“7 Fire? That’s it? Chandelure? RayBoar? WHAT IS IT, MIKE?”
Sitting next to him at player meeting in Virginia, I tried hopelessly to deduce what deck “Prison” Mike Canaves could possibly be playing. He showed me his 7 R Energy but things just didn’t click for me. Finally, nearby Kyle Sabelhaus raised fingers on each hand until he arrived at the number 9. That’s when it hit me. “NINETALES!”
At first I was excited to have solved the puzzle, but my excitement turned to concern soon.
“You better know what you’re doing Mike.”
I trusted Mike’s judgment but I had my reservations about this deck choice in particular. Little did I know he’d bring the deck to the final four in a subsequent weekend in Florida.
Hey everyone, I’m back for another article as January wraps up and I’ve got some pretty interesting things to talk about. First up is Michael Canaves’ Ninetales deck, the same Ninetales deck he piloted to a Top 4 finish at one of the most competitive Regionals of the year, Florida, last weekend.
I’m good friends with this veteran of 12 years and he was kind enough to accept my request for an interview. The most exciting part for me is that he even offered to make his final Ninetales list an Underground exclusive for my article. So, without any further adieu, here are a few incarnations of Mike’s deck and an interview with the visionary himself.
The first list is where the deck began. Mike got familiar with Ninetales over the course of a couple Cities. Here was the list that started it all.
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 38
Energy – 6
The next list is what Mike piloted at Virginia Regionals.
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 36
Energy – 7
Finally, for the first time online, here’s Mike’s top four list from Florida Regionals!
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 38
Energy – 6
Next up, I had a few questions for this innovator. Check out the interview below.
How are things buddy? Ready for the interview?
I sure am cutie! Let’s get to it!
So, could you begin by briefly explaining how the deck works?
Well, the deck’s purpose is to be able to take advantage of Bright Look and drag up whatever you feel is the most threatening at that moment. Ninetales does 20 + 50 more for each Special Condition; so, with Poison and Sleep, you hit for 120 base damage. After the Poison damage with Virbank, you’re at 150. With a Silver Bangle, you’re hitting any Pokémon-EX on the field for 180 for only one Energy.
Munna turns the 50% sleep flip into a 75% chance, or even an 87.5% chance if you have two Munna on the field. Being able to put your opponent to sleep virtually every turn is a huge bonus as well.
What do you consider to be the big decks of the current format? What made you choose Ninetales over any of these decks?
Going into both Florida and Virginia Regionals, I was looking at Darkrai/Garbodor, Plasma variants, Blastoise, Flareon, and Virizion primarily. To me, those were the decks that you would encounter the most and that you wanted to be prepared for. Of course, there were also a couple of other decks on the radar. These decks included Darkrai/Dusknoir, other Darkrai variants, Accelgor with either Flygon or Gothitelle, and Big Basic variants to name a few. This format has a lot of space for innovation so I would not have been surprised running into any number of random decks.
With that being said, Ninetales/Munna is a deck I built last format when Hypnotoxic Laser was initially unveiled, but without the new first turn rules, Catcher being a staple, no Silver Bangle, and Kyurem PLF being dominant, the deck could not be successful. I didn’t expect to play for an invite this season due to time constraints, so I figured I’d devote most of my tournaments to running “innovative” decks.
I took 37th and Houston Regionals with an under the radar version of Weavile/Exeggcute, but after a couple Cities running that, I remembered Ninetales/Munna. I thought it over and quickly made some changes. For example, I added Silver Bangle and I played a Victini-EX tech for Virizion and made T8 at a Cities. After that, I realized the deck had a lot of potential and I made tweaks up until Virginia.
The two problems with Regionals for me were the 50-minute time limit and the fact that I felt every single meta deck had its own glaring weaknesses. Virizion folded to Emboar with two Reshiram, which I knew would be popular at Virginia. Plasma folded to Item lock + Silver Mirror and could get derailed by decks with Hammers or Drifblim. Blastoise and Emboar were primarily based on your draw and your list, and Darkrai/Garbodor had difficulty within the time limits.
Ninetales is a deck that takes quick knockouts and games with it are typically shorter than games with most decks. You either win or you lose somewhere between turns five and eight. The deck’s only flaws were the Virizion matchup (which could be teched for) and the fact that you had the potential to flip quad tails with Munnas and Lasers.
Otherwise, the deck had everything you could want; it was based on non-EX attackers meaning you win Prize trades. You had a built-in consistency boost with Musharna; you had Keldeo/Float Stone already integrated within the strategy as well. The deck had the ability to 1HKO any threat that popped up, or better yet, that was sitting on the Bench (Bright Look). You could also abuse Special Conditions every turn by Munna, Vulpix, and Laser in order to slow down your opponent in the case that you had a slower start.
Other than against Virizion, I felt that Ninetales had at least a slightly favorable match against every meta deck, as well as the ability to beat anything else you ran into, such as Gothitelle, Flygon, or any new idea anyone might bring to the table. Ninetales was definitely the deck for me.
It seems that fewer and fewer people are including Mr. Mime in their lists these days. Why did he make the cut for your Florida list? I notice he’s also not in either of your other lists.
Mr. Mime was the last minute change I did when I opted not to run Victini-EX for FL. The Virizion match is a very odd one, but it’s extremely simple if both players are aware of their strategies. You continuously trade Prizes with your Bangles while Genesects run through you; however, in testing, there was always was this one turn where they couldn’t afford to Megalo Cannon, and they would often then use their Virizion to take a KO on something that had splash damage from a Genesect. With Mr. Mime, I eliminate that possibility, meaning that I would gain one turn where they don’t take a knockout.
After playing the match over and over, if Virizion goes first, and both players draw all the cards they want and can continuously stream attackers, Virizion will be one turn ahead. They’d win while you were at 2 Prizes remaining and they’d have a Grass Pokémon with 100 on it, waiting to be picked off. If Ninetales went first, then they would be that one turn ahead.
Mr. Mime allowed me to steal that one turn, and always put me ahead. It was a huge addition, and I actually played against a Darkrai/Dusknoir, Darkrai/Hammers, and two Kyurem PLF based Plasma decks throughout both days of Swiss, so Mr. Mime definitely made a huge impact for me.
What made you decide to cut Garbodor?
Garbodor was really only there for the Virizon matchup. I decided to use it over Victini because Dowsing Machine was just way too powerful in this deck. I didn’t actually test many games versus it for Virginia unfortunately, and I went primarily on the theory of it.
After VA however, I did get in several matches with the Garbodor vs. Virizion, and it just wasn’t very helpful. If you went second, you often would not get to use Garbodor to secure a 1HKO. You would need T2 Garbodor as well as the Ninetales, Laser, and either a heads, Virbank, or Bangle, or they would just often have the Red Signal and Scrapper when they needed it. The Garbodor really only helped if you went first and I felt that you could win the matchup enough without it in the games that you were going first anyway.
Again, since Ninetales is a deck that plays out of your hand, the fewer cards you need to get your knockouts, the better. Once Keldeo/Float Stone is on the field, it stays there for repeated use every turn (until a Scrapper hits). Since you need to switch out of Active quite often due to Munna putting yourself to sleep, having to constantly draw the switch cards would be just another burden. You would typically have to play two Switches to get back to the same Ninetales, or a Switch and use an Energy to retreat.
That’s also the same reason I opted with Keldeo/Float Stone over using Virizion and Blend GRPD; with Virizion, I’d always need to have the Blend instead of the Fire to remove my own Special Conditions, rather than the Keldeo/Stone that stays in play.
Many games you took 2 Prizes by your second or third turn. At that point, N only netting you four cards is just mediocre; Ninetales is a deck that plays out of the hand, so you always need to be drawing as much as you can. After that first knockout, Bianca was just an additional hand refresh card to recover from N. It was fairly easily to trim your hand size down, and often being able to draw four or five cards while still holding, say, a Hypnotoxic Laser before you draw the Ninetales to use Bright Look, was quite good.
Typically, if you get the cards (and flips) you need, you’ll beat every deck, so you don’t really care what’s in their hand if you have what you want in your own.
Do you envision this deck remaining a factor as the format changes? If not, what’s the biggest problem facing the deck? Are there any cards in the new set that you think might find their way into the list?
Absolutely. Currently, the only problem the new format brings for the deck (that I currently see) would be Mega Evolutions; they have more than 180 HP, so I can’t 1HKO them! Of course, you can drag up the regular EX before they evolve. Out of the two in XY, one of them is weak to Fire, and I’m not sure how much play Blastoise will see; even so, Mr. Mime and Bright look should still allow it to survive that.
In fact, more new decks means that there will be less Virizion at first, as people try new strategies; and so far, between Aegislash, Trevanant, an Yveltal, I’d be happy to match up against any of those decks with Ninetales.
I actually think the list from FL Regionals was almost 100% optimal; I regret not playing an Energy Search, so the only card I see myself adding is a Professor’s Letter. I’ll probably try a Cassius, but I don’t think Shauna is very good so I don’t see myself playing it.
How long have you been playing? What’s your favorite deck of all time?
I’ve been playing on and off since 2003; I never really have the time to play entire seasons. My favorite deck is probably a tie between the Leafeon LV.X/Magmortar SW deck that I piloted to cut at 2008 Nationals or Metagross HL/Gorebyss HL that I ran at Worlds in 2004. My first deck was actually a couple; I used to go the Wizards of the Coast league in my area, and I had a deck for every Energy type in its own Ziploc bag with matching color sleeves. I remember I loved using my Dark Gengar/Misdreavus N3 deck the most though!
The final question I asked Mike was one for you guys. I provided him a few pairs of some notable players in Florida and asked him to pick which ones he thought were cuter. Here were his responses!
So, Mike, If you had to choose, who would you say is cuter? Kyle Sabelhaus or Ryan Sabelhaus?
Kevin Kobayashi or Zach Fisher?
Santiago Rodriguez or Harrison Leven?
Justin Sanchez or Giovanna Lopez?
So there you have it. I want to give a big thanks to Mike for giving me the privilege of interviewing him. He gave me a lot of great answers and he’s an excellent writer. Keep an eye out for this guy as the season starts to wind down; he’s definitely a threat wherever he’s playing. It was a pleasure buddy; thank you.
Next I’ll go into my choice for Winter Regionals this year. I chose to play Yeti after playing around with the list. The appeal wasn’t in its matchups or in any card in particular, but in that the deck was so solid all around and that it could accommodate all the cards I wanted it to.
For example, I knew that Frozen City was an incredibly strong card, as well as Escape Rope. I wanted a deck that could play both effectively and Plasma was the best fit for it. Another really interesting card combo I liked was Kyurem PLF with a Silver Bangle. In my first list I included all of these cards but Bangle was quickly cut for an additional Frozen City. Kyurem stayed, however.
Here’s the list I played for VA Regionals (also a Cities and LC). I took the deck to 11th place in VA and I won both the LC and Cities. (These victories are what gave me the confidence to take the deck to Regionals).
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 34
Energy – 14
The one thing that is probably most noticeable about this deck is the lack of Skyla. A lot of other Yeti lists play Skyla to search out Scramble Switch or Max Potion (another notably absent card), but I never really saw the need for it.
Colress is a card I’ve grown fond of over the course of the season and one I’ve always included 3-of in any decks with more than 11 Basics. Because this deck plays 12 Basics and 5 ways to search for them, 3 Colress was an instant addition.
Max Potion was the other card a couple of people advised me to play but that I wound up cutting from the final list. To me, Max Potion seemed like a “win more” card. I felt that Max Potion could really only be used effectively on a Thundurus (and maybe a Snorlax with zero Energy) but I felt that with the lack of Catcher, I didn’t really need the healing. I could simply move the Pokémon to my Bench after one attack. A lot of decks would find it difficult to finish the KO, have to waste resources to do it, etc.
The only other really strange cards in the deck are probably Kyurem and Virizion-EX. Kyurem’s original appeal was having the ability to 1HKO EXs with a Blizzard Burn and a Bangle. What I found through testing was that Blizzard Burn was hardly practical but that Frost Spear was Kyurem’s real perk.
I played a Chandelure/Bouffalant/Garbodor deck inspired by a friend from Texas, Austin Cook, at a City Championship earlier in the season. What I learned from the deck was that once two Pokémon-EX hit the table, Chandelure could put 20/30 on each and then Bouffalant’s 120/150 could finish the job later on. I saw the same dynamic with Kyurem and Lugia.
Instead of using two Thundurus-EXs to Raiden Knuckle a Virizion or a Genesect or a Rayquaza or a Keldeo, Kyurem could take care of it in one turn. On top of that, Kyurem was a third non-EX. And on top of that, it could threaten a Blizzard Burn if not dealt with. Kyurem was theoretically the answer to a lot of my problems. Unfortunately, the card played worse for me than expected.
After Regionals, and some discussion with Kevin Kobayashi and Kyle Sabelhaus, I realized that Absol was probably a better alternative. Frozen City was great at putting down 20-60 damage, but sometimes it was difficult to finish the KO. The only real option for grabbing a knockout like that on a Keldeo or a Rayquaza was Lugia, and Lugia can be unavailable in a lot of situations. With Absol having the potential to reach 150 damage for two Energy, it would have been the perfect sweeper for the ‘Rain Dance’ matchups.
Virizion-EX was a last minute addition to the deck. Originally my Yeti donned a Mr. Mime to prevent my Lugia from accumulating too much damage before it came up for a Plasma Gale. I realized after my first Cities, however, that Virizion might be a better alternative. Virizion wound up being my choice for Regionals because it prevented Laser from posing a problem. It also made Snorlax a lot more difficult for Genesect to Knock Out efficiently.
Overall I was very happy with this deck. I think it was definitely among the top contenders for Regionals and I was very happy to see Evan Baker do so well with his own version of Yeti at Missouri. I think if more people had given the deck a chance we really might have seen some huge results out of the Yeti. Be on the look out for this deck after XY; it’ll definitely keep its “umph” even with the new cards.
The last topic I want to talk about specifically is the card Escape Rope. Back in the day, there used to a saying: “Warp Point wins games.” I don’t know how far-reaching that phrase was but it was certainly something that went around the Northeast quite a bit. It seems that people have forgotten about just how good this card was. Warp Point was a huge card in its legal formats and I see no reason for Escape Rope not to have as great an impact as its predecessor did. In short, what I’m saying is, play Escape Rope.
Catcher’s been nerf’d, guys. It’s actually difficult to touch the Bench nowadays. Even in decks with Genesect or decks that still play Catcher, it’s difficult to rely on moving your opponent’s Pokémon. Good players will force you to take “7 Prizes” or attack Pokémon you have no business actually Knocking Out.
At first, I was hesitant to include Escape Rope in my lists. It was definitely an interesting card to look at for a lot people after the Catcher erratum, but I had trouble justifying space in my decks for it. And I’m sure a lot of people had similar issues.
What really turned me on to the card was a match I played against Blastoise during the NJ Marathon. My opponent, Mr. Ng, put me in a terrible position with Escape Rope. I had to choose between losing a Sigilyph with 4 Tools attached or a Jirachi-EX and I wound up having to sacrifice 2 Prizes in the exchange. To emphasize the value of Escape Rope, I wound up clinching the game at the very end with my own Escape Rope. For me, the card was a last minute addition because I was dissatisfied with Energy Switch in my Tool Drop. In both instances, Escape Rope turned the game around.
What surprised me most about Escape Rope in this scenario was that Blastoise is a deck that doesn’t usually play too many finesse cards. Typically, Blastoise worries about getting itself set up rather than manipulating the little things. Of course you’ll find a Max Potion or two in some lists, or maybe a Catcher or two in others, but for the most part, Blastoise is concerned with moving itself forward.
I found Mr. Ng’s Escape Rope to be a revelatory concept, one that really made me start to believe in Escape Rope again. I want to thank Mr. Ng for turning me back onto the card and I want to wish Alejandro luck in getting to his Worlds invite this year.
In the following tournaments, I played Virizion/Genesect to some success with 3 copies of Escape Rope in it. Not only did Escape Rope increase my odds of getting a turn one Emerald Slash, but it occasionally took the pressure off Genesect from having to switch their Pokémon. Overall, it was a very worthwhile play.
Come Regionals, Escape Rope found its way into my Yeti (Thundurus/Snorlax/Lugia) decklist. Again, I included three copies of the card and it paid off tremendously. Snorlax’s ‘Block’ became a huge asset because my opponents could never push a worthless Pokémon Active in fear of it being locked there. With the threat of a Snorlax lock down, I could effectively pull up big hitters turns before they were ready to attack. On top of that, Escape Rope provided the same function as switch early game for Raiden Knuckle.
The last thing I’ll say about Escape Rope is that it’s a great card just to have in your deck as a threat. If your opponent knows you play even one copy of the card, they have to play the entire game expecting it to come. They’ll always be prepared for it, but in a lot of cases preparing for an Escape Rope means putting Pokémon onto the table that have little value. This is good for the Escape Rope player. You’ve forced your opponent to play in fear of a card that you haven’t even used yet.
To be completely honest, it’s difficult to explain exactly how useful this card is without showing you so you’ll just have to take my word for now. I think if you try it out you won’t be disappointed. I promise it’s good! Warp Point was a staple in its heyday—remember that.
That’s all I’ve got for you guys for this time. I hope the interview proved helpful for all of you innovators out there. Take notes from Canaves; he’s one of the best deck builders I know. Remember, if you stumble across a strong concept, don’t be afraid to play around with it; you might be onto the next big thing.
I also hope that you take what I said about Plasma and apply it to yourselves. A lot of big playable cards are coming with this XY set and Plasma’s definitely still a huge contender. I know that Muscle Band is definitely a game changer for Lugia. Keep an open mind with this deck. It might be hard to picture a successful future for Plasma because of the sudden upswing in Item lock/Silver Mirror decks (thanks Dylan Bryan!), but keep in mind that Yveltal keeps those decks in check.
Finally, if you take any one thing from this article, remember that Escape Rope is a power card. It’s definitely worth a look, especially if you haven’t explored it yet. I think you’ll be surprised at all the doors this card can open up.
Good luck deck building, everyone, and I’ll see you guys soon!
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