US Nationals has passed, the most prestigious event of the year (Worlds) is almost here, and the new formats for next season have been announced. There are numerous topics to cover at this point in time. Right now, my mindset is fully focused on winning the World Championships and helping friends make it through the Grinder, hence that will be my subject matter for today. I will start by recapping my Nationals experience, then get into talking about plays for the Grinder and Worlds while also talking about Pyroar. Following that, I want to express some thoughts I have on the new formats.
Table of Contents
- Nationals Recap
- I Choose You, Yvelchu?
- The Better Play
- My Biggest Regret and a Tale of Two Pyroar
- Pyroar for Worlds and the Grinder
- A Different Take on Big Basics
- Five Thoughts About the New Extended and Standard Formats
The weeks leading up to US Nationals were filled with numerous hours of playtesting, both online and in real life. I had either tested or tested against nearly every deck in the format. My teammate Chris Murray even made a Pyroar/Ninetales deck, which we considered a potential deck choice for quite a while, but eventually dismissed due to consistency issues and some sketchy matchups.
The problem my friends and I were finding during all this testing was that we didn’t actually like any deck in the format. I had a gut feeling that I would lean back into my comfort deck, which was anything with Yveltal and Darkrai in it. That was the type of deck I had played the most, perfected, and felt I could beat nearly everything with. However, I still didn’t want to play it for Nationals unless I had to because all Yveltal variants were extremely hyped. I knew every competent player would be expecting to play against the deck and likely tech against it in one way or another.
I also knew that it would be one the of the most popular decks in the field, and my win rate against the mirror match was extremely high, which made me feel a bit more comfortable. I opted to play the Raichu version of Yveltal for Nationals, cutting Garbodor in favor of a better mirror match because I expected to play against mirror a ton. I didn’t expect Pyroar and Flygon to be as big as they were either.
I know many people think that the Yveltal mirror is extremely luck based and volatile, but I believe that the build I ended up playing at Nationals had a decent mirror match. Here is the list:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 35
Energy – 12
As you can see, this list differs from Yveltal variants I tended to favor in the past. Before, I played Garbodor variants with flip cards like Pokémon Catcher. Those variants are still good and I would have easily played one for Nationals if I had not figured out this list.
The concept of running four Colress in Yveltal decks like this had originally been suggested to me by Jon Bristow. He had written about the idea in one of his articles. After doing extensive testing with this variant, I decided to adopt his strategy and set aside my Random Receivers and Bikes.
Upon arriving at Nationals, I had yet to decide which list I was playing. My original list had no Lysandre, no Enhanced Hammer, and no Spiritomb. Instead, I had played Catchers and a Druddigon. I was still stuck on the mindset that Sableye wasn’t needed, like I had mentioned in my previous article. Recently, I was pleased to find out that other good players, namely Brit Pybas, shared my thoughts.
The day before Nationals I had determined that Rayboar and Blastoise were not threats. I was still able to beat them without Druddigon, and in every other matchup Druddigon felt mediocre. I was also hearing word that Virizion/Genesect decks could be popular. Or, at least a much bigger threat than Rain Dance decks. This is why I chose to include Spiritomb over Druddigon. Spiritomb swings the VirGen matchup in your favor enough that it was a good addition to the deck.
Cutting Pokémon Catchers for 2 Enhanced Hammer and 2 Lysandre took away some of the luck element involved in the mirror. They were useful the majority of the time, whereas Catcher would only help me 50% of the time, if I even wanted the gust effect at all. Enhanced Hammer was often actually better than having a Catcher effect in the mirror and against a ton of other decks in the field.
I was pleased with the list I turned in during the players meeting. It was one of the strongest Yveltal/Raichu lists in the field. The only problem was that Yveltal/Raichu was clearly not the play that day, as Pyroar ran rampant and Flygon made its breakout debut. Here is how I did during the tournament:
R1 vs. Mirror (1-1, Tie)
R2 vs. Empoleon (2-1, Win)
R3 vs. Mirror (2-0, Win)
R4 vs. Mirror (2-0, Win)
R5 vs. Hammertime (2-0, Win)
R6 vs. Hammertime (2-0, Win)
R7 vs. Jason Klaczynski with Pyroar/Ninetales (1-1, Tie) (Photo below, credit Doug Morisoli.)
R8 vs. Trevenant/Accelgor (1-1, Tie)
R9 vs. Virizion/Genesect (0-2, Loss) (In testing this matchup was good, but I got poor starts both games.)
I did not make cut at 5-1-3. I finished 56th in my pod. I did like my deck, but I did not expect as much Pyroar and Flygon to be in the field. I was lucky to only play against one Pyroar and no Flygon. Had I made day 2 I would have had to avoid those two decks in order to make cut, which would have been very difficult. The deck performed exactly how I expected to in any kind of mirror match, which pleased me.
With that said, I could have made day 2 had I either scooped Game 2 or played faster during my round 8 match. Knowing when to scoop is an important skill that I think everyone is still developing since the switch to the best-of-three Swiss format. I thought I had a chance to win Game 2 against Trevenant/Accelgor if I had gotten a key Lysandre play in the upcoming turns before I conceded. Unfortunately, that never happened and I ended up conceding while just eating more time off the clock.
What I should have realized was that going first in Game 3 I was likely to win anyway if I had enough time. This means once my opponent got set up and started to lock me in Game 2 I shouldn’t have waited a few more turns to see if I could pull off an amazing Lysandre play; I should have conceded. At worst, if I had gotten a poor start Game 3, I could likely legally stall for time anyway. Game 3 ended with me only having 1 Prize left to his 6. He had 140 damage on a Keldeo and no way to stop my Darkrai from attacking. There was no situation in which I didn’t win the game with one more turn.
I Choose You, Yvelchu?
Going into Worlds, I would not play the deck I played at Nationals without modifying it. With Pyroar and Flygon being horrible matchups, I would increase the Raichu line to 3-3 and play a second Keldeo-EX. Cuts I would consider making are Spiritomb, Enhanced Hammer, baby Yveltal, Professor’s Letter, and potentially an Ultra Ball. I think Virizion-based decks will die down going into Worlds thanks to the huge success of Pyroar, rendering Spiritomb useless. I still think Yvelchu could be a potential play for Worlds with the proper list, but I am favoring Garbodor variants right now.
Before I move on, one thing I want to make readers aware of is how to play against Pyroar/Ninetales with this deck. Thanks to Chris Murray testing this deck against me so many times, I was able to figure out a strategy to occasionally beat and often tie the matchup. I implemented the strategy against Jason Klaczynski the round I played him during Nationals and the matchup played out as it did in testing. While spectating, I noticed a lot of players were playing the matchup incorrectly, so I want to explain the strategy that I use.
Your main goal during the matchup is to be able to use your Raichu to trade at least one for one with their Pyroar. In order to achieve this goal, you need to hold your Pikachu, if you can, until it is safe to Bench them. Of course Bench them if you would discard them otherwise, but if your opponent has the ability to Bright Look next turn, Pikachu will likely be KO’d.
This means you will use Darkrai in combination with Lysandre and Night Spear damage to force your opponent to evolve their Vulpix into Ninetales preemptively. Once you have exhausted all potential Catcher effects on the board, it is safe to drop your Pikachu and attempt to evolve them into Raichu. If you N your opponent and they still manage to hit Lysandre, then the plan is less effective, but often they will miss it. This is the strategy I found best when playing Yveltal/Raichu against Pyroar/Ninetales. The matchup is still not in your favor at all, but at least you have a chance.
The Better Play
Yveltal/Garbodor is the Yveltal variant that was the better play for Nationals, as we saw with Isaiah William’s top 4 finish, and it will likely be the better play for Worlds as well. The only way I see it becoming a worse play is if Lugia and Yveltal somehow see a lot more play around the time of Worlds, which is unlikely to happen. In general, Yveltal/Garbodor has better matchups than Yvelchu against everything, excluding the mirror match.
As far as the list goes, if I were to play Yveltal/Garbodor at Worlds, I really like something similar to what Isaiah played. I have tested the Colress engine extensively in Yveltal/Garbodor and found that I don’t like it. It is much more effective in the Raichu variant. If I were to play Yveltal/Garbodor for Worlds or the Grinder, I would use something like this:
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 37
Energy – 12
Ever since playing with Jirachi in Yveltal/Raichu I have fallen in love with the card, especially in combination with Lysandre. Jirachi-EX won me so many games by getting me out of terrible no Supporter hands. Seeing Isaiah have success with Jirachi-EX, even alongside Garbodor, I figured I would keep it around.
Against Flygon, two switching effects have proven to be adequate enough to win the matchup. Since this list lacks Pokémon Catcher, I decided that one of the switching effects would be better off as an Escape Rope. Escape Rope can occasionally be a pseudo Pokémon Catcher. But more importantly, it will allow your Darkrai-EX to KO your opponent’s Active Pokémon with 30 HP left with Darkrai-EX’s 30 snipe damage. Having switching effects in form of Item cards is more valuable than in the form of Keldeo-EX because you want to have Garbotoxin activated as often as possible. Being able to shut down Sand Slammer while also being able to switch out of Paralysis is essential.
The rest of the deck list is fairly standard. I chose not to cut Random Receiver even though I play Lysandre because I don’t like any of the other Supporter options and, as I stated before, I didn’t like 4 Colress in the deck. The odds of actually hitting your one Lysandre are unlikely, but it can be devastating when that happens, however I can’t see myself playing anything else.
My Biggest Regret and a Tale of Two Pyroar
The thing I regret the most about this year’s National Championships is not taking a risk. I think of myself as a comfort player; I always seem to play the deck that I have tested the most and have had success with. This has worked out for me to a degree. I did manage to acquire my Worlds invite this year, but I have never gone deep at Nationals or Worlds. I have only ever made top 32 at both. This year I was given the chance to play what was probably the best deck choice for Nationals, and I chose not to take it. Instead, I opted to continue perfecting my Yveltal/Raichu deck.
The deck I should have played for US Nationals was Pyroar. A group of my friends from New England had teamed up with some Virginia players the Thursday night before Nationals and created what would be Michael Pramawat’s second place Pyroar list. I was able to talk to Tristan Macek, who got top 8 at Nationals with the list as well, to help better explain the story of Pyroar.
It was Thursday before Nationals. Chris Murray, Nick Chinman, Jon Bristow, and myself were confounded on what to play. Chris was in favor of Hammertime, Jon favored Flygon, I was leaning toward Plasma or Yveltal, and Chinman was undecided. After some preemptive testing, Yveltal and Flygon seemed to be the strongest plays. The main question we were faced with was this: “Is Pyroar going to be a strong contender? Or would the few that played a Pyroar deck drop out early in the tournament?”
The room was 50/50 on the subject. That was until Chris received a text and left the room. A few minutes later, a Pyroar deck was on the table; but not just any Pyroar deck, a terrible Pyroar deck. The deck was given to Chris by his friends from Virginia, which include Michael Pramawat and Steven Varesko. The list looked like this:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 35
Energy – 12
Testing with this version was rough. We knew Yveltal/Garb was the deck to beat and if we could bring that matchup up to 50/50, then Pyroar was the play for Nationals. Testing was rough in the beginning. Chris was drawing 3 cards off of Fiery Torch before I caught and corrected him. His response to Fiery Torch’s actual effect was not pleasant. Chris and I tested a few games and came to following conclusions: a 3-2 Garb line destroyed this deck, but most decks would only run a 2-2. More Supporters were necessary. After one game where Chris had to discard too many key cards we quickly agreed that 2 N were necessary.
I suggested we play 4 Switch because Hypnotoxic Laser was problematic and, in some cases, a deck’s only out to a Pyroar hitting the field. Virbank was an extreme problem as well since there were games I could take the last few Prizes with Lasers/Sableye against Pyroar while playing Yveltal. To remedy this problem, I suggested Champions Festival since it would heal 10 damage from Poison every turn, essentially making Poison useless. After discussing it, Chris suggested we use Tropical Beach to set up even faster and we quickly incorporated two Beaches.
The problem with the deck was that we could not set up; there were too many conjunctional pieces. Fiery Torch was not live without Fire Energy, and if we only had one Fire Energy it was almost always better to attach it since playing Fiery Torch would most likely result in a dependency on Blacksmith the following turn. There were too many clunky parts for Bicycle to excel. Setting up both Pyroar and Electrode was tedious. Occasionally we had to set up Charizard-EX along with them as well.
Finally, we agreed that the best way to run it would be straight Pyroar. Cut the Electrode lines, cut Druddigon (it was only included because of Latias-EX, but Charizard-EX could answer Latias-EX), and cut a Charizard-EX for a Mewtwo-EX. Mewtwo-EX had the ability to kill Trubbish and Garbodor for a DCE or DCE and Muscle Band. Mewtwo-EX also allowed aggressive plays in the early game, sometimes even stealing games from decks that should be auto-losses like Empoleon.
We strengthened the Pyroar line; though Chris and I had a disagreement on whether to run 4 Pyroar or not. After arguing my perspective that the deck has so many auto-wins the goal should be a turn 2 Pyroar, we agreed on 4 Pyroar being the play. We decided the deck’s Trainers should be devoted to killing Pyroar counters such as Garbodor, since Pyroar wins the game if there is no answer to him. The inclusion of 3 Catcher and 3 Lysandre gave us multiple chances to bring up a pre-evolution before it evolved, swinging the tempo in our favor.
Chris and I tested some more and the matches were much closer! Eventually he beat my Yveltal/Garb deck in two straight sets and we were both confident in our choice. The last and most important epiphany to the deck was when Chris said, “I hate Fiery Torch… we’re running Roller Skates.” We tried 4 Roller Skates with the results being amazing and we had found our deck for Nationals. (Chris Murray is a fan of Michael Skoran who won Delaware States piloting a Yveltal deck with 4 Roller Skates. Chris said the inspiration for Roller Skates directly stemmed from that.)
After we finished perfecting the deck we talked to Michael Pramawat and Steven Varesko and shared the deck with the people who had initially given us the idea. This list was also shared with various New England players. The results the next day were amazing. The deck gave three players their invites and multiple players day 2s.
For those of you who have not seen Michael Pramawat’s second place Nationals deck, here it is:
Pokémon – 10
Trainers – 38
Energy – 12
This list, with a few preference cards difference, was piloted by all of what I will refer to as “Team Pyroar” (photo credit Doug Morisoli):
I am extremely proud of my friends for being able to come up with this deck and do so well with it at Nationals. Next time I am put in a situation where I have the ability to take a risk and play a non-meta deck that has potential, I might seize the opportunity. Michael Pramawat and friends trusted Chris, Tristan, and each other, and it worked out amazingly for them all. I only wish I had done the same. Sometimes the right decision is to trust your friends, get out of your comfort zone, and play something crazy. I have learned my lesson; hopefully if anyone reading this is put in a similar situation they will at least strongly consider playing that “crazy” deck.
Pyroar for Worlds and the Grinder
Pyroar reminds me of Gothitelle from last year’s Nationals and Worlds format. People knew that the deck was a potential threat, but it wasn’t popular enough that people had come prepared for it. Now that people know Pyroar is a threat and will see play, it gets worse. The surprise factor was a huge part of what attributed to Pyroar’s success.
However, unlike Gothitelle, it is very hard to counter Pyroar with just a few cards. You need to dedicate whole Pokémon Evolution lines to your deck. You can’t just add double or triple Keldeo-EX to counter it like you could do to counter Gothitelle last season. Pyroar also has more outs to deal with whatever counters you decide to play, and they don’t just lose like Gothitelle occasionally did.
Due to Pyroar’s ability to still beat its counters (barring Evolution-based decks like Empoleon) and it being difficult to tech for without killing consistency, I think it is a very viable play for Worlds and the Grinder. Having auto-wins like Yveltal/Raichu and Plasma are huge in a big tournaments too, which makes Pyroar even more appealing. I don’t think it will be as big as it was at Nationals, but I could see it doing just as well as it did there.
I suspect players may think too deep into the metagame and assume people won’t play Pyroar because people will be prepared for it. Then they will not tech for it, leaving themselves vulnerable. I would avoid this train of thought because Pyroar will see play and you will need to prepare for it. As far as a list goes for Pyroar, Pramawat’s second place list is near perfect according to Chris and Tristan. It’s just a matter of matchups and coin flips. It’s also a very simple deck to play, making it appealing to players who don’t have that much time to test. Seeing the face of a Plasma player with no counter to Pyroar has to be one of the most satisfying feelings in this format.
A Different Take on Big Basics
As we all know, Big Basics, piloted by Brandon Salazar, won the US National Championship in the Masters Division. I don’t think many people expected it to do as well as it did, except for the people who actually did well with it. At one point during my own testing I had actually considered Big Basics as a viable play for Worlds. Unfortunately, after putting the deck through the ringer, I chose to drop it on the basis the Yveltal decks had better matchups.
However, one of my friends, Jacob Mechaber, did not drop the deck and instead continued testing it. With help from one of my teammates, Azul Griego, they managed to create a list that would fair well in the Nationals metagame. Azul ended up switching to the Team Pyroar deck the night before Nationals, while Jacob stuck to his guns, much like I did. Unlike myself, Jacob managed to make day 2, but whiffed making top 8 in his pod. I really like the list that he ended up on and he allowed me to share it with you guys today. I am strongly considering this as a play for Worlds, or at least something very similar.
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 34
Energy – 11
This variant of Big Basics is much different from the one Brandon used to win Nationals. There is no Garbodor and it includes techs for specific matchups. This deck was built to attempt to counter the predicted Nationals metagame. I believe you could take the same approach for Worlds and the Grinder. Use the Big Basics skeleton of Landorus and Mewtwo and instead of pairing it with Garbodor, just include metagame counters for decks you expect to play against.
Spiritomb was included to help counter Virizion/Genesect decks, Cobalion and Enhanced Hammer help take down Plasma, Druddigon is for Rain Dance decks, and Raichu is for anything Weak to Lightning. With the exclusion of Garbodor, you also have the room to play Jirachi-EX, which is always a premium luxury.
Although this version of Big Basics offers more utility, it comes at the cost of being reliant on Special Energy to diversify your attackers. This means that you are more susceptible to Enhanced Hammer than any other version. The majority of the attacks you use only cost one Energy, but losing Energy is always frustrating to deal with.
If I were to play this deck for Worlds, I would definitely cut Druddigon. I don’t think we’ll be seeing many, if any, Rain Dance decks at Worlds. This spot would be better off as a third Muscle Band or a fourth Switch. As I have mentioned before, I have been adding more switching effects to all of my decks to help prepare for Flygon. If I don’t think I will play against any Virizion/Genesect I will probably cut Spiritomb as well. I would cut it either for another Pokémon Catcher or a tech against another matchup I expect to face.
With all that said, I expect to see quite a bit of Big Basics going into Worlds. I think there will be all types of variants now that we have been exposed to the power of the deck. I would come to Worlds expecting to face some type of variant of this deck, so be sure to playtest against it.
Five Thoughts About the New Extended and Standard Formats
I don’t want to get into much detail about the new format just yet; I would rather save that for my next article. The reason being is that I have not playtested the format at all. I have been solely focusing on the World Championships, so anything I say about the new formats would be utter theorymon. However, if you would like to theorymon with me and discuss the formats in the forums, feel free to! Anyway, here are my thoughts:
1. Landorus-EX is going to be good.
Ok, so this is pretty obvious, and it’s on everyone’s mind. With the new Fighting support in Furious Fists, Fighting-type Pokémon in general get better. Landorus is going to be the best by far. Yes, I think it will be better than Lucario-EX. So much so that Lucario may only see minimal play for a while.
As for Extended, Eelektric-based decks are getting a ton of hype right now. Landorus-EX is the obvious counter to Eels, as it has always been. Landorus will most likely see a lot of Extended play as well. If you can still manage to pick Landorus-EX up for a decent price and you don’t have 3-4, I would get on that right now.
2. Seismitoad-EX will live up to the hype.
Item lock for a Double Colorless Energy means you can lock your opponent on turn 1. Deafening on turn 1 is insanely good and can completely cripple your opponent. I don’t think the card will be broken, but it will play a role in the metagame in one way or another.
3. Pyroar isn’t going anywhere.
Before I concluded my conversation with Tristan Macek I asked him what he thought about Pyroar in the new format. His response matched my feelings on the subject:
I think it’s still strong. The deck has ridiculous amounts of auto-wins and it gains some stuff from the new set, such as Training Center. The deck doesn’t need much to set up and can play a more Supporter-based deck to counter Seismitoad. (Pokémon Fan Club to set up, Blacksmith is Energy acceleration, Lysandre to KO Garb, etc.). You can even run a Seismitoad of your own if you want to slow down your opponent until you are set up. So, I think it will still be played and be a strong contender at that.
4. Darkrai-EX- and Yveltal-EX-based decks are dead.
With Dark Patch finally rotating out of the format and Fighting getting buffed, I don’t see a way that Dark decks will be able to remain tier 1. Darkrai-EX and Yveltal-EX are still incredible cards. They will see play as techs in certain decks, but I don’t think they will be the main focus anymore. Darkrai has been dominating since it came out, and it has had more than its fair share of time in the limelight, but I am sad to see it go nonetheless.
5. The Extended format existing is a double-edged sword.
I am excited that Pokémon has announced this new format; it’s going to be fun to figure out. Unfortunately, figuring out this new format is going to take a lot of time and testing, and we have to do it. If you want to win a Regional Championship next season you will need to be an expert in both formats. This means you will need to put almost double the time you are now into testing, which for some people just isn’t possible.
Luckily, the writers here on Underground will likely be able to help break down the new formats once the time comes. I know I will be one of those people attempting to break down the new formats once the World Championships are over.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my article today and that it helps you in your upcoming tournament endeavors, whether they be the Last Chance Qualifier or the World Championships themselves. If you are not attending either of those, I hope you enjoyed the article and learning the story of Pyroar and were able to take something out of it; like having the guts to make a risky play when it comes time to.
If you are attending the World Championships, feel free to say hi and talk to me. I can’t wait to compete in my third World Championships. I am even more excited to break down the new format once the World Championships are over! Feel free to talk about anything with me in the forums and give this article a like if you enjoyed it.
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
After 90 days, we open each Underground (UG) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.
Underground Members: Thanks 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.