For anyone who has been playing the game since Dark Explorers, you know about Darkrai. Ever since we were blessed with its consistency and amazing support system a couple of years ago, it has undoubtedly been a top tier deck. Here we are, two World Championship wins later, and Darkrai still has what it takes to compete at a high level. What I want to examine today is how Darkrai has been able to achieve this notoriety and if it will be able to carry its effectiveness into the future.
Regardless of what anyone says, the bottom line of a card game with random factors is that consistency will win you games. Over-teching can get you in deep trouble. Throughout my time with the Pokémon TCG, I’ve had to scrap certain ideas and go back to one ideal principle: your deck cannot do everything.
This philosophy speaks specifically to Darkrai in that you may have a decent amount of spots to work with once you have your core. It may be tempting to tell yourself that you have the space to devote to some outlandish ideas, but more often than not, you will probably just revert to the original concept of a consistent deck.
By understanding this, we can create a much more potent list. Accept the weaknesses a deck has and focus on capitalizing on its strengths instead of sacrificing consistency to turn an auto-loss into something that will probably remain an auto-loss.
This is where Darkrai has always held its strength and what it contributes its success to: consistency. A turn 2 Night Spear is never fun to deal with, and it is not uncommon for a consistent Darkrai list to hit it multiple times across a tournament run.
So with this knowledge, let’s lay out the strengths and weaknesses Darkrai has in the current state of the game.
Reuse of Items with Junk Hunt, including your ACE SPEC
This is something that is exclusive to Darkrai variants. Sableye’s Junk Hunt is among the best attacks in the game, particularly if you’re using Dowsing Machine (and you should be). There are so many situations where Junk Hunting wins the game, provided you grab the right Items.
Dowsing Machine is extremely useful in a Junk Hunt because it gives you the opportunity to postpone your decision based on your opponent’s next move. You can also play some mind games with them by keeping them guessing about what you’ll use it for. Junk Hunt allows the use of more than 4 Dark Patch per game as well, which boosts consistency tremendously.
Energy acceleration through Dark Patch
This is something that most of the top tier decks have in common. Blastoise, Genesect, Plasma, and Darkrai all have the ability to attach more than one Energy to their Pokémon every turn. Energy acceleration is probably the strongest mechanic in the game, so 4 Dark Patch along with Junk Hunt is definitely something that needs to be exploited.
Snipe damage from Night Spear
Though the usefulness of snipe damage has been mitigated somewhat by the inclusion of Mr. Mime in some decks, we see the metagame come full-circle in this situation, as follows:
Darkrai is good –> Use Mr. Mime –> Mr. Mime heavily played, Darkrai use decreases –> Darkrai use decreases, Mr. Mime deemed unnecessary–> Capitalize on exclusion of Mr. Mime by playing Darkrai
Along with most EX’s having 170 HP, Darkrai’s access to Dark Claw, and 30 snipe damage, it is easy to line up knockouts with this snipe damage.
Absol as a non-EX attacker
I have always been on the fence about Absol’s inclusion in Darkrai. It is definitely good and provides options to a Darkrai deck to get through Safeguarders, as well as take advantage of decks that boast a full Bench often, such as Plasma and Empoleon. However, Absol does decrease consistency slightly. This is something that I believe is a preference and/or meta call.
The inability to 1HKO
This weakness stung a lot more when a consistent Catcher was available to decks like Blastoise that could score a 1HKO on a benched Darkrai. While Catcher still exists, it has become a tech rather than a staple. Darkrai can take advantage of this knowledge by making a Black Kyurem EX eat a Sableye or Absol instead of a Darkrai. In the Blastoise matchup, it has also proven to be effective to play early Lasers on Black Kyurem EX’s so that Absol can take it out later.
Either way, Darkrai can still hit things for 140 and a 30 snipe. Night Spear is a very efficient attack and sometimes Blastoise can be beat simply because Darkrai is more consistent.
Fighting types can be really hard for Darkrai to deal with, for obvious reasons. This one can be irrelevant, though. What decks play these two? They are definitely not too popular right now, because of the prevalence of strong grass and water attackers. Landorus is a huge risk factor with Keldeo, Kyurem PLF, and Empoleon running around. Terrakion has Virizion and Genesect to worry about. At this point in time, I think Darkrai is pretty safe from these guys.
Max Potion is a weakness that comes hand in hand with the inability to 1HKO. A well-timed Max Potion can severely hurt the Darkrai player, and Max Potion is a popular card especially when paired with Mr. Mime. There is not much you can do combat this besides to spread your Night Spear snipes out or try to use your lasers early and possibly bait them into wasting it. A smart player can play around weaknesses like this one, though it is definitely not easy.
Addressing the Weaknesses
There is a difference between teching correctly and over-teching. Some weaknesses can be easily addressed with minimal deck space devoted. Other issues would require a complete remodeling of the deck, and more than likely would not work. For instance, adding some Water types or Fighting-resistant Pokémon would wreck our consistency and help minimally against Landorus-EX. Meanwhile, Blastoise can be addressed with a well-timed drop of a Frozen City – and only takes one spot from the list.
In the way of Darkrai, however, I feel like Spiritomb is a double-edged sword. It stops G Booster sometimes, but it often hurts you even more. The ability to Junk Hunt for your Dowsing Machine is huge. If you are forced to start with Spiritomb, though not often, you are severely limiting your own options in the early game.
You may find that Spiritomb is often as much of a nuisance to your own board as it is for your opponent – maybe more because you are the only one with the ability to use your ACE SPEC multiple times if you don’t have it on your Bench.
Frozen City first popped up during the first run of Regional Championships when Israel Sosa used it in the finals against Blastoise. At this time, the surprise factor was definitely a part of its success and can catch careless Blastoise and Emboar players off guard. The extra 20 damage on other non-Plasma Pokémon can definitely hurt, too.
Dusknoir has been talked about in Darkrai ever since it was released, but never really became a feasible card until the Catcher errata made Bench-sitters significantly safer. Dusknoir addresses the Max Potion issue by spreading the damage around, as well as creating 1HKO situations by combining prior damage with a current turn Night Spear to steal a knockout in unexpected ways.
The above solutions are what I would call hard counters to things Darkrai doesn’t like. They make sense on paper, but I still stand by my word: the best counter is to be more consistent.
I don’t believe a skeleton of one of the longest-lived decks in our format is necessary, so I will get straight to exploring the options.
When considering building a straight Darkrai variant, I believe there are three perspectives that must be considered:
Hammers is a deck that has garnered a lot of hate in the past because of its spammy nature. Still, if it is effective, it’s effective.
The question now is, though: Is it still effective? Hammers used to be huge in that you could Hammer Energy off of something then Catcher + knockout the rest of the Energy on the opponent’s board. While this is still possible, the deck becomes nothing but a flip-fest with Crushing Hammers and Pokémon Catchers. This leaves a huge opportunity to whiff these flips and conflicts with the fundamental idea of banking on consistency.
With Crushing Hammer being reprinted in Legendary Treasures, we once again have to deal with Hammer spam followed by Junk Hunting two Hammers back. This strategy can be very effective against decks like Virizion/Genesect and Plasma, given you hit early Hammers.
This version can go sour really quickly though. Failing to Hammer off Energy on the first turn makes the matchup tremendously hard, because through use of Thundurus and Colress Machine or a couple of Emerald Slashes, the Hammers become too little to overpower the amount of Energy getting placed on board.
Suffice it to say, I am not a fan of this version. I have seen it work, and I have seen it fail – but my philosophy sticks: consistency is king.
Now we’re talking. Enhanced Hammer is a guaranteed discard against Plasma, as well as the occasional Blend or DCE in other decks. With “The Yeti” getting so much play lately, I trust Enhanced Hammer far more than Crushing Hammer. It is completely possible to lock Plasma out of the game if you play hammers early and the Plasma player doesn’t play any basic Energy.
The problem with Enhanced Hammer is that in matchups like Blastoise, it is useless. However, Crushing Hammer is essentially useless as well. Even if you can use Crushing Hammer on a L Energy, Blastoise is designed to get it back. My vote goes to Enhanced Hammer, hands down.
2. High Damage Output
Dark Claw and Hypnotoxic Laser/Virbank are required to 1HKO Empoleons. Many Empoleon lists play Mr. Mime as well, so failing to include these cards in a penguin-filled meta is close to a death sentence for the Darkrai player.
Virizion more or less makes Hypnotoxic Laser a dead card. Dark Claw still helps with the math a lot and I believe is definitely necessary, but Laser’s inclusion is going to depend on what you perceive your field to be.
Dark Claw + Laser are required to 1HKO Kyurem PLF and Snorlax PLS which are both seen extensively in Plasma. The 140/snipe 30 math is also very nice to have in the Plasma matchup due to so many Pokémon with 170 HP.
Though not the most popular card right now, Laser and Dark Claw are also needed to take out a Terrakion that would otherwise run straight through two knockouts.
Of course we always want Darkrai to be fast – a slow Darkrai deck is not going to do much in the current state of our game. The point of this version, however, is to completely abuse Bicycle to burn through the deck and set up multiple Darkrai in a matter of a few turns. We sacrifice the Hammers or Lasers in order to build a list that burns through the deck at blistering speed.
The strength of this version is to build a very intimidating board very early on in the game and overwhelm your opponent before they can catch up. The version I have been testing features the following:
This may seem like overkill, but it does give you the ability to have access to a huge portion of your deck on a given turn. It is not uncommon to use 2-3 Dark Patches on a single turn just because of the sheer draw power you have at your disposal.
This also aids our ability to draw consistently. 4 Random Receiver is a crutch along with Sableye because you can always take a turn to Junk Hunt for one of them and get going again if you ever get in a desperate situation.
A problem with this deck is that is does draw so many cards. Any game that lasts a while can put you in danger of decking out, so you need to be aware of how many cards you’re drawing as well as considering how many N’s you have left. Don’t YOLO it and lose on turn 4 because your hand is your deck.
With this knowledge, you are now equipped to construct a type of Darkrai that should be able to handle your meta. Don’t hesitate to mix these together as well! You may find that the best way to play Darkrai is to use Lasers, Hammers, and tons of Bikes. Test, test, and test some more – but to reiterate my earlier point: your deck cannot do everything. Create your list based on the competition you’re facing.
Darkrai has been a force to be reckoned with ever since it has come out. There are many options for the card – not limited to straight Darkrai builds. Hydreigon and Darkrai/Garbodor have also earned some wins over time and still remain solid options in the right field.
It goes to show the essence of what it takes to win a card game at its simplest aspect: “I can draw the cards I want better than you can.”
Stay based and positive. Unlock your RAREST Form!
–Tyler, “THE Moonbeam”