Doctrine of the Donphan Effect

An Examination of Current Netdecking
krabby professor oak phone
Good news!

Hi all! It’s good to be back again. Last article, I may have left things on some darker notes, noting that I was unsure of how I would be able to play this season without owning any cards and so on, but thankfully I have some good news in those regards! After a good chunk of time had passed, I finally received word from the insurance company that I would be receiving almost the entirety of my claim. This would allow me to try to rebuy most of my collection, which I jumped at the opportunity to do. Sadly, it is impossible to rebuy a lot of the sentimental stuff that I once owned, but I am nearly able to build most meta decks again which is certainly an improvement.

I have yet to decide whether or not I will be chasing an invite this season. I have attended two Regional Championships (which I will talk briefly about below), but nothing else. I love traveling for these bigger tournaments since there is the prospect for a lot of big prizes and the coveted Nationals byes. But more importantly, I get to see many friends whom I only see a couple of times throughout the year. Chasing the invite has worn me down over the past couple years and I’m not sure if I really have it in me to grind Cities and League Challenges, but I always loving playing so perhaps that will change, especially when my semester begins winding down.

An Examination of the Metagame

So after Worlds and Furious Fists came out, I took a nice, long break from playing and figured I would just try to learn everything really quickly before Regionals. I would play a game here or there on PlayTCG and chime in to the occasional Facebook chat, but I was largely disconnected from the game. Fighting stuff seemed underwhelming to me, but cards like Hawlucha FFI were obviously very good. I knew that Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX would still be incredibly good even with its minor losses. However, what surprised me the most was how Yveltal managed to stay a top-tier threat. Jon Bristow wrote a lot about this in his most recent UG article, but I only mention this again because I was shocked as well. Through results, we can see that even without Dark Patch, Dark Pokémon are here to stay and potentially ruin our days time and time again. Lists for Yveltal seem to be all over the place – sometimes with Raichu, sometimes with Crushing Hammer, sometimes with Garbodor, and so on – and such variety is always indicative of a healthy metagame.

I began to start testing seriously and try to decide which Regionals I would attend. I was unfortunately unable to attend anything on the first weekend of Regionals, which is always a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I feel like the resultless formats always give the “good” players an upper hand since the mediocre-to-worse players don’t have anything to draw from or just straight up netdeck. On the other hand, it can still be a bit difficult since you don’t necessarily know how to prepare for a blind metagame.

In any case, I did not attend Philadelphia or Arizona Regionals, but the results were able to confirm many of my intuitions about the field. My friends Curtis and Sorina both made day 2 (and eventually took second and top 8, respectively) with decks revolving around Raichu XY and I’m fairly certain I would have played something with an emphasis on that card. Yveltal-EX and his new friend Seismitoad-EX performed very well (as expected), but I think the most notable standout was Dylan Bryan’s Donphan deck (which he wrote an excellent article about). It seems like there are many good decks at the beginning of this season and I hope it stays that way!

An Aside on Expanded

ash pokeball
Me before top 32.

While I think that it is definitely the case that I was ready and aware for my events in Standard, I was absolutely unprepared for Expanded. Admittedly, this is mainly my own fault as my mentality toward the separate formats was essentially “I’ll worry about it when I get there,” meaning I placed a priority on doing well on day 1 and would just hope to improvise day 2. Unfortunately, this did not go as well as I had hoped and my results in the new format with a wider card pull definitely indicated my lack of knowledge.

As far as the format itself is concerned, I think I like it a lot. Many complain that it’s too similar to Standard, which I do not think that I would refute, but similarity is not inherently a bad thing. I saw one quote that summarized it as “just Standard but all the decks are a lot better” which I think is also true. Every deck seems to be missing a niche card here or there and they only become that more formidable when you give Virizion-EX their Skyarrow Bridge and Yveltal-EX their Dark Patch and throw Energy removal like Enhanced Hammer back into the format. Seismitoad-EX is the main difference in the format and I think he’s here to stay and really a healthy addition to the format. It would likely be broken if you could still attack turn one when going first, but obviously it’s not worth worrying about a card in terms of things that couldn’t happen.

Another odd note about Expanded is how Tropical Beach has slipped entirely into irrelevance. (This is a giant blessing on my wallet as I had four copies of this card in my collection that was stolen, but it sure is an odd occurrence.) I would attribute most of Tropical Beach’s decline to the Seismitoad-EX, who makes it even more difficult for Evolution decks to function.

Eelektrik was a deck that felt like it would probably need Beach, but it apparently hasn’t held up well enough to be considered anything but a mid-tier 2 option. Perhaps in the future we could see Beach outside of Pyroar decks and its use in Pyroar is debatable in that it’s certainly good, but not required. I’ve always felt as if Pyroar has utilized the card simply because they didn’t have anything better to do and not because it was key to setting up. Perhaps I am incorrect here.

Anyway, I think that the main problem with Expanded being a “gimmick” or not different enough is that the card pool isn’t substantially different. Sure, a few cards here and there are back in the mix, but as pointed out earlier, most of the decks are still functioning fine without them or have been outclassed by more recent additions. Cards like Reshiram LTR and Zekrom LTR have been legal for what seems like forever now and I think it really takes a lot of distance before we’ll truly see a deeper and more complex format.

In Magic, for instance (I’m sure Kenny could answer this better than me), there are format with cards that were Standard-legal when I was thirteen years old that are actively still seeing play in Modern and Extended and thus when we compare that to the roughly four years of separation we have from the Black & White era, the discrepancy is very understandable.

Two Regionals, Menial Results

Alright, so quickly I want to give brief summaries of my performances at Houston and British Columbia Regionals. For Houston (which was also on my birthday), my testing group and I became infatuated with Donphan and knew that it was going to be the play. We toyed around with the molds that Dylan had made public for the Internet and found ourselves struggling to beat Yveltal decks. From there, we toyed with the list some more and threw in a thick Raichu line and swapped around some cards to also try and give us the edge against the Virizion/Genesect deck. Here’s the list that I ended up playing:

Pokémon – 19

3 Phanpy PLS
3 Donphan PLS
3 Pikachu XY
3 Raichu XY
2 Mewtwo-EX NXD
2 Suicune PLB
1 Kyurem LTR
1 Reshiram LTR
1 Hawlucha FFI

Trainers – 31

4 Professor Juniper
4 N
3 Colress
3 Lysandre
2 Korrina


3 Muscle Band

3 Ultra Ball
3 Float Stone
1 Silver Bangle
1 Switch
1 Computer Search


3 Fighting Stadium

Energy – 10

4 Strong
4 Double Colorless
1 F
1 W

I think the deck really has all of its bases covered and was incredibly strong against everything but the mirror (which is why I would end up dropping it for the second event). Mirrors in general are 50/50 but my emphasis on Raichu tilted a little lower than that, though I’m sure I could have gone down to a 2-2 Raichu and added another Kyurem and Phanpy and regained some leverage. My only complaint with the list other than that concern is that the one W Energy never did anything. I thought it would be cute to threaten an attack with Suicune, but you’re simply never able to attach to it without risking being behind and it definitely should just be another Fighting, fourth Lysandre, or third Korrina.

Here’s how I did:

Round 1: Pyroar – WW
Round 2: Donphan – W
Round 3: Virizion/Genesect – LWT
Round 4: Yveltal/Seismitoad/Garbodor – WW
Round 5: Yveltal/Seismitoad/Garbodor – WW
Round 6: Virizion/Genesect – WW
Round 7: Donphan – WLL
Round 8: Landorus/Mewtwo/Hawlucha/Raichu – WW
Round 9: Pyroar – WW

So overall, I went 7-1-1 and had the resistance to be the second seed. The deck performed incredibly well with many of my sets being 2-0s which I was very proud of. Going into day 2, I would need two wins and a tie (or better) to make top 8, which sadly did not happen. I ended up going with a very vanilla Yveltal/Garbodor list and after starting 1-0-1, I lost three series straight on some bad beats and slow draws. I was pretty depressed not to be able to make cut after such a strong performance day 1, but as mentioned earlier, I think my lack of knowledge day 2 was ultimately my biggest downfall.

Heading into the next week of Regionals, I knew that Donphan would only be more popular. My Raichu build of the deck couldn’t cut it if I was doing to face a ton of mirror and so instead of looking to play a more Standard list, I turned to TDK, which felt like a good metagame call. I would have the advantage against Donphan, but also would be about 50-50 against Virizion/Genesect and Yveltal/Garbodor and certainly favorable against Fighting variants. I had a wacky list that played four Lysandre, Hypnotoxic Laser, and Fairy Garden, but I ultimately abandoned it to play a much more standard list after getting some pointers from Jeremy Jallen. Here is what I ended up playing in British Columbia:

Pokémon – 10

4 Deoxys-EX
2 Thundurus-EX PLF

4 Kyurem PLF

Trainers – 36

4 Professor Juniper
4 N
3 Colress
2 Lysandre


4 Bicycle
4 Muscle Band
3 Team Plasma Ball
3 Switch
3 Colress Machine
1 Startling Megaphone
1 Escape Rope

1 Computer Search


3 Frozen City

Energy – 14

4 W
4 Plasma
4 Rainbow
2 L

Again, I think that this list is close to perfect. My biggest complaint is that I chose not to play a third Lysandre and would cut a Frozen City for it I think. I did not end up performing too well with the deck, but I gave the list to my friends Curtis and Squeaky who both made day 2 at the Regionals in Fort Wayne.

Round 1: Pyroar – LL
Round 2: Virizion/Genesect – LWT
Round 3: Mega Kangaskan/Bad cards – WW
Round 4: Donphan – WLW
Round 5: Virizion/Gensect/Dragonite – LWT
Round 6: Yveltal/Seismitoad/Garbodor – LWT

Them’s the beats. Round 1 I get the deck I knew I could not beat in a field with maybe 2-3 people playing the deck. Rounds 2 and 5 were “ties” in the sense that I had 0% chance of losing had I had even another minute on the clock. I think my deck was very strong in general and in this specific metagame, but as experience has taught me (notably when Colin and I both attended Nebraska States and played the same deck card for card and he X-0’d Swiss and won the whole event and I went 1-3 drop), you can’t win them all and we just need to move forward. I love playing and cannot wait to see what the next set holds for both formats!

Donphan Unchained

donphan rs art

As always, I do have something on my mind to fill the bulk of this article and for today’s entry, what is plaguing my mind is far less philosophical and I think much more approachable than some of my other articles. What I want to talk about is the effect that Dylan Bryan’s article has had on the metagame. When I heard about him playing Donphan in Philadelphia, I, like I’m sure many others, were incredibly curious about the list. My friends and I quickly threw together some sample lists and began testing but to our surprise Dylan released his lists in a 6P article only a few days after the event! From here, we had a real skeleton to look at, but I don’t think that any of us would have predicted what would happen next.

I’ve seen so many lists from these Fall Regionals that are entirely indebted to Dylan’s article. My list with the focus on Raichu was certainly a departure from what his deck focused on, but the mold still begins with Dylan’s. Many of these lists are maybe 2-3 cards off Dylan’s and I know for a fact that many players simply copied his list card-for-card and succeeded. What I want to examine today is the ramifications of players acting in this way and what it might indicate for the future.

Novelty of Old Cards with New Concepts

I think part of Donphan’s success can be attributed to how old the card is. This card will be two years old in January and frankly I did not know it existed. I remember watching one of Pooka’s videos about a Donphan/Trevenant deck and the first thing I thought was “there’s a legal Donphan?” It’s an old card, but also an uncommon. When people heard of Dylan’s success, I think their curiosity was piqued because the card had no weight on the format without the release of Strong Energy and Fighting Stadium. Being both cheap and older, it makes sense that many people were excited to try out the Donphan deck. Unlike Dylan’s past creations (thinking of something like his Flareon deck), Donphan was simple enough to understand and pilot, which again I think added to a lot of its success.

Going into the new format, Donphan still seems very strong and I expect it to have some solid results coming out of Cities. Cards like Enhanced Hammer do a good job of keeping it in check (which notably was not Standard-legal during this format), but if cards like Manectric-EX take off, Donphan will be there with the rest of its wrecking crew.

The Convenience and Spread of Information

krabby phone voicemail

The reality of the situation is that decks and information are going to travel. In the past, it was far easier to keep lists and decks “secret.” Long before I had begun playing competitively, I had heard tales about small groups of people keeping concepts neatly guarded and then showing up to events and just dominating. I’m not saying that this does not or could not happen anymore, but it definitely is occurring far less. Why is that? I believe I’ve alluded to these kinds of points before, but it is absolutely because of SixPrizes’ success and the popularity of varying Facebook groups. As more people begin to know each other and interact, information begins to spread more rapidly and thus decklists will travel farther and farther down the vine. This is not a good or a bad thing, but just simply a reality we have to orient ourselves toward in order to function properly in the game.

Now, we know that Dylan’s list, in theory, was only available through Underground. However, it’s pretty obvious that not everyone who read the article paid for an account. People may share accounts or just have copy and pasted the list. I am not sure. Either way, Donphan was all the rage and when people started hearing that the list was available, everyone was scrambling to take a look at the list and begin testing it.

My overall position here is that this is not necessarily a bad thing. I would definitely say that players and writers alike have the right to privacy and I don’t think anyone could have justifiably faulted or accosted Dylan had he decided not to reveal his list. In turn, an individual obviously has the right to reveal their information as they see fit and the rest of us just have to stomach its impact on the metagame. Certainly, it is better to see a secret deck like Donphan be handled like this, lest we risk another Yanmega-gate.

Authenticity and Netdecking

While above I express my approval of the way that decklists and information spread, do not begin to think that I am entirely happy with this Donphan mess. No, I have a real bone to pick with a lot of the fallout! The title of my article comes from a famous philosophy discussion (doctrine of the double effect) where “ends justifying the means” moral choices are weighed as ever permissible and I think that line of thought goes very well in this discussion.

No good can come from a player who just blindly saw Dylan’s list and thought to themselves “I will play this card-for-card and not question anything.” I have a large qualm with people in general who simply “do what one does.” They trap themselves in this sheep-like mentality and I don’t think that any kind of progression can come from this. “This list is good and I will play it” seems to leave a lot to be desired if you are actually attempting to be a successful player. Using the initial list as a skeleton is absolutely acceptable and perhaps even recommended, but each and every list should reflect a fluctuating amounts of concerns and thus (rarely) should lists ever look the exact same.

In life and in Pokémon, we better ourselves by learning from our mistakes and questioning each and everyone one of our actions. I think Dustin’s last article was really great to push this kind of thinking! While he may have been stuck on his tunnel vision, he certainly shows the kind of creative process that ought to be going around when we fill a list. To simply copy/paste something you read on SixPrizes is nothing short of mindless.

There is a lot of merit in the adage “If you can’t beat them, join them”, especially for a game like Pokémon, but I am nothing short of sickened by the people I played against at Regionals who were playing Dylan’s list card-for-card. I am willing to exclude people in the camp of “Well I just haven’t had time to test and am here for fun so this looked fine,” but everyone else is on my list. This kind of mentality is responsible for the faulty “good and bad” lists that I have written about previously. Lists play X copies of a certain card not because of its utility or the purposes it serves, but simply because that’s how Dylan’s list looked or what Pooka posted in a video. To be authentic, developing players, we must avoid this kind of brainless thinking.

Concluding Thoughts

Like it or not, Donphan is here to stay and sites like SixPrizes are going to release lots of good, competitive decklists. This fact shouldn’t enrage or glorify anyone and instead we should all just focus on bettering ourselves as players and a community. I love this game so much and look forward to competing for years to come. By my next article, we will be well into the next format and perhaps there will be a new archetype for people to complain about. Until then though, I just wanted to wish everyone the best of luck and be on the look out for another Power Rankings in a few weeks!


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