Zapping the Don

A Case Study on Countering the Meta

Hello everyone! The last time I wrote was just after my return from Worlds 2013. Sadly, I was forced to take a year away from the Pokémon TCG due to a busy college schedule as well as taking on a new job. Last year I knew that trying to earn 500 Championship Points at the very limited amount of events that I would be able to attend was not realistic so in turn, I attended even less events than I could have.

However, just like my good friend Erik Nance, the announcement of the 300 Point requirement for this year’s World Championships has got me saying, “I’M BACK BABY.” The much lower qualifications for a Worlds invite has brought me out of retirement with more motivation than ever for a fun and successful season of Pokémon.

If you were an Underground member back when I had the time to write frequently, you might remember that I was an advocate for finding creative ways to “break the format.” Virtually every single deck that I have ever used in tournament settings have possessed several unique qualities to them, whether it be a new archetype that I created or as simple as a few obscure cards teched in.

Now I do not play “rouge” just for the sake of playing rogue or being different; every decision that I make when constructing a deck has a very distinct purpose driven behind it. I have spent hours upon hours in the past simply analyzing every card that is legal in the current format, scouring for that next successful combination. These “obscure” card choices are just what this article is all about. Recently I attended a 71-player City Championship in which Ashon Haswell and I both successfully piloted our Zapdos/Jynx deck to the finals defeating many Donphan, Yveltal, and various other meta decks along the way. Ashon was able to complete his undefeated 8-0-1 record for the day leaving me at 6-2-1 for 2nd place.

The Don

donphan neo genesis
Head of the early Cities meta.

Tackling this year’s City Championship metagame proved to be a particularly daunting task in comparison to previous years because I actually had to go back and read most of the cards from all sets released after Plasma Blast due to my absence from the game. For the first three tournaments I decided I would keep it simple to get a feel for the game once again.

At Cities number one I played a Donphan deck for the first time, wrecking my way to the finals where I lost to Jake Dudzig in a mirror match. Donphan decks managed to claim six spots in our top eight that day. It was then that I realized just how dominate the elephant and his gang of robots had become. Ryan Sabelhaus stated the incredible results that an Empoleon deck could have yielded against such a huge field of Donphans, and I thought that was a very intelligent realization.

After pondering on the possibilities of an Empoleon deck for day two of our mini marathon, I eventually decided that the sheer amount of Donphan decks for day one would be sufficient enough to keep any sort Manectric deck at bay. This lead me to play an Yveltal list consisting of many techs, and among them were a very heavy count of Lysandre and VS Seeker alongside a couple of Potions to easily handle any Donphan matchup. Again, Jake served up my only losses for the day, this time taking me out in top four. A couple of weeks later I played a much improved Donphan list in Charleston, SC, packing many cards that helped me dominate mirror matches all day long. Eventually I lost in the finals again, this time to John Orgel and his Seismitoad/Pyroar deck.

So I had achieved a few decent results thus far, but thirsted for a win after coming so close several times. That meant that it was time to go to the drawing board for the first real time since my hiatus. Upon reading the cards released in Phantom forces I instantly thought that Manectric must be featured in one of the top decks. After all, it has a massive 210 HP, can 1HKO one of the most powerful cards ever made (Yveltal-EX), has a free Retreat Cost, has a useful Resistance, and can accelerate Energy. The only problem in theory seemed to be getting a Spirit Link and a Mega in the same hand early enough in the game on a consistent basis. Of course all of the good qualities that I just mentioned mean very little when paired against Donphans all day long.

The perfect Donphan counter.

Before local tournaments, one of my good friends and 2012 5th place Nationals finisher Ashon Haswell and I will brainstorm ideas together. We discuss what decks we expect to see as well as what deck we believe to be most prepared to compete with those decks. Fortunately for us, these discussions have resulted in countless mirror matches between the two of us in the finals where we are both piloting the exact same 60-card decklist. This year we knew without a doubt that Donphan was THE deck to beat. We learned early on that if a deck can’t beat Donphan then you’re better off moving on and pursuing other options.

I initially wrote off the card completely just based on the overwhelming strength and presence of Donphan decks. However, the more that I pondered on Manectric’s potential the more I had faith in its ability to perform well against all other decks. So I set out on a journey to find a partner for Manectric that did not compromise the consistency that I wanted from a mono-type deck while giving me a decent chance of overcoming the Donphan obstacle.

I tried about a dozen different techs but it wasn’t until Ashon and I came across Zapdos LTR that we began achieving the results that we desired. Zapdos was deemed as an acceptable Donphan counter for the City Championship that I attended with the deck because it possessed many of the qualities that I was searching for. To begin with, I wanted my Donphan counter to be a non-EX so that Hawlucha FFI would not be able to attack it. It had to either be able to 1HKO Donphan for a manageable Energy cost or resist Fighting attacks. Another important quality that I desired from my counter was the ability to snipe around an active Robo Substitute — a suitable Donphan counter means little if it does nothing but attack robots for most of the game. Zapdos was able to check off all of the requirements on my list so I decided to give him a shot.

Of course the Fighting Resistance alone is not enough to allow Zapdos free roam against a horde of Donphans. So that is where another tech comes in, Nicki Minaj… I mean Jynx. Originally I had Hard Charm in the deck and that worked fine, however, Ashon started playing with Jynx in place of Hard Charm and overall it made more sense. Hard Charm and Jynx perform roughly the same task for Zapdos, which is essentially taking away 40 damage from a Spinning Turn. This means that if a Donphan has nothing attached besides a basic Fighting Energy, then we will take a measly 20 damage and then heal all of it off on our turn with Victory Kiss. Essentially, it takes a Donphan with a Strong Energy and a Muscle Band attached to achieve a 3HKO on our Zapdos. Or a Donphan with both a Strong Energy and a Muscle Band attached for the first attack and then two Strong Energies and a Muscle Band for the second attack to 2HKO a Zapdos.

The combination of multiple Zapdos plus the healing power of Jynx can really put a lot of pressure on an unsuspecting Donphan player. The theory behind the deck is to wall behind Zapdos while sniping Phanpys and Donphans. I realized that I did not actually have to take many Prizes with Zapdos, but rather I needed to take a couple while more importantly getting damage on all Phanpys/Donphans so that I can later use Mewtwo to finish them off after a Wreck. The use of Hammers and Jynx can keep Zapdos alive for a ridiculous amount of time, but eventually the Donphan player will get Wreck powered up for the 1HKO. That is when it is imperative that you have a Mewtwo-EX on the Bench ready to X Ball the four-Energy Donphan. Whenever I accomplish this and remove all of my opponent’s Energy from their board, I know that I have essentially locked up a victory.

Now let me introduce to you the list that we used to great success, The Manectric Slide:

Pokémon – 15

4 Manectric-EX

3 M Manectric-EX

3 Zapdos LTR

2 Mewtwo-EX NXD

2 Jynx FFI

1 Jirachi-EX

Trainers – 33

4 Professor Juniper

3 N

2 Colress

2 Skyla

2 Lysandre

4 VS Seeker


4 Ultra Ball

3 Manectric Spirit Link

2 Enhanced Hammer

2 Max Potion

2 Battle Compressor

2 Switch

1 Computer Search

Energy – 12

8 L

4 Double Colorless

Ashon and I chose to include three copies of Zapdos in our list for the day simply because we knew without a doubt that there would be little chance for a Donphan deck to successfully pull off three Wrecks against us due to Mewtwo and Enhanced Hammer taking out so many of their Energy cards.

For the most part, Jynx is superior to Hard Charm because she performs more roles than just helping the Donphan matchup. In fact, Jynx can play a huge role in a number of common scenarios. For example, when paired up against any sort of opposing Manectric deck Jynx can turn a 2HKO from an opponent’s Mega Manectric onto yours into a 3HKO. Several times throughout the day I healed 20 from an Active Mega, then retreated it to the Bench until a future turn when it would become Active again. This meant that I was able to effectively heal 40 damage from the first attack that it took before receiving any more damage.

The maxed out count of VS Seeker in a deck utilizing Battle Compressor was easy for me to settle on. When I first began playing I only caught the very end of a format with VS Seeker being legal so I didn’t quite grasp the impact that this card would bring to our current format. But wow — I have been so impressed with the card’s strength. I am all for cards like this that can give more options and bring forth more skill into the game that we all love.

Max Potion was another no-brainer inclusion for me as it has the potential to have such a monumental impact on games. Throughout the City Championship it felt great to use Max Potion discarding the Energies off of one of my Pokémon, only to immediately attach them right back with a Turbo Bolt attack.

Local players actually frequently comment on how my decks seem to always include a hefty amount of Max Potions, and now that I think about it, this one card probably has been responsible for a decent amount of my tournament success on all levels. If you couldn’t tell, I think Max Potion is pretty rad card.

Okay, so Manectric/Mewtwo/Zapdos/Jynx dominated one tournament — that doesn’t actually mean that it’s a great deck right? That assumption would be absolutely correct! Sadly, Ashon and I have not been able to attend any more tournaments since. However, after we had been featured on stream our deck started popping up in many places. Our deck has won one international Regionals so far that I am aware.

In addition to that, Emanuel Diogo is a Worlds competitor from Argentina who also chose to use the Zapdos deck at his Regionals recently. He was able to battle his way into their top 8 when he was unfortunately paired against the only tough matchup in the top cut, Night March.


keldeo bcr 47 art
Keldeo provides a more proactive approach.

At this point you may be asking yourself if this deck is a viable consideration for any remaining Cities or even for the rapidly approaching Regionals. Personally, I’m not sure if I can say that I will be playing this deck again, at least not this exact variation. Throughout the day I felt like the Zapdos deck gained some extra strength from the surprise factor that will no longer be present at any future events. I absolutely still believe that this deck is worth considering for Regionals, but currently I am exploring other options to see if Zapdos is indeed the best possible candidate to fill his specific role in this deck.

Emanuel ran a split count of the Outrage Kyurem and Zapdos as his Donphan counters. The problem with Kyurem of course is that it must have damage on it for it to do anything and the fact that no Donphan player will want to attack into an Active Kyurem. I wouldn’t say that I hate Kyurem as a Donphan counter; it does force them to have Lysandre if they want to avoid a beefed up Outrage. But this also forces you to have a Lysandre yourself. If you don’t have access to Lysandre the turn after your Kyurem takes a Spinning Turn then your option become severely hindered.

At the moment there is one surprising Donphan counter that has actually seen a nice amount of success in my testing, Keldeo BCR 47. Yes, in general this is a fairly weak card, but hear me out.

For Keldeo to 1HKO a Donphan, all it takes beyond the three C Energy requirement is a Water as one of those Energies or a Muscle Band. The same can be said about Keldeo-EX.

Pokémon – 13

4 Manectric-EX

3 M Manectric-EX

2 Keldeo BCR 47

1 Keldeo-EX

1 Mewtwo-EX NXD

1 Black Kyurem-EX PLS

1 Jirachi-EX

Trainers – 34

4 Professor Juniper

3 N

2 Colress

2 Skyla

3 Lysandre

4 VS Seeker


4 Ultra Ball

3 Manectric Spirit Link

2 Float Stone

2 Battle Compressor

2 Max Potion

2 Muscle Band

1 Computer Search

Energy – 13

6 L

3 W

4 Double Colorless

This unique variation trades in the defensive nature of the Zapdos version for a much more proactive and aggressive approach. There have been many games so far where I’ve crushed Donphan players by streaming Lysandres turn after turn with this deck for constant knockouts.

One thing that I love about having a Water Donphan counter is that it opens up the possibility for Black Kyurem-EX PLS to be played in this deck. BK brings that nice 200 damage attack to the table which combined with Muscle Band takes down just about anything in one blow.

Regardless if I am playing this new Water version or the proven Zapdos variant, the one card that I would most like to get to get into all of my Manectric lists is a counter Stadium for Shadow Circle. While I did not lose to any of the Yveltal/Shadow Circle decks that I faced at Cities, the games were much more difficult than they would have been had I been playing with just a single Stadium card that I could search out with Skyla. The Stadium doesn’t need to stick to the field for any extended amount of time; just dropping it down once while achieving an unsuspecting 1HKO on an Yveltal-EX is more than enough to tip the matchup even more in Manectric’s favor.

I haven’t yet been able to back up this particular statement very well as I’ve only played a single game since adding a Stadium into my list. However, this proved to be the case for me in a practice game against Malaysian Worlds qualifier Shane Chee. I was piloting my Zapdos deck against his Yveltal/Hard Charm/Shadow Circle deck. I can confidently say that I would have lost that game had I not been playing a 1-of Champions Festival tech specifically for Shadow Circle decks as well as an additional pseudo Jynx.

An Open Mind

ash yes
A “can-do” attitude can go a long way.

Overall, I can say that the experience of building these decks has been exceptionally rewarding to me as a Pokémon player. Not because of the nifty innovations that I’ve discovered but because of the lessons I’ve learned. So what I hope the most that readers can take away from reading this article is to be as open minded as you can be about new ideas.

Of course it would be foolish to jump head first into a tournament of any caliber with techs that “sound good in theory.” I couldn’t tell you how many hundreds of decks that I have build and torn apart after playing them for just a small amount of games. I’ve built so many terrible decks in the past that I could do Bad Deck Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; I have a near infinite supply of bad decks.

But through the process of trial and error while always remaining open minded, I have been able to achieve what is to me at least enough success at all levels of play from the old Battle Roads (forgive me I haven’t attended any League Challenges yet!) to the World Championships to make me happy with the time that I’ve spent playing. So I would like to remind everyone to think twice before immediately criticizing the next person you see playing something far from standard. I know I have been guilty of doing this myself too many times before.


City Championships can be an exciting time during the Pokémon season. Personally I love them! There is a certain thrill derived from attempting to counter the predicted metagame and even more so from attempting to counter the counters for said metagame. The decks played seem to be ever changing from one day to the next during Cities and I find that to be very enjoyable along with the opportunity to earn a significant portion of a Worlds invite. So with that said I encourage everyone to take a second and even third look back at some less than well known cards; you may just find yourself with a creative yet successful counter card.

I’m unsure of the next time that I will be able to write for SixPrizes again, it may not even be again this season. It is something that I truly enjoy and always feel so honored to do; real life just always seems to get in the way! So until next time, whenever that may be, I wish you all an overwhelmingly safe, fun and successful new year of Pokémon!

…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

After 45 days, we unlock each Underground (UG/★) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.

Underground Members: Thank you 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.

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

You are logged out. Register. Log in. Legacy discussion: 5