Lock decks, often referred to as control decks in other card games, have been some of the most format-defining archetypes in the history of the Pokémon TCG. Ever since I started playing the game in 2005, I have enjoyed using these kinds of decks. Despite the bad reputation given to them due to being “unfun” or “unfair” to play against, lock decks are usually some of the hardest decks to play and build. Today I will be sharing a comprehensive history of lock decks throughout the game, mostly focusing on the post-Nintendo era that I am more familiar with.
The focus of a lock deck, as most people know, is to limit one or more of your opponent’s basic game actions in order to gain an advantage. This could include Pokémon Powers, Poké-Powers, Poké-Bodies, Abilities, Trainers, Items, attacking, retreating, etc. The first influential lock card to be printed was Dark Vileplume in the set Team Rocket, while the most recent is Seismitoad-EX from Furious Fists which has been covered a great deal in recent articles.
I see two main purposes for this article. Firstly, I’d like to help players gain a better understanding about lock decks and hopefully give more people the initiative to try them out in the future. As Brit Pybas mentioned in his last article, oftentimes players aren’t confident enough to try more unique decks and this can limit their playtesting to the most common archetypes. I frequently see lock decks being overlooked by a vast majority of players, and that usually ends up leading to the lock decks being successful. I also know that many players have taken an interest in building decks from previous formats, so this could be a nice way to get a starting deck list for one of these decks, some of which don’t have many good lists available online, as well as acquire a basic overview of how to use them.
- Wizards Era
- EX Era
- Diamond & Pearl Era
- Black & White Era
- XY Era
As someone who joined Pokémon Organized Play and thus the competitive scene after Nintendo took over, I don’t trust myself to give enough information about this time period and know enough about each deck to write at length about them. That being said, there’s no way I could leave out the most infamous lock deck that we’ve seen in the game: Sneasel/Slowking. This deck was so dominant that both Sneasel and Slowking became banned from competitive play. The only other time a ban has happened since then was the prohibition of Tropical Beach and Champions Festival in Japan last year.
Here is a sample list of the deck for you to look over. Although it might not be perfect, it should do a good job of outlining the basic concept of the deck:
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 32
Energy – 11
Although I have yet to play any games with or against this deck, the strategy is fairly simple to explain. Setting up multiple Slowking allows you to use its Pokémon Power more than once for each Trainer card your opponent plays. On top of that, you also run Chaos Gym which adds yet another flip. While Chaos Gym is incredibly good, it also benefits your opponent, so there isn’t a high count of it in the deck. This was before Supporters were introduced as well, so after multiple Slowking hit the field it would be a very hard lock on your opponent’s setup and utility.
On top of locking Trainers, the deck also plays the incredibly strong Energy removal cards as well as Gust of Wind. Energy Removal and Super Energy Removal are pretty self-explanatory, taking Energy off of your opponent’s board. This pairs very well with the Murkrow and Gust of Wind combo that altogether prevents your opponent from attacking until you have complete board control. Denying your opponent attacks as well as keeping board control all play into the strength of this deck, making sure you always have the advantage by limiting what your opponent can do.
To top it all off we have our attacker, Sneasel. Looking at the card it really doesn’t seem that good compared to what we have now, but back when Pokémon had much lower HP and mostly needed to evolve to do a bunch of damage this card was overpowered. Along with Special Darkness Energy you would on average do 70-80 damage, which was incredible for a Basic Pokémon.
I hope you can tell how overpowered this deck was from my simple explanation. Although I haven’t tried the deck out yet, I know a lot of people have been building decks from the Base Set-Neo Revelation format, so hopefully I get a chance to try it out in the future.
One of the more low-key lock decks that we’ve had is T2 Medicham. As the name explains, the focus of the deck is to get out Medicham ex on turn 2 in order to lock your opponent’s Poké-Powers quickly as well as start to spread damage with Pure Power. This deck won both a US Nationals title and a World Championships; Seena Ghaziaskar placed 1st in Masters at US Nationals with it and Curran Hill took the World Championships with the deck in Juniors.
With Medicham ex being released in Emerald, the deck was only able to be played at the end of the 2005 season for Nationals and Worlds, but also extended its life into the 2006 season as well.
Here is Curran’s Worlds list that is printed as the “Bright Aura” 2005 World Championships deck:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 31
Energy – 16
There’s nothing fancy about this list at all. The strategy is, of course, very simple and straight consistency is so important in order to make sure Medicham ex is Active on turn 2. Jirachi DX is your ideal starter; its Poké-Power is amazing in helping you set up. After using Wishing Star you can Swoop! Teleporter into Meditite on turn 2. This counts as Meditite being in play for a turn, at which point you can evolve into Medicham ex and start your lock. This combo leads to most games going the way you want them to and getting set up on turn 2.
Along with locking Poké-Powers you also have a few more cards that play into the lock: Energy Removal 2, Pow! Hand Extension, and Team Aqua Hideout. With Medicham ex’s relatively low HP, preventing your opponent from attacking is very important. Usually the best way to go about that is manipulating your opponent’s Energy and which Pokémon they have Active.
Being able to choose the placement of the damage counters with Pure Power can pair very well with Pow! Hand Extension, choosing when to take knockouts and being able to be behind while still having a good amount of damage on the board.
One of the biggest turning points for lock decks was Mewtric in my opinion. Another turn 2 attack-based deck, Mewtric focuses around getting Manectric ex in play as quickly as possible to start a Trainer lock. Mew ex LM is utilized to allow a toolbox of other attackers to be easily used alongside Manectric ex without having any issues with Energy or streaming Disconnect for as long as needed. Successes from the deck include Seena Ghaziaskar placing 3rd at US Nationals 2006 in the Masters Division as well as Jason Klaczynski taking his first World Championships title with it in 2006.
The deck was first used at States in 2006 following the release of Legend Maker and thus Mew ex. It continued to see play through Regionals and then finally Nationals and Worlds of course. The deck didn’t have nearly as much popularity in the 2007 season.
Here is Jason’s Worlds-winning list:
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 28
Energy – 15
The high counts in the Manectric ex, Mew ex, and Dual Ball all help make sure you can get your lock going as quickly as possible. Roselia is also very strong early game while setting up to start maintaining some board control. High Energy counts are also very crucial when hitting the turn 1 attachment makes or breaks your ability be be fully set up the next turn. One of the aspects of Disconnect that I like the most is the fact that your opponent can’t do anything to break the lock during their turn. A lot of lock cards and combos are based on if they are on the field or in the Active position, but having a lock as an attack is a nice change.
On top of the Trainer lock we also have a small Poké-Power lock with Girafarig and Battle Frontier, which doesn’t hinder any of our strategy but often can be very useful in keeping your opponent even further locked.
Mynx was another lock deck from 2006 by Jason Klaczynski, Seena Ghaziaskar, Matt Moss, and a few others. It is a unique deck, using a toolbox of cards to maintain board control rather than having one specific card preventing your opponent from doing something. This was one of the best decks in my opinion as well as others, but it saw very little tournament play due to the incredible amount of time it would take to keep this lock going and make the most optimal plays. Even with the 40-minute best-of-one time restrictions, the deck would often lose on Prize count on time or be rushed into making sub-optimal plays based on the time restrictions and lose. I personally have this deck built right now and love playing it, but it isn’t nearly as much fun for your opponent.
This deck had a similar lifespan to Mewtric, first being used at a Gym Challenge after the release of Legend Maker. As I said before, not many players used it for tournaments, but it was still useable through the 2007 season as well.
Here is the list I have built right now:
Pokémon – 29
Trainers – 30
Energy – 1
The strategy of this deck is a little more complicated than the previous decks we’ve seen. First of all, setting up multiple Wobbuffet is crucial; keeping the opponent’s Retreat Cost high is why this lock works. Mew ex is used here to easily use the attacks of different Pokémon whenever you need them. Unown E, Unown I, and Roselia are all used to get certain Pokémon in the Active position, which pairs incredibly with Wobbuffet. Minun is used for utility, getting back anything you may need to keep your lock going. Finally, Jynx is great for spreading damage while you have a certain Pokémon locked in their Active position.
Falling behind on Prizes for most of the game is another essential aspect of the deck. Pow! Hand Extension has two effects that are incredible for your strategy; moving your opponent’s Energy off of their Active, and bringing up a new Active. Pow! is a very powerful card, but has the downside that you need to be behind on Prizes in order to play it. This is a mechanic that hasn’t really been tried out anywhere else or continued at all, but I love the skill it adds into the games of this era.
Easily one of the best-known archetypes in Pokémon’s history, Gardevoir/Gallade is up there for one of the best lock decks of all time. During the 2007-2008 season this deck dominated events from the time the cards were released in the winter of 2007 all the way up to the World Championships. This deck won multiple States and Regionals as well as took home both US Nationals and Worlds in the Masters Division. Five players out of the top 8 at US Nationals were using this deck, which goes to show how much domination it had.
Pokémon – 21
Trainers – 24
Energy – 15
Gardevoir is arguably one of the best cards to ever be printed with a great Poké-Power, an attack that locks, and a LV.X that adds more HP and more utility. For the most part your strategy would just be to get out multiple Gardevoir. The Special Energy in this format made it incredibly easy to use your 3-Energy attack, with Scramble Energy taking up your whole requirement if you’re down on Prizes and Double Rainbow Energy making you only need two attachments to start attacking.
Psychic Lock both did a good amount of damage and prevented your opponent from using Poké-Powers during their next turn. In this format, Claydol was one of the most important setup cards for a majority of decks, so after you got rolling you would shut down their main draw engine which usually turned the game enough to win fairly easily. Telekinesis made setting up further incredibly easy after you get one Gardevoir on the field, so streaming your attackers wasn’t as hard as with other Stage 2 decks.
Funny side story: Jason played against Yacine Sekkoum in top 8 of Worlds in 2008 and one of their Team Galactic’s Wagers lasted for over 2 minutes, with both players continually throwing the same thing as carefully trying to predict what the other would do next. The moment is captured on YouTube and is a funny watch if anyone is interested.
Many players either don’t remember Glisctomb or don’t know about it at all if they didn’t play back in Cities 2009-2010. The deck had a very short lifespan, only really being used at those Cities. Glisctomb was the first lock deck to go for a loop, or a continual stream of attacks that would limit your opponent from doing anything until you either missed an attack, knocked something out, or they were able to break the lock. The deck won a bunch of Cities at the time. I was only able to use it at one tournament and loved playing it. I’m pretty sure I made top 4 or finals with it in Seniors.
Here is a sample list courtesy of Mike Lesky:
Pokémon – 24
Trainers – 25
Energy – 11
Starting off with the deck you’ll be trying to get Spiritomb in the Active as soon as you can. This will both help you set up your Evolutions as well as stop the opponent from playing Trainers.
After you’re fully set up you can start the loop. Sending up a Gliscor and evolving it to the LV.X allows you to use its Shoot Poison Poké-Power to both Paralyze and Poison the opponent’s Active (sound familiar?), then you can use Gliscor’s Burning Poison to return it to you hand, sending up Spiritomb and keeping the Trainer lock going. This could be done every turn with the help of Broken Time-Space and Unown Q or an Energy to retreat Spiritomb.
There was a bunch of buzz around this deck at States in 2010 as being one of the best secret decks when it was first debuted at Florida States by Stephen Silvestro. A lot of players tried to emulate the deck after that point for States and Regionals, but most had little success. Despite this, Con Le was able to use the deck for Nationals 2010 and take first.
Here’s a list I put together for the deck in the States format:
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 29
Energy – 12
One of the biggest shocks for most people at first was the use of Cyrus’s Initiative, which was a fairly unplayable card until this deck was used. Alongside Sableye’s Impersonate, it does a great job at keeping control on your opponent’s hand, namely because so many decks relied on chaining Cyrus’s Conspiracy, and with Initiative you could remove the one Cyrus in their hand, breaking the chain.
Power Spray is great to keep your opponent from drawing a bunch of cards after you’ve used Cyrus’s Initiative, and while most SP decks of the time used 3 it was almost mandatory to run a 4th in this build. Another unique card in the deck was Honchkrow SV, which was great for getting Magikarp onto your opponent’s Bench or even just filling their Bench with Pokémon they discarded and don’t want to use.
The main attacker of the deck, Garchomp C LV.X, also plays into your board control, picking off your opponent’s key cards that they need to set up.
Another secret deck, “The Truth” was a fantastic lock deck piloted by Ross Cawthon to 2nd place at Worlds 2011. After the mid-season rotation the format was really weird with a lot of players trying new things. After Nationals that year most players stuck to the big three, which were Yanmega/Magnezone, Stage 1s, and Reshiphlosion. With these three decks being what any Worlds player would be playing against almost every round, Ross was able to tailor his deck to beating these three more easily. This lead to his success, but he ultimately ended up losing to Magneboar, which not many people expected to be played.
Here is Ross’s Worlds deck list:
Pokémon – 27
2 Gloom UD
1-1 Suicune & Entei LEGEND
2 Pichu HS
Trainers – 22
Energy – 11
Setting up two lines of Stage 2s isn’t an easy task at all. This deck aims to do it more easily with the use of Pichu and Cleffa in tandem with the Twins engine. Being able to get all of your Basics out quickly and the respond with Twins if anything gets knocked out made it a lot easier to get early Trainer lock and slow down the game enough to get set up from there.
The attackers that Ross runs are perfect for the strategy of the deck. Donphan does a good amount of damage as well as prevents damage done to it by 20. This usually means that it won’t be one-shot and the damage it takes can be moved off with Reuniclus. Zekrom also fills a similar role, having high HP and low knockout potential. Also, along with Reuniclus, Zekrom can easily do up to 140 damage with Outrage. Finally, Suicune & Entei LEGEND is an interesting inclusion, but does one-shot Donphan and can also snipe for 100 if need be.
Easily one of my favorite decks of all time, Chandelure/Vileplume/Accelgor/Mew has one of the best perfect loops in the history of the game with very few easy ways to break the lock. Its first big success was top 16 at US Nationals by Harrison Leven, and also got a top 16 at Worlds in Masters. Personally, I also played the deck at Worlds and made top 16, which is part of the reason I like the deck so much.
Here is the list I used for Worlds 2011:
Pokémon – 27
Trainers – 23
Energy – 10
Like The Truth, this deck used the Twins engine in order to achieve the large amount of setup you need in order to start the lock. Ideally, you’ll get out two Oddish as quickly as possible and either wait for your opponent to take a Prize to use Twins, or just get Vileplume out without the aid of Twins. After your Trainer lock starts, it’s much easier to take your time to set up. Even letting your opponent go down to one or two Prize cards is fine with this deck, because after you get your lock up there’s usually no way for them to knock anything out if you can get a Double Colorless every turn.
The lock is pretty simple; using Mew Prime to copy Deck and Cover from the Accelgor in the Lost Zone, you can stream your Paralyze and Poison every turn. Using Chandelure’s Cured Shadow to place damage counters where you need them, you can take knockouts on your turn or going into your turn to make sure that your opponent never gets a turn where they aren’t locked.
Another lock deck that is based on the perfect loop, Gothitelle/Accelgor had quite a lot of success at last year’s Nationals. Edmund Kuras won with the deck in Masters and Sam Liggett placed 3rd. The deck was also played at Worlds last year and I was able to make it work for Cities this season, but since then it hasn’t had much success. The new variations of the deck would be using Trevenant XY for Next Destinies-Flashfire, and we could see it pop up at Worlds.
Here is the list I used at Nationals last year:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 38
Energy – 4
Locking with Gothitelle can be a lot more difficult than with Vileplume. First of all, Gothitelle has to be in the Active position in order to have the lock at all. This can make it harder to get the lock early if you don’t start Gothita, but it also limits which cards you can pair it with because you’ll need to be switching back into Gothitelle every turn. Another downside of having to be Active is that it’s a lot easier to be knocked out. This means that you have to play a thick line and set up multiples to keep your lock going while setting up.
The complete lock with this deck uses Dusknoir and Accelgor to Paralyze and Poison and then move the damage to another Pokémon the next turn so that you don’t knock out the opponent’s Active and allow them to attack next turn. Dusknoir is also very good for knocking out Keldeo-EX, which in multiple copies can prove troublesome for your lock.
The final lock deck we have so far is Flygon. Flygon has been legal for a long time, but didn’t gain much popularity until States and Regionals this season. Not much has changed for the deck since then other than Sacred Ash becoming legal, but I personally think that Next Destinies-Flashfire is a better format to play it in. I used the deck to get 8th at Nationals this year and another notable success is Jeremy Leong placing 2nd at Singapore Nationals with it. We’ll have to see what Worlds has in store for Flygon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does very well.
Here is my Nationals list:
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 36
Energy – 4
Surprisingly, this isn’t a loop deck like most of the previous ones have been, but it still uses the Accelgor in order to Paralyze and Poison. In such an aggressive format we’ve had lately, looping the lock is usually the key to winning, but not in the case. Flygon’s Sand Slammer puts a lot of damage on the field very quickly, which alongside Dusknoir can make for some easy knockouts on whatever you need. Picking and choosing which Pokémon to knock out while having Deck and Cover to potentially keep them from attacking for a few turns makes this deck successful.
Most of the deck is pretty easy to master; setting up Flygon early to get damage on the field and using Max Potion to keep it alive before the opponent can one-shot it. Tropical Beach is a huge part of the deck and that’s my reasoning behind running 4 copies. I see many lists with only 3, but I really think you need 4 to make this deck work to its full potential.
I hope you all enjoyed the change of pace for this article. I know there’s a good mix of people going to Worlds and not going to Worlds and the timing for this seemed perfect to fit something that a lot of people could enjoy in. I’m in Washington, D.C. now for Worlds, so as always if any of you want to come say hi or give me any feedback on my articles I’d love it! I get approached all the time at tournaments and it’s great to see the faces of the people that benefit from what I do.
Looking ahead a few months, I’m possibly going to be going to Japan and attend one or both of the Battle Fiestas this year, so I’ll be able to bring much better coverage and get a perspective of what Japanese tournaments are like in person. As always, thanks for reading!
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