Another (Inter)nationals has come and gone, and the player base is beginning to divvy up its priorities: many will be racing to print out proxies to test for Worlds, while others will use those same proxies only in an anticipated rotated format (for what it’s worth, my guess is Fates Collide-on), while still others will be using the results of Internationals as a basis for what to play in the next few weekends before Burning Shadows arrives on the scene. Today, I will be providing some reflection on the events this past weekend, and a few small windows into what might be relevant in the Worlds format.
I enjoy writing pieces after big events, as it forces me to reflect on my experience. In any activity, reflection is a key part of the learning process. We learn things only so far as we look back at what we did well, what we could do better the next time around, and create a plan to achieve our goals. In a game like Pokémon, there is always room to grow, even for the most top-tier players. I hope my reflections can help give you insight into the metagame and choices I made, but more importantly, give you a method to reflect on your own experiences.
I am fortunate to have a lot of friends in the Pokémon TCG. Specifically, I stayed with 10 other friends (across multiple hotel rooms, don’t worry!) that all had not chosen a deck prior to arriving in Indianapolis. Before I arrived Wednesday evening, I was pretty set on Darkrai. My list was similar to the one I posted in my article last week, but I had been testing some games with four Fighting Fury Belt over the four Choice Band. I thought this might give a better shot against decks like Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu, and just help keep Darkrai alive longer. Pablo Meza and I had tested a lot of matchups and felt comfortable with the deck. We mainly just wanted to test against the Decidueye/Spread deck that had started to gain some traction in the past week.
So, we played a bunch of games against the Decidueye list from Australia that included 2-1 Alolan Ninetales. Darkrai, with two Hex Maniac or a thin Garbodor line, went 2-5 against the Decidueye deck. The matchup seemed rough, even with Ability lock. Decidueye just had so much HP, Darkrai could not constantly keep its Energy on board between Feather Arrow and Field Blower, and Alolan Ninetales was a pain to deal with. After a bad set with Vespiquen as well, Pablo and I put Darkrai away. Little did we know, our fellow SixPrizes writers were also testing Darkrai at the same time!
After this, Ross, Pablo, and I decided we should seriously consider playing the Decidueye deck. Some of my other teammates were starting to settle on Espeon/Garbodor or Drampa/Garbodor, as they felt comfortable with them and did not see anything significantly better. We played some games against these two decks and found both matchups to be somewhere around the 50-50 range. The Espeon matchup seemed more troublesome, and we debated putting a Mewtwo in to help. Drampa could be annoying to deal with, but did not feel like it would be as annoying as confusion. We were confident in most of its other matchups, beating Zoroark and Vespiquen easily in testing. Volcanion was a bit of a worry, but Ross beat Sam Chen in one testing game, which at least told us it was not unwinnable.
As Thursday night drew to a close, we settled on most of the list. We were still debating the last two slots the morning of the tournament, but eventually Pablo, Ross, and myself all settled on the same list, with Michael Chin playing a few cards off. Teammates replaced Skyla at 1am the night before, and the Mewtwo spot was still being debated, as it could have been another consistency card (2nd Level Ball, Skyla, 4th Grass) or a Special Charge. My other teammates divided between Drampa/Garbodor and Espeon/Garbodor, as mentioned above.
Pokémon – 21
Trainers – 32
Energy – 7
Overall, the list felt pretty good. At the end of the day, the most cuttable card definitely felt like a Choice Band. Teammates was very good. Mewtwo was just okay, but solid against Espeon. Ninetales was good. Our list ended up only a few cards off some of the lists from other top players that did very well:
Igor Costa (Top 4) played Trainer’s Mail over VS Seeker, but otherwise was almost identical. This is particularly interesting, as Igor identified the deck could be a bit clunky and attempted to smooth over these inconsistencies with Trainer’s Mail. The loss of VS Seeker would have scared me, but Igor is a great player and must have managed his resources very well throughout the tournament.
My matches on the day:
R1: 2-0 vs Vespiquen AOR (Fred Hoban)
R2: 2-0 vs Lycanroc-GX/Raichu XY (Ben Sauk, stream, 2:24 mark)
R3: 2-0 vs Darkrai-EX (Patrick Van Story)
R4: 1-1 vs Decidueye-GX/Ninetales-GX (Igor Costa)
R5: 0-1 vs Espeon-GX/Garbodor GRI (Kevin Abernathy)
R6: 1-1 vs M Gardevoir-EX STS
R7: 2-0 vs Espeon-GX/Garbodor GRI (Edwin Lopez)
R8: 0-2 vs Decidueye-GX/Tapu Koko SM31/4 Devolution Spray (Pedro Torres)
I felt like I had a tough road laid out for me. Despite playing three World class players in the first three rounds, I started off 3-0-1. I could have scooped the first game earlier in round five, as I was just a few turns short of winning the second game. I then got paired against a difficult matchup in Mega Gardevoir, where I was able to squeeze out a win in game two and secure a tie (more on that below). My run came to an end when I got paired against a previous International champion in Pedro, with his list running much more efficiently for the mirror match. The max Devolution Spray caught me off guard, and the extra 80 damage he was able to spread around allowed him to eek out a close series. I gave someone the win in the last round to give him a shot at reaching an invite.
Overall, Decidueye/non-Vileplume decks had the fourth most placements in Day 2. Many ran Ninetales, but not all. The deck performed well. Why?
As we have seen since Sun & Moon hit the streets, Decidueye-GX is an incredibly powerful card. Everything about it is good: 240 HP is more than almost anything non-Fire can hit in one turn, Feather Arrow is a double Pluspower to any Pokémon every turn for an ability, Hollow Hunt-GX replenishes key resources, and Razor Leaf gives it a solid, two-Energy attack. Add Forest of Giant Plants and you can cheese Decidueyes out as soon as the first turn.
Tapu Koko, even as just a 1-of in a Decidueye deck, brings a whole new dimension to how Decidueye can play the game. To put in perspective how powerful Tapu Koko is, look at some older cards that had a similar attack:
Abomasnow SF – A Stage 1 Pokémon that also hits for a DCE, but does not even spread to two types of Pokémon!
Tapu Koko is a basic Pokémon that has 20 spread for a single DCE. And it has free retreat! This is by far the best spread Pokémon we have seen in the history of the card game. Even just one Flying Flip can put 80 – 120 damage on your opponent’s board. With two or more Flying Flip attacks, the damage begins to add up quickly. If you watch my stream game against Ben Sauk, I Flying Flip for upwards of 160 damage for multiple turns in a row, thanks to his Sky Field! With the support of Decidueye-GX, we can set up multiple KOs turns in advance.
Espeon-EX has seen minimal play since its release. With the return of Evolution decks in this format, however, many players began thinking about this card. Overall, it does not make sense to include the card in a deck that cannot also utilize spread damage in order to take some cheap KOs on otherwise-bulky Pokémon. However, Espeon happily finds a spot in this deck. It helps in every Evolution matchup, as even if you do not use it, the threat of devolving your opponent’s Pokémon looms throughout the game.
It has some interesting niche uses as well, such as against Mega decks. In my match against M Gardevoir, my opponent attached or discard all his Spirit Links. I used Espeon to devolve two M Gardevoir on the field, forcing him to burn a turn if he ever wanted to Mega Evolve again. This loss of tempo allowed me to win a game I otherwise would have lost.
Alolan Ninetales is played almost as much for Alolan Vulpix GRI as it is for Alolan Ninetales-GX. Beacon gives the deck an extra layer of consistency and something to do in the early game besides just poke for 40 with Tapu Lele or Sky Return. The two Float Stone in most lists seemed too little given that you wanted to go into a Vulpix almost every game. We bumped the Float Stone count accordingly (which also gave us extra help against Espeon-GX as well).
Though you can play Vulpix without Ninetales, I think the benefits of Ninetales as a one-of are too high to not include it. If you really need a slot, I would play 1-1 Ninetales before going to two Vulpix and zero Ninetales. Ice Blade complements your spread strategy quite well, and can help knock off small basic Pokémon before they evolve. Feather Arrow + Ice Blade takes out Trubbish, Eevee, Zorua, and other Pokémon in the early game and can snowball a game very quickly. Ice Path-GX is a nice option to have in several matchups, especially against Garbodor decks.
Throughout our testing on Thursday, there were many times where I considered just playing Drampa/Garbodor, despite my concerns with its matchups and the idea that other players would be familiar with it. I played with a lot in testing at home and played a bunch of games against it in Indy, so I felt like I could play it well enough. Tyler Ninomura and Jonathan Paranada had extensively tested the deck for Seattle Regionals and had done the same leading up to Internationals. I was confident we would have the best Drampa/Garbodor list in the room.
Drampa/Garbodor has some of the most even matchups in the format, but makes up for its mediocre matchup spread with its consistency. As my friend Tyler puts it, “Drampa/Garb is an inherently consistent deck in a field of inherently inconsistent decks.” While I do not necessary agree that all the other decks are inherently inconsistent, he highlights one of the most important features of Drampa/Garb’s success: its simplistic, raw power.
Ultimately, I decided on Decidueye because I thought both decks were about an equally good choice for the tournament, but I thought less players would have experience playing against Decidueye. I usually prefer this route if given the choice. Clearly Drampa was as good, if not a better, choice.
There were quite a few differences in the Drampa/Garbodor lists that saw play in the tournament. Sam and Tord’s list were on opposite ends of the “spectrum” of Drampa/Garbodor lists, with many players falling somewhere in between. Take a look at their lists over at Pokémon.com and then continue reading for some analysis.
Perhaps the starkest difference between Sam and Tords’ lists is their Pokémon line. While both include the standard 4-3/1 Garbodor line, things begin to differ from there. Tord sports an extra copy of Drampa-GX and Tapu Lele-GX, offering himself the highest chance to execute the basic strategy of the deck. In comparison, Sam rocks some tech Pokémon in those spots: Tapu Koko SM31, Oricorio GRI 56, and Mewtwo EVO. While Mewtwo is specifically for the Espeon matchup, Tapu Koko and Oricorio provide utility in multiple matchups. Each has their own specific matchup they especially help against, but allow you to play the game a bit differently against a lot of matchups. For example, Tapu Koko spreading damage against Zoroark can be important to put light pressure on the opponent and setting up easier KOs for Tapu Lele on Zoroarks.
Tord opted for a larger Energy count, jamming Rainbow Energy in the deck to help activate Drampa’s Berserk attack. Sam chose to play just Psychic Energy and including Team Magma Base, the more standard choice for the deck. This gives Sam a bit more explosive potential and the option to get a turn two 150/180 from Drampa, but allows Tord to not play otherwise-useless cards in the Stadium. In fact, having the Stadium out as the game goes on can actually hurt the Drampa at times, putting damage on Pokémon you otherwise want healthy. With Teammates in the deck, I still prefer to include Magma Base, as it offers such a powerful swing turn.
Similar to Tord’s Pokémon choices, he opted for a much more straightforward Trainer line as well. Sporting max copies of his Tools, Tord will seldom miss on the Tool he needs for a given situation. 4 Professor Sycamore and N will make dead drawing difficult for Tord as well. Brigette and Teammates as his “tech” Supporters round out his choices, only furthering his consistency while still giving him a few different options.
Meanwhile, Sam includes a handful of less-consistency friendly supporters: Hex Maniac, Olympia, and Professor Kukui (in addition to the Teammates and Pokémon Fan Club). While Professor Kukui does draw you cards, I hesitate calling it a consistency card. All three of these cards provide some niche effect I am sure Sam used throughout the tournament. Of these, I imagine Olympia being the most cuttable. Kukui always feels a bit underwhelming, but can allow you to get some key KOs against the likes of Espeon-GX and Greninja BREAK. Hex Maniac gives you some extra security on top of Garbotoxin in a field saturated with strong Abilities.
Perhaps as justice for all I have just said, Sam drew fairly poorly in the mirror match in the semi-finals, while Tord drew fine. Sam’s slow starts allowed Tord to easily run away with both games. Sam put up a fight as best he could, but Tord’s consistency in this mirror match was too much.
If Sam was able to draw a bit better, his techs would have given him an advantage. This highlights one of the most important things in the Pokémon TCG, especially at large events like this: consistency is king.
Both of these decks have asserted themselves as the two dominant forces of the format. While Espeon/Garbodor and Zoroark were the powerhouses coming into the tournament, and still are strong in their own right, at the end of the day, two Drampa/Garbodor and two Decidueye decks finished in the final four placements.
As Burning Shadows becomes legal for Worlds, these decks will have to adapt to keep their throne. Here are some quick thoughts about the format in general and how Decidueye and Drampa/Garbodor should look to change to remain relevant.
Acerola will be an important card in both decks — and against both decks. Decidueye gaining Acerola means it can let a Decidueye take a hit, Feather Arrow, scoop it up, and immediately play it back down next turn for a free 20 damage and a fresh, 240-HP wall. However, Decidueye will have to be more conscience of its damage placement, as its damage can be wiped away in an instant via Acerola. Drampa decks will look to OHKO more often, as two-shotting becomes significantly weaker with Acerola.
Plumeria could significantly hurt both decks. Decidueye already runs a low Energy count and is hurt by cards like Team Flare Grunt. Plumeria discarding an Energy anywhere does not even allow the Decidueye player to hide his Energy on the bench.
Guzma should again help and hurt Decidueye. In the Vileplume variant, Guzma allows you to potentially remove Float Stones entirely and run three or four copies of Guzma to protect yourself against Vileplume from being locked. It also removes the win condition of locking some heavy-retreater Active and sniping around it with Feather Arrow.
I will be looking at other ways to play Decidueye rather than the above Ninetales build or with Vileplume. Perhaps something with heavy Shaymin/Choice Band and max Acerola and Max Potion could be interesting: Sky Return for chip damage on top of Feather Arrow and scooping up/healing Decidueyes to deny prizes. This would work well against anything that cannot OHKO Decidueye, but would struggle against something like Volcanion.
Drampa/Garbodor faces an interesting crossroads: stay super consistent like Tord’s list or go even more off the rails from the tech-y version we brought. Philip Schulz brought a Drampa/Garbodor/Zygarde list to Internationals that seems interesting. If Gardevoir-GX becomes big as anticipated, cards like Magearna-EX could even make a more teched out list.
Marshadow-GX hurts Drampa’s viability, as we finally have a splashable Fighting Pokémon in the format. I am not sure which decks will opt to include this guy just yet, but just having the option available should reduce Drampa’s dominance.
For the players descending on Anaheim in six weeks’ time, this is both the most exciting and nerve-racking part of the season. For better or worse, the goal for every aspiring Pokémon trainer is to compete at the World Championships. I am extremely fortunate to be competing in my 7th World Championship this August and still feel the jitters!
With a new set being released essentially just for us, testing new cards will be more important than ever. Here at SixPrizes, we will do our best to give you wholistic view of the impact of Burning Shadows and what to expect heading into the World Championship. As always, feel free to comment or message me to talk about decks or for any advice at all. Good luck testing!
… and that will conclude this unlocked Underground article.
(After 90 days we open up past UG content for public viewing to help preserve the history of the game. New articles are reserved for Underground members.)
Underground Members: Thank you for making this article possible!
Other Users: Click here to view the registration page if you are interested in joining Underground and gaining full access to our latest content.