What is uppppp, everyone?! Can you believe that U.S. Nats (I’m calling it this in the article — screw the rules) is finally upon us? Worlds is the goal for many at the start of every September, but Nationals is the tournament that’s the high point of everyone’s calendar. Real life gets in the way for some, and Worlds is not a feasible option for all players, but schedules are cleared for the start of July.
It feels strange to think that there are many players in today’s game who’ve never experienced Nationals weekend, and even more who’ve never experienced it in Indianapolis. You will be blown away; the Convention Center is leagues ahead of what was in Columbus, and the city is fantastic — the least of which is the legendary Embassy Suites. For one weekend, that hotel belongs to the Pokémon Community, and that’s where it really happens. You owe it to yourself to spend some time hanging out there, even for a brief moment; taste the Embassy and you’ll never book another hotel again. Seriously, I cannot wait for this weekend.
All that said, you come to SixPrizes not for a travel agent, but for Pokémon. For the past week and a half, all our writers have teamed up to bring you an article marathon, covering a new deck every day as we inched closer and closer to this glorious weekend. I’m honored to be the final stop on this train; the final bomb in this blitz. A lot of great decks have been covered up to this point, and for this final entry, I bring you a deck that is all too familiar to me: Greninja.
It seems fitting to me that the deck I get to cover before the largest tournament in Pokémon history is also the very first deck I covered; in the time since that article was posted, my knowledge of the game, experience playing, and the format have all evolved greatly. Greninja disappeared off the face of the map with the rise of Decidueye, but with the release of Guardians Rising, Greninja is ready to strike fear into the hearts of many (both pilots and opponents) once more! Let’s dive in and see what the Fantastic Mr. Frog has been up to, shall we?
Greninja is probably the oldest deck in the current Standard format, being one of the few virtually untouched by the rotation of the first block of XY sets. Originally released last year in Breakpoint, Greninja had mild success in a format suffocated by Night March. Greninja had a relatively positive matchup against the top deck, as it was able to score multiple prizes in a single turn against the tiny Marchers, and thanks to Rough Seas, could fend off Trevenant as well.
The problem came from the fact that N was not yet rereleased into the game, making the lists clunky and inconsistent. Current superstar Azul Greigo did win a States with a cool list running 2-2 Octillery and 4 Rare Candy, and a list much closer to Flame-less lists of today also took 2nd at California States. The release of Fates Collide brought N back to the format, giving Greninja the consistency/disruption card it desperately needed. Still, it saw little success; I was one of just two Greninja players to make Day 2 at U.S. Nationals last year.
Only after the release of the next set, Steam Siege, did Greninja finally have its day. That set brought Talonflame, a card almost specifically designed for Greninja alone (seriously, almost no other decks have run this card). Talonflame provided the boost in consistency the deck needed, as well as providing a great early game threat to Night March. Greninja stormed through Worlds that year, with my good friend Cody taking 2nd to the People’s Champion, M Audino.
Following that performance, Drew Kennett won the inaugural Regional of this season with Greninja (where it likewise showed up in force), with the deck picking up some scattered Regionals placements — I believe just a Top 2 and a Top 4 — before never making Top 8 again…until now! Mexico City, the last North American Regional of the year (unless you ask Pokémon, who seems to have their geography confused — they’d say that title belongs in Madison), had a Greninja surprisingly reach the semifinals, defeating a Decidueye/Vileplume in Top 8, which presumed to be an extremely unfavorable matchup for Greninja, to get there.
Greninja’s strengths in the present day are numerous. For starters, the deck runs only non-EX Pokémon, forcing an old school game where your opponent must legitimately take all six of their prizes. Greninja’s two attacks, Shadow Stitching and Moonlight Slash, are both incredibly powerful, each costing a single energy. Shadow Stitching’s ability to create a one-sided Ability lock is tremendous, and coupled with the repeated barrage of N/Ace Trainer that will be played over the course of the game, can lock an opponent out of the game.
Moonlight Slash has the potential to do 80 damage for a single energy, and with Choice Band, now virtually guarantees a 2KO on most of the EX/GX Pokémon in the game, Fury Belt or not. Moonlight Slash also puts an energy back into your hand, providing you fuel for the ability that makes the entire deck work: Giant Water Shuriken.
Way back when XY-base released, Greninja’s Water Shuriken Ability received little respect — and rightly so. Discarding an Energy for three damage counters was cool, but it just didn’t do enough at the time. GWS takes that ability to another level, doubling the damage output. Do it twice in a turn — and then attack for 80 — and you’re a non-EX dishing out a whopping 200 damage. Throw Choice Band into the mix and you’re knocking out every Pokémon in format except Decidueye, Metagross, and Solgaleo. In spite of this, Greninja still isn’t getting much love. Why is that?
As you know, Greninja is a deck that functions only because it literally BREAKs the rules of the game (get it?!). Water Duplicates puts Frogadier directly onto your bench, skipping the Froakie entirely. Without this gimmick, I do not believe Greninja would be viable, at least in any conventional form we’re used to. Greninja decks generally run few basic Pokémon, to increase the chance of starting Talonflame, or to guarantee a Froakie start, and then only the rest of the Greninja line. Staple consistency Pokémon such as Tapu Lele or Shaymin-EX have never found a place in Greninja, for a few reasons:
1) The low Basic count increases the chance of you starting one of these cards, thereby losing out on its effect.
2) Greninja is a deck that thrives on forcing an opponent to take six EX-sized knockouts on non-EX Pokémon, forcing a lopsided prize trade in Greninja’s favor, which Shaymin or Lele, as two-prize Pokémon, go against.
The rest of the deck is Energy (with varying splits of Splash/Water energy), Supporters and search cards, with only a small amount of tech cards (usually no more than five or so cards, occupied by Field Blower and Choice Band in today’s builds). As we’ll see below, Greninja is a deck built with high counts of a lot of cards, making it one of the most consistent decks in the game…on paper.
The reason that Greninja has never truly held a high place in any given format is because it is one of the most enigmatically inconsistent decks in the game. In recent years, a deck will come around every so often that looks like it should be supremely consistent, and just…isn’t. Greninja is as enigmatic as you can get. The deck has been toyed with by many of the game’s top players, but no one has been able to break the curse and find the list for it.
Some players, such as Drew Kennett, have come very close to what I think is the “perfect” list for the deck, and it is still only as consistent as it wants to be. Some of the hands Greninja will give you should be classified as a crime against humanity. There’s dead drawing, and then there’s Greninja bricking, and they aren’t in the same realm of terrible. It’s actually pretty insane how bad some of the hands you get are – you can predict the worst possible hand and then Greninja will give you a worse one. It sucks!
Greninja is also my favorite deck in the format and I believe it has the highest ceiling of any deck in the format.
If Greninja is running hot, it will beat virtually any deck in the game, or has a very real shot at doing so, even against things like Bulu, Lurantis, or Decidueye. This dichotomy is Greninja’s curse, and is the ultimate gamble: put it all on blue; let it ride.
There are two primary ways to build Greninja: with Talonflame, and without. Both have merits, and the skeleton I’ve included can swing either direction.
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 28
Energy – 10
This is pretty much the core of any Greninja deck. You’ve got your main Greninja line, you’ve got your energy, and all the necessary consistency/search/recovery cards. Just looking at the skeleton, it already seems really consistent, and we’ve still got eight slots to work with!
Joke’s on you! — It doesn’t really get more consistent, even if you put in eight more consistency cards…so, let’s explore some other options.
– Talonflame: Talonflame is the biggest flex between the two styles of Greninja. As it stands, this skeleton is laid out in a way that I’m going to incorporate Talonflame (hence the three Froakie). If you run Talonflame, you are sorta handicapped into not running any tech Pokémon, because doing so decreases your odds of starting Talonflame. With four Talonflame and three Froakie, you have a 57% chance of starting Talonflame every game, which is pretty good.
Not starting Talonflame definitely hurts the deck, as you only have three Froakie to work with, but the upside is so high with the bird that it’s often worth it. What Talonflame does for the deck is fairly obvious, so I won’t get into that too much, but it’s especially good against Item locks and Garbodor, providing you an alternative form of search. You also have the option of taking a mulligan, even with Talonflame in the hand, as it’s not a Basic; use this to your advantage when determining whether or not a hand is good! Just because Talonflame is there doesn’t mean you need to start it! (Note: opting not to go with Talonflame means that a fourth Froakie is automatically included).
– Jirachi: If you opt to not run Talonflame, Jirachi is the go-to. Stardust is an option that’s fallen off a bit, which is a bit puzzling to me. I think the utility of this card is insane, especially with Decidueye falling off a bit (meaning there are fewer threats to Jirachi’s invincibility). This card is strong against many of the top decks, including Garbodor variants, Zoroark variants, Vespiquen, Gyarados, and more. No other discussion on this card is needed. The stall factor of this card is insane, and should not be overlooked if you’re deciding on which route to go.
– Oricorio: This is a tech that’s seen mild discussion, as a way to assist Greninja in handling Vespiquen, which is a matchup that’s become a little less in Ninja’s failure with the departure of Bursting Balloon. Oricorio is also a strong card elsewhere, providing Greninja with the unique ability to snipe certain targets outside of GWS, and in certain lategame situations, even greater sniping ability. Not something to overlook, especially when combined with GWS in a turn.
– Rare Candy: An old adage I like to use when describing Greninja is this: “you run four Frogadier to get three.” Greninja prizes Frogadier at a much higher statistical probability than any other card in the deck, because that is the price Greninja paid in the blood pact it made with Lucifer. Running Rare Candy is a sweet way to circumvent unfortunate prizes, give Greninja a small boost in speed, and provide a great search target for Talonflame. Searching for Candy/Greninja with two Froakie on the bench is also a dirty play for the following turn, as you can get a Greninja and Duplicates, giving you a turn three BREAK, which puts some insane pressure on your opponent.
– Max Potion: Greninja used to run Rough Seas, and while it has since abandoned that, Max Potion is a card worth investigating. Every Pokémon in the deck requires a single energy to attack, meaning Max Potion has no serious downside to you. This card is especially strong against decks that must two-shot Greninja, as you can deny them turns and further punish them with Shadow Stitching.
– Additional consistency Supporters: I’ve found that 10 consistency cards is usually the magic number for Greninja. You will dead draw a little more than other standard decks running that (or lower) counts, as you do not have access to Lele or Shaymin. But, this number is usually enough to hit a Supporter by turn three, which is when you’re ready to start attacking.
This is less of an issue with a Talonflame start (provided you also have access to an Energy!), as Talonflame will either instantly bail you out or force an N, which often has the same effect, but it is what it is. I’ve found that including a lot more Supporters actually has a detrimental effect on the deck, because at that point, I was drawing more Supporters than Energy/balls/whatever other cards I needed, giving me a different kind of dead draw. Greninja needs a razor-thin balance between consistency/other cards, and while that balance doesn’t actually exist in an achievable form, this is the closest we can get.
– Additional balls: Sometimes seven search cards aren’t enough, even with Talonflame. Repeat Ball and Level Ball are both strong choices in the deck, fetching various parts of the Greninja line. I’d stay away from Timer Ball, as that isn’t a guaranteed find (and a double Tails will be absolutely disastrous), but more search cards is never a bad thing.
– Stadiums: Brooklet Hill and Silent Lab are the big two for Ninja. Brooklet provides extra consistency and Silent Lab can buy you some time early game/provide more disruption later. With the Giratina promo extinct, I don’t think Lab is actually necessary, and Brooklet, while cute, doesn’t provide as significant a boost in consistency as you’d think. Still, worth investigating.
– Additional Choice Band/ FieldBlower: Greninja usually only needs access to a Field Blower once a game (to KO a Garb that turn, or set up big KOs down the line), and Choice Band is good just for supplemental damage on a specific knockout (and it usually gets discarded by an opponent’s blower anyway). Including more of these cards is done not to have access to more uses, but rather to increase your odds of hitting them in a timely manner. It is frustrating losing games to Garbodor because you literally dig through 75+ cards and still don’t see a Field Blower — that’s all I’m saying.
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 32
Energy – 10
This list incorporates many of the consistency options I discussed to fill the slots, opting to put in one Rare Candy. I actually played this exact list (-1 Ace +1 Teammates) at Madison Regionals to a Top 64 finish, and had a lot of fun, without bricking too much.
Greninja actually has maybe the most polarizing matchup spread of any deck out there right now, and it’s summed up succinctly as this:
Everything but Green decks (and itself): good/great/amazing/autowin.
Green decks (and itself): bad/worse/horrible/autoloss.
It’s not that simple, but it also really is. If Greninja sets up, it should win virtually any match against a deck that isn’t a Green (Grass) one. If Greninja doesn’t set up, it should lose virtually any match against a deck that isn’t a Green one. If Greninja sets up, it should probably still lose to Green decks, though it can make it close. If Greninja doesn’t set up, it should lose virtually every match against Green decks.
In this format, the “Green” decks are Lurantis, Decidueye, Tapu Bulu, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Vespiquen. Weakness, man. Greninja can actually one-shot every one of these Pokémon except Decidueye, so if you are running hot, you can very realistically steal some games against the other Green decks (and possibly even using some creative Stitching to beat Decidueye — I’ve done it before!). There really isn’t that much to go into, matchup wise, for Greninja. You really do smash the top decks if you set up. Setting up is also a very legitimate concern.
If you remember in an older article, I discussed a new way to approach matchups and how to factor in variance. With Greninja, you should assume you’ll give up one game every set to bricking. The key here, then, is to determine what will happen the other two games. Feeling lucky and think you’ll run good/well/hot in the other two games of every set? Play Greninja. Worried that you’ll brick more than 33.3% of the time in a set and unnecessarily lose games as a result? Don’t play Greninja. That’s really what it comes down to. This is why Greninja’s worst enemy is itself. If you believe in the Heart of the Cards, and Greninja does too, you can go all the way.
I am ~90% set on Greninja. I need a decent (i.e., Top 256) Nats performance for an invite, with the points bump. Since giving up on an invite pursuit and suddenly realizing that one is now within reach once more, I’ve taken a far less competitive approach to the game. If I get the invite at Nats, awesome! If not, oh well. One thing’s certain for me, though: if I’m putting it all on the line in this last tournament, there’s no deck I’d rather live or die with than Greninja. Anyone who has a deep Nats run has always had the winds of fortune on their side, and if I’m gonna run hot, there’s no deck better to run hot with.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for you today! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article marathon we’ve put on for you guys, and I hope we’ve helped you come closer to deciding on a deck for the largest tournament in Pokémon history! Ultimately, Nats is a transcendent experience, so please don’t look at it as another Pokémon tournament! Make Pokémon the least important part of your weekend, and I promise you you’ll have the time of your life (and the lack of stress from doing so could result in a great run!).
I’ll be in Indianapolis Thursday morning to Monday morning, staying at the Embassy Suites. Please don’t hesitate to come up and say hey, I love meeting readers! As always, let me know what you think, good luck to everyone this weekend, and I’ll see you all very soon!
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