several years ago. Even then, SP never comprised more than half a tournament. I felt Empoleon might represent 15%-20% of a tournament field, so I could safely expect to play against at least once in a five round Cities.
The Penguin’s Plan
I firmly believe that the core strategy behind any Empoleon deck is putting damage on the board with Empoleon and then manipulating it with Dusknoir. The manipulated damage can either be used to score 1HKOs or lock my opponent out of the game completely. Every card the deck plays should aid the deck in setting up this combo and anything that deviates from it should be an essential tech for the deck to win a certain matchup (Leafeon is the best example).
While playing against Empoleon, I noticed many players would try and rush Prizes and I just could never understand why. This would make it look like they were winning Prize-wise, but would often be losing the game overall. In reality I prefer to play Empoleon with a very large emphasis on the control strategy.
What I normally do is hit my opponent and then on the following turn spread the damage out evenly among all their Pokémon. This reduces how badly a Max Potion would hurt me. For example, let’s say one turn I hit my opponent for 100 damage. On the following turn I would evenly spread this damage out by placing 20 damage on each of my opponent’s Benched Pokémon, so the most they could remove with a Max Potion is 20 damage. This may seem small, but it will win or lose games very easily.
The things I focus on are getting the most out of my damage on the board and trying to lock my opponent out of the game. Let me set up a scenario for you:
I’m playing an Empoleon mirror match. I hit my opponent’s Active Empoleon for 120 damage with my own Empoleon. At this point I have 120 damage on the board and let’s assume my opponent’s bench is Piplup, Piplup, Duskull, Dusknoir, and Jirachi-EX. A lot of players might go for the 3-Prize turn by KOing Jirachi-EX and the active Empoleon (which might be a good play if it wins you the game, but for this example I want to show how to lock your opponent out of a game).
I would take my 120 damage and KO the 2 Piplups and then hit the Active Empoleon again. I’m not dealing with the actual threat right now (the attacking Empoleon), but what I’m trying to do is set up is a turn where I can wipe all my opponent’s attackers off of the board. This will force my opponent into turns where they can’t even attack and I just clean up.
Empoleon is one of the few decks that can come back and easily win a game being down 5 Prizes. If you manage damage correctly you can actually set up games where your opponent won’t ever be able to get another attacker into play (this is really only viable against Stage 2 decks).
The next thing I want to point out is that by KOing the 2 Piplups, we’re actually maximizing our damage. Had we KO’d 1 Piplup and then the active Empoleon, a simple Rare Candy/Empoleon would have made it all for nothing. We would have needed another 80 damage (60 + 80 = 140) that we didn’t need before. In the mirror match, every damage counter counts.
You will reach a point when you can simply “rush the Prizes,” and then taking the cheap easy Prizes is the best idea. However, this usually isn’t until the mid or late game and should not be the strategy the deck uses in the early game.
Another strategy to keep in mind is to target down your opponent’s Energy attachments. In matchups like Darkrai (and others that lack consistent Energy acceleration), it’s important to focus on what your opponent has Energy on. It’s very hard for the opponent to constantly drop Darkrai, Energy, and 2 Dark Patches.
Regardless of whether you’re going for the attackers or the Energy, the main idea is to create turns where your opponent is unable to attack. Effectively even locking your opponent out of the game for just a turn or two is normally enough to win the game.
- Spread damage out evenly to avoid Max Potion.
- Try to lock your opponent out of the game either by eliminating Energy or attackers.
- Focus damage on key targets and not just “easy Prizes.”
- Plan out your 6 Prizes and where they will come from (as much as possible).
My Top 3 Ways to Play Empoleon
While all Empoleon lists may seem similar, their subtle differences have a major impact on how matchups play out. The first variant I want to discuss is the one I built to beat mirror as well as Darkrai. This was also my #1 version heading into my first City Championship.
1. Anti-Mirror, Anti-Darkrai
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 34
Energy – 7
The deck basically cut any unnecessary techs and completely devoted itself to the strategy of getting Empoleon and Dusknoir into play as quickly as possible to control the game. In the mirror match, whoever gets Dusknoir into play first most likely will win the game.
Due to the straightforwardness of the deck, there isn’t much to explain, but I would like to briefly discuss 2 techs that proved to be invaluable in the Empoleon mirror and Darkrai matchups.
As I discussed earlier, the Empoleon mirror match is all about controlling damage and trying to lock your opponent out of the game.
The first thing Ditto did was gave me a 5th “good starter” as I could easily replace it with Piplup when I was going for the turn 2 Empoleon. I’ll admit this worked much better in theory than it did in actual practice. However, I found myself starting Ditto enough (and using Transform into Piplup) that it’s worth noting.
Second of all, Ditto made it nearly impossible for my opponent to lock me out of the game, because they would have to move damage to Knock Out Ditto (10 more than Piplup and 20 more than Duskull) and Ditto wasn’t anything I had to invest in. I went with just a single copy of Ditto, but I have considered cutting the Dusknoir line down to a 1-0-1 and then going heavy Ditto.
The single copy of Max Potion is extremely good, against both the Empoleon mirror and Darkrai. In the Empoleon mirror it’s quite common to find yourself one turn or one attack behind your opponent. Max Potion is a great way to bring yourself back even or pull farther ahead in a game you were already leading.
Against Darkrai, ideally they are only 2HKOing your non-EX attacker, so forcing them to 3HKO is huge. Darkrai already struggles to KO six non-Pokémon-EX, and Max Potion makes their efforts that much more difficult.
Max Potion is a bit harder to pull off in reality than it sounds in theory, due to the low Energy count of the deck. However, it really is a card that makes a difference. Devoting one tech spot for an easily searchable card (with Skyla) that can outright win you the game is a great trade-off to me.
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 32
Energy – 8
When I first went back to the drawing board with Empoleon I thought the deck would be best with an emphasis on Flareon. There was simply so much synergy between Empoleon being able to discard Pokémon and Flareon doing damage based on how many Pokémon in the discard pile.
I started with a line of 2 Eevee, 2 Flareon, and 1 Leafeon with 1 Double Colorless Energy. However, I quickly realized that it was way too hard to get enough Pokémon in the discard pile for Flareon to start 1HKOing, and if I was settling for 2HKOs I might as well focus more on Empoleon (as it only costs one Energy to attack versus the two Flareon requires).
While the heavy investment in Flareon might not have been ideal, Flareon is still a great counter to the very popular Virizion-EX and Genesect EX based decks. Flareon only needs six Pokémon in the discard pile or three Pokémon and a Silver Bangle to 1HKO either Virizion or Genesect.
Many Virizion/Genesect players are starting to include Virbank, Laser, and a single tech copy of Deoxys-EX so their Genesect can 1HKO Empoleon with Megalo Cannon. The matchup can be really difficult, and a single Flareon can go a long way to making it a positive matchup. Even in games I wasn’t able to get Flareon into play, just the constant threat of Flareon made my opponent focus on Eevee rather than Empoleon. Losing a single Basic was a much better trade-off for me than a full Empoleon.
This list has, in my opinion, too strong an emphasis on Flareon, but it has an extremely favorable matchup against Virizion/Genesect. Unless you expect to play half or more of your rounds against Virizion/Genesect though, I would choose more of an “even” balance and go with a 1-1 Flareon line or 2-1-1 (Flareon/Leafeon).
The Double Colorless Energy is nice in a Flareon-focused list, but really isn’t that needed with a smaller line. There are many situations where I don’t need to attach my Energy for turn to Empoleon, so dropping one under Eevee isn’t that big of a deal.
3. A Balanced Take
My last list is more of a middle-of-the-road between the first two. The reason I shied away from this take in the beginning is that I thought the mirror match would be far more prevalent.
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 34
Energy – 7
The only thing I would like to point out is that by playing 2 Eevees and 1 copy each of Leafeon and Flareon, I could have one Eeveelution active (Leafeon for example, in the Blastoise matchup) and then an Eevee on the Bench. If my opponent Knocks Out the Active I could then promote the Benched Eevee, use Super Rod to send the Stage 1 back in my deck, and then search it out again with Ultra Ball.
With all the built-in draw power Empoleon has, this normally isn’t too difficult and a much better use of space than playing two copies of a Stage 1.
Chicago Cities Reports
Day 1, Empoleon
This year the Chicago marathon was divided into two mini-marathons. We skipped Friday due to a lot of my testing group having to work. We ended up leaving at about 1 AM on Saturday morning and got to our hotel around 5 AM the day of the tournament. I was still flip-flopping between Blastoise and Empoleon for the first day.
When we got to the store we all found out that the Top 4 from the day before were two Empoleon and two Virizion/Genesects. I felt Blastoise had a stronger Virizion matchup (60/40) and a slightly weaker Empoleon matchup (40/60), while on the other hand, Empoleon was 50-50 against both and I gave myself a slight edge in the mirror match from my techs.
The final deciding factor was that I didn’t know how popular Garbodor was going to be. Half of our car decided to play it last minute and I wasn’t sure how representative that was going to be of the field. All of this in my mind made Empoleon feel like the much safer choice.
I panicked in the last minute and added a 1-1 Flareon to my list. I knew Blastoise saw play the day before, but in Swiss I figured if I threw down an Eevee my opponent would avoid committing 5 Energy to a Keldeo. This same trick would not work in Top Cut though, and I’d have to rely on my speed in the matchup.
Here is my final list that I ended up going with:
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 33
Energy – 7
All day the Flareon did absolutely nothing; it was near impossible to get enough Pokémon in the discard pile to KO any non-Fire weak attacker. I only played 1 Virizion/Genesect deck and the Flareon never became a major factor. In every other matchup, Empoleon is the better attacker.
My tournament report will be brief, but I will include a few elements that I thought won or lost me games, as well as some interesting decks and techs my opponents played.
Round 1 vs. Darkrai/Dusknoir (aka DnD)
I lose the coin flip and my really good starting hand is replaced with a very poor one after my opponent plays N. The first few turns of the game involve me using Tropical Beach and trying to get anything going.
I finally get a turn 4 Empoleon and manage to take down his Darkrai, however at this point I’m already down a few Prizes and my opponent has a second Darkrai ready. The entire game I feel like I’m about 2 turns behind and since I’m down in Prizes I can’t make good enough trade-offs.
My opponent counters my Beach with his Virbank and my second Beach is Prized. At this point he also has multiple Darkrai powered up and I simply can’t get out of the Laser/Dark Claw lock I’m in.
Note: I feel the matchup is pretty favorable, but not playing the second Silver Bangle proved to be a major mistake. At the expense of sounding cocky I honestly think this is a game I would have won going first. I would have ended my first turn with a full Bench and a Tropical Beach in play. Even with my opponent’s N I would have had about 6 less cards in my deck and I wouldn’t have played my first Supporter for the Tropical Beach. I also would have had another turn before my opponent’s T2 Night Spear.
Note: People act like the first turn is all fair and balanced right now, when in reality it’s not. In some regards, it’s actually considerably worse. You notice it the most in the Stage 2 versus Stage 2 matchups, where going first puts you in such a dominant position and your opponent on the back foot. Really the only way to even it out is hoping the opponent whiffs a key card at some point.
I think regardless of what deck you’re playing it is almost always better to go first, even if for no other reason than making your opponent go second.
Techs for the Darkrai Matchup
Round 2 vs. Darkrai/Hydreigon
This matchup is probably a near auto-loss for Empoleon if the Hydreigon player techs in Latias-EX, since nothing in the entire deck can hit it other than Flareon and Leafeon. Unlike Emboar, Darkrai/Hydreigon plays a higher count of Max Potion and Sableye to get them back.
I spend the entire matchup desperately trying to play around the Latias-EX. In the early game I purposely avoid taking Prizes and instead aim to get damage on the board. Even though leaving damage on the board is very risky against a deck with such a high Max Potion count I felt like it was my best shot at winning the game. I’m also very careful to spread my damage out evenly to avoid Max Potion as much as possible, while at the same dumping Pokémon in my discard pile for Flareon.
In the end though my opponent can never really get anything going and I don’t think he even played the Latias-EX otherwise he would have searched it out very early in the game.
Note: Latias-EX is an absolutely amazing tech against Empoleon and can single-handedly win you the matchup. We saw quite a few players switch to Emboar/Rayquaza just because the deck can incorporate Latias-EX pretty easily. The Latias-EX is actually the strongest in Darkrai/Hydreigon, though, because it’s near impossible for the opponent to keep damage on the board with so many Max Potions.
Note: The best counter Empoleon can run is Flareon with at least 2 Silver Bangle. Dumping 10 Pokémon in the discard pile isn’t easy, but it’s doable. Ideally you’ll also get some damage in play before Latias hits the board.
Round 3 vs. Ross Cawthon w/ Blastoise
Ross and I go way back and he is easily one of the top 10 players in the world (with 10 Worlds invites and two Worlds runner-up finishes). I love playing against Ross because he is so analytical about the game. Normally Ross thinks way outside the box and plays very original deck ideas, however recently Ross has gone with a very standard Blastoise list.
The game starts off with Ross winning the dice roll and getting a pretty standard first turn before ending with Tropical Beach. I also had a pretty standard first turn before also ending with Tropical Beach.
On Ross’ second turn he just absolutely explodes with Rare Candy + Blastoise and follows it up with 3 Energy on a Black Kyurem EX to secure the T2 KO on my active Piplup. While this is not an unheard of T2 for Blastoise it isn’t exactly common and an exceptionally good start. I follow this up with a T2 Empoleon to hit the Black Kyurem EX. Ross turn he drops the 4th Energy under the Black Kyurem EX and KOs the Empoleon.
At this point in the game I’m in serious trouble since all Ross needs to get a KO each turn is either a Superior Energy Retrieval, a Skyla, or any other way to find 3 Energy. I, on the other hand, have to get a fresh Empoleon up every single turn. My only chance of winning is if Ross misses at some point and I’m able to start applying pressure.
The problem is Ross was applying so much pressure on me that every turn my Supporter was either Skyla or Colress to get the next Empoleon into play. I never had the turn where I could “waste” my Supporter on playing an N and hope that he would miss.
Eventually I’m unable to string Empoleons together and start falling behind in Prizes. Ross never really misses a turn of attacking as he constantly had outs to the SER. Ross also did a great job of thinning his deck out to maximize his odds of hitting the SER each turn.
Note: The matchup is really weird since neither deck can play very well from behind (in this matchup) and whoever gets the more explosive start will most likely win. However, I do feel the matchup is slightly in Empoleon’s favor as it far easier for it to hit a T2 Empoleon (which leads to the second Empoleon and the Dusknoir much more easily) than it is for Blastoise to get T2 Blastoise along with an attacker and 3 Energy.
Note: Earlier in the day, while watching a game, I glanced over at Ross and notice that he was playing Zekrom PLF. After using my smart phone to look up what the Zekrom actually did I instantly ran to the case and bought one.
For 1 L Energy and 3 C Energy the Zekrom hits for 80 damage. It’s mainly a counter to Empoleon, which due to Weakness hits Empoleon for 160 damage and a 1HKO. Zekrom does require some set up (namely 4 Energy in hand with a Blastoise on the field). It won’t save you in games you’re way behind in, but it will allow you to narrow the gap or even pull ahead in close games. For a single tech spot I really like the addition of it to your standard Blastoise or Emboar deck.
Note: My Eevee strategy seemed to work in this game. After I benched the lone Eevee Ross never went for the 5 Energy Keldeo-EX. It takes very careful Energy management, but it seems that Blastoise’s best chance at winning this game is to focus on using Black Kyurem EX and Zekrom.
Techs for the Blastoise Matchup
Round 4 vs. Water Pokémon
Round 5 vs. Blastoise
Note: The one interesting thing to note in this matchup is that my opponent actually played 3 copies of Pokémon Catcher. Many players only set up 1 Emboar or 1 Blastoise in the mirror match. By playing Pokémon Catcher this allowed him to straight up win some games just because he KO’d their Energy acceleration. Worst-case scenario, the opponent has to set up two Blastoise or Emboars while you only have to set up one.
I wouldn’t play 3 copies, but I might consider 1 tech copy to get some of this benefit without the huge devotion to space.
Round 6 vs. Virizion/Genesect
My opponent is playing a pretty straightforward list complete with Virbank/Laser and the tech Deoxys-EX. I get an early Empoleon and start putting pressure on my opponent, however the game becomes a lot more interesting when he strings back-to-back KOs on two of my Empoleons. On the following turn I miss a major Energy drop and am unable to attack.
I honestly thought I had lost the game at this point, but thankfully an Escape Rope had saved my Empoleon on the previous turn. The game begins to stabilize for me and a small misplay from my opponent really opens the door for me.
My opponent overreacts to my Eevee with Energy on the Bench (he knew I played Flareon) and he goes for a Hail Mary play. He Red Signals the Eevee up and uses a Hypnotoxic Laser for 30 before passing. I’m able to retreat the Eevee and the turn I lost earlier in the game evens up. Using Empoleon and Dusknoir (with a lot of on board damage), I pull ahead and secure the win.
4-2-0, 10th Place, Missed Cut
Note: The Virbank/Laser and Deoxys combo was one of the main reasons I considered the 3rd Tropical Beach. This matchup would have been much easier with it.
Note: Once again I regret not playing the 2nd Silver Bangle.
Note: I saw firsthand how the threat of Flareon forces the opponent into adapting their play style. I really think Flareon played a huge part in me winning this game even though I never attacked with it.
Day 1 Reflections
In the end I finished 10th with my 4-2 record after about half of the top tables very smartly intentional draw their way into top cut. If it wasn’t for all of the ID’s a majority of the 4-2 players would have made it in instead of getting bumped out by all of the 4-1-1 players.
Don’t get me wrong; if I had been in the situation of course I would have ID’d as well. However, this doesn’t change my belief that players should have to play to earn their spot in top cut.
I understand that intentional draws are to reward players for doing well in Swiss. However, this really only applies to very large tournaments with long Swiss rounds like Regionals and Nationals (aka 10+ rounds of Swiss). At smaller tournaments like Cities it’s very stupid that players only have to play 3 rounds before ID’ing the last two to get into top cut. It becomes less about performing well over the course of a long tournament and more about who hits a few early easy rounds or cupcake matchups.
All in all Empoleon played very well and the two games I lost I strongly felt like I would have won if I had gone first. It wasn’t until I got into a super competitive environment like Chicago Cities did I realize just how unbalanced going first was in an Evolution mirror match. It’s much like the Plasma mirror match was at Worlds last year; whoever went first and used Raiden Knuckle had a huge advantage, but now it’s all about who goes first and gets the first Tropical Beach off and subsequently gets the first turns of evolving.
- The first turn rule is still horribly unbalanced.
- ID’ing is bad for the game. (This is very evident at small tournaments with limited Swiss rounds.)
- Leafeon is all around better than Flareon and still very much needed for the deck.
- I should have played 2 Silver Bangle (minimum).
- For this meta I would have liked the 3rd Tropical Beach, but I don’t think I could have found the room.
Day 2, Blastoise
For the second day I decided to switch things up and play Blastoise for a few different reasons. The first was that I had a much better idea of the meta and a strong hunch that Garbodor wasn’t going to see a lot of play. Second, after stealing the Zekrom idea from Ross, I felt like I had a much stronger matchup against Empoleon.
The last reason is that Blastoise is actually a really fun deck to play. Normally how fun a deck is doesn’t weigh into my decision, but seeing as all the top tier decks are so even in strength, being “fun to play” was a deciding factor.
Here is the list I ended up playing:
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 32
Energy – 11
Notes on the List
The first thing you should notice is that I play absolutely no Tool Scrappers. I had tested the night before with Mat and came to the conclusion that a single copy of Tool Scrapper was not enough to win the Garbodor matchup a significant portion of the time; two was needed to bring the matchup to around 50/50.
The only other matchup where I even remotely considered Tool Scrapper useful was the Virizion/Genesect matchup as it stopped them from attaching G Booster before they needed it. I figured that they would desperately try to avoid doing that until they saw a Tool Scrapper in my discard pile anyway, so actually playing none could benefit me.
In the end I was not going to play 2 Tool Scrappers to make one outlying matchup 50/50. I instead opted to devote those cards to consistency options that would benefit me in every matchup.
The one Wartortle is actually more for the Virizion/Genesect matchup than anything else. In this matchup it is very common to need more than 1 Blastoise as the opponent can easily take it out at any point in the game.
Normally getting a Blastoise out involves playing a Skyla either for Rare Candy or Ultra Ball to get Blastoise. By playing a Wartortle I can rush the first Blastoise out then more casually evolve up to the second through Wartortle by using Level or Ultra Ball.
1-1 Electrode PLF
Electrode is great protection against late game N’s, ensuring you’ll always have 4 cards to work with. Blastoise does a great job at thinning itself out with so many discarding cards, so the odds of drawing dead off 4 cards late game is low. There was not one point all weekend where I lost due to drawing dead off of a late game N.
Yes, these counts are very low and I’d love to run 3-of each, but I simply don’t have the room. Making cuts I really don’t like is a primary reason I run a single copy of Super Rod.
I was playing the card as a counter to Leafeon in the Empoleon matchup more than anything. However, Blastoise and Rayquaza/Emboar are so heavily played that you really have to play one copy of the “Baby” Black Kyurem. The mirror matchup becomes highly unfavorable if your opponent plays it and you don’t.
I fully admit I stole this idea from Ross the day before. For 1 Lightning and 3 C Energy Zekrom can 1HKO an Empoleon. Allowing the deck a Basic non-EX answer to Empoleon is really nice. It does require some set up, but if you can get it rolling you’ll find yourself making some really nice trade-offs.
With 4 Ultra Ball, 3 Level Ball, 4 Skyla, 3 Tropical Beach, 1 Computer Search, and 1 Jirachi-EX we have a whooping 16 outs that will lead us to a T1 Tropical Beach. Jirachi brings so much consistency to the deck you have to run the 1 copy.
The Jirachi to Cilan combo is also another major reason I play the card in the deck. There are so many little tricks you can do with the card.
Round 1 vs. Darkrai/Garbodor
In all honesty this is a match that I really should have lost, however my opponent was extremely new and made several mistakes. First he let me go first after winning the coin flip, and then he forgot to use my Tropical Beach, instead passing with a two card hand for 4 or 5 turns in the middle of the game.
Round 2 vs. ???
Round 3 vs. Empoleon
My opponent wins the dice roll and plays a few cards down before playing N. Afterward he plays a few more cards down and passes without a Tropical Beach in play. I take my turn before ending with a Tropical Beach. My opponent plays a Juniper for 7 and ends up hitting the Rare Candy, Empoleon, and W Energy he needed off the 7 cards. On the third turn he gets another Candy + Empoleon and a Candy + Dusknoir.
I was frustrated that he hit all of this without ever having to take a turn to Tropical Beach, but it happens. I find myself a turn behind the whole game and I can never get enough going to deal with the streams of Empoleon.
Note: I feel like my opponent got an extremely lucky turn 2 hitting the Rare Candy, Empoleon, and W Energy all off a 7 card Juniper and without ever Tropical Beach. However, this is one thing that makes Empoleon so dangerous: once a single Empoleon hits the field it can speed through the rest of the deck.
Note: You can tech for matchups all day, but it might not matter if your opponent gets that “God start.” The matchup specific techs really only work when you and your opponent are playing a close game. Techs are more about pushing you over the top in close exchanges and usually aren’t enough if you fall too far behind. There really is no way to adapt to this, but I feel it’s important to keep in mind when teching your deck.
Round 4 vs. Ross Cawthon w/ Blastoise
On the last day of the marathon I once again find myself sitting across from Ross. This time Ross and I were playing a Blastoise mirror match. This game was probably the best game I played all weekend.
The Blastoise mirror match is really similar to a very complex game of Chess with both players trying to make the best trade-offs, while trying to avoid putting themselves a situation where they miss an attack. Ross and I both played the Baby Black Kyurem, but I knew my one copy of Super Rod could really come into play here.
Ross wins the die roll, but neither of us have extremely explosive starts. While we both wanted to get the first Prize, neither of us wanted to overcommit to take a non-EX Prize because we would end up on the losing side.
- Keldeo-EX would be answered by Black Kyurem EX (+1 Prize on the counter).
- Black Kyurem EX would be answered by Baby Black Kyurem (+1 Prize on the counter).
- Baby Black Kyurem would be answered by Baby Black Kyurem (an even exchange, but one player would be down the Baby Black Kyurem, so it would be a bad trade-off).
This created a very awkward situation where we both realized the best course of action would be to take the first Prize with Zekrom forcing the opponent to answer with an EX or answer with a non-EX at which point the opponent could answer with an EX and then be ahead in the Prize exchange only needing 2 EX KOs.
The problem for me was that despite us both getting Zekrom Active early Ross got the first hit in with his Zekrom. This forced me to start the exchange of Prizes with my Black Kyurem EX KOing his Zekrom, which left me on the bad end of these trade-off. My only chance was to hit a Super Rod shortly after Ross KO’d my Baby Black Kyurem. Sadly, this didn’t happen (I think I might have Prized my Super Rod this game) and I was never able to make up the lost ground.
Now due to how slow our starts were and the very smart game we both played, time was called. On my turn 2 the Prizes were tied at 1-1 a piece with Ross having the final turn of the game. My last Prize was my Superior Energy Retrieval and I had no way to take my final Prize, while I was staring down Ross’ Black Kyurem EX knowing he would easily take his last Prize on the 3rd turn of the game.
Having absolutely no other options I go for my Hail Mary play and use Wartortle’s “Withdraw” attack. I flip heads and Ross has no choice but to pass his last turn and let the match end in a draw.
I preferred many of my choices over Ross’, though I have to admit that his 2 Tool Scrappers gave him an even Garbodor matchup and his 3rd Black Kyurem EX probably made his Empoleon matchup slightly better. He had the room for all of this stuff by not playing Electrode and probably a much lower count on Level Ball.
Round 5 vs. Virizion/Genesect
The game really goes pretty much perfect for me as I get a turn 3 and turn 4 Black Ballista on 2 EX’s. I Prized my second Black Kyurem EX, which dragged the matchup on longer than it should have lasted. Some pretty poor Energy management in the mid game could have cost me badly, but thankfully it didn’t.
In a weird turn of events I was actually able to put a lot of pressure on my opponent with a Blastoise. Normally this would be a very bad idea since Blastoise is weak to Grass, however I was able to put so much pressure on my opponent that he was never able to get into a situation where if he KO’d my Active Blastoise he wouldn’t get KO’d back by my Benched Blastoise.
My early pressure with Black Kyurem EX only allowed my opponent to get 1 Emerald Slash off, so they were very far behind in Energy attachments.
Note: My personal play style is to play very “tight” lists. In many cases this can get me in trouble if I don’t play carefully. I prefer this way of playing because it allows me to fit more options into my deck, which works out as long as I play smart.
Normally playing smart isn’t a problem for me, but I didn’t do it this game. Very early on the Blastoise player needs to know how many Energy and SER’s are in the deck and Prizes. In the mid game they should start planning on how many Energies they need for each KO so they don’t run out. This resource management is huge, especially against non-EX decks.
Note: The Wartortle tech proved to be as good in this matchup as I was hoping, as I was able to get a second Blastoise in play without ever having to waste my Supporter for the turn. Once I put Wartortle into play my opponent never even tried to go after the Blastoise.
Landorus-EX/Tornadus-EX DEX/Ho-Oh EX/Archeops DEX/A Lot of 1-ofsTop 8 vs. Mewtwo EX/
This was a very unusual deck that Joe Baka (Wisconsin State Champion 2012) and a few of the other Chicago players came up with. The idea was to use Archeops to stop Stage 2 decks and then beat the opponent down with Big Basics. Blastoise had to be by far his worst matchup though.
Editor’s Note: Andrew Zavala will be covering Ho-Oh/Archeops for you guys on Thursday, December 26th.
Games 1 & 2
In both games it was rush for me to get Blastoise out before he got Archeops out. Whoever won this race would most likely win the game; the difference it was much easier for me to get Blastoise out than for him to get Archeops.
The first game I get to go first and I have an amazing opening hand that easily leads to a T2 Blastoise and his deck can’t keep up with my Energy acceleration.
The second game proved to be a bit closer, but I manage to get Blastoise out a turn before he could get the Archeops. We once again played a game of me getting the better of every exchange and a second win.
Top 4 vs. Blastoise
I feel like my list was far more consistent than his was, but his lack of Tropical Beach would only marginally hurt him in this matchup (it would have hurt him considerably more had he been paired up against Darkrai or another non-Beach deck). He would really only be a turn behind, and if I missed my setup the turn after I got the first Beach off then it would all even up.
My opponent wins the die roll and we both set up at a pretty similar pace. His Empoleon really shines for him in the mid game as he always seems to have what he needs thanks to Diving Draw. He always seems to have the Ultra Ball/Basic and the SER to go with it to secure the KO. He is also always able to follow these plays up with N. I’m never able to get Electrode into play and there are a few turns where I miss an attack.
The game gets very close, but the turning point was in the mid game when I had a turn where I needed him to either miss the attack or the N, and he had both. Had he missed the N, I had Super Rod to return a Baby Black Kyurem, then an Ultra Ball/SER combo to attack with it again.
The second game I got a much faster start, but I Prized 1 SER, 1 Super Rod, and 1 Cilan. At different points in the game having these Prized cost me the game. The biggest factor was that Cilan was Prized, otherwise I would have been able to get a T2 KO on a Squirtle and be ahead the whole game on Prize exchanges. It happens though and I wish my opponent luck in the finals.
0-2, 4-2-1, 3rd/4th Place
Note: I feel Electrode is a much stronger option than Empoleon for Blastoise players who don’t have access to Tropical Beach. Electrode is just a lot easier to set up and very rarely do you actually need to attack with Empoleon.
Note: If I was going to play the deck without Tropical Beach I would probably play at least a 2-2 Electrode and at least 3 Level Ball. The biggest mistake I see players make is that they play Electrode, but don’t mess around with their Level and Ultra Ball counts. Playing the cards is good, but it’s extremely important that you’re able to search them out when needed.
Overall this format is extremely well-rounded and a lot of fun to play in. Of course I have a few gripes, such as being able to use Tropical Beach on the first turn leading to the player going first having too big of an advantage. I also think some cards are overpowered, like Dusknoir, Garbodor, and Superior Energy Retrieval.
However, regardless of the format, some cards and decks will always be OP. This will forever be the case and you need to look at the format as a whole. This is probably the best format we’ve had in quite a long time and I see a huge amount of creativity and originality.
My only other complaint is ties and intentional draws are absolutely horrid at low level events. Only having to win three out of five rounds of Swiss and intentional draw the last two to make top cut isn’t good for small events. It really takes a lot of fun (and skill) out of the events when six out of the top eight spots are decided by ID’s. This is something I feel TPCi should have been able to predict. Hopefully some early results will show this to be a problem and we can get it fixed quickly.
In the end though I really hope you enjoyed this article and got a lot of useful information about building and playing two of my favorite decks in the format. Blastoise and Empoleon are both easily tier 1 decks and are going to be sticking around for quite sometime. I also think this article and my lists show a lot of thinking outside the box, which is really important in this format to catch your opponent off guard.
If you agree, please remember to click “Like” right below and feel free to hit up the message boards to discuss the article in more detail.
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