Do You Even Lift?

Making the Most of Muscle Band and Flexing Your Thinking in the NXD-XY Format
do you even lift ash ketchum machoke mankey hitmonlee hitmonchanpokemonscreenshots.tumblr.com
“Do you even lift, Ash?”

Now that XY is out and a number of League Challenges have already taken place incorporating the new set, State Championships are quickly approaching. The objective of this article is to help open your eyes to some of the various viable deck and card options, with enough time to spare to make the most of this part of the competitive season.

It seems safe to say that Lugia-based Plasma, Yveltal (with and without Garbodor), Blastoise, and RayBoar are the decks to beat. There also appears to be potential in Trevenant/Accelgor-type decks, and Virizion/Genesect is still around. One might even go so far as to say the format is getting stale before it unfolds.

However, the recently released Muscle Band can be used with anything to do more damage to anything. This means more than players give credit. While Yveltal and Lugia made huge leaps forward because of this card, so did other decks that could pose a threat to the predicted metagame.

In this article, I will cover my takes on the obvious decks that will make a splash at State Championships, as well expand by presenting some potentially overlooked ideas.

Table of Contents

FAVORITES AND NOT-SO-FAVORITES OF THE FORMAT

First though, I’d like to give my opinion on the major players of the NXD-XY format. I have done a large amount of testing and feel pretty confident in my results, but there are always decks that I will be unsure of at any given point. This is largely due to bias, as a player plays and feels more confident with certains decks over others.

Lugia/Plasma – Like

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Take all your Prize card in two turns? LIKE!

There’s no denying it: Lugia decks are amazing. (Especially because I won a League Challenge with one a couple weeks ago.) The power of winning in two attacks is lethal against any deck that relies on Pokémon-EX to perform its main functions.

To get technical, I think the deck has one of the best sets of matchups out there. Smoothly KOing almost any 170 HP Pokémon for 3 Prizes is a blanket strategy that can be applied to almost any matchup. And as Brandon Smiley mentioned in his recent article, Pokémon Catcher can make games end even more quickly. This isn’t to say the deck is invincible, but if you aren’t playing with it, you better have a lot of experience playing against it.

Most other decks that are capable of achieving 1HKOs don’t do so until the third or fourth turn of the game. Lugia’s window is between turns two and three, which is absurd, especially when the opposing deck stumbles and the outcome gap is merely two turns wide.

Garbodor/Darkness – Like

If there is a group of Pokémon that can abuse Garbodor best, it is Darkness Pokémon. Most people’s greatest reservation about the usability of Darkrai/Garbodor was that Garbodor shut off Darkrai’s Ability. Now, you don’t even need to run Darkrai to still have access to amazing attackers and Ability lock. Yveltal can put immediate pressure on a player and also follows through with a strong late game as its damage output knows no limit.

As Garbodor variants have always been, this deck is a pain to play against and it throws the format on its head. There have been countless times that a player has had to make his or her deck less consistent or teched-out in order to make room for Tool Scrapper to combat Garbotoxin. Even then, Scrapper is only a temporary solution, as Garbodor can reestablish itself by simply attaching another Tool.

Garbodor has historically had an advantage against Ability-reliant Stage 2 decks and many players have argued back and forth as to whether this deck beats Virizion/Genesect. I personally have trouble figuring out which side of that argument I even stand on myself.

Another argument I have seen been between a few players is whether or not updated Blastoise and RayBoar might have the advantage against this deck. After doing a little research of my own, I noticed that at the highest level of play, the Garbodor decks still seemed to be winning.

I recommend that anyone looking to understand how this match should play out to watch Michael Pramawat and see how he deals with Blastoise and RayBoar in his Top 4 and Finals matches recorded by On The Bubble at Virginia Regionals. You can learn a lot about how a player thinks and has rehearsed a matchup by reviewing old footage if you ever struggle to work out a strategy yourself.

Rayquaza/Emboar – Dislike

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RayBoar is a deck that has lived in Blastoise’s shadow for its entire existence. During Winter Regionals, we saw a spike in the amount of this deck used at the large two-day events. This, however, was largely due to the lack of comfort most players experienced with Blastoise against Virizion/Genesect, the most popular deck at the time. Running RayBoar meant that a player gained an easy win against the most popular deck at the cost of some consistency, which broke almost as many players as it made.

The reason I’m not a fan of this deck is because it gives up too much space right now with the need to include at least two switching cards. Additionally, its main attacker has only 170 HP (talk about power creep), meaning that Lugia is even more likely to have a field day with a fast start against this deck. The deck is slower than most Blastoise decks and it still has to include Tool Scrapper if it hopes to beat Garbodor/Darkness decks.

Despite how excited some players are to be using Delphox XY in RayBoar, I just do not see this deck as overly competitive based on my testing results with this deck against what I expect to see at States. Extra mid to late game draw power does not excuse how fragile the deck can be early game, especially in a speedier format.

If your area is still plagued by copious amounts of Virizion/Genesect, however, you may be able to get away with this deck, especially when you can run Zekrom PLF in tandem with Reshiram to have a chance against the big, Lightning-weak EXs. That being said, your list still needs to be at the pinnacle of consistency for you to regularly set up and win.

Virizion/Genesect – Unsure

Like Lugia and Yveltal, Virizion/Genesect gained some ground with Muscle Band. Virizion can now swing for 70 on the second turn of the game, which not only allows it to KO Sableyes early, but also allows it to 1HKO Blastoise without having to invest in a Genesect. It speeds up much of the deck’s math, but otherwise doesn’t add too much to the deck outside of damage flexibility.

I am unsure about this deck because while it has been and is still very consistent, it gained a huge enemy in Lugia. Going second could mean a 3-turn loss against the monstrous and ubiquitous Plasma variant, multiple times per tournament. Furthermore, it can still lose to Yveltal decks and Blastoise is no guarantee either. You can’t argue with success, however, so I think it is too soon to count this one out.

Blastoise – Like

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Black Kyurem-EX’s 180 HP is a big asset.

Blastoise has always been the biggest contender. With every new set, you see writers repeatedly mention the turtle, and for good reason. Back-to-back-to-back 200 damage turns are nothing to mess with. If you let a Blastoise player set up shop, you will almost never win.

I still like Blastoise as a play for States because it doesn’t need any of the new cards to be good, and nothing in the set particularly ruins it, yet it still gains Professor’s Letter. The biggest asset Blastoise brings to the table is its 180 HP main attacker. Being able to not only put Lugia on a clock, but also provide some cushion against Plasma Gale is pretty big.

Additionally, Black Ballista can actually save you against Yveltal in many cases, taking some of the fuel out of Evil Ball. Increased flexibility and sustainability against Garbodor during the turns you play your Scrappers can prove essential as well.

Fairies – Dislike

I currently don’t have much to say about the Fairy Pokémon other than that they are underwhelming and don’t pose a threat to any deck that can 1HKO, which is pretty much all of them at this point.

No matter how much easier it is to play the whole “Hydreigon strategy,” the ability to heal is useless if your biggest attacker is not able to be properly accelerated and does not guarantee any knockouts. After a fair amount of testing, Xerneas decks have proven to be Lugia food as well as huge underdogs against Blastoise, Yveltal, and Virizion/Genesect.

There might be hope for the Rainbow version of the deck, but once again, without enough acceleration this deck just can not keep up with 1HKOs. Weakness is something that gets harder and harder to exploit as well, with cards like Yveltal for example covering the Weakness of Pokémon of the same type.

Trevenant/Accelgor – Dislike

Trevenant has brought a lot of attention to lock decks ever since it debuted. The space gained by no longer needing Rare Candy to create an Item lock has proven very attractive to many players. It provides space for tons of interesting techs, such as Garbodor or Flareon, to help combat the deck’s horrendous Virizion/Genesect matchup.

However, I don’t think this deck can fit an answer to everything. The combination of Snorlax and Genesect (or Yveltal and Virizion) in Lugia, Keldeo in anything with Darkrai, and Virizion/Genesect itself give the deck too much to worry about to be a safe play. While some may enjoy the risk of attending an event and trying to dodge bad matchups in exchange for easy ones, I don’t think I will be at the tables in March playing with any version of this deck.

Straight Yveltal/Darkness Pokémon – Unsure

I like the concept of a deck that is fast and has all of the Dark Patch engine at its disposal, but I most certainly despise hoping to avoid Blastoise and RayBoar during an event. Without Garbodor, Yveltal/Darkness is a completely different beast and needs to somehow be equipped if it hopes to compete with 1HKO decks. When your opponent is allowed to use Abilities, you become more susceptible to Lugia, Thundurus, Black Kyurem, and more.

The reason I am torn about this version of the deck is because there are answers to all of the above issues. However, the challenge is fitting all the necessary responses while maintaining speed and consistency. The deck’s biggest obstacles are Black Kyurem-EX and Rayquaza-EX.

Dragonite – Dislike

As Dylan mentioned in his article, Dragonite is pretty much dead thanks to Yveltal-EX. It was an impressive deck that made a huge splash, but the stars aligned only briefly for the dragon Pokémon.

OLD LISTS WITH NEW MUSCLE

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In this section I have selected the decks I marked as “Like” as well as Virizion/Genesect in order to showcase what Muscle Band has changed about these decks. I am also going to touch on Blastoise, since Professor’s Letter acts as this deck’s Muscle Band.

Lugia/Plasma

Below is the list that I used to win the only event I have played in this format. A lot of testing went into this list, though it may appear to be a rookie mistake not to include Pokémon Catcher or Genesect-EX. I assure you, it was not.

Pokémon – 11

4 Deoxys-EX

3 Lugia-EX

2 Thundurus-EX PLF

1 Kyurem PLF

1 Virizion-EX

Trainers – 36

4 Professor Juniper

4 N

3 Colress

2 Skyla

 

3 Team Plasma Ball

2 Ultra Ball

4 Colress Machine

3 Switch

3 Muscle Band

2 Max Potion

2 Tool Scrapper

1 Scramble Switch

 

3 Tropical Beach

Energy – 13

4 Prism

4 Plasma

4 Double Colorless

1 Blend WLFM

The glue in this list was Kyurem. Where one might argue that Pokémon Catcher or Genesect-EX would prevent you from being put in situations where you are unable to end the game quickly, I saved space by trusting my ability to play around those situations with the spread that Kyurem provided. The strategy might not be for everyone, but it gave me the edge I needed to win the majority of my testing games as well as this event.

I’d like to note that I did actually get somewhat lucky to win the event. Jimmy Pendarvis played Trevenant/Accelgor with 2 Silver Mirror, and had we not tied our match and his resistance not failed him the last round, he would have won the event. That being said, it might be advantageous to go with a different take on this deck.

From the list above, a Genesect-EX and two Shadow Triad could certainly be fit, as could 3 Pokémon Catcher. I could have also simply teched an Yveltal-EX to pick up the automatic win against Trevenant. There are lots of ways to play this deck, and I feel that the one above should make you reconsider what you once thought were staples in the deck.

Garbodor/Darkness

With two huge Darkness Pokémon in the metagame, it has become hard to decide how to fit everything together. I, however, am of the opinion that one or the other (Darkrai or Yveltal) should be focused on. Below is Yveltal/Garbodor.

Pokémon – 11

2 Trubbish LTR

2 Garbodor LTR

3 Yveltal-EX

2 Sableye DEX

1 Absol PLF

1 Sawk PLB

Trainers – 38

4 Professor Juniper

4 N

4 Bicycle

2 Random Receiver

 

4 Ultra Ball

4 Dark Patch

4 Hypnotoxic Laser

3 Float Stone

1 Escape Rope/Switch

3 Muscle Band

2 Pokémon Catcher

1 Dowsing Machine

 

2 Virbank City Gym

Energy – 11

11 D

The deck functions the same way as Darkrai/Garbodor, but without the spread. In exchange, you get a Pokémon capable of unlimited damage and the ability to put extreme amounts of early game pressure on your opponent.

sawk plasma blast plb 52 official
Your ace in the hole.

One interesting thing that this deck can do now that it runs Muscle Band is that it can utilize Sawk. With a Muscle Band and Virbank-fueled Laser, Sawk can knock a Thundurus-EX out in one hit for one Energy. This helps this deck deal with one of its biggest threats at almost no cost whatsoever. Additionally, Sawk KOs Absol in one hit and Snorlax with just a Muscle Band. You may wish to include a third Virbank to ensure that this strategy proves more reliable to you.

Some have also drawn the conclusion that this version of the deck can afford to run a lower count of Sableye due to the speed that Yveltal provides. While I agree with that logic, the deck still needs to be able to make use of three non-EX attackers in a game against Blastoise and RayBoar in order to overcome the Tool Scrappers in those decks. The ideal three in that case would be Absol and two Sableye, creating pressure and locking with Hypnotoxic Laser. Yveltal handles the rest.

One final thing to note is the lack of Professor’s Letter in this list. This is a decision I consciously made because I have found that I would prefer that my deck physically contain 11 Energy than to have the opportunity to get one extra to work with if I draw the Letter at the right moment. It essentially makes the deck a little more economically stable.

Virizion/Genesect

This deck is pretty similar to the old version, but with a pair of Muscle Band included. Sawk also fits in here as well, helping Virizion apply pressure while keeping its EXs on the Bench. This is especially effective if you choose to play the deck with a Hypnotoxic Laser focus. However, I used an approach that relies on Enhanced Hammer to buy you the time you need to deal with Lugia using G Booster.

Pokémon – 11

2 Roselia DRX 12

2 Roserade DRX 15

3 Virizion-EX

3 Genesect-EX

1 Bouffalant DRX

Trainers – 35

4 Professor Juniper

4 N

4 Skyla

2 Colress

2 Shadow Triad

 

3 Ultra Ball

3 Energy Switch

2 Enhanced Hammer

2 Muscle Band

2 Switch

2 Tool Scrapper

1 Professor’s Letter

1 Super Rod

1 G Booster

 

2 Skyarrow Bridge

Energy – 14

10 G

4 Plasma

The card I found most fitting to cut was Potion. With more and more decks focusing on the 1HKO Potion does not change the math the way it needs to in order to be more worthwhile than Enhanced Hammer or Muscle Band. That being said, there is plenty of wiggle room in this list to make space for healing cards.

I think Muscle Band changes this deck significantly not only by improving its two-hit math, but also by shaping the day the deck needs to be played. There are many more things that do away with a Genesect or Virizion in one hit, so the deck needs to play a little more sparingly with its larger Energy investments. For example, being able to avoid a 1HKO from Lugia or not have to give up a Genesect to KO a Blastoise are huge for this deck.

Blastoise

Blastoise lists are pretty common, but I’ll post one anyway for reference.

Pokémon – 13

3 Squirtle BCR

3 Blastoise BCR

3 Black Kyurem-EX PLS

3 Keldeo-EX

1 Black Kyurem BCR

Trainers – 36

4 Professor Juniper

4 N

4 Skyla

1 Colress

 

3 Ultra Ball

1 Heavy Ball

1 Level Ball

4 Superior Energy Retrieval

1 Energy Retrieval

4 Rare Candy

3 Professor’s Letter

2 Tool Scrapper

1 Dowsing Machine

 

3 Tropical Beach

Energy – 11

9 W

2 L

This list is designed to get you set up and winning games. Players using Blastoise can look to nix the Tool Scrappers to find space if they predict less Garbodor. Professor’s Letter truly is the Muscle Band of this deck, as it allows you to more effortlessly discard Energy early in the game, as well as find more later in the game. Be sure to not consider Professor’s Letter as a full substitute for Energy, as you still need to actually have Energy in your deck to actually search for it.

Blastoise is definitely a safe play for States. While it may not be a deck that surprises people, it is definitely one that wins games.

THE POTENTIALLY OVERLOOKED

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Now that I have covered my views on the popular decks and my lists for the favorites, I want to help you continue to explore with your deck building. Muscle Band changed a lot for the old decks, but as Erik Nance mentioned in his last article, you always need to be keeping tabs on the older cards that may have had potential in the past. Muscle Band is the type of card that brings some of these to life.

Landorus/Techs

Remember this guy? With Muscle Band, his stupidly broken attack gets even stronger. In a format in which you will be going second at least once per match, Landorus has no problem putting pressure on an opponent, especially when it is doing 100 to a Thundurus with a Muscle Band. Additionally, we saw the release of Raichu, a Pokémon that might be worth experimenting with, given its ability to Knock Out an Yveltal or a Lugia in one hit.

Pokémon – 13

2 Pikachu XY

2 Raichu XY

1 Trubbish LTR

1 Garbodor LTR

3 Landorus-EX

3 Mewtwo-EX

1 Bouffalant DRX

Trainers – 35

4 Professor Juniper

4 N

4 Skyla

2 Colress

 

3 Ultra Ball

1 Heavy Ball

1 Level Ball

4 Hypnotoxic Laser

2 Float Stone

1 Escape Rope

1 Switch

3 Muscle Band

1 Professor’s Letter

1 Max Potion

1 Dowsing Machine

 

2 Virbank City Gym

Energy – 12

8 F

4 Double Colorless

landorus ex boundaries crossed 89
Hammerhead is BACK.

As you can see, the deck appears to have a weakness to Blastoise and RayBoar decks. These matchups can be worked with, showing how Raichu can prove useful as a non-EX attacker when the Scrapper hits the table.

There are a lot of changes that could be made to this deck, including the omission of Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym for more space for potential techs or more consistency.

Remember, the point of a list like this is not to hand you an idea that would win you a State Championship, but to encourage you to keep thinking outside the box and lending thought to decks that used to be good or were always scratching the surface, waiting for the right tools the be released. Raichu is another perfect example of a card that could do great things with the shift in the format.

Palkia/Walls

Another card made more effective by Muscle Band is Palkia-EX. We saw this coming, thanks to Henry Prior, but it seems to have received less hype than it might have if we had seen more success from the deck outside of Japan.

Regardless, Palkia-EX now has the capacity to knock any Pokémon out in two hits while also sending itself back to the Bench, keeping it slightly out of harm’s way. This doesn’t mean that Palkia will never be Knocked Out, but it is easy enough to get out a new one that you shouldn’t have to be too worried.

Pokémon – 17

2 Phantump XY

2 Trevenant XY

3 Palkia-EX

3 Deoxys-EX

2 Latias-EX

2 Suicune PLB

1 Snorlax PLS

1 Keldeo-EX

1 Genesect-EX

Trainers – 32

4 Professor Juniper

4 N

4 Skyla

2 Colress

 

4 Ultra Ball

1 Team Plasma Ball

3 Float Stone

2 Switch

3 Muscle Band

2 Silver Mirror

1 Max Potion

1 Dowsing Machine

 

1 Tropical Beach

Energy – 11

4 Plasma

4 Double Colorless

3 G

This deck can do a lot of cool things. Blocking different types of Pokémon with “Safeguard” and “Bright Down” is a powerful way to do things, especially when you can use Genesect to drag out nuisances that can threaten your “wall.”

By being able to do the magic 90 with only 2 Deoxys-EX down thanks to Muscle Band, Palkia can put the correct amount of pressure on the opponent so that he or she may not be able to get out enough counters in time. Furthermore, Trevenant is always going to be a pain for any deck to deal with.

Palkia is slowly growing in popularity and is a headache to deal with. I am beginning to wonder if the deck has not spiked in popularity due to players hiding a revolutionary take on it. Only time will tell! However, let this list serve as incentive for you to discover the next threat to the metagame.

Exeggutor Lock

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Another deck we saw prove to be somewhat successful in Japan was Exeggutor. This card has been interesting for a long time, as has any that locks Supporters. When you use an attack like Blockade, you essentially prevent your opponent from growing his or her hand.

In the past, decks with Exeggutor would repeatedly use Blockade in hopes of being able to eventually use N to completely wreck the opposing setup. With Red Card available, the palm tree can live his dream of crushing a hand much sooner. Furthermore, Muscle Band allows Exeggutor to do a little extra damage per turn. The helps eliminate the possibility of a player drawing out of a situation by entering “topdeck mode.”

Pokémon – 12

3 Exeggcute PLF

4 Exeggutor PLF

1 Trubbish LTR

1 Garbodor LTR

1 Virizion-EX

1 Genesect-EX

1 Ditto BCR

Trainers – 40

4 Professor Juniper

4 Skyla

3 Colress

3 Ghetsis

 

3 Level Ball

3 Ultra Ball

4 Red Card

4 Hypnotoxic Laser

3 Muscle Band

2 Switch

2 Silver Mirror

1 Super Rod

1 Dowsing Machine

 

3 Virbank City

Energy – 8

4 Plasma

4 G

red-card-xy-124-official
Helps the deck live up to its eggspectations.

Note: The reason there are only 3 Exeggcute is because you can use Propagation to return them to your hand when they are Knocked Out. They are a terrible starter to have, and as such you will want to run a lower count.

Exploring decks with alternate strategies to aggression is always an uphill battle when Basic Pokémon have 170+ HP. However, between Red Card and Ghetsis, you can leave your opponent with nothing but Energy, allowing you to predict every move he or she makes, while the damage from Blockade and Hypnotoxic Laser adds up. Having a copy of Genesect and 4 Plasma Energy allows you to target the threats, continuously providing you with more time to slow your opponent down, working your way to 6 Prizes.

Another option in the deck is Crushing Hammer, but you would have to give something up to include it. There are hundreds of ways you can position the deck, but the point remains that the lock is what makes this deck so different and hard to prepare for. Your opponent could find him or herself drawing Supporter after Supporter while you do 30 damage repeatedly until you win.

These “alternative” decks are not guaranteed to win, but I’m willing to bet that someone will build a variant of one of these three decks and see some serious success at S/T/P’s. I know I aspire to crack the code with one of them myself.

If not, I’ll be playing something I’m well-versed with such as Plasma. With only a little more than a week to go, it’s time for everyone to put the work in and get ready for what will potentially be the most important part of the season for competitive players.

CONCLUSION

I hope you all enjoyed this article. I think that it is important not only to explore new techs for old decks, but to try and form the ability to create completely different decks altogether. Countless good decks were not obvious combinations but ideas that players had to think outside the box to create. Darkrai/Garbodor, for example, has been a huge part of the metagame this past six months, but in reality it was a deck that popped up sparingly at Nationals and still seemed to come out of nowhere when it gave Takuya Yoneda a spot in the Top 8 at the World Championships.

As always, I am looking for feedback! Feel free to ask me anything, as I am totally open to questions as well. I am looking forward to writing for you all again and I wish you the best of luck at State Championships.


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