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.
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 Colorless 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.
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