I don’t like playing the best deck. I have shared this before, but one of my guiding philosophies in deck choice before a tournament is as follows: If Deck A and Deck B both give me roughly the same chance to win the tournament – based on their consistency, matchup spread, etc. – and Deck A is a popular archetype and Deck B is not, then I will choose Deck B every time.
There are a few reasons for this. Most importantly, if I am playing a less popular deck (even if it is a “known” deck), then inherently other players will have less experience playing against it. This means they will not understand the intricacies of the matchup as well as versus Deck A and I will have an advantage. If Deck B is a very under the radar play or entirely new deck, then this effect gets magnified even more. Some recent examples of this philosophy on my deck choice: Philadelphia Regionals 2016 I played Accelgor/Wobbuffet (RIP), a fringe deck in the Expanded format compared to my other top choice, Seismitoad/Crobat.
However, I also believe there are times in Pokémon where you simply cannot justify playing anything except the best deck. We saw this a lot when Night March was so dominant in the 2015-2016 season. Going into Nationals 2016, I desperately wanted to play anything but Night March. We tested so many weird concepts (we even tested Night March/Vileplume!) and nothing was good enough—so on the eve of the tournament, Ross and I sleeved up our Night March list and called it a day. Did it feel good? No. But it felt like playing Night March would give us the best chance at winning the tournament, and that is what matters most.
Today, we are living in a format absolutely dominated by a single deck: Gardevoir-GX. I have tested some other stuff in preparation for this article and just to explore the new format in general, but I am still convinced Gardevoir is far and away the best deck in the format. I see no compelling reason to play anything except Gardevoir-GX for the near future. The last time we have seen such dominance in the game is ironically when a different Gardevoir held the title of BDIF. Today, I would like to talk about what it means to play the best deck, look at some potential twists to the Gardevoir/Sylveon list that dominated the BKP–BUS format, and end with some fringe ideas that may have potential.
Playing the Best Deck
If I am advocating for playing the best deck, we should examine what special considerations we might take when playing such a deck.
Practice, practice, practice. Though you should be testing and practicing with whatever deck you intend to play, it is perhaps even more important when playing the best deck. Other players will have focused their testing around your deck, so they will understand their core strategy against you. It is often good practice to play other decks against the best deck – even if you intend to play the best deck – so you can see the weak spots and know how to defend yourself once you are piloting the best deck.
Little tweaks go a long way. Because other players will be practicing against your deck, they will be using the most standard/successful lists that are out there and available. By changing just a few cards, you can greatly catch opponents off guard.
One of my favorite examples of when my opponents did not do this was back in the spring of 2010. Jumpluff and Gyarados were two of the best decks and both played very low counts of Energy. Chris Fulop had written an amazing article on Jumpluff and his list instantly became the standard build.
At Regionals in 2010, I played a Donphan Prime deck with 2 Dunsparce HGSS, 4 Pluspower, and 2 Mr. Mime MT. In the Jumpluff and Gyarados matchups, there would be points where I would forgo getting Donphan out and instead just use Dunsparce to hit and run back into Mr. Mime. I assumed all of these decks would play the same amount of Energy as the standard lists, so I was able to tell if I could simply lock them out of the game in this way. It worked wonders.
If players had simply added an extra Energy card to their deck, it would have thrown me for a loop and I would have done a lot worse in that tournament!
Today, this means changing a few cards from the standard Gardevoir build that myself and others have popularized. We will discuss this later.
Study the mirror. One of the reasons many players shy away from the best deck is they do not want to play the mirror match. Though I can understand this, I do not think this should be the deciding factor to play the best deck or not. If we look at the current Gardevoir situation, you have a 50-50 chance when playing against another Gardevoir deck (plus or minus if your list is teched for the mirror). However, almost every other deck brings a negative matchup to the Gardevoir matchup! So, do I want to play Gardevoir mirror all day? No, but I would rather play Gardevoir mirror than any deck that is not Gardevoir against Gardevoir all day!
Guiding Gardevoir: The (many) Variants
Let’s start with the tried and true. In his last article, Pablo presented a list one card off the list we played previously, and that seems like a good place for this deck to be in. Mr. Mime allows the deck to fend off the increasing number of spread decks, with Ninetales and Buzzwole making their way into more decks. Mr. Mime was always good against Decidueye and other decks running Tapu Koko.
Other cards I have messed around with in recent weeks include Gladion, Counter Catcher, and Max Potion. Gladion felt incredibly underwhelming in this deck—you would almost always rather play a different Supporter in the early game, and the effect of Gladion became weaker and weaker as the game went on. The best use I got out of it was when my last prize was a Sycamore and I got N’d to 1 and drew Gladion. If this is the best use of a card, I think we should consider using the spot elsewhere.
Counter Catcher has been a bit stronger, though likely not strong enough to warrant inclusion in a tight list. It can provide nice swings in games where you are able to Catcher and N in the same turn, but the problem is drawing it at opportune times. I do not think two Guzma is enough, so you would have to look for a cut elsewhere. It is good against more aggressive decks, but most decks in the format are not actually all that aggressive, so the card seems a bit weaker in the current meta. However, it should certainly be considered throughout the year as the format develops. Max Potion is something I will talk in depth about below.
Overall, this build still seems strong. As discussed previously by myself and others, Sylveon adds depth and intricacy to the deck. As I have tested non-Sylveon variants more, the fact that including Sylveon in your deck turns your Fairy Energy into pseudo-draw cards is extremely important and should not be underestimated for consistency purposes. I continue to advocate for 2-2 Sylveon or none. I have experimented with different counts once again and think 1-1 is too inconsistent – Alolan Vulpix is just better if you only want to play 1-1 Sylveon.
For the last month or so, my friend Seena has messaged me almost every day saying “broken deck” about Gardevoir with four copies of Max Potion. You may have seen posts on Heyfonte referring to “broken deck” and while it has become somewhat of a meme due to Seena’s presentation of the deck, I assure you the deck is for real. We have spoken a lot about the deck and I won’t be surprised if it does well in London this weekend. Though the list is still in flux a bit, here is a skeleton:
Pokémon – 13
Trainers – 29
Energy – 11
*Note: In all of these Gardevoir lists, you should be considering running the Psychic Ralts and/or Kirlia from BKT. The Psychic Ralts makes you less susceptible to early pressure from Registeel and other basic Metal attackers, while Latios and Espeon-GX prey on it. I currently have a 2-2 split of Psychic and Fairy Ralts. I think the Psychic Kirlia is weaker than the Fairy one, but it has merit, as it can 1HKO an Espeon-GX with two heads and a Choice Band. The risk of this is not reliably being able to hit 30 damage with a Kirlia when you need it, or not being able to hit 20 for a single Fairy. I prefer the consistency of the Fairy Kirlia.
The last seven spots are flexible to an extent.
- One thing that must be included is either Oranguru or a 1-1 Octillery line. Seena prefers Oranguru, but I am still a fan of Octillery.
- 3rd Tapu Lele is amazing for consistency (and attacking!).
- 3rd Kirlia is amazing for consistency, especially in a deck with Vulpix over Sylveon.
- 2nd Vulpix is good for ensuring you can retreat into it.
- Giratina Promo could be played to help your Greninja matchup. While the Sylveon version takes a closer matchup thanks to Plea-GX, this version really struggles with Greninja, so it is more appealing to include in here.
- You could play a 1-1 Sylveon in here, but I would not overly recommend it.
- Another consistency supporter must be played: 4th Sycamore or 2nd Brigette are the go-to’s for this.
- Extra supporters are considerable (Skyla, Lillie).
- Acerola and Float Stone are considerations.
- 3rd Field Blower is very good right now.
- Counter Catcher is decent, as discussed in the other build.
- 2nd Super Rod or 8th Fairy Energy should almost certainly be played. 2nd Super Rod is strong because you will be discarding so many Energy using the Max Potions.
My current list fills out the last 7 spots with: +1 Remoraid +1 Octillery +1 Vulpix +1 Tapu Lele-GX +1 Kirlia +1 Brigette +1 Super Rod.
One of my worries with this list compared to the Sylveon version is its inherent lack of consistency. These additions to fill out the list allow for maximum consistency and ability to execute the game plan: the extra Tapu Lele and Brigette increase your odds of opening T1 Brigette, with the extra Alolan Vulpix ensuring you can go into a Beacon T1 almost every game.
As mentioned, I still prefer Octillery to Oranguru: it lets you see so many more cards over the course of a game. I would actually also love an Oranguru in here in addition to the Octillery and would consider dropping the 2nd Vulpix for it. Finally, the extra Super Rod gives you an extra cushion as you seek to play the long game.
This build plays like Gardevoir/Sylveon in a lot of matchups, but can play out quite differently in others. It seeks to leverage Max Potion to draw out games, drain the opponent of resources, and finish up with the strongest attacker in the game: Gardevoir-GX. In the eloquent words of Seena [paraphrased]: “It’s like a boxer. You’re roping a few early rounds: jabbing, healing, conserving your energy for the later rounds. Take a round off to Twilight. And then, in the later rounds, they’re exhausted, running low on cards and resources, and you capitalize with a knockout punch.”
The primary example of its difference in playstyle is in the mirror match. You want to chip away at their Gardevoirs with a single Energy Gardevoir of your own. As they hit you back, you Max Potion away damage to keep your Gardevoir out of 1HKO range. Once you have exhausted three or four Max Potion, you use Twilight-GX to put them back in your deck and repeat the process. During this time, your opponent will run out of resources faster than you. You will want to build a board of three Gardevoir or two Gardevoir and a Gallade. There are often times where you do not have Max Potion and you will retreat a Gardevoir that has some chip damage on it, preserving the Gardevoir for later or forcing them to have Guzma.
Overall, the longer the game goes the more favored you are. Plea-GX only slows you down – but that is ironically exactly what you want sometimes! If they use Plea, they cannot use Twilight, meaning you again have an advantage in the resource war. Gardevoir/Sylveon wins this match by being the aggressor: targeting Ralts/Kirlia down early with Sylveon, using Plea-GX to further slow your tempo down, and creating two big Gardevoirs and hoping you cannot respond to both of them. Gallade is increasingly important to target down Ralts/Kirlia/Octillery and forcing the opponent to commit multiple Energy to a Gardevoir.
Overall, I would say this list takes Gardevoir/Sylveon’s matchups and, in many cases, polarizes them. The Sylveon in Gardevoir adds a lot: powerful consistency, forces your opponent to burn N’s early, a powerful play in the mirror, and an out against bad matchups like Metagross and Greninja. This version throws those positives away in favor of giving you a better matchup in the mirror and against spread decks, which look to be more prominent in London. With a Giratina in the list, I would only be really scared of Metagross, which is just a mediocre deck. Other Metal decks are not that strong and Gallade can really shine against things like Silvally. The Golisopod matchup gets a bit scarier without Sylveon, as you do not have that tanky wall in the early game, but Max Potions may prove to be just as effective.
If you are attending London, I will say this: Gardevoir/Sylveon is a stronger play for Day 1, but Gardevoir/Max Potion is a stronger play if you make it to Day 2. Perhaps there is a hybrid build, but I think each deck is trying to accomplish something different in its game plan, so I doubt it.
If you are looking for an even more different approach to Gardevoir, I have another list for you. I do not think it is as strong as the two above, but it underscores a thought I had when Zoroark got released: Gallade is stronger now than ever before. Simply jamming a second Gallade in either of the builds above is perfectly reasonable, but I wanted to go off the rails a bit and explore some other options. I thought back to some of the old Gallade/Octillery lists, first popularized by Russell a few years ago and brought back to life in Mexico City Regionals this past year by Noel Totomoch. Though I would not feel comfortable bringing this to a tournament right now, it is something to keep in mind as the format evolves and when the new Solgaleo-GX comes out later this season.
Pokémon – 21
2 Remoraid BKT
Trainers – 28
2/3 Field Blower
Energy – 11
Though you will notice a lot of similarities from the above lists, I’ll highlight some key differences:
- 3 Gallade makes getting an early Gallade much more likely. In many matchups, an early Gallade is the best way to put pressure on your opponent. In the mirror in particular, a Guzma + Sensitive Blade on a Kirlia can prevent the opponent’s set up very well. I did not want to cut below 3 Gardevoir, as the card is totally insane and you can’t risk prizing a copy and only having access to one.
- A thicker Octillery line is present as it combos so well with Gallade. This pair allows you to get almost anything you need at most points during the game. With a thicker count of both, you reliably set this up every game. The inclusion of Mallow contributes to this combo as well.
- I like Mr. Mime in this list. Without the healing of Max Potion, this variant is more susceptible to Po Town + Espeon-EX. Mr. Mime alleviates this stress a bit.
- I only have two Lele, but something could easily be dropped for the third. I initially only included two Lele as this list needs more bench space for Octillery and as many Ralts as possible in every game.
- The Trainers are nearly identical to the other lists. The inclusion of Rescue Stretcher is a nod to the importance of having as many Ralts as possible in a list with so many evolutions. Extra Energy via Super Rod is less important with a heavier focus on attacking with Gallade. A 3rd Field Blower would be helpful for Po Town decks, as would the Acerola. Acerola has the added benefit of giving you an extra Supporter to activate Sensitive Blade.
When Ghouls Invade: Gourgeist
Though I have been playing almost strictly Gardevoir for the past month, I did try a few new decks with the release of Crimson Invasion. The most promising to me has been Gourgeist. As I was writing this, Xander released his article including a Gourgeist list that is actually quite similar to the one I have been messing around with.
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 36
Energy – 4
In comparison to Xander’s list, this has significantly less tools (four + a Rescue Stretcher), but it includes a more robust Supporter lineup (4th N + 4th Guzma) and a secondary attacker in Tauros-GX. I initially had Zoroark over Octillery, but did not find the draw from Trade to be enough. However, it did offer a decent secondary attacker. When I switched to Octillery, I still thought about what a secondary attacker could be. My mind went to Tauros, as I could play heavy Fighting Fury Belt to supplement his Rage and Mad Bull-GX attack. If Tauros can grab 2 Prizes early on, the lower Tool count should not matter, as you have enough gas to get two 1HKOs with Gourgeist. Since we do not have a better GX attack at our disposal, Mad Bull seems great for getting those two easy prizes. If they do not attack Tauros, you can still hit into them for cheap 60 damage attacks, potentially making it easier for Gourgeist to come in for the KO.
Other than that, the list is fairly similar to Xander’s. Check out his article for thoughts on other inclusions and what matchups look like. I think this deck has some high potential and could make an impact on the metagame. It plays somewhat similar to Vespiquen, which we know was always a contender.
While I am sorry to simply write about Gardevoir again, I hope my article goes more in depth than you are used to on the subject. I am quite enamored by Gardevoir as a Pokémon in general – it is my second favorite Pokémon (Gengar being my favorite) and it has been well to me in the past (Top 4 Nationals 2008, Top 16 Nationals 2010, and more), so I am excited to continue playing it.
As more of a Tier 2/3 player who tries to metagame to leverage an advantage, I am not recommending this deck lightly: I truly believe playing Gardevoir gives you the best chance at winning an event right now. There is no other deck that can compete at the same level. Others may say Garbodor/Drampa is in the same league, but I truly do not think so. The whole format has warped around Gardevoir and yet it is still the most successful deck, by a lot.
As always, feel free to message me here or on Twitter if you have questions or comments. Good luck to those playing in London and good luck to everyone as Quarter 2 begins soon!
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