What is fair in Pokémon? Some say Seismitoad-EX is an unfair card. People generally dislike being told “no” when they go to play their cards, and so decks that impose immediate denial are among the most hated. The thought is that PCL prints cards to be played, so there should not be cards that prevent from other cards from being played. Seismitoad, Power Spray, and just about every Vileplume to ever exist laugh in the faces of aspiring Trainers who just want to play down their Pokémon cards!
Most very successful players don’t care about the moral question of fairness in Pokémon. It’s irrelevant to their success. After all, Pokémon doesn’t have a constitution. The laws of the Pokémon world are not by the people or necessarily for the people.
At the end of the day, cards that deny opponents the chance to play the way they want have always been powerful and playable. Assuming you’re looking to win, you should always look at “powerful and playable” cards before ones that people deem to be more “fair.” As long as you’re not cheating, play what wins. Always.
But what if I told you there was a deck that could win a tournament with absolutely zero interaction with its opponents? (Cue ESPN 30 for 30 short film “A Flair for Solitaire” …) There is such a deck, though it is only sanctioned in Expanded. And like it or not, Expanded is the format for Autumn Regionals in North America.
If you didn’t already guess, the deck I’m referencing centers around Shiftry NXD. It aim to win by recurring Shiftry’s Giant Fan Ability to leave its opponent with a hand, a deck, six Prizes, and nothing else. It aspires to win the game before the other player can even play a card. Shiftry takes the term “no counter-play” to a whole new level.
If that sounds too good (or bad) to be true, read on. I played 75 first turns out with the deck over the last two days. In this article I am going to examine how viable this deck will really be in practice. Do people need to tech for it? Is it actually consistent enough to be worth serious attention?
After all, Giant Fan hinges on a coin flip. You will at times get atrocious luck and lose promising games because of this. A coin-flip deck will not ever work 100% of the time by its very nature. However, my list attempts to minimize the randomness by trying to flip as many Giant Fans per game as possible.
Generally the deck’s first turn has two main phases. The first is the hunt for Forest of Giant Plants. Until it hits the board, the Shiftry deck is just a useless brick of cards. The key to success with Shiftry is going hard to find FoGP while conserving the devolution effects like Devolution Spray and Super Scoop Up to let you combo off later. Ultimately, (spoiler alert!) this is one of the biggest problems with the deck in the long run. If you draw FoGP in the first few cards of your deck you almost always are going to have a good game. This deck fizzles when it takes to many resources to find the key Stadium.
The second stage of the game (still Turn 1!) is when you have the chance to go crazy with what you have left. Drain as much of your deck as you can, find Trainers that let you reuse Giant Fan and win the game by Bench out.
This is the list I used:
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 40
4 Trainers’ Mail
Energy – 0
To get Giant Fans off repeatedly, we use three main tools:
- Devolution Spray is the strongest. We use it to devolve our Shiftry and immediately re-evolve with Forest of Giant Plants to use Giant Fan again. We don’t want to discard these during the first stage of the game. We want to use all four every single game. I almost always found myself doing so in the games I tested.
- Super Scoop Up is decent too. It has more utility than Devolution Spray but is much less consistent. I would play 12 Devolution Spray if I could but that would be against the rules, so I just run these instead. Being able to reuse Shaymin-EX is occasionally useful but returning Shiftry to our hand is almost always the better option. That’s the reason we play these after all.
- Recycle is in here just to reuse Devolution Spray. It isn’t as good as Super Scoop Up because we need to actually need to use another card to get the Spray off the top of our deck. Nonetheless, Recycle helps us get our greedy paws on more Devolution effects and that is always a plus. We play four to maximize our potential Giant Fans. These have more utility than Devo Spray, albeit on a coin flip.
What about the other 48 cards though?
Well, the Shiftry line is 12 cards thick because we have plenty of space and not many options for card draw left after shoving almost every playable draw option into our 60 cards. We really don’t want to prize many pieces of the line. Sometimes we have to discard them early. There is plenty of room to discard up to two full lines of Shiftry and be fine.
Usually we only have 2 Shiftry on the board when we win the game. The deck can even work with one. Generally we want all four other Bench spaces to be Unown at the beginning of the game and Shaymin-EX at the end. Also, don’t accidentally sleeve up the Dark-type Nuzleaf. That card is for amateurs. For amateurs and people who don’t like evolving. In the long run, we want to reduce the chances of being double-crossed by our Prizes, so we run a thick 4-4-4 line.
4 Shaymin-EX ROS is absolutely correct. Don’t play this deck with less. Often we use all four. I would look to play a different deck if you can’t get the full suit. Success with Shiftry is all about maximizing odds. Less than four isn’t maximizing odds.
We run 4 Unown AOR for the same reasons. If there were a Trainer card that said “draw 1 card” we would probably play that too.
Bicycle is not in here to draw 4 cards. These are not ever supposed to be considered high-rolling draw cards like Shaymin and Juniper. They get you a card or two and disappear. They thin the deck and keep the resources flowing.
No Acro Bike
I chose not to play Acro Bike because we need to know what cards are disappearing when we windmill-slam draw Trainers onto the board. We want cards to go away, but only the right cards. Dumping cards is fine, but the potential to reveal a Super Scoop Up and one of the other 11 devolution effects in the deck (Recycle, Devolution Spray, and the other 3 SSU) is high. This card increases your chance of failure occasionally. In my opinion that chance is not worth it.
If space frees up in this deck I might add one to fill the open space. This is the next best option to draw cards behind Roller Skates.
That brings us to Roller Skates, which is the worst draw card that is actually in the deck. The potential to do nothing is still better than discarding the wrong card with Acro Bike. Drawing 3 cards is good when it works and it usually doesn’t matter if it doesn’t. Bike, Shaymin and Juniper can usually pick up the slack.
Level Ball is great because it can get Seedot, Nuzleaf, and Unown without any downside. Usually you want 2 Seedot max, so don’t go crazy with those in the early game. If you have a lot of extra Balls to play, get copies of Unown instead. Sometimes they would sit on the Bench until my deck is under 10 cards. It doesn’t matter if you have a plan for them or not, Unown are always good to get with Level Ball.
I chose to split my counts between Ultra Ball and Repeat Ball. 4 Ultra Ball felt like too many. More than 2 Repeat Ball seemed excessive. Repeat Ball is especially good in the mid game for getting Shaymin and Shiftry for free.
4 Trainers’ Mail
Trainers’ Mail is great to dig for FoGP early and to get your hands on more devolution effects later. It brings unmatched versatility to the deck so four copies aren’t going anywhere soon.
Escape Rope is in here to deal with a single Wobbuffet PHF. It also gets Unown out of the Active if we start with it, effectively netting us +1 card in some games. It’s easy to say that a smart player will just put no other Pokémon out and Wobbuffet will be impossible to play around, but this ignores the fact that the game isn’t actually over on Turn 1 if we don’t win. It is possible to put up to 6 Pokémon back in a player’s hand if we’re lucky enough. Unless they have Psychic Energy to attack with the lone Wobbuffet, you can wait until the player benches something else and hopefully go off then. I think the chance to steal a game off of someone attempting to counter Shiftry is worth playing Escape Rope. I played it in my testing but its usefulness is subjective.
For these tests I chose to play Computer Search because I worried about being able to actually get my hands on Broken Vine-Space. Believe it or not, I only used Computer Search to get Forest of Giant Plants in four games out of 75 where I could not get the card by drawing it naturally through cards like Juniper and Shaymin. If I had to search for it with Computer Search I recorded the incident.
Computer Search has way more utility than Scoop Up Cyclone. It will almost always enable the combo. If not, it will let you get at least one more Giant Fan off. Cyclone on the other hand has a more narrow use. It always gets you an extra Giant Fan but not when you haven’t already set up. While Cyclone would increase the number of potential Giant Fans that the deck can pull off by one in almost every game, Computer Search offers utility no other card can.
Only in two games out of 75 did the deck fail to find Forest of Giant Plants at all. Without Computer Search, this number would have risen slightly to six. In three of the four games in which Computer Search got FoGP, the deck only managed to get off a maximum of four Giant Fans at best.
While Computer has unmeasured utility in almost every other game I played, it was ultimately ineffective at finding Forest of Giant Plants.
That is a pretty bold statement right? Two in 75 games isn’t a high chance of failure, so let me explain how these stats were collected and calculated.
I never flipped a coin for anything involving Shiftry. I simply recorded the number of times I was able to activate Giant Fan.
Due to never flipping for Giant Fan, Super Scoop Up and Recycle complicated this method of data collection. I couldn’t justify flipping for the cards that would have allowed me to use Giant Fan while not actually flipping for Giant Fan itself. Instead I created a second category in addition to “Maximum Number of Giant Fans.” The “Number of Giant Fans on Coin Flips” is the number of Giant Fans I would have been able to achieve if all of cards that effectively bring Shiftry back to my hand for reuse had been heads.
Using Super Scoop Up is just one card that requires a coin flip to get to another coin flip. If the first coin is heads then the whole Shiftry line is back in our hand. Then when we throw the whole line back on the Bench we have to flip again to actually see if Giant Fan works. That means that the numbers in this column effectively show how many Giant Fans per game would have a one in four chance of success.
I only ever played one turn of the game. In reality, this only makes the deck better. The potential for Shiftry to win past Turn 1 does exist. I ended the game if I had no more cards to play but in practice it might be advisable to not even try to go off on the first turn and hold off until you can draw a second card for your turn. Dead draws don’t happen very often but when they do luck can potentially turn these games around.
Here is a link to the data I collected over 75 turns of testing in a Google spreadsheet.
The games in blue are the best 20% of games I played, measured by maximum amount of Giant Fans the deck achieved. The games in red indicated failure to find FoGP. The yellow and red combined are the bottom 20% of games I played, measured by the same method as the blue.
So what does this all mean? Here are some facts about the data itself:
- I finished the first turn of the game with 10 cards left in my deck on average.
- If we take away the 15 worst and the 15 best games I played (the top and bottom 20% based on number of potential Giant Fans) the average number of cards left in my deck after Turn 1 was roughly 3.5.
- Only in 2 games out of 75 did the deck fail to find Forest of Giant Plants. Without Computer Search, this number would have risen slightly to 6.
- In theory, Scoop Up Cyclone would have increased the average number of Giant Fans I could have gotten in a successful game by 1.
- On average I could get off 6.2 Giant Fans per game with the deck list I played.
- That’s close to 3 successful Giant Fans per game on average assuming nobody rigs the coin.
- We can assume at least 20% of Turn 1s are duds (the yellow or red rows in my data).
- If we only look at the games where the deck actually works (say, 80% of games) the total number of Fans I could get off is only marginally better, clocking in at 7.2 on average.
- In the best 20% of games I played, I was looking at around 9.5 Giant Fans per game.
So what can we take away from this?
My conclusion is that this deck isn’t all it is hyped up to be.
The problem with Shiftry is not its consistency, or its ability to find Forest of Giant Plants. The deck works well, but even when it does, the end product is underwhelming.
In the top 20% of the turns I played the deck ran very well. In these games the deck was usually almost empty at the end of the first turn and I had flipped for up to 13 Giant Fans at times. Even with the perfect game, nothing is certain. 50% of the time you will go first with this deck and when going first, 10 or more flips should almost always win the game. If you go second your opponent has a chance to flood their Bench, forcing 5 or 6 or your flips to be heads. This is still close to a 50-50 chance of victory in the best games that I played. 50-50 is just another way of saying “not that good.”
In the best-of-three format (all known Expanded format tournaments) at least one game in every set is going to be a struggle. Going second can make a game unwinnable if your opponent has the cards to flood the board. Personally, I don’t really care for strategies that put my tournament life on the line based on what cards my opponent is holding.
While Shiftry does work a lot of the time, it will struggle to win enough sets to go deep in big tournaments. While dud games do happen rarely, play enough and you will eventually get two within a span of three games. That right there is a match loss already. Even an average game might not be good enough to take a game going second. While I said it is very easy to find Giant Plants, the statistics I collected give away the cost doing so has on the deck’s ability to function in the late game. Often I found myself discarding valuable devolution effects to go deep for my combo enabler.
The deck naturally plays with a ton of variance. The number of coins I flipped to do things like scoop up Shaymin and play Roller Skates wasn’t quite over 9,000, but it was pretty darn high. That said, if you doubt my results or want to test your own Shiftry deck, do a huge number of trials. There isn’t much to be said for a sample size of 20 or even 30. Even I could have done more. I encourage anyone who wants to sit down and try out this deck to do the same thing that I did. Sit down, split your screen between Netflix and Excel and go at it. I found Shiftry insanely fun and easy to play with, even alone …
… which makes sense because Shiftry doesn’t really play well with others. While it is fun to play the deck, keep in mind that your tournament life is always going to be as good as your coin flips. Playing Shiftry is a lot like playing the slots. In the long run, the house always wins.
Special thanks to Sam Chen for inspiring this method of testing and for being infinitely better at math than a mere mind such as I.