Hey everyone! I’m back this month and I’ve never been more excited to put out an article. This time, I did a little collaborating with my good friend Kyle Sabelhaus and we cranked out two Top Five lists for you guys. My article will focus on the Top Five Stage 2 decks in the format. You’ll have to wait until this Thursday to see what Kyle’s got cooking in the Sabelhaus Kitchen!
As mentioned, I’ll be counting down what I believe to be the Top Five Stage 2 decks right now. And when I say Stage 2 decks, I don’t mean Blastoise or Rayboar. I’m talking about decks that rely on Stage 2s as sources of damage, decks that make your opponent Knock Out six Pokémon to win the game. This is meant to be a fun article and provoke some thought; I hope I open up some minds with this one.
The reason I chose this topic for this month is because a couple of these Pokémon are from the new set and they’ve yet to be explored, overshadowed by Pyroar, Druddigon, and the Charizards. I feel that by explaining why each Stage 2 is good in each specific application I can clarify their application in a broader context. For example, maybe you’ll take the Dusknoir line from one deck and move it to another, or take Milotic and throw it into something else.
So without further adieu, here are the Top Five Stage 2 decks in the game right now!
When I first heard of a deck featuring Butterfree and Miltank I was confused to say the least. It wasn’t until I read Caterpie and Metapod that I realized why the deck was viable. Writing the list was even more fun. I love when I can throw four of each Ball into a deck and then supplement my Supporter line with Bicycles because of how many non-Supporters are in the list already. A high Ball count generally means a low hand count—keep that in mind.
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 33
Energy – 8
Speed, Speed, and Speed
This deck’s biggest asset is its quickness—it’s the only reason to play such an underwhelming Stage 2 as a catalyst for Miltank’s attack. Of course, the deck focuses on Miltank attacking, but it’s important to get a Stage 2 down quickly, and this Butterfree is the only Stage 2 that can actually come into play on the first turn. The deck is sort of gimmicky, but there’s something to be said for the quickness of it.
Poison is a characteristic that not many other Stage 2 decks can make good use of. Because most Stage 2 decks are filled with Rare Candy, Skyla, and Tropical Beach, they cannot afford to play Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym. This is because Stage 2 decks usually set up more slowly and are prepared to play a long game. But not this deck. If this deck isn’t swinging with a Miltank by the second turn, the game is an uphill battle from the start. After Bangle, Laser, and Virbank, Miltank swings for 140 for just one Energy. Poison is a unique property of the deck.
The deck doesn’t need a lot to succeed. Apart from always having one Stage 2 out, all the deck needs is an Energy and a Miltank. It’s very simple. Anything past that—Laser, Virbank, Bangle—is just a plus. Dealing 80 as quickly as possible is the goal, and it’s really not too difficult to achieve with all the draw power in the deck. The deck thins itself naturally because it’s such a low maintenance deck. One thing you’ll rarely have to worry about is the deck completely failing. As long as you’re drawing cards and playing Balls, the deck will do what it’s supposed to do.
If it weren’t for the tight space and Pyroar existing, this deck would be much higher on the list. When I first read Shiftry I became instantly excited. In many older formats, this Shiftry would be at the top of the food chain. Unfortunately, however, the quick pace of the format doesn’t allow for Shiftry to play to its full potential. Usually, a Stage 2 with built-in draw power and an attack that can draw 2 Prizes with almost every swing has an impact. In this case, it struggles to compete.
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 33
Energy – 12
This deck takes off once it gets its first Shiftry down. It really does fly. The downside to having this kind of draw early is that Shifty decks build big hands right away. This means conflict with good ol’ Juniper. When I wrote my first list, I included no copies of Juniper for fear of dumping 6+ card hands after an early Leaf Draw or two. The fact of the matter is that Juniper is too good not to play. In anything. Regardless of the Juniper count, however, the point is that Shiftry decks will always get a quick setup once the first one hits the table (which really isn’t terribly rare).
Think about it this way: Blastoise is a pretty quick deck. It can usually get a Blastoise out by the third turn at the latest. From there, it generally has no trouble getting a Black Ballista off within the next few turns. Imagine if the first Blastoise were instead a Shiftry. Now, I concede that instead of finding a Basic and putting four Energy onto it like Blastoise aims to, Shiftry has to actually get multiple Stage 2s out, but the process is definitely facilitated by Leaf Draw. You really shouldn’t have difficulty getting a Shiftry onto the table each turn after the first one comes down. Three cards is a LOT!
N recovery is another obvious advantage of Shiftry. Be warned, however. This recovery isn’t the same as the kind Electrode offers Blastoise or Delphox offers Emboar. It’s a soft insurance, instead. The glaring difference finding the G Energy to bust with the Ability to get back in the game. Sure, being N’d to four, or even three in some cases might be okay. It’s when you start dealing with numbers like two and one that you might find issue with Shiftry. What’s worse is that this is when you really need it, too. This is one of the reasons you’ll find Super Rod in the list over a third Energy Retrieval (among others).
1HKO potential is an obvious lure of Shiftry. Deranged Dance is the reason Shiftry doesn’t need an attacker like Miltank to pair with it and its wicked Ability. It’s a self-sufficient card; the deck practically builds itself. This is why Shiftry ranks up there with the other Stage 2 decks on the list. These other decks require other Pokémon to help carry the load. Shiftry does it all!
So, let’s do some math. We’ll assume you’ll have four Benched Pokémon usually (if not five). But just for the sake of argument, we’ll say four is average, that maybe you just popped a Milotic or something. If your opponent has three on their side, Shiftry deals 140 which moves to 170 after a Bangle. If they’ve got four, you’re 1HKOing any non-Mega EX in the format. That’s a pretty good deal for only three Energy (two with DCE). Another perk to Shiftry’s Energy cost is its Energy acceleration: Milotic.
Milotic and Double Colorless Energy
Milotic is good in this deck for a number of reasons. The most obvious is for its Ability and its synergy with Shiftry’s Ability. Shiftry dumps loads of Energy. That’s just what it needs to do to set up—and it’s well worth it. Now, with all those G Energy in the discard, Milotic can come through and put them onto the table. The reason Milotic fits in this deck better than any other is because there’s less of a hassle to get the Energy into the discard—it just happens naturally.
Another perk of a GCC Energy cost is DCE. Having access to both DCE and Milotic gives the deck plenty of ways to power Shiftry’s quickly. The idea is to never miss an attack.
Seedot gets a mention because its first attack is incredible for a Basic. If you’re up second, it means you’ll have a second Seedot on the table no matter what (as long as you have an Energy). It also puts another Energy in the discard if it happens to get Knocked Out on the first turn. To put it simply, Call for Family is better than a simple C for 10; it keeps the T2 Shiftry possible even if a T1 KO comes your way.
As we get closer to the top of the list, you’ll likely start to recognize the decks a little better. The following decks have all been in the format prior to Flashfire, but they’ve gotten just a little better with some of the new stuff.
Kingdra/Greninja has been around for a while, but people haven’t really taken the deck seriously. I think in a format so conducive to Stage 2 Pokémon, it’s a mistake not to take a look at the most ambitious Stage 2 combo out there. Each of Kingdra’s attacks has incredible synergy with Water Shuriken. 30 spread to three Pokémon along with a couple Shurikens means that Pokémon with 60 or 90 HP are always in jeopardy, even on the Bench. The damage really adds up with this deck.
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 31
Energy – 9
This deck offers a lot in terms of versatility; it’s got a lot of ways to deal damage. And exactly to where it wants. While doing 30 damage at a time might seem underwhelming, it really becomes significant in a format full of EXs, especially with Shuriken on the Bench. Depending on the number of Greninjas on the table, this deck can take care of three EXs in just a few turns. And that’s the game when it happens. And if the spread game doesn’t work out, Kingdra always has a second attack to clean things up.
One of the great things about this deck, and many spread decks throughout the history of the game, is that it can control when it draw its Prizes. All at once, mid turn, two at a time, anything. Having an Ability that deals damage means that the Greninja player can always prevent himself from drawing Prizes until it’s optimal. This helps to clog your opponent’s Bench with damaged Pokémon and prevents N from turning the tables.
It’s a unique phenomenon, but a particular powerful one. It’s most noted in Dusknoir decks. Decks with Dusknoir typically keep damage on the table until the last turn of the game for the many of the reasons above. Shuriken is just as good as Sinister Hand. It also opens up plays with Town Map if you should choose to play it.
Dragon Vortex is what puts this deck at number three on this list. After a long game of Shuriken, Tri Bullet, repeat, you can bet you’ll have a discard pile full of W Energy. In fact, the deck races to get that point. At the end of the game, when there are few cards left in either player’s deck, a Dragon Vortex not only deals upwards of 140 damage, but fills the deck with W Energy. That opens up a turn where every single Shuriken on the table activates after a Magnetic Draw or a Juniper.
Dragon Vortex is the deck’s end game, but it also works wonders mid game. It can clean up damage already put down by either Kingdra or Greninja. That 60 or 90 is very easy to clean up with Dragon Vortex if you’re looking to pick up a Prize or two or eliminate a threat. It’s for when you can’t afford to spread anymore.
Spread Potential (Primarily Against Other Stage 2 Decks)
I want to talk a little about what spreading really means for this deck. Obviously, spreading onto Yveltals or Genesect opens up late-game multiple-Prize card plays, but I want to focus on the spread against other Stage 2 decks. Once two Greninjas come down, Squirtle, Tepig, Shelmet, and a whole myriad of other Basics are no longer safe. Late game, if three Greninjas and a Kingdra come down, even a pair of any of these Pokémon is promptly Knocked Out.
What I will say, however, is that it’s very difficult to set up these scenarios, and when they do occur, they’re not always perfect. You won’t always have that third Energy for Greninja and you won’t always have another Kingdra sitting on your Bench. The deck’s very all-or-nothing. But when it works, boy does it work.
Speed (Low Energy Cost)
The low Energy cost on each Pokémon creates a ton of space in the list and it keeps the attackers flowing. Shiftry, for example, needs Milotic to ensure that it attacks each turn. But decks like this one or Empoleon can devote space to things other than Energy acceleration.
Another perk of low Energy cost is that it frees up Energies for Water Shuriken. So instead of having to attach an Energy each turn to keep up with your Pokémon being Knocked Out, you can skip turns of Energy drops in exchange for 30 damage. This is useful as long as your Active always has Energy on it. Getting damage onto the table is the goal of this deck. If the deck doesn’t get enough damage down quickly enough, any deck will overrun it with big quick EXs.
The final advantage to low-Energy attacks is that Yveltal-EX can’t capitalize. It’s very difficult for an Yveltal-EX to deal enough damage to KO a 140 HP Pokémon with only one Energy on it. It’s even more difficult to justify making such a play when it’s only for 1 Prize!
Electrode provides late game N insurance as well as a way to access W Energy after a Dragon Vortex. Electrode finds such a crucial role in the deck because of how many cards this deck discards each turn. Practically every turn requires an Ultra Ball to get Pokémon onto the table consistently. Not only that, but ditching one or two Waters from the hand each turn to Water Shurikens really takes a toll on hand size. After a couple plays, you can bet you’ll be below four cards in hand.
Another reason Electrode is so good in here is because there are already three Level Ball in the list. It’s easy to search! Hopefully, Electrode can hit the field very early on with relatively little effort. It is very quick to pay off and late game, it’s a difference maker when the deck’s thin.
Empoleon’s another deck you’ve definitely seen at Cities or States. The deck used to feature Leafeon PLF to deal with a big Keldeo, but that’s become less of a concern for the deck. Instead, the new Empoleon relies on Miltank as a partner. Miltank’s a great replacement for a couple reasons. It’s a Basic in itself, which means it’s a quick way to supplement Empoleon’s damage, and it puts up big numbers for the same Energy cost as Empoleon.
Because this deck also has Dusknoir at its disposal, the real idea is simply to get damage on the table and worry about knockouts later, similarly to how Kingdra/Greninja operates. Empoleon’s advantages are obvious. Its Ability paired with Exeggcute’s make it an automatic N recovery mechanism—no need to find those G Energies the way Shiftry has to.
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 35
Energy – 7
Instead of Magnetic Draw or Leaf Draw, Empoleon uses Diving Draw, which tops either one of those Abilities. The reason it’s so much better is that it’s a guaranteed two cards regardless of situation. Even without Exeggcute in the discard, Empoleon can exchange one card in your hand for two from the deck—always. Sometimes, that’s all the deck needs to get back in the game after a debilitating N.
While Magnetic Draw will usually net three or four cards after an N to one, over the course of the game, Diving Draw will net more cards. So while Electrode is more useful in an N-to-one situation, Diving Draw is much much better on the whole. That’s why this deck has the best N insurance out there right now; it’s why the deck is on the stronger end of this list.
Empoleon bears quickness similar to that of Butterfree. While it cannot come down on the first turn, one Empoleon turns into multiples very quickly through Diving Draw. It’s a phenomenon similar to the Shiftry deck’s. This deck, however, can also attack for one Energy with either Miltank or Empoleon, unlike Shiftry but similarly to Butterfree. That’s a huge advantage; it’s the best of both worlds, really. Having the deck space for so many Miltank’s is a privilege Shiftry has to sacrifice in order to accommodate Milotic.
Empoleon is very similar to Shiftry in almost every way. Same HP, similar Ability, similar attack. The thing that gives Empoleon, aside from its type, the edge (pesky Pyroar) is Exeggcute. Exeggcute is absolutely imperative to any Empoleon deck. If, across an average game, an Empoleon deck uses Diving Draw ten times, the discards become a real hindrance. In almost every game, Egg becomes a buffer for the power. It’ll sometimes save dozens of cards from being dumped.
It also makes Diving Draw far more accessible after a late game N to one. While you can Diving Draw away one of the two cards you see after an N to one, it’s far better to hold onto them and get two free cards. This opens up Ultra Ball plays as well. Exeggcute is what makes Empoleon such a strong draw power throughout the game, it’s what makes Diving Draw better than Leaf Draw and Magnetic Draw, and it’s why Electrode is not in the deck at all.
1HKO potential has been a common theme throughout this list (save Butterfree). Because these decks generally put more effort into setting up than a Basic deck might, it’s important that they can deal 1HKOs just as efficiently or even more so. The reason I list this credential fourth rather than second or third is because this deck can actually accommodate turns where a 1HKO is not possible. Dusknoir, even in the Leafeon incarnation of the deck, has been an integral part of the deck. Sometimes Benches are small. It happens.
Luckily, when Empoleon falls short of a KO, it can use the 100 or so damage that it dealt later on to make sure KOs happen more frequently from there on out. Dusknoir also lets this damage compile. For example. If Empoleon swings at an EX for 120, Dusknoir can move it off completely on the next turn and open up another attack for 120. Now, Dusknoir has 240 damage to play around with for the rest of the game. That becomes very important later on to consistently deal 1HKOs to EXs as the game progresses. It’s 1HKO potential, but a different kind.
Finally, type helps place Empoleon so high up on this list. Pyroar and Charizard are arguably the two most important cards to come out of Flashfire. Both are weak to Empoleon. As you might imagine, 1HKOing these Pokémon with an Empoleon for just one Energy is a massive advantage. The Empoleon-Charizard matchup is an incredibly lopsided one simply because of type advantage. The opposite is true for Shiftry.
We’re finally at number one on the list. Flygon/Dusknoir has been played relatively infrequently throughout the season, but that doesn’t prevent it from being the best Stage 2 deck out there these days. The deck aims to put as much damage as it can on the table without really doing too much. Almost every turn is spent using Tropical Beach to get more Flygons and Accelgors onto the table. There are plenty of positive things to say about this deck and it’s actually much different than the other decks on the list. It deals with the same problems, just differently than the other decks do.
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 37
Energy – 4
Damage Manipulation (Spread)
This is a spread deck and it’s the best of its kind. Whereas Kingdra/Greninja spreads quickly and specifically, it’s too tight to include Dusknoir, which is what makes the spread in this deck so potent. Because Flygon puts one damage counter on each of your opponent’s Pokémon, the deck is less susceptible to healing cards than Empoleon is.
The great part of having a thick Dusknoir line is that it prevents threats from becoming too great to handle. For example, an Yveltal player could never tank any single Yveltal-EX because Sinister Hand can erase it as long as there is sufficient damage on the table. Dusknoir’s so good because the damage isn’t really on any single Pokémon, but on every Pokémon—the damage can be anywhere.
Another huge advantage to Dusknoir in this deck is that it can erase Basics in other Stage 2 decks really easily. It’s not difficult to put 60 or 70 damage on the table with this deck. This means that any Squirtle, Tepig, or Trubbish that might come into play isn’t safe unless there are multiple. It’s similar to how Kingdra/Greninja does it, but Squirtle’s Shell Shield doesn’t apply.
It differs also in that the damage is more incrementally specific. Instead of dealing 90 damage to a 70 HP Pokémon, like you might have to with Greninja, Dusknoir can put exactly 70 onto it, saving that extra hypothetical 20 for another Knock Out. This deck’s Dusknoir lock is also particularly good because of Accelgor, but I’ll get into that later. I’ll end by saying it’s very difficult to play against a Dusknoir when there’s even as little as 120 damage on the table in many cases.
The deck is built on consistency. Because the deck doesn’t need to attack it can actually use Tropical Beach almost every single turn of the game. This means tremendous things for an elaborate set up deck like this one. With two different Stage 2s and a stage one to boot, it’s not easy to get everything going. Without having to worry about attacking, Beach almost entirely eliminates fluky losses.
Additionally, having four Beaches in the deck makes it more likely that you’ll find one in your opening hand, something any Stage 2 deck player loves to see. The heavy Tropical Beach count is how this deck combats late game N. Instead of Leaf, Magnetic, or Diving Draw, this deck can usually count on Tropical Beach being in play for late game recovery.
It’s a beautiful thing when a deck can get away with playing only four Energy. As is, I already skimp when it comes to Energy, but in this case it’s absolutely justified. Basically, where Shiftry, or Kingdra, or Empoleon have 9+ Energy, this deck saves room. Five or six spots to be exact. That’s a lot of room to play around with.
The low Energy count lets the deck fit Accelgor and thick Stage 2 lines. Additionally, it accommodates things like Float Stone and Max Potion that are necessary in this deck but aren’t found in any of the other decks. It also remains consistent with the idea that almost every turn is reserved for Beach—attacking is rare and really only occurs very late game with Accelgor.
Accelgor is a great card to have in the arsenal for a number of reasons. First, some decks simply don’t have an answer to the Paralysis. There will be countless turns, especially after well-timed late-game N’s that a Deck and Cover will catch your opponent off guard. This is particularly effective if Flygon becomes the new Active, the second perk of Accelgor. Just like with Gothitelle or Trevenant, Accelgor does its job then gets out of the way for something better. In this case it’s Flygon.
So not only does Accelgor put down 60 (80) damage, but it promotes Flygon for another 40-60. If your opponent can’t move from the Paralysis, that 40-60 doubles. That’s enough damage for Dusknoir to erase a lot of progress from the opposing side of the table. The best part is that Accelgor does it all for just one DCE and it’s all searchable via Level Ball (of which you play four).
This card fits perfectly into the deck, and on the off chance you catch your opponent without a switch card, just one Deck and Cover can put down enough damage to effectively end the game.
The Balls are the final reason this deck is so great. This definitely goes hand in hand with efficiency, but it’s so important it deserves its own section. Whereas some other decks sacrifice Level Ball or Ultra Ball count for Energies, attackers, or whatever else the deck might need, this deck fits it all. The deck is so low maintenance outside of its Pokémon setup it can afford to max out on Pokémon.
I love this for plenty of reasons. First, it prevents donks and it helps get Pokémon out quickly so you can Rare Candy them sooner. Second, it helps get Evolutions out in the event Rare Candies don’t come as quickly as you’d like (Vibrava, Dusclops). Lastly, the high Ball count keeps Accelgors streaming throughout the game. There are simply too many 90 HP Pokémon in the deck not to play 4 Level and 4 Ultra Ball, especially when your main damagers are a Stage 2 and a Pokémon that shuffles itself back into the deck.
I’d like to end by explaining some alternate options for a few of these decks. The two cards I want to explore are Dusknoir and Miltank. These cards each appeared in multiple decks. And with good reason. Dusknoir can find itself into the Butterfree deck (1-1-1 remember: no Rare Candy in that list) to promote more efficient KOs for Miltank and Laser. It could also make its way into Kingdra/Greninja despite the space problem. If Kingdra/Greninja properly sets up and puts a Dusknoir down, it’s almost impossible to beat because of the ridiculous amount of damage it deals for such scant material.
Really, Dusknoir could make its way into any deck that already features Rare Candy as a way of making damage more efficient. Stage 2 decks struggle dealing clean 1HKOs and dealing clean 2HKOs is unacceptable with the pace of this format. Dusknoir mitigates the awkward damage many of these Pokémon deal. Alternatively, the Flashfire Dusknoir might even be an interesting tech if you’ve already got the line in the deck, especially if it’s a thick one to begin with. (A 2-1-3 line should be perfect if you’re trying to fit him in.)
The other card, Miltank, can be played in literally any of these decks. Miltank is strong with Dusknoir in particular because 80 damage isn’t always necessarily meaningful, but when it’s moved to the right place it can be a difference maker. The only deck that features Miltank without Dusknoir is Butterfree, but that’s only because the deck focuses on speed rather than efficient damage. That’s not to say, however, that you couldn’t do both with a thin Dusknoir line in there!
When I first saw Miltank my mind flew to Greninja first. A Greninja/Miltank/Dusknoir deck would be completely viable because it can put down a lot of damage for little Energy. It’s the same idea as Butterfree except it’s a little slower, but the payoff is a little better down the line. Instead of having a virtually useless Stage 2 on the Bench, you have one that can deal meaningful damage without even coming Active. Keep in mind that a common theme throughout these successful Stage 2 decks is that they do a lot for relatively little—that’s why they’re worthwhile.
Ultimately, the idea behind this article is to get provoke thinking about the options Stage 2 decks offer. It’s not always necessarily about Blast Ballistas or Evil Balls. Sometimes, it’s tough for those high-power EX decks to take care of 6 non-EXs. These decks are worth a look and they’re all definitely open to interpretation.
That’s all I’ve got this time. This article was definitely a blast to write and I hope you guys take something from it. As always, if you have any questions just message me and I’ll get back to you right away! Thanks for reading and be on the look out for Kyle Sabelhaus’ Top Five article coming out on Thursday.
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
After 45 days, we unlock each Underground (UG/★) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.
Underground Members: Thank you for making this article possible!
Other Readers: Check out the FAQ if you are interested in joining Underground and gaining full access to our latest content.