A Dive into the Sea of Success

Developing the Ideal Formula for Gyarados and Determining its Place in the NAIC Metagame
Who’s got 2 thumbs and loves playing Pokémon? This guy.

Hey everyone! Glad to be back and excited to write not one, but two articles during this SixPrizes Article Marathon. I think this is an awesome idea and am excited to be a part of it. I have just finished the school year (I am a math and technology teacher, for those that do not know), so I have a lot of free time in the upcoming weeks. That means a lot of Pokémon! Testing for Internationals and eventually Worlds and writing articles here will consume a large amount of time this summer.

I was fortunate to qualify for the World Championships at Virginia Regionals, finishing 64th place and getting my point total above 500. I could have also reached the 500 threshold through League Cups, but have largely sat this quarter out since I did not need the points and have no chance at qualifying for Day 2.

As I prepare for Internationals, I will be testing basically everything. There are more than 20 viable decks right now, which is pretty nuts. Even so, this format does not seem as luck or matchup based as previous formats. However, there are a lot of interactions that players need to be aware of. I hope this marathon of articles shows you many of these interactions and gives you a decent picture of what to expect come Indianapolis.

Diving Deep: History of the Karp

Gyarados has been around as a deck almost the entire season. It was a potential secret deck heading into the first Regional of the year in Orlando. I worked extensively on a list with Bob Zhang, who won two League Challenges with it in September, and was ready to play it in Orlando before I found out that everyone actually knew about it. Still, it did okay there with a Top 16 finish. Though my list with Bob focused on Octillery, the list that did well in Orlando gave us a glimpse into a different variant, one focused more on Shaymin-EX. Though the cute Meowstic-EX tech was quickly dismissed by most players, the idea of a faster Gyarados list became appealing.

As the rest of the season went by, Gyarados had some minimal success. Many of its big finishes have come from Europe and many of them have come from Alex Dao of England. I played Alex a few years ago at Worlds — he is a phenomenal player and a very cool guy. He recently won a Special Event and Birmingham Regionals on back to back weekends. Another list back in January Top 4’ed a Special Event by a player named Vito Flinker (thanks for the correction Ben Pham!) got me back interested in Gyarados after dismissing it after Orlando.

No, the other “Lucky” card.

The most interesting thing about Vito’s list was the inclusion of four Lucky Helmet. Making use of the lack of Tool removal in the format, Vito recognized that Gyarados often needs a few more cards each turn to keep itself moving. Teammates and Puzzle of Time are integral to the deck’s goal of getting exactly what it needs at any given time, but they are limited by the quantity of cards they can each get. Lucky Helmet relieved some of this pressure by giving you two or even four new cards after you would get hit.

Variants on Gyarados continued to do moderately well through the Spring despite the emergence of Decidueye/Vileplume. We saw Jose Marrero place highly at many events, Tyler Ninomura almost make Top 8 in Salt Lake City, and Sam Hough make Day 2 in Brazil. If Decidueye was not as popular as it was, I am confident Gyarados would have been a much larger threat throughout the year.

With Guardians Rising, Gyarados benefits in two major ways: the cards in the set (most notably Choice Band and Rescue Stretcher) and the way the metagame has formed. Though Decidueye is still a top 10 deck, it is far from the dominant, most popular deck in the format it was a few months ago. This has given Gyarados the opening it needed to reenter the metagame as a real force. Though cards like Tapu Koko Promo, Spinda, Azelf, and Espeon-GX exist, Gyarados is more fit to deal with these than ever before with the release of Machoke.

The premise of Gyarados is very simple: using Team Magma’s Secret Base, play Magikarps down so they have two damage counters on them. Then, utilize Gyarados’s Full Retaliation attack to do massive amounts of damage for just a single Double Colorless Energy. Your whole deck revolves around getting this combo out early and sustaining it through the whole game. Since your Magikarps only have 10 HP left at any given time, and even Gyarados does not have a whole lot of HP at 130 or 110 (depending if it evolved from a damaged Magikarp or not), your opponent will be taking KOs almost as swiftly as you are.

This necessitates a lot of recovery in your deck. Lists earlier this season ran four Buddy-Buddy Rescue, four Puzzle of Time, Special Charge, and Super Rod. Running the right balance to ensure speed and sustainability is a real challenge for a deck like Gyarados, especially as a Stage 1 Pokémon. Gyarados is often compared to Night March for its speed and raw power, but it has a lot more moving parts than Night March did. This leaves less room for tech cards in a Gyarados list.

Gyarados math was a little awkward throughout the year. Before Sun and Moon came out, Giovanni’s Scheme was the only damage modifier the deck could play. And to be frank, it was bad. Hitting for 150 with two Magikarp (say you prize a Magikarp) is short of relevant KOs. 210 with all three Magikarp is short of KOing some major Megas (M Rayquaza-EX for example) and Fighting Fury Belt-enabeld 180 HP EXs (Darkrai-EX being the most prominent).

Sun and Moon gave us Professor Kukui, a much better option compared to Giovanni’s Scheme. Finally, Guardians Rising brought us Choice Band, which helped Gyarados as much or more than any other deck in the format. Since Gyarados can attach two tools to itself, there are now very relevant numbers it can hit for a minimal amount of investment: with two Magikarp on the Bench, Full Retaliation hits 180 with a Choice Band or 210 with double Choice Band. With three Magikarp you can even hit 270 with double Choice Band, enough to 1HKO huge things like Metagross and Vikavolt-GX! The phasing out of Fighting Fury Belt as the tool of choice has also had a huge impact on Gyarados’ ability to hit key numbers.

Skeleton List:

Pokémon – 7

4 Magikarp EVO

3 Gyarados AOR 21

Trainers – 39

4 Professor Sycamore

1 N

1 Lysandre

1 Teammates


4 VS Seeker

7 Level Ball/Ultra Ball/Dive Ball

4 Puzzle of Time

4 Rescue Stretcher

4 Team Magma’s Secret Base

3 Trainers’ Mail

3 Choice Band

1 Special Charge

1 Town Map

1 Float Stone

Energy – 4

4 Double Colorless

50 cards

Most of these cards should be self-explanatory. They fuel the deck’s main strategy: hit hard, fast, and have recovery to continue doing so throughout the game. Let’s analyze what we can use to fill in the remaining 10 spots.


4th Gyarados: My list here only plays three copies of Gyarados because we have so much recovery. It is easy enough to find Gyarados early in the game with all of the Ball support and Rescue Stretcher/Puzzle of Time gives you lots of access to extra copies of Gyarados throughout the game. Playing a 4th copy might help if you prize two in a game, but otherwise seems largely unnecessary.

Suddenly, I’m not as universally played as it once was.

Shaymin-EX: Most Gyarados lists run one or two copies of Shaymin. It allows the deck to “pop off” and get going. Though Shaymin can be a 2-Prize liability at times, you often have the luxury to Sky Return Shaymin off the field, simultaneously adding an extra 30 damage and taking a bit off pressure off your Full Retaliation attack. By playing Shaymin, you also exert more pressure on your opponent, making it less likely they have the time to Lysandre at all.

Tapu Lele-GX: The new kid on the block, Tapu Lele is a questionable inclusion in Gyarados. Though it provides a consistency boost and fills a slightly different role than Shaymin, it is still the 2-Prize liability without the option to get it off the field. It’s utility as an attacker is handicapped in a deck like Gyarados, which will be hitting for 1HKOs much of the time and does not need a secondary attacker. Though Alex played a single copy in his Birmingham winning list, he said after the tournament he prefers two Shaymin. I tend to agree.

Octillery BKT: My original list back in the fall played a 2-2 line of the octopus, with no Shaymin. Octillery is searchable via Dive Ball and provides steady draw throughout the course of the game. With Shaymin and Tapu Lele taking a couple spots, plus all the recovery the deck must play anyway, a 1-1 line is both acceptable and a strong play.

Mr. Mime BKT: Mr. Mime provides a counter to some of the ways other decks can counter Gyarados, notably Spinda and Tapu Koko Promo. It is an easy addition and easy to get out, which makes it appealing. Unfortunately, it will not stop other threats, like Azelf, Espeon-GX, or Decidueye-GX. If you are most concerned about random Tapu Koko going into Internationals, Mr. Mime is the card you want to be playing.

Machoke GRI: Like Mr. Mime, Machoke gives you a way to counter damage-spreading strategies that target your Magikarp. Machoke is super interesting because it shuts off all ways to damage your Benched Pokémon, whether it be direct damage or placing damage counters, through Attacks or Abilities.

The downside, of course, is that Machoke is a Stage 1 Pokémon. This makes getting it out considerably more difficult, as you have to find both pieces, take a turn evolving, and not prize either piece. If you are considering Gyarados for Internationals, I would recommend testing both Mr. Mime and Machoke heavily in various matchups to gauge whether the extra protection Machoke brings really swings the matchups you want it to.

In my mind, Machoke should only be played if it swings the Decidueye matchup to at least 50-50. Otherwise, I would rather take my auto-loss to Decidueye and play Mr. Mime to have a quicker and more consistent answer to Tapu Koko, which can appear in a myriad of decks. At this point, I am not convinced Machoke helps the Decidueye matchup enough to play it.

Tauros-GX: Now we have some alternate attacking options. I do not think Tauros-GX will make my final list, but it is something worth mentioning. In any deck that plays DCE, Tauros should be considered. Tauros can help a bit in the other Stage 1 matchups like Vespiquen and Zoroark, taking cheap KOs on basics for a DCE. In particular, Zoroark can have trouble taking down a Tauros, as you can play with a small Bench until you are ready to pop off and attack with Gyarados. It also provides some utility in the abysmal Decidueye matchup, giving you an attacker that does not require a bunch of weak splashing fish on the Bench.

Oricorio GRI 56: This card would almost strictly be played for the Vespiquen matchup. Vespiquen needs 9 or 11 Pokémon in the discard to 1HKO a Gyarados, depending on if it took Magma Base damage. By the mid to late game, the Pokémon total far exceeds that, as you have been trading Gyarados and Vespiquens for a few turns. Oricorio can come in and take down a Vespiquen and a Combee once that Pokémon total hits 13. The bird can also provide some utility in other matchups, such as the mirror match, or just to help finish off some KOs when you can’t find a Lysandre. Again, I don’t expect this to make my final list, but it is a powerful card that should be considered.


2nd Supporters – Teammates, Lysandre, N: We already play a single copy of each of these cards, but all are strong enough that we should consider running a second copy of each.

  • Gyarados is a combo deck at heart, requiring a Stadium, a Special Energy, multiple basics, and a Stage 1 to hit for relevant damage. Teammates allows us to search for any combo piece we are missing. It is really strong in combination with Octillery, as Abyssal Hand lets you draw a few cards, you hit one or two pieces you need, and then Teammates searches out the rest. Teammates + Puzzle of Time is an insane combination and you can pull off some crazy sequences with these. Lastly, in a deck that has such frail Pokémon, Teammates shines. I was skeptical of two at first, but I really like it and probably wouldn’t play less than two myself.
  • Lysandre is important in a deck that looks to trade prizes. As much as possible, we want to target EX or Pokémon-GX that we can 1HKO so we can jump ahead in prize race and win fast. The longer the game goes, the more likely we are to run out of resources or have them get a big turn of Hex Maniac + Tapu Koko or something similar. Having access to Lysandre early on and throughout the game becomes essential to picking off things. While I’m not sure I will fit a second copy in my list, it is often the 61st or 62nd card I consider.
  • While N is a great card, it feels a bit weaker in a deck like this. As you seek to both go aggressive as well as need a lot of specific cards as the game goes on, a single copy of N is probably fine.

Tech Supporters: Professor Kukui, Hex Maniac, Pokémon Ranger, Pokémon Fan Club, Skyla, Karen, Judge

  • I won’t go into detail on each one of these, but all of them have their merits (and I listed them roughly in order of relevancy). Kukui helps you hit big numbers; Hex is a good utility card against many decks these days, notably Greninja and Decidueye as the matchups you want help against; Ranger helps against Giratina; Fan Club could be played if you run Tapu Lele; Skyla helps search out a combo piece if you didn’t get Knocked Out the previous turn; Karen would help vs. Vespiquen; Judge provides a disruption supporter that will always guarantee you 4 cards, unlike N. Of these, Kukui is certainly the most appealing, adding some consistency and helping in the most varied of scenarios.

Other Options:

  • 4th Trainers’ Mail: to help consistency a bit, mainly for digging for Magma Base in the early game.
  • More Balls: again, to help consistency.
  • 2nd Special Charge: more recovery options.
  • Escape Rope: This is a card I really like, especially running Octillery AND Machoke. With just a single Float Stone (though you have Puzzle of Time to get it back), you can get in awkward situations where your support Pokémon get stuck in the Active. Escape Rope also lets you get around status conditions (Espeon-GX’s Confusion is the first that comes to mind). You can also Puzzle for this back to reuse.
  • Enhanced Hammer: A decent disruption card, but probably not one that helps any matchup Gyarados struggles in. It would be more relevant if Giratina was more popular.
  • Lucky Helmet: I played four of this card in the list I won a League Cup with back in January. With no tool removal and no better tool to play, Lucky Helmet was amazing. Now, with Field Blower and Choice Band in the format, it is less appealing. However, I would consider playing a single copy.
  • Field Blower: Obviously a great card. This can be played at almost any instant to get your hand size down for Shaymin or Octillery while providing some minor disruption to your opponent. Random Fighting Fury Belts can still give you problems, and this can help. Garbotoxin is annoying for this deck, as it wants Octillery as the game progresses, so having an out to that can be important.
  • Acro Bike: help consistency and dig for DCE.

If I were playing NA Internationals tomorrow and wanted to run Gyarados, here is what I would sleeve up:

Pokémon – 12

4 Magikarp AOR

3 Gyarados AOR 21

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Remoraid BKT 32

1 Octillery BKT

1 Mr. Mime BKT

Trainers – 44

4 Professor Sycamore

2 Teammates

1 Professor Kukui

1 N

1 Lysandre


4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

3 Dive Ball

1 Level Ball

4 Puzzle of Time

4 Rescue Stretcher

4 Team Magma’s Secret Base

3 Trainers’ Mail

3 Choice Band

1 Special Charge

1 Town Map

1 Float Stone

1 Escape Rope

1 Field Blower

Energy – 4

4 Double Colorless

No surprises here, this is just a few cards off Alex’s Birmingham list:

-1 Tapu Lele-GX, -1 Machop, -1 Machoke

+1 Shaymin-EX, +1 Mr. Mime, +1 Escape Rope

This list seeks to do what Gyarados does best: hit hard, fast, and do it for a long time. I include some tech cards to help with specific matchups and cards, but not go overboard trying to turn auto-losses into just unfavorable matchups.

A Fish in the Sea: Gyarados’ Meta Prospects

Gyarados, as always, finds itself in an interesting place in the metagame. It has a lot of amazing matchups and a few horrendous ones, but it also has a counter in Tapu Koko that is in many decks (and to a lesser extent, Oricorio). Playing smart and only benching the amount of Magikarps needed for a KO at any point in the game can help mitigate the damage these cards can do to you. I have lost multiple games to Gyarados with Tapu Koko in my deck because my deck did not pressure the Gyarados deck enough or require my opponent to Bench multiple Magikarp at once to hit key KO numbers.

Below are what I would consider Gyarados’s matchups. Others might disagree on some things. Note I am taking into account Tapu Koko being in some of the decks below, like Zoroark/Drampa and Gallade/Octillery. Since neither of those decks require more than two Magikarp on the Bench to grab a KO on their guys, Tapu Koko can only do so much. Especially with Mr. Mime in the deck, they need to have Hex as well, which they can only reliably do once per game.


Very Favorable – Metagross-GX, Vikavolt SUM/Tapu Bulu-GX, Volcanion-EX, Darkrai-EX variants, M Rayquaza-EX, Lurantis-GX, Waterbox, M Gardevoir-EX

Slightly Favorable – Zoroark BKT/Drampa-GX, Vikavolt SUM w/Vikavolt-GX, Gallade BKT/Octillery BKT

EvenDrampa-GX/Garbodor GRI, Vespiquen AOR, Raichu XY/Lycanroc-GX GRI

Slightly Unfavorable – Espeon-GX/Garbodor GRI

Very Unfavorable – Decidueye-GX variants, Greninja BREAK

The Very Favorable matchups are all straightforward, as you’ll notice they are all EX-based decks with little disruption in them. You punch them real hard, they may punch you back, but you are non-EX and can trade up very efficiently. Most of these decks don’t run Tapu Koko, and even if they do, they are hard-pressed to use it efficiently enough to swing the matchup.

The Very Unfavorable matchups are almost impossible to win unless you can aggro them out of the game. Decidueye is much harder than Greninja, but if Greninja sets up it will beat you every time. It is too hard to deal with abilities that take down your Magikarps. My only advice would be to go for the riskiest plays you need to in order to try to win the game as fast as possible, capitalizing on slow starts from your opponents.

The Slightly Favorable, Even, and Slightly Unfavorable matchups require some more thought.

  • Zoroark/Drampa – Zoroarks are easily dispensed with only two Magikarps, making their Tapu Koko not super effective against you. You can usually keep your Bench three so Mind Jack does not one shot a Gyarados. While Zoroark BREAK is a fantastic card overall right now, it does nothing against you (even the HP boost is irrelevant!). Drampa can be annoying with Righteous Edge, but will usually be swiftly taken care off and let you jump ahead in the Prize trade. They can still win if they get a big Koko turn, but you should come out on top more often than not.
  • Vikavolt/GX – This matchup is only close because of the GX attack on Vikavolt-GX. If you are forced to get three Magikarp out to go for a big KO and they can hit you with a GX attack, you can lose the game. Overall, though, Vikavolt variants should be favored for Gyarados.
  • Gallade/Octillery – If the current lists of this did not run two copies of Tapu Koko, this matchup would be a breeze. As is, these make the matchup much closer. Luckily, you will only need one Magikarp to take some cheap KOs on their basic Pokémon and only two Magikarp at the maximum ever, hitting for 150 on Gallade.This makes Tapu Koko less useful for them, as they can only ever get 2 Prizes. You are faster than them, so you will usually take a few prizes before they are able to stabilize. If you can get Mr. Mime out early and avoid playing Shaymin (or get it off the field early on) things will go your way, as they can jump ahead by using Lysandre on Shaymin for 2 Prizes rather easily.
  • Drampa/Garbodor – Though they play more 2-Prize attackers than you do, their Garbodors can trade with your Gyarados rather early in the game. Drampa can even pressure you with Righteous Edge to make you fish for another DCE without having access to Teammates. You will also be forced to bench more Magikarps, making a potential Tapu Koko or Azelf tech more potent against you. Garbotoxin is quite annoying to deal with as the game progresses and you need to continue your set up with Octillery. Especially watch out for late game N + Garbotoxin + KO (or Righteous Edge!) plays.
  • Vespiquen – The Vespiquen matchup is very dependent on if either side must play down an EX/Pokémon-GX. Both sides can trade attackers without too much difficulty, using Octillery or Oranguru to help refuel the hand. Vespiquen does a better job of 1HKOing Gyarados than Zoroark or Gallade does, hence why this matchup is closer. Going first is often a big deal in this matchup as well.
  • Raichu/Lycanroc – I haven’t played much of this matchup, but it works similarly to Vespiquen. Raichu and Gyarados trade easily, with both sides trying to jump ahead in prizes by targeting EX/Pokémon-GX. The Raichu side has easier outs to gusting effects in Lycanroc, but ironically has to play a GX in order to do so, potentially opening itself up to a gust + KO on Lycanroc itself.
  • Espeon/Garbodor – This matchup is close despite Divide-GX. Gyarados can play most of the game with just two Magikarp, only playing the third down when it can get a 1HKO on an Espeon-GX with Energy and ensuring no Divide-GX will come down the following turn. Confusion makes things awkward as well. Escape Rope should help this matchup a bit.


There’s a lot yet to come.

Gyarados is a fine play right now for Internationals. It is consistent, strong, and when played well, can beat a lot of its softer counters. While it is linear in its strategy, there are many decisions to be made in any given game, through Teammates, Puzzle of Time, etc. It will be a deck I have ready to go if I do not feel comfortable playing anything else. Obviously the Greninja and Decidudeye matchups are scary, but in a format like this, you often need to chalk up a few auto-losses and call it a day.

I am not sure what I will play yet for Internationals. At the time of me writing this, there are exactly two weeks left and I have a lot of time to test. I’ll have some more info for you next week in my other article. Till then, have fun testing!


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