With international National Championship results pouring in every weekend, it’s easy to forget that the US National Championship is quickly approaching! This means that it’s time to start pegging the biggest threats heading into Nationals and narrowing down deck choices. History really does repeat itself and what does well at foreign Nationals certainly has the potential to make an appearance in the United States. This was very true of Gothitelle/Accelgor last year after the deck surprised people internationally. Players overlooked it and were unprepared for it again at US Nationals, which is why it ultimately ended up winning the event.
To help everyone prepare for the remaining National Championships, I’ll be discussing the decks that I feel are best positioned in the metagame right now. I’ll also be discussing why I feel several of the archetypes are poor plays for Nationals. This doesn’t mean that you should write them off completely because they will still be present at the event. I would just advise against playing them unless the metagame shifts, which I’ll explain further…
Table of Contents
What Not to Play
The general consensus seems to be that Flashfire didn’t do Blastoise any favors. Blastoise has always struggled against Virizion/Genesect, a deck that certainly isn’t going anywhere. In addition, Druddigon FLF is easily splashable in Yveltal or any deck that struggles to deal with Black Kyurem-EX PLS. As a result, Blastoise is left with no good matchups, while struggling against Yveltal/Garbodor/Druddigon and Virizion/Genesect decks. Blastoise always seems to see some play, but I really can’t think of a reason to take it into a big event like Nationals.
Rayboar is in a slightly better place than Blastoise, as it counters Virizion/Genesect due to its natural type advantage. It’s also pretty good at handling Fairy decks including M Kangaskhan-EX because of Rayquaza EX’s limitless damage output. This ruins the entire purpose of Fairy Transfer combined with Max Potion. Since the Fairy deck has very limited Energy acceleration, it will quickly fizzle out.
However, Rayboar struggles against Yveltal/Druddigon, and the matchup gets even worse when the Yveltal player also plays Garbodor. Yveltal is easily the most popular deck right now, and accepting a bad matchup to the most played deck doesn’t seem to be a recipe for success. If you are expecting a lot of Virizion/Genesect come Nationals, Pyroar FLF seems like a better counter.
This one might be a little more controversial, as Plasma has seen some success at foreign Nationals. I think Plasma is a well-balanced deck that has roughly even matchups. Although this makes it safe, it’s another deck that doesn’t flat out beat anything. If you go into a large tournament with a lot of Swiss rounds, you have to be very confident in your ability to outplay people with the deck if your matchups are roughly even. It’s going to be difficult to simply run well that many games in a row and sneak into day two.
The other big issue with the deck is the threat of Pyroar. It’s very reasonable to expect that you will take a loss to Pyroar once in Swiss. You can tech for the matchup, but Plasma needs to devote 4-6 spots to reliably deal with a thick Pyroar line. I don’t think Plasma can do this without sacrificing a noticeable amount of consistency in all its other matchups.
If Empoleon got popular for some reason, Plasma is a reasonable counter, but unfortunately Empoleon is just a fringe deck at the moment. Maybe someone will put their own spin on Plasma to take it to the top, but as it stands now I can’t find a reason to play it.
Many players really wanted this deck to work and for a Mega Evolution to be playable. The idea of having an attacker that your opponent can’t Knock Out in certain matchups is very appealing on paper. However, the deck seems to come up short of being top tier. I think this is a combination of several factors.
There are a few decks that can Knock Out Mega Kangaskhan. Rayboar, Yveltal, and even fringe decks with Landorus-EX can all 1HKO the big kangaroo. Losing a turn Mega Evolving only to trade EXs is the start of a downward spiral. Since Kangaskhan slows the Fairy deck down another turn, it gives the Yveltal player time to apply pressure with Y Cyclone while building up Energy. Often, the Yveltal player will have a follow up after a huge Evil Ball. At that point, there isn’t enough time to lose another turn Mega Evolving and it becomes difficult to win.
Teched Enhanced Hammer is also bad news for Fairies, either slowing the deck down early game or making it difficult to keep the Energy in play when their attackers are Knocked Out with Energy attached.
Kangaskhan is also unreliable, even with Victini LTR’s Victory Star Ability. In a large tournament like Nationals, the 25% chance of getting a double tails will happen a lot more than you’d like. The Fairy deck is so versatile, so it’s hard to write it off with 100% certainty. However, I don’t think that it’s worth taking to Nationals in its current state.
These are the main archetypes that I’ve had the least amount of success with. However, if you feel very comfortable in testing with a deck or are able to put a spin on it that improves its matchups, then by all means play it! Since many of these archetypes struggle with Yveltal, I’ll go into more detail about what exactly makes it so good.
Yveltal seems to be the deck to beat going into every National Championship. However, despite the target this deck has on its head, it still has been able to achieve really solid results. The deck requires very little setup compared to a Stage 2 deck, making it relatively consistent. It has the ability to 1-shot any Pokémon if the Yveltal player has enough Energy in play. It even has deck space to tech for certain matchups. However, the question I get the most is, “What is the best way to run Yveltal?” To help answer that, I’ll be breaking down the two most popular variants, starting with…
The main idea behind Yveltal/Garbodor is that Yveltal is one of the strongest attackers in the game and merely needs support Pokémon to push it over the edge. The deck builds up Energy in play with Y Cyclone, while threatening to Knock Out a big threat with Evil Ball. This list is almost exactly what Igor Costa recently used to achieve a respectable second place finish at Portuguese Nationals:
Pokémon – 10
Trainers – 38
Energy – 12
This deck has been around since Spring Regionals and has been discussed several times, so I’ll just highlight the key differences from typical lists.
Playing only 1 copy of Garbodor, especially alongside 2 Trubbish, seems out of place. I don’t think it’s a bad idea because Garbodor is not essential in every matchup. It’s also less necessary against Blastoise and Emboar because now Yveltal decks have Druddigon in addition to Garbodor to positively impact the matchup. If the amount of Ability-based decks increases, cutting the Enhanced Hammer for a 2nd Garbodor is an easy fix.
It’s actually become less common to see multiple copies of Sableye being played in Yveltal/Darkrai decks. Although Junk Hunt is a spectacular attack, most players dismiss it as being too slow. However, Sableye still serves as a 7th Prize card, is a great starter going 2nd, works well with Random Receiver by getting you out of a dead hand, and of course gets resources back. Many of the other non-EX attackers consume multiple Energy attachments and resources in an attempt to make efficient Prize trades. Sableye gives you more resources to pull off a huge Evil Ball with Yveltal much easier.
Druddigon is the one non-EX attacker that can trade efficiently for just one Double Colorless Energy, making it a stellar 7th Prize card as well. It can respond to a non-EX attacker, such as Raichu, or finish off an EX damaged by Y Cyclone. Druddigon also shines in making efficient 2-for-1 Prize trades against Rayquaza-EX and Black Kyurem-EX PLS. A tech that improves a couple matchups while still having a universal use is too good not to play.
The Supporter lineup for this deck certainly isn’t the most common. Lysandre seems to interfere with Random Receiver, and Pal Pad seems questionable. The reasoning behind Random Receiver is that there aren’t any better Supporters to play. Multiple copies of Skyla are very slow and too many copies of Colress can be bad to open with.
The downside to Random Receiver is that you actually lose 2 consistency cards from your deck every time you play it, thus making it less likely that you draw well of N later in the game. To combat this, Sableye can Junk Hunt the Random Receivers back, while Pal Pad puts the strongest Supporters right back in the deck. It is not very likely that you will Random Receiver into the single Lysandre on the first turn, and you can use Random Receiver to try and hit Lysandre late game when there are only 2 or 3 Supporters left in your deck.
Overall, the engine lets you go through your deck slightly faster by putting emphasis on strong draw Supporters, while still having means to prevent dead-draws.
When to Play Yveltal/Garbodor
The easy answer is to play Garbodor in a metagame where Ability-based decks are popular. More specifically, this means decks like Emboar, Blastoise, and Fairies. However, I think the biggest reason to play Garbodor over Raichu is for the Virizion/Genesect matchup. Being able to use Hypnotoxic Laser can save Yveltal 2 Energy when it comes to a huge Evil Ball on Virizion-EX or Genesect-EX in addition to potentially preventing Red Signal actually make a reasonable impact on the matchup. Although it’s only slightly better against Virizion/Genesect, I believe its small edge is very relevant as Virizion/Genesect is also generating very consistent success.
This version of Yveltal is also capable of building up Energy in play while applying pressure with Y Cyclone. Although this deck has the option of Knocking anything Out with a huge Evil Ball, it has quite a few non-EX attackers. This makes sense because playing Raichu forces us to run a slightly higher Basic count. These non-Pokémon-EX allow the deck to try and make more efficient Prize trades, but at the cost of an Energy attachment and other resources (such as Muscle Band or Hypnotoxic Laser). To get a better idea, here is a list:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 35
Energy – 12
Yveltal/Raichu plays a lot of the same cards as Yveltal/Garbodor for the same reasons. This is logical because both concepts still revolve around Yveltal, so I’ll be highlighting the key differences.
At this point in time, I feel like a 2-2 Raichu line doesn’t always make enough of an impact and I simply haven’t found something I’m willing to cut for a 3rd Raichu. The 3rd copy of Pikachu is important because you want to draw into them more often. Even in the mirror matchup, it’s going to be more of a priority to Ultra Ball for Yveltal to start applying pressure with Y Cyclone. A turn 2 Raichu is simply neither effective nor necessary.
Since you’re often not searching for Pikachu with the first Ultra Ball, it’s often going to be difficult to get both Pikachu into play. Your opponent can then simply Knock Out the single Pikachu on the Bench with Y Cyclone and Lysandre/Pokémon Catcher. As a result, you lose your ability to swing the Prize exchange in your favor due to Raichu’s typing.
The 3rd Pikachu lets you get 2 into play much more often, and usually saves you an Ultra Ball that you can use to grab Raichu or another attacker instead. Pikachu is going to be a target for Lysandre and Pokémon Catcher early game, even if you have two copies Benched. Playing the 3rd Pikachu means that you still have the potential to get both Raichu into play.
I recently swapped out Bouffalant DRX for Absol and have been happy with the change. Several decks are running Raichu to counter Yveltal, making them vulnerable to Absol. Plasma, Flygon, Fairies, Empoleon, etc. are all decks that naturally play with a Bench of 4-5 Pokémon. It’s really not as easy to “play around” Absol’s damage output, which is a reason Absol is often dismissed.
The other huge reason for choosing Absol over Bouffalant in this deck is the Energy cost. Absol is much easier to power up with Dark Patch. Requiring a Double Colorless Energy to be effective is a tall order with both Raichu and Yveltal-EX needing it for their Energy requirements. Absol seems to have a similar damage output in this metagame, but it costs less resources to set up.
Normal Yveltal fits in better than Sableye in the Raichu variant of Yveltal. The main reason is that the 30 damage feels more significant against your opponent’s Pokémon-EX. With the help of Muscle Band and Hypnotoxic Laser, both Raichu and Absol can do enough damage to Knock Out an EX, potentially creating a favorable Prize exchange.
While your opponent can often deal with Absol or Raichu with one attack, not all decks can easily deal 130 damage to Yveltal in one turn. If Yveltal lives, you essentially traded an Absol or a Raichu for a Pokémon-EX. You didn’t even lose any Energy by using Yveltal because it replaces its Energy you had to waste an attachment or Dark Patch on when it attacks.
Jirachi-EX adds to the consistency of the deck, allows you to grab a game-changing N or Lysandre, and helps fill up the Bench for Raichu. The only downside of course is the low amount of HP because it can be a target for Lysandre if your opponent is looking to close out the game. However, applying pressure with Y Cyclone and a couple huge Evil Balls won’t allow your opponent a free turn to simply take free Prizes off Jirachi-EX.
This seems to make intuitive sense. Random Receiver is less effective without Sableye. Colress is more effective in a deck with a larger Basic count and that plays with 4-5 Benched Pokémon. Although it seems risky to play so many Colress since it’s bad on the first turn, the multiple outs to Jirachi-EX into a Professor Juniper or N make this risk very minimal.
When to Play Yveltal/Raichu
Yveltal/Raichu is meant to have an edge against other Yveltal decks due to Raichu’s typing, while sacrificing the option to turn off Abilities in other matchups. Raichu also shines against decks such as Weavile PLF that try to trade non-Pokémon-EX for Pokémon-EX. This is because the deck can simply take a lead with Y Cyclone and then just ride that initial Prize lead to victory by trading a non-EX for a non-EX.
So, which Yveltal variant is better? That answer is always going to depend on the amount of Ability-based decks being played at the time. However, most of the players that prefer Yveltal/Garbodor argue that Raichu has very little impact on the mirror matchup, while the players that prefer Yveltal/Raichu believe that Raichu tilts the mirror matchup significantly. I think part of the disparity between these opinions comes from the fact that not everyone is playing the same Raichu line. A 2-2 Raichu is sometimes too small to make an impact, while a 3-3 Raichu line is much stronger but requires a lot more space.
From my personal testing with a 3-2 Raichu line, the Yveltal/Raichu deck seems to naturally draw into a couple of copies of Pikachu and Pokémon to Bench. It seems inevitable that at least once during the match Raichu will get to Knock Out an opposing Yveltal-EX. This means that if your opponent was 1 turn ahead by getting the first Y Cyclone, Raichu can help bring the game back in your favor without relying on N. Right now I prefer Yveltal/Raichu because Yveltal has a huge presence at every tournament and I believe not playing Raichu puts you at a significant disadvantage in the mirror matchup.
A lot of people seem to be writing this deck off because it struggles with Pyroar. However, several foreign Nationals suggest that Pyroar might not be popular enough yet to prevent Virizion/Genesect from succeeding. The deck is very consistent and has solid matchups otherwise. Emboar’s presence during Regionals certainly didn’t stop people from play Virizion/Genesect, so I certainly expect it be a solid contender at US Nationals with a bad matchup it has to avoid:
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 33
Energy – 15
This list is pretty standard and the general strategy of Emerald Slashing to Genesect-EX is obvious. I’ll just quickly go over a few cards that stand out:
The reasoning for the 3rd Pikachu remains the same as it did in Yveltal/Raichu. Raichu helps tilt the Yveltal matchup, is a soft Pyroar counter, and acts as a 7th Prize card. Virizion/Genesect decks need to run some sort of non-EX attacker. In the past it’s been Bouffalant DRX, Drifblim DRX/PLB, or even Tropius PLB, but the idea behind it is you want your opponent to have to deal with an extra threat to win the game. Otherwise, your opponent will only have to Knock Out 1 Virizion-EX and 2 Genesect-EX during a typical game.
This card improves consistency, fills a Bench spot for Raichu, and can fetch a game-changing N or Shadow Triad. Again, it serves a very similar purpose as it does in Yveltal/Raichu. Jirachi-EX is definitely a card to take another look at if you’re excluding it from your lists.
Removing Pokémon Tools is essential in the Yveltal/Garbodor matchup. Very often you can eliminate their only Garbodor from play or pull off a game-winning Red Signal. One copy is fine because you can find it with Skyla. Tool Scrapper also occasionally lets you take Muscle Band off of Genesect-EX and attach G Booster, which is why it’s slightly superior to Startling Megaphone in this deck.
I feel like a tech Enhanced Hammer works better in this deck because it’s again searchable with Skyla. Almost every deck runs Special Energy right now. If you ever use Enhanced Hammer to slow your opponent down a turn at the start of the game or force them to miss an attack at the end of the game when playing it with N, then the single copy of Enhanced Hammer can tilt the game in your favor. It’s definitely worth a single copy since it has an impact on most of the decks in the format.
When to Play Virizion/Genesect
Virizion/Genesect is very strong in a metagame without many Fire decks. I think you can afford to get paired against Pyroar or Emboar once in Swiss and take the loss because the deck has a lot of other slightly favorable matchups. In my opinion the deck has an edge against Yveltal/Raichu and a slight edge against Yveltal/Garbodor.
Without Garbodor, Yveltal needs to invest even more Energy to Knock Out a Genesect-EX since Virizion-EX will prevent Hypnotoxic Laser’s effect. Since Virizion/Genesect can reliably achieve a turn 2 Emerald Slash into a potential Megalo Cannon on turn 3, Yveltal decks can often struggle dealing with both Genesect-EX and the copies of Pikachu on the Bench that can swing the Prize trade in the Virizion/Genesect player’s favor. With Garbodor, Hypnotoxic Laser keeps two Energy in play for the Yveltal player, allowing them to have a much better follow up after a huge Evil Ball.
If Virizion/Genesect spiked in popularity and you were set on playing Yveltal/Raichu, a copy of Spiritomb LTR to block G Booster helps to make the matchup more even. Overall, Virizion/Genesect remains a solid contender, as it always has been.
Flygon is never really considered a top tier deck and it is never widely played. However, it seems to always have some success in the hands of a good player. Many people argue that it’s the player and not the deck, but I refuse to believe someone trying to win a big event would try and outplay people with a deck they felt was bad. The most recent player to have success with Flygon was Jeremy Leong when he managed to finish second in Singapore’s National Championship with this unique deck. Flygon seems to only change a few cards with the release of each new set. This list is very close to what Jeremy Leong piloted to second place:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 38
Energy – 4
This deck is much less intuitive to play, since it requires more practice and decision making than Yveltal for example. The deck usually falls behind while setting up and building damage on the opponent’s board with Flygon and Accelgor. Then the deck is able to make a comeback late game with N and Dusknoir by moving the damage to the most threatening targets. This deck is even capable of beating Yveltal/Garbodor, you just need to save 1 Startling Megaphone for Dusknoir toward the end of the game.
A common mistake some players make is promoting Flygon after every Deck and Cover. The idea is to get more damage with Sand Slammer. While this is sometimes the correct play, there will be several instances where you only have 1 Flygon set up and your opponent will Knock Out whatever you promote. It is better to promote a Pokémon that you don’t care about to sacrifice it and then promote Flygon when your opponent Knocks it Out. This way you still get the Sand Slammer damage and you still have a Flygon in play.
Mewtwo-EX seems out of place, but it prevents your opponent from just building up one attacker. By forcing your opponent to build up backup attackers on the Bench, Flygon gets more damage into play with Sand Slammer, which means more damage to move around with Dusknoir. Mewtwo is good at dealing with a fast Pokémon-EX your opponent builds up before it takes too many Prizes. You just have to be careful not to give up 2 Prizes back too easily, since the more turns Flygon has to set up and build damage, the better.
1 Pal Pad
This card isn’t a necessity, but I think it works well in this deck. Usually decks use Pal Pad to protect against a late-game N. However, this deck does the opposite. Often you will be forced to use 1 or 2 copies of N just to set up in any deck. Since Flygon stays at 5 or 6 Prizes for the majority of most games, Pal Pad actually gives you access to more than 4 copies of N in order to make a comeback more reliably. It can also recover Lysandre if you have to discard it early game.
Unfortunately, Tropical Beach is necessary for Flygon to be successful and there really isn’t a replacement for it. Flygon not only uses Tropical Beach to set up early game, but it’s not uncommon to use Tropical Beach midgame with a Flygon Active. The deck requires you to usually set up 3 Stage 2s and to set up multiple Accelgor. You have to try and plan your turns in advance to decide if it’s better to attack or Tropical Beach. Usually if you don’t have any resources for the following turn, it’s better to use Tropical Beach immediately. Waiting also runs the risk of your opponent changing the Stadium and leaving you with a dead hand.
I touched on this above, but these are necessary to beat Yveltal/Garbodor, which is likely to see quite a bit of play at Nationals. Dowsing Machine can act as the 3rd Startling Megaphone in this matchup. Don’t waste them all in the beginning just to get Sand Slammer off once. You need one Megaphone at the end in order to use Dusknoir to win the game.
Max Potion is usually used on Flygon or Mewtwo-EX to deny Prizes and extend the game. Since Flygon doesn’t require any Energy, there is usually no drawback when using Max Potion. The 3rd Max Potion used to be more common, but too many Pokémon Knock Out anything in one shot in this metagame. If decks like Virizion/Genesect rose in popularity, a 3rd Max Potion could be considered since they will likely need two attacks to Knock Out Flygon without G Booster.
The Enhanced Hammer is playable against most decks, but the main matchup it’s in there for is Plasma. Sometimes Plasma can get too quick of a start and the Flygon player falls too far behind as a result. Enhanced Hammer, with the potential for Dowsing Machine to act as a 2nd Enhanced Hammer, is enough to slow down a quick Lugia or Kyurem in order for Flygon to set up properly.
When to Play Flygon
Flygon seems to have playable matchups against all the main archetypes in the metagame. It’s also a deck that’s less common, which means your opponents may not have tested extensively against it. This can lead to them making mistakes and Flygon stealing games. The biggest issue with Flygon is the time limit because it’s a very slow deck by nature. It requires a lot of testing to play quickly and to know when it’s near-impossible to come back in order to concede and save time. Flygon definitely won’t be played in large numbers, but I think it’s a serious contender.
Cards to Watch Out For
Miltank is a card that has seen sporadic success in both Empoleon and Greninja at foreign Nationals. The card seems very vanilla on paper; it simply does 80 damage for 1 Energy if you have a Stage 2 in play. However, it takes very few resources to keep a stream of Miltank going. This means that once the Stage 2 deck sets up, they essentially have a way to efficiently trade Prizes with you for the rest of the game.
I think the issue with Miltank is that a fast deck like Yveltal will go up 1 or 2 Prizes and maintain that lead. However, if a deck like Greninja/Miltank is consistent enough, it can trade a Miltank for Yveltal with 2 Greninja out and a Silver Bangle. Empoleon/Miltank is also capable of a comeback with Dusknoir. Some decks also aren’t built to deal with a stream of non-EX attackers. Miltank seems like it’s just short of being top tier right now, but a unique twist on a Stage 2 deck could push it over the top.
Pyroar is getting a lot of discussion now that it has had some success at a few of the foreign National Championships. Jit Min was the first person to make a good Charizard/Pyroar list and I was happy to see him win his Nationals in Singapore with his own deck. Pyroar also had success in the Czech Republic when partnered with Landorus and Mewtwo. However, there were also a few Nationals where Pyroar made cut and was Knocked Out immediately.
Pyroar is very similar to Klinklang PLS. It’s good in a metagame where people aren’t teching for it. It also plays very similarly by trying to get your opponent into a position where they have only Basic Pokémon remaining, just like how Klinklang tried to get into a situation with only Pokémon-EX remaining. The Pyroar decks that have been successful try and use Lysandre and various backup attackers to remove all the Evolutions from play.
I don’t think the metagame is revolving around Pyroar. While Pyroar is certainly a critical part that shouldn’t be overlooked, it’s not making top cut in large numbers at foreign events. This is because it’s a very much a matchup-based deck. If the metagame is filled with lots of Basic decks then Pyroar will succeed, but if it runs into a few bad matchups it won’t even make it to day two of US Nationals. It will be interesting to see how all the Pyroar hype plays out.
I wish everyone the best of luck at their upcoming Nationals! I hope this article gave you a slightly different perspective on the metagame. The general consensus is that Yveltal is top tier, but I think there’s still some discussion regarding what the other 1 or 2 top decks are. I simply based my results off of the foreign Nationals that have happened and my own testing.
I personally am really excited for Nationals, as I still feel like there’s some creativity in this format. I can’t picture two decks taking up more than half the field with all the variety. Remember to try and narrow down your deck choices and get a good night’s sleep before Nationals – it’s going to be a long tournament! Feel free to send me a message if you need any help or have any questions.
…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.