The biggest tournaments of the year (Nationals) are over, and just one more event remains. Attention turns to either the World Championships in Washington, D.C. this August or the new formats ahead. For those of you who are preparing for next season, I would recommend reading Dustin Zimmerman’s latest article on “theorymoning”; he makes great points on this topic.
But in this article, I plan on focusing more on those of you who obtained the 10 Play! Points necessary for the Last Chance Qualifier (or 500 CP for Worlds) and plan to attend. The “Grinder” may be one of the most stressful environments to play Pokémon because of how the tournament is set up and what you are playing for. The stakes make it even more important to be well prepared with your deck because you really need to know your deck and matchups inside and out to avoid making silly mistakes due to the pressure. To help you, I will be focusing on taking what we learned at the US National Championships and applying it to the LCQ.
What We Learned from US Nationals
The first question item that I am going to address is what exactly did well at US Nationals. Here are the decks that placed in the top 32 in the Masters Division:
- 8 Pyroar variants
- 6 Team Plasma (2 TDK, 4 Lugia)
- 6 Yveltal variants (4 Yveltal/Garbodor, 1 Yveltal/Darkrai/Hammers, 1 Yveltal/Kangaskhan)
- 4 Virizion/Genesect
- 4 Flygon/Dusknoir (3 Accelgor, 1 Miltank)
- 3 Aromatisse variants (2 Plasma, 1 Big Basics)
- 1 Landorus/Mewtwo/Raichu/Garbodor
So what can we infer from these results? I have put together a list of points that I think sum up what we can take away from US Nats:
1. Rain Dance is on the decline.
No Rain Dance decks made the top 32, and from what I gained from reading as many Nationals reports as I possibly could, Blastoise and Rayboar didn’t make much of an appearance at all. Yveltal/Garbodor was probably the most hyped deck coming into Nationals, which is an obvious reason why someone wouldn’t play Blastoise or Rayboar (Yveltal/Garbodor poses a bad matchup for them). However, there were other factors. Druddigon FLF was everywhere. It is easy to splash into almost any deck, and is really effective against Black Kyurem-EX PLS and Rayquaza-EX. Blastoise and Keldeo’s Grass Weakness could’ve also been at play.
2. Pyroar was everywhere.
I think people understood that “Intimidating Mane” was a powerful Ability, but nobody could’ve predicted that 25% of the top 32 decks would include Pyroar as the main focus. Decks that weren’t prepared or just decided to take a loss to Pyroar and improve other matchups were in for a long day.
I kind of relate the card to Gothitelle of last year; it blew up at US Nationals, and now it is the focus of everyone’s playtesting leading up to Worlds. There will be plenty of anti-Pyroar strategies being refined.
3. Despite all the counters, Yveltal still managed to take six spots in the top 32.
Sure, Yveltal players had to endure facing Raichu and opposing Yveltal all day long, but the deck certainly rose to meet its lofty expectations. I don’t see much of a reason why this success wouldn’t continue into the LCQ and Worlds.
4. Two decks that may have the most trouble dealing with Pyroar—Virizion/Genesect and Plasma—still placed well at Nationals, combining for ten top 32 finishes.
I’m not really sure what the Virizion/Genesect decks were playing alongside as support, but from my experience with the deck, they must have avoided Pyroar for the most part to place this well. The matchup really isn’t good, no matter what you throw in Virizion/Genesect, if the Pyroar player knows what they are doing. Sure, you can Red Signal around the Pyroar if the opponent plays Charizard-EX or Litleo on their Bench, but you won’t usually be able to win a game this way.
Raichu can help, but again, it isn’t enough to really swing the matchup in your favor. It really doesn’t help that your two main attackers are Weak to Fire, and there isn’t much you can do to overcome that. You could try pairing Virizion/Genesect with Garbodor to shut off Intimidating Main, but then you would have to run another, non-Grass attacker. Mewtwo-EX is great in this scenario because with just a Double Colorless Energy and a Muscle Band, it 1-shots a Pyroar with 3 Energy as long as Garbotoxin is set up.
As for the Plasma, this is more believable. Lugia-based Plasma variants have an advantage over TDK decks in this case because every time they Catcher/Lysandre/Escape Rope/Red Signal something other than a Pyroar (for example, a Litleo), it takes 2-3 Prizes rather than 1-2. This allows some leeway in case you get bad Catcher flips, and makes it so you need less of these kinds of cards to be able to win.
As an overall deck right now, I am really a fan of Lugia. It has good matchups against a lot of decks, and its glaring weakness, Pyroar, is manageable if you know how to play against it.
5. Flygon is the real deal.
When Flygon/Dusknoir/Accelgor placed 2nd at Singapore Nationals, most people in the US thought this was some kind of joke. The deck had a brief stint of success during the season, and it gained a lot from both the Catcher errata, the new first turn rules, and the new Duskull and Dusclops from Flashfire, but nobody would’ve guessed that this deck would make four appearances in the top 32. Play a few games with the deck, though, and you’ll quickly realize how this deck found success.
The spread damage from “Sand Slammer” combined with Dusknoir’s “Sinister Hand” Ability has obvious synergy, and when you add Accelgor DEX or Miltank FLF to increase damage output, it creates sort of a running timer for your opponents. When playing against it, there comes a time where you realize that you can survive “X” number of Sand Slammers before you get wiped out. The deck has excellent Prize trade, beats Pyroar fairly easily, and will definitely be something to watch out for for Worlds.
6. Roller Skates was featured as a major part of the draw engines of many successful decks.
“Heads or bust” cards like Pokémon Catcher, Roller Skates, and even Crushing Hammer, while doubted at first because of the flip, have generally had good results if used in the right decks. They all have Supporter counterparts that do the exact same thing without the flip (Lysandre, Cheren, and Team Flare Grunt respectively), but the fact that these are Items make the flip risk worth it, and ultimately make the Supporters look like Support-turds (oh, pun).
Obviously the most famous example of these kinds of cards working is Michael Pramawat’s Pyroar list that played 4 Roller Skates and 4 Catcher, which he piloted to a 2nd place finish. I would certainly recommend giving Roller Skates a shot in the lists you are testing (hopefully) for the LCQ (or Worlds).
So now we’re sitting here with a bunch of things that we learned from Nationals. Yay. Now we need to apply them to the events in August. In the following portion of the article, I will share with you a bunch of random points that I have thought about since the completion of Nationals.
How This Information Applies to the LCQ
1. I believe that Lugia is a better deck choice than TDK.
Pyroar seems made to destroy Plasma decks, but Lugia has a better chance to overcome that weakness because of Overflow. While it is always a possibility to play techs like Umbreon PLF in Lugia, it is much easier (and in my opinion more effective) to play higher counts of Lysandre/Catcher/Escape Rope to play around Pyroar in order to Plasma Gale Litleo for 2 Prize cards. All you need is 3 successful Catcher-like effects to be able to win the game, which is definitely doable, considering the number of options you have.
2. Take advantage of the metagame shifts.
With different decks dying down (Rain Dance, Virizion/Genesect), decks that were previously hard to play now become much better options. One example that comes to mind is Trevenant/Accelgor/Raichu. Virizion ruins this deck, but the predominant decks that use Virizion (VirGen and Aromatisse variants) might see a slight decrease in popularity due to Pyroar. It may be an idea to try out.
3. Virizion/Genesect decks really don’t like Pyroar.
Regardless of what method you use to attempt to counter Pyroar (Garbodor, Raichu, Abomasnow), it still doesn’t eliminate the fact that Pyroar easily 1-shots your main attackers because of Weakness and also wins the Prize trade. My best results when testing the matchup came by using Raichu (it obviously has better uses too) and taking full advantage of Red Signal to help get KOs.
4. Virizion/Mewtwo has an opportunity to return to glory.
It really needs Raichu to help against Yveltal, Lugia, and Pyroar, though. I’ve seen some people testing lists with Garbodor lines because between Raichu and Garbotoxin, Pyroar is a very winnable match, as was proven by Brandon Salazar at US Nationals.
5. I really like Suicune PLB as a card to consider.
Safeguard has been around for a while now, so it probably won’t catch anyone completely off guard, but it still provides temporary disruption to most popular decks in format. Sometimes those few turns are all you need to get set up and get yourself in a position to win the game. It is also a great counter to Landorus-EX and Charizard-EX, two cards that I expect to have stellar representation at Worlds. Finally, the card is compatible with Double Colorless Energy, so, like Druddigon FLF, it is easy to throw into a lot of different decks.
6. Giving Flareon PLF some thought might not be a bad idea.
Flareon seems like it has an answer for all of the most popular decks at the moment. It beats Virizion/Genesect because of Flareon, Yveltal because of Raichu, Plasma because of Drifblim, Raichu, and Garbodor, and Pyroar because of the fact that the deck is based on Evolutions. But the key word in the first statement was “seems.” It can be very frustrating when the deck doesn’t set up correctly in a matchup that you know you have answers for, and can make for long days. However, it’s still an interesting option.
7. Empoleon also has a chance to shine.
Empoleon obviously benefits from a positive Pyroar matchup, but certainly isn’t bad against other decks. It won US Nationals in the Seniors Division and found success at other Nationals, such as France. Most of these decks were the versions with Miltank, though. One idea that I’ve been testing is running Raichu instead of Miltank, because it helps the Lugia and Yveltal/Garbodor matchups, which can be tough.
From A to Z
Next, a slightly far out idea from the end of the alphabet: Zoroark. I have personally done a lot of testing with Zoroark and really like the deck and its matchups. Since I wanted to include at least one of my lists with you guys in this article, I’ve chosen to show you my Zoroark list:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 36
Energy – 11
While the draw support seems fragile, I haven’t really had troubles getting cards when I need them. That one copy of Pal Pad goes a long ways in this list.
To close this article, I’ve decided to give you all a challenge. The challenge is one that was presented to me by my little brother a few days ago. He made a bet with me that I couldn’t make a deck based around Beartic PLS and have a .500 record or better at an upcoming local tournament. The first thought that came to mind is using it with Umbreon from Plasma Freeze to give “Powerful Rage” more potential power.
After one game of testing the following list against Pyroar, I already know that it’s an auto-win. But remarkably, I am 8-1 in my limited testing experience with the deck in real life and on PlayTCG. I’ve played against Virizion/Genesect decks, Yveltal/Garbodor decks, Blastoise decks, and a Plasma/Lugia list. The one loss came at the hands of an Yveltal/Garbodor deck.
I am actually pretty satisfied with my list, and I encourage you guys to test it a little bit and give me some feedback on what you what change.
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 34
Energy – 11
To tell you the truth, I’ve made a total of zero changes to my initial list. I’ve been quite pleased with Suicune and Kyurem PLF, and the other card counts just seems to work well. The one change I might consider is dropping a Water Energy for a 4th Rainbow Energy. I really like using Rainbow Energy and Frozen City to put several damage counters on my Beartic so I can start using Powerful Rage for decent numbers without even taking any damage from attacks. Again, any help/feedback would be appreciated. Winning this bet would be pretty cool.