What’s up, everyone! Last time I wrote for you, we were in the midst of what feels like the longest stretch of format we’ve ever had, but we seem to finally be over the hump. As my only articles for Underground have been about a format that has been discussed to death and one I personally did not enjoy, I thought I would look to the future, to bigger and brighter things. What things, too! Sun & Moon is just around the corner, with Anaheim giving us our first breath of fresh air, with regard to major tournaments. I personally love this new set, and think it will be looked back upon as a landmark set, much like Stormfront or Noble Victories. I’ve even started printing off proxies of the cards and testing decks over Skype with my good friend Xander Pero, who’ll make his Underground debut next month.
Some writers have already started exploring the Alola region, with Christopher’s most recent article being a great point of entry. Inside, he has a list for Primarina-GX/Palkia-EX, a deck without a complex strategy and one without any real “shine” that jumps out at you. Despite that, you’ll notice it’s a Stage 2 deck that doesn’t revolve around a ridiculously powerful base form and BREAK, which is the only reason Greninja has seen play, and is largely the only representative of the Stage 2 voting demographic (Vileplume should be considered as well, but it sees far less play, has had less success, and doesn’t do anything but sit there). All you do is try and flood the field with Energy and attack with Primarina-GX, which appears to be a rather lackluster card, at face value. I’m not doing a good job selling what could be a card with great potential, but that’s not really my point. I can’t quite pin down what enamors me so much about this Primarina concept, other than the fact that it’s something we haven’t seen in quite some time: Stage 2 Pokémon that see play not because they’re super overpowered and need to keep up with Basics, but simply because they’re just … solid. I don’t know if the deck is good at all; it may be a bust. Regardless, it is this idea that Evolutions are returning that has me so excited.
Like Primarina, the other Pokémon-GX are mostly just … alright. Few of them are game breaking to any serious degree. Sure, Decidueye appears to be quite strong and it is, but put into a future format (without the support of things like Shaymin-EX and Forest of Giant Plants), it is suddenly very average, no more or less powerful than the other Pokémon-GX, at face value. The ridiculous stats on some of the Pokémon-GX and the fact that many of the GX attacks seem absurdly strong ironically hides the fact that many of these cards are quite underpowered compared to what we’ve been fed the past few years, in my opinion. GX attacks are of course very skilled based, and the skill required in correctly utilizing them jumps tremendously when you start including multiple different GX in your deck (imagine the hypothetical Eeveelutions deck where every Eeveelution has a viable GX attack … oh boy.); using the wrong attack or using your attack at the wrong time can be just as costly as your opponent hitting you with a well-timed response. Further, the other attacks on the cards are either pathetically weak (relative to today’s game), or require ample setup, the opposite of which has been true for quite some time. Case in point: Cards like Primarina-GX and Darkrai-EX BKP have the same attack, though Primarina will match Darkrai’s output turns later, likely after having given up Prizes and investing serious effort in a deck constructed around this strategy; with Darkrai you just run a bunch of fast stuff and burn baby burn.
Let me sum up my incoherent babbling and get onto what you came here for: Pokémon-GX are very good, (currently) very well designed for the most part, and an extremely healthy step for the game. With that in mind and looking ahead to Anaheim, I want to get into a few decks I’ve been testing. Two of these decks will be primarily utilizing Sun & Moon and two of them are updated lists from format’s past: Vespiquen/Decidueye and Eeveelutions/Zoroark are our newcomers, while Turbo Dark and Mega Rayquaza are our veterans. As Sun & Moon won’t even be officially released for another week, the testing on the newer decks is more preliminary and the ideas are conceptual, as opposed to the concrete strategies that have molded the older decks. With that, I want to make the point that this is a great time to explore any cards you think are cool or have potential: Pokémon-GX are going to fundamentally change the game more than any mechanic I can think of since maybe the reintroduction of the EX mechanic, which means that there is a lot for us to explore. Let’s get started!
Pokémon – 27
Trainers – 27
Energy – 6
Many people look at Decidueye and envision themselves with a parliament of owls, and my brief testing has shown this to be more a pipe dream than anything. While Shiftry was capable of setting up a dozen throughout the (hopefully) brief games it played, Decidueye is nowhere near as efficient: the card pool is severely restricted (no AZ, no Super Scoop Up, no Recycle, etc), which hurts the turbo aspect, but also the fact that logistically your Bench will need to start filling up with Shaymin at some point, which hurts your chances of setting up the full complement. Pairing Decidueye with any form of attacker, even something as light as a Latios, further complicates this, as it creates unnecessary clunk which will catch up with you. Sure, Devolution Spray is an option to compensate, but you cannot win games doing increments of 20 damage a few times each turn. Taking all of this into account, I believe Vespiquen is far and away the best partner for Decidueye, and it is no surprise that this deck is arguably the most obvious/hyped deck of the new set.
As many remember, Vespiquen/Vileplume was a fairly toxic deck that plagued the format last year: designed to mill through a great deal of their deck before evolving into Vileplume and locking you out of the game, it hoped to score cheap wins through bricking an opponent and overwhelming their weakened field. This variant of Vespiquen follows the same basic strategy of swarming the field with green, though it at least allows your opponent to play the game, so I guess it’s better. All jokes aside, the strategy is very simple here. Using the array of burn cards available to us in Standard, the goal is to set up a couple of Vespiquen and 2–3 Decidueye, while pitching everything else. Then, thanks to Decidueye’s incredible Ability, Vespiquen is able to reach for higher numbers more consistently, while putting everything else into very comfortable 2-shot range. Decidueye’s extreme bulk for a Stage 2, combined with the fact that they’ll all be mostly naked on the Bench, means that they are going to be naturally quite difficult for most decks to pick off. Sure, solitaire decks like Rayquaza and Rainbow Road almost certainly will still see play and are capable of hunting our owls, but Vespiquen can trade well in those matchups regardless.
The deck really has a lot going for it, especially with Revitalizer. It’s about as concrete a personification of the word ‘swarm’ we’ve had yet: tons of bees and tons of little stings. We’re comfortable pitching literally every Grass Pokémon in this deck because we can get them back, guaranteed. Decidueye is such an insanely good card on its own, with an exceptional GX attack that acts as a triple Puzzle of Time. While Vespiquen decks generally only run Double Colorless and Special Charge, which we do here as well, the fact that we have no other GX attacks to choose from means we must run a couple of Grass Energy just to guarantee ourselves the utility; there’s really no reason not too, and who knows what you might need. I can already foresee situations of a late-game N + Hollow Hunt combo, grabbing three cards to guarantee a win on the next turn.
After some initial testing, I’m noticing a couple of things: the deck usually sets up one Decidueye guaranteed, and can push for two, but almost never more. With Garbodor still a potential threat, it’s often better to discard more Decidueye than set them up, but having even one up can totally change the game. There were a few situations where I was granted only one Feather Arrow, and opted to place it on Trubbish, setting me up to actually KO it with the same Decidueye later. I even found myself using Decidueye to attack a few times: turns where I had a spare attachment had me throwing a Grass on an owl, and later I could use it to finish off a threat without much fear that it’d be Knocked Out in return. The GX attack was also great mid-game, where I’d pull back something like VS Seeker, Acro Bike, Acro Bike, which presented me with a great chance to either dig for the last few resources I’d need to end the game, or insurance against a low N.
The deck is a little less consistent than I’d like, and I’m not sure yet if it’s from a list standpoint or a deck standpoint. The obvious difference between this deck and Vespiquen/Vileplume is Battle Compressor, which fundamentally changes how the deck is played. The addition of something like Klefki, even in matchups where it may be useful, does nothing but create clunk and add in more bad starters. Sometimes, the deck just trips over itself a little, but this deck has some insane comeback potential when it finally starts clicking, especially because of Decidueye’s bulkiness.
I expect a deck like this to be a solid contender in the upcoming meta. Any matchup I can think of is something you can compete in, even with Garb factored in, with the exception of Volcanion. While Vespiquen/Zebstrika had the potential to maybe steal a win here or there, I do not see any way for this deck to do so, other than your opponent completely dead-drawing multiple games in a set, or you running so hot that Volcanion appears cool by comparison. The fact that Decidueye is receiving plenty of hype does not bode well for our hopes that Volcanion will fall out of favor a bit, though I do not expect it to be any more represented than normal. Still, it is something to be weary of.
In a way, I see this deck in the same light as Greninja: you will have a few games where the reality that you are an Evolution deck that relies on an inconsistent Evolution gimmick sets in, you have problems with Garbodor, and you will have a bad matchup lurking in the field. The upside to both decks is tremendous, and if the aforementioned problems didn’t stop Greninja from seeing play and success, then surely it can be found here for our glorious hive.
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 29
Energy – 12
Now we’re talking! I don’t think there’s a single player who looks at a newly revealed set, sees Eeveelutions inside, and doesn’t immediately fantasize about the innumerable possibilities this glorious family brings. Even if those thoughts linger for only a second, they’re still there, and Sun & Moon is no exception. The moment I saw these two Pokémon-GX, I immediately thought back to Nationals and Worlds 2013, and my good friend Jimmy Ballard. Jimmy has staked his entire reputation as being the “Eevee King,” having taking 2nd at Worlds 2006 with a killer Eeveelutions deck, his pride and joy. 2013 was no exception, where he piloted a sweet Eeveelutions/Zoroark deck to a 6-3 record at Nationals (this was before ties were implemented), barely whiffing cut on resistance. Using a combination of Plasma Flareon and Leafeon, as well as the original Foul Play Zoroark, Jimmy had created a great anti-meta deck that was extremely capable of going toe-to-toe with all the top decks in the field. Affectionately called World War Z, it was the direct inspiration for the list above, adjusted for power creep of course.
The deck is very simple: Umbreon is our main attacker, having the most efficient “vanilla” attack among the Eevees, usually able to 2-shot most things with the assistance of the type-changing Eeveelutions. For those he cannot, Espeon fills the void, as well as assists in taking down Energy hogs outside our type coverage range, or in case Garbodor is in play. The Energy Evolution Ability was luckily reprinted, meaning Eevee can immediately turn into one of our attacking Pokémon-GX, going from a vanilla Basic to a Dark/Psychic/Fire/Water/Lightning-type attacker.
Zoroark is a great backup attacker for this deck, in my opinion. Aside from the fact that Zoroark provides a cheap and efficient alternative and compact counter to decks like Rayquaza or Rainbow Road, something we may otherwise struggle against (the Eeveelutions are unfortunately not as Energy efficient, requiring two attachments), Zoroark BREAK also provides a super cool utility: any GX attack in the game! Yes, Umbreon and Espeon already possess cool GX attacks (Umbreon’s is admittedly a little stronger than Espeon’s, I think), but Zoroark gives you the ability to use any GX attack your opponent may possess, if yours wouldn’t be particularly useful in the match. Foul Play has long been an attack on the fringe of playability, but I think the introduction of GX attacks are finally the boost that Foul Play has needed. Now, decks running Zoroark and no specific Energy color, Dark decks, or simply decks that want a backup attacker can all possess the ability to add a slew of otherwise unusable GX attacks to their arsenal, at the cost of a Dark Energy on a non-EX. Note that if you already used your GX attack for the game, you cannot use Foul Play to copy an opponent’s, with the inverse also being true — this doesn’t affect Zoroark, so to speak, but it does change Zoroark from potentially being game-breaking to simply providing great utility. The Retreat Cost on the GXs we have also means that Stand In can have great effect in preserving Energy and shuffling around attackers.
Tauros is an inclusion that I’m not 100% sold on, and one that is a point of contention. The theory here is simple: attach a Dark Energy to Eevee, evolve into Umbreon, and skip into Tauros. On the next turn, either attack with the Tauros that’s soaked up a hit, pick off a small target with Tauros if they’ve neglected to attack and if an opportunity arises, retreat into Umbreon and skip again, or simply transition into a stronger attacker. A cool aspect of Tauros is that he can be searched out with Brigette, because he is a Basic but not an EX; this means that if I start Eevee and have a Dark in hand, I can Brigette to set up my field, attack, and have a great wall to hide behind while I continue to set up. If an opponent is careless enough to swing into Tauros for a lot of damage, the GX attack can become extremely potent. I don’t want to oversell it, because compared to the other attackers in this deck, Tauros is very weak, but he is in here more as a wall than anything else. There are other decent skip targets, like Wobbuffet or … Pyukumuku SUM (yes, this is a real Pokémon, much to my shock), and they may be better, but Tauros is currently what I’m testing.
Brigette is also probably the most unfamiliar aspect of this deck, given how decks are/have been constructed for the past couple of years. As more sets come out and especially once a rotation hits, I think Brigette will continue to increase in strength as a playable Supporter. The moment Shaymin leaves the format, the game will slow down tremendously, and the strength of Collector in an Evolution-dominated format will become immediately apparent. While I may be jumping the gun a bit here because Shaymin is still legal now, I am actually finding Brigette to be useful. Starting a lone Eevee is not a problem at all, because it can transform into our attacker immediately, cutting out a bit of the search process; combine this with the fact that you can still Ultra Ball for Shaymin and give yourself draw on the first turn, and you create a unique window where using your Supporter to search is not as bad as you’d think. Often times, I’ll find myself grabbing Eevee/Eevee/Zorua, which sets me up to have 1–2 GX the next turn, as well as a Zoroark. If I’m fortunate enough to have an active Eevee and a Dark in hand, then I’ll grab a Tauros/Eevee/X, then skip into Tauros. This doesn’t happen always and I still find myself using a Sycamore/N on the first turn anyway, given the odds of hitting a draw card over Brigette, but it’s still something I’m actively testing to solid results so far.
1 Buddy-Buddy, 1 Letter, 1 Parallel, 1 Reverse, 1 Kukui
Otherwise, you shouldn’t find anything too surprising in this. Buddy-Buddy was a suggestion of Jimmy Ballard’s, and can net you either an Eevee or a specific Eeveelution you discarded, which is obviously quite useful. Professor’s Letter can be a great way to find your first Umbreon/Espeon, or for mid-game attachments. The split on the Stadiums was more because there isn’t really an optimal Stadium for the deck like some other decks have (though testing may reveal something like Faded Town or Silent Lab as superior, who knows), and I didn’t want just Parallel, as I would have no way to bounce an opponent’s, if they set first. Professor Kukui is a sweet card and a strictly superior Giovanni’s Scheme, a Supporter that saw some fringe play: here, it can help with some Umbreon math, or just bump whatever attack you’re using into range for a KO, given that we are unable to take advantage of Fighting Fury Belt or Muscle Band.
One thing I’m wondering with a deck like this is whether or not it’s out of place in this current format. I do believe that the game is still maybe a little too fast for a deck like Eeveelutions to shine, even with the type advantages, because the deck requires some setup. It is possible that Eeveelutions needs Sylveon-GX, which is presumably in our upcoming May set (and an absolutely unbelievable card), to match the power level of decks in a Shaymin-centric format and succeed, or simply a rotation to a slower game. Ditching the extra weight with Espeon and focusing on just skipping into various walls is also something to consider as the deck strategy, while still utilizing Zoroark for the maneuverability and GX utility. Alternatively, perhaps the format needs to develop itself a little, giving deckbuilders a more concrete idea of what should and shouldn’t be countered. Stage 1 Pokémon like Vespiquen or Yanmega, a Grass-type, could become stronger additions than Zoroark, should the format dictate it, but only time will tell.
Currently, the deck sits somewhere between underwhelming and scrappy. I am losing some games with it because poor starts for me are much harder to overcome given the weaker overall power level of the deck, but I am also winning some games that I really shouldn’t because the deck packs so many tricks that it can find ways to win. I won’t rule anything out yet, as there could be any number of decks lurking in the shadows of Anaheim, but my inclination right now is that we’re just a little ways off from this style of deck from seeing the success it had years ago. If nothing else, World War Z 2.0 is the kind of deck I want to succeed, because Eeveelution decks are always extremely fun to play, given the options they possess.
Pokémon – 9
Trainers – 39
Energy – 12
Now here’s a deck that’s fresh in our memory, having just taken down Athens Regionals and finding plenty of success at League Cups. This deck is extremely linear and probably fairly degenerate; I guess Night March at least had to manage some resources to beat your face in on the first turn, whereas all this deck needs to do is burn cards and hit the Max Elixirs. It is at the mercy of the inconsistency of Max Elixir, but that’s really not a problem in the grand scheme of things. The list looks fairly standard with two small exceptions: Lillie and Professor Kukui.
Lillie was actually born from a conversation I had with Russell LaParre this morning, and something I immediately tested with Xander during our most recent testing session. Sometimes, you find yourself using Sycamore and discarding more Dark Energy than you’d like, forcing you to attack with Yveltal a few times to recover them, which is disadvantageous to the Zerg-rush strategy this deck employs. As a result, Lillie is a strong inclusion, especially on the first turn. While you draw less than Sycamore, Lillie has been giving me some decent draws on the first turn (combined with Shaymin), and preserves some extra Dark Energy. Late game, Lillie is also another solid card to hit off of a low N or Mail. For those who played Bianca in their old Darkrai-EX DEX lists during the earlier parts of BLW-on (how long ago that was), none of this should come as a new revelation, but for newer players, the inclusion of Lillie can come off as strange when you compare it strictly to Sycamore in terms of draw.
One thing also worth noting is that Lillie is great at replacing N as the supplemental draw Supporter. If things are going well, you don’t really want to see N at all past turn … three or so, when you’ve hopefully started taking some Prizes. Lillie fills the void by providing solid draw without having to discard resources, and also is just another good draw option, sparing VS Seekers for later, when the Ns get lower and you need that final Lysandre. Originally I ran a 4/3 Sycamore/N split, whereas now I have the 3/2/2 Sycamore/N/Lillie: I have a lower amount of “bad” draw cards with N, a higher amount of “good” draw cards with Lillie, and a higher chance of the possibility of sufficient early draw without the cost of unused resources.
Professor Kukui is also an obvious inclusion: he makes you do more damage! The draw on Kukui is negligible, but the combination of the damage and draw is what makes this card strictly better than Giovanni, and the thing that turns this sort of Supporter effect from fringe to more widespread play. I love this card, and have been including it in practically every deck I’m playing — there’s really no reason not to. Turbo Dark is a card that loves the damage boosting effect, especially if you can hit it in the midgame, when you need to reach for just a bit more to get that final KO on an opponent’s bulky GX or Belted EX.
The list is fairly similar to the one Russell LaParre and his teammates used to place into Day 2 of Athens, and the deck is one of the few that doesn’t change all that much heading into Sun & Moon. Kukui will become standard in this and other decks like it, and I think Lillie will start to find its way in more decks in general as well, given that it bridges the gap between Sycamore and N in terms of draw. The deck is generally untouched by a changing meta, because it’s mostly just a solitaire deck. I am oversimplifying it a bit, but the reality is is that if you hit a majority of your Max Elixir, quickly, you should win a majority of those games. It will still struggle with something like Rayquaza, but it can very comfortably and quickly 2-shot anything, and can easily overwhelm any even mildly slow deck. Also, admittedly, it’s pretty fun not having to think while you’re hitting every Elixir and crushing your opponent.
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 36
Energy – 8
The last deck I wanna talk about is Rayquaza, a deck I think is actually a great choice heading forward into the dawn of this new format. For starters, Rayquaza is one of the fastest decks Pokémon has ever made, capable of hitting the illustrious 240-damage mark on the first turn, if the cards fall right. More reasonably, Rayquaza is a deck that can casually hit the 180-damage mark, and can reach for up to 240 at no serious charge, multiple times a game if needed. The success this deck has had in the past means that it doesn’t require further explanation. The bulkiness of the new Pokémon-GX and the unpredictability of a new format like this make Rayquaza naturally a strong play: it preys on the inconsistency of untested archetypes mercilessly, can go toe-to-toe in terms of power level with any deck, and is fairly easy/linear to play to an acceptable level. Any counters or problems it had in the past may still be there, but the allure of the unknown may draw people away from such counters, if even for one tournament, and Rayquaza absolutely shines when people don’t expect and aren’t prepared for it. What does Rayquaza benefit from Sun & Moon, exactly?
Well, aside from Professor Kukui, nothing, in my opinion. Ironically, an exploited shortcoming of Rayquaza’s has been the fact that it can only hit 240. Decks like Groudon and Wailord have used this to their advantage to trade favorably (or never trade at all), and I believe that Pokémon-GX will likewise adopt ways to deny Rayquaza’s ability to score clean knockouts however they can. For certain Pokémon-GX, they won’t need any sort of support to do so, packing a whopping 250 HP, putting them into a very exclusive club once occupied by Wailord alone.
For those Pokémon-GX, we finally have our answer: Kukui! Kukui also pushes us to be able to 1-shot a Groudon that’s opted to use Hard Charm instead of Focus Sash, though this is an Expanded problem and outside the scope of this article. Kukui can also push us to some odd numbers, like 170, 200, and 230, all the HP of some Pokémon that you may find in Standard (through the use of Belt or not); in each situation, hitting a Kukui can be great because it saves some Bench space, which means resources you can conserve for later turns. Kukui is even better in Expanded, where you can target search it with Compressor or Computer Search.
One situation that may arise for Rayquaza is that some of the weaker Pokémon-GX may opt to utilize something like Assault Vest, effectively giving them +40 HP against Rayquaza; for those with 210 HP, Kukui is perfect. For the beefiest Pokémon-GX, utilizing an Assault Vest will put them out of range for even a Kukui-boosted Emerald Break, which is why we have … Rattata! Yeah, not really a surprise here: Rattata has been used to great effect in Gardevoir decks, and even seen play in some Rayquaza lists, though I think it will become more standard here, replacing fringe Pokémon like the Magearna lunchbox promo. Rattata is great to chip off Assault Vest and bring anything back down into one-hit range (or Kukui territory), and is great to discard and reuse with Dragonite. Not much to be said about it, I just think it’s a great addition for an already powerful deck.
Otherwise, there isn’t much to say here. The rest of this list is really standard. Some Rayquaza lists have been running Puzzle of Time, but I personally dislike the card in Standard Rayquaza lists, simply because Rayquaza has a lot more moving pieces and you’re more likely to discard copies unintentionally, as well as the fact that Compressor and Computer Search aren’t there to thin and target it. Sure, Skyla and Teammates are decent enough replacements, but I find myself getting more utility out of increasing the counts of the actual cards instead of counting on reusing them. It’s mostly a preference thing, I just choose not to do it.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for you today! I could gush over the GX cards more, but I’ll save that for other writers. These are but a few of the ideas I’m testing, and still have a gauntlet of decks to run through. I cannot stress enough that now more than ever is a great time to throw caution and expectations to the wind and try out whatever you want. Ultimately, I think Sun & Moon is just a fun set, and hope that the benchmark it sets can be improved upon in the future; we’ve been duped before, but I’m optimistic that the people designing these cards have finally learned their lesson and are walking us off the cliff.
I’m trying to make it out to Anaheim, and if I do make it, feel free to say hi! I love meeting new people and making new friends, as well as chatting Pokémon. As always, sound off in the comments. Thanks for reading, and hopefully see everyone soon!
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