Darkness has fallen over the TCG, and its reign of terror is intensifying. There seems to be little light at the end of this tunnel. Welcome to a two-part article coordinated between me and Travis Nunlist, where I am going to tell you why we should all play one of the best archetypes in the game ever, and Travis will give you some answers to a field flooded with it. This article will also be having a Final Fantasy theme throughout given that darkness is a very fitting subject for it and my love for these games.
At Orlando Regionals, the Dark archetype flexed its muscles and demonstrated incredible strength that’s nearly impossible to deny. With Dark taking half of the Top 8 spots and three of the Top 4, the hour is approaching for competitors to either learn to counter Dark hard or embrace the darkness.
So all aboard — today we will be charting the Phantom Hype Train and learning about the three strongest ways to be successful with the Dark archetype for the fast-approaching Fort Wayne battleground.
Speciation of Shadows
In biology, speciation is the formation of new and distinct species in the course of evolution. Pokémon mimics this trend with an evolving metagame. In the Pokémon TCG, each new release introduces new “mutations” to how the game can be played, and large tournaments are the means of selection. Generally, if a deck does well, it will lead to more people adopting it, and the deck will be declared more fit overall. Vice versa, if a deck performs poorly, it will likely see less play unless it has the ability to thrive in a field full of the deck that performed well.
This concept of evolution in the card game not only supports the idea of Dark decks performing well in the future, but speciation can also be applied under this theory. The Dark archetype in the Pokémon TCG has reaped the rewards of near-constant beneficial mutations being introduced to the card pool since Dark Explorers. Cards like Dark Patch, Sableye DEX, Yveltal-EX, Zoroark BKT, Reverse Valley, and Yveltal BKT have kept Dark thriving in almost every meta since the dawn of Darkrai/Mewtwo in 2012. So many options for Dark have caused the deck to reach a point where it can be played in multiple ways, but the meta has reached a point that combining the different Dark decks together provides diminishing returns.
This is not to say there are no unexplored combinations for Dark, especially with the release of capable cards that could cause Dark’s reign to run even deeper, such as Mewtwo and Raticate from the new Evolutions set, but there are three decks amidst the Dark archetype that strongly catch my fancy for the upcoming selection bout. These decks in order are:
The latter two decks have solid lists available in my fellow Taylor enthusiast Bradley Curcio’s “Blank Space” article.
Pokémon – 15
Trainers – 32
Energy – 13
This deck is designed to deal with niches that the other Dark decks currently don’t address. This version chooses not to address Greninja by excluding Garbodor as well as some other pieces to make room for the large Zoroark line and both BREAKs.
1 Yveltal STS is included in order to have a chance to power up a Yveltal BKT to have access to Baleful Night after it evolves. It also acts as a cheap 1-Prize attacker that can finish off knockouts after imperfect math.
3 Yveltal BKT are included due to it providing the bulk of the early aggression and it being the main threat of the deck. Former 2-2 splits of Yveltal sometimes provided awkward positions where extra Pitch-Black Spears would finish off a game but both had been Knocked Out already.
Yveltal BREAK provides a one-attack win against Gyarados. The extra base damage is also helpful for Knocking Out Shaymin-EX when opponents manage to keep a low Bench, Knocking Out Greninja, and placing damage on Gardevoir STS more quickly.
The large Zoroark line is used to guarantee at least two Zoroark in a game and hopefully evolve into a Zoroark BREAK which can work wonders on things such as M Mewtwo-EX, M Gardevoir-EX, M Rayquaza-EX, M Scizor-EX, Octillery BKT, Jolteon-EX, Giratina-EX, and more.
I included no Mew FCO because it’s not very helpful in the M Mewtwo-EX matchup, but Mewtwo from Evolutions might be worth looking into due to it having enough HP to survive a Shatter Shot.
Dark’s Matchups / The Cloud of Darkness
Vs. The Dark Mirror (Chaos)
When darkness has demonstrated its strength and sits upon the throne, competition amidst the Dark itself results in chaos. Dark mirror matches have been claimed to be some of the most skillful mirrors in the history of the Pokémon TCG. This directly influences my preference of Yveltal/Zoroark over the other forms of Dark decks — which I haven’t tested against one another ad nauseum — because it nets a clear advantage over them with the introduction of Zoroark and both BREAK evolutions.
In the matchups against Darkrai/Giratina and Yveltal/Garbodor, Yveltal/Zoroark should attempt to end their first turn with a Yveltal BKT Active going first, or get a first-turn Pitch-Black Spear going second, which is pretty common with the deck and generally the preferable start. Yveltal/Zoroark should then attempt to build their board with Zoruas to punish bad or overly-aggressive starts by their opponents. This can eventually lead to the Zoroark BREAK using Chaos Wheel against Giratina-EX, a cheap Pitch-Black Spear, or Y Cyclone against Yveltal/Garbodor. Yveltal BREAK is worth powering up since it can Knock Out opposing Yveltal BKT by using Baleful Night with a Reverse Valley in play. The advantage in these two matchups does not come solely from the BREAKs, but also not having Garbodor pieces does add consistency. Being able to carry out the more aggressive strategy does make the matchups more favorable.
Out of the three Dark decks, Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor receives the shortest end of the metaphorical stick due to A) not being able to abuse Yveltal BKT, B) one of their best attackers requiring 4 Energy and be very susceptible to opposing Evil Balls, and C) the high Retreat Cost of Giratina being a liability. Even Darkrai/Giratina doesn’t have an auto-loss to the other Dark decks due to the potential of Darkrai to overwhelm and decimate slow starts.
Overall, the hierarchy of Dark amidst the three is Yveltal/Zoroark > Yveltal/Garbodor > Darkrai/Giratina, but this does not necessarily represent each deck’s strength against the rest of the field.
Techs for the Mirror
Mewtwo EVO might be a significant tech to consider due to being able to apply pressure to Yveltal BKT, Giratina-EX, and loaded-up Yveltal-EX without much setup (only a Double Colorless Energy to attack). Also, the combination of Team Flare Grunt or Raticate EVO and Enhanced Hammer, though uncommonly played in the Dark archetype, could be considered for the mirror match due to being able to strand Yveltal Active without them being able to attack, and can lower the damage output of almost any attacker in the deck other than Zoroark and Yveltal XY.
Vs. Vilebox (The Red Mage)
Whenever darkness arises there will be warriors that come forward to counter it and restore the light. From these various warriors, a common archetype is that of the Red Mage. This is a skilled warrior that possesses a myriad of abilities that can pose a threat to Dark, and there is currently no better resemblance of this in the meta than Vileplume box: a deck that uses many different types of Pokémon directly associated with countering different strategies combined with the overarching strength of Item lock.
Unfortunately for the Dark archetype as a whole, Vileplume has the potential to do insanely well due against it thanks to its newfound addition Beedrill-EX which can remove Tools from Garbodor, prevent Item lock from being lost, or reestablish Item lock for just 1 C Energy. The good news is that Vilebox is in no way an absolute answer for the Dark archetype — even with cards such as Beedrill-EX and Jolteon-EX.
Darkrai/Giratina can sometimes shut down the deck before it gets started by getting off an early attack with Giratina.
Yveltal/Garbodor can establish Garbotoxin, bring up Vileplume, and proceed to spread damage onto threats, including Jolteon-EX, with Pitch-Black Spear.
While these two Dark decks have volatile matchups against Vilebox, Yveltal/Zoroark is blessed with enough versatility to overcome the different threats.
Yveltal/Zoroark has a very favorable Vilebox matchup due to having answers to the situations that Vilebox can create. Zoroark abuses the fact that Vilebox is usually forced to overcommit its Bench to establish Item lock, and being an Evolution, it is a direct answer to Jolteon-EX. The BREAK can even mimic Jolteon’s Flash Ray and prevent damage from each of Vilebox’s attackers. The pressure that Zoroark puts on is augmented by the other attackers in your deck. Yveltal BKT can hit EXs on the Bench when Vileplume is stuck Active and Yveltal-EX has the potential to knock Glaceon-EX out in one hit.
This matchup is fairly reliant on what is able to be drawn under Item lock. Attempt to establish a board of several Zorua with 1 Yveltal BKT and 1 Yveltal-EX. Attack Jolteon-EX with Zoroark, Glaceon-EX with Yveltal-EX, and use Pitch-Black Spear when Vileplume is Active, assuming that Items are not necessary to staying in a game. Past this advice, the matchup can be touch-and-go and obviously scary to any of the Dark decks assuming they get no turns of Items.
In order, I would elect to play Yveltal/Zoroark > Yveltal/Garbodor > Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor in this matchup given the results of Orlando imply that Yveltal/Garbodor with 2 Enhanced Hammer tends to have an easier time with the matchup.
Vs. Volcanion (The Black Mage)
With the ability to summon large amounts of damage for a large amount of awkward resource investment, the Black Mage of the Warriors of Light does have a spot in the current metagame. Volcanion being a viable deck for Fort Wayne should not deter you from deciding to play Dark, though. Altogether the Volcanion matchup is quite volatile for most of the Dark decks, especially when the Black Mage is provided with Max Elixirs, but generally the darkness does have an edge over Volcanion with its various tools.
For the matchup, Garbodor definitely helps by forcing Volcanion to attack multiple times to take Prizes, which the deck is not well equipped to do, but Garbodor is not necessary for the Dark archetype to have a strong advantage over Volcanion. As seen in Azul’s Top 8 match in Orlando where he was playing Yveltal/Garbodor against Volcanion with heavy switching counts, he still managed to win, even when he was unable to set up Garbotoxin due to A) Yveltal BKT being able to target down multiple Volcanion-EX at once and B) having the ability to stick a non-attacking EX Active while doing so. Though the matchup seemed very tough but winnable for Azul even without Garbodor, the addition of Zoroark to the matchup is only helpful due to Volcanion having a hard time being able to mitigate its Bench size.
The Yveltal/Zoroark deck should work to get an early Pitch-Black Spear and set up multiple Zoroark to punish Volcanion from an early Scoundrel Ring that fills up their Bench. The matchup for Yveltal/Zoroark ends up being very reliant on how well the Volcanion draws and if they play Max Elixir, but even if the Volcanion deck does play Max Elixir, they still need to draw pretty well to keep up with Fright Night and recover from Zoroark Knocking Out the Volcanion-EX they end up attacking with.
Usually, the Volcanion archetype is unable to recover from early pressure from Yveltal/Zoroark, but missing a first- or second-turn attack can usually lose the game for Yveltal/Zoroark.
Both Darkrai/Giratina and Yveltal/Garbodor aren’t necessarily held to the same standards since Garbodor can provide some necessary relief from the pressure Volcanion is able to put on, but Volcanion can run hot enough to Lysandre a Garbodor and get rid of it the same turn it is placed down and not lose too much steam.
Volcanion is a solid matchup for each of the Dark decks listed with Yveltal/Garbodor > Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor > Yveltal/Zoroark. This is due to Fright Night being less detrimental to Volcanion than Garbodor, but both still doing wonders in the matchup.
If Volcanion was going to be the most-represented deck at Fort Wayne, Dark decks would be wise to consider playing Garbodor, Yveltal BKT, Hex Maniac, Zoroark, Fighting Fury Belt, Delinquent, and Rattata EVO is subsequent order. Each of these cards make the Volcanion matchup more favorable by themselves, but the overall goal of the deck should not be compromised when fitting in techs. Rattata seems solid for allowing Volcanion be 1-shot more easily with Darkrai and Yveltal, but again, each of these decks tends to rely on either A) Garbodor shutting off Abilities such as Rattata or B) Fright Night already shutting off Tools.
This mild warning should act as a way of bringing the idea of speciation of decks back to the forefront when considering tech options, but Volcanion seems to be positive enough with each version of Dark that there shouldn’t be too much need to tech for it.
Vs. Rayquaza (The Monk)
In every fantasy, there is that hard-headed, hard-hitting tough guy that tries to give the darkness the what-for, starts off with some sick stats, but then by the end gets shut down by almost every lackey of darkness. Rayquaza is the tough guy of the current Standard metagame. It got so much hype after rotation and then got hard-countered by every player and their mother.
Well, after its poor performance and the rising of some favorable matchups, this hulking behemoth is ready to see play again.
Parallel City, Garbodor, and Enhanced Hammer help net Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor and Yveltal/Garbodor very good matchups against Rayquaza, not to mention they each host attackers that are insanely good against Rayquaza too in the form of Giratina-EX and Yveltal BKT. Going into a tournament with Rayquaza can be scary for fear of these two decks, but perhaps the meta trending toward Gardevoir, Greninja, and Scizor allows Rayquaza to finally have the footing it needs to be a viable contender for the crown.
Yveltal/Zoroark does also combat Rayquaza, although it is not as favorable against it as the other two major Dark decks. Both Zoroark and Fright Night Yveltal do a number on Rayquaza due to Fright Night Yveltal slowing down Rayquaza by turning off Spirit Links, stranding Dragonite-EX or Hoopa-EX Active by disabling Float Stones, generally Knocking Out low-HP EXs, and placing enough damage on Rayquaza to put it in range of a Mind Jack knockout no matter how low of a Bench the Rayquaza deck attempts to maintain after trying to play around Zoroark.
This matchup plays very similarly to most of other matchups with an emphasis on an early Pitch-Black Spear and enough Zorua being benched early to provide a basis for several Zoroarks and hopefully a BREAK. If the match dictates, Foul Play can provide some unexpected knockouts for closing games, and Delinquent is a very real option for slowing Rayquaza down following a strong turn early if it can put the player down to no cards or 1 card in hand without any available Bench space in case of the last card being a Shaymin.
Cards and counts that could be considered in heavy Rayquaza metas are Parallel City, Silent Lab, Enhanced Hammer, Raticate EVO, Team Flare Grunt, Giratina-EX, and Yveltal BKT, but each of the three Dark decks discussed in this article are already thoroughly prepared to take an auto-win from Rayquaza (as much as they are to take an auto-loss from Gardevoir).
Vs. Rainbow Road (The Fighter)
The Fighter is only different from the Monk in semantics (and some late-game qualities that allow it to survive some of what the Dark throws at it). Rainbow Road is basically a Rayquaza deck that has a winnable Dark matchup. Xerneas is a Rayquaza designed to counter Dark, and it seems to be quite able to with the results of Dortmund Regionals showing Rainbow Road winning through a Top 8 with five Yveltal-based decks. Luckily, there is a way for chaos to smite the up-and-coming Fighter of this story.
Yveltal/Zoroark shines in having a much better Rainbow Road matchup than the other two Dark decks. Even though it doesn’t have the opportunity to Parallel City and set up Garbodor and prevent another Xerneas from getting set up, Zoroark does provide a way to return-KO a Xerneas with relatively low set-up, and being a non-EX, it only gives up a single Prize when it is inevitably return-KO’d itself.
Overall, Zoroarks and early Pitch-Black Spears are your go-to start with an emphasis on setting up Zoroarks in this matchup. Pitch-Black Spear snipe damage should for the most part be allocated to Shaymin to pick up cheap knockouts. EXs that could pose a threat late game such as Glaceon could also be targeted under certain conditions, but the goal with Pitch-Black Spear in this matchup is to take knockouts with snipe damage versus setting up damage for Zoroark.
Cards that could be considered for Dark decks attempting to curve their Rainbow Road matchups upwards would be Enhanced Hammer, Zoroark, Parallel City, Silent Lab, Delinquent, Team Flare Grunt, Jirachi, Fright Night, and Raticate.
Zoroark with Parallel City would provide diminishing results due to Rainbow Road usually not being put under enough pressure to have to fill their Bench past three due to having one dual type and two others which permits knockouts on Fright Night Yveltal. Energy removal would be super effective due to Rainbow Road not having access to Mega Turbo, and an Enhanced Hammer combined with Team Flare Grunt with a Fright Night Active can normally guarantee a turn of relief from being Knocked Out in one hit.
Vs. Greninja (The Ninja)
Out from the shadows comes the brooding antagonist that everyone loves and loves to hate. They pose a threat to Dark, but are they really going to change their old ways and become one of the good guys now? Nobody knows.
Greninja is one of the most inconsistent decks, but it has one of the strongest late-game strategies available in the Pokémon TCG. This coin-flip of being one of the worst but best decks in Standard right now make it a very scary play for Fort Wayne and very scary to play against. Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor as well as Yveltal/Garbodor have shown to be capable of beating Greninja with the aid of Garbotoxin.
However, Greninja recently gained a new tool to deal with Garbodor in the form of the the Greninja XY162 which can place 20 damage on the Garbodor prior to or following a Lysandre and full Moonlight Slash for the knockout to gain Abilities again.
For Yveltal/Zoroark, the outlook is bleak. Targeting down Froakies early, the opponent drawing terribly, or drawing insanely well and Hexing every turn following the introduction of Greninja BREAK being in play are really the only ways to reliably win this matchup. To give the Yveltal/Zoroark player the best chance, Froakies should be targeted down early with Pitch-Black Spear and Frogadier with Reverse Valley and Pitch-Black Spear. Mind Jack their Greninja following Water Duplicates, and Baleful Night/Evil Ball the last BREAKs when they have no Bench.
Techs for this matchup include Garbodor, Hex, Darkrai-EX BKP, Lysandre, Delinquent, and Olympia/Pokémon Center Lady. The latter two can work as ways to heal Garbodor or force an extra Giant Water Shuriken for a knockout.
Coming to a Consensus on Chaos
Standard Dark is insane. Dark is currently in a position where it has a ton of options to counter almost any deck and have a fighting chance against almost anything. Out of Dortmund and Orlando, Dark has taken 9/16 Top 8 placements, and it has been a contender since pre-rotation. Here are some vital takeaways involving the Dark archetype for Fort Wayne:
1. Yveltal/Zoroark is a competitor.
Overall, Zoroark is a solid addition to Yveltal. Having a non-EX with switching capabilities and an attack that can punish a large number of decks (and force opponents to play around it) (and give opponents the option to put themselves in worse positions by playing around it) is dandy. It also creates circumstances that benefit players more familiar with Zoroarks mechanics due to how difficult Zoroark can be to play around.
The addition of Zoroark does add favorable matchups against Vilebox and Rainbow Road at the cost of a little consistency while also giving an edge against other Dark decks.
2. Dark wins.
Dark has taken the the majority of Top 8 spots in the largest Standard tournaments recently, and it has both a field of favorable matchups as well as a target on its back. Due to the success of Dark recently, hard counters such as Gardevoir, Rainbow Road, and Vilebox are bound to be found in abundance in Fort Wayne, as well as the versions of Dark that have performed well as of late.
With the versatility of Dark, it would be beneficial for players both playing Dark and not to verse themselves with the lists that ended up in Top 8 (or even lower) to recognize what type of Dark decks they will be playing, and adjust accordingly. An obvious example would be seeing a Zorua and then responding by not playing an unnecessary Hoopa-EX to fill the Bench.
3. Dark is not perfect.
Not to suplex the Phantom Hype Train, but Dark decks are not unbeatable right now. Decks such as Gardevoir, Greninja, and Raichu/Bats are real threats to the Dark archetype’s dominance. Going into Fort Wayne, players need to weigh how much of a threat decks such as these can be to Dark’s reign and how many of the decks will perform well enough to see the later rounds of the tournament.
Taking one or two losses isn’t the end of the world though. Decks normally have somewhat of a hard counter in their respective formats to keep the game balanced. The issue is that Gardevoir is currently seeing a lot of hype online. Many people see hype as a meta ready to be played in.
4. There are specific methods of speciation.
For everyone interested in playing Dark and not an exact list they’ve found online, I do want to stress that Dark has many options for how to be played, but they don’t all go together. Someone can build Yveltal/Hammers, Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor, Yveltal/Zoroark, etc., but once they put a 1-1-1 line of Zoroark BREAK into a Darkrai/Giratina/Garbodor deck, they have gone too far. List changes don’t have to be drastic to matter. Small tweaks can make a big difference.
An example of would be putting a Mewtwo EVO into a Dark deck versus a 1-1 Garbodor line. The Mewtwo has significance in the M Mewtwo matchup and can be helpful all-around, but the 1-1 Garbodor line will probably be too inconsistent and not worth the space it takes up in the deck.
Half of the Story
Whenever chaos emerges, there will always be heroes that hope to strike it down and restore the light to its glory, but once darkness has befallen the land, no one knows quite how long it will take for the light to pierce through again.
This article has been written with the intention of being read with Travis Nunlist’s follow-up article (coming on Wednesday).
I have mentioned briefly ideas like Mega Gardevoir that are a bad matchup for any of the Dark decks listed here, but I have only scratched the surface of this idea along with several other counters to Dark that could be deterrents to competitors seeking to play it. Dark is a strong archetype that has been wonderfully successful. It has the potential to bring players to the top with appealing traits such as a skill-intensive mirror match, an abundance of solid matchups across the board, and options to make most any matchup more favorable with the right build.
With these qualities in Standard, I believe Dark will be able to maintain its rule over the metagame in Fort Wayne.
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