Something that makes the Pokémon Trading Card game so exciting is the constant shifting of the metagame. With each quarterly release of a set, an array of new decks emerge into fruition. The same decks that were dominating tournaments just before the release are either (relatively) unaffected or made entirely obsolete.
The front runners of this format change are the all-stars of any new set: the overhyped and ever-so-coveted Pokémon-EX (or Pokémon with a very good Ability) that we rush to get our hands on and spend almost too much time mentally preparing for. Given the expected popularity of these new cards, it is only natural that we adjust our already beloved decks to adjust into this brand new world of competitive play.
Although sometimes, a mysterious phenomenon occurs. Out of nowhere, decks featured around Pokémon that technically could have been played several months ago are suddenly winning tournaments — Pokémon that were shrugged off and promptly placed into our binder, collecting dust with the commons that we forgot were even printed. So wait, what’s going on? I mean, when the set was released we all made sure to get our hands on every potentially competitive card possible, right?
And so, we come across one of the most interesting facets of the ever-changing competitive landscape and the topic of this very article: Pokémon initially overshadowed rising into notoriety several months later. Great examples include Donphan PLS, Exeggutor PLF, and Flygon BCR. Through some sort of unpredictable paradigm shift, as popular decks and strategies ebb and flow in and out of the metagame, and as a new set of over one hundred cards floods our card pool, these once mediocre cards become … playable!
First I will be going in depth with Exeggutor PLF, a card that I feel perfectly exemplifies this phenomenon. To further elaborate, I will explain other intricacies of this idea using Flygon BCR and Donphan PLS as minor examples.
- From the Ground Up
- May 2013: Plasma Freeze released
- August 2013: Plasma Blast released, BLW–NVI rotated
- October 2013: Legendary Treasures released
- November 2013: Pokémon Catcher receives errata, attacking no longer allowed on T1
- February 2014: XY released
- May 2014: Flashfire released
- August 2014: Furious Fists released, NXD–DRX (and Tropical Beach) rotated
- October 2014: Phantom Forces released
- February 2015: Primal Clash released
- Flygon & Donphan
- How to Be Proactive
- Hidden Gems
- A Look Ahead
From the Ground Up
This walking, stumbling, three-headed tree of coconuts is the entire reason I wanted to write about this topic. When I heard that Ross Cawthon was playing Exeggutor at St. Louis Regionals, I was stunned. Actually, I’ll just admit it — I was jealous. Jealous because I tried to make Exeggutor work so many times on separate occasions after its release! I distinctly remember driving home from Illinois States 2014 thinking I broke the format with my Exeggutor PLF/Rocky Helmet/Rock Guard/Mew-EX deck. I excitedly built it when I got home … and lost nearly every game I played. And mind you, this was a full ten months after the card’s actual release into the format. It took about twenty-one months for this tropical friend to finally get the recognition he deserved.
Just so we’re on the same page, the key to success for Exeggutor is to take as much advantage of the opponent not playing Supporters as possible. You need to make Blockade do more than 10 damage, all the while disrupting the opponent enough so that they’re not taking Prizes while you chip away at their HP. You want your opponent to draw a card, sigh, and pass. This needs to be kept up long enough for you to take 6 Prizes, but also quickly enough before they can naturally draw out of their Supporter lock and take their own six.
Here’s the Exeggutor list I have today, created by the renowned Ross Cawthon and played at St. Louis Regionals with an overall record of 3-2-4:
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 35
2 Head Ringer
Energy – 8
Don’t let the record fool you. Ross may not have made Day 2 at this event, but his mere decision to play the deck was turning heads all across the country. A player like him, known for the creation of rogue decks, doesn’t go to a tournament like Regionals without something he truly believes can win. This let everyone know: It’s time. Exeggutor had officially received professional recognition and it can now be broken.
So let’s take a look at the evolution of this deck from conception to success. I will evaluate how the each set from Plasma Freeze to Primal Clash played a role making Exeggutor the feared powerhouse it is today.
May 2013: Plasma Freeze released
Oddly enough, Exeggcute had no problem seeing play right away. Just … not to evolve. Because why would you ever want to start with it? Almost every popular Pokémon will immediately KO it (Landorus-EX and Kyurem PLF can even KO two in one attack), so no thanks. The utility of the Ability “Propagation” was immediately recognized, but mainly for Blastoise to throw away with Superior Energy Retrieval (also released in this set) or Empoleon to get some free cards using Diving Draw. Speaking of which, why is Empoleon in this list of cards for a potential Exeggutor deck? There is no way we can fit Piplup and Rare Candy. Hmm, better keep moving along.
I’m sure there were a handful of people who actually read Blockade and made note of how good it was to stop your opponent from playing Supporters. But … only 10 damage? I mean even with Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym being released in the previous set as a way to provide additional damage, most people would still prefer to BLACK BALLISTA FOR 200. No time to fiddle with coconuts.
August 2013: Plasma Blast released, BLW–NVI rotated
Thankfully, Virizion-EX’s Verdant Wind Ability scared off Accelgor almost entirely. Coupled with Genesect-EX, this deck was a new dominant force in the metagame — a great example of how a set’s release can both create something out of thin air and eradicate the presence of another deck.
But what did this mean for Exeggutor? Well, the hyped cards were hyped for a reason: because they’re incredibly good. Verdant Wind can apply to Exeggutor to prevent accumulating its own Hypnotoxic Laser damage, and since Blockade uses a C Energy, Plasma Energy could be used to both fulfill that requirement and also act as a Pokémon Catcher with Red Signal.
Additionally, Silver Bangle can help Blockade dish out more damage (that base 10 is a big issue) and Silver Mirror can help you avoid some attacks from a few popular decks. Jirachi-EX provides added consistency by searching for Supporters, but none are too exciting yet.
It feels like we’re so close! But an Exeggcute still dies on Turn 1, and Exeggutor still only does 10 damage most of the time. You can’t even play your Lasers against V/G! We close the binder and shed a tear.
October 2013: Legendary Treasures released
Crushing Hammer (reprint)
Yup, basically the same problem. Hardly any new cards to fit into the already problematic deck concept and pretty much the same decks are popular. I mean, you can try to remove their Energy while you sit there chipping away with Blockade, but you’ll only get four attempts to do so. And that’s if you flip heads. The decks with Garbodor that are meant to shut down Blastoise and Emboar are even inadvertently shutting down the Abilities Exeggutor needs to function. Plus, the decks with Fire Pokémon that are meant to counter Virizion-EX and Genesect-EX are also pretty good against Exeggutor.
Pokémon Catcher receives errata, attacking no longer allowed on T1November 2013:
Wait, what? Hang on, this might be good. Now our Exeggcute are a little safer if we’re forced to play second. Not to mention we were given Mr. Mime, which even stops Hammerhead and Frost Spear from sniping our Benched Eggs. Hmm, but we still have the same aforementioned problems as above.
February 2014: XY released
This set was a big one. It didn’t take any time at all for every player and their neighbors to know that Yveltal-EX was really, really good. To add insult to injury, Muscle Band was released in the same set. So while that was obviously good on the flying death bird, it was also a good reliable way for Exeggutor to do some extra damage that Silver Bangle couldn’t always provide. “Blockade for 30” has a slightly better ring to it, doesn’t it? Plus, Team Flare Grunt could remove their Energy in addition to the Hammers you already play. That’s a pretty good Supporter for Jirachi-EX to grab.
Still, good luck winning any games yet. Dark Patch, Thundurus-EX, Virizion-EX, Blastoise, and Emboar could all accelerate more Energy than you could ever hope to remove. And in doing so, they could easily take 6 Prizes despite not being able to play Supporters. We’re not there yet!
May 2014: Flashfire released
Remember, Exeggutor is only good if there is a great amount of disruption. Dragalge and Lysandre both provide that, giving you the option to bring up an undesired attacker and lock it into place with a Hypnotoxic Laser. Of course they could still play Switch (or Escape Rope), but it has to already be in their hand! I mean, they certainly can’t play a Supporter to try and get one. Pal Pad might be useful in getting your own Lysandre and Team Flare Grunt back into the deck and … wait. Pyroar is good? Pyroar is Fire type. Guess now isn’t the time either. Dangit!
Tropical Beach) rotatedAugust 2014: Furious Fists released, NXD–DRX (and
Alright, this was somewhat of a lucky break for Exeggutor and an excellent example of how a shifted format can pave the way for an already existing deck to become playable. Remember how I noted that after the release of XY, most popular decks in the format used some sort of acceleration? Well with the rotation of Tropical Beach, Blastoise and Emboar decks retired. With the rotation of Dark Patch, Yveltal-EX decks became notably more downtempo. Suddenly the entire format slowed way down and became focused around single Energy attachments, whether it be a Strong Energy for Landorus-EX or a Double Colorless Energy for Seismitoad-EX.
Yes, Seismitoad-EX. The card everyone hates to love, or loves to hate. A metagame-defining card of the ages, and it’s Weak to Grass! Blockade does a base 20 damage to him, and Exeggutor himself resists Water. If you’re lucky enough to attach a Muscle Band before being Quaking Punched, you’re 3HKOing Seismitoad-EX while they 10HKO you (assuming they can’t draw into their own Muscle Band and their Hypnotoxic Lasers are blocked by Verdant Wind). This doesn’t sound like much, but this is drastically better than anything we’ve had before. Oh, and Team Flare Grunt is also very good against him as well. Finally.
So the format has opened a few doors for some coconuts, as we’re starting to see good matchups amongst the most heavily played decks. The one problem? We’re still limited to however many copies we play of each card. 4 Hammers, 4 Lasers, 4 Exeggutor, 2 Team Flare Grunt, etc. Once we play them, we’re done. And if we haven’t taken 6 Prizes or put ourselves into a dominating board position, we will still probably lose.
October 2014: Phantom Forces released
Pretty much all of them
While everyone was excited and busy creating their brand new decks focused around the brand new hyped Pokémon-EX, Exeggutor was given the perfect set of tools to function as a competitive deck.
Battle Compressor didn’t just allow Night March decks to exist and Manectric-EX decks to get Energy into the discard pile, it now allowed us to get 2-3 Exeggcute in the discard pile on the first turn, which we can of course Propagate right into our hand. A triple Ultra Ball of sorts, and an incredible boost to consistency. VS Seeker (an amazing reprint last seen in Platinum: Supreme Victors) provided every single deck in the format access to their already-played Supporters. Despite not being able to play it under a Quaking Punch lock, 4 VS Seeker quickly became a staple. Now we can play Team Flare Grunt several times, and they still can’t play any Supporters at all!
But yes, at last … the card we’ve been waiting for — the last piece of the puzzle: Lysandre’s Trump Card. This beautiful, beautiful man allows Exeggutor to have unlimited resources. We can now play all the Hypnotoxic Laser, Hammers, and VS Seeker we need to win the game, shuffling them back into our deck repeatedly. This would leech our opponents dry, with us announcing “Blockade” until we take the sixth Prize, as they reveal their hand full of unplayable Supporters.
So with that, Exeggutor is competitive! A laughable rare printed in Plasma Freeze saw the light of day only after six more sets were released. We are finally at the point where we can build the list shown above, but we’re still not done. What effect has Primal Clash had?
February 2015: Primal Clash released
After Orion Craig won Florida Regionals (a BCR–PRC tournament) with Flareon, a lot more players started to recognize the combo found in Battle Compressor + Empoleon + Archie’s Ace in the Hole. It is an almost unstoppable force once it gets going, and luckily, Exeggutor already has the engine built right in. All we need to do is add one Empoleon (good thing it was reprinted in PLF) and one Archie. Spice the list with some consistency-boosting Acro Bikes and we have a deck that won the Arkansas State Championship. To see the list, be sure to check out Brit Pybas’ article on April 16th!
We’ve now reached a point in the format where there are several potential top tier decks, Exeggutor being one of them. I’m not saying it’s the best by any means, but it now like never before has the capability of winning. The only problem? Time is not on our side. Exeggutor demands as much time as possible to execute (hah) it’s strategy. After all, Blockade still only does base 10. There’s a reason Ross Cawthon had four ties in nine rounds of play. But when world famous players like Ross and Jason Klaczynski insist on playing it, you know it has to be good.
That was a lot to take in. From conception to success, let’s recap chronologically how Exeggutor remained dormant before finally rising to notoriety:
- Exeggutor is printed
- Exeggcute is already good
- Virizion-EX and Genesect-EX provide additional utility
- Crushing Hammer is reprinted
- Attacking is no longer allowed on T1
- Muscle Band and Team Flare Grunt are printed
- Tropical Beach and Dark Patch are rotated
- Seismitoad-EX becomes popular
- Format slows down, loses Energy acceleration
- Battle Compressor, VS Seeker, and Lysandre’s Trump Card are printed
- Archie’s Ace in the Hole is printed
This culminated with Exeggutor finally winning a major event.
Flygon & Donphan
You’ll notice above that Donphan and Flygon/Accelgor decks began finding their way into the metagame — and not because they were just printed in the latest set release. Much like Exeggutor, these cards found success months later after the format shifted around and other cards were printed that helped them out immensely.
When this Pokémon was printed in Boundaries Crossed, it saw the binder almost immediately. It simply could not keep up with Blastoise and Landorus-EX, the hyped cards of the same set. Or could it? Only when players finally began to use Tropical Beach in a wider variety of decks, and eventually put together a combo to be used with Flygon (either Accelgor DEX or Miltank FLF coupled with Dusknoir BCR), did the deck see a good amount of success at the National and World Championships.
Henry Prior made Top 8 at US Nationals with the Accelgor variant, while Frank Diaz made Top 16 at the same tournament with the Miltank variant. I personally played a Flygon deck at both Nationals and Worlds in 2014 as well.
When Furious Fists was released, we all knew that Fighting Pokémon gained a huge boost thanks to Strong Energy and Fighting Stadium. But while we were all focused on Landorus-EX and Lucario-EX, Dylan Bryan brought a long-forgotten uncommon from Plasma Storm to Philadephia Regionals and took the tournament by … storm (read the article here). Soon nearly everyone was playing Donphan, using Spinning Turn for 40-110 damage and hiding behind a Sigilyph LTR or Zekrom LTR.
When Phantom Forces brought Robo Substitute into the mix, it solidified the now well-recognized Donphan into the metagame. It only took twenty or so months from release to success!
How to Be Proactive
Obviously Exeggutor isn’t the only example of when this has happened. This sort of phenomenon happens all the time, only sometimes it’s a little more subtle and there isn’t as much time between a card’s release and its competitive prowess. So how can we strive to be like Ross Cawthon or Dylan Bryan? Finding these old disregarded cards from sets past and creating top-tier decks at just the right time?
Well, it’s simple. The first thing I would advise you do is overcome the initial hype of the most popular cards in each new set. Sure, you can recognize their potential just as everyone else has, but also take the time to slow down and analyze each and every card in the set as well. Can you think of a once mediocre card that a new Item or Supporter goes really well with? Do you anticipate any shifts in the metagame that now allow a new deck entirely to emerge? It’s not easy to do, but well worth it if you find something.
Also, try to recognize the capabilities of a card without taking the rest of the format into consideration. Put a little bookmark in your head and revisit it with the release of each new set. For instance, when Plasma Storm was released: “Wow, this Donphan sure would be good if it did more damage. I know hit-and-run decks have been successful in the past, maybe he’ll get his time too.” No one could have predicted Pokémon Catcher to be errata’d and for there to be a Special Energy and Stadium printed that specifically help Fighting Pokémon, but it happened. And Donphan thrived because of it.
Sure, Politoed FFI is unplayable right now. But it has a great Ability — there’s no denying that. Maybe sometime in the future the entire Poli family will see competitive play thanks to who knows what (fingers crossed for a reprint of Broken Time-Space).
There are a few cards that are currently legal that I personally feel will be winning tournaments before they rotate. I could be completely wrong, or I could be a psychic who is at this very moment predicting the finals of Nationals 2016. I have no idea! All I know is that these cards are bookmarked in my mind thanks to their unique attacks or Abilities, and I’m just waiting for the right combination of cards to be printed before they can achieve success.
I decided to do XY-on, as these cards will be around the longest. In no particular order:
1. Gourgeist XY
What it needs: Double Rainbow Energy reprint, an Ability on a Basic Pokémon that moves damage counters
2. Milotic FLF
What it needs: Trainer/Ability/Attack that greatly benefits from being behind on Prize cards, a better Pokémon to attach Energy to
What it needs: Ability on a Basic Pokémon that moves damage counters, Trainer/Ability on a Basic Pokémon that can devolve other Pokémon
4. Politoed FFI
7. Ditto XY40
What it needs: A popular Pokémon that is Weak to its own type, a Trainer/Ability that can change the type of your Active Pokémon in some fashion
Those are just a few examples, look through the scans of older sets and maybe you’ll find something yourself that catches your eye. Just remember to keep an eye on them — there’s no predicting what kind of cards Pokémon may decide to print.
A Look Ahead
I’m not usually a fan of talking publicly about sets that haven’t been released yet, but considering I will not be competing in a tournament before the release of Double Crisis, I have decided to go ahead and make note of how two cards in the set may affect certain cards that are currently unplayable or could be printed in the future.
Does anyone remember how Medicham ex worked in 2005? It would remain Active, locking the opponent out of Poké-Powers while it disrupted with Energy Removal 2 and Pokémon Reversal. As an additional boost of disruption, it played a few copies of Team Aqua Hideout, which is being reprinted under a different name.
Are there any Pokémon now that can operate similarly? Is this the missing piece in a deck focused around constant Bench manipulation and disruption? Remember: just because you’re not playing a Team Aqua deck doesn’t mean you can’t play this card.
Oh look, the other one! This card is beefed up version of the previously printed (and never played) Team Magma Hideout. But two damage counters is a lot better than one, so I think this Stadium could have some serious potential. Absolutions, a deck featuring Jolteon ex and Absol ex won Nationals and Worlds in 2007, focused on constant damage output and manipulation all across the opponent’s field.
We have the Jolteon part now (Forretress FLF). All that’s missing is the Absol part of the equation *wink*, and perhaps this very Stadium. Again: just because you’re not playing a Team Magma deck doesn’t mean you can’t play this card.
So there you have it: a lesson in being proactive and learning to discover a cards potential before it’s too late and everyone else is already prepared to play against it. Taking this knowledge to limit, you may soon find yourself winning a major tournament and having all opponents you face scratch their heads, muttering to themselves “I had no idea this card was any good, wow.”
As for me, I have somehow earned an invite to the World Championships despite a pretty poor season overall. Look for me in Kansas City and Madison trying to redeem myself, and I’ll see everyone in Indianapolis and Boston as well!
If you liked the article, be sure to give me the ol’ green check below. As always, thanks for reading!
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