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 regards 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 GX Pokémon 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 GX Pokémon, at face value. The ridiculous stats on some of the GX Pokémon 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: GX Pokémon 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: GX Pokémon 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 two-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.
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