I’m excited to be home from college for the holidays because that means more time to play in City Championships! While Cities may feel like a grind to some players because they are essentially forced to play multiple events every weekend if they’re trying to achieve 300 Championship Points, I find them very bearable if I get enough sleep the night before. This is mostly due to having friends to hang out with before the event starts and during the downtime between rounds, which makes the experience very enjoyable even if I don’t perform well that particular day. I think this is a testament to how friendly the Pokémon community is overall!
Cities are also one of my favorite tournament series from a competitive standpoint because it’s so interesting to see how the metagame shifts. Players play what they deem to be the best the first few weeks. Players then naturally look to counter what decks are winning and form a new metagame as a result. As Brit Pybas mentions, in a shorter tournament series such as Regionals, this might be as far as the metagame develops because there are only three weekends of events. This is almost disappointing in a way because the format doesn’t seem boring and defined to me, but rather waiting to be broken open again with a new tech or archetype.
However, during City Championships we continue to see the metagame develop. I can’t remember a series of Cities where the decks that dominated week one were the exact same set of decks that dominated the final week of Cities. Yet, there are always some decks that fade in and out of playability, while other archetypes remain viable for the duration of Cities. Today I’m going to discuss how the metagame has been developing so far in addition to why certain archetypes, namely Donphan and Yveltal, keep winning in various forms. For those of you who feel like you play very well in game but can never seem to pick the right deck, hopefully my thought process will help you be able to better predict what to play next week!
Table of Contents
- The Metagame
The first weekend of City Championships is usually the most chaotic. There are a lot of different cards from the new set being hyped and nobody knows exactly what to expect, rather they only have a general idea. I think this is really exciting because you get to see tons of variety and witness cards you overlooked perform well and in the end the best decks rise to the top. This year, the standout deck was Donphan with the most wins and both Virizion/Genesect and Yveltal followed closely behind. This wasn’t that surprising as these decks were all successful at Autumn Regionals and nothing in the new set posed a huge threat to any of the archetypes. It takes a lot more time and effort to find an optimal list for a new archetype than to modify an old one.
As the metagame continued to develop, Yveltal decks managed to win as many times as Donphan the last weekend, while Virizion/Genesect started to underperform. So why do Donphan and Yveltal keep winning? And what happened to Virizion/Genesect?
I think the short answer is that both Donphan and Yveltal are very dynamic decks because they have room to adjust to a changing metagame. Yveltal-EX is a strong attacker on its own and has plenty of space for other cards to be paired with it. Although the Donphan strategy remains the same, you can easily change up the Pokémon you choose to promote after Spinning Turn based on what you expect to face. On the other hand, Virizion/Genesect is a very linear deck and can only make so many adjustments. If you expect your opponent to flip over a Litleo, the best thing you can do is play a different deck.
Since every archetype has been written about a few times before, I’m going to talk about when I would consider playing each of them and then go into detail regarding how to fine-tune Donphan and Yveltal as the metagame changes.
This deck has always been very strong and consistent, but at the same time it’s also very linear. I think this largely contributes to why it hasn’t been winning as many events. Adding in Deoxys-EX and Drifblim BW64 give the deck a close Donphan matchup at best, but ultimately the matchup never seems like it can be favorable because you can’t consistently draw Plasma Energy or Shadow Triad every turn to continuously Red Signal Donphan and Phanpy. The Yveltal matchup is also tough to navigate as nearly every list runs Spiritomb to stop G Booster and a Yveltal with a ton of Energy can easily Evil Ball twice for 4 Prizes to swing a game. This is not very difficult to achieve with both Y Cyclone and Oblivion Wing charging up Benched Pokémon.
Virizion/Genesect can’t do much more to make those matchups any better than 50/50. So to expect to win an event you either have to be able to outplay people or have a ton of other good matchups against the lesser played decks. Unfortunately, Virizion/Genesect has a few other bad matchups. Virizion/Genesect can never hope to beat a Pyroar deck that sets up and facing a random Night March deck is also quite the problem. Night March is fast and thrives at trading 2 Prizes for one against decks that rely on Pokémon-EX.
So does Virizion/Genesect actually beat anything? It’s actually shown over several formats that it performs well against Aromatisse variants. Being able to target down Spritzee and Aromatisse with Red Signal and take all your opponent’s Energy out of play with G Booster can make it very difficult for the Aromatisse deck to conserve Energy and heal its Pokémon. Virizion/Genesect is also favored against some Seismitoad variants. If the Virizion/Genesect player starts with Virizion-EX, Muscle Band, and Grass Energy then the Seismitoad player cannot even play Head Ringer. If they miss their Crushing Hammer flip and don’t have a backup attacker to deal with Genesect-EX, then the game is often over.
Ultimately, I think this deck is a little overrated. Having even to slightly unfavorable matchups with the two most successful decks along with an auto-loss to Pyroar makes it difficult for this deck to win consistently. However, if your metagame is void of Pyroar and you expect to earn a few easy wins off of Aromatisse and underprepared Seismitoad decks then it could be a decent play. See Nicholena Moon’s article if you are searching for a list.
Night March often is disregarded as a fun deck because it’s inexpensive to make and the strategy seems gimmicky. However, it’s actually quite consistent and good at what it does, which is doing tons of damage with non-Pokémon-EX. This deck thrives against decks that rely on EX attackers such as Virizion-EX and Yveltal-EX — Yveltal is even weak to Joltik! So then why isn’t this deck winning everything? Doesn’t it do tons of damage with adorable Pokémon?
The deck doesn’t trade as efficiently against non-Pokémon-EX. It doesn’t really matter if your attackers can do over 200 damage if your opponent doesn’t play Pokémon with more than 130 HP. This of course causes issues against Donphan as not only is their deck made up of non-Pokémon-EX, but they actually trade more efficiently than Night March because of Robo Substitute. Any time Night March is forced to Knock Out a Robo Substitute, Donphan gets ahead another turn in the Prize race. You can try and use Lysandre and VS Seeker to Knock Out all the Donphan and Phanpy, but often that is easier said than done.
The deck also relies on both Items and Basic Pokémon. This causes problems against Pyroar and Seismitoad variants. Night March can actually combat this by running Eeveelutions, namely Flareon PLF and Leafeon PLF. Leafeon allows you to respond to an early Quaking Punch from Seismitoad, while Flareon gives you a backup attacker in every matchup that is also good against Pyroar. Flareon also gives you an attacker with more HP, which might force your opponent to use a Pokémon-EX rather than a non-Pokémon-EX.
If Yveltal continues to grow in popularity, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Night March make continue to make a small splash and occasionally make top cut. Night March isn’t the best deck, but it’s underrated and with the right build it can most likely overcome one of its bad matchups as well as pick up tons of free wins against EX-reliant decks not named Seismitoad. Check out Nicholena Moon’s article for an example list.
Aromatisse and Bronzong Variants
I grouped these decks together because there isn’t a standard build for either one and they have quite a few similarities. They both rely on a Stage 1 for support and have a variety of attackers depending on the matchup. They also both run Max Potion to heal their attackers. The Bronzong variants are limited to Metal attackers and suffer a Weakness to Pyroar, but they are able to recover Energy and consistently 1-shot 170 HP Pokémon-EX with Dialga-EX and Muscle Band. The Aromatisse variants are more susceptible if their attacker with all the Energy gets Knocked Out, but they can play a Mega Evolution as an answer to Pyroar and have more versatility in terms of attackers thanks Rainbow Energy.
Aromatisse decks have been apparently seeing an increase in play in certain areas, whereas in my metagame a Bronzong variant has won and not a single Aromatisse deck has made top 8. The results seem very sporadic, but I think Aromatisse may have more of a showing as it gets closer to Winter Regionals in February and everyone figures out an optimal build. Chris Fulop talks about Bronzong extensively in his most recent article.
I think Seismitoad is a very strong and influential card by itself. It single-handedly makes Stage 2 decks close to unplayable and players always have to keep it in mind when deciding to take the risk of running a deck that relies on Items. I don’t think Seismitoad/Hammers/Head Ringer is as dominant as everybody originally thought it might be, but it’s still having some success at Cities. I think this is because Seismitoad is such a splashable card in various decks and nobody is bringing a deck particularly vulnerable to Seismitoad-EX as a result.
Yveltal can trade well with Seismitoad. Dialga can use Chrono Wind to force Seismitoad to have a Switch. Pyroar can play its own Seismitoad. Donphan trades well with Seismitoad in addition to playing Hawlucha. And the deck has to successfully delay Virizion from even attacking for several turns. Even though every deck now has a built in answer, Seismitoad can still win games with an early Crushing Hammer heads or an early Quaking Punch when your opponent is stuck with all Items.
Seismitoad also has some extra space to tech for a popular matchup. I’ve seen Seismitoad decks try Victini-EX to beat Virizion/Genesect and Manectric-EX to beat Yveltal, rather than running the typical Seismitoad/Garbodor deck. The fact that Seismitoad can steamroll a deck with a bad start and that it can be paired with so many other attackers will make it a factor during the rest of City Championships. Nicholena Moon, Jon Bristow, and Chris Fulop have all shared Seismitoad lists recently.
As long as there are decks that rely on Basic Pokémon, there will be Pyroar. Right now Pyroar seems to be having the most success with Seismitoad-EX and the new Phantom Forces Pyroar for a guaranteed Lysandre effect. (See Nicholena Moon’s article for a list.) In the right metagame, Pyroar picks up quite a few free wins against unprepared Yveltal decks, Virizion/Genesect, and Metal. Then it ideally has roughly even matchups against the rest of the field thanks to Seismitoad-EX.
This can make Pyroar the best deck to play one day, but a terrible play the very next day when players are prepared. Pyroar doesn’t have any answer to M Manectric-EX and Seismitoad/Garbodor is generally a more consistent Seismitoad variant since Pyroar and Blacksmith take up a lot more space than Garbodor. It’s also a very hard deck to actually win with because one bad matchup in top 8 means that you’re out of the tournament. I’ve had a lot of experience with this last year at Cities playing Gothitelle/Accelgor. I won the first event I played it in, but after everybody caught on I seemed to always lose to something like Virizion/Genesect in top 8 or top 4. Pyroar can pay off in the right metagame, but it will always fade in and out of playability depending on how prepared everyone is for it.
Yveltal/Seismitoad wasn’t impacted much by Phantom Forces outside of VS Seeker and will probably stick around for quite a bit. Yveltal is one of the strongest attackers with its unlimited damage output, while Quaking Punch can win the game if your opponent stays Asleep on Hypnotoxic Laser or if your opponent is stuck with a handful of Items. Here is the list I would play:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 35
Energy – 12
Nothing in this list is crazy or out of the ordinary — the deck is just very consistent and gets the job done. I think Keldeo-EX is very important in order to avoid losing to Quaking Punch in tandem with bad Hypnotoxic Laser flips. Spiritomb makes the Virizion/Genesect matchup much easier as they can’t Knock Out a Yveltal-EX with a ton of Energy by using G Booster. The third copy of the regular Yveltal and the two copies of Max Potion help make the Donphan matchup better. Donphan often has to 3-shot the normal Yveltal, so healing it with Max Potion buys you plenty of time to take Prizes and build up more Energy in play.
If you’re not worried about Manectric or Pyroar and you want to play Yveltal in a diverse metagame, this is the variant I would go with. It has the option to Quaking Punch first against other Seismitoad decks or slow down an Item-reliant deck like Night March. However, some areas have a more defined metagame where Donphan is performing extraordinarily well. I think the biggest reason Yveltal was able to catch up to Donphan’s success was because it was able to tech for the matchup, taking it from roughly even to very favorable. This is of course the Yveltal/Hard Charm variant that has been popping up everywhere and taking Cities by storm. Brit Pybas found success with the deck as he wrote in his recent article, but here’s my take on the deck:
Pokémon – 10
Trainers – 38
Energy – 12
A lot of people claim to have gotten inspiration from Isreal Sosa’s list, but I actually based my initial list on the Yveltal/Hard Charm deck Chris Collins posted after making 4th seed the first day of Arizona Regionals. Being able to free up space with VS Seeker and replacing Super Scoop Up with Max Potion made room for Hammers and Head Ringer. The deck did so well in the Autumn Regionals format because it countered Donphan and was decent against the rest of the metagame. How much has really changed since then?
The deck got an even better Donphan matchup with the addition of Enhanced Hammer to counter Strong Energy. Head Ringer and Crushing Hammer also gave it a much better Virizion/Genesect matchup. Since most Manectric decks don’t play counter Stadiums, Shadow Circle gives you a fighting chance against Manectric-EX. Unfortunately this variant still loses to Pyroar and doesn’t even have Hypnotoxic Laser to fight back. It also has a slightly more difficult time with Seismitoad variants because it’s more Item reliant and has much less of a chance against Night March without the option to Quaking Punch and stop Battle Compressor.
I’ll briefly explain some of the card choices that seem to stand out as well as cards that seem like they’re missing:
I feel like I play Jirachi-EX in everything but Donphan, so it feels a little strange to cut it from this particular Yveltal variant. However, after testing this week the general principle I realized was that giving up two free Prizes with Jirachi-EX is a lot more of a penalty when you’re playing a deck built around denying Prizes. Between all the copies of Hard Charm and healing cards, it can make it very difficult for your opponent to draw the last one or 2 Prizes in almost every matchup. If I used Jirachi-EX at any point in the game, it would either cost me the game or simply allow me to win the game faster by searching for a Lysandre when I was in a winning position.
I could see somebody making the argument for Jirachi-EX if they opted to play Super Scoop Up in their list because they could deny their opponent the free Prizes. However, I prefer to run Max Potion as it’s a more consistent form of healing that doesn’t rely on flips.
This deck also uses an ACE SPEC that almost nobody plays! This deck doesn’t require much setup since it only has two attackers, so Computer Search doesn’t feel like a necessity even though it’s always nice to boost consistency. Scoop Up Cyclone is a Switch and a Max Potion built into a single card. If you swapped out the Shauna for Computer Search then you can trade out Scoop Up Cyclone for Max Potion, but you still need to cut another card for the second copy of Switch. In this way Scoop Up Cyclone frees up a deck spot. It may not seem important to run two copies of Switch when you’re running Darkrai-EX, but it’s useful against bad Hypnotoxic Laser flips and when you’re afraid to bench Darkrai-EX against a Donphan deck due to the Fighting Weakness.
The other ACE SPEC somebody would consider is Dowsing Machine as it essentially acts as the second copy of Switch and the third copy of Max Potion as well. However, I don’t believe it’s as good because it comes at the cost of discarding two cards and it only works if you’ve already discarded Max Potion and Switch. While Dowsing Machine is more versatile, there really aren’t that many other Items that are critical to get back. Is having a potential 6th copy of Lysandre valuable against something like Donphan? Maybe, but most of the time the third healing card has made more of a difference for me. The deck just doesn’t feel like it needs Computer Search to set up seeing as it just needs Pokémon and Energy like Virizion/Genesect, so I feel Scoop Up Cyclone is a solid replacement.
I see quite a few people running three copies of Shadow Circle, but I feel like two is enough. Manectric-based decks don’t really run counter Stadiums, so you only need to draw one copy. When playing against Donphan, Fighting Stadium doesn’t help against normal Yveltal, so they will hold onto the Fighting Stadium if they need it to apply Weakness with Dedenne or tack on additional damage with Donphan against Yveltal-EX.
The only reason to really run the third copy is to mitigate some Hypnotoxic Laser damage. If your opponent has two or three copies of Virbank City Gym then that really only leaves them with one or two copies of Hypnotoxic Laser to play without the Stadium in play in theory. Running an extra Shadow Circle to prevent 20 or 40 damage in certain matchups didn’t seem like a big enough deal in my testing.
I grouped these cards together because Head Ringer isn’t terribly strong on its own, but it gets a lot better with all the other Energy denial cards. Head Ringer denies your opponent from attaching a Muscle Band, thus preventing a potential 20 damage. Crushing Hammer plus Head Ringer on your opponent’s Pokémon-EX can leave it unable to attack and stranded for a turn. Between healing damage and denying your opponent Energy it makes it very difficult for them to take Prizes and you can grind them out of the game.
I think this Yveltal variant (Yveltal/Hard Charm) is the strongest at the moment, as Donphan is still doing exceptionally well at Cities. I think the reason that this deck isn’t winning everything is that it struggles against some variants of Aromatisse as well as Pyroar. If you’re facing a ton of other Yveltal decks and are concerned other players might switch to Pyroar, you might consider trying something like this:
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 34
Energy – 14
This deck isn’t great in the current metagame because it’s inherently worse against Donphan. Manectric-EX is a liability in the matchup and takes up space you could be using for healing cards or Hard Charm. However, if Yveltal/Hard Charm begins to push people away from playing everybody’s favorite elephant, then you have the perfect scenario for this kind of deck. The slight drop in consistency and vulnerability to Donphan is compensated with an excellent matchup against other Yveltal decks as well as an answer to Pyroar. I’ve seen this variant of Yveltal make top 8 a few times when it avoided Donphan, so don’t forget to take it into consideration!
Donphan is the deck that has gotten me most of my Championship Points this season and consequently the deck I have the most experience with. (See my “Detail on Donphan” article for the original version of the deck.) I feel like the engine of the deck stays pretty much the same with Phantom Forces aside from the addition of Robo Substitute and VS Seeker. Below of is a solid skeleton of the deck I would run and then I’ll go into what I would consider running in the open spots. I’ve run a different list at every City Championships, so it’s essential to adjust it to your metagame:
Pokémon – 9
Trainers – 34
Energy – 11
Open Spots: 6
Cards to Consider
2nd or 3rd Hawlucha FFI
I see a lot of players claiming that Donphan loses to Seismitoad, but some of these players also believe that Donphan should only run one copy of Hawlucha. Hawlucha is essential to giving Donphan a Pokémon to Spinning Turn to that has free Retreat. Otherwise, you will be forced to manually retreat whatever Pokémon you promote as Quaking Punch prevents Float Stone and Switch. When your opponent is also using Hammers to discard your Energy, you’ll probably run out of Fighting Energy in the process. Playing more copies of Hawlucha gives you more walls with free Retreat and increases the odds of a turn one Flying Press for 80 to 100 damage against an opposing Seismitoad-EX after all the damage modifiers.
This should be all the teching you need for the Virizion/Genesect matchup. Sigilyph denies Prizes against Pokémon-EX, while Wobbuffet stops Abilities, the most common ones coming from Genesect-EX, Bronzong PHF, and Aromatisse XY. I used to play 2 Sigilyph and 1 Wobbuffet as the single copy of Wobbuffet would allow me to power up my last Donphan for Wreck and keep it safe on the Bench for a turn. The 2 Sigilyph were useful in denying Prizes in various matchups if my opponents couldn’t Red Signal or Lysandre around them. If you’re tight for space and Virizion/Genesect continues on the decline, I feel like either 2 Sigilyph or 1 Sigilyph/1 Wobbuffet are enough to get the job done.
130 HP is a lot to deal with for just a single Prize card. Ideally, your opponent will have to waste two turns attacking these Pokémon, while you 2-shot their Pokémon-EX in return. Kyurem is better for Donphan mirror as Lysandre plus Outrage can Knock Out a Donphan if they use Spinning Turn on your Kyurem. Zekrom can threaten to hit Yveltal for Weakness in a similar manner with Outrage if they choose to damage it. Both Donphan and Yveltal are very successful right now, so which to play depends on your metagame.
I don’t think Reshiram LTR is ever going to be a better choice than these two. Wobbuffet and Sigilyph already handle the Virizion/Genesect matchup just fine. If you promote Sigilyph after Spinning Turn, your opponent has to Red Signal around it to do damage. If you promote Reshiram, they can choose to pass if they miss the Plasma Energy and don’t want to damage Reshiram. Then it’s essentially the same as having Sigilyph active. However, Reshiram is unfortunately Knocked Out by Megalo Cannon, Muscle Band, and Deoxys-EX which is fairly easy for Virizion/Genesect to achieve by turn three or four. The other two Outrage dragons are much more impactful in their respective matchups.
This card is still crazy against Yveltal and I don’t understand why players choose to cut him. A very common scenario that occurs is you will have a Donphan with two Energy on the Bench and your opponent will have a regular Yveltal Active. Inevitably, your Donphan will be targeted by Lysandre and promptly Knocked Out by Evil Ball with the help of three Energy and a Muscle Band. Dedenne with Silver Bangle is the perfect answer to this scenario.
Another common scenario is that your opponent will be charging multiple Yveltal-EX on the Bench and you can’t Lysandre plus Wreck either of them because they will punish you with the second Yveltal-EX by using Evil Ball for two Energy and thus out of Dedenne range. However, Dedenne gives you the option to Lysandre plus Energy Short an opposing Yveltal-EX while keeping your Donphan safe on the Bench. I see no reason not to play this card with Yveltal’s rising popularity.
This isn’t a card I would have considered running in Donphan before, but it certainly is now with all the Hard Charm that is out there. Being able to remove Hard Charm from Yveltal allows you to Knock Out regular Yveltal in two or three attacks, rather than four or five. Without Startling Megaphone the matchup is definitely unfavorable, but when you take away their Hard Charm strategy is becomes much more winnable. I’d recommend it if you expect to see Yveltal/Hard Charm at your Cities and still want to play Donphan.
While Donphan and Yveltal are the most dynamic decks out there and will likely be present in some form throughout Cities, there will still be quite a bit of variety as players continue developing lists and the metagame continues to shift. If you’re the kind of player that likes to stick with a single deck and perfect it, Donphan and Yveltal are probably right for you. But I always encourage players to take a risk if they feel like they have an accurate read on their metagame. It doesn’t always pay off, but it’s very satisfying when you look around and know you have the best deck in the room on that given day.
I hope everybody learned something from my thought process on how the metagame is shifting so far and took something away from my synopsis on how to adapt Yveltal and Donphan as Cities progress. I’m very excited to be able to attend the New Jersey marathon this year and wish everybody else attending Cities the best of luck! Thank you for reading and feel free to comment or message me any questions!
There seemed to be a lot of curiosity surrounding Donphan after it had some success during the first week of Regionals, so I hope this answered everyone’s questions regarding how the deck functions. I encourage everyone to try the deck out. It’s really fun to play in my opinion, yet very competitive at the same time!
While I’m not attending anymore Regionals, I would definitely play either Donphan or Yveltal the first day. I think there are quite a few other playable decks in the metagame, but they all suffer from at least one bad matchup. If you plan on attending another Regionals in February, I recommend playing at least a few games against Donphan. The deck is simply very consistent with solid matchups, so I’d be surprised if it didn’t make a splash in the metagame for the second weekend of Winter Regionals. I’m really excited to see how the metagame evolves even if I won’t be able to play in it myself. Good luck to anyone attending another Regionals and as always feel free to ask me any questions!
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