Hey guys! I’m back again and really stoked to be able to bring you this article. I love getting my thoughts down and analyzing the format right as we close in on a major event. With only four days between today and the start of the World Championships, I’d say we’re definitely in crunch time.
Unfortunately, my preparations for this year’s main event have not been up to par with the work I usually put in for major tournaments. The current format does not lend well to practicing and understanding every matchup — which is the approach I’ve taken in the past. There are just too many decks to test and prepare for. Instead of choosing my best deck based strictly on having the best matchups, I’m going to have to make some predictions about the metagame.
In this article, I want to walk you through the six-step thought process that I use for choosing a deck. I’ll then move on to how my team applied those thoughts to our Nationals deck choice and also how they might benefit you in selecting your deck for this week’s World Championships!
My Process of Choosing a Deck
Step 1: Make a list of all potentially viable decks.
The logical first step in choosing a deck is listing out all of the potentially viable decks in the format. This starts the wheels turning in my head. At this point, I’m already putting together a short list of the decks that I could see myself playing. It also gives you a really useful list for thinking about your matchups later in the process.
Step 2: Gather intelligence.
Next is when I think about the important decks in the metagame. The big question is, “What are the threats?” Usually, I look at what won the most recent high-profile tournament. This can be anything from the State Championships in the area to a foreign National Championship. The more coverage that an event gets, the more interested I am in the results.
I like to watch a lot of videos like those from Some1s PC and Team Fish Knuckles and read articles from many different sites to see what decks are getting the most buzz. In the middle of a tournament cycle when several weekends of events have occurred, I use this information to identify different trends. Usually winning decks follow a pretty predictable pattern. For instance, at the end of this year’s State Championships, Exeggutor started to pick up steam with several first place finishes. However, the hype was not strong enough for me to be afraid of Exeggutor counters. A few weeks later, Exeggutor performed very strongly at the first weekend of the Spring Regional Championships. At this point it was certainly the deck to beat and many players successfully countered it in the second weekend with decks such as M Manectric-EX/Empoleon PLF.
Step 3: Analyze the information.
I also like to look at the trends in deck choices to help identify the decks that are losing steam. This will often open up my list of candidates as I no longer have to rule out decks that lose to the ones that are dropping in popularity. For instance, my good friend Sean Foisy was able to see one of these trends for Week 1-of Spring Regionals where Seismitoad-EX was becoming a worse play as Exeggutor got better. This opened the door for his Flareon deck to do well and he didn’t drop a single match with it.
Once I have identified the decks that are doing well, I start to think about what counters those decks. This is where things really get tricky because you have to line up that train of thought with the trends that you’re observing. Sometimes, you might want to choose a deck that beats the deck that other people are using to counter the most popular deck. This is a pretty risky strategy and I would only use it at a large event. At a tournament like Nationals or Worlds, you expect almost every deck on your initial list to be present. However, you usually have to take a gamble as to what will be the most popular deck that will rise to the top tables after the first few rounds. I have a good example of this later on in the article when I talk about choosing my deck for this year’s National Championships.
Step 4: Narrow down the field.
Now that I know which decks I want to beat, I choose a few decks that have good matchups against those. Depending on how well I understand these decks and their matchups, I might throw some lists together and test them for a while. In a format that I am more comfortable with, I will usually hold off on testing until I think about the decks a bit more. To narrow down my short list, I concern myself with the fringe matchups of these decks. I like to think about which bad matchups I am more comfortable with accepting. Even if a deck solidly beats the top deck or even top two decks on my “threat list,” I might not want to play it if I expect a decent amount of the decks that it loses to.
One thing I want to mention here is that this process is often more beneficial if you can talk through your thoughts with a friend or even a small team of players. Getting more opinions helps to fill in gaps in your knowledge of matchups or even can show you that you were mistaken in which deck wins in a specific matchup. Working with a team also gives you a good way to test out multiple matchups at the same time in a bind.
Step 5: Test!
Speaking of testing, this is the part in the process I would start to play out some of the matchups that I’m concerned about. Time is starting to get limited at this point so I don’t usually like to concern myself with every matchup. Instead, I would identify the matchups that are between 40/60 against my deck choices and 60/40 in its favor. I want to make sure that I have a game plan if I run into these decks during the main competition, especially since the matchup is probably too close for me to find that game plan on the fly. Other matchups should be discussed if they are expected to be seen but usually don’t need to be played.
Up until this point, I don’t care much about the specific lists for the decks that I’m testing. I like to start with “stock” lists that I usually get from other Underground articles and then customize them to my liking as I play a few games. Once I’m getting ready to make a decision, I lay the whole deck out and talk over any potential changes with my teammates. This is the point that we start to think about any tech cards that might influence the matchups that are problematic for a deck. A large amount of our testing on the day before a major event is focused on perfecting a list instead of choosing a deck.
Step 6: Make a decision.
In the end, we usually come to a consensus decision on our deck choice. I like to think that if I can’t convince my testing partners on the deck that I am favoring, there is probably a good reason that they disagree with me. However, sometimes we don’t all play the same deck. If I feel really confident in my deck choice and I know my teammates disagree, I’ll just stick with the deck I like. This can backfire sometimes when my read on the metagame is actually just tunnel vision (see Dustin Zimmerman’s article for more detail). However, I am a strong advocate for playing a deck you’re comfortable with and I have some good examples of that later too.
Side Note: This process isn’t a catch-all by any means. In a perfect world, I definitely would prefer to test every matchup and understand the interactions between all of the decks in the metagame. In a more realistic world, I still like to take the time to test many different matchups. Some of my best tournament results have come after weeks of perfecting a decklist and trying out numerous tech options. However, in the situation where time is of the essence, this is what I will use to make my decision.
Now that I’ve outlined the process that I use to choose a deck, let’s look at how I utilized the above method to arrive at my deck choice for this year’s Nationals.
Case in Point: Using the Process for Nationals
I started thinking about all of the decks in the format and which ones I liked on the drive to Nationals (Step 1). Seismitoad-EX/Crobat PHF was the deck that I had put the most time into so that was the first deck on my short list. My friend Sean Foisy was interested in M Rayquaza-EX/Bronzong PHF and since his deck choices almost always work out well, I added that to my catalog. Once we started testing at our hotel, Kevin Baxter showed me a really interesting Primal Groudon-EX deck that included Landorus-EX, Manectric-EX, and Wide Lens. This would let you prey on benched Pikachu and Zubat, both of which I thought could be pretty popular Pokémon. This Groudon deck was the last deck that I noted down.
My next consideration was of the important decks in the metagame (Step 2). This part of the process is actually a long effort and I had been closely following the results from other countries’ National Championships for weeks. The type of Bronzong deck that Chase Moloney used to win Canadian Nationals became public enemy number one; I had heard a lot of top players talking about it in the last few days. Crobat PHF decks were also high on my list of decks to counter as they had performed very well in Canada and also in other National Championships around the world.
As far as the trends I was seeing (Step 3), Night March was definitely losing popularity. Decks like Seismitoad-EX/Crobat and Landorus-EX/Crobat were able to successfully counter it. I thought this trend would continue so I listed Night March as a deck that I could swallow a loss to since those Crobat decks were certainly going to be popular. I also was starting to see a lot of talk about Raichu/Crobat decks after it performed well at Canadian Nationals. One of the logical counters to Raichu is Landorus-EX so I expected to see Landorus/Crobat decks rise to the top tables.
All of these Crobat decks that I expected to see made me hesitant to spend any more time seriously testing Groudon. Even Seismitoad/Crobat had been able to consistently beat Groudon decks in my testing before Nationals. The sniping Pokémon-EX combined with Wide Lens that I mentioned before seemed like too much of a gimmick and I was uncomfortable with using them at a tournament as important and long as US Nationals. I took Groudon off of my list to test.
After thinking about and discussing the format, I was down to M Rayquaza/Bronzong and Seismitoad/Crobat as my potential decks of choice (Step 4). Now we started testing the important matchups (Step 5). I had already been working on my list for Seismitoad/Crobat (as seen in my last article) so the bulk of our testing with this deck was to perfect the list we had. We found the matchup against Chase Moloney’s Metal deck to be slightly unfavorable so we worked on finding room for a 2nd copy of Silent Lab. Unfortunately this meant that I had to cut my beloved Milotic PRC tech but we used that extra space for another W Energy as well to give you more outs to the T1 Energy attachment. I have always believed that consistency is the biggest concern for a tournament as large as Nationals and many of my decisions this weekend were made with that in mind.
Most of my testing with M Rayquaza-EX/Bronzong PHF was done against some of the close matchups such as Metal decks and Seismitoad/Crobat. We had limited testing results with this deck before this weekend so we split the matchups up. My teammates Sean and Christopher Schemanske spent a lot of time testing the deck against Raichu/Crobat to see if the matchup was salvageable.
My testing confirmed our initial thoughts that Metal, Landorus/Crobat, and Seismitoad/Crobat were all slightly favorable matchups. I was able to learn some interesting information on all of the matchups as well. For instance, against a straight Metal deck, I wanted my first attachment to a Rayquaza-EX to be a M Energy instead of a Double Colorless Energy so that I could more easily use that attacker to damage an Aegislash-EX. Against Seismitoad/Crobat, I found Rayquaza-EX’s first attack Intensifying Burn to be very useful on your first turn. As long as you got a Rayquaza Spirit Link attached before they used Quaking Punch, that 60 damage made it easier to get a Turn 2 knockout without relying on keeping your Sky Field in play.
Meanwhile, Christopher and Sean were trying out an Altaria in their version of the list to combat M Rayquaza-EX’s Lightning Weakness. They also tried out different counts of Heatran PHF, Cobalion-EX, and Aegislash-EX to see if any would have significant impact in the matchup against Raichu/Crobat. They decided the matchup was unfavorable but the Altaria was still helpful.
We decided that Rayquaza/Bronzong would be our deck of choice (Step 6) mostly because it had a better matchup against straight Metal than Seismitoad/Crobat.
Although the three of us felt very confident in our choice, our other teammates Chris Derocher and JW Kriewall were unconvinced and chose to play the Seismitoad/Crobat list instead. Their testing results did not see M Rayquaza-EX/Bronzong beating Seismitoad decks as much as the rest of us. Although I wanted them to play the same deck as the rest of us, I understood that it is important to play a deck that you are comfortable with sometimes instead of the hype deck. The list they decided to play was the same as the one I included in my article before Nationals — minus 1-1 Milotic in favor of 1 Silent Lab and 1 W Energy.
We had all decided on our play but I still discussed the list with Sean and Christopher for further improvements. Altaria was deemed to be unnecessary as it didn’t help the Raichu matchup which was the only Lightning deck we were expecting at the time. (We later heard about several of the top players testing out M Manectric-EX decks. However, we were more comfortable with keeping the list consistent instead of teched out and decided against Altaria). We also cut the Battle Compressor which was only useful in a few situations to fit in 3 Acro Bike. These helped our consistency and speed and definitely made a large impact in every game we played. You can see our final list in Christopher’s article from a few weeks ago.
This thought process ultimately worked out for our team as we had very solid results in both the Masters and Seniors Divisions. However, I find myself in the situation once again where I am running out of testing time and having to rely more and more on predictions and what I’m comfortable with. This is a definite fault of my own and I will need to make more time for testing if I am going to become the exemplary player that I want to be.
But for now, we’re four days away from the first day of Worlds and I want to apply these techniques to the weekend ahead.
Doing It Again: Choosing a Deck for Worlds
For starters, here is a list of all of the decks I would not be surprised to see on Friday (in no particular order):
- Night March
- Primal Groudon-EX
- Primal Kyogre-EX
- Klinklang PLS/Bronzong PHF
- Seismitoad-EX/Manectric-EX/Crobat PHF
- Seismitoad-EX/Garbodor LTR
- M Manectric-EX/Garbodor LTR
- M Manectric-EX/Empoleon PLF/Keldeo-EX
- Gengar-EX/Trevenant XY
- M Rayquaza-EX/Bronzong PHF
- Straight Metal (Bronzong PHF/Aegislash-EX + Friends)
- Hippowdon PRC
- Landorus-EX/Crobat PHF
- Raichu XY/Crobat PHF
- Archie’s Ace in the Hole/Blastoise BCR/Keldeo-EX
- Bunnelby PRC 121/Slurpuff PHF/Crushing Hammer
As you can see, there are quite a lot of decks to consider and this doesn’t even include all of the variations of some decks (such as straight Seismitoad/Crobat). However, we can narrow the list down depending on which decks are generating more hype. Here are five trends I’ve pinpointed recently:
1. Decks revolving around M Manectric-EX have been very popular with American players since US Nationals last month. There are many different ways that you can play it — with Ninetales to lock Rough Seas in place, Garbodor to shut of problematic Pokémon such as Klinklang, Bronzong, and Altaria, or Empoleon to increase your draw power and sustainability. M Manectric-EX is best known for being strong against Seismitoad-EX as it has a good method of Energy acceleration as well as Rough Seas to counter Virbank City Gym and heal off the damage from Quaking Punch. Surprisingly, M Manectric-EX actually has quite a few bad matchups when you look down the list above and should be relatively easy to counter.
2. Night March has really made a resurgence in the past few weeks. I had already heard some top players talking about it and Ryan Sabelhaus’ article last week cemented it on my list of threats. It can easily tech in a Bunnelby to deal with Wailord and otherwise only has big problems when facing Toad-focused decks.
3. One of the biggest problems when preparing for the metagame at the World Championships is the diversity that other countries can introduce. The European metagame in particular can be quite different from the North American meta, especially since their tournament results did not embody recent developments (i.e. the Trump Card bad). Last year, we saw Yveltal-EX win most international Nationals. At Worlds, many of the European players stuck with Yveltal-EX decks while others played Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX, a typically strong counter to Yveltal.
If the same trend continues this year, I would expect lots of Landorus/Crobat decks as they performed well in Denmark’s National Championship (one of the few in Europe that took place after the ban of Lysandre’s Trump Card). Other European players may favor Seismitoad-EX decks to counter the expected surge of Landorus-EX.
4. Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX is surprisingly getting some hype after not performing well at all in any National Championship. It does have some strong matchups against Seismtoad-EX decks, Wailord, Primal Pokémon-EX decks, and Straight Metal. However, I think most of the players who would play a Genesect-EX deck would primarily play it because they are comfortable with the deck. Many American players picked it up for the same reason at Worlds 2014 and I could see a small following who try to revive it once again.
5. The last deck that I have heard some buzz about is Wailord-EX. Brit had a very good write-up on it in his latest article which made me rethink my initial thoughts after Nationals. I really didn’t think anyone would play it and if they did, they wouldn’t do well at all. However, after I look down the list of viable decks, only 5 or 6 of them seem like truly bad matchups. A tech Bunnelby could improve the matchup for a few of the other decks but the Mewtwo-EX counter tech that Brit suggested could be a very strong way to deal with that. I haven’t tested this deck as much as I really should but it is definitely better than I first thought.
With those threats in mind, here are a few decks that I have been thinking about to counter the expected metagame.
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 31
Energy – 9
M Rayquaza-EX has a ton of good matchups on our threat list and will be a strong play for Friday’s event. The changes I made from my Nationals list are all to improve on some of the close matchups or to ensure that the good matchups stay favorable.
I dropped the 2 Aegislash-EX as an experiment in some of the limited testing that I have done so far and I surprisingly don’t miss them as much as I expected to. Aegislash is only sometimes useful against Seismitoad-EX, Gengar-EX, and Night March decks as a wall, but it is necessary if you want any chance to win against Raichu. However, Night March and Raichu are decks that I don’t expect to win against no matter what I include in a Rayquaza list. They are also losses that I think I could swallow with how I expect the metagame to progress.
No Acro Bike
Acro Bike is another card that I cut in favor of some tech cards. Unlike Nationals where I expected to play around 15 rounds with my deck, the first day of Worlds will likely only be 6 or 7 rounds. If I only need to win 4–5 rounds, I would rather have my deck be slightly less consistent so I can include the tools I need to win against most of the expected decks.
1-1 Altaria ROS 74
I put an Altaria line back in the deck as M Manectric-EX is getting pretty popular. Surprisingly, I don’t find M Rayquaza-EX to struggle against Manectric-based decks as much as I thought it would. I actually beat M Manectric-EX/Genesect-EX, M Manectric-EX/Suicune PLB/Seismitoad-EX, and Kristy Britton’s Manectric-EX/Seismitoad-EX/Crobat PHF at Nationals! M Rayquaza-EX can often outspeed them and the sustainability provided by Bronzong really helps to keep the Prize trade even at worst.
However, I still wouldn’t call it a strongly favorable matchup without the inclusion of Altaria. In most cases, the Manectric player will Lysandre up the Altaria to avoid a terrible 2-for-1 trade but this is actually exactly what Rayquaza needs to turn the game into its favor. At this point, your opponent is forced to an odd Prize count while you can continue to only Knock Out EXs. You can even use Sacred Ash to get back Altaria and further cement your winning position in the game.
An extra copy of both Heatran and Keldeo serve mostly as insurance against unlucky Prize cards. Both are incredibly important in the Wailord-EX matchup which can go from very favorable to unfavorable if either are prized. Suicune can be a big problem in other matchups as well — such as in a Primal Kyogre-EX deck — and having another 1-Prize attacker like Heatran often has great situational uses.
A 2nd Keldeo-EX would have been incredibly useful at Nationals as there were several times where my starting hand included Float Stone and Ultra Ball but I found my Keldeo-EX prized on that search. I would usually have to Sycamore away at least 1 Float Stone or attach it to a less desirable target. Once I did draw the Keldeo-EX off of my Prizes, it was too late for it to be useful.
Tech Option: Startling Megaphone
The one inclusion that I am still on the fence about is a copy of Startling Megaphone. Although I think that M Rayquaza-EX should beat most Manectric decks, M Manectric-EX/Garbodor LTR variants are typically difficult to defeat. If you have Altaria on the board and you play a Startling Megaphone to turn their Garbodor off, followed by an N to 2 or 3 cards, I think that a comeback could be made. This is a lot to pull off, especially without Shaymin-EX to find the parts of the combo, but careful resource management could allow for this play to turn a game around. I also like Startling Megaphone to combat any Focus Sash in Landorus/Crobat decks.
THE VERDICT: M Rayquaza-EX is a play that I would choose especially if I want to take my metagame countering one step further. If other players choose to play Landorus/Crobat (to counter popular decks like Manectric and Virizion) and Seismitoad/Crobat (to counter Night March), M Rayquaza-EX could once again be a strong deck.
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 33
Energy – 9
Landorus/Crobat is a deck that I have been considering for a while. At one point, I even texted Christopher asking “What if we could make a Landorus list that only lost to Seismitoad?” As decks such as Night March, Mega Manectric, and Virizion/Genesect start to see buzz, I have been thinking more and more about Landorus-EX.
This list is also pretty teched out but I think it has a lot of answers to potentially bad matchups. Bunnelby was the first addition as it would be the only way to defeat a Wailord-EX deck. Sacred Ash pairs incredibly well with Bunnelby to combat any Mewtwo-EX that might see play. You can even use Bunnelby’s Rototiller attack to shuffle Sacred Ash back into to your deck if your opponent gets their Mewtwo-EX back with a Sacred Ash of their own!
Focus Sash is my favorite addition to the deck and the best answer to M Rayquaza-EX. Landorus/Crobat already had a chance to win the matchup if it could Knock Out 2 Bronzor early in the game. However, it usually had trouble taking their remaining Prizes due to the high HP of M Rayquaza-EX. A Hawlucha with a Focus Sash attached can usually dispatch a M Rayquaza-EX before being Knocked Out with the help of Golbat and Crobat. If you find this matchup to still be challenging, a Dedenne FFI would definitely be able to fully swing it in your favor.
Silent Lab is the last important tech card in the list. Its primary use in my expected metagame is to shut off any Mr. Mime that Night March decks would be using. Night March is already a positive matchup but a Silent Lab dropped at a crucial moment is usually the nail in the coffin. It also gives Landorus-EX a way to attack Suicune and being able to shut off opposing Shaymin-EX can be useful as well.
THE VERDICT: If decks like M Manectric-EX and Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX can combat the Seismitoad-EX decks in the metagame, Landorus/Crobat will have a strong showing at the World Championships. This is definitely a deck that I’ll be testing in the next few days.
Free Willy: Primal Kyogre-EX
Pokémon – 13
3 Primal Kyogre-EX
Trainers – 35
Energy – 12
Primal Kyogre is another deck that is poised to succeed at the World Championships. It has strong matchups against Manectric decks, Seismitoad decks, and Landorus/Crobat, all of which will see play. My list focuses almost entirely on consistency as few of Kyogre’s bad matchups can be improved without devoting an unacceptable amount of space to tech cards.
Bunnelby is the main tech card that I chose to include as a counter to Wailord. Without it, Kyogre would have no way to deal with Moby Dick and its troublesome sidekick, Suicune. Sacred Ash accompanies Bunnelby once again and also serves as insurance against unfortunate Professor Sycamores that force you to discard Primal Kyogre-EX early in the game.
Articuno is another Pokémon that may not be standard in this deck, but I like the comeback potential that it provides. An unfavorable matchup like Night March could be beatable with a few fortunate flips, especially if you can soften up their Pokémon-EX with the spread damage from Tidal Storm.
No Hard Charm
Ryan Sabelhaus included an interesting take on this deck in his last article and I want to touch on a few of the differences. Hard Charm is intriguing but I don’t think it is necessary in the deck. The first use I can think of for it is to prevent M Rayquaza-EX from achieving a 1HKO on your Primal Kyogre-EX. However, I think that a pair of Suicune should turn that matchup into your favor as the Rayquaza player is then forced to rely on their non-EX attackers like Heatran. The pressure that Suicune applies should be enough that a single Primal Kyogre can dispatch the Heatran and finish off the game. You can check out the first game of the Seniors Final from US Nationals to see this strategy in action:
Another use for Hard Charm would be to help prevent a 1HKO from a Primal Groudon-EX. This is a more practical use in my opinion, but I don’t think it is the best counter. If I was worried about M Rayquaza-EX and Primal Groudon-EX decks, I would think about including Ninetales PRC in my Kyogre deck. By locking those decks out of Stadium cards, you severely limit their damage output and should be able to easily win the matchups.
Tech Option: Absol ROS
Absol is another card that I really like and will test out in my list in the next few days. The synergy between Tidal Storm’s spread and Absol’s damage manipulation is really strong. I would definitely trade out a Dive Ball for another Ultra Ball and also think about including an AZ to make full use of Absol. AZ also fits in well with the healing idea that Ryan was trying out with the Max Potion and Pokémon Center Lady in his list, both of which warrant consideration in your final list.
THE VERDICT: Primal Kyogre is a risky play that has bad matchups against several decks on the threat list, namely Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX and Night March. It makes up for that with very strong matchups against the rest of the field and will fare well if Landorus-EX and Seismitoad-EX are the popular decks at Worlds.
I encourage you to run through this exercise with your team or testing partners in the next few days to see what you think the optimal play is. It would also be very good to keep in mind as the metagame shifts between the first and second days of competition. You will have almost no testing time with the new information and having a good way to structure your thoughts could prove to be invaluable.
Choosing a deck is definitely the most important decision you will make this weekend, especially in a format that doesn’t reward strong in-game play as much as in previous years. Even with all of the information we have at our disposal, coming up with the perfect deck choice will require a large amount of luck and I wish you all the best.
I’m super pumped for Worlds this year. I loved my experience there last year and I’m hoping to improve it with a better performance in the main event. If you see me there, please feel free to introduce yourself. I got to meet a lot of readers at Nationals and even received some praise on my writing from one of the judges! You can also leave me questions or feedback on the forums.
Thanks for reading!
…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.