Hey friends, Kenny Wisdom here. Today, I wanted to take a step back from the type of content I’ve been writing lately and go for a good old-fashioned competitive article, complete with decklist analysis and suggestions, like our ancestors did. I promise I’ll be back writing more unique, non-metagame articles in the future (if that’s what you all want), but sometimes we all need to break out of our shells a little bit.
With Costa Mesa Regionals being just around the corner both in terms of distance in time, it’s been the primary topic of discussion for the various Pokémon groups I’m a part of. Due to some prior commitments and awkward scheduling, I won’t be attending the event, but enough people that I care about are battling that I’ve put in a decent amount of testing and have been part of a lot of conversations in helping them prepare. Today, I want to take a quick look at what I would be playing if I were attending the event: Greninja! I have a lot to say about the deck—both this specific iteration as the archetype as a whole—so let’s hop right in.
The Good of Greninja
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 31
Energy – 10
I originally wrote something like “Greninja lists are mostly the same, but I wanna go over some key cards here” for this section. The next thing I knew I had written almost 2,000 words on those key cards, and suddenly, this description felt a little less honest.
While it’s true that, due to the nature of Greninja itself, you’re going to get a lot of lists that look more or less the same, I think it’s very important to make sure you’re examining every possible decision and actively aware of the choices you’re making. Hopefully the 2,000 words below will come in handy.
With the Pokémon section of the deck being more or less set in stone, with a full line of Greninja and Starmie being absolutely necessary for the deck to function, Espeon-EX is pretty much the only debatable inclusion in the Pokémon column of the decklist.
Still, I think it’s too simply too good not to play. Ideally, with Greninja, you’re going to be setting up multiple Greninja and just locking your opponent out of the game with Shadow Stitching while you snipe their vulnerable Pokémon with Giant Water Shuriken (hopefully in multiples!). However, as we’ll touch on later, there are a number of games that are going to be less than ideal, and that’s where Espeon can come in handy to take some control of the board state. As a Greninja player, you can easily find yourself in a position where you just need to buy an extra turn or two of set up, and an Espeon punishing an opponent’s sloppy Rare Candy play can be just the thing to get you there.
Additionally, Espeon is really powerful when you’re just looking to close out the game. I’ve run into multiple situations where I’m in control of the board, but just haven’t quite been able to stream multiple Greninjas yet. Without Espeon, you’d be relying on the top of each player’s deck doing you some pretty big favors. With Espeon, though, you can pretty easily put together a board state that your opponent simply can’t come back from, or that will win you the game on the spot, all thanks to Miraculous Shine.
I played without Espeon at last year’s San Jose Regional Championship, and although that tournament was so horrendous for me that it likely never would’ve mattered, if I would’ve played a double digit amount of games (much less rounds) I’m sure it would’ve come in handy. At this point, I can’t recommend that anyone play Greninja without the 1-of Espeon-EX.
In my opinion, Cynthia is the best thing to happen to Greninja in a very long time. The deck has so many moving pieces that playing too many Professor Juniper and potentially putting those moving parts into the discard pile is a huge liability.
I’ve gone back and forth on the N and Cynthia split. You’re almost always going to be behind in prizes with Greninja (and if you’re not then you probably don’t care about which specific Supporter you have anyway), so N can be a really powerful play, netting you a ton of card advantage for way longer than most decks in the format. On the other hand, Cynthia is an extremely consistent option regardless of the position you’re in, and in the mid to late game, your opponent shuffling in from N usually won’t be super relevant, as you should be locking them out with Shadow Stitching at that point anyway.
Ultimately I’m going for the full play set right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the counts should be flip-flopped. There’s probably not that much of a difference practically, but it’s always important to exploit every small edge that you can, especially when you’re playing a deck that is as prone to awkward hands as Greninja.
I’ve gone back and forth between one and two copies of Ace Trainer for a while, but with the high Cynthia count, I think the deck is ultimately set up well enough that you can afford to cut to a single copy. Similar to the N argument, in the mid-to-late game, once you have the “lock” established and are rolling out multiple Greninja, the back half of the card isn’t extremely relevant anyway.
It’s important not to understate the power of Ace Trainer, though. It may be a little less useful now that you have so many affects that more or less do the same thing, but you’re always going to want to play with at least a single copy, and there are times where recurring Ace Trainer once or twice is going to be a key stop on your route to victory.
After a poor performance in San Jose, the main point I kept repeating to Travis Nunlist and Olliver Barr (my primary testing partners for the event/in life in general, who had slightly more success with the deck than I did), was that it’s extremely frustrating to prize a Starmie or Staryu. I’m not sure I’ve ever played a deck where such a thin line was so important to your overall strategy. Starmie is the difference between having a powerful set up, but hoping your opponent’s Ns treat you well, and essentially having the game locked up.
Not to mention the fact that, the deck requires so much set up that even a prized Greninja BREAK or Frogadier can really mess with your game plan. You can usually deal with (and expect to have) one of your pieces prized, but two or more is typically just a death sentence.
Gladion, while an imperfect answer to an extremely difficult question, is at least an answer. Having to take a turn off of playing a draw Supporter can be really rough, especially when you’re trying to set up multiple Stage Two Pokémon, but with Greninja, it’s just what you’ve gotta do. Thankfully, in my first scenario, in which you prize a Staryu or a Starmie, it’s often not too detrimental, as you can afford to not draw cards on one or two turns once you’re solidly into the mid game.
I’ve seen Greninja lists that have toyed with the idea of not playing Ultra Ball, or cutting back on the count. Going into testing for San Jose, the list I was given didn’t have any, instead opting to rely purely on Dive Ball. I’m thankful that I decided that was lunacy before submitting my final decklist for the event, and my opinion hasn’t changed much since then.
While it’s true that Dive Ball does a lot of your heavy lifting and, as we talked about earlier, discarding cards can be a real issue, you rely on the consistency boost that Ultra Ball gives you, if for nothing else than opening up three more outs to a Supporter via Tapu Lele-GX. Consistency isn’t something that can be skimped on in Greninja, and I wouldn’t be caught dead playing any fewer than three copies of Ultra Ball.
You should absolutely be playing one copy of Field Blower in your deck, but whether or not you play the second is very much a metagame decision. I’ve been going back and forth between 2 Field Blower and a 1/1 split of Field Blower and Super Rod, and in the interest of honesty, I will say that I’m not 100% sure which is correct, or which I would suggest you play in Costa Mesa. I believe that both have their merits, and it simply comes down to what you believe the metagame will look like.
That brings me to a short aside on a topic I’ve spoken and written a bit on in the past: Through the power of social media, you can have a more accurate prediction of the metagame than ever before. If you’re not sure which version of a certain deck to play, or even which deck archetype entirely, pay attention to the internet in the days leading up to the event. Check out the Twitter accounts of top players, see what PokéStats and Lysandre Lab are saying, check out League Cup results, the world is really your oyster here. No one can have a picture perfect read on the metagame, of course, but with all of the tools we have at our disposal in 2018, there’s no reason not to try.
These are an interesting few slots, as they can either be Muscle Band, Choice Band, or Bursting Balloon. The decision to play Muscle Band over Choice Band can be made relatively easily by looking at the HP of the Pokémon you expect to be attacking into and comparing it to your damage output, being sure to factor in Giant Water Shuriken. For example, using Gardevoir-GX as an example, Muscle Band works just as well as Choice Band, as dealing 60 damage for three turns + a Giant Water Shuriken isn’t any different than dealing 70 for three turns versus the 230 HP Pokémon. You can use similar calculations for every Pokémon in the format, and I’d recommend you do so before registering your final decklist.
Bursting Balloon is a different story, though. It provides more potential damage output than either of the previous two options, but your opponent gets to control that damage in multiple ways. Firstly, they can simply choose not to attack, at which point the Bursting Balloon will be removed at the end of their turn. Secondly, because the damage can only happen on their turn, it’s easy enough to deal with via Field Blower.
This may seem not all that bad, after all, it’s always bad for your opponent, right? Wasting a turn not attacking, or having to find a Field Blower are real costs, no doubt. The problem here is that this is giving your opponent the option, something you should aim to prevent as much as possible. Even when the two options are seemingly bad, letting your opponent get to decide when and how they’ll interact with something is never a good thing. Sometimes cards are powerful enough or the metagame is specific enough that this an okay option, but I don’t believe this to be one of those times. Bursting Balloon is simply not enough better than the other two tools to give your opponent the opportunity to play around it.
At the end of the day, I’ve decided to play with 2 Muscle Band because I believe that you’re more likely to want to general, but lower, damage modifier, versus the more narrow one.
0 Guzma/other outs to Giratina
Although I usually hate accepting that I’m just going to lose to a specific card, especially one that is so easily thrown into just about any deck, I think being able to beat a Promo Giratina requires a re-tooling of the deck so invasive that it’s simply not worth it. I’m sure you could jam a few copies of Guzma in here and hope to get lucky, but consistency is key.
6 Water/4 Splash
Although a 7/3 split seems to be what most players are on these days, I value consistency extremely highly in Greninja, and believe that being able to recur one of your Greninja pieces is ultimately going to win you more games than having access to a single Water energy. This decision, in my mind, is close but clear.
This is normally the part of the article where I would go over match ups and give out percentages and advice. However, I’d like to do something a little different this time, and instead lay out how I feel about the deck in general.
A lot of Greninja’s match ups are going to be more or less the same. That’s because, although you are interacting with the opponent quite a bit between turning off their Abilities with Shadow Stitching and trying to dismantle their board with Giant Water Shuriken, Greninja is about doing one thing: Setting up and going to town. Because of this, I strongly believe that you should be pushing the consistency of your Greninja decks as far as you can take it.
You may have noticed I make several references to all of Greninja’s “moving parts,” or talk about how the consistency problems the deck can have. While it may seem weird that I’m writing all of that while also telling you to that I’d play Greninja for this event, I believe it just comes down to the raw power of the deck.
Does Greninja have a lot of moving parts? Yes. Are you sometimes going to get a “Greninja hand” and just be unable to set up? Yes. But most of the time, when everything comes together and you’re able to get a reasonable opening hand and do the thing you’re supposed to do, you’re going to just take over the game. No other deck in the format can present the raw inevitability that a fully set up Greninja deck can. Dealing 180 damage a turn (some of that distributed how you’d like), shutting off your opponent’s Abilities, stifling their hand with Ace Trainer until you can’t any longer (at which point you just transition to Cynthia), and using Starmie to make sure you can do all of this over and over again…man, nothing feels better.
Your opponent flipping over a Promo Giratina? Nothing feels worse.
But Expanded is about the swings, and boy, do I live for the swings.
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