Hey guys! It’s so great to be here again writing for SixPrizes. The season is up and running now at full speed, with Regionals in both the Expanded and Standard formats already having passed us by. Personally, I am sitting at a modest 27 CP after underperforming in Phoenix and skipping out on Orlando to save money. Nonetheless, I have Philadelphia in my sights and I’m ready to push on and give it all I’ve got.
Halloween is just around the corner, so it seems almost fitting that one of the most talked about cards in recent weeks is Karen: an Elite Four Trainer of all Pokémon considered dark or demonic — who, as it turns out, is expected to be the saving grace against a deck composed of pumpkins, spiders, and lanterns. Who would have thought?
So in this article, I will begin by touching upon my personal opinion of Karen, how to efficiently utilize her, and some overarching advice when considering the inclusion of any such tech card. Then, I’ll provide lists for three of my favorite Expanded decks that I plan on taking to Philadelphia Regionals in just over a week’s time!
Note: For the duration of this article, I will be using the shorthand expression “NM/Vespi”. This will act as a blanket term referring to any deck in Expanded whose primary strategy relies on having Pokémon in the discard pile, Night March and Vespiquen variants of course being the most common.
Back in August of 2013, I had a really “interesting” premonition of sorts:
By now, we are all happily aware of what this unique Supporter — given to us arbitrarily in the middle of the season — is capable of. We first saw her leaked in May, begged for her to be released in Steam Siege for use in the most recent World Championships, and now the time has finally come: Philadelphia Regionals will be the first premier event where both Karen and NM/Vespi will be legal. “What’s going to happen?” I’ve heard many mixed reviews from notable players. Some say literally nothing will change, and others have already sold off their Joltiks and Lampents as bulk.
As for me, I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m not going to go so far as to say that Night March or Vespiquen can no longer function as competitive decks, but the introduction of Karen has undoubtedly shifted the perception of the metagame mentally for many players. It’s the classic cyclical pattern:
- Karen exists
- NM/Vespi becomes worse and isn’t played as much
- NM/Vespi isn’t played as much
- No one “needs” to play Karen
- No one plays Karen
- NM/Vespi is just as good as before
What’s important is that she is exists, and that alone is enough in my opinion to healthily diversify the format.
How to Utilize Her
As expected, simply playing Karen as your Supporter card for the turn does not immediately prompt an opponent playing NM/Vespi to concede. It is far from that simple. The experienced NM/Vespi player will without a doubt have been expecting that play, already built their deck in preparation for it, and — before your turn is even over — be thinking of the appropriate plan of retaliation to win the game. Do not underestimate a competitive NM/Vespi player.
If you so choose to play Karen in your deck, you need to make sure of at least two things:
- You have included a follow-up strategy or added additional cards in your deck specifically intended to continue punishing NM/Vespi.
- Your own deck is receiving benefit from Karen, and any subsequent disruption you cause your opponent is merely an added bonus.
Allow me to explain. The easiest example to my first point is Item lock. If you’re able to prevent your opponent from playing Battle Compressor after you play Karen, you should be in business. Before, NM/Vespi players had the opportunity to set up entirely on their first turn (if they won the coin flip). Any turn 1 Quaking Punch, Forest’s Curse, or Irritating Pollen that you could have forced upon them is a lot less bothersome when they’ve already placed 8+ Pokémon in their discard pile before you’ve even drawn a card. Now, we have the opportunity to immediately rewind any successful turn they’ve had and follow up with an endless bout of Item lock, leaving their Battle Compressors unplayable.
(It should be noted that thanks to this, I truly believe that Vileplume/Vespiquen is 100% dead, as their primary strategy of getting a T1–2 Vileplume in play becomes suicide if their opponent then simply plays Karen.)
Other examples may include any form of disruption such as Ability lock (Garbodor BKP/Wobbuffet GEN/Silent Lab), Energy denial (Giratina-EX AOR/Enhanced Hammer), or hand disruption (Ghetsis or Delinquent played on a previous turn). Ultimately, Karen thrives and has the greatest chance of success when you make it as hard as possible for the NM/Vespi player to return a KO. For instance, with a Garbodor BKP in play after you Karen, your opponent no longer has access to Shaymin-EX, Unown AOR, or Klefki STS — all of which make it easier for them to immediately replenish the Pokémon in their discard pile. The key is to do anything that will buy yourself crucial turns of receiving little to no damage that can then shift the Prize exchange into your favor.
My second point touches on a topic that I have found quintessentially important in my 11 years of playing the Pokémon TCG: when you’re including a card in your deck with the intent to counter another, make sure that it’s more than just a one-trick pony. In other words: your deck will fundamentally operate better if each card included has a variety of uses outside of the one originally intended.
A perfect example of this would be the inclusion of Karen in a Rainbow Road deck (which I will post a list for later in the article). The constant threat of having your Sky Field replaced by another Stadium — the worst being Parallel City — means that you’re going to be often discarding the very Pokémon you need to increase the damage output of Xerneas’s Rainbow Force attack. In this case, Karen acts a Supporter that you would want to play already against any matchup. If you just so happen to be playing against NM/Vespi and they shuffle 10 or so if their own Pokémon into their deck, you’re not complaining. Thus it has served dual purposes.
Another fun trick that I’ve found is if you happen to flip tails on all eligible Rebirths in your discard pile, you can Karen the Ho-Ohs (and everything else) back into your deck, play a Battle Compressor to place them back into the discard pile, and simply attempt them all again! Now, this is a somewhat far-reaching play, and some players may vouch that a single copy of Sacred Ash is all that is necessary for recovery and there are other ways to handle the NM/Vespi matchup, etc.
The Big Picture
That’s all beside the point. Karen is just a vehicle to explain the bigger point I’m trying to make here, which is that a single copy of a card cannot handle the task of defeating a tough matchup on its own 95% of the time. So to justify a tech, make sure it can do more for you than originally intended even against multiple matchups. If not, the space in your deck may be better utilized on something else.
Allow me to step back for a moment and talk about a comment I made earlier: “What’s important is that she exists.” This means that the threat of Karen alone should hypothetically deter a great number of less confident NM/Vespi players to abandon the deck altogether. With these decreased numbers, I encourage you all to revisit your favorite Expanded decks that you’ve abandoned because of a poor NM/Vespi matchup. You might be surprised to find that your matchups against the rest of the metagame are surprisingly in your favor! The most apparent example of this is Virizion/Genesect, a deck capable of pulling off stunning upsets against Yveltal-EX, Seismitoad-EX variants, and Greninja — but deemed too slow and unfavorable against a deck that can attack for 180 damage by their second turn.
Decks for Philadelphia
I could go on and on about theoretical situations regarding Karen and her impact on the format, but to tell you the truth, I have no idea what will really happen until we see the results from Philadelphia. So now, I’d like to dig into some of my favorite choices for the tournament. I will approach each of these decklists with a slightly different analysis than usual. Instead of providing the same general information for each, I will focus on what I find to be the most interesting and noteworthy parts of each deck!
Note that even though some of these decks don’t contain Karen themselves, they are still taking into consideration her influence on the format and adjusted accordingly. Any omission is due to my second point from above about not providing great enough of an additional benefit.
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 36
Energy – 12
Yveltal is by far one of the most trustworthy and consistent decks of the Expanded format and has been for many years. Considering the hundreds of games I’ve played with it online, I absolutely would have played this deck in Phoenix if it weren’t for Travis Nunlist making a very convincing argument for Greninja just a week or so prior — in which case Philadelphia Regionals might just be the chance I was looking for.
What I love the most about my Yveltal build is that I feel I have some sort of unique answer to just about everything, and every single game I play unfolds just a bit differently. This is far from linear and it’s wonderful. In only 60 cards, you have:
- High Damage Output — Evil Ball, Dark Pulse
- Bench Damage — Night Spear, Pitch-Black Spear
- Energy Acceleration — Oblivion Wing, Dark Patch, Max Elixir
- Ease of Mobility — Dark Cloak
- Hand Disruption — Ghetsis, Delinquent
- Ability Lock — Silent Lab
- Tool Disruption — Fright Night
- Weakness Coverage — Yveltal is Resistant to Darkrai’s Weakness
The combination of each of these facets becomes an unstoppable force when your cards are played just right and resources are preciously and thoughtfully preserved until the perfect moment.
The First Turn
Given the opportunity, I will often risk going for the turn 1 Ghetsis so long as I am comfortable with how my following turn can play out (e.g., if I have an N or Sycamore). I have found this to be notably detrimental for nearly every deck and not just those that depend on a “turbo” Item engine. That coupled with a modest Energy attachment is all I could ask for on my first turn. Some players I notice will behave a little too aggressively, burning through several Trainers’ Mail, Max Elixir, and Dark Patch on the first turn. Although this might look a bit intimidating to your opponent, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable by committing too early to a strategy that they could then work around. I like to play Yveltal more reactionarily, waiting until the threats present themselves and then following up with an answer. There’s nothing that makes me happier than late game still having access to 3 Dark Patch remaining in my deck with only a few Prizes left for the taking.
There are so many crucial and interesting plays that can be made simply by turning off your opponent’s access to Tools. From locking something Active that depends on a Float Stone, rendering Fighting Fury Belts irrelevant, and preventing proper Mega Evolution, this card has my heart. And that’s not even the best part! Pitch-Black Spear is an insane attack that will win you many games on its own, which is why three copies of this card have been included here. For instance, a common way for me to defeat Night March with this deck is to Knock Out their Active Joltik or Pumpkaboo and place 60 onto a Benched Shaymin. Then, on the following turn (with a different Yveltal BKT), I can easily do the same thing again, only this time the Shaymin will be Knocked Out. That’s 4 Prizes over the course of two turns, while they will have only taken two in that time — an amazing Prize exchange for the Yveltal player.
We all dream of reducing our opponent’s hand size to zero with a clutch Delinquent play. But it’s actually a lot more exciting of a Supporter card outside of that small window of opportunity. Even if your opponent has 4, 5, or even 6 cards in their hand, discarding three of them isn’t an easy decision for them to make. This might mean that instead of being able to play an Ultra Ball, attach an Energy, and disrupt you in any way before playing their Supporter for the turn, they can only keep their most essential cards, thus saving you some trouble and keeping the tempo of the game in your favor. Not to mention they’ll have to find another Stadium if it’s crucial for their strategy (e.g., Dimensional Valley for Night March or Trevenant)!
Maybe certain cards in the list aren’t right for you, and that’s fine! What makes Yveltal so great is being able to easily fluctuate between different techs and variations while maintaining a core consistency. Here are some ideas that I really like:
Arguably the best Supporter to play on the first turn outside of Ghetsis, Hex Maniac can greatly stifle your opponent’s set-up by preventing them from utilizing Shaymin-EX or Jirachi-EX. This Supporter also provides some much needed assistance against decks like Greninja, Eelektrik/Raikou, and Blastoise variants. You can also do fun stuff like shut off your own Fright Night in order to attack for more damage with a Fighting Fury Belt, or Pitch-Black Spear onto a Primal Groudon-EX through Mr. Mime’s Ability (although Silent Lab works just as well for those). If you think the metagame calls for a Hex Maniac, I say go for it.
This one is a bit more obscure, but acts as a pseudo-replacement for AZ that I think would be useful against Greninja, Accelgor, and mirror. If the surprise factor is something you cherish, it doesn’t get much better than this. Both cards can remove damage counters and Special Conditions, but with PCL you have the advantage of keeping your Energy at the cost of not being able to use it as a switching card or a way to pick up unwanted Shaymin-EX from the Bench. Try it out!
Again, the inclusion of these cards entirely depends on what you expect to see in high numbers. Neither one does anything to help your arguably worst matchups (Greninja, Eelektrik/Raikou, M Manectric-EX), but they are very very good against Night March and mirror.
There was a time when I used to play this card in here, but I have since cut it in favor of a 2nd Silent Lab due to its turn 1 disruption and added helpfulness against decks like Rainbow Road. However, Reverse Valley is very good at allowing you to 2HKO an opposing Yveltal BKT with your own or allowing Yveltal-EX to take KOs with one less Energy against Pokémon with an even amount of remaining HP.
It’s very tempting for me to include a copy of my favorite card ever printed, as I have seen many others do. Sableye is a very methodical card that rewards those who play it slow and focus on disruption. If you think you can afford a turn of not attacking, Junk Hunt is the best thing to be doing.
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 41
1 Life Dew
Energy – 6
Alright, you know I couldn’t stay off the topic of Sableye DEX for long, so here’s something that utilizes him perfectly. It’s no surprise that I have somewhat of an affinity for this concept after I was able to miraculously pilot the same one to Top 4 of the 2013 World Championships. So when I saw that TJ Traquair had made Top 8 at Phoenix Regionals with this deck, I wouldn’t stop asking him questions about it. I spent that following Monday taking notes and listening to just about any piece of information he could give me on the more current version of the deck. After all, myself like many others abandoned the concept altogether after the release of BREAKpoint and the meteoric rise of Trevenant.
greg-wright.tumblr.comBut things have changed! I’ll try not to make it all sound too confusing, but this deck is truly astounding. The strategy is the same as it was three years ago, but much more intricate and complicated: through repeated use of the same disruptive cards over and over, deplete your opponent of resources and lock them out of the game entirely. This has become much much easier with the release of Puzzle of Time. No longer do you have to predict what might happen on your opponent’s next turn when you use Junk Hunt. Now, literally 100% of the time when applicable, you will use Junk Hunt for two Puzzle of Time. Next turn you can simply react to what your opponent has done by grabbing whatever you’d like, including an unlimited stream of Life Dew or Stadiums. What’s great is that no matter which deck you’re playing against, they all have very similar weak spots that Sableye/Garbodor can take advantage of (such as Benched Shaymins and a limited number of Energies).
What can make things complicated or even discouraging when playtesting the deck is that you will almost certainly go down by a few Prizes very early in the game. That’s entirely normal. Just continue disrupting, removing Energies, bringing up different Pokémon from the Bench, and using Junk Hunt. Eventually you should reach a turning point where your opponent starts spending a majority of their time just passing. During these grace periods, you begin to use Trick Shovel each turn to slowly deck your opponent out and win the game.
Let me now further explain how to defeat what appear to be the most unfavorable matchups:
Vs. Trevenant: This matchup was alleviated all thanks to the addition of one genius card: Latias-EX. Simply put, Latias cannot be touched so long as a Trevenant is Active and attacking thanks to its Bright Down Ability. So ideally you get into a situation where you have only the single Latias in play and prevent your opponent from producing anything offensively (and neither are you). The win condition for both players becomes the deck-out. If your opponent gets bored and decides to attack into the Latias with a Mewtwo-EX NXD or Wobbuffet GEN, then BOOM! You can play Items again for at least that turn and they’ve fallen for the trap. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.
Vs. Seismitoad: They play four Double Colorless Energy. You play two Team Flare Grunt and a Xerosic. The key to this matchup is by winning that exchange and making them miss a turn of using Quaking Punch. Luckily you’re guaranteed at least one turn of Items at the beginning of the game to set up, and outside of that you’ll be using Trubbish’s Garbage Collection to place a Team Flare Grunt back on top of your deck (as you won’t have access to VS Seeker). When you’re finally able to play Items, you can continue the usual strategy.
Vs. Vileplume: Against versions of Vileplume that operate similarly to Sam Hough’s Top 4 list from the most recent World Championships, your best friends become Hex Maniac and Enhanced Hammer. Considering their entire strategy relies on streaming a variety of attackers that utilize Special Energies, you should be able to run them out pretty easily. All you need to do is Hex Maniac until you can get a Float Stone on Garbodor, shutting off Vileplume indefinitely. But until then, the strategy of playing Hex + Enhanced, using two Puzzle of Time for Hex + Enhanced, Junk Hunting for two Puzzle of Time, and rinsing and repeating should work quite sufficiently.
Vs. Greninja: This one is surprisingly complicated for reasons you might not expect. The Giant Water Shurikens aren’t necessarily the problem, it’s Greninja being able to use Moonlight Slash for a 1HKO on Sableye while saving the Energy in their hand. TJ explained to me the best plan of attack, and it’s a crazy one. On the turn when your opponent has 2 Prize cards remaining, you must play N and have a Life Dew on your Active Sableye. Then when they draw, attach, Moonlight Slash, and return the Energy to their hand, they will be left with only three cards in hand (because they couldn’t take a Prize card). Then you must Delinquent their hand to zero and control what they’re about to topdeck with repeated Trick Shovels. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s something!
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 35
Energy – 10
I don’t have as much experience with this deck as I do with the other two I’ve already talked about, but I felt like it was worth mentioning because in my opinion it’s poised to be one of the most powerful decks in the Expanded format. I say that because it operates very similarly to Night March (by achieving a super quick turn 1 thanks to Battle Compressor), but doesn’t suffer at all from the introduction of Karen. I don’t want to go heavily into the strategy of the deck, as it’s fairly commonly understood by now: fill your Bench with different types of Pokémon and attack with Rainbow Force.
What I do like mentioning is how diverse you can be when choosing the different types of Pokémon that you play. Most lists I’ve seen play the same essential core, but rotate between two different types of basic Energy and respective attackers. For instance Brandon Cantu shared his list from Phoenix Regionals that played Aegislash-EX and Latios-EX ROS plus their respective basic Energies. All variants have their merits depending on what you’re expecting to play against the most.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the types and any possible inclusions that one could choose (the staples are bolded):
- Fairy: Xerneas BKT
- Darkness: Yveltal-EX, Umbreon-EX
- Metal: Jirachi-EX, Aegislash-EX, Jirachi XY67
- Dragon: Flygon-EX, Latios-EX ROS, Druddigon FLF
- Colorless: Shaymin-EX ROS
- Fighting: Gallade BKT, Carbink FCO 49
- Psychic: Hoopa-EX AOR
- Lightning: Jolteon-EX, Galvantula STS
- Water: Keldeo-EX
- Fire: Ho-Oh-EX DRX
- Grass: Exeggcute PLF, Shaymin-EX XY148, Galvantula STS
And that’s just a start! I’m certain that someone reading this article right now has an even more creative idea, which is great. Decks that reward creativity and diversity are destined to do well in my opinion.
Mike Fouchet summed up his last article in a way that I couldn’t have put better myself: the Pokémon Trading Card Game really is making amazing strides toward providing all competitors a more exciting and genuine tournament experience. The difference between the first National Championships I attended in 2007 and the one I attended in 2016 is unbelievable. I have enjoyed every moment of my last eleven years of playing this game and watching it grow.
I really hope that something you’ve read today will come in handy at your next big event. I am very humbled to think that in some small way I’ve influenced the future success of another aspiring player, as I often feel like my best days are behind me.
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