It’s good to be back! I haven’t written an article for SixPrizes in over two years so having the chance to come back to the site and analyze the current goings-on of Pokémon sure feels great; I’m certainly excited to dive back into this part of the game. The hope of my article this week is to prepare everyone for this weekend’s Regional Championships in St. Louis. The introduction of Sun & Moon has certainly shaken things up so it’s time to put everything on the table and figure out what’s what.
The New King?
The first option I want to discuss is one that depends heavily on the cards from Sun & Moon: Solgaleo-GX. A Standard version of this deck placed in the top 16 in Anaheim partnered with Lurantis-GX. Although the two partners share very conspicuous synergy, they don’t hold a light to the versatility this deck gains in Expanded. In Expanded, the Energy-manipulation shenanigans reach a whole new level with good ol’ Bronzong PHF. Solgaleo’s switching Ability provides strong synergy with Bronzong’s recovery Ability all game long; the deck doesn’t need much once it gets off the ground. Once the Bronzongs are in place and a Solgaleo is on the board to soak up the Energy, it becomes difficult for any deck to deal with 230 turn after turn. Depending on the matchup, games could be decided in the first three or four turns because of how well the deck holds up to late-game N sabotage.
Here’s my take on what an Expanded version of this deck might look like:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 33
Energy – 9
They key here is consistency — no question about it. Solgaleo is a perfect example of a deck that tries to build as quickly as possible without paying much attention to its opponent. These decks have existed since the beginning of competitive Pokémon: Blaziken RS in BAR in 2003, Blastoise ex/Power Tree in LBS in 2006, Dragonite DS in MetaNite in 2007, Eels in 2012, etc. The idea here is that once this type of deck sets up, there is little that can beat it — decks like these that use Energy from the discard pile frequently fit this profile. Regardless of almost all disruption, this deck will produce 230 damage turn after turn; it might take a while, but if the cycle happens quickly enough, the game should be closed soon thereafter.
One of the deck’s biggest advantages, apart from its massive damage output, is its high HP. Dealing 250 damage is no easy task, especially when any Pokémon that has the opportunity to attack will likely be Knocked Out the following turn. This HP count should keep above the 1HKO range of most decks, especially in Expanded (Flareon excluded, discussed below). The difficulty that other decks will find in Knocking Out multiple Solgaleos is what makes this deck stand out in my eyes. Max Potion also provides a form of unexpectedly closing the door on decks that aim to deal exactly enough damage to win the game. Some unsuspecting opponents will forfeit their entire game plan if a Max Potion lands for a 100+ damage heal, which shouldn’t be all too uncommon especially with a second copy.
Solgaleo is one of my top picks to perform well this weekend. I feel very strongly that this deck can keep up with every other deck in the format, especially if the list is right. With the introduction of new, bulky Pokémon-GX, and the continued strength of the typical EX powerhouses, the ability to deal 230 each turn is too desirable to be overlooked. Additionally, Genesect-EX and Aegislash-EX are two high-impact tools that Metal is fortunate to have at its disposal. The bottom line is that any version of this deck that can put one Solgaleo into play by turn two or three with the addition of even a single Bronzong should be favored to overcome most matchups.
Trouble for Solgaleo
Archeops is the one factor I have difficulty overlooking as a proponent of Solgaleo. The fact of the matter is that Archeops is one of the best cards in the game right now for a number of reasons: the release of Stage 1 and Stage 2 Pokémon-GX, the synergy it has with Gallade, and the reliance Eels and Flareon decks have on ordinary Evolutions.
Hex Maniac is your answer to Archeops but to be truthful it isn’t a very good one. Solgaleo as a deck relies heavily on Abilities so Hex is already somewhat undesirable to spend a deck slot on. The fact that it also isn’t a very hard counter makes matters worse (and really challenges the idea of playing two copies for Archeops specifically).
Evosoda is one alternative I would strongly recommend against. The card itself is weak in general and even if you are fortunate enough to draw it at the appropriate time, it probably won’t even result in a Stage 2.
Basically, if you play Solgaleo you’ll have to accept that Archeops is a problem you’ll have to overcome with T2/3 quickness and honestly a bit of luck.
Luckily for Solgaleo players, Volcanion is likely to see much less play in Expanded than in Standard, which means fewer Fire Pokémon to 1HKO Solgaleo. What is unlucky for Solgaleo, however, is that Flareon is back on the table in Expanded.
In order to mediate the problem this deck faces with Flareon, we have Aegislash-EX. The advantages of this card against Flareon and Night March are apparent so I won’t delve too deeply into them. It’s difficult to say that playing one or even multiple copies of Aegislash will provide an absolute answer to the Weakness problem, but it certainly gives the deck an option.
Two copies of Aegislash is highly recommended if you have reason to believe Flareon will be popular — having two copies fixes the Escape Rope problem and makes it easier to end the game by forcing Flareon out of resources. Simply put, killing two is harder than killing one.
BulbapediaOne somewhat softer counter to Flareon is Karen. Karen will provide at least a temporary solution to big Flareon damage but unfortunately, the double damage will still likely get the best of a clean Solgaleo. One reason it might still be above the cut for this deck is that it could truly catch a Flareon deck off guard at the end of the game after all of their Compressors are gone. This could leave them drawing Combees and Klefkis instead of Lysandres and DCEs for the remainder of the game. Karen also provides a soft answer to Solgaleo’s other problem: Archeops. In most cases, Archeops will find the discard pile and subsequently the opponent’s Bench very quickly but in the event it doesnt, Karen can prolong and even sometimes prevent Archeops for the whole game — remember, Maxie isn’t the easiest card to play, especially as the game goes longer.
It’s difficult to predict whether Flareon will be a significant factor this weekend because there haven’t been any tournaments in this format and because of the outright newness of Sun & Moon. Players are still tinkering with the new cards and mechanics; everything is all the more unpredictable. If you think Flareon will be curbed by Archeops and you feel comfortable handling Maxie decks, pull the trigger on Solgaleo this weekend. Personally, I think Solgaleo a very solid play and could easily steal the show in St. Louis.
The next topic I’ll cover is the Seismitoad-EX variants that have become focal points heading into this weekend. The two versions I’m talking about specifically are Toad/Crobat and Toad/Decidueye. There are a surprising number of advantages and disadvantages to each version of this deck despite Decidueye and Crobat serving such similar roles. Mikey Fouchet took a close look at the pros and cons of each version in his “The Y Coordinate” article, which I strongly recommend reading. Rather than spend time discussing why these decks are inherently top contenders, I’ll discuss the differences between the two versions and give a couple of examples of when one trumps the other. Here are my decklists for each of these decks:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 35
Energy – 7
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 34
Energy – 8
Toad/Bats has been around for long time now, so the introduction of a new partner for Toad certainly brings with it a whole new perspective on Quaking Punch decks — even if Decidueye and Crobat share similar Abilities. It’s clear to see that Crobat and Decidueye serve similar purposes across builds, but the question of which actually yields a higher win percentage is still up for debate, in part because Decidueye hasn’t had much time to make a big debut. Personally, I believe Decidueye serves as a better partner to Seismitoad than Crobat does. Mikey gave a very realistic guide to the pros and cons of each version of this deck so I’ll try to expand on his ideas and give a couple of specific examples of why I choose the owls over the bats.
I think one of the most important pros that Mikey discussed in his take on Decidueye is that having a bulky, Grass attacker gives the deck higher magnitude options than Crobat. While the Crobat line is more likely to actually land attacks as a result of their low Energy cost and Dimension Valleys floating around, dealing 90 damage from a Grass Pokémon for only two Energies can swing any Toad mirror immediately. In my opinion, both of these variants of Toad will be heavily played this weekend so if I were to choose one of these options I would pick the one most likely to win the mirror. That being said, the Crobat line’s free retreat offers tremendous upside for a turn one Quaking Punch and other late-game plays — it’s much easier to Skill Dive than it is to Razor Leaf.
Additionally, because the nature of either version of the deck is already conducive to playing a giant 4-4-4 line of the Stage 2, having an Ability that places damage counters each turn — rather than one-time only — and is established early can compound very quickly. Over the lifetime of a T2/3 Decidueye, it will likely place well over 100 damage whereas Crobats and Golbats are only valuable the turn they are played. From a high level, it seems that Decidueye has the advantage.
To summarize my preference for Decidueye over Crobat, I’d say the argument boils down to three things:
- the likelihood that it will place more damage counters over the course of a game,
- the type advantage over Seismitoad mirror matches, and
- the outright capability of switching to a bulky, heavy-hitting Stage 2 if things with Toad don’t work out.
With that being said, it would be an unrealistic assessment if I didn’t reemphasize the biggest glaring issue with Decidueye — its Retreat Cost. If Crobat beats Decidueye in any category it has to be its flexibility in retreating. If there’s one way I hate losing, it’s by Lysandre when I’ve run out of Energy. As bad as that problem is, what’s worse is missing a turn one Quaking Punch because Float Stone didn’t find its way into your hand with a Rowlet start; this easily wins or loses games right away.
So, maybe my optimism is getting the best of my comparison between Decidueye and Crobat, but I find it easy to look past the retreat problem. At least for now, I’d say the likelihood of starting with Toad or having a Float Stone in your opening seven is great enough to justify the bulkier partner for Toad.
The Supervillain: Yveltal/Archeops
This last topic should come as no surprise to anyone preparing for Regionals this weekend — the deck with the biggest target on its back: Yveltal/Archeops. The most important thing to note about this deck’s strength before absolutely anything else is that Yveltal is a time-tested winner. If you’re looking for the safest choice and would rather avoid exploring a relatively uncharted Sun & Moon, Yveltal/Archeops is your deck.
Here’s the list I think makes the most sense for this weekend; it also happens to be very standard for what you should expect to play against come tournament time.
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 35
Energy – 11
Yveltal’s always been a very simple and powerful deck, both in Expanded and in Standard — not much changes with the inclusion of Sun & Moon. In fact, this list contains only one new card from the new set (Oranguru SUM); the others just don’t make the cut. I think that statement is particularly powerful because this deck won the last Regionals held in Expanded with basically the same access to cards. Whereas other decks gain some help from Sun & Moon, the synergy in Yveltal with Dark Patch and Gallade with Archeops is simply too powerful to allow room for more than one or two new cards despite how good they might be.
I realize there is plenty of literature available about Yveltal and the dozens of partners it’s had over the years so I’ll keep things in the context of this weekend’s tournament. Like I mentioned above, Yveltal has performed consistently all year. Rather than testing the waters with a Decidueye/Toad deck, however exciting and fun your tournament may turn out, you might find yourself piloting a deck that just can’t keep up (heavy testing is the answer if you really want to try something new this weekend). Beyond the fact that Yveltal is one of the most winningest cards of the past four years, its position in this metagame specifically is a favorable one. If we consider the other top decks to be something along the lines of:
- Turbo Ray,
- Turbo Darkrai,
- Raikou/Eels, and
then it’s plain to see why Yveltal stands a good chance of winning any given round of your tournament. Five of those seven decks rely heavily on Evolutions which means that a handful of your rounds will inevitably be decided by a lucky turn one Maxie in one of these matchups. Archeops tricks aside, Evil Ball has always been a lean way of dealing with Seismitoad — the low Energy cost 2HKOs are about as good as any attack is going to get against Toad. Gallade is another answer to Yveltal’s otherwise most difficult matchup, Raikou/Eels. Hopefully, between the three Fighting Pokémon and two copies of Maxie, you can cut through enough Raikous to win the game.
There are a number of reasons beyond just those that Yveltal is a great deck but it’s also important to note its reputation as a 50-50 choice. In theory, Yveltal has great matchups almost across the board but the same can’t be said in practice. Being the safest choice also means that Yveltal concedes some umph in favor of consistency and strategic attacking — often winning close, long games. It doesn’t take much more than an unlucky draw or two to ruin a perfect game plan that’s taken you 45 minutes to conjure up. So, while Yveltal has been historically strong and a skill-intensive, sturdy play, there’s not much an Yveltal-EX can do in the face of an early 200+ damage from a Flareon/Solgaleo/Darkrai-EX/Vespiquen/Rayquaza/Night March/etc.
You get the idea.
Two cards I’d like to spend a little time discussing by themselves are Oranguru and Team Skull Grunt. At the first Regionals to include Sun & Moon, Oranguru saw some play and Skull Grunt was all but absent.
Oranguru is a card that definitely sticks out to anyone browsing through the set list of Sun & Moon. Bench-sitters that draw cards each turn have historically been a great way to spend a Bench spot; Delcatty RS 5, Claydol GE, and Porygon2 DS are a couple of examples. Oranguru’s Instruct is certainly fitting for a Basic incarnation of this type of Ability — three cards is right where it becomes hard to tell whether it’s worth the space in your list (and on your Bench).
It’s clear that Oranguru finds a home in some decks better than others. For example, decks like Bronzong/Solgaleo and Eels/Raikou don’t necessarily need to worry about a late-game N — they have their insurance built in. Then, there are decks that could really use an extra card or two per turn and have the means to do it. The first one that comes to mind is Yveltal/Archeops. Yveltal has a particularly high count of Item cards that are very easy to burn (Trainers’ Mail, Battle Compressor, Tools, etc.) which increases the likelihood of having fewer than three cards in hand at some point during the turn. Another great pair in the same deck is from Gallade’s Premonition. Gallade’s Ability effectively allows Oranguru to choose the best card from a set of five rather than drawing randomly. Even in general, because of Yveltal’s draw/attach/attack style, having a form of late-game N protection becomes important frequently.
Other decks that particularly complement Oranguru are Flareon and Rayquaza. Although they have admittedly less synergy with Oranguru than Yveltal does, both Flareon and Rayquaza require high Pokémon counts for their core strategies to work. In Rayquaza’s case, I would certainly look to include Oranguru as my Basic option for protection against Parallel Cities and even dry starts. Flareon is always looking for more Pokémon to throw to the discard. While Oranguru might not be great at finding its way to the discard like Unown and Klefki are, it’s all the same to Sycamore. The upside of Oranguru (in 95% of cases) is that it protects Flareon against N. With resources stretched so thin (Eevees, Flareons, Bees, DCEs, VS Seekers), Oranguru helps your chances of finding that last Evolution or DCE to win the game after an N.
Finally, I want to highlight a card I feel will become more popular soon but hasn’t seemed to catch they eye of most players so far: Team Skull Grunt. Maybe the format difference is the reason TSG didn’t see play in Anaheim or maybe players overlooked the card entirely. Any Seismitoad player can tell you that their longest games are spent holding out long enough for your opponent to start missing Energy drops — it’s one of the most common ways to tell when the tides have turned in a match involving Toad.
Team Skull Grunt facilitates that process.
With Team Skull Grunt, Seismitoad players have a way of increasing the odds that their opponents have nothing to play from their hands. Before TSG, players under Item lock could skim by just by having an Energy or two in hand for the coming turn — sometimes that was enough to stop Toad in its tracks. TSG means that instead of being able to stockpile Energies without having to use a Supporter, players will constantly have to be doing everything they can to find their next Energy or risk missing an attack.
This means two things:
- First, players will no longer be able to hang onto that Sycamore or N until they’ve played all the Energies from their hand — this is a common strategy for players who understand that consistent attacking is the answer to Toad. Instead, they’ll have to Sycamore or N regardless of the remainder of their hand if they’ve just lost one or two Energies to a Skull Grunt.
- Second, it adds another huge win condition for Toad which is simply when your opponent has no Supporter in hand. Now, instead of Supporters or multiple Energies in hand solving the Toad problem, only Supporters break the lock. What’s more is that forcing your opponent to play a Supporter each turn means they’re using up their most valuable resource (Supporters) turn after turn and are more likely to run dry later on. Simply put, if TSG can find two or more Energies hiding in an opponent’s hand over the course of a game, it’s hard to predict that player having enough resources to KO 3 Toads.
Additionally, having the opportunity to look at your opponent’s hand is sometimes the best way to spend a Supporter for Toad. One of the most powerful characteristics of any Seismitoad deck is that its simplicity (Toad + DCE is all you need) means the deck can play one copy of a number of different, high-impact, situational Supporters. Unlike Flareon or Yveltal or most of the other top decks, Toad doesn’t need to play a Sycamore or N each turn to keep up — this allows time for a well-timed Flare Grunt, Xerosic, Delinquent, or, in this case, TSG. Using your Supporter to look at your opponent’s hand (especially knowing it won’t contain any Energies afterward), tells you a couple of things including more or less how long your Toad will survive. Having that knowledge helps you plan out how long you’ll take to build your next Toad or if it’s a safe time to switch to Decidueye or Crobat.
One thing that stuck out to me when I first read Team Skull Grunt was the general magnitude of the effect. Discarding — not shuffling back — up to 2 of your opponent’s Energy can change the game immediately. Many decks play so few Energy that losing even a single one can cost them the game in the closing turns.
A concrete example of the power of manipulating your opponent’s resources is Takuya Yoneda’s 2016 Nationals winning Sceptile/Seismitoad deck (click to view). The most unusual aspect of this deck were the two copies of Delinquent. Initially, you wouldn’t think a Toad deck would play a card that forces an opponent to discard cards they can’t even play anyway. After playing the deck for a couple of weeks I realized that Delinquent was far more effective than it was redundant. In the final turns of the game, Delinquent creates a situation when your opponent finds him or herself in one of the following situations:
- They have no Trainers remaining because they’ve lost them all to Sycamore and Delinquent.
- They have so few cards in their hand as a result of N or Delinquent that even one more Delinquent means an empty hand.
- Between the cards in their deck and hand, there are simply no easy cards to dispose of without losing all win conditions.
Now, a straight Seismitoad deck could Quaking Punch the whole game and hope to hit Supporters/Energies/Pokémon on Delinquent but a Toad deck partnered with a strong alternative attacker could jump ship and start swinging for the fences. I see Team Skull Grunt as an addition or alternative to Delinquent in these types of Toad decks. Not only does it provide early-game value in preventing attacks against Toads but it provides late-game value by giving intel on your opponent’s hand and potentially stealing the last of their Energies. The bottom line is that the effect is too strong to be ignored when resources are stretched so thin these days, especially in an Expanded environment.
That’s all I have for this month. I tried to cover the clear front-runners and then a couple of the riskier, experimental alternatives for this weekend’s tournament. I’ll end by saying that sometimes it really pays to take risks, especially in the wake of a new set. A word of caution though: it feels much better to leave a tournament having lost with a deck you’re comfortable playing than it does to go 4-5 because your deck was insufficiently tested. That being said, Yveltal is still the most boring deck in the game. Whatever you choose to play, I wish everyone the best of luck this weekend and I look forward to seeing how this weekend’s winners approached this topsy-turvy new format.
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