What’s up Underground readers! I’m happy to be back again with another article for you! Since my last article — “The Fantastic Mr. Frog” — two major tournaments, Fort Wayne Regionals and the London International Championship, have both occurred. I’m on the docket to discuss Dallas, the next upcoming major tournament, and I want to jump right in. After, I’d like to discuss a revelation I had during my time in London, and how I think it can help players in the game today. You’ll find an intergalactic flair to this article, which is no accident: another entry into my favorite thing of all time, Star Wars, has just released, and I am still one with the Force, the Force is with me.
Before I get started, I want to note something: one thing that you might find in this article is a lack of “new” decks or information. Truthfully, I don’t blame you for thinking this, and it is something that’s bound to occur when we’ve had the same format for what will be three major tournaments over such a large span (Athens Regionals, in January, will also be the same format, PRC–EVO). This is, I believe, the longest stretch of time where all major tournaments occur in the same format: when it is all said and done, it’ll have been over two months and four major tournaments — with only mild change — before we get a breath of fresh air. As a result, the format is extremely well defined at this point, with very few stones unturned (or maybe not!), meaning there probably won’t be too much in the way of bombshells. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, though: many of the best decks have been refined to perfection, which means that this is a time for individual player skill to shine. All of that said, I’ve granted you a seat on the Council, and I can see you’re striving for the rank of Master.
- Episode I: Where can you learn this power?
- Episode II: Only a Sith deals in absolutes.
- Episode III: Always two, there are: a master, and an apprentice.
- Episode IV: Guardian of peace and justice in the galaxy.
- Episode V: Destroy the Sith, you must.
- Episode VI: For my ally is the Format, and a powerful ally it is.
Episode I: Where can you learn this power?
“Not from a Jedi.”
Oh boy, where to begin? Before Fort Wayne, Aaron and Travis released a great two-part series, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the Darketype. Avoiding the temptation of the Dark Side was too much for our feeble format, and we’ve been thoroughly corrupted. The finals of Fort Wayne Regionals and the semi-finals of the International Championship were all occupied by the same deck: Yveltal/Garbodor. We really seem to be jumping from one extremely dominant deck to the next, though I guess we don’t have to look at spiders and pumpkins anymore. How can a deck be so popular, so countered, and still so good?
Brit did a great job in his last article discussing this more in depth, and I recommend you check out his musings on the topic. Unlike Anakin, I think a lot of players did underestimate this deck’s power — I know I did! After its victory in Orlando, I assumed it was the BDIF. After its victory in Fort Wayne, this view was reinforced. It wasn’t until the Top 8, and more specifically the Top 4 of London was revealed, that I truly grasped just how much better Yveltal/Garb is than every other deck. Yveltal simply has answers for everything, or isn’t stressed to find one. The worst part about this Dark Lord is that it has no trouble manipulating events to transpire as it foresees. Yveltal can win any kind of game any number of different ways with no serious stress to the operator. A game plan exists for every matchup, yet the Force will present improvised paths to victory, should you require.
In London, there was a large influx of counters: Jolteon was seen in high numbers, as well as Zebstrika (Alex Hill had an absolutely dominant record against the deck, going 8-1). Yet, once all the dust had settled, not a single hard counter to Yveltal made it into Top 8. Why is this? Well, the simple truth is is that while the counters may excel at beating Yveltal, more often than not they struggle with any other deck. Because the counters are generally specific in their requirements, they aren’t splashable, so you must either go all-in or neglect them entirely (where oh where is Dedenne!).
Over my weekend in London, I had the pleasure of meditating with some of the deck’s Masters, to learn their secrets. I didn’t learn anything profound that wasn’t readily apparent, but it was interesting to hear their take on why the deck could be so good, and why they were drawn to it so much. The deck is incredibly skill intensive, which is why there’s absolutely no surprise that the people doing well with it are likewise great players. I asked Michael Pramawat, London’s champion, what his favorite mirror match of all time was (keep in mind, he has been playing since the game’s beginning, I believe), and his response actually surprised me: PRC–EVO Yveltal/Garbodor.
Unlike some mirror matches, where obtaining the high ground can all but secure your victory, the only time an Yveltal mirror reaches its conclusion is when one player has drawn their sixth Prize (or gets both legs and their other arm chopped off). In I believe the first game of Jay Lesage and Tord Reklev’s semi-finals match, Jay has a commanding board state with two powered up Yveltal-EX, to what is Tord’s lone Yveltal BREAK (above a Fright Night). Tord N’s Jay to one, then uses Fright Night to KO one of the Yveltal, setting up the second for a KO on the following turn. Jay was lucky enough to draw a Shaymin off the N to one to bail himself out of it, but the point stands that Tord was thought to be completely out of this game before coming within inches of striking down his fellow Sith. This is but one example of why this match can swing back and forth at any moment, and is a great illustration for how close and intricate each game really is.
Episode II: Only a Sith deals in absolutes.
I’ve been trying to get a lot of reps in with Yveltal/Garb, both against random opponents, to get games in with the deck, and against top players, to learn from them. This is a deck that is actually quite skill based, and is not something I would take into a tournament simply because you’re seeing others do well with it. You should actually know the deck, as opposed to just having winning lists for it, and have ample quality experience in the mirror match, which you will absolutely face if you find yourself doing well. Here’s the list I’ve been toying around with so far:
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 36
Energy – 13
I have been discussing this deck at length with Jimmy Pendarvis, who won Fort Wayne with it. He was the one who shared this list with me, though he runs a 4/1 split on the birds. I still like the 3/2 split that Pramawat used, because I think you’ll realistically only use three of the EX in a game, and have a Super Rod to get a fourth, if needed. Further, I think Yveltal BKT is a huge part in why this deck is so strong against the field: Fright Night alone can do serious damage to certain decks, like those that rely on Spirit Links. Yveltal BKT might be one of the most powerful non-EX cards printed in recent memory, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of it.
Otherwise, the only changes you’ll see from this list are the inclusion of two Trainers’ Mail over the Escape Rope and Delinquent. I played some games with Pramawat’s winning list and was getting some pretty horrific hands, so I wanted to bump up the consistency a little, and wasn’t missing the other cards that much. The low count of two Trainers’ Mail is designed to smooth over the draws of the deck, as opposed to significantly boost it like higher counts would. The deck is naturally quite consistent as is, but sometimes it stumbles over itself because it’s too consistent. Delinquent and Rope, while nice, are not game-winning cards like Grunt or Hammers are. As a result, I feel like you can still win a vast majority of the games without them as you would with them. They are both quite powerful cards (Delinquent especially), and running them is still a great choice. This is mostly a preference thing.
As I mentioned earlier, you’ll notice the list isn’t really special in any way. That’s intentional: most of the best lists you’ll find for the decks you’re interested in are already out there, and if it ain’t broke, ya know? This is a blessing and a curse, because it puts creativity in deck building at odds with definitive results. I don’t personally see myself playing this deck unless I can get a lot more reps in with it, because I agree that its skill ceiling is quite high, and I don’t want to be caught off guard against more experienced players.
Episode III: Always two, there are: a master, and an apprentice.
This analogy doesn’t work too well, because Darkrai/Giratina came first and Yveltal second, but now Darkrai/Giratina can be viable again, so it’s back from the dead, but this doesn’t happen with regards to the Rule of Two, so … oh, whatever.
Leading up to Orlando, Darkrai/Giratina was the talk of the town among a lot of the game’s elite, and it showed up in force, the same list finishing with 3/8 spots for cut there. Since then, Yveltal has become more powerful than you can possibly imagine, and taken on a new apprentice: Darkrai/Giratina/Salamence. There, see, I did find a way to make the analogy work! Yes, Darkrai/Giratina has gained a new weapon in Salamence-EX, boosting what was once a close Volcanion matchup and helping against other EX-hungry decks. Before the order to exterminate all Fairy types had been given, Rainbow Road and Gardevoir helped keep the peace, which made things a little more difficult for a deck that relied on Dragons to boost their damage output. Now, Yveltal has crushed the Fairy plot to overthrow the format, and the Sith may once more rule the game.
Darkrai/Giratina/Salamence has an interesting matchup with Yveltal. While I definitely need to test this matchup more (take these as preliminary findings, as opposed to concrete data on the match), I don’t think it’s actually that bad for Darkrai/Giratina. This one is largely contingent on how many Yveltal BKT the Yveltal player has, and how much damage it/they can do before being dealt with. If the Yveltal split is 4/1 (EX/BKT), then Darkrai usually can get over the hump in a turn or two: it requires 6 Energy on board, but with Double Dragon and successful Max Elixir triggers, this is actually not as difficult to achieve as it sounds. Of course, Enhanced Hammer is a factor, but it definitely can be done. If the matchup is Darkrai-EX vs Yveltal-EX, then the apprentice may be able to overthrow its master: Darkrai does trade better, given that you only need two Energy on it, as opposed to the larger chunks that Yveltal requires.
Of course, tech Supporters and cards like Delinquent, Team Flare Grunt, Pokémon Center Lady, and Escape Rope all can have an effect on how this one goes, but generally speaking, I’d say it’s a little more in favor for Yveltal, though by no means unwinnable. Here’s what I’m working with so far:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 34
Energy – 13
This list is of course based off of the successful Orlando list, but also adapts what Yveltal/Garbodor has shown to be optimal. Center Lady replaces Olympia as the healing Supporter of choice, opting to lose the switching utility for better healing coverage against Yveltal BKT. A Grunt and Enhanced Hammer package provide you Energy disruption. The lack of a second Hammer may seem weaker as a counter to something like Jolteon, but Giratina obviously picks up the slack there by just negating their ability to attach at all. Escape Rope is quite good here because a lot of your guys are fatter, and you’ll need an additional way to move them around.
I think this deck is actually quite strong, and is the deck I’m currently feeling most comfortable with. The Yveltal matchup is a little unfavorable, sure, but I think it is quite strong everywhere else and definitely can beat Yveltal decks, should you face some. It might not go 8/9 on them as something like Vespiquen/Zebstrika would, but you can absolutely face a couple and come out on top.
Episode IV: Guardian of peace and justice in the galaxy.
“ … before the dark times, before the Empire.”
In London, I had the pleasure of going 1-3 drop with the same Greninja list that took a Top 8 and Top 16 spot, by Grafton Roll and Drew Kennett, the creator of that list. Before that, I finished 6-3 at Fort Wayne, with my own list, from my previous article. My mediocre performance at Fort Wayne, and abysmal one at London, finally broke my stubbornness. The upcoming release of the new Giratina promo, that shuts down the Abilities of Pokémon BREAK, is the nail in the coffin for this deck anyway; while the deck can run Labs instead, the general consensus is that Giratina will hurt the deck tremendously, and that is all the reason I need to finally get away.
Before London, I was playing a list closer to the Gre“MI”nja deck that Alex and his friends had taken to Fort Wayne, the same one Alex was planning to play. However, the night before, Alex had switched off it to Vespiquen/Zebstrika, and I was drawing some pretty poor hands; Drew was kind enough to let me in on the secret, and with zero testing, I switched all the cards around and played it! I lost to Yveltal/Garb/Zebstrika, mirror (I had a decklist error so I lost g1), and got donked twice in the same game by Plumebox! Great tournament report, thanks for reading.
With that said, Greninja is still a solid pick for Dallas! Grafton and Drew’s performance proved that the deck can be altered, sometimes drastically, to take on the top dogs. The list was built around beating Yveltal/Garb, and can do so, provided you survive the first turn! I’ve taken to playing around with Drew’s list further, and here’s what I’m currently working with:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 32
Energy – 10
In reintroduction of Talonflame may be the biggest surprise. In my last article, I discussed how I felt Talonflame wasn’t that strong, but Drew had soldiered on, testing it and finding it to be of great value to defeat Yveltal/Garb. I admit that, at the time, I hadn’t really considered it to be a “counter” to that deck, in the conventional sense, and was wrong to do so. Drew had a really outside-the-box strategy for defeating Yveltal/Garb and the list had great success as a result.
The Monday immediately following London, while a group of us still remained, Drew and I discussed the merits of Seas over Faded Town. In my last article, I discussed how Faded Town was superior to Rough Seas because Rough Seas didn’t do a lot against Mega decks, where you were likely to be one-shot anyway. Now, Mega decks have all but fallen out of favor, because none of them can consistently beat Yveltal/Garb. Of the Mega decks that remain, only Mewtwo can’t be beaten without Faded Town. If Mewtwo/Garb does in fact make a surprising resurgence, well, I guess you just take the loss there and pray. Gardevoir is considered to be as near an autowin as Greninja can have, and Faded mostly solidified that, instead of assisting in any significant way; Ray can likewise be beaten by constant Stadium replacement/N/Stitching/Hammer plays. This is a list built to take on Yveltal/Garb, and Darkrai/Giratina, to a lesser extent.
I’m a huge fan of the 6/4 split on Energy, because Splash is so ridiculously good, and I love the constant recycling/healing that this deck can pull off (in fact, I love this aspect of any “Big Blue” style deck). In London, the deck packed a 7/3 split, but I’ve switched it back to 6/4. Enhanced Hammer is seeing a big spike in play, but a lot of times, the Splash goes back to your hand anyway, so it isn’t a problem. The right combination for the split varies from person to person, but playing with the GreMInja list has me partial to 6/4.
With the introduction of Seas, I’ve cut a Max Potion for a third Ultra Ball, hopefully to alleviate the stress on getting donked a bit. I’m not sure if I still want two Max Potion, and may cut one for a second Ace Trainer, a third Balloon, a fourth N, or a Delinquent. I’m not testing this deck as actively as I am other decks, because I’m trying to play something other than Greninja for a change, but I guess anything is possible, and the games I do play in the future will have me cycling between those cards to see if any fit better than the Max Potion.
One thing of note is that the release of the Giratina promo may relegate Greninja back down to tier 2 status, so Dallas could be the deck’s last hurrah. Sure, Silent Lab will probably become the Stadium of choice to handle the promo, but the fact that every single deck can splash in a hard counter to you, as well as their own natural Stadium counts, means that you will struggle greatly against things you may not have before. Have I ever told you the tragedy of Darth Greninja, the Wise?
Episode V: Destroy the Sith, you must.
“You were the chosen one …”
Vespiquen/Zebstrika turned out to be an exceptional call for London. If you haven’t seen Alex’s tournament report, I suggest you check it out (it’s free, and has a list!). Alex journeyed alone, to Cloud City, to defeat the Dark Lord of the Format. Since Luke fails in Episode V, it is convenient that Alex bubbled (though I am quite bummed for my friend!), for the sake of this analogy. In spite of this, I think Vespiquen can still have a place! I will say that I think the deck has about as many problems as it has things going for it, and choosing to play it basically necessitates you hit a lot of Yveltal. Yveltal will have a presence — a large one, no doubt — but this is deceptive. Say you have 30 people playing Yveltal/Garbodor at Dallas, but many of them are top players. Your chances of stealing cheap wins against bad opponents diminishes significantly, as you’ll face players who absolutely know how to beat you. This is illustrated with an anecdote from the weekend:
On Thursday night, Alex asked to play a set against Yveltal/Garb, so he could stress test Vespiquen. I agreed to play against him, and fairly quickly, I found myself in a position where I didn’t know what to do. After a solid few minutes of just staring at my hand, I conceded, confident that there was just nothing Yveltal could do against a harem of Zebstrika. The next day, Alex faced Azul, when they were both 5-0, I believe. Azul took it down to the wire of game 3, with Alex hitting a Lysandre he needed off a low N. After the match, I asked Azul how on earth he had managed to come so close to handing Alex his first loss, and he responded by saying that an Yveltal player “sometimes just has to know when to pass.”
I didn’t press further, because other people showed up and I was distracted, but this cryptic statement says a lot more about how the match goes than a lot of what he could have said to describe the actual match they had: the best Yveltal players can find a way to win, even against a supposed autoloss. I can’t attest to the physical state of the match that occurred (draws, etc.), so it could be an outlier. Alex going 8/9 against Yveltal is proof that 3-3 Zebstrika is enough to take down Yveltal, but again, he was confident that he’d face quite a few on the weekend and have a majority of his wins come from that single matchup. All I’m trying to say here is that I wouldn’t expect to have the same kind of fortune that he had, and I wouldn’t count on a bunch of chump wins to drive your tournament performance. Vespiquen does struggle in other areas, so it’s definitely a gamble.
If you’re feeling lucky, here’s the list I’ve been playing games with:
Pokémon – 27
Trainers – 29
Energy – 4
Obviously, this is based off Alex’s list, with just two changes. For starters, I swapped the Ranger for Teammates. This may seem strange, given that I just talked about a Giratina deck two decks ago, but I don’t think a lone Ranger is enough to beat Giratina. You’d have to use it repeatedly, while remaining set up against a Garbodor deck. I prefer taking the old-school approach, of just hoping to dodge Giratina, or trusting in the Force and hoping something good comes of it. Ranger is effective against something like Glaceon, where realistically you’ll only need to use it once, maybe twice, if you’ve got time to set up further (as Glaceon doesn’t one-shot your Vespiquen, and you can tag between them to stall). Against Giratina, it’s do or die, every turn, and I just don’t think Ranger is good enough.
The second change I made was dropping the third Float Stone for a second Forest. Aside from the gimmick of donking something during a run-hot first turn, the second Forest can help against Parallel, which both hurts Vespiquen a lot and isn’t going anywhere. The second Forest can also be useful much later in the game, where you’re out of Combee but need to get an attack off that same turn. As Garbodor is only really useful in a single matchup (Greninja), cutting down to two Float Stone seemed like an acceptable number that is still attainable with such heavy draw.
I am wary of this deck, for two reasons: the first is that the proverbial escape pod has been jettisoned, and the deck is no longer a surprise. A lot of players, both in London and through talking, told me they either liked the deck a lot, were thinking about playing it, or had a list whipped up. When a group of four or five guys showed up to hang out on Thursday while Alex was testing the deck, at least three of them remarked that they had been thinking about the same deck. The second reason is that I think the deck’s struggles overall make it a weaker choice. Its matchup against Volcanion is abysmal, a possible resurgence of Darkrai/Giratina can spell disaster, and the general awareness of the player base to this one-trick pony means you may not score as many cheap wins based on the strength of the deck alone.
That said, the deck is that strong against Yveltal, so if you’re that sure Yveltal will be that popular, then by all means.
Episode VI: For my ally is the Format, and a powerful ally it is.
“Its energy surrounds us, and binds us.”
After bowing out of yet another tourney with a middling performance this season, I walked around outside of the convention hall by myself for a bit, reflecting on my emotions towards the game. I questioned whether or not I had the same fire I had a few seasons ago, to compete and quest for an invite, but also to be the best, and even contemplated quitting. Later that day, I had a long chat with my good friend Jimmy McClure, who was likewise having similar thoughts.
Two seasons ago, both McClure and I had found a good amount of success (him more so than I), and were both now sitting out in the cold, in London. I wondered what had happened, why we had fallen off. He commented to me about player rust, but also that the problem was more mental than physical. Our powers were strong in the game, yet we weren’t putting in the effort. For me, at least, when I was having a strong season in 2015, it was because I was quite immersed in the game. I was playing Pokémon almost daily, if not just for a few matches. I wasn’t necessarily testing, but I would get reps in with whatever deck.
In 2016, I was extremely disenfranchised with the game, and spent almost no time at all playing Pokémon, except for Nationals, because I saw money was on the line; I tested a lot and managed to make it into Day 2, which is what I set out to do. This season, I’ve done testing, more than last year, but definitely less than my levels in 2015. I would attribute my poor performances strictly to this. I tested the game more by necessity than by desire. In order to have success in the game, especially this season, I think you need to treat it seriously, like a job, or a competitive sport. This comes off as common sense, but was a bit of a wake-up call to me. Success in seasons past will not necessarily guarantee you success in this one; this is true for every season, but with such huge prizes on the line, it rings more true than ever. Rumors are starting to circulate about some grand plans for Worlds this year, and a lot of people, myself included, are in the hunt.
There is an illusion that some of the top players don’t test much, and rely on the raw skill they’ve accumulated over the years, when this is simply not the case. In London, I observed multiple examples of top players requesting to play games against X deck, because they wanted to test against it — these were players who I had not suspected of testing all too much, or at the very least doing it as I had been, by necessity. Even those who routinely place highly in tournaments still treat each major event quite seriously: they may joke about how they never test, but they do so, often and actively, to make sure they’re as prepared as ever. This was something I used to do as well, and I think I’ve regressed a bit as a result of not keeping up with it. If they do it, why can’t you?
. . .
Well, that’s all I’ve got for this one! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and as always, let me know your thoughts, questions, or concerns! I’ll be in Dallas, hoping to break this rut of poor performances I’ve fallen into, so feel free to come say hi! Also, if there’s a single thing you take away from this article, it’s this: go see Rogue One, if you haven’t already! Seriously. It’s a new Star Wars movie in theaters. See you all soon, and may the Force be with you!
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