Hey everyone! When I wrote for you last, it was at the dawn of Sun & Moon’s release, when players started their first serious look into a game with Pokémon-GX. It’s only been a few weeks since then, but it feels like we’ve already learned so much! The slate of articles in that time have all had some top-notch discussion on Sun & Moon decks, ranging from zany new creations like Travis Nunlist’s Hoothoot/Decidueye deck to more user-friendly updates on decks like Volcanion. The only constant for me has been my adoration of this format: as was the case then, I am still enamored! While I’ve cooled on it a bit after discovering it is still heavily matchup based, I have noticed it feels a little less rigid than before. Don’t get me wrong — games are often decided before they even begin, though this will likely remain at least until Shaymin rotates. This doesn’t mean we aren’t on the right track! The meta is still diversifying, and we’re getting a glimpse of a great game, just on the horizon.
As with a good chunk of our writers, I’ve had my nose to the grindstone for Anaheim. In one of my earlier articles, I talked about the necessity and importance of serious testing. While it does seem quite obvious what benefits come from putting in hours of work, I really can’t stress enough how it’s been a boon for my mental state going into this tournament. While I’m not 100% set on a deck just yet, I haven’t felt as prepared for a tournament as I have for Anaheim this season. Not only do I feel like my playing ability has increased a few levels due to the sheer amount I’ve been playing, but I have a much greater clarity of the format thanks to constant theorying I’ve been able to have with a wide array of top players. I try not to predict how I’ll end up finishing at a tournament because it only leads to disappointment, but I definitely feel more confident for Anaheim than I have in quite some time.
All of that said, there’s a lot to discuss. My last article was an exploration into this format, and I’m definitely coming back with more experience this time around. Sadly, the time of boundless optimism has passed and some ideas just fizzled. Many decks from the previous format are still good, which has pushed some of the crazier ideas to the wayside, for now. As such, this article is going to be less exploratory and more definitive; I’ve got some new takes on decks from last time, as well a brand new deck that’s risen into my top three picks for the tournament. Onward, to Anaheim!
Owls Fly Together: Decidueye
One thing I stressed in my last article was that the lists and ideas were conceptual rather than concrete. The headliner of my last article was Vespiquen/Decidueye, a deck I felt was an initially strong contender: theory and early testing showed a powerful deck that traded very favorably with a lot of Evolution-based decks, though one mired by slight inconsistency issues with the departure of the crucial Battle Compressor. As I tested it more, I came to the unfortunate realization that Vespiquen/Decidueye is unfortunately not as strong as I originally thought, and that there are better partners for Decidueye. When I originally wrote about the pair, I was still in the “try everything!” phase, and felt that many of the Evolutions from the new set, both GX and non, would have an immediate impact. In that hypothetical scenario, Vespiquen shines once again as the model of efficient trading.
As it turns out, what we’re seeing is more a fusion of PRC–EVO and PRC–SM, meaning that some of Vespiquen’s struggles have remained, limiting the power of the card in a deck like this (as opposed to the more streamlined Vespiquen lists that focus on just Stage 1s). Vespiquen/Decidueye was a great starting point for me though, as the games illustrated the power of Decidueye, which is as tremendous a GX as ever. Everything about the card is still as powerful as I’d thought, and Feather Arrow is game-changing when you’ve got access to multiple in a turn. I still think the idea is a strong one and is one I will probably revisit in the future, perhaps when the format is more rigidly defined and I can see a more concrete place for it. Decidueye is still a prominent player in this format, so I’m going to label this one a half-bust. The deck itself didn’t bear fruit, but some of the same concepts from it have transitioned over to the “standard” form of Decidueye, meaning it wasn’t a total waste. Further, I think there is still untapped potential there, and it was a pet deck of mine so I’m a bit biased overall.
What’s emerging now as the most successful strategy for Decidueye is far more linear than what I had, eschewing the swarm of Vespiquen for consistent Basic attackers like Tauros and Lugia. Here’s a basic idea of the deck:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 36
Energy – 8
This list is very similar to the one that’s been seeing a lot of playtime on Azul Griego’s stream, and one I concocted based on watching his stream, with a couple of my own changes thrown in.
2 Lugia-EX, 1 Tauros-GX
Here are your main attackers. By focusing more on abusing Decidueye’s Ability and keeping the attacking simple, this deck simply outmuscles your opponent. Lugia is as efficient an attacker as they come, and with the benefit of added damage from Decidueye, X Ball is as strong as it’s ever been. Tauros is a great attacker as well; sitting Tauros as a wall to build behind is already a known tactic and part of why Tauros is so good, but that strategy is magnified with your ability to push for much higher numbers thanks to Decidueye. Rage and Mad Bull are now even deadlier, and Horn Attack turns from an otherwise paltry 60 damage into a legitimate 2-shot mechanism. It goes without saying how strong Aero Ball can be, and Deep Hurricane provides you with a powerful 1-shot attack, with Decidueye’s help.
The logic here is the same as it was in Vespiquen, though here you want to set up as many as you can, instead of pitching it at all. Over the course of a game and with the combination of prizing, Revitalizer, and Super Rod, you’re likely to set up 3 Decidueye; as a result, I don’t know if the fourth Owl is needed yet, or if it can be dropped in lieu of something else. In the few games I’ve played with the 4-4-3 line, I haven’t noticed too much of a difference, especially against things like Garb.
Not much to be said here, other than the fact that you want to have ample retreat/tagging options to stall. Decidueye has a ton of HP and is great to stall with (especially when using Hollow Hunt-GX) while you build up a fat Lugia, and the Float Stones and Olympia give us plenty of outs to a Garbodor deck that tries to catch us unprepared with Lysandre tricks. I think Olympia is a card that will start seeing play in a lot of Ability-based Evolution decks (or even decks that simply have an Ability as a utility, such as Solgaleo) as it is a reusable switching effect against Garbodor. The healing is mostly negligible, but it may come in handy now and again.
4 Forest, 1 Delinquent
This idea is one I’ve been trying out after chatting with my good friend Ryan Sabelhaus, who also runs it (he gave me the idea). Simply put, with five outs to Stadiums instead of four, you should be able to get on top of any Mega Ray deck, significantly lowering their damage output and putting control of the game in your favor. On an even 2-shot playing field, Lugia and Tauros trade much better with Ray than the inverse, and this is our best bet at accomplishing this. Delinquent also gives us a minor facet of control, which can be expanded upon with good Decidueye placements.
. . .
The rest of this list is fairly standard and self-explanatory. Set up as many Decidueye as fast as you can, and hit quickly with efficient DCE attackers. This deck is likely quite susceptible to Volcanion and Rayquaza — if you are unable to get a handle on which Stadium sticks — but can compete with and defeat most other decks.
The Safe Choice: Turbo Dark
Last time, I talked about how Turbo Dark was one of the decks that would survive the format change and excel, and my thoughts on that have only been reinforced. Turbo Dark is still as fast and strong as ever and is currently my “safe” choice for the tournament. If all else fails, I’m falling back on Darkrai, a phrase countless players have said for the past half-decade. Here’s where I’m at currently:
Pokémon – 9
Trainers – 39
Energy – 12
There’s no frills here, and aside from a single card, the deck is untouched by the new set. In my last article I talked about Lillie and how it had been testing, and while I am now omitting the card, my thoughts on it haven’t changed too much. I am still a believer of Lillie in certain decks, though its primary purpose in this deck was the potential utility of sparing the unwanted discard of Energy. I’m now opting to run a Super Rod, which fulfills the role of Energy preservation. As a result, the 4/3 Sycamore/N split is naturally more consistent and I’ve opted to return to that. Super Rod is also useful in helping recover from Umbreon’s GX attack or repeated hits from Flare Grunt/Crushing Hammer, cards that all may see varying levels of play (more the first two than the latter, but who knows). I’m calling this deck a resounding boom, and one I expect to see quite a bit of in Anaheim.
The one thing that Turbo Dark can struggle with is a field populated with Decidueye. In the past, Greninja has always proved to be the bane of Turbo Dark’s existence, with the strategy there being “rush and pray.” Hope you can set up a full board and overwhelm them, and if they set up, you will almost assuredly lose. While Greninja has almost completely fallen off, Decidueye has risen to take its place, much to the same effect. Turbo Dark can win these games, but it is even harder now, with Forest of Giant Plants often granting players a set-up board on a much faster clock.
If you’re really worried about Decidueye, I’d recommend looking into running a Dark/Garb deck. I’ve toyed around with it a few games on PTCGO when I was pondering what to play, and the Garb greatly improves your matchups against things like Volcanion, Decidueye, and Rayquaza, provided you can get it online in a timely manner. Here’s what I’ve got:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 35
Energy – 12
This is mostly your standard Dark/Garb deck. A major change is the lack of Escape Ropes compared to the regular Turbo Dark variant, but something’s gotta go to make room for the higher Float count and the 2-1 Garb line. In addition, Silent Lab is now useless, so I’ve opted for Reverse Valley, which gives the deck a bit more firepower to make up for the overall slowing down of the deck. The jump from five to seven Tools is a lot, and it sometimes may feel like there aren’t enough Pokémon to place Tools down, but it’s more just ensuring you can hit the Tools off of ample raw draw/mails.
I run a Tauros-GX simply because it’s a splashable GX attack, and Tauros is much harder to avoid dealing with when paired with a Garbodor. Turbo Dark doesn’t run a GX attacker because it’s 100% focused on just flooding the board, but this version is a little slower, making Tauros a nice fit. You’re unable to spook someone with it, but Tauros is a tremendous attacker against Darkrai, and with Garb online, can do wonders for you in the mirror. I cannot stress enough how good it is against Darkrai: if Exp. Share isn’t on the board for Turbo Dark, it almost necessitates simply passing, unless there are ample Energy on the board, because Tauros can demolish a board state in an instant.
I think this variant is a more reliable choice in a field that you expect to be overwhelmingly Volcanion, Decidueye, and Ray, but is less good against a more diverse field, ironically. Normally, Garb is a strong play in those situations, because the Ability lock does wonder at compensating for the unknown, but I think Turbo Dark’s raw consistency and power make it an overall better choice in those situations. If you’re dead-set on playing Garb and are unsure what to partner it with, however, this deck is a fine choice that’ll give you a shot in almost any matchup.
Ol’ Nessie: Waterbox
A new deck I want to talk about today is one that’s quickly climbed the ladder of potential deck choices and one that is somewhat of a surprise to me: Lapras Waterbox. Let’s start with the list:
Pokémon – 11
Trainers – 37
Energy – 12
For starters, this deck caught my attention because it involves a strategy I’ve come to love in these past few years: tagging fat dudes around and healing them with Rough Seas. The strategy with these decks is often simple, yet there’s an elegance to it that’s always caught my eye. Rough Seas is an absurdly powerful Stadium effect, especially when abused on multiple Pokémon at the same time, and I’ll be sad to see it go. As was the case then, the strategy here is simply power up an array of Water attackers for whatever situation and either outlast an opponent with the bulk of Rough Seas, or lock them out of the game with Regice or Glaceon.
The rotation of Seismitoad put this deck out of commission, though the release of Lapras has spurred somewhat of a revival. While Lapras will never be what Seismitoad was (no card will), Lapras brings its own set of tools that are more than enough for it to take over as your main attacker and bring this deck back from the grave. For starters, Lapras has a beefy 190HP, which turns into a whopping 230HP (for a Basic!) with a Fury Belt, a space previously occupied only by Zygarde-EX. Lapras has built-in consistency with Collect, which is an incredibly strong attack going second; simply searching for it and hitting an Elixir on it can bail you out of a poor hand, and often forces an N out of your opponent simply because they don’t want you working with such a large hand. It’s also great late game, where you can N both players low and draw out of it, giving yourself a huge edge off an opponent resource wise.
Lapras has one regular attack, Blizzard Burn. 160 base turns into 170 with a Belt, which can take a KO on a few EX Basics (Lugia, Yveltal, Rayquaza, and Jolt/Glaceon for example), and any non-EX Basic, included Belted ones. Add in a Kukui and we’re hitting 180/190, which adds in quite a few additional Pokémon into the list. While Blizzard Burn isn’t going to 1-shot a lot of new Pokémon-GX, Belted Pokémon-EX, or Mega Pokémon, it does such a sizable amount of damage that it guarantees a 2-shot. Healing with cards like Center Lady or Olympia have created situations in the past where a Pokémon is dropped just out of range of a 2-shot, but Blizzard Burn hits hard enough that it’s virtually impossible to prevent the KO from a second attack without a full heal from something like Max Potion. Further, Blizzard Burn does enough where the cleanup attack from something like Regice or Glaceon becomes a viable option, creating a lock component that is more difficult to deal with.
Ice Beam-GX is actually one of the weaker GX attacks in my opinion, but the effect is still absolutely welcome here, and only gets better as the game drags on. Auto-paralyze effects have always been extremely powerful in Pokémon (looking at you, Accelgor), but have always had some sort of powerful limitation to them, and Ice Beam is no exception: you can only use it once! Further, cards like Escape Rope, Switch, Olympia, and Center Lady all see fairly regular play, which further weakens a limited attack. Regardless, Ice Beam still has plenty of use in this deck! I’ve found it most effective in the late game, combined with an N. N them low, and hit their main attacker that’s trading with you with Ice Beam; with their low hand size, it’s likely that they’re unable to escape the paralysis, which all but guarantees a Blizzard Burn KO for game.
Unlike Toad, Lapras cannot do it alone. The ideal board state is two powered Lapras, a Manaphy, a Seas, and whatever else. This way, your Lapras will TAG TEAM any threats on your way to victory. Of course, it wouldn’t be called a box without a supporting cast!
This guy is one of your supplementary attackers, and it puts in serious work. Palkia does exactly what Virizion did, and with ample Elixir and Energy Switch counts, your chances of pulling it off on the first turn are great. While Palkia didn’t see much play last season, Brit played it in his National’s Waterbox list, and it’s actually gotten much better since. Lapras requires three Energy to get going, and a charge from Palkia sets you up the next turn. The difference between Palkia’s mediocrity then and its viability now is simple, and it comes in the form of one card:
Yes, this card is the crux of the deck. While Lapras is your main attacker and one you’ll be using most often, Ninja Boy is the glue that holds everything together. Ninja Boy’s success in Vileplume decks should come as no surprise, and the principle is the same. What makes this card work so well in this deck is the fact that it now makes Palkia not only useful past the first turn, but also a preferred play. But opting to go for an early Palkia, you reward yourself by getting more Energy on board without using your resources, but also by setting up a second attacker, the Palkia itself! If you hit Palkia on the first turn, you can now attach to it again and Ninja Boy it into a Lapras, almost guaranteeing a 2-shot, while also having another Lapras already set to tag into. Charge with Palkia and take a hit? Ninja Boy into Tauros and punish your opponent with a Mad Bull-GX attack. Every other attacker in the deck is a live one with Palkia, and is one of the few times being conservative is actually the right call!
The Tauros is in this deck primarily to combo with Ninja Boy, but it can do well enough on its own. Tauros can be useful against Lurantis or other Grass decks, and is also a strong attacker against both Yveltal and Darkrai. It is noticeably weaker without the Ninja Boy gimmick, but it provides another GX attack at no cost to you, so there’s no reason not to run it when it combos so well otherwise. Plus, you can Ninja it away into something else and bring it back out with a second or third Ninja combo later, should the opportunity arise.
1 Regice, 1 Glaceon-EX
These two are fairly obvious. They’re both great against decks like Rayquaza and Mewtwo, and Glaceon is your only out to Lurantis. If Lurantis doesn’t play Ranger, you can set a lone Glaceon and hope to sweep a game. I am a firm believer that these types of cards, the lock-through-attack cards, are all extremely underwhelming and in general bad cards, but they do serve a niche and are requirements in a deck like this, so we run them anyway.
2 Shaymin-EX, 2 Manaphy-EX
Nothing surprising here, this is simply your support engine.
You’ll probably notice this as a major change from Waterbox past. The reason for this is simple: Hoopa can’t grab Lapras! Yes, Lapras is a GX Pokémon, not an EX Pokémon. While it’s fairly obvious once you make that connection, it’s fairly easy to overlook that immediately, because other than the name, there’s virtually nothing that separates Lapras from its EX brethren. In fact, one of my initial drafts of this deck ran Hoopa and I grabbed plenty of Lapras with it, simply because the distinction was one I didn’t pay too much attention to. While Hoopa can still grab Palkia, Glaceon, Shaymin, and Manaphy, the fact that it cannot grab your main attacker is enough to warrant its removal from the deck. This does hurt the consistency of it a little, but it hasn’t been anything serious to the point of harming the deck’s viability.
Lapras is not immune to the matchup-based plague that is ravaging our format, despite all its tricks. If there’s a lot of Grass decks in your meta, I would avoid playing this. Sure, you can sneak some wins out against things like Lurantis with Glaceon, but I do not believe a lone Glaceon is enough to carry you in a sea of green. Variance is a thing and each Lurantis deck is different, and Glaceon is mediocre to the point where you will lose games as a result of this variance in Lurantis lists/performance. Otherwise, Lapras Waterbox has a great shot at taking on most other decks, using its great bulk and Water typing to outlast most other efficient attackers, with its teammates picking up the slack and making for a complete archetype.
I’m not sure if I’m sold on this deck over Turbo Dark yet, but I have a couple of friends that have this deck as their #1 and I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up going with Big Blue.
The Power Play: Rayquaza
In my last article, I discussed Rayquaza as a solid choice and provided a list. In the time since then, Rayquaza is probably the only deck I haven’t gotten around to playing yet, though I hope to do so as the week goes on. I still believe it is a great pick and many players are opting to play decks that outright lose to Emerald Break, because nobody is expecting it. As I’ve been unable to test it, I don’t feel it’s right to simply repost the same list I had from last time just to throw one in; if you want to take that list as a base to begin working, feel free, or feel free to take one of the few that made Top 8 at Athens Regionals.
Rayquaza is a deck that undergoes almost no changes through the format, simply because there’s nothing in the set that benefits it seriously, with one exception: Tauros-GX. There are murmurings of Glaceon and Regice seeing play in Waterbox and Vileplume decks, and Rayquaza can struggle with them. While you can’t grab Tauros with Hoopa (there’s that interaction again!), it is still easily searchable and quite easy to use in Ray, and is a great counter to both of those cards. Going forward I do plan on definitely putting Tauros into my list, but that’s all the guidance I can give on this archetype right now.
Don’t sleep on this deck, because it’s one that excels at tournaments where nobody expects it. Rayquaza is still one of the strongest decks in the game from a pure power standpoint, and is a consistent choice if everything else breaks down on you. I do apologize for not having much more on this subject for you, but luckily this is also a deck that’s been around for ages, so much of it isn’t that difficult to figure out on its own.
As I’ve said throughout this article, throughout my last article, and echoed by many writers here and abroad: Sun & Moon is an incredible set that will only get better as we move forward and the game further evolves. The breath of fresh air that we get from this set is extremely refreshing and it’s already done wonders for the staleness that is Standard, without us having played in a single tournament yet.
Anaheim is going to be a wild one and it’s anyone’s guess as to how it finally plays out: Volcanion, Yveltal, Rayquaza, Darkrai, Lurantis, Decidueye, Waterbox, Vespiquen, and Mewtwo are all viable options for this tournament (and more, especially something secret or new!). I’m gonna be grinding hard these last few days and honestly see myself only being certain of a deck when the clock strikes midnight, so don’t fret if you’re not sure what’ll work for you.
As always, let me know what you think in the comments and come up and say hi in Anaheim. Thanks for reading!
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
After 45 days, we unlock each Underground (UG/★) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.
Underground Members: Thank you for making this article possible!
Other Readers: Check out the FAQ if you are interested in joining Underground and gaining full access to our latest content.