Life is always interesting in the Nance corner. Since my last article I’ve got a new job and a new son. That’s right! This past Monday we got a new addition to the Nance family (and a new future Worlds winner), as Ezra Holden Nance was born at 11:20 AM. Somehow, I’ve found the time to piece together this article, writing late at night while watching my new child slumber.
What is today’s article about? Well, with the Expanded format Regionals coming up fast, I thought I would cover an aspect of the game that many have overlooked — mill decks! These decks have recovered after the banning of Lysandre’s Trump Card, and they present quite a threat. Since the Expanded format gives itself more to these types of decks, I thought it would be an apt topic to cover.
Not only will I be highlighting some of the most effective decks of this strategy, I’m also going to look into the nuts and bolts of decking the opponent out (as well as being decked out yourself). I’ll discuss the aspects in this format that make players easily susceptible to being decked out, as well as what you can do to prevent that from happening.
In short, let’s talk about one of the most overlooked win conditions this game offers, starting with a small history lesson on the subject.
A Brief History of the ‘Deck Out’ Strategy
Many years ago, when the Pokémon TCG was in such infancy that Baby Pokémon didn’t even exist, there were decks floating around that hinged on the win condition of decking an opponent out. Many of these decks were seen largely as gimmicks — “Mulligan Mewtwo,” for example, could be taken down with just a single Energy Removal. Still, other decks like Chansey/Alakazam and Wildfire Moltres found a great deal of popularity and introduced many players to an alternate way to win the game.
Our discussion today will not focus on those decks, however. Anything we could learn from those archetypes of the past can easily be covered with the decks of the present, particularly some of the decks we may see during the upcoming Regionals series. With that said, let’s look at some of the decks and strategies that have led up to decking opponents out as it exists today. Along the way, I’ll highlight some of the components necessary to pull this strategy off with relative ease.
A ‘Stall’ Order
During my first year of competitive play, I witnessed what I thought of as a Pokémon TCG miracle: A bold, new “breaking” of the format by one man with a plan. Many of us have had this experience of seeing a rogue deck perform well (heck, if you watched either US Nationals or Worlds this past season you got that chance), but for me it was a firsthand look at how even the simplest of ideas could carry one to victory.
Before I describe this deck, just know that its main strategy is not to deck the opponent out. The term “stall” being applied to the deck, therefore, is mostly a misnomer. Still, nestled within its primary strategy was a catch — an ace in the hole, if conditions were just right — that is eerily analogous to today’s format. Let me explain.
Polistall utilized full counts of Root Fossil, Claw Fossil, and Mysterious Fossil alongside Politoed-ex and certain Stadium cards to pile on damage while keeping the opponent from getting legitimate knockouts. At the time, the Fossil Trainer cards functioned much the same way Robo Substitute works today: If an opponent Knocks Out the “Trainer turned Basic Pokémon,” they could not claim a Prize card. Politoed-ex had Punch and Run as an attack, practically identical in effect to Donphan PLS’s Spinning Turn. Meanwhile, Desert Ruins and Cursed Stone both placed damage counters on certain Pokémon between turns.
As you can gather, this deck bears more resemblance to a Donphan deck than a Durant deck. However, there’s a hitch. In practical terms, the way the old Fossil Trainer cards were written meant that a deck like Polistall was basically running 12 Robo Substitutes. If that sounds crazy to you, you’re not alone. With such a high count of cards that didn’t get the opponent any closer to winning, a Polistall player could abandon the general strategies of winning after a long game and just let the opponent deck themselves out.
This bare-bones strategy of letting Stadium cards accumulate damage on the field while the opponent takes no Prize cards for KOing Pokémon carried over to a deck using Shedinja DX in place of Politoed ex. Since Shedinja’s Poké-Body kept an opponent from claiming Prize cards, you now had what was essentially an attacking Fossil Trainer card. “Shedstall,” as it would come to be known, had an incredible amount of recovery, using multiple copies of cards like Holon Farmer and Pokémon Retriever.
Once again, this deck had so much recovery and outputted so little damage that — if the need ever arose — a player could win the game by waiting for the opponent to deck out. At the 2006 World Championship Last Chance Qualifier, two of these Shedinja decks faced off and forced an hours-long sudden death until one of the players eventually decked out.
The important thing here is the notion that in today’s post-Lysandre’s Trump Card format, there exists the last-ditch effort of decking your opponent out. I’ll talk about this later on, as it’s an increasingly common occurrence, one that many players either overlook as a way to win or fall prey to when their opponent catches them off guard.
Ants in My Pants
The threat of Durant NVI was short lived, primarily because Darkrai-EX served as just about as hard a counter to Durant’s strategy as you could find. When it came out in Noble Victories, however, it was instantly picked up as a legitimate archetype, and though it had the same “gimmicky” feel that Polistall and Shedstall had, it maintained a metal-sharp focus to decking the opponent out. No damage, no alternate strategy, just Devour again and again.
Durant did for mill decks what Flareon ex/Ariados UF (or, more recently, Accelgor DEX) did for Special Conditions — it revived the idea as a legitimate strategy. Suddenly, players had to carefully consider how they would change their strategy to accommodate Durant, “resource management” became a familiar term, and counters were discussed.
This went on until Darkrai-EX was printed, which as I mentioned above completely negated Durant. Crushing Hammer often provided fuel for Dark Patch, Pokémon Catcher was dead against Darkrai-EX’s Ability, and Sableye DEX made the idea of resource management a joke. Within just two sets, Durant had gone from being a tried-and-true archetype to being excommunicated from the format altogether.
No, I don’t mean the presidential candidate, I mean “Trump” as in “Lysandre’s Trump Card.” Or, to be even more correct, I mean the trump card that Japan played when they banned Lysdandre’s Trump Card.
Just before US Nationals this past season we saw a bonafide Pokémon TCG miracle when Lysandre’s Trump Card was banned. Before this, the only card banning to ever happen occurred years ago. With this single card gone from the format, the mill strategy made a triumphant return. Wailord-EX, Bunnelby/Slurpuff, and strategies like Energy denial came up through the woodwork. If you’ve been playing at all this season, you know the story.
From here, however, there’s more to be written. With all Regionals being Expanded this season, we will see even more mill strategies hit the scene, and whether you like them or not there’s the simple truth that players need to be prepared for them.
Whale, I’d Spout off a Wailord Pun or Two, but You’d Probably Sea That as Cruel
Because after all, we’ve all heard so much about Wailord-EX that it’s like listening to a conch at this point — good points just get distorted into fuzzy noise and, well, what’s left? Everything we needed to learn about Wailord-EX can be expressed in two words: resource management.
In a bid to still gather some truths from the rare whale siting of last season, I want to take the Wailord-EX phenomenon one step further. After all, Wailord-EX is one of the most successful mill decks to ever show up in a tournament, so it would be a crime to not spend at least a little article space on this deck. Rather than spend this time talking about Wailord-EX, however, I want to focus on a truth within the Pokémon TCG that exists just below the surface of many, many games being played in the current format: Energy denial is a looming threat to every player that doesn’t run something like Wailord-EX.
Yes, we all know that Lysandre’s Trump Card can no longer recover Energy sent to the discard pile. More important, however, are the threads of disruption embedded within our current card pool. Look at the following list of cards and factors that may lead to you getting decked out before you even knew what happened:
Five Factors Contributing to Deck Outs
1. Having no other choice than to discard Energy/resources with Professor Sycamore. Still the best Supporter in the format, Professor Sycamore is at times a pain to play. We have all been there with an opening hand that has three or more Energy and only a Sycamore to play. At the end of those games, when a Benched Pokémon gets Lysandre’d out and a player decks out, it might be hard to connect that loss with the Sycamore played on the first turn, but it happens all the time.
2. A format with more Energy denial cards than … ever? I could spend this time explaining what I mean, but instead I’ll just list the cards that deny Energy in some way: Crushing Hammer, Enhanced Hammer, Team Flare Grunt, Xerosic, Professor Sycamore (see above), Crawdaunt PRC, etc.
3. The tendency many players have to keep Energy counts low. It’s ironic that at a time when general advice on playing the Pokémon TCG includes an “8-12 Energy count,” many players would be better off with higher Energy counts. The “8-12” idea I’ve heard so much lately stems from the tendency most players have of streamlining lists to include as many Trainer cards as possible while going lean on Pokémon and Energy.
4. Getting decked out can be an unavoidable fact. If you have used all of your Energy from your deck and your opponent Lysandres your Shaymin-EX up, you lose unless you have something to get out of that tricky situation (AZ, Super Scoop Up). Even if you’ve taken 5 Prize cards and your opponent has taken only one, you lose. You might have played your best, but you lose. I know it’s my opinion here, but this is a bothersome fact, like taking back a touchdown because someone sneezed before the snap. Or like … you aced the test, but because you spelled your name wrong, you fail. Sorry!
5. Players are trying very hard to abuse this new aspect of the game. This is why I can write an entire article about mill decks — lots of players are trying very hard to catch their opponents off guard by utilizing a rather new strategy to winning. Bunnelby/Slurpuff? Durant? Wailord? These are all decks people have created to take advantage of this win condition.
So here it is — we have a format that lends itself very well to players wishing to deny their opponents Energy. Where the existence of Lysandre’s Trump Card felt like a reasonable measure against Energy denial — and most definitely an antidote for decking out — the absence of it feels dangerous, dicey. There have been way too many games in which the competing strategies between my opponent and I mattered not, but rather the Energy count. And there have been too many games in which I thought all was lost until I pulled up one of my opponent’s Benched Pokémon and pass for 10 turns in a row.
I say this not because I feel players need to manage their resources better, but because they need to reconsider those resources entirely. If you’re playing with as low an Energy count as possible, you’re probably playing with fire. And if you don’t consider the damage a well-timed Lysandre can do — that is, you aren’t considering heavier counts of Float Stone, Switch, etc. — you may be in for a rude awakening. This isn’t as easy a decision as to not play three Shaymin-EXs when facing Wailord-EX, because in the Expanded format you have to consider things like Durant, Life Dew/Eco Arm, and so on.
Durants Go Marching Four by Four, Hurrah!, Hurrah!
So, I will accept some heat for saying this, but I absolutely love playing Durant. I enjoy playing a deck that puts a special kind of pressure on my opponent, and I like seeing how my opponent deals with that pressure. Durant puts that strain on the opponent, crushing them when they cannot manage their resources properly, marching closer and closer to a win without ever taking a Prize card.
One interesting aspect to playing Durant is that many opponents continue to neglect the strategic adjustments required to be successful against it. At the US Nationals in 2012, my second matchup was against a lady playing Durant who was relatively new to the game. By this time, Durant had fallen out of favor because of the popularity of Darkrai-EX, and so I was not in the right mindset to face it. I had never tested against Durant at all. I struggled throughout the game, and though I won, I only did so with a single card remaining in my deck.
Perhaps this is the strongest attribute a mill deck has — while many players don’t know how to proceed against such a seldom seen strategy, even players who know what to do can find themselves in a bind. Think about it: How often do you test your deck against mill decks?
Let’s look at a couple of scenarios. First, for players who put their deck together at the last minute, they simply don’t have the experience needed to play effectively against something like Durant. Their deck might not be suitable against the deck out strategy in the first place (for this I’m imagining a deck that doesn’t run multiple copies of Float Stone or Switch). And anytime you have a gap in experience — or even a weak spot in the decklist — it creates space for an opponent to maintain an advantage.
The second scenario is much different, but the outcome remains the same. For players who have a lot of experience with their deck of choice, they may play out of habit and in doing so set themselves up for failure. This happened numerous times during the US Nationals just this past season, as many players set their deck up without hesitation against Wailord decks, never knowing as they dropped their first or second Shaymin-EX that they had just sealed their fate.
Having played Durant an exhaustive number of times, I’ve seen both tendencies play out. When an opponent finishes their turn with roughly 30 cards left in their deck, I’ve already won so long as my deck sets up properly. After Ancient Origins released, I got the pleasure of winning game after game against players who were still trying to make certain new cards work.
My Own Take On Durant
I’ve done enough talking, so let’s look at my current list:
Pokémon – 6
Trainers – 46
Energy – 8
While I know there are multiple ways to play Durant, you’ll see here that I’m going with as streamlined a strategy as possible. I’d much rather my Trainer cards do the disruptive work for me than some other Pokémon, especially when there are so many disruptive cards available to use. Head Ringer, Team Flare Grunt, Lysandre, Xerosic … these are all cards that present as new additions to a Durant deck since it has been able to make a return.
For old-school Durant players, you should notice a significant reversal now in the function that Item cards and Supporter cards have in setting up and disrupting. When Durant first became an archetype, it had the huge benefit of using Pokémon Collector to get three Durant in play by playing a single card. While Pokémon Fan Club isn’t a terrible card, I’d much rather put pressure on my opponent by disrupting with Supporter cards, especially when a solid count of six Poké Balls (4 Level, 2 Repeat) can get my ants in play with ease.
I’ve played this deck a lot and am currently sitting at 159 wins out of 210 games on PTCGO (with many of those being timeout errors), so let me cover some of the cards I’ve found to work as well as those you might want to pass over.
Initially, I had a 3/1 split on these powerful Supporters with Xerosic being the single copy. One particularly strong play, however, is to play a Xerosic followed by a Head Ringer on something like a Keldeo-EX, and so I decided to up the count to two. Having four of these cards is effective against something like Seismitoad-EX, which tries desperately to shut everything down with a single Double Colorless Energy.
So, I know this card requires a flip and that Lysandre is a suitable replacement for it, but Lysandre occupies my Supporter for the turn and I want to do everything I can to keep my opponent from attacking. Pokémon Catcher is very good at doing just this, since bringing Energy-less Pokémon up from the Bench is in itself a form of Energy denial. I consider this card just as important as Crushing Hammer.
One of the primary goals with this deck is making sure you have 3-4 Durant in play every time you use Devour. Therefore, a heavy count of recovery cards is essential for making this happen. I like Revive a little better than Rescue Scarf since it can be useful when Durant gets KO’d from Poison.
There’s another version of Durant that I’ll talk about in a minute, one in which I think Life Dew fits perfectly. In the list I’ve posted here, however, I just don’t think it works as well. Since Dowsing Machine can copy anything, it’s particularly good during the mid to late game as that one extra Enhanced Hammer, Pokémon Catcher, and so on.
While not in the list above, I’ve played with Ghetsis a lot and have found it especially strong when played on the first turn when one is going first. What I just said, though, demonstrates why Ghetsis is not currently in my list — that is, there’s a huge dependency on playing Ghetsis at just the right time. If you don’t pull that off successfully or if an opponent figures out that you’re playing Ghetsis, it almost immediately becomes a dead card. I once played a game where I was forced to play Ghetsis five times in a row; with the exception of the first time I played it I netted zero cards.
1-1 Ninjask ROS
Though I like Ninjask’s Ability, I’m not entirely sold on its inclusion in the list just yet. Having two cards that usually enable you to discard anywhere from 3-6 cards from your opponent’s deck in a game seems better than Trick Shovel, but I almost feel like there’s a better use of two cards out there. Originally, these two cards were open slots in the deck that were filled by everything from Rescue Scarf to Recycle, so the jury’s still out on what will eventually make the cut.
Like I’ve said, I’ve played this deck a lot, and it’s terribly effective. Even against a competent player whose deck can manage Durant pretty well, you may find yourself stringing together Team Flare Grunt, Crushing Hammer, Head Ringer, and so on to keep your opponent’s strategy at bay while you discard their whole deck. Meanwhile, most casual players who manage to find a good decklist online can’t handle the change in strategy that playing against Durant demands.
The Japanese Version
Recently, Durant showed up in a Japanese deck that performed well at a large tournament. I’m not too sure of the particulars of the tournament, but I have a list for you to check out:
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 40
Energy – 8
If my list is an accurate representation of an ant colony, this one represents a whole forest — there are ants, bugs, rabbits, some shovels where people have been digging for something, and so on. While I appreciate the creativity here, I personally think I’ll stick with just the ant mound and perhaps a visit or two from some ninja bugs. While the Japanese list is definitely an effort of thinking outside of the box, there are many things here that I don’t like.
There are some neat tricks going on here — the Life Dew/Eco Arm combo is quite commendable — but I still get the feeling that the deck is trying too hard to do everything. It’s like it’s trying to set up some great combo when it’s just three separate variations of the same idea tossed together. The double Jirachi is also questionable, especially in a format that would normally love to see a Jirachi-EX hit the Bench.
I don’t want to criticize this deck too much (it did perform well in Japan after all) but I think its win might have been in a vacuum — maybe the person who piloted this deck faced great matchups or players who didn’t adapt well to the deck out strategy. I simply cannot see this deck performing that well during Regionals.
Also, I can’t really adapt much from this deck to my own. I’ve already explained the omission of Life Dew (though I still think it can be incredibly strong when paired with Eco Arm), but nothing else seems to fit. The one thing I have tried out since seeing this list is a 1-1 Ninjask line, which eventually made its way into my deck.
Bunnelby/Slurpuff is a deck that has largely gone under the radar since it debuted at the US Nationals this past season. This is mostly because the deck didn’t perform as well as the other mill deck running around (Wailord). Still, it has a potent mill strategy that utilizes the Life Dew/Eco Arm combo I’ve discussed (or at least something close to it).
I haven’t done much searching for the list that debuted at Nationals, so I apologize if this list is not 100% accurate. However, I think it’s a good start, especially given what I’ll be discussing soon:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 39
Energy – 8
I would love to say that this deck is easily adaptable to the Standard format, but the lack of Life Dew is devastating to its core strategy. So, once more, we’re looking at the Expanded format for this deck to succeed.
Perhaps the greatest, yet smallest change this deck has gotten since US Nationals is the addition of Eco Arm. Since this deck aims to burn through resources as quickly as possible, you’re usually left with just a few cards in your deck, most of which can be retrieved by using Slurpuff’s Ability. If a Bunnelby with a Life Dew attached to it goes down, you’re typically stuck using another Bunnelby to retrieve the discarded Life Dew. With Eco Arm, however, you can send Life Dew back into the deck, draw into it with Slurpuff, attach it all over again, then retrieve the Eco Arm with Bunnelby’s attack. I’d like to get two Eco Arms in this deck, but right now I’m experimenting with just one.
The biggest threat to this deck is ironically the same thing that helps Durant decks, and that is the speed of an Expanded format. While the Durant player is more than happy to see an opponent run through half of their deck in a single turn, a Bunnelby/Slurpuff player is wary of a quick onslaught. Since Life Dew can only be a single inclusion in the deck, it’s not always easy to run into. Even when it is, it’s not like your racing through the remainder of the opponent’s deck just yet — you still have to establish a chain of recovery through Bunnelby and Slurpuff. Fail to do that and your opponent may overwhelm you.
In all honesty, this wouldn’t be my first pick for Regionals. I still thought I’d mention it here since it’s a mill deck through and through. One additional idea I’ve hard for this deck is to replace the Slurpuff line with a heavier Roserade DRX 15 line. Since Roserade can retrieve any card in your deck, the Eco Arm/Life Dew combo seems particularly strong, and with a full count of Super Scoop Up it’s easier to use Roserade’s Ability multiple times. Though it might seem like too much, Crawdaunt PRC might be a consideration for this deck as well, since it can be yet another addition to the Energy denial strategy.
You’ve Just Crossed Over into … the ‘Bunny Zone’
Trust me, this is a rough concept, but I thought I’d throw it out there for anyone willing to take a step on the wild side. Ever since Magnezone PLS 46 was released, I’ve dreamt of a day in which it reigns supreme with its surprisingly impressive Dual Brains Ability. Sadly, that day has never come to pass, but at least this deck tries to put it to good use:
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 40
Energy – 8
I don’t expect this deck to win a Regional; I feel I should make that disclaimer. However, I think it’s a decent idea that someone may be able to build on. Of course, this deck functions much like the Bunnelby/Slurpuff deck except that more emphasis is placed on mid-game disruption via Dual Brains than late-game chaining of Life Dew. The problem, as many are apt to point out, is that this deck only functions with a Stage 2 Pokémon in play, an issue that still plagues this format (especially with the threat of Archeops in the Expanded format).
One of the aspects of the format this deck makes clear is the strength of such Supporters as Team Flare Grunt and Xerosic. In high counts, these cards spell destruction for a surprising number of decks, and though Energy acceleration exists as a valid threat in the Expanded format, being able to play two disruptive Supporters in a single turn can turn the game on its head.
Ever since Durant, mill decks have afforded a favorite strategy of mine to follow. As I said earlier, these decks place a special kind of pressure on the opponent, one that requires the person sitting across from you to shift their strategy or pay the price. From the vantage point of the person playing a mill deck, it’s exciting to see whether or not the opponent adapts.
Going into our newly formed Expanded Regionals, it will be exciting to see whether or not these types of decks make a strong showing. If Regionals were tomorrow, I would definitely play my Durant list card for card. Regionals is close, but it’s not tomorrow, so I’ll continue testing until then, leaving any notes in the comments section for this article.
Feel free to give me a like if you thought this article was worth your time to read! And as always, drop me a line if you have a good idea for a topic to cover.
…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.