Hey everyone! I’m very glad to be back for another article as we gear up for Worlds but I can’t say that I’m not disappointed to be reporting on a solid National Championships run from a few weeks ago. Things were looking up for me after two byes and a great win on stream where I avenged several painful losses from last season against Jason Klaczynski. From there, however, a few bad hands and close losses unceremoniously knocked me out of the tournament.
I’ve had enough time to reflect on the event and stop beating myself up over my poor performance, so it’s time to look toward Worlds! I’m incredibly excited to be playing with a new set as I think it will breed tons of creativity and reward some of the best players for reading the relatively unpredictable metagame that occurs when you mix players from all over the world. I’ll be talking a lot in this article about the decks that I’m currently considering bringing to San Francisco as I’m sure that’s what most of you are interested in.
However, before that, I want to touch on the Zygarde/Vileplume deck that Christopher Schemanske and I played for Nationals, along with the rest of the Michigan crew. Christopher did a great job chronicling our Nationals journey and how we ended up choosing the deck in his last article, so be sure to check that out. The part of that process that I would like to further explain is how we tweaked a netdecked list into a something we felt comfortable bringing to a tournament as big as Nationals. I think this is valuable information that can be applied for future events (such as Worlds), so let’s get right to it!
On Perfecting the Netdeck
The first time I heard of Zygarde/Vileplume was at breakfast the morning after the Origins Win-a-Trip tournament. Sean Foisy was reading off results from the Japanese Mega Battle tournament and I instantly scoffed at the idea. Sean was not so quick to write it off; he had tried to perfect a Fighting Toolbox type of deck during the week and it was only because of my insistence that Night March would always emerge victorious that we stopped testing it. The deck later bubbled out of Chilean Nationals which garnered the concept even more attention, but I was still skeptical. It was only when Christopher built the deck on a whim and it started beating strong contenders like Rayquaza, Night March, and Waterbox that I finally believed the deck could be legit.
For reference, here’s the list that we started our testing with (a carbon copy of the one that was played in both Chile and Japan):
Surprisingly, this list isn’t actually too far off from our final iteration. Japanese deck construction often gets a bad rap for questionable inclusions and inconsistency but after playing with this list, it was obvious that a lot of thought went into the design. Our multifaceted approach to modding this stock list is detailed below.
Get a Feel for the List
It took us a while to start questioning individual cards in the original list as we spent most of the first day with it trying to gauge whether or not Zygarde/Vileplume was even a viable deck at all. In hindsight, I think this was the best route we could have taken. Since we were just working with what little information we had, we started to notice which cards we wanted to see more often and which ones were dead weight.
To do this, we played every matchup we thought would be either prevalent or troublesome. This gave us the best feel for which cards we really needed and which were nonessential. I mention playing against your bad matchups as well as popular ones because in a large tournament, every matchup counts. So many different decks will see play and if you discover that a 1-card tech significantly tilts one of your bad matchups, it may be worth including.
Identify Especially Strong & Weak Cards
Carbink was quickly realized as the glue that holds the deck together. Safeguard is an inherently powerful Ability and in conjunction with Item lock, it becomes almost impossible for many decks to deal with. The Energy acceleration was almost considered just a plus but it too was found to be instrumental in keeping the deck running smoothly. Carbink was quickly bumped up to a 3-count and we constantly looked for space for a 3rd copy of the BREAK.
Pokémon Center Lady was the first easy cut in the deck. While healing off the damage that your opponent painstakingly places on an EX-immune Carbink seems strong, adding a 3rd copy of Carbink was just as good. As far as dealing with a heavily damaged Zygarde, we found that you could instead use an AZ to pick it up, heal all damage, place it back on the Bench, and charge it up again with a Carbink BREAK. There were still good uses for Pokémon Center Lady, but AZ was far better in most situations.
Speaking of AZ, this card was quickly seen as one of the most important cards in the deck. It provided three distinct uses. The first and most impactful was to pick up a Zygarde-EX or other heavily damaged attacker as I described above. Providing pseudo-draw in conjunction with Shaymin-EX was the second use. This was especially valuable when you had just dug for a Vileplume the turn before and your hand was likely 1-2 cards at max. It also allowed you to draw a few cards without discarding or shuffling your hand away. The third use was to pick up Vileplume, either to get it out of the Active Spot or just to play down some crucial Item cards such as Fighting Fury Belt or Heavy Ball to find another attacker. As such, AZ was bumped up to a 4-of relatively early in our testing.
From here, we had to start questioning the cards in the list that we liked but were unlikely to provide enough impact over a 9+ round tournament like US Nationals. The first of those was Pal Pad. On first glance, Pal Pad is a hilariously bad card that we typically only use as a proxy for VS Seeker when we don’t have enough for all of the decks in our testing regimen. However, in a deck like this without VS Seeker, a Pal Pad can replenish your depleted supply of AZ and/or Lysandre when you need one in a pinch. This does only work when your Vileplume has been picked up by an AZ or Knocked Out, which is why we ended up cutting it. A 3rd Lysandre took its place as that was what we usually wanted Pal Pad to retrieve. Lysandre is especially important in the Waterbox matchup where you need to take out their non-EX attackers so Carbink can sweep the rest of their field.
Float Stone was the next card that we determined to be nice but unnecessary. Of course it’s a good card to have when you can throw it on a Gloom that’s about to evolve, and it helped when you had a bad starter, but it was just too hard to consistently find. Plus, with a full count of AZ, we didn’t miss it too often.
The last card that I had issue with in the list was the lone copy of Super Rod. Similarly to Pal Pad, you can only play it when your Vileplume leaves the field so I rarely found myself using it. When I did, I often didn’t want to shuffle in 3 Pokémon or Energy — usually just 1 Pokémon as to not clog up the deck and I wanted to keep the Energy in the discard to accelerate with Carbink BREAK. Sean noted that he liked having it to recycle Carbink BREAK, so I suggested adding the 3rd BREAK we wanted in the list instead of the Super Rod.
From here, we had a discussion on the merits of Revitalizer vs. Super Rod as it was determined that one would be cut for the 3rd BREAK. Since both can only be played when Vileplume leaves the field, I liked Revitalizer more as it helps to establish Item lock almost instantly. The argument for Super Rod was that it can be insurance against a bad early-game Sycamore but Revitalizer can do the same thing (albeit only for Vileplume pieces). In the end, I got the rest of my group to agree with my thinking.
Lay Out the List
This is actually something we like to do periodically throughout the process of perfecting a list but I especially advocate for it when you think the list is “done.” I’ve always felt that looking at physical cards is far better than looking at a typed-out list. Something feels more “real” about looking at a deck this way and makes you more immediately question poor deck construction.
At this point, we had considered the list a whole several times and were pretty happy with where we were. We made a few changes that I didn’t mention such as adding a 4th Professor Sycamore to up consistency as well as cutting a Level Ball since we usually didn’t need two. As a reminder, here’s the list we ended up on:
- +1 Carbink, +1 Carbink BREAK, +1 Jirachi XY67
- +1 Professor Sycamore, +1 AZ, +1 Lysandre
- -2 Pokémon Center Lady
- -1 Level Ball, -1 Pal Pad, -1 Float Stone, -1 Super Rod
I think the list we ended up with was nearly perfect for the tournament. Another copy of the non-EX Zygarde could have come in handy in some situations and a thicker Vileplume line would have also been nice as insurance against bad Prizes, but space is too tight to fit everything you want.
Even though the list was very solid, I’m unsure that the deck was the correct call. Many matchups were slightly in our favor, but there was no deck that we could sit down against and feel like we would be in complete control. I’ve spoken about this before and have fallen into this trap myself on numerous occasions. With the amount of variance in this game, I think it might be better to try to aim for a good read on the metagame and a risky deck choice in most situations.
Anyway, enough about Nationals. Let’s look forward to Worlds!
Early Favorites for Worlds
I’ve been very busy with my move to Georgia and haven’t had enough time yet to test out all of my ideas for Worlds. Also, until this past weekend, we didn’t know the exact set list for Steam Siege so I didn’t want to do much more than theory-craft some decklists and think about potential formats. Now that we know Karen won’t be in the set and that Night March will be the deck to beat, I’m going to buckle down and really put these lists to the test. Here are the lists that I’m considering the most for Worlds:
Pokémon – 27
Trainers – 26
Energy – 7
Vespiquen/Vileplume is a deck that I can never really settle on a list for. I started with the version that I played at State Championships this year but decided to scale down the focus on alternate attackers. We had a similar list put together to test for Nationals with 2 Jolteon, but the addition of Pokémon Ranger into the format makes Jolteon slightly less oppressive. I still think it can shut an opponent out of a game when combined with Item lock though, so I kept a copy in the list.
After witnessing Fred Hoban’s great run at US Nationals, I’ve started to see the merit of Lysandre in this deck. When I played Vespiquen/Vileplume before, I noticed that several situations came up where I wanted to deal with a threat on my opponent’s Bench such as a Jirachi XY67 or a Giratina-EX. While dropping some of your consistency cards to include the Lysandre does make the deck slightly less likely to set up a turn 1 Vileplume, I think the sustainability that it brings is worth the tradeoff.
One thing that I can’t understand is why people aren’t including basic Energy in their Vespiquen/Vileplume decks. It gives you a better out to retreat a bad starter like Oddish, Shaymin-EX, or Unown than wasting a Double Colorless and also allows you to use your secondary attackers like Bunnelby or a Jirachi XY67 that you could include as well.
The main reason I included basic Energy in the first version of this list was to combat Giratina-EX’s Chaos Wheel. Pokémon Ranger has mostly mitigated the effect of that lock but I think it is too difficult to find under Item lock. Although I don’t think Giratina will be very popular at Worlds, it’s nice to have a viable out in the off chance that you play against one. You never know what to expect at Worlds.
As I’ve alluded to, there are a lot of other options that you can include in this deck. Jirachi XY67 is a great option to use when a game gets out of control, especially when your field gets cleared of Vespiquen. Revitalizer and Special Charge can both recharge your resources in a pinch, and a 3rd copy of AZ might be necessary to actually use those. I’ve really enjoyed having extra copies of AZ in my Zygarde/Vileplume list, so a 3rd AZ might even be nice to have without those Item cards.
This is a list that is incredibly difficult to perfect so I implore you to try all of these options if you’re considering it for Worlds.
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 30
Energy – 10
This is an admittedly crazy idea that I’ve been cooking up for the past few days. I’ve been looking for a way to break Ninja Boy so I first looked to the decks that utilized Swoop! Teleporter back around 2005. However, the format right now is too fast to utilize set-up Pokémon like Jirachi DX which was commonly used back then. Instead, I thought about the opposite: big EXs that are typically too hard to set up but can counter certain decks when played at exactly the right time. With the help of Vileplume’s Irritating Pollen and Ninja Boy, I think this deck gives you the time to set up those Pokémon and the options to counter most decks.
Night March is of course the biggest threat so this list has several options to deal with it. Although Pokémon Ranger counters both Jolteon and Giratina, I don’t think that a typical Night March list would be able to deal with 2 of these threats in the same game. They would need to get 9 Night March Pokémon in the discard, find a Pokémon Ranger, use a Hex Maniac, and recover the Pokémon Ranger (as it is likely a 1-of) all under Item lock. If you find this situation occurring regularly, another copy of N may be able to combat that.
Glaceon is included as I think Vespiquen will be a major player at Worlds, both in Vespiquen/Vileplume as well as Night March lists. The latter matchup is where I think this deck really shines, as you can flawlessly switch between Jolteon and Glaceon depending on which attacker your opponent is using. Having both Jolteon and Glaceon gives you outs to almost every matchup, something that is very useful for an unpredictable tournament like Worlds.
The last deck I’m worried about for Worlds is Trevenant as it is a pretty hard counter to Night March. Ninja Boy gives you a pretty solid option to find Yveltal-EX even under Item lock, and you typically win the matchup with almost attacker if you get a T1 Vileplume. Adding some more D Energy could be important as you otherwise have some difficulty finding Energy if you never get a chance to play Item cards.
This deck is definitely a work in progress. I see some promise in it but it needs to be fine-tuned. Specifically, the Supporter line and the Energy counts are suspect. I really want more basic Energy but I’m afraid that will clog up my hands when I’m trying to find Vileplume pieces. I also think that this deck may need more sustainability instead of speed, so swapping out some Item-based draw for Supporter-based draw could be necessary. Right now, I’m not sure that this deck would be suitable to bring to Worlds but I think it’s worth testing out.
Pokémon – 17
Trainers – 36
Energy – 7
Mega Rayquaza is one deck that I’ve been contemplating as a counter to the Night March counters, namely Vespiquen/Vileplume. It would also be a strong counter to Waterbox if it continues to see play (which I don’t expect due to Night March lists including Vespiquen and Pokémon Ranger).
This list is a combination of the Rayquaza list I played back in Cities and the one that Connor Finton played at State Championships. Jolteon was an easy cut. I don’t think it has ever been a strong counter to Night March without pairing it with Vileplume and most other decks are positive matchups for Rayquaza anyway. Instead, I decided to focus on Metal Pokémon. Heatran is a perfect counter to Regice, one of the only good counters to Rayquaza in the format. Even with a Fighting Fury Belt attached, Heatran takes down Regice in one shot. Aegislash is a pretty poor wall with Hex Maniac in the format, but it’s a logical inclusion with M Energy and could come in handy in a pinch.
This deck has been around for a while now so I won’t dwell on it for too long. You can check out my article from Cities or this article from Ryan Sabelhaus to read up a bit on the deck. I won’t disagree that this would be an incredibly risky play, and might only be something to keep in your back pocket in case the metagame shifts favorably for the second day. However, some of the best performing decks in Pokémon have been incredibly risky plays. Remember when Virizion/Genesect won Worlds in 2014 after US Nationals was overrun with Pyroar? Or when Klinklang won US Nationals in 2012 even though a single copy of Lost Remover could derail the entire deck? If you have the guts, Rayquaza might be the deck for you.
Three Tips for the Night March Mirror
As Night March is becoming more and more prevalent, it’s important to think about how to play the mirror match. I’ve played Vespiquen and Night March for a considerable amount of this past season, and because I usually play the same deck as most of my teammates, I’ve had to learn how to play non-EX deck mirror matches. From what I’ve found, there is one key to winning the matchup: focusing on Pokémon-EX. In these decks, the only Pokémon-EX that is usually played is Shaymin-EX. So, here are three important tips to keep in mind in relation to Shaymin.
1. Blow the Whistle
Target Whistle is the most important card in the Night March mirror. I’ve been incredibly surprised to see several lists from Nationals that do not include it. Even against other decks, Target Whistle is instrumental to keeping the Prize trade in your favor even if your opponent is able to gust up your Shaymin and/or keep their field from containing EXs. In many situations, it’s the only way to turn a game back into your favor after your opponent jumps out to a quick lead.
- The first is to use Puzzle of Time to retrieve your Shaymin-EX from the discard pile. This may seem like a waste of your valuable Puzzles, but if you conserve your DCE wisely you should have no problem with only having 6 in a game.
- The other is simply to keep your Bench full. As long as you don’t have a spot open on your Bench, your opponent can’t play Target Whistle. As long as you have at least 3 Night March Pokémon in your discard pile, you can 1HKO all of your opponent’s Night Marchers. Fighting Fury Belt does complicate things, but you get the picture. As such, you can fill your Bench with the rest of your Night Marchers and not be disadvantaged in the game.
Side note: The addition of Captivating Poké Puff to the format makes things a bit more complicated so you need to pay attention to which of these cards your opponent may play, if not both.
2. Reside on the Blue Side
Parallel City is the other tech that I like to use in my Night March lists to keep the non-EX trade in my favor. If I have to play any Shaymin-EX down, Parallel City helps to clear them from the field. Getting a Parallel City in play is very important for the mirror match as this makes it difficult for your opponent to activate their own. Sometimes, I’ll “waste” my copy just so my opponent can’t use theirs to discard their Shaymin. Delinquent may be a good tech to counter this situation. I have even included Dimension Valley in my Night March/Vespiquen list to give me an out to reverse the orientation of Parallel City.
3. Don’t. Drop. Shaymin.
The most basic idea that many people have difficulty with when playing this mirror is to not play your Shaymin down. Dropping a Shaymin, especially when you don’t really need to, is the worst thing you can do in this matchup. I would rather miss a beat at some points of this matchup than give my opponent an opportunity to take a huge lead. Most of the time, I only drop a Shaymin when I absolutely need to, or I’ve already jumped out to a big enough lead that I’m trying to cement. And when I do play a Shaymin, I have a plan to use Sky Return (hopefully against a Joltik) on that turn to keep it off the board. This also conserves your Double Colorless Energy which is also instrumental for the matchup.
This matchup is seemingly devoid of thought, but once you play it in high-level situations, you see that there are lots of subtle nuances that can make or break your games. Just don’t fall into the trap of playing on autopilot and keep these tips in mind.
That’s all I have for you today! Unfortunately, this format seems pretty stale. Even the addition of Steam Siege does little but to further accentuate the dominance of Night March. We’ve basically been playing with the same format since some European Nationals in mid-May and I can’t see too many decks that will be able to change that. Hopefully I’m surprised with something that someone comes up with at Worlds.
Speaking of which, as always, feel free to say hi and strike up a conversation if you see me in San Francisco! I got to talk to several people at Nationals who had feedback on my articles and I always love meeting subscribers and readers. Worlds is my favorite event of the year: between making new friends and spending quality time with others, it’s always a great time!
I’ll be back with you all after Worlds to recap the event and my own performance. Until then, good luck with your Worlds run or the start of the new season!
…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.